Recently I began teaching a class at my local church, which I titled “Confident Evangelism without a PhD in Apologetics.” This is Week 5: Confidence in our Faith Leads to Meek Apologetics. I think you’ll really resonate with this one, my friends. In this lesson we hit on some key points regarding God’s sovereignty. Continue reading
Over the past half decade, my study focus in the Bible has been in the field of biblical theology, as opposed to systematic theology. In the latter, we ask a specific question about doctrine, like “What is the trinity?” or “What is baptism?” and then search all 66 books of the Bible for relevant passages. The goal of systematic theology is to say “this is what the Bible says about X.”
Biblical theology, on the other hand, asks “How do all the different, little parts of the Bible fit together into a whole?” This question (like with systematic) presupposes the divine, inerrant nature of Scripture, and as such you won’t be taught biblical theology outside of a Bible-believing church or seminary. When we do biblical theology, we are seeking to trace the common theme and unifying principal of Scripture from Genesis 1 through Revelation 22.
Well, I love biblical theology, but as I run my fingers along the whole vessel of unified Scripture, I always get splinters in 1 Corinthians. Other books and chapters of Scripture are very difficult to reconcile with the whole, but in my opinion, 1 Corinthians is in a class of its own. It seems Paul comes out with insights unique to this letter – and hard to reconcile with the whole of Scripture. This is a fearful thing for an inerrantist. (We can be honest with each other, right?)
I recently took a poll on Twitter to see if anyone else agreed with me – and although some did, the majority fell into my Revelation trap:
Of course many Christians see Revelation as the tough one – a book of riddles and puzzles. I pitted these two against one another because my theory was that most Christians do not know their Old Testament very well – and that translates into confusion about Revelation. If we know our Old Testament, and if we read Revelation keeping in mind the second-century church would have gotten direct application and comfort from Revelation, then it unravels into semi-easy, understandable interpretation.
Yet 1 Cor is a belly flop of a letter. Paul is not addressing any one issue (like in Galatians or Colossians), and he isn’t writing a splendid overview of biblical theology and gospel (like Romans and Ephesians), and he isn’t giving apostolic guidance to a stable brother in Christ (like 1-2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon), but rather he’s attempting to corral a group of borderline wackos who had asked him a basket of difficult questions.
1 Cor begins well enough – in fact, I understand and enjoy everything pretty well up to chapter 7. From there on, Paul loses me, no matter how many commentaries I consult for guidance. Check out some of these gems of biblical enigma:
Because of the angels, Paul? Really? That’s all you’ve got for me? And what do you mean about the believing spouse “sanctifying” the unbelieving spouse? And please, Paul, tell us why you had to say all that stuff about speaking in tongues – I wish you could have seen all the fallout we’re suffering because of it. Couldn’t you have clarified that all that stuff expired with the closing of the canon?
And why, brother Paul, oh why did you have to say “I, not the Lord, say…”? That one is an apologetics nightmare, my dear father and apostle.
But are these questions just mine? How about you all – does anyone out there find 1 Cor equally confusing? In case you’re still feeling strong, looking down on this poor Adam as a confused, well-meaning saint, I deliver my final blow in 1 Cor 15:29
“Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf?”
If you know what on earth he was talking about, I’m all yours, teacher. What’s my point in all this? I’ll be straight with you: I’m a teacher of God’s Word, I play a strong supporting role in my local church, and I teach multiple Bible studies in home meetings. When I write a post like this, it’s because I want to be vulnerable and open with my family in Christ. I want to have the credibility of admitting that this is not an easy book (the Bible as a whole), and there are some questions I cannot answer. I struggle in my faith just like anyone else, and even have days of heavy doubts at times.
I’m confessing publicly that I’m made of flesh and blood, and no matter how much confidence I have in teaching the Bible, it is still my master, and God is still its final interpreter. No man or church can be the master of this divine library, we are forever its pupils and in submission to its wisdom.
And maybe, just maybe, I’m writing this blog post to celebrate a book like 1 Corinthians. Maybe it gives me a bit of comfort to know that “the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Cor. 1:25 ESV). You see that? He put it right in the hardest book in the Bible – “Not everything here will appeal to your human wisdom and understanding. Not everything in My book will be fully comprehensible. That’s OK – you know the center and foundation of Scripture (Jesus and His gospel) – you can let some of it be over your head.” (No, God did not say that to me. I’m imagining that would be something like what He would say to me about 1 Cor.).
I will always try to understand 1 Cor better, but I will be content in my personal faith and in my apologetic endeavors if these things remain an enigma to me.
What about you?
Thanks for reading,
In my work of discipling fellow Baptists and evangelicals, I have the joy of often introducing them to the concept of sacramental grace. I am currently writing up a little lesson on baptism for some friends, and so I thought I would share it here. For further reading, see here and here.
Here are my notes:
- The NT speaks of baptism as an event by which God gives a kind of grace where we are bound to Him.
- – Acts 2:37-38 baptized for the remission of sins
- – Matthew 28:18-20 baptism as entrance into the life of discipleship
- – Romans 6:1-4 baptism as incorporation into the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ
- – Colossians 2:11-14 baptism as circumcision (which was both a symbol and a reality of what it symbolized EVEN IF ADMINISTERED AFTER THE REALITY BEGAN – see Romans 4) & (notice how baptism and the gospel blend right into each other)
- – Ephesians 4:5 one baptism
- – Ephesians 5:26-27 washing of water with the word (cf. Titus 3:5)
- – 1 Peter 3:21 baptism now saves you
This is the text of an academic paper I recently presented at the Northeastern Seminary theology conference (Participation in God’s Mission, featuring Michael Gorman).
This paper arose from my own search for solid ground underneath the Christian faith. In other words, if Christianity is true, shouldn’t we be able to dig down to some ultimate foundational truth that cannot be undermined? The answer is…
Revelation and Knowledge Bridged in Proverbs: the Confident Cruciform Life
The cruciform life begins, for each Christian, by the authoritative call of God. That call, which comes through hearing his word, is radical in its implications, absolute in authority, and transformative. It is predicated on the superior authority of God’s self-revelation through redemptive history. This divine authority does not confront us as first of all a proposition to be studied, or to be accepted by some degree of probability, or even as the conclusion to a complex syllogism. Notice there is no philosophical defense of the existence of God in Genesis 1:1, but rather a naked assertion of his being (“In the beginning, God. . .”). Jesus’ radical call to discipleship comes from that same assumed authority.
To heed the call, and to follow Christ is to put oneself at peril. Human nature is bent toward self-preservation, yet the example and commandments of Jesus bend us away from self toward God and others, even to the embracing of dangerous enemies. If we are to obey Jesus, forsaking even “house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands” (Mark 10:29), then we must have a solid confidence in the preeminent authority of God’s self-revelation. Continue reading
Two weeks ago, I posted my essay from a recent seminary research course here. Some dear friends commented that it was a bit heady, and difficult to digest (sorry!), so I wanted to do a quick “cliff-note” version here.
Well, what is baptism? It’s Jesus, at work in His church.
It’s the Word of God, doing it’s work through a physical medium, or “means.” This is why you may hear some Christians call baptism and the Lord’s Supper “means of grace.” These are the two sacraments, or ordinances, by which Jesus works His saving grace in the church.
Now, these are not the only means of grace. Whenever and however God’s holy Word is communicated, it is a means of grace.
Be it by sound waves coming from vocal chords, striking your ear drums.
Be it by reading.
Be it by braille.
The Word of God is powerful because it is His Word by which He has promised to do His works of grace.
Baptism is the place where God’s Word is present and applied by means of water. The water itself does nothing, but only when it is combined with the Word of God (gospel promise), and faith, that then saving grace is imparted. In this sense, God can and does use baptism as a means of birthing, strengthening, and/or preserving saving faith.
About my seminary paper: my argument was that Baptists have an historical track record of fighting with anyone who comes from a paedobaptist denomination (and for good reason, I’m a Baptist too!) But my argument is that we Baptists have overreacted to Roman Catholicism as an institution, and have therefore also overreacted to Lutheran, Anglican, and Reformed denominations (confessions) because of their infant baptism practices.
My argument was, therefore, that we ought to re-examine the Scriptures in light of the faithful, gospel-centered confessions of the Lutherans and Reformed churches, for if they have maintained both the gospel of the apostles AND infant baptism over 500 years, then we ought to recognize Jesus has not removed their lampstand in spite of an irregular administration of baptismal rites (to infants). Does that make sense? Babies should not be baptized, but once they are, we ought to recognize that God works through our mistakes, so long as we are not denying the gospel and twisting His Word to the point of heresy.
And so… I would argue that Baptists
1) Need to re-examine the delivery of saving grace in and through baptism (even though we administer baptism properly after a profession of faith – there is a mystery here working outside of time).
2) Need to recognize baptism as valid, though irregular when it has been done to an infant. Problems do arise when churches baptize infants, but even these issues are “fixable” when once the true, apostolic gospel is preached in those churches. (In other words, Baptists need to stop re-baptizing people, for in reality these second baptisms are not a baptism at all, but rather a traditional, ceremonial mimicking of baptism).
3) and finally, Baptists need to do some soul searching concerning our reactionary stances in a number of areas. This is difficult work, because we want to preserve our apostolic, first-century doctrines and practices that the other Reformation churches are missing out on, but on the other hand, we unnecessarily separate from fellow believers too readily.
This all calls for prayer, humility, and a deep trust in the Word of God to inform our hearts and minds… even if that calls for occasionally repenting of a bad practice or two.
In love for the church,
I’m a Baptist, but kinda barely! I believe baptism is only for those who are receiving it in faith, but the tradition of the Reformation churches persuades me to recognize the baptism of infants! (Not as the norm, but as an irregular expression of the sacrament)… So here’s my 6,700 word paper on why I think most Baptists see baptism as more of a law duty than as a gospel gift.
Check it out, thinkers! Thanks for reading,
Baptist Identity and Sacramental Malformation
A Baptist identity is difficult to define and locate within broader church history, but in general there have always been those who practice credobaptism (believers only to be baptized). It was through the Reformation and its subsequent centuries that Baptists articulated a confessional identity under the Protestant umbrella. Among the branching family of Protestant denominations, church radicals (Baptists among them) are those who bore the malice of Rome from one side, and the scorn of the paedobaptist Reformation bodies from the other. Through the sustained three-way tussles between Roman Catholicism (RC[C]), high-church State Protestantism, and the burgeoning free-churches (including Baptists), the sacramental theology (ST) of the Baptists has never been developed and articulated apart from the conscious strain of these polemics.
Perhaps in relation to this, the greater portion of Baptists have tended to exclude the sacraments as means of God’s effectual work of salvation. For the Baptist, sacramental grace is often rejected as having the whiff of Romanism; the Lutheran, Calvinist, and Anglican churches (with their varied STs) may appear to the Baptist as compromised, or otherwise stuck in a sort of incomplete reformation. Because Baptists tend to view the RCC as the arch villain of accretive doctrinal excess (a la “sacred tradition”), any given Baptist doctrine may take a reactionary skew and thus miss or distort key biblical data. In spite of this visceral antipathy, the Baptist is ever a Christian under the authority of Scripture, and so he may be persuaded to re-visit traditional beliefs in the light of Scripture as it has been interpreted within the greater Reformation heritage.
So as to provide the historical and theological background against which Baptists react, I will note the vital connection in RC between ecclesiology and ST, this being near the heart of the Reformation protest. Over against this medieval RC juggernaut, the Lutheran and Calvinist confessional bodies found agreement in the gospel even while confessing their differing expressions of sacramental grace. In this paper I will briefly demonstrate that sacramental grace is not necessarily RC, nor does it necessitate RC ecclesiology. In addition, I will make note of the growing Baptist voices who represent an openness to an embrace of sacramental grace within the outlines of otherwise traditional Baptist theology. Continue reading