Saturday, October 31, 2009

Self Examination and Repentance In Different Stages of Life

One of the spiritual disciplines is self-examination. This discipline designed to promote spiritual growth by making one aware of his or her sins, confess those sins, and repent of those sins. Making the Christian aware of sin is difficult because we have blind spots. The Christian may not see certain sins due to a hardening of the heart. Another reason one might find sins difficult to observe is that the Christian has properly repented of the sins of his youth and grown to feel that sinning for the most part except for small sins was mostly indicative of those sins of his or her youth. As a child or a youth one commonly has a different set of temptations than an adult. The adult Christian who has moved beyond childhood temptations or youth temptations may feel that there is relatively little wrong in his life. The secret though is that at the new maturity level, there is a new set of temptations.

Having recently gone through a season of my life that was marked by religious pride and self-sufficiency, I now see that my sin was invisible to me. Pride often does that. One thing that bothers me is to see how long it took me to get there and how long it took me to get out of the pattern. I spent years building more and more self-sufficiency and it has taken years to get out of it. I may not be scot-free, but for the most part, I am in a new season of life. It will have it's own set of temptations of which I must be aware.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Funny Puzzle

My daughter recently repeated the riddle of the twins who one only spoke the truth and the other would only speak lies.

Then I stumbled upon this on the web.

Friday, October 09, 2009

The Heart Of The Matter: Another Look At The New Perspective On Paul

Reposting this from my website.

By Terry L. Pruitt


An anachronism is something or an idea that is placed outside its time. In recent years, re-enactors of medieval history have developed an organization called the Society for Creative Anachronisms. This society purposely creates hand made items and events (i.e. jousts) from another time. At other times people stumble in writing a story and place an anachronism in it unintentionally. Some classical scholars believe that some of the cultural items written in Homer's Odyssey are anachronisms. One history scholar claims to find it difficult to enjoy the mystery books and subsequent television series Brother Cadfael because of the anachronistic use of the scientific methods, especially forensic science, which would have been out of character and world view of a medieval monastery. Examples of unintentional anachronisms abound. At one Bible conference the speaker constantly referred to his trip to Israel, and then made the mistake of calling the Jewish civil government of Jesus' day Israel. His loops of mentioning the days of the kingdom period then backtracking to the patriarchal period then the New Testament period and equating them all to the modern nation-state of Israel probably confused anyone there who lacked a clear understanding of the time-line of biblical history. While he may have made some blunders in his terminology, no heresy was propagated, nor was anyone truly misinformed about history. It is just a blunder in terminology that could use some clarification. One recent issue in Pauline studies claims an anachronism developed during the Reformation that the reformers read into Paul's letters the problems of the church during the Reformation era. That is the issue of justification by faith alone, sola feda . The proponents of this view are not merely correcting terminology; they actually are discounting the theological underpinnings of the Reformation. This school of thought in biblical studies, though not unified in its theological outlook, has become known as the New Pauline Perspective. The New Pauline Perspective is diverse in its theological backgrounds and includes those who are self-professed liberals to those who are evangelicals. There are few, if any, who would be considered staunch conservatives in the camp. Often debate about the issue dissipates into name-calling and accusations that a person defending the New Perspective is a liberal, a heretic or a papist. While the labels may or may not be accurate, this paper will examine the merits and flaws of the New Pauline Perspective based on the exegesis of the principle passages addressing justification in Paul's writings. This paper will attempt to show that Paul wrote on two levels, one addressing the local context of the audience and another addressing transcending and universal issues in the Christian life. Finally, the New Pauline Perspective has done a good job of highlighting some cultural and historical issues in Paul's writings, but they have over simplified that culture resulting in their own reading into the text meaning that were not present for the original readers. While the New Perspective has some interesting insights, it fails as a whole to understand a central teaching of the New Testament, justification.

Method of Study
Syllogism: The Method Of Systematic Theology

Assumptions of the nature of New Testament study are the starting points of the conflict between the New Perspective and those who hold to a traditional Reformed position. The traditional Reformed position recognizes the discipline of systematic theology. Systematic theology rightly understood is a culminating academic discipline that unifies the other means of examining the scripture such as examining chronology, historical background, textual criticism, linguistic study, exegesis and simply outlining a passage. It gives a global, unified view of the message and content of scripture. Systematic theology is a discipline that looks at scripture and using the thought processes of deductive reasoning, puts all scripture in one coherent picture. Deductive reasoning relies on clear definitions and logical syllogisms to build this coherent picture. The Westminster Confession affirms deduction as a means of fully understanding scripture by saying, ”6. The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit or traditions of men.”[1] A subtle danger area is that systematic theology makes assessments about the importance of one passage of scripture over another. Because the line of reasoning starts with foundational principles, one must ask what are those foundational principles. When one asks this question, one must then identify the passage of scripture the principle is articulated within. Are the genealogies of Christ more important than the story of the crucifixion or is it the other way around? The origins of the Christ are important, but so is his purpose. The Reformation held that the doctrine of justification is a foundational doctrine for systematic theology.

Description: The Method Of Biblical Theology

The average laymen who act as biblical interpreters would find it hard to place themselves in either role of systematic theologian or biblical theologian. But inevitably as they read and interpret the scripture, they in fact do the work of both a systematic theologian and a biblical theologian. The juxtaposition of the systematic and biblical theologian is somewhat artificial, however, in examining the New Perspective, the academic disciplines emphasized by the various parties involved in the debate make unable to hear what each other are saying. Those who adhere to the New Perspective often are using a biblical theology model for discussion while adherents of the traditional Reformed view by and large are using a systematic theology model. What are the contrasting methods and pictures? Biblical theology as expressed in the later half of the twentieth century, and by the advocates of the New Perspective, is somewhat of a means of stepping back from theological conflicts of the past. Instead of articulating a unified picture of the whole scripture, the biblical theologian attempts to articulate a picture of a particular author, period, genre, or prophet. For instance, the biblical author John continually compares the heavenly realm and the earthly realm in his writings. A biblical theologian will attempt to articulate the school of thought of John and his way of thinking about the heavenly and earthly. Rather than build a coherent, unified picture, many will build a collage that is faithful to the complexity that the biblical text portrays. Rather than focusing on establishing clear definitions, there is an emphasis on description. Rather than ranking passages and looking for foundational passages, there is an emphasis on letting the text speak for its self. The same methods of linguistic study, textual criticism, gathering historical background, and biblical exegesis are used. The main difference between a systematic theologian and a biblical theologian is the scope of picture they attempt to picture. The mere fact that someone would attempt to describe Paul's thinking independent of the whole counsel of scripture becomes a subtle but important issue. The assumption is whether Paul's thinking should be looked at in contrast or in conjunction with other biblical writers. If we contrast Paul with Moses, Isaiah, John, and Peter, we end up with a different picture than if we unify them all.

Questions Asked and Answered

The two approaches to the discussion frame different debates, not just different answers. The issue at question for the New Perspective seems to be more intellectual honesty and that we should not read into a passage theology that is not there. The issue at question for the traditional Reformed position seems to be faithfulness and accuracy in interpretation. Regardless of the approach whether systemizing in a unified way or describing the contents of a passage, the questions raised by the New Perspective must be answered. The New Perspective on Paul questions who were Paul's opponents. According to Sanders, Paul was objecting to Second Temple Judaism. Also under question is the meaning of "justification" as used by Paul. Whether we want to unify the answers under the whole of scripture or merely describe the thoughts of Paul, we must look the language and historical context of the passages to accurately interpret them. Rather than attempt to pick one school or the other, this paper will focus on the grammatical-historical method of examining the passages key to understanding Paul's teaching on justification.

Issues of the New Perspective
Who Are The Judaizers?

In Paul's day, there were advocates that said a new Gentile Christian should be circumcised. Paul argues against this position in Galatians 1-3 and one could say this was the occasion of his writing. Sanders claims that Paul was actually attacking a straw man in his arguments against circumcision since Second Temple Judaism actually did not advocate a gospel of entering the covenant with God through works.

Second Temple Geographic Limits

Sanders claims that under Second Temple Judaism one entered the covenant by grace but remained in the covenant by being faithful to that covenant. [2] While Sanders has a point about the nature of his description of the Second Temple Judaism, there are two assumptions regarding the nature of Paul's opponents. The first assumption is that the religion described as Second Temple Judaism is the same with which Paul is debating in Galatia and in Rome. The Jewish religion in the Roman world was not a homogenous religion in Palestine; let a lone in the Diaspora. Jewish religion, in Asia Minor in particular, had a component that was mystical and magical. The religion practiced near the institutional center often is close to that same institution position. However, the Galatia and Rome are far from the institutional center in Jerusalem. Such variety is not isolated to historical situations.I had first hand experience by growing up in The Cumberland Presbyterian Church that has its institutional center in Memphis, Tennessee. The institution is urban and neo-orthodox (or even liberal). The vast majority of the rural congregations in Missouri, where I grew up, have traditionally been evangelical in outlook. I eventually distanced myself from the denomination because of the differences. Another example, today in the Middle East components of Islam, which are tied to the Islamic Institutions of higher learning (i.e. Al-Azhar University in Cairo), are dubbed to be high Islam while the Islam from more rural areas are dubbed folk Islam by some scholars. The adherents of high Islam view Allah as very philosophical while the adherents of low Islam combine the religion of the Koran with a type of animism that believes in a spiritual world that is mystical and must be dealt with through spells, talismans and incantations.[3] Some archeological evidence point to the Jewish community in Asia Minor being of a more a folk religion than the formal religion as found in Jerusalem. [4] This is especially true of the church at Colossia. While Galatia and Colossia are two different locations within Asia Minor, both are distant from the institutional center of Jewish religion to which both would have connections and distinctions. While Sanders argues that the position of the Jewish community is not that which Paul portrays[5] , it is quite possible that the Judiazers do not hold to the official position held by the leadership in Jerusalem. We don't know the connections and distinctions between the two, but it is likely that the phenomena of disconnection of distant community from the institutional center existed.

Galatian Church Both Jewish and Gentile

Sanders sees Paul's opponents as Jewish, but the Galatian church was a mixture of both Jews and Gentiles. (Galatians 4:8-11) While we do not know the background of the Judiazers for sure in Galatia, we do know that the book of Titus identifies the Judiazers in Crete as Gentile. (Titus 1:10-12) These Gentile converts not only teach circumcision for impure motives, but they also have a fascination with Jewish myths. (Titus 1: 14) Of course many who come from the New Perspective school of thought also doubt the veracity of Paul being the author of the book of Titus. While this is a different debate and centers on the higher criticism of Titus, one cannot deny that the book of Titus, Pauline or Pseudo-Pauline, indicates that the Judiazers in Crete were Gentile. Even if one does not hold that Titus is Pauline, one must answer the question as to why a Pseudo-Pauline document would identify the Judiazers as Gentile.[6] Through out the NT Paul had his adversaries. Some who taught, taught heresy; others simply taught from false motives. (Philippians 1:15-18) Regardless, the competition between preachers was an ugly reality, possibly connected with teaching practices from both Jewish and Roman civilization. The competitive spirit between teachers would naturally cause some to show distinction in their teaching. Esoteric teachings, mystical teachings, myths and complicated ceremonial law seems to be the distinction that some sought to use to build their own following. (1 Timothy 1:3-7, 4:7; 2 Timothy 2:23; Titus 1:14) Some Gentiles, those in Crete, were responsible for teaching on circumcision as requirement for Gentile believers. It is often the case that a new competitor will attempt to out do his opponent at his opponent's own game. Gentiles being the social force to embrace circumcision explains the disconnect between the institutional position of Second Temple Judaism and also the errors Paul sought to correct.

Transcendent Issue – Folly Of Human Works

All Paul's letters have a decidedly earthly occasion. Paul's writings are woven into a fabric of what was the here and now; feasts, leadership development, family relationships, inter-cultural relationships, worship services, or worldview. That is not to say that the way Paul dealt with these issues that were earth bound. The assumption that Paul was merely wrestling with institutional doctrine speaks of only an earthly occasion for the writings and fails to see the revelatory divine occasion for the letter. The nature of revelation as recorded in the scripture shows the God who is sovereign over history and shows his glory in and over history. Just as the events of the Exodus and the Resurrection speak through and over history, so the struggle against the Judiazers was and is a part of God's revelation. In some sense, the Exodus and Resurrection are more foundational in revealing the saving nature of God, but Paul's struggle against the Judiazers is not merely about earthly institutional clashes. If one sees Paul's struggles with Judiazers as a mere earthly power struggle, the writings of Paul are reduced to merely a record of history (or worse as fable). While Second Temple Judaism might have emphasized grace as a means of getting into the covenant community, the error of the Judiazers speaks of a universal problem. While we may speak about grace, it is the human condition to want to justify ourselves using works, regardless of our institutional doctrines. Many conservative Christians today know the doctrines of grace, and yet outward signs of piety still abound as a means of earning merit for the Christian. For instance, the discipline of personal devotions is a great means of grace. For myself, this means of grace became a work. My perceived standing with God became contingent upon my faithfulness as to whether I had participated in my devotions or not. This type of thinking did not originate with my teachers at church, any book or any person, but within my heart's desire to be sufficient and worthy. In other words, institutions were not the cause; my sinful heart was the cause. Likewise, pitting Paul against the institution of Second Temple Judaism fails to see the struggle of each heart to be self-righteous. Some institutions do articulate doctrines which reinforce the hearts desire to earn merit, however there is a tendency of the human heart to seek merit even when the institution articulates doctrines of grace. It is not unusual though for the institutional teaching to be grace and yet at the same time an emphasis on outward signs of piety coming into conflict with the grace being taught. The deceit of the human heart always embraces duplicity and often shows up in our human institutions. While the Reformers had the luxury of opposing an institution which overtly taught works mixed with grace, most of the time, preachers of the gospel must come in conflict with a subtler mixing of works and grace. Paul may have been opposing some institutional teaching, but there is evidence that it was more of an inadvertent mixing of works and grace. In Galatians 1:6-12 Paul takes a considerable amount of time to convince his hearers that the gospel they have embraced is a different gospel from the one he preached. In Galatians 2:12 Paul does not declare an error in Peter's institutional teaching but that fear of man had influenced him to not eat with the Gentiles. This personal issue of the heart was in conflict with the gospel. (Galatians 2:13) While it could be argued that Paul is arguing "against the party of the circumcision”, it seems more likely that Paul is pointing out the destructive subtlety of acquiescing to them. (Galatians 2:15,16) His opposition is not against an overt teaching but against an undetected slipping into a logical inconsistency between teaching and practice. The teaching was the gospel of grace and the practice was separation of Jewish believers from uncircumcised Gentile believers. If Paul was justified in his opposition to this unintentional, subtle mixing of grace and works, surely the Reformers were justified in opposing an overt mixing of grace and works. The transcending issue of human merit deposing the rightful place of grace in the Christians walk makes Paul's writing universal for every age and cultural context. Surely the Reformers addressed their own context with passages from books of Galatians and Romans in regard to justification, but in no age should one dissect the meaning of the passage from the application. In a sense, the Reformers saw the message as a message for themselves, and not one merely limited to the context of Paul and the congregations to which he wrote.


The Judaizers were most likely teachers who were not tightly bound with Second Temple Judaism. These teachers were likely to have been Christians from a Gentile, Jewish proselyte, or a Folk-Jewish background. They quite possibly were not trying to be logically consistent in their teaching but were using an outward sign of piety, circumcision, to build a merit system into Christian practice. While precise identification is not explicit in Galatians or Romans, the human tendency to mix works with grace transcends the 1st century context, the context of the Reformation or our own context. While the historical evidence shows significant disconnections between Second Temple Judaism and the Judaizers, particularly in Galatia, the historical context is less important than the universal, transcendent issue of human depravity.

What Does Paul Mean By Justification?
More Than Consulting The Right Dictionary

The language of the New Testament (NT) is not the technical language of modern science or systematic theology. That is not to say the language used in the NT is imprecise or that it is not theological in content. However, when one looks at the usage of the word "justification" in the books of Romans or Galatians, there is no simple technical definition that comes to us in an authorized glossary of the NT. Frequently theological discourse, both conservative through liberal, falls into the fallacy of quoting definitions from lexicons and Bible dictionaries to find define the terms which are useful for debunking the opposition. (The most well known is those who hold to immersion as the only mode of baptism say baptism means immersion. And there is some truth in their argument, however, is their mode of immersion the type of immersion meant in the NT.)[7] So if there is no magical dictionary to solve these battles, how does one address the issue of word meaning without digressing into vague generalities about lack of precision? The context of the passage, the historical usage, and the ways that ancient translators translated a word help lexographers come to solid definitions in their dictionaries. While a proper treatment of examining the words "justify" and "justification" would have to be exhaustive, this paper will merely touch upon the context and historical usage of these words in biblical times. The words "justify" and "justification" both are translated the same in both in the New International Version (NIV) and King James Version (KJV). Justify appears in Romans 3:30, Galatians 3:8 while justification appears in Romans 4:25, 5:16, & 5:18. These verses are not exclusively the ones that deal with the topic of justification. One must not overlook the dozens of verses that have the words "just”, "righteousness”, "righteous” or "righteousness of God”. But again for the sake of brevity, this paper merely deals with the words "justify" and "justification”.

Justification In The Context Of Galatians 3:8

"The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: "All nations will be blessed through you." Galatians 3:8 (NIV)

N.T. Wright looks at this passage and sees the faith as a means of entry into the covenant community. [8] Obviously, the passage gives reference to Genesis 12:3 where Abraham is called into covenant with God. While one must acknowledge that Paul is saying that the Gentiles have entered into the same covenant as Abraham had with God (Galatians 3:7), but that does not mean that the Reformers were wrong saying that justification meant obtaining a right standing with God. N.T. Wright may be right in pointing out the covenant nature of justification, but in saying that faith is a badge into the covenant community puts the primary relationship between the person with faith and the community of faith. Paul was not oblivious to the relationship between believers, but the primary relationship is between the believer and God. He even starts out Galatians by saying he is not merely repeating what men have taught him. As an apostle, his responsibility and message comes from God (Galatians 1:1). In fact, by his example, he would have the Gentile believers not seek the approval of men (Galatians 1:10). He did not want to be without the accountability of the leaders of the community (Galatians 2:2), but they were a check against self-deception, not the primary entities to which he had a relationship. While there is a comparison of Jewish and Gentile in Galatians 2:11-16, the question is never community membership, but "works of the Law”. The "works of the Law" is a phrase that has been a topic of debate as to its meaning, and therefore colors the meaning of "justify" as used by Paul. Martin Abegg points out one of the few usages of this term in ancient Jewish literature as being in the Miqsat Ma'ase Ha-Torah –MMT from the Dead Sea Scrolls. [9] In the MMT, the phrase "works of the Law” means obtaining ceremonial righteousness through the ceremonial law. Paul is not explicit in his letter to the Galatians that "works of the Law" means fulfilling the ceremonial law but is alluded to through issue of circumcision (Galatians 2:7-12, 5:6, 5:11, 6:15) and Jewish ceremonial cleanness practiced during meals (Galatians 2:11). The phrase "works of the Law" gives way to simply the "law" (Galatians 3:15-24). The transition is from addressing their particular context to a more universal context. Transcending of particular cultural mix (Jewish and Gentile for the Galatians), period of history (1st Century), and geographic area (Asia Minor) is particularly important in aspect of interpreting the letter to the Galatians or any other scripture. Community membership is dealt with as an issue that is seen as a distracter (Galatians 3:26-29) from the transcending and primary issue: one's status before God. The issue of the law is also dealt with as a transcending issue because of the human predisposition, due to the sin nature, to gravitate to a merit system which is in contrast with God's answer. God's answer is the work of Christ on the cross (Galatians 2:20). The right standing with God is what determines community membership, not the ability to fulfill the ceremonial law or other law. N.T. Wright and other proponents of the New Perspective may have some relevant points to make, however, reading the modern emphasis on religious tolerance into Galatians actually obscures the passage. In fact, the New Perspective accuses the Reformers of reading their own context into the works of Paul, the New Perspective has read the context of the Post-modern world into the 1st Century document. The word "justify”, as in Galatians, is linked with faith because faith is how one receives justification. Faith is contrasted with "works of the law" (KJV) or the alternate translation of "observing the law" (NIV). The primary issue again is one's standing with God in contrast to one's standing to a particular community. That right standing with God comes through the gift of faith.

The Context of Justify and Justification In The Letter To The Romans

"since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith." Romans 3:30 (NIV)

"He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” Romans 4:25 (NIV)

"Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man's sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification.” Romans 5:16 (NIV)

"Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men.” Romans 5:18 (NIV)

The New Perspective believes that "community boundaries" are the main issue that Paul is addressing in Romans 4 and 5. While it is indeed true that differences between Jew and Gentile are a major theme, Paul works to show a level playing field between Jew and Gentile, both stand sinful before God (Romans 3:23). In fact much the first three chapters of Romans is dedicated to describing this universal need for salvation due to human depravity. The starting point for both Jew and Gentile is just that, showing their need, not the answer to that need. A lot of discussions about tolerance during our current generation points toward a level playing field as the answer. Recognizing that both Paul and our post-modern discussion on equality have similar themes, it is easy to see how Paul's set-up and question are over-interpreted as his main theme. The need of mankind is expressed as a universal need, (Romans 3:23) and the answer to that need is justification based on grace, the atoning work of Jesus Christ (Romans 2:24). Clearly the atonement is meant to show God's justice. He is just in punishing sin (Romans 3:25-26). Starting in chapter four, Paul points out how Abraham was justified by faith, not by works. We can safely connect the solution of faith to the problem of sin. Some of the New Perspective see the problem as a lack of unity in the church. Again we must determine whether Paul is addressing a universal issue, like sin and atonement or if he is addressing a local contextual issue. Since Paul has a limited knowledge of the Roman believers having never been to Rome, and in other letters when Paul is addressing local contextual issues, he is explicit. He does have some knowledge of the Roman church through news and through his prayers. The arguments in chapter four are proposed more as a means of examining an issue rather than addressing someone's personal question. All of Paul's other letters are written after he had ministered in the church. Certainly when Paul "What shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter?” (Romans 3:1) Paul is not directly addressing someone else's teaching but is looking to Abraham as the beginning of Abrahamic covenant. He looks at the foundation in order to deal with a universal principle. This justification is clearly seen in terms of the sin problem (Romans 3:5) and not a lack of unity. The blessing of God's solution is also in terms of the sin problem, not in terms of a "community boundary [10] ”. Paul re-addresses a universal issue again, this time though it is the blessing that comes through faith. Instead of universally applying the blessing of faith on both Jew and Gentile, he now applies it to both circumcised and uncircumcised. There is at least one reason he choose this new category. He argues from Abraham's uncircumcised state. Abraham received the covenant blessing while uncircumcised. In Romans 4:13-15, Paul is arguing not against Jewish or Gentile discrimination, rather that the law is not the means of the covenant. The law brings transgression and wrath (Romans 4:14,15). The contrast is between the law and faith. Faith is the example that is portrayed in the life of Abraham (Romans 4:18-25). The ideas of righteousness and justification are tightly linked in Romans 4:24,25. The concept of righteousness is clearly something that we do not possess and yet God "will credit" (Romans 4:24) us as having it. Jesus is delivered for our sin (Romans 4:25). If Jesus' work on the cross brings us into righteousness from Romans 4:25 clearly teaches that justification is in relation to sin, not a "community boundary”. Right standing before God is primary; right standing with the community of faith is incidental. Romans 5:1 addresses this primary relationship by saying that we have "peace with God" vice the "wrath” (Romans 4:15) brought by the law. Since we have peace with God, we should not misinterpret that this will cease all suffering. Rather, we transcend suffering, it becomes an aid in our growth of character (Romans 5:2-5). Paul returns to the concept of right standing before God by saying we were powerless to restore the relationship and in fact we were enemies of God. At that time God reconciled us to himself (Romans 5:6-11). Of course, building a community is a part of God's plan, but we come together in the "one man, Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:17). Adam's trespass (of the law) is contrasted with Christ's grace. This state of grace is described in terms that contrast it with the law. By saying it is the "provision of grace" it shows that he grace is the work and plan of God. By saying it is the "gift of righteousness” it shows that it is not righteousness inherent in man himself. The overwhelming theme is the nature of justification.

While the Reformers may have failed to be explicit about the differences between their own context and that of Paul, the universal principles discussed in Paul's letter did address both situations. When Paul addresses issues with a complex contextual background, he describes the problem and addresses it fairly directly. But on the issue of justification by faith and not by the law, he transcends the immediate context by talking about how we obtain a right standing with God by the work of Christ on the cross. The work of Christ on the cross is realized in our lives through the gift of faith. The New Perspective On Paul, while being difficult to tie down in a formative stance, their general contention is that the Reformers misread Paul and have caused much of the church after them to misread Paul, too. The idea that Second Temple Judaism was the competitor that Paul faced misreads the audience of Galatia and Rome. His audience was far from Jerusalem, and besides that, he was not battling an institution but a tendency of the human heart.


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---, ., Evaluating the New Perspective on Paul: (6) Did Paul Oppose "Legalism" or "Boasting" In Human Strength, 2003, .

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---, Evaluating the New Perspective on Paul (6) "The ‘Righteousness of God' and the Believer's ‘Justification (Part 3), 2003, .


[1] Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 1, Paragraph 6

[2] Venema, Cornelius P., The "New Perspective On Paul”: The Contributions of E P Sanders (Part Two), September 2002, .

[3] Musk, Bill, The Unseen Face Of Islam: Sharing The Gospel With Ordinary Muslims, (MARC Publications: Great Britain, 1989) 197-205.

[4] Larkin, William, New Testament Survey: Acts – Revelation Study Guide, (Columbia International University: Columbia, SC, 1997) 92-93.

[5] Venema, Cornelius P., The "New Perspective On Paul”: The Contributions of James D. G. Dunn , December 2002, >

[6] Just to clarify, I hold that Titus as truly Pauline in its authorship.

[7] Pruitt, Terry L. Frequently Asked Questions About Baptism, August 2002,

[8] Venema, Cornelius P., The "New Perspective On Paul" The Contributions of N.T. Wright, 2003, .

[9] Abegg, Martin. "Paul, ‘Works Of The Law' AndMMT" Biblical Archaeology Review, November/December 1994, Volume 20 Number 6, Page 52

[10] Hamilton, Edward, The "Righteousness" of Romans and Galatians, and the Gospel of Christ, March 2004, .


Thursday, October 08, 2009

A Story About An Emerging Future

This is a continuation of posting from my website that is going away. Some of the issues addressed in this post are a little dated at this point, but much of it still stands.

A Story About An Emerging Future
July 12, 2004
By Terry L. Pruitt

Introduction: Predicting The Future Of The Church

Futurology is a study of current trends in technology or society and how those trends will play out. Writer's like Alvin and Heidi Toffler in Future Shock and Power Shift take an academic look at the possibilities of what is the logical conclusions to certain trends that currently exist. The trend is usually predicted to continue when it comes to technology and social change. Some futurologists would predict that technology like the bar code and scanner system in grocery stores will expand to be included in you future kitchen so that the grocery list can be automated. You could keep an accurate inventory of your refrigerator and cupboard contents in a object-oriented database which would tie into you budget software, create a grocery list, perhaps order the groceries for pick or delivery and finally create a health index report based on the diet you have eaten the past week, month or year. Or talking about a social trend, the success of Internet dating services has inspired attempt to build other social networks on the Internet. And of course we are talking in this case about the success of the social trend of meeting people on-line, not the technology that creates the social opportunity. When the trend involves the environment or natural resources the analysis is usually pessimistic. Equations are used to show the current or the predicted exponential rate of consumption and the known amount of that particular resource which yields the date that the resource will be depleted. The obvious example of this is our modern dependence on fossil fuels. In general, predictions about technology and social trends tend to be optimistic while predictions about the environment tend to be pessimistic. The most notable exception to this is the Y2K problem that created an artificial resource problem, the lack of a large enough date field. While the equation to describe the similar limits to social trends and technological advancement would be more complex and perhaps defy quantization, these limits are often overlooked. The reason for optimism is not so much the facts and equations but motivation of the speaker to put forth a new idea. In a sense the speaker can speak positively so that his prediction is a self-fulfilling prophecy. There are at least three types of self-fulfilling prophecy, the ancient Greeks thought of self fulfilling prophecy as a prophecy spoken which caused people to react to the prophecy in order to defeat the prophecy. The classic example is the story of Oedipus who is sent away to be killed because of a prophecy that he would kill his father and marry his mother. His parents Laius and Jocasta avoid this great evil their very actions set the stage for the event prophesied. The servant cannot bear to kill the child and gives him to a shepherd. The child is eventually adopted by Polybus. When Oedipus hears another prophecy that he would kill his father he leaves the town so as to avoid the evil of killing Polybus and ends up meeting his biological father, Laius, on the road and kills him. This type of self-fulfilling prophecy is capricious and ironic; the product of fate. There is a type of self-fulfilling prophecy in the scripture where a prophet makes a prediction and the people of God respond to that prophecy. For instance, when Abram was promised the land, it caused generations after him to keep their focus on their possession of that land. The prophecy kept the people of God looking to the divine promise and its fulfillment. The third type of prophecy is the more modern type. A business leader or a social activist can talk about a vision and the shifting of paradigms. They declare that a trend is going to happen and people respond, if they see validity in the claim by adopting the trend. Sometimes people understand their vision and that they are shaping the market place of ideas by their declarations, at other times the person is unaware of the process they are spawning. The Emerging Church was one theme of this year's National Pastors Convention in San Diego, CA. While the ideas of the Emerging Church are as varied as the players, the basic premise is that the post-modern church is re-inventing itself into a new form. The movement declares that its communication style, church structure and theology are quite different from the modern church of the 20th century. However, no one knows whether the Emerging Church will continue to grow. There are limiting factors to which are likely undiscovered about the movement and of course equations by social scientist who study religion are premature at this point. On the other hand, a forum as large as the National Pastors conference is really too big to allow the church to be dismissive of the trend even if the declaration that a new form of the church is emerging smacks of a type of certainty that is usually avoided by the movement as a whole. Certain criticism of modernity has merit, and where the modern church adopted unbiblical positions from the philosophy of modernism, we are to repent of the error. The Emerging Church emphasizes being authentic, organic and genuine, which are all fine qualities, but these all speak about a theology of revelation and sometimes as applied by the movement is in contradiction to that of scripture.

Nature Of The Emerging Church

The Emerging Church defines its self as a new form. An oft used phrase is that they want to unpackage the message of the gospel. The idea is that they want to not have everything boiled down to three points and in an outline form. The means of gaining this desired freshness and genuine proclamation of the gospel is through the use of artistic _expression, digital media, creative gathering times and an understanding of the postmodern mindset.

Artistic Creativity

The artistic _expression comes in the form of film making, theater, music, and visual arts. The idea is that these expressions make the message more accessible. The sermons tend to be story telling. Story telling is sometimes brought to a new height, not just as a communication technique, but an actual theological position. (This will be addressed as a theological issue later in this paper.) The idea is that the Bible is made up of narratives and the three-point sermon is foreign to the thinking in the Bible. In the 1970s, the testimony was a well-developed communication form in the church that re-enforced the preaching; Billy Graham's preaching was re-enforced by the testimony of Terry Bradshaw. Story telling, illustrations, and parables have always been a part of the communication of the church. It would be a false distinction to say that the Emerging Church is the church that appreciates the narrative. The Emerging Church has a set of creative personalities who are expressing the gospel, with the favored form of _expression being the story.

Digitally Savvy

The Emerging Church does not have a corner on the digital media market in the church. The so-called modern church has websites and Power Point slide presentation, but the modern church's websites are more like electronic brochures. The Emerging Church is much more artistically sophisticated, technically proficient, and interactive. By digital media being interactive, the websites have multimedia Flash media presentations and the audience can post comments or questions on the site. The Emerging Church has affection for the cooperative and collaborative organizational styles of the programming and movie industry artists. A flat organization in which the artists are recognized for their merit, not a formal position held.

Creative Gatherings

The Emerging Church will gather in new ways and in new places. A small group may gather at a restaurant for a meal and have a Bible Study right at the table. At other events, the atmosphere attempts to imitate a Starbucks; chic music, soft chairs, trendy decor, and rich coffee. (It is funny that in the 1980s church plants all gave up the steeple type architecture in favor of elementary school lunch rooms because real estate did not matter as much as people.) The Sunday morning worship service may be replaced by a Thursday night gathering. The main event may be a once year conference rather than a weekly gathering.

Addressing The Postmodern Mind

There are basically two approaches to the postmodern mind, one is to recognize it as a force in the culture which is dealt with using the same tools that a missiologist uses to address a foreign culture, the other approach is to embrace much or most of the postmodern philosophy. The first approach looks at the postmodern culture as an opportunity to understand people where they are. Where the postmodern culture is in agreement with the message of scripture, the gospel messenger attempts to contextualize the message, that is, describe and explain the gospel in culturally relevant terms. Where the postmodern culture strays from the truth of scripture, avoid syncretistic teaching. Syncretistic teaching is when one looses the essence of the message of truth by incorporating elements from the culture that are not in agreement with the faith. The first approach to the postmodern culture does not attempt to paint the picture too dim, but sees the challenge and embraces the task at hand; preach the truth of the gospel with language and metaphors which address the hearts of the people. The second approach by the Emerging Church is to actually adopt, for the most part, the postmodern paradigms. While neither those who hold the philosophy of modernism nor those who hold the philosophy of postmodernism can claim theirs is the Biblical point of view, there are some in the Emerging Church which would in essence adopt the postmodern position as the Biblical framework.

Theological Positions Of Postmodernism Lack Examination

Recent History Of Religious Strife In America

In the early half of the 1900s, the church in America had a number of denominations. The ideas of liberal Christianity were in many if not most mainline denominations. Labels to describe those inside and outside the movement developed. The more liberal camp(s) were called modernist, liberal or later neo-orthodox. Those in the more conservative camps are divided into the fundamentalists or evangelicals. At the risk of oversimplification, this paper will NOT attempt to distinguish between all the variants but simple generalize into two segments; liberal and conservative. By conservative I do not mean political conservatives, but those who would attempt to retain the basics of the faith. This new liberal type of Christianity did not attempt to establish new denominations or congregations, but mostly grew within the mainline denominations. The ensuing debate between liberal Christianity with more conservative Christianity was over the basics of the faith and it was the conservatives who instigated the debate by and large. Those who were a part of liberal Christianity were careful to not express their ideas directly to the wrong crowd so as to keep their employment and were content to patiently teach their doctrines from within the church. Its not that they did not teach their doctrines, its that they kept their cards close to their chest so as to be able to play the best hand. Bold moves were made when the risk was low, more moderate positions were expressed when risk was higher. The conservatives were the ones framing the debate and attempting to bring out the issues, often in strident tones that disenfranchised people with a disposition that embraced politeness and civility. The debate was about the basics of the faith; the authority of scripture, the deity of Christ, the existence of hell, and the origins of the human race. The result was that the conservatives by and large left the existing institutions to the liberal competitors and formed their own conservative denominations, conservative seminaries, conservative mission agencies and conservative congregations. While these debates developed over a number of years, conservatives eventually felt forced to draw attention to the issues and act. Few today are debating whether liberal Christianity is right or wrong, for the most part; liberals are kept in their corner and conservatives in theirs. However, in conservative denominations there developed an examination at the beginning of a pastor's ministry to ensure the candidate for ministry adheres to the basics of the faith. Apparently, prior to the liberal versus conservative debate the examination for the ministry focused on an internal sense of call. Both liberal and conservative leaning candidates for ministry could express a sense of call.

In a separate story line, small groups of Christians arose who had no denominational affiliation. These groups were sometimes evangelical and at other times fundamentalists, but they wanted to follow God. Strong leaders who had no accountability to an outside denomination usually led these groups. The idea was to not get sucked into a denomination. In the seventies, any small splinter groups that were controlling or had doctrinal error were labeled a cult. Apologists who specialized in examining a splinter group's teaching and exposing their draconian practices arose to counter the many small sects. By and large the method of countering their teaching was to focus on the basics of the faith like the deity of Christ and the Trinity. (This also was used against larger sects like the Mormons or Jehovah's Witnesses who did not stick to the basics of the faith.) In essence there was an unofficial list of those who were a part of some other broad umbrella label and those who were not. There are/were a number of broad umbrella labels used; the evangelical church, orthodox Christianity, or historic Christianity.

Recent Nullification Of The Means of Accountability

The Emerging Church is an outgrowth of a wide variety of churches. If the ministry is the result of splintering, it is often an issue of style or an issue regarding power. But the most of the time, splinter would be an overstatement. A quiet leaving for a different venue is the most common description of the event[1]. Many in the Emerging Church, like the web site Vintage Faith ( affirm the traditional theology while expressing it through new media, thus the name “Vintage Faith”. They seem to be an intentional church plant with the blessing of their sending church. Again, we are taking into account the wide spectrum of ministries under the heading of Emerging Church. The web site The Ooze (, established by Spencer Burke, purports to “affirm traditional teachers and new artists”. Spencer seems to be of the quiet leaving type. Others are quite quick to affirm the Apostle's Creed.

In contrast with the previous debate over the basics of the faith in liberal versus conservative brands of Christianity, those in the Emerging Church want to affirm the basics so they can move on and address issues of life. To discuss doctrine is to be too up tight; to share your own story is to be authentic. The Emerging Church as a whole avoids the trap of not affirming the basics of the faith. After a cursory affirmation, they move on to the more important issues of life. To say that the movement has no doctrinal position is exactly what they would like to say, however, doctrine simply means teaching and they do have teachings. Attempting to pin down a unified position of the movement is exactly what they want to avoid. Their attempt seems to be to transcend doctrinal issues with authentic life. While the liberals of the past avoided stating their true beliefs if the environment was not welcoming, the Emerging Church seems to quickly agree with their would be opponents on issues of the authority of the Bible, the deity of Christ, etc.. and move quickly to new, more important issues like a persons person’s struggles with doubt. The mechanisms conservatives developed to counter the liberal infiltration are ineffective in holding individuals from the Emerging Church accountable. By and large it is not an infiltration of existing structures. In fact, the technique of building a separate institutional infrastructure used by the conservative Christian community is also the means for the rise of the Emerging Church. The new congregations, or should I say communities, which are being developed are affirming the basics of the faith, thus avoiding being put on the unofficial list. They are also avoiding accountability and debate. Note: I'm NOT calling the Emerging Church a cult, however it is clear that the plain examination which holds a group accountable to the larger body of Christ is missing. In order to address the issues pertaining to the Emerging Church, one must examine issues that they raise. Just because someone affirms The Apostle's Creed does not mean that his or her other teachings are okay. Throughout the ages of the church, creeds were developed to respond to movements, individuals and teachings. So creeds addressed different issues in different periods of history. While it is good we can agree that Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary, it is also important to discern what is meant by that statement. On an Evangelism Explosion visit my wife met a couple that had visited our church. The wife was a believer who had just given birth to twins. The husband was an officer in the Coast Guard. The husband expressed and an interest in becoming a Christian. When the team started to clarify the commitment, the wife started to clarify for the team what her husband meant. He believed religion was merely a social institution that aided society in passing down morals. He did not want to actually accept Christ; he wanted to become a Christian so that his wife did not have an “unbelieving spouse”. In other words, he wanted to be nice to his wife and become a Christian for her sake, though he thought the whole issue of accepting Christ was a non-issue. If assent to a belief becomes something other than what everyone understands it to be, clarification must be made. Assent to The Apostle's Creed, or any other Creed, if it is the test of accountability to a larger Christian community, must not be usurped by a different understanding of the nature of truth. In the next few paragraphs we will examine the doctrinal issues surrounding the Emerging Churches understanding of truth and revelation. The issues of style and form that are by and large the identity markers of the movement, we will leave as matters of preference. Where style is merely a matter of artistic form we will leave it alone, but where it is transformed to become an actual part of the theology, we will examine its merits as theology. In other words, regarding the characteristics of showing enthusiasm for the arts, being digitally savvy, and being fond of creative gatherings, we will leave those to a discussion on how to be culturally relevant.


Part of the Emerging Church has adopting the postmodern mindset by not embracing foundationalism[2] but instead seeking to find meaning in story. In so many words, they abandon the idea that it is useful to build systemic thinking by establishing key foundational facts and definitions and reasoning a whole system of thought. In the postmodern idea, it is against a systemic way of thinking in general; in the Emerging Church it does not embrace systematic theology. Some seem be not against systemic thinking but that they choose to dwell on the story rather than system. One particular strength to their position is that narrative is a part of how God has revealed himself to his people. While Emerging Church adherents like Todd Hunter[3] are cordial with past academic work of systemic theologians, others are not as generous. Rather than claiming that narrative is a good communication technique, effective especially with the postmodern crowd, they talk as though God communicates exclusively in narrative. It is understandable that many people are confused by systemic thinking because they have not had to master this discipline. Other than the exposure to this sort of discipline in high school geometry, most people never have to work through a coherent way of thinking in an entire system. Additionally, systemic thinking is not a discipline that is universal in the academic world; many linguists, writers, and scientists do not focus on reasoning from a few principles and definitions. Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein were two scientists who did focus on this type of academic pursuits. It is not uncommon to hear people talk about the great experiments of Einstein. However, his work was usually theoretical which involved spending time creating coherent syllogism about physics. He spent hours writing these out on yellow legal pads at Princeton. Other scientists did the experiments that proved his work empirically. Not all scientists focus on the empirical nor do they all focus on deductive reasoning work like Einstein. So with the study of God, theology, not everyone will focus on systemics, some should focus on systemic thinking while others should spend their talents explaining the simple meaning of the text, pursuing linguistic investigation, textual criticism, archeology, and a host of other things. While there is more to study and thinking than systemic thinking and deductive reasoning, avoiding the discipline all together can have dire consequences. In order to test ideas and think critically, one must be able to see inconsistencies either in yourself or your opponents in a debate. We may embrace a beautiful story like that of Joseph and his brothers, how evil in Joseph's life God used it for good. When the Christian is watching a movie at the theater, he is not compelled to find some application to his own life, especially if the movie is a comedy. One cannot take the same approach with the story of Joseph; it is God's Word. There is nothing about you or me in the story of Joseph. If it is to mean something other than the dry facts, it must be interpreted. One way to do that is to see the whole counsel of scripture and ensure that we are consistent in interpreting a particular passage in light of all others. The Westminster Confession (I;VI) says that, “The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture:” The idea of the quote is that not everything revealed in scripture is explicitly so, it might be something that can be logically deduced. However, unlike a geometry book, the scripture does not use definitions and axioms to build an entire system. (Which is one of the points of the Emerging Church.) That is not to say that there are primary principles and that some truths are more relevant than others. Jesus said that there was a greatest commandment. Not all commandments are equal. Not all scripture is equal in importance. God in His Word does not deny himself and does not contradict himself. The Emerging Church's willingness to reject foundationalism may be in part due to the fact that most of the American church has not thought through systematic theology in the first place. Most of American Christianity is actually a-systematic. There is proof texting of pet doctrines, but a lot of doctrinal teaching has not actually developed a robust clarity of definitions and prime axioms of the faith. Instead the emphasis is on what one must do. How is one to behave is primary. So leaving foundations is not a big stretch. While narratives are a big part of God's Word, that does not mean there are not foundational truths in scripture. There are even foundational stories; Adam, Abraham, and Jesus. The discipline of articulating clearly a definition is an important skill for the sake of clarity; clarity in thought as well as clarity in communication. Being able to recognize basic principles in the scripture is basic to reading, studying and interpreting the scripture. While it is possible to read a passage without commenting on it; possible to read it artistically, re-tell the story artistically, it is impossible not to attempt to interpret the passage. The passage selected implies interpretation, tones used to read is a form of interpretation. There is a point to letting the passage of scripture speak for itself by merely reading the passage to a congregation, however, that is very different from saying there no way to state the point of that passage. A preference to be more artistic rather than analytic in preaching the gospel is no sin. However the preaching must retain the authority of the message and also retain its content. But still there is no way to get around the idea that there is actual message to be articulated, that the one idea has precedence over another. The organization of one idea over another and insuring that one has not contradicted oneself is impossible to escape. By assuming that the whole idea of systemic thinking is not foundational to explaining the Christian faith, one has set a foundation of non-foundationalism. The postmodern philosophers attempt to discuss in depth issues and leave behind the trappings of systemic thought. This enables the speaker to deal with complexity and explore issues without giving a final analysis every time. A position or worldview assumed at the beginning of a discussion can limit the discussion. While these are strengths in public discourse and personal exploration of an issue, to dwell too long on the questioning and never coming to the knowledge of the truth is harmful society and the individual. While there is a minority of academically minded scholars who can endlessly discuss issues and be genuine seekers of the truth, the vast majority of society will see the point sooner than later and conclude that it is an insurmountable question for which there is no answer. The postmodern position can not be the mark of the same community that John was talking about in 2 John where he said, “To the chosen lady and her children, whom I love in the truth – and not I only, but also all who know the truth – because of the truth, which lives in us and will be with us forever: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Father's Son, will be with us in truth and love. I has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in truth, just as the Father commanded us.” (2 John 1-4 NIV) In the community that is mentioned in 2 John, the community is built on truth. This is not merely a dry doctrinal document that is merely assented to but instead the people “walk in the truth”. The early Christian community loved the truth, embraced the truth, walked in the truth and built their community on the truth. This does not mean that they were all systematic theologians, but it does mean that truth was agreed upon, that truth was definable. If it was definable, then it was able to put into a system. Deductive reasoning in the classical sense was a Greek discipline. Jesus and the Apostles did not use this type of classic logic, but they did deduced conclusions from principles. Being against foundationalism, especially in an over summarized layman's form of the idea, is not helpful to teaching or understanding the scripture.

Linear Thinking

Chris Seay in Stories of Emergence juxtapositions prepositional thinking and other ways of thinking, like web thinking or circular thinking. He is right in thinking that there are other ways that people thinking about truth. He points out that Ecclesiastes is circular in its line of thinking and he says that Proverbs is web thinking. It is fairly unarguable that there is a level of literary sophistication in those books which is not easily caught in simple one liner summaries and that the techniques of flash back are used. While that has merit, that is not the same thing as saying the book of Proverbs does not have linear thinking. There are topics that flow from proverb to proverb. And perhaps Chris Seay would observe the same flow from proverb to proverb. Perhaps more than any book, Proverbs explains the purpose of the book and builds a foundation of thought, precludes objects and gives motivational statements up front. (Proverbs 1:1-19) Many of the proverbs stand on their own, but they also relate to the surrounding material. For instance in the proverb “Lazy hands make a man poor, but diligent hands bring wealth,” (Proverbs 10: 4 NIV) it is placed between a proverb about the Lord's provision for the righteous and a proverb about the importance of working during the harvest. No the book of Proverbs in not arranged as a systematic theology, but its arrangement is not arbitrary.

Linear thinking is an aid in expressing clarity of thought. Web and circular thinking are about complex relationships and gaining the interest of an audience. The attribute of complexity is essential in communicating the gospel. People often test truth by seeing if it will hold up to the complexity of real-life. It is sort of like the difference between a laboratory test and testing something by using it in the real world. The second attribute of gaining the interest of the audience, if used as a stand-alone function, amounts to tickling the ears of the audience. Story telling, proverbs, pithy sayings, and other communication techniques are good. But placing the techniques ahead of truth is dangerous. A story can be used to support many different points of view. It all depends upon the details put in or left out. A reason to affirm web thinking and circular thinking is to leave behind one-dimensional Christianity. The goal is noble, however, one reason for shallow, one-dimensional Christianity in America though is the creed that 'truth must always be boiled down to its minimums'. The lowest common denominator is helpful if one is simply looking for a starting point for beginning to cooperate. One-dimensional Christianity is not the result of systemic theology, just the opposite. Perhaps emphasizing circular thinking and web thinking is a reaction to the a-systematic, proof texting approach to doctrine that prevails in the American church rather than actual systematic theology. These simplistic answers do not match the complexity of real life and are a poor way to convince people that the scriptures have answers to life's problems. Chris would not be an advocate of simplistic answers. But his affirmation of the Apostle's Creed[4] alone does seem to be simplistic. Perhaps he is making an effort to minimize flack from the traditional church and maintain connection with it. He actually says almost everything else is up for grabs. Does he mean to say that the inerrancy of scripture is up for grabs? That the Trinity is up for grabs? That the doctrine that God is good is up for grabs? These are fairly basic teaching that he probably would whole-heartedly agree with, however he has clearly stated they are up for grabs. If a person is sincerely exploring the doctrine of the Trinity, that is fine, it is a doctrine most Christians have to work through. But if a pastor has failed to work through this doctrine and his doubts are serious and grave, he may need to take a sabbatical from ministry. Chris Seay probably is not questioning the Trinity, but merely wants to state that he is taking the approach that is exploring truth and feels free to leave loose ends flapping. The Myers-Briggs personality profile describes a personality type who is always exploring and comfortable not necessarily systematizing everything, this is attribute is perceiving. Myers-Briggs contrasts perceiving with judgmental. This almost sounds like an insult if one is thinking of the scripture which say “judge not, let ye be judged”. However, that is not the emphasis, it means that the person has an affinity for being decisive, making judgments so that the matter is settled. My leaning is perceiving however, I have learned to be more decisive. A balance of course is desirable. Open-minded and decisive are the two virtues that are the prize. Flexibility to the point of indecision and rigidity to the point of being a stick in the mud are both to be avoided. Merely being open-minded is a virtue but the scripture warns against “ever learning but never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (2 Timothy 3:7 KJV) Recognizing the complexity of truth, both natural revelation and special revelation, the faithful student of the Word should not give up on finding simplicity in the scriptures.

Again borrowing from the cognitive sciences, Chris Seay is right, most people do not think linearly strictly. However, when you look at your bank statement, you do not expect the bank to almost get the right amount as your balance. You want access to every penny you own. The process of accounting is not a natural one, it has to be learned. But the discipline of finding the exact amount is not just useful; it is imperative for the survival of the modern economy. When we don't do this, it is called cooking the books, or fudging the books. We all know this is bad. By way of illustration, how do we let the preachers get away with sloppy thinking? Are the things eternal less important than the things temporal? Circular thinking and web thinking are important to explore and comprehend the whole of something. Attempting to preclude accountability by emphasizing web or circular thinking above linear thinking is not helpful to knowing the truth as a community and slows down any discussion. It means that one is not open to the counsel of the brethren. Perhaps this is an intentional power play, but even if it is not, it breaks down community and the communities grasping of the truth.


The common way of understanding literature and scripture is to identify the main idea. In the scripture there are overarching ideas that are told and retold. These narratives explain the salvation that comes from the sovereign hand of God. That he helps the weak and helpless. That he is the judge. It is not enough to understand themes of a passage, a chapter, a book, since the Word of God has one author divinely speaking, the reader must find the themes woven through out the entire text. The redemptive-historical method of hermeneutics attempts to ensure the interpreter of scripture takes into account the overarching them themes of redemption when looking at a particular passage.

Some in the Emerging Church have rejected metanarratives in interpreting scripture. According to the Wikipedia, the following is the definition of metanarrative:

A metanarrative is a term used in postmodern discourse to refer to a narrative about narratives. It is a story that determines which other stories are "central" and acceptable, and which are "marginal". Metanarratives are thought to prevent narratives deemed "marginal" from upsetting or subverting the cultural order. Postmodernism, which represents an openness to the authority of "marginal" narratives, has been described as an "incredulity toward metanarratives" (Lyotard 1984).

While authors like Chuck Colson have attempted to discuss the idea of transcending themes in Western culture and the scripture, he choose to defend his idea by using a term which has been defined by his opponents as metanarrative[5]. It is sort of like trying to use the word propaganda and in the process separating out the connotations associated. Commonly, there is a world of difference between publishing a message and publishing propaganda. The use of the word metanarrative by postmodern philosophers has come to mean that common themes in stories, histories, sermons, songs and other communication forms are a part of the power base of the incumbents to power. The oft-repeated phrase in recent years is that the victors write the history. The author Brian McLaren in an open letter to Mr. Colson explains how the postmodernist defines the Meta-narrative as a tool of propaganda. In his discussion with Chuck Colson about postmodernity, he states that most people who criticize the postmodernity improperly because they don't understand that metanarrative is rightly understood to have a negative connotation. It is the tool of Nazis, Communists, and other totalitarians. If a metanarrative is always a means something negative, not simply an overarching theme, but a subtle mechanism for power, then we must find different words to describe the way we recognize the overarching themes and paradigms of scripture. Of course, a tool is more often than not thought to be neutral, used for evil or good. A torture chamber of course is normally considered a tool exclusively of evil. Is the use of metanarrative merely a tool for evil, corralling the masses into a decision? It seems we cannot separate out those negative connotations for the postmodern. There is such a thing a propaganda. People can be manipulated by messages and media, but simply saying we should not use a metanarrative will not take away this type of evil. Evil people in power are much too smart to let the little trick do them in. But people who are good hearted and naïve can be manipulated into abdicating their power to those who would bully them with such language. Which of course, the discourse on metanarrative is a form of metanarrative which is aimed at deposing the incumbent. This is sophisticated and self-defeating. Since the point of the discussion is to usurp power, even in an egalitarian sense, and in the end gain for the speaker power that was once held by his opponent.

The Christian life is all about power. Not gaining power for self, but submitting to the power of God. Understanding that we are powerless to save ourselves that we are in need of the saving power of Christ on the cross. That we are stewards of responsibility, not rulers with a selfish will. We should not seek to avoid power but seek to use it as a responsible steward. We should seek to use the authority God has given us, whether great or small, for His glory. As mothers and fathers, we should rule our household responsibly seeing that God is the basis of our authority. As citizens we should be responsibly participate in our government. As businessmen and businesswomen, we should seek to be examples of virtues to both our employees and customers. As employees of business or government, we should seek to serve with faithfulness and enthusiasm. As the church, we should seek to know God and make Him known. Whether an athlete, a musician, a gardener, a scholar, or an artist; each Christian must be a good steward of the gifts God has given him. Being a steward means we have authority and we are accountable to the one whom we serve. A balanced approach of holding and submitting to authority is the basic teaching of scripture. The postmodern teaching is that holding power is to be avoided. While on the surface that may seem very egalitarian, in the end it is just another system of power. Those who are smooth about articulating their desire with an egalitarian flare are the power holders. This system of power is a faulty system of checks and balances. Faulty because it does not rightly identify legitimate power, instead it appoints generally speaking, those who have advocated the system and who are making the new set of rules. There is no checks and balances against them.

While it is impossible to summarize the movement as whole, there is a metanarrative of the Emerging Church. That is not to say these are the same ones who competently and truly believe there should be no metanarrative. The Emerging Church does have some basic overarching themes that are repeated. It is a part of their message. It is not that they should not advocate their ideas, but just pointing out that it is almost impossible to feel passionate about justice, righteousness and goodness without developing a metanarrative. One Emerging Church teacher said that there is no metanarrative, just narrative. If by that he means merely that they are trying to avoid the use of strong arming propaganda and manipulation, all churches should avoid that. However if it means that there should be no emphasis on one message over another it would be a practical impossibility. The movement does have a metanarrative of their own. Perhaps since the movement attaches a negative connotation to the word metanarrative, we could say that they have a body of teaching that they advocate. Their common themes in preaching and teaching are as follows:

One story after another speaks of disenfranchisement with the established church, that they could not be themselves. Usually after committing some action which was a little too worldly for the offending institutional church, the Emerging Church leader found he or she had to leave in order to find a genuine walk with God.

Another teaching advocated by the movement is that there is a change in the church. Of course this could be seen as a modern type of self-fulfilling prophecy. They seem to use the same types of organization, change mechanisms as Silicon Valley. There are conscious efforts to capture the same kind of open source collaboration as the GNU Linux software and the free software movement have used[6]. Much of the language of this message of change shows similarity to the business literature that emphasizes paradigm shifts in order to out maneuver the business competition. In the case of the Emerging Church, adapting to cultural change in order to reach this new and very pained generation. It is not surprising to find on the website Emerging Church ( that largest concentration of Emerging Churches are in California, and in particular, near Silicon Valley.

Many of the authors mention the fact that they watch popular media that might be considered off color or have morally controversial content. The speakers or writers are not actually trying to advocate the messages of that content. Instead they are attempting to say that on their list of do's and don'ts they were not as narrow as most other churches. It was ambiguous as to why, more of a declaration of identity than a well thought out stand. There is some apologetic of the practice of watching MTV and R rated movies that says that it helps when discussing and thinking about issues.

An emphasis on identity of the speaker or writer is mentioned over and over again. In fact, much of the success of the movement may be more because of the issue of identity more than any other. In other words, the movement is tailoring to the style and preferences of the postmodern generation. While any of these issues might be something that members of the movement might disagree about, they are in fact things advocated repeatedly by people at the core of the movement. The focus on demographics and marketing are, strangely enough, disciplines developed by modernist. However, of course companies like Zondervan[7] are tailoring their emergent product line to a generation who are sick of such marketing techniques.


The Emerging Church is a mixed bag of refreshing stories of transformation by God and stories of disenfranchisement by a whole lot of people in the church. There are stories of the Spirit and stories of the flesh. Their dissatisfaction is to be embraced when it is in line with the saying of the reformation: “Always Reforming”. When they have rightly identified one-dimensional messages and seek to transcend them, their message should be applauded. Many are simply looking for respect and love. Sloppy thinking and sloppy messages require a kind hand of accountability. Terms like “new kind of Christian” and Emerging Church will only divide the movement from other parts of the church. Getting too wrapped up in issues of style could crash the positive aspects of the movement. The theological leanings are diverse, but the segment of the movement that embraces postmodern philosophy non-critically will probably cause that part of the movement to error into full-fledged heresy by undermining the doctrines of revelation and inerrancy. The response of the American church should be to not engage the movement as a whole but engage the issues raised by the movement one at a time. To black list the movement as a cult, and it is not, would be destructive because it would over summarize the issues. It would group those walking in error with those who are not. Older brothers and sisters in the faith should be willing the engage the movement. The best possible future is that this movement matures theologically. It would be a future that affirms their dissatisfaction with proof texting and teach glib Bible lessons. That future would be to see the movement learn to exegete the Word with competence.


Colson, Chuck “Chuck Colson's Response” A New Kind Of Christian. July 2004. .

Open Source Theology. June 2004. .

McLaren, Brian. “An Open Letter to Chuck Colson” A New Kind Of Chirstian. July

2004. .

Toffler, Alvin and Heidi. Future Shock. Bantam Books; Reissue edition - September 1, 1984.

---. Power Shift. Bantam Books; Reprint edition -1991.

The Ooze: Conversation For The Journey. June 2004. .

Vintage Faith. June 2004 .

Wayne, David. “Don't have a heart attack but I'm going to say something nice about

Postmodernism?” The Jollyblogger. July 2004 .
---. “A Few More Thoughts on Postmodernism” The Jollyblogger. July 2004 .
---. “Interacting with Postmodernism” The Jollyblogger. July 2004 .

Wikipedia Project. “Metanarrative.” Wikipedia Encyclopedia. July 2004.


---. “Emerging Church.” Wikipedia Encyclopedia. July 2004.


Yaconelli, Mike. general ed. Stories of Emergence: Moving From Absolute To

Authentic. El Cajon, CA: EmergentYS Books, 2003.

[1]Page 44, Yaconelli, Mike. general ed. Stories of Emergence: Moving From Absolute To

Authentic. El Cajon, CA: EmergentYS Books, 2003.

[2]Page 46 Yaconelli, Mike. general ed. Stories of Emergence: Moving From Absolute To

Authentic. El Cajon, CA: EmergentYS Books, 2003.

[3]page 46 Yaconelli, Mike General ed. Stories of Emergence: Moving From Absolute To Authentic. El Cajon, CA: 2003. Emgergent

[4]Page 77 Yaconelli, Mike. general ed. Stories of Emergence: Moving From Absolute To

Authentic. El Cajon, CA: EmergentYS Books, 2003.

[5] Colson, Chuck. “Chuck Colson's Response” A New Kind Of Christian. July 2004. .

[6] Open Source Theology. July 2004. .

[7]Wayne, David. “Interacting with Postmodernism” The Jollyblogger. July 2004. .

Copywrite by Terry L. Pruitt September 10, 2004

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

The Christian Canon Was Authoritative From Its Inception By Terry L. Pruitt

This is a reposting from my website which is going the way of all flesh.

The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown is the main source of information for many in this post-modern generation regarding how the Bible developed. One of it's themes is that those who held power in the church choose the books of the Bible to support their power base. Browns charge against the church, though couched in a work of fiction, is serious. The Bible itself gives strong warnings against such power plays.1 Deuteronomy 4:2 says, "You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you." And the book of Revelation "I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book," calls for faithfulness to the book. (Rev 22:18) The list of the books that rightly belong in the Bible is called the canon.2 The canon is not strictly a human product, but God created the canon by his work of inspiration in the biblical writers and the church merely recognized the intrinsic authority of the Bible.

The church received scriptures from the Children of Israel. The early church had to decide whether to recognize the Old Testament (OT). The Apocrypha is Old Testament books which were a part of the fourth century Septuagint and were later officially recognized as a part of the Roman Catholic Bible.3 However, the early church father Jerome who translated the Apocrypha into Latin did not recognize it as scripture. Additionally, the New Testament never quotes from the Apocrypha.4 The earliest list of books to form the OT was given by the Bishop of Sardis, Melito, in A.D. 170.5 Melito's list is what is found in today's Protestant Bibles. Generally, the OT was handed down to the church from the Children of Israel's Hebrew Bible.

The early church did not have a entire body of work presented to it in recognizing the New Testament (NT) canon. It was not until the fourth century that Athanasius wrote a list that contains the NT books of the canon essentially as we see them today.6 While Athanasius listed the books of the canon and helped develop use of the word canon, he did not set the canon.7 The present canon was approved by the third Synod of Carthage in A.D. 397, but again, these men in and of themselves did not set the the canon. There was no authoritative leader nor body of leaders who set the canon. While we could say the canon was established by God, in practical terms the mechanism He used was the use of the writings of scripture by the community of faith. As the early church used the scriptures in public worship, they were recognized as scripture.8 As NT scriptures were authoritatively quoted by the early church leaders, they were taken to be authoritative by the community of faith. Did the early church come to recognize the writings of scripture gradually over time or did the church quickly recognize the nature of the writings from their inception?9 Scholars such as Gamble would not only assume an evolutionary development of the text but also assume a gradual recognition of the text as authoritative. The text would be written for an occasion and gradually the occasional nature of the text would give way to an authoritative inclusion of the text into the canon.10 Without a doubt, the present form of the NT was not seen at the inception of the church and did take time to form. However, the authority of NT scriptures were recognized even during the time they were being written. 2 Peter 3:15 mentions Paul's writings as being "as other scripture". 1 Timothy 5:18 makes two quotes of scripture. One being an OT passage but the other "The laborer deserves his wages" can not be found in the OT. It seems reasonable that Paul is quoting Luke 10:7 since it is word for word the same and he declares it to be scripture.11 The early church fathers quoted and alluded to the NT. Clement, Bishop of Rome in A.D. 95, made use of probably seven of our NT books in his writings. Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, who was martyred before A.D. 117, quoted or alluded to six books of our NT. Polycarp, the famous aged martyr, makes use of the language of fifteen of the NT books.12 During the time of the Greek Apologiests, A.D. 120-170, writers such as Irenaeus, Papias, and Justin used authoritatively the books from the NT.13

The writers of the NT scripture, the early church Fathers and the Greek Apologists all recognized the inherent authority of OT and the NT. The prophetic and apostolic authority was not difficult to spot given that some knew the apostles and some had even heard them preach.
End Notes

1 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Granc Rapids, MI: Zondervan 1994, 54,55.

2 Ibid., 54.

3 John Ankerburg and John Weldon, The Apocrypha and the Biblical Canon Part III. Cited 28 September 2005. Online:

4 Grudem, Systematic Theology, 57.

5 Ibid., 58.

6 R. Laird Harris, Inspiration and Canonicity of the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan 1957, 201.

7 Alexander Souter, The Text and Canon of the New Testament. London, England: Duckworth 1912, 155.

8 Ibid., 158.

9 Harris, Inspiration, 209-210.

10 Harry Y. Gamble, The New Testament Canon: Its Making and Meaning. Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press 1985, 12.

11 Grudem, Systematic Theology, 61.

12 Harris, Inspiration, 203.

13 Ibid., 210-214.
Copywrite 2005 by Terry L. Pruitt Prune Pitts Communications

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Commentary on 2 Timothy 2:11-13 By Terry L. Pruitt

This is a repost to my blog of content from my website. My website is being decommissioned. I will be putting several pages here in the next few days to preserve them as the Geocities pages get nixed.

“This is a faithful saying,
If we have died with Him, we will live with Him,
If we endure, we will reign with Him,
If we disown Him, then He will also disown us,
If we are faithless, then He remains faithful.
For He is not able to deny himself.” --Terry's Own Translation

Paul is writing his young disciple Timothy to encourage him in his ministry and walk with the Lord. As he does, he encourages Timothy to remain faithful to the Lord during trials. Paul gives Timothy several examples which he is to follow in the first half of 2 Timothy chapter two. He first tells Timothy to emulate Paul's ministry by passing on to other faithful men the doctrines Timothy learned from Paul. Timothy is then to emulate a soldier who is able to suffer. The example of the soldier also shows how Timothy is to stay free from the entanglements of this world. The next example is that of an athlete. The athlete is an example of one who competes and wins the prize according to the rules. Then the farmer is an example of who who works hard and reaps the benefits. Paul then transitions to his own example of how he himself is suffering for Christ by being bound in chains like a criminal. Paul's suffering is not without cause. He is suffering so that the elect can obtain salvation in Jesus Christ. Knowing how to suffer is best taught by seeing an example rather than expounding a theory. Paul has given ample examples when we reach verses 11-13 of 2 Timothy chapter two. Paul now transitions to a hymn or Hebraic poem.1 Poetry often touches the emotions in a way that prose can not. There is some question as to whether Paul wrote this hymn or whether he is quoting a hymn known by the churches to whom Paul ministered. Some believe this hymn is a quote from a larger poetic work.2 Though the literary style may suggest that it is a piece of a larger work, however, there is no record of this so-called larger work in any textual evidence, and therefore must be regarded as mere conjecture until such a work can be found. This hymn may or may not be complete in the form recorded by Paul. The poem we have in our Bible though is not lacking in theological content, nor lacking in warning to those who disown the Lord, nor is it lacking in encouragement in the rewards for those who remain faithful to the Lord during suffering.

"A Faithful Saying Is This” 2 Timothy 2:11a

The phrase “This is a faithful saying” is somewhat debated as to whether it refers to the content of 2 Timothy 2 verse 8, verse 10, or to verses 11-13. The most natural way of interpretation is to apply this phrase to verses 11-13 since it is more of a saying.3 A hymn or poem is more naturally referred to as a 'saying' rather than the examples of Christ or Paul his follower.

In this introduction to the hymn it is also appropriate to talk about the usage of the word 'gar'. This is a postpositive which means 'for' but is placed one word after where it would normally in English. This usage of the word 'for' gives reference to something preceding it normally. Fee contends that the usage of the word gar shows the antecedent to which it refers is verses 1-10 and that verses 11-13 summarizes the teaching from the first part of the chapter.4 Guthrie contends that the gar refers to the other parts of the hymn Paul did not quote.5 Many common songs, proverbs and sayings need not be quoted in full to gain the full impact of the cultural dialog that accompanies their usage. One need only quote the first line of “The Star Spangled Banner” to get Americans to swell with national pride. It is possible that Paul and Timothy's cultural context would have given a fuller meaning to the hymn which Paul has included in this letter. However, we do not know if there is more to this hymn. It is entirely possible that Paul composed these couplets for this letter alone. Again this is based on style and structure but is mere conjecture. The most natural way to interpret the usage of the word gar is that it refers to its immediate antecedent. Therefore the best interpretation of the word ' gar' is that it shows that the couplets in this hymn summarize the teachings Paul expounded earlier in this chapter. Which of course is easily supported by the fact that the examples of the soldier enduring hardship, the athlete competing with discipline, the hardworking farmer, and Paul suffering in prison all show one who suffers willingly as a part of his calling. The hymn expounds how Timothy and those he is to disciple should suffering for Christ and endure hardship.

“If we have died with Him, we will live with Him” 2 Timothy 2:11b

This stanza of the hymn is parallel to Romans 6:8 where Paul again says “Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.” (ESV)6 The wording in the two passages is not exactly the same in the original Greek, but close. The passage in Romans 6 discusses the spiritual baptism of the believer. The believer is united with Christ in both His death and His resurrection. While some associate the baptism in Romans 6 with water baptism, this baptism is not a mere ceremony that points to Christ's death and resurrection, but one that unites the believer with the power of the resurrected Lord. The old nature is crucified in this baptism. Therefore the baptism of Romans 6 is spiritual baptism. However those who see the baptism of Romans 6 would unit the two passages differently. To them, due to the parallelism of 2 Timothy 2:11b with Romans 6:8 some would say that this hymn is a baptismal hymn suggesting that the hymn was used during baptism ceremonies. While there is a definite connection between the ideas and language of the two passages, there is no evidence that this passage has a special ceremonial usage. Again this is the work of conjecture that should be avoided lest one add to the meaning of Scripture. However, both passages point to how the Christian is united with the death of Christ. This is done at one's spiritual baptism when the Holy Spirit cleanses one's heart because of the work of Christ on the cross.

Fee sees that the death is not merely pointing to the believer's union with Christ in his death because of our spiritual baptism, but that there is a larger allusion to possibility of that the believer may be martyred.7 The believer is not merely pointed to his union with Christ, but how he may join Christ in being killed by the enemies of Christ. The believer is not merely thinking of dying with Christ metaphorically but is led to think about the possibility of dying for the Savior and then being resurrected with him. Again this is not a metaphorical resurrection but the future glory of living in eternity with Christ. This refers to the believer's eternal dwelling with Christ. Calvin cross references this phrase with Romans 8:29 where Paul says “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (ESV). Calvin not only connects the conforming into the image spiritually but also sees that the believer might suffer persecution or martyrdom graciously in the same way that Christ did.8

Being united with Christ's death happens at conversion. The verb used to express 'dying with Him' is aorist which is used to either show simple action or past, completed action. In this case it shows past completed action. While there is a suggestion that we may die physically for Christ in a literal fashion, this merely points to Christ's greater sacrificial act of giving His innocent life for our guilty life. While we may be honored to die for the Savior, His action is complete. We now are living the beginning of the resurrected life as we live by faith. The verb expressing that 'we will live with Him' is in the future tense. There will be a greater fulfillment in glory but we begin that life as soon as we receive Christ by faith.9

“If we endure, we will reign with Him” 2 Timothy 2:12a

This second stanza of the hymn is a parallel passage to Mark 13:13 where Jesus says, “And you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” (ESV)10 In this passage Jesus talks about how the believers is to be on his guard because he will be persecuted by the counsels, those in the synagogue, the government officials, and even family members will persecute one. This passage points to an eschatological glory that the believer will have especially if he endures the persecution. Another related passage is Romans 12:12 where Paul says “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.”11 The context of this passage is one of the believer living in accordance with virtue.

Paul uses the word 'endure' in verse 10 and here in verse 12. In verse 10 Paul refers to his own enduring for the sake that the elect will know the eternal salvation. The idea here is not that the person would just endure persecution but that he would be like Christ. The believer would be like Christ by suffering like Christ. As he shares in the same suffering, persecution and martyrdom, then the believer would share in the future eschatological glory. The first stanza is about conversion, but now this second stanza is about ruling in a royal fashion with Christ in His heavenly kingdom.

“If we disown Him, then He will also disown us” 2 Timothy 2:12b

This third stanza gives a warning to the original recipients, Timothy and those whom he teaches. They dare not apply this passage in some theoretical way to others. It is meant to warn in the same fashion that stanza two was meant to comfort. Both stanzas give reason to endure and not deny the Lord.

The question arises if this applied to Timothy and others in the New Testament church, does this mean that the believer can fall away from Christ? Does this mean that one can loose his or her salvation?12 The temptation when we come to a passage that seems to disprove a doctrine we hold to, is to make passage say something other than what it appears to say for the sake of preserving our doctrine. The other extreme is that we allow opposing ideas be drawn from the Scripture with no attempt to reconcile the teachings, thus making the Scripture appear to be without coherence in its doctrines. We must resist the temptation to run too quick to a solution and the temptation to ignore passages that need to be reconciled. In this passage we error if we try to make the warning of stanza three not apply to Timothy and therefore to you and I. We also error if we allow our interpretation of the the third stanza to create a new way of salvation. If we strictly interpret the third stanza of this hymn to be that we must endure in order to be saved, then we say that to be saved we must endure persecution and possibly martyrdom. Salvation is by grace through faith alone. (Ephesians 2:8)

Hughes attempts to first reconcile the passage with the doctrine of the eternal security of the believer by saying that there are different levels of denying the Lord. There is the level that Peter denied the Lord and later was forgiven and restored. Then there is the level of full blown apostasy. Of course every time we sin, whether it is a sin of commission or a sin of omission we deny the Lord at a certain level. We do not normally think that every time that we commit a sin that we have caused our Lord to eternally to deny us. Though each sin should be taken seriously, our normal daily sins and Peter's sin of denying the Lord during his trial does not and did not cause the Lord to deny them. Hughes explains that the act for which the Lord will deny us is full blown apostasy 1) because Christ denies those who do it, 2) because of the close similarity with Jesus' saying, and 3) because the fourth stanza refers to temporary unfaithfulness.13 While I hold to the doctrine of the eternal security of the believer, the first and second reason stated are merely proving what one postulates. The assumption that there is eternal security for the believer does not prove it. Jesus teaches in Matthew 10:22 by says “you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. (ESV) This comes in the context of Jesus telling his disciples that they would be persecuted in the synagogue, by the government, and even by their own family. There is parallel ideas and phrasing here between Matthew 10:22 and this third stanza of the hymn. But the Matthew 10:22 passage does not explicitly teach the eternal security of the believer. It is best to go to other passages. Philippians 1:6 tells us that God is the one who keeps us until the end. 2 Peter 1:10 tells us make our election and calling sure, and then we know that we can not be plucked out of God's hand.

The classic Reformed position is to explain this doctrine by saying that there are some who go through all the right motions and say all the right words that would indicate that they have saving faith in Christ. However, they have never truly received Christ by faith. While they have been in Church and around church, they have not experienced the transforming work of the Spirit. These who have a profession of faith lack the transforming work of grace, and when persecution and trials come, they do not stick with it. Those who would fall away from the faith and not return are those who never possessed the saving faith in the first place. None of us infallibly knows the heart of man so we cannot assume to know whether someone is has saving faith in an absolute sense. We can only discern whether a person claims to have faith in the Savior and whether their doctrine conforms with that of Scripture. In looking at our own lives each person must judge whether he or she has faith. When we sin grievously against the Lord, we must ask ourselves in self-examination is this because we have not trusted in the Savior? If we have sinned we should take it seriously. We should seriously ask ourselves if we have saving faith and turn to the mercy of the Lord. At the same time, we must not doubt God's forgiveness and mercy when we sin. Nor should we see salvation as being earned by remaining faithful to the Lord till the end. But if someone who feels himself to be a believer sees that he is in sin, such as the apostasy mentioned in this third stanza of disowning the Lord, he should examine himself to see if he truly has faith. He should fall on the mercy of the Lord and seek the grace of God given freely to all who believe. This is the classic Reformed position on Scriptures that urge the Christian to examine whether they have saving faith.14 It is also the classic Reformed position that all who are saved will never fully and finally fall away, God will keep them until the end. This reconciles words of warning such as this third stanza with other Scripture that teach the eternal security of the believer.

In the first two stanzas of the hymn, the apodosis is what 'we' shall have happen to us. In this third stanza the shift is away from 'we' to what 'he' will do. In a literary sense, this helps draw attention and emphasis to the new message of the third stanza. The point of the Lord's denying those who deny him is emphatic.15 Calvin also points out the threat is real. He asks why we would embrace the temporal and be unfaithful to the eternal? Calvin does not accept the excuse that one failed in a moment of weakness.16 In Calvin's days persecution of believers was a reality with the result being death. It may be difficult for those in post-modern America to see this Scripture with same eyes as Calvin. However, we are not guaranteed that our present peace and prosperity will continue.

“If we are faithless, then He remains faithful, For He is not able to deny himself.” 2 Timothy 2:13a

Clearly Paul means to give hope in the fourth line. Our faithlessness is contrasted with the faithfulness of God. This contrast of the fourth stanza's judgment of God with the third stanza brings the reader back to the mercy and grace of God. Both stanzas remain true.

Fee points out three ways to interpret this fourth stanza. The first is God will remain faithful to his own character and met out judgment on those who are faithless. This would be the opposite of how God's faithfulness is used in the New Testament. The common New Testament teaching is that God's faithfulness is meant to comfort. There two ways to interpret the fourth stanza while holding that God's faithfulness is meant as a comfort rather than a warning. The first is that if we have a minor turning away from the Lord, God will not judge us but show mercy. This idea is consistent with the teaching that a believer cannot fully and finally fall away from the Lord. Another way of interpreting this is that God is faithful to body of believers who remain faithful to the Lord. It is discouraging to those who see fellow believers turn from the Lord, sometimes even leaders turn from the Lord. In the end the believer's final trust must be in the Lord who is always faithful and not fallible man. To summarize the two ideas, one is that God's grace will override our unfaithfulness and the other is that God's eschatological salvation will not be diminished by some people's unfaithfulness.17

Paul argues the reason for God remaining faithful is that he is consistent with his own character, “he cannot disown himself”. Remaining faithful because of himself could apply to the concept that God is merciful despite the failings of the believer. God remaining faithful also could mean that he is faithful to his people even during persecution and martyrdom. Both are consistent with the nature of God. Because both are logically possible by looking at the character of God, we must further examine the context of the passage to decide which is true. in the first half of the chapter, all examples Paul uses to explain the faithfulness ability to endure hardship. The emphasis is for the audience to remain faithful. In the second half of the chapter after this hymn, those who are shown to be lacking are those who fail to keep pure doctrine or those filled with strife. It appears Paul has not pointed to anyone who has disowned the Savior, but merely pointed to the idea that his audience should not. To say that those who are faithless are those fellow believers who have disowned the Lord is introduce a new concept and the reference would be some what obscure. Though the strength of this position is that it has less overall logical tension, introducing a new party to the discussion and then never mentioning them again would only serve to confuse. Therefore, Paul is probably saying that when the believer has failings God will remain faithful.


The 21st Century church in America does not normally face significant persecution. Any negative actions toward believers is usually not violent or life threatening. It is still true that the believer has died with Christ and will live with Him. The eschatological hope should not be diminished because of our current state of peace and prosperity. The current postmodern despair appears to be the fruit of prosperity rather than a satisfaction with our current lifestyle and state of affairs. In order to gain a sense of mean and purpose from life, we should suffer patiently for the Savior as we have opportunity. This may mean denying ourselves by giving more than is comfortable for our budget. It also might mean giving more of our time than is comfortable for us. We may suffer by taking responsibility for those who who are weak and helpless. Dying to self and selfishness is not beyond the 21st Century Christian.

While we do not suffer persecution in America, we do suffer being misunderstood and being ostracized. We must not assume that our current low level persecution will continue. It could be that we will be called to suffer in a greater way. As we respond to these light and insignificant trials, we must be prepared for more suffering than we must now endure. As we are faithful in small things, we will be prepared for greater suffering. Additionally, some may be called to go to distant lands where persecution means physical pain or death. Our decision making process as to how we should serve the Lord should not be limited by merely where the mission field is safe.


This hymn re-enforces and summarizes Paul's message that Timothy and his flock should remain faithful to the Lord while suffering. The passage could cause us to give a second examination of the doctrine of eternal security of the believer, however, it should give us cause to examine our own heart and see if we have true and enduring faith. We should see our light sufferings as a chance to endure for our Lord.

Copyright 2006 by Terry L. Pruitt


John Calvin, Translated by William Pringle, Commentaries on the Epistles to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon, (Grand Rapids, MI, Baker Book House, Reprint 1974).

Earle, Ralph, Frank E. Gaebelein General Editor, The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Volume 11 (Grand Rapids, MI, Zondervan Publishing House, 1978).

Gordon D. Fee New International Biblical Commentary 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus (Peabody, MA, Hendrickson Publishers, 1984).

Guthrie, Donald, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries Revised Edition The Pastoral Epistles, (Grand Rapids, MI, Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990) p. 156

Hughes, Kent and Chapell, Brian, Preaching the Word: 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus: To Guard The Deposit (Wheaton, IL, Crossway Books, 2000).

Westminster Confession of Faith, The, Chapter XVII, (Atlanta, GA, Committee for Christian Education and Publications of the PCA, Reprint 1990).


1Ralph Earle, Frank E. Gaebelein General Editor, The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Volume 11 (Grand Rapids, MI, Zondervan Publishing House, 1978) p 400.

2Donald Guthrie, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries Revised Edition The Pastoral Epistles, (Grand Rapids, MI, Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990) p. 156

3Gordon D. Fee New International Biblical Commentary 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus (Peabody, MA, Hendrickson Publishers, 1984) P. 248-249.

4Ibid. p. 248.

5Guthrie, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, p. 157.

6Guthrie, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, p. 157.

7Fee, New International Biblical Commentary, p. 249.

8John Calvin, Translated by William Pringle, Commentaries on the Epistles to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon, (Grand Rapids, MI, Baker Book House, Reprint 1974) p. 217-218.

9Kent Hughes and Bryan Chapell, Preaching the Word: 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus: To Guard The Deposit (Wheaton, IL, Crossway Books, 2000) p. 205-206.

10Fee, New International Biblical Commentary, p. 250.

11Ibid., p. 250.

12Just to note, I hold to the doctrine of the eternal security of the believer.

13Hughes, To Guard The Deposit, p. 205.

14The Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter XVII, Committee for Christian Education and Publications of the PCA, Atlanta, GA, Reprint 1990, p. 54-56.

15Fee, New International Biblical Commentary, p. 250.

16Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistles to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon, p. 219.

17Fee, New International Biblical Commentary, p. 251.