Filed under: Uncategorized
by David Bishop
In his book “The Christians as the Romans Saw Them”, Professor Robert Louis Wilken examines some of the complaints and arguments of some of the more veracious first and second century critics of Christianity. Like Celsus, for example, who labeled Christ a magician and called the gospels incredulously and historically unreliable; or Porphyry, who attacked Christian orthodoxy as irrational.
In his examination of the critics, Wilken manages to show the epistemological foundation upon which Christians rested even from the very start.
It was a central theme that ran throughout every critic’s line of reasoning – outrage and incredulity at the Christian’s blanket dogmatic appeal to Scripture as the sole authority. Consider, for example, Galen’s comparison of Christianity to a particular school of philosophy he found unreasonable in his book, “On Hippocrates’s Anatomy”:
“They compare those who practice medicine without scientific knowledge to Moses, who framed laws for the tribe of Israel, since it is his method in his books to write without offering proofs, saying, ‘God commanded, God spake.’”
Another critic, Celsus, complained that Christians sought out gullible and uneducated people, “because they were unable to give reasons for their beliefs . . .they asked people to accept what they said solely on faith.”
Celsus went on to write that the gospels themselves were based only on hearsay, arguing, “Why should we give greater credibility to what is written in them than to other stories about Jesus? The accounts in the gospels were written solely by Christians and passed on in Christian circles. Should the legends there be taken with greater seriousness than the many legends in Greek literature? The Christian Gospels offer no reliable basis on which to establish the truth of the accounts about Jesus . . . there is no proof except for your word”
Still another critic, Lucian, wrote of the Christians, “The poor wretches have convinced themselves that they are going to be immortal and live for all time. They despise all things indiscriminately and consider them common property, receiving such doctrines traditionally without any definite evidence.”
We find time and again, no matter the critic, no matter the date, the theme remained the same. Christians based the foundation for their claims entirely upon the authority of Scripture alone. It was a commonly held “scientific” belief, for example, during the first, second, and third century that God (or gods) had created the world using preexisting material. The Christians resolutely rejected this however, arguing instead that that God had created the world from nothing. When asked to provide evidence that God had created the world from nothing, the Christians simply referred to the first chapter of Genesis.
This dogmatic appeal outraged their critics. So much so that Pliny, a Roman governor, had the Christians quietly put to death for fear of what he believed their dogmatism might mean for the trade unions and for the Roman peace.
Even more than the doctrine of creation stood the Christian’s attitude toward death and resurrection. Celsus found himself so infuriated by their dogmatic appeals on this subject that he wrote:
“What sort of body, after being entirely corrupted, could return to its original nature and that same condition which it had before it was dissolved? As they (the Christians) have nothing to say in reply, they escape to a most outrageous refuge by saying that ‘anything is possible to God.’”
As for the Christians themselves, they encouraged the dogmatism. The early Christian writer, Hippolytus, for example, addressing a sect that followed the critic Galen, wrote in his book, “The Little Labyrinth”:
“Instead of asking what Holy Scripture says, they stain every nerve to find a form of syllogism to bolster up their impiety (atheism). If anyone challenges them with a text from divine Scripture, they examine it to see whether it can be turned into a conjunctive or disjunctive form of syllogism. They put aside the holy scriptures of God, and devote themselves to geometry, since they are from the earth and speak from the earth, and do not know the one who comes from above.”
Oxford professor J. N. D. Kelly echoes Wilken’s examination in his book, “Early Christian Doctrines.” Kelly gives further testimony from early Christians like Clement of Alexandria, Athanasius, Cyril of Jerusalem, and John Chrysostom, to name just a few.
From the start, gospel believers were always Scripturally dogmatic. It is a far different matter in most churches today. The modern Christian today, for instance, insists that truth can be known apart from Scripture. He insists that some knowledge of God transcends the propositional knowledge of Scripture. Or to put it in the modern jargon of American Churchianity, he insists that people can “know about God in their head, but not know Him in their heart.”
The Modern Christian
Celsus fell silent long ago, but the critics haven’t. Alongside Celsus today stands the modern Christian. The modern Christian presupposes that knowledge exists in forms other than propositional, and that truth can sometimes be known apart from Scripture. The modern Christian no longer thinks, but rather feels. He no longer analyzes, but rather intuits. He no longer studies the Scriptures systematically, but rather waits upon the Lord for a word. In short, the modern Christian has exchanged the systematic and intellectual foundation of Scriptural dogmatism for the anti-intellectual, self-refuting romanticism of emotionalism. Why? How did we go from the strict scriptural dogmatism of the first three centuries to this sappy, anti-intellectual, anti-scriptural emotionalism that we are forced to deal with today? What happened?
A lot happened. Constantine happened. The pope happened. War, plague, and the Vikings happened. Of course, ten centuries of rabid anti-intellectualism didn’t help matters either. Most importantly, however, existentialism happened.
Nietzsche, Nihilism, and the Foundation of Existentialism
“Vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher,
“Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.”
– Ecclesiastes 1:2
Nietzsche had declared God dead. What he meant, among other things, was that there was no point in people believing in God anymore. God had outlived His usefulness, in other words. What Nietzsche had done was take Materialism to its fullest and most logical conclusion. If matter is eternal and matter is all there is, then all the matter in the universe is pointless and without meaning.
Nietzsche had concluded that if nature is all there is, then nature and everything a part of her is a meaningless, pointless machine. Since humans just were, they were just machines. Nothing we do matters, argued Nietzsche. Nothing we do is good, ugly, beautiful or bad. Everything just is. Machines just are. We just are and there is no point to why we just are.
Stuck with such a bleak outlook to life (Nietzsche died insane, driven mad by his own conclusions), philosophers began struggling to transcend Nihilism. Enter existentialism.
Existentialists began to argue that there are at least two kinds of knowledge – personal and impersonal, or objective and subjective. Impersonal knowledge, said the existentialist, is the knowledge of propositions. A proposition is a statement (verbal, written or contemplated) that is either true or false. 2 + 2 = 4, birds fly, grass is green. This knowledge, said the existentialists, is pointless, it has no personal value. So what that the grass is green? So what that birds fly? What does that mean for me?
For the existentialist, propositional knowledge is as meaningless as Nietzsche’s machine. It is without value for the individual UNTIL the individual chooses to give it value by giving it personal meaning (hence, personal knowledge).
Western churches, plundered by false doctrine, slipped as easily into existentialism as one might slip a hand into a glove. The Existential Theist began to view orthodoxy and doctrine as pointless. Confessional Christianity became to the existential theist as meaningless as Nietzsche’s machine.
“What I really need is to become clear in my own mind what I must do, not what I must know – except in so far as a knowing must precede every action. The important thing is to understand what I am destined for, to perceive what the Deity wants me to do, the point is to find the truth for me, to find that idea for which I am ready to live and die. What good would it do me to discover a so-called objective truth, though I were to work my way through the systems of the philosophers and were able, if need be, to pass them in review?”
– Soren Kierkegaard, A Short Life of Kierkegaard, pg 82
What good would it do me to discover objective truth, asks Kierkegaard. And in the question we catch the echo of Nietzsche’s plight; God is dead and no one cares, if there is a hell I’ll see you there. Grass is green, birds fly, trees have branches, Christ died to redeem His people from their sins. So what? That’s all just dead orthodoxy if it doesn’t mean anything for me.
We might ask the existential theist what it means for him to hear the news that it is true that Christ satisfied God’s wrath on behalf of His elect? The existentialist might answer, it means nothing until I first give it meaning.
For the existential theist, doctrine has no value UNTIL the individual chooses to give it value by giving it personal meaning. What does this mean? It means that for the existential theist, sin has no value while it is understood to mean violating God’s law. Sin only has meaning once it understood to mean the betraying of a relationship with God.
For the existential theist, repentance is no longer admitting guilt, but rather sorrowing over the act of committing a personal betrayal. Forgiveness is no longer cancelling a penalty, but rather renewing a fellowship. Faith is no longer agreeing with a set of propositions, but rather committing oneself to a person. And the gospel is no longer the news that Christ has accomplished the redemption of His people by dying for His people on a cross, but rather the announcement that Christ has died for you.
The Self-Refuting Center of Theistic Existentialism
Recall that I said a proposition is a verbal, written, or contemplated statement that is either true or false. The Bible is a book of propositions. Some of its propositions state that the Bible is the only source and judge of truth.
If some knowledge is non-propositional, as the existentialist claims, then how would the Bible judge something known this way as either true or false? It couldn’t, because only a proposition is a statement that is either true or false. Knowledge that cannot be stated as either true or false cannot be stated as either true or false. And therein lies the self-refuting irrationality at the core of existentialism.
The existentialist attempts to lay claim to something he says is true, but cannot say is true, because it cannot be stated as truth. If that doesn’t sound like a dog chasing its tail, then I don’t know what does.
In contrast to this insanity is the real truth. The real truth is that all knowledge is propositional, for all truth is propositional.
The existentialist rejects the truth that all knowledge is propositional though, because he does not like where it leads.
Since all knowledge is propositional because all truth is propositional, then it stands to reason that faith is nothing more than intellectual agreement with a system of propositions. This throws the existential theist into fits, because he finds himself trapped once more by the emptiness of his Nihilism. After all, if cold, unfeeling intellectual agreement with an impersonal system of propositions is the foundation and definition of a transformed life, then what’s the point? Where’s the meaning? Where’s the significance? The Christian life has become for the existential theist nothing more than God sovereignly ordaining machines to agree with facts about Him. Might as well paraphrase Kierkegaard at that point and ask, what good would it do me to discover God?
The existential theist wants more. He wants to feel significant, because he secretly suspects that God really is sovereign and that everything the individual does he does just as God has ordained him to do. The existentialist cannot stand for this, because the serpent promised him that he could be as God, and by gum he intends to be just that.
Life does have significance and meaning, but only when it’s taken up into the fact that God has created it all for His glory.
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through him and for him. – Colossians 1:15-16
Propositional truth has significance, because it glorifies Him. Doctrine has significance, because it glorifies Him. Orthodoxy and biblical confessions have significance, because they glorify Him. Birds fly because flying birds glorify Him. Grass is green because green grass glorifies Him. Agreeing with Him that these things are true glorifies Him, because He has said He is trustworthy and He has said these things are true.
If His glory is not the point though, if instead my glory is the point, then nothing that serves to glorify Him matters until it first glorifies me. Hath God said you shall not eat of any of the trees in the garden, asked the serpent. And the existentialist nods; God lies, for He knows that in the day you eat of it you shall be like Him, knowing good and evil.
Filed under: Uncategorized
To whom it may concern,
You ask, was the death on the cross merely imputed to the Lord Jesus, or did he really die? Did God the Father really forsake Him or was that only by imputation as well? Was justice really served, or just imputed?
In answer, I say that King David’s experience is intertwined within Psalm 40, and that Christ is also spoken of in Psalm 40 as He is in all the Scriptures. “They are they which testify of Me” (Jhn 5:39)
If one is saying of Christ, in so few words, that He is “made sin in the absolute”, then he is a very foolish person in my opinion, and has not learned Christ aright. If the one telling it, as some do tell it, that Christ had His own sin, meaning that He in Himself is defined as the merit of lawlessness, aka unrighteousness, aka that He is personally a sinner, inherently and in Himself defiled, then one has a Christ who is “disqualified” to be a suitable substitute and surety for His people’s sins. In another word, He is no longer the sinless spotless Lamb of God who alone is the satisfaction of God’s law and justice.
Merely Imputed? The reality of imputation (being charged with sin) is real. Sinners without Christ will one day discover how real it is. Christ knew its reality, having felt the guilt, shame and reproach for those whom He loved unto death. He died not for Himself, but for His people who the Father had given Him. The work started in righteousness and finished in righteousness, which is to say, Christ was the lamb crucified from the foundation of the world. (Rev 13:8)
To further answer your questions, Jesus died for sin, not in sin. The Father forsook Him for the elect’s sake, not for His own sake. He was by all account esteemed stricken by God, smitten and afflicted, yet His wounding was for our transgressions, not for His; and He was crushed for our iniquities , not for His.
As Adam’s sin was charged to all, so Christ was charged with all the sins of His people whom He had chosen for salvation from before the foundation of the world. To go any further would require us to redefine sin, righteousness, God, Christ, even the work of the Holy Spirit, in such a way as the Scriptures do not. I hope this answer finds you well.
Sincerely, for the elect’s sake, Christ and Him crucified,
Filed under: Uncategorized
by David Bishop
Had he cared to, King Saul might have tried counting an experience with God as righteousness.
1 Samuel 19:22-24 Then he himself went to Ramah and came to the great well that is in Secu. And he asked, “Where are Samuel and David?” And one said, “Behold, they are at Naioth in Ramah.” And he went there to Naioth in Ramah. And the Spirit of God came upon him also, and as he went he prophesied until he came to Naioth in Ramah. And he too stripped off his clothes, and he too prophesied before Samuel and lay naked all that day and all that night. Thus it is said, “Is Saul also among the prophets?”
King Saul had a real encounter with God. The Spirit of God actually came upon him. He prophesied. He prophesied a full day and night. And yet this same man who had a real encounter with God, this same man upon whom the Spirit of God came, did not have a righteous status before God, was not regenerate, was not one of God’s elect. Worse still, he had actually been on the hunt to murder one of God’s elect at the very moment the Spirit of God came upon him! Had he fellowshipped with some of the people I used to fellowship with, he might have counted himself blessed by God as evidenced by this “power encounter”.
I’m not concerned at the moment with the question of how this could happen. I would rather address the fact that it continues to happen today.
I continue to meet people who insist that either they or someone they know will be saved because of an encounter they or someone they know had with God. They sensed His presence or they were convicted of sin in their life, they felt a sudden closeness to God or found themselves acknowledging their need for Christ; something always along those lines. When asked how they can be so sure they will be saved, they will usually launch into some tale that concludes with the story of their experience.
“I drank a case of beer every day for twenty years, my wife left me, my dog left me, I lost everything and everyone I ever cared about. And then one day I went to church and I heard the preacher say this and that and the other, and suddenly it was like I just felt warm all over, and it was like I was hearing God say, ‘I love you, Jesse, just the way you are’. Lemme tell you, I ain’t never had a drop to drink since then. Ain’t had no need for it. You ask me how I know I’m gonna be saved? Lemme tell you, brother, I know for a fact God loves me.”
Had he cared to, King Saul might have said the same thing. He could, after all, have pointed to a specific date and time when the Spirit of God came upon him and caused him to prophesy. How do you know you’ll be saved, Saul? Well lemme tell you, brother, it started when the Spirit of God came upon, see.
People who live by their experience do not believe, not for one second, that Christ’s death is the only work that God will accept as the righteousness. I know, because I used to fellowship with people like this back when I was still lost and abiding under God’s wrath. I used to stand with them out in front of the Wal-Marts on Kemper Road in Tri-County giving away free hot chocolate and Snickers bars “to show God’s love in a practical way.” I used to stand with them at certain busy intersections in downtown Cincinnati, readying myself to scurry out with them into traffic when the traffic light turned red so that I could help give away free cans of Coke and diet Coke to thirsty motorists. I used to go with them door to door, giving away free groceries and prayer. In some of these instances, even I myself experienced mighty works, moments of the miraculous, an instance where I prayed for someone to be healed and they were indeed healed right there in front of my eyes. And yet it was all self righteousness. It was all an experience that I counted as my righteousness. All of these moments of “showing God’s love in a practical way” were nothing more than attempts to establish an experience that I could then count as my righteousness.
People who live by their experience do not believe that Christ’s death is the only work that God will accept as the righteousness. And the immediate reason they don’t believe this is because they believe instead that God has worked inside of them to produce something that God will accept as the righteousness in the place of Christ’s death alone.
People like this will confess to need Christ’s death, but what they mean by this is that God needed to start with Christ’s death only in order to get the ball rolling so that He could produce a righteousness in them that is more than Christ’s death alone. They believe the righteousness in them that God produced was their experience of showing God’s love in a practical way, or their experience of giving up a particular sin, or even just a feeling of closeness to God. This is why the Calvinist and Reformed persuasion of these people will confess to believe Arminians are brothers, because although the Arminian may have his doctrine all screwed up, he nevertheless has had “the experience” that they believe is the proof that God has worked in them to produce a righteousness that is more than Christ’s death alone.
Speaking of these people, the apostle Paul writes in the third chapter of his epistle to the Philippians, “they walk as enemies of the cross of Christ, their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.” (Phil 3:18-19)
They glory in their shame. That shame, as Paul shows a little earlier in the same chapter, is their flesh. Their attempts to convert their behavior or their feelings or their experience into a work that God will accept as the righteousness, in other words. They glory in their attempt to convert their works into a righteousness that God will accept as the grounds for their justification. Rather than standing ashamed of these attempts, rather than taking sides against them, they boast in them instead. They take great pride in them. They judge lost and found by them. It would be like King Saul taking pride in the fact he had prophesied. How do you know you’re going to be saved, Saul? Glory be, hallelujah, lemme tell you, I know I’ll be saved because I prophesied.
Matthew 7 contains a stern warning for these people. Not everyone who says to me Lord, Lord will enter into the kingdom of heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, Lord, Lord, did we not do many mighty works in Your name? Did we not prophesy in Your name? Did we not cast out demons in Your name?
To this we might add a whole litany of attempts to make the work of human hands the grounds for justification. Lord, Lord, did we not stop drinking? Did we not stop smoking? Did we not stop cussing? Lord, Lord, did we not memorize our confessions? Did we not work to prove we have the right epistemology and the right foundation for understanding Your word? Did we not study our Gordon Clark? Lord, Lord, did we not feel Your presence? Did we not sense Your love for us? Did we not go up to the altar and repeat the sinner’s prayer? Lord, Lord, did we not do this and did we not do that? Did we not do everything humanly possible to convert our behavior and our feelings and our thoughts into a work that You would accept as the grounds for our justification? Lord, Lord, did we not spend all day and all night prophesying after Your Spirit came upon us?
Matthew 7:21-23 And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness.”
The only ground for justification is Christ’s death. God will accept nothing else. Absolutely, positively nothing else, no matter how sincere the effort. If you are one of those people who has not taken sides against yourself in this matter, then I tell you now that God commands you to repent and believe the gospel.
Filed under: Roman Catholicism
by David Bishop
A blurb from the Bishop of Lincoln on the back cover of Scott and Kimberly Hahn’s book, “Rome Sweet Rome: Our Journey to Catholicism”, reads in part as follows: “The story of the Hahns’ journey of faith into the Catholic Church is the story of sincerity, integrity, and profound human interest.” It certainly is that. It is in every sense of the word the story of a couple who sincerely worship in the flesh and place full confidence in their humanism. In fact, Kimberly Hahn reports very early on in her book:
“I heard the gospel in a way that convicted my heart: God loved me and had a desire for me to live with and for Him, but my own sins separated me from Him and those sins had to be forgiven for me to be close to God. That was why Jesus had come. I had to acknowledge my own need. I had to ask specifically for forgiveness for those sins – saying, ‘Jesus, be my Savior.’ And I had to say to Him, ‘I want you on the throne of my life – Jesus, be my Lord.’ No longer held by the hand of my parents, I needed to be grasped firmly by the hand of my heavenly Father.” (Rome Sweet Rome, pg 9) (more…)
Filed under: Tolerant Calvinism
by Mark Mcculley
The same gospel preached in an “evangelical” church will most likely be preached in a Deformed Church. That same gospel is, Jesus died for the elect alone, or Jesus died for nobody personally except to make an offer to everybody.
(What’s the difference? In a Deformed church, you probably didn’t hear much about election, which sounds so private and all about you. Instead, you probably heard more about “the covenant” and the need to stay in the covenant by attending to the ordinary means of staying in after your birth automatically put you in it (God’s choice not yours). It is the same basic gospel either way; a general atonement which then depends on faith.)
In the “evangelical” church you will hear how “faith is a condition”, while in the deformed church you will hear that regeneration is before faith.
(maybe you were regenerate when you were born or baptized?) (more…)
Let’s read some Scripture:
8 “And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people.
9 But some men from what was called the Synagogue of the Freedmen, including both Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and some from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and argued with Stephen.
10 But they were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking.
11 Then they secretly induced men to say, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.”
12 And they stirred up the people, the elders and the scribes, and they came up to him and dragged him away and brought him before the Council.
13 They put forward false witnesses who said, “This man incessantly speaks against this holy place and the Law;
14 for we have heard him say that this Nazarene, Jesus, will destroy this place and alter the customs which Moses handed down to us.”
15 And fixing their gaze on him, all who were sitting in the Council saw his face like the face of an angel. (more…)
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.” – Matthew 23:37 (more…)