Progressive Christianity

Did Jesus believe the Bible?

I stumbled on a blog post recently that compared the cool rebel Jesus with the faithful Bible-believers who handed him over to be crucified.

Here's how the writer described Jesus' opponents,

They aggressively studied apologetics so they could argue publicly to prove him wrong. They were sticking to the Bible. They were faithful believers who knew the Bible. They understood the Bible. They understood the character of God. They were the only group of people on Earth who had the holy scriptures and writings that documented the promises and the law of the one true living God. They were the believers. They were believers, and they nailed the heretic to the cross.

Strong words that pit Jesus against his opponents and characterise the Pharisees and Sadducees as first century Bible-believers.

The problem is, Jesus believed his Bible. According to Jesus, the Scripture cannot be broken. He came to fulfil its promises.

In the wilderness Satan used the Bible against Jesus, yet Jesus countered each time with, "It is written. . ."

Jesus' authority was based on the true meaning of Scripture.

When his opponents asked him about marriage, he replied “Haven’t you read…” and went on to quote the Old Testament and equate the words of Scripture with the words of God (Matt 19:4-6).

Jesus replied, You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. (Matt 22:29).

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus contrasted his teaching with what his audience had heard.

You have heard it said
But I say to you

Was Jesus overturning the authority of Scripture and replacing it with his own words? 

The key is the phrase, “you have heard it said”. According to Ellis, this phrase is never used to introduce the writings of Scripture. Instead Jesus is contrasting the true meaning of Scripture with the traditions and interpretations of his opponents.

For the sake of your traditions you nullify the word of God (Matt 15:6).

Jesus’ teachings did not overturn Scripture but brought out its true meaning. God is not just opposed to murder, he’s opposed to hatred. He’s not just against adultery, but he rejects lust. That's the true meaning of Scripture, not a new meaning of Scripture.

Jesus brought out and intensified the true meaning of Scripture.

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.  For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished (Matt 5:17-18).

Nowhere in the Gospels does Jesus reject the authority of the Old Testament. He came to fulfil the Scriptures, not overturn them. The God of the Old Testament is the God and Father of the Lord Jesus.

That's why in the days following the resurrection Jesus was careful to walk his disciples through the whole of the Old Testament from Genesis to Malachi. He was preparing them for their world-wide mission. The mission of the risen Lord is founded upon a right understanding of the Old Testament—the Bible Jesus read and believed.

Beware of those who would have you believe otherwise. They may be 21st century opponents of Jesus, placing their word above God's word.

[ed. With some help from: Earle Ellis, How Jesus Interpreted His Bible.]

The dark side of The Shack

Since it was first published in 2007 the Shack has sold over 20 million copies. This week it was released as a motion picture. This is a book and a film that will book will influence the popular religious imagination.

After discussing it's strengths, Tim Keller shares his concerns.

At the heart of the book is a noble effort—to help modern people understand why God allows suffering, using a narrative form. . . . 

However, sprinkled throughout the book, Young's story undermines a number of traditional Christian doctrines. Many have gotten involved in debates about Young's theological beliefs, and I have my own strong concerns. But here is my main problem with the book. Anyone who is strongly influenced by the imaginative world of The Shack will be totally unprepared for the far more multi-dimensional and complex God that you actually meet when you read the Bible.

In the prophets the reader will find a God who is constantly condemning and vowing judgment on his enemies, while the Persons of the Triune-God of The Shack repeatedly deny that sin is any offense to them. The reader of Psalm 119 is filled with delight at God's statutes, decrees, and laws, yet the God of The Shack insists that he doesn't give us any rules or even have any expectations of human beings. All he wants is relationship. The reader of the lives of Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and Isaiah will learn that the holiness of God makes his immediate presence dangerous or fatal to us.

Someone may counter (as Young seems to do, on p.192) that because of Jesus, God is now only a God of love, making all talk of holiness, wrath, and law obsolete. But when John, one of Jesus' closest friends, long after the crucifixion sees the risen Christ in person on the isle of Patmos, John 'fell at his feet as dead.' (Rev.1:17)

The Shack effectively deconstructs the holiness and transcendence of God. It is simply not there. In its place is unconditional love, period. The God of The Shack has none of the balance and complexity of the Biblical God. Half a God is not God at all.

 

Theology Matters

Katharine Jefferts Schori

Katharine Jefferts Schori

Why do progressive/liberal/mainline churches decline?

For years academics and church officials have denied that decline has anything to do with beliefs. Decline resulted from external factors, not internal factors.

Former Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal church, Katharine Jefferts Schori, claimed that since Episcopalians were better-educated and cared for the earth, they had lower birth rates than other Christians.

Recently a Canadian study has concluded that theology does matter.

The authors of Theology Matters: Comparing the Traits of Growing and Declining Mainline Protestant Church Attendees and Clergy surveyed 2,225 churchgoers in Ontario, Canada, and conducted interviews with 29 clergy and 195 congregants.

Some of the results:

  • Only 50% of clergy from declining churches agreed it was “very important to encourage non-Christians to become Christians”, compared to 100% of clergy from growing churches.
  • 71% of clergy from growing churches read the Bible daily compared with 19% from declining churches. 
  • 46% of people attending growing churches read the Bible once a week compared with 26% from declining churches. 
  • 93% of clergy and 83% of worshippers from growing churches agreed with the statement “Jesus rose from the dead with a real flesh-and-blood body leaving behind an empty tomb”. This compared with 67% of worshippers and 56% of clergy from declining churches. 
  • 100% of clergy and 90% of worshippers agreed that “God performs miracles in answer to prayers”, compared with 80% of worshippers and 44% of clergy from declining churches.

About two-thirds of congregations at growing churches were under the age of 60, whereas two-thirds of congregations at declining churches were over 60.

Why study the decline of the Protestant mainline? We watch and learn, or their future will become ours.

Was Jesus a Red Letter Christian?

red letter bible.jpg

In some bibles the actual words of Jesus are printed in red. Red Letter Christians regard Jesus’ actual words in the Gospels as more authoritative than the rest of Scripture.

They want to take Jesus’ words seriously and live them out, especially the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount. I can understand why someone might be drawn to Red Letter Christianity. I also think they might have an agenda.

Apparently Red Letter Jesus is a warrior for LGBT rights, he’s for action on climate change, he leans left politically and he doesn’t believe in hell.

Unfortunately the real Jesus said some things that might upset Red Letter Christians.

He regarded the whole of Scripture as given by God. He didn’t come to overturn the teaching of the Old Testament but to fulfil it. He regarded the God revealed in the Old Testament as his Father.

He affirmed the teaching of Genesis that marriage is a union between a man and a woman (Matthew 19:4-6). He taught that sexual immorality characterises those who will not enter the kingdom of heaven (Mark 7:21-22).

He sent his disciples to the nations to tell them of the message of his death and resurrection and call them to repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Luke 24:46-47).

As the risen Lord he continued to shape the life, message and mission of the early church resulting in the writing of not only the Gospels but the Acts and the Epistles. 

The Jesus of history and the risen Lord Jesus are one. How do we know that? By reading the red letters of the Gospels, in their entirety, and taking them seriously.

Wheaton professor decides that Christians and Muslims “Worship the Same God.”

Why would a Christian academic at an evangelical college equate the God revealed in the Qur’an and the God revealed through Jesus Christ? Why shouldn’t we be surprised when it happens?

In the lead up to Christmas, Larycia Hawkins, a Wheaton professor donned a purple headscarf in solidarity with Muslims and declared that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.

Wheaton stood her down, not for wearing the hijab, but “to explore theological implications of her recent public statements.”

Wheaton, an evangelical college, does not teach that the God of Islam is the same God of the Christian faith.

Hawkins has stood her ground. Wheaton College students have staged a sit-in at president Philip Ryken’s office.

Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God? It can be arranged.

Remove God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, deny the Incarnation, the Cross and the Resurrection, affirm salvation through your own efforts and you could possibly equate the God of Islam and the God revealed by Jesus Christ. Alternatively, you could take both Islam and Christianity seriously. You will soon find that they are different faiths with very different concepts of God.

Movements are born and maintained through commitment to a cause. When people stop caring, a movement begins to fade away. Our modern-postmodern society does not share our commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord. We can make peace and be accepted if we’ll just stop insisting on his uniqueness.

We face that pressure every day. It’s nothing new.

Jesus laid down his life for claiming he was more than just another religious teacher. Paul found that the message of the Cross was unacceptable to both religious fundamentalists and immoral pagans. So he proclaimed a foolish message in weakness and God did the rest.

Jesus Christ alone is Lord and Saviour of the world. Stake your life on it, expect trouble and you will see God's glory revealed.