Should We Doubt Young Earth Creationism?

I’ve noted before the challenge of determining the importance of doctrines. One issue often debated by current Christians is the significance of young earth creationism (YEC). Under the impression that advocates of YEC place too much weight on the issue, many evangelicals push back by minimizing the issue. A recent example comes from Justin Taylor (one of the better and more prolific Christian bloggers today). Using his post as a basis for discussion, I’d like to address four underlying arguments in Taylor’s post that relate to doctrinal significance.

Direct Statement of Scripture or Deduction

Taylor begins his post by arguing that “the Bible nowhere directly teaches the age of the earth,” contrary to what YEC proponents supposedly imply or claim. Instead, YEC “is a deduction from a combination of beliefs.” Taylor then offers 5 beliefs that supposedly are used to build the case for YEC. Without fully addressing the accuracy of his five points (e.g., the first is not held by many YEC adherents), I’d like to focus on Taylor’s purpose for mentioning this: “These five points may all be true, but I think it’s helpful to understand that the question ‘how old is the earth?’ is not something directly answered in Scripture but rather deduced from these and other points.” In other words, people should not hold too dogmatically to YEC since it is not a direct statement of Scripture but a matter of deduction.

At first we might be inclined to agree to this argument. After all, our logical deductions may be incorrect, whereas the direct statements of Scripture are never incorrect! But upon further reflection we can see the flaw in this argument. Many doctrines that we hold dogmatically are not directly stated in Scripture but are deductions from a combination of ideas. For example, John Frame points out the doctrine of the Trinity is the combination of these assertions: “(1) God is one. (2) God is three. (3) The three persons are each fully God. (4) Each of the persons is distinct from the others. (5) The three are related to one another eternally as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” (Systematic Theology, Kindle location 11773). The hypostatic union (relationship of Christ’s two natures), sola scriptura, and other key doctrines are also the result of biblical deduction rather than direct statement, including another doctrine Taylor mentions several times in his post—the doctrine of inerrancy (e.g., the whole Bible is inspired/breathed-out by God, and God cannot speak falsely or make an error, therefore the whole Bible is without error). This does not mean that YEC is on the same level as the doctrines of Trinity or the person of Jesus Christ, but it does mean it’s not automatically excluded from that level of significance because it lacks a direct statement from Scripture. (If it were a series of deductions drawn from other deductions things would be different).

Historical Positions

Taylor goes on to offer another “surprising” bit of information: “some of the great stalwarts of the faith were not convinced of this interpretation [literal days].” Ironically, after arguing against the idea that the idea of 6 literal days did not lose favor until after Darwin, Taylor supports his point by quoting from 4 of 5 theologians who came after Darwin (5 of 6, if you include his reference to Warfield who, despite what Taylor seems to believe, came after Darwin). Why mention what other Christians have believed? One reason is that the importance of a doctrine is connected to its historical position among Christians. If the church has historically recognized something as true and important we should be extremely careful with modifying or denying it, while if the church has historically been divided on an issue we should be careful about being overly dogmatic about it. Thus, Taylor’s argument is that the fact of biblical Christians denying or downplaying YEC shows it should not be overemphasized.

Yet two matters are worth noting. The first is that YEC is favored by history, especially among those who seek a literal understanding of the Bible. Apart from earlier Christians (and Jewish rabbis) who favored allegorical interpretations of the Bible, six-day creation and a young earth was the dominant position among early Christians and especially among the reformers until the 19th century. So the importance of YEC is actually strengthened by a proper understanding of its historical position.

Second, the matter of whether or not a Bible-believing Christian held a certain position may include the fallacy of begging the question—i.e., it assumes the doctrine is not important, so that a denial of the doctrine does not raise the question as to whether or not someone is a Bible-believing Christian. For example, opponents of YEC often cite Origen as not holding to YEC as evidence that Christians have differed on this matter. Yet Origen also denied orthodox positions on other matters, including denying the biblical doctrine of hell. Was Rob Bell right to point to Origen’s denial of hell to argue that his denial of hell was within the bounds of historic Christianity? Is Peter Enns a “stalwart of the faith” even though he denies inerrancy, making inerrancy not that significant? The fact that someone in history who claimed to be a Christian and was right on some areas of doctrine held a position does not in itself mean the position does not affect orthodoxy. (NOTE: I’m not trying to equate Machen, Henry, or the others Taylor mentioned with Origen and Enns. I’m simply pointing out the tension this line of argumentation raises.)

Doctrinal Implications

Another reason Taylor mentions that “the great stalwarts of the faith were not convinced of this interpretation [literal days]” is because he wants to emphasize that their failure to embrace a literal 6-day interpretation did not lead them to heresy. “In some segments of the church, I fear that we’ve built an exegetical ‘fence around the Torah,’ fearful that if we question any aspect of young-earth dogmatics we have opened the gate to liberalism. The defenders of inerrancy above show that this is not the case.” Taylor highlights this fact because one way of determining the significance of a doctrine is to determine what impact its denial has on other key doctrines. As I’ve pointed out before, denying the bodily resurrection of believers effectively denies the bodily resurrection of Christ, which demonstrates the significance of the bodily resurrection of believers. If one can deny YEC without undermining inerrancy then perhaps YEC is not that significant.

Again, however, the matter is more complex than Taylor implies. We don’t always recognize the implications of our beliefs, which leads us to be inconsistent in the positions we hold. It is possible for someone to deny A and hold to B, even if denying A logically denies B (e.g., the above example where the Corinthians denied the bodily resurrection while affirming Christ’s bodily resurrection). So those who deny YEC and affirm inerrancy may actually be inconsistent—perhaps they don’t see how their denial of YEC undermines inerrancy.

I’m not (right now) arguing that denying YEC undermines inerrancy (see Mohler address that concern here), nor am I questioning the allegiance to inerrancy of the men Taylor mentions (as a general rule, it’s best not to condemn people for the implications of their position if they explicitly deny those implications). I’m simply pointing out that the fact that someone holds to inerrancy while not affirming YEC does not in itself demonstrate that YEC is therefore not significant (anymore than the fact that someone holds to inerrancy while not affirming complementarianism means it is not significant).

Opposing “Biblical Reasons”

The bulk of Taylor’s post offers 5 “biblical reasons to doubt young-earth exegesis.” I won’t address the arguments themselves (the first, as I already briefly noted, is irrelevant, and the rest more or less follow the framework theory ably critiqued by McCabe here and here). Rather I want to consider the underlying argument: because there are biblical reasons to doubt this position, we should not be too dogmatic about it. This raises the question of clarity in considering doctrinal significance. Whenever we are deliberating about doctrinal matters, we must keep ourselves rooted in the text, as Taylor notes: “[our] passion for sola Scriptura provides us with the humility and willingness to go back to the text again to see if these things are so.” That means we have to evaluate appeals to the Bible that are offered in opposition to our position.

But the presence of opposing “biblical” arguments does not necessitate doctrinal indifference. Most heresies have some sort of “biblical” argument supporting them—including appeals to Matt 16:18 to support the papacy or to John 10:16 to support the Book of Mormon. In other words, not every biblical argument is sound.

For example, I remember a discussion I had with some folks about a prominent evangelical theologian (who affirmed inerrancy) who defended his support of a speaker who denied inerrancy by appealing to the speaker’s interpretation of 2 Tim 3:16 as meaning “every Scripture that is inspired by God is also profitable”—a possible exegesis of the passage. Since the speaker came to his position in light of his exegesis we should not fault him. In the discussion of how to respond to this argument, one of the better responses given was this: the speaker may claim that is what 2 Tim 3:16 means, but he is wrong. The proper exegesis of the passage recognizes that Paul is claiming that all Scripture is inspired by God, so the speaker should be held to account for his flawed understanding of Scripture. We should not minimize inerrancy because of other people’s wrong exegesis.

I’m not saying that Taylor’s arguments are as bad as the ones I used for examples, but if his arguments are not as exegetically and theologically sound as those for YEC (as I think McCabe’s articles above demonstrate) then they should not lead Christians to be less dogmatic about their position.

To summarize: when considering doctrinal significance, we should take into account the four issues Taylor raises. While none of them are sufficient in themselves to determine how important a doctrine is, in combination they can help us work towards an answer. As you’ve probably picked up through my discussion, after considering YEC in light of these four areas, I feel no impetus to doubt the creation days were 24 hour periods. Though there is no direct statement of Scripture, there are direct logical/theological deductions from Scripture that support it. It was the historic position of believers, especially of those more committed to a normal (as opposed to allegorical) hermeneutic. There are some significant implications for denying YEC, and it matches with the best exegesis of the relevant passages. So, while I don’t think denying YEC means a person is not a believer (and, despite accusations to the contrary, I am not aware of any serious YEC proponent who does), I do think it is a significant doctrine that merits bold and firm affirmation and propagation.

Posted in Apologetics, Biblical Theology, Current Issues, Theology | Tagged , , | 14 Comments

Three Reasons Why Some Professing Christians Avoid Church

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post about the myth of unchurched Christians. Unfortunately the reality is that there are a good number of professing Christians who either shy away from church membership or avoid church attendance altogether. The problem of professing Christians who neglect church involvement is sadly not a myth.

There are a number of excuses that such professing believers give for their lack of church involvement. Here are three that I’ve heard:

  1. “I’ve been hurt by a previous church (or church leader).”

Sadly, this reason is often grounded in reality. Many people have been emotionally torn up by the actions of other people. Churches are full of sinners—hopefully, redeemed sinners, but sinners nonetheless. It should come as no surprise that sinners sin, and although all sin is ultimately against God, human sin often has harmful consequences in the lives of people who have been sinned against. But someone’s sin against you is not a good excuse for you to sin against God by ignoring his plan for this dispensation which is for his people to identify with a local church.

  1. “The church is full of hypocrites.”

Yes, local churches contain people who live hypocritically. To some extent, every person that acknowledges the lordship of Christ but continues to sin is acting hypocritically. This was a problem in the first century, and it remains a problem in the twenty-first as well. As long as believers possess a sin nature, they will sin against their Lord and Savior, and such sin runs contrary to their profession. However, this isn’t a good reason for avoiding the church, for few things could be more hypocritical than professing to love Christ while refusing to identify with his people in a local expression of the body of Christ.

  1. “I can worship God better on my own.”

Some professing believers speak of being “churchfree” or “satellite Christians.” They feel that because they can approach God directly through Christ, they do not need to be connected to a local church. In fact, some profess that their relationship with God has actually improved by walking away from the church. But if God’s plan for this age involves his people assembling together for worship, fellowship, and mutual accountability, then it doesn’t ultimately matter how one feels. The quality of one’s worship is not completely separate from affections or “feelings,” but feelings cannot override commands. One cannot worship God better by ignoring his instructions and the model that is pretty clearly laid out in the NT.

Sometimes these three excuses are used together, as if one could build a cumulative case for why he or she doesn’t need to be connected to a local church body. I’ve provided only the simplest replies to these excuses. Here are a few NT passages so-called unchurched Christians must wrestle with if they wish to continue excusing their lack of local church involvement:

Acts 16:5: “So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers.”

1 Corinthians 5:2, 4–5, and 12–13: “Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this?… So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan…. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. ‘Expel the wicked person from among you.’”

1 Timothy 3:14–15: “Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.”

Hebrews 10:24–25: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

Hebrews 13:7, 17, and 24: “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith…. Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account…. Greet all your leaders and all the Lord’s people.”

See also Acts 15:41; 1 Cor 1:2; 1 Cor 4:17; 1 Cor 7:17; 2 Cor 8:1–24; Gal 1:2; 1 Tim 5:17; Titus 1:5–9; Jas 5:14; and 1 Pet 5:1–4 among others.

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New Book of Interest

UnknownAt long last, we are pleased to announce that a new multiple views book, Perspectives on the Extent of the Atonement is now available. It has been an adventure and a wonderful learning experience working alongside Andy Naselli and the three major contributors (Carl Trueman, John Hammett, and Grant Osborne) to produce this work. I have high hopes that this book will be immediately useful not only for the academy, but for the church as well.

From the Foreword:

One can scarcely think of a question debated more passionately than the one addressed in our little book. Some of our readers can even now reflect on some acerbic quarrel about the extent of Christ’s atonement in which Christian restraint was wanting. So when we first floated a project that deliberately convened participants with conflicting perspectives on this topic, we wondered fleetingly whether the project might be a dreadful one. Our fears proved unwarranted as grace prevailed. The project proved to be a delightful one.

Our original band of three essayists morphed a bit over the course of time, and ended finally as a band of four. Carl Trueman, Paul Woolley Professor of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, brought his sprightly voice to the debate as champion of a definite atonement. Grant Osborne, long-time Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, crafted an initial essay in defense of a general atonement, then, after some serious health difficulties, handed the baton to his colleague at TEDS, Tom McCall, Associate Professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology, who capably contributed responses to the other two positions. John Hammett, Professor of Systematic Theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, rounded out the group with an apology for the multiple intentions view of Christ’s atonement.

Tolle Lege

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1st Century Copy of Mark’s Gospel

Over the past several years we have had several posts about a papyrus fragment of the Gospel of Mark discovered several years ago that preliminarily dates from the 1st century A.D. This would make it the earliest copy of the New Testament known to exist and the only one from the 1st century. It was supposed to have been published in 2013.

Now there is some new information from Dr. Craig Evans. He claims the papyrus fragment had been dated by various methods to be earlier than A.D. 90. and will be published in 2015. You can read about it here.

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Are All Religions the Same? The Christian Message in a Non-Christian World,204,203,200_.jpg

As the world becomes more global, the increasing awareness of and interaction with different religions combined with a change in the conception of truth has caused a reevaluation of Christian missions. Questions about the propriety of conversion, methods for evangelism, and the goal of missions have been debated for over a hundred years. Writing closer to the start of these debates (1938), The Dutch Reformed theologian and missionary Hendrik Kraemer offers his clear and forceful opinion on the necessity of Christian missions for the world in The Christian Message in a Non-Christian World. (The following quotations are from the third edition, Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1969).

Kraemer begins by describing the state of affairs at the time of his writing and the difficulties it posed for the world at large and the church in particular. The beginning of post-modernism was shaking much of the West, while the East was still reeling from its collision with the West. The Church was continuing to wrestle with how it should function as only a part of society rather than as the center. After noting these realities, Kraemer defends the importance of Christian missions and the need for conversion in the midst of this confusion: “The starting-point of missions is the divine commission to proclaim the Lordship of Christ over all life; and therefore a return to the pristine enthusiasm for evangelism and a new vision of what this implies in word and deed in the present and complicated world are needed” (60).

If Christians are to work towards the conversion of adherents of other religions, how should they view those religions? It is common today for professing Christians to view other religions as either equally valid paths to God or partial paths to be complemented by Christianity. Kraemer, though addressing the second mindset more directly, offers his unqualified denial of those options. Christianity is not fundamentally similar to other religions but is sui generis—in a category of its own. Religions are “the various efforts of man to apprehend the totality of existence, often stirring in their sublimity and as often pathetic or revolting in their ineffectiveness” (111).  Christianity is not the pinnacle or culmination of these efforts because these efforts are not pointing to Christ to begin with.

The Cross and its real meaning—reconciliation as God’s initiative and act—is antagonistic to all human religious aspirations and ends, for the tendency of all human religious striving is to possess or conquer God, to realize our divine nature (theosis). Christ is not the fulfillment of this but the uncovering of its self-assertive nature; and at the same time the re-birth to a completely opposite condition, namely, the fellowship of reconciliation with God (123).


This understanding of non-Christian religions reveals the continuing necessity of conversion but removes the sting of the charges of arrogance and superiority leveled against evangelism. If Christianity is the culmination of human religion, then the Christian missionary has the missing puzzle pieces others have lacked—strongly implying their inability to grasp them prior to the missionary offering his superior perception. But if Christianity is a completely different understanding revealed by God and empowered by the Holy Spirit, the missionary is in no state of superiority. Rather, he is an individual who has been graced with the truth of God and now humbly and fearfully works to bring this revelation to others.

This understanding of Christianity’s place in relationship to other religions also addresses the question of “points of contact.” Often, missionaries look for beliefs or practices in other religions that they can utilize to bring Christian belief and practice into a particular culture. Kraemer finds this practice dubious. First, because religions are a unified set of beliefs and practices, so no individual belief or practice can be separated from the whole.

Every religion is a living, indivisible unity. Every part of it—a dogma, a rite, a myth, an institution, a cult, is so vitally related to the whole that it can never be understood in its real function, significance and tendency, as these occur in the reality of life, without keeping constantly in mind the vast and living unity of existential apprehension in which this part moves and has its being (135).

Second, since religion is by nature an outgrowth of man’s rebellion against God, a better approach to other religions is an emphasis on the points of difference rather than similarity. “In light of the dialectical situations of all religious life and of all religions…points of contact in the real deep sense of the word can only be found by antithesis” (139). Kraemer proceeds to provide an overview of other main religions as they are found in various parts of the world and demonstrates this antithesis.

Is missions work then simply a rational persuasion highlighting the confrontation between the revelation of Christ and other religions while trusting the power of the Spirit? No, Kraemer does note a human element of contact—the missionary himself. The missionary must be aware of how the people think, believe, and live in order to best demonstrate his sincere concern for those he wants to embrace Christ. “Only a genuine and continuous interest in the people as they are creates real points of contact, because man everywhere intuitively knows that, only when his actual being is the object of human interest and love, is he looked upon in actual fact, and not theoretically, as a fellow-man” (140).

Though Kraemer’s denial of points of contact may need to be nuanced in some way, his focus on antithesis is a helpful reminder of the uniqueness of Christianity. God is not revealing Himself through the different religions around the world. He has revealed himself generally through creation and specifically through Jesus Christ and His Word. Thus, the only way for people to know God is through someone verbally communicating to them that gracious revelation found in Jesus Christ.

Posted in Apologetics, Current Issues, Missions | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Unchurched Christians, Minotaurs, and Other Mythical Beasts

From time to time I’ve met professing Christians who for one reason or another claim that they do not need to be part of a local church. In most cases, they seem to believe that because God has placed them in the universal Church, they can worship God just fine apart from a local body of believers. I’d like to suggest that such a view is not only mistaken but is also harmful to the unchurched person and dishonoring to God.

Everywhere one looks in the NT, one sees believers actively participating in a local body. In fact, the NT knows nothing of a perpetually disconnected Christian. The apostle Paul says roughly as much about healthy unchurched Christians as he does about minotaurs, unicorns, and leprechauns. From the day of Pentecost (Acts 2) to the seven churches addressed in Revelation 2 and 3, everywhere the NT assumes that those who profess faith in Christ in this dispensation are part of a local body of believers. Much of the NT was originally written to specific local churches and addressed questions about how the local church should conduct itself. The professing believer who attempts to live apart from a local church will not be able to obey a significant portion of the NT (1 Tim 3:15). Although I’m thankful for access to good books and sermons produced by believers all over the world, it is first and foremost within the context of a local church that believers are to be instructed in the Word and exhorted by fellow believers (Eph 4:11–13; 1 Tim 4:11–16; 2 Tim 4:2; Titus 3:1–2). Those who profess Christ but remain disconnected from a local church need to realize that they have turned away from one of God’s clearly intended means of spiritual growth: the leadership and fellowship of a local assembly.

More importantly, those believers who choose to live apart from a local church dishonor the head of the Church. Both the Church universal and the church localized are God’s idea, not man’s (Matt 16:18; Acts 2:41–47). God’s Word never depicts local church involvement as optional for the believer. And God certainly didn’t intend for there to be two kinds of Christians, those who worship him within a local church and those who just do their own thing. Those who profess to follow Christ while remaining disconnected from a local church are really saying that they know better than God.

The local church is one of God’s gifts to his people. It is a means by which they can be taught, encouraged, and exhorted to follow Christ. And ultimately, local church involvement is an essential part of a genuine Christian profession. Apart from such involvement, the profession itself can only be incomplete and highly suspect.

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Biblical Inerrancy, Preaching, and Bible Translation

As a conservative instructor at a conservative school, I occasionally meet with surprise that I use and love my NIV Bible. Classed by most as coming from the “functionally equivalent” school of Bible translation, the NIV has long been viewed with skepticism by many in the fundamentalist community, and has fallen on hard times among conservative evangelicals as well, picking up critics like John Piper, Leland Ryken, and others.

I’ll frankly concede up front that the publishers of the NIV have not helped themselves in the past decade by being a bit “stealthy” (the whole TNIV fiasco) and more culturally driven, at times, than is prudent; still, I remain sympathetic to the idea of the functional equivalency theory of translation. My primary sympathies derive not from the fact that functionally equivalent translations are simpler or easier to read (though they often are), but because I am convinced that this theory has the potential to produce the very most accurate translations—more accurate sometimes even than formal or literal translation theories. And as an inerrantist, I am extremely interested in accurate translation.

A few years back, the late Rod Decker published an exceptional article on this topic that confirmed me in this understanding, and I’d like to take a few moments to honor his memory by rehearsing a few of his arguments (mixed together with some commentary of my own):

Functional equivalency theory most successfully accounts for idioms (not that formal equivalency has no answer to this problem, but its answer is simply to say these are exceptions to the normal rules of word-for-word translation).

(2)  Functional equivalency theory most successfully accounts for the extremes of highly paratactic languages (enormously long strings of independent clauses connected by “and,” such as is common in Hebrew) and highly hypotactic languages (enormously long strings of dependent clauses connected by a variety of logical connecting devices, such as is common in Greek). Of course, this sometimes leaves functionally equivalent translations in the unenviable position of not including “all the words” (drawing ire, for instance, from John Piper in this video clip), but it also explains why this is sometimes warranted, viz., because transitions of thought and speech are often not identical when one language is converted to another.

(3)  Functional equivalency theory most successfully accounts for the problem of non-SVO languages (subject-verb-object) without producing translations that sound faintly like Yoda is reading the Bible.

(4)  Functional equivalency theory most successfully accounts for the problem of non-corresponding vocabulary sets between transmitter and receiver languages without opting for arcane or antiquated terms that average readers cannot recognize.

(5)  Functional equivalency theory most successfully accounts for the principle that the basic unit of propositional thought is not properly the word, but the clause/sentence.

My point here today is not to criticize formal equivalency in Bible translation or to wish that literal translations will “ride into the sunset” to disappear forever (as Piper did of the NIV). As many have pointed out, those who are familiar with Greek and Hebrew can often “see” the original languages bleeding through formal equivalency translations, making it easier to reconstruct the original and interpret it. For this reason I use formal equivalency translations regularly and with great profit, and promote their use particularly among those with advanced linguistic skills.

Nor have I found that using translations other than my functionally equivalent favorites to be a barrier to preaching or a danger to readers. The differences between formal and functional translations are not great, much less insuperable, but they are real, and I believe that a valid defense of functional equivalency may still be made despite the growing aggregate of arguments against it.

Posted in Bible Translation, Theology | Tagged | 3 Comments

Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal

If you notice the header of this blog, you will see a tab marked “Journal,” which if selected will take you to the web page for our seminary journal. Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal began in 1996 and is published annually in the fall of the year.  At the web page you will find the table of contents for all the back issues as well as free pdfs for all articles prior to 2011.

Here are links to a few of the articles from 1996–1997 that you may find of interest:

Erasmus and the Textus Receptus

The Message of Ecclesiastes

Persevering and Falling Away: A Reexamination of Hebrews 6:4-6

The Preface to the KJV and the KJV Only Position

James 2:21-24 and the Justification of Abraham

Elihu’s Contribution to the Thought of the Book of Job

Does the Believer Have One Nature or Two?

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The Gospel Coalition and Dispensationalism

Last month Ryan Kelly and Kevin DeYoung posted an essay on The Gospel Coalition (TGC) blog (that originally appeared in the spring 2014 issue of Affinity) defending the existence of interdenominational or extra-ecclesial partnerships. Though the essay addresses a few different examples of these kinds of partnerships, the main focus is on TGC. After a quick historical look (that, oddly, focuses primarily on state-sponsored efforts) they briefly discuss Together for the Gospel before providing a quick synopsis of TGC and then attempt to answer several criticisms that have been leveled against TGC. Whether or not they are successful at understanding and answering these criticisms is not under consideration here. Instead, I’d like to consider an interesting statement about TGC and Dispensationalists.

In the midst of defending TGC against the charge of being either too narrow and exclusive or too broad or ambiguous in its doctrinal stance, they discuss the nature of TGC’s Founding Documents:

“TGC circumscribes certain doctrinal positions and not others, because some are central to the preaching of the gospel (for example, penal substitution, the uniqueness of Christ, eternality of hell); some differences evince deep hermeneutical differences, and are practically necessary for something like a preaching conference (complementarianism); and some so affect our understanding of God’s glory and grace that they must be made explicit (Reformed soteriology)….TGC’s Confessional Statement falls within the broader Reformed tradition, and, as noted earlier, it is particular regarding monergistic soteriology, complementarianism, inerrancy, a historical Adam, and double imputation in justification; yet it is unspecific as to eschatology, church polity, sacraments, miraculous gifts, and the like. The Foundational Documents could not be fully embraced by hard-line dispensationalists, Lutherans, emergents, or mainline liberals. However, among the council there are Presbyterian, Reformed, Episcopalian/Anglican, Baptist, Free Church, and nondenominational, all of which must agree with what is contained in the Foundation Documents. At a little more than 2,300 words, the confessional statement is not aiming for the kind of doctrinal specificity found in the Westminster Confession of Faith or The Second Helvetic Confession. The points of doctrinal specificity in TGC’s documents are intentional, as are the areas of silence.”

Though I’m not certain what they mean by “hard-line dispensationalists,” I find the listing of four categories of “Christians” who could not fully embrace the Foundational Documents interesting: “hard-line dispensationalists, Lutherans, emergents, or mainline liberals.” The latter two would not be able to embrace the documents because they do not affirm things like inerrancy, penal substitution, the uniqueness of Christ, etc. In other words, they could not be part of TGC because they effectively deny the gospel. I’m not certain why Lutherans would be excluded (perhaps this is a reference to the controversy of the Lutheran view of sanctification espoused by former TGC blogger Tullian Tchividjian), but it seems odd that they and “hard-line dispensationalists” would be excluded along with those who have practically rejected the gospel.

So why would “hard-line dispensationalists” be excluded? Dispensationalism has no distinct teaching on areas related to “monergistic soteriology, complementarianism, inerrancy, a historical Adam, and double imputation in justification.” Many Dispensationalists—from a variety of flavors of Dispensationalism—would affirm all of those things. Where Dispensationalism offers a unique understanding in theology centers first of all in ecclesiology (e.g., what is the church, when did it start, what is its relationship to Israel) and secondarily in eschatology (e.g., when will the rapture occur, what is the nature of the kingdom, etc.) Those two areas seem to be matters where these authors claim TGC has remained silent: “[TGC’s confession] is unspecific as to eschatology, church polity, sacraments, miraculous gifts, and the like.”

Why are “hard-line dispensationalists” excluded then? My guess is that, despite Kelly and DeYoung’s claims, TGC has taken a stand on eschatology. As Kevin Bauder has noted, most traditional dispensationalists (perhaps this is what is meant by “hard-line”) do not believe that the kingdom has been inaugurated, while TGC’s Founding Documents explicitly claim that it has.

My question: why include a specific statement on the kingdom of God in the confessional statement but not specific statements on things like “church polity, sacraments, miraculous gifts, and the like”? Where does an inaugurated form of the kingdom fit in their explanation for what doctrinal specifics are included? Is it “central to the preaching of the gospel”? Is it a difference that “evince[s] deep hermeneutical differences, and [is] practically necessary for something like a preaching conference (complementarianism)”? Does it “so affect our understanding of God’s glory and grace that [it] must be made explicit”? I don’t see how it fits in any of those areas. So why include a statement in a confession designed to unite believers around the gospel that excludes a large number of believers who fully embrace the gospel?

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Winner Announcement

We are pleased to announce that Josh Peglow of Silverdale, WA is the winner of our recent book giveaway. The books will go in the mail today. Thanks to all who entered.

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Notes Toward a Theology of Pets and the Atonement (Spoof)

Angry catLast week, Pope Francis made headlines by announcing in his weekly address that we will be able to see our pets in heaven. Specifically, he pontificated, “Paradise is open to all of God’s creatures.” Since this statement is sure to set the theological world abuzz, I thought I would use this week’s blog post to help delineate some key theological implications of this statement:

(1)  Since Paradise is only “open to” all of God’s creatures, it is clear that the Pope is not advocating Pet Universalism, but something on the order of Hypothetical Pet Universalism or possibly Pet Amyraldism. It seems unlikely, however, based on the Pope’s track record, that he affirms the dread doctrine of Limited Pet Atonement.

(2)  As such, we must conclude that some pets do not meet the criteria for regeneration. Based on other Roman Catholic materials, it seems fairly clear that baptism is a critical piece of the puzzle. I am convinced that it is theologically necessary to conclude that while most dogs will go to heaven, cats universally go to Purgatory and thence to hell. This is because all cats refuse to submit to baptism—especially baptism by immersion. In my former life as a catvangelist, I found this to be consistently true.

(3)  The foregoing suggests that cats have been “given over” to a reprobate mind (Rom 1:24). Paul’s words later in the chapter are particularly instructive: while dogs do sin, they always look guilty afterward and seek forgiveness. Cats, on the other hand, “knowing that those who do unrighteous deeds deserve death, not only continue to do these very things, but also approve of those who practice them.” Cats definitively prove the doctrine of total depravity.

Dog prayingI could go on, but I thought the blogosphere would be the perfect place to collect additional materials toward a theology of pets. When you’re all done, I will collect all of your responses and forward them to the Vatican.

Nothing serious, please—any responses that are not at least a little bit funny will be snagged and summarily deleted by our blog enforcer.

Posted in Theology | Tagged , | 6 Comments

Book Giveaway

In the spirit of the season, we’ll be giving away a couple of books to one of our readers very soon. Here are the books:

Christians in an Age of Wealth by Craig Blomberg

Workbook in Romans by Kenneth Berding

If you’d like to be entered in the drawing, just leave a comment below mentioning one book you’ve read this year. The entry period will end at 5 pm EST, Tuesday, December 16, 2014. We’re planning to announce the winner sometime on Wednesday.

Posted in Book Review, Miscellaneous | Tagged | 31 Comments