Friday, February 18, 2011

Other Jesuses

This past week I had another visit from a member of the Watchtower organisation, otherwise known as the Jehovah's Witnesses. I'm also reasing April DeConick's book on the Gospel of Judas. So my mind is moving on things unorthodox and Christological. Then I saw a comment by a Mormon that "Mormons do not believe in another Jesus."

Another than what? I thought. The answer is, another than Christians have historically believed in, another than that taught in the Nicene Creed. Let me give an illustration from American politics. Initial source here.

Ssaome conspiracy theorists say that Barack Hussein Obama, current President of the United States of America, is in fact a Kenyan-born man called Barry Soetero, who is a devout Muslim. On the other hand, his supporters say he was born in Hawaii, his name is Barak Hussein Obama, and he is a liberal Christian. Now, take a person who holds one of these views, and a person whom holds the other. Do they hold to the same Obama? No, Barry Soetero and Barack Obama are two different people, with different histories. One is eligible to be the president of the US, the other is not. It doesn't matter that both men are thinking of the same human being - they think such different things about him that they cannot both be true.

Just so with Jesus. Look at the Jesus of the Watchtower, or the Jesus of Mormonism, and compare them with the Jesus of the Nicene Churches. They are quite different. Fundamental to the Nicene faith is that Jesus is eternal, "of one substance with the Father", and that there is only one, eternal, God. The Mormon, on the other hand, believes that God became God, and was a man who lived on another planet, and that Jesus was born in the pre-existence to one of his father's spirit-wives. To the Mormon, not only was there a time when Jesus was not, but there was a time when the Father was not!

Or take the Watchtower. They say that Jesus is a created being, not co-equal with the Father, who is alone. And we could go on. The fact is that they do believe in a different Jesus. And ony one can be right!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Further Thoughts on Frank Turk's Open Letter

It has been a little while since the Frank Turk/White Horse Inn question cropped up. In my defence, my brain mulls over things slowly at times. To remind any possible readers, the letter in question is here.

Mulling it over, I realised that the major problem underlying this letter is one of communication. In fact there is a category error being committed here.

The first is this: Following John MacArthur and others in the early stages of the 'Lordship Controversy', it seems at times that Turk wishes to make necessary consequences of the Gospel into parts of the Gospel. The non-lordship teachers said that repentance and a changed life were not required of Christians. In response some of the 'lordship' teachers made these part of the Gospel. It seems to me (and I may be mistaken) that Frank Turk is tending the same way. The fact is that Horton and Co. believe that the Gospel has consequences, and these consequences are necessary, they are just concerned to distinguish the consequences from the Gospel itself. Even in the quotations that Turk gives, the White Horse Inn hosts talk about the Gospel affecting how we live. So I ask: Do we agree that the Gospel has necessary consequences for our lives? If so, are we in fact arguing over a category mistake?

What the Gospel results in is not the Gospel, or part of the Gospel. Now, you may think I am straining out gnats here, but I am not. You see, if we confuse the results of the Gospel with the Gospel, we start preaching them as though they were the Gospel. In the 19th century temperance was regarded as a necessary consequence of conversion by many groups. At that point you can argue about what Temperance means, but the point is that it was regarded as a result of conversion. But then people began to preach for temperance, not conversion! The result was preached - not the Gospel that leads to the result! So it is today when you have Churches preaching life-change as the Gospel. No, the Gospel is Christ crucified for me - life-change is the result! We need to be crystal-clear on this fact.

Billy Sunday was an American evangelist, and one of Billy Graham's models. Whatever we may think of him, he makes a good case study here. When Sunday began his ministry, he called people to believe in Jesus. As time went on, however, he began to add various aspects of life-change to that call. In the opinion of Homer Rodeheaver, Sunday's music director, this led to a situation where "Very rarely does he give a definite, clear invitation for people to forsake their sins and come and publically accept Christ as their Saviour" (Quoted in Lyle Dorsett: Billy Sunday and the Redemption of Urban America [Eerdmans, 1991] P. 135).

The two must be kept distinct. Time and again failure to understand this has led to legalism. On the other hand, failure to understand that the consequences of the Gospel are necessary has led to antinomianism.

The White Horse Inn is not a Church, and it seems to me a little odd to tell people off for, on the one hand, being treated by some people as if their radio broadcast were the Church, and then to tell them off for not acting more like the Church! But we are all inconsistent, after all!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Unbalanced hangers-on

Wherever there is strife, wherever there is controversy, there are partisans. There are people basking in reflected glory. This is a bad thing. Always. Visiting New York in the 1930s, Dietrich Bonhoeffer noticed that the students at Union Seminary, though they ridiculed stupid fundamentalists, were in fact much shallower than those they ridiculed. Of course many were - it is always much easier to climb on a bandwagon. But the same is true of Fundamentalism. And where the original parties in the controversy were thinkers, there are hangers-on who are not, and who become radically unbalanced.

Some of the imbalnce is due to youth, either in years or in experience. The young Calvinist goes through a 'cage stage', where he needs to be locked up as a danger to himself and others, and is in danger of becoming hyper! He becomes proud of the fact that he did nothing to save himself! Why? Because he hasn't thought through all the implications of what he believes! That, I think is the problem, people are attracted to Calvinism, to the Reformed Churches or even to Confessional Lutheranism, and as soon as they are in the door, everything else is wrong. So there is an imbalance. C.F.W. Walther had to deal with people who talked of "The only saving Lutheran Church", and said that outside the Lutheran Church there was no salvation - is it any wonder we have similar folk today?

Hangers-on, when they are unbalanced, go beyond those they hang on. For example, in a recent theological controversy on the internet, concerns were expressed over the fact that a certain apologist was associating with certain Emergent types. Along comes a hanger-on and says, "He's a full-blown emergent", or words to that effect. But that statement bore no relation at all to reality! We can't blame those who are hung on for the hangers-on. We can only say this: if all your reading is from one small publisher, from one perspective, from one man or circle of men - you really need to get out more. You really do need to know what you believe and why you believe it - not just listen to s show that talks about teaching you to know that!