Tuesday, November 21, 2006

2006 ETS Reflections Continued

ETS is the largest gathering of evangelical scholars, pastors, and students, probably in the world. There were literally hundreds of papers delivered in parallel sessions along with several larger plenary sessions.

Baptist Press has an article on ETS’ adoption of a more clearly definition of inerrancy as a test for membership in the society and an article on Wayne Grudem’s presentation in which he offers an evangelical evaluation of George Bush’s presidency and concludes it has been good. Though the general theme was "Christians in the Public Square" papers were presented on many topics.

Which did I go to?

I got there late Wednesday, so I missed all of that day’s sessions, though I went with Marcus, et al to Capital Hill Baptist Church for their Wednesday evening inductive Bible Study led by Mark Dever on I Corinthians 1:4-10. Mark led an open discussion on whether or not denominations are bad. Reminded me of our covering of the topic recently in Body Life.

Thursday morning I went to Bruce Ware’s session on the Trinity in the "Gender and Evangelicals Study Group." Ware and Grudem have been criticized by some, like Australian Anglican Kevin Giles, for their views on the Trinity as supporting the complementarian views of men and women (ontological equality and functional distinction, but not mutual submission, a la the egalitarian view of the Trinity).

I then went to a very engaging presentation by Dennis M. Swanson of the Master’s Seminary on "Charles H. Spurgeon and the Ministries of the Metropolitan Tabernacle: A Model for Evangelical Action." He noted that Spurgeon’s view of man’s sinfulness led him to see the answer to societal ills in preaching the gospel to individuals rather than attempting to change social structures.

Next I went to Dan Heimbach’s (of SEBTS) presentation on "Rethinking Natural Law." The upshot: If you want to talk to a modern pagan about why you oppose gay marriage the best answer is just to appeal to the Bible rather than try to appeal to natural law (which the postmodern pagan does not accept anyway).

Thursday afternoon I went to the session by Bill Wilder (fellow UTS NT PhD grad from the Center for Christian Study here in C-ville) on Paul’s use of Psalm 68 in Ephesians 4:8.
I also went to John Makujina’s paper in the Apologetics Study group in which he gave an excellent critique and rebuttal of John Shelby Spong’s "The Sins of Scripture."

In the late afternoon, we went to the plenary session by John Piper (the Crossway Lecture) on "William Tyndale and the Vernacular Bible." The hall was packed and Piper did not disappoint. He contrasted the Erasmian quality of much modern scholarship and church talk (playful, light, clever, flippant, a la some emerging church folk) with the "blood earnest," gospel saturated life of the martyr Tyndale.

After the Thursday banquet we went to a private meeting held by the Bethlehem Institute with about 40 men including Bethlehem interns and guests with John Piper. The discussion ranged from missions, to whether J. Edwards’ view of justification is orthodox (you should have been there when one participant said he had come not to like Edwards very much!).

Friday morning we came back in, looked at the book exhibit, and I did my paper, "A Theological Critique of Multi-Site Ministry." I had a good audience and got encouraging feedback. Mark Overstreet of Criswell College was the moderator for the session. I hope to post the paper on the JPBC website soon.

I left Friday afternoon to meet my family in Woodbridge. On Saturday, we went to former JPBC member and UVA student Sondra Smith’s wedding to Eric Williams at Mt. Olivet Baptist Church in Beaverdam, VA.

Again, I do not usually travel much but the last two weeks have been busy. Thankfully we are home for Thanksgiving this year with all Llewellyn’s clan coming up from Sanford to spend the holiday with us.



Lonnie said...

RE: "If you want to talk to a modern pagan about why you oppose gay marriage the best answer is just to appeal to the Bible rather than try to appeal to natural law (which the postmodern pagan does not accept anyway)."

As a both a Pagan and a Naturalist, I disagree. First of all, appealing to the Bible won't work because it is a text most Pagans believe was written by humans, and which is therefore culturally biased (i.e. Written by and for God's "chosen people"). Secondly, a key part of the idea of Natural Law, as presented by people like Jefferson and Thomas Payne, assumes that morality works much more like science in that we don't always have the answers yet, but we progress towards them. In addition, modern concepts of biology no longer support Darwin's "survival of the fittest" model. Now scientists like Lynn Margulis and others have shown that evolution is far more dependant on symbiosis than we've previously realized. Truely, it is the survival of the community which is most important in Nature.

Taking this a step forward, keep in mind that Jesus taught that the laws were made for man, not visa versa. In other words, according to the New Testiment, ultimately God's laws are reasonable, not arbitrary. We may not always know the reasons, but that doesn't mean the laws of creation or God are necessarily out of synch.

Pagans like myself left Christianity primarily because of the lack of cultural and environmental awareness we witnessed within churches, or because of their concepts of God which neglected to emphasize the value and equality of women. If churches want to bring Pagans back into the fold, they'll need to do more to address issues like environmentalism, diversity and gender inequality. Some churches are begining to do that, and I applaud their efforts; however, until I see a larger presence of Christians at things like Charlottesville environmental events, I'm not likely to walk back into a Christian church anytime soon. That's not a slight on you or your church; it just means God has called me to be somewhere else for now.

Pastor Jeff said...


Thanks for your feedback. A few responses:

I think your answer actually proves Heimbach's point. He was suggesting that Christians should appeal to special revelation (Scripture) rather than natural revelation (the way the natural world works and is) in doing apologetics (defending the faith), since (post)modern folk do not accept the premise of fixed natural laws (e.g., when you say morality is "progressing").

A genuine Christian comes to a conviction that the Bible is not just the words of men but the very word of God. Since (post)moderns reject natural law, it is best to appeal to special revelation and pray that the Holy Spirit illumines the hearts of those who are not believers to receive the Bible as God’s Word. See how Paul explains this in 1 Corinthians 1:14: “But the natural man [the unconverted or a non-Christian] does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

I agree that the Bible is reasonable. The problem is that sin has distorted our ability to reason. The Bible will not make sense until God changes our hearts and renews our minds.

A few other points:

Jesus did not teach that “laws were made for man.” The quote is “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath” (Mark 2:27) where Jesus was defending proper sabbath observance from a legalistic one. Jesus did not do away with the Old Testament law. See Matthew 5:17: “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.”

In addition, I want to grant that the church on earth is not perfect and it has often been guilty of falling short of God’s glory (see Romans 3:23). So, Christians have erred in their God-given stewardship of the earth and its resources, and they have also erred in treatment of women (and men, for that matter), along with many other things.

That we fall short, however, does not diminish the fact that the Bible gives us a winsome, coherent view of life. As far as the environment goes, we have the creation mandate (“Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth” -Genesis 1:28). As for male and female roles, the Bible declares men and women absolutely equal in essence but distinct in roles (see Genesis 1:27: “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”). Wherever Biblical Christianity has had a dominant influence, it has been a boon for the dignity and rights of women. Contrast the plight of women and children in cultures influenced by other worldviews (Islam, atheistic communism, etc.).

Christians do not believe that we will bring pagans [by the way I am using the lower case simply to indicate a person who is not a Christian, and not with a capital “P” as you have done, which I guess indicates your commitment to pre-Christian religion(s) (?)] into church by adopting a better environmental agenda. We believe God has to change hearts, to remove a veil that blinds eyes from seeing the beauty of Christ, and to transform wills to make submission and obedience to him a joy and not a burden.

Again, thanks for your feedback. No slight is taken against our church in your comments, and I hope none are received by you in my responses.


Lonnie said...

I think you misunderstood something I said... I don't believe morality progresses I think our understanding of it can. There's a subtle difference there which is really important.

You also point out probably one of the other biggest gulfs between your faith and mine. You see there was a time that I did believe in the bible as the revealed word of God. I was baptized and truely asked god to be part of my life. In doing so, I didn't find the truths there that you have, in fact, I found that I was called to be somewhere else. I don't expect you to believe that. I've had the same discussion with my sister who is an evangelical, and over time she's come to accept that maybe God has a different plan for me that will be revealed later. Maybe so, but at this current time, based on my own experiences, I can no longer see or understand the Bible the way I did as a child.

Yes, by capitalizing "Pagan", I do mean that I follow a religion which draws its inspiration from a pre-Christian faith. I do agree that Christianity has brought much to the world, but I also see great beauty and truth in other religions as well. If I judged Christianity by its most extreme members, then I suspect I'd conclude much of the same that you say about Islam. From the not so distant past until today, people have comitted terrible crimes while claiming to follow Christ. I could also point to the church's ongoing battle against scientists like Galileo, Copernicus and many more. I see politicians and others even until today using Christianity as a battle flag to wage war on the environment and other nations. True, that's no fault of Christ; He never told them to do that.

I can also point to the numerous contributions by pre-Christians to science, society, art, and culture. After all, Democracy was a Greek invention. No where in the bible does it mention it; however you can find lots of references to kings. In fact, for over a thousand years Christianity was used to justify Monarchy. Does that make paganism better? Nope. Truely, all religions have committed great crimes. I prefer to think that the more ethical among any religion are the closest to the truth revealed by god. I prefer to think that Ghandi was a better example of Hinduism than the caste system is.

I believe one knows a true follower of God, in any religion, by the example they set. I know good works are not enough to get you into heaven; however, I also sincerely doubt a just and reasonable god would condemn a man simply for his faith if they pursued it honestly. I also don't believe in following any path merely to gain heaven or avoid hell. I do what is right because it is the right thing to do. In fact, I've never used illegal drugs, or committed a crime (besides an inordinate number of parking tickets...) and I'm married happily. Being Pagan doesn't mean that I lack moral understanding (not that you claimed that either).

In short, I'm not saying that you should adopt environmental policies to sway pagans. Adopting any ethic as a marketing tool is immoral in my book. I do mean to say that modern Pagans have genuine concerns and experiences that led them to where they are. Showing them the Beauty of Christ isn't quite as simple as teaching them about the bible. After all, most of them have already read it. I think Pagans simply want what any human does, people to accept them for who they are, and where they are at.

Thanks for the conversation.



Pastor Jeff said...


A few responses:

1. On natural law. So, you are saying natural law may be fixed but our understanding of it is progressing. Even this way, Heimbach's thesis is affirmed: You cannot argue with postmoderns from natural law because they do not believe it can be known with certainty (what we say is right now might change). Better just to say, "The Bible says."

2. On your previous Christian experience. I would ask you to read Jesus' parable of the Sower in Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23. Read also Jesus' caustic words in Matthew 7:21: "Not everyone who says to me 'Lord, Lord' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven." With all due respect, the Bible would suggest that if you did not "stay" a Christian, perhaps you never really "became" a Christian (see also the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints).

3. On Christianity, paganism, and world religions. Yes, by God's common grace we can say that there might be some good in all things men do (including man-made religions). God was certainly at work in the pre-Christian era, blessing men with more than they deserved. However, I would continue to contend that as a revealed religion Christianity is superior.

OK, compare our worst with their worst. Would you rather be taken captive by a pro-life Christian fundamentist or an Islamic fundamentalist? Who is more likely to lop off your head if you do not convert? Can you name one country where Islam is dominant and there are basic human rights, relgious freedom for all, and equal treatment for women? Now, name all the countries where Christianity is in the asendency and where these same rights are the norm. Why do you think your first list is so short (in fact, empty) and the second, so long? What you believe about God matters.

4. On Christianity and science. How did we ever get the myth that Christianity is against science? The story of Galileo is about the tyranny of the medieval Catholic Church not about Biblical Christianity. Again, which nations on the earth have led the way in science, technology, and medicine? Ones where Christianity (and Protestant Christianity in particular) was dominant. Why? Because the Bible says creation is good and mankind is mandated to subdue it. Understanding your environment is good. Why didn't science originate and develop in places like India? Because their religion told them the physical world was bad and there was nothing to do in this life but accept your karma and wait for reincarnation in the next.

Please read Rodney Stark's "For the Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-Hunts, and the End of Slavery" (Princeton University Press, 2004) for a sound debunking of Christianity as anti-science.

Lonnie, I have answered in a rush. I know some of my responses touch on your personal experience and I mean no personal offense in raising these points. Thanks for the interactions.


Lonnie said...

Pastor Jeff,

I appreciate your taking the time to consider my questions and respond from your perspective.

I would still say form a practical standpoint that "the Bible says" method won't appeal to most other Pagans. As I said, for almost all it isn't considered a text with any more (or less) merit than other religious texts. I can say this because I know my peers. I will concede that for younger Pagans still in their "rebellion" phase, and not part of a community yet, a biblical appeal might have more success.

Maybe you could be right that I never was a real "Christian"; however, did seek Jesus honestly and with an open heart, and lived accordingly (or at least as best as can be expected from a teenager). Why he'd feel it wasn't appropriate at that time to answer me, and make me a "real" Christian, I don't know. All I know is that I sought a faith that made me feel complete, and which addressed my deepest concerns and needs. So far, I've found that in Paganism in a way I never felt it within Christianity as I knew it. Perhaps my sister is right and Jesus will reveal himself to me at some later point in my life, and if so, then I'm open to that possibility; however I've already been down that road, so I'm reluctant to go down it again without good reason.

Regarding Religion and Science, I couldn't agree more that Christianity is not a natural enemy of science, and yet people under that banner certainly have been. I do, however, feel you've underestimated the contributions to science and culture from other cultures. For example, almost all modern mathematics depends on the number 0 which was an Arabic invention. In fact, during the Crusades it was often mentioned how far ahead of us the Arabic nations were. Their current situation has far more to do with larger geo-political issues. Also Eratosthenes figured out the circumference of the earth, long before Columbus set out on his blundering mission to exploit and enslave India. It is also worthy to note that nations in Asia, which was decidedly not Christian, were far more advanced in mathematics than Europe for thousands of years. Also, I think you underestimate the number of devout Hindus within the scientific community. For that matter a big factor in India's economic boom has been its willingness to invest in scientific and technical education for its people. As an IT professional, I feel we'd do well to learn from them in that regard.

If all that's not enough, the very music you use in every hymn and song in your church is based on the Pentatonic circle of fifths. This was based on Pythagoras' harmonic overtone series. Oddly, the Pentagram, which represents Earth Air, Fire, Water and Spirit for modern Pagans also originated with Pythagoras and his followers, and derived from the same beliefs which ultimately resulted in western musical scales and chord progressions. Listen to music from Israel or the Middle East, and you'll hear what your hymns might sound like without Pythagoras. I could also go on about other pagan cultural contributions, from everything including the days of the week to the tradition of throwing coins in fountains.

As to human rights, there is a Cum hoc ergo propter hoc flaw in your logic. Sure, if you look at modern first-world nations then you might assume Christianity bears some association to technological or human rights; however once you include third-world nations the myth fades. There are plenty of nations even with a national religion of Christianity, with appalling human rights problems, devastated economies, and little technology. All you have to do is look at the countries of South and Central America. Once you also factor in culture and history the myth dissolves like morning mist. For example, it is unfair to compare the Sufis to the radical Sunnis, even though they are both Muslim. I'd also much rather live in Turkey, for instance, than in Spain during the Spanish Inquisition. For a over a thousand years, Europe wasn't exactly a bastion of human rights. In the U.S. there were Churches and denominations that fought for slavery, and used the Bible to justify it. I also could point out the number of Abolitionists who were Unitarian... but I personally feel that's more to do with geography than Theology. It does illustrate though that Christianity as an institution doesn't necessarily have the high moral ground. If anything, it has been the United States decision to have a secular government which has been more of an influence than any Christian heritage per se.

All this said, I gladly recognize the incredible contributions of Christianity. One would be a fool not to see that. Ironically, without Christianity, many Pagan traditions from the "Christmas" Tree and Halloween to the Easter Egg, would have been lost. They're might well indeed have been very little left for modern pagans to "reclaim". I feel the contributions of Christianity aren't enough to justify a superior religion status, but it does suggest that Christianity made some unique contributions which deserve recognition. One can argue the merits of cultural or religious superiority ad infinitum, yet ultimately the worth of any religion is its ability to create meaning out of our experience. For you, it has done that wonderfully, but for me - for whatever reason - it has fallen short. Even so, I respect your faith, and the strength of your conviction. I daresay after this conversation, my respect has only increased. I do hope however, that maybe some of my words have illuminated aspects of my faith to you as well, and helped you to understand better why so many people in Charlottesville believe as I do, and that we are not without common ground.

Pastor Jeff said...


Here’s a follow up:

1. On your own spiritual experience:

Thanks for not taking offense at my suggestion that you likely never really became a Christian, even though you were exposed to some Christian things. I am also glad to hear that you are open to the possibility that perhaps “Jesus will reveal himself to me at some later point in my life.” I would encourage you to read John Stott’s "Basic Christianity" or John Blanchard’s "Right with God," even if you only want to understand what we evangelicals really believe about Jesus.

I think the key Biblical insight is that apart from God’s grace no one really seeks God, at least not the God of the Bible. Paul puts it this way in Romans 3:10b-11: “There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; There is none who seeks God.” I really like the emphasis you put on the fact that Jesus has to reveal himself to a person. In Acts 16:14 we read of the conversion of a woman named Lydia who “worshipped God” but did not know Christ. Then it says, “The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul [about the gospel].” I pray that the Lord might open your heart. A Christian is not just a person who knows things about Jesus, but one who believes the gospel. What is the gospel? Jesus died on the cross sinners to satisfy the wrath of God for sin. If we trust in Jesus alone, and not our own righteousness, we escape God’s wrath and are saved.

2. On Faith and Science and Human Rights:

I still maintain it is no accident that science and technology and human rights have advanced in the places most influenced by Biblical Christianity. Yes, there is some good in all culture thanks to God’s common grace (so, we can thank the Arabs for numerals and Greeks for some pre-science mathematics). I would tend to question the party line that Islamic cultures were superior to European ones at the time of the Crusades, but in some ways even that question is irrelevant, because Europe was, at that time, under the sway of the compromised Christianity of medieval Catholicism (note how things change after the Reformation!). By the way, the modern rise of technology/economy in India may be more the long-term result of British influence (and therefore Protestant influence).

As for human rights, the inclusion of Central and South America into the conversation does not undermine my argument. These lands have been dominated by Catholicism, usually mixed with animism. Recent days have seen the rise of evangelicalism as a force and it will be interesting for our grandkids to see the results. My argument is that human rights have flourished in places where Biblical, Reformation influenced Christianity has flourished. Just compare Northern Europe, Britain, Canada, and the United States (influenced by Protestantism) with Southern Europe (Spain, Italy) and South America. For more on this, see Francis Schaeffer’s "How Should We Then Live?"

I think we should look hard at life on earth before the Christian movement. Christians opposed the savagery of Roman gladiatorial games. They opposed abortion and the abandonment of children. They established the first orphanages, hospitals, asylums for the mentally ill, and universities. Christians brought an end to the slave trade (again, see Rodney Stark’s book). The Christian view of life is most winsome, because it is reveals God’s truth. It is exclusive and narrow, in that it does not see all faiths as created equal. The Biblical Jesus will not be fit in among the pantheon of the gods: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).


Lonnie said...

Pastor Jeff,

I do not argue economic scientific or ethical superiority for Pagans, I just don't argue inferiority either.

I think advancements in ethics and science have far more to do with things like education and an economically stable society. When you pick out the United States, England, or other nations with a high percentage of protestants you're missing that. It confusing coorelation with causality. All one needs to do is look at any of the largely secular European nations to see that. There are more than a few nations in Europe with a very low percentage of evengelicals, and very low crime rates and good economies. The market (both in terms of ideas and capital) is also a huge factor which cannot be dismissed. Under a free market both a diversity of religious viewpoints (aka protestants) and the economy in general will thrive. In fact, I'm friends with an influential economist, and I'd be glad to have him provide you more data on this issue.

I also still maintain that mathematics and Democracy are hardly insignificant contributions. Also, I think a brief reading through the works of well known scientists ranging from Carl Sagan, Richard Dawkins, Einstein, Stephen Hawking, Steven Jay Gould, and many many more would challenge the notion that Evangelism has been a boon to science. Keep in mind that long before the theory of Evolution was controversial the theory of electricity was considered such a heresy that churches rufused to install lightning rods lest they thwart God's will. In fact, I prefer to give much more of a reasonable doubt than they do; allowing that Science is on a current trend of Reductionism, which I feel is bad for both science and religion. Anyway, as I've suggested before this is the kind of argument that could go on ad infinitum...

As to your quote from Caesar regarding the Celts, (if that's not ironic enough, coming from a Christian...) One must keep in mind that he was waging a war against them. Usually someone trying to raise funds back home doesn't have nice things to say about their enemies (and talk about calling the kettle black...) No reputable historian considers his account free of significant bias. If you go back and read the earlier greek accounts then you get a very different picture. That said, most educated Pagans do not discount that human sacrifice did occur among the ancient Celts, just as it did among the Romans. or among ther Spanish During the Inquisition, or today via the death penalty in Virgina. As I've expressed before, all cultures have opportunities to learn and grow and this was one thing that pagans were glad to be rid of. I should also mention the human sacrifice in Christianity referenced in the hymn "There is A Fountain filled with blood" (which I sang regularly during my childhood at church). Most anthropologists generally recognize that there is strong proof that real human sacrifice did occur within Judaism, and that it set the stage for martyrdom as another form that. You aren't likely to find hymns like this, nor actual or symbolic sacrifices among modern neopagans. I go on futher to say that any attempt to do so is basically just an Appeal to Emotion fallacy, since neither you nor I likely disagree on the merits of human sacrifice*. Besides, such illogical appeals obscure all the cultural and historical value that we gained from these cultures. Anyway, I'm not a Reconstructionist, my spiritual origins probably have more to do with Wordsworth and Emerson than the ancient Celts, and I make no appologies for that.

Okay... so we disagree. That's not exactly unexpected. Where do we go from here? Or do we simply abandon dialogue altogether? You've suggested some books, and I might have some suggested books as well, that I'd wish you to read. Knowing how busy I suspect both of us are, I sincerely doubt we have the time to get through each others reading lists. I did however go back and reread the Bible verses that you referenced (and I conceed that the "rocky ground" metaphor might possibly apply, since I was but a youth when exposed to Christianity). So... instead I offer a friendly challenge. I would ask that you write an entire blog entry about only the points we seem to agree upon. I will then do the same (although I don't currently have a blog, I can make one, or find an appropriate community forum). If this is successful, then maybe we can take things a step further. I have little power over our group (being non-heirarchical and all) but I am willing to take this dialogue further if that's of interest to you. If not, then I wish you well.



*I respond here instead of under your other article, since I've no interest in that tone of dialogue.