The Moral Argument for God’s Existence

Hi everyone, what you are about to read is an excerpt from a book I am currently writing that should be finished near the end of the year. I hope you enjoy reading it.

In August of 2014 I could finally hang on my office wall a little certificate that read that I had been “ordained to the Gospel Ministry at Rincon Baptist Temple.” However, I could not help but feel a little hypocritical. Here I was sitting in my office at the Baptist Church that had ordained me, and where I was serving as a Pastor, and I doubted whether God even existed! There was a part of me that desperately wanted to share what I was experiencing with others, but I thought I would inspire little confidence in the people I was leading if I shared what I was going through. Maybe this wasn’t right, but I simply didn’t want my doubts to poison other people’s faith. So, I turned to my books and the internet to find the answers to my questions.

It did not take me long to find out that there are a lot of opinions out there about whether God really exists or not! I was not surprised about the fact that there were many intelligent people out there defending the idea that God does not exist. Indeed, I earned my bachelor’s degree at a State University where many of my professors were atheists or agnostics, so this did not really surprise me. What did surprise me were the number of intelligent Christian people out there who were making eloquent arguments for the existence of God.

To make a long story short, even though I came to admire (and still do) the intelligence and the accomplishments of those who were defending the idea that God does not exist, I ultimately found the arguments for Theism (the idea that God exists) more plausible. Now, if I were to present all the arguments in favor of God’s existence exhaustively then this book would be very long (and probably a little boring) so I am just going to present the “Moral Argument” for God’s existence because it is the argument that I personally found the most compelling when conducting my research.

Probably my first exposure to the “Moral Argument” for God’s existence came through reading C.S Lewis’s Mere Christianity. In his book, Lewis argues that every society both past and present has some understanding of right and wrong. Lewis wisely notes in Mere Christianity that codes of morality from different cultures can often differ substantially in terms of their details and emphases, but they often share many important similarities as well. To demonstrate his point Lewis argues thusly

I know that some people say the idea of a Law of Nature or decent behavior known to all men is unsound, because different civilizations and different ages have had quite different moralities. But this is not true. There have been differences between their moralities, but these have never amounted to anything like a total difference. If anyone will take the trouble to compare the moral teaching of, say, the ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, Hindus, Chinese, Greeks and Romans, what will really strike him will be how very like they are to each other and our own…Think of a country where people were admired for running away in battle, or where a man felt proud of double-crossing all the people who had been kindest to him. You might just as well try to imagine a country where two and two make five.[1]

To illustrate Lewis’s point from another angle, you would be hard pressed to find someone who would argue that the events of the Holocaust were morally right. Sure, you might find the odd (and gravely mistaken) person who denies that the Holocaust took place, but we would rightly conclude that the person who tries to defend the atrocities of the Holocaust, many of which were perpetrated against helpless and innocent children, is grossly morally deficient. The evidence from history and the study of other cultures, and perhaps more importantly, our own experience, seems to point to the fact that some things are objectively morally right, and some things are objectively morally wrong. Regardless of where we come from there seems to be within human beings a near universal sense inside of us that certain things are so cruel and so unloving that no sane person should ever consider doing them. This fact has lead many people, including myself, to ask this important question. Why? Why is it that human beings from many different cultures and backgrounds, unless they are morally deficient, sense that certain things are morally right, and certain things are morally wrong?

Lewis’s answer to this question is that the existence of moral values in every culture imply the existence of a transcendent moral law giver. Namely, God. I am inclined to agree with Lewis on this point. Indeed, the Christian faith teaches that all human beings are made in “God’s image.” This idea expresses that like God, people can reason, be creative, and make moral judgements. Human beings can intuit the difference between right and wrong (albeit often imperfectly) because God has designed us to. God has given people a conscience.

[1] Lewis, Mere Christianity, 19.

Advertisements

Arminianism: A Most Misunderstood Theology

Hi folks, please read with an open mind and feel free to share your thoughts. Blessings to all who proclaim Christ as Savior and Lord, Julian Pace.

 

I don’t think it would be an understatement to say that Arminian theology has fallen on hard times in recent years. I tend to think this is because many of the United States’ most influential preachers tend to be far more sympathetic towards Calvinism than Arminianism. Indeed, some of America’s best-known preachers do not make any bones about the fact that they are staunch Calvinists. Pastors and theologians like John Macarthur, John Piper, Matt Chandler, Mark Driscoll, David Platt, and Al Mohler openly profess their embrace of Calvinism as well as their rejection of Arminian theology. Turn on Christian radio, walk into a Lifeway bookstore, or attend a Passion conference and you will hear sermons and see dozens of resources written by these men. While many theologians teaching at Seminaries in the United States are Arminians, I can’t think of an American preacher who openly professes to be an Arminian and enjoys the influence and popularity of say a John Macarthur (maybe William Willimon?) Macarthur has authored one of the most popular study Bibles in the United States, can you name a Study Bible written by an equally influential Arminian preacher?  I am also convinced that many people are fearful of claiming to be Arminian because of the charges that have been leveled against it by some of the United States’ most prominent preachers. Piper has called Arminian theology “Man Centered” and Macarthur has equivocated it with the heresy of Semi-Pelagianism. These preachers and theologians are listened to by millions of American Christians and have a major impact on the American Church’s thinking, practice, and spirituality. Thus, when these Christians hear these preachers speak negatively about Arminianism, many Christians understandably conclude that these well-educated and eloquent preachers must certainly be right. However, I am convinced that Arminian theology is oftentimes misunderstood, probably by even many Arminians themselves!

Although Calvinists have critiqued Arminian theology for dozens of reasons I will, for the sake of brevity, only respond to those objections that appear (in my judgement) most often in Calvinist literature and sermons. First, Calvinists will often argue that Arminian theology is unscriptural because it fails to appreciate man’s sinfulness and his utter inability to respond to God’s offer of salvation. In short, Arminians wrongly reject the scriptural teaching of total depravity. Second, Arminian theology forces one to accept that Christians can “lose” their salvation which could lead to a lack of assurance in a believer’s life. Third, Arminians reject God’s sovereignty.

When dialoging with Calvinists it has been my experience that they are quite surprised when I tell them that I affirm the doctrine of total depravity. Often, they are even further surprised when I tell them that every “Classical” Arminian affirms total depravity as well. I affirm, with the Calvinist, the scriptural teaching of Romans 3:11 that without God’s intervening grace we would never pursue a right relationship with God. Sin has so damaged our will that we can’t exercise the slightest inclination towards God without divine aid. The Arminian solution to this problem is the doctrine of “prevenient grace.” This doctrine teaches that God in his mercy has enlightened the will of people to the extent that they have the choice to freely choose or reject him. Without God’s gift of “prevenient grace”, we don’t have the ability to choose God. All we can do is rebel against God. Both the Calvinist and the Arminian affirm that we need to receive God’s grace prior to justification due to our depraved nature. The key difference between the two positions is that the Calvinist believes in irresistible grace while the Arminian believes in enabling grace. For the Calvinist, if God has elected to save you, he will graciously regenerate your will prior to justification which will certainly lead you to exercise faith in God. The Arminian posits that God’s gift of “prevenient grace” is for all people and it gives you the ability to choose God, or freely reject him. God regenerates and frees our will so that we are then able to exercise a right attitude towards God if we so choose. Thus, for the Arminian, salvation is all of God’s grace. If God had not taken the initiative in salvation we would never have sought him. The positions are distinct, but they are both an attempt to solve the problem of man’s total inability to choose God without the help of divine aid.

Many Christians have rejected Arminian theology because they believe that if they affirm it then they are required to affirm conditional security (aka a person who is genuinely saved can lose their salvation.) What might surprise the person investigating Arminian theology is that while many Arminians have affirmed conditional security (aka John Wesley and Adam Clarke) many have not! Indeed, Jacob Arminius of whom Arminian theology is named after, never dogmatically affirmed conditionally security and in fact made several statements in his writings that were quite supportive of eternal security! Many Arminians throughout history have believed in the doctrine of eternal security. Frankly, Arminian theology allows for both opinions in its system. If you feel you can’t affirm Arminian theology because you are convinced from the scriptures of the truth of eternal security, then worry no more, a belief in eternal security is entirely compatible with an Arminian framework.

It is often said that Arminians reject God’s sovereignty. This is simply not the case. Like the Calvinist, the Arminian affirms that God has exhaustive foreknowledge and is all powerful. The difference between the Arminian and the Calvinist’s view of God’s sovereignty is that the Calvinist believes that God has determined every aspect of history and has thus rendered each historical event certain. Thus, when Adam and Eve rebelled against God, they could not have chosen otherwise because God before the foundation of time determined that they would sin against him. The Arminian view quite rightly distinguishes between God’s permissive and decretal will. God in his foreknowledge knew that Satan, Adam, and Eve would rebel against him, but they could have chosen to do otherwise. Their choice to rebel was permitted by God but it was not determined by him. While I can appreciate the Calvinist’s desire to affirm God’s sovereignty, I still must reject their view because I do not see how it does not lead to God being the author of sin. If God determined every historical event, thus rendering certain that Satan, Adam, and Eve would rebel and sin against him without the possibility of doing otherwise, then it seems that sin originated in the mind and will of God. To affirm this, as the Calvinist would agree, is blasphemous.

I want to close by noting that I have been positively influenced by several Calvinist theologians. I have benefited greatly from the work of Calvinist theologians like R.C. Sproul, Tim Keller, Charles Spurgeon, and many, many others. There is much I appreciate about the Reformed tradition in general. Thus, my goal here is not to smear Calvinism or its proponents even though I ultimately can’t affirm some of what it teaches. Rather, my goal is to dispense with some of the more common, and I think erroneous, objections that have been leveled against Arminianism so that people will give it a fair hearing once more. I think someone who approaches Arminian theology with an open mind will find that this doctrinal system takes seriously the depraved nature of people, robustly affirms God’s sovereignty, and is thoroughly grounded in the biblical witness.

 

The Hypostatic Union of Jesus Christ

 

Pictured above is Saint Athanasius: Athanasius is one of the Christian faith’s greatest theologians. His classic work On The Incarnation remains one of the greatest defenses of Incarnational theology to this day.   

Do you believe that Jesus is both God and human? Do you know why you believe this to be true? The following is a seminary paper I recently finished that talks about the history of the doctrine of the Hypostatic Union, as well as the good biblical reasons there are for affirming this doctrine. This is for all you theology lovers out there! Enjoy, Julian Pace

 

The Hypostatic Union, or the doctrine of Hypostasis, is the biblical doctrine that Jesus is both God and man. The Catholic Encyclopedia defines the term thusly “A theological term used with reference to the Incarnation to express the revealed truth that in Christ one person subsists in two natures, the divine and the human.”[1] The doctrine of the Hypostatic Union of Jesus Christ can be compared to that of the Trinity. Although both terms are not explicitly used in scripture they are both reasonably inferred from the relevant biblical data.

Although the church affirmed the doctrine of Hypostasis at the council of Ephesus in 431, and at the Council of Chalcedon in 451, the doctrine has caused some controversy within the church. Many different Christological formulas have been proposed in contrast to Hypostasis. Some differ fundamentally from the Hypostasis doctrine and either deny Jesus’s true humanity or true divinity. Some Christians disagree with the specific Christological formula embraced at Chalcedon while still affirming that Jesus Christ is truly God and truly man (a notable example is the Oriental Orthodox communion which boasts of nearly 90 million members worldwide.)[2]

One view that stands in stark contrast to the Hypostasis view is Docetism. The term is derived from the Greek word “dokeo” which is roughly translated as “I seem.” The origins of this view are obscure but noted theologian Norman Geisler is convinced that the idea had some adherents as early as the first century.[3] Basically, Docetism denies Jesus’s true humanity. The Docetists argued that Jesus was not truly human but only “seemed” to be. Apollinarianism is similar to Docetism in that it diminishes the humanity of Jesus Christ. Apollinarius (c. 310-390) taught that Jesus had no human spirit, thus fundamentally undercutting the truth of Jesus’s humanity.

Other views have exalted the human nature of Jesus over his divine nature. Perhaps Arianism is the best known Christological heresy that denied Jesus’s full divinity. Norman Geisler defines Arianism thusly “Following Arius (c. 250-336), it’s founder, this heresy denies that Jesus is fully God, allowing Him a created status below God.”[4] Saint Athanasius, perhaps Christianity’s greatest theologian, thoroughly refuted the arguments of Arius in his classic work On The Incarnation. Ultimately, the church condemned the teachings of Arius as the Council of Nicaea in 325. Another view that denies Jesus’s full divinity is the heresy of Adoptionism. This Christological model asserts that Jesus was a normal man until God adopted him on the day of his baptism and made him a partaker in the divine nature. Another view that can serve as something of an umbrella term for heresies that deny the divinity of Jesus is Monarchianism. This view flourished in varying degrees in the second and third centuries.

Any discussion about the doctrine of Hypostasis must consider the views of Nestorianism and Monophysitism. These views do not fit easily into the two heretical paradigms just discussed. The Monophysite view, held by Eutyches (c. 375-454), diminished the humanity of Jesus and stated that the divine nature of Jesus overwhelmed the human nature of Jesus. (The “Miaphysite” view held by the Oriental Orthodox Churches, who were mentioned earlier, is a moderate form of the Monophysite view. Many theologians believe it is amenable to orthodox sensibilities even though its adherents are not comfortable with all the affirmations of Chalcedonian Christology.)[5] The Nestorian view, probably not held by Nestorius (c. 386-450) to whom the view is named after, but by his followers, did affirm that Jesus was truly God and truly man. However, it also affirmed that Jesus was in fact two persons: one divine, and one human. This view presents obvious philosophical and theological problems.

The central problem of the views that either diminish Jesus’s humanity or divinity, is that they simply fail to take into account the richness of the biblical data. Understanding the person of Jesus Christ properly and how his divine and human natures relate to one another, is simply not an either/or proposition. Fortunately, the great theologians of the past agreed with this sentiment and when asked whether Jesus was divine, or human, answered with both/and, and not either/or. Many passages in the Holy Scriptures teach the divinity of Jesus including Colossians 1:13-18 and John 1 to name just a few. For brevity’s sake I will only consider John 1 in some detail.

John 1:1-3 says “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.  All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being (NASB).” The broader context of this passage in verses 1-18 clearly identify the “Word”, in the Greek the “logos”, with none other than Jesus of Nazareth. It is notable that in this passage the “Word’ is personalized, identified as preexistent, and the creator of the universe. Not to mention the specific the specific reference to the “Word” being God. Indeed, this passage so clearly teaches Christ’s divinity that the Jehovah’s Witnesses are forced to add “a” (an indefinite article which has no equivalent in the Greek language) before the final word “God” in verse 1 to reconcile this verse with their Arian Christology.

It must be equally emphasized that the scriptures teach not only Jesus’s divinity but his humanity as well. Jesus was born like all other people (Luke 2:1-20), hungered like other people (Mark 11:12), wept like other people (John 11:35), and bled and died like other people (Matt 27:32-56.) To argue for a Docetic belief about Jesus’s humanity, requires special pleading and undermines important theological concepts in the scriptures such as Jesus being the “Second Adam” who takes away our sins (1 Cor 15:45-49). Thus, when presented with the dual realities of the Christ’s divinity and humanity, a good theologian should seek to synthesize the two doctrines rather than exalt one nature over the other. We should avoid the extremes of outright denying either nature of Jesus and be careful not to repeat the far subtler errors of the Monophysites and the Nestorians. The doctrine of Hypostasis is indeed a complex one, but the scriptures do in fact teach both Jesus’s humanity and divinity. These truths are made quite clear in a wide number of passages of Holy Scripture and they have been affirmed by the church at both the Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon. For these reasons, all orthodox Christians should hold to the doctrine of the Hypostatic Union of Jesus Christ confidently and without apology

 

[1] Pace, The Catholic Encyclopedia, 320.

[2] Ibid, 423-437.

[3] Geisler, Systematic Theology, 552.

[4] Geisler, Systematic Theology, 552.

[5] Pelikan, The Spirit of Eastern Christendom 600-1700, 37-38.

 

Bibliography

Clarke, Adam, Clarks Commentary: The Holy Bible, containing the Old and New Testaments. Nashville: Abingdon, 1977.

Erickson, Millard J. Christian theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1983.

Geisler, Norman L. Systematic theology. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 2002.

Hall, Christopher A. Learning theology with the church fathers. Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 2002.

Pace, Edward. The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 7. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910.

Pelikan, Jaroslav. The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, Vol. 2: The Spirit of Eastern Christendom (600-1700). Vol. 2. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977.

 

The Confident Christian

First Peter 3:15 says “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect (NIV)”. Ever since the Pilgrims set out for the New World in 1620 in search of religious freedom, the Christian faith has played an integral role in shaping American culture. For many, the Christian faith was a stabilizing and positive influence in society. However, with the rise of secularism in the United States as well as the broader western world, many people increasingly look at the Christian faith with a skeptical, even hostile attitude. Will it be said of us that we as believers responded to this challenge with composure and grace, or that we shrank when skeptics asked the tough questions?

Many Christians live in fear of someone asking them a question such as: Why do you believe in God? Why do you call Jesus your Savior? Why is attending Church services so important to you? While we should always be ready to admit that we don’t have all the answers, we should also be equally confident of the fact that we serve a God who does. In James 1:5 we are given the promise that if we pray and ask God for wisdom he will give us the wisdom we so desire. Thus, we should always remember that before we set out to gather knowledge, we must first ask for wisdom from God. Only then will we know how to wisely apply the knowledge we gain from study and reflection.

Christians should receive a boost of confidence from the fact that the tradition we are a part of is filled with intellectual and spiritual giants. Indeed, great thinkers today still mine the words of Augustine, Anselm, Calvin, and of course, Jesus of Nazareth, for insight on topics as diverse as ethics, philosophy, history, and theology. Indeed, these thinkers ably defended the faith on intellectual grounds in the face of questions from skeptics from many different backgrounds. Leaning heavily on the thinking of the Apostle Paul in Romans 1, Christian apologists have often pointed out that the order and beauty of the universe points to the existence of a wise, master creator. Indeed, Psalm 19:1 proclaims “The heavens declare the glory of God (NIV)” Furthermore, the very existence of the disciples’ faith after Jesus’ crucifixion points to the truth that they actually saw their Savior resurrected on the third day. These are just a few of the arguments that have been put forth in favor of the reasonableness of our faith.

It should be noted that 1st Peter 3:15 is just as concerned with the spirit in which we defend our faith as well as the reasons we suggest for why we think our faith to be true. Christians are to be people who show love to all persons, in all situations. Indeed, the command to love our neighbor is given without qualification. When we share our faith with others we should always take care to be fair and respectful to those who disagree with us.

Perhaps it is only fitting that I should save what I believe the most important aspect of sharing one’s faith for last. While I do think Christians should be both intellectually and emotionally fit witnesses for the faith I think it is perhaps eminently more important, and probably more persuasive, for Christians to be ready to share at a moment’s notice what God has accomplished in their lives personally. Oftentimes, people will be more impressed by someone’s account of how God brought them through a battle with cancer, or how God healed them from bitterness and resentment towards a person who wounded them earlier in life. We should also be ready to share our testimony of how Jesus Christ drew us unto himself and brought us out of darkness into his marvelous light. All the knowledge and eloquence this world has to offer fare poorly when placed in juxtaposition with how God can transform people for the better. Indeed, this must be the most effective evidence for the truth and vitality of what we believe.

 

 

How Should Christians face discouragement?

 

imgres.jpg

Discouragement is a universal human phenomenon. Christians are not excepted from this unhappy aspect of human experience. Discouragement is a very real and present danger in the life of the believer. Many different events in our life can lead us to despair- Death of a close friend or relative, prolonged sickness, multiple failed endeavors, or not being able to find stable employment. Sometimes just being a faithful witness for Christ in this sin sick world can lead us to depression. Any number of things that life throws at us can lead us to despair and allow us to slip into a lifestyle plagued by discouragement. When we get discouraged, and it is not a matter of if it is a matter of when, how should we deal with it? How should we face this age old problem in a fashion that honors Jesus Christ and is becoming of our Christian proclamation. In the following paragraphs I have listed a few things to remember if you are facing discouragement.

1st Kings 19 tells us that right after Elijah witnessed God’s power and glory on Mount Carmel (no not Mt. Caramel) that he fled to the wilderness due to the persecution wrought by the wicked Queen of Israel named Jezebel. Rather than being energized by the incredible victory, Elijah ran to the desert and fell into a deep depression. In fact, 1st Kings 19:4 tells us that Elijah begged God for death. If you are discouraged remember that you are in good company. Elijah was one of the greatest prophets of the Old Testament and even he succumbed to discouragement. The fact is, sometimes doing the right thing for God will make some people very unhappy and we will face persecution for our efforts. It is difficult to remain unaffected by such harsh rejection. Now, I am not saying that we should see our plight of discouragement as a badge of honor or develop a martyr complex but nor should you go to the opposite extreme and think that you are less of a Christian for sometimes getting discouraged.

I also find it interesting that Elijah found himself discouraged immediately after he witnessed God sending down a pillar of fire in an incredible show of his might. For Elijah, this must have been and unforgettable and emotion filled experience. It is a simple fact of human psychology that after extremely joy filled moments in our life we can often experience a letdown. So when this does happen remember that this is normal. When you feel discouraged after a great spiritual victory I would recommend that you take the time to remember what God just did for you in this very special time. Do not be like the fickle children of Israel who often rejected God right after he did something kind for them. Sometimes you will have to make a conscious effort to remember God’s goodness but it will be well worth it! It is also helpful to remember that God is going to continue to do great things with you. Philippians 1:6 says this “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (NIV). If you have been gloriously saved by Jesus Christ (And I hope that you have) and Jesus has not returned yet (Which he hasn’t) then you can be confident that God will continue to give you spiritual victories.

In 1st Kings 19:5-8 we are shown, albeit indirectly, another beautiful truth about God. While in the wilderness and still in the throes of depression God does not forsake Elijah. Rather, he feeds and cares for him by way of Angels. As Christians, we can take comfort in the fact that God does not care for us only when we are faithful and bold, but even when we are broken. God’s love toward us is not conditioned upon our performance. Roman 5:8 echoes this thought in perfect harmony when it says “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (ESV). If you are discouraged, reflect on this truth and be encouraged by the goodness and faithfulness of God.

 

In 1st Kings 19:14 Elijah is quoted as saying “I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; because the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.” Pretty much everything Elijah says in this statement was indeed true at the time with the exception of one phrase “I alone am left”. Sometimes when we are discouraged we blow things way out of proportion. Things were certainly bad in Israel in Elijah’s day but he had clearly lost perspective. For one, he was not alone because God the Father is still on his throne, Jesus is still Lord, and the Spirit is still at work. God has indeed promised us that he will “never leave us, nor forsake us.” For these reasons we should never fear being truly alone. We should also rejoice in the fact that God will always have a remnant of people on earth who will follow him. Consider the words of 1st Kings 19:18 “Yet I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.” God gently reminds Elijah that he is not the only person standing up for what is right and, by the way, modern Christian, neither are you. God in his grace has given us the Church-Not the building we worship in or hear the word of God preached but the people who make up the community of the redeemed. Dear Christian, when you are discouraged this is the time when you should lean on your fellow believers all the more. You should look to them for guidance, comfort, and care. All too many people when faced with struggles exit the church. This is the last thing you should do when you are discouraged. If you think that by leaving the church your problems will fade, then you are deceived. Cling to your fellow believers all the more. That is what God would have you do.

As you can see, the word of God has not left us without an answer as to what we should do when we are discouraged. In the previous paragraphs we have only considered one chapter of the Bible and It speaks directly to our present struggles. If I could leave you with one final encouragement I would simply say that if you are discouraged you should take even more time out of your day to search the scriptures for wisdom and encouragement. God has given us the Bible so that we might be taught, encouraged, and reproved. Sometimes the words of the scriptures challenge and sting but they are always instructive-And they will always draw us closer to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who has promised us that all who follow him will indeed find rest.

 

 

 

John Wycliffe and the Beginning of a New Era.

John Wycliffe has often been called the “Morning Star of the Reformation” by historians and for very good reason. Wycliffe was born sometime around 1331 and died in 1384. Wycliffe lived his life for Christ and completed his work a century before Luther would write his Ninety Five Theses and nail it to the churches’ door. In the following paragraphs it is my desire to give a brief summary of Wycliffe’s life and work. Every English speaking Christian ought to know something about this great man of God who began many important reforms which would resonate in the church all over the world.

John Wycliffe was an ordained Roman Catholic priest and preacher but he was first and foremost an Academic. From his position at Oxford University, which was already one of the world’s finest colleges, he had a pulpit from which to preach his views. Although Wycliffe was a part of the Roman Catholic communion he quickly gained a reputation as something of a radical within the English church. He made not a few enemies including the Bishop of London, and later the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Courtenay. However, he also had some powerful friends as well. Perhaps his best known supporter was John of Gaunt who was the son of Edward the Black Prince. John would do his best to protect Wycliffe throughout the years though eventually Wycliffe grew a little too radical for even John of Gaunt. Wycliffe was primarily controversial because of his ideas about theology that were in direct contrast to some of the teachings of the larger church. Let us discuss them now.

Most Roman Catholic theologians of the time thought that the final authority and arbiter of doctrine should be the Papacy and the leadership of the church. Wycliffe thought very differently and suggested that the foundation should be Christ and the Holy Scriptures. He also argued that secular government and the church were far too intertwined. Perhaps what angered the Bishops and Priests the most was when Wycliffe began to criticize their opulent lifestyle. He argued that the church had lost its’ love and compassion for the poor and hurting common people. Wycliffe also began to send out other men into the countryside to spread these ideas. These poor preachers were often called Lollards and they did much to spread the Gospel around the whole of England.

While the Lollards continued to spread the truth all over Britain, Wycliffe continued to study at his home in Oxford. However, in 1381 Wycliffe was about to proclaim a doctrine that would shake the very foundation of the English church. Wycliffe proclaimed that the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation had absolutely no scriptural support. This made many in the church livid with Wycliffe and by now many were starting to turn against him and his ideas. John of Gaunt would desert Wycliffe and William Courtenay who was now the Archbishop of Canterbury was ready to mount a synod against him. The synod was successful and condemned much of what Wycliffe taught. Because of this Wycliffe lost his position at Oxford and was officially censored by the Roman Catholic Church. However, Wycliffe’s work was not yet completed and when he returned to the village of Lutterworth God was calling him to the work that was perhaps his very greatest contribution to the cause of Christ.

By the time he had returned to the little village of Lutterworth in 1382 Wycliffe was gathering his followers to begin a translation of the Holy Bible. Wycliffe would use as his text the Latin Vulgate which had earlier been translated from the Koine Greek one thousand years prior. This project would consume the rest of Wycliffe’s life. It is very probable that Wycliffe translated the Gospels himself and was actively involved in the rest of translation of the New Testament. The significance of this work cannot be understated as it was the very first translation of the Bible into the English language. However this work would not make him popular in Roman Catholic circles. In fact after Wycliffe’s death in 1384 the church would condemn his teachings, exhume his body, burn the remains, and persecute his followers. However, Wycliffe’s work for the Kingdom of Christ could not be undone.

In retrospect, it is easy to see the great effect of John Wycliffe’s work. Because of him and his followers more and more people were willing to speak out against the more egregious doctrines of the church and Wycliffe through his example inspired other reformers such as John Hus, Martin Luther, and John Calvin. Even today, Wycliffe’s influence can be felt every time someone reads a translation of the Bible in the English language. Also many people read Bibles in foreign languages translated by Wycliffe translators who have used his namesake and continued to spread the Gospel around the world. For every one who seeks to live a life for Christ John Wycliffe stands out as a bold inspiration. We can always look to his life as an example of what one person can do when they follow Jesus with reckless abandon.

Review of Christopher J. H. Wright’s book “Knowing Jesus through the Old Testament”

th Christopher J.H. Wright succeeds in his book Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament by giving us a better understanding of just exactly who Jesus Christ was and is in light of the Old Testament. He begins his work by using the example of the average carol singing Christian at Christmas time. He reflects that many Christians do not fully understand Jesus in the proper light of his Jewish identity. Many probably don’t even care to. I think Wright is mostly correct in assessing how often times the average western Christian has divorced Jesus from his heritage and pictured him as a blonde haired, blue eyed westerner. In the following pages I wish to show how Wright reconnects Jesus to the Old Testament in a mostly proper and balanced way. I have personally been blessed by reading and studying this book as it has given me new insights into just exactly who Jesus Christ is and what he came to do.
After Wright has finished with his fitting “Christmas Carol” example he begins his objective of introducing us to Jesus Christ as revealed in the Old Testament. He quickly gives a cautionary note that it is not his desire to artificially stuff Jesus Christ into every page and passage of the Old Testament but rather show how we can know him better by studying the Old Testament. I think Wright is quite right in stating that many Christians consistently undervalue the Old Testament. They often times simply see it as “What happened before Jesus”. While this statement is somewhat true it also reflects a profound misunderstanding of what the Old Testament is. Wright over and over again reminds us that all orthodox Christians have affirmed it’s place in the canon and for good reason. So, if the Apostles and the church fathers saw the greatness and necessity of the Old Testament, shouldn’t we as well?
One of the first points Wright covers is the Jewish identity of Jesus. Sadly, many Christians have westernized Jesus to the extent that he is almost like the caricature presented in Jesus Christ Superstar. Wright does his best here to emphasize that Jesus Christ was a Jew in the fullest sense of the word. Not only did Jesus look Jewish and dress and eat like a Jew but he was weaned on the great truths of the Old Testament just as all Jews were. This was for me a favorite section of the chapter as reacquainting myself with the Jewish Jesus helped me to realize that Jesus was a real historical person with a real ethnic identity. He is not some mythological demi god life Hercules or Thor but a real man who was God at the same time. Wright also discussed some of the perceived problems with the genealogies with ease, which I thought was interesting, and also emphasizes Jesus’ link to King David and that he can rightly be called the King of the Jews.
Continuing in the first chapter Wright discusses how Jesus can shed light on the Old Testament and how the Old Testament can shed light on Jesus. This to me is the high mark of the chapter and the most interesting as Wright shows how the person of Jesus Christ brings the New and Old testaments together to make one unified whole. Wright shows us how it is impossible to appreciate the saving work of Christ without seeing how God was pointing to Jesus Christ the whole time in the Old Testament. Jesus did not merely show up on the scene unannounced but rather he is the very culmination of God’s work in the Old Testament. Furthermore, we can better understand the saving work of Jesus Christ by seeing the parallels in many Old Testament narratives. Wright focuses on the Exodus in particular and talks of how God was delivering his people not only from a very literal kind of slavery but a spiritual one as well. God truly redeemed his people in the Exodus but the work was completed in the person of Jesus Christ.
Probably the last truly major point that Wright emphasizes is God’s hand in the history of the Hebrew people. Wright does not contend that God was not actively working in the lives of the other nations but rather he was molding the Hebrew nation for a special purpose. He was setting them apart from their wicked pagan counterparts and turning them into a righteous people. A righteous people that would bless the whole world. The kind of people that could father the Messiah who brings salvation and redemption to the whole world. Gentile and Jew alike.
Wright in his first chapter impressed me especially with his observation on how Jesus Christ and the Old Testament are to be taken in tandem and how both shed light on each other. This point reinforced my belief in the importance of the Old Testament. Also, his view of the unfolding of history brings to light an oft forgotten truth even in Christian circles. It was God’s intention to bless the world through the Jewish people all along. This blessing is Jesus Christ and we as Christians should thank God daily for his people and the blessing he brought to us through them. Sadly, many Christians have often succumbed to the pull of antisemitism and this is a tragedy. A proper understanding of the Old Testament and Jesus’ Jewish identity would put to rest this movement at least amongst Christians.
In chapter two of the book we move into even more fascinating material. Wright spends a great deal of time discussing Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. Wright specifically wants us to view the fulfillment of these prophecies as God keeping his promise with his beloved people. He indicates that we must see a difference between a promise and a simple prediction. He quite deftly shows how a promise requires a relationship while a prediction can be quite cold and unfeeling and require no relationship. I found this concept to be incredibly enlightening and probably one of the finer points in the whole book.
Wright begins to discuss the issues of fulfillment and promise by using the book of Mathew as a springboard. This is probably a very wise choice as Mathew is the most Jewish of all of the Gospels. Even a cursory reading of the Gospel gives us the strong idea that the intended audience is Jewish. Mathew at appropriate times emphasizes Jesus’s Jewishness as well as the Old Testament prophecies (or should we say promises) that Jesus Christ fulfilled. While reading the text I noted that Wright seems to have a bit of an Apologetic touch at times. While he rarely goes into great detail and almost never runs a rabbit trail he does deal with some common criticisms of the Gospels by modern day critics. This is certainly welcome in a day when books by Bart Ehrman sell millions of copies. The criticism that he deals with in the second chapter is that perhaps Mathew is simply lifting Old Testament texts to suit his theological needs. Many critical scholars have asserted this claim and it deserves a good reply. Wright asserts that if Mathew was simply trying to get his points across by taking Old Testament references out of context it is far more probable that he would have used quotes that were far more sensational. Wright indicates that the only one example that Mathew cites requires real hard evidence for support. This is the prophecy in the book of Micah that the Messiah will be born in Bethlehem. The rest of the examples clearly imply the need of a Savior (and he is Jesus Christ!) but they are not taken out of context by Mathew.
Wright also spends a great deal of time connecting the concept of a promise and a covenant. His own words on the matter state. “A promise is different. Because it involves personal relationship and commitment, it has a dynamic quality that goes beyond the external details involved.”. Essentially, Wright is saying that a promise implies a future in the relationship as well. Without getting too carried away we could say that because of the relationship more promises are on their way. Perhaps it is best to discuss some of the covenants in a little bit of detail so that we can better understand what Wright is really getting at. Although it would be beyond the scope of this paper to discuss all of the covenants I do think we can get the idea of what Wright is trying to get across from the covenant God made with Abraham. When God made the covenant with Abraham he promised that his line would continue and prosper and that he would make of him a great nation. This promise implies that God would continue to work in the lives of Abraham’s descendants. Although the time the people of Israel spent in Egypt was mostly bleak God used this time to multiply the numbers of the Hebrews greatly. It is clear God was active in their lives as he kept his promise to multiply and deliver them. We also see God continuing his work in establishing the law covenant as well as the Davidic covenant. We could go on but I think the point has been made. The covenants must be seen as a chain and the New covenant, brought about by the work and person of Jesus Christ, is the next in line. The New Covenant also implies further promises as well! What a glorious thought that is!
I was really impressed by chapter two as a whole. I thought the concept of promise as explained by Wright was very interesting and thought provoking. It truly demonstrates that God is not a cold and distant magician but rather a loving father who intimately deals with people in supernatural ways. This chapter serves as a ready argument to those Christians who lean towards deistic interpretations of God the Father. I was also impressed by Wright’s understanding of the covenants. They always implied a further and unending relationship. Again, this does much to shatter a deist’s understanding of our world. In the future I hope to possibly use this material in some of my teaching. The material discussed in the chapter is deep but ultimately rewarding if you are willing to respond to it with an open mind.
The third chapter goes into great detail about the very identity of Jesus. Wright frames the discussion in terms of Jesus’ identity in relation to God the Father. Wright spends a great deal of time emphasizing the fact that Jesus is really and truly the Son of God. He understands himself that way and the Father understands him that way. Wright is very wise in spending a chapter on this topic as many people have misunderstood Jesus identity and denied his divinity because of their lack of understanding. This chapter is helpful in clearing up some of the perceived problems with Jesus nature. Wright uses the baptism of Jesus as a springboard for the entire chapter. He believes that Jesus’ baptism was a pivotal point in his life as it revealed his mission and identity. When God said “This is my son, in whom I am well pleased” he was making a bold statement about who Jesus was. Jesus was not merely a great prophet or teacher but rather he was God’s only begotten son. No other person ever has, nor ever will, enjoy such a station.
Wright connects this point to the Old Testament by showing us how important the Father and son relationship was in the Old Testament. In the modern day our understanding of fatherhood is blurred as we are often more accustomed to neglectful, and abusive parenthood. Fortunately the Biblical model, and the Old Testament model in particular, stand in stark contrast to the modern understanding of being a father. Wright uses abundant scriptural references from both the Old Testament and the New Testament and he mostly accomplishes his goal of painting an accurate picture of Jesus Christ’s identity.
For me, this chapter had many good insights like the previous ones. However, I disagreed with Wright a little on his understanding of Jesus. I want to emphasize the word little as I did not disagree with him on a major point of doctrine. Really, my disagreement stems from one statement. “It was the Old Testament who helped Jesus to understand Jesus”. I think I grasp Wright’s point in that Jesus was versed in the Old Testament scriptures but to me this statement does not recognize Jesus’ implicit understanding of who he was and is. To me it almost sounds like Wright is arguing that Jesus discovered a bit of himself in the Old Testament. I find this problematic. Perhaps this is not what Wright is saying but I do think the statement could have used some clarification. The concept of Jesus being fully divine and yet learning is difficult to understand but I think we must recognize the fact that when people heard Jesus speak they said he spoke with unique authority. We must recognize that he spoke with authority because he was God not because he was simply better studied than the other rabbis.
In Chapter Four Wright contends that we must understand Christ’s “mission” in light of the Old Testament. He asserts in the first page of the chapter that Jesus understood that He was sent of God the Father to complete a mission. On the matter Wright says “One thing that is very clear about Jesus is that he knew he had been sent. He was no self appointed savior, no popularly elected leader. He had not just arrived. He was sent.”. This point is important. In the Old Testament the presence of God and being a person sent of God added divine significance to an event no matter how great or small. That Jesus is fully divine and yet sent of the Father gives us a good idea of the weight of his purpose in the land of Israel.
One of the more interesting facets of this chapter was Wright’s discussion of inter testamental literature. This broad collection of literature constituted writings by religious Jews who produced their work sometime between the roughly three hundred years of silence that took place between the writing of Malachi and Mathew. Again, it must be stated that these books covered a great many topics but many of them focused on the coming Messiah. Wright tells us that many of these writings portrayed the coming Messiah as a man who would restore the national greatness of Israel and lead them to independence and military might. The thought of a spiritual Messiah was probably a foreign concept to many of these writers. In fact we can see in the Gospels that even many of Jesus’ followers did not understand what he had come to do. Reading this reminded me of an important truth. We can be sure that God is actively working in our world. The Old Testament attests to this time and again. But we should not assume that God will necessarily work in the way that we desire nor in the way we even think most likely. He certainly did not act within the expectations of many Jews at the time of Jesus’ coming but his plan was perfect nonetheless.
One of the more interesting aspects of this chapter is how Jesus understood and used the term Messiah. Wright brings up a very interesting point here. One that I had virtually no familiarity with before reading this but now see it as almost obvious. Wright points out that Jesus almost never referred to himself as the Messiah and when others proclaimed him as such he told them to keep quiet. This is remarkable! Was Jesus denying who he was? Some have suggested that this is a major problem in the Bible because as we read different Gospels we get a very different idea of who Jesus claimed to be. Wright offers the interesting solution that Jesus eschewed the Messiah title because it’s meaning had been greatly corrupted by the writers of inter testamental literature. This is indeed a very interesting assertion that seems to solve some problems in understanding how the Gospels portray Jesus. Now that we have learned that Jesus preferred other titles than Messiah, what other titles did he use?
The title that Jesus probably used more often any other is the title the “Son of Man”. This is interesting as we see this title in the Old Testament but not in the inter testamental witness. I believe that Jesus was doing this so that it was clear that his identity and mission were grounded in the God breathed literature of the Old Testament rather than the sensationalism of the inter testamental writers. But what does the term “Son of Man” mean. Well, Wright contends that Jesus took an Old Testament term found in Daniel and Ezekiel and imbued it with new meaning. As a student who has just begun his seminary studies I really appreciated this section of the chapter. I have read a lot of different views about what this term means and have not been able to come to a satisfying conclusion. Wright’s demonstrates how this term can act as an umbrella term to demonstrate Christ’s authority over sin and death, his person as a sacrifice, and his future glory with the Father. It was very helpful to see how this term could encapsulate many meanings instead of forcing you to see it as having only one function or dimension.
By the time I began to read chapter five of Wright’s book I was wondering how much more information about Jesus’ identity in the Old Testament I could still stuff into my brain. The book is loaded with interesting and sound information. Finally, when it came time to write the paper on this book I was wondering not what to put in but what to leave out. The final chapter is called “Jesus and His Old Testament Values”. I thought this was an interesting topic to complete this volume with. However, I think the reason for Wright’s choice is that it is his desire to emphasize just how strongly Jesus relied on the word of God in his ministry. At the time of his ministry on Earth the New Testament was not a reality yet. For Jesus, his Bible was the Old Testament. From the Old Testament the Jews derived their morality and their understanding of what was really important in life. Jesus affirmed these teachings for they are necessarily apart of his nature. Wright uses the classic example of Jesus being led into the wilderness and being tempted by Satan. What is fascinating about this account is that Jesus could have responded however he wished to Satan’s temptations and yet he responded with selections from the book of Deuteronomy. Anything Jesus would have said could have carried divine authority. From this we can see just how much the Jewish scriptures meant to Jesus.
For me, reading this point about Jesus’ love for the Old Testament led to feel a deep sense of conviction. Although as a Christian I have always held the belief that the Old Testament is inspired I have often thought of it as having only secondary value to the Christian. How wrong I was! As Christians I think it is high time we reclaim the law and recognize it as the foundation for our values as well. Jesus apparently thought the Old Testament was important enough to memorize and proclaim it and therefore as Christians we should do the same.
Speaking of the law, what exactly was Jesus attitude towards this system? It is true that Jesus came to bring in the New Covenant of grace but does that mean the Old Testament law is no longer relevant. The obvious answer by now should be absolutely not! Jesus himself stated his view of the law in Mathew chapter five. Jesus made it plain that he came not to abolish the law but to fulfill it. Although as Christians we are no longer condemned by the law we are now better able to live by it’s precepts. With the indwelling of the Holy Spirit we can live out the law in precisely the way God meant for us to. Jesus summed up the law quite simply “Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself”. Simple words with much power. What better standard could we ever hope to live by?
It has been said that more sermons have been based on the book of Psalms than any other. Many Christians since the days of our Lord have uses the Psalms as their hymnal. To Jesus and his Jewish contemporaries they were absolutely essential expressions of worship to a holy God. In many ways the Psalms were an incredible link to the past for the Jews. Many of the Psalms were written by David and one was even written by Moses himself. Jesus affirmed the Psalms in what they taught and the God they spoke of. Even while Jesus was dying on the cross the words of the Psalms could be heard on his lips. The Psalms were truly the expressions of the very deepest portion of the Jewish soul. The Psalms affirm through stately poetry much of what Jesus believed and taught. For a mostly illiterate society the memorizing and singing of Psalms was probably very important because of all the doctrinal truths they contain. The Psalms affirm the greatness, goodness, mercy, faithfulness, and long suffering of God. We can be sure that as a Jew the Psalms were an important part of the Jesus spiritual makeup. The Psalms declared the very truths that he wanted the world to know about God the Father. If Jesus had a hymnal of sorts then it would have been the Psalms.
And so starting with the example of the “carol singing Christian” Wright brings his work to a fitting end by finishing with a few more examples from that Psalms and brings us full circle back to the illustration of the “carol singing Christian”. And so we are left with the question of how do we as “carol singing Christians” respond to Wright’s message about Jesus? Does Wright teach a radical and new view of Christ that would not fit in mainstream Christian circles? Perhaps in some, but Wright introduces to us a Jesus that is fully God and fully man. He is the same humble carpenter who loved children and helped those who could not help themselves. However, Wright presents a Jesus that is unfamiliar to many Christians because he is rightly connected to his Jewish identity. Many Christians might also be surprised just how much they can come to know Jesus better by reading the Old Testament. To separate the two is to do incredible damage to the message that God intends for us to understand. In his final words Wright sums up his premise by stating “We have seen that the Old Testament tells the story which Jesus completed”. After completing Knowing Jesus Through The Old Testament I have come to the conclusion that we can only fully appreciate the person of Jesus Christ and the Old Testament if we take them together. They both shed light on one another and leave us more knowledgeable about God’s plan and his very nature. While I enjoyed many of the insights the book offered the very best part of reading it was coming to a better knowledge of who my Savior really is. I know this year when I sing Christmas carols with my lovely wife and my new born daughter (just listening of course) I will be thinking of a divine, loving, caring, human, sacrificing, and certainly Jewish Jesus Christ, who affirmed the Old Testament while ushering in the New!