Another Gospel? | Reflections, Notes, & Critical Review

Alisa Childers. Another Gospel? A Lifelong Christian Seeks Truth in Response to Progressive Christianity. Tyndale Momentum, 2020. (267 pages)


REFLECTIONS


This is an incredibly thoughtful, well-research, well-cited, and heartfelt book that is compelling, personal, and extremely relevant to our current religious context. However, much of the logic, rationales, and theology are inconsistent, at times incoherent, and frequently contradictory. Childers claims far too much, admits far too little, and remains far too shallow for the assertions she makes. I am fully on board with Childers’ overall agenda of seeking truth, getting back to the original, using history, and making sure that you do your homework. But once you wade into those deep waters, you cannot simply ignore the profound complexities, mysteries, and at times convoluted and conflicting realities that make up the Christian story, yes, even from the very beginning.

The genesis of the book is found in the testimony she provides in attending a class at a church with a “progressive pastor,” who poked and prodded students, at times called them out publicly, and seemed intent on disruption, rather than education. I have great sympathies for Childers’ experience and would be in agreement with her disdain for that kind of environment. That context, in addition to the closing paragraphs of the book, helps us understand the book in its broader phenomenological context. I think it is important to read her final words carefully:

I was so disturbed of heart because I stood to lose God. The consuming fire who spoke creation into existence and yet identifies himself as Father. I stood to lose Jesus, the Messiah predicted by the Old Testament prophets and trumpeted after four hundred years of divine silence as the “Lamb of God, who takes way the sin of the world” (John 1:29). I stood to lose my Savior. The assurance that my sins had been paid for–that I had been bought with a price. That he died in my place. I stood to lose the beauty of the gospel. I stood to lose the confidence that everything wrong in this wretched world will one day be made right. I stood to lose the hope of no more tears, no more crying, no more pain. I stood to lose the mysterious stability of God’s written Word. The lamp to my feet. The light to my path. (239)

We don’t get to completely redefine who God is and how he works in the world and call it Christian. We don’t get to (239) make the rules and do what is right in our own eyes and yet claim to be follwers of Jesus. Our only option is to do it his way or not at all. He is love. His name is truth. His gospel is bloody. His way is beautiful. For God so loved the world. (240)

I want to join my voice with the saints who’ve gone before me. I want to unite with Peter and Paul, Athanasius, Ignatius, and Augustine. I want to worship with Aquinas, Spurgeon, and Tozer. I want to stand beside my husband, my kids, and all those whom God will save to sing praises to our Creator. My earnest hope and prayer is to see you–my reader–on that glorious day too, forgiven, washed pure, standing firm on what is true, and enjoying the immense beauty of it all. We’ll join our voices together with countless saints from every tribe, nation, and tongue–every creature in heaven and earth and under the earth and sea: (240)

Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing! … To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!

Amen! (240)

As we know from cognitive psychology, our minds desperately want coherence; we need things to make sense in this world. We also understand that our identities are often shaped in contrast with things we reject, part of the reason why the endeavor of apologetics is such a mainstay of Christian expression. This book falls right in line with this understanding. First, the vast majority of the arguments here are an exercise in confirmation bias. This makes sense because most Christian apologetics fall into this category. Second, this book is a polemic against “progressive Christianity” as Childers understands it, making progressive Christianity the antithesis of “truth.”

As much as I applaud the desire, the yearning, and the hope for a “true” expression of “historic Christianity” Childers lands on a modern, American, reformed, and some would say “conservative” expression of the Christian religion. For the record, there is absolutely nothing wrong with believing in any or all of this, for as we say, “it’s a free country.” However, the “historic Christianity” to which Childers appeals cannot deliver the order that she has placed.

In the spirit of holding admiration and great esteem for the author, my interactions below in bold and blue are in accordance with the general program of making good arguments, and I trust that Childers and others will recognize that this investment is both ideological and not personal, and out of deep respect and honor for the offering she has put forth into the world. I would not have spent this much time on something unworthy.

Thank you, @VinesMatthew for the recommendation, and your correspondence. I hope my review below does justice to your inquiry.


NOTES & CRITICAL REVIEW


AUTHOR’S NOTE

FOREWORD BY LEE STROBEL

In Christianity, the anchor is sound biblical doctrine. (xiii)

[via: So, I really am uncomfortable with making a big fuss so early on in the book, but this is a consistent theme in American Christianity, that doctrine–beliefs–are what make “Christianity.” I mean no snark or sarcasm when I sincerely ask, Why is Jesus not the center, the anchor, the whole point?! I do believe this one shift in focus, like the analogy of a rocket ship leaving earth just one degree off course, is absolutely critical; it makes a world of difference. In short, doing an apologetic defense of Christian doctrines is a completely different agenda than a historical analysis of the life, ministry, teachings, and movement of Jesus.]

Christianity is floating toward disaster–a trend that can be reversed only by returning to the sound biblical doctrine that has historically anchored our faith. (xiv)

[via: The other tool in the arsenal of Christian apologetics is fear, here deployed. Just a skosh of history would tire any student of Christianity of this kind of cataclysmic rhetoric. In addition, fear is what is banished by the Good News as “perfect love casts out all fear.” (1 John 4:18)]

1 Crisis of Faith

The Real Deal

…progressive Christians view the Bible as primarily a human book and emphasize personal conscience and practices rather than certainty and beliefs. They are also very open to redefining, reinterpreting, or even rejecting essential doctrines of the faith like the Virgin Birth, the deity of Jesus, and his bodily resurrection. (8)

[via: I’m only slightly hesitant to note that whenever you read a critique of another person’s ideology, religion, or views, it’s always best to understand them on their terms, not through the eyes of the critic. To her credit, Childers cites and names the people with whom she interacts so that readers can go to the primary source.]

Stronger than Before

…as I navigated through my faith crisis, I realized that it’s not enough to simply know the facts anymore … we have to learn how to think them through–to assess information and come to reasonable conclusions after engaging religious ideas logically and intellectually. We can’t allow truth to be sacrificed on the altar of our feelings. We can’t allow our fear of offending others to prevent us from warning them that they’re about to step in front of a bus. Truth matters for bacon eaters, and truth matters for Christians. (11)

[via: So, whenever I hear someone say that we have to “think,” I always want to check to see if they have at least an elementary education in epistemology. I concur with the principle, but by encouraging Christians “to think,” most apologists (and Childers is no exception here ) mean to understand the intellectual arguments that support the “truths” of their faith. This is not epistemology. This is arguing a case. Until something changes, Christian apologetics suffers from this one problem, that the entire endeavor is notpursuit of the truth, but rather a defense of a dogma.

And regarding the bacon, well I won’t slaughter her analogy too much. Suffice to say that bacon is good for you! ;-)]

2 The Rocks in My Shoes

The First Pebble

Finding Community

Peculiar People

cf. Brian McLaren’s A Generous Orthodoxy

In the context of faith, deconstruction is the process of systematically dissecting and often rejecting the beliefs you grew up with. Sometimes the Christian will deconstruct all the way into atheism. Some remain there, but others experience a reconstruction. But the type of faith they end up embracing almost never resembles the Christianity they formerly knew. Traditional understandings of the Cross, the Bible, and the gospel get taken out with the trash. (24)

[via: Would Childers consider the Pharisees’ or Sadducees’ “traditional understandings” in need of deconstructing, some of which need to be “taken out with the trash”? How about Catholic “traditional understandings”? Again, this is not a claim to what is true but what needs to be defended.]

I suppose this caused so much turmoil because I wasn’t eager to deconstruct or become progressive because the Christianity I had known was deep and real and true. It wasn’t soiled by legalism or hypocrisy, ravaged by abuse, or oppressed by doubt. I wanted to progress in my faith…in my understanding of God’s Word, my ability to live it out, and my relationship with Jesus. But I didn’t want to progress beyond truth. Once I was put through my own type of deconstruction, I wanted to reconstruct my faith by planting my flag on the firm bedrock of truth. I needed to know what was true. (25)

…I had an idea. Rather than redefine or reject Christianity, why not go back to the beginning and find out what the real thing is? Maybe the only version I knew was true…maybe it was false. (25)

[via: I have so much respect and genuine sympathy for this journey that Childers was on, and I affirm much of what is expressed in the paragraphs above. Her heartfelt transparency is moving, the overall project is really good, and we share a lot of commitments.

However, the aim, the goal, and the expectations of not wanting to “progress beyond,” and “planting my flag on the firm bedrock of truth,” betrays an epistemic expectation that will not serve the journey well. Truth just doesn’t work like that, unfortunately. This will be borne out in the coming pages as the search for the “real thing” falls short.]

3 Creeds, Cobbler, and Walter Bauer

A Faith Worth Dying For

I learned that creeds became an important form of communication to keep those first-century believers on the same page. But these belief statements weren’t simply a list of doctrines Christians had to affirm to be “in.” These were the convictions they lived and died for. (29)

| When Christians today think of creeds, we tend to think of the Nicene or Apostles’ Creed, shared by Protestants and Catholics alike. But many Christians are unaware that our New Testament contains dozens of creeds that are hundreds of years older than their more famous counterparts. Some early Christians were literate, others were not. Creeds were an easy way to summarize and memorize their essential beliefs. (29)

| The earliest creed in the history of Christianity is probably the one found in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5. most scholars, even liberal and skeptical ones, say that this creed first began circulating as early as two to seven years after Jesus’ resurrection. [Atheist New Testament scholar Gerd Lüdemann dates it to within two or three years of the Crucifixion. Non-Christian scholar and Jesus Seminar founder Robert Funk and world-renowned New Testament scholar N. T. Wright agree. See Gerd Lüdemann, The Resurrection of Jesus (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), 171-72; Robert Walter Funk and the Jesus Seminar, The Acts of Jesus (New York: Polebridge Press, 1998), 466; N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), 319.] (29)

“For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.” 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 (NRSV)

[1 Corinthians 15:3-5: “Παρεδωκα γαρ υμιν πρωτοις ο και παρελαβον οτι Χριστος απεθανεν υπερ  των αμαρτιων ημων κατα τας γραφας και οτι εταφη και οτι εγηγερται τη ημερα τη τριτη κατα τας γραφας και οτι ωφθη Κηφα ειτα τοις δωδεκα”]

In Jewish culture, phrases like “delivered to you” and “having received’ were ancient slang for “Hey…I’m about to tell you something I didn’t think up myself. I got it from someone else who got it from someone else.” (31)

[via: I commend Childers’ study, resourcing, and scholastic work on this section. Well done.]

What did the earliest Christians believe? Let’s break it down.

  1. They believed that Jesus died for their sins. (31)
  2. They believed that Jesus was buried and raised from the dead. (32)
  3. They believed that Jesus’ atoning death, burial, and resurrection were inseparable from the Scriptures. (32)
  4. They believed that their core belief in the Resurrection could be verified by evidence. (33)

Class Notes

I was disappointed to discover that the book should have been titled, The Well Known, Late Lies About Jesus That Were Ignored By Christians Who Knew Better. These texts were never part of the New Testament canon. They were written late in history and rejected by everyone who knew the truth about Jesus of Nazareth. [See Andreas J. Köstenberger and Michael J. Kruger, The Heresy of Orthodoxy: How Contemporary Culture’s Fascination with Diversity Has Reshaped Our Undestanding of Early Christianity (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010) and my article “When Was the New Testament Considered Scripture? 5 Facts That Point to an Early Canon,” January 16, 2017.]

I was absolutely astonished when I learned that within the New Testament itself we find Paul quoting Luke’s Gospel and calling it “Scripture” (1 Timothy 5:18). Likewise, Peter refers to “all [of Paul’s] letters” as Scripture (2 Peter 3:15-16). That’s as early as it gets, folks. (39)

[1 Timothy 5:18: …for the scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain” and, “The laborer deserves to be paid.”

“λεγει γαρ η γραφη Βουν αλοωντα ου φιμωσεις και Αξιος ο εργατης του μισθου αυτου”

2 Peter 3:15-16: “…and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation. So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures.”

“και την του κυριου ημων μακροθυμιαν σωτηριαν ηγεισθε καθως και ο αγαπητος ημων αδελφος Παυλος κατα την δοθεισαν αυτῳ σοφιαν εγραψεν υμιν ως και εν πασαις ταις επιστολαις λαλων εν αυταις περι τουτων εν αις εστιν δυσνοητα τινα α οι αμαθεις και αστηρικτοι στρεβλουσιν ως και τας λοιπας γραφας προς την ιδιαν αυτων απωλειαν”]

Historic Christianity

…if we look at church history as a whole, every reformation was an attempt to get back to the earliest, most biblical, and most authentic version of Christianity. I think it’s time for another reformation. Not a reformation that progresses beyond historic Christianity. Not one that looks down on these early believers as less enlightened and more primitive in their understanding of God, but one that rediscovers the very definition of Christianity. (40)

[via: Depending upon what Childers means, it could be argued that reformations were more like “course corrections” along the way, tensions that the Church was wrestling with and needed to resolve as the world and culture around them reformulated the context in which they lived their faith. So, two things: 1) I would want to see more evidence that reformers were “attempting to get back to the earliest, most biblical, and most authentic version of Christianity.” 2) The “most authentic version” is a not a scholarly category, and needs to be rejected a priori if we’re going to do history.]

But as the saying goes, you can’t judge a belief system by its abuses. (40)

[via: Agreed. Abusus non tollit usum.]

There is one thing we can be certain of: The earliest Christians–the ones who knew Jesus personally, who saw him with their own eyes and touched him with their own hands–believed the teachings laid out in the earliest creeds and New Testament writings. These aren’t just modern opinions or the privileged musings of an enlightened Western civilization. (40)

[via: This is overstating the case. First, the creeds are most definitely formulated in the time of the earliest disciples of Jesus (I hesitate to call them “Christians” until after Acts 11), but we don’t really know who affirmed them. Matthew 28 clearly states that “some doubted,” even after the resurrection. Second, “New Testament writings” needs qualification, as they were still being written over the decades to come after the Resurrection. Third, as we will see later, what Childers cites in the creeds most definitely would not have been adhered to but “the ones who knew Jesus personally.”]

I had begun to notice that when members of my class at church critiqued Christianity’s core beliefs, they often spent less time poring over the Scriptures to discuss the finer points of theology and doctrine and more time reflecting on their disillusionment over unanswered prayers or their personal experiences growing up in legalistic churches. (41)

[via: I agree, this is unfortunate.]

4 Fixing What Isn’t Broken

Abuse of Power

…sadly, many Christians throw away the cure because of a bad church experience. (48)

No Safe Place to Doubt

The Moral Demands of Historic Christianity

From cover to cover, the Bible teaches that sex is to be between a man and a woman in a marriage covenant for life. Any sexual act outside of that covenant is biblically defined as a sin. We cannot redefine what God calls sin and still presume to identify that ethic as Christian. (53)

[via: Presuming “a man and a woman” refers to strict monogamy, this statement is demonstrably false. One, Lamech takes two wives. (Genesis 4:19) Two, David was a polygamist by God’s gift. (2 Samuel 12:8) Three, Song of Songs.]

Even many Christians who don’t experience same-sex attraction have adjusted their theology on the issue because they think it is the most loving stand to take. So in order to maintain some semblance of faith, they redefine Christianity and progress beyond its historic understanding, while others abandon the faith altogether. (55)

[via: This is not the place to make an argument for/against same-sex relationships. I will simply say that this is an unfair misrepresentation of the robust theological work done by many Christians, conservative and otherwise, on this topic. Jesus, the Bible and Homosexuality by Jack Rogers, Scripture, Ethics & The Possibility of Same-Sex Relationships by Karen Keen, Homoeroticism in The Biblical World: A Historical Perspective by Martti Nissinen, God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines, and Bible, Gender, Sexuality by James Brownson are just a few.]

Trouble with the Bible

The World Offers a More Attractive Option

But the problem with critical theory is that it isn’t just a set of ideas that influences how someone thinks about oppression. It functions as a worldview, a way of seeing the world that answers questions like Who are we? Why are we here? What is wrong with the world? How can this problem be fixed? What is the meaning of life? When people adopt the tenets of critical theory, their answers to these questions are filtered through that lens. It’s no wonder, then, that critical theory stands in contradiction to Christianity at many points. (60)

Who are we? According to historic Christianity, we are human beings made in the image of a holy, loving, and just God. According to critical theory, our identity is not found in who we are created to be, but in how we relate with other groups as defined by our class, gender, sexual preference, and so on. What is wrong with the world? According to historic Christianity, sin against a holy God is what’s wrong with the world. According to critical theory, oppression is what’s wrong. How can this be problem fixed? [sic] According to historic Christianity, the sin problem is fixed by Jesus taking the punishment for our sins upon himself, dying the death we deserve, so we could be reconciled to God. But according to critical theory, the problem of oppression is fixed by activism, raised awareness, and the overthrow of oppressive systems and their power. What is the meaning of life? According to (60) historic Christianity, it’s to glorify God. According to critical theory, it’s to free groups from oppression. (61)

[via: Okay, sit tight.

The first problem is how Childers misunderstands and misrepresents Critical Theory (CT) which Christians have, unfortunately, made a habit of doing as of late. This explanation is quite similar to many others’ arguments. For an in-depth analysis of CT, consider A Very Short Introduction. Second, stating an observation about the world is not the same thing as stating a worldview. This sets up far too many strawmen and oversimplified comparisons. Third, and most baffling, is the complete lack of biblical awareness to each of the worldview questions Childers posits.

First, Who are we? Yes, we are made in God’s image [בצלם אלהים]. But we understand who we are also by how we relate with other groups, and yes, this means class, gender, sexual preferences, etc. We can see this in the Genesis narrative when “man” is identified (from Adam) only with the creation of “woman.” It could be argued that the rest of the biblical narrative is the story of the people of God discovering more of who they are within social categories.

Second, What is wrong with the world? To simply name “sin” is to name the theological category of what is wrong, which is fine. But one of the most common expressions of that sin is oppression. That’s the whole Exodus story, and the call of the prophets, and the agenda of Jesus (Luke 4, Isaiah 61, etc.).

Third, Fixing the problem? Again, of course Jesus’s atonement is the avenue by which we are reconciled to God. But that reconciliation is manifest in the overthrowing of oppressive systems and their power (e.g. Amos, Ephesians 6, Babyon, Rome, etc.).

Fourth, The meaning of life? Here Childers appeals to a Reformation category, “to glorfy God,” which, again, is fine. But, this does not meet the standard of the “the real thing” that Childers confessed she was desiring. Also, “free groups from oppression” is unequivocally an agenda of Jesus. (Again, Luke 4, Isaiah 61, et. al.)

This was a very disappointing section of the book. Ironically, it lacked what was ultimately necessary, more critical thought, and more critical engagement with the biblical narrative.]

Hyperfundamentalism

I don’t mind saying I am a fundamentalist. Because you are too. We all are. What I have a problem with is what I would describe as hyperfundamentalism. This type of fundamentalism goes beyond the essentials of the faith. It is known by another name as well: legalism. (62)

[via: This is a slight quibble, but fundamentalism does have a specific history to it, and there are plenty of Christians that reject that identifier based upon that history. Also, more generally speaking, not everyone is a fundamentalist in the ways that Childers uses the term. There are plenty of Christians who do not adhere to a set list of “essentials.”]

The Problem of Suffering

I don’t have a pat answer to the problem of evil. But I know this: The promises of progressive Christianity offered me nothing through this trial. They offered my sister nothing. How could a weak view of God’s Word, a disdain for the Cross, and a relativistic approach to truth bring my family any peace in this kind of adversity? (65)

[via: It is helpful to see the list of things that categorize “progressive Christianity” in Childers’ definition. I would simply suggest, again, that we ask progressive Christians if this is actually their view. Also, these terms could be read more like a deprecating caricature. Just because someone views atonement differently does not mean they have a “disdain for the Cross.” Just because someone holds to a more complex view of epistemology does not mean they necessarily believe in a “relativistic approach to truth.” Now, given the context of this statement (tragic loss and theodicy), I recognize, with grace, the contrast necessary to speak to the feeling of the experience. That, I honor.]

Growing Up in a Christian Bubble

The movement of progressive Christianity began with a legitimate desire for reform. But in seeking reform, its adherents found a false gospel. Although they aren’t united around an official creed, progressive Christians are definitely united around a common set of (sometimes unspoken) beliefs. Like historic Christians, their beliefs are built around their responses to questions like “Why did Jesus die?,” “What is the Bible?,” and “What is the gospel?” While progressive Christians may bristle at concepts like certainty and the idea of landing concretely on answers, as we’ll see in the next chapter, progressive Christians are quite dogmatic about their answers to these questions. (69)

5 A Different Kind of Christianity

In a nutshell, postmodernism rejects the idea that absolute truth can be known. With an emphasis on social activism and reaching those who were marginalized, oppressed, and forgotten by the hierarchical structures of the modern church, emergent Christianity was the new kid on the block that everyone wanted to know more about. (72)

[via: I would want ask if Childers believes that absolute truth can be known. Those who dismiss postmodern epistemology often are unreflective of the opposing alternative, epistemic arrogance/chauvinism.]

What if I disagree about what it means to be a person “living out faithfully the call to participate in the reconciling mission of the biblical God”? As we’ve already discovered, many progressives strongly disagree with historic Christians on the reconciling work of Jesus on the cross. So what if I don’t affirm the quote? Am I excluded from the community? I can tell you from experience that I am. Belief (73) statements are unavoidable. These “nonstatements” end up being just as dogmatic as any faith statement progressives might be unintentionally criticizing. (74)

Along with reexamining the methods of the church, some influential emergent thinkers began to reexamine the beliefs and doctrines of historic Christianity. No longer were they questioning only methods, traditions, practices, and philosophical approaches; they were also casting doubt on essential Christian doctrines themselves. (74)

…progressive Christianity is a movement not satisfied to sit in the margins. It is directly aimed at infiltrating the evangelical church from within. This movement gives old theology a fresh face and a new name, and it is hell-bent on reforming the church according to its postmodern dogma. (75)

[via: Here we find, subversively woven throughout the book, the subtle shift from critique to fear-mongering.]

What Do Progressive Christians Believe?

As I’ve learned, progressive Christianity is not simply a shift in the Christian view of social issues. It’s not simply permission to embrace messiness and authenticity in Christian life. It’s not simply a response to doubt, legalism, abuse, or hypocrisy. It’s an entirely different religion–with another Jesus–and another gospel. (76)

But the one thing that can be traced back through history to the genesis (79) of Christianity is that the Bible–every word–is the Word of God. … In fact, one of the main issues Martin Luther had with the Catholic church was its progression beyond believing that the Bible alone is the authority for Christian life and practice. (Thus, the Reformation.) Luther’s view matched that of ancient Christians. (80)

[via: This is a bit astonishing. Upon what historical basis can this claim even be made? I’ll summarize more points below.]

Clement was a first-century believer who became the leader of the church in Rome. Tertullian, one of our church fathers, wrote that Clement knew the apostles personally. [See Tertullian, “The Prescription against Heretics, XXXII,” in The Church Fathers. The Complete Ante-Nicene & Nicene and Post-Nicene Church Fathers Collection: 3 Series, 37 Volumes, 65 Authors, 1,000 Books, 18,000 Chapters, 16 Million Words, ed. Philip Schaff (London: Catholic Way Publishing, 2014), loc. 49269-71, Kindle.] Clement believed that Christians should obey the Scriptures because they are the words of God: “Let us act according to that which is written (for the Holy Spirit saith, ‘Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom’). … Look carefully into the Scriptures, which are the true utterances of the Holy Spirit. [Clement, “The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians, XIII, XLV,” in The Church Fathers, loc, 175211 and 175514-15, Kindle.] (80)

| Justin Martyr, who lived early in the second century, is often credited with being one of the first Christian apologists, and he, too, believed the Bible was divinely inspired: “When you hear the utterances of the prophets spoken as it were personally, you must not suppose that they are spoken by the inspired men themselves but by the divine Word who moves them.” [Justin Martyr, “First Apology, XXXVI” in The Church Fathers, loc. 5762, Kindle.] (80)

| Irenaeus himself wrote some important works refuting heretical views that were infiltrating the church toward the end of the second century. He was discipled by a believer named Polycarp, who’d been personally discipled by the (80) apostles. [Irenaeus, “Against Heresies, 3.3.4” in The Church Fathers, loc. 13525, Kindle.] Irenaeus’s main arguments came from the Bible, which he clearly loved and held to be the perfect Word of God. Notice how he was careful to communicate that his own words were inferior to and under the authority of the Bible. (81)

The Scriptures are indeed perfect, since they were spoken by the Word of God [Christ] and His Spirit; but we, inasmuch as we are inferior to, and later in exitence than, the Word of God and His Spirit, are on that very account destitute of the knowledge of His mysteries. [Irenaeus, “Against Heresies, 2.28.2” in The Church Fathers, loc. 13525, Kindle.]

This Mediator, having spoken what He judged sufficient first by the prophets, then by His own lips, and afterwards by the apostles, has besides produced the Scripture which is called canonical, which has paramount authority, and to which we yield assent in all matters of which we ought not to be ignorant, and yet cannot know of ourselves. … For it seems to me that most disastrous consequences must follow upon our believing that anything false is found in the sacred books. [Augustine, “Letters, 23.3.3” in The Church Fathers, loc. 212108 and 190661, Kindle.]

[via: As is common in this genre, there is really good historical work done here. Each quote checks out, and while I might quibble with some of the extraction out of context to make a point, none of these sentiments is far off from the general point that inspiration was a significant belief in the early Church. However, remember the claim that Childers is making here. “…the one thing that can be traced back through history to the genesis of Christianity is that the Bible–every word–is the Word of God.” Historically, this is just not the case.

1) First, which Bible are we talking about? 2) Most of the quotes, specifically from Clement, are from the Septuagint, which includes books that Evangelical Christians do not include in their canon. 3) There is no mention of Eastern or Orthodox Christianity which has its own story of canonical development, which most certainly is just as fraught with debate as Western Christianity. 4) Last, who is identified as “ancient Christians?” The first disciples of Jesus most certainly did not adhere to this belief, and least not in any form of the conception that Childers is purporting here.]

Most progressives see the Bible as an archaic travel journal that documents what ancient Jews and Christians believed about God. Not all of it is authoritative. Not all of it is inspired. None of it is inerrant. Sometimes, if you look really hard, you might find the word of God in it. But it’s up to you to decide which parts work (82) for you and which parts don’t. This is a radical departure from the historic Christian view of the Bible. As we’ll see in chapter 9, it is a profound dismissal of how Jesus viewed the Scriptures. (83)

You ought to say plainly that you do not believe the gospel of Christ. For to believe what you please, and not to believe what you please, is to believe yourselves, and not the gospel. [Augustine, “Contra Faustum, Book XVII,” in The Church Fathers, loc. 248970, Kindle.]

In the late first century, Clement wrote that “Jesus Christ our Lord gave His blood for us by the will of God; His flesh for our flesh, and His soul for our souls.” [Clement, “The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians, XLIX,” in The Church Fathers, loc. 2346, Kindle.] (84)

| The Epistle of Barnabas is an early Christian document that was most likely written around the end of the first or early second century. Scholars aren’t sure who wrote it, but it reflects Christian thought at the time, and some church Fathers ascribed it to Paul’s coworker Barnabas. Its author clearly believed that the blood of Jesus brought about the forgiveness of sins: “For to this end the Lord endured to deliver up His flesh to corruption, that we might be sanctified through the remission of sins, which is effected by His blood of sprinkling.” [“Epistle of Barnabas,” in The Church Fathers, loc. 2551, Kindle.] (84)

He Himself took on Him the burden of our iniquities, He gave His own Son as a ransom for us, the holy One for transgressors, the blameless One for the wicked, the righteous One for the unrighteous, the incorruptible One for the corruptible, the immortal One for them that are mortal. [“The Epistle of Mathetes to Diogenetus, IX,” in The Church Fathers, loc. 2555, Kindle.]

Athanasius, one of the greatest theologians and defenders of the faith, wrote these words, probably in the early fourth century:

Taking a body like our own, because all our bodies were liable to the corruption of death, He surrendered His body to death instead of all, and offered it to the Father. … He is the Life of all, and He it is that as a sheep yielded His body to death as a substitute, for the salvation of all. [Athanasius of Alexandria, “On the Incarnation.” The first sentence comes from the digital edition by Blue Letter Bible, page 7; the second sentence comes from The Church Fathers, loc. 493740-41, Kindle; emphasis mine.]

But as Christ endured death as man, and for man; so also, Son of God as He was, ever living in HIs own righteousness, but dying for our offences, He submitted as man, and for man, to bear the curse which accompanies death. And as He died in the flesh which He took in bearing our punishment, so also, while ever blessed in His own rigtheousness, He was cursed for our offences, in the death which He suffered in bearing our punishment. [Augustine, “Contra Faustum, Book XIV,” in The Church Fathers, loc. 248058-59, Kindle, emphasis added.]

[via: On page 86, Childers quotes Michael Gungor as a contrast, however, Gungor has, I believe, renounced his Christian faith (someone fact-check this, please). If true, then we should leave Michael Gungor out of the “progressive Christianity” discussion, at least as a representative voice.]

The believer in the true doctrine of the gospel will understand that Christ is not reproached by Moses when he speaks of Him as cursed, not in His divine majesty, but as hanging on the tree as our substitute, bearing our punishment. … If, then, you deny that Christ was cursed, you must deny that He died; and then you have to meet, not Moses, but the apostles. [Augustine, “Contra Faustum, Book XIV,” in The Church Fathers, loc. 248063-64, Kindle; emphasis mine.]

The Gospel

Historically, Christians have believed that when Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden, a sin nature was passed down to all their descendants. [See Wayne A. Gruden, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 490-514, Kindle.] Put simply, original sin explains what’s wrong with the world, and it’s an integral part of the gospel because if nothing is broken, nothing needs to be fixed. (88)

The Christian gospel can be best explained in four movements: Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration. The gospel is God’s plan to save, or redeem and restore, mankind. (88)

…before the New Testament was written, the early church was unified in its belief about the gospel and expressed this belief in creeds and in something called regula fidei, or the rule of faith. Dr. Michael Kruger writes that “the rule of faith…is basically a convenient summary of what ‘orthodox’ Christians in the second century (and later) regarded as the earliest apostolic teaching.” [Michael J. Kruger, Christianity at the Crossroads: How the Second Century Shaped the Future of the Church (Downers Grove, IL: IV Press, 2017), 136] (89)

[via: Again, this claim of unity, is historically dubious, given the fact of the regula fidei as a means by which variants were clarified in the nascent Christian movement. Second, the “four-movement” formulation of the Christian gospel is not really found in any semblance of the regula fidei. The regula fidei is a category that is partly contingent upon one’s faith tradition or community. The regula fidei may have originally pointed to the Old Roman Symbol (clips below). Last, as for dating, Childers is correct that this is extremely early, and most likely “before the New Testatment was written:]

J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Creeds (3rd Edition), from the chapter “The Old Roman Creed,” p. 102.

J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Creeds (3rd Edition), from the chapter “The Old Roman Creed,” p. 103.

It’s important to note that the early Christians weren’t making things up. They were simply summarizing the teaching of the apostles as a way to preserve that teaching and pass it on to other Christians. Early apologists such as Irenaeus used this rule as the measuring stick to identify and call out heresy. {Iranaeus [sic] wrote, “We refer [the heretics] to that tradition from the apostles which is preserved through the succession of presbyters in the churches.”} (89)

Now, with regard to this rule of faith–that we may from this point acknowledge what it is which we defend–it is, you must know, that which prescribes the belief that there is one only God, and that He is none other than the Creator of the world, who produced all things out of nothing through His own Word, first of all sent forth; that this Word is called His Son, and, under the name of God, was seen “in diverse manners” by the patriarchs, heard at all times in the prophets, at last brought down by the Spirit and Power of the Father into the Virgin Mary, was made flesh in her womb, and, being born of her, went forth as Jesus Christ; thenceforth He preached the new law and the new promise of the kingdom of heaven, worked miracles; having been crucified, He rose again the third day; [then] having ascended into the heavens, He sat at the right hand of the Father; sent instead of Himself the Power of the Holy Ghost to lead such as believe; will come with glory to take the saints to the emjoyment of everlasting life adn of the heavenly promises, and to condemn the wicked to everlasting fire, after the resurrection of both these classes shall have happened, together with the restoration of their flesh. The rule, as it will be proved, was taught by Christ, and raises amongst ourselves no other questions than those which heresies introduce, and which make men heretics. [Tertullian, “The Prescription against Heretics,” in The Church Fathers, loc. 48988-94, Kindle.]

[via: The problem with these arguments is that it betrays the reality that the early church was not unified in what they believed. There was an ecclesiastical process of elimination. So, by trying to demonstrate the “unity” of the early church, Childers is actually demonstrating the opposite.]

A similar version of this rule of faith was expressed by many different early Christian sources like Dionysius of Corinth, Justin Martyr, Aristides, Ignatius, Clement of Rome, Hippolytus, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, and Origen. It also spanned geographical regions such as North Africa, Gaul, Rome, Syria, Greece, and Asia Minor. [Kruger, Christianity at the Crossroads, 136-37, 143.] (90)

… Dr. Michael Kruger summarizes early essential Christian belief this way:

  1. There is one God, the creator of heaven and earth.
  2. This same God spoke through the prophets of the Old Testament regarding the coming Messiah.
  3. Jesus is the Son of God, born from the seed of David, through the virgin Mary.
  4. Jesus is the creator of all things, who came into the world, God in the flesh.
  5. Jesus came to bring salvation and redemption for those who believe in him.
  6. Jesus physically suffered and was crucified under Pontius Pilate, raised bodily from the dead, and exalted to the right hand of God the Father.
  7. Jesus will return again to judge the world. [Kruger, Christianity at the Crossroads, 144.] (91)

Compare the rule of faith with these words from Brian McLaren about the progressive version of the gospel:

[Jesus] came to announce a new kingdom, a new way of life, a new way of peace that carried good news to all people of every religion. A new kingdom is much bigger than a new religion, and in fact it has room for many religious traditions within it. This good news wasn’t simply about a new way to solve the religious problems of ontological fall and original sin (problems, remember once more, that arise centuries later and within a different narrative altogether). It wasn’t simply information about how individual souls could leave earth, avoid hell, and ascend to heaven after death. No, it was about God’s will being done on earth as in heaven for all people. It was about God’s faithful solidarity with all humanity in our suffering, oppression, and evil. It was about God’s compassion and call to be reconciled with God and with one another–before death, on earth. [Brian McLaren, A New Kind of Christianity (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2010), 139, Kindle.]

These two gospels couldn’t be more different. The rule of faith expresses a Creator God who became flesh and invites us to follow him in loving God and our neighbor. A God who was crucified, buried and physically resurrected to save mankind from sin and death. A God who will return again to judge every single person who has ever lived and determine their eternal destiny. By denying original sin and God’s plan to redeem humans and reconcile them to himself, the (92) progressive gospel gives us an impotent deity who can only stand in “solidarity” with humans in our suffering and evil but can’t cure it. This is not the gospel of Jesus. This is not the gospel of the apostles or ancient Christianity. It is not the gospel that can be traced through history to bring life and hope to Christians everywhere in the world today. (93)

[via: This is probably the most disturbing element of absolutism so far in the book. It would take thousands of pages to tease out the various nuances and biblical references of both Kruger’s and McLaren’s statements above. So just for now I’d like to posit two main observations directly at the claims Childers is making. First, these two explanations are not “gospels,” in the first place. Therefore, what Childers is purporting here poses no conflict. Second, Childers spends a lot of time explicating the regula fidei, but not a lot of time in the actual teachings of Jesus. It would be historically accurate to say that this strain of Christianity developed an orthodoxy that was formulated very early on, believed, and promulgated, but if you want to talk about “the gospel of Jesus” use the biblical accounts, not the church fathers. As such, nothing in McLaren’s quote is contrary to the actual gospel as recorded in the four gospel accounts.]

In Against Heresies, Irenaeus addresses the gnostic heresy that was masquerading as Christianity and deceiving many in the church. I was astonished to discover that what Irenaeus wrote in AD 180 could easily apply to the doctrinal and faith challenges we are facing in our current culture. The heretics in his day were not vitriol-spewing atheists bent on destroying the Christian faith from the outside. These were self-professed Christians who were determined to change it from within. They twisted the Scriptures and misrepresented tradition. (93)

These men falsify the oracles of God, and prove themselves evil interpreters of the good word of revelation. They also overthrow the faith of many, by drawing them away, under a pretense of [superior] knowledge, from Him who founded and adorned the universe; as if, forsooth, they had something more excellent and sublime to reveal, than that God who created the heaven and the earth, and all things that are therein. By means of specious and plausible words, they cunningly allure the simple-minded to inquire into their system; … and these simple ones are unable, even in such a matter, to distinguish falsehood from truth.

Error, indeed, is never set forth in its naked deformity, lest, being thus exposed, it should at once be detected. But it is craftily decked out in an attractive dress, so as, by its outward form, to make it appear to the inexperienced (ridiculous as the expression may seem) more true than the truth itself. [St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, ed. Paul A. Böer Sr (n.p.: Veritatis Splendor Publications, 2012), 66, Kindle.]

[via: Again, we’re in the late 2nd century. This is evidence of the diversity of Christian thought since the very beginning. (Also, the entire text of Against Heresies is available for free online.)]

What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. – Ecclesiastes 1:9

6 Nothing New under the Sun

Wheat and Tares

In this story [Matthew 13:24-30], Jesus is predicting what it will be like for us as his church. He’s basically saying that while we’re here on earth, it’s going (97) to be a mixed bag. True Christians and false Christians will live together in the same world, even gathering together in the same sanctuary–in the same worship service–singing the same songs and listening to the same sermons. And to all those sickle-happy Christians who want to go ahead and weed out the tares now, he says wait. It’s not our job, and if we made it our business, we’d inevitably have some wheat casualties on our hands. (98)

[via: Umm… If this is what Jesus is saying, why write this book?]

So what are we to make of this? Does this mean we should never criticize or disagree with anyone? Does it mean we shouldn’t call out error and name false teachers? On the contrary, the Bible overflows with passages encouraging Christians to do just that…to practice discernment. [John Piper, “Should We Call Out False Teachers or Ignore Them?” Desiring God, October 4, 2019.]

Class Notes

Errant teaching is nothing new; it emerged in the church almost from the beginning. (102)

[via: I really hope I’m not being uncharitable, but this is blatant logical hypocrisy. How can Childers claim this while at the same time claiming a “true” and “orthodox” Christianity from the very beginning? Sure, the two could emerge at the same time, but the general gist of what she is arguing is that the earliest voices are the most “genuine” or “authentic.” It would be far better to concede that Christianity, from its beginning had diverse theological views that were shaped, refined, and then declared “orthodox” over a period of development.]

Same Wrapper, Different Candy #1:
The Circumcision Party

…it doesn’t take much imagination to understand why this was particularly upsetting to the adult male Gentile population. (103)

[via: Actually it does. Circumcision to our modern sensibilities is a debated medical practice, and a humorous topic for Junior High boys to ponder. But in the ancient world, there are deep philosophical conflicts regarding the nature of the body in Hellenism and the covenant of Abraham in Judaism. More to the point of this book, this shift was a change in theology as the Jesus movement went forward. This was a “different gospel” because it was attempting to maintain the previously held practices based on the ancient “truths” of the Abrahamic covenant. Circumcision is one of the contentions we see in the early church that exemplify the radical upending that was happening to their worldview. That, perhaps, could be analogous to Childers and Christian apologists who appeal to the church fathers as the “circumcision group.” (Whoo boy, did I just say that?)]

The circumcision party was trying to add something to what Jesus accomplished. As I’ve heard my current pastor repeat on many occasions, the easiest way to spot heresy is to remember this: Jesus + anything = a false gospel. For the circumcision party, it was Jesus + circumcions. (104)

[via: So, Jesus + reformed theology = a false gospel. Or, Jesus + the early church fathers = a false gospel. Yes? Also, the circumcision party wasn’t trying to add. They were trying to preserve.]

However, with their denial of the atoning work of Jesus on the cross, many progressive Christians take it one step further: Jesus is no longer our Savior but an example of how we can do good works in the world and forgive others. That has become the highest virtue, and all other truth claims are judged by it. Thus the progressive gospel is Jesus + social justice. (105)

[via: Once again, talk to progressive Christians. This formula most certainly does not honestly represent all views on this.]

Same Wrapper, Different Candy #2:
The Gnostics

In fact, Gnostics didn’t believe that the world was broken because of Adam’s choice to sin against (106) God. They believed it was corrupted because of the evil demiurge who created it and rules over it. The only “sin” was ignorance.” Gnostics, therefore, believed that Jesus came not to save us from sin but to impart special knowledge that would essentially lead us to participate in the divine pleroma. To find this knowledge was to find salvation. “The freedom of the gnostic is freedom from subjection to the heavenly ruler, the evil demiurge. This freedom is attained by him by participation in the divine realm, the pleroma.” [Francis T. Fallon, “The Gnostics: The Undominated Race,” Novum Testamentum 21, no. 3 (July 19779): 283, https://brill.com/view/journals/nt/21/3/article-p271_6.xml] (107)

[via: This section on the gnostics is well done.]

[Brian] McLaren believes that Christians today have a more mature view of God than our predecessors who wrote the Bible did. … He even points out that some images of God in the Old Testament are “unChristlike.” [Brian D. McLaren A New Kind of Christianity (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2010), 98.] For McLaren, this culminates in the “higher and wiser” view of God that we have today. [Brian D. McLaren A New Kind of Christianity, 103.]

[via: This is not a viable comparison. The evolution of faith is a completely different metaphysical category from the gnostic view of knowledge.]

Like Gnosticism, progressive Christianity is built upon a foundation of the “new.” … Have we just now, two thousand years later, discovered the right way to read it? Has God finally revealed the correct way to interpret and apply the Scriptures to a select few of the most affluent people of Western civilization? I think not. (110)

| The progressive gospel is Jesus + new knowledge. (110)

[via: This was surprising to read. Even the most elementary apologists recognize the genetic fallacy in this line of thinking. Also, the appeal to “I don’t think it’s possible” does not make it untrue.]

Same Wrapper, Different Candy #3:
The Marcionites

We need to be diligent about spotting elements from other heresies that reappear at various times throughout church history. There was Arianism, which denied the deity of Jesus; Pelagianism, which denied original sin; and Patripassianism, a belief that God the Father became incarnate and suffered on the cross. After the Reformation there was Socinianism, which rejected original sin, the Trinity, and substitutionary atonement. (112)

As I researched the different heresies of the early church, I received tremendous comfort from the knowledge that God has not left us uninformed, unequipped, or ignorant. He has not left us unarmed against these attacks on his truth. He has given us something so incredible, so astoundingly beautiful, so precious that it compelled the nineteenth-century Scottish minister Robert Murray M’Cheyne to declare, “One gem from that ocean is worth all the pebbles of earthly streams.” [Robert Murray M’Cheyne and Andrew Alexander Bonar, Memoir and Remains of the Rev. Robert Murray M’Cheyne (Edinburgh: Oliphant, Anderson, and Ferrier, 1883), 64.] (113)

| God gave us his very Word. He gave us the Bible. (113)

[via: So, would you say this is Jesus + the Bible?]

 

7 For the Bible Tells Me So?

One notable entry was Proverbs 22:15: “A youngster’s heart is filled with rebellion, but punishment will drive it out of him,” to which I added “/her.” I circled “her.” (115)

[via: Wait, you did what?! I mean no mockery here, truly. Earlier, the argument was made that “every word” was the inspired word of God. Both Deuteronomy and Revelation have strict prohibitions against “adding” or “subtracting” from the word.]

Class Notes

Do We Have an Accurate Copy?

Atheist scholars have biases too. For example, most atheist scholars will tell you that supernatural events in the Bible like miracles didn’t really happen. This isn’t because they have evidence to support their conclusion … they simply assume biblical miracles didn’t happen because they also have a bias: It’s called an antisupernatural bias. (123)

[via: Okay, this will require some heavy lifting, but this is an inaccurate description of both the view and how bias works. First, bias works by conditioning. We gather evidence through our interactions and experiences, and yes, even through our science. Our conclusions are constructed by that evidence, and our views are shaped by those conclusions. The reason why miracles are dismissed is because current extant evidence does not support the claim. There is no denial of bias here. But it is wrong to say “they simply assume…” For more on this see Sean Carroll’s The Big Picture and his quote: “The relationship between science and naturalism is not that science presumes naturalism; it’s that science has provisionally concluded that naturalism is the best picture of the world we have available.” Also, Jennifer Eberhardt’s Biased. Painfully ironic again, it is Christian apologists who are assuming biblical miracles did happen based upon already established beliefs.]

New Testament Evidence

My Favorite Bible Stoy That Isn’t in the Bible

[via: Childers mentions Dan Wallace in this section who was a guest at our church many years ago covering similar material:]

[via: Childers also mentions a debate between Wallace and Ehrman in 2008. Here is the one from 2011:]

We Only Have Error-Ridden Copies?

…Ehrman can’t logically claim that we have error-ridden copies if by his own admission we don’t have original writings to compare them with. (133)

[via: This is not exactly what Ehrman is saying. He’s saying that the errors are between the copies themselves, not to the original.]

8 Was It True Only for Them?

The earliest Christians had no possible motivation for making the whole thing up. In fact, they would have had every reason to recant under threat of death and torture. But they didn’t. (137)

| Because it was all true. (137)

[via: So, here’s where one needs to be careful. Yes, they had no motivation for making the whole thing up. But this fact does not prove truth, it proves they believed it.]

Class Notes

…progressive revelation. It’s “progressive” in the sense that God continued to reveal more information to human beings as time went on. But it doesn’t mean that the revelation progressed from error to truth. (138)

[via: Agreed.]

Were the Gospel Writers Eyewitnesses?

Mainstream scholars who disbelieve that Jesus was the Messiah nevertheless date the Gospels within the time limits of reliable memory. – Peter J. Williams

Well, That’s Embarrassing

…one of the traits of authentic eyewitness testimony that historians look for in ancient writings is called the “criterion of embarrassment.” (142)

[via: Yes, good.]

If the gospel was fabricated by a bunch of first-century Jewish men, their tendency would be to simplify, unify, clarify, and beautify Jesus’ sayings–to make Christianity much (144) broader, easier, and more pleasant. (145)

[via: I’m not exactly sure what Childers means by these terms, but the context of this section seems to indicate that one aspect of the “truthfulness” of the Gospel accounts is that the teachings themselves are “incredibly difficult” (p.145) This is not exactly correct. Historically, this is also known as the criteria of “contradiction,” and it “focuses on actions or sayings of Jesus that would have embarrassed or created difficulty for the early church. The point of the criterion is that the early Church would hardly have gone out of its way to create material that only embarrassed its creator or weakened its position in arguments with opponents. Rather, embarrassing material coming from Jesus would naturally be either suppressed or softened in later stages of the Gospel tradition, and often such progressive suppression or softening can be traced through the Four Gospels.” (John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew, Volume 1: The Roots of the Problem and the Person, p.168)]

Class Notes

A prophecy from Zechariah 9:9 tells us that the Messiah would ride into Jerusalem “on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” A colt is a young male that is still dependent on its mother, which is why Matthew records the two donkeys being found together. (49)

[via: This was really well explained.]

“Ask Me Anything”

…you can’t really have a rational discussion about the deity of Jesus unless you believe the Bible is God’s Word. Perhaps it was because none of it would even matter if hell didn’t exist. If everyone is going to heaven, what is the point of having any kind of conversation around the finer theological points? Just live and let live. It will all work out in the end. (152)

| But my relief was short-lived–because words matter. Words like hell, divine, and inspired can mean different things to different people. I would later learn that what he meant and what I meant when we used those same words could not have been more at odds. And when it comes to the way we talk about the Bible, I was about to discover how true it is that the devil is in the details. (152)

9 Authority Problems

At some point it finally hit me: For the pastor and my classmates, the questions mattered more than the answers. It didn’t really seem like anyone was interested in researching facts or reaching conclusions. They seemed way more excited about landing on the next question–and the more controversial, the better. Because I am a truth-driven person, this was like my own personal custom-crafted hell. (154)

[via: I concur. Childers and I share this sentiment.]

How Do Progressives View the Bible?

Make no mistake, just like historic Christians, progressives find Scripture compelling. The difference is that, rather than viewing it as the authoritative Word from God to people, they see the Bible as an antiquated library of books that we can examine like ancient relics. In their view, the Bible is our spiritual ancestors’ best attempts to understand God in their own cultures, using whatever knowledge they had at the time. Because humans now have a higher and wiser view of God, progressives believe we can now read the Bible the way it is meant to be read–not as the authoritative word of God, but as our predecessors’ spiritual travel journal. (155)

[via: I don’t know why these two views have to be in contradiction with each other. In this section, Childers quotes from Peter Enns’s book The Bible Tells Me So, Brian Zahnd, Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God, in addition to Rob Bell, What Is The Bible?, and others.]

According to progressive wisdom, the prophets Christians have always believed were speaking for God weren’t really speaking for him. They were simply doing their best to communicate what they believed about God in the times and places in which they lived. … If the prophets got God’s word wrong, at best they were ignorant–at worst they were liars and frauds. It doesn’t take a biblical scholar to recognize how this way of thinking irredeemably undermines the concepts of biblical inspiration and authority. It doesn’t take a trained theologian to see how this puts the Bible under the authority of the reader rather than the reader standing under the authority of God’s Word. (160)

[via: So, this is quite a leap. First, there is no need to jump to the category of “wrong.” Second, doing this kind of anthropological study is what history is all about. So, any “historic Christian” would fully embrace these possibilities. Third, the definitions used here of “inspiration” and “authority” have been widely discussed, and yes, does take trained theologians to explore the various categories, definitions, and meanings that these terms have. See The Bible Made Impossible by Christian Smith and The Last Word by NT Wright as two examples.]

[Rob Bell]’s right about one thing: People who believe in biblical authority do emphasize absolute truth–truth that exists independent of relational realities. Remember bacon? (I guess I’m one of those “folks.”) Our perception of how bacon will impact our bodies might be affected by what experts (and some nonexperts) tell us about it, but the truth will bear out in actual reality–despite what we may earnestly believe or not believe. The goal should be to correct wrong perceptions and beliefs that may have been passed down by others. In the same way, a good student of the Bible will seek to understand what the Bible is saying and to interpret it properly, even if it goes against their “relational realities.” (161)

[via: I love the bacon analogy, and I would commend to Childers and others to try the “Bacon Bar” if you get an opportunity. (Which would really take this analogy to a whole ‘nother level!)

But the thing that Childers may want to consider is that the analogy betrays the opposite truth, namely, that “relational realities” are very much part of the equation of truth. Bacon does not affect everyone in the same way. Not all bacon is created equal. Bacon’s affect on one’s body is also influenced by other behavioral factors such as the habits of the individual consuming the bacon. If there’s anything in the world that is completely allergic to absolute truths, it’s dietary science. So, ironically, I consider this an apt analogy, but the truth of the matter points to a very complicated reality that does bear out in different ways, dependent upon a whole host of “relational” factors.]

The Bible–the whole Bible–is God’s Word, inspired by God and authoritative for our lives. (162)

[via: But, just earlier you said… *sigh.]

As I first considered Bell’s argument, I thought, But wait a minute! Isn’t Bell’s view also shaped by relational realities? In other words, aren’t he and the other progressive voices quoted in this chapter all influenced by different voices in culture when they redefine what the Bible is and how much authority it holds for their lives? (162)

[via: YES! THAT’S THE POINT! And, “because they do it too” IS NOT AN ARGUMENT! (Sorry, not meaning to yell. Just emphasizing.)]

Just interpret Scripture the way that Jesus did! He ignores, denies, or openly opposes his own Scriptures whenever they are imperialistic, punitive, exclusionary, or tribal. [Richard Rohr, The Divine Dance (New Kensington, PA: Whitaker House, 2016), Kindle loc. 2827-28.]

As you’ll soon discover, I disagree that Jesus ever ignored or opposed the Scripture. Furthermore, if we treat Scripture this way, we effectively make the reader the authoritative standard for what is true. With a Bible remade in our own image, we are no longer obeying God; instead we’re following our own thoughts, feelings, and preferences. (164)

[via: No. No. No. One, see comments above on “authority.” Second, “a Bible remade in our own image” is a truly confounding category. Reading a text on its own terms does not remake a text “in our own image.” Neither is this “following our own thoughts, feelings, and preferences.” *sigh, again. This leap is just nonsensical. Last, intellectual honesty would compel Childers to confess her relational realities in her hermeneutic.]

What Was Jesus’ View of Scripture?

That on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation. – Matthew 23:35-36

[via: I’m not sure if there’s a translation issue or typo at the beginning of the verse. Here’s the NRSV: “…so that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar.”]

Although the Jewish Law and the Prophets contain the same books as our Old Testament, they are placed in a different order. In the Jewish Scriptures, Abel was killed in the first book, Genesis, and Zechariah was killed in the last, Chronicles. So in sealing the fate of the Pharisees, Jesus was also affirming the entire Old Testament as Scripture. (166)

[via: This citation is quite problematic for Childers’ argument. In short, if you accept that Jesus is referring to the Zechariah of 2 Chronicles, the name and possibly the generation is wrong. If you accept that Jesus is referring to the author of the book of Zechariah (as Answers in Genesis does), your chronology and canonical reference is wrong.]

2 Chronicles 24:20

Zechariah 1:1

This wasn’t just a battle over what was written; it was a battle over interpretation. (168)

Inspired

How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, called him [the Messiah] ‘Lord’? – Matthew 22:43, NIV, emphasis mine.

This is where we get our very definition of divine inspiration–from Jesus himself. (168)

[via: Is it really? For the whole Bible?]

Thus, it wasn’t the writers themselves who were inspired, but the words they wrote in the Bible. [cf. 2 Timothy 3:16-17] (168)

This suggests the absolute highest authority for Scripture, the authority of the divine voice. [Michael J. Kruger, “Is the Church over the Bible or Is the Bible over the Church?,” Canon Fodder, October 6, 2014]

[via: In the cited article above, Kruger is actually in conversation with Fr. Stephen Freeman and his article, “There Is No ‘Bible’ in the Bible,” which is worth reading for the context of the clip that Childers gives here.]

It is…clear that Jesus understood “It is written” to be equivalent to “God says.” – John Wenham, Christ and the Bible

The Word of God

These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. – John 14:25-26

I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. – John 16:12-13

With these statements, Jesus was predicting and promising that the Holy Spirit would speak through his apostles to give the final revelation of God to humans–our New Testament. From the time the Gospels and the letters of Paul were written, Christians recognized them to be Scripture, carrying the same authority and divine inspiration as the Old Testament. [See Michael J. Kruger, The Question of Canon: Challenging the Status Quo in the New Testament Church (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2013).] (171)

[via: There is no justification here for why “the final revelation” must or even ought to be concluded. Indeed, this is not even a biblical category.]

Class Notes

Also, the old covenant was understood to be temporary. It was never meant to be binding on all people through all time. Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36 look forward to a new covenant that would replace the old one. So his command to “utterly destroy” the Canaanites was a one-time deal. (174)

[via: It is difficult to figure out the logic here, so I’ll just post what she wrote, just one page before this quote:]

We All Must Decide

…I knew I needed to make a decision. Do I just keep my mind hanging open like a garbage bin for endless questions and skeptical attacks–or do I shut it on something solid? It was time to shut it again–on real answers. (175)

At one point, the pastor said, “Well, it’s clear to me that the Bible condemns homosexuality…so each and every one (175) of you need to decide–how much authority does this book hold in your life?” (176)

| Make no mistake…this was no question. This was a bold denial of biblical authority. And I was done. It wasn’t just because of the pastor’s view of homosexuality. It wasn’t even because of his view of the Virgin Birth or the historicity of the Old Testament. If we weren’t going to rely on the Scriptures to determine our views on everything from salvation to sexuality, we had no common ground. (176)

He was right about something though. In years past, it was assumed that if you called yourself a Christian, you believed in biblical authority. But now as progressive Christianity infiltrates and infects the true church, we all must decide: How much authority does this book hold in our lives? To inform our view of the Bible, we can choose to follow the whims of a godless culture or we can choose to follow Jesus. (176)

| I choose Jesus. (176)

[via: This is quite the pivot, from talking about a view of the Bible to choosing “Jesus” over “a godless culture.” The insertions of rhetoric like this detract from the very real issues that need to be discussed about the Bible, history, etc., and they ultimately do damage to the conversation and the very pursuit of truth for which Childers is advocating, an agenda that I fully support. However, while Childers has rightfully disdained the pastor’s approach to his “progressive” Christian expression, it is unfortunate that she is essentially doing the same thing.]

10 Hell on Earth?

Snatching a Friend from the Pit of Hell

Love Wins

[via: Just a fascinating point, that I had a friend tell me that a church she knows in her area actually split when Love Wins was published.]

Universalism: The Way We Would Do It

Until the nineteenth century almost all Christian theologians taught the reality of eternal torment in hell. Here and there, outside the theological mainstream, were some who believed that the wicked would be finally annihilated. … Even fewer were the advocates of universal salvation, though these few included some major theologians of the early church. Eternal punishment was firmly asserted in official creeds and confessions of the churches. It must have seemed as indispensable a part of universal Christian belief as the doctrines of the Trinity and the incarnation. [Richard Bauckham, “Universalism: A Historical Survey,” Themelios 4, no. 2 (September 1978): 47-48.]

Where in the World Is Hell?

In the New Testament, hell is described as

  • a firery lake of burning sulfur (Revelation 21:8);
  • everlasting destruction (2 Thessalonians 1:9);
  • banishment from the presence of the Lord and the glory of his might (2 Thessalonians 1:9);
  • the punishment of eternal fire (Jude 1:7);
  • a lake of fire (Revelation 20:13-15); and
  • the wine of God’s wrath; torment with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb (Revelation 14:9-10). (189)

Jesus himself described hell as

  • eternal punishment (Matthew 25:46);
  • a blazing furnace where “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13:50;
  • a place where the fire never goes out (Mark 9:43);
  • a place where “their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:48, where Jesus is quoting Isaiah (66:24); and
  • outer darkness; that place where “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:12; 22:13; 25:30). (190)

For fire and darkness to coexist, one would have to be taken as a metaphor. Literal fire would light the darkness, so literal darkness would not be possible in the presence of fire. This, along with the fact that hell was originally created for the devil and his demons (who are spirit beings and don’t have physical bodies to be affected by literal flames), has led many theologians to conclude that these three images–fire, darkness, and worms–are metaphors. (190)

But even if those terms are metaphors, that shouldn’t bring us any relief. It just means there aren’t words to describe how awful a place hell is. (191)

Imagine an existence completely devoid of anything good. Without any passing feeling of peace or joy. No beauty. No hope. No love. Nothing to look forward to. Utter despair. Forever trapped within the torment of a bad dream. It’s difficult for us to imagine such a state because all of us, from the most hardened atheist to the most ardently devoted Christian, have no idea what life would be like outside the presence of God’s goodness and love. We all experience God’s presence in the world. This is what theologians refer to as “common grace,” and we don’t even have a category for what it would be like to be conscious apart from that reality. (191)

[via: Just a note that it is impossible not to use metaphoric language. It should also be noted how Childers shifts to “this world” for describing “common grace.”]

He [Jesus] wanted his followers (192) to know that there would be a final judgment. There would be eternal life and eternal punishment. The door to his Kingdom would one day close. He urges us to be ready. Despite the progressive Christian attempt to soften or reinterpret these teachings, I couldn’t shake the power of Jesus’ words. (193)

| And as I continued my research, I discovered that the earliest Christian sources agree with the New Testament. The nature of hell is debated, but three things are made clear. First, hell is eternal. Second, in hell souls are conscious. Third, hell is torment. (193)

[via: It just dawned on me to ask, does Childers considers the Old Testament (the Hebrew Scriptures) to be “early Christian sources”? I wonder. Also, the idea of a “soul” being “conscious” in Hebrew thought is a redundancy. There is a distinction between the Hebrew “nephesh” (נפש) and the Greek “pneuma” (πνευμα) or “pseukē” (ψυχη).]

Correcting Misconception #1:
People in Hell Are Repentant

In the Old Testament, it [gnashing of teeth] typically refers to something enemies do in rage and defiance of their foe. [cf. Lamentations 2:16; Psalm 37:12; Psalm 35:15; Job 16:9; Acts 7] (194)

Correcting Misconception #2:
The Devil Is in Charge of Hell

So it’s clear that hell was not created for people. It was created as a type of quarantine for evil–namely, the devil and demons. (195)

[via: This was a nice metaphor, a “quarantine for evil.” Perhaps a “cleansing” or “purging” tank, too?]

Correcting Misconception #3:
Everyone Gets the Same Punishment

No one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law – Romans 3:20 (NIV)

[via: This is not a great citation for this section. What Paul is arguing in Romans is, well, very different from the doctrine of hell.]

In the Old Testament, different sins incur different punishments. Some of those punishments are more severe than others. The greater the sin, the greater the punishment. (197)

cf. Clay Jones, Why Does God Allow Evil? Compelling Answers for Life’s Toughest Questions

“Will Only a Few Be Saved?”

cf. Revelation 21:25

In the end, I’ve come to see that hell is not only necessary, it is ultimately loving and just. (200)

I’m about to say something unpopular. We live in a culture in which it is considered arrogant and even hateful to make dogmatic claims about reality. But if we believe the Bible is true–if we follow our Lord Jesus–we must affirm this alongside him: Heaven is real. Hell is real. And one day, the door will close. (200)

[via: I think it is more appropriate to say that it is disdainful to make unfounded or unsupported claims about reality. Merely stating that one “believes that the Bible is true,” is not a substantive evidentiary argument.]

11 Cosmic Child Abuse?

Redeeming Love or Cosmic Child Abuse?

…Leviticus 4 and 5 tell us about two of the sacrifices the Old Testament Jews were required to bring before the Lord–sin offerings and guilt offerings. … Leviticus 4:32 specifically mentions binging a lamb for as in offering. (205)

Wrath of the Straw Man

Christians have always seen the Cross as the ultimate picture of divine love, but they also recognize that a righteous God cannot abide sin–not because he’s intolerant but because of his goodness and holiness, and because of the havoc sin wreaks on his creation. (212)

Colossians 3:8 tells us that unrighteous carnal wrath is a sin: “Now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.” (213)

The wrath of God is not a divine temper tantrum triggered by erratic feelings of offense and hatred. The wrath of God is not petty or spiteful. It is the controlled and righteous judgment of anything that opposes the Lord’s perfect (214) nature and love. We should be very thankful for the wrath of God. The wrath of God means that there will be justice for the victims of the Holocaust. The wrath of God means that ISIS won’t get away with its atrocities. The wrath of God means that one day all evil and sin will be quarantined and that those who have put their trust in Jesus will be entirely separated from wickedness and safe from the clutches of suffering and corruption forever. God’s wrath exists because he is love. (215)

I used to think that wrath was unworthy of God. Isn’t God love? Shouldn’t divine love be beyond wrath? God is love, and God loves every person and every creature. That’s exactly why God is wrathful against some of them. My last resistance to the idea of God’s wrath was a casualty of the war in the former Yugoslavia, the region from which I come. According to some estimates, 200,000 people were killed and over 3,000,000 were displaced. My villages and cities were destroyed, my people shelled day in and day out, some of them brutalized beyond imagination, and I could not imagine God not being angry. Or think of Rwanda in the last decade of the past century, where 800,000 people were hacked to death in one hundred days! How did God react to the carnage? By doting on the perpetrators in a grandparently fashion? By refusing to condemn the bloodbath but instead affirming the perpetrators’ basic goodness? Wasn’t God fiercely angry with them? Though I used to complain about the indecency of the idea of God’s wrath, I came to think that I would have to rebel against a God who wasn’t wrathful at the sight of the world’s evil. God isn’t wrathful in spite of being love. God is wrathful because God is love. [Miroslav Volf, Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), 138-39.

A robust theology of the Cross is what will withstand the storms, sufferings, persecutions, and hardships that Jesus promised would confront those who are his true followers. That is a hard promise–not the kind you’ll find in a superficial pocket promise bok. But along with his promise, Jesus left us this magnificent assurance: “Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, KJV). (216)

Son of a Bit

Simply put, without the wrath of God toward sin, heaven would be full of hell. (218)

God’s Whipping Boy?

Jesus isn’t some hapless victim or uninvolved bystander with no control over his fate. Jesus is God. He is the one we have sinned against. And he willingly came to lay down his life for us. (219)

Think about it this way: Those who denounce God’s wrath or accuse the biblical God of being a moral monster are often the very same people who complain that he allows suffering and evil in the world. Yet Scripture tells us of a God who not only gives us an answer for the problem of evil but literally becomes the answer. God looked on the evil and sin of the world, stepped into his own creation, and took our sins upon himself to effectively end sin and evil forever. (219)

We can’t escape it. For those who try, the Christianity they construct is not the real thing. It’s an imitation created in their own image…one that a strong bout with suffering or a heavy wind of doubt will knock down. (220)

WWJD?

(…Isaiah is one of the places where the “penal” part of substitutionary atonement is discussed. Contrary to what many progressive repeat over and over, penal substitutionary atonement wasn’t invented in the eleventh century.) (222)

For some, this sounds like really bad news. But I suppose it all comes down to whether or not you really think you are a sinner. If you think you are basically good and kind and moral, then someone dying an agonizing and bloody (223) death on your behalf sounds horrific and unnecessary. But if you know you are a sinner who deserves to pay the ultimate penalty for your sins, as I do, this is the greatest news you could ever receive. (224)

| Progressive Christians assume they are painting God in a more tolerant light by denying the substitutionary atonement of Jesus. But in reality, they are simply constructing a codependent and impotent god who is powerless to stop evil. That god is not really good. That god is not the God of the Bible. (224)

| That god cannot save you. (224)

12 Reconstruction

If you also feel as if you are losing your mooring because of deep hurt, doubt, or a progressive’s persuasive-sounding arguments, please hear me: There. Are. Answers. (226)

Standing Stronger than Ever

Essential Building Blocks

…as I researched historic Christianity, one of the most important questions I had to answer was this: What building blocks of our faith are the essentials? In other words, which ones are essential for salvation? Do you have to believe in the Trinity to be saved? The Virgin Birth? What if someone puts saving faith in Jesus but has never heard of the Trinity or the Virgin Birth? (230)

[via: We’re coming a bit full circle here. Why focus so much on Christian doctrine, and not on Jesus, his life, teachings, and vision?]

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. – 1 Corinthians 15:3-5

[via: Just a note, in this creed there’s no virgin birth, no “essentials for salvation,” no trinity, and no hell.]

This creed says nothing about the deity of Jesus. It doesn’t mention monotheism or the Virgin Birth. It doesn’t touch on the sinlessness of Christ or his second coming. What was I to make of this? (231)

[via: Ah. Here, Childers cites Dr. Norman Geisler’s video:]

Today we have God’s final revelation, and Geisler concluded that, according to the New Testament, the essentials one must believe (at least implicitly) in order to be saved today are

  1. human depravity (I am a sinner);
  2. God’s unity (there is one God);
  3. the necessity of grace (I am saved by grace0;
  4. Christ’s deity (Christ is God);
  5. Christ’s humanity (Christ is man);
  6. Christ’s atoning death (Christ died for my sins);
  7. Christ’s bodily resurrection (Christ rose from the dead); and
  8. the necessity of faith (I must believe). [See Romans 3:23; 1 Timothy 2:5; Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 10:9; 1 John 4:2; John 3:16; 1 Corinthians 15:12; Acts 16:31; Hebrews 11:6] (232)

…if Christians have put saving faith in Jesus but haven’t heard of the Virgin Birth, they aren’t disqualified from salvation. But if they are truly saved, they won’t be able to deny the Virgin Birth (essential because it points to Christ’s deity) once they gain a bit more knowledge. (233)

[via: So, the early disciples were not “truly saved”?]

Believing in the Bible isn’t what saves you, but the gospel can only be fully known if the Bible actually is the inerrant and inspired Word of God. The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy acknowledges that a confession of a belief in inerrancy is not necessary for salvation, but a rejection of it would not come without grave consequences. [https://mbcpathway.com/2019/01/18/chicago-statement-on-biblical-inerrancy-an-evangelical-milestone/] (233)

The strength of evidence for the Christian worldview is so strong that one would have to willfully shut their eyes to it. But discovering that information takes time and effort and determination. (236)

[via: On its face, this may be the most blatantly contradictory statements in the entire book.]

Everything to Lose

…progressive Christianity offers me nothing of value. It gives no hope for the afterlife and no joy in this one. It offers a hundred denials with nothing concrete to affirm. (238)

[via: Again, this is just rhetorical misrepresentation.]

If I believed Scripture was only a story ancient people told themselves about God, I would lose the living words of God. That’s where I learned who God was, why he came to this earth, and the lengths he went to save me. (239)

I was so disturbed of heart because I stood to lose God. The consuming fire who spoke creation into existence and yet identifies himself as Father. I stood to lose Jesus, the Messiah predicted by the Old Testament prophets and trumpeted after four hundred years of divine silence as the “Lamb of God, who takes way the sin of the world” (John 1:29). I stood to lose my Savior. The assurance that my sins had been paid for–that I had been bought with a price. That he died in my place. I stood to lose the beauty of the gospel. I stood to lose the confidence that everything wrong in this wretched world will one day be made right. I stood to lose the hope of no more tears, no more crying, no more pain. I stood to lose the mysterious stability of God’s written Word. The lamp to my feet. The light to my path. (239)

About VIA

www.kevinneuner.com

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