Category Archives: Theology

What is the nature of sin and total depravity?

By Spencer D Gear PhD

According to John 8:34 (NLT): Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave of sin”. Does that make all people are sinners who have no other option but to sin?

Can that mean all are totally depraved if we understand total depravity as the spiritual condition of all fallen human beings?

While often misunderstood, the doctrine of total depravity is an acknowledgement that the Bible teaches that as a result of the fall of man (Genesis 3:6) every part of man—his mind, will, emotions and flesh—have been corrupted by sin. In other words, sin affects all areas of our being including who we are and what we do. It penetrates to the very core of our being so that everything is tainted by sin and “…all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” before a holy God (Isaiah 64:6). It acknowledges that the Bible teaches that we sin because we are sinners by nature. Or, as Jesus says, “So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit.” (Matthew 7:17-18).?

The total depravity of man is seen throughout the Bible. Man’s heart is “deceitful and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9) [Got Questions?]?

Is it sound biblical teaching to state that all human beings are contaminated by sin and because of the inner being (heart) of a person, wicked things are said and done – sins are committed?

If this is true, how would you communicate it to a non-Christian who asks: ‘What can be done about the crime and violence in my country?’

You can check this online at aJmartiva.

I have no idea why the Greek hamartia has been transliterated as aJmartina on this Bauer, Arndt & Gingrich lexicon (BAG) website.

Hamartia (sin) cannot be defined simply as this lexicon demonstrates. It means:

1. Actions and results that depart from the way of justice towards God and human beings (Gen 50:17; 1 Jn 5:17, ‘Every wrong thing we do is sin. But there are sins that do not lead to death’, NIRV).

There are many sub-headings under this category that include, fill up the measure of sins; let go = forgive sins; confess your sins to each other, etc.

2. In John’s usage, it means ‘a condition or characteristic quality and is opposed to truth’ (Jn 9:41; 15:24; 1 Jn 1:8).

3. ‘Paul thinks of sin almost in personal terms … as a ruling power’ (Rom 5:12). Everything is subject to sin (Gal 3:22); people serve it (Rom 6:6); are sold into its service (Rom 7:14); and Jesus is a sin-offering for sin (2 Cor 5:21).

4. In Hebrews (as in OT), ‘sin appears as the power that deceives [human beings] and leads them to destruction, whose influence and activity can be ended only by sacrifices (Heb 2:17; 3:13; 9:23ff; 10:18).

5. Special sins: that lead to death (1 Jn 5:16); a great sin (Gen 20:9);

So, my simple definition of total depravity, total inability is:

All human beings do wrong things against God’s standards and harm other people. This condition affects every person and it is opposed to truth. It is the ruling power in every aspect of all people: body, soul, spirit, mind, heart, and conscience.

To cure this condition, it required Jesus’ paying for the sins of all people by dying for them.

Both Calvinists AND Arminians believe in Total Depravity of all human beings. This is what Arminius wrote:

VII. In this state, the free will of man towards the true good is not only wounded, maimed, infirm, bent, and weakened; but it is also imprisoned, destroyed, and lost. And its powers are not only debilitated and useless unless they be assisted by grace, but it has no powers whatever except such as are excited by Divine grace. For Christ has said, “Without me ye can do nothing.” St. Augustine, after having diligently meditated upon each word in this passage, speaks thus: “Christ does not say, without me ye can do but Little; neither does He say, without me ye can do any Arduous Thing, nor without me ye can do it with difficulty. But he says, without me ye can do Nothing! Nor does he say, without me ye cannot complete any thing; but without me ye can do Nothing.” That this may be made more manifestly to appear, we will separately consider the mind, the affections or will, and the capability, as contra-distinguished from them, as well as the life itself of an unregenerate man (Arminius 1977:525-526).

This quote is taken from my article: Do Arminians believe in election and total depravity?

Calvinism on total depravity

The late R C Sproul was teaching TULIP to a college level class of about 30. He explained the doctrine of total depravity (T)

showing them that sin is not simply tangential to our existence. Sin is not the blemish on our exterior; sin penetrates to the very core of our humanity, despoiling us in body, mind, and will and rendering us in a state of moral inability. So much so are we captivated by this bondage to sin that we no longer have within us the moral capacity to incline ourselves to the things of God. I labored over all that for the college students, and at the end of the discussion on total depravity, I asked for a show of hands as to how many were persuaded of this doctrine.

There was no hesitation; every hand went up. On the top left corner of the blackboard I wrote the number 30, and then wrote a message to the janitor: “Please do not erase.”

Class resumed the following Monday, at which time I started on the U of TULIP, unconditional election. When I got through and asked how many agreed with it, there was quite a bit of attrition. Once you get to L, limited atonement, there was wholesale abandonment of their convictions. I said to them, “It’s QED (quod erat demonstrandum); it is automatic. If you understand the doctrine of total depravity, you would have to believe in unconditional election or limited atonement even if the Bible didn’t teach it. If you do not believe in irresistible grace, you would have to assume it once you understand the nature of the fallen condition” (Sproul, Imputation: Romans 5:12-17)

Nice trick to play on College students Dr Sproul[1]

I hope adults are wiser and have more biblical knowledge to know that TULIP critique is found in the Bible. Sproul has failed to mount a convincing case for total depravity for these reasons:

Flaws in Total Depravity

clip_image002 The Bible teaches the depravity of the human heart (Jer 17:9 NIV). However, nowhere does it teach total inability. How do I know? The Bible tells me so. John 5:40 states, “

This issue is not a matter of whether a person can come to Christ. It concerns the will. Will you come?

clip_image002[1] Jesus wept over Jerusalem, saying, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing” (Matt 23:37 NIV)

clip_image002[2] Take note of the last verse of the Bible, Rev 22:17, “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come!’ Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.” We all can accept the “free gift of the water of life.”

It is not a matter of you are in and you are out but all have the offer to “come.”

D. L. Moody addressed a large group of skeptics. He said, “I want to talk about the word BELIEVE, the word RECEIVE, and the word TAKE.” When Mr. Moody had finished his sermon, he asked, “Now who will come and take Christ as Saviour?” One man stood and said, “I can’t.”
Mr. Moody wept and said, “Don’t say, ‘I can’t.’ Say, ‘I won’t’!”
And, the man said, “Then, I won’t!” But, another man said, “I will!” Then, another said, “I will!” And, another said, “I will!” Until scores came to trust Christ as Saviour (Hutson n.d.)

clip_image002[3] Some Calvinists object, using John 6:44 as the stumbling block: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day.”

They need to read further to John 12:32, “And I, when I am lifted up[2] from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” That happened at the cross and his ascension. So, all people are drawn to Christ. Why don’t they accept and come? For the reasons stated above: “You were not willing.” Free will is critical to life’s response to Jesus.

See my article: What is the nature of human free will? 

Calvinists, free will and a better alternative

clip_image002[4] Creation calls every sinner. See Rom 1:19-20, “Since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”

clip_image002[5] Conscience calls all people. See Rom 2:11-16 (NIV),

11 For God does not show favouritism.

12 All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. 14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.) 16 This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.

Defects in Unconditional Election[3]

John Calvin wrote:

Not all men are created with similar destiny but eternal life is foreordained for some, and eternal damnation for others. Every man, therefore, being created for one or the other of these ends, we say, he is predestined either to life or to death (Calvin Bk III, ch 23)

Calvin left no doubt. Some people are predestined to heaven while others are foreordained to eternal damnation.

I find this to be a damnable doctrine that discriminates against certain people – with eternal consequences.

Hutson stated:

I have often said, “Did it ever occur to you that nothing ever occurred to God?” God in His foreknowledge knows who will trust Jesus Christ as Saviour, and He has predestined to see that they are justified and glorified. He will keep all those who trust Him and see that they are glorified. But, the doctrine that God elected some men to Hell, that they were born to be damned by God’s own choice, is a radical heresy not taught anywhere in the Bible.

We know this is the case because of the statement in 1 Peter 1:1-2,

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,

To God’s elect, exiles, scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, 2 who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood:

Grace and peace be yours in abundance.

Christians are chosen, according to God’s foreknowledge “to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood.” Notice it does not say this election is to eternal life or eternal damnation but “to be obedient to Jesus Christ.

Another verse that promotes election, based on foreknowledge is Rom 8:28-30:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

This is predestination, based on foreknowledge, but it is predestination “to be conformed to the image of his Son.

Calvinists love to cherry-pick portions of some verses:

Mr Hutson introduced me to Vic Lockman, a Calvinist, who wrote a book, TULIP, in which he promoted that theology by quoting these verses:

clip_image004 He hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world…” (Eph 1:4) but he did not quote the entire verse which reads: “”According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love.”

The verse has nothing to do with eternal salvation or damnation but election to “be holy and without blame before Him in love.” It is an abomination to see what this Calvinist has done with this verse. He does it again with this verse:

clip_image004[1] Lockman quoted John 15:6, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you…” He has played the shortcut trick by cutting the verse in two. The whole verse reads, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.”

Again, this verse has nothing to do with eternal salvation or eternal damnation but chosen to “bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain.”

This is God’s will:

clip_image004[2] Second Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

Surely this is one of the toughest verses for Calvinists to avoid! See my article, How a Calvinist can distort the meaning of 2 Peter 3:9.

clip_image004[3] John 3:36, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.”

It’s important to note that “believes” and “has” are both present tense verbs. “Whoever continues to reject” and “God’s wrath continues to remain.” The meaning is that of continuous action. The interpretation is: “Whoever continues to believe in the Son continues to have eternal life.” If you continue to reject the Son, God’s wrath continues to remain on you.

The most balanced view of the Calvinist vs Arminian debate I have read is by the late Norman Geisler: Chosen But Free: A Balanced View of Divine Election, 2nd ed.

See also my articles:

clip_image006 Sproul damns Arminianism by association with semi-Pelagianism

clip_image006[1] Is any flavor of Arminianism promoting error?

clip_image006[2] Salvation is a work of God and human beings: More misinformation about Arminianism

clip_image006[3] Do Arminians believe in election and total depravity?

clip_image006[4] Sent to hell by God: Calvinism in action?

clip_image006[5] This was a false charge against Arminians: ‘God does not hate’

clip_image006[6] Controversies over John 10:28 and once saved always saved (OSAS)

clip_image006[7] Blatant misrepresentation of Arminians by Calvinists

clip_image006[8] This was a false charge against Arminians: ‘God does not hate’

clip_image006[9] Stutters on the stairway: Arminianism vs Calvinism (eternal security)

clip_image006[10] Some Calvinistic antagonism towards Arminians

clip_image006[11] An Arminian view of faith in Christ

Works consulted

Arminius, J. 1977. The writings of James Arminius, vol. 1, Public disputations of Arminius, Disputation 11 (On the free will of man and its powers), 523-531. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House. Available at: Works of James Arminius, Vol. 1 – Christian Classics Ethereal Library (Accessed 8 October 2018).

Calvin, John Institutes of the Christian Religion, Christian Classics Ethereal Library.

Geisler, Norman 2001. Chosen But Free: A Balanced View of Divine Election, 2nd ed. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers.

Hutson, Curtis n.d. “Why I Disagree with All Five Points of Calvinism.”

Notes


[1] The rebuttal is based on points made by Hutson (n.d.).

[2] Or, exalted.

[3] Insights from Hutson (n.d.)

Copyright © 2021 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 07 October 2021.

One God, one Spirit, one Son

Kangaroo With Sunset Australia Outback

(image courtesy PublicDomainPictures.net)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

“brakelite” wrote:[1]

The Bible tells us that there is one God. The Bible also tells us there is one spirit. Now God is spirit. Yet the Bible also speaks of the Spirit of God, and the spirit of Christ. Do they have a spirit each? So if God is spirit, and the father and son both have spirits…

I do wish you would reference your statements with biblical quotes (with an Aussie accent, of course). I’ll try to examine this:

The doctrine of God

  1. ‘There is one God’ (Isa 44:6, NIV):

This is what the LORD says—?Israel’s King and Redeemer, the LORD Almighty: I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God’. There are many verses like this throughout the OT, some comparing the one true God with the other gods. How does this one God act in the universe?’

  1. ‘There is one Spirit’ (1 Cor 12:13 NIV):

    ‘For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body–whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free–and we were all given the one Spirit to drink’. Obviously this refers to the one Holy Spirit, one member of the Trinity.

  1. ‘God is spirit’ (John 4:24 ESV)

    , ‘God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth’.) The one God cannot be seen in a body as he is an unseen spirit. Notice the translator have spelled “spirit” without a capital “Spirit.”

We also have statements about:

  1. ‘The Spirit of God’ (1 Cor 3:16 ESV),

    “Do you not know that you[2] are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” This plural for “you” has led to translations such as the NIV, “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?” What an amazing reality that God’s Spirit lives among Christians.

  1. We are taught about “

    The Spirit of Christ (1 Pet 1:10-11 NET):

Concerning this salvation, the prophets who predicted the grace that would come to you searched and investigated carefully. They probed into what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating when he testified beforehand about the sufferings appointed for Christ and his subsequent glory.

So the OT prophets had the Spirit of Christ in them directing their writings and predictions concerning how salvation would come. The human Christ had not been born but His Spirit was within the prophets predicting the person and time of Christ’s sufferings.

Here we have specific actions by the Spirit of Christ.

  1. Does each person have a spirit if the Father and Son both are spirits and these spirits live in believers (1 Cor 3:16)?

As has been discussed, the soul and spirit in people is used interchangeably in biblical exposition (see below). The spirit tends to be the language when discussing how individuals communicate with God.

The doctrine of human beings

There are two main views: Trichotomy and Dichotomy

Trichotomy

The trichotomous view states that human beings consist of three distinct parts, body, soul, and spirit. “The body is the material part of our constitution; the soul is the principle of animal life; and the spirit is the principle of our rational life” (Thiessen 1949:226).

Soul

What biblical support is there for this position? Some theologians rely on Gen 2:7 (KJV): “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” However, contemporary Bible versions, including the NKJV, translate “soul” more accurately: “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.”

Soul (nephesh in Heb., psuche in Greek) in the Bible is often used of more than the spiritual dimension, e.g. Gen 2:7; Ps 16:10. However, the soul is distinguished from the body in a passage such as Gen 35:18 (ESV), “And as her [Rachel’s] soul was departing (for she was dying), she called his name Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin.”

However, 1 Thess 5:23 (ESV) differentiates soul from the body: “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Thiessen’s exposition is observed:

We note, however that it is not said that man became spirit and soul; but rather, that God “inbreathed spirit, and man became a living soul, i.e., God’s life took possession of clay, and as a result man had a soul” (quoting Strong’s Systematic Theology, p. 483 in Thiessen 1949:226).

Let’s summarise. “Soul’s” basic meaning is “life” and refers to “the principle of life in a human being, or to that which animates the body. . . . The primary meaning of soul can most often be captured best by translating it as person, which usually is embodied but is sometimes disembodied” (Geisler 2004:46-47).

Spirit

The word is from the Hebrew ruach and the Greek, pneuma. ‘Almost always [it] refers to “the immaterial dimension of a human being.” It is often used interchangeably with the word soul, as is indicated in many verses (e.g., cf. Luke 1:46). The body without the soul is dead (James 2:26); at death, Jesus “bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (John 19:30).’ (Geisler 2004:47).

So, spirit is immaterial. Remember what Jesus said to his disciples, recorded in Luke 24:38-39 (ESV):

And he [Jesus] said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”

Dichotomy

As ‘di’ indicates two, the dichotomous theory is that

The immaterial part of man [is] viewed as an individual and conscious life, capable of possessing and animating a physical organism, is called psuche; viewed as a rational and moral agent, susceptible of divine influence and indwelling, this same immaterial part is called pneuma. The pneuma, then, is man’s nature looking Godward, and capable of receiving and manifesting the Pneuma hagion [Holy Spirit], the psuche is man’s nature looking earthward, and touching the world of sense. The pneuma is man’s highest part, as related to spiritual realities or as capable of such relation; the psuche is man’s higher part, as related to the body, or as capable of such relation. Man’s being therefore is not trichotomous but dichotomous, and his material part, whial possessing duality of powers, has unity of substance (Strong 1903:486, in Thiessen 1949:225-226).

This theology is backed up by the following biblical facts:

clip_image002 God breathed into the first human beings only one principle – the living soul (Gen 2:7).

clip_image002[1] The terms “soul” and “spirit” seem to be used interchangeably in some references (see Gen 41:8; Ps 42:6 Jn 12:27; Jn 13:21; Matt 20:28; 27:50; Heb 12:23, and Rev 6”9)/

clip_image002[2] “Spirit” and “soul” are applied to brute creatures (e.g. (Eccl 3:21; Rev 16:3).

clip_image002[3] “Soul” is ascribed to Jehovah at Amos 6:8; Jer 9:9; Isa 42:1; 53:10-12; Heb 10:38.

clip_image002[4] Body and soul/spirit constitute the whole of a human being, e.g. Matt 10:28; 1 Cor 5:3; 3 John 2.

clip_image002[5] To lose the soul is to lose everything, e.g. Matt 16:26; Mk 8:36-37 (Thiessen 1949:226).

See my articles:

Flower10 What is the nature of the spirit?

Flower10 Unpacking 1 Thessalonians 5:23

Flower10 What’s the difference between soul and spirit?

Hebrews 4:12

One of the key verses that troubles this discussion is Heb 4:12 (ESV):

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

This is the Mounce Interlinear translation (I hope you can discern between the Greek and English:

For gar the ho word logos of ho God theos is living za? and kai effective energ?s, · kai sharper tomos than hyper any pas two-edged distomos sword machaira, · kai cutting through diikneomai so as to achri divide merismos soul psych? from kai spirit pneuma, joints harmos from kai marrow myelos. It is even kai able to discern kritikos the thoughts enthum?sis and kai deliberations ennoia of the heart kardia.

What does it mean that God’s Word can pierce human soul and spirit? This seems to suggest the soul and spirit can be clearly differentiated. Is that the meaning?

As Alford has stated in his Greek-based commentary,

The logos pierces to the dividing, not of the psuche from the pneuma, but of the psuche itself and of the pneuma itself: the former being the lower portion of man’s invisible part, which he has in common with the brutes. . . . the latter the higher portion, receptive of the Spirit of God . . . both which are pierced and divided by the sword of the Spirit, the word of God. . . . and on the other hand, the harmoi and mueloi could not be thus said to be separated, having never been in contact with one another (Alford: Hebrews 4:12).[3]

Therefore, “it is probable we should think of human beings’ immaterial nature to be composed of a lower and higher portion (Alford on Heb. 4:12).” Thiessen prefers Strong’s language of “higher and lower power”(Thiessen 1949:227).

We are still left with the meaning of logos in Heb 4:12. Does the “word of God” refer to Scriptures, the messages received through meditating on Scriptures, or the subjective word (intuition) received by individuals? This word of God is an “authentic command” that is not just a sharp sword but also “a two-edged sword,” that occur several times in the OT. The language of ‘piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow”—is to be understood as a “rhetorical accumulation” to express the whole mental nature of man on all its sides”’ (Bruce 1964:81-82).

Conclusion

The human constitution is that of body and soul/spirit. Soul and spirit are often used interchangeably, but the soul can refer to bodily life while the spirit focuses on the relationship of the person with God. My examination of the biblical material favors a dichotomous conclusion.

Hebrews 4:12 identifies the “word of God” as God speaking to the whole human being. There is no sense of soul and spirit being divided as they weren’t joined in the first place.

Works consulted

Alford, Henry. Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary, Hebrews, StudyLight.org, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/hac/hebrews-4.html.

Bruce, F F 1964. The Epistle to the Hebrews (The New International Commentary on the New Testament, F F Bruce gen ed). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Geisler, N 2004. Systematic theology: Sin, salvation, vol 3. Minneapolis, Minnesota: BethanyHouse.

Strong, Augustus Hopkins 1903. Systematic Theology (3 vols), public domain: http://www.ntslibrary.com/PDF%20Books%20II/Strong%20-%20Systematic%20Theology.pdf.

Thiessen, H C 1949. Introductory Lectures in Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. Also available online at: http://media.sabda.org/alkitab-2/PDF%20Books/00045%20Thiessen%20Lectures%20in%20Systematic%20Theology.pdf.

Notes


[1] #1471 at: https://www.christianityboard.com/threads/trinity-vs-tritheism-understanding-the-trinity.27750/page-74 (Accessed 18 July 2019).

[2] “The Greek for you is plural in verses 16 and 17” (ESV footnote).

[3] This editing and transliteration of the Greek words were given by Thiessen (1949:227).

Copyright © 2021 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 07 October 2021.

Were the Puritans consistent Calvinists?

Pilgrim’s Progress, first edition 1678.

By Spencer D Gear PhD

I was engaged in blog discussions with Bond-servant of Christ who demonstrated Calvin believed in universal atonement.

The poor man [Calvin] had problems making up his mind! His comments on John 3:16 are very clear:

That whosoever believeth on him may not perish. It is a remarkable commendation of faith, that it frees us from everlasting destruction. For he intended expressly to state that, though we appear to have been born to death, undoubted deliverance is offered to us by the faith of Christ; and, therefore, that we ought not to fear death, which otherwise hangs over us. And he has employed the universal term whosoever, both to invite all indiscriminately to partake of life, and to cut off every excuse from unbelievers. Such is also the import of the term World, which he formerly used; for though nothing will be found in the world that is worthy of the favor of God, yet he shows himself to be reconciled to the whole world, when he invites all men without exception to the faith of Christ, which is nothing else than an entrance into life.

1. Calvin wavered

I responded:

You are correct bond-servant.
You have given the one side of his doctrine. This is the other side:
Calvin’s online edition of
1 John 2:2 states:

And not for ours only He added this for the sake of amplifying, in order that the faithful might be assured that the expiation made by Christ, extends to all who by faith embrace the gospel.
Here a question may be raised, how have the sins of the whole world been expiated? I pass by the dotages of the fanatics, who under this pretense extend salvation to all the reprobate, and therefore to Satan himself. Such a monstrous thing deserves no refutation. They who seek to avoid this absurdity, have said that Christ suffered sufficiently for the whole world, but efficiently only for the elect. This solution has commonly prevailed in the schools. Though then I allow that what has been said is true, yet I deny that it is suitable to this passage; for the design of John was no other than to make this benefit common to the whole Church. Then under the word all or whole, he does not include the reprobate, but designates those who should believe as well as those who were then scattered through various parts of the world. For then is really made evident, as it is meet, the grace of Christ, when it is declared to be the only true salvation of the world.?

I used the language he was a fence-sitter. Perhaps it would be better to state he wavered between universal and limited atonement.

2. A hyper-Calvinist jumped in

I’ve had battles on the Calvinism topic over the years with an administrator at christianforums.com, Hammster. He jumped into this discussion with a brief comment: “Fortunately, the Puritans that [came] after him didn’t waver.”[1]

2.1 Some Puritans also wavered

2.1.1 Richard Baxter

I find it interesting to examine Richard Baxter, the Puritan, and his teaching on the atonement. He stated in this article on the extent of redemption:

I have perused,” he said, “all the articles of the Synod of Dort and unfeignedly [genuinely] honour them as  containing sound and moderate doctrine”. He wrote: “In the very article of perseverance, which some are pleased to quarrel with me about, I subscribe to the Synod.” “Yea” he adds, “in the article of the extent of redemption, wherein I am most suspected and accused, I do subscribe to the Synod of Dort, without any exception, limitation, or exposition of any word, as doubtful or obscure. . . .
“I do subscribe to the Synod of Dort, without any exception, limitation, or exposition, of any word, as doubtful and obscure.” Baxter’s view was that Dort’s theology expresses the mind of Calvin. Fundamental to the Dort Canon’s conception of the atonement is the formula ‘sufficient for all, efficient for the elect'” (Sec Orme’s Memoir of Baxter in
The Practical Works of the Rev. Richard Baxter, vol. 1, p. 456, emphasis in original).

A fundamental teaching of the Synod of Dort was strict Calvinism expressed by the slogan, the atonement was “sufficient for all, efficient for the elect.”

2.1.2 John Bunyan

The Puritan, John Bunyan, rejected limited atonement. He wrote:

O how heartily He will receive us into his arms!  He offers all freely; yea, He comes in the word of the gospel with the blood running down his face, tears upon his cheeks, fresh wounds in his hands and feet, and blood still flowing from his side, to entreat you to accept his gracious offer of reconciliation.  Will you love sin more than grace, and darkness more than light?  Will you shut your eyes to Him but open them wide for the pleasures of the flesh?  Will you run the hazard of death in the day of judgment?  Will you despise Him and reject his grace? (Works 1:1 31-36).

2.1.3 Jonathan Edwards

The Puritan, Jonathan Edwards, viewed the atonement this way:

Universal redemption must be denied in the very sense of Calvinists themselves, whether predestination is acknowledged or no, if we acknowledge that Christ knows all things. For if Christ certainly knows all things to come, he certainly knew, when he died, that there were such and such men that would never be the better for his death. And therefore, it was impossible that he should die with an intent to make them (particular persons) happy.

For it is a right-down contradiction [to say that] he died with an intent to make them happy, when at the same time he knew they would not be happy-Predestination or no predestination, it is all one for that. This is all that Calvinists mean when they say that Christ did not die for all, that he did not die intending and designing that such and such particular persons should be the better for it; and that is evident to a demonstration. Now Arminians, when [they]Ibid. say that Christ died for all, cannot mean, with any sense, that he died for all any otherwise than to give all an opportunity to be saved; and that, Calvinists themselves never denied. He did die for all in this sense; ’tis past all contradiction (Jonathan Edwards [1722], The “Miscellanies”: (Entry Nos. a–z, aa–zz, 1–500; “t”: Universal redemption, Works of Jonathan Edwards, online Vol. 13) , Ed. Harry S. Stout, page 174.)

2.1.4 The Synod of Dort

The Synod of Dort stated in . . .

Article 2.8: The efficacy of the death of Christ. For this was the most free counsel of God the Father, that the life-giving and saving efficacy of the most precious death of his Son should extend to all the elect (John 17:9). It was his most gracious will and intent to give to them alone justifying faith and thereby to bring them unfailingly to salvation (Ephesians 5:25–27; Luke 22:20.).

This means: God willed that Christ through the blood of the cross (by which he confirmed the new covenant) [Luke 22:20; Hebrews8:6] should effectually redeem out of every people, tribe, nation, and tongue (Revelation 5:9) all those, and those only, who from eternity were chosen to salvation and were given to him by the Father. God further willed that Christ should give to them faith (Philippians1: 2, 9), which, together with other saving gifts of the Holy Spirit, he acquired for them by his death; that he should cleanse them by his blood from all sins (1 John 1: 7), both original and actual, both those committed after faith and before faith; and that he should guard them faithfully to the end (John10:28) and at last present them to himself in splendour without any spot or wrinkle (Ephesians 5:27).

3.  Conclusion

Some leading Puritans did not support limited atonement. See my articles in support of the biblical basis of universal (unlimited) atonement:

cubed-iron-sm Is this verse forced into limited atonement theology?

cubed-iron-sm Unlimited atonement by Jesus;

cubed-iron-sm Limited atonement conflicts with God’s goodness.

cubed-iron-sm Did John Calvin believe in limited atonement?

cubed-iron-sm Does the Bible teach limited atonement or unlimited atonement by Christ?

cubed-iron-sm If Jesus’ atonement is for all, should all be saved?

cubed-iron-sm Was John Calvin a TULIP Calvinist?

cubed-iron-sm Can people choose to reject salvation?

4.  Notes


[1] Christianforums.com 2020. “Can a person that believes Jesus is the Son, but not God be saved?” Hammster #236. Available at: https://www.christianforums.com/threads/can-you-be-saved-not-believing-jesus-is-god.8189988/page-12 (Accessed 8 December 2020).

Copyright © 2021 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 14 September 2021.

Peter Sellick promotes fake theology[1]

 Photo of Peter Sellick

Peter Sellick an Anglican deacon working in Perth with a background in the biological sciences.

By Spencer D Gear PhD

This article by Sellick in On Line Opinion (20 February 2019) was loaded with Sellick’s presuppositions – “The origin of facts.” We’ll examine some of them.

Firstly, why have I designated Sellick’s teaching as ‘fake theology’? The Oxford English Dictionary defines fake news as: ‘False information that is broadcast or published as news for fraudulent or politically motivated purposes’ (lexico.com 2020. “fake news”).

So, what would fake theology be? Rev Dr David contends that ‘fake theology [is] even more dangerous than fake news’.[2]

We live in a world where extreme views can be propagated easily through social media channels. These views are sometimes supported by very dodgy theology, and Christians today need to be able to recognise these distortions of the gospel and to counter them. . . . [They] use four key techniques: distraction, confusion, power and lying’.[3]

I find Sellick’s theology to be manipulative because of his imposition of his theological liberal world view on the text. Let’s see how he does it.

1. Who made this comment?

Who, do you think, could have said this? “When we declare the miracles which God has wrought, or will yet work, and which we cannot bring under the very eyes of men, sceptics keep demanding that we shall explain these marvels to reason. And because we cannot do so, inasmuch as they are above human comprehension, they suppose we are speaking falsely.”   Could that be Billy Graham, John MacArthur, Jr. or Benny Hinn?

It was written by St. Augustine who lived in the fourth & fifth centuries [ca. AD 354-430], and was one of the most prominent church leaders in his era (Augustine 2004, City of God, 21.5).

Have you seen a miracle lately?  Do we pray in church for miracles to happen?  Is it the will of God for miracles to be happening around the world in answer to believing prayer?  What was the last miracle you saw happen to people in this church?

I made a lot of comments as Oz in the “Comments” of this article.

1.1 He promotes false theology

Please understand my presuppositions. They are: “All Scripture is breathed out by God” (2 Tim 3:16-17 NIV). I start with the premise God inspired the writing of Scripture through human agency (2 Peter 1:20-21) and God is a perfect Being. That which He composes is truthful.

1.2 Impoverished and suffocated imagination

Sellick’s liberal Anglican view is that

At the centre of this impoverishment is the suffocated imagination. When you have facts, or think you do, then you do not have to have imagination. The fabric of the faith is set out in rational terms accompanied by verifiable facts. Of course, none of these facts are verifiable since we are dealing with events that occurred two thousand years ago and it is the nature of biblical texts to be more preaching that modern historiography. The rich brocade of centuries of theology is reduced to points of fact (emphasis added).

Sadly, the shoe’s on the other foot. It is Sellick’s “impoverished imagination” that adds to the biblical text and does not allow it to speak for itself. There are valid historical indices that can be used on any data from ancient history to determine the reliability of that history.

I have explored some of them in Evidence for the afterlife. He claimed “none of these facts are (sic) verifiable since we are dealing with events that occurred two thousand years ago. This is a false view of historiography as all of the facts of faith can be tested by the indices of historiography. These are explained in,

1.3 Assent to “facts” displaces faith.

Sellick continued (emphasis added):

The problem is that once these “facts” have been established, assent to them displaces faith. Faith then demands that we sacrifice our intellect and believe in the impossible. A great chasm opens between how we experience the world and our beliefs. We do not experience the power of prayer or the performance of miracles. In our world, bodies do not rise from the dead nor are they propelled into space. This is how Christianity has become a laughing stock in our time and why the Church is falling apart all around us.

clip_image001Mangrove red snapper / Mangrove Jack

To the contrary, faith in catching Mangrove Jack is bolstered if I fish where I’ve seen them being caught. I have faith in my Mitsubishi taking me places because it exists in fact and I’ve used it for that purpose.

Faith in Jesus Christ requires Him to have existed, lived on earth, being crucified for our sins and raised for our justification (Rom 4:25 NIV). If the facts surrounding Jesus did not happen, our faith is in an imaginary being.

Paul also confirmed this in 1 Cor 15:16-18 (NLT), “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. 18 In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost!”

Sellick seems to pursue a faith based on fantasy, wishful thinking, a leap of faith rather than on facts. His view is:

  • We do not experience the power of prayer or the performance of miracles” (emphasis added). They are Sellick’s presuppositions and are not based on factual evidence. Miracles are excluded from his world view because of his theologically liberal position. It is not based on the Scripture that says, “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father” (John 14:12 NIV).

If my faith in Jesus is not based on fact, it is fantasy – without any foundation.

  • He wrote: “In our world, bodies do not rise from the dead nor are they propelled into space.”

That should read, “In Peter Sellick’s world, bodies do not rise from the dead nor are propelled through space.” After Jesus returned to the Father, He said, “I tell you the truth, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these” (Jn 14:12 NLT).

  • The works done by Jesus on earth included miracles, but Sellick denied that could happen for believers now. That’s his theologically liberal world view speaking with its low view of Scripture.
  • What are the “greater things than these”? It seems to me nothing would be greater than resurrection from the dead, so “greater things” could refer to greater in quantity. D A Carson explained:

The works believers are given to do through the power of the eschatological Spirit after Jesus’ glorification, will be set in the framework of Jesus’ death and triumph, and will therefore more immediately and truly reveal the Son. Thus greater things is

constrained by salvation-historical realities. In consequence many more converts will be gathered into the messianic community, the nascent church, than were drawn in during Jesus’ ministry (cf. 15:26-27; 17:20; 20:21, 29) [Carson (1991:496)].

I would never attempt to place my faith in a chair with faulty design. I check the facts of a Kensington Pride mango without “bad signs” on the flesh before I sink my teeth into it.

See my article, Are Miracles Valuable?

1.4 Bodies do not rise from the dead nor are they propelled into space.

Again, these are statements from Sellick’s theologically liberal world view. Bodies do not rise from the dead if John 14:12 is discarded as making Christianity a laughing stock.

The disruption that the gospel causes in the world is not a disruption in our understanding of how the physical world works but in what may be called “the ways of the soul” those habits in life that seek security at all costs. Whereas the gospel would have us let go of all false security, one of the hallmarks of faith, fundamentalism would tie us to a written word that displaces the Word to which it is a witness. We must remind ourselves that the bible is not the centre of faith but that it is a witness to the centre: Jesus Christ. In being a witness, it uses all of the facilities of the ancient world; rhetoric, story, poetry and legend. What it does not do is to give us dot points pertaining to facts. (emphasis added).

Let’s pick up on these emphases to examine Sellick’s presuppositions that overwhelm his interpretations.

1.4.1 The disruption of the Gospel

Sellick considers the disruption the gospel causes is a disturbance of “the ways of the soul.” That is not how Scripture sees it:

  • Jesus said: “And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?” (Mark 8:26 NLT). The soul is related to the whole person who can be lost. The Gospel changes everything about a person, including goals in life.
  • I agree that the Gospel disrupts the normal, natural ways of the soul by bringing a new, supernatural focus.
  • Sellick’s false understanding of Fundamentalism is it “would tie us to a written word that displaces the Word to which it is a witness.” Again, he’s barking up the wrong tree. Fundamentalists / evangelicals regard the written Scriptures as one of God’s way of speaking to individuals.
  • Over more than 50 years as an Evangelical believer, the Lord has spoken numerous times to me from Scripture but it has never been a message contrary to what is in Scripture.

1.4.2 Fundamentalists and the Word of God

Let’s survey a few verses that have two emphases: (1) True believers are led by God’s Holy Spirit; (2) Do not add to God’s Word (for the Old Testament).

  • Rom 8:14 (NLT), “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.”
  • Proverbs 30:5-6 (NLT), “Every word of God proves true. He is a shield to all who come to him for protection. Do not add to his words, or he may rebuke you and expose you as a liar.”
  • John 17:17 (NLT), “Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth.”
  • 1 Thessalonians 2:13 (NLT), “Therefore, we never stop thanking God that when you received his message from us, you didn’t think of our words as mere human ideas. You accepted what we said as the very word of God—which, of course, it is. And this word continues to work in you who believe.”

These 4 sets of verses demonstrate God’s written word is truth and we are not to add to it (Prov 30:5-6). Also, in agreement with Sellick, there are those who can be led by the Spirit of God. Having the boundary of Scripture is a solid “fence” against false doctrine.

Jesus warned – even people like Peter Sellick would arise: “For false messiahs and false prophets will rise up and perform great signs and wonders so as to deceive, if possible, even God’s chosen ones” (Matt 24:24 NLT). Therefore, it is necessary to have theological boundaries that are rock solid as the Scriptures (2 Tim 3:16-17 NIV).

1.5 How about after Apostles’ deaths?

Have there been miracles recorded after the death of the Apostles?

1.5.1 St. Augustine of Hippo

Here are a few examples of miracles, performed by the power of God, described in The City of God.

Augustine of Hippo

Triunfo de San Agustín.jpg

The Triumph of Saint Augustine painted by Claudio Coello, c. 1664

a) In Milan, when Augustine was there,

a blind man was restored to sight. . . .  the emperor was there at the time, and the occurrence was witnessed by an immense concourse of people that had gathered to the bodies of the martyrs Protasius and Gervasius. . . .  By virtue of these remains the darkness of that blind man was scattered, and he saw the light of day” (City of God, 22.8).

This miracle involved the use of relics associated with the bodies of martyrs. I will address this issue of relics shortly.

(b) Innocentius at Carthage had a bowel condition, was “treated by medical men” with surgery but it was not successful.  Second surgery was threatened with the surgeons saying “he could onle be cured by the knife.  Agitated with excessive fear, he was terrified.”  There was such “wailing” in the house.  It seemed “like the mourning at a funeral” because of “the terror” the “pains had produced.”  He was exhorted “to put his trust in God.”  Then they “went to prayer ” with “earnestness and emotion, with what a flood of tears, with what groans and sobs.”  When it came time for the proposed surgery, the surgeon searched and searched but there was no disease found.  Augustine writes: “No words of mine can describe the joy, and praise, and thanksgiving to the merciful and almighty God which was poured from the lips of all, with tears of gladness. Let the scene be imagined rather than described!” (The City of God, 22.8)

(c) A woman had breast cancer and her breast was to be removed because the “physicians” said it was “incurable.”  This godly woman went to “God alone by prayer.  [At] Easter, she was instructed in a dream to wait for the first woman that came out from the baptistery after being baptized, and to ask her to make the sign of Christ upon her sore. She did so, and was immediately cured.”  When the physician examined her and now found no cancer, he asked her what “remedy” she had used.  When she told him, he spoke “with a contemptuous tone” and she feared that “he would utter some blasphemy against Christ.”

He said that he thought that she would tell him of “some great [medical] discovery.”  “She, shuddering at his indifference, quickly replied, ‘What great thing was it for Christ to heal a cancer, who raised one who had been four days dead’” (City of God, 22.8).

2. An objection, with a difference, by Forster

Forster worries that since the resurrection is the cornerstone of Christian belief, (I agree) then if it was found not to have happened then the Church will fall. The irony here is that the Church has already fallen. All Nicene denominations that I know of have a critical shortage of priests/ministers who serve smaller and smaller congregations. The Church is spurned by educated men and women because it is presented by Evangelicals as a collection of beliefs that, ironically, do not connect with our experience of the world. These beliefs trail questions behind them too numerous to count. This means that the Church loses its authority because it is plainly irrational. Modern epistemology, applied to biblical texts, produces nonsense and trails unsolvable questions in its wake. The damage to the Church is inestimable.

How should I reply?

  • “The Church, after Nicea, has already fallen.” I agree, but that’s not because it is Evangelical. It has fallen because theological liberalism has torn the heart out of the church.

2.1 Theologically liberal churches declined.

The general trend is for liberal churches to be declining in numbers and Pentecostal and Evangelical churches growing. The exception is the Presbyterians which were the biggest losers in this survey. Take a look at these Australian statistics:

Some Australian denominations are in rapid decline while others are growing. According to our calculations based on various surveys, between 1996 and 2006, the numbers attending on a typical Sunday in Australia declined in the following denominations:

-36% Presbyterians,

-31% Uniting Church,

-25% Lutheran,

-19% Catholic,

-12% Anglican, and

-1% Seventh-day Adventist.

“The Church of England is just one generation away from extinction‘, (said) the former Archbishop of Canterbury” (Lord George Carey).

When John Shelby Spong was Bishop of the Episcopalian Church, Newark NJ, the Episcopalian Church lost 40,000 people. “His works infamously speculated that the Virgin Mary was impregnated by a Roman soldier, that St. Paul was a self-hating homosexual, and that Jesus’ unresurrected body was torn asunder by wild dogs.”

The numbers attending the following denominations grew:

+88% Oriental Christian denominations,

+27% Pentecostal denominations,

+25% Brethren,

+11% Baptist, and

+3% Salvation Army.

The Christian Brethren is a very conservative denomination that closes down women in public ministry in the church service, yet it grew by 25%. There are various levels of conservatism in the Christian Brethren, ranging from the Exclusive (Plymouth) Brethren to the Open Brethren.

2.2 Shortage of ministers

I agree there can be a shortage of ordained ministers in some denominations. My view is that it is related to an unbiblical view of the need for a one-person main pastor. The early churches were house churches where all believers were encouraged to minister. See:

2.3 Serving smaller congregations

That is so for theologically liberal congregations. In the greater Brisbane suburb of Burpengary, on Pitt Rd, there is an old Anglican church and a much larger and more modern Baptist Church building almost opposite each other. The Baptist Church tells which is the more prosperous.

2.4 “Evangelicals do not connect with experience of the world.”

If they don’t, they have moved away from Jesus’ model of being the “light of the world” and the “salt of the earth.”

2.5 “Church is plainly irrational.”

Yes, it can be if we are not thinking Christians who engage in apologetics in defence of the faith. Church that becomes touch-feely and into feelings can sound like irrationality. My personal experience is that I’ve experienced that dimension in some charismatic churches.

The Christian faith is rational. See: Logic and Christian discussions.

I must admit I’ve battled to see apologetics as an important dimension of most churches’ ministries. See: The battle for apologetics in Christian thinking

2.6 “Modern epistemology applied to biblical texts produces nonsense.”

What could he mean by “modern epistemology”? Epistemology means “the theory of knowledge, especially with regard to its methods, validity, and scope, and the distinction between justified belief and opinion” (Oxford English Dictionary 2021, “epistemology”).

The Christian theory of knowledge is comprehensive, including origins of all life, divine revelation of God and his universe, origin of values, a comprehensive world view, and destiny for life and creation. One does not have to like God’s view but it is not nonsensical. In fact, the Christian view of truth is that which coincides with reality.

What could be “nonsense” about a Christian view of contemporary epistemology? It seems he could be pointing to:

2.6.1 What is truth?

See: What is truth?

Truth, aletheia, is that which conforms to reality.

Here are two recommended resources for an analysis of the nature of truth:

2.6.2 It is crucial that we understand Christianity as truth.

Down through the centuries, people have tried to find answers to life through the biblical world view and hundreds of other philosophies. But we have reached utter despair in Australia today. I see it in kids who are high on all kinds of drugs, youth who are committing suicide as a phenomenal rate. When I was working for the international Christian-based drug rehabilitation and counselling agency, Teen Challenge, Canberra, we as staff were confronted with three attempted suicides referred to us in one week. There is a sense of hopelessness and disillusionment in Australia. Families that are busting apart. Crime on the increase. Approximately 100,000 unborn babies slaughtered in Australia every year through abortion. That’s about one every seven minutes.

This should not be surprising when our society is influenced by the Eastern mysticism and occult of the New Age Movement, or straight secularism — this life is all there is to live for and then you die you (your body) rot. So eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow you die. In eastern mysticism you seek meaning within yourself. For secularism, it is this life — so rip into it and use and abuse people, yourself and your environment. Who cares? You only go round once.

As a result, the Australian culture and much of the world are morally exhausted. If you don’t believe me, just take a look at the suicide rate, sexual promiscuity, divorce rate, premarital pregnancy rate, abortion and euthanasia, sexually transmitted diseases (in 1988, there were 51 STDs. Now we are approaching 60 STDs, with a new one discovered about every 9 months.)[4]  Australia and the Western world are morally destitute.

It is critical for Christians to understand that Christ is the truth, ultimate truth. This will alter your view of Christianity and the nature of the world. Your university studies, the environment for political and ethical decisions, your personal worth and significance, the whole of life, need to be measured by Him. If a personal God is not there, who is? When Charlie Chaplin heard that there was no life on Mars, he said, “I feel lonely.”[5] Ultimate questions are too horrid to contemplate if there is no meaning apart from me and the universe. Thank God we have this revelation:

Jesus Christ says, “I am the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (Rev 1:8; 21:6; 22:13). The beginning and the end flow from him. The past, present and future are His.

Colossians 1:15-17 says: “And He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on the earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things have been created by Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.”

This Jesus, who said, “I am the truth; I am the beginning and the end” and “all things hold together through Him” is also the one who said, “Sanctify them by the truth; [the Father’s] word is truth” (John 17:17 NIV).

2.7 Leaves unsolvable questions trailing.

Not for me. It leaves questions for which I seek answers. Old Testament scholar, Dr Gleason Archer, would not accept the Bible’s inerrancy until he had answers for all the biblical doubts he had about certain passages. Read his conclusions in Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties.

There are not unsolvable questions, but questions for which answers need to be sought and found.

2.8 Damage to Church is inestimable

I would put it in the realm of challenges to the Church to provide answers for the young people of a new generation. In addition to Gleason Archer’s book, I recommend:

Hard Sayings of the Bible by Walter C Kaiser Jr., Peter H Davids, F F Bruce, and Manfred T Brauch. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1996.

When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook of Bible Difficulties by Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1992.

3.  Works consulted

Carson, D A. The gospel according to John. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press / Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991.

Sellick, P 2019. The origin of facts. On Line Opinion (online), 20 February. Available at: https://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=20167&page=0 (Accessed 16 September 2019).

Whitford, Chris 2020. Christchurch Clarendon Park. ‘Fake theology: even more dangerous than fake news?’ Available at: https://www.christchurchcp.org.uk/fake-theologyeven-more-dangerous-than-fake-news/ (Accessed 12 July 2020).

4.  Notes


[1] Sellick (2019).

[2] Chris Whitford 2020. Christchurch Clarendon Park (online). ‘Fake theology: even more dangerous than fake news?’ Available at: https://www.christchurchcp.org.uk/fake-theologyeven-more-dangerous-than-fake-news/ (Accessed 12 July 2020).

[3] Ibid.

[4] John Ankerberg & John Weldon, The Myth of Safe Sex. Chicago: Moody Press, 1993, p. 53.

[5] In Charles Colson, The Body, p. 161.

Copyright © 2021 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 10 September 2021.

God’s election and foreknowledge for salvation

Bible Open To Psalm 118

By Spencer D Gear PhD

How would you respond to these statements on a Christian forum? We were discussing John 12:32.

All that the Father gave Christ shall come to Christ; that is the all that Christ draws to Him.
The all Jesus draws don’t reject Christ, they come to Him, they Willingly come to Him.
[1]

I responded:[2]

The Bible bases election on His foreknowledge (Rom 8:28-30; 1 Pet 1:1-2). We need to differentiate between God’s foreknowledge and His randomly determining all things and the distinction between God’s efficient and permissive decrees.

Why did sin enter the world? James N Anderson wrote, “Why would God permit such a tragic event, such an act of flagrant rebellion, in full knowledge of its horrific consequences? A friend of mine quipped, “I can answer that one in three words: I don’t know!”[3]

Anderson reasoned further:

clip_image002“In His infinite wisdom and goodness, God chose the plan that would bring the greatest good.”

clip_image002[1]“ God allowed the fall.

clip_image002[2] “God has good reasons for everything he does, including what he allows.

clip_image002[3] “Therefore, God had good reasons for allowing the fall, whether or not we can discern them.[4]

God foresaw sin’s entering the world but he did not decree it. God knows how people will respond to the Gospel invitation but he does not deliberately determine that response.

Regarding election we must have regard to God’s justice. Let’s admit it. God is not under any obligation to save anyone even though Jesus has provided salvation that is sufficient for all.

God would not be partial if he did nothing to provide salvation for all. But how can He be other than playing favourites if he selects some from the multitude of people throughout history and does nothing for the remainder who are doomed.

However, that is not how the Bible sees it. The common grace of God has been extended to all people so that everyone has the ability restored to be “willing to do His will” (John 7:17). God’s grace has appeared to all people (Titus 2:11) bringing or offering them salvation. Sadly for many this grace is futile.

Understanding this biblical view of election has the logical and practical ramifications, leading to great missionary and evangelistic actions. If God arbitrarily chooses some and damns the rest, why should the Christian be bothered with preaching or witnessing? When we know salvation is available to everyone, it stimulates resounding evangelistic and missionary activity.

What is God’s plan for permitting evil?

This is the question asked by Dr Norman Geisler.[5]

clip_image004 “In His infinite wisdom and goodness, God chose the plan that would bring the greatest good.”

clip_image004[1]“God deemed that the plan resulting in the greatest good would be to permit evil in order to defeat it, without destroying free will in the process.”

clip_image004[2]“As He is the greatest possible Good, God willed the greatest possible good for free creatures.”

clip_image004[3]“Furthermore, God used the greatest possible means to attain the greatest possible good.”

God is all-good. How can the Best Being possible do less than what is best to do? It would seem that the perfect Being must perform perfect actions, for less than the best does not measure up to the standards of the Best.[6]


[1] Christianforums.net, Theology, “Is man not really capable of seeking God?” brightfame52#550. Available at: https://christianforums.net/Fellowship/index.php?threads/is-man-not-really-capable-of-seeking-god.85385/page-28#post-1611696, accessed 4 March 2021.

[2] Ibid., OzSpen #559.

[3] Anderson, “Why Did God Allow the Fall?” The Gospel Coalition, Available at: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/why-did-god-allow-the-fall//, accessed 5 September 2021.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Geisler, Systematic Theology: Sin, Salvation (vol 3). Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House, p. 155.

[6] Ibid.

 

Copyright © 2021 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 05 September 2021.

 

Early Church Fathers on eternal security and predestination

[The Church Fathers, an 11th-century Kievan Rus’ miniature from Svyatoslav’s Miscellany (from Wikipedia)]

Compiled by Spencer D Gear PhD

A person asked on a Christian Forum:

If you can, let us know.
The ECFs (Early Church Fathers) did NOT believe in eternal security. . . .
The ECFs did NOT believe in predestination . . . . (I don’t consider Augustine to be an ECF as he wrote in the 400’s)
The ECFs believed in doing good works.
[1]

Google helped me locate the following. I see no point in repeating what other researchers had done in pursuing these three topics, so I’ve supplied links to helpful research online.[2]

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Early Church Fathers (ECF) on eternal security:

What Early Church Fathers Said about Eternal Security by Todd Tomasella

In this article, the author quotes ECF on eternal security and cuts to the chase of what the ECF believed:

It can be perhaps witnessed, when studying the Church as it functioned through the New Testament centuries that after Christ and His apostles left the earth, there was a steady decline in doctrinal purity leading up to our day. This was long ago prophesied – “Evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse.” (2 Tim. 3:13)

It is interesting to observe the words of some of the leaders in the Church world throughout these New Testament centuries. Many of these men held to the biblical revelation of salvation – how it is received and how it is maintained. It may interest you to know that Polycarp was the direct disciple of the apostle John. These men addressed this unconditional eternal security matter that had already sprung forth from diabolical origins soon after Christ had risen again from the dead.

Later, John Calvin came on the scene and grossly perverted the grace of God as foretold by Jude in Jude 3-4. Calvin set forth and re-established the lie that would continue through the centuries to be responsible for the damnation of millions of souls who believed and died believing they were eternally secure no matter what spiritual state they died in.

Flower5

What did the early church fathers have to say about “eternal security” or “assurance of salvation”

This StackExchange included these helpful insights from the ECF:

These men wrote from about A.D. 100 – 250. We do not find any statements to the effect that once a Christian is saved, he or she is always saved. But we do find a consistent belief, except for a few instances, that faith and works go together. This is consistent with the teachings of the Bible.

The earliest statement regarding “once saved always saved” comes from Augustine (A.D. 354-430).

It was left to Augustine to speak a clear word for perseverance in pre-Reformation times. Starting with predestination, he saw that election to eternal life inevitably involves final perseverance. Since salvation is always God’s gift, he entitled his work on perseverance On the Gift of Perseverance. He denied, however, that the believer can have any assurance of his final salvation. Carl F. Henry. Basic Christian Doctrines. Baker Book House, 1962.

It is important to note that the doctrine of “Once Saved Always Saved” did not appear in the literature of the church until the Reformation period. A review of the existing literature from the early church fathers suggests that most of them believed faith and works must both exist for a person to be a true Christian. While no person is perfect, the pattern of life must be present. Only a few seem to believe that a person can lose his or her salvation by disobedience. But it is also possible that they are only observing the biblical truth stated in James 2:17 and 1 John 2:19.

What is most important is, “Does the Bible teach, ‘Once Saved Always Saved.?’” The opinion of the early church fathers does not constitute truth. The early church fathers were not inspired authors. But Jesus and the apostles were. Jesus did not teach and the Bible does not teach that once a person believes in Jesus Christ he or she is going to heaven regardless of what he or she does in the future. James 2:26 captures the truth that faith and works go together. A true Christian will believe and obey. A true Christian will not leave the faith. Someone who claims to believe and lives like the world or leaves the faith is a liar, and 1 John 2:4 says the truth is not in him or her. However, we must remember that only God knows if one has actually left the faith. We do not see as God sees. The statement “Once Saved Always Saved” is misleading because it is not backed by biblical substance. It should be worded as follows, “Saved Only Once” or “Once Truly Saved Always Saved.” Once God selects people for salvation they have been selected and they will not depart from the faith. Those who have been truly saved will never depart from the faith. The better biblical language is: “The one who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Matt 24:13 NIV).

However, there are times in severe persecution that some apostasize and leave the faith, only to return later.

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ECF on predestination:

Here is an interesting article by Jacques More titled, “The Early Church Fathers and Predestination.” Its first paragraph stated:

In a previous Article I wrote entitled THE MEANING OF ELECT – now a chapter in the book So you think you’re chosen? – I made mention that ‘There is no record of a teaching of “predestination of individuals” in the early church until Augustine came along. So for at least 300 years any such notion was not taught.’ The context of this remark was that anyone “specially picked” or “chosen out from others” was not a concept familiar to the first century Christian. This helps to define the predestination discussed as unconditional predestination: a choosing by God in no way initially influenced by the chosen one, but in being prior to the existence of that person. This is what I mention as foreign prior to Augustine (AD 354-430).

This following article provides a comprehensive list of the early church fathers and direct quotes from their writings regarding predestination:

Did the Early Church Fathers Teach Calvinistic Doctrines?

Tim Warner wrote in 2003,

Prior to the writings of Augustine, the Church universally held that mankind had a totally free will. Each man was responsible before God to accept the Gospel. His ultimate destiny, while fully dependent on God’s grace and power, was also dependent on his free choice to submit to or reject God’s grace and power. In the three centuries from the Apostles to Augustine the early Church held to NONE of the five points of Calvinism, not one.

The writings of the orthodox Church, for the first three centuries, are in stark contrast to the ideas of Augustine and Calvin. Man is fully responsible for his choice to respond to or reject the Gospel. This was considered to be the Apostolic doctrine passed down through the local church elders ordained by the Apostles, and their successors. Below we have listed a few representative quotes from the earlier writers in order to give the flavor of the earliest tradition regarding election and free will. Some deal with the subject of perseverance and apostasy (cited in “Did the Early Church Fathers Teach Calvinistic Doctrines? Soteriology 101).

clip_image004Cyprian (ca. 200-258), Bishop of Carthage[3]

No evidence remains of the date of his birth, but he is known to be a child of wealthy parents and lived in the same city as Tertullian where he received a good education in rhetoric – “The art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing” (Oxford English Dictionary 2021. s.v. “rhetoric”). While there were many periods of persecution of Christians in the early centuries of the church, it became intense for the Christians when Emperor Decius issued an edict in 250 that demanded an annual offering of sacrifice at the Roman altars to the gods. Those who made such sacrifices were given “a certificate called a libellus.”

As a lawyer, he became a Christian about 246 and a couple years later, as a new convert, he was appointed Bishop of Carthage. There he was confronted with the Decian persecution and he went into hiding. Thousands of Christians left the faith (apostatised) and the church had to deal with what to do with those who returned to the faith.[4]

During the Decian persecution of Christians under the emperor Decius (emperor from 249-251) the imperial Roman government issued tickets (libelli), indicating that citizens had satisfied the pagan commissioners by performing a pagan sacrifice (sacrificati), or burned incense (thurificati), demonstrating loyalty to the authorities of the Roman Empire. The government also issued libellatici (certificates) certifying that apostates had renounced Christianity.[5]

It is written, “He who endures to the end, the same shall be saved” [Matt. 10:22]. So whatever precedes the end is only a step by which we ascend to the summit of salvation. It is not the final point wherein we have already gained the full result of the ascent” (Cyprian, Treatise 1, On the Unity of the Church sec. 21).

Cyprian of Carthage (northern Africa) wrote under the chapter heading, “The liberty of believing or not believing is placed in free choice.”

In Deuteronomy: “Lo, I have set before your face life and death, good and evil. Choose for yourself life, that you may live” [Deut 30:15]. Also in Isaiah: “And if you be willing, and hear me, you shall eat the good of the land. But if you be unwilling, and will not hear me, the sword shall consume you. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken these things” [Isa 1:19-20] (Treatise 12, third book, ch. 52).

He made controversial statements such as:

· “There is no salvation out [outside] of the Church” (Cyprian, Treatise 72.21), i.e. Christian salvation is found only in the Roman Catholic Church.

· “He can no longer have God for his Father, who has not the Church for his mother” (Cyprian, Treatise 1.6).

· What will happen to those who committed apostasy during persecution and wanted to return to church? Cyprian, the bishop of Carthage (northern Africa),

held that they ought to be received back into full communion after suitable intervals of probation and penance, adjusted to the gravity of the denial. In this he took a middle course between Novatus, who received apostates with no probation at all, and Novatian, who would not receive them back at all, and who broke communion with the rest of the Church over this issue, forming a dissident group particularly strong in Rome and Antioch.[6]

He died a martyr’s death, being beheaded, at Carthage, northern Africa, in 258.

clip_image006 Justin Martyr (ca. 100-165)[7]

Justin was born to pagan parents near Shechem, an ancient Canaanite city, now in the northern region of the West Bank of Palestine. His early life was that of a wandering philosopher searching for truth in ideas from Stoicism, Plato, and Aristotle. It was without success. One day while walking along the seashore he met an old man who directed him to the Scriptures where he would find the true philosophy. He described this true peace he was craving in Dialogue with Trypho, chapters 2-8.

However, most of his writings have been lost. He wrote his First Apology to Emperor Antoninus and his adopted sons in about AD 150. The themes included a request for the emperor to examine the charges against the Christians (chs 1-3), and if the Christians were innocent of charges they should be released. In chs 14-60 he discussed Christian morals, doctrine, and instruction on the Christ, the Founder of Christianity. He pointed to the Old Testament prophecies that pointed to the Messiah’s superior life and morals. He blamed persecution and error on the work of demons. In chs 61-67 of this writing, he expounded on Christian worship and showed charges against them should be dropped and they should live as free people, allowed to worship their Lord. Justin’s followers pursued these teachings.

His Second Apology is really an appendix to the First Apology in which he cites examples of cruelty and injustice of Christians. He tried to show the rationality of the Christian faith. He moved to Rome in 161 and founded a Christian School:

Justin and his disciples were arrested for their faith. When the prefect threatened them with death, Justin said, “If we are punished for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ, we hope to be saved.” They were taken out and beheaded. Since he gave his life for the “true philosophy,” Justin has been surnamed Martyr.[8]

He died a martyr’s death for his Christian beliefs.

Justin wrote concerning free-will:

Could not God have cut off in the beginning the serpent, so that he exist not, rather than have said, ‘And I will put enmity between him and the woman, and between his seed and her seed?’ [Gen 3:15] Could He not have at once created a multitude of men? But yet, since He knew that it would be good, He created both angels and men free to do that which is righteous, and He appointed periods of time during which He knew it would be good for them to have the exercise of free-will; and because He likewise knew it would be good, He made general and particular judgments; each one’s freedom of will, however, being guarded.” (Justin, Dialogue with Trypho, 102)

There is no doubt these Early Church Fathers believed in free will and did not promote the Calvinistic-Augustinian doctrine of predestination.

Notes:


[1] Christian Forums.net 2021. “The Good News/Bad News”, wondering#403, https://christianforums.net/Fellowship/index.php?threads/the-good-news-the-bad-news.84920/page-21#post-1601858 (Accessed 8 January 2021).

[2] My following major outline points were posted to the Forum at OzSpen#412, https://christianforums.net/Fellowship/index.php?threads/the-good-news-the-bad-news.84920/page-21#post-1601858 (Accessed 8 January 2021). This article is developed from that outline.

[3] These biographical details are based on Earl E Cairns 1981. Christianity through the Centuries: A History of the Christian Church, rev. & enl. edn. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, p 92.

[4] The above paragraph is based on Encyclopedia Britannica (2021. s.v. “St. Cyprian”). Available at: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-Cyprian-Christian-bishop (Accessed 27 January 2021).

[5] Jery M Norman 2021. historyofinformation.com, “The Imperial Roman Government Issues Certificates of Conformation to Pagan Religious Practice.” Available at: https://www.historyofinformation.com/detail.php?id=3491 (Accessed 26 January 2021).

[6] Cyprian of Carthage, Bishop and Martyr, biographical sketch written by James E. Kiefer.

[7] These biographical details are based on Earl E Cairns. Christianity through the Centuries, pp 106-07.

[8] Christian History 2021. Christianity Today, “Justin Martyr: Defender of the ‘True philosophy.’” Available at: https://www.christianitytoday.com/history/people/evangelistsandapologists/justin-martyr.html (Accessed 26 January 2021).

Five steps to destroy a Protestant Christian denomination

A case study in the Uniting Church in Australia (UCA)

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(UCA symbol courtesy Wikipedia)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

Retired Uniting Church minister, Rev Dr John K Williams, wrote an article for The Age newspaper in 2004 in which he mocked “old time religion,” warning “about the dangers of clinging to a religion that denies knowledge and outlaws doubt.”[1] His claim is that

an evangelist who preaches the “old time religion” is asking hearers to stake the living of their lives upon beliefs for which there is no evidence whatsoever and that fly against humankind’s painfully acquired knowledge of the world and of themselves. That is not simply, as we today are taught to say, a “big ask” but an outrageous ask.[2]

This is contrary to the fact the old time, evangelical religion continues to fill churches around the world, while Williams’ brand of liberal Christianity is emptying churches.

I’ve had personal discussions with evangelical Christians who attend Uniting Churches in Australia (UCA). I’ve preached in one of their churches and have worked alongside two evangelical Uniting Church ministers. I’m not a stranger to that denomination’s theology.

On the announcement that the UCA approved the marriage of same-sex couples by clergy of that denomination, people are leaving those churches because of that moral agenda. They have told me so.

The UCA’s website stated on 30 August 2018 it …

published an additional marriage liturgy that will allow same-gender couples to get married in Uniting Churches from Friday 21 September 2018.

The liturgy was approved by the Assembly Standing Committee which met in Sydney from 24-26 August.

The publication of the Uniting Church in Australia Additional Marriage Liturgy (2018) follows the decision by members of the Fifteenth Assembly in July to hold two equal and distinct statements of belief on marriage to honour the diversity of Christian belief among Uniting Church members.

President Dr Deidre Palmer has issued a Pastoral Letter to Church members, to reassure people about the additional liturgy.

“By using this liturgy, or the previously authorised marriage liturgies, Uniting Church authorised marriage celebrants will be acting properly within the rites of the Uniting Church in Australia,” said Dr Palmer.

“I reaffirm that the Assembly’s resolution on marriage allows you to hold one of two positions on marriage, as a member, Minister or Church Council. The Assembly made this decision acknowledging the faithfully held positions across the life of the Church.”

The Assembly decision allows ministers and celebrants in the Uniting Church the freedom to conduct or to refuse to conduct same-gender marriages (Additional Marriage Liturgy, 31 August 2018).

The Brisbane Sunday Mail reported this UCA position: ‘Marriage for Christians is the freely given consent and commitment in public and before God of two people to live together for life’.[1]

It is this decision that has some UCA members up in arms over the departure from biblical Christianity by the denomination and those who have spoken to me are seeking other denominations in which to worship.

This UCA decision has extended to homosexual ministers leading congregations:

It wasn’t a leap of faith but of location and denomination that resulted in the Reverend Ben Gilmour becoming one of the first openly gay ministers appointed to a major branch of the Christian church in Sydney.

Mr Gilmour, who served 10 years as an Anglican minister on the north coast, has joined the Reverend Nicole Fleming as gay ministers leading Uniting Church congregations (Mckenny 2018).

Even a UCA publication, acknowledged that its August 2018 decisions about homosexuality ‘have been accused of being “wishy-washy”, “an indecisive church”, “a syncretic church”, “a church that compromised” (Insights Magazine, 7 August 2018). But it gave this qualification: ‘If one looks at the world or any matter purely from a “black and white” lens or a “right or wrong” lens’.

Why some churches decline while others grow.

Girl On SlideSome Australian denominations are in rapid decline while others are growing. According to our calculations based on various surveys, between 1996 and 2006, the numbers attending on a typical Sunday in Australia declined in the following denominations:

-36% Presbyterians,

-31% Uniting Church,

-25% Lutheran,

-19% Catholic,

-12% Anglican, and

-1% Seventh-day Adventist.[3]

I currently attend a Presbyterian church and note that its pastoral care department leaves much to be desired. I’ve been in hospital 3 times this year, one for a period of 7 weeks and not one Presbyterian came to visit or offer pastoral care. Its TULIP theology may contribute to this coldness and lack of care. In Australia, the Presbyterians are going down the tube numerically, closely followed by the liberal Uniting Church.

The numbers attending the following denominations grew:

+88% Oriental Christian denominations,

+27% Pentecostal denominations,

+25% Brethren,

+11% Baptist, and

+3% Salvation Army.[4]

That’s a wishy-washy way of squirming out of the biblical treatment of homosexuals, liars, thieves and adulterers in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (NIV). God does not follow the worldly agenda of placing homosexuality as caused by genetics and there should be no attempt to change the ‘sexual orientation’. God places homosexuality as one of the examples of sinful behaviour for which there will be no entrance into the kingdom of God.

Are thieves, liars, adulterers, perpetrators of sexual immorality, idolaters, the greedy, drunkards, slanderers and swindlers black and white issues? Of course they are?

Why should ‘men who have sex with men’ be excluded from this list of ‘wrongdoers’ who will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9-11)? God’s decision is precise, black and white: Those who engage in homosexual sex will not be in God’s kingdom

Instead of opposing reparative therapy (conversion therapy), God states:

That is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1 Cor 6:11 NIV).

God changes homosexuals, thieves, murderers and adulterers through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ for salvation. I know a homosexual who has been changed from the inside out when the person was born again: ‘hat is what some of you were (homosexuals), but you were washed, justified and sanctified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

I don’t expect secularists to understand the change that Jesus brings. They won’t agree with it as long as they talk about the genetic cause of homosexuality and ‘sexual orientation’.

An encounter with Jesus changes the human heart – the inside of people: ‘Anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun’ (2 Cor 5:17 NLT).

If you don’t believe me, take a read of …

(image courtesy christianbook.com)

clip_image004The book’s description states:

‘For many years Jeanette was an active lesbian. When, as a result of her new-found faith, she realised the need to change her lifestyle, she could find little immediate help. this book is the result of her five-year walk away from lesbianism. Through it she wants to provide a practical tool which can guide others towards the Promised Land of freedom in Christ. Her careful and honest teaching will prove invaluable not only to Christians struggling with lesbianism, but also pastors, counselors and family members seeking greater understanding’.

See my discussion with former lesbian, Jeanette Howard: One woman’s journey out of lesbianism: An interview with Jeanette Howard.

The UCA has swallowed a secular agenda by accepting a worldly, politically correct position on homosexuality instead of the biblical teaching. It’s acceptance of theological liberalism takes it down the same track to devastation. See Step 4 below.

I raised 4 steps to destruction for any Christian church and this applies to the UCA. This is how it can happen:

Step 1: An ecumenical agenda

The basis of union of the UCA (text approved 1971) was ‘for the Congregational Union of Australia, the Methodist Church of Australasia and the Presbyterian Church of Australia, in fellowship with the whole Church Catholic’ was to form the Uniting Church in Australia.

Recalling the Ecumenical Councils of the early centuries, she looks forward to a time when the faith will be further elucidated, and the Church’s unity expressed, in similar Councils. She thankfully acknowledges that the uniting Churches were members of the World Council of Churches and other ecumenical bodies, and she will seek to maintain such membership (Basis of Union, Parts 1 and 2).[2]

1.1 What is ecumenism?

According to the Roman Catholic Church (RCC),

there is such a thing as authentic ecumenism – and it is essential for Christian unity. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “Christ bestowed unity on His Church from the beginning. This unity, we believe, subsists in the Catholic Church as something she can never lose, and we hope that it will continue to increase until the end of time. Christ always gives His Church the gift of unity, but the Church must always pray and work to maintain, reinforce, and perfect the unity that Christ will for her. . . . The desire to recover the unity of all Christians is a gift of Christ and a call of the Holy Spirit” (n. 820) [Abbott 2018].

So, if a Protestant denomination has an ecumenical focus of unity to join with the RCC, that church teaches that unity ‘subsists in the Catholic Church’ and ‘she can never lose it’. It is unity according to RC doctrine and Papal authority.

That should send alarm bells ringing for any denomination that chooses to join with the RCC. Unity with only one position is an example of a kangaroo court in action.[3]

I was in a greater Brisbane hospital recently and was visited by two volunteer chaplains together. They emphasised they were ecumenical chaplains. However, not one of them read the Scriptures with me or prayed for my illness. If that’s an example of how ecumenicism works, I want nothing to do with it. The Gospel message was snuffed out, as were the needs for prayer and reading the Scriptures.

1.2 Why ecumenism destroys denominations!

This is what destroys ecumenical churches. They must bow the knee to Roman Catholicism because ecumenical unity, ‘we believe, subsists in the Catholic Church as something she can never lose’.

Ecumenism is on RCC terms. So, Protestant churches that pursue this kind of ecumenical union cannot be faithful to the Protestant tradition for which Martin Luther and others fought. It would mean differences with the RCC need to be glossed over for the sake of unity.

I’m thinking of differences such as: Salvation by faith in Jesus Christ alone; rejection of indulgences and the position of the priest as the mediator for forgiveness of sins[4]; belief in purgatory, praying for the dead, making the Roman Pope the head of the church, etc.

Since the Roman Catholic Church claims that it has the ‘true ability to interpret scripture and preserve the teachings of Christ’ and that is ‘only fully possible within the Catholic Church’, Protestant churches should leave any thought of ecumenical union in fantasyland.[5]

Pursuing ecumenical Christianity is like a rat enjoying rat poison. It’s the true path to destruction.

Watch ecumenical Christianity die or become a clone of Rome!

Step 2: Theological liberalism’s heretical poison

2.1 What is heresy?

In NT Greek, the term from which we get ‘heresy’ is hairesis. Bauer, Arndt & Gingrich’s Greek Lexicon (1957:23) states that hairesis means ‘sect, party, school’. It was used of the Sadduccees in Acts 5:17; of the Pharisees in Acts 15:5, of the Christians in Acts 24:5. It is used of a heretical sect or those with destructive opinions in 2 Peter 2:1 (‘destructive heresies’ ESV).

The research article on hairesis by Schlier (in Kittel 1964.1:182f) states that its ‘usage in Acts corresponds exactly to that of Josephus and the earlier Rabbis’ but the development of the Christian sense of heresy does not parallel this Rabbinic use.

When the NT ekklesia (church) came into being, there was no place for hairesis. They were opposed to each other. This author states that ‘the greater seriousness consists in the fact that hairesis affect the foundation of the church in doctrine (2 Pt. 2:1), and that they do so in such a fundamental way as to give rise to a new society alongside the ekklesia (Schlier 1964.1:183).

Surely that is what we see in the UCA today in Australia with its support of theological liberalism’s unbiblical doctrines (discussed below), and most recently endorsing homosexual marriages conducted by its clergy in its churches?

From the NT, heresy also is used to mean what Paul called strange doctrines, different doctrine, doctrines of demons, every wind of doctrine, etc. (1 Tim 1:3; 4:1; 6:3; Eph 4:14), as contrasted with sound doctrine, our doctrine, the doctrine conforming to godliness, the doctrine of God, etc. (1 Timothy 4:6; 6:1,3; 2 Tim 4:3; Titus 1:9; 2:1, 10).

Therefore, the UCA, in supporting same-sex marriage and the anti-supernaturalism of theological liberalism promotes heresy. This heretical poison will destroy the poison of any church or denomination.

Radio and TV commentator, Keith Suter, announced: “The Uniting Church is in a crisis. Its membership is in decline but the church bureaucrats ignore the signs of impending doom. For example, the publicity material often contains photographs of happy smiling young people – but a person visiting a Uniting Church congregation will find few such young people.”[5]

See also, ‘What is the definition of heresy?[6]

2.2 What is theological liberalism?

There is an evangelical wing of the UCA known as The Assembly of Confessing Congregations. Its explanation of liberalism in the denomination was that the debate on sexuality would not have arisen to the level that it has ‘without a prominent liberal theological presence in the key councils of the Assembly. Why has the UCA developed an overt liberal theological orientation and public presence, when its membership has been largely theologically conservative? . . .’ (Bentley 2004:1).

Given the context of union, the UCA was always destined to become more theologically liberal than the antecedent denominations because in the case

of Congregationalism and Presbyterianism the majority of the conservative ministers, and a good section of the more conservative members stayed out

of union. It is worth considering that there are important differences still today between Synods and Presbyteries. For example the different public positions and ethos of the synods of Queensland and Victoria reflect the different theological foundations, history, antecedent church background and elected leadership of the first decades,

It is worth noting that Victoria was the only state to have more Presbyterians enter union than Methodists. (Bentley: 2000, 1996).

Methodists had a more overt conservative theological orientation, reflecting their practical theology grounded in the holiness movement and active evangelism schools. States which had significantly more Methodists were naturally going to be more conservative Synods, unless they also had more overt liberal leadership, and in this case they would eventually become very polarised Synods (Bentley 2004:1).

One of the major critiques of theological liberalism was by J. Gresham Machen in 1923, Christianity & Liberalism. This is Machen’s (1923:2) understanding of what amounts to theological liberalism:

The present time [early 1920s] is a time of conflict; the great redemptive religion which has always been known as Christianity is battling against a totally diverse type of religious belief, which is only the more destructive of the Christian faith because it makes use of traditional Christian terminology. This modern non-redemptive religion is called “modernism” or “liberalism.” Both names are unsatisfactory; the latter in particular, is question-begging. The movement designated as “liberalism” is regarded as “liberal” only by its friends; to its opponents it seems to involve a narrow ignoring of many relevant facts. And indeed the movement is so varied in its manifestations that one may almost despair of finding any common name which will apply to all its forms. But manifold as are the forms in which the movement appears. the root of the movement is rooted in naturalism – that is, in the denial of any entrance of the creative power of God (as distinguished from the ordinary course of nature) in connection with the origin of Christianity (emphasis added).

Then Machen proceeded to see how this movement that is “rooted in naturalism” affected core Christian doctrines. He has chapters on the liberal infiltration in these areas of theology: the nature of doctrine, the nature of God and man (human beings), the nature of the Bible, the nature of Christ, the nature of salvation, and the nature of the church.

In this brief article, I don’t show the many faces of theological liberalism that have moved away from orthodox Christianity in their attacks on core Christian teaching.

Dr. Norman Geisler (2002:350f) in his chapter on ‘liberalism on the Bible’ demonstrates how the rise of modern anti-supernatural liberalism had its roots as far back as Thomas Hobbes and Benedict Spinoza in the 17th century. He lays bare how liberalism’s view of Scripture included:

  • An anti-supernatural basis of the liberal view of Scripture;
  • Cultural accommodation is necessary;
  • Negative criticism of Scripture;
  • The Bible is not the Word of God;
  • The Bible is fallible and errant;
  • The origin of Scripture is not by divine inspiration;
  • Sola Scriptura (the Bible is the only written and infallible authority for faith) is rejected;
  • The Bible contains contradictions, including scientific errors;
  • There is immorality in the OT;
  • Human reason is prominent in interpreting the Bible;
  • There is a strong emphasis on human experience.

While theological liberalism is broad in definition, it also can accommodate the postmodern, deconstruction, reader-response ideologies of the Jesus Seminar.

It is not only the UCA that is going down this theologically liberal path to destruction. See this example from liberal Anglicanism.

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(Gosford Anglican Church, photo courtesy Father Rod Bower)

Bower also supports the Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras:

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Photo: Father Rod Bower has vocally supported the LGBTI community. (Supplied to ABC News: Rod Bower)

Gosford Anglican Church, NSW, Australia is not part of the evangelical Anglican Sydney diocese. Instead, Rod Bower is ‘Archdeacon of the Central Coast in the Anglican Diocese of Newcastle’ (Schipp 2016).[7]

2.3 Why should it be called heretical?

The naturalistic, anti-supernatural manipulation of Scripture by theological liberalism is of great seriousness because it ‘consists in the fact that hairesis affect the foundation of the church in doctrine (2 Pt. 2:1), and that they do so in such a fundamental way as to give rise to a new society alongside the ekklesia (Schlier 1964.1:183).

Place biblical teaching on biblical authority (e.g. 2 Tim 3:16-17), the nature of God (Rom 1:18-20), and moral issues (1 Cor 6:9-11) alongside those of the UCA foundational doctrines and we find the crumbling faith of a denomination that has aborted biblical reality.

2.4 Examples of UCA liberalism

2.4.1 Rev David Kidd

At Easter time 1999, David Kidd wrote an article in The Bugle, Bundaberg, Qld, Australia, a local freebie newspaper that was titled, ‘The Resurrection of Jesus’ (Kidd 1999:19). I lived in Bundaberg at the time.  In it, he stated: ‘The resurrection of Jesus.[8] It’s impossible.  Even our brain dies after a few minutes of death.  It’s just not possible’.[9]

This is a characteristic example of what a person’s theological liberalism does to the Bible, by denying the supernatural and imposing a naturalistic, individualistic interpretation on the text. It is called eisegesis – imposing one’s own meaning on the text instead of allowing the text to speak for itself and for meaning to be obtained from the words of the text.

He did not get that view from the Bible. It was out of the mind and theological liberalism of David Kidd.[10]

See my article, Was Jesus’ Resurrection a Bodily Resurrection[11] where I refute Rev Kidd’s views.

2.4.2 Rev Dr Noel Preston

I read the article, “An Evening with John Shelby Spong,” in the Uniting Church of Queensland’s, Journey magazine, online (28 September 2007). Then, I read the positive letter towards Spong’s Christianity by Dr Noel Preston, ethicist, academic, social justice campaigner and retired Uniting Church minister. Preston’s applause was:

I was especially appreciative of the three commentaries on Bishop Spong’s public meeting in Brisbane.

I do not dissent from the impressions reported and share with Bruce Johnson a measure of disappointment that the address I heard from Jack Spong was short on the detail of “a new approach” to theology, though I have great admiration for the positive impact the Bishop has had on behalf of Christian faith throughout a courageous ministry lasting decades.

Your editorial on the subject mused over what it is that causes such a reaction by many to the 78 year old Bishop.

I suspect its intensity has something to do with his determination to profess his allegiance to Jesus Christ despite challenging certain questionable beliefs, moral codes and institutional norms which have been dubiously confused with the essence of the Gospel.

Perhaps his detractors might opine: “If he could just stop pretending to be a disciple it would be easier to tolerate him!”

This is not an unusual story.

As some of your readers would recognise, attempts to be prophetic from within a religious tradition often bring forth a vehement reaction.

Didn’t it happen to Jesus of Nazareth?[6]

See my response to Noel Preston at: ‘Spong’s deadly Christianity.

The Uniting Church sponsored this Spong meeting. That tells a great deal about the unorthodox theology of this denomination. See my expose of Spong’s theology:

clip_image010The Gospel Distortion: A reply to John Shelby Spong

clip_image010[1]Spong promotes salvation viruses called ‘offensive’ and ‘anathema’

clip_image010[2]Spong’s swan song – at last!

clip_image010[4]John Shelby Spong and the Churches of Christ (Victoria, Australia)

clip_image010[4]https://journeyonline.com.au/opinion/marriage-equality-opinon-piece-by-rev-dr-noel-preston-am/

2.4.3 Fourteen Holey Bible arguments against Margaret Court

In my article by this title, I show the rot in the UCA through the teaching of Dr Robyn J Whitaker at Trinity College, Melbourne. She challenged Margaret Court’s views on homosexuality and ‘marriage equality’. See my response at the above link (2 June 2017, ABC News, Brisbane Qld).

Here is an example of …

Hole 1: It starts with Whitaker’s title that the Bible is not meant to be understood as literally as Margaret Court reads it.

Then she does exactly what she told Margaret not to do. She literally accepts the fact that there are 66 books in the Bible; Abraham fathered children with his concubine as well as his wife.

Her literal interpretation continued: She accepted that David and Solomon had entire palaces full of wives and concubines and that polygamy was common.  Slaves were used for concubines. There was no hint in her article that these were supposed to be interpreted metaphorically or symbolically.

Whitaker made self-defeating statements with her examples. She failed to meet her own standard of the Bible being read too literally. The article cannot live up to the criteria she set in the title.

So her self-refuting statements are of necessity false. She violated the law of non-contradiction. This states that A- and non-A cannot be true at the same time and in the same sense. This promoted a contradiction when she accused Margaret Court of reading the Bible “that literally” when she did exactly the same with her own reading of the Bible.

Does Whitaker consider the former Etihad Stadium, Melbourne, should have had a name change between 2009-2018? It was sponsored by Etihad Airways, the national airline of the Islamic country, the United Arab Emirates (UAE). It is now known as Docklands’ Stadium.

Was she an advocate to change name of Etihad Stadium during its sponsorship of the stadium?

What is the Islamic view on homosexuality? The Muslim commentary on the Quran, Hadith, states in al-Tirmidhi, Sunan 1:152: [Muhammad said] “Whoever is found conducting himself in the manner of the people of Lot, kill the doer and the receiver”. Another statement from the Hadith is: “Narrated Abdullah ibn Abbas: The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: If you find anyone doing as Lot’s people did, kill the one who does it, and the one to whom it is done’ (Sunan Abu Dawud 38:4447).

Thus, Islam requires capital punishment for both the perpetrator and recipient of what the people of Sodom did.

2.5 Upheaval in the camp

Surely this new situation should send a clear message to UCA liberal leadership. The message is in these articles:

Step 3: Ashamed of the Bible and its literal interpretation

3.1 The Gospel redefined

It shouldn’t take much insight to realise John K Williams “old time religion” is really evangelical, Bible-believing, Gospel Christianity. It’s the core of that which proclaims Christ as the only way of salvation. It treats the Bible as theopneustos (God-breathed).

Step 4:    Worldly morality

4.1    Sucked in by the homosexual agenda

‘From Friday, September 21, the Uniting Church (UCA) will be the first of the three major Australian Christian denominations to endorse same-sex marriage, and thus the first to offer gay and lesbian Christians the option of a church ceremony’ (Whitaker 2018).

However, gay ministers of churches are acceptable in the UCA:

When Australia returned an overwhelming “yes” vote in the same-sex marriage survey, a somewhat unexpected thing happened.

The Paddington Uniting Church in Sydney was bombarded with requests from gay couples to get married in the church.

For its resident minister Ben Gilmour — a gay man himself — it was affirmation that religion and same-sex attraction did not have to be at odds (Reddie 2017).

Back in 2011, The Sydney Morning Herald reported Rev. Ben Gilmour’s move from 10 years as an Anglican minister on the north coast. Rev. Nicole Fleming was a gay minister leading Uniting Church congregations (Mckenny 2011).

Here there is a definite breach of church polity or protocol in homosexuals leading congregations without the endorsement of the Synod or Presbytery. I would call it unethical, sexual practice.

Step 5:   Exceptions can’t save the denomination

5.1    The path the Uniting Church treads to destruction

See the article, ‘Liberal churches in decline while orthodox ones grow, says study of Protestants in Canada‘. It would take a blind Freddy to miss the trend. Evangelical churches what proclaim the Gospel grow and liberal churches that deny the authority of Scripture and its content head towards the church bread basket.

6.    Conclusion

Cover of ACCatalyst magazine

Assembly of Confessing Congregations (Evangelical), Uniting Church)

Where is the UCA heading? This youngish (age 35) UCA minister from Gerringong Uniting Church NSW, spoke at the Sutherland Uniting Church, Sutherland NSW. He outlined the stark reality of the doom of the UCA:

Liberal, pluralist, humanist spirituality is everywhere – so if you’re a young-adult Christian, you have made a decision to reject that ethos and to embrace Jesus as the way the truth and the life. If you want self-affirming liberalism, you can get it anywhere today. Why would we want it in our church? If you are chasing a vague spiritualism you don’t go [to] church to get it. The church is on a hiding to nothing by trying to present itself as a place where people can pursue this sort of spirituality.

Appealing to the liberal, humanist spirituality market might attract some curious interest in the short term, but it won’t stick – it won’t change lives like the saving grace that Jesus alone offers. The reality is that church is the last place people will want to go for liberal, airy-fairy spirituality.

If the church wants to connect with young adults in the 21st century, it needs to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ, pure and simple. The reality at universities is that any liberal presence is dwarfed by the evangelical student unions.

What will appeal to my generation in the long run, what will stand the test of time, is to present this timeless truth.

The Pentecostals know it, the Sydney Anglicans know it, the Baptists know it, and look at them go.

They know what they believe and they offer certainty & hope & life in Jesus’ name.

. . . and their seminaries are packed to the rafters.

Which brings me to my next point. . . .

WE ARE SHUNNING THE UNITING CHURCH

Unfortunately, although my generation of disciples are (sic) overwhelmingly evangelical, they are not sticking around in the Uniting Church.

Two of my mates who I grew up with [me] at Galston graduated from Moore [Anglican College, Sydney] last year and are now in ministry in the Anglican Church.

They made a conscious decision several years ago that they could not remain in the Uniting Church given how far it has become adrift from its theological moorings.

Others of my peers from Galston are in lay leadership roles in Baptist and Pentecostal churches.

My generation, via either a conscious decision to leave or simply via finding a faith home elsewhere are shunning the Uniting Church.

With each Assembly a fresh haemorrhaging of our people occurs. And it’s the young families that seem to have let their feet do the talking.

Why, they ask, should we put up with this rubbish when there are other Biblically-based, Christ-centred, Spirit-filled churches down the road?

When I was discerning my call and sharing it with friends and family, one of them came right out and told me straight up: “Whatever you do, don’t stay with the Uniting Church.” The problem we face is that the Uniting Church’s reputation as a ‘liberal’ church, (though we know it’s not really the case among most members of our church), it does tend to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.We are attracting like moths to a flame every disenchanted Anglican and Pentecostal with an axe to grind.

UTC [United Theological College] bears witness to this.

In defence of UTC, I must say that I am thankful for my time there in that it helped me to know what I believed and why, and that all the staff there (despite an undoubted liberal bias) are well meaning and hard working.

But when you hear candidates saying thing[s] like “Hillsong has a conference???” you start to worry.

When the culture of your theological college leans so heavily towards a theological, social and political liberalism, it will undoubtedly deter the younger generation of leader[s] (who as we have heard is fairly evangelical). It will have an impact on who chooses to attend and consequently who is in leadership in the church (Chapman 2009).

7. Works consulted

Abbott, M C 2018. What Is “Ecumenism”? Catholic Online. Available at: https://www.catholic.org/featured/headline.php?ID=635 (Accessed 5 September 2018).

Bauer, W; Arndt, W F; & Gingrich, F W 1957. A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature.[7] Chicago: The University of Chicago Press (limited edition licensed to Zondervan Publishing House).

Bentley, P 2004. Liberalism, sexuality and the future of the Uniting Church. The Assembly of Confessing Congregations (online), July. Available at: http://www.confessingcongregations.com/uploads/Liberalism_Sexuality_and_the_Future_of_the_Uniting_Church_by_Peter_Bentley.pdf (Accessed 7 September 2018).

Chapman, P 2009. Confessions of a Gen-X Evangelical. Assembly of Confessing Congregations (online), 18 April. Available at: http://www.confessingcongregations.com/states/confessions-of-a-gen-x-evangelical/ (Accessed 7 September 2018).

Geisler, N 2002. Systematic Theology (vol. 1). Minneapolis, Minnesota: BethanyHouse.

Kidd, D. 1999, Bundaberg Uniting Church, “The Resurrection of Jesus,” The Bugle (Bundaberg), 19 March.

Mckenny, L 2011. The Sydney Morning Herald, “Gay ministers show a Uniting front to lead congregations,” 22 August. Available at: https://www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/gay-ministers-show-a-uniting-front-to-lead-congregations-20110821-1j4rf.html (Accessed 28 August 2020).

Mckenny, L 2018. The Sydney Morning Herald (online). Gay ministers show a Uniting front to lead congregations. 22 August. Available at: https://www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/gay-ministers-show-a-uniting-front-to-lead-congregations-20110821-1j4rf.html (Accessed 5 August 2018).

Reddie, M 2017. ABC News, Brisbane (online). Paddington Uniting Church in Sydney bombarded with same-sex wedding bookings — but there’s a catch, 8 December. Available at: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-12-08/same-sex-marriage-church-bombarded-with-requests-for-ceremonies/9239004 (Accessed 28 August 2020).

Schlier, H 1964. In G Kittel (ed), Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (vol 1), tr. by G W Bromiley, 182-185. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Schipp, D 2016. ‘A bloody man should do the right thing and go to church’. news.com.au (online), 25 September. Available at: https://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/real-life/good-news/a-bloody-man-should-do-the-right-thing-and-go-to-church/news-story/1f02dea749c651482891a2adb500c8ca (Accessed 6 September 2018).

Whitaker, R 2018. The Conversation (online). After a long struggle, the Uniting Church becomes the first to offer same-sex marriage, 17 September. Available at: https://theconversation.com/after-a-long-struggle-the-uniting-church-becomes-the-first-to-offer-same-sex-marriage-102842 (Accessed 28 August 2020).

Notes


[1] John K Williams, “It’s not good enough for us,” The Age, 19 January 2004, accessed 29 July 2021, https://www.theage.com.au/national/its-not-good-enough-for-us-20040119-gdx50q.html.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Philip Hughes, Christian Research Association, “Why some churches grow while others decline,” accessed 29 July 2021, https://cra.org.au/why-some-churches-decline-while-others-grow/.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Keith Suter, “Future of the Uniting Church,” On Line Opinion, 16 April 2019, accessed 29 July 2021, https://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=20257.

[6] In “Letters,” Journey, November 2007, p. 15. Journey is published by the Uniting Church in Australia, Queensland Synod. This is available online at: http://www.journeyonline.com.au/download.php?pdfId=65 (Accessed 21 November 2013). However, on 1 December 2015 it was no longer available online.

Notes:


[1] Sunday Mail 2018. ‘Uniting Church allows gay marriage’, 15 July, p. 27. news.com.au reported on this decision on 14 July at: https://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/gay-marriage/uniting-church-of-australia-consents-to-samesex-marriages-at-its-premise/news-story/df0834aee9852fc1a473e2dc90564ed9 (Accessed 6 September 2018).

[2] Available at: https://assembly.uca.org.au/images/stories/HistDocs/basisofunion1971.pdf (Accessed 7 September 2018).

[3] A kangaroo court is ‘any tribunal in which judgment is rendered arbitrarily or unfairly’ (Collins English Dictionary 2018. s.v. kangaroo court).

[4] This article states: ‘True ability to interpret scripture and preserve the teachings of Christ are only fully possible within the Catholic Church. This is evidenced by the wide array of Protestantism, which hold a large amount of conflicting teachings…. Although much truth exists in other Christian religions, the only infallible truth lies within the Bible and the Traditions of the Catholic Church. If Christ had not established a teaching, living, apostolic church then how could we properly understand the doctrines of the Bible?’

[5] Ibid.

[6] Available at: https://www.gotquestions.org/heresy-definition.html (Accessed 6 September 2018).

[7] For training of the clergy in the Anglican Diocese of Newcastle ‘The Bishop has approved Trinity Theological College [Melbourne] as the main provider of ordination education for people preparing for service in stipendiary, self-supporting and local mission and ministry’ (The Anglican Church n. d. Studying theology [online]). Available at: http://newcastleanglican.org.au/mission-ministries/studying-theology-2/. (Accessed 6 September 2018).Trinity Theological College, Melbourne, has an ‘open and rigorous spirit envisioned by [its] ‘large and liberal education’. It ‘still thrives in a mostly non-resident community committed to ecumenical endeavour and Anglican comprehensiveness…. An Anglican organisation, the Trinity College Theological School engages with students from different religious traditions; it is a place where diverse beliefs and opinions are valued and respected’ (Trinity College Theological School: 2018 Handbook. Available at: https://www.trinity.unimelb.edu.au/getmedia/61cdcc77-afb3-4b89-abdb-8293e208bd0a/Handbook-2018-vn-2.aspx. Accessed 6 September 2018). So, the Anglican Diocese of Newcastle (and so the Gosford Anglican Church) embraces the training of a theologically liberal college. The evangelical Anglican college in Melbourne is Ridley College, which also is associated with the University of Melbourne. See: https://www.ridley.edu.au/partner-with-us/history/ (Accessed 6 September 2018).

[8] ‘The Resurrection of Jesus’ was the title of the article and the first sentence began with, ‘It’s impossible.  Even our brain dies . . . ,’ so I was left to conclude that the article’s title was the introduction to the first sentence.

[9] The original article had closing inverted commas here, but there were no introductory inverted commas.

[10] The Mackay The Courier-Mail reported in 2012 that Rev David Kidd was a ‘Uniting Church pastor who has spent the past 18 years in Mackay’ and stood as a candidate for the Mackay Regional Council’. See David Kidd, 12 April. Available at: https://www.dailymercury.com.au/news/david-kidd-local-election-2012/1350543/ (Accessed 7 September 2018). This website confirmed Rev David Kidd retired from the UCA in 2012: https://www.dailymercury.com.au/news/david-kidd-local-election-2012/1350543/ (Accessed 7 September 2018).

[11] Available at: https://truthchallenge.one/blog/2018/07/10/was-jesus-resurrection-a-bodily-resurrection/ (Accessed 12 December 2018).

Copyright © 2021 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 29 July 2021

What is wrong with allegorical interpretation?

clip_image002

(Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

Does this understanding make sense when you read the newspaper online, view the TV news, and read the Bible?

The normal interpretation of literature is inherently literal. If we can’t trust words to mean what they say, then writing ceases to be a useful means of communication. Only when Scripture itself indicates a text is other than literal should we interpret it non-literally.[1]

1. What is an allegory?

The Cambridge Dictionary’s definition of “allegory” is that it is “a story, play, poem, picture, or other work in which the characters and events represent particular qualities or ideas that relate to morals, religion, or politics.”[2] Pilgrim’s Progress was an allegory of the spiritual journey through life. St Augustine’s City of God is “an allegory of the triumph of Good over Evil.”[3] What we must remember is that for an allegory, there must be specific characters and events that are used to represent symbols. Biblical examples include: rock (Deut 32:4; 2 Sam 22:3); lamb (Gen 22:8; Ex 12:7); the cross (as in “The old rugged cross”), and

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/ad/ICTHUS.gif = ICHTHYS | Christian symbols, Greek words and meanings, Christian fish

The Christian hymn (written by George Bennard in 1913), “The Old Rugged Cross,” was abounding in allegories:[4]

  1. On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross,
    The emblem of suff’ring and shame
    ;
    And I love that
    old cross where the Dearest and Best
    For a world of lost sinners was slain
    .

    • Refrain:
      So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross,
      Till my trophies at last I lay down;
      I will cling to the old rugged cross,
      And exchange it someday for a crown.
  2. Oh, that old rugged cross, so despised by the world,
    Has a wondrous attraction for me;
    For the dear Lamb of God left His glory above
    To bear it to dark Calvary.
  3. In that old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine,
    A wondrous beauty I see
    ,
    For ’twas on that
    old cross Jesus suffered and died,
    To pardon and sanctify me
    .
  4. To the old rugged cross I will ever be true;
    Its shame and reproach gladly bear;
    Then He’ll call me someday to my home far away,
    There His glory forever I’ll share (allegories highlighted)

I led a Bible study in 2018 and the pastor of the church was present. We had just finished singing  “The Old Rugged Cross” when he declared there was false doctrine in the hymn. He said we don’t worship a cross. I jumped in: “Pastor, what do the first 2 lines teach? An old rugged cross, The emblem of suff’ring and shame’. As I’ve highlighted above, allegories are found throughout this hymn. We don’t worship the cross but it reminds us of the one who suffered and experienced shame for sinners.”

2. Are there allegories in the Bible?

See examples in my article, What is literal interpretation?

Of course there are biblical examples of allegories. See illustrations in other sources:

2tn_.jpg 1.0K “Does the Bible contain allegory?” (Got Questions)

2tn_.jpg 1.0K  Allegory Definition and Meaning – Bible Dictionary

2tn_.jpg 1.0KAllegory” (Oxford Biblical Studies Online)

Let’s move from allegories in the Bible to allegorical interpretation. What’s the difference? Surely there is a need to understand biblical allegories. How can that be at variance with allegorical interpretation?

3. What is allegorical interpretation?

You will find some of my exposition on allegorical interpretation in this article: What is the meaning of the literal interpretation of the Bible?

There are many articles online explaining allegorical interpretation. I see no reason to repeat their content. I refer you to these articles:

Basically, when you interpret Scripture allegorically, you don’t allow the text to speak for itself in exegesis (obtaining meaning out of the text) but choose to impose another “deeper meaning” on the text – which we call eisegesis (reading something into the text).

3.1 Problems with allegorical preaching

David E Reid told of a sermon he heard from Genesis 24:63-64. It was supposed to be a “revival” sermon from the first book of the Bible. These verses state: “One evening he [Isaac] went out to the field to think.[5] He looked up and saw the camels coming from far away. Rebekah also looked and saw Isaac. Then she jumped down from the camel” (ERV).

Here is the crunch line of interpretation for this preacher:

Without elaborating on his interpretation, the preacher explained that Isaac symbolized Christ; Rebekah, the church; and the camel, whose physical characteristics would be the focus of his message, represented the grace of God. Then he delivered a seven-point exposition based on an allegorical interpretation as classic as any I’ve ever heard.

The camel’s nose, he said, can detect water from far away and lead its rider to drink. The spiritual lesson, he added, is that God’s grace can lead us to spiritual water. He similarly interpreted and applied six more of the camel’s characteristics, none of which was mentioned in the text….

As the preacher’s message illustrates, allegorical interpretation seeks some implicit, symbolic meaning hidden in the explicit, literal meaning of Scripture.

Allegorists consider this perceived “deeper” or “spiritual” meaning to be more profound and therefore more desirable than a text’s literal interpretation.[6]

David Reid gave his reasons for rejecting allegorical interpretation (and I endorse them):

clip_image008“Fundamentally, there is no reason to believe God regularly invests Scripture with more than one meaning.[7]

The normal interpretation of literature is inherently literal. If we can’t trust words to mean what they say, then writing ceases to be a useful means of communication. Only when Scripture itself indicates a text is other than literal should we interpret it non-literally.

For instance, nothing in Genesis 24 indicates Isaac, Rebekah or the camels represent anything other than themselves, so the narrative should be taken literally. On the other hand, in John 15:1, Jesus clearly was speaking metaphorically when He said, “I am the true vine …” and His words should be interpreted as such.

It is true that in Galatians 4:21ff. the Apostle Paul interpreted the Genesis account of Sarah and Hagar allegorically even though the Old Testament text nowhere indicates that story is allegorical. But Paul received his interpretation from the Holy Spirit as he wrote a New Testament letter. We don’t have his inspired prerogative.

Since the Bible never suggests it regularly has more than one meaning, additional interpretations should not be assumed.

clip_image008[1]The allegorical method obscures the true meaning and legitimate application of Scripture.

Allegorists generally see the literal meaning of a text only as a tool for unlocking the perceived allegory. Their pursuit of an illusion, then, causes them to ignore the truth which is there.

When interpreted literally, the Song of Solomon exalts the joy of sexual love in a marital relationship. However, generations of Christian allegorists have interpreted it as symbolic of the relationship of Christ to His bride, the church.

Embarrassed by the sexual nature of the text, they have obscured its meaning, even though nothing in the Song indicates an allegory. Their inhibitions have caused them to conceal what God and the author meant to praise.[8]

clip_image008[2]Allegorical interpretation is open to almost unlimited subjectivity.
The allegorist can make Scripture say whatever he wishes. Although his interpretation may seem reasonable and be consistent with what Scripture teaches elsewhere, who can know if it is the right one for a given passage?
[9]

3.2   St Augustine’s strange allegorical interpretation

Take this example from the eminent church father, St Augustine (354-430). Robert Kinney[10] made these observations for Augustine’s allegorical interpretation of the parable of the Good Samaritan:

In Augustine’s rendering, there is a man (Adam) traveling a road. Having been stripped (of immortality) and beaten (or persuaded to sin) by robbers (the devil), he is ignored by a priest (the Law) and a Levite (the Prophets) before being attended to by a Samaritan (Jesus Christ). The Samaritan takes him to the inn (or the Church) where two denarii (the promises of this life and the life to come) are paid to the innkeeper (the Apostle Paul), to take care of the man.[11]

It’s an intriguing example of allegorical interpretation. Yet for those committed to biblical exposition, this kind of interpretation is deeply problematic.[12]

Expositional preaching should be constrained by the biblical or any other author’s intent—and neither Jesus in his telling nor Luke in his recording could have meant much of what Augustine suggests.[13]

This is a longer version of Augustine’s allegorical interpretation of the parable of the Good Samaritan:

A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho; Adam himself is meant; Jerusalem is the heavenly city of peace, from whose blessedness Adam fell; Jericho means the moon, and signifies our mortality, because it is born, waxes, wanes, and dies. Thieves are the devil and his angels. Who stripped him, namely; of his immortality; and beat him, by persuading him to sin; and left him half-dead, because in so far as man can understand and know God, he lives, but in so far as he is wasted and oppressed by sin, he is dead; he is therefore called half-dead. The priest and the Levite who saw him and passed by, signify the priesthood and ministry of the Old Testament which could profit nothing for salvation. Samaritan means Guardian, and therefore the Lord Himself is signified by this name. The binding of the wounds is the restraint of sin. Oil is the comfort of good hope; wine the exhortation to work with fervent spirit. The beast is the flesh in which He deigned to come to us. The being set upon the beast is belief in the incarnation of Christ. The inn is the Church, where travelers returning to their heavenly country are refreshed after pilgrimage. The morrow is after the resurrection of the Lord. The two pence are either the two precepts of love, or the promise of this life and of that which is to come. The innkeeper is the Apostle. The supererogatory payment is either his counsel of celibacy, or the fact that he worked with his own hands lest he should be a burden to any of the weaker brethren when the Gospel was new, though it was lawful for him “to live by the gospel” (Dodd 1961: 13-14; slightly abridged).

Another one of the “villains” promoting allegorical preaching was an early church father, the Alexandrian of northern Africa, Origen (185-254), known as the father of allegorical interpretation. Other church leaders preceded and followed him.

Take a read of his articles online and you’ll see how he does it. See HERE. This is one example of how he abandoned literal interpretation to impose his own view on Scripture:

Origen, in his Treatise on First Principles, recommended that the Old and New Testaments be interpreted allegorically at three levels, the first being the “flesh,” the second the “soul,” and the third the “spirit.” Many of the events recounted in the Scriptures, interpreted in the literal or fleshly sense, Origen claims, are impossible. Many of the laws, when interpreted literally, are impossible or nonsensical. To get at the meaning of these passages, it is necessary to interpret them allegorically. Some connected passages will contain parts that are literally true and parts that are literally impossible.

In this case, says Origen,

For as man is said to consist of body, and soul, and spirit, so also does sacred Scripture, which has been granted by the divine bounty for the salva­tion of man…. The reader must endeavor to grasp the entire meaning, connecting by an intellectual process the account of what is literally impossible with the parts that are not impossible but historically true, these being interpreted allegorically in common with the part which, so far as the letter goes, did not happen at all” (Bk 4, para 11, 20).

Clement of Alexandria - Wikipedia

(Clement of Alexandria – ca. 150 –215 –  Image courtesy Wikipedia)

The individual ought, then, to portray the ideas of holy Scripture in a threefold manner upon his own soul; in order that the simple man may be edified by the ‘flesh,’ as it were, of the Scripture. For so we name the obvious sense. While he who has ascended a certain way may be edified by the ‘soul,’ as it were. The perfect man, again, … may receive edification from the spiritual law…. For as man consists of body, and soul, and spirit, so in the same way does Scripture.

Origen’s predecessor, Clement of Alexandria, also supported the need for allegorical interpretation:

For many reasons, then, the Scriptures hide the sense. First, that we may become inquisitive, and be ever on the watch for the discovery of the words of salvation. Then it was not suitable for all to understand, so that they might not receive harm in consequence of taking in another sense the things declared for salvation by the Holy Spirit. Wherefore the holy mysteries of the prophecies are veiled in the parables— preserved for chosen men, selected to knowledge in consequence of their faith; for the style of the Scriptures is parabolic (The Stromata – Miscellanies 6.15.para 15).

The fundamental error with allegorical interpretation is its adding to the text what is not there.

4. What is literal interpretation?

On 19 December 2020 in Australia, I watched test cricket on TV where Australia convincingly won the test by bowling out India for India’s lowest test score on record of 36 – their worst ever performance at test level. Did that happen? Is the plain meaning that it was literal cricket, a literal test match between Australia and India played at the Adelaide Oval, and there was a literal winner and a literal loser? Australia won by 8 wickets. Was that a literal fact or not?

Some symbolic language was used to describe this diabolical performance, “’Carnage… unbelievable… wait, what happened?‘” So symbolic language was used by a journalist to describe a literal event.

The Sydney Morning Herald’s headline of 19 December 2020 was, “COVID-19 concerns for inner-city; northern beaches in lockdown.” Was this an actual outbreak of Covid-19 or should we seek for a deeper meaning as we read the news?

You know that would be ridiculous but when it comes to the Bible there have been all kinds of reasons given, generally by liberal interpreters, to reject literal interpretation. These are but a few examples:

clip_image010John Dominic Crossan of the Jesus Seminar claims, “Mark created the empty tomb story, just as he created the sleeping disciples in Gethsemane.”[14]

clip_image010[1]Crossan again: “The authorities know and quote Jesus’ own prophecy that he would rise on the third day. That prophecy is made to the disciples [Mk 8:31; 9:31; 10:33;  Mt 16:21; 17:22-23; 20:18-19]…. The authorities do not necessarily believe Jesus’ prophecy, but they fear the disciples my fake a resurrection. Therefore, no guard is necessary because Jesus will have been proved wrong.”[15]

clip_image010[2]“The risen apparitions in the gospels [i.e. the accounts of Jesus’ resurrection] have nothing whatsoever to do with ecstatic experiences or entranced revelations. Those are found in all the world’s religions, and there may well have been many of them in earliest Christianity…. I do not find anything historical in the finding of the empty tomb, which was most likely created by Mark himself…. The risen apparitions are not historical events in the sense of trances or ecstasies, except in the case of Paul.”[16]

There are other biblical scholars who have ridiculed literal interpretation. German theologian, Rudolph Bultmann, was one of them. This is how he attacked the Christian faith:

People cannot use electric lights and radios and, in the case of illness, take advantage of modern medical and clinical means, and at the same time believe in the spirit and wonder world of the new testament. and whoever intends to do so must be aware that they can profess this as the attitude of christian faith only by making the christian proclamation unintelligible and impossible for the present.[17]

clip_image012

(Image courtesy Quotefancy)

clip_image010[3]This anti-supernaturalism continues with:

John Shelby Spong who had a stroke in 2016 and had 90% completed his last book. He can’t write now, so his wife transcribed the last 10%. In the book he stated:

The Incarnation, the virgin birth, resuscitation as the meaning of resurrection and the concept of the Holy Trinity—all are explanations that will never last. People hear the experience of Christ being challenged when it is only the explanation that is at stake. I wanted to make sure that people could understand that explanations have to die, but the experience remains eternal.[18]

clip_image014 There was a public forum at St Francis (Anglican) Theological College, Milton, Brisbane, on December 9, 1998, involving Dr Greg Jenks of the Jesus Seminar (of the Drayton Anglican parish, Toowoomba, Qld., Australia), and Dr Paul Barnett, Anglican bishop of North Sydney, defending the orthodox view. The Seminar was titled, “Behind and Beyond the Jesus Seminar: Implications for Christian Discipleship.”  Dr Paul Barnett[19] is author revised, Is the New Testament History?[20] As of 2012, Dr. Jenks was on the faculty of St Francis Theological College, Brisbane, but as of December 2020, he was: Dean, Christ Church Cathedral, Grafton NSW; Adjunct Senior Lecturer, School of Theology, Charles Sturt University; Executive Director, History; Coin Curator, Bethsaida Excavations Project, Israel; Fellow, Westar Institute, Willamette University, Salem, OR.[21]

Please understand this anti-supernaturalism is associated with their naturalistic world-view. Naturalism dominates their presuppositions. There is no place in their theology for the supernatural Lord God almighty. People like Greg Jenks, John Dominic Cross, John Shelby Spong and others of similar belief are threats to those who don’t know their Bible.

4.1 Literal interpretation includes figures of speech[22]

Thomas Horne, British theologian and researcher (AD 1780–1862) wrote:

The Literal Sense of any place of Scripture is that which the words signify, or require, in their natural and proper acceptation, without any trope [a figure of speech], metaphor, or figure, and abstracted from mystic meaning…. The literal sense has been called the Historical Sense, as conveying the meaning of the words and phrases used by the writer at a certain time….

Interpreters now speak of the true sense of a passage, by calling it the Grammatico-Historical Sense…. The object in using this compound name is, to show that both grammatical and historical considerations are employed in making out the sense of a word or passage.[23]

When I was an MA student at Ashland Theological Seminary, I used A Berkeley Mickelsen’s (1963) text in hermeneutics (biblical interpretation). Mickelsen provided this definition:

Literal … means the customarily acknowledged meaning of an expression in its particular context. For example, when Christ declared that he was the door, the metaphorical meaning of ‘door’ in that context would be obvious. Although metaphorical, this obvious meaning is included in the literal meaning.[24]

The nature of parables is that they are similitudes, i.e. extended similies.
Some examples may help to understand the differences.
[25]

clip_image016 A simile: ‘Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth’ (Acts 8:32 ESV, emphasis added). The eunuch is quoting from Isa 53:7 (ESV) but it is a figure of speech known as a simile.

clip_image016[1] A metaphor: ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world’ (John 1:29 ESV, emphasis added).

clip_image016[2]We have an example of a similitude, i.e. parable, in the story of the lost sheep in Luke 15:4-7 (ESV), ‘What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?’ (Luke 15:4 ESV) In this same context of Luke 15 (ESV) Luke tells us the parable of the lost son (Luke 15:11-32 ESV).

clip_image016[3]There is an example of an allegory of the door for the sheep and the good shepherd in John 10:1-16 (ESV). ‘I am the door of the sheep…. I am the good shepherd’ (John 10:7 ESV; John 10:11 ESV). Like the sheep need a fence with a door to keep them safe and from wandering, Jesus is the door into the Kingdom of God.

All of these are examples of the literal sheep, lamb or shepherd but different figures of speech are used.

I take the Scriptures literally but this does not exempt understanding the use of figures of speech in that literal language. I speak of figures of speech such as simile, metaphor, similitude/parable and allegory. When Jesus said, “I am the door” he used a metaphor and did not refer to a wooden door when speaking of himself. When he told Christians, “You are the salt of the earth” he did not refer to literal salt but to the metaphor of how Christians should penetrate the world’s systems with their world views and pervade the secular culture like salt permeates a prepared meal.

This is why it is important to explain what “literal interpretation” means. From the examples I’ve given here, it does not mean an acceptance of dead letterism that does not include figures of speech. Letterism

is a wooden, thin interpretation that fails to go beyond the standard meanings of words and expressions … or to discern the manner in which an author attends to these meanings…. Hence literalism short-circuits the literal sense insofar as it fails to appreciate the author’s intention to give his or her utterance a certain kind of force.[26]

Can you imagine reading your local newspaper or any information online with an allegorical interpretation? How would you ever know if the 9/11 disaster was real or only an allegory? How about Nero’s slaughter of people in the Roman Empire in the first century? Do we have to abandon literal interpretation for the alleged “deeper meaning”? How is my “deeper meaning” of a passage more legitimate than yours? If we use a diversity of meanings of the text it will create chaos in interpretation.

I urge you not to interpret this article using allegorical interpretation. This writing is meant to be read literally.

4.2 I do not use allegorical interpretation because:

clip_image018It destroys the meaning of the text.

clip_image018[1]It invalidates the plain meaning of the text.

clip_image018[1]It promotes eisegesis rather than exegesis of the text. It reads into the text an alleged “deeper meaning” that is not in the text. I wouldn’t do that when I read the daily newspaper and I don’t do it when reading Origen, Bultmann, Spong or Crossan. Promoters of allegorical interpretation wouldn’t dare ask us to use that methodology when reading their writings.

clip_image019[1]It is parallel to a contemporary postmodern, deconstructionist, reader-response interpretation. See my article that explains the similarity: Reader-response methods: How meaning can be stripped from biblical texts

What does a postmodern deconstructionist hermeneutic do to the text? I had an interesting email discussion with New Zealand researcher, Dr Jeremy Koay, who supports the reader-response model because:

(1) Readers, as much as the text, play an active role in a reading experience. He rejects the theory that meaning resides exclusively in the text. Why?

Words in a text evoke images in readers’ minds and readers bring their experiences to this encounter. Because individuals have different life experiences, it is almost certain that no two readers or reading sessions will form the exact same interpretation of a text.[27]

(2) We need to view reading “on an efferent-aesthetic continuum.” Efferent refers to the information taken away after reading, but aesthetic focusses on the readers’ thoughts and feelings during the reading. Both foci are needed, according to reader-response.[28]

I’m sure happy a judge doesn’t use that method of interpretation when making a judgment on the guilt or otherwise of someone who breaks into my house and steals valuables. I’ve had 5 open-heart, valve replacement surgeries. They left me with emotional and physical scars but I can’t deny the facts of where and when I had those surgeries.

I have no problem accepting that emotions can be stirred when reading some narratives. That happens with me, especially when I read of the persecution and martyrdom happening today through Voice of the Martyrs newsletters. No matter how much my emotions are stirred and I’m provoked to pray more for these persecuted saints, we cannot overlook the fact that these facts don’t go away:

  • IRAN: Imprisoned Christian Dangerously Depressed;
  • INDIA: Christian Pastor Beaten and Left to Die;
  • EGYPT: Riots Follow Blasphemy Accusation;
  • PAKISTAN: Court Acquits Imran Ghafur Masih;

Is this an either/or situation when we read books, news, etc? No! However, we don’t act on the emotions, the aesthetics.

Here you’ll read some of the interaction I had with Dr Koay. While he emailed me, he refused to print my article on the website of Edumaxi. This is my article as a response: Reader-response methods: How meaning can be stripped from biblical texts

Are the death and resurrection facts of history or feelings of aesthetic beauty?

4.3 Compare allegorical interpretation with postmodern reconstruction

See 4.2 (2) above.

Allegorical interpretation is another version of contemporary, reader-response deconstruction of a text: Reader-response methods: How meaning can be stripped from biblical texts.

I consider that I would be cheating John Milton in Paradise Lost to use my culture, experience and world view to place my meaning on Milton’s poetry written in the seventeenth century. I need to understand the language and concepts he used and the biblical world view to which he referred. Uncovering the intent of the author is my primary task as an interpreter of any document from Yahoo News, or to the Bible.

This is done by listening to the “plain meaning” of a text. I don’t use the language of “pure literal meaning,” so I don’t know how that differs from taking a text – narrative or poetry – at face value. I obtain the meaning from the text and not from my creative invention (reader-response, pesher method, allegorisation) of the text.

I have great difficulty in refusing “pure literal meaning” when I investigate Captain James Cook’s circumnavigation of NZ and sailing up the east coast of Australia in HMS Endeavour in 1770:

clip_image020HMS Endeavour off the coast of New Holland
by Samuel Atkins c. 1794 (image courtesy Wikipedia)

How is it possible to use a reader-response interpretation dealing with the Endeavour when Captain James Cook’s name is associated with an ocean-going ship, The Endeavour? Pure literal meaning applies as much to Jacinda Ardern’s being Prime Minister of NZ and Scott Morrison being elected by his cabinet as the new Prime Minister of Australia. Is plain reading of a text the same as ‘pure literal meaning’ to you?

You stated “This theory rejects the structuralist view that meaning resides solely in the text.” Do you consider that structuralism (meaning because of the language system) has been superseded by postmodern reader-response methodology?

I can’t walk into a local fish and chips shop and give a reader-response interpretation of the menu and expect to get what I ordered. I had to ask for clarification when some friends and I had lunch at a local tavern. My friend ordered whiting for the fish dish. He discovered his fish was NZ whiting and not Australian whiting. Questions for clarification are not equivalent to reader-response hermeneutics whether in the supermarket, at Centrelink (social security), reading The Sydney Morning Herald or reading the Bible.

This is the major problem with allegorical interpretation and a postmodern, deconstructionist, reader-response method of interpretation. I find it best to describe with an image. It wrecks the text of its plain meaning.

clip_image021

(Image courtesy PublicDomainPictures.net)

5. Conclusion

The major problems with allegorical interpretation and postmodern, reader-response interpretations is that they fly along parallel tracks of biblical interpretation. They add to what the text states. This is taboo and should be rejected outright.

While allegorical interpretation adds to the text, it must not be confused with application of a text. I don’t have to follow St Augustine’s interpretation of the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37 ERV). But the application to people in this century is:

  • Whenever we see a person in need and are able to help, act like the Good Samaritan and go out of your way to meet the practical need.
  • Be the one who helps your neighbour and other people in need.
  • A friend of mine works in aged care. She said many of the older folks are never visited by relatives. Could you check with a local retirement village to see if you can visit people in the village? Make sure you follow the Covid-19 safe procedures.

There are many practical reasons for Christian pastors to abandon allegorical interpretation and stick with the plain meaning of the text. Faithful Bible expositors remain with the text to try to discern what the intent of the author was for the original listeners. They don’t search for “deeper meanings” they invent behind the text.

6.  Works consulted

Barnett, Paul 2003, Is the New Testament History? (rev.), Aquila Press, Sydney South, Australia.

Bultmann, Rudolf. “Theologie des Neuen Testaments.” ET: Theology of the New Testament.

Crossan, J D 1995. Who Killed Jesus? New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco.

Horne, T H 1841. An introduction to the Critical Study and Knowledge of the Holy Scriptures (online), 8th edn, vol 1. Philadelphia: J Whetham & Son. This citation is available as part of a Google Book HERE  (Accessed 19 December 2020).

Koay, Jeremy 2018. Edumaxi, “What is reader-response theory?” Available at: https://www.edumaxi.com/what-is-reader-response-theory/ (Accessed 21 December 2020).

Mickelsen, A B 1963. Interpreting the Bible. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Reid, David E 2019. Preaching. “The Problem with Allegory in Preaching.” Available at: https://www.preaching.com/articles/the-problem-with-allegory-in-preaching/ (Accessed 21 December 2020).

Spong, J S 2018. Unbelievable: Why Neither Ancient Creeds Nor the Reformation Can Produce a Living Faith Today. New York NY: HarperOne.

Vanhoozer, K J 1998. Is There a Meaning in This Text? Leicester, England: Apollos (an imprint of Inter-Varsity Press).

7.  Notes


[1] David E Reid 2019. Preaching.com, “The problem with allegory in preaching.” Available at: https://www.preaching.com/articles/the-problem-with-allegory-in-preaching/ (Accessed 20 December 2020).

[2] Collins Dictionary (2020. s.v. allegory).

[3] Ibid.

[4] From Timeless Truths: Free Online Library, public domain. Available at: https://library.timelesstruths.org/music/The_Old_Rugged_Cross/ (Accessed 19 December2020).

[5] Or, “to go for a walk” (ERV footnote).

[6] David E Reid 2019. Preaching. “The Problem with Allegory in Preaching.” Available at: https://www.preaching.com/articles/the-problem-with-allegory-in-preaching/ (Accessed 21 December 2020).

[7] David R Reid, “The Problem with Allegory in Preaching.”

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Robert Kinney 2020. 9Marks.com, “Allegorical Interpretation: Finding the Line Before You Cross It”, 31 March. Available at: https://www.9marks.org/article/allegorical-interpretation-finding-the-line-before-you-cross-it/ (Accessed 20 December 2020).

[11] Augustine, Enarrationes in Psalmos 118, 121 and 125, De Doctrina Christiana 1.30.31ff, Sermo 299.

[12] Without naming Augustine, John Calvin responds to this kind of interpretation in characteristically blunt fashion:

The allegory which is here contrived by the advocates of free will is too absurd to deserve refutation… I acknowledge that I have no liking for any of these interpretations; but we ought to have a deeper reverence for Scripture than to reckon ourselves at liberty to disguise its natural meaning. And, indeed, any one may see that the curiosity of certain men has led them to contrive these speculations, contrary to the intention of Christ.” See Calvin’s commentary on Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34; Luke 10:25-37 in John Calvin, The Harmony of the Gospels, Vol. 3 (trans. W. Pringle and J. King; Altenmünster: Jazzybee, 2012), 49. While Calvin’s comments indicate that he is strongly opposed to this kind of allegorical interpretation, he ironically engages in it with a striking frequency. For example, in his commentary on Exodus 28:X, he notes that the garments made for Aaron and his sons are meant to ‘conceal their faults’ and, instead, display virtue and, indeed, the ‘wondrous glory of Christ.’ The text, in Exod 28:2, simply states the garments are to be made “for glory and for beauty.” See Calvin’s commentary on Exodus 28:2 in John Calvin, The Harmony of the Law, Vol. 2 (trans. J. King; Altenmünster: Jazzybee, 2012), 103.

[13] Mark Dever defines expositional preaching as

preaching that takes for the point of a sermon the point of a particular passage of Scripture.” Mark Dever, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, Third Edition (Wheaton: Crossway, 2000), 44. David R. Helm defines it similarly as “empowered preaching that rightfully sub­mits the shape and emphasis of the sermon to the shape and emphasis of a biblical text.” David R. Helm, Expositional Preaching: How We Speak God’s Word Today (Wheaton, Crossway, 2014), 13. D.A. Carson defines it similarly as “the unpacking of what is there.” He goes on to add: “it is unpacking what the biblical text or texts actually say. If we expect God to re-reveal himself by his own words, then our expositions must reflect as faithfully as possible what God actually said when the words were given to us in Scripture.” D.A. Carson, “Challenges for the Twenty-first-century Pulpit” in Preach the Word: Essays in Honor of R. Kent Hughes (ed., L. Ryken, T. Wilson; Wheaton: Crossway: 2008), 176-177. Finally, Bryan Chapell offers this definition: “An expository sermon takes its topic, main points, and subpoints from a text.2 In an expository message, a preacher makes a commitment to explain what a particular text means by using the spiritual principles it supports as the points of the message.”Bryan Chapell, Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon, Second Edition (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994), 131.

[14] J D Crossan, J D 1995. Who Killed Jesus? New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco, 184.

[15] Ibid., 180.

[16] Ibid., 208.

[17] Rudolf Bultmann, “neues testament und Mythologie,” 18.

[18] From J S Spong Unbelievable, in Insights magazine 2018, “Controversial Author Releases Final Book”, 19 January. Available at: https://www.insights.uca.org.au/controversial-author-releases-final-book/ (Accessed 20 December 2020).

[19] Paul Barnett 2003, Is the New Testament History? (rev.), Aquila Press, Sydney South, Australia.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Information available at Greg Jenks’ homepage: https://gregoryjenks.com/about/ (Accessed

21 December 2020).

[22] Some of the following material is taken from my article, What is the meaning of the literal interpretation of the Bible?

[23] T H Horne 1841. An introduction to the Critical Study and Knowledge of the Holy Scriptures (online), 8th edn, vol 1. Philadelphia: J Whetham & Son, 357. This citation is available as part of a Google Book here.

[24] A B Mickelsen 1963. Interpreting the Bible. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 33.

[25] These examples are taken from Mickelsen, Interpreting the Bible, 212-213.

[26] K J Vanhoozer 1998. Is There a Meaning in This Text? Leicester, England: Apollos (an imprint of Inter-Varsity Press), 311.

[27] Jeremy Koay 2018. Edumaxi, “What is reader-response theory?” Available at: https://www.edumaxi.com/what-is-reader-response-theory/ (Accessed 21 December 2020).

[28] Koay, “What is reader-response theory?”

 

Copyright © 2020 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 21 December 2020.

Was Jesus the Son of God or only the son of a woman?[1]

Photograph of Dawid Samoszul

(Photograph of Dawid Samoszul

Close-up street portrait of Dawid Samoszul, probably taken in Piotrkow Trybunalski, Poland, between 1936 and 1938. Dawid was killed in the Treblinka killing center at the age of 9. US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Abe Samelson, View Archival Details)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

Whenever I write a Christian-based article for On Line Opinion, it is guaranteed to receive a rant of abuse – mainly through the use of logical fallacies. These were some of the responses to my article, Anglicans, Christmas, and the birth of God?

1. Reactions from anti-Christians

One fellow who is known for his hostility wrote:

Jesus never claimed any more than the son of man. He’s on the record as allegedly saying, with regard to the miracles, it is not I who does these things, but the Father in me.
Only fundamental (sic) fanatics try to make him more than a man born of woman. . . .

They also claim that Jesus was God (a false premise) and believe that confers some authority! And just risible rubbish, given they never ever had such authority! Never![2]

2. Was Jesus the Son of God?

It is too bad Alan B didn’t acquire accurate biblical knowledge to counter the ignorant statements like this. What he said here is blatantly false.
God, the Son, is regarded as God. He has the attributes of deity:

(1) Eternity (Jn 1:15; 8:58; 17:5, 24);

(2) Omniscience (Jn 2:24-25; 16:30; 21:17);

(3) Omnipresence (Mt 18:20; 28:20; Jn 3:13);

(4) Omnipotence. ‘I am the Almighty’ (Rev 1:8; Heb 1:3; Mt 28:18);

(5) Immutable (Heb 1:12; 13:8);

(6) He does the actions of deity:

  • creator (Jn 1:3; Heb 1:10; Col 1:16);
  • holds things together (Col 1:17; Heb 1:3);
  • forgives sin (Mt 9:2, 6);
  • raises the dead (Jn 6:39-40, 54; 11:25; 20:25, 28);
  • he will be the Judge (Jn 5:22) of believers (2 Cor 5:10), of Antichrist and his followers (Rev 19:15), the nations (Ac 17:31), Satan (Gen 3:15) and the living and the dead (Ac 10:42).

Only Alan B’s bigotry against biblical content has caused him to reach his erroneous conclusion.[3]

3. A fundamentalist fanatic’s response[4]

“Only fundamental (sic) fanatics try to make him more than a man born of woman.”

Yes, mate, evangelical believers like me, who take the Scriptures seriously, know that you are dumping your presuppositions on us.

You don’t know the Bible, do you? Why don’t you own up to the logical fallacies you use whenever articles on this forum clash with your worldview, particularly Christian-related topics?

Let’s check the Scriptures: ‘Jesus answered, “The fact is, before Abraham was born, I Am.” When he said this, they picked up stones to throw at him. But Jesus hid, and then he left the Temple area” (John 8:58-59).

We know from John chapter 5 that Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath. This did not please the Jewish leaders as they questioned Jesus about his violation of the Jewish law. Jesus claimed authority over the Sabbath.

Those Jews began trying to make Jesus stop these actions on the Sabbath. ‘But he said to them, “My Father never stops working, and so I work too.” This made them even more determined to kill him. They thought it was bad enough that he was breaking the law about the Sabbath day. And now he was saying that God is his Father, MAKING HIMSELF EQUAL WITH GOD’ (John 5:16-18).

Have you ever read this in Scripture? Peter called Jesus, “Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16)? Did Jesus support your view and emphatically deny he was the Son of God? Not at all! Jesus’ response was: “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven” (Matt 16:17).

Jesus emphatically affirmed he was the Son of God and not just the son of man. The Bible contradicts your view. I suggest you obtain a REAL theological education by taking the Bible seriously and examining its claims.

4. An atheistic perspective

An atheist could not resist this jibe: “Here we go again, arguing over who has the correct sky fairy”.[5] My reply was just as pointed, “I hear the wind blowing; the thunder and lightning are flashing and clapping; the cyclone is blowing our way from your ‘sky fairy’ fantasy.”[6]

5. Questioning my orthodox view over liberalism

Diver Dan took a different line:

I take you to task on your confessed orthodoxy. You may be an orthodox Christian in these times, but Christianity is historically built on shifting sands with orthodoxy.
Lack of consistency in its literature over two thousand years, has added confusion.

The belief in the trinity has been an evolutionary process. Explaining away the Christian God head from the orthodox stance as you do, relies on the belief of the infallibility of the biblical text as it now stands.
The Liberal view is Academic. It is more inclined to see the evolution of the Christian faith in term of history.

I see a danger in both views. The extreme of the liberal view is effectively disbelief in the creed, which I see as created by an overly questioning study for which it’s (sic) reward is lack of faith, followed by agnosticism; because the text through the years has been inconsistent and often tied into current historical events.
I think all orthodoxies should be questioned without risking loss of faith. You say your views are orthodox, but are they also fundamentalist by the same nature.

Fundamentalism led to the extreme of orthodoxy with the creation of Jimmy Jones, and his people’s Temple horror story.[7]

6. My response to “shifting sands” of Christian orthodoxy

“Christianity is historically built on shifting sands with orthodoxy.”

Then you gave not one example of these “shifting sands”, so you built a straw man fallacy.[8]

“Lack of consistency in its literature over two thousand years, has added confusion.”

Have you read EVERYTHING of Christianity from the 1st to 21st centuries to conclude about the “lack of consistency”? Or is this a fallacy of hasty generalization that springs forth from your worldview?

“The belief in the trinity has been an evolutionary process.”

False again! The trinitarian teaching is orthodox from the “us” of Genesis 1 to the full blown articulation in the New Testament. Ray Pritchard asked: “What is the Trinity? Christians in every land unite in proclaiming that our God eternally exists as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Those who deny that truth place themselves outside the pale of Christian orthodoxy. Having said that, I admit that no one fully understands it. It is a mystery and a paradox. Yet I believe it is true”, http://www.christianity.com/god/trinity/god-in-three-persons-a-doctrine-we-barely-understand-11634405.html.

The Trinity is not an “evolving” doctrine but one that is seen more clearly with progressive revelation in moving from Old Testament to New Testament.

“The Liberal view is Academic.”

No, the Liberal view changes what the Bible states. There are sound, evangelical, academic views of the orthodox Trinity.

“You say your views are orthodox, but are they also fundamentalist by the same nature.”

I said my views were “evangelical”. You have inserted “orthodox” and “fundamentalist.” I do not shy away from labelling my theological views as containing fundamental theology at its core – including the inerrancy of Scripture in the original documents, Christ’s atoning blood sacrifice, the bodily resurrection of Jesus and Christ’s second coming. However, the language of “fundamentalist” comes with too much baggage, as seen in your linking me to Jim Jones and his fanatical group.

“Fundamentalism led to the extreme of orthodoxy with the creation of Jimmy Jones, and his people’s Temple horror story.”

This is an ad hominem (guilt by association) fallacy. Here you have a negative view of my beliefs because of its supposed association with Jim Jones, that you view negatively. We cannot have a rational conversation when you engage in this kind of fallacious reasoning.

7. “Who is Christ?” has many answers

Diver dan had this comeback. How accurate was he?

One of the problems dealing with people on this site, is accommodating their hypersensitive natures.

I’m not about to trade scriptural references towards proving a theory I put forward to you, based on my observations over a lifetime on this subject.

But like it or not, the question of “who is Christ” has as many answers as history has to any other subject.

So the difficulty with the answer is, the difficulty of who debates the question, and the biases that are natural in the mix. And historically, the question of who is Christ, has shifted through the years; that’s the point I make.
On another point you raised, which I noticed in your article, which was the differing opinions adding a different emphasis on scripture, between Liberals and evangelicals.

Unless there is consistency, then there are dangers in both views.
Jimmy Jones began his ministry with good intentions, but he lost the plot and strayed from tradition. Tradition is very much where the Liberals are. Viz Peter Selleck on this forum.
[9]

How should I reply as his response contained some fundamental errors?

8. Who are Hitler, James Cook and Aristotle?

“But like it or not, the question of “who is Christ“ has as many answers as history has to any other subject.”

American soldiers enter the Buchenwald concentration camp following the liberation of the camp. [LCID: 09807](US soldiers enter the Buchenwald concentration camp following the liberation of the camp. Buchenwald, Germany, after April 11, 1945. Photo courtesy Holocaust Encyclopedia)

 

If I want to know about “who is Hitler?”; “Who is Captain James Cook?”; “Who is Aristotle?”, I go to the historical sources that deal with this historical information.
Since I want to know who Jesus Christ is, I go to the primary documents of the Gospels that deal with this information. I don’t go to the pseudepigraphical Gospel of Peter and the “Cross Gospel” which John Dominic Crossan of the Jesus Seminar promotes.

“Tradition is very much where the Liberals are. Viz Peter Selleck on this forum.”

To the contrary, the Anglican tradition is with the formulators of the 39 Articles, which provide a very evangelical statement of beliefs in The Articles of Religion 1562.
They are not Liberal Anglicanism but support evangelical, Bible-believing Anglicans. I suggest you get your facts straight on this topic.

The heart of the Anglican doctrines is evangelical and does not synthesise with the teaching of John Shelby Spong or Peter Sellick. See HERE.

9. Conclusion

Notice what most of these comments contain:

(1) They avoid dealing with the primary content of the article. This means they choose to,

(2) dump their presuppositions on the reader.

(3) They allow their ignorance about a topic to be exposed, and

(4) It is a common trait of these anti-Christian antagonists to use logical fallacies to divert attention away from the main topic.

Logical fallacies are common errors in reasoning that will undermine the logic of your argument. Fallacies can be either illegitimate arguments or irrelevant points, and are often identified because they lack evidence that supports their claim. Avoid these common fallacies in your own arguments and watch for them in the arguments of others.

10. Notes


[1] This topic began as a blog on one of my ejournal articles with On Line Opinion, 3 December 2020. I blog as OzSpen.

[2] Posted by Alan B., Thursday, 3 December 2020 11:03:22 AM.

[3] Posted by OzSpen, Thursday, 3 December 2020 11:53:35 AM

[4] This was a response to Alan B, posted by OzSpen, Thursday, 3 December 2020 8:29:56 PM.

[5] Posted by TheAtheist, Thursday, 3 December 2020 6:28:41 PM.

[6] Posted by OzSpen, Thursday, 3 December 2020 6:40:50 PM.

[7] Posted by diver dan, Thursday, 3 December 2020 8:29:15 PM.

[8] Posted by OzSpen, Friday, 4 December 2020 12:50:38 PM.

[9] Posted by diver dan, Saturday, 5 December 2020 7:31:15 AM.

Copyright © 2020 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 5 December 2020.

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