Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Bad Fundamentalism

This past year I have had some interesting experiences with fundamentalists, particularly as concerns the King James Only movement. This post represents my thoughts on the particular brand of fundamentalism represented by the King James Only movement.

It is my thesis that much of the modern-day movement that is best known a Fundamentalism represents, at best, a caricature of what fundamentalism originally was. The original fundamentalist would not acknowledge many of those who claim the title today – and many who claim the title today would not own those for whom it was originally coined.

This is a strong statement, and it must therefore be supported with evidence. The term ‘Fundamentalist’ is usually considered to have been coined from the title of a series of books published in 1909. These volumes, originally a dozen paperbacks, were collected in four volumes in 1917, and are now available from Baker Book House. They are well worth reading, even though, like most multi-author works, some authors are better than others. It is these volumes, in the four-volume edition, that will be the evidence for what fundamentalism originally was.

First of all, fundamentalism was a movement seeking unity among believers.[1] The evidence for this is the remarkable diversity to be found in the backgrounds of the contributors, who came from all denominations as well as from independent and non-denominational churches. It is not always possible to determine a writer’s denominational background, but most often it is. In the third volume we find contributions from a member of the United Free Church of Scotland, a Southern Baptist, a Canadian Anglican, the Bishop of Durham, England, two men from the Presbyterian Church, USA, a Scottish Baptist, and an English Congregationalist. Not all of these denominations were ‘pure’ in themselves, let alone separatist in their stance. The men differ in their views of baptism and Church government, to say nothing of other matters. Thus The Fundamentals must be viewed as an expression of unity around a doctrinal core – the ‘fundamentals’ of the title. Gail Riplinger has described B.B. Warfield as a "liberal" in Hazardous Materials, yet Warfield contributed the article on the deity of Christ to The Fundamentals, and is one of the men commonly credited with developing the doctrine of inerrancy as presently understood. In the 1900s Warfield was regarded as a Fundamentalist. Any definition of "liberal" that includes B.B. Warfield is so broad as to be completely meaningless.

Nor were the contributors to The Fundamentals agreed concerning the doctrines of grace, except for the one point that they were not among the fundamental points of Christianity. Probably a majority of the contributors came from Churches that are historically Calvinistic, but not all. Thus, again, the intention of the original fundamentalists was to unite Bible-believing Christians in the various denominations to stand for the truth.

So what were the fundamentals? First of all, the fundamentalists held the inspiration and infallibility of the Bible as the foundation of everything else. Secondly, God as revealed in Christ, who is both true God and true man. The resurrection of the dead, the personality and deity of the Holy Spirit, sin as an objective offence against God, judgement to come, and the penal substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ, justification by faith in Christ alone, the providence of God over all, and the personal second coming of Jesus Christ. Interestingly, this final point is without timing, one’s view on the millennium is not considered a fundamental point of doctrine. While all contributors agreed that God is the creator, they were not all creationists in the modern understanding of the word.

What then? It follows that the true heirs to the Fundamentalists are not those separatists who seem determined on ever-narrowing the circle of true believers, but those who seek unity among Bible-believing Christians on the basis of those fundamental doctrines that the original Fundamentalists fought for. It also follows that those who separate on matters other than those fundamental truths of Scripture are not real Fundamentalists at all. Thus those who anathematize professing Christians for not being King James Only, Premillennial, Dispensationalist, Arminian Baptists are not true fundamentalists at all, but false fundamentalists, schismatics and sectarians. Or, for want of a better phrase, Bad Fundamentalists.

[1] Note well, this was unity among Bible-believing Christians in various denominations, not unity with those who did not believe the Bible. It was unity in truth.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas blessings

Luke (Luke 2.8) tells us that the first announcement of the birth of Jesus Christ was made to "shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night." It was not made to rich men living in pleasure, or to learned men (although learned men did come later), but to ordinary men who were going about their business. Ordinary men doing their jobs, following their vocation.

Oneof the errors that led to the popularity of monasticism in the Middle Ages was that you could not have close communion with God in secular work, but had to give yourself up to a life of contemplation. But the shepherds tell us something quite different, namely that there is no lawful vocation that God is not pleased with. Matthew Henry wrote:

"We are not out of the way of divine visits when we are sensibly employed in an honest calling and abide with God in it."

And it was those men, ordinary men, who were blessed, not Herod in his palace, or the high priest in the temple. No matter where you are this Christmas, or any other time of the year, you can meet with God. The idea that we need special disciplines such as the Lectio Divina to meet with God, or that new monasteries should be started, is quite wrong.

And what were the shepherds called to see? A child, wrapped in swaddling-clothes and lying in a manger. A child for whom there was no room at the inn. Calvin wrote:

"So he was pushed into a stable and lodged in a manger, denied a place of hospitality among men, that heaven may lie open to us, not only as a place in which to lodge, but as an eternal home-land and inheritance, and that angels should receive us to dwell with him."

There is no room for Christ in so many homes this Christmas, and that is a tragedy, for thoe who have no room for Christ in this life will find that He has no room for them when He comes again with glory to judge the living and the dead. As for those who have received Him,

And our eyes at last shall see Him,
Through His own redeeming love;
For that child so dear and gentle
Is our Lord in heaven above;
And He leads His children on
To the place where He is gone.

Not in that poor lowly stable,
With the oxen standing by,
We shall see Him, but in heaven,
Set at God's right hand on high;
When like stars His children crowned
All in white shall wait around.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Total and Complete Insanity

Just before Chritmas is not the time I want to write this, but I ought to. I have recently become aware of claims that there are "Counterfeit King James" Bibles in circulation. What is the problem:

"Here are some of the changes I located: Asswaged has been changed to assuaged. Basons has been changed to basins. Chesnut has been changed to chestnut. Cloke has been changed to cloak. Enquire has been changed to inquire. Further has been changed to farther. Jubile has been changed to jubilee. Intreat has been changed to entreat. Morter has been changed to mortar. Ought has been changed to aught, and rereward has been changed to rearward. "

In other words, some spellings have been updated. Now, what is most utterly crazy about it is that the vast majority of the differences between the 1611 King James and the 1769 Blayney revision of the text are just like these examples, they are spelling changes, updating Elizabethan spellings with 18th century ones. Thus in 1611 Noah built an Arke, while in the 18th century revision he built an ark. Pass was often spelled Passe, and Days was spelled Dayes. Son was spelled Sonne, and Year was Yeere. Believe was spelled Beleeve, and Truth Trueth. In terms of names, Jerusalem in the 1611 AV is Hierusalem, and Pharisee is Pharise. Now, unless I am very much mistaken, the same thought process that produced the hysterical article about "Counterfeit King James Bibles" because 18th century spelling had been updates to 21st century spelling, would also logically apply to the spelling changes in the 18th century. In other words, if spelling is so vital that it cannot be updated. I quote again:

"You see I believe God wrote the Bible through sinful men. I believe God copied the Bible through sinful men. I believe God translated the Bible through sinful men, and I believe God edited (purified) the Bible through sinful men. So therefore I believe God gave us the exact words in the exact order He wanted us to have them in. If that’s the case then He spelled the words exactly the way He wanted to spell them, and gave them to us in a pure language, and that language is the standard text of the King James Bible. "

Again, if spelling is so important that God inspired the spelling, then any changes to the spelling of the King James Bible are wrong, and always have been. Yet the fact of the matter is that the AV that our author holds to be the standard departs in literally thousands of places from the 1611 original (there are multiple spelling changes on literally every page). He is therefore on the horns of a dilemma. Either the 18th century revision was wrong, or the original translators were.

Because he does not allow that this insistence on correct spelling is a relatively modern phenomenon in the English language. My own surname is spelled in at least a dozen different ways in the parish records of my forefathers, and John Wycliffe spelled his own name in many different ways! What is more, the spelling of a word does not affect its meaning. Whether Peter's confession was "Thou art Christ the sonne of the living God" (1611), or "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God" (20th century Oxford King James), the meaning is the same. Surely this is taking King James Only silliness to new heights of ridiculousness!

Oh, and I note that the modern King James has the definite article before "Christ", making it New Age accoding to Gail Riplinger, as opposed to the 1611, which has just "Christ".

Note: I checked, the 20th century Oxford King James I am using for comparison does not have an updated text. Well, unless it's compared with the 1611, of course!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

You Don't Need to do Penance!

Evangelicals quite rightly criticize the Roman Catholic Church for its insistence that it is possible for Christians to lose their state of grace through mortal sin, and that the only way to restore such a person is through the sacrament of penance. In our formal theology we insist that there is no need for penance to deal with sins after baptism.

The trouble is, our formal theology is often rather different from our day-to-day informal theology. And this informal theology often assumes that our sins change God's view of us, and in order to be restored to God's favour, we need to do something, or, worse, to feel something. In other words, many Evangelicals are practical Romanists, we feel we need some sort of penance for our sins. Of course, I am not referring to people who make a profession of faith, but have no qualms at all about sinning with a high hand, but to Christians who fall into sin and then feel that God is angry with them because of that sin.

Here is the good news. We have a representative High Priest in heaven for us, Jesus Christ the Righteous, who always appears in the presence of God the Father to make intercession for us. And the fact that He is there means this: God is on our side whether we are victorious or defeated, when we are able to resist temptation and when we yield to it. "If we confess our sins [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins." Now, we would expect that text to read, 'He is merciful and gracious to forgive us our sins,' but it does not. Why is this? It is because Jesus died for our sins on the cross, it is because the forgiveness of sins was purchased for us there, and thus if God does not forgive the sins of His people He would be unfaithful to His promise of the forgiveness of sins, and unjust in not pardoning the sins Jesus died for.

Christian, you do not need a penance. The price of sin has been fully paid. You do need a confessional, and you have that in Jesus, the sympathising High Priest who bids you to come unto Him and confess your sins in prayer. And having confessed that you are a sinner, Jesus speaks those wonderful words, "Your sins are forgiven you."

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Where Would You Rather Be?

This afternoon I had the great privilege of visiting one of our members in hospital. He was unable to go to church, and so I went to take the Church's blessing to him. It was a blessed visit. On the way home on my bike I asked myself the question, "What would I rather be doing?" By the grace of God, I can say that the answer was "Nothing."

And is there anything better than spending time with God's saints, particularly those who have longer experience in the things of God than you do? There cerainly ought not to be! Certainly a pastor ought to be eager to visit. It pains me to hear any pastor say that he has no time for God's people, to visit those in hospital who are not actually dying. Is there anything more important? Where would you rather be? You see, pastor, that is your job, visit the people of God. Remember this, on the last day God says to His sheep, "I was sick and you visited me." And oh the awful thought that occurs in that connection, that it is the goats who did not visit! God be merciful to us if we would rather be anywhere else. So I didn't have an afternoon of rest and reading. I can always read some other time!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

What's in your Pastor's Library?

One of the greatest inventions of the 21st century is Table Talk Radio. This is a lively Lutheran theological game-show. It is a little too Lutheran at times, but until some Reformed Baptists start something similar, I’ll keep on listening to the Lutherans!

The great thing about Table Talk Radio is the ability of those at home to play along. Many are the times when I have been yelling at the computer that Pastor needs to guess something else on ‘Bible Bee’ (I think I do really well on that), or laughed at the cluelessness of Vicar Evan.

One of the lesser-played games is called “What’s in Your Pastor’s Library?” The game can be quite amusing, but the point is one that every church member ought to have an interest in. What is in your pastor’s library? Is it the latest books on leadership and the latest best-selling Christian paperback? Is it volume after volume of material by the latest trendy writers whose books will be completely unsellable in a decade’s time? All too often I am afraid this is the case.

A pastor’s library is his equipment for the work. If a pastor has a library that is too small or that is wrongly-oriented, it will affect his effectiveness. The first priority of the pastor is to “preach the Word”, so the priority in his library must be books that are intended to help him to do that, good, sound commentaries. Second must be those books about preaching and interpreting the Word that are intended to develop the pastor’s ability to “preach the Word.”

Nor should the books in the pastor’s library all be from the same period in Church history. They should at least come from the whole period from the Reformation to the present day, though a good library ought also to include selected writings from the Church Fathers and at least Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo? from the Middle Ages. No serious pastor’s library should be without books by John Calvin and Martin Luther, those men were masters in Israel, and understood the Bible as few others ever have. From the 17th century we must have the Puritans, Thomas Goodwin, Richard Sibbes, John Flavel, Richard Baxter and John Owen. Those translations from the Continental masters of the same period are often worth their weight in gold, a case in point are the sermons of Jean Daille on Philippians and Colossians. From the 18th century come the writings of John Wesley and George Whitefield. The Reformed pastor who refuses to read Wesley robs himself of a great source of encouragement and Bible teaching. From the Baptists come the writings of John Gill and Andrew Fuller. The two men are quite different in many ways, but both well worth reading. John Newton’s works are of course beyond praise. Jonathan Edwards’ works are a gold-mine of God-centred thought.

The 19th century is a veritable gold-mine, little tapped. In addition to the Hodges, to the Alexanders, to the great men of the Southern Presbyterian Church such as Thornwell and Dabney, and to Spurgeon, there are a host of writers from the 19th century who are a great help to the reader. One thing every pastor should try to obtain is a set of the early Cunningham Lectures; each of these volumes is a definitive treatise on a point of Christian doctrine. James Denney’s The Death of Christ should have a place in every pastor’s library. Equally, the works of R.W. Dale of Birmingham are a precious store-house of thought.

The 20th century provides a lot of good works as well. B.B. Warfield, J. Gresham Machen, A.W. Tozer, G. Campbell Morgan, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, J.I. Packer, John Stott, those are a few of the great 20th century writers.

Nor should all your pastor’s books be from his own tradition. One of the signs of a narrow fundamentalism is a refusal to read people from an even slightly different tradition. Pastors in particular need to be mature enough to read material they may disagree with in part. I know of no Reformed treatise like C.F.W. Walther’s The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel. Reformed pastors need to read Wesley and the Lutherans, Baptists need to read books by Paedobaptists. Arminians need to read Calvinists.

And the pastor’s library has to have some history in it. If we do not know where we are coming from, we will have trouble telling where we are going. Historical reading has three purposes. First of all, to warn; there is nothing new under the sun in terms of heresy, what has been will be again. Historical works dealing with old heresies are often bang up to date! Secondly, we read history to inspire; we read of times of revival and times of persecution. Read the old histories of Wesley and Whitefield, of the rise of the Primitive Methodists, and you will breathe a different air! Thirdly, we read them to teach. The past was a lot like the present in many ways. Jonathan Edwards was treated abominably by his church and given the right foot of fellowship. The biographies of pastors can be a great help to young pastors, pointing out how others dealt with the problems we meet today.

So what’s in you pastor’s library? You will be able to tell from the pulpit or platform. And if the answer is rather bad, well, Christmas is coming, and what better time to buy your pastor a good book? Where to start? Start with good commentaries, they are always useful.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Conspiracy! Two Babylons Revisited

Presenting a second post on conspiracy theories:

Alexander Hislop's book The Two Babylons is sadly still regarded by many as a work of outstanding scholarship and a great help in the controversy with Rome. Ralph Woodrow, among others, has shown that it is neither. The great problem with Hislop's approach is that it is arbitrary and can be used to prove anything (and therefore it actually proves nothing).

Put simply, the Hislop Hypothesis is that the worship of the Roman Catholic Church today is practically identical to that of the ancient Babylonian Mystery Religion, and that the Roman Catholic Church is nothing more than paganism Christianized.

The greatest problem with Hislop's thesis is that it does not fit the facts, and therefore the facts have to be massaged to fit it. All must be placed on Hislop's Procrustean bed and forced to fit! The second problem is that the method, if applied consistently, ends with the claims of Dan Brown that there is nothing original in Christianity! Why? Because similarity (even a similarity that, on closer examination, proves to be nothing of the kind) is enough for Hislop to establish a link. The Babylonians had a celibate priesthood, so does Rome! No, the Babylonians had priests who were Eunuchs. There is a slight difference here! Where this sort of thing leads those who do not hold on to Hislop's relatively orthodox Presbyterianism is to make like Dan Barker in the now-notorious debate with James White, claiming that Mark must have borrowed from Homer because in Homer's Oddysey they got into a boat and sat down, and in Mark's Gospel they got into a boat and sat down. Really? You know what I did last time I got into a boat? I sat down.

Let me repeat, that two people do something similar does not prove a connection. The Medieval dualist sect called the Bogomils believed that Jesus and Satan were brothers, sone of the most high God, but Satan disobeyed and became evil, while Jesus was obedient. The Mormons believe essentially the same thing. Does this prove that Mormonism is nothing other than a continuation of Bogomilism? Of course not! As Yuri Stoyanov has shown in his book The Other God, the dualist heresy has resurfaced time and again through history with no apparent connections to previous dualist groups. Thus similarity, even of belief, cannot prove a connection. How much less can a mere similarity of form? And that is even if one exists!

And another thing, there was no "Babylonian Mystery Religion". The Mystery religions (plural!) originated in many areas, Greece, Egypt, Phrygia, Syria and Persia (see Romanld H. Nash: The Gospel and the Greeks [P. & R., 2003]. Nash is undoing some of the damage caused by Hislop's recklessness). None of the chief mystery religions originated in Babylon, and the Persian mystery was that of Mithras, not a worship of Nimrod. Hislop conflates dozens of gods from a score of nations to produce his own mythic Nimrod. In his zeal against Rome he forgot the first rule of controversy - be fair. If you can pick and choose bits from all over antiquity to make your "Babylonian Mystery Religion," you can make it look like anything you want! Which of course fits very well if you want to make Rome look pagan.

Hislop was not a historian or a student of Babylonian culture, he was a parish minister with a bee in his bonnet about the Church of Rome who was not too particular what arguments he used against it. The main thing was that the arguments were against Rome!

To summarize. There are many faults with the Church of Rome, and these have beeen laid out in such books as Dr. James R. White's The Roman Catholic Controversy, Eric Svedsen's Evangelical Answers and McCarthy's The Gospel According to Rome. The objections are doctrinal, rooted in Rome's exaltation of the pope, her doctrine of justification and merits, and her undue exaltation of the Virgin Mary, to name just three points. None of these are derived from Babylon. It may fairly be argued that Romanism is "Christianity paganized", to paraphrase Thomas E. Peck, it cannot be argued that it is Paganism Christianized.

Christians ought not to read Hislop's book. As he was Free Church minister of Arbroath, I can only conclude that the book is the result of too many kippers! Joking aside, The Two Babylons will not prepare any Christian to answer the claims of Rome, and Rome has no doubt answers to it - such as the obvious one that it is chock-full of errors. Thus, if a person's opposition to Rome is built on a myth, they can easily be shaken from it. But, if it is based on facts, then it is going to be much more stable.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Conspiracy Theories

One blog I frequent is Screw Loose Change, a blog devoted to debunking 9/11 conspiracy theories. This is a secular blog, and particularly in the comments there can be some use of profanity. But what is fascinating about it is how the conspiracy theory is a sort of substitute religion. Instead of a benevolent deity in control, there is some sort of malevolent conspiracy. The identity of the conspiracy differs between theorists, but still, the common theme is a conspiracy. A conspiracy theory is a worldview, and the conspiracy theorist filters reality through the theory.

The trouble is, it is a false worldview. This is demonstrated by its inability to make sense of the world as it really is. To take an example, until this year it was practically gospel among the believers in 9/11 conspiracy theories that the men behind the conspiracy were George W. Bush and Dick Cheyney. They staged 9/11, as the theory went, to seize power in the United States. Now, since the US constitution only allows a man to hold office as president for two terms, obviously the 2008 election, when Bush would not be allowed to stand, was a crucial test for this theory. As the election approached, it became a widely-held opinion that Bush would set up another 9/11, call off the election and declare martial law. Of course that didn't happen. After the election, in which the Republicans lost, there was speculation that Obama would never become president, that Bush would impose martial law. Never happened.

And I have yet to find evidence that any of the people who were speculating that Bush was in reality some sort of evil dictator who anted to suspeced the constitution ever apologised or admitted they were wrong! In fact, they go right on using the language of "coup". It is possible for an elected government to perform a coup, but this would necessitate that Bush, with military aid, adopted extra-constitutional powers and took direct control of the courts and the legislature, which he did not. Nor is Bush in power any more, having surrendered his office according to the constitution. Thus the world-view is revealed to be false. None of which is to deny the possibility of governments conspiring to seize power (Hitler was democratically elected), but to say that there is no evidence that Bush sought to do so!

So what are the Conspiracy nuts saying? That it was all a secret power behind the government. But that secret power must have already been in place, and so did not need to seize power. The worldview fails completely.

Should Christians entertain such conspiracy theories? No. Do they? Yes! But they ought not to. To take another example, there are some Christians who promote the idea that Obama is a secret Muslim. In fact that makes no sense, because Obama not only promotes Islam, ne also promotes so-called gay marriage, which is an abomination to Islam. Now, a cospiracy theorist could say, "Bell, that just proves how devious he is," but what makes more sense is to say that Obama is a religious liberal. You see, 'Obama is a Muslim" might explain Obama being pro-Muslim, but it does not explain his support of same-sex marriage. That he is a religious liberal explains everything! I have heard a liberal minister in the URC (the UK body of that name) say that Christians ought to "Reverence Mohammed." Religious liberals also hold that cultural acceptance of homosexual behaviour should be mirrored by the Church. Thus Obama as a religious liberal makes more sense than Obama as a secret Muslim. It also explains why he was a member of a liberal church in Chicago!

And the fact that there is no vast conspiracy explains better why the government can be extraordinarily incompetent at times. Also why we still have free elections, and why Mr. Brown, unless he can do something amazing in the next few months, will be on the lecture circuit this time next year.

Of course, as Christians we do believe that there are evil powers moving behind the powers of this world, but we also believe that there are angelic forces fighting for us, and that finally all history is controlled, nit by human conspirators, or by Satan, but by God. And what I have said about political conspiracies also applies to the idea of the New Age conspiracy beloved of Gail Riplinger. Because I had to get her in somewhere!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Book Review: Heresy!

Alister McGrath: Heresy (SPCK, 2009) Paperback, Pp. 288 £12.99

There has always been an interest in heresy, from John Henry Newman's Arians of the Fourth Century to Harold O.J. Brown's Heresies, there has always been a market for books dealing with these false teachings and erroneous beliefs. But in the wider culture, even in some contemporary 'Evangelical' circles, there are people who are interested in heresy as an exciting alternative to traditional Protestant Christianity. In Academia we have Elaine Pagels promoting Gnosticism, in popular culture Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, containing not a scintilla of truth, sold millions, and left many thinking that Christianity as it exists today was the result of a close vote at the Council of Nicea, where Jesus was proclaimed as Divine for the first time (every part of this statement is actually false). The heretics are the rebels, the heroes, the folk who had a greater insight than other people. In part this attitude has always existed, as witness the Baptist Successionism that claimed the Paulicians, Bogomils and Cathars as true Christians because of their rebellion against the authoritarian approach of the Greek and Latin Churches, though of course in this case the successionists ignored the stubborn fact that these groups held to a heretical theology.

McGrath is a careful historian, and of course he gently but firmly steps on this idea. Heresy, he tells us in this book, in not exciting, radical and libertarian. It is a dead-end in theology that has not been recognised as such. Since the 19th century it has been recognised by theologians and historians of theology that there is a process of development in doctrinal understanding. The Church is 'growing into' the Bible, exploring the fullness of the Biblical message. The heretics are people who have taken a wrong turn in that exploration, and instead of giving us a correct understanding, they have erred from the faith. This is not, McGrath warns us, to say that they were all wicked and designing men. Many of them were simply theologically naive, and ended up tenaciously clinging to a theory that was inadequate to account for the fullness of the Biblical revelation. Orthodoxy, on the other hand, has been based on a full-orbed study of the whole of Scripture.

This is a thoughtful and thought-provoking book that will be welcomed by thoughtful Christians. As McGrath explores heresy and the causes of heresy, he brings us to a deeper appreciation of orthodoxy, and explodes many of the myths of the modern advocates of the old heretics. It simply is not true, he points out, to say that heresy is more liberating than orthodoxy. True, there were some heresies that were libertarian, but others, such an Donatism and Montanism, were extremely authoritarian, and condemned the orthodox as libertarian! Nor was Gnosticism a sort of proto-feminist movement, as is demonstrated by the notorious ending of the so-called Gospel of Thomas, which states "...every woman who will make herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven" (Thomas verse 114).

McGrath is a little too ecumenical in places for my tastes, but this is a small matter. The reader who wants an exhaustive account of the history of heresies should read Harold O.J. Brown. This is more an exploration of the nature of heresy, and as such it is very welcome. It certainly sets the record straight for those who get their ideas about heresy from The Da Vinci Code.

If there is one thing this book could have done without, it is the foreword by Rick Warren. On the other hand, I'd rather Warren was reading this book than many others!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Gail Riplinger (Accidentally) Undermines the Massoretic Text!

One of the greatest complaints about Gail Riplinger's books is that they are in need of an editor. Harzardous Materials, weighing in at over 1200 pages, definitely so. There are just pages and pages of irrelevant material. I have my copy back, and hope to present some of the irrelevant material and blunders to show how it is possible to write a book on the subject of textual criticism without knowing anything to speak of about it!

On Pp. 1051-1058 of the great brick of a book called Hazardous Materials (hereafter HazMat), Gail Riplinger plays advocate for the Shapira Strips. These strips of leather, purporting to be ancient fragments of the Book of Deuteronomy, were discovered in 1883, and immediately announced as genuine ancient manuscripts. The text was written in an ancient style, corresponding to the alphabet found on the Moabite Stone. Moses Shapira, an antiquities dealer, declared that they dated from around the 9th century BC. While the strips were announced with a journalistic fanfare, doubts soon began to emerge about their authenticity. Several scholars, including C.D. Ginsberg, announced their doubts, and finally the strips were declared to be a fraud, written in an ancient script, but in modern times. In other words, the whoe thing bears some resemblance to the case of the "James Ossuary".

Gail Riplinger writes:
“Examination revealed that the strips contained certain dating elements (words and orthography) which would prove that Moses was their author. This evidence could fracture the entire higher critical movement…” (P. 1052). The strips were declared to be fraudulent, and Shapira committed suicide, Riplinger suggests that he could in fact have been murdered (P. 1057).

What Riplinger is apparently unaware of is the character of the Shapira strips and the text they contained. Frederic Kenyon of the British Museum was aware of this, and he writes:

“The contents were striking enough. They purported to be portions of the Book of Deuteronomy, but with many remarkable variations. To the Ten Commandments was added an eleventh, and the language of the others was altered and amplified. In these strips of leather there was enough to cast doubt on the whole of the received text of the Old Testament” Our Bible and the Ancient Manuscripts (London, Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1898), P. 43.

Please note this fact. If the Shapira strips were indeed “The world’s oldest Scriptures” (HazMat P. 1051), then they differ significantly from the text we have today. Far from showing that the Hebrew text has been wonderfully preserved, they would give the impression that it had been significantly altered in the course of the two millennia between the purported date of the Shapira Strips and the date of what, at the time of their discovery, was the oldest known manuscript of Deuteronomy. Gail Riplinger claims to uphold the “received text of the Old Testament”, does she really want to lend her support to a disputed text that casts doubt on “the whole” of that text? I think not. So we have another 7 pages of HazMat that are completely irrelevant.

I have sent this information to Riplinger via AV Publications, because I am sure that she was unaware of the actual character of the text of the strips. So chalk this one up to bad research by Mrs. Riplinger, not malice.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Generation that HAS Passed Away

This year has seen the deaths of the last British veterans of the First World War. There are none left who can recall first hand the mud and the death of the Western Front. Remembrance Day remains, as it ought to. We need a day on which the horrors of war, and the heroism, can be remembered. We also need to remember that war still goes on, and the idea that human progress can put an end to war is a horrible delusion.

But the death of the last veterans of the Great War reminds us of something else, and that is the false prophecy of the Watchtower Society. They confidently declared that “the generation that saw the events of 1914 shall not pass away.” They wrote in 1984: "…Yes, you may live to see this promised New Order, along with survivors of the generation of 1914—the generation that will not pass away" (The Watchtower, May 15, 1984, pages 6-7, as quoted here). Again: “Thus before the 1914 generation completely dies out, God’s judgment must be executed” (The Watchtower May 1, 1985, page 4)

It is now officially a fact that that generation has passed away, and that fact has been marked at Remembrance Day services in Britain. No doubt the Watchtower has its own explanation of its false prophecy, but the fact remains that they have been exposed once again. 1914, 1920, 1925, 1975 and 2000 have passed without the prophesied Armageddon.

This is not the first time, of course. The Watchtower Organisation claims to speak for God, it claims that its interpretations of prophecy are infallible. Yet not one of these interpretations has proved to be true. They have predicted the end of the world many times, and each time they have been proved wrong. The idea that the Watchtower speaks directly for God is surely laughable by now! Yet the leaders have not repented or acknowledged that they were mistaken. This is a sign of a morally bankrupt religious leadership. They have been supported by false prophecy, and the failure of a prophecy that has been repeated for decades should be a warning to all that they do not possess the truth.

Jesus says: “I am the way, the truth and the life, no man comes to the Father except through me.” God has not given an organisation, whether the Watchtower Society, the Roman Catholic Church, or the FIEC (the grouping my Church is connected with), as the only conduit of salvation, He has sent His Son so that all who believe in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life. No organisation can save you, but:

Jesus ready stands to save you,
Filled with mercy, love and power;
He is able,
He is willing, doubt no more.

Gems from R.W Dale - 4

“The power of the cross is the power of the love of Christ. And yet, not the love of Christ only. For the sufferings of Christ were not a mere dramatic display of love. ‘I delivered unto you first of all,’ said St. Paul, writing to the Corinthians, ‘that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins.’ This truth, according to the greatest evangelist among the apostles, was one of the chief things, the fundamental things, that he made known to those heathen people when he preached the Gospel to them. It is not enough to tell men that Christ died because He loved them; the gospel of the death of Christ includes the fact that He died for their sins. Until men know what sin is – sin as distinguished from mere natural defects and infirmities, which they may attribute to their temperament and to the physical constitution which they have inherited from their parents; - sin as distinguished from mere deformity which offends their ideal of moral grace and beauty; - sin as distinguished from mere vice, which conscience condemns, and which, in the absence of any belief in the authority or even the existence of the Living God, conscience would continue to condemn; - until, I say, men know what sin is they can see no meaning in a large part of St. Paul’s gospel of the death of Christ. Until they are troubled, ashamed, and alarmed by the consciousness of sin, they will listen to a large part of this gospel with moral indifference, or even with moral resentment.” –P. 210

Monday, November 9, 2009

Gems From R.W. Dale - 3

“The line from an ancient poet is not quoted to show that the Greeks had already anticipated a large part of the revelation which it was St. Paul’s commission to make known to mankind; it was quoted with the express object of attacking the whole system of idolatry: “Forasmuch, then, as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold or silver or stone, graven by art and man’s device.” This was St. Paul’s method of meeting unbelievers on their own ground. He found his way into their fortifications to turn their own guns upon them. He exploded their whole system from within. He quoted the inscription on one of their own altars in order to suggest that neither their philosophy nor the traditions of their ancestors had given them any knowledge of the true God. He quoted Aratus or Kleanthes in order to expose the ignorance of the Divine greatness which was illustrated by the temples and statues which they had erected in honour of their divinities.
“Nor – though this was the first discourse that he delivered to them – did he keep within the limits of philosophical discussion about the nature of God, and the true method of worshipping Him. He went on at once to speak about judgment to come, and about Christ’s resurrection from the dead. He might, had he chosen, have said many things to which the Epicureans and Stoics would have listened with interest, and even with respect. He might have discussed questions of morals. He might have compared or contrasted the ethical teachings of Christ with their own. But all this would have been to no purpose. The resurrection of Christ might provoke their mockery, but to have been silent about it would have given them a false conception of the gospel. It was more important that the Athenians should know the truth – whether they received it or not – than that St. Paul should conciliate their respect.
“The principle on which I am insisting is a very simple one: whether true or false, it is intelligible. We shall never make men Christians by suppressing and throwing into the shade those parts of the Christian revelation which especially provoke their hostility. Truth which men regard as incredible, truth which men resent – we must be sure, first of all, that it is truth, and truth of an important kind – is precisely the truth which men most need to hear , and which is most likely to produce the deepest moral impression.”

Pp. 200-1

Friday, November 6, 2009

Gems from R.W. Dale - 2

Our second Dale gem from Nine Lectures on Preaching concerns the question of controversial preaching. And, I might add, all engaging in controversies.

“If you touch controversies… you ought to be quite certain that you understand the theories which you are attacking, and that you have mastered the grounds on which they rest. You ought, also, to be quite sure that you can reply – not to the weakest – but to the strongest argument by which they are supported. The serious beliefs of men ought to be discussed seriously and fairly. It is perfectly legitimate to illustrate the grotesque absurdity of a false speculation when we can prove it to be false; it is perfectly legitimate to kindle a generous indignation against an intellectual imposture if we have the knowledge and skill to unmask it; but to attempt to laugh it out of court without meeting their case, and to make passion take the place of reason, are shameful offences against the laws of intellectual honour and equity. I trust that the ethics of theological controversy are better understood by us than they were by our fathers; but theological controversialists, like controversialists of other kinds, are always under a strong temptation to seek fair ends by foul means. We have no right to secure the condemnation of the basest criminals by menacing the jury and bribing the judge. I do not believe in Lynch law, even for the worst crimes. It is dangerous to try to cast out devils in the name of Beelzebub the prince of the devils. We shall never fight the battles of Heaven to any purpose with arms forged in hell. To attempt to destroy even the most pernicious error by reckless misrepresentation, by appeals to ignorance and blind passion, by weapons poisoned with slander, is to repeat the crime of the Jesuits, who are credited with sanctioning the assassination of heretical princes. If you touch controversy, be just, be generous, to your opponents.”

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Gems from R.W. Dale - 1

The latter part of the 19th century was an age of great preachers. The names of Spurgeon, Maclaren, Parker and Dale are chief among the greats of the English pulpit in that era. R.W. Dale of Birmingham was one of the greats of the Congregationalists. He is best known for his able defence of the atonement. Spurgeon wrote of Dale: “Among modern divines, few rank as highly as Mr. Dale. Daring and bold in thought, and yet for the most part warmly on the side of orthodoxy, his works command the appreciation of cultured minds.” Thus Dale comes with Spurgeon’s commendation. Dale was a great preacher, and his book Nine Lectures on Preaching (Hodder and Stoughton, 1878) is worth its weight in gold. Dale’s prose style is excellent, and the lessons of this book are lessons that the 21st century needs as much as the 19th. If I had my way, every theological student would have to read this book. If it were widely read, it would vastly improve modern preaching. I intend to give a few select portions from this valuable work to encourage its reading. Dale was an Arminian, but that ought not to keep the Reformed theologian from reading him.
Our first quotation is a rather humorous story with a serious point.

“When you take a text be sure that it is in the Bible. A friends of mine now dead – a very eminent preacher – once made what has been described to me as a very fine sermon on some words which he imagined were in the Book of Proverbs. On Sunday morning, before starting for Church, he thought that it would be as well if he looked up the chapter in which he supposed the words occurred. To his dismay the words were not to be found. He turned to his ‘Cruden,’ but Cruden failed him. He was still confident that the words were in the Book of Proverbs, and when the critical moment came for beginning to preach, he began by saying something to this effect: ‘You will remember, my friends, the words of the wisest of kings’ – then he quoted his text and glided into his sermon as if he had innocently forgotten to say where the words of the wisest of kings occurred. Many a child in the congregation that afternoon hunted in vain through the Book of Proverbs and the Book of Ecclesiastes to discover the text of the morning. I think my friend would have done better if he had warned the people that though he thought the words were Solomon’s, he had not been able to find them, even with the help of a concordance. He discovered afterwards, I think, that the words were in one of the collects or prayers of the Anglican Prayer-book.” – P. 125

Friday, October 30, 2009

Commentaries on Acts

On Sunday mornings I am preaching through the early chapters of the Book Of Acts. As I have done with the book of Daniel, I thought it might be interesting to give an overview of the commentaries that I am using. In no particular order, they are:
1. Gordon J. Keddie: You are my Witnesses (Evangelical Press). This is one of the Welwyn series of expository commentaries. It is a useful, work for the preacher, setting out the material in a good, helpful manner.
2. Darrell Bock: Acts (Baker Academic). This volume in the Baker Exegetical Commentary series is a huge doorstop of a book. It is however also extremely useful and decidedly evangelical. Bock has also written against the claims presented in the Da Vinci Code. He is a good example of a man who combines deep scholarship with a warm Evangelicalism. This book not only presents technical information, but also matter for preaching. If you have the money for it, it is a single commentary on Acts that counts as at least two or three smaller ones. The size is not a sign that too much irrelevant matierial has been included in this case.
3. I. Howard Marshall: Acts (IVP). This is a small commentary in the Tyndale New Testament Commentary series. It is also extremely helpful for the preacher, containing many helpful hints.
4. J.A. Alexander: The Acts of the Apostles (Banner of Truth). This is an older exegetical commentary by a powerful preacher from the old Princeton tradition. It is decidedly Calvinistic, and warmly evangelical.
5. Alexander Maclaren: The Acts (Hodder and Stoughton). This is a volume in Dr. Maclaren's Bible Class Expositions series. Dr. Maclaren of Manchester was one of the great preachers of the late 19th century. His expositions contain much helpful matter for the modern preacher.
6. Joseph Parker: Acts (Hodder and Stoughton). Two volumes in the People's Bible series. This is not strictly speaking a commentary, but a sermon series, and does not cover every part of every chapter. However, the Acts volumes are particularly full and helpful.
7. John Calvin: Acts (Eerdmans/Paternoster). Two volumes in the Calvin's New Testament Commentaries series. Calvin is the prince of expositors, and if the preacher can only have one commentary, Calvin must top the list.
8. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: Authentic Christianity (Banner of Truth). This series runs to six volumes. It is a series of sermons rather than a commentary, and as with Dr Lloyd-Jones' Romans series, the divisions are perhaps too small for most modern congregations. Nevertheless, there is a wealth of precious thought in these volumes, which can be judiciously used by the preacher to help think through the Acts.
In addition to which there are the whole Bible commentaries of Matthew Henry, John Gill, Adam Clarke and Matthew Poole. David Brown's contribution to the Jamieson, Faussett and Brown Bible commentary is also well worth consulting. I have not yet had the opportunity to consult Calvin's Sermons on Acts (Banner of Truth), but they must be worth consulting, as all Calvin's sermons are.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Dangers of Seeing What is Not There

A while ago I referred to Principal Rainy's words on the dangers of critics seeing what is not there in the Bible. I have now got my copy of the relevant book back, and give the quotation:

"But, then, on the other hand, it is to be remembered that there is an eagerness in the critic's nature; he would always be seeing something, especially something that common people cannot see, or at any rate have not seen. Therefore, unless he is exceptionally self-restraining, he may persuade himself that he is seeing something remarkable, when all the time he is deluding himself with mere arbitrary combinations, And this too can be illustrated. You have sat before a fire, and seen a face in the glowing embers. Now that face, though it might be worth looking at for its lifelike suggestiveness, was nothing real; not a face objectively and actually presented to you. Move your head a little way, and the likeness vanishes. It was all in your point of view, aided by your fancy. In itself it was a meaningless, fortuitous collocation of pieces of glowing cinders, which at a certain angle yielded a deceptive perspective to your eye. So it is sometimes with the critics. I should think this befalls them all, even the best of them...

"Therefore the critic must make good to the public, I mean the public which studies such things, the method of his researches; he must make them see it, and establish it by evidence."

Robert Rainy: The Bible and Criticism (London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1878), Pp. 103-4

This applies to Gail Riplinger's seeing the New Age movement in modern Bible versions. I assert that as regards the NASB, the NKJV, the ESV and the NIV, this is merely a "a meaningless, fortuitous collocation of pieces of glowing cinders", nothing more. Just as the Higher Critics have seen in the "glowing cinders" of the five Books of Moses the phantom persons of JEDP, four writers who never existed, so by the same subjective method, certain modern fundamentalists have seen all sorts of evil in words that are not at all evil in themselves, good words like 'the Christ', and such like.

Oh, and I extend the "meaningless, fortuitous collocation of pieces of glowing cinders" to the supposed numerical codes proposed by some.

And I thought of the passage before I read this. Which all goes to show you can't caricature some of these people. If you go to the blog linked to from Dr. White's, you'll see the whole 'English Preservationist' thing referred to in the comments. I am beginning to think this is a straw man set up by the King James Only crowd to say "well, we don't hold this." No, you don't, whoever said that you did?
Picture from James White, of course. I really had no intention of linking to it, but the Rainy quote is just so apposite!

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Gospel in a Nutshell

Last Saturday I gave some little assistance to an open air outreach by Stoke Young Life. Asked what I'm doing in Stoke (good question), I replied that I was here to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. "What is the Gospel you preach?" I was asked. "Can you define it in 20 seconds?"

"Jesus Christ crucified for sinners!" I replied in under five seconds.

It contains a lot, but in my opinion we all need to be able to define the Gospel briefly.

[N.B. I'm very busy this week, and so I prepared these posts last week]

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Systematic Theology for preparation

On Wednesday I am going through a popular-level systematic theology Bible study. In order to get off my obsessive-compulsive NABV series (which I need to do), I thought I would share some of the books I have found helpful in preparation.

1. John Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion (Eerdmans). Of course. This is the great classic of all time in the field. Calvin is warm and cautious, and just has to be in the library.

2. Louis Berkhof: Systematic Theology (Banner of Truth). Another classic. You can either stuff your library with odd books, or go with the classics. Or do both, which is why I have an awful lot of books. Berkhof is one of the greats of the 20th century.

3. John Macpherson: Christian Dogmatics (T. & T. Clark). From 1898, Macpherson is one of the better late 19th century works. It contains a lot of material that is not dealt with in the same way elsewhere, including a discussion of Law and Gospel that would not be out of place in a Lutheran dogmatics.

4. Shedd: Dogmatic Theology (Presbyterian and Reformed). This is a splendid 19th century American production, now in a more user-friendly edition.

5. Robert Culver: Systematic Theology (Mentor). A modern work. I'm not a huge fan, but it can be useful.

6. Charles Hodge: Systematic Theology (Thomas Nelson). Mine is a 19th century edition, and has an index I photocopied from the one in the library when I was at seminary. Hodge is another old standby.

7. Donald Macleod: A Faith to Live By (Mentor). A concise discussion by a noted modern theologian that can be quite useful.

In addition to this, I have volumes on individual doctrines that I consult as and when. Chief among these are the early volumes from the 'Cunningham Lectures' series. Produced by some of the greatest theologians of late 19th century Scotland, these include Buchanan's classic work on Justification, Rainy's Delivery and Development of Christian Doctrine, Smeaton's The Holy Spirit, and Laidlaw's Bible Doctrine of Man.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Commentaries on Daniel

At present I am preaching through the book of Daniel on Sunday evenings. In preparing these sermons, I have consulted a number of commentaries. Commentaries, of course, can be divided into the technical and the expository. There is a certain amount of overlap, of course. The commentaries are, in the order they came off the shelf:

1. Stuart Olyott: Dare to Stand Alone (Evangelical Press). Subtitled Daniel Simply Explained, this is a plain exposition by an excellent Reformed preacher. It is one of the books that a preacher ought to consult on Daniel.

2. Sinclair B. Ferguson: Daniel (Thomas Nelson). This is a volume in The Preacher's Commentary, recommended to me by Pastor Richard Wigham of Tabor Baptist Church, Llantrisant. He also said that in his opinion this is probably the only volume in the series worth reading. Not having read any other volumes in the series, I can't comment. This is a very good volume, though. Like Olyott, this is an expository commentary.

3. Iain M. Duguid: Daniel (Presbyterian and Reformed). This is a volume in the Reformed Expository Commentary. This is a much better series. Like the two previous volumes, this is an expository commentary. One useful thing about consulting several such commentaries is that they show how three excellent preachers have treated the book, all differing slightly in what they say.

4. Joyce G. Baldwin: Daniel (IVP). From the Tyndale Old Testament Commentary series. I'll be honest, I got this for a pound in a secondhand bookshop. It is a more technical commentary, but small and useful in its way.

5. Edward J. Young: Daniel (Banner of Truth). An excellent commentary from the old Princeton tradition, first published in 1949. This is another technical commentary. It deals with the objections of the liberals in a masterful way.

6. Allan M. Harman: Daniel (Evangelical Press). A volume in the EP Study Commentary series. This is a mid-level commentary in a series that is intended for those who want to go into the text more deeply. I gave it a very good review for Peace and Truth magazine, though to be honest it can be given a miss if you possess all the rest of the commentaries I have referred to.

7. Ernest C. Lucas: Daniel (IVP/Apollos). In the Apollos Old Testament Commentary series. This is a very useful modern technical commentary. It contains much useful material.

8. Matthew Henry: Commentary (various editions). This is one of the classics of all time. Henry's ability is well known.

9. John Gill: Commentary (various editions). More technical than Henry, Gill combines deep learning with a thoroughly orthodox understanding.

10. Albert Barnes: Notes on Daniel (Blackie). To be honest, I find Barnes rather too in-depth for sermon preparation, where the aim is to get an overview of the whole passage, not to examine all the little details. But Barnes is very good.

11. Adam Clarke: Commentary (Tegg). Clarke is the great Wesleyan expositor, the Arminian version of Dr. Gill. There is a great deal of learning in Clarke, though he has some funny ideas in places. He usually has something to say worth reading, though.

12. Joseph Parker: The People's Bible (Hazell, Watson and Viney). The People's Bible is actaully a series of sermons through the Bible. The date in my copy is 1892. Parker does not cover every part of every chapter, and sometimes his sermons miss the main point of the text, but at least as often he gets the point. Parker was known as "the immortal Thor of pulpitdom", and consulting the treatment given a text by such a noted preacher is usually useful. I actually got this 25-volume set (Old and New Testament) for free at my seminary.

I have an unusually large number of modern commentaries on the book of Daniel. The proportions concerning a book like John's Gospel is a little more representative, being two modern commentaries to three old ones specifically on that book as well as the old standards listed above. Plus Calvin.
[Illustration: A bookkcase full of commentaries. From top left: Matthew Henry, The Expositor's Greek Testament, E.J. Young's Introduction to the New Testament, The People's Bible, Matthew Poole, etc., etc.]

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Sermon Prep.

Seeing as many have taken it in hand to write about how they prepare sermons, some in a very poor way, I thought it might help people to say a few words about how I prepare a sermon/message/talk.

1. Prayer. The best way to understand any writing is to ask the author, and in prayer we communicate with God and ask Him to help.

2. Reading the Bible. I prefer to preach an expository series through a Biblical book. This is because such a series helps to ensure that it is the Word of God that speaks, not my ideas. If I am preaching the passage in the context of the book in which it appears, that severely limits my ability to force God's word to say what I want it to. I usually preach from the New King James Version, or the Authorised Version (usually in the Oxford edition, though the difference between the two is the letter 's' on the end of the word 'sin' somewhere in Ezekiel or Jeremiah). In my present situation the Church has agreed to use the NKJV, so I do as well. I occasionally refer to other English translations, principally the ESV and the NASB. I also consult the Greek and the Hebrew.

3. Make an outline of the passage. Before referring to any commentary, I make a preaching outline of the passage, usually with three headings. This outline must be derived from the passage, in the light of the whole Bible. Three things must be taken into account in making the outline:
i). The whole Bible as Christian Scripture. We cannot treat the Old Testament as if the New does not exist.
ii). Law and Gospel. This is often seen as a Lutheran approach, but in fact it is found in many Reformed writers, including John Bunyan. The first question in a law-Gospel analysis is "is this passage law or Gospel, or both?" If the passage is Law, how does it point to the Gospel? If it is Gospel, how does it answer the problem of the broken law?
iii). The place of the book in the history of salvation. Is it Old Testament or New? What is its date?

4. The commentaries. One great function of this is to make sure that I have properly understood the text. Usually, if you come up with an interpretation of the text that no commentator has ever thought of, you're wrong. Commentaries are meant to help, but you cannot plagirise them. Nor should quotes from the commentaries make up more than 10% of the sermon. The goal is rather to, as it were, 'discuss' the passage with the commentators. In doing this I have a number of rules:
i). The commentator may be wrong. Thus there is safety in numbers. You must also watch for the bias of the commentator. The Arminian will usually introduce some long philosophical discussion about Free Will when the word 'will', or 'choose' is used.
ii). Different types of commentary. There are two main types, the technical commentaries and the expository commentaries. Both kinds are useful in their own ways.
iii). Old and new commentaries. If we only refer to commentaries written in modern times we miss a great deal of treasure, and if we only read the older writers, we can conversely miss many fine modern commentaries. I will confess to a bias to the older commentaries myself. Some commentaries are vital, including Calvin, Matthew Henry and John Gill. I know of no modern whole Bible commentary that is as useful as these three.

5. The manuscript. In order to work out my thoughts, I write out a full manuscript. This will not read like the sermon as it will be delivered, it is a way to organise everything I have been thinking about.

6. The notes. These are written in outline form, fuller than the original outline, on one and a half sides of a quarter of a sheet of A4 paper. These fit inside my small red Bible, and go into the pulpit. Most illustrations and anecdotes are extemporaneous, so the notes contain an outline of the argument of the sermon, which is in five parts, a brief introduction, the three points, and a short conclusion.

Finally, if you're a preacher, don't suppose that this method is mandatory, or will work for you.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Apostolic Preaching

Preaching on Acts 3.12-26 more than a century ago, Joseph Parker noted

“When did the Apostles speak with bated breath and whispering humbleness? When did they try to make the best of the case by appeasing the spirit of the people, and by an endeavour to placate sensibilities which had been strongly excited? They never lowered the tone of their impeachment. Christ’s death was never less than a murder, and the men who had taken part in the crucifixion were never treated as other than murderers. There is no euphemism here; there is no attempt here at the smoothing down of very harsh asperities, on the contrary, we have here the bitter, stern, tragical, truth, and that truth has to be repeated day by day and age by age until every man feels that he himself has been the murderer of Christ.”

-Joseph Parker: The People’s Bible (London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1901) Vol. 22, Pp.93-4

I venture to say that it is the loss of this note which is to blame for much of the lack of power in the pulpit today.

Monday, October 12, 2009

King James Only Meltdown

In the comments, 'The Puritan' has melted down and made an accusation that is actually actionable at law (not that I'd sue him for defamation of character if I knew who he was, but I could if I felt like it). Wow! I didn't think he was capable of such viciousness. This is an object lesson in what the King James Only sect are like, I'm afraid.

Time and again I asked him to explain why he thought it was acceptable to make like the comic book villain in the last post with B.F. Westcott's words and to accuse Westcott of holding opinions he never held. And he never answered the question. I asked him to justify Gail Riplinger's behavour, and he could not. I think this speaks for itself. It is apparently a tenet of this sect that you may speak all manner of falsehood against those who dare question any of their members' actions. Well, 'm sorry, but I don't find that in any Bible version, least of all the AV. Instead I find "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour." We all sin, and we all break God's law. But to make bearing false witness an acceptable tactic against those you disagree with is frankly antichristian!

The real 'heresy' of Brooke Foss Westcott, according to this pernicious sect, is that he, with Fenton John Anthony Hort (they were probably first introduced by a university friend who said to Hort "Hey, I know a chap why doesn't have any first name, just surnames!"), co-edited an edition of the Greek New Testament that departed from the readings underlying the AV in many places. Then he and Hort were leading lights in the Revised Version project. Undoubtedly both of these projects were flawed. The RV was really a failure. Although many pastors used it in the study, it was generally viwed as unsuitable for the pulpit. In their Greek Testament, Westcott and Hort gave too much weight to two manuscripts, resulting in readings that were not authentic being adopted.

The honest way to deal with this question, then, is to show that the RV is wrong in many places, and that Westcott and Hort's Greek Testament is seriously flawed. Lacking the ability in the original languages to do this, Gail Riplinger instead claimed all modern Bible versions are part of a New Age plot, and made untrue charges against Westcott and Hort. Her follower in turn refused to admit she had lied, even when confronted with the evidence (which is shocking, and which shocked me). Unable to refute the charges, he first attempted to
change the subject, and then attacked me for daring to say that a book which is stuffed with false accusations, altered quotations, logical fallacies and downright lies was... well, a book stuffed with false accusations, altered quotations, logical fallacies and downright lies. A man who began by making a great show of how cultrued he was has ended in the sewers throwing dung. This is the sort of man King James Onlyism either produces or attracts.

Do you wonder why I write against it?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

"The Godhead's Gone" - is That Bad?

On of the sinister signs of the Serpent's subtlety (sorry, it must be catching) that Gail Riplinger 'exposes' in her books is the fact that modern Bible versions have removed the word 'Godhead' from the Bible (Chapter 28 of NABV is titled "The Godhead's Gone". On P. 379 of NABV she gives a chart showing this. She states that the word "Godhead" means "Father, Son and Holy Ghost." Haowever, Gail Riplinger’s idea that 'Godhead' as used in the AV means 'Trinity' is an error, making a common term into a technical one, or in other words importing a systematic theological use of a term into a Biblical one. Let me explain my point further.

First of all, the term ‘godhead’, as used in the 17th century simply meant 'deity', as a perusal of Puritan literature will reveal. Thus in his Commentary on John,[1] first published in 1657, George Hutcheson writes that John's statement in John 1.3 that all things were made by Christ is "a proof of Christ's godhead" (P. 11). I might multiply quotations ad nauseum from Hutcheson, but it would serve no useful purpose. Matthew Poole wrote in 1685 on the same text that “The Divine nature and eternal existence of the Lord Christ is evident from his efficiency in the creation of the world.”[2] Also note that this is a comment on the same passage as the earlier quote from Hutcheson, incidentally showing that the old term ‘Godhead’ is a (now obsolete in this sense) synonym for ‘Divine nature’. Commenting on Colossians 2.9,[3] Poole uses ‘Godhead’ and ‘Divine nature’ interchangeably.

‘Godhead’ is in fact derived from the same root as the German ‘Gottheit’, Deity, that which makes God God, the essence of God. The Puritans – and the AV translators – use the word accordingly.

Second, Riplinger's argument is contrary to the Biblical usage of the term in the AV. In Romans 1.20 we read that creation reveals God’s “eternal power and Godhead.” Does creation reveal the Trinity so that it is “clearly seen’? Incidentally the Greek here is ‘Theiotes’, while in Colossians 2.9 it is ‘Theotes’. Both are translated ‘Godhead’ in the AV. This may seem slight, but remember that at the Council of Nicea the difference between heresy and orthodoxy was this same letter, iota. This letter can make a great deal of difference in Greek. The fact Riplinger does not think so only exposes the fact that she does not know Greek. The word in Romans could be hyper-literally translated ‘Godlikeness’ (German, ‘Gottlichkeit’). All of which is just to confuse you, of course.[4]

Colossians 2.9 is the passage that is most important in the discussion. There we read of Jesus Christ that "In Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily." Now, if we understand 'Godhead', when used in the AV as a technical term for the Trinity, it follows that the whole Trinity became incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth. The 'oneness' sects use this as a 'proof' for their false doctrine by importing the idea of the Trinity into the term 'Godhead', when a comparison with 17th century usage reveals that 'godhead' had not at that point the technical meaning Riplinger assigns to it. Thus switching to a word like "Deity" robs the Oneness teachers of a text they could otherwise pervert.

Nor is the term 'Divine nature' solely the property of the New Age Movement. The terms are common English ones. Just as Riplinger erroneously asserts that the term 'The Christ' is New Age (despite the AV itself stating that 'Jesus is the Christ', and never using the term 'the Christ' except in a positive way), so she has erroneously supposed 'Godhead' to refer to the Trinity, and 'Divine Nature' to be the sole property of the New Age. Now, I know the date of the origin of the New Age Movement is a bone of contention, but everyone agrees it is within the last 150 years, more or less. So you cannot accuse the Puritan Matthew Poole of New Age tendencies when he wrote in 1685 on John 1.3 that “The Divine nature and eternal existence of the Lord Christ is evident from his efficiency in the creation of the world” (Commentary on the Bible [Reprinted Edinburgh, Banner of Truth, 1975], Vol. 3 P. 278).

Friendly Footnotes:
[1] Modern edition London, Banner of Truth, 1972. And no, I didn't go hunting through Puritan literature for the word, I have better things to do with my time, I just happened to be using Hutcheson when I noticed his use of "Godhead" and thought 'well, isn't that interesting'.
[2] Matthew Poole: Commentary on the Bible (Reprinted Edinburgh, Banner of Truth, 1975), Vol. 3 P. 278
[3] Vol. 3 P. 716
[4] From Eadie: A Commentary on the Greek Text of Paul’s Letter to the Colossians (Reprint, Vestavia Hills, AL, Solid Ground, 2005) P. 141. The etymology of "Godhead" is quite interesting if you're into that sort of thing.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Another word on 'The Christ'

The idea that the title 'The Christ' is necessarily evil is frankly bizarre. The elephant in the room that Gail Riplinger does not seem to have fully recognised is that the New Age movement has taken over wholesale Christian language, filling words that can really only be read in a Christian sense, with a meaning taken from Eastern Pantheism.

The fact that New Agers may use the term does not give them ownership of it, any more than the use of the word ‘teacher’ means that Sunday-school teachers are New Age agents. Yet on P. 318 of NABV, Riplinger heads a section in all seriousness: “T-H-E Christ: Antichrist.” The reasoning behind this hatred of the term is difficult to fathom. While the use of the term is rare in the AV, it does occur some 19 times, these are:
1. Matthew 16:16
2. Matthew 16:20
3. Mark 8:29
4. Mark 14:61
5. Luke 3:15
6. Luke 9:20
7. Luke 22:67
8. John 1:20
9. John 1:41
10. John 3:28
11. John 4:29
12. John 4:42
13. John 7:41
14. John 10:24
15. John 11:27
16. John 20:31
17. John 20:31
18. 1John 2:22
19. 1John 5:1
In not one of these cases is it used in a negative way or by a pretender to Messiah-ship. The Bible no-where says that “Antichrist will call himself the Christ,” or, as Riplinger, that “the Christ is antichrist.” In fact the AV says: “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God” (1 John 5.1). According to the AV, “Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son” (1 John 2.22). So the AV, while it does not use the term “The Christ” often, demands that all Christians must affirm that “Jesus is the Christ.” Riplinger, in her eagerness to condemn the modern Bible versions, and her paranoia about the New Age movement, has inadvertently condemned the AV as well! It would be one thing if the new versions called Jesus ‘Hermes,’ but they do not (though Paul was mistaken for Hermes once). Instead they use a title that the AV itself uses for Jesus.[1] What is illegitimate is the use of a term that never appears in pre-Christian pagan literature to refer to pagan ideas.

Of course Riplinger tries to back up her point. First of all, though, every Christian must confess that the Word of God is the final authority. If the Bible uses a title of Jesus, then to use that title of Jesus cannot be wrong. Secondly, Bob Larson, her authority, does not say what she wants him to say:

“By using the definite article (the) when referring to Christ, mind sciences distinguish between Jesus the man and the divine idea of Christ-realization attainable by men.”[2]

Note what Larson is not saying: he is not saying that the term ‘the Christ’ is the exclusive property or trademark of the mind-science cults. He is in fact explaining how the mind-science cults abuse Christian vocabulary. They also use the word ‘Christ’ with no article. Does this make that word occultic?

Riplinger’s error is that she has missed that the heresy of the New Age does not lie in the use of the term “The Christ” at all; but in their denial (as condemned in 1 John 2.22) that “Jesus is the Christ.” What is heretical and New Age is to make a distinction between the historical man, Jesus of Nazareth, and the Christ, however that is done. Norman Geisler notes that it is not so simple as Riplinger makes out:

“We should be particularly wary when someone refers to Jesus Christ as ‘the Christ-spirit’ or ‘Christ-consciousness.’ Generally, when New Agers (and many liberal Christians) speak of Christ, they are not referring to the historical Jesus spoken of in the New Testament and the great Christian creeds. If they do speak of the historical Jesus, they usually refer to Him as only one of several Christ figures in human history.”[3]

“Christ” is not a name; it is a title, a Greek word corresponding to the Hebrew ‘Messiah’, meaning ‘the anointed one’. It is usually preceded in Greek by the definite article, which is usually rendered in English as ‘the’. The Greek article does not correspond exactly to the English in all situations, nor does its use. It is commonly given in Greek before proper nouns, something that is bad English. But it is good English to place a definite article before a title when that title is used to describe a man, for example, “the pastor” or “the captain.” Thus it is good English to say “the Christ”. There is no conspiracy here; a phrase that is used only positively in the AV has simply appeared elsewhere.

Yet Riplinger writes,

“The following verses will be ripe for picking from the serpent’s tree to force feed starving souls following ‘the Christ’. The KJV clearly presents the past tense visit of Jesus Christ. The new version [sic] have ‘the Christ’ to come.”

Of course this is simply not the case. One can give a verse out of context to support all kinds of unbiblical nonsense, but such a procedure can be followed as easily with the AV as with modern Bibles. Remember, the Mormons use the AV!

Those who have written genuine New Age ‘Bible’ versions, doctored to teach their own ideas, have not contented themselves with changes to a few verses, or to words, but have massively re-written whole sections without any sanction from any ancient manuscripts. The ancient Gnostics did not change a few words here and there. Marcion radically pruned the canon, removing the whole Old Testament and reducing the New Testament to “The Gospel (most of Luke) and the Apostle (much of Paul).”[4] The Gnostics created their own books, such as those found in the Nag Hammadi Library. Joseph Smith, who taught that God was once a man and that man could become God, added several books of his own creation to the Bible. The peculiarities of the New World Translation produced by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society[5] are not the result of the underlying Greek text used by the Society, but the result of forcing the Bible to conform to the pre-existing theology of the Society. The modernist paraphrase Good as New[6] engages in radical editing, and omits several New Testament books, adding the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas.[7] In other words, like Marcion, its editor has taken upon himself to revise the canon. What he does not like he omits or changes.

It must also be noted that on P. 321 Riplinger puts words into the mouth of the Apostle John. She writes:

“’Who is a liar,’ says the apostle John, but he who claims to be Christ. ‘Jesus is the Christ,’ not Buddha, a church, ‘each of us’ nor the coming antichrist.”

But what John wrote was: “Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son” (1 John 2.22). John did not say that the one who is “a liar” claims to be Christ, but that he “denieth that Jesus is the Christ.” Why does Riplinger twist the Bible like this? Of course he who claims to be Christ is a liar, and is denying that Jesus is the Christ, but they are not the same thing!

In conclusion, what needs to be proved is what Riplinger has not even attempted to prove, that by using the phrase ‘the Christ’ modern versions intend to deny that “Jesus is the Christ.” Since the NIV, the NASB and the ESV all contain 1 John 2.22, denouncing “he who denies that Jesus is the Christ” (ESV), they cannot reasonably be said to separate Jesus of Nazareth from the title that He alone can wear, that of “the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Things missing from Hazardous Materials - Footnotes!

[1] This is the only permissible version of the Argumentum ad Hominem, demonstrating that even from the perspective of one’s opponent her argument is faulty. The real reason Riplinger attacks the use of the term ‘the Christ’ in the modern versions is of course that its wider use represents a change from the King James Bible. She seems incapable of discriminating between a change in the underlying Greek Text and a change that exists solely in the English translation. It is for this reason that her position is correctly denominated King James Only, as opposed to the more nuanced Textus Receptus and Majority Text positions.
[2] Bob Larson as quoted NABV P. 318
[3] The Infiltration of the New Age (Wheaton, Illinois, Tyndale, 1989) P. 142
[4] Harold O.J. Brown: Heresies (Peabody, Mass., Hendrickson, 2003) P. 63
[5] See As I am simply using the NWT as an example, comments attempting to defend the NWT will be regarded as off-topic and ignored.
[6] John Henson, (ed.), Good As New: A Radical Retelling of the Scriptures (New Alresford, Hampshire, O Books [Imprint of John Hunt Publishing], 2004). I am glad to say that this perversion appears to have sunk without trace. I have only ever seen one copy of it, in a secondhand bookstore. In passing, let me say that it is frankly dishonest for the King James Only lobby to lump together such blatant perversions as this with formal translations such as the NKJV and the ESV. Henson has gone far beyond the NWT, let alone the NRSV or any Evangelical translation!
[7] accessed 03/10/09

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

On the use of words. Or: Why you're not a New Ager because you went to the Office today

In many places Riplinger uses common vocabulary to 'prove' a New Age involvement in modern Bible versions. The trouble is that the words she cites are not necessarily New Age or occultic at all. They may be used by the New Age, but they are used by many other people in other ways. The New Age likes to turn words that are used in English in a variety of ways as 'codewords', but the use of these words does not itself prove involvement with the New Age, rather a New Age connection has to be proved before the word can be interpreted in a New Age way. So it is not the title ‘The Christ’ that is evil (contra Riplinger on Pp.318-321 and in many other places)[1], but the meaning that the New Age movement has filled the title with. The AV itself uses the title several times, for example in John 1:41, John 20:31, 1 John 5:1, and 1 John 2:22. Riplinger has reversed the correct procedure, which is first to prove that a writer is New Age, and then (and only then) to understand the words as New Age.

Words mean things, but they mean different things to different people, which is why a Mormon and a J.W. can both call Jesus 'The Son of God', but mean completely different things by it (both of which are wrong). What is more, the New Testament itself uses language that is also used by the Greek philosophers. If mere similarity of language is enough to establish an identity of ideas, then we must concede that the New Testament borrows from pagan thought (it does not). Rather we need to heed the words of Gordon Clark,

“Since the New Testament was written in Greek, it uses words found in pagan writings… But the point in question is not the use of words but the occurrence of ideas … One cannot forbid Christian writers to use common words on pain of becoming pagans.”[2]

This witness is true. Making the necessary changes, we can say that this caution is still in force. Some of the words referred to by Riplinger to make her case are: Demon,[3] Love,[4] One,[5] Teacher,[6] Teaching,[7] Age,[8] and Office,[9] not to mention many other such “common words.” Not one of these words is in itself a technical New Age term. To use these terms does not necessarily make its user a heretic or New Ager. Thus it can be seen that it is not enough to prove that a writer uses a specific term that the New Age uses, it must also be proven that the writer uses it in the same way as the New Age movement’s writers, and this can only be done by citing the use of the word in context.

Of course there are genuine heretical catchphrases and terms. The catchphrase of the Arian is "There was a time when he [Jesus] was not." The Semi-Arian says that Jesus is "Of a similar nature to the Father." The New Ager refers to "The Christ-consciousness," and the Swedenborgian speaks of "Our Lord God Jesus Christ." The Mormon speaks of "The only-begotten of the Father according to the flesh," and so on. It is by these uncommon words and phrases that we identify false teaching.

Necessary Info in the Footnotes

[1] It has been pointed out to me that Riplinger’s quotation of Norman Geisler, “Liberty University's Dean Norman Geisler adds: 'We should be particularly wary when someone refers to Jesus Christ as "the Christ" . . . “ (NABV P. 318) to back up her point is dishonest. This is in fact a doctored quotation. The original reads: “We should be particularly wary when someone refers to Jesus Christ as "the Christ spirit" or "Christ-consciousness.” Quoted by Bob and Gretchen Passantino, (accessed 29/09/09). Geisler does not say that it is the title ‘The Christ’ that is New Age, but the phrases “The Christ-Consciousness” and “The Christ-Spirit.”
[2] Gordon H. Clark, Thales to Dewey, as quoted in Ronald Nash, The Gospel and the Greeks (Phillipsburg, Presbyterian and Reformed, 2003) P. 7. Emphasis added by Nash. The whole of this book, which deals with the claim that the New Testament borrows wholesale from pagan thought, is well worth reading, not only for those interested in the subject and seeking to reply to claims such as those found in the Da Vinci Code, but to those interested in the whole question of how far similarity of language can be used to show dependence of thought. It is fascinating to see how closely Gail Riplinger's method with the modern Bible versions resembles that of the History-of-Religions-School with the New Testament. As well as scary, of course.
[3] P. 13
[4] P. 13
[5] Chapter 5, Pp. 76-97
[6] P.20
[7] Pp. 325-9
[8] P. 283
[9] P. 347

Monday, October 5, 2009

Westcott and 1 John 2.2

The following forms Appendix 3 to my essay 'The Craft of Dishonest Quotation'. The abbreviations in the titles of books are those used in the body of the essay.

On P. 234 of NABV Riplinger writes of Westcott:

“Commenting on I John 2:2 which reads, ‘[H]e is the propitiation for our sins,’ Westcott says this verse is ‘Foreign to the language of the New Testament.’”

The implication is that B.F. Westcott denied that 1 John 2.2 belongs in the New Testament. Since the book I facetiously refer to as The Big Book of Textual Variants (Philip Comfort's New Testament Text and Translation Commentary) lists no variant in this place, it follows that Riplinger is accusing Westcott of engaging in conjectural criticism of the text – a sort of New Testament version of the so-called ‘Higher Criticism’[1] of the Old Testament. If this were true it would indeed be a serious indication of unsoundness in Westcott, rejecting a verse that is in every manuscript that contains 1 John 2 for purely theological reasons. But there’s the rub, is it true?

At this point Riplinger has forgotten to give the reference to Westcott’s Epistles. As the specific quotation is not found in the body of the work on the text in question,[2] but in an additional note, this failure to give the reference actually gives the false impression that Riplinger has given a bad reference, when in fact she has given no reference at all. The context is:

“The Scriptural conception of hilaskesthai is not that of appeasing one who is angry, with a personal feeling, against the offender, but of altering the character of that which from without occasions a necessary alienation, and interposes an inevitable obstacle to fellowship. Such phrases as ‘propitiating God’ and God ‘being reconciled’ are foreign to the language of the N.T. Man is reconciled (2 Cor. V.18 ff.; Rom. V.10 f.). There is a ‘propitiation’ in the matter of the sin or of the sinner. The love of God is the same throughout; but He ‘cannot’. In virtue of His very Nature welcome the impenitent and sinful: and more than this, He ‘cannot’ treat sin as if it were not sin.
“This being so, the hilasmos, when it is applied to the sinner, so to speak, neutralises the sin. In this respect the idea of the efficacy of Christ’s propitiation corresponds with one aspect of the Pauline phrase ‘in Christ.’ The believer being united with Christ enjoys the quickening, purifying, action of Christ’s ‘Blood,’ of the virtue of His life and death.”[3]

Note first of all that it is not the verse that Westcott says is “Foreign to the language of the New Testament.” He is not engaging in the 'higher criticism' (or, as James Begg called it, "the lower scepticism"). At first reading the passage the evangelical reader is put on the defensive. Westcott appears to be trying to make the verse say something other than its plain meaning by quoting various extra-Biblical sources and Greek translations of Old Testament texts. Then, however, a second reading clears the air somewhat.

An Evangelical would not have used Westcott’s language, but in fact he is substantially correct. Westcott is right to say that the idea that Christ’s sacrifice changes something in God is unbiblical, and this is in fact the force of the passage. He is also quite right to say that the effect of Christ’s death is finally not in God, but in us. If Christ’s death affects the way God treats those who believe in Jesus, it is because the death has changed something about us, it has taken away our sins. And it is the false idea of Christ’s death changing God’s mind that Westcott, rightly understood, says is “foreign to the language of the N.T.” There has been, sadly, a school of Evangelical preaching that has given the impression of God the Father in a fearful rage being mollified by the self-sacrifice of a loving Son. The impression is given that, before the cross, the Father had no love for us, and that it was the cross that created the Father’s love. This is of course not what the Bible teaches at all, nor is it what the best Evangelical preachers have taught. Most of the time it is merely rhetoric, bad and false rhetoric, but still merely rhetoric and not the actual belief of the speaker. Still, Westcott is quite right to say that such a view of the cross is false, and ultimately dangerous, for it creates the idea of disharmony in the Trinity, the Son loving those the Father does not love. It also gives the impression that the Father’s wrath is ultimately unjust, wrong and merely emotional.

Thus, while I disagree with Westcott that “Such phrases as ‘propitiating God’ and God ‘being reconciled’ are foreign to the language of the N.T.” absolutely, I agree that, if understood as referring to a change produced in God, such phrases are. But, if they are understood as referring to a new relation which we, as Christians, now enjoy due to our position in Christ, the phrases are quite permissible.

The Footnotes Begin Here

[1] “Why ‘higher’? The word bewilders me always.” – B.F Westcott to Archbishop Benson, Life Vol. 2 P. 224
[2] Epistles P. 44
[3] Ibid. P. 87.