Subtitled: What a “Mere” Christianity does to orthodoxy.
C. Michael Patton is one of the people I use to illustrate points, with great frequency. The reason I do so is due to the fact that he is out to do essentially the same sort of thing we are doing – but from a vastly different perspective, theologically. As such, his teaching can be clearly contrasted with our own.
I realize that posts such as these have the potential to create quite a bit of heat and get me in a lot of trouble. As well, I don’t really want to be seen as one who is always trying to unsettle things. I like to be settled, and in a very pastoral way, I like to settle others.
Given the plethora of posts Mr. Patton has penned on the subject of doubt, and the benefits of such, I find this to be… not entirely accurate. It may not be his *intention* to do so – but to sing the praises of doubt as often as he has is to give the lie to this statement in any meaningful sense.
However, in Christianity, both for our personal faith and our public witness, we need to speak with the emphasis necessary to carry our faith truly. It is my argument that often – far too often – conservative Christians become identified with issues that, while important, do not make or break our faith.
Where do we, given the following points, get our faith *from*? Secondly, where do we, given the following points, have any meaningful foundation for considering it to be *true*?
This creates extremely volatile situations (from a human perspective) as believers’ faith ends up having a foundation which consists of one of these non-foundational issues. When and if these issues are significantly challenged, our faith becomes unstable. I have seen too many people who walk away from the faith due to their trust in some non-essential issue coming unglued. That is why I write this post. Whether you agree with me or not, I hope this discussion will cause you to think deeply about what issues create the bedrock of our (and your) faith.
What creates volatile situations is an abandonment of Scripture as the sole infallible rule of faith. Is this what CMP is prepared to do, or does he stand firm on Sola Scriptura?
Here is a list of what I believe to be eight issues that do not make or break our faith:
I thought I would just make this clear at the outset: For 6 out of these 8, we obviously don’t have an “our faith”, if they are negotiable – Mr. Patton has his faith, and I have my faith, if this is the case – and they have two very different foundations indeed.
1 . Young Earth Creationism
There are many people who spend an enormous amount of money holding seminars, building museums, and creating curricula attempting to educate people on the importance and evidence for a six-thousand (give or take) year-old earth. There is certainly nothing wrong (in my opinion) with holding to and defending such a view. The problem comes when those who hold to this view teach that to deny a literal six-day creation is to deny the Gospel (or close to it). There is simply no sustainable reason to believe that one’s interpretation about the early chapters of Genesis determines his or her status before God.
Now, let’s make a point at the outset, before we get into his argumentation. There is a fundamental confusion in view, here. What defines “essential”, and to what does it have reference? To me, as a Reformed Baptist, and to any other confessional believer, what defines “essential” is the Scriptures alone. Secondly, it refers to “What must be believed by the church.” Let’s examine this. What is the first paragraph of the LBCF, for a comparison?
“The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience, although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men inexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God and his will which is necessary unto salvation. Therefore it pleased the Lord at sundry times and in divers manners to reveal himself, and to declare that his will unto his church; and afterward for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan, and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which maketh the Holy Scriptures to be most necessary, those former ways of God’s revealing his will unto his people being now ceased.”
Now, the confessions are subservient to Scripture; but even the most basic, cursory examination of the Reformers will make it abundantly clear that Sola Scriptura was non-negotiable to them. To the Reformers, it was the 5 Solas, not the 5 points, that were front and center in the debate. The 5 points are also non-negotiable, as well, of course – but we’ll return to those momentarily.
What is the first Scripture proof offered by the confession for this point? 2 Timothy 3:15-17.
and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired (θεόπνευστος) by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate (ἄρτιος), equipped for every good work.
Remember where this comes from, because it will be relevant later. But that aside, note two things. First, this verse is one of the places where the doctrine of “inspiration” comes from – and as many have pointed out, the term “inspiration” is somewhat of a misnomer – it is not that God breathes into them – it is that He breathes them out. In other words, it means that this is “God speaking”. The term is θεόπνευστος – or “God-breathed”. This what sets the Scriptures apart from everything else in the history of communication – they are the express, God-spoken words of revelation to men. Secondly, the other term used is ἄρτιος – fitted, complete, perfect. This is one verse where the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture is derived. The man of God, here, is given everything necessary. Hear Gill:
That the man of God may be perfect
By the man of God may be meant everyone that in a special relation belongs to God; who is chosen by God the Father, redeemed by the Son, and called by the Spirit; but more especially a minister of the Gospel; for as it was usual to call a prophet under the Old Testament by this name, it seems to be transferred from thence to a minister of the New Testament, see ( 1 Timothy 6:11 ) and the design of the Scriptures and the end of writing them are, that both preachers of the word, and hearers of it, might have a perfect knowledge of the will of God; that the former might be a complete minister of the Gospel, and that nothing might be wanting for the information of the latter:
thoroughly furnished unto all good works,
or “every good work”; particularly to the work of the ministry, which is a good one; and to every part and branch of it, a thorough furniture for which lies in the holy Scriptures; from whence, as scribes well instructed in the kingdom of heaven, do Gospel ministers bring forth things new and old, both for delight and profit: though this may be also applied to all good works in common, which the Scriptures point unto, give directions about, as well as show where strength is to be had to perform them.
“The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man or church, but wholly upon God (who is truth itself), the author thereof; therefore it is to be received because it is the Word of God.”
This point is very important – because it speaks to the authority of Scripture – and secondly, to the self-attesting authority of Scripture. This will be important later.
“The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelation of the Spirit, or traditions of men. Nevertheless, we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word, and that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed.”
Note something here: There are several statements linked together with “necessary” – thus, confessionally, we are seeing what is, in fact, “essential.” For what? 1) God’s glory 2) Man’s salvation 3) Faith 4) Life. These are 4 distinct things, as outlined by the framers of this confession, are they not? Yet, Michael returns again and again to essential “for salvation” as his basis for essential “for the faith” – but they are plainly separated here. Are they linked, and do they work in tandem? Of course! Yet, there is little or no care for this distinction in his argumentation. While he begins with poisoning the well concerning groups like AiG, he fails to demonstrate his point by any means whatsoever. First, he makes a big point out of a specific date for the creation of the earth. You can affirm that the earth was created in 6 calendar days and not be obligated to affirm a specific date for the creative act. As Dr. White, myself, and a host of others have pointed out, Scripture does not give us information of that nature – and since Scripture is silent on the matter, so should we be. On the other hand, there is specific information given in the Genesis account, and reaffirmed by the incarnate Christ, that excludes any evolutionary schema, “day-age” schema, or the more modernistic “Second Temple Judaism” approaches of various authors. The underlying presupposition of *both* Theistic Evolution and Old Earth Creationism is that autonomous man is the primary authority on matters of empirical/natural science. There is no reason that I can see to assert an old earth, whatsoever, apart from naturalistic assumptions. As Bahnsen puts it;
“The relation between science and Scripture is not one of synthesis between two tentative theories; rather, it must be one of subordination. If science is not subordinate of Scripture, then Scripture must be subordinate to science and science itself will be autonomous. If science is independent of revelation, then nature must be assumed to be self-sufficient and containing in itself the principles for its own interpretation. Thus God is either identified with nature (the error of pantheism) or is shoved out of the picture altogether (the practical result of deism). Either God is God, or science deifies itself.”
It;s actually rather unfortunate that the age of the earth is the issue at all. The issue is, was creation accomplished in 6 calendar days as the Scripture says, or not? The issue is, of course – “Did God actually say” Per Sola Scriptura – God has spoken – and has spoken with clarity. The entire argument, while it has good intentions, is about the wrong issue. The attempts by old earthers and theistic evolutionists are, in reality, attacks on the perspicuity and sufficiency of Scripture. That is the actual grounds of the argumentation. Which brings us to the next issue.
2. The authorship of the Pastoral Epistles
This is an interesting one. I suppose that the Pastoral Epistles (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus) are among the most controversial books in the Bible with respect to their authorship. For various reasons, many do not believe that Paul wrote these letters. While I do believe a sustained argument can and should be made for the inclusion of these in the canon, whether or not Paul wrote these letters does not affect the truthfulness of the Christian faith. While these letters are extremely valuable for issues of personal integrity and ecclesiology, the essence of the Christian faith remains intact without them. This goes for 2 Peter as well – by far the most contested book in the New Testament. William Barclay, author of the Daily Bible Study Series (as far as I know, still the best selling commentary set of all time), did not accept Petrine authorship of Second Peter. While I disagree (like Calvin, I believe that Peter was behind the letter, though he did not directly write it) this did not in any way disqualify Barclay from being a Christian and a committed servant of God.
I’m sorry, but this one is a no-brainer. If you believe this one is “up for grabs”, you’re already given up on inerrancy and inspiration – let alone Sola Scriptura. First, these are among the most contested? In what alternate universe?
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus according to the commandment of God our Savior, and of Christ Jesus, who is our hope,
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, according to the promise of life in Christ Jesus,
Paul, a bond-servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the faith of those chosen of God and the knowledge of the truth which is according to godliness,
1st Timothy 1:1, 2 Tim 1:1, Titus 1:1
What do they say? If what the Word of God says isn’t clear enough to dispel all doubts, what is your authority instead? Did God actually say?… What is the alternative?
3. The inerrancy of Scripture
This is a tough one. It is not tough because I have my doubts about it. It is tough because I know how important the doctrine of inerrancy is to so many of my friends and heroes of the faith. Many people believe that a denial of inerrancy (the belief that the Bible is without any errors in the original manuscripts – not the translations!) amounts to a denial of the faith. However, this is nearly impossible to defend. While I believe in and strongly defend the doctrine of inerrancy, a denial of this doctrine is not a test of one’s status before God. I might even go further and say that even if the Bible does have some historical or scientific inaccuracies, this does not mean that Christianity is false. Christianity is based on the historicity of Christ’s resurrection from the dead, not whether or not its chroniclers messed up on a detail or two. All biographers and writers of history err, but this does not mean that we discount their value or discredit their entire testimony. The classic illustration of this is the sinking of the Titanic. When we look to the historical records, we find that the eyewitnesses who survived that night were divided as to how the Titanic went down. Half said it broke in two and went down, while the other half said it went down intact. Someone is wrong. However, no historian would say that the Titanic must not have gone down at all simply because there is a discrepancy in the details.
Ironically, this is exactly what happens to many who study the Bible. Charles Darwin tells about how his faith was initially dislodged due to discrepancies in the Scriptures. Bart Ehrman goes in the same direction. But, like with the Titanic, just because one may be convinced that one author disagrees with another about some details, this does not mean that both authors are wrong or that the main events (Christ’s birth, teaching, sinless life, death on a cross, resurrection, etc.) did not happen. This is about the last thing that the historian would suppose. Therefore, while I believe in the doctrine of inerrancy, it does not make or break Christianity.
As I said in my call to the Dividing Line, this reminds me very much of Mike Licona’s “reluctant inerrancy” as expressed in one of his exchanges with Bart Ehrman on Unbelievable. He said almost the exact same thing when pressed on the issue – he believed it, but it wasn’t an essential. This is always easy to say – but what, precisely, is defining the essentials for you? Does Scripture, or something else? You see the same idea in the classical and evidential schools of apologetics. The evidentialist argues for the resurrection, because supposedly, the resurrection is one of the few “non-negotiables.” When pressed, the exegetical support for this belief – from, you guessed it, tota scriptura – tends to be exceptionally lacking. It basically requires a philosophical position that since this is said to “make or break” Christianity – be a falsification for it – this is one of very few things that are essentials. However, when pressed on things like the Trinity, the argument they make for the resurrection being a non-negotiable seems to be quite malleable. Futher, as we have seen – they are willing to let who raised Jesus stand as a question mark – in public debate. Is this non-negotiable? In the same text they appeal to for whether it is a non-negotiable – 1 Corinthians 15 – it certainly seems not to be. The list grows and grows if you abandon Sola Scriptura in any meaningful sense. The classicalist argues from “an uninspired Bible” to miracles. Thus, they abandon Sola Scriptura at the outset – and, of course, the doctrine of inspiration. This can be clearly seen in the recent discussion of Dr. James White with Dr. Howe of SES. Nothing good comes of this. We won’t even get into their love affair with Thomism.
4. Whether the flood covered entire earth
This is not unlike the previous entry about Young Earth creationism. There is quite a bit of debate about the “global” flood described in Genesis 6. Some believe that the entire earth was covered with water. Others believe it was a local flood, isolated in Mesopotamia. Some even believe that the whole event did not really take place and is not meant to be taken literally. These believe that the story itself is a polemic against other gods and other flood stories, essentially saying in a parabolic way that God is in charge, not your other gods. Whichever view one takes, this does not affect Christianity. If we were somehow able to prove that a flood was or was not global, this neither adds to nor takes away from the truthfulness of Christianity.
Any exegesis at all? Bueller? Bueller? I didn’t think so.
6. The inspiration of Scripture
This is connected to inerrancy, but takes it a step further just for the sake of getting me in hotter water! My statement is this: the Bible does not have to be inspired for Christianity to be true. Before you jump all over me, think of it this way: Did God have to give us the Bible in order to be God? Of course not. If he never gave us any written testimony of himself, he would still be God. There was nothing that obligated God to this form of revelation (or any form at all!). Christ could have come and lived a perfect life, gained representation, died on the cross, rose from the grave, and never had it recorded in the Scriptures. How would we know about the Gospel? I don’t know. Maybe angels, maybe word of mouth, maybe direct revelation, or maybe not at all. The point is that God did not have to inspire any books in order for him to be who he is and do what he did. The Bible does not make Christianity true; the Bible simply records true Christianity through inspired words and thoughts.
This one was quite incredible. Even more so than #3. Does Michael even bother to argue how “true” is even meaningful apart from an inspired Scripture? Does he make an argument for how it is the case that “Christianity is true” apart from… the very thing that reveals what truth is? Does it address Hebrews 1, John 1, 2 Tim 3, or anything whatsoever that makes up the doctrine of inspiration? Nope. Just makes the bald statement that “the Bible does not have to be inspired for Christianity to be true.” Putting aside the question that the assertion itself mixes categories – it utterly ignores the Scriptural testimony that the Word is truth. Secondly, it ignores that “Christianity” is defined by the very thing he says is non-essential. Upon what meaningful basis can he say “Christianity is true” when apart from the Word, there is no such thing as Christianity? To say that Sola Scriptura is non-essential is to deny Sola Scriptura. So, rather than “set this aside”, as he has claimed, he has already made it perfectly clear that he doesn’t hold to Sola Scriptura. You cannot consider the inspiration of Scripture to be non-essential and still hold to Sola Scriptura. It is the necessary, sole, infallible rule of faith and practice.
I hope you understand the spirit of this post. In the end, my argument is that our focus should be on the person and work of Christ. In essence, if the resurrection of Christ happened, Christianity is true. If it did not, Christianity is not true. This is why I call myself a “resurrection apologist.” When I am defending my faith to myself and others, ninety-nine percent of the time, this is where I camp. It is not that these other issues are not important or worthy of debate and discussion. It is not as if these other issues don’t have implications. However, none of them make or break our faith. Therefore, we should adjust our thinking and our witness accordingly.
That focus on what? The person and work of Christ? How do you know about this person and work of Christ, Michael? From where? The who – the μονογενὴς θεὸς – he has ἐκεῖνος ἐξηγήσατο? Where do we know that from? Is it true? In these last days – ἐπ’ ἐσχάτου τῶν ἡμερῶν – τούτων ἐλάλησεν ἡμῖν ἐν υἱῷ ὃν ἔθηκεν κληρονόμον πάντων δι’ οὗ καὶ ἐποίησεν τοὺς αἰῶνας – he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world – right, Michael? How do we know this is true? If inspiration – the work of the Holy Spirit – is a negotiable – is not the ἐξηγέομαι – explanation – of the Son? How about the λαλέω – speech of the Father through His Son? Why stop at the “negotiability” of the work of one person of the Trinity? It amazes me. It’s like saying that regeneration to spiritual life is a negotiable. Scripture says, of course, that “unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” – why not make that negotiable as well? It’s the work of the same Spirit in regeneration, is it not? Why deny the necessity of one, and not the other? If you do, you’re so far out to lunch that you might never get back to work.
I am comforted to know that I am not really saying something too original here. Paul seems to whistle the same tune.
1 Cor. 15:1
And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.
Here we see the age old tactic of “simply state, and assume that everyone will read this the way you want it to be read”. In Reformed circles, we want to see something called exegesis, Michael. Let’s add some context. First of all, this isn’t 1 Cor 15:1. I can’t believe nobody has pointed this out yet – but this is verse 17. Secondly, this is in the middle of an argument. What was the argument? A denial of the resurrection of the dead is absurd.
Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?
But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised;
Because, a denial of the resurrection of the dead at all is a denial of the resurrection of Christ!
and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain.
Then their preaching is absurd, faith in Christ’s substitutionary atonement is absurd!
Note this well –
Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised.
Who does this same text say raised Christ? God. Who testified that He did? The apostles. So can we leave this a question mark, as Licona says he is “happy to do”? No. Which God? The God of the Bible – the same God who inspires Scripture, which is what is preached, is heard, and which is what faith comes by. See the issue yet?
For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised;
He reiterates the point.
and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.
What is the resurrection? The seal of Christ’s accomplishment of the work He set out to do – and the necessary precursur to returning to the Father to be… our mediator.
Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.
Then, also, there is no resurrection to eternal life in union with our federal head. Why do I say this? Move on.
If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.
Our hope is not realized in this life, obviously.
But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep.
Notice the frequent, rich references to the rest of Scripture. The resurrection does not stand alone as an “essential” here – it is tied, intrinsically, to tota scriptura. The question begs to be asked. What are first-fruits?
As Gill relates:
The firstfruits were the best, what was then ripest, and so most valuable; Christ is the first, and rose the first in dignity, as well as in time; he rose as the head of the body, as the firstborn, the beginning, that in all things he might have, and appear to have, as he ought to have, the pre-eminence. The firstfruits sanctified the rest of the harvest, represented the whole, gave right to the ingathering of it, and ensured it; Christ by lying in the grave, and rising out of it, sanctified it for his people, and in his resurrection represented them; they rose with him, and in him; and their resurrection is secured by his; because he lives, they shall live also.
For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.
Note the explicit federal theology here. Is this also essential, Michael?
Do we need to continue, and show all the other things Paul connects, explicitly, with the resurrection?
Even more ironically – these don’t have to be inspired, or inerrant words, to be true, apparently. Because their truth is determined by something other than their authorship. God can swear by nothing greater than Himself – but His words, apparently, are not necessarily self-attestingly true, by the nature of those words. The faith, friends, is not a matter of “brute fact’ – it is a matter of God’s facts.
Hence, from the same chapter, I leave you with this;
“Become sober-minded as you ought, and stop sinning; for some have no knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame.”