Why So Many Churches Hear So Little of the Bible

By Dr. Albert Mohler and Mark Galli

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“It is well and good for the preacher to base his sermon on the Bible, but he better get to something relevant pretty quickly, or we start mentally to check out.” That stunningly clear sentence reflects one of the most amazing, tragic, and lamentable characteristics of contemporary Christianity: an impatience with the Word of God.

The sentence above comes from Mark Galli, senior managing editor of Christianity Today in an essay entitled, “Yawning at the Word.” In just a few hundred words, he captures the tragedy of a church increasingly impatient with and resistant to the reading and preaching of the Bible. We may wince when we read him relate his recent experiences, but we also recognize the ring of truth.

Galli was told to cut down on the biblical references in his sermon. “You’ll lose people,” the staff member warned. In a Bible study session on creation, the teacher was requested to come back the next Sunday prepared to take questions at the expense of reading the relevant scriptural texts on the doctrine. Cutting down on the number of Bible verses “would save time and, it was strongly implied, would better hold people’s interest.”

As Galli reflected, “Anyone who’s been in the preaching and teaching business knows these are not isolated examples but represent the larger reality.”

Indeed, in many churches there is very little reading of the Bible in worship, and sermons are marked by attention to the congregation’s concerns, not by an adequate attention to the biblical text. The exposition of the Bible has given way to the concerns, real or perceived, of the listeners. The authority of the Bible is swallowed up in the imposed authority of congregational concerns.

As Mark Galli notes:

It has been said to the point of boredom that we live in a narcissistic age, where we are wont to fixate on our needs, our wants, our wishes, and our hopes—at the expense of others and certainly at the expense of God. We do not like it when a teacher uses up the whole class time presenting her material, even if it is material from the Word of God. We want to be able to ask our questions about our concerns, otherwise we feel talked down to, or we feel the class is not relevant to our lives.

And Galli continues:

It is well and good for the preacher to base his sermon on the Bible, but he better get to something relevant pretty quickly, or we start mentally to check out. Don’t spend a lot of time in the Bible, we tell our preachers, but be sure to get to personal illustrations, examples from daily life, and most importantly, an application that we can use.

The fixation on our own sense of need and interest looms as the most significant factor in this marginalization and silencing of the Word. Individually, each human being in the room is an amalgam of wants, needs, intuitions, interests, and distractions. Corporately, the congregation is a mass of expectations, desperate hopes, consuming fears, and impatient urges. All of this adds up, unless countered by the authentic reading and preaching of the Word of God, to a form of group therapy, entertainment, and wasted time—if not worse.

Galli has this situation clearly in his sights when he asserts that many congregations expect the preacher to start from some text in the Bible, but then quickly move on “to things that really interest us.” Like . . . ourselves?

One of the earliest examples of what we would call the preaching of the Bible may well be found in Nehemiah 8:1-8 (ESV):

And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the Lord had commanded Israel. So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard, on the first day of the seventh month. And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand. And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law. And Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform that they had made for the purpose. And beside him stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah on his right hand, and Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah, and Meshullam on his left hand. And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people, and as he opened it all the people stood. And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law, while the people remained in their places. They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.

Ezra and his companions stood on a platform before the congregation. They read the scriptural text clearly, and then explained the meaning of the Scripture to the people. The congregation received the Word humbly, while standing. The pattern is profoundly easy to understand: the Bible was read and explained and received.

As Hughes Oliphant Old comments, “This account of the reading of the Law indicates that already at the time of the writing of this text there was a considerable amount of ceremonial framing of the public reading of Scripture. This ceremonial framing is a witness to the authority of the Bible.” The reading and exposition took place in a context of worship as the people listened to the Word of God. The point of the sermon was simple: “to make clear the reading of the Scriptures.”

In many churches, there is almost no public reading of the Word of God. Worship is filled with music, but congregations seem disinterested in listening to the reading of the Bible. We are called to sing in worship, but the congregation cannot live only on the portions of Scripture that are woven into songs and hymns. Christians need the ministry of the Word as the Bible is read before the congregation such that God’s people—young and old, rich and poor, married and unmarried, sick and well—hear it together. The sermon is to consist of the exposition of the Word of God, powerfully and faithfully read, explained, and applied. It is not enough that the sermon take a biblical text as its starting point.

How can so many of today’s churches demonstrate what can only be described as an impatience with the Word of God? The biblical formula is clear: the neglect of the Word can only lead to disaster, disobedience, and death. God rescues his church from error, preserves his church in truth, and propels his church in witness only by his Word—not by congregational self-study.

In the end, an impatience with the Word of God can be explained only by an impatience with God. We all, both individually and congregationally, neglect God’s Word to our own ruin.

As Jesus himself declared, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

Sources: Albert Mohler, May 14, 2014 http://www.albertmohler.com Cf. Mark Galli, “Yawning at the Word,” Christianity Today [online edition], posted November 5, 2009. http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2009/novemberweb-only/144-41.0.htmlHughes Oliphant Old, The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Christian Church, Volume 1: The Biblical Period (Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans, 2007).

Albert Mohlers Response to Matthew Vines: “God and The Gay Christian”

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Evangelical Christians in the United States now face an inevitable moment of decision. While Christians in other movements and in other nations face similar questions, the question of homosexuality now presents evangelicals in the United States with a decision that cannot be avoided. Within a very short time, we will know where everyone stands on this question. There will be no place to hide, and there will be no way to remain silent. To be silent will answer the question.

The question is whether evangelicals will remain true to the teachings of Scripture and the unbroken teaching of the Christian church for over two thousand years on the morality of same-sex acts and the institution of marriage.

The world is pressing this question upon us, but so are a number of voices from within the larger evangelical circle — voices that are calling for a radical revision of the church’s understanding of the Bible, sexual morality, and the meaning of marriage. We are living in the midst of a massive revolution in morality, and sexual morality is at the center of this revolution. But the question of same-sex relationships and sexuality is at the very center of the debate over sexual morality, and our answer to this question will both determine or reveal what we understand about everything the Bible reveals and everything the church teaches — even the gospel itself.

Others are watching, and they see the moment of decision at hand. Anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann of Stanford University has remarked that “it is clear to an observer like me that evangelical Christianity is at a crossroad.” What is that crossroad? “The question of whether gay Christians should be married within the church.”  Journalist Terry Mattingly sees the same issue looming on the evangelical horizon — “There is no way to avoid the showdown that is coming.”

Into this context now comes God and the Gay Christian, a book by Matthew Vines. Just a couple of years ago Vines made waves with the video of a lecture in which he attempted to argue that being a gay Christian in a committed same-sex relationship (and eventual marriage) is compatible with biblical Christianity. His video went viral. Even though Matthew Vines did not make new arguments, the young Harvard student synthesized arguments made by revisionist Bible scholars and presented a very winsome case for overthrowing the church’s moral teachings on same-sex relationships.

His new book flows from that startling ambition — to overthrow two millennia of Christian moral wisdom and biblical understanding.

Given the audacity of that ambition, why does this book deserve close attention? The most important reason lies outside the book itself. There are a great host of people, considered to be within the larger evangelical movement, who are desperately seeking a way to make peace with the moral revolution and endorse the acceptance of openly-gay individuals and couples within the life of the church. Given the excruciating pressures now exerted on evangelical Christianity, many people — including some high-profile leaders — are desperately seeking an argument they can claim as both persuasive and biblical. The seams in the evangelical fabric are beginning to break and Matthew Vines now comes along with a book that he claims will make the argument so many have been seeking.

In God and the Gay Christian Vines argues that “Christians who affirm the full authority of Scripture can also affirm committed, monogamous same-sex relationships.” He announces that, once his argument is accepted: “The fiercest objections to LGBT equality — those based on religious beliefs — can begin to fall away. The tremendous pain endured by LGBT youth in many Christian homes can become a relic of the past. Christianity’s reputation in much of the Western world can begin to rebound. Together we can reclaim our light” (3).

That promise drives Vines’s work from beginning to end. He identifies himself as both gay and Christian and claims to hold to a “high view” of the Bible. “That means,” he says, “I believe all of Scripture is inspired by God and authoritative for my life” (2).

Well, that is exactly what we would hope for a Christian believer to say about the Bible. And who could fault the ambition of any young and thoughtful Christian who seeks to recover the reputation of Christianity in the Western world. If Matthew Vines were to be truly successful in simultaneously making his case and remaining true to the Scriptures, we would indeed have to overturn two thousand years of the church’s teaching on sex and marriage and apologize for the horrible embarrassment of being wrong for so long.

Readers of his book who are looking for an off-ramp from the current cultural predicament will no doubt try to accept his argument. But the real question is whether what Vines claims is true and faithful to the Bible as the Word of God. But his argument is neither true nor faithful to Scripture. It is, nonetheless, a prototype of the kind of argument we can now expect.

What Does the Bible Really Say? 

The most important sections of Vines’s book deal with the Bible itself and with what he identifies as the six passages in the Bible that “have stood in the way of countless gay people who long for acceptance from their Christian parents, friends, and churches” (11). Those six passages (Genesis 19:5; Leviticus 18:22; Leviticus 20:13; Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9; and 1 Timothy 1:10) are indeed key and crucial passages for understanding God’s expressed and revealed message on the question of same-sex acts, desires, and relationships, but they are hardly the whole story.

The most radical proposal Vines actually makes is to sever each of these passages from the flow of the biblical narrative and the Bible’s most fundamental revelation about what it means to be human, both male and female. He does not do this merely by omission, but by the explicit argument that the church has misunderstood the doctrine of creation as much as the question of human sexuality. He specifically seeks to argue that the basic sexual complementarity of the human male and the female — each made in God’s image — is neither essential to Genesis chapters 1 and 2 or to any biblical text that follows.

In other words, he argues that same-sex sexuality can be part of the goodness of God’s original creation, and that when God declared that it is not good for man to be alone, the answer to man’s isolation could be a sexual relationship with someone of either sex. But that massive misrepresentation of Genesis 1 and 2 — a misinterpretation with virtually unlimited theological consequences — actually becomes Vines’s way of relativizing the meaning of the six passages he primarily considers.

His main argument is that the Bible simply has no category of sexual orientation. Thus, when the Bible condemns same-sex acts, it is actually condemning “sexual excess,” hierarchy, oppression, or abuse — not the possibility of permanent, monogamous, same-sex unions.

In addressing the passages in Genesis and Leviticus, Vines argues that the sin of Sodom was primarily inhospitality, not same-sex love or sexuality. The law of Moses condemns same-sex acts in so far as they violate social status or a holiness code, not in and of themselves, he asserts. His argument with regard to Leviticus is especially contorted, since he has to argue that the text’s explicit condemnation of male-male intercourse as an abomination is neither categorical or related to sinfulness. He allows that “abomination is a negative word,” but insists that “it doesn’t necessarily correspond to Christian views of sin” (85).

Finally, he argues that, even if the Levitical condemnations are categorical, this would not mean that the law remains binding on believers today.

In dealing with the most significant single passage in the Bible on same-sex acts and desire, Romans 1:26-27, Vines actually argues that the passage “is not of central importance to Paul’s message in Romans.” Instead, Vines argues that the passage is used by Paul only as “a brief example to drive home a point he was making about idolatry.” Nevertheless, Paul’s words on same-sex acts are, he admits, “starkly negative” (96).

“There is no question that Romans 1:26-27 is the most significant biblical passage in this debate,” Vines acknowledges (96). In order to relativize it, he makes this case: “Paul’s description of same-sex behavior in this passage is indisputably negative. But he also explicitly described the behavior he condemned as lustful. He made no mention of love, fidelity, monogamy, or commitment. So how should we understand Paul’s words? Do they apply to all same-sex relationships? Or only to lustful, fleeting ones?” (99).

In asking these questions, Vines makes his case that Paul is merely ignorant of the reality of sexual orientation. He had no idea that some people are naturally attracted to people of the same sex. Therefore, Paul misunderstands what today would be considered culturally normative in many highly-developed nations — that some persons are naturally attracted to others of the same sex and it would be therefore “unnatural” for them to be attracted sexually to anyone else.

Astonishingly, Vines then argues that the very notion of “against nature” as used by Paul in Romans 1 is tied to patriarchy, not sexual complementarity. Same-sex relationships, Vines argues, “disrupted a social order that required a strict hierarchy between the sexes” (109).

But to get anywhere near to Vines’s argument one has to sever Romans 1 from any natural reading of the text, from the flow of the Bible’s message from Genesis 1 forward, from the basic structure of sexual complementarity, and from the church’s faithful reading of the Bible for two millennia. Furthermore, his argument provides direct evidence of that Paul warns of in this very chapter, “suppressing the truth in unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18).

Finally, the actual language of Romans 1, specifically dealing with male same-sex desire, speaks of “men consumed with passion for one another” (Romans 1:27). This directly contradicts Vines’s claim that only oppressive, pederastic, or socially mixed same-sex acts are condemned. Paul describes men consumed with passion for one another — not merely the abuse of the powerless by the powerful. In other words, in Romans 1:26-27 Paul condemns same-sex acts by both men and women, and he condemns the sexual desires described as unnatural passions as well.

In his attempt to relativize 1 Corinthians 6: 9, Vines actually undermines more of his argument. Paul’s careful use of language (perhaps even inventing a term by combining two words from Leviticus 18) is specifically intended to deny what Vines proposes — that the text really does not condemn consensual same-sex acts by individuals with a same-sex sexual orientation. Paul so carefully argues his case that he makes the point that both the active and the passive participants in male intercourse will not inherit the kingdom of God. Desperate to argue his case nonetheless, Vines asserts that, once again, it is exploitative sex that Paul condemns. But this requires that Paul be severed from his Jewish identify and from his own obedience to Scripture. Vines must attempt to marshal evidence that the primary background issue is the Greco-Roman cultural context rather than Paul’s Jewish context — but that would make Paul incomprehensible.

One other aspect of Vines’s consideration of the Bible should be noted. He acknowledges that he is “not a biblical scholar,” but he claims to “have relied on the work of scholars whose expertise is far greater than my own.” But the scholars upon whom he relies do not operate on the assumption that “all of Scripture is inspired by God and authoritative for my life.” To the contrary, most of his cited scholars are from the far left of modern biblical scholarship or on the fringes of the evangelical world. He does not reveal their deeper understandings of Scripture and its authority.

The Authority of Scripture and the Question of Sexual Orientation

Again and again, Vines comes back to sexual orientation as the key issue. ‘”The Bible doesn’t directly address the issue of same-sexorientation,” he insists. The concept of sexual orientation “didn’t exist in the ancient world.” Amazingly, he then concedes that the Bible’s “six references to same-sex behavior are negative,” but insists, again, that “the concept of same-sex behavior in the Bible is sexual excess, not sexual orientation.”

Here we face the most tragic aspect of Matthew Vines’s argument. If the modern concept of sexual orientation is to be taken as a brute fact, then the Bible simply cannot be trusted to understand what it means to be human, to reveal what God intends for us sexually, or to define sin in any coherent manner. The modern notion of sexual orientation is, as a matter of fact, exceedingly modern. it is also a concept without any definitive meaning. Effectively, it is used now both culturally and morally to argue about sexual attraction and desire. As a matter of fact, attraction and desire are the only indicators upon which the modern notion of sexual orientation are premised.

When he begins his book, Matthew Vines argues that experience should not drive our interpretation of the Bible. But it is his experience of what he calls a gay sexual orientation that drives every word of this book. It is this experiential issue that drives him to relativize text after text and to argue that the Bible really doesn’t speak directly to his sexual identity at all, since the inspired human authors of Scripture were ignorant of the modern gay experience.

Of what else were they ignorant? Vines claims to hold to a “high view” of the Bible and to believe that “all of Scripture is inspired by God and authoritative for my life,” but the modern concept of sexual orientation functions as a much higher authority in his thinking and in his argument.

This leads to a haunting question. What else does the Bible not know about what it means to be human? If the Bible cannot be trusted to reveal the truth about us in every respect, how can we trust it to reveal our salvation?

This points to the greater issue at stake here — the Gospel. Matthew Vines’s argument does not merely relativize the Bible’s authority, it leaves us without any authoritative revelation of what sin is. And without an authoritative (and clearly understandable) revelation of human sin, we cannot know why we need a Savior, or why Christ died. Furthermore, to tell someone that what the Bible reveals as sin is notsin, we tell them that they do not need Christ for that. Is that not exactly what Paul was determined not to do when he wrote to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11? Could the stakes be any higher than that? This controversy is not merely about sex, it is about salvation.

Matthew Vines’s Wedge Argument — Gender and the Bible

There is another really interesting and revealing aspect of Matthew Vine’s argument yet to come. In terms of how his argument is likely to be received within the evangelical world, Vines clearly has a strategy, and that strategy is to persuade those who have rejected gender complementarity to take the next logical step and deny sexual complementarity as well.

Gender complementarity is the belief that the Bible’s teachings on gender and gender roles is to be understood in terms of the fact that men and women are equally made in God’s image (status) but different in terms of assignment (roles). This has been the belief and conviction of virtually all Christians throughout the centuries, and it is the view held by the vast majority of those identified as Christians in the world even today. But a denial of this conviction, hand in hand with the argument that sameness of role is necessary to affirm equality of status, has led some to argue that difference in gender roles must be rejected. The first impediment to making this argument is the fact that the Bible insists on a difference in roles. In order to overcome this impediment, biblical scholars and theologians committed to egalitarianism have made arguments that are hauntingly similar to those now made by Matthew Vines in favor of relativizing the Bible’s texts on same-sex behaviors.

Matthew Vines knows this. He also knows that, at least until recently, most of those who have rejected gender complementarity have maintained an affirmation of sexual complementarity — the belief that sexual behavior is to be limited to marriage as the union of a man and a woman. He sees this as his opening. At several points in the book, he makes this argument straightforwardly, even as he calls both “gender complementarity” and denies that the Bible requires or reveals it.

But we have to give Matthew Vines credit for seeing this wedge issue better than most egalitarians have seen it. He knows that the denial of gender complementarity is a huge step toward denying sexual complementarity. The evangelicals who have committed themselves to an egalitarian understanding of gender roles as revealed in the Bible are those who are most vulnerable to his argument. In effect, they must resist his argument more by force of will than by force of logic.

Same-Sex Marriage, Celibacy, and the Gospel

Matthew Vines writes with personal passion and he tells us much of his own story. Raised in an evangelical Presbyterian church by Christian parents, he came relatively late to understand his own sexual desires and pattern of attraction. He wants to be acknowledged as a faithful Christian, and he wants to be married … to a man. He argues that the Bible simply has no concept of sexual orientation and that to deny him access to marriage is to deny him justice and happiness. He argues that celibacy cannot be mandated for same-sex individuals within the church, for this would be unjust and wrong. He argues that same-sex unions can fulfill the “one-flesh” promise of Genesis 2:24.

Thus, he argues that the Christian church should accept and celebrate same-sex marriage. He also argues, just like the Protestant liberals of the early twentieth century, that Christianity must revise its beliefs or face the massive loss of reputation before the watching world (meaning, we should note, the watching world of the secular West).

But the believing church is left with no option but to deny the revisionist and relativizing proposals Vines brings to the evangelical argument. The consequences of accepting his argument would include misleading people about their sin and about their need for Christ, about what obedience to Christ requires and what faithfulness to Christ demands.

Matthew Vines demands that we love him enough to give him what he desperately wants, and that would certainly be the path of least cultural resistance. If we accept his argument we can simply remove this controversy from our midst, apologize to the world, and move on. But we cannot do that without counting the cost, and that cost includes the loss of all confidence in the Bible, in the Church’s ability to understand and obey the Scriptures, and in the Gospel as good news to all sinners.

Biblical Christianity cannot endorse same-sex marriage nor accept the claim that a believer can be obedient to Christ and remain or persist in same-sex behaviors. The church is the assembly of the redeemed, saved from our sins and learning obedience in the School of Christ. Every single one of us is a sexual sinner in need of redemption, but we are called to holiness, to obedience, and to honoring marriage as one of God’s most precious gifts and as a picture of the relationship between Christ and the church.

God and the Gay Christian demands an answer, but Christ demands our obedience. We can only pray — with fervent urgency — that this moment of decision for evangelical Christianity will be answered with a firm assertion of biblical authority, respect for marriage as the union of a man and a woman, passion for the Gospel of Christ, and prayer for the faithfulness and health of Christ’s church.

I do not write this response as Matthew Vines’s moral superior, but as one who must be obedient to Scripture. And so, I must counter his argument with conviction and urgency. I am concerned for him, and for the thousands who struggle as he does. The church has often failed people with same-sex attractions, and failed them horribly. We must not fail them now by forfeiting the only message that leads to salvation, holiness, and faithfulness. That is the real question before us.

GGC Book CoverThis morning we released God and the Gay Christian? A Response to Matthew Vines, a free e-book, and it is the first in the Conversant series I am editing. This free e-book, in which I am joined by colleagues James Hamilton, Denny Burk, Owen Strachan, and Heath Lambert, addresses the biblical, theological, historical, and pastoral issues raised by Vines’s new book. To download a copy, go to sbts.me/ebook    The book will be available in formats for Kindle, Nook, and iBook within the week.

Matthew Vines, God and the Gay Christian (New York: Convergent Books, 2014).

Tanya Luhrmann, foreword to Ken Wilson, A Letter to My Congregation: An Evangelical Pastor’s Path to Embracing People Who Are Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender in the Company of Jesus ([Version 1.0)] (Amazon.com, 2014).

Terry Mattingly, “About Those Evangelical Whispers on Same-Sex Marriage,” Patheos.com, Thursday, April 17, 2014.

ARTICLE SOURCE: WWW.ALBERTMOHLER.COM

Albert Mohler: On the Bill Nye vs. Ken Ham Debate

Bill Nye’s Reasonable Man—The Central Worldview Clash of the Ham-Nye Debate

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Last night’s debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham attracted a huge international audience and no shortage of controversy—even before it began. Bill Nye, whose main media presence is as “The Science Guy,” and Ken Ham, co-founder of Answers in Genesis and founder of the Creation Museum, squared off in a true debate over one of the most important questions that the human mind can contemplate. That is no small achievement.

I enjoyed a front row seat at the debate, which took place even as a major winter storm raged outside, dumping considerable amounts of snow and ice and causing what the local police announced as a “Class Two” weather emergency. Inside the Creation Museum there was quite enough heat, and the debate took place without a hitch. Thankfully, it also took place without acrimony.

The initial controversy about the debate centered in criticism of Bill Nye for even accepting the invitation. Many evolutionary scientists, such as Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne, refuse to debate the issue, believing that any public debate offers legitimacy to those who deny evolution. Nye was criticized by many leading evolutionists, who argued publicly that nothing good could come of the debate.

Interestingly, this points back to the famous debates over evolution that took place in nineteenth century England, when Anglican churchmen faced early evolutionary scientists in (mostly) civil public exchanges. Back then, it was the churchmen who were criticized by their peers for participation in the debate. Now, the table has turned, indicating something of the distance between the intellectual conditions then and now.

Of course, Bill Nye might have felt some moral obligation to debate the question, since he had launched a unilateral attack on creationist parents in a video that went viral last year. In that video, Nye told creationist parents:

[I]f you want to deny evolution and live in your world, in your world that’s completely inconsistent with everything we observe in the universe, that’s fine, but don’t make your kids do it because we need them. We need scientifically literate voters and taxpayers for the future. We need people that can—we need engineers that can build stuff, solve problems.”

But if Nye had launched the attack, he did not arrive at the debate in a defensive mode. A protege of the late Carl Sagan and the current CEO of the Planetary Society, Nye was in full form last night, wearing his customary bow-tie, and immaculately dressed in a very expensive suit. He took notes with a very fine writing instrument. I like his style.

Ken Ham is a veteran debater on the issue of origins, and he was clearly prepared for the debate. Ham’s arguments were tight and focused, and his demeanor was uniformly calm and professional. The format allowed for a full expression of both arguments, along with spirited exchanges and questions submitted from the audience. What the 150 minute event lacked was any requirement that the debaters answer each other’s questions. That would have changed the way the debate concluded.

The central question of the debate was this: “Is creation a viable model of origins in today’s modern scientific era?” Ham stuck to the question tenaciously. Nye, on the other hand, tried to personalize the debate and kept changing the question from creation to “Ken Ham’s creationism.” Ham was unfazed, and kept to his argument.

As the debate began, it was clear that Ham and Nye do not even agree on definitions. The most friction on definition came when Nye rejected Ham’s distinction between “historical science” and “observational science” out of hand. Nye maintained his argument that science is a unitary method, without any distinction between historical and observational modes. Ham pressed his case that science cannot begin without making certain assumptions about the past, which cannot be observed. Furthermore, Ham rightly insisted that observational science generally does not require any specific commitment to a model of historical science. In other words, both evolutionists and creationists do similar experimental science, and sometimes even side-by-side.

Nye’s main presentation contained a clear rejection of biblical Christianity. At several points in the debate, he dismissed the Bible’s account of Noah and the ark as unbelievable. Oddly, he even made this a major point in his most lengthy argument. As any informed observer would have anticipated, Nye based his argument on the modern consensus and went to the customary lines of evidence, from fossils to ice rods. Ham argued back with fossil and geological arguments of his own. Those portions of the debate did not advance the arguments much past where they were left in the late nineteenth century, with both sides attempting to keep score by rocks and fossils.

In this light, the debate proved both sides right on one central point: If you agreed with Bill Nye you would agree with his reading of the evidence. The same was equally true for those who entered the room agreeing with Ken Ham; they would agree with his interpretation of the evidence.

That’s because the argument was never really about ice rods and sediment layers. It was about the most basic of all intellectual presuppositions: How do we know anything at all? On what basis do we grant intellectual authority? Is the universe self-contained and self-explanatory? Is there a Creator, and can we know him?

On those questions, Ham and Nye were separated by infinite intellectual space. They shared the stage, but they do not live in the same intellectual world. Nye is truly committed to a materialistic and naturalistic worldview. Ham is an evangelical Christian committed to the authority of the Bible. The clash of ultimate worldview questions was vividly displayed for all to see.

When asked how matter came to exist and how consciousness arose, Nye responded simply and honestly: “I don’t know.” Responding to the same questions, Ham went straight to the Bible, pointing to the Genesis narrative as a full and singular answer to these questions. Nye went on the attack whenever Ham cited the Bible, referring to the implausibility of believing what he kept describing as “Ken Ham’s interpretation of a 3,000 year old book translated into American English.”

To Bill Nye, the idea of divine revelation is apparently nonsensical. He ridiculed the very idea.

This is where the debate was most important. Both men were asked if any evidence could ever force them to change their basic understanding. Ham said no, pointing to the authority of Scripture. Nye said that evidence for creation would change his mind. But Nye made clear that he was unconditionally committed to a naturalistic worldview, which would make such evidence impossible.  Neither man is actually willing to allow for any dispositive evidence to change his mind. Both operate in basically closed intellectual systems. The main problem is that Ken Ham knows this to be the case, but Bill Nye apparently does not. Ham was consistently bold in citing his confidence in God, in the gospel of Jesus Christ, and in the full authority and divine inspiration of the Bible. He never pulled a punch or hid behind an argument. Nye seems to believe that he is genuinely open to any and all new information, but it is clear that his ultimate intellectual authority is the prevailing scientific consensus. More than once he asserted a virtually unblemished confidence in the ability of modern science to correct itself. He steadfastly refused to admit that any intellectual presuppositions color his own judgment.

But the single most defining moments in the debate came as Bill Nye repeatedly cited the “reasonable man” argument in his presentation and responses. He cited Adolphe Quetelet’s famed l’homme moyen—“a reasonable man”—as the measure of his intellectual authority. Writing in 1835, Quetelet, a French intellectual, made his “reasonable man” famous. The “reasonable man” is a man of intellect and education and knowledge who can judge evidence and arguments and function as an intellectual authority on his own two feet. The “reasonable man” is a truly modern man. Very quickly, jurists seized on the “reasonable man” to define the law and lawyers used him to make arguments before juries. A “reasonable man” would interpret the evidence and make a reasoned judgment, free from intellectual pressure.

Bill Nye repeatedly cited the reasonable man in making his arguments. He is a firm believer in autonomous human reason and the ability of the human intellect to solve the great problems of existence without any need of divine revelation. He spoke of modern science revealing “what we all can know” as it operates on the basis of natural laws. As Nye sees it, Ken Ham has a worldview, but Nye does not. He referred to “Ken Ham’s worldview,” but claimed that science merely provides knowledge. He sees himself as the quintessential “reasonable man,” and he repeatedly dismissed Christian arguments as “not reasonable.”

In an unexpected turn, near the end of the event, Nye even turned to make an argument against Christianity on grounds of theodicy. He asked Ham if it was “reasonable” to believe that God had privileged a personal revelation that was not equally accessible to all. Nye’s weakest argument had to do with his claim—made twice—that billions of religious people accept modern science. He provided a chart that included vast millions of adherents of other world religions and announced that they are religious but accept modern science. That is nonsense, of course. At least it is nonsense if he meant to suggest that these billions believe in evolution. That is hardly the case. Later, he lowered his argument to assert that these billions of people use modern technology. So, of course, do creationists. There are few facilities in the world more high-tech than the Creation Museum.

Nye is clearly not a fan of theistic evolution, since he argued that a purely natural argument should be quite enough for the “reasonable man.” He seemed to affirm a methodological agnosticism, since he sees the question of a “higher power” or “spiritual being” to be one of little intellectual consequence. He did argue that nature is a closed system and that natural selection can allow for absolutely no supernatural interference or influence. In this respect, he sounded much like Stephen Hawking, who has argued that God may exist, but that there is nothing for him to do.

Ken Ham is a Young Earth Creationist (as am I), but the larger argument was over worldviews, and the debate revealed the direct collision between evolution and the recognition of any historical authority within Genesis 1-11. As if to make that clear, in making one of his closing arguments, Bill Nye actually went back to cite “this problem of the ark.”

The ark is not the real problem; autonomous human reason is. Bill Nye is a true believer in human reason and the ability of modern science to deliver us. Humanity is just “one germ away” from extinction, he said. But science provides him with the joy of discovery and understanding.

The problem with autonomous human reason is made clear by the Apostle Paul in Romans chapter 1:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things” (Rom 1:18-23 ESV).

The problem with human reason is that it, along with every other aspect of our humanity, was corrupted by the fall. This is what theologians refer to as the “noetic effects of the fall.” We have not lost the ability to know all things, but we have lost the ability to know them on our own authority and power. We are completely dependent upon divine revelation for the answers to the most important questions of life. Our sin keeps us from seeing what is right before our eyes in nature. We are dependent upon the God who loves us enough to reveal himself to us—and to give us his Word.

As it turns out, the reality and authority of divine revelation, more than any other issue, was what the debate last night was all about. As the closing statements made very clear, Ken Ham understood that fact, but Bill Nye did not.

The central issue last night was really not the age of the earth or the claims of modern science. The question was not really about the ark or sediment layers or fossils. It was about the central worldview clash of our times, and of any time: the clash between the worldview of the self-declared “reasonable man” and the worldview of the sinner saved by grace.

SOURCE: http://www.albertmohler.com/2014/02/05/bill-nyes-reasonable-man-the-central-worldview-clash-of-the-ham-nye-debate/

BOOK REVIEW: FIVE VIEWS ON BIBLICAL INERRANCY

IS THE BIBLE TRULY WITHOUT ERROR?

FIVE VIEWS ON BIBLICAL INERRANCY

Reviewed By David P. Craig

Four primary topics are treated in this multi-view book: (1) God and his relationship to his creatures, (2) the doctrine of inspiration, (3) the nature of Scripture, and (4) the nature of truth.

Instead of allowing the author’s to simply give a defense of their positions – each scholar tackles the same outline and passages from their own perspective with reference to the Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy (ISBI). Therefore, specific scriptures are handled to demonstrate each view along the lines of three specific categories: (1) The factuality of Scripture, (2) canonical coherence, and (3) theological coherence.

The scholars therefore all interact with the following texts: Joshua 6, Acts 9:9 compared with Acts 22:9, and Deuteronomy 20 in relation to Matthew 5. Joshua 6 was chosen since current details of historical and archaeological evidence have called into question the accuracy of the text’s account of the destruction of of Jericho. The Acts passage which describes Paul’s conversion was chosen due to the apparent discrepancy between what the witnesses saw and heard during this event. For theological coherence the author’s grapple with the question “How is it that Deuteronomy 20 instructs Israel that the complete extermination of Yahweh’s enemies is a matter of Israel’s purity before and obedience to Yaweh, while Jesus subsequently says faithfulness to God requires nonretaliation and sacrificial love of enemeies (Matthew 5:38-48)?”

The scholars addressing these biblical, theological, and historical concerns are two biblical scholars (Michael Bird and Peter Enns), two systematic theologians (John Franke and Kevin Vanhoozer), and one historical theologian (Albert Mohler). Part one consists of Mohler’s and Enns’ essays in a section entitled “Perspectives on Inerrancy and the Past.” In part 2 Michael Bird (hailing from Australia) addresses “Inerrancy from an International Perspective.” In part 3 Kevin Vanhoozer and John Franke represent “Perspectives on Renewing and Recasting Inerrancy Today.” Each essay is then responded to by the other four scholars.

Albert Mohler’s essay was disappointing in that his argumentation was circular and sophomoric. Of all the essays in the book I was looking forward to his the most. It seems that he didn’t put the time into the essay that was necessary. He simply wholeheartedly agreed with ISBI and did a poor job with the biblical material. His historical study of inerrancy was limited to the mid-late 1900’s.  Mohler’s essay was answered in broad strokes and an a priori apologetic that was redundant and unconvincing. Mohler does a much better job in his essays of response – especially in his response to Enns. I wish that the editors would have chosen a biblical scholar in place of Mohler (with his same postion) – because his handling of the biblical material was particularly simplistic and weak. It just seemed like Mohler’s schedule was too busy to put the necessary scholarship into his essay. However, I wholeheartedly agree with Mohler’s assessment of biblical inerancy when he says, “I do not believe that evangelicalism can survive without the explicit and complete assertion of biblical inerrancy…The afirmation of biblical inerrancy means nothing more, and nothing less, than this: When the Bible speaks, God speaks.”

Peter Enns came across as just plain “ticked off” at the whole idea of biblical inerrancy. He gave a plethora of reasons why he doesn’t think ISBI is a fair or accurate document. He does not adhere to inerrancy (as defined by ISBI) and calls it “erroneous.” The closest he comes to arriving at any position on the Bible is when he writes: “Scripture is a collection of a variety of writings that necessarily and unashamedly reflects the worlds in which those writings were produced. The implication of this metaphor is that an understanding of those historical settings can and should affect interpretive conclusions.”

Enns handling of the biblical material was influenced primarily by liberal scholarship. He believes the Jericho episode didn’t happen due to the archaeological evidence. He believes Paul’s conversion reports are blatant contradictions. Lastly, he thinks that the God of the Old Testament as described in Deuteronomy is different than the God portrayed in the New Testament. He writes, “Israel’s depiction of God vis-a-vis the nations unmistakably, and understandably, reflects the ubiquitous tribal culture at the time.”

Mohler writes of Enns, “So, taking Peter Enns at his word the Bible contains numerous passages that not only fail the test of historical accuracy (even to the point of questioning whether the exodus took place), but also present a false and dangerous misrepresentation of God’s very character and will.” The overall response of the other essayists was similar to my own own response. I felt that Enns was overly critical of Scripture, and didn’t really give a constructive or positive view of Scripture at all. It felt like his whole essay was reactionary and destructive. There was really no positive argument given. It was a lot like reading the “new atheists” – a lot of attack and very little evidence or support for their own view.

Michael Bird’s essay was perhaps the most interesting of the five. If he ever loses his job as a theologian he could become a night club comic. He provides humor in his essay and in his responses to the other essayists (especially humorous is his response to Enns). Bird has the difficult task of reflecting the idea of inerrancy outside of the USA. He covers a lot of ground and shares where he agrees and disagrees with ISBI. He provides a very balanced essay in his response to ISBI, his historical reflections on inerrancy around the globe, and his biblical argumentation – brief but very cogent and clear. One of the highlights of Bird’s essay was this gem, “The goal of revelation is not knowing facts about God but also enjoying fellowship with God.” Overall Bird’s essay is very witty, theologically insightful, and interesting.

Kevin Vanhoozer’s essay argues for what he terms “A Well-versed inerrancy.” He basis his definition largely on the historic tradition of Augustine. Vanhoozer proposes this definition of inerrancy, “to say that the Scripture is inerrant is to confess faith that the authors speak the truth in all things they affirm (when they make affirmations), and will eventually be seen to have spoken truly (when right readers read rightly).” The bulk of Vanhoozer’s essay buttresses his definition of inerrancy with a particular interest in the terms “truth” and “language” and he ties these concepts to the writings and concepts developed by Augustine. His essay utilizes careful language and sophisticated theological and philosophical depth that one would expect of a top-notch systematic theologian. Vanhoozer handles the biblical passages with tremendous theological and exegetical skill.

Vanhoozer gives the practical importance of a well-versed inerrancy with these words: “Implicit in my definition of inerrancy is that we be not only literate readers who rightly see what proposition an author is proposing (the literal sense) and what kind of attention to this proposition is required (literary sensibility) but also right-minded and right-hearted readers who respond rightly to each and every communicative act of Scripture (Spirit-given literacy) Ultimately, a well-versed approach to inerrancy constitutes nothing less than a standing requirement that the community of Scripture’s interpreters become persons capable of understanding, loving, and participating in the truth.”

I love the conclusion to Vanhoozer’s essay where he quotes Augustine’s approach to the veracity of the Scriptures: “And if in these writings I am perplexed by anything which appears to me opposed to the truth, I do not hesitate to suppose that either the manuscript is faulty, or the translator has not caught the meaning of what was said, or I myself have failed to understand.” Of all the essays, I found Vanhoozer’s to be the most theologically profound and exegetically sound.

John Franke does not believe that the ICBI should serve as the standard-bearer for inerrancy. He offers an alternative model – what he calls a fallibilist perspective, “inerrancy functions only within the limits of language alone. It applies to Scripture only in the context of the original settings in which the texts that we have were constructed, and its affirmations and teachings cannot be abstracted from those contexts and offered as absolute truth, because only God knows and is Truth…this means that the ultimate truth and inerrancy of the Bible are finally contained not in the particular narratives and teachings of individual texts but rather in relation to its intended purpose and function in the economy of God…the Bible is that language the Spirit appropriates and employs to effect the social construction of the Christian community.”

Therefore, for Franke, the Bible is essentially fallible because it was written by fallible human beings. He expects that the Scriptures will contain errors and in his discussion of the biblical passages he is not troubled in the slightest by the historicity of the conquest of Jericho, nor the historic details of Paul’s Damascus Road vision. He seems more concerned about the big picture than the little details of the Bible. In doing so – he never quite tells us what inerrancy is. He never tells us what truth is. I found his essay to be confusing, fragmented, and unconvincing in regards to his theology, epistemology, and exegesis.

On the whole this is a fascinating multi-view book. The terrain covered is theologically rich, historically insightful, and exegetically helpful. The final chapter written by Stephen M. Garrett and J. Merrick was just what the doctor ordered. It helped bring synthesis, clarification, as well as a much needed explanation of the continuity and discontinuity on the spectrum of issues presented throughout the book. I highly recommend this book for everyone who loves God’s Word and is seeking to know, love, and live out His truth as revealed in the Scriptures.

Preaching with Authority: Three Characteristics of Expository Preaching

“Preaching With Authority” by Dr. Albert Mohler

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Authentic expository preaching is marked by three distinct characteristics: authority, reverence, and centrality. Expository preaching is authoritative because it stands upon the very authority of the Bible as the word of God. Such preaching requires and reinforces a sense of reverent expectation on the part of God’s people. Finally, expository preaching demands the central place in Christian worship and is respected as the event through which the living God speaks to his people.

A keen analysis of our contemporary age comes from sociologist Richard Sennett of New York University. Sennett notes that in times past a major anxiety of most persons was loss of governing authority. Now, the tables have been turned, and modern persons are anxious about any authority over them: “We have come to fear the influence of authority as a threat to our liberties, in the family and in society at large.” If previous generations feared the absence of authority, today we see “a fear of authority when it exists.”

Some homileticians suggest that preachers should simply embrace this new worldview and surrender any claim to an authoritative message. Those who have lost confidence in the authority of the Bible as the word of God are left with little to say and no authority for their message. Fred Craddock, among the most influential figures in recent homiletic thought, famously describes today’s preacher “as one without authority.” His portrait of the preacher’s predicament is haunting: “The old thunderbolts rust in the attic while the minister tries to lead his people through the morass of relativities and proximate possibilities.” “No longer can the preacher presuppose the general recognition of his authority as a clergyman, or the authority of his institution, or the authority of Scripture,” Craddock argues. Summarizing the predicament of the postmodern preacher, he relates that the preacher “seriously asks himself whether he should continue to serve up monologue in a dialogical world.”

The obvious question to pose to Craddock’s analysis is this: If we have no authoritative message, why preach? Without authority, the preacher and the congregation are involved in a massive waste of precious time. The very idea that preaching can be transformed into a dialogue between the pulpit and the pew indicates the confusion of our era.

Contrasted to this is the note of authority found in all true expository preaching. As Martyn Lloyd-Jones notes:

Any study of church history, and particularly any study of the great periods of revival or reawakening, demonstrates above everything else just this one fact: that the Christian Church during all such periods has spoken with authority. The great characteristic of all revivals has been the authority of the preacher. There seemed to be something new, extra, and irresistible in what he declared on behalf of God.

The preacher dares to speak on behalf of God. He stands in the pulpit as a steward “of the mysteries of God” (1 Cor 4:1) and declares the truth of God’s word, proclaims the power of that word, and applies the word to life. This is an admittedly audacious act. No one should even contemplate such an endeavor without absolute confidence in a divine call to preach and in the unblemished authority of the Scriptures.

In the final analysis, the ultimate authority for preaching is the authority of the Bible as the word of God. Without this authority, the preacher stands naked and silent before the congregation and the watching world. If the Bible is not the word of God, the preacher is involved in an act of self-delusion or professional pretension.

Standing on the authority of Scripture, the preacher declares a truth received, not a message invented. The teaching office is not an advisory role based on religious expertise, but a prophetic function whereby God speaks to his people.

Authentic expository preaching is also marked by reverence. The congregation that gathered before Ezra and the other preachers demonstrated a love and reverence for the word of God (Neh 8). When the book was read, the people stood up. This act of standing reveals the heart of the people and their sense of expectation as the word was read and preached.

Expository preaching requires an attitude of reverence on the part of the congregation. Preaching is not a dialogue, but it does involve at least two parties—the preacher and the congregation. The congregation’s role in the preaching event is to hear, receive, and obey the word of God. In so doing, the church demonstrates reverence for the preaching and teaching of the Bible and understands that the sermon brings the word of Christ near to the congregation. This is true worship.

Lacking reverence for the word of God, many congregations are caught in a frantic quest for significance in worship. Christians leave worship services asking each other, “Did you get anything out of that?” Churches produce surveys to measure expectations for worship: Would you like more music? What kind? How about drama? Is our preacher sufficiently creative?

Expository preaching demands a very different set of questions. Will I obey the word of God? How must my thinking be realigned by Scripture? How must I change my behavior to be fully obedient to the word? These questions reveal submission to the authority of God and reverence for the Bible as his word.

Likewise, the preacher must demonstrate his own reverence for God’s word by dealing truthfully and responsibly with the text. He must not be flippant or casual, much less dismissive or disrespectful. Of this we can be certain, no congregation will revere the Bible more than the preacher does.

If expository preaching is authoritative, and if it demands reverence, it must also be at the center of Christian worship. Worship properly directed to the honor and glory of God will find its center in the reading and preaching of the word of God. Expository preaching cannot be assigned a supporting role in the act of worship—it must be central.

In the course of the Reformation, Luther’s driving purpose was to restore preaching to its proper place in Christian worship. Referring to the incident between Mary and Martha in Luke 10, Luther reminded his congregation and students that Jesus Christ declared that only one thing is necessary,” the preaching of the word (Luke 10:42). Therefore, Luther’s central concern was to reform worship in the churches by re-establishing there the centrality of the reading and preaching of the word.

That same reformation is needed in American evangelicalism today. Expository preaching must once again be central to the life of the church and central to Christian worship. In the end, the church will not be judged by its Lord for the quality of its music but for the faithfulness of its preaching.

When today’s evangelicals speak casually of the distinction between worship and preaching (meaning that the church will enjoy an offering of music before adding on a bit of preaching), they betray their misunderstanding of both worship and the act of preaching. Worship is not something we do before we settle down for the word of God; it is the act through which the people of God direct all their attentiveness to the one true and living God who speaks to them and receives their praises. God is most beautifully praised when his people hear his word, love his word, and obey his word.

As in the Reformation, the most important corrective to our corruption of worship (and defense against the consumerist demands of the day) is to rightly return expository preaching and the public reading of God’s word to primacy and centrality in worship. Only then will the “missing jewel” be truly rediscovered.

*Article originally appeared @ http://www.albertmohler.com/2013/09/06/preaching-with-authority-three-characteristics-of-expository-preaching/

About Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr.

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Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr. serves as president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary – the flagship school of the Southern Baptist Convention and one of the largest seminaries in the world.

Dr. Mohler has been recognized by such influential publications asTime and Christianity Today as a leader among American evangelicals. In fact, Time.com called him the “reigning intellectual of the evangelical movement in the U.S.”

In addition to his presidential duties, Dr. Mohler hosts two programs: “The Briefing,” a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview; and “Thinking in Public,” a series of conversations with the day’s leading thinkers. He also writes a popular blog and a regular commentary on moral, cultural and theological issues. All of these can be accessed through Dr. Mohler’s website, http://www.AlbertMohler.com. Called “an articulate voice for conservative Christianity at large” by The Chicago Tribune, Dr. Mohler’s mission is to address contemporary issues from a consistent and explicit Christian worldview.

Widely sought as a columnist and commentator, Dr. Mohler has been quoted in the nation’s leading newspapers, including The New York Times,The Wall Street JournalUSA TodayThe Washington PostThe Atlanta Journal/Constitution and The Dallas Morning News. He has also appeared on such national news programs as CNN’s “Larry King Live,” NBC’s “Today Show” and “Dateline NBC,” ABC’s “Good Morning America,” “The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer” on PBS, MSNBC’s “Scarborough Country” and Fox’s “The O’Reilly Factor.”

Dr. Mohler is a theologian and an ordained minister, having served as pastor and staff minister of several Southern Baptist churches. He came to the presidency of Southern Seminary from service as editor of The Christian Index, the oldest of the state papers serving the Southern Baptist Convention.

A native of Lakeland, Fla., Dr. Mohler was a Faculty Scholar at Florida Atlantic University before receiving his Bachelor of Arts degree from Samford University in Birmingham, Ala. He holds a master of divinity degree and the doctor of philosophy (in systematic and historical theology) from Southern Seminary. He has pursued additional study at the St. Meinrad School of Theology and has done research at University of Oxford (England).

Dr. Mohler also serves as the Joseph Emerson Brown Professor of Christian Theology at Southern Seminary. His writings have been published throughout the United States and Europe. In addition to contributing to a number of collected volumes, he is the author of several books, includingCulture Shift: Engaging Current Issues with Timeless Truth (Multnomah); Desire & Deceit: The Real Cost of the New Sexual Tolerance (Multnomah); Atheism Remix: A Christian Confronts the New Atheists (Crossway); He Is Not Silent: Preaching in a Postmodern World (Moody); The Disappearance of God: Dangerous Beliefs in the New Spiritual Openness (Multnomah); and Words From the Fire: Hearing the Voice of God in the Ten Commandments (Moody). From 1985 to 1993, he served as associate editor of Preaching, a journal for evangelical preachers, and is currently editor-in-chief of The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology.

A leader within the Southern Baptist Convention, Dr. Mohler has served in several offices including a term as Chairman of the SBC Committee on Resolutions, which is responsible for the denomination’s official statements on moral and doctrinal issues. He also served on the seven-person Program and Structure Study Committee, which recommended the 1995 restructuring of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. In 2000, Dr. Mohler served on a blue-ribbon panel that made recommendations to the Southern Baptist Convention for revisions to the Baptist Faith and Message, the statement of faith most widely held among Southern Baptists. Most recently, he served on the Great Commission Task Force, a denominational committee that studied the effectiveness of SBC efforts to fulfill the Great Commission. He currently serves as chairman of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Council of Seminary Presidents.

Dr. Mohler has presented lectures or addresses at institutions including Columbia University, the University of Virginia, Wheaton College, Samford University, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, the University of Richmond, Mercer University, Cedarville University, Beeson Divinity School, Reformed Theological Seminary, The Master’s Seminary, Geneva College, Biola University, Covenant Theological Seminary, The Cumberland School of Law, The Regent University School of Law, Grove City College, Vanderbilt University and the historic Chautauqua Institution, among many others.

Dr. Mohler is listed in Who’s Who in America and other biographical reference works and serves on the boards of several organizations including Focus on the Family. He is a member of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and serves as a council member for The Gospel Coalition.

He is married to Mary, and they have two children, Katie and Christopher.

John Stott Interview with Al Mohler on Preaching Between Two Worlds

Between Two Worlds: An Interview with John R. W. Stott

[The funeral for John R. W. Stott, one of the most famous evangelical preachers of the last century, will be held today in London at All Souls Church [August 8, 2011], Langham Place, where he served with distinction for so many decades of ministry. In honor of John Stott, I here republish an interview I conducted with the great preacher in 1987. The interview was first published in Preaching magazine, for which I was then Associate Editor.]

John R. W. Stott has emerged in the last half of the twentieth century as one of the leading evangelical preachers in the world. His ministry has spanned decades and continents, combining his missionary zeal with the timeless message of the Gospel.

For many years the Rector of All Souls Church, Langham Place, in London, Stott is also the founder and director of the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity. His preaching ministry stands as a model of the effective communication of biblical truth to secular men and women.

The author of several worthy books, Stott is perhaps best known in the United States through his involvement with the URBANA conferences. His voice and pen have been among the most determinative forces in the development of the contemporary evangelical movement in the Church of England and throughout the world.

Preaching Associate Editor R. Albert Mohler interviewed Stott during one of the British preacher’s frequent visits to the United States.

Mohler: You have staked your ministry on biblical preaching and have established a world-wide reputation for the effective communication of the gospel. How do you define ‘biblical preaching’?

Stott: I believe that to preach or to expound the Scripture is to open up the inspired text with such faithfulness and sensitivity that God’s voice is heard and His people obey Him. I gave that definition at the Congress on Biblical Exposition and I stand by it, but let me expand a moment.

My definition deliberately includes several implications concerning the scripture. First, it is a uniquely inspired text. Second, the Scripture must be opened up. It comes to us partially closed, with problems which must be opened up.

Beyond this, we must expound it with faithfulness and sensitivity. Faithfulness relates to the Scripture itself. Sensitivity relates to the modern world. The preacher must give careful attention to both.

We must always be faithful to the text, and yet ever sensitive to the modern world and its concerns and needs. When this happens the preacher can come with two expectations. First, that God’s voice is heard because He speaks through what He has spoken. Second, that His people will obey Him — that they will respond to His Word as it is preached.

Mohler: You obviously have a very high regard for preaching. In Between Two Worlds you wrote extensively of the glory of preaching, even going so far as to suggest that “preaching is indispensable to Christianity.”

We are now coming out of an era in which preaching was thought less and less relevant to the church and its world. Even in those days you were outspoken in your affirmation of the preaching event and its centrality. Has your mind changed?

Stott: To the contrary! I still believe that preaching is the key to the renewal of the church. I am an impenitent believer in the power of preaching.

I know all the arguments against it: that the television age has rendered it useless; that we are a spectator generation; that people are bored with the spoken word, disenchanted with any communication by spoken words alone. All these things are said these days.

Nevertheless, when a man of God stands before the people of God with the Word of God in his hand and the Spirit of God in his heart, you have a unique opportunity for communication.

I fully agree with Martyn Lloyd-Jones that the decadent periods in the history of the church have always been those periods marked by preaching in decline. That is a negative statement. The positive counterpart is that churches grow to maturity when the Word of God is faithfully and sensitively expounded to them.

If it is true that a human being cannot live by bread only, but by every word which proceeds out of the mouth of God, then it also is true of churches. Churches live, grow, and thrive in response to the Word of God. I have seen congregations come alive by the faithful and systematic unfolding of the Word of God.

The Text Means What the Author Meant

Mohler: You have pictured the great challenge of preaching as creating a bridge between two worlds — the world of the biblical text and the world of the contemporary hearer. That chasm seems ever more imposing in the modern world. How can the preacher really bridge that chasm?

Stott: Any bridge, if it is to be effective, must be firmly grounded on both sides of the canyon. To build a bridge between the modern world and the biblical world we must first be careful students of both. We must be ever engaged in careful biblical exegesis, conscientiously and continually, and yet also involved in careful study of the contemporary context. Only this will allow us to relate one to the other.

I find it helpful in my own study to ask two questions of the text — and in the right order. First, “What does it mean?” and second, “What does it say?”

The answer to the first is determined by the original author. I am fond of citing E. D. Hirsch in his book Validity in Interpretation, when he wrote: “The text means what its author meant.”

That is my major quarrel with the existentialists, who say that the text means what it means to me — the reader — independent of what the author meant. We must say “no” to that. A text means primarily what its author meant. It is the author who establishes the meaning of the text.

Beyond that, we must accept the discipline of grammatical and historical exegesis, of thinking ourselves back into the historical, geographical, cultural, and social situation in which the author was writing. We must do this to understand what the text means. It cannot be neglected.

The second question moves us from the original meaning of the text to its contemporary message — “What does it say?” If we ask the first question without asking the second, we lapse into antiquarianism, unrelated to modern reality.

On the other hand, if we leap to the second question, “What does it say today?,” we lapse into existentialism, unrelated to the reality of biblical revelation. We have to relate the past revelation of God to the present reality of the modern world.

Mohler: That requires a double exegesis — an exegesis of the text and also an exegesis of life. Is it your opinion that most evangelicals are better exegetes of the text than they are of life?

Stott: Oh, I am sure of it. I am myself and always have been a better student of Scripture than of the present reality. We love the Bible, read it and study it, and all of our preaching comes out of the Bible. Very often it does not land on the other side of that chasm, it is never earthed in reality.

The attractiveness of liberal or radical preaching, whatever it is called these days, is that it tends to be done by genuinely modern people who live in the modern world, understand it, and relate to it. But their message often does not come from the Bible. Their message is never rooted in the textual side of the chasm. We must combine the two relevant questions.

Mohler: Most of us think of ourselves as modern persons, and yet we may lack a suitable hermeneutic of the contemporary. What have you found to be helpful as you seek to be a better student of the contemporary world?

Stott: I mentioned in Between Two Worlds how very helpful I found involvement in a reading group I founded about fifteen years ago. They are graduates and professional people — doctors, an architect, an attorney, teachers and so on. All are committed to Christ and the Scripture and yet anxious to be modern and contemporary people. We meet every month or so when I am in London.

We decide to read a particular book, or see a particular play or exhibition, and spend the evening discussing it. We give most attention to books. We go around the circle and give our immediate impression before eventually turning and asking “Now, what has the Gospel to say to this?” I have found it enormously helpful to be forced to think biblically about modern issues.

Mohler: So you would point biblical preachers not only to the biblical text, but to a very wide reading?

Stott: Absolutely. I think wide reading is essential. We need to listen to modern men and women and read what they are writing. We need to go to the movies, to watch television, to go to the theater. The modern screen and stage are mirrors of the modern world. I seldom go on my own. I go with friends committed to the same kind of careful understanding.

Mohler: You have made it clear that you see preaching as a glorious calling and vocation. What do you see as the greatest contemporary need in preaching? Where is biblical preaching falling tragically short?

Stott: Well, in the more liberal churches, it falls woefully short of being fully biblical. Amongst the evangelical churches it falls short by being less than fully contemporary. I can only repeat the great need of struggling to understand the issues of the modern world. Nevertheless, there is a tremendous correlation between the issues of the biblical world and the modern world.

People are actively seeking the very answers Jesus provides. People are asking the very questions Jesus can answer, if only we understand the questions the world is asking.

I Began with a Very Strong Commitment to Scripture

Mohler: Your service over many years at All Souls Church in London had a tremendous impact throughout much of the world. There, in the midst of London’s busiest retail area, you presented the gospel with great effectiveness and power. Did your preaching change at all during your ministry at All Souls?

Stott: I began with a very strong commitment to Scripture, a very high view of its authority and inspiration. I have always loved the Word of God — ever since I was converted. Therefore, I have always sought to exercise an expository or exegetical ministry.

In my early days I used to think that my business was to expound and exegete the text; I am afraid I left the application to the Holy Spirit. It is amazing how you can conceal your laziness with a little pious phraseology! The Holy Spirit certainly can and does apply the Word for the people. But it is wrong to deny our own responsibility in the application of the Word.

All great preachers understand this. They focus on the conclusion, on the application of the text. This is what the Puritans called “preaching through to the heart.” This is how my own preaching has changed. I have learned to add application to exposition — and this is the bridge-building across the chasm.

Mohler: You have recently published a major volume on the cross [The Cross of Christ, InterVarsity Press, 1986]. This has always been central to your preaching — and all genuinely Christian preaching. Do you perceive an inadequate focus on the cross in the pulpit today?

Stott: Indeed, so far as I can see, it is inadequate. I think we need to get back to the fact that the cross is the center of biblical Christianity. We must not allow those on the one hand to put the incarnation as primary, nor can we allow those on the other hand to put the primary focus on the resurrection.

Of course, the cross, the incarnation, and the resurrection belong together. There could have been no atonement without the incarnation or without the resurrection. The incarnation prepares for the atonement and the resurrection endorses the atonement, so they belong always together.

Yet the New Testament is very clear that the cross stands at the center. It worries me that some evangelicals do not focus on Christ crucified as the center. Of course, we preach the whole of biblical religion, but with the cross as central.

One of the surprises which came as a product of the research for the book was the discovery that most books on the cross focus only on the atonement. There is much the New Testament has to say about the cross which is not focused on the atonement.

We are told, for example, to take up our cross and follow Christ. Communion is a cross-centered festival. There is the whole question of balance in the modern world. The problems of suffering and self-image are addressed by the cross. These issues appear quite differently when our world-view is dominated by the cross.

We Belong in a Study, Not an Office

Mohler: You are probably as well known in America as in England. Furthermore, you know America — its churches and its preachers. What would be your word to the Servants of the Word on this side of the Atlantic?

Stott: I think my main word to American preachers is, as Stephen Olford has often said, that we belong in a study, not in an office. The symbol of our ministry is a Bible — not a telephone. We are ministers of the Word, not administrators, and we need to relearn the question of priority in every generation.

The Apostles were in danger of being diverted from the ministry to which they had been called by Jesus — the ministry of Word and prayer. They were almost diverted into a social ministry for squabbling widows.

Now both are important, and both are ministries, but the Apostles had been called to the ministry of the Word and not the ministry of tables. They had to delegate the ministry of the tables to other servants. We are not Apostles, but there is the work of teaching that has come to us in the unfolding of the apostolic message of the New Testament. This is our priority as pastors and preachers.

Jesus preached to the crowds, to the group, and to the individual. He had the masses, the disciples, and individuals coming to Him. He preached to crowds, taught the disciples, and counseled individuals. We must also have this focus. It is all in the ministry of the Word.

 This interview is republished by the kind permission of Preaching magazine, Dr. Michael Duduit, editor. See http://www.preaching.com

The Goodness of God and the Reality of Evil by Dr. Albert Mohler

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Every thoughtful person must deal with the problem of evil. Evil acts and tragic events come to us all in this vale of tears known as human life. The problem of evil and suffering is undoubtedly the greatest theological challenge we face.

Most persons face this issue only in a time of crisis. A senseless accident, a wasting disease, or an awful crime demands some explanation. Yesterday, evil showed its face again as a giant tornado brought death and destruction to Moore, Oklahoma.

For the atheist, this is no great problem. Life is a cosmic accident, morality is an arbitrary game by which we order our lives, and meaning is non-existent. As Oxford University’s Professor Richard Dawkins explains, human life is nothing more than a way for selfish genes to multiply and reproduce. There is no meaning or dignity to humanity.

For the Christian Scientist, the material world and the experience of suffering and death are illusory. In other religions suffering is part of a great circle of life or recurring incarnations of spirit.

Some Christians simply explain suffering as the consequence of sins, known or unknown. Some suffering can be directly traced to sin. What we sow, so shall we reap, and multiple millions of persons can testify to this reality. Some persons suffer innocently by the sinful acts of others.

But Jesus rejected this as a blanket explanation for suffering, instructing His disciples in John 9 and Luke 13 that they could not always trace suffering back to sin. We should note that the problem of evil and suffering, the theological issue of theodicy, is customarily divided into evil of two kinds, moral and natural. Both are included in these passages. In Luke 13, the murder of the Galileans is clearly moral evil, a premeditated crime–just like the terrorist acts in New York and Washington. In John 9, a man is blind from birth, and Jesus tells the Twelve that this blindness cannot be traced back to this man’s sin, or that of his parents.

Natural evil comes without a moral agent. A tower falls, an earthquake shakes, a tornado destroys, a hurricane ravages, a spider bites, a disease debilitates and kills. The world is filled with wonders mixed with dangers. Gravity can save you or gravity can kill you. When a tower falls, it kills.

People all over the world are demanding an answer to the question of evil. It comes only to those who claim that God is mighty and that God is good. How could a good God allow these things to happen? How can a God of love allow killers to kill, terrorists to terrorize, and the wicked to escape without a trace?

No superficial answer will do. Our quandary is well known, and the atheists think they have our number. As a character in Archibald MacLeish’s play, J.B. asserts, “If God is God He is not good, if God is good He is not God; take the even, take the odd . . . .” As he sees it, God can be good, or He can be powerful, but He cannot be both.

We will either take our stand with God’s self-revelation in the Bible, or we are left to invent a deity of our own imagination. The Bible quickly excludes two false understandings.

First, the Bible reveals that God is omnipotent and omniscient. These are unconditional and categorical attributes. The sovereignty of God is the bedrock affirmation of biblical theism. The Creator rules over all creation. Not even a sparrow falls without His knowledge. He knows the number of hairs upon our heads. God rules and reigns over all nations and principalities. Not one atom or molecule of the universe is outside His active rule.

The sovereignty of God was affirmed by King Nebuchadnezzar, who confessed that God “does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’” [Daniel 4:36]. Process theologians have attempted to cut God’s power down to size, rendering the Creator as one power among others. The evangelical revisionists pushing open theism have attempted to cut God’s omniscience down to size, rendering Him as one mind among others.

Rabbi Harold Kushner argues that God is doing the best He can under the circumstances, but He lacks the power to either kill or cure. The openness theists argue that God is always ready with Plan B when Plan A fails. He is infinitely resourceful, they stress, just not really sovereign.

These are roads we dare not take, for the God of the Bible causes the rising and falling of nations and empires, and His rule is active and universal. Limited sovereignty is no sovereignty at all.

The second great error is to ascribe evil to God. But the Bible does not allow this argument. God is absolute righteousness, love, goodness, and justice. Most errors related to this issue occur because of our human tendency to impose an external standard–a human construction of goodness–upon God. But good does not so much define God as God defines good.

How then do we speak of God’s rule and reconcile this with the reality of evil? Between these two errors the Bible points us to the radical affirmation of God’s sovereignty as the ground of our salvation and the assurance of our own good. We cannot explain why God has allowed sin, but we understand that God’s glory is more perfectly demonstrated through the victory of Christ over sin. We cannot understand why God would allow sickness and suffering, but we must affirm that even these realities are rooted in sin and its cosmic effects.

How does God exercise His rule? Does He order all events by decree, or does He allow some evil acts by His mere permission? This much we know–we cannot speak of God’s decree in a way that would imply Him to be the author of evil, and we cannot fall back to speak of His mere permission, as if this allows a denial of His sovereignty and active will.

A venerable confession of faith states it rightly: “God from eternity, decrees or permits all things that come to pass, and perpetually upholds, directs, and governs all creatures and all events; yet so as not in any way to be the author or approver of sin nor to destroy the free will and responsibility of intelligent creatures.”

God is God, and God is good. As Paul affirms for the church, God’s sovereignty is the ground of our hope, the assurance of God’s justice as the last word, and God’s loving rule in the very events of our lives: “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, who are the called according to His purpose.” [Romans 8:28]

We dare not speak on God’s behalf to explain why He allowed these particular acts of evil to happen at this time to these persons and in this manner. Yet, at the same time, we dare not be silent when we should testify to the God of righteousness and love and justice who rules over all in omnipotence. Humility requires that we affirm all that the Bible teaches, and go no further. There is much we do not understand. As Charles Spurgeon explained, when we cannot trace God’s hand, we must simply trust His heart.

And so, we weep with those who weep, and we reach out with acts of care and compassion. We pray for those who are grieving and have experienced such loss. We cry for the children lost in this storm, even as we are so thankful for brave people who did their best to save lives as the winds raged. And, we pray: Even so, Lord come quickly.

Article originally appeared on August 20, 2005 and reposted again @ http://www.albertmohler.com/2013/05/21/the-goodness-of-god-and-the-reality-of-evil-4/

About Dr. Albert Mohler:

R Albert Mohler

Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr. serves as president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary – the flagship school of the Southern Baptist Convention and one of the largest seminaries in the world.

Dr. Mohler has been recognized by such influential publications as Time and Christianity Today as a leader among American evangelicals. In fact, Time.com called him the “reigning intellectual of the evangelical movement in the U.S.”

In addition to his presidential duties, Dr. Mohler hosts two programs: “The Briefing,” a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview; and “Thinking in Public,” a series of conversations with the day’s leading thinkers. He also writes a popular blog and a regular commentary on moral, cultural and theological issues. All of these can be accessed through Dr. Mohler’s website, http://www.AlbertMohler.com. Called “an articulate voice for conservative Christianity at large” by The Chicago Tribune, Dr. Mohler’s mission is to address contemporary issues from a consistent and explicit Christian worldview.

Widely sought as a columnist and commentator, Dr. Mohler has been quoted in the nation’s leading newspapers, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Atlanta Journal/Constitution and The Dallas Morning News. He has also appeared on such national news programs as CNN’s “Larry King Live,” NBC’s “Today Show” and “Dateline NBC,” ABC’s “Good Morning America,” “The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer” on PBS, MSNBC’s “Scarborough Country” and Fox’s “The O’Reilly Factor.”

Dr. Mohler is a theologian and an ordained minister, having served as pastor and staff minister of several Southern Baptist churches. He came to the presidency of Southern Seminary from service as editor of The Christian Index, the oldest of the state papers serving the Southern Baptist Convention.

A native of Lakeland, Fla., Dr. Mohler was a Faculty Scholar at Florida Atlantic University before receiving his Bachelor of Arts degree from Samford University in Birmingham, Ala. He holds a master of divinity degree and the doctor of philosophy (in systematic and historical theology) from Southern Seminary. He has pursued additional study at the St. Meinrad School of Theology and has done research at University of Oxford (England).

Dr. Mohler also serves as the Joseph Emerson Brown Professor of Christian Theology at Southern Seminary. His writings have been published throughout the United States and Europe. In addition to contributing to a number of collected volumes, he is the author of several books, including Culture Shift: Engaging Current Issues with Timeless Truth (Multnomah); Desire & Deceit: The Real Cost of the New Sexual Tolerance (Multnomah); Atheism Remix: A Christian Confronts the New Atheists (Crossway); He Is Not Silent: Preaching in a Postmodern World (Moody); The Disappearance of God: Dangerous Beliefs in the New Spiritual Openness (Multnomah); and Words From the Fire: Hearing the Voice of God in the Ten Commandments (Moody). From 1985 to 1993, he served as associate editor of Preaching, a journal for evangelical preachers, and is currently editor-in-chief of The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology.

A leader within the Southern Baptist Convention, Dr. Mohler has served in several offices including a term as Chairman of the SBC Committee on Resolutions, which is responsible for the denomination’s official statements on moral and doctrinal issues. He also served on the seven-person Program and Structure Study Committee, which recommended the 1995 restructuring of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. In 2000, Dr. Mohler served on a blue-ribbon panel that made recommendations to the Southern Baptist Convention for revisions to the Baptist Faith and Message, the statement of faith most widely held among Southern Baptists. Most recently, he served on the Great Commission Task Force, a denominational committee that studied the effectiveness of SBC efforts to fulfill the Great Commission. He currently serves as chairman of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Council of Seminary Presidents.

Dr. Mohler has presented lectures or addresses at institutions including Columbia University, the University of Virginia, Wheaton College, Samford University, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, the University of Richmond, Mercer University, Cedarville University, Beeson Divinity School, Reformed Theological Seminary, The Master’s Seminary, Geneva College, Biola University, Covenant Theological Seminary, The Cumberland School of Law, The Regent University School of Law, Grove City College, Vanderbilt University and the historic Chautauqua Institution, among many others.

Dr. Mohler is listed in Who’s Who in America and other biographical reference works and serves on the boards of several organizations including Focus on the Family. He is a member of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and serves as a council member for The Gospel Coalition.

He is married to Mary, and they have two children, Katie and Christopher.

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