INTRODUCING MAJOR THEOLOGIANS:
From the Apostolic Fathers to the Twentieth
Century By Michael Reeves
IVP. 335 pages. £14.99 ISBN 978 1 783 592 722
Historical theology is a valuable tool for deepening and enriching our understanding of the Christian faith.
While our theology must be based on Scripture as our supreme authority and should also be conversant with the thinking and cultural context of today’s world, we would be foolish to ignore what previous generations have taught. Faithful theology must be deeply informed by the church’s tradition. This is not traditionalism, although that is a constant danger, but rather the way of wisdom as we learn from the best that has been left to us by our forefathers.
However, there is bad and good historical theology. Bad historical theology cherry-picks the bits from the past that we like and that confirm what we think rather than reading the older theologians in their historical context. Sadly there is far too much of that kind of historical theology among evangelicals... (to read more click here)
Kenneth Brownell, senior minister, East London Tabernacle
Brussels is the centre of the European Union around which the debate about Britain’s membership is raging.
The plant team for Brussels
God has his people in that city and a new church plant began recently. Naomi Pilgrem takes up the story. ‘Why do we need another church? Our church is small and there aren’t enough of us as it is!’
The person asking that question was genuine and servant-hearted and this was their gut reaction to hearing that we were planning, under God, to leave the church we had been members of for five years in order to plant a new one in a neighbouring borough of Brussels.
In many ways, such a reaction is understandable. The church in Belgium is weak, the ground is hard, trained Bible teachers are few, finances are very limited and evangelicals make up a negligible percentage of the overall population. So the desire to bunker down and try and solidify what is in existence is in many ways legitimate and necessary.
God uses the weak
And yet, over the course of history, we see again and again that our sovereign God chooses to use that which is weak to accomplish his glorious purposes. And when we think that we know the Bread of Life and that two miles down the road, in the next borough, there are 50,000 people dying of spiritual hunger without access to a Francophone church where the gospel is clearly proclaimed…(to read more click here)
Ian Buchanan recommends that we now need to think in terms of intergenerational ministry
I’ve been thinking about 20th-century church growth logic.
I graduated from seminary in the 20th century. The church growth strategy that had been implanted in my imagination was similar to most other ministers from the 20th century: ‘When you’re leading a church, focus the congregation on the future of the church, the youth.’
Logically, the first agenda item for a new minister became the employment of a youth minister. And the logic seemed sound back then. After all, for most of human history young people have outnumbered older people. They were the largest market segment.
The Boston Matrix
In the 20th century the Boston Matrix was one of the business tools that some church leaders found helpful as they grew their churches. This matrix allows you to divide ‘your markets’ and your subsequent ‘product offerings’ into four distinct segments.
The two really important segments for churches were the ‘STARS’ where new growth, new products and the future lies and then there are the ‘CASH COWS’. This unfortunate use of a bovine image allows you to identify your ‘established markets’, ones that can be ‘milked’ in order to feed the more exciting outreach into the future, into those ‘STARS’.
I don’t know how widespread the use of the Boston Matrix became but I noticed that it clarified what many churches were doing instinctively. The church needed to focus on the youth and get the older folk (read: people in the second half of life) to give their all to ensure that young people came, stayed and brought in their parents. The future of the church was young people in families, or so we were told.
Two Americans, the editor of The Journalof Youth Ministry, Thomas Bergler and Professor of Youth and Family Ministry, Andrew Root, have helped 21st century churches to see the unhealthy trajectory of this strategy as it worked.…(to read more click here)
Ian Buchanan is Director of Marketing and Communications for the Pilgrims’ Friend Society.
Church leaders conferring at 2014 FIEC Leaders’ Conference
Pastors must go to conferences.
Pastors need days away from the pressures of ministry in the churches they lead. We need each other, new scenery, good friends, encouragement, r&r, and the whole host of other things which conferences give us. Residential conferences in the course of ministry are a gift from heaven to the church’s leaders.
Not all church leaders can get away, of course. Bi-vocational ministries, home-life demands and other factors mean that leaders sometimes just cannot get away. These men deserve our extra support. They should be the exception, though. Most pastors should be getting away.
EN interviews a giant among contemporary defenders of the faith
Ravi Zacharias is one of the world’s leading Christian apologists and was in Britain for the Keswick Convention.
en: Tell us a little about your worldwideministry.
RZ: Thirty years ago, Ravi Zacharias International Ministries began with a handful of friends and a specific calling: to reach and challenge those who shape the ideas of a culture with the credibility of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We now have offices in 12 countries with a speaking team of 30. Our vision is to continue to build a global team with a five-fold thrust of evangelism, apologetics, spiritual disciplines, training, and humanitarian support (through our outreach of Wellspring International). We accomplish this through a variety of resources and venues, including the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics, where we train and develop future apologist-evangelists.
en: What do you hope to speak on atKeswick this year?
RZ: We are living in a time when there has been a direct assault upon the Christian faith in ways that are very disturbing. It is as if all the forces allied against belief have come together to mount a co-operative and methodical assault. From the arts to the media and the academy, the Christian faith is caricatured and mocked. I would like to get to the basics of why our faith bridges the greatest chasm between the head and the heart. The explanatory power of the gospel in facing life’s questions is both beautiful and persuasive.
en: As you travel the world can you put thechurch in the West in perspective for us? What are its best and worst points?
RZ: Wherever we go, it is thrilling to see every venue packed with young people. There is deep hunger for meaning and for answers to their questions, and most are eager to listen. I am continually struck by the eagerness of so many young people who take their faith seriously and who want to be able to respond to their critics.
At the same time, we are precariously at risk of losing our young people. Many are walking away from the church and their faith, disappointed that no one is addressing their honest questions and doubts. Many of them are hanging onto their faith by a thread. This increased scepticism and hostility toward Christianity is compounded by the inability of so many in the church who are unable to articulate what they believe. Sceptics hurl questions or accusations in the public square, leaving many questioning the validity of their faith. We see it especially on the university campuses where young professing Christians are struggling. Their beliefs are under attack, and so many simply walk away from their beliefs, feeling unsure how to respond to the claims of atheism or other challenges.
So we have erred in not answering these questions and not responding to the issues, and I think that’s why there is such a resurgence of interest in apologetics. The church is awakening to the need, but I believe if we do not reach them at an earlier age, the Christian message will be totally foreign to the Western world and totally mythical in the next generation.
en: As a Christian apologist, what do youthink is the atheist’s best argument and howdo we begin to answer it?
RZ: The most obvious one is the problem of evil and suffering. But I have often noted that I believe that the single greatest obstacle to the impact of the gospel has not been its inability to provide answers, but the failure on our part to live it out. I remember well in the early days of my Christian faith talking to a close Hindu friend. He was questioning the experience of conversion as being supernatural. He absolutely insisted that conversion was nothing more than a decision to lead a more ethical life and that, in most cases, it was not any different from other ethical religions. I had heard his argument before. But then he said something I have never forgotten: ‘If this conversion is truly supernatural, why is it not more evident in the lives of so many Christians I know?’. His question is a troublesome one. In fact, it is so disturbing a question that I think of all the challenges to Christianity, this is the most difficult question of all.
The moral argument in defence of the Christian faith is a powerful one – but notice that it also cuts both ways. The atheist who challenges the Christian must also give an answer to where the standard of good originates. That is because when you say there is such a thing as good, you must assume there is a moral law by which to distinguish between good and evil. There must be some standard by which to determine what is good and what is evil. When you assume a moral law, you must posit a moral lawgiver – the source of the moral law. But this moral lawgiver is precisely who atheists are trying to disprove.
Additionally, I offer these four points. One, no matter how we section physical concrete reality, we end up with a quantity that cannot explain its own existence. If all material quantities cannot explain their own existence, the only possibility for self-explanation would be something that is non-material. Two, wherever we see intelligibility, we find intelligence behind it. Three – and back to the original challenge – we intuitively know that our moral reasoning points to a moral framework within the universe. The very fact that the problem of evil is raised either by people or about people intimates that human beings have intrinsic worth. Four, the human experience in history and personal encounter sustains the reality of the supernatural. These combined factors point to God, the nonphysical, intelligent, moral first cause who has given us intrinsic worth and who we can know by personal experience. And, ultimately, only in the gospel do we find that Christ alone responds to the deepest questions of our hearts and minds.
en: What is the best approach for Christians to take in witnessing to Muslims?
RZ: The challenge of Islam is real, but even with its stridency, many within the heartland of this religion are becoming disillusioned. We must respond by seeking to understand their faith and culture and to truly love them as our neighbour. We must also be prepared to disciple those who come out from them to faith in Christ – this is utterly crucial. We hear story after story of God intervening in their lives through visions and dreams. God in his sovereignty is using their worldview by which to reach them. That is why discipling will take on such great importance.
en: How can people pray for you and yourministry?
RZ: Please pray for our families. As itinerants, we miss our children and they are our most important trust. Pray also for our need to balance work with replenishment and restoration. Finally, pray for our own integrity of life and character. Without living out the gospel, our words will sound hollow. Thank you for praying for us and thank you for staying the course. The Keswick movement has truly been a long obedience in the same direction.
Kevin DeYoung explains from 2 Peter 1 what the Bible says about itself
Whatever Peter, James, and John saw on the mountain, and whatever it portended about the second coming of Christ and the last judgment, these things only confirmed what the prophetic word had already made sure (v. 19). You cannot put more confidence in your Bible than Peter put in his.
Notice three truths these verses teach us about the nature of Scripture.
Scripture is the Word of God. This may sound like a redundant statement, but the is says something important. Some Christians, influenced by neo-orthodox theologians like Karl Barth, are hesitant to say the Bible is the Word of God. Instead, they argue that the Bible contains the Word of God, or becomes the Word of God. Neo-orthodox thinking attempts to distance claims of inspiration from the written words on the pages of Scripture. This distinction, however, would have been foreign to Peter, for all the lofty claims he makes about the ‘prophetic word’ are made with reference to the written words of Scripture.
Peter uses three different terms to refer to the Word of God in these verses: the ‘prophetic word’ (v.19), ‘prophecy of Scripture’ (v.20), and ‘prophecy’ (v.21). They all mention prophecy and are used interchangeably. Importantly, for our considerations, the Greek word in verse 20 for Scripture is graphe, which refers to something that has been written down. Peter has in mind for verse 20 not just oral traditions or a speech event, but a written text. Peter’s view of inspiration cannot be limited to prophetic speech or a preaching event; it includes the pages of Scripture.
And not just the prophetic parts about the second coming. The whole Old Testament is in view. Just as ‘the Law and the Prophets’ can be a general designation for the Old Testament (cf. Matthew 7.12), so can the law or the prophets separately. No Jew would make a distinction that some parts of Scripture were truer parts than others (cf. 2 Timothy 3.16). Whatever is true of the law is true of the prophets, and vice versa. The ‘prophetic word’ is simply a way of referring to inscripturated revelation.
All of this matters because it means the authority of God’s word resides in the written text – the words, the sentences, the paragraphs – of Scripture. Some people don’t like written texts and propositions because they imply a stable, fixed meaning, and people don’t want truth to be fixed. They would rather have inspiration be more subjective, more internal, more experiential. But according to 2 Peter 1.19-21, the inspiration of holy Scripture is an objective reality outside of us.
None of this is to suggest that inspiration leads us away from the subjective, internal, or experiential. Quite the contrary. We are to ‘pay attention’ to the inspired Scriptures as to ‘a lamp shining in a dark place’ (v.19). We immerse ourselves in Scripture so that the morning star, Christ himself, would rise in our hearts. The goal of revelation is not information only, but affection, worship, and obedience. Christ in us will be realised only as we drink deeply of the Bible, which is God’s Word outside of us.
Human but divine
The Word of God is no less divine because it is given through human instrumentality. Many claim that conservative Christians hold to a mechanical dictation theory of inspiration. Evangelicals, it is said, believe the writers of the Bible were passive instruments who merely recorded what they were given by rote from heaven. It’s true that older theologians sometimes spoke of the Scriptures as being so flawless that it’s as if they were given by dictation. The metaphor (probably more misleading than helpful) was meant to underscore the Bible’s perfection, but it was not meant to describe the actual process whereby the authors of the Bible wrote their inspired texts. Rather, 2 Peter 1.21 teaches, as evangelicals have emphasised, that men spoke (and wrote) as they were ‘carried along’ by the Holy Spirit.
The phrase ‘concursive operation’ is often used to describe the process of inspiration, meaning that God used the intellect, skills, and personality of fallible men to write down what was divine and infallible. The Bible is, in one sense, both a human and a divine book. But this in no way implies any fallibility in the Scriptures. The dual authorship of Scripture does not necessitate imperfection any more than the two natures of Christ mean our Saviour must have sinned.
The verb ‘carried’ in verse 21 suggests an assured outcome, one that is carried out and guaranteed by another. The words from heaven (vv.17-18) and the words from the prophets (v.21) ultimately came from the same place: God.
B.B. Warfield explains: ‘The term here used [for carried/borne] is a very specific one. It is not to be confounded with guiding, or directing, or controlling, or even leading in the full sense of that word. What is ‘borne’ is taken up by the ‘bearer’ and conveyed by the ‘bearer’s’ power, not its own, to the ‘bearer’s’ goal, not its own. The men who spoke from God are here declared, therefore, to have been taken up by the Holy Spirit and brought by his power to the goal of his choosing.’1
The Bible is without error. The Scriptures do not come from human interpretation (2 Peter 1.20). The ideas did not spring forth from the confused mind of man. More than that, Peter testifies that no prophecy was ever produced by the ‘will of man’ (v.21). The ultimate authorship of Scripture, Peter informs us, is God himself.
There are many texts we could use to show that the Bible is without error, but here’s the simplest argument: Scripture did not come from the will of man; it came from God. And if it is God’s Word then it must all be true, for in him there can be no error or deceit.
Inerrancy means the Word of God always stands over us and we never stand over the Word of God. When we reject inerrancy we put ourselves in judgment over God’s Word. We claim the right to determine which parts of God’s revelation can be trusted and which cannot. When we deny the complete trustworthiness of the Scriptures – in its claims with regard to history; its teachings on the material world; its miracles; in the tiniest ‘jots and tittles’ of all that it affirms – then we are forced to accept one of two conclusions: either Scripture is not all from God, or God is not always dependable. To make either statement is to affirm a sub-Christian point of view. These conclusions do not express a proper submission to the Father, do not work for our joy in Christ, and do not bring honour to the Spirit, who carried along the men to speak the prophetic word and to author God’s holy book.
Heart of our faith
Defending the doctrine of inerrancy may seem like a fool’s errand to some and a divisive shibboleth to others, but, in truth, the doctrine is at the heart of our faith. To deny, disregard, edit, alter, reject, or rule out anything in God’s Word is to commit the sin of unbelief. Finding a halfway house, where some things in the Bible are true and other things (as we have judged them) are not, is an impossibility. This kind of compromised Christianity, besides flying in the face of the Bible’s own self-understanding, does not satisfy the soul or present to the lost the sort of God they need to meet.
How are we to believe in a God who can do the unimaginable and forgive our trespasses, conquer our sins, and give us hope in a dark world if we cannot believe that this God created the world out of nothing, gave the virgin a child, and raised his Son on the third day? ‘One cannot doubt the Bible’, J. I. Packer warns, ‘without far-reaching loss, both of fullness of truth and of fullness of life. If therefore we have at heart spiritual renewal for society, for churches and for our own lives, we shall make much of the entire trustworthiness – that is, the inerrancy – of holy Scripture as the inspired and liberating Word of God.’2