Paradise Lost – Redefining Faith #5

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Paradise Lost - Redefining Faith #5
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In this episode we examine a view of sin as a fundamental approach to life which, while demonstrated in transgressions, runs deeper than transgressions. In fact, we see that God orchestrated the transgressions in order to bring about Sin’s demise.

Working for the Weekend – Redefining Faith #4

Faith Recovery Podcast
Faith Recovery Podcast
Working for the Weekend - Redefining Faith #4
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In this episode we examine the literal readings of Genesis 1 and 2 and ask whether these passages actually require us to believe scientifically disproven interpretations, while also seeing that they reveal much about God’s intention for humanity in Christ.  

Of Amoebas and Men – Redefining Faith #3

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Of Amoebas and Men - Redefining Faith #3
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In this episode we explain why the Trinity matters. We argue that it’s not just a matter of right doctrine, but rather that God must be a fellowship if he is a loving God.

Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth – Redefining Faith #1

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Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth - Redefining Faith #1
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In a post-Christian world, clarifying the gospel will require the correction of misconceptions. In this episode, we redefine the notion of biblical inerrancy.

Fire That Burns for Good

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Fire That Burns for Good
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Christians might want to extinguish the doctrine of hell, but it’s a fire that burns for good.

This is the first of a two-part conversation about the doctrine of hell. In “Fire that Burns for Good,” Kent and Nathan answer the question, “Why the hell?” What possible reason could there be for a loving God to threaten people with a fiery judgment?


“Fire that Burns for Good” – Episode Notes

Whatever position we take on hell must be demonstrably consistent with the ancient revelation of the gospel. We can’t take a position on any Christian doctrine because it fits cultural sensibilities.

If the gospel does, indeed, save us from cultural conformity, we must be hyper-critical of the unrelenting pressure of inculturation. While human authority is overt, cultural pressure is insidious:

“Obedience and conformity both refer to the abdication of initiative to an external  source.”

“Subjects deny conformity and embrace obedience as the explanation of their behavior.”

Milgram, Stanley. “Obedience to Authority”

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

Christ remains the same but culture continues to shift.

Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

(Heb. 13:7-8)

All this I have told you so that you will not fall away. They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God.

(John 16:1-2 NIV)

If we redact scripture, we concede the argument to the skeptics.

We’ve been saying that the gospel is the final revelation of God but that doesn’t mean the scriptures are misleading.

The concept of God’s wrath and his readiness to punish sinners isn’t incidental in scripture. There are 206 mentions of the word, “wrath” in the ESV Bible. Places that describe God as wrathful, punitive, and deadly are critical to the Old Testament narrative.

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Leave this place, you and the people you brought up out of Egypt, and go up to the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ 2 I will send an angel before you and drive out the Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. 3 Go up to the land flowing with milk and honey. But I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way.”

And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”

(Exodus 33:1-3; 34:6-7)

They made me jealous by what is no god and angered me with their worthless idols. I will make them envious by those who are not a people; I will make them angry by a nation that has no understanding. For a fire will be kindled by my wrath, one that burns down to the realm of the dead below. It will devour the earth and its harvests and set afire the foundations of the mountains. “I will heap calamities on them and spend my arrows against them. I will send wasting famine against them, consuming pestilence and deadly plague; I will send against them the fangs of wild beasts, the venom of vipers that glide in the dust. In the street the sword will make them childless; in their homes terror will reign. The young men and young women will perish, the infants and those with gray hair.

(Deut. 32:21-25)

Jesus in the gospels warns repeatedly of God’s judgment.

He said: “A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return. So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas. ‘Put this money to work,’ he said, ‘until I come back.’ “But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, ‘We don’t want this man to be our king.’  “He was made king, however, and returned home. Then he sent for the servants to whom he had given the money, in order to find out what they had gained with it. But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me.’ ”

(Luke 19:12-14; 27)

It’s not out of character for Jesus to kill his enemies. The pre-incarnate Christ appeared to Joshua as the “Commander of the LORD’s armies” in Joshua 5 and in 2Kings 19:35:

“That night the angel of the LORD went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning—there were all the dead bodies!”

Of the 13 mentions of “hell” specifically in the New Testament 11 are made by Jesus. Including:

“You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? 34  Therefore I am sending you prophets and sages and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. 35  And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. 36  Truly I tell you, all this will come on this generation.

(Matt. 23:33-36)

Not only will there be an eschatological judgment, but Jesus will be the judge, jury, and executioner according to Paul’s teaching in Acts 17:31; Romans 2:16; 2 Thess. 1:4-10:

Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring.

All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you.

Attempts at whitewashing the bloodier elements of scripture undermine Christian credibility.

If we say that Bible is time-bound, then we must admit God had no role in its creation or that he engineered a misrepresentation of himself.

If we say certain sections are authoritative while others are not, then we make ourselves or our culture the arbiter of Scripture making it altogether superfluous.

Any suggestion that we revise our understanding of the Bible must come from the Bible or scripture is undermined entirely.

The gospel itself implies lethal judgment.

If Jesus died for our sins, then we must understand that sin is lethal. If God could redeem us from sin apart from Christ’s death, then the crucifixion becomes nothing more than theater.

That it was a violent death suggests a need for retributive justice of some kind.

The LORD said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.

(Gen. 4:10-11)

But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.”

(Heb. 12:22-29 NIV)

The very notion that we are saved from the “present evil age” implies a pending judgment.

For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them.

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord.

(Eph. 5:5-10 NIV)

Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.

(Phil. 1:27-29)

Hell is God’s fire that burns for good because it provides our “will be saved” moment.

One Seat on the Throne

Recovering Faith
Recovering Faith
One Seat on the Throne
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In the kingdom of God, there’s only one seat on the throne.

In “One Seat on the Throne,” Alex, Kent, and Nathan look at God’s plan for leadership under the gospel and conclude that God doesn’t need human control to protect his people.

“One Seat on the Throne” – Episode Notes:

It may sound strange to talk about letting God rule. Is he not sovereign over his creation? Doesn’t he have the wisdom to hand down righteous decrees and the power to enforce them? Won’t he eventually call all people to account?

God rules creation and orchestrates history, but he won’t force anyone under his reign. We won’t experience his rule in our lives until we submit ourselves to him – until we let him rule. Any despot can make people conform but God is no despot. He deserves the job of universal ruler, but he won’t impose his will on the unwilling. This is true of individuals and groups. The gospel invites individuals under God’s reign, but it also grants them the opportunity to reject him. The Holy Spirit has come to guide the church, but we can grieve, quench, and despise his leading.[i]

If it’s up to us to let God rule, how can we ensure that’s what we do?

Since we are realized Israel, let’s look to the history of our nation to learn how God wants to rule his kingdom.

“I will restore your judges.”

Do you remember that time Israel deposed God in a coup?

So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.”

But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the LORD. And the LORD told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you.” (1 Samuel 8:4-8 NIV)

Israel’s demand for a king wasn’t just a rejection of Samuel or even of the office of judge which Samuel held, it was a rejection of God as their king. God responded to this insult by agreeing to give them a king. This exchange demonstrates God’s insistence that people obey him willingly.

God told Samuel that Israel had rejected him as king from the day he brought them out of Egypt. God became Israel’s king through the defeat of Pharaoh and his gods. At Mount Sinai he declared them a kingdom of priests and a holy nation, his own treasured possession. He gave them his law. He provided for their needs. His Presence remained among them to guide them and to enforce his law. He put his Spirit on Moses to empower and enable him to serve as a judge among them. When the job got too big for Moses, God took some of the Spirit that was on him and distributed it among seventy(two) elders[1] who then judged Israel with him. This was God’s administration over his own kingdom.

This governmental structure continued in Israel as they entered the land of promise. God’s Presence went ahead of them as the Commander of the LORD’s Army[ii] to conquer the land. His provision changed from manna to the produce of the land. By his Spirit, he enabled Joshua to succeed Moses as leader of the people. Neither Moses nor Joshua took the title of king because God continued to rule as king over Israel. Moses and Joshua served as stewards in God’s kingdom.[iii] They moved under God’s explicit instructions and wielded his power to carry out his will.  

After the death of Joshua, the Messenger of God’s Presence continued to rule as king in Israel. In the book of Judges, we find him walking around in Canaan rebuking the nation from a mountain top, accosting Gideon from under an oak tree, setting stuff on fire, telling a woman how to raise her kid, and hitching a ride on a plume of smoke. He enforced his law directly by raising up the nations in the land to punish Israel. Once the nation learned its lesson, God’s Spirit empowered judges to deliver them from their oppressors. It was a time of miracles and personal freedom, but that freedom proved too much for Israel to bear.

By the end of the book of Judges we find the nation on the brink of total collapse resulting from sin’s corrosive influence. God’s call was to each person to fear him and obey his law. In this way they could live together in peace with no need to be controlled by earthly leaders. But Israel was still made up of fallen people. Through two horrific tales of religious and moral degradation we find the refrain, “There was no king in Israel and everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” God had set his people free, but their rebellious hearts turned that freedom into anarchy. God gave them a king at their request because each person’s rejection of him as their personal king was destroying the nation.

I think it’s noteworthy that once God gave Israel their king, he stopped appearing bodily in Israel as the Messenger of Yahweh. God had ruled directly as king in Israel from the time of Moses through the era of the judges. All the while Israel had resisted God’s reign, so he gave them a human king according to their request. This wasn’t God’s first choice for them because he knew that power corrupts and that nearly all their kings would mislead the nation. It was to a corrupt kingdom of Israel that Isaiah penned these words:

Your princes are rebels

and companions of thieves.

Everyone loves a bribe

and runs after gifts.

They do not bring justice to the fatherless,

and the widow’s cause does not come to them.

Therefore the Lord declares,

the LORD of hosts,

the Mighty One of Israel:

“Ah, I will get relief from my enemies

and avenge myself on my foes.

I will turn my hand against you

and will smelt away your dross as with lye

and remove all your alloy.

And I will restore your judges as at the first,

and your counselors as at the beginning.

Afterward you shall be called the city of righteousness,

the faithful city.” (Isaiah 1:23-26 ESV)

God would remediate Israel’s corruption by resuming his role as king in a return to the era of the judges. I believe that era has commenced with the exaltation of Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

Our God Reigns

Jesus promised that some in his audience would see the kingdom of God come with power.[iv] On the day of Pentecost that promise was fulfilled. In Christ, God has resumed his direct reign over his people. Like in the era of the judges, Christ, the Messenger of Yahweh lives among us. Unlike the era of the judges Christ also lives within us. Like in the era of the judges, God has given his law. Unlike that time, this law is written on our hearts by his own Spirit. As under the Moses, Joshua, and the judges God personally punishes wrongdoers like Ananias and Saphira.[v] And true to his word he has restored Spirit-empowered ad hoc leaders, judges, over his people.

Judges aren’t kings. They have spiritual authority instead of positional authority. Just like Gideon’s leadership was contingent on the power of God or Deborah’s on her ability to prophesy, so Paul based his authority on God’s power at work in him. Consider Paul’s leadership credentials in the following passage:

I have made a fool of myself, but you drove me to it. I ought to have been commended by you, for I am not in the least inferior to the “super-apostles,” even though I am nothing. I persevered in demonstrating among you the marks of a true apostle, including signs, wonders and miracles. (2 Corinthians 12:11-12 NIV)

But what if some despised his authority or what if they were rebellious? How could Paul as God’s regent enforce his word?

I already gave you a warning when I was with you the second time. I now repeat it while absent: On my return I will not spare those who sinned earlier or any of the others, since you are demanding proof that Christ is speaking through me. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you.

This is why I write these things when I am absent, that when I come I may not have to be harsh in my use of authority—the authority the Lord gave me for building you up, not for tearing you down. (2 Corinthians 13:2-3, 10 NIV)

Paul didn’t have or need organizational endorsement. His suffering for Christ and the power of the Spirit were his credentials. As Christ’s duly appointed representative, he warned them that if they didn’t repent, he would once again demonstrate Christ’s power to punish their wrongs. He didn’t need a majority vote to carry out church discipline because Christ had given him authority and Christ would do the disciplining.

It’s important that we acknowledge the only legitimate authority in God’s kingdom is that which flows powerfully from Christ. As his Spirit-enabled leaders wield that authority he remains king and they are spared the corruption that comes with office. In the era of the judges a person didn’t need to wonder whether God endorsed the judge. The evident power of God with them was his endorsement. This system is self-regulating as Paul wrote, “For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth.” (2 Corinthians 13:8 NIV)

Lest we think Paul and the other apostles possessed a unique leadership dispensation, we should consider that Paul expected other would-be leaders to put their power where their mouth is.

Some of you have become arrogant, as if I were not coming to you. But I will come to you very soon, if the Lord is willing, and then I will find out not only how these arrogant people are talking, but what power they have. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power. What do you prefer? Shall I come to you with a rod of discipline, or shall I come in love and with a gentle spirit? (1 Corinthians 4:18-21 NIV)

God’s promise through Isaiah to restore the judges was a promise to resume direct reign over his kingdom. Kings command; but judges minister. Paul’s authority came from the power of the Holy Spirit. He didn’t expect other people to defer to him based on his title but on his work. He was an apostle because God had empowered him to perform that role. Leaders in the kingdom of God don’t resort to positional authority to make God’s people obey them. They minister their God-given gifts to feed and protect God’s flock.

The ancient judges were empowered by God to serve their generation and not to build a dynasty. Christ rules his kingdom and will never pass it on to another, so leadership succession has been done away. We have the same Holy Spirit today as Paul or Peter or James did. What possible need could we have for “apostolic succession”? We can certainly benefit from the gifting of those men through reading the New Testament, but we shouldn’t allow their rulings to set timeless precedent while the king continues to reign in our midst. We have the gospel which is the very spirit of prophecy.[vi] Can it not teach us something for today? Might God not raise up Spirit-empowered teachers and prophets to share mighty truths for our generation? We want to borrow authority from the apostles, but the source of their authority belongs to us today.

Let me be very clear. Every hierarchical church, denomination, association, or alliance is an affront to God’s kingdom reign. They arise from the same faithlessness that caused Israel to ask for a king. They traffic in contrived authority which they generate, define, and celebrate according to the rudimentary principles of this world. “Let us build,” they say, “and make a name for ourselves. Lest all our progress die with our generation and our legacy be scattered to the wind.”   

Someone might defend Christian institutions by pointing to the need to defend the church from heresy. That thinking supposes God needs our help to defend his gospel.

A great house with a firm foundation

When the Reformers elevated the Bible to the place of final authority in place of the Catholic hierarchy, the Christian movement immediately began to fracture. Differing interpretations became the bases for various sects. To combat this proliferation of Christian variants they codified their biblical interpretations into creeds and catechisms. Sects trained new leaders in their version of orthodoxy. Those leaders were then ordained to indoctrinate their parishioners in the same. In this system, everyone must be told in detail what to believe. The transition from church authority to biblical authority produced yet another form of ecclesiastical control. Inclusion required conformity. Dissent brought expulsion.

While the authors of the New Testament seem to have been concerned about heresy, their methods indicate a different perspective on protecting orthodoxy. For instance, leaders who took upon themselves to throw doctrinal dissenters out of the Christian community were seen as unorthodox. Diotrephes was such a leader and John censured him for his actions:

I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will not welcome us. So when I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, spreading malicious nonsense about us. Not satisfied with that, he even refuses to welcome other believers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church. (3 John 10-11 NIV)

John certainly took exception to Diotrephes’ slander, but he counted his top-down control of church membership the greater offense. By way of contrast, consider Paul’s response to reports of factions in the Corinthian church:

But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. (1 Corinthians 11:17-19 ESV)

Paul never attempted to control the composition of any congregation. In this time before the return of Christ we long for unity and work toward it, but we also know that divisions will persist. Because God is sovereign even factions will come to serve his greater purpose. They will serve as a backdrop to highlight the glory of his gospel. The heretics and hypocrites in the church have job to do as well. Consider how Paul depicts the purpose of even false believers in God’s household:

Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have departed from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some. Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.”

In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for special purposes and some for common use. Those who cleanse themselves from the latter will be instruments for special purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work. (2 Timothy 2:16-21 NIV)

Notice that even though Paul doesn’t mince words about the status of these false teachers he also assumes that they and their ilk will be present in the church. Not only will they be present but God has placed them there and has a place for them there. One of the greatest challenges to letting go of biblicism to follow the gospel standard has always been the fear of heresy. Paul could live above a prescriptive, written standard because he didn’t entertain the pretense that he had the power or even the right to extinguish heresy. Paul knew that Christ was on the throne and there was only one seat there. That’s still true today. If we find false teachers among us, we surely can’t believe it’s because Christ needs us to remove them. We must commit to submitting to his kingdom authority over our own lives and over the life of the church.


[1] In Numbers 11:10-30 God called out seventy elders to share the burden of leadership with Moses. When he poured out his Spirit on them, they all prophesied. In addition to those seventy, another two prophesied in the camp.


[i] Verses on don’t grieve or quench the Spirit and not to despise prophecy

[ii] Joshua 5:13-15

[iii] Numbers 12:7

[iv] Mark 9:1

[v] Acts 5:1-9

[vi] Revelation about the gospel is the spirit of prophecy.

Obey the Gospel

Recovering Faith
Recovering Faith
Obey the Gospel
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We must obey the gospel because it is the final standard in all matters of faith and life.

In “Obey the Gospel,” the Three Failed Pastors discuss the Christian system as guided not by a written text but by an oral announcement.


“Obey the Gospel” Episode Notes:

In saying that the gospel is the final authority for all matters of Christian faith and practice I have intentionally coopted the formula traditionally applied to the Bible.[1] The church must look to the gospel and not to the Bible as the authoritative guide for the individual Christian and as the basis of unity within the Christian movement.

In this section we will:

  • Survey the failings of the Bible as the authoritative guide
  • Outline God’s intent for a scriptural use of Scripture
  • Make a biblical case for the gospel as our standard
  • Explore the practical implications of making the switch.  

The Bible won’t cut it.

Astute readers will instantly recognize the irony of the heading above. It’s common in Christian vernacular to refer to the Bible as a sword. We make the association based on a couple of iconic scriptures:

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12 NIV)

Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:17 NIV)

“Word of God” in the Hebrews verse obviously refers to the Scriptures available to the author since he (or she) had been expounding Psalm 95 just prior. Paul in the Ephesian passage refers to something else since this preliterate Gentile church didn’t have access to a leather-bound volume they could wave around. That should be obvious at least to Bible scholars. As we will see not only does “word of God” refer to something else in Ephesians, none of the instances of its use in Paul’s writings refer to the Bible.
As nearly as we can tell, the passage in Hebrews is the only place in the New Testament where Scripture (not including the New Testament) is specifically called “the word of God.”

If this is the case (and we will prove that it is) why does every Christian everywhere immediately envision a gold-leafed volume whenever “word of God” is uttered? We contend that the association has come down from the Reformers and not from the apostles. Not only is the doctrine of sola scriptura[2] unbiblical (ironically) it’s also destructive.

The letter kills

It has been said that rules were made to be broken. To that maxim I would add, “And it doesn’t matter who made them.” Far from being a sin deterrent, Paul describes God’s law as “the power of sin.”[i] He unpacks that shocking statement in Romans 7 where he describes three different laws weaving us into a web of sinful behavior. The law of sin is an innate rebellious tendency residing within each person. The law of sin becomes activated when it encounters the law of God. The law of God on one hand and the law of sin on the other pull the person in two. The inner self longs to be righteous but fallen physical person craves what is now forbidden. It seems that the writers of the New Testament conceived of death was the separation of body from spirit.[ii] So Paul aptly calls this personal disintegration “the law of death.” At the end of the chapter the tension forces Paul to cry out, “Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?”

As Paul repeatedly reminds his readers in Romans 7, there was nothing wrong with God’s law except who it was addressed to. And yet the repeated violation of God’s law was no indication that it had been given in vain. According to Romans 5:20a “The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase.” It doesn’t seem that God has ever been a moralist, but that he will even incite sin for a higher purpose:

But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:20b-21 NIV)

Grace doesn’t mitigate sin; it converts it to more grace. And having in desperation come for grace we find freedom from sin’s grip. Since the law is the power of sin, God’s grace breaks that power through this truth, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…” (Romans 8:1 NIV)

These dynamics of sin, law, and death aren’t specific to the Torah. It’s not the content of the law but the nature of law that awakens sin and kills the sinner.[iii] We affirm that Scripture comes from God and is good, but that it can become deadly when used to produce a litany of religious rules.

While Protestant and evangelical traditions insist that salvation is by grace through faith apart from works, they’ve continued to formulate behavioral prescriptions from Bible passages. The church might agree that “There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus,” but not with the basis of that confidence which was:

All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify. (1 Corinthians 10:23 NASB95)

The church’s tendency to retain the Bible as a legal standard appears in the way the above verse is rendered in the NIV.[3]

“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive.

Since nothing in the Greek text indicates a need for quotation marks around any part of this verse and with no Greek analogue to “you say” there must be some other reason why these additions were made to this translation.[iv] It seems obvious that it was to steer readers away from an antinomian reading of Paul. At yet, in so far as law is defined as written rules, Paul was antinomian. The gospel of grace cannot coexist with any written code.

How ironic that the church has turned Paul’s letters into the very thing he abhorred.

I have the right to do anything—but not everything is beneficial. I have the right to do anything—but not everything is constructive.

Much disputing

Nobody fully understands the Bible. We should, and do, suspect anyone who claims to. The church has spent two millennia collecting, rejecting, losing, canonizing, translating, updating, studying, and expositing a collection of writings by various authors we relate to less and less with the passage of time. While various attempts have been made to affirm the utility of Scripture because of divine aid, nobody has called off the interpretive enterprise citing the achievement of complete understanding. We find this dynamic among literary and even legal scholars, but their texts don’t carry the weight of divine authority. If the Bible is God’s standard, we don’t get to get it wrong and yet we’ve yet to get it right.

Since no one understands the Bible, no two people understand it exactly alike. If we really treated the Bible as our sole standard no congregations could exist because each person would find all others out of compliance with his or her interpretation. Unity among Christians only exists where the Bible has come under some other authority whether or not the group admits it. Denominations are built not on the Bible but on Bible interpreters. Historically, the more actual authority a group delegates to Scripture the less cohesive it becomes.[4]

It’s good that the Bible prohibits using the Bible as our standard since it also commands us to be unified.[v] According to Paul, the removal of a legal code was a precondition to unity among God’s redeemed people:

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. (Ephesians 2:13-15a NIV)

It’s easy for the modern Christian to read this text and casually agree that requirements like circumcision needed to be removed to allow Gentiles to join Israel, but circumcision was no mere tradition or cultural phenomenon. Genesis 17 unequivocally decrees that uncircumcised males must be excluded from God’s people. If Scripture can be set aside for unity in one place, by what rationale do we make Scripture the arbiter of unity in another?

From the time Christians started treating the Bible as their supreme authority it has stood in the way of unity. The Colloquy of Marburg[vi] poignantly demonstrates the Bible’s ability to divide God’s people. Held just 12 years after Luther nailed up his 95 Theses, this meeting aimed at resolving a doctrinal difference over the unity feast of Christ – the eucharist. Martin Luther and Huldrich Zwingli were called together by German nobility to consolidate their respective reform movements. Of the 15 points of doctrine to be discussed at the colloquy, 14 were summarily accepted by both camps. On the 15th issue, the significance of communion, Luther chose “biblical authority” over his brother. With the New Testament as with the Old, the letter still kills, and the law still divides.


“Obey the Gospel” corrections:

In this episode, Nathan made up some statistics on the spot regarding mandatory drug sentencing for crack cocaine vs. cocaine powder. Here are the correct statistics:

The U.S. Congress passed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, which allocated $1.7 billion to the War on Drugs and established a series of “mandatory minimum” prison sentences for various drug offenses. A notable feature of mandatory minimums was the massive gap between the amounts of crack and of powder cocaine that resulted in the same minimum sentence: possession of five grams of crack led to an automatic five-year sentence while it took the possession of 500 grams of powder cocaine to trigger that sentence. Since approximately 80% of crack users were African American, mandatory minimums led to an unequal increase of incarceration rates for nonviolent Black drug offenders, as well as claims that the War on Drugs was a racist institution.

“War on Drugs,” Encyclopedia Britannica Online

“Obey the Gospel” Footnotes:

[1] Westminster Larger Catechism, Question 3: “What is the Word of God?” Answer: “The holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament are the word of God, the only rule of faith and obedience.”

[2] We understand that there are differences in the way various traditions define this doctrine, but we use it to refer to the belief that the Bible is the final authority by which all others must be evaluated.

[3] We don’t mean to pick on the NIV. It’s our preferred translation. But since it is recent and applies a functional equivalence method of translation, it sometimes displays the biases of contemporary biblical scholars.

[4] The “American Restoration Movement” grew out of the proposition that all human authority should be rejected in favor of a simple reading of Scripture. It immediately splintered into over 60 factions.


References:

[i] 1 Corinthians 15:56

[ii] James 2:26

[iii] 2 Corinthians 3:6

[iv] The NIV makes the same modifications in a parallel passage – 1 Corinthians 6:12

[v] Romans 15:5-6; 1 Corinthians 1:10; Philippians 2:1-2

[vi] https://www.britannica.com/event/Colloquy-of-Marburg

New World Now

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Special
New World Now
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In “New World Now” Kent and Nathan take a long-form deep dive into some traditionally troubling topics.

According to the gospel, Jesus has begun the new world now and will make all things new upon his return.

False Prophets, Figs and Faithfulness

blood-moons

We’re a curious species. And as the saying goes, “Curiosity killed the cat.” I’m not saying that it’s bad to learn. God gave us these wonderful minds and we commit sacrilege when we discourage honest inquiry into reality. God also gave us boundaries such as the inability to see the future or to know for certain what happens after death. Scripture condemns the aspiration to transcend these boundaries as divination.

“But what about prophecy?” you say. Yes, God does speak through the prophets but there is a difference between information that God gladly gives us and that which we attempt to take. Prophecy seems to come in two forms: First, there is often very clear instruction about how to react to something yet to come in the immediate future for a specific group or individual. Second, there is vague, general information about that which God will do in the distant future as with the Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament or with Revelation. God does things this way because he knows how dangerous our divine pretensions can be and how we crave to know all that is yet to come.

Jesus’ own disciples revealed their vain curiosity on the Mount of Olives near the end of Christ’s ministry. In Matthew 24:1-2, Jesus gave them a peek at what was to come a few short decades into the future, that the temple would be demolished. The disciples immediately rushed toward this cracked door, hoping for full disclosure, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age.” (Matt. 24:3b).

Christ’s words in response to them command our consideration as well, “Watch out that no one deceives you.” (Matt. 24:4) Jesus knew that our speculative urge can easily be turned toward Satan’s purposes. For evidence of the blinding nature of speculation, one need look no farther than most commentaries on Matthew 24 itself. It seems that almost everyone looks at this passage as a foretelling of what will be at the end of time. Yet, Christ didn’t respond to the disciples’ probing with, “Okay, okay, since you guys asked.” Instead, he said, “Watch out!”

As Christ prepares to leave his disciples to engage a spiritually diseased world, he gives them an inoculation against speculation. Here on the eve of the fourth blood moon in this most recent tetrad, with BSF for the first time ever venturing into Revelation and the secular media replete with post-apocalyptic movies, I’d like to offer the church Christ’s prescription:

  1. A lot of people will buy the devil’s lies. It doesn’t mean they are true. vs. 5
  2. World events are neither predictive nor insignificant. Like birth pains, they declare, “It’s getting closer!” vs. 6-8
  3. The time between Christ’s first coming and second coming will be filled with persecution, apostasy, false religion, ever growing wickedness, and the worldwide proclamation of the gospel through the church. vs. 9-14
  4. The destruction of the temple will have no eschatological significance. So, don’t buy in to the end times hysteria which will immediately follow that event. vs. 15-25
  5. There will be no secret return of Christ. When he comes back, his presence will fill the sky like lightning and every eye will see him. The heavens will declare his coming and a loud trumpet will herald his approach. Both his enemies and his friends will know he has come again. His friends will be gathered to him at that time. vs. 26-31 (Rev. 1:7)
  6. The first coming of Christ has begun the last days. People often stumble over vs. 34 here but its always best to let scripture interpret scripture. Jesus said, “this generation will not pass away until all these things have happened.” What could that mean? We’re either left with somehow coming up with a secret return of Christ within the lifetime of those standing with him which was just precluded or we look for another understanding. First of all remember Christ’s purpose with these teachings, to safeguard his disciples from speculation. If Christ was giving a 50 year window for his return, then he would have been defeating his very purpose. So, what could he have meant? I believe the answer can be found in the verse which follows directly after, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” We are all the generation under Christ by his words. He has no successor nor is there any mediator between us and him. In these words, Christ has precluded every Mohammed, Joseph Smith or David Koresh. This meaning fulfills his purpose and fits the immediate context.
  7. Anyone who says with any certainty or specificity when the end will be is a liar. If Jesus didn’t know, then William Miller didn’t know and Harold Camping doesn’t know. Our job is to live today like Christ will return today. Period. Exclamation point! vs. 36-51

Growth Groups Questionnaire

Growth Groups Questionnaire

 

This tool, based on Neil Cole’s Life Transformation Groups, is designed to facilitate a one on one/one on two discipleship process.  As with LTG’s, participants gather for one hour per week to ask and answer the accountability questions.  At the meeting they agree upon a passage of Scripture to read on their own through the week.  Unlike LTG’s, Growth Groups require participants to make weekly commitments to pray, join Christ in his mission and to obey his Word through Scripture.  Because of this dynamic approach, we needed a means to update commitments on a weekly basis.  So, we created this online form.  Give it a try and see where it grows.