Archives For truth

We affirm the importance of the gospel which is foundational to our doctrinal convictions. Furthermore, we affirm its centrality to all of life and ministry. What this means for us in the EFCA is that we affirm our Statement of Faith, which is our foundational confessional statement. This is essential to and for the EFCA. However, many do not think through the practical implications of what we affirm doctrinally, of what it means to be confessional.

What this often means, more often than not, is that there is tacit acknowledgement of the gospel and doctrine, i.e., it is assumed, with a focus on ministry and the practical realities of that ministry. There is not sufficient time, thought or prayer given to how the foundational truth affects, determines, forms and shapes the ministry. It is as if they are two stand-alone realities we affirm, but there is little to no discussion about the foundation (although I am grateful it is there, but it is assumed) and there is little to no thinking about how it is formative to what we do in ministry and how we do it. Although these two matters are different and can and must be pondered in this way, they are also inseparable.

One of the weaknesses in the Evangelical church, I believe, is that there is very little thought given to this so that the exigencies of ministry inevitably trump the foundational gospel framework. It is seldom the foundational framework from and through which we consider ministry so that we ensure that ministry is formed and framed by the gospel’s foundational framework.

I learned this and its importance through Richard Lints, The Fabric of Theology: A Prolegomenon to Evangelical Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), 124. He insightfully and importantly writes,

The Christian gospel calls us not only to a well-formed theistic matrix but also to make conscious connections between that matrix and the other matrices of our lives. What I believe about God ought to influence how I view my own identity, my vocation, my family, my leisure pursuits, and so on. It is this matrix of matrices that I have been calling the theological vision. It is composed more narrowly of the theistic matrix (what I will be calling a theological framework) and more broadly of the interconnections between the theistic matrix and all other matrices in one’s noetic structures. Theology involves not just the study of God (theistic matrix) but also the influence of that study on the rest of one’s life (theological vision). It is possible to distinguish these two levels, but they are never separable in practice.

I read from one recently who discussed something similar raising parallel concerns, although the writer refers to this as theological confession and theological vision. In working with many churches, church plants, etc., the writer notes,

While for the most part they could pass any confessional test, many of them don’t know how to do theology. They have a theological confession but not theological vision. They lack the vision and ability to connect what they know with how they plan to creatively and constructively advance the mission of God in the world. Theological confession is, by definition, defensive and classically expressed in series of affirmations and denials. This is good and necessary. But successful church planting, ministry, and even the Christian life needs more than confession; it needs theological vision. This concept of theological vision explains how so many churches have similar confessions and yet radically different and even competing expressions of ministry. Without the clarity of a comprehensive theological vision, we succumb to emphatic theology with no connection between all the different fragments of theology and the arenas of our lives.

Tim Keller explains this practically through the illustration of computer. Keller states that our doctrinal/theological confession, our foundation, ought to be considered to be our hardware. The practical, methodological strategy, the ministries in which we engage, ought be considered our software. But there is an important piece that links the hardware with the software, that which he refers to as the middleware. This middleware is the vital piece that brings the foundational confession to life in ministry and it provides the rationale for doing so. Thus we have three vital aspects, all grounded in and guided by the gospel: doctrinal confession (doctrinal centrality of the gospel) => gospel, theological vision => life and ministry (functional centrality of the gospel).

The author I noted above concludes in the following way:

Every Christian and church has theological vision—however much it may be distorted, malnourished, or neglected by certain vices (e.g., letting methodology rather than theology drive vision; poor understanding of biblical and systematic theology; unhealthy accommodation to culture over proper contextualization; lacking the maturity to embrace paradox or hold tensions together). We embody our theological vision. And too often our theology of grace is robust in our hearts and minds, but it never finds a way to our hands and lives.

Based on what is focused upon and what is assumed, let me ask two sets of questions:

  • For those who assume the foundation and focus on the ministry, what needs to happen to ensure your ministry is formed and shaped by the foundational gospel and doctrinal truths?
  • For those who focus on the foundation and assume the ministry, what needs to happen to ensure the foundational gospel and doctrinal truths lead to forming and shaping ministry?

As a theologian committed to the Scriptures, I desire to understand what God has said. It is true and truth, and it is unchanging. I am also committed to communicating that truth to people who live in a cultural context. This does not mean the message changes, but it does mean I work hard at communicating those never-changing truths to an ever-changing culture.

Another thing that I do as a theologian is that I attempt to make sense of the disparate things that happen or occur in culture or the world. Though we live in a fallen world, God is the God of order, and living under the Lordship of Christ in all of life, and recognizing that God has a plan and purpose, a telos to which He is bringing history forward and to His determined end, I also attempt to get a sense of things and how they fit together, what they say about people, culture and trends from the perspective of the Bible. (This gets to the heart of a biblical worldview.) One can learn much in such an exercise.

It is with this lens I read the various “top ten” lists that come out at the end of each year. The Religion Newswriters Association published their own “2013 Top 10 Religion Stories.”

  1. Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina is a surprise choice to succeed Benedict, becoming the first Latin American and first Jesuit pope, and the first to take the name of Francis. He immediately launches a series of stunning and generally popular forays—meeting with the poor in Brazil, embracing the ill, issuing conciliatory words toward gays and calling for a poorer and more pastoral church.
  2. Pope Benedict XVI, citing age and strength issues, becomes first pope to resign in almost 600 years.
  3. The U.S. Supreme Court, in 5-4 votes, clears the way for gay marriage in California and voids the ban on federal benefits to same-sex couples. Gay marriage continues to make inroads within the states, with Illinois and Hawaii becoming the 15th and 16th states to approve same-sex marriage.
  4. The Obama administration makes concessions to faith-based groups and businesses opposed to the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate, but not enough to satisfy many of them. The disagreement continues as the U.S. Supreme Court accepts a case brought by Hobby Lobby challenging the mandate, although faith-based and private employers had mixed results in the lower-courts.
  5. Islam plays a central role in the post-Arab Spring Middle East as the Egyptian military ousts the elected, Muslim Brotherhood-led government and violently cracks down on its supporters; meanwhile, Sunni Islamist fighters increase their role in Syria’s opposition.
  6. Icon of reconciliation and nonviolence Nelson Mandela dies at age 95 and is remembered as a modern-day Moses who led his people out of racial captivity.
  7. Religious-inspired attacks claim scores of lives, with extremist Buddhist monks fomenting attacks on Muslims in Myanmar and Muslim extremists targeting Christians at churches in Egypt, an upscale mall in Nairobi, Kenya, and a church in Peshawar, Pakistan. Moderate religious leaders condemn the attacks, and a Somali Muslim emerges as a hero for rescuing a young American girl in the Nairobi mall.
  8. More than 1 in 5 Jews in America now report having no religion, according to a landmark survey from the Pew Research Center. The number of professing Jewish adults is now less than 2 percent of the U.S. population, although Jewish identity remains strong.
  9. The Boy Scouts of America, after much debate, votes to accept openly gay Scouts but not Scoutmasters. Several Catholic leaders endorse the move; some evangelical leaders oppose it.
  10. Muslims join those across the country who condemn a devastating bombing at the Boston Marathon by two young Muslim men who attended college in the area. People of many faiths were among the many who showed an outpouring of support for the bombing victims.

Religion Clause compiled the “Top 10 Church-State and Religious Liberty Developments in 2013.”

  1. The U.S. Supreme Court in United States v. Windsor strikes down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act in an opinion by Justice Kennedy that triggers judicial and legislative expansion of marriage equality to a total of 18 states and the District of Columbia by the end of 2013.
  2. Judicial challenges by Catholic- and conservative Christian-owned small businesses to the Affordable Care Act contraceptive coverage mandate generate an intense legal debate over whether corporations have religious exercise rights.  The U.S. Supreme Court grants certiorari in two cases raising the issue.
  3. A decision by the New Mexico Supreme Court in Elane Photography requires a commercial photography business to serve same-sex couples on the same basis as opposite-sex couple, despite the photographer’s religious objections to same-sex marriageA preliminary Colorado administrative decision takes the same approach on wedding cakes. In a related development, Britain’s Supreme Court holds that its anti-discrimination laws require Christian hotel owners to rent rooms to same-sex couples.
  4. U.S. Supreme Court hears oral arguments in Town of Greece case.  The Court will decide on the constitutionality of opening city council meetings with sectarian prayers.
  5. Numerous challenges by religiously-affiliated colleges and social service agencies to a compromise that was intended to accommodate their objections to the Affordable Care Act contraceptive coverage mandate raise the issue of how to define a “substantial burden” on religious exercise under RFRA. Courts have reached differing conclusions.
  6. European Court of Human Rights decides four cases from Britain on religious accommodation of Christian employee’ religious beliefs. Decisions call for a case-by-case balancing approach.
  7. Egypt continues to struggle with the future role of the Muslim Brotherhood (which the government now brands a “terrorist” group) and with what its constitution should say about the role of religion.
  8. Federal district court strikes down most of Utah’s anti-polygamy law.
  9. A variety of recent cases and legislative initiatives in the U.S. and elsewhere raise the question of what qualifies as a “religion”– Scientology, yoga, Humanism, Naturism.
  10. Federal district court holds Internal Revenue Code parsonage allowance provisions violate Establishment Clause.

A few follow up questions:

  • How do you read these lists?
  • What do you learn from them?
  • How does the Word of God remain foundational as you make sense of these events?
  • How do you speak God’s inspired, inerrant and authoritative Word into this cultural context?

In an interview with Richard Gaffin and Peter Lillback, editors of the newly published book, Thy Word Is Still Truth, the last question they were asked addressed the perceived errors in Scripture claimed by contemporaries, including some Evangelicals, which make the doctrine of inerrancy problematic. Additionally, they were asked how this volume can be an important resource in responding to these supposed errors.

A basic error remains the historical-critical method of interpreting the Bible in which, at least for its most self-aware and consistent practitioners, “critical” is understood in terms of the interpreter’s autonomy and obligation to stand above Scripture and judge whether its truth claims are in fact true. Sometimes evangelical roots are left behind for this approach—with its decided rejection of divine authorship—by those who had the impression the Bible was “dropped straight down from heaven” and have eventually been awakened to the undeniable human authorship and historically situated origins of the biblical documents.

A crucial challenge for sound biblical interpretation is to adequately honor the divine authorship of the text in a way that does justice to the human author. The umbrella-like statement that opens Hebrews shows us the way: its nuclear assertion is “God has spoken” and this divine speech has taken place “by the prophets” and “at many times and in various ways.” God’s saving self-revelation is a historical process, a process marked by multiple human authors and different genres. Further, this history, of which Scripture’s own production is a part, has reached its “last days,” its final consummation, “in his Son.” The fruitful task for exposition and preaching that’s true to Scripture is to explore the redemptive-historical unity of the Bible and its macro-coherence in Christ. Thy Word Is Still Truth provides many resources that will be an invaluable aid for that task.

Thy Word Is Still Truth

Greg Strand – November 15, 2013 Leave a comment

In every generation, the Word of God will be questioned. The age-old question asked by the deceiver at the beginning of time is the question asked afresh in and by every generation: Did God really say (Gen. 3:1b)? And the temptation of every generation is, like Adam and Eve, to believe the lie over against God and His Word.

Contrary to the words of the deceiver are the words of the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ who stated “Thy word is truth” (Jn. 17:17). This is the foundation to the unified voice of all Christians everywhere and the church across time that has been that God and His Word are true. Christians in every generation must affirm and reaffirm the doctrine of the inerrancy and authority of the Scriptures, and live by its truth.

One of the works that does that has just been published: Peter A. Lillback and Richard B. Gaffin Jr., Thy Word Is Still Truth: Essential Writings on the Doctrine of Scripture from the Reformation To Today (Phillipsburg: P & R, 2013). This is a great resource in which the editors have compiled major and significant statements, creeds, and beliefs of the Christian church on the doctrine of the Scriptures since the time of the Reformation.

D. A. Carson, Research Professor of New Testament , TEDS, writes that this volume is a strong statement affirming God’s Word, which is the view of the church and not a nineteenth century invention.

Against those who think a ‘high’ view of Scripture was the creation of nineteenth-century Princetonians, and against those who think such a view of Scripture amounts to a defensive posture devoid of profound theological reflection, this excellent volume is a much-needed resource. It stands as a bulwark against every form of the question, ‘Did God really say?’ The excerpts and essays drawn from Martin Luther to the present represent an immense reservoir of diverse reflections – from Calvin’s Institutes to Monod’s Farewell, from Owen, Turretin, Gaussen, and Edwards to Spurgeon, Hengstenberg, and Machen, from Reformed confessions to the advent of contemporary biblical theology. . . . its strength is not its coverage of the last half-century but its ample demonstration that today’s Reformed Christians find themselves, on this subject, within a heritage rich in theological reflection and powerful synthesis. To lose sight of this heritage or to stand aloof from it is to impoverish our souls and to distance ourselves from the God who ‘looks’ to those who are contrite and humble in spirit and who tremble at his Word.

Robert W. Yarbrough, Professor of New Testament, Covenant Theological Seminary, and former professor at TEDS, speaks highly of this text and includes those who ought to be required to have their own copy

Can the church in the West find its bearings and return to God? Only if it finds the grace to dethrone the Zeitgeist and re-enthrone the Lord and Holy Scripture, which reveals him. This volume is a manual for that enterprise. It is a sourcebook, history review, theology course, and exegesis guide all rolled into one. It should be required for seminary students, acquired by all pastors, and desired by anyone seeking to walk in the steps of the One who modeled and taught reverence for what we call the Bible as the foundation for valid knowledge as well as saving faith (John 17:17; I John 2:6).

The book consists of sixty-four chapters and 1300 pages. It is chronologically arranged and includes some of the most important writings on the truth of God’s Word over the years. It focuses on those in the Reformed tradition. This work primarily serves as a statement of the truthfulness of God’s Word as affirmed in one tradition of the Christian church and as a historical theology reference. This serves an invaluable purpose, but it is limited in its scope. There is, however, much those outside this tradition will gain from it as many in this stream of the Christian church have been giants in defending the inerrancy and authority of the Scriptures.

You will not read of contemporary responses to those who deny inerrancy. You will have to read elsewhere to find that. This gives me an opportunity to mention a forthcoming work that will do just that. D. A. Carson has compiled an international list of authors to write 17 essays that will be published in a 2 volume work entitled, The Enduring Authority of the Christian Scriptures (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, forthcoming). I eagerly await their publication. These volumes will be an excellent resource and will, Lord willing, serve this generation with a strong affirmation of the inerrancy and authority of the Scriptures, along with a secondary reason, that of responding to objectors and objections of those who deny it.

In conclusion, though it is not likely you would read Thy Word Is Still Truth from cover to cover, it would serve as an invaluable resource to consult regarding the doctrine of Scripture that affirms its inspiration, inerrancy, authority and sufficiency from the time of the Reformation until now. And though these are affirmations made by one family in the Christian church, that family’s commitment is reflective of the Church’s belief in and commitment to the Scriptures. This is also true of the family of which we are a part, the EFCA, a family that also whole-heartedly affirms and to which we are committed to the inspiration, inerrancy, authority and sufficiency of the Scriptures, and we do so in lips and life.

Preparing to Worship Corporately

Greg Strand – July 10, 2013 Leave a comment

Stuart Townend, who has been gifted by God to write biblically faithful and theologically rich music, gives “three guiding principles” for “Preparing to Worship” and in this order:

  • Revelation
  • Response
  • Encounter

I include all of what Townend has written in his main points. I appreciate greatly what he has written.

REVELATION

Worship begins with God. That may seem an obvious statement, but it’s something we can miss. We live in an alarmingly self-oriented society, where the bottom line to every choice we make, from relationships to religion, seems to be: “…but does it make me happy?”

If we’re not careful we can bring this attitude into church, and even into our worship. We can come looking for the experience, for the ‘warm feelings’, or looking for God to lift the weight of our burdens and make us feel better. And, of course, none of these things are wrong in themselves. But when they take centre-stage in our thinking, we put ourselves in the place that God should be. Worship needs to be focused on what God requires, not on our own needs or desires.

So what does this mean in practice? Well, the best way to stay God-focused is to sing songs, read Scriptures and pray prayers about Him! I believe that, although we have many new songs that effectively describe our feelings as we worship and respond to God, we need more songs that are about HIM. If you lead worship, look for songs that declare the truth about God, about His character, His actions, and what He has done for us.

But it’s not enough that we just say and sing things that are true. We need to have an expectation that God will REVEAL the truth of these things by His Spirit. When I lead a song, I’m praying that the truth of the words will grip people’s hearts and minds in a fresh way, dispelling the lies that can so subtly invade our thinking and undermine our faith: lies like, ‘God can’t love me’, ‘I’m too sinful to be accepted by Him’ and ‘my situation is too difficult for Him to help me’. Jesus said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free”. As we put truth into people’s minds and mouths through songs, prayers and scriptures, pray that the truth of how God sees us liberates us from the lies of how we see ourselves.

RESPONSE

So truth is important in our church worship. But it isn’t enough to fill our minds with good things. It’s possible to have all the biblical knowledge in the world, but still have a hard heart towards God. We are called not only to declare truth, but to respond in wholehearted worship.

When Jesus says in John 4 that God’s worshippers must worship in spirit and truth, the word He uses for ‘truth’ is interesting. Although it does refer to correctness and accuracy, it also means “truthfulness” or “honesty”. In other words, what goes on outwardly during worship needs to be reflected in what is going on inwardly – and vice versa. Just going through the physical motions of worship, such as singing, clapping and dancing (Isaiah 29:13, quoted in Mt 15:8) is not enough if our hearts are not engaged with God . But at the same time, if our hearts are filled with joy and adoration, part of our worship involves using our bodies to express it. What is in the heart must be expressed in the outward actions. So how can we cultivate more expression in our congregation?

Well, the best way is by example. There’s something about seeing someone expressing their worship that inspires other people. Similarly, when we look bored or detached (even if we’re not) we can inhibit others. And that’s true whether we are standing at the front or in the congregation

ENCOUNTER

So we begin with God, not ourselves. And we respond in an honest, expressive way to God and His goodness. And then, perhaps the most amazing thing we find when we worship is that God is active! As we give ourselves to Him, He has His own plans and purposes that He wants to fulfil among us; he wants to speak to us, to change us, to have fellowship with us. And this is why I strongly believe in the prophetic in the context of corporate worship: whether it’s a shared ‘picture’, a spontaneous prayer, a full-blown “thus saith the Lord” prophecy, or even starting a song that wasn’t ‘on the list’.

I don’t have space here to explore how the prophetic should be weighed or filtered, and I’m not saying that a ‘pre-prepared’ contribution can’t be powerfully prophetic. But I do think that an encounter with God is a dynamic, two-way thing, and we should have an expectation that God will lead us in our worship, sometimes in a direction we didn’t expect or plan for. And as that happens, we need to cultivate hearts that are ready to change, ready to be moulded and shaped by the loving hands of God as we offer ourselves wholeheartedly in worship.

What do you like about what Townend has written? With what do you disagree? What would you add or edit?

Personally, how do you prepare to worship corporately? As a leader, how do you prepare others?