Archives For Timothy George

Thoughts on Halloween

Greg Strand – October 31, 2013 Leave a comment

Every year Halloween comes on the calendar, Christians are faced once again with the decision of how they will respond. Will they celebrate the day or will they not? If they do, will they do so in an alternative way, e.g. harvest festival or Reformation day, or will they do so evangelistically?

Timothy George, in The Gospel of Ghoul, notes how Christians have used the day evangelistically. Prior to addressing this he states what he believes about hell.

I believe in hell. Not only the hell within, for there are those “private devils that hang like vampires on the soul,” to use the language of Thomas Merton—and not only the metaphorical hell around evident in war, violence, and destructive evil on a global scale—but also the hell to come. This orthodox Christian belief is firmly grounded in the teaching of Jesus, as well as in the inspired writings of the apostles. As Joseph Ratzinger said in a book on eschatology: “Dogma takes its stand on solid ground when it speaks of the existence of hell and of the eternity of its punishments.”

Using Lewis, George writes of two inappropriate responses to the doctrine of hell: disbelief and denial; an excessive and unhealthy interest.

C. S. Lewis famously described two equal and opposite errors into which people fall when thinking about things infernal. The first is disbelief and denial, a familiar pattern in forms of rationalist religion. The other is to cultivate “an excessive and unhealthy interest” in Satan and his pomp. The latter is on full display in what has become a thriving phenomenon within the subculture of American fundamentalist and evangelical churches: the seasonal appearance of a Halloween alternative known as Hell House or Judgment House.

Hell Houses, notes George, come in many variations. Primarily they follow the pattern of showing gruesome events and experiences of a person’s life revealing that “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). Following these events is a visit to hell. Finally, there is an opportunity to receive Jesus to save one from hell. This sort of outreach has become so large and popular there is a how-to kit for those who desire to use this evangelistic approach for Halloween.

As real as hell is, and as essential as it is to evangelize, for people to hear the gospel, being confronted with sin and implored to repent and place one’s faith in the Lord Jesus Christ for He is the exclusive way of and to salvation (Acts 4:12; Jn. 3:36; 5:12; 14:6; 1 Tim. 2:5), is this particular method appropriate? Is it reflective of the Bible’s teaching? Do the means matter as long as the gospel is presented and people are given an opportunity to repent, respond and receive Jesus? Is it truly reflective of the gospel?

George answers:

The problem with this kind of approach to the afterlife is not that it says too much, but that it offers too little. It says what it does not know and thus falls prey to that most damning of theological temptations, what medieval scholars called vana curiositas. Theology should be done within the limits of revelation alone but what is shown in most modern-day Hell Houses is 90 percent speculation.

It may be that some young people will find their way to genuine faith through such ghoulish shenanigans, but their overall import is a distortion of the Gospel. Those who indulge in such displays are taking something serious, eternal, and consequential and treating it with a finesse of a butcher doing brain surgery. In the process, they trivialize evil and domesticate grace. I seriously doubt that the Old Fiend himself is much upset about how his wiles are portrayed in such faux-dramas. He knows that conversion without discipleship is not likely to be lasting or deep. He is well aware that evangelism as entertainment seldom, if ever, results in genuine repentance or transformation.

Thankfully, George concludes,

in the sending and self-sacrifice of his Son, God himself has absorbed not only the penalty of sin but also its eternal consequences, the “wailing and gnashing of teeth.” Jesus Christ has visited the original House of Hell, and this has rendered redundant all cheap imitations. As John Calvin said, “By his wrestling hand to hand with the devil’s power, with the dread of death, and with the pains of hell, Jesus Christ emerged victorious and triumphed over them, that in death we may not now fear those things which our Prince has swallowed up.

Paul reminds us of this incredible truth in 1 Corinthians 15:54b-58:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

On this day, celebrate Christ, His perfect fulfillment of the law, His triumph over death, and our victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. And grounded in these truths, abound in the work of the Lord!

The PC(USA)’s Presbyterian Committee on Congregational Song has been working on the publication of a new  hymnal for their denomination, Glory to God. The Committee decided not to include “In Christ Alone,” a contemporary hymn written by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend, because of its view of the atonement. Mary Louise Bringle, one of the Committee members, rehearses how the Committee made the decision in “Debating Hymns.”

Even more sustained theological debate occurred after the conclusion of the committee’s three-and-a-half years of quarterly meetings in January 2012. We had voted for a song from the contemporary Christian canon, Keith Getty and Stuart Townend’s “In Christ Alone.” The text agreed upon was one we had found by studying materials in other recently published hymnals. Its second stanza contained the lines, “Till on that cross as Jesus died / the love of God was magnified.” In the process of clearing copyrights for the hymnal we discovered that this version of the text would not be approved by the authors, as it was considered too great a departure from their original words: “as Jesus died / the wrath of God was satisfied.” We were faced, then, with a choice: to include the hymn with the authors’ original language or to remove it from our list.

Because we were no longer meeting as a committee, our discussions had to occur through e-mail; this may explain why the “In Christ Alone” example stands out in my mind—the final arguments for and against its inclusion are preserved in writing. People making a case to retain the text with the authors’ original lines spoke of the fact that the words expressed one view of God’s saving work in Christ that has been prevalent in Christian history: the view of Anselm and Calvin, among others, that God’s honor was violated by human sin and that God’s justice could only be satisfied by the atoning death of a sinless victim. While this might not be our personal view, it was argued, it is nonetheless a view held by some members of our family of faith; the hymnal is not a vehicle for one group’s perspective but rather a collection for use by a diverse body.

Arguments on the other side pointed out that a hymnal does not simply collect diverse views, but also selects to emphasize some over others as part of its mission to form the faith of coming generations; it would do a disservice to this educational mission, the argument ran, to perpetuate by way of a new (second) text the view that the cross is primarily about God’s need to assuage God’s anger. The final vote was six in favor of inclusion and nine against, giving the requisite two-thirds majority (which we required of all our decisions) to the no votes. The song has been removed from our contents list, with deep regret over losing its otherwise poignant and powerful witness.

As noted, the original hymn affirmed the penal substitutionary view of the atonement: “as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied.” The Committee wanted to use the hymn but changed the words to read “till on that cross as Jesus died, the love of God was magnified.” The authors of the hymn, Getty and Townend, would not deny that the cross reveals the love of God. But that was not the focus of this hymn, and to change the lyrics in this manner would be to depart from the intent of the hymn. According to the hymwriters, this song was intended to tell “the whole gospel.” Furthermore, the Committee was not interested in affirming various views/truths of the atonement and by this edit emphasize the love of God rather than the wrath of God. By their final decision not to include the hymn as is, the Committee (six to include; nine to exclude) denied a penal substitutionary view of the atonement.

This denial is sad given the Presbyterian denomination’s subscription to the Westminster Confession of Faith. In fact, it is a tragic move away from biblical truth confessed in the Confession regarding Christ’s death on the cross. And yet, in light of where this denomination has moved theologically, it is not surprising.

Though the decision only has to do with one song, it speaks volumes about biblical truth, and about the task of doing theology in a contemporary context that faithfully serves the people of God.

Timothy George commented on this as well, “No Squishy Love,” and concluded with this biblically faithful statement about God:

God’s love is not sentimental; it is holy. It is tender, but not squishy.  It involves not only compassion, kindness, and mercy beyond measure (what the New Testament calls grace) but also indignation against injustice and unremitting opposition to all that is evil.

In the EFCA, we affirm the following about God, sin and Christ’s work on the cross, noted in these excerpts from our Statement of Faith:

Article 1, God: “We believe in one God, Creator of all things, holy, infinitely perfect, and eternally existing in a loving unity of three equally divine Persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

Note, God is holy, infinitely perfect in His person and works, and loving.

Article 3, The Human Condition: “In union with Adam, human beings are sinners by nature and by choice, alienated from  God, and under His wrath. Only through God’s saving work in Jesus Christ can we be rescued, reconciled and renewed.”

Note, because of our sin, we are alienated from God and under His wrath. Jesus is the one alone by and through whom we can be rescued from God’s wrath, reconciled to the Father from our alienation and renewed into the likeness of the Son.

Article 5, The Work of Christ: “We believe that Jesus Christ, as our representative and substitute, shed His blood on the cross as the perfect, all-sufficient sacrifice for our sins. His atoning death and victorious resurrection constitute the only ground for salvation.”

Note, Jesus is our representative and substitute, and his death on the cross is the perfect, all-sufficient sacrifice for our sins. Moreover, it is Jesus Christ’s atoning death (Christus Vicarious) and victorious resurrection (Christus Victor) that are the only grounds for our salvation.

In the EFCA, because this is our theology, this is our hymnology! And we will joyfully live by and sing about these truths, all of these truths!, about God and the Lamb both now and into eternity (Rev. 22:3).

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, Billy Graham and Voting

Greg Strand – November 5, 2012 3 Comments

Some have wondered about Billy Graham’s political statements over the course of the past couple of months. Recently BGEA took out an advertisement with Billy encouraging people to vote. Here is what Billy states (which can be seen at this link):

The legacy we leave behind for our children, grandchildren and this great nation is crucial. As I approach my 94th birthday, I realize this election could be my last. I believe it is vitally important that we cast our ballots for candidates who base their decisions on biblical principles and support the nation of Israel. I urge you to vote for those who protect the sanctity of life and support the biblical definition of marriage between a man and a woman. Vote for biblical values this November 6, and pray with me that America will remain one nation under God.

Timothy George, The Christian Post, October 31, 2012, dean of Beeson Divinity School and many other vital Evangelical ministries, concluded the following, from which I include excerpts:

Graham’s statement about the election reveals three things about him and the times in which we live. First, it is a message filled with the pathos of a person who has long outlived most of his contemporaries. The end of life approaches, and one’s thoughts turn toward things that really matter, things of eternal moment.

Second, Graham reveals in his words a deep love and genuine concern for his country. Jesus (and Jeremiah before him) loved Jerusalem and wept over it. There are some tears in Billy Graham’s lament about the turning point we face in our American republic today.

Third, Graham asks his readers to take a stand on three non-negotiable commitments of the Christian worldview: the sacredness of every human life including those children still waiting to be born; the dignity of marriage as God intended it to be, a lifelong covenantal union of one man and one woman; and religious freedom, not only for Christians but for all persons, for individuals and institutions of faith alike.

George concludes by recognizing that the earthly kingdom and the political process are important, but not ultimate. Politics are not the kingdom of God, and solving the political quagmire is not at the heart of our deepest need. But he also acknowledges that every generation of Christians must stand and speak out for certain truths because they are being undermined in that generation. Today is no exception.

I write these words as an Independent who holds no loyalty to any political party and who has voted for candidates of both the red and the blue. Chuck Colson knew all too well that the kingdom of God cannot be equated with any partisan movement. He also knew that politics was not the answer to the deepest needs of our society.

But there are also times in human history when people of faith cannot in good conscience opt out of the political process. Wilberforce was a leader in Parliament and worked tirelessly to pass legislation that ended the British slave trade. Christians living in 1930s Germany were concerned about many issues other than anti-Semitism, but Bonhoeffer knew that following Jesus required taking a stand against that intrinsic evil. Martin Luther King, Jr. lobbied both Congress and the president to enact civil rights legislation. Today we face a similar moment with respect to the sanctity of life, traditional marriage, and religious freedom.

Timothy George, “Thoughts on the Upcoming Election,” Colson Center (August 27, 2012)

George serves as the founding dean of Beeson Divinity School of Samford University and chairman of the board of the Colson Center for Worldview. For a number of years, he and Colson would co-write a column for Christianity Today. He is also co-editor with Scott Manetsch, professor of church history at TEDS, of the new series Reformation Commentary on Scripture.

Earlier this year he was asked to address the a group of Southern Baptist pastors regarding the Christian faith and engagement in politics. George was asked a question, which prompted this response: How should an evangelical Christian decide who to support in this election? Below is George’s abbreviated response. (I have included his first sentence and the final exhortation of each of his points.) Please read the whole thing.

  1. We should be grateful to live in a representative democracy where the right to vote and the rule of law are respected. Vote!
  2. The American republic was founded on a clear distinction between church and state, as the First Amendment shows, but this has never meant the separation of faith from public life. Distinguish!
  3. In the Manhattan Declaration, Chuck Colson, Robert George, and I made a public argument, based on biblical wisdom and the right use of reason, that the three most pressing moral issues of our time are the sanctity of every human life from conception to natural death, marriage as a lifelong covenantal union of one man and one woman, and religious freedom for all persons. Discern!
  4. There is a difference between Christian discernment and partisan politics. Examine!

Regardless of who wins the election in November, the spiritual and moral issues that ought to inform our political acts will remain on the agenda. Pray!