Fortune Cookie Theology

Al Mohler posted this article recently on a call for Biblical literacy. He claims that the reason for illiteracy in the church is that people just don’t read the bible.

Researchers George Gallup and Jim Castelli put the problem squarely: “Americans revere the Bible — but, by and large, they don’t read it. And because they don’t read it, they have become a nation of biblical illiterates.” Researchers tell us that it is worse than most could imagine.

Fewer than half of all adults can name the four Gospels. Many Christians cannot identify more than two or three of the disciples. According to data from one research group, 60 percent of Americans can’t name even five of the Ten Commandments. Americans may demand that the Ten Commandments be posted in the courthouse, but they seem unable to remember what exactly they are.

According to 82 percent of Americans, “God helps those who help themselves,” is a Bible verse. Those identified as born-again Christians did better — by one percent. A majority of adults think the Bible teaches that the most important purpose in life is taking care of one’s family.

One poll indicates that at least 12 percent of adults believe that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife. Another survey of graduating high school seniors reveals that more than 50 percent thought Sodom and Gomorrah were husband and wife. A considerable number of respondents to one poll indicated that the Sermon on the Mount was preached by Billy Graham. We are in big trouble. Continue reading

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When You Say the Church Replaces Israel…

painting broad strokesAnyone who knows me, knows that I care that doctrinal positions be articulated fairly even if you don’t hold to that position. When we don’t agree with a position, it’s easy for us to make sloppy and sweeping statements or otherwise eliminate distinctions that should be there for a thoughtful discussion. We can tend to paint with broad strokes.

This happens a lot with charges against Dispensationalism, but I won’t go there. No matter whether or how much I move away from Dispensationalism, I will always care that it be treated fairly and will defend correct articulations especially given the modifications that have occurred over time.

So it pains me to raise this charge. One broad stroke, lack-of-distinction statement that I hear made, mainly from Dispensationalists who won’t take the time to understand the church/Israel relationship from a Covenant Theology perspective (there are many thoughtful dispies who do), is that Covenant theology teaches that the church replaces Israel. However, it is certainly not confined to Dispensationalists. In fact, what prompted this post was this article here.   I also find that when concepts filter down to a popular level broad strokes and mis-definitions can occur. Even when I more aligned with Dispensationalism, this particular mis-statement made me scream because it does not accurately reflect the difference in positions between replacement and continuity.

Replacement theology advocates for just as it says, that the church replaces Israel because the Jews rejected Christ, they are judged by God. Israel no longer exists. All promises are now transferred over to the church and do not benefit them. It is a minority view and rightly brings up concerns of anti-Semitism.

Covenant theology advocates for continuity between Israel and the church. The church did not replace Israel but is one of the same organism, beginning with Abraham. Under the new covenant it has expanded to include believing Gentiles.  According to CT advocates, it is the new Israel. Continue reading

Seven Theological Caricatures That Make Me Scream

screaming girlWhat is a caricature? Merriam-Webster defines it as “exaggeration by means of often ludicrous distortion of parts or characteristics” When done with theological positions, exaggerations and distortions are usually a result of shallow or non-existent interaction with the positions being characterized. Instead broad-brushed generalizations are formed, usually because of opponents views, which are not carefully interacted with either!

To be fair, I’m also picking on my own theological persuasion camp just there’s no bias. Regardless of whether I agree or disagree with a position, it drives me nuts when it is not treated fairly. And the only way we can do that is to actually engage with competing ideas and their proponents with the intent on understanding. Building strawmen doesn’t count.

Also, there is typically a range of belief within a particular position that often gets neglected when making sweeping generalized allegations.

So in no particular order…

1) Unconditional election in Calvinism means we are robots who God forces to choose him. No Calvinist believes this or advocates it. Ask and read them and they’ll tell you the human will is involved. But the will is subject to illumination that only the Spirit can bring.

2) Cessationists don’t believe in miracles or the work of the Holy Spirit. No, what cessationists don’t believe is that miraculous events are defined by gifts in the present. Cessationist actually have such a high view of God that they believe he’s powerful enough to speak through his written word and can still govern affairs without the extras. And most cessationists really do believe in miracles and that the Holy Spirit is very much active! But again there is a range.

3) Arminians promote me-centered theology. Not as far as Wesley is concerned, or any other Arminian who truly loves the Lord and seeks to honor his Word and His church. Continue reading

Are You Quick to Bully Competing Theological Viewpoints?

For Christians, it typically does not take long to formulate an opinion about viewpoints we disagree with. I find too often though that people are quick to beat up on viewpoints they don’t agree with and cast them in the worst light possible. What’s worst is when that happens without having all the information.

For this reason, it is always a good idea to learn about competing viewpoints from people who actually advocate for that position. If we learn of that position from those already opposed to it, it’s pretty much like joining forces with the school bully who beats up on those they feel deserved to be beat up without any logical reason why that kid deserves bullying (not that anyone deserves bullying).

I wrote about this (here) a while ago after studying Origen in a theology elective, History of Exegesis. I had a certain concept of Origen’s exegesis that was completely blown out of the water having actually studied him. But that led me to three conclusions that I expound on in the article:

1) Always examine original sources

2) Temper your disagreement through fair analysis

3) Submit to learning

Often this means resisting the reactionary response. But also it means looking for ways to reconcile competing positions where possible in the interest of Christian harmony. Now some ideas are dangerous and threaten to uproot the tenets of the Christian faith. But we need to be careful even in this charge, especially when citing something as heresy since we will necessarily throw adherents under that bus. Asking the “so what?” question and following that out to it’s logical conclusion is always helpful.