Archives For Faith

In my ministry role in the EFCA I receive many questions. I consider it a privilege and I find great delight in being able to provide biblical, theological, historical and pastoral responses.

One of the questions I received was an attempt to remain faithful to the biblical teaching as the EFCA Statement of Faith was interpreted. The question was raised regarding the expression from James, “not by faith alone,” from Paul, “for by grace you have saved through faith,” in relation to our SOF which includes the expression “through faith alone.”

I thought it would be fruitful to provide this good question and I trust a faithful response to others beyond the individual questioner. I begin with the question and follow with my response.

In the EFCA Statement of Faith (SOF), Article 7, The Church, it states “that the true church comprises all who have been justified by God’s grace through faith alone in Christ alone.”

My question pertains to the expression “through faith alone.”

James 2:24 claims the following: “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.” Ephesians 2:8-9 states that salvation is through faith not of works, but that passage does not say “through faith ALONE.”

In light of these verses, it seems that the EFCA statement does not agree with the Bible. Am I missing something? I do not want to sign a SOF that even in the smallest way is not what God has communicated. What is EFCA’s reason for that terminology?

I responded with the following.

You raise a very good question.

The truth of the Bible must be communicated. The Bible alone is the absolute authority, the norming norm (norma normans). When it is communicated in creeds or statements of faith, for example, one seeks to be faithful to the Bible’s teaching/truth without necessarily using all and only the Bible’s words. Creeds and statements of faith are a derived norm (norma normata), that which has been written in light of the norming norm, and thus is revisable based on the Bible.

In essence the heart of the question is how we understand the differences between Paul and James: are they claiming contrary truths? Because we affirm the inspired, inerrant, authoritative and sufficient Scripture (Article 2), the single Author of the Scripture results in a unity in the Scripture. The “alone” is emphasizing what Paul teaches regarding faith and the “not alone” is what James claims for the believers.

They are addressing different contexts grounded in the same truth. For Paul to have stated what James did would have led his hearers to be affirmed in what they were already doing: claiming their works were necessary to their salvation. For James to have stated what Paul did it would have led his hearers to continue in their way of saying they believe with no impact whatsoever in their lives. This is a sort of false belief, which even the demons have (2:19).

In Evangelical Convictions, Article 7, we write (162), “So by faith, and faith alone, we are joined to Christ such that he bears our sin and we receive his righteousness (cf. 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9).” And then we include the following footnote: “James 2:24 appears to deny that the one is saved by ‘faith alone,’ but the type of faith referred to there appears to be mere intellectual assent without real spiritual life. It is a ‘dead faith’ that bears no fruit (cf. 2:14-26). On the evidence of faith in its fruits, see Article 8.”

Furthermore, being a part of the Reformation stream, we affirm the solas as do most Protestants and all Evangelicals: grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone, Scripture alone, to God’s glory alone.

Leaving the Faith?

Greg Strand – September 27, 2013 2 Comments

Many of us have heard the sobering statistics of the numbers of young Christians, the Millennials, that leave the faith once they leave home. A great deal has been made about this along with explanations why. Whenever reading these sorts of reports, I read them with my eyes wide open. These kinds of reports are affected by the questions asked and the way in which questions are asked. Furthermore, evidence is not merely objective. It must also be assessed and interpreted.

Andrew Hess, Research Associate for Family Formation Studies at Focus on the Family and Adjunct Professor of Humanities and Theology at Colorado Christian University, and Glenn Stanton, Director of Global Family Formation Studies at Focus on the Family, looked at the same phenomenon seeking to understand who was leaving the faith and why they were leaving. They shared the results of their study in Focus on the Family Findings (August 2013), “Millennial Faith Participation and Retention.”  The results they discovered actually surprised them.  As often happens, negative and discouraging results are highlighted, while the more significant and encouraging ones are either downplayed or ignored.

As noted, “Pew Research recently found that 18% of young adults leaving their faith altogether and another 20% are switching from one faith to another.” This means young people are changing local churches, but they are not leaving the faith altogether. Most assessments are not acknowledging this change of local churches, and are likely included in the numbers that are leaving the faith. Another important thing to observe is the difference between liberal churches and those that are Evangelical. In the General Social Survey it tracks that the mainline liberal churches have declined by 2.2%, while during the same time Evangelical churches grew 0.6%.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the survey is what Pew discovered about those who were leaving their faith. When asked how many of those who have left the faith had a strong faith as a child, only 11% said they did. The strong majority, 89%, claimed they never had a strong faith. This led Hess and Stanton to conclude in their report,

Not surprisingly, homes modeling lukewarm faith do not create enduring faith in children. Homes modeling vibrant faith do. So these young adults are leaving something they never had a good grasp of in the first place. This is not a crisis of faith, per se, but of parenting.

Writing a brief article summarizing their report, Hess writes,

Young adults are not developing a strong faith as children and walking away as they enter adulthood. Instead, the majority are failing to develop strong faith in the first place and then walking away. As Notre Dame Sociology Professor Christian Smith writes,

Religious outcomes in emerging adulthood … flow quite predictably from formative religious influences that shape persons’ lives in early years … religious commitments, practices and investments made during childhood and the teenage years, by parents and others in families and religious communities, matter – they make a difference.

What are the implications of this for parents and the church? It is important for parents to instill and live the faith once for all entrusted to the saints. It is also vital for the church to supplement and support parents’ teaching in the home and to teach and model these truths in the church as well. The authors observe two implications.

First, it’s encouraging that those children who develop a deep faith early on will likely hold onto that faith throughout their lives. But secondly, this shows being in and around church is simply insufficient to develop strong faith for many children. Taking children to church and Sunday school, while important, should not be seen as the only, or even best, way to instill strong faith in our children.

Here is the challenge:

Parents should be intentional about creating homes where their children learn a vibrant faith from God-fearing parents, relatives and other adults. Parents should teach personal habits of prayer and Bible reading in their children, which makes them much more likely to hold onto their faith.

Parents do not make their children Christian. They can birth them physically, but not spiritually. That requires a sovereign work of God the Holy Spirit. This is why it is stated that God has no grandchildren, only children. But God does use means, and parents and other adults are important means of teaching the faith once for all entrusted to the saints, and, as important, modeling a deep and abiding faith in life and ministry. It also means that we are quick to recognize our own sins as parents, and just as quick to rest in God’s grace, both for us and our children.

Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith?

Greg Strand – November 13, 2012 Leave a comment

James K. Hoffmeier and Dennis R. Magary, ed., Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith? A Critical Appraisal of Modern and Postmodern Approaches to Scripture (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012).

Over the past few years there have been a number of books written that have called into question the Evangelical notion of inerrancy, especially as it pertains to the Bible being inerrant in matters of faith and practice, and history and science (though it is not technically a science book). The disturbing aspect of this is that some are being written by Evangelicals. One of those was written by Peter Enns, Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005). Enns primarily addressed the relationship between the Ancient Near Eastern literature and its effect on the Bible and inspiration. Another one was written by Kenton L. Sparks, professor of professor of biblical studies and special assistant to the provost at Eastern University, God’s Word in Human Words: An Evangelical Appropriation of Critical Biblical Scholarship (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008). In this work, Sparks writes against the position of inerrancy he once embraced, and now, notes John Woodbridge, “with missionary zeal he hopes to persuade evangelical Christians who are inerrantists that they should follow his lead, adopt his thoughtful appropriation of higher criticism, and acknowledge that the Bible contains historical errors (p. 14).”

It was the publication of this book that prompted a panel discussion by faculty members of the Old Testament and Semitic Languages department at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS), our Free Church seminary. From this colloquium, it became clear that a book-length response to questions raised in Sparks’ and Enns’ books and others was a vital endeavor to defend the Word of God for the sake of the church. According to the editors, “we offer this book to help address some of the questions raised about the historicity, accuracy, and inerrancy of the Bible by colleagues within our faith community, as well as those outside it. There will be a special emphasis placed on matters of history and the historicity of biblical narratives, both Old and New Testaments, as this seems presently to be a burning issue for theology and faith (p. 23).”

John Woodbridge, a specialist in the area of the historical understanding of the doctrine of Scripture, highlights the importance of the book, and lays out a brief historical understanding of the doctrine of Scripture. Being a historian, he also recognizes the importance of “fresh opportunities” to define, explain and defend the historic understanding of doctrine/truth. As disturbing as these new writings are, they can be turned for good for the church’s understanding of God’s Word. Woodbridge notes “the present book constitutes a winsome invitation for its readers to consider a very significant claim: the Bible’s historical narratives are trustworthy. The narratives correspond to what happened in real time and in real places (p. 13).”

Hoffmeier and Magary, with an incredible team of scholars, respond to these issues in four main parts:

Part 1: Biblical, Systematic, and Historical Theology

Part 2: The Old Testament and Issues of History, Authenticity, and Authority

Part 3: The New Testament and Issues of History, Authenticity, and Authority

Part 4: The Old Testament and Archaeology

The best thing is to buy the book and read it! Below I include a few of the many book endorsements/recommendations.

“Standing athwart the tide of strident voices currently demanding that we abandon confidence in the truthfulness and reliability of the Bible, the chapters in this volume constitute a defense of historic Christian confessionalism on the nature of Scripture. Mercifully, however, they are not mere regurgitations of past positions. Rather, they are informed, competent, and sometimes creative contributions that urgently deserve the widest circulation. In months and years to come, I shall repeatedly refer students and pastors to this collection.”

D. A. Carson, Research Professor of New Testament, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

“Here is a collection of first-rate essays written by an international team of scholars, each affirming what must be called the historic Christian view of Holy Scripture – that the Bible, God’s Word written, is trustworthy and totally true in all that it affirms. Rather than simply rehearsing platitudes of the past, this volume advances the argument in the light of current debate and recent challenges. A magisterial undertaking to be reckoned with.”

Timothy George, Founding Dean, Beeson Divinity School; General Editor, Reformation Commentary on Scripture

“This book takes us to the front lines of many of the contemporary confrontations in critical scholarship, addressing the skeptics head-on. A host of able defenders contend for the trustworthiness of the Bible in the face of critical challenges and fairly criticize some of the ‘assured results’ of biblical criticism – opening the way for a more confident faith. Only the Holy Spirit himself can fully confirm the truth of God’s Word, but he can use books like this to confound the doubter and affirm the faithful.”

Bill Kynes, Senior Pastor, Cornerstone Evangelical Free Church, Annandale, Virginia; author, A Christology of Solidarity

Ever since the questioning, doubting and denial of God’s word in the Garden, humanity has questioned God and his word now inscripturated in the Word: Did God really say? Throughout history Evangelicals have responded with an unqualified “yes.” The Scriptures are inspired, inerrant, complete, authoritative and sufficient. Every generation wrestles with this same question about God’s Word. Today some so-called Evangelicals have questioned and outright denied the full extent of the inerrancy, authority and trustworthiness of God’s Word, claiming it may apply to faith and practice but not to history and science.

A number of Evangelicals are responding to today’s challenge to the Bible by saying, “yes! God has spoken, and all that He has spoken is true and can be trusted in all that it teaches in whatever subject it addresses.” Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith? is one of the best and most thorough treatments defending that the Bible is completely true and trustworthy in the realm of history. Hoffmeier and Magary have compiled an excellent team of scholars not only to respond to the criticisms against the Scriptures but also to build a constructive case for the Scriptures. They have done this by focusing on the critical components associated with the history, authenticity and authority of the Old and New Testaments, and archaeology and the Old Testament. The foundation of the whole work is laid by a focus on biblical, systematic and historical theology and what these disciplines teach about history.

As disturbing as these claims are against the Scriptures, I give thanks to God that they have prompted an excellent response so that we now have a much stronger foundation for affirming the inerrancy of God’s Word, including matters of history. We don’t have to nuance the doctrine of inerrancy in light of contemporary challenges, and neither do we have to refer to a work that is 30 years old. This is a model example of the academy serving the church.

In matters relating to the doctrine of the Scriptures, this will be the book I recommend to pastors and leaders, as it will serve them and the church well. I am thankful for its writing and publication. It deserves the highest of commendations! It is a much-needed antidote to some so-called Evangelical’s unhealthy (and inaccurate) view of inerrancy.

To answer the question raised in this excellent book: Historical matters matter! God said so!

Gregory C. Strand, Director of Biblical Theology and Credentialing, Evangelical Free Church of America

 

Christians in Politics

Greg Strand – October 3, 2012 3 Comments

Charles Colson, God & Government: An Insider’s View on the Boundaries Between Faith & Politics, Rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007), 314-316, 331. This book was formerly titled Kingdoms in Conflict: An insider’s challenging view of politics, power, and the pulpit and published in 1987.

Colson’s words, from the chapter titled “Christians in Politics,” are fitting for us to remember, especially during this presidential election season.

There are at least three compelling reasons Christians must be involved in politics and government. First, as citizens of the nation-state, Christians have the same civic duties all citizens have: to serve on juries, to pay taxes, to vote, to support candidates they think are best qualified. They are commanded to pray for and respect governing authorities.

Second, as citizens of the Kingdom of God, Christians are to bring God’s standards of righteousness and justice to bear on the kingdoms of this world.

Third, Christians have an obligation to bring transcendent moral values into the public debate. All law implicitly involves morality; the popular idea that ‘you can’t legislate morality’ is a myth. Morality is legislated every day from the vantage point of one value system or another. The question is not whether we will legislate morality, but whose morality will we legislate.

The real issue for Christians is not whether they should be involved in politics or contend for laws that affect moral behavior. The question is how.

We can conclude that Christians, both individually and institutionally, have a duty, for the good of society as a whole, to bring the values of the Kingdom of God to bear within the kingdoms of man.

“Faith” and/or “Faithfulness”?

Greg Strand – September 14, 2012 Leave a comment

D. A. Carson, ” ‘Faith’ and ‘Faithfulness’ “, Tabletalk 2/34 (February 2010)

When the Greek word pistis is used in the New Testament, does it mean “faith” or “faithfulness”? Are these translations of the same word exactly synonymous? N. T. Wright states, “Faith and obedience are not antithetical. They belong exactly together. Indeed, very often the word ‘faith’ itself could properly be translated as ‘faithfulness’, which makes the point just as well.” (What Saint Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Real Founder of Christianity? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 160.)

Carson agrees that the Greek word can be translated as either “faith” or “faithfulness,” and no one really denies that fact. However, Carson’s concern with Wright is based on two additional assumptions made by Wright. In the first, the word is translated in a number of texts in our English translations with “‘faith in Jesus Christ’ or ‘faith in Christ’ or the like (Rom. 3:22, 26; Gal. 2:16; 3:22; Phil. 3:9).” Without exception, Carson notes, Wright “takes the expression to mean ‘faithfulness of Jesus Christ’ . . . what is at issue is the faithfulness that Jesus Christ exercised by being the faithful Israelite, doing His Father’s will and going to the cross, not the faith that Jews and Gentiles alike exercise, with Jesus Himself as faith’s object.” The soteriological nub of this, Carson writes, is that for Wright, “when Paul speaks of the ‘faith’ of Christians, he is really talking about their ‘faithfulness,’ more-or-less equivalent to their obedience.”

In response, Carson makes three observations, which I include only excerpts with the intention you will read the whole article.

First, in defense of Wright, it is important to recognize that he does not deny that human beings must place their faith in Christ.

Second, although the theme of Jesus being faithful and obedient to His heavenly Father is quite a strong one in the New Testament (especially in John and Hebrews, but witness also Phil 2:5–11; Gethsemane in the Synoptics), it is far from obvious that the theme is found in the half-dozen “faith/faithfulness of Jesus Christ” passages. . . . it [i.e. Wright’s emphasis on Jesus’ faithfulness or the faithfulness of the Father to fulfill His covenantal plan for Israel in and through Jesus] is not so much wrong as guilty of putting emphasis in the wrong place. Wright concedes that Christ on the cross deals at some level or other with sin, righteousness, guilt, condemnation, and holiness, but for him these are relatively minor themes compared with the controlling themes of God’s faithfulness to the covenant and of Christ’s obedient faithfulness to His role as the ideal Israelite. In the insightful assessment of Douglas J. Moo, Wright backgrounds what the New Testament foregrounds, and foregrounds what the New Testament backgrounds.

Third, Wright’s penchant for finding “faithfulness” instead of “faith” seriously misses the point in many Pauline passages. . . . In dominant Jewish understanding, God’s justifying of Abraham is entirely appropriate: Abraham deserved it, for he was “faithful.” In Paul’s understanding, God’s justifying of Abraham is in defiance of Abraham’s ungodliness. Small wonder: for Paul, the justification of sinners turns absolutely on Christ crucified.

This is a very helpful and simple, without being simplistic, explanation of the complex position known as the New Perspective on Paul (NPP). Through ongoing discussion and debate, it may be more accurate to refer to the present discussion as post-New Perspective on Paul. But if we are to understand this new discussion, we must understand the older discussion that preceded it. And even though we might be in the post stage, I am quite certain that the important nuances spelled out by Carson above are still very much a part of the discussion. I find that many have assumed this understanding of the Bible and its storyline and what it teaches about salvation such that it is not defended, but simply assumed.