Call To Die

Then [Jesus] said to them all, "If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it. (Luke 9:23-24, HCSB)

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Follower of Christ, husband of Abby, member of Kosmosdale Baptist Church, and tutor/staff member at Sayers Classical Academy.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

That ‘Limited Atonement’ is a Biblical Doctrine Rather Than a Philosophical Conclusion

[The following post is lightly adapted from a blogpost originally published on 11/28/05.]

Limited Atonement is a philosophical not a Biblical point. If one is JUST GOING BY THE TEXT, then it is clear Jesus died for the sins of the world.

I believe in Substitutionary Atonement and am a bit offended that one would suggest my SCRIPTURAL / NON PHILOSOPHICAL position makes "a mockery". I preach II Corinthians 5:17-21 w/ passion.


The above quote was provided to me by my dad in an email correspondence that we were having concerning the doctrine of ‘limited atonement.’ Apparently, Dad let a Baptist minister friend of his read an email that I sent to him on this subject and the outcome was the statements that you read at the top of this post. I have no knowledge of the identity of this anonymous Baptist minister, and so the following observations are unencumbered by personalities, but are rather an examination of the meaning of the assertions shown above. It is my desire to examine this quote in the light of Scripture to the best of the ability that God has given me and to publish my beliefs on this issue for the edification of anyone who reads these words as well as for my own edification, that I might be open to reproof if I have indeed erred in my reading of God’s Word.

‘Limited Atonement:’ A Brief Definition

‘Limited Atonement’ is the teaching that addresses the question, “What was God’s design in sending Christ to the Cross?”

The ‘unlimited atonement’ or ‘general redemption’ answer to this question would assert that God sent His Son to the Cross to die under His just wrath as the payment for each and every sin (save, perhaps, the ‘sin of unbelief’) of each and every individual sinner who has ever lived or will ever live.

The ‘limited atonement’ or ‘particular redemption’ answer to the above question would assert that God sent His Son to the Cross to die under His just wrath as the payment for each and every sin of only the elect: those whom God has chosen from eternity to be the recipients of His mercy (cf. Romans 9:6-18).

The entire point of this post will be to challenge the first sentence in the quote at the head of this post- that “Limited Atonement is a philosophical not a Biblical point”- in order to do this, I will examine each of the other sentences of this quote sequentially.

“If one is JUST GOING BY THE TEXT, then it is clear Jesus died for the sins of the world.”

This statement is based upon passages such as John 1:29, “The next day [John the Baptist] saw Jesus coming to him and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (NASB) and I John 2:2, “He’s the propitiation for our sins and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (ESV). The question here that must be answered concerns what John means by the word “world” in these passages. For it is obvious that John uses the word “world” to mean different things in different passages. If you doubt this, I invite you to look at I John 2:15 and compare it with John 3:16.

I John 2:15 reads: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (ESV), and John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”(KJV) In the first of these verses, believers are commanded to NOT love the world with the warning that love for the world proves an absence from our lives of the Father’s love. In the second verse, God’s giving of His Son is said to be based on His love for the world. Under close inspection of these verses in their contexts, it is obvious that I John 2:15 is speaking of a system of thought that is prevalent throughout the sinful people of the world, which system is against God, whereas John 3:16 is speaking about the people themselves.

Now many would have us to understand the word “world” in verses such as John 1:29, John 3:16, and I John 2:2 to indicate every individual person in the world. But this idea ignores certain contextual elements that are crucial to understanding John’s soteriology- his teaching about spiritual salvation. For John is writing primarily to a Jewish audience who had been expecting a Messiah to save them from the Gentile oppressors and establish His mighty kingdom on earth based in Jerusalem. So one of John’s inspired goals in his Gospel account and his epistles was to help his readers understand that Jesus Christ is the Savior not only of the Jews, but of the Gentiles too: people all over the world. And so John records passages such as the following:

But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.  He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. (John 11:49-52 ESV)

And they sang a new song, saying: "You are worthy to take the scroll, And to open its seals; For You were slain, And have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, (Revelation 5:9 NKJV)

In the John 11 passage quoted above, a major point is that Jesus was not only going to die for national Israel, but He would also by His death gather in people from all over the world. Similarly, the Revelation 5 passage speaks of people from all over the world: from “every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” But it is clear (in this last passage especially) that Christ’s redemption was particular; He redeemed (or made payment for) “us”- the elect; those who would come to believe in Jesus- who were chosen “out of” the general population of all the people in the world. With this understanding we come to realize that the word “world” in passages such as John 1:29, John 3:16, and I John 2:2 is given to indicate what Revelation 5:9 plainly declares: people “out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation” and not just the Jews. It is a stretch of the Biblical use of the term to claim that the word “world” indicates every individual person ever to live.

"I believe in Substitutionary Atonement and am a bit offended that one would suggest my SCRIPTURAL / NON PHILOSOPHICAL position makes 'a mockery'."

The doctrine of ‘Substitutionary Atonement’ mentioned above is the Biblical teaching that Jesus died as a substitute for sinners. That is, whereas we deserved God’s judgment of death and Hell for rebelling against Him and breaking His Law, Jesus died in our place, making payment for our sins on the Cross.

The above statement in bold print is given in response to something that I wrote to the affect of, “The ‘general redemption’ position makes a mockery of the doctrine of Substitutionary Atonement.” Upon review, I should have chosen my words more carefully. The word “mockery” would seem to indicate a willful ridicule of that which is mocked. No evangelical that I know personally who holds to either the limited or the unlimited atonement view would actually wish to ridicule the doctrine of Substitutionary Atonement. What I should have said is, “The ‘general redemption’ position makes nonsense out of the doctrine of Substitutionary Atonement;” (though the Baptist minister who wrote the statements quoted at the beginning of the post would certainly disagree with this assertion, I stand by it for the reasons mentioned below).

Just think about what the word “substitute” means: “someone that takes the place of another,” right? If I, as a teacher, have a substitute for my class, then that means that I am not doing the work of teaching for that day. The substitute does the work for me. There is no situation in which I would first call for a substitute and then I would also show up and we would both do the exact same work (unless the substitute was grossly incompetent and failed to teach the assigned lesson so that I had to repeat his or her lesson the next day).

In a similar way, if Christ has been the effective substitute for an individual in providing payment for their sins, then the individual sinner for whom our Lord had provided payment would not then be able to pay for his or her own sins. Therefore, if someone believes that Jesus was a substitute for each and every individual sinner, then he or she would have to conclude that each and every individual sinner will escape God’s wrath. And as the Bible is clear in teaching that there will be sinners who suffer the wrath of God against there sins (cf. Revelation 20:15), then the belief that Jesus was not a substitute for each and every person- that the intended benefit of His atonement is limited- inevitably follows.

As Phil Johnson, an elder at Grace Community Church, has noted,

If the atoning work of Christ is substitutionary it must be limited to those whom Christ actually redeems. The substitutionary aspects of it dictate that. In other words when you understand that the atonement is substitutionary you must see that in a certain way it applies to particular people. That is the inevitable ramification of vicarious atonement. I’m not sure why this doctrine of the extent of the atonement is such a controversial doctrine. It’s a point that certainly doesn’t warrant all the debate and bickering that it generates. In fact I’m sure that if people truly appreciated the substitutionary nature of the atonement they would not stumble so badly over the particularity of the atonement. It’s a simple matter really.

Here’s another way to say it. The aspects of the atonement that are substitutionary are inherently efficacious. The very reason I don’t have to fear condemnation in the final judgment is that Christ has already paid the price of my sin in full as my Substitute. And if He substituted effectually in that same sense for everyone then everyone would be saved. The atonement of Christ did not just make salvation possible. It actually purchased redemption for those who will be saved. And His dying on the cross made their ultimate salvation an absolute certainty, a done deal, because He paid the price of their redemption in full. He actually bought them. Paid their debt. Wiped it off the ledger. Sealed their pardon. Assured their eternal salvation. He didn’t merely put them in a position where salvation was possible if they made the right choice, He accomplished their salvation. He even graciously provides the faith that is the instrument by which the atonement is applied to them. He stood in their place and bore their sins. They’ll never have to pay a second time for what has been paid in full.

And Charles Spurgeon also declared,

To think that my Saviour died for men who were or are in hell, seems a supposition too horrible for me to entertain. To imagine for a moment that He was the Substitute for all the sons of men, and that God, having first punished the Substitute, afterwards punished the sinners themselves, seems to conflict with all my ideas of Divine justice. That Christ should offer an atonement and satisfaction for the sins of all men, and that afterwards some of those very men should be punished for the sins for which Christ had already atoned, appears to me to be the most monstrous iniquity that could ever have been imputed to Saturn, to Janus, to the goddess of the Thugs, or to the most diabolical heathen deities. God forbid that we should ever think thus of Jehovah, the just and wise and good!

And lest this teaching be called philosophical rather than biblical, consider the following phrase from Hebrews:

Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. (Hebrews 9:28a, emphasis added)

Verses such as this limit the extent of the atonement and show that the verses containing phrases like “[Jesus] takes away the sin of the world” must be understood in the sense that I have explained above.

"I preach II Corinthians 5:17-21 w/ passion."

This sentence is in reference to a statement I made asserting that the doctrine of double imputation, found particularly in II Corinthians 5:21, is supportive of the ‘limited atonement’ view.

The doctrine of ‘double imputation’ is a name given to the teaching in the verse just mentioned:

For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.(KJV)

This verse (and many others like it) teaches that our sins were credited- or imputed- to Christ as He died on the Cross, and that His righteousness was imputed to us as He rose from the dead. As the Apostle elsewhere declares:

[Jesus] was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.(Romans 4:25 HCSB)

My point in raising the issue of double imputation is that both aspects of imputation are wedded together in the text. The New Testament knows of no ‘single imputation.’ The ‘unlimited atonement’ or ‘general redemption’ teaching would assert that each and every individual who has ever lived or will ever live has had his or her sins imputed to Jesus as He died on the Cross. But due to the fact that imputation is double, then the conclusion, from this perspective, would have to be that each and every individual who has ever lived or will ever live has also had the righteousness of Christ imputed to his or her account before God. Again, this conclusion is plainly contrary to Scripture.


The exact phrase “Jesus is God” is never found in the Bible. There are some instances like John 1:1 in which the text uses phrases almost identical to those three words, but the exact manner in which the Son is identical to the Father and in which the Son is also distinct from the Father is not easy to discern from a casual reading of the New Testament. Doubters can always point to the supposed difficulty of translating John 1:1 and can raise the issue of verses such as John 14:28, which contains Jesus’ statement, “My Father is greater than I”- or the fact that Jesus prayed to the Father- in order to question the belief that Jesus is Divine.

Likewise, the word “Trinity” is nowhere to be found in the Bible and many people bring similar objections to this doctrine as well.

My point in bringing up the Divinity of Jesus and the doctrine of the Trinity is that these doctrines are truly biblical- and not merely philosophical- although the exact phrase “Jesus is God” and the word “Trinity” are never found in the New Testament. We know that these teachings are biblical because when we look at the Scriptures as a whole we find that any alternative views of the person of Christ and relationship of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are fatally defective. These views are defective for many reasons, some of which are:

1. They fail to take clearly taught doctrines into account [such as the unity of God and that God alone is Lord and Savior];

2. They do violence to the plain meaning of the sense of the words used in these doctrines [if God alone is Lord and Savior and Jesus is declared to be Lord and Savior, then it is erroneous to try and change the meaning of these words with each usage];

3. They overlook the implications of specific verses when examining the question at hand [verses like John 1:1 and Colossians 1:15, just to name two].

In the same way, the doctrine of ‘limited atonement’ is shown to be biblical and not merely philosophical, even though we must look for more than one phrase or one verse to see this doctrine in full. We know that this teaching is biblical because when we look at the Scriptures as a whole we find that the alternative view on the extent of the atonement is defective. This view- ‘unlimited atonement’- is defective from a Biblical standpoint because:

1. It fails to take clearly taught doctrines into account, such as the Substitutionary Atonement and Double Imputation.

2. It does violence to the plain meaning of the sense of the words used in these doctrines. If the atonement is truly substitutionary and imputation is truly double, then the atonement must be limited to the elect.

3. It overlooks the implications of specific verses when examining the question at hand- verses such as Hebrews 9:28, mentioned above, and also Isaiah 53:5-

But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed

In this verse, the Messiah is shown to be pierced, crushed, punished and wounded for our transgressions and iniquities. Who does “our” refer to in this passage? It is clear: “our” refers to “we” who have been brought peace and are healed. The atonement of the Messiah is thus limited to the elect alone from the biblical text itself.

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Monday, August 19, 2013

Works That Validate Living Faith

[The following blogpost was originally published on 5/22/13.]

James, the brother of Jesus, wrote, "Faith alone, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead" (James 2:17).

It is spiritually instructive to examine exactly what kinds of actions, according to James, prove that belief is true. James mentions the following:

Endurance (1:3)

Perseverance (1:12)

Purity of Life (1:21)

Obedience to Scripture (1:22-23)

Compassion for the Needy (1:27)

Impartiality (2:1-9)

Acts of Compassion (2:15)

Control of the Tongue (3:2-12)

Humility (4:6,10)

Truthfulness (4:11)

Patience (5:8)

Prayer and Confession (5:13-18)

Notice how the works mentioned above are fairly well unquantifiable. They are certainly obvious in their absence (in other words, if you cuss someone out, commit perjury, or kick a homeless guy in the shins, you know you are not in line with the list), but it is hard to think that anyone could ever check off one of these items and think, "Well, I'm done with that one: now I know that I have endurance or patience and therefore I have a living faith." Instead the items on the above list indicate a character or lifestyle that is indicative of a faithful person.

[The above list was given to me by my friend Nathan White: I think that he may have gotten in from a John MacArthur resource.]


Saturday, August 17, 2013

Righteous Abraham

By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise; for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; it was he to whom it was said, "IN ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS SHALL BE CALLED." He considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type. (Hebrews 11:8-10; 17-19 NASB)

I love the above passages as they marry both the New Testament accounts from other books that examine the most relevant facts of the life of Abraham in relation to the issue of justification by faith. These accounts are recorded for us in Romans chapter 4 and James 2:21-23.

Romans 4 is written in defense of the doctrine of justification by faith alone, which is proven to be the only way of salvation for the whole world, both Jew and Gentile, by the example of Abraham. Abraham was justified by faith before circumcision, later becoming circumcised out of obedience to God.

James 2 is written in defense of the concept of living faith, proving that a faith that saves is a faith that never fails to result in good works.

In the past, some Christians- even some great thinkers in the Church history- have failed to take the contexts of Romans chapter 4 and James chapter 2 verses 21 through 23 into account and have imagined that these passages contradict one another. But upon careful reading, the Church has come to understand that these passages are guarding against two opposite deviations from the narrow path of the Christian faith. Because it is faith alone that justifies sinners before God, but the faith that justifies never remains alone, but is always accompanied by good works.

In thinking about the biblical view of the relationship between faith and works, I have found the following teaching of R.C. Sproul to be especially helpful:

The difference between Rome and the Reformation can be seen in these simple formulas:
Roman view: Faith+Works = Justification
Protestant [biblical] view: Faith = Justification+Works
Neither view eliminates works. The Protestant view eliminates human merit [so that justification is "by grace through faith"]. It recognizes that though works are the evidence of true faith they add or contribute nothing to the meritorious basis of our redemption. [Quoted by John MacArthur, Faith Works: The Gospel According to the Apostles, 1993. Emphasis added.]

Once again, when examining the biblical texts on these issues, context is key. This is a consideration that will save us a lot of headaches as we read through our Bibles. When we come to a certain Bible passage, we must be very careful to discern the overall intended point of the passage.

[The above blogpost was originally published on 11/26/05.]

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Friday, August 16, 2013

From Righteous Abel to Righteous Zechariah

Then the LORD said to Noah, "Enter the ark, you and all your household, for you {alone} I have seen {to be} righteous before Me in this time. (Genesis 7:1 NASB)

Verses like the one above have inflicted anxiety over many beginning Bible students. How can God declare Noah to be righteous and reward him on the basis of his righteousness? Aren't we all sinners, deserving God's wrath?

But here it must be noted that an absolutely crucial aspect of proper biblical interpretation is the literary genre in which a particular passage is written. When we come to a book of the Bible, we must ask ourselves, ‘what kind of literature is this book intended to be?’ ‘Is it a book of history, wisdom, doctrine, etc?’ Some books have a mixture of these and we must read carefully to understand the transition in literature types.

In Genesis, which records events taking place before the giving of the Law, the literary genre is ‘history’ (as demonstrated by- among other things- the presence of integrated genealogies). God has condescended to give us a book containing the history of the earliest times, written from a human point of view for our understanding. Even small children can be told stories from Genesis and gain a foundation of understanding, which may be added to as they are instructed in the message of personal faith. Children accept the stories of Genesis in a way that is sometimes harder for adults. This can be seen in the example of Genesis 6:6, “And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved Him at His heart” (KJV). A child can be told this verse in the context of the story it is given and simply accept it, while to an adult, this may challenge their entire concept of God- ‘how can God repent?’ ‘How could it have grieved God that He made people?’ ‘Didn’t God know that people were going to sin?’ As mature believers, we must understand that this verse certainly does say something about the heart of God concerning His sorrow over sin, while we also understand that it is conveying history in anthropomorphic language. Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology defines “anthropomorphism” as “assignment of human attributes to non-human things.” And notes, “The use of human terminology to talk about God is necessary when we, in our limitations, wish to express truths about the Deity who by his very nature cannot be described or known.” Passages that are doctrinal in nature should compel us to this conclusion as they affirm “God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should change His mind. Does He speak and then not act? Does He promise and not fulfill?” (Num. 23:19 NIV).

A similar phenomenon is taking place in the above passage.

This account of history from a human perspective is examining the fruit of justification in a similar way as James 2. Noah is said to have been allowed to enter the ark because God found him to be righteous. But this does not mean that he was perfect in and of himself; we can see an example of Noah’s shortcomings in passages such as Genesis 9:18-27, which records a time that Noah got himself drunk.
But this is the answer to the difficulty posed in the above passage and all passages where the Bible speaks of righteous men: That all of those who have been saved by faith have been placed by God “in Christ Jesus,” the only One who has truly fulfilled the Law by His own righteousness (Matthew 5:17). So that when God looks at anyone with true faith, He views us -in Christ- as having kept His requirements, His decrees, His commands, and His laws perfectly, as His holiness demands. As the Bible declares, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1)

And as Bible teacher R.C. Sproul also helps to explain:

Like it or not, God did not save Noah because Noah was good. If He did, then Noah didn't receive grace, he received justice, didn't he? But instead he received grace. And it is true that the Bible frequently speaks of good people- righteous people- and that's- you have to understand, in the context of Scriptures- comparatively speaking. And yet, when push comes to shove [in the doctrinal, rather than historical, passages], they remind you that there's none righteous- no, not one(Romans 3:10)- not Noah, not Abraham, not Paul- no, not one. The only righteousness that Noah had in his account was the righteousness of Christ. Noah was saved the same way you were saved- through the merit of Christ.
[Sproul, R.C. Put On the New Man. Audio recording. St. Andrew’s Chapel, Sanford, FL]

This explanation of Noah's righteousness -that he was considered righteous and his works were considered good only by our righteous Lord covering over his sins- is also consistent with the whole counsel of God's Word, as reflected in the 1689 Baptist Confession:

We cannot, even by our best works, merit either the pardon of sin or the granting of eternal life at the hand of God, for those works are out of all proportion to the glory to come. And furthermore, there is infinite distance between us and God, and no works of ours can yield Him profit or act as payment for the debt of our former sins. Indeed, when we have done all that we can, we have done but our duty and remain unprofitable servants. We are also to remember that, so far as our works are good, they are produced by His Spirit. As far as they are our work they are marred, and mixed with so much weakness and imperfection that they fall utterly to meet the searching requirements of God's standards.

Nevertheless, since believers as to their persons are accepted by God through Christ, their works also are accepted as being wrought in Christ. Not as though they were, during this life, beyond reproach and unreprovable in the sight of God, but that, as He looks upon them in His Son, He is pleased to accept and reward that which is sincere, even though it is accompanied by many weaknesses and imperfections.
(Ps. 143:2; Isa. 64:6; Luke 17:10; Rom. 3:20; 4:6; Gal. 5:22,23; Eph. 2:8,9;
Matt. 25:21,23; Eph. 1:6; Heb. 6:10; 1 Pet. 2:5) ["Good Works" #5-6]

God our Father looks lovingly upon His children, accepts our good yet always imperfect works as righteous and pleasing to Him, and even grants us blessings in accordance with our good works. But our good works and the fact that we are counted as righteous bring glory to God alone, for it is only by God's mercy and grace that we are given spiritual life and enabled to do good works. As Scripture plainly declares:

But God, who is abundant in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, made us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead in trespasses. By grace you are saved! He also raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavens, in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages He might display the immeasurable riches of His grace in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God's gift-- not from works, so that no one can boast. For we are His making, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:4-10 HCSB)

[The above blogpost was originally published on 11/20/05.]

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Thursday, August 15, 2013

SBC, Predestination, 'Free-Will,' and Revival

[The following post is slightly adapted from a blogpost that was originally published on 11/16/05.]

I am very thankful to be a member of a church congregation that is associated with the Southern Baptist Convention. I am thankful for this because the Southern Baptist Convention (both historically and currently) has been devoted to proclaiming that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God. I am thankful that we are associated with the Southern Baptist Convention because the SBC has done much work for the kingdom of God throughout the world through the International Mission Board. And I am thankful because the SBC is the convention of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, the school from which I graduated.

Nevertheless, there are some significant problems that are common to a great number of Southern Baptist churches: problems that have led many within the Southern Baptist Convention to recognize the need for reform. Among these problems is the tendency of many pastors in the SBC to neglect the thorough preaching of certain teachings in the Bible: teachings that are deemed to be too difficult to understand or too controversial within Christian circles. Chief among these neglected teachings of the Bible is the teaching of predestination. Great Bible passages dealing with this teaching, such as Ephesians chapter 1, Romans chapter 9, and the last section of John chapter 6, are either entirely ignored or only touched very lightly in all too many Southern Baptist Churches. This fear of causing controversy over the teaching of predestination is so prevalent that in the responsive reading selection # 603 of the 1975 edition Baptist Hymnal (published by Convention Press, and still used in many SBC congregations) Romans 8:29-30, which speaks of predestination, is systematically skipped over.

As should be expected, the willful neglect of passages that are so rich in teaching from God has led to discernable negative consequences in many areas of Southern Baptist life. In the majority of Southern Baptist churches, the teaching of God's sovereign predestination of individuals to eternal life in Christ has been replaced with 'free-will' philosophy. Teachers of 'free-will' assert that an individual's salvation is ultimately dependent upon their own choice: a choice, according to this philosophy, which is not predetermined by God.

Bible teacher R.C. Sproul (a Presbyterian pastor) explains how Bible students impacted by 'free-will' philosophy are negatively impacted by this teaching:

Any Christian who wants to be biblical knows that they have to have some doctrine of election- some doctrine of predestination- because its on every page. So you gotta deal with it. So then the question is, 'How do you understand election?' And the way that this is usually done is that they say, -"Well, yes God elects people but He elects them on the basis of what they do. And He knows in advance- from all eternity- what they're going to do when they come to certain crossroads. And on the basis of that foreknowledge- or prescience- then He issues His election."But election, then, is rooted and grounded in the work of the individual.
To get this very simple- down and dirty- I say, "OK, are you a Christian?"
"Do you have a family member or friend who's not a Christian?"
"Please tell me why you are a Christian and that other person isn't."
-"Well, I believed and the other person didn't."
And I say, "I understand that, but why did you believe- why did you say 'yes' to the Gospel- when your friend said 'no' to the same Gospel? Is it because you're better than they are?"
And what do they say, a hundred times out of a hundred?
-"No! Of course not!" They know they can't say that.
I say, "Is it because you're smarter?"
"Let me ask it again, when you're neighbor said 'no' to the offer of the Gospel, is God pleased with that?"
"Is that the right decision?"
"Is that the wrong decision?"
"Is that a bad decision."
"Is it a sin to say 'no' to God?"
"Well, you didn't commit that sin, you did the right thing, the good thing, and the virtuous thing. So, in reality, you're telling me that the reason you're a Christian and that your neighbor is not is because you did the right thing, and they did the bad thing. And so, though you protest as loudly as you can, if you really believe what you're telling me, you're trusting in your ultimate salvation in your good behavior. You may say, 'Well I couldn't have done it except for the grace of God!' But its the same grace He gave to your neighbor. In the final analysis, there was some 'island of righteousness' in you that caused you to say 'yes' to that grace where you wicked neighbor said 'no'. You have something of which to boast. Not to mention how Paul not only destroys that position, but wipes off the spot where it stood in Romans 9 when he makes it emphatically clear that it is 'not of him who runs, not of him who wills, but of God who shows mercy'(Romans 9:10)."

[from Sproul, R.C. 
Put on the New Man. Audio recording. St. Andrew’s Chapel, Sanford, FL. October, 2001.]

So the philosophy of 'free-will' subtly influences many Christians with a 'works-righteousness' mentality- a mindset that distorts the truth of Scripture about the utter sinfulness and hatred toward God naturally present in every human heart (Eph 2:1-3) by imagining that there is something that we offer to God for which salvation is received. This thinking is not only found among church members, but among pastors as well. So there are Southern Baptist pastors who proclaim the inerrancy of God's Word and yet go outside the clear teaching of the Word of God to institute man-centered worship styles and programs that were never dreamed of by the apostles in order to try and influence the will of spiritually lost individuals to "accept Jesus." Pastors who are both culturally savvy and full of charisma cause the number of people in their congregations to grow tremendously with these methods, while pastors who lack one or both of these characteristics anguish over what change they must institute in their ministries so that they can lead more people to "choose Christ."

What is needed in the SBC is a wholesale return to the biblical understanding of God-that He is absolutely Sovereign and therefore ordains all that comes to pass so "that nothing happens by chance, but everything befalls us by absolute necessity"-and a biblical understanding of Man: that he is utterly sinful, so that every part of Man after the Fall recorded in Genesis chapter 3 is in bondage to sin and therefore "since the Fall of the first man free choice has been a reality in name only, and... we can of ourselves do nothing but sin." Only when these truths are embraced will there be real humility in the SBC, which is the key to this convention being favored by God, for "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble" (James 4:5b NIV 1984).


Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The New Testament Canon

[The following blogpost was originally published on 11/7/05, soon before The Da Vinci Code film was released.]

How did the New Testament itself as a collection of writings come into being? Who collected the writings, and on what principles? What circumstances led to the fixing of a list, or canon, of authoritative books ? (from "The Canon of the New Testament" in The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? by F. F. Bruce)

It is especially important that followers of Jesus Christ be able to answer the questions posed above at this time, as the upcoming Da Vinci Code movie will soon come to theatres across the land. The Da Vinci Code movie is based on the novel of the same name by Dan Brown. Dan Brown has repeatedly and publicly stated that this novel is based upon what he considers to be historical facts. This novel contains quotes such as the following:

"The Bible is a product of man, my dear. Not of God. The Bible did not fall magically from the clouds. Man created it as a historical record of tumultuous times, and it has evolved through countless translations, additions, and revisions. History has never had a definitive version of the book. (231)

Understandably, His life was recorded by thousands of followers across the land… More than eighty gospels were considered for the New Testament, and yet only a relative few were chosen for inclusion—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John among them.
“Who chose which gospels to include?” Sophie asked.
“Aha!” Teabing burst in with enthusiasm. “The fundamental irony of Christianity! The Bible, as we know it today, was collated by the pagan Roman emperor Constantine the Great.” (231)

[The above quotes from The Da Vinci Code are provided by Alpha and Omega Ministries.]

In response to these claims made by The Da Vinci Code and to questions that many have concerning the New Testament Canon, I would like to make the following assertions:

1. The Bible is a "product" of God, not man.
This is clear (most importantly) from Jesus' teaching on Scripture and also from the recorded teaching of all the prophets and apostles. Now, some may object, "The teaching of Jesus, the apostles, and the prophets mentioned above all refer to the Old Testament, not the New Testament."
But as B.B. Warfield has noted:

The Old Testament books were not the only ones which the apostles (by Christ's own appointment the authoritative founders of the church) imposed upon the infant churches, as their authoritative rule of faith and practice. No more authority dwelt in the prophets of the old covenant than in themselves, the apostles, who had been "made sufficient as ministers of a new covenant"; for (as one of themselves argued) "if that which passeth away was with glory, much more that which remaineth is in glory." Accordingly not only was the gospel they delivered, in their own estimation, itself a divine revelation, but it was also preached "in the Holy Ghost" (I Pet. i. 12); not merely the matter of it, but the very words in which it was clothed were "of the Holy Spirit" (I Cor. ii. 13). Their own commands were, therefore, of divine authority (I Thess. iv. 2), and their writings were the depository of these commands (II Thess. ii. 15). "If any man obeyeth not our word by this epistle," says Paul to one church (II Thess. iii. 14), "note that man, that ye have no company with him." To another he makes it the test of a Spirit-led man to recognize that what he was writing to them was "the commandments of the Lord" (I Cor. xiv. 37). Inevitably, such writings, making so awful a claim on their acceptance, were received by the infant churches as of a quality equal to that of the old "Bible"; placed alongside of its older books as an additional part of the one law of God; and read as such in their meetings for worship -- a practice which moreover was required by the apostles (I Thess. v. 27; Col. iv. 16; Rev. i. 3). In the apprehension, therefore, of the earliest churches, the "Scriptures" were not a closed but an increasing "canon." Such they had been from the beginning, as they gradually grew in number from Moses to Malachi; and such they were to continue as long as there should remain among the churches "men of God who spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost."

2. The Bible, indeed, did NOT "fall magically from the clouds."
Brown provides a gross caricature of the actual Christian position concerning the inspiration of the Bible. As noted above, the Christian faith concerning the authorship of the Bible is that "men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke [and, subsequently, wrote] from God." (II Peter 2:21).

We affirm that inspiration was the work in which God by His Spirit, through human writers, gave us His Word. The origin of Scripture is divine. The mode of divine inspiration remains largely a mystery to us.
We deny that inspiration can be reduced to human insight, or to heightened states of consciousness of any kind. (Article VII)

We affirm that God in His Work of inspiration utilized the distinctive personalities and literary styles of the writers whom He had chosen and prepared.
We deny that God, in causing these writers to use the very words that He chose, overrode their personalities. (Article VIII)

We affirm that inspiration, though not conferring omniscience, guaranteed true and trustworthy utterance on all matters of which the Biblical authors were moved to speak and write.
We deny that the finitude or fallenness of these writers, by necessity or otherwise, introduced distortion or falsehood into God's Word. (Article IX)

4. The Bible that we have possess IS the definitive version of the book.
It is indeed true that there was a time when the Church struggled to comprehend exactly which books were to be accepted as Scripture. But with God's help, this situation was far from insurmountable. As Warfield again has explained:

The Bible was circulated only in handcopies, slowly and painfully made; and an incomplete copy, obtained say at Ephesus in A.D. 68, would be likely to remain for many years the Bible of the church to which it was conveyed; and might indeed become the parent of other copies, incomplete like itself, and thus the means of providing a whole district with incomplete Bibles. Thus, when we inquire after the history of the New Testament Canon we need to distinguish such questions as these: (1) When was the New Testament Canon completed? (2) When did any one church acquire a completed canon? (3) When did the completed canon -- the complete Bible -- obtain universal circulation and acceptance? (4) On what ground and evidence did the churches with incomplete Bibles accept the remaining books when they were made known to them?

The Canon of the New Testament was completed when the last authoritative book was given to any church by the apostles, and that was when John wrote the Apocalypse [that is, Revelation], about A.D. 98 [some argue for an earlier date for the writing of Revelation]. Whether the church of Ephesus, however, had a completed Canon when it received the Apocalypse, or not, would depend on whether there was any epistle, say that of Jude, which had not yet reached it with authenticating proof of its apostolicity. There is room for historical investigation here. Certainly the whole Canon was not universally received by the churches till somewhat later. The Latin church of the second and third centuries did not quite know what to do with the Epistle to the Hebrews. The Syrian churches for some centuries may have lacked the lesser of the Catholic Epistles and Revelation. But from the time of Ireanaeus down, the church at large had the whole Canon as we now possess it. And though a section of the church may not yet have been satisfied of the apostolicity of a certain book or of certain books; and though afterwards doubts may have arisen in sections of the church as to the apostolicity of certain books (as e.g. of Revelation): yet in no case was it more than a respectable minority of the church which was slow in receiving, or which came afterward to doubt, the credentials of any of the books that then as now constituted the Canon of the New Testament accepted by the church at large. [emphasis added]

5. The four gospel accounts have been accepted since the time of the apostles.
Brown's assertion that "[Jesus'] life was recorded by thousands of followers across the land" is simply ridiculous, as James White of Alpha and Omega ministry explains:

We need to realize how utterly outside the realm of any kind of published scholarship this perspective is. Thousands of literate, writing followers of Christ recording His ministry? Where is the historical evidence for this? There is none, of course.

Likewise, there is absolutely no historical evidence for the claim that "more than eighty gospels were considered for the New Testament." In fact, the historian W.H.C. Frend has found that the collection of the four gospel accounts and the Apostle Paul's epistles were commonly used in Church worship- being understood to have divine authority- by about A.D. 80. The dozens of gospel accounts to which Brown refers are obviously the Gnostic "gospels," which written in the second century A.D., and were rejected by the Church as a whole as being false.

6. The Bible as we know it today was not "collated" by Constantine at the Council of Nicea [as Brown asserts].
In fact, as James White points out in his article "What Really Happened at Nicea", "The Council of Nicea did not take up the canon of Scripture" this is simply a historical fact. The Council of Nicea was called to defend the biblical understanding of the divinity of Christ against the Arian heresy.
To quote White again, "The New Testament canon developed in the consciousness of the church over time"- as explained by the writings of Warfield, quoted above.

It is crucial that followers of Jesus Christ know how to answer attacks that skeptics make against the New Testament canon, for it is in these writings that we have the only sure knowledge of Jesus, the Lord of all creation and our only Savior from God's wrath against sin:

I passed on to you as most important what I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, (II Corinthians 15:3-4 HCSB)

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Monday, August 12, 2013

how NOT to read your Bible

"When Jesus wants to speak about the kingdom of God, he goes into fiction... In order to make a theological point, he makes up a story. Obviously, that's not a lie, of course, or a mistake, or anything else. He makes up a story. I also think- and it comes from reading the gospels in parallel texts...that they also make up parables about Jesus... Let me give you an example, then, of how I read something...

"The parable of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes- read the whole story- the entire story- first, you know the disciples and Jesus have been all day in a desert place, comes the evening, nobody's starving to death, but the question is going to be, 'what to do about this?' The disciples have their solution- 'send them away!' Its not unreasonable- 'send them away so they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat.' That's their solution. Jesus answers them, 'You give them something to eat: well, now we have two possibilities- two solutions.' And they almost laugh at him, 'Here's two hundred denarii- you couldn't do it!' Now as I read this story, I watch Jesus pulling the disciples almost kicking and screaming into the middle of everything he does. And usually when Jesus performs a miracle, they are standing there rather like the Greek chorus in admiration. This time, they're in the middle. He says to them, 'How many loaves have you- go and see.' (I'm using Mark.) When they found out, (they had to go and see- he makes them find out- this worries John a little bit as he tells the story, 'cause Jesus should have known all that sort of stuff- Mark has them go and see) then- once again they're pulled into the next thing- he ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups. They have to find out how much food is there, they have to set the people down. Then taking the loaves, looked up to heaven, blest, broke the loaves, gave them to the disciples to set before the people. Once again, finally, as you all know, of course, they are told, 'Take up what's left over.'

"Now, when I read that, when I read that, it screams at me, 'Parable!' It screams at me, 'I'm a parable, dummy!' I take it for granted that when Mark writes this story he thinks Jesus could do anything he wants. He could take the stones and turn them into bread, he could bring manna down from heaven, but he doesn't do it. What he does in the story is take the food that's there already and when it passes through the hands of Jesus, as divine justice incarnate, there's more than enough food for anyone. I think its a parable. But I think something else is even more important. If you want to take this story historically- 'it actually happened, if you were there in the desert, you would have seen it'- or you want to take it parabolically- that is, similar to the good Samaritan story, something that Mark, let us say, made up to express Jesus' mission identity- either way you take it, be it as history or parable, you're going to come out with the same conclusion, namely, that Jesus says, 'it is up to the leadership of the church (if you think of the Twelve as the leadership of the church) to take care of poverty in this world- to make certain that everyone has enough food. And they don't want that job. They love this teaching all day business- that was just fine, comes the evening, send them away. And Jesus insists, 'Its your job to feed them,' and he forces them step by step to participate. It is more important for me not to get into a debate on whether that really happened, or it is a parable, that to make certain that we do it. And I do not want to get into a debate (like the one after the good Samaritan) that gets us off the hook too easy. I don't use any other language than parable for it and I do that deliberately because parable, as we know, is one of the major teaching forms of Jesus and I suspect his disciples and the evangelists picked up the 'bad habit' of fiction from their Master.

"One other example- one other example: You all know the story of the road to Emmaus. Jesus, after the resurrection appears, but totally (how shall I put it?) in the guise of a stranger. There's no flashing lights, no- nothing like Paul on the Damascus road. Jesus is simply a stranger. As the story goes on, he gives them an almost graduate course in how to read the Scriptures. And they concede later that their heart was warmed as he was doing that. Let me hesitate for a second. I wonder if I'd asked you all before I began talking to imagine in your mind, if you could, run through real fast, the story of the Emmaus road incident in Luke 24. Just to kind of close your eyes and- yeah. Would you all have remembered that what I think is the most important line in there is that when they come, the two people (possibly a man and his wife- we don't know- the man is identified- male- the female is not identified, presumably his wife- in Mediterranean courtesy or chauvinism)- Jesus is going to pass by when they get to (presumably) their home. They have to invite him in. I think that's almost the most important line in there. They have to invite him in. And when they invite him in, of course, he takes the bread, and the classic lines, 'takes, bless, broke, give,' and they immediately recognize Jesus, and he is gone. They don't go looking under the table, behind the chairs, it's as if they know immediately that Jesus has come in the guise of a stranger and you have invited the stranger in to eat in your home and that is Jesus. Now, if I take that literally, if I were to take that literally, I think I would be well on my way to concluding that Jesus really- the resurrected body of Jesus can take off/on any form it wants. That he is rather like one of those gods in ancient Greek or Roman mythology who come down from heaven and could put on any guise or body that they want. Can Jesus really appear literally as a stranger? Do we have to go round watching just in case? If I were to invoke divine consistency, maybe Jesus is still doing it as a stranger. No, I think it is clear, once again, at least to me, that this screams out to me, 'Parable, dummy! I'm a parable!' And I don't mean to say, 'Well they really wanted it literally, but I'm going to take it metaphorically.' I think that's the way it was written. I think this was written to tell us that Jesus is present, Jesus is still present, among us, when we study the Scriptures about him and when we invite the stranger in to eat with us. And of course it is important that all you get, all you get, when you study the Scriptures alone is your heart warmed. Its not nothing. But you don't recognize Jesus until you bring the stranger in to eat. Now, I have no doubt whatsoever that I've all sorts of presuppositions and we could talk about presuppositions tonight, but what I have done in my opening statements is to focus on the gospel texts themselves...

"There's four differing versions of the gospel. And it is not true, I think it is simply not true, that it is, as it were, four people each trying to tell exactly what happened. That is not gospel. That might be history- it's not gospel. The gospel is good news. And, yes, it has to be updated- I'd use the term, it might be sound a little bit crude- Mark is talking to one community, and John is talking to another, and so is Luke, and so is Matthew... What I get from this is that it is never enough simply to tell the historical story. I am convinced that if Mark had in front of him everything Jesus ever said, everything Jesus ever did- DVDs and all the rest of it, of what he had done- Mark would still have said things like, 'Well, that might have been all right Jesus, to say to those fishers in Galilee, but that doesn't speak to my people now, and I will rephrase you, Jesus, or if you prefer, your spirit is with me, and I will trust that when I do rephrase you, or even when I invent a story about you, I have still got it right- still got it authentic- still got it authentic, even when it might not be historical. Thank you." (John Dominic Crossan, "Is the Bible True?" debate with James White, 08/27/2005)

The above lengthy quote from John Dominic Crossan of the Jesus Seminar is given to demonstrate how an extremely intelligent bible scholar can come to entirely bogus conclusions about God's Word by the application of the following errors to his reading of Scripture.

how NOT to read your Bible:

1. Bring in philosophies from outside of God's Word that are not based on Scripture and change the meaning of whatever you read in the Bible to fit these philosophies. It is only by God's grace that we avoid any of the errors that I am mentioning now. This first one is especially hard to fight because it is so subtle. Naturally, due to sin, we are all hostile in mind toward God (cf. Col. 1:21). Even after our minds have been changed by God through spiritual re-birth, we must be diligent in keeping the command to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (cf. Rom. 12:2) and to test all things, holding on to what is good and abstaining from every form of evil (cf. 1 Thess. 5:21-22). When we get lazy in exploring our beliefs and fail to pray for God's wisdom while weighing our thoughts by the whole counsel of God's Word, we quickly stray into the error of judging Scripture by our own sin-tainted philosophies rather than submitting to the doctrines clearly taught in the Bible. John Dominic Crossan, whose words nowhere reflect a belief-system that has been transformed by biblical faith, imposes the philosophy of "divine consistency" on the teaching of Scripture. “Divine consistency” (mentioned in the quote above) refers to Crossan’s belief that “what God does now is what God always did: God intervened no more and no less in the world of the early first century than that of the late twentieth century.” Crossan uses this philosophy to justify his rejection of the miracles recorded in the Bible. But it is obvious that Crossan did not come to his version of “divine consistency” through a straightforward reading of the Bible. Reading through the New Testament, though it is clear that God’s essential character never changes (cf. Jas. 1:17), it is also clear that He worked in a unique way in the life of Christ and in the lives of the apostles and that His special work in the apostolic age was accompanied by miracles.

2. Be Man-centered rather than Christ-centered in your understanding of and explanation of Scripture. The Bible teaches that people are all sinners (Rom. 3:23) in desperate need of salvation by Jesus. And in an earlier post, I have explored the concept that the subject of all of Scripture is the Lord Jesus Christ (Matt. 5:17Luke 24:27John 5:39). Based on these truths, it becomes obvious that any system of Bible-reading that takes the focus off of Christ and places it on people is an erroneous system, leading to a bogus understanding of Scripture. In our example above, notice how Crossan consistently shifts the focus from Christ to people. In this case, Crossan takes our focus off of Jesus as the Son of God and the resurrected Savior by focusing on the activity of the disciples, repeating phrases like, "They have to find out how much food is there, they have to set the people down...They have to invite him in. I think that's almost the most important line in there." Crossan even goes so far as to give a hypothetical conversation between a disciple and Jesus in which the disciple asserts, "Well, that might have been all right Jesus, to say to those fishers in Galilee, but that doesn't speak to my people now, and I will rephrase you, Jesus." If we fall into the trap of becoming Man-centered rather than Christ-centered in our reading of Scripture, we exalt sinful people, belittle Christ, and utterly obscure the gospel message.

3. Ignore the type of literature to which a particular book of the Bible or passage from the Bible belongs. Discerning the type of literature or literary genre to which a particular Bible passage belongs is a vital part of rightly understanding God's Word. As the following quote from Thomas A. Howe illustrates:

Literary genre simply means different kinds of literature. Poetry, for example, is a different kind of literature than historical narrative, and there are different principles for understanding it. Since the Bible contains different kinds of literature, we must take into consideration how meaning is expressed differently in each kind.

In the quote from John Dominic Crossan that is currently under scrutiny, it is clear that Crossan is treating all passages in the Gospel accounts as if they are parables, interpreting all Gospel passages figuratively and failing to see where the writers transition from parable into historical narrative. Crossan takes this view despite the fact that the Gospel narratives themselves are clear about when parables are being given and when history is being recorded. In places, the Gospel writers transition into the use of parables so clearly as to write, "Then [Jesus] told them many things in parables" (Matt. 13:3a), "Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables" (Matt. 22:1), "Jesus summoned them and spoke to them in parables" (Mark 3:23), and, "Then [Jesus] began to speak to them in parables" (Mark 12:1). In other places, the transition into and out of the use of parables is understood from the context. Taking Crossan's position- that everything, from the Virgin birth to the Cross to the Resurrection, is all given in parable- makes the Gospel narratives to be nonsensical- for then even Jesus' recorded explanations of His parables must themselves somehow be understood as being parables. And this position makes the proclamation of Truth impossible, for anyone can apparently, like Crossan, give their personal interpretation as to what the gospel "parable" really means.

4. Ignore passages of Scripture that do not fit in with your already-held beliefs. This is an error that is frequently practiced in traditional churches that do not want to deal with topics that they consider difficult, such as predestination, and so many Bible passages such as Ephesians chapter 1, Romans chapter 9, and the last section of John chapter 6 are either entirely ignored or only touched very lightly. (For a specific example of this error, see the responsive reading selection # 603 of the 1975 edition of the Baptist Hymnal published by Convention Press in which Romans 8:29-30 is systematically skipped over.) In the quote currently under examination, Crossan speaks about a historical passage in Luke and then asserts, "This screams out to me, 'Parable, dummy! I'm a parable!' And I don't mean to say, 'Well they really wanted it literally, but I'm going to take it metaphorically.' I think that's the way it was written." By this statement and others like it, Crossan ignores passages in which the gospel records claim to be based upon eyewitness historical accounts; passages such as the preamble to Luke's Gospel account:

Since many have undertaken to compile a narrative about the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as the original eyewitnesses and servants of the word handed them down to us, it also seemed good to me, having carefully investigated everything from the very first, to write to you in orderly sequence, most honorable Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things about which you have been instructed. (Luke 1:1-4 HCSB)

And John's Gospel account contains the following assertions:

He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe. (John 19:35 ESV)

This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true. (John 21:24 ESV)

And so Crossan's position is simply not a viable option. Either he should come out and assert that he does not believe in the Bible or he should take all of the verses into account. When people pick and choose certain verses to read while willfully passing over other verses, when they ignore literary genres in the Bible, when they are Man-centered rather than Christ-centered in their understanding of the Bible, or when they impose their own philosophies on the text of the Bible, they proudly place themselves as judges over God's Word rather than humbly submitting to the Word of God. And this is a very dangerous position in which to find oneself for,

"God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." (James 4:6b NIV 1984) 

[The above blogpost was originally published on 10/08/05.]

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