Daily Archives: March 3, 2009

10 Things Your Minister Can’t Tell You

Reverend Oliver “Buzz” Thomas has written an engaging but extremely light book entitled 10 Things Your Minister Wants to Tell You (But Can’t Because He Needs the Job). In the book, Rev. Thomas asks 10 questions but supplies no real answers. Which just goes to prove that liberal Christianity has no answers for the tough questions of today.

Liberal Christianity doesn’t start from the premise that the Bible is the Word of God, as I’ve discussed in my review of John Shelby Spong’s book, The Sins of Scripture. In his section on the Bible, for example, Rev. Thomas dismisses that the Bible is the Word of God based on numerous perceived contradictions and errors in the Bible. Any skeptic would be proud to see that his usual objections top Thomas’s list: valuing pi at 3, Genesis and Acts confusing the detials of Abraham’s departure from home, the gospel of John standing alone as having Jesus’ death occuring on the day of Passover, contradictions in the Resurrection accounts, and whether God or Satan inspired the first census of Israel.

Thomas is on dangerous ground. He, like other liberals, claims that the Bible is neither inerrant nor inspired, but maintains that the book is still authoritative. The problem with this position is: which parts are authoritative, and which parts can we safely ignore? The answer is obvious: whichever parts don’t fit with Thomas’s theology can be ignored. This is a recurring theme throughout the book, and is punctuated in the chapter on homosexuality.

Not surprisingly, Thomas concludes that homosexuality is not sinful. He does so by appealing to the now-famous “Open Letter to Dr. Laura.” The intent is emotional rather than logical and presents no biblically-based arguement in favor of homosexuality. That is because there  is none possible.

Also not surprisingly, Thomas concludes that Christianity isn’t the only pathway to God. He casts doubt on John 14:6, and emphasizes that the message of the gospel is that we are saved by grace through faith. Good, but he begs the question: faith in what? Faith must have an object, and in Christianity Christ is the object of our faith.

Thomas is correct that Christianity wasn’t intended as a coerced religion. It only became so after Constantine. Authentic Christianity is choice: faith in Christ is the only way to please God, and from this faith flows love of God and love of neighbors. So you choose to deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Jesus, or you choose to isolate yourself from your Creator. God has offered us no other path to him; but man-made religions offer pleanty of ways to attempt to please God through works. No, you don’t need to be a Christian to love God and love your neighbors, but as C. Michael Patton points out here, right doctrine pleases God. This concept seems lost on the liberals, who are more focused than ever on doing something to please God, when all God asks for is simple faith.

He Made Me a Believer Again!

C. Michael Patton is a writer I can’t recommend enough. His excellent Parchment and Pen blog had an especially great offering today. I started by disagreeing with the premise, but by the end, he had me believing his thesis wholeheartedly.

I think that good works are often neglected in the course of our salvation. I believe that good works are not only important, but a necessary part of salvation. I believe this next to writers like J.P. Holding, who attempt to view the Bible through the lens of first century Judaism. Holding writes that believers are saved not just through faith, not just through works, but through the Semitic totality concept of both faith and works cooperating with one another. This is the camp I sit in.

Please understand one very important thing: I am not saying that good works are the way that one is saved. I’m saying that good works are related in a very special way to the salvation of the worker. Good works flow from one’s salvation naturally. Holding says:

Applied to the role of works following faith, this means that there can be no decision without corresponding action, for the total person will inevitably reflect a choice that is made. Thought and action are so linked under the Semitic Totality paradigm that Clark warns us [An Approach to the Theology of the Sacraments, 10]:

The Hebraic view of man as an animated body and its refusal to make any clear-cut division into soul and body militates against the making of so radical a distinction between material and spiritual, ceremonial and ethical effects.

Thus, what we would consider separate actions of conversion, confession, and obedience in the form of works would be considered by the Hebrews to be an act in totality. “Both the act and the meaning of the act mattered — the two formed for the first Christians an indivisible unity.” [Flemington, New Testament Doctrine of Baptism, 111]

Put another way: You can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs. If you are a committed Christian, your life and attitudes are going to show that. If you aren’t, then your life and attitudes will show that. The work of the Spirit will manifest in the true believer.

But Patton forgoes all the discussion about works and instead says that right knowledge and right doctrine are pleasing to God in and of themselves. It seems to Patton, God wants first to be understood.

And that makes sense. We’ll never fully understand God, but we can endeavor to know him personally through Jesus Christ. And in the end, that is what will truly matter. As the prophet Jeremiah said:

Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD. (Jer 9:23-24)

Although I agree with Patton in principle, in practice we would do well to heed one of his commenters:

An article like this one may be entirely correct, but it provides “theological cover” for those who are looking for yet another reason to spend nearly all of their institutional resources (money and time) on “faith” and almost none on “love”. (Yes, those should not be separable, but they often are.)

The fact is, it ought not to be possible to believe correctly about (let’s say) prayer, and not actually pray. But it is very much possible. It’s possible to devote enormous resources to learning the theory and theology of prayer, and not actually do it much.

Heed the Lord’s brother James: Faith without works is dead (Jms 2:17, 26). While Patton’s post is correct, and knowing God is the ultimate goal of faith, faith without works creates some serious problems. To the first century Jew, as noted above, faith and works were a total and unified concept. However, today they are clearly not. As the commenter points out, it is possible to develop a strong belief in something without actually practicing it. This is the error that James’s epistle was addressing in part in the first place.

So don’t just say that you love Jesus. Get out there and demonstrate that love. Don’t just study the Word; apply what you know to your life. If you need help, follow the Discipleship 101 link on the left side of the page and start to work through that Bible study.