Theology Must be “Pray-Able and Preach-Able” to Build Faith

Theological studies can be hazardous as students are exposed to critical ideas that question the integrity of the Bible. Students who choose to study in secular universities are advised to fortify their understanding of faith since their faith will be challenged by some secular university professors. However, it can be alarming when students studying in Christian colleges find out that some of the lecturers who profess evangelicalism and talk about their church experience cast doubts about the total reliability of Scripture. In this case, it is not the secular professors but the ‘Christian’ professors who surreptitiously undermine the students’ belief in the inerrancy and infallible authority of the Bible.

Parents may be heartened when they listen to Kevin DeYoung as he shares in the Panel on Inerrancy: Q & A on how he managed to remain steadfast in believing in the authority of the Bible. What gave him pause and prevented him from being led astray by “paycheck inerrantist” (professors who sign the college doctrinal statement that affirms the infallible authority of Scripture in order to safeguard their jobs, but who in reality believe otherwise) was the faith inherited from his parents and the realization that what was taught in college deviates from the pristine faith learned through biblical-based pulpit preaching and that “this isn’t what my parents would believe.” (28 min)

If I may share something personal – When I went to seminary in 1984, I was determined never lose the “innocent but authentic faith” which I learned from inductive bible study and expository preaching in my Christian youth, regardless of all the sophisticated knowledge which I hoped to learn in due course. Whatever learning and theology I adopt must satisfy the criteria of preach-ability and pray-ability, as only such theology can build the faith of God’s people. Continue reading “Theology Must be “Pray-Able and Preach-Able” to Build Faith”

Liberal Transformers vs Evangelical Translators of Theology

It is possible to conclude from the last paragraph of my previous post, “Seven Characteristics of Liberal Theology,” that I am suggesting that evangelical Christianity has no interest in becoming relevant to contemporary society. This misunderstanding should be set aside as evangelicals seek to present a Gospel that is not only relevant to society, but also faithful to Biblical revelation.

Historically, liberal theologians ended up transforming or rather trans-mutating the Gospel to accommodate its teaching to the sensibilities of society and culture. In contrast, evangelical theologians engaged in translating the unchanging revealed truths of the Bible as they present a Gospel which confronts society and culture. In short, the issue between liberal and evangelical theology is whether the truth of Christian revelation has been preserved or transformed in the process of making Christianity relevant to modern society.

Millard Erickson gives a helpful contrast between evangelical translation of the Gospel and liberal transformation of the Gospel: Continue reading “Liberal Transformers vs Evangelical Translators of Theology”

Seven Characteristics of Liberal Theology

Some of my readers wonder what I have in mind when I refer to liberal theology in my discussions. It is indeed challenging, if not problematic when we try to define a ‘movement’ that does not accept authority (including biblical authority), rejects defining creeds and doctrine and displays an amorphous social mission. As Gary Dorrien aptly explains in his authoritative 3-volume work, The Making of American Liberal Theology (Westminster Press, 2001-2006),

The essential idea of liberal theology is that all claims to truth, in theology as in other disciplines, must be made on the basis of reason and experience, not by appeal to external authority. Christian scripture may be recognized as spiritually authoritative within Christian experience, but its word does not settle or establish truth claims about matters of fact. [vol.2. p.1]

Daniel Day Williams offers a classic definition of liberal theology,

By ‘liberal theology’ I mean the movement in modern Protestantism which during the nineteenth century tried to bring Christian thought into organic unity with evolutionary world view, the movements for social reconstruction, and the expectations of ‘a better world’ which dominated the general mind. It is that form of Christian faith in which a prophetic-progressive philosophy of history culminates in the expectation of the coming of the Kingdom of God on earth. [ Gary Dorrien, vol.1, xix.]

This definition anticipates that liberal theology evolves with its evolutionary worldview.  Gary Dorrien complements Williams’ definition as he captures the intellectual presuppositions that drives the evolving agenda of liberal theology: Continue reading “Seven Characteristics of Liberal Theology”

A Reforming Catholic Confession: Continuing the Reformation to Attain Unity of the catholic (universal) Church

I. The Reforming Catholic Confession (RCC) in Context
One criticism of the Protestant Reformation that is often raised is that it splintered the universal church in the 16th century. The sectarian spirit of the Reformation not only undermines ecclesiastical authority; it also engenders a rebellious spirit resulting in radical individualism and secularization of of modern society. The proliferation of Protestant denominations only confirms the perception that the Reformation is a tragedy to Christianity.

It is therefore appropriate that recently, more than 250 Protestant leaders and theologians published “A Reforming Catholic Confession (RCC) –A “Mere Protestant” Statement of Faith to mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.”

The RCC begins by setting the diversity of Protestant denominations in proper perspective.

Not every denominational or doctrinal difference is a division, certainly not an insurmountable one. We dare hope that the unity to which the Reformers aspired may be increasingly realized as today’s “mere” Protestants, like Richard Baxter’s and C. S. Lewis’s “mere Christians,” joyfully join together to bear united witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ and to its length, depth, breadth, and width – in a word, its catholicity

The RCC lays out a set of eleven carefully and precisely formulated doctrinal statements [D] under the following headings: Triune God, Holy Scripture, Human Beings, Fallenness, Jesus Christ, The Atoning Work of Christ, The Gospel, The Person and Work of the Holy Spirit, Baptism and Lord’s Supper, Holy Living and Last Things. This is accompanied by an explanatory document, Explanation. A Historical and Theological Perspective: Why we say what we say

I shall give only a few abridged statements of the RCC as a sample to provide a sense of its precise formulation accompanied by an irenic spirit. Continue reading “A Reforming Catholic Confession: Continuing the Reformation to Attain Unity of the catholic (universal) Church”

No Exegesis Without Theology; No Theology Without Exegesis

Students entering the seminary are often told that systematic theology should be rooted in biblical theology, and biblical theology in turn is grounded in biblical exegesis of Scripture. After all, Scripture is the source of Christian theology. It is suggested that the biblical interpretation and the theological enterprise follow three separate and distinct phases:

1) Exegesis: Linguistic analysis of the biblical texts, using Greek and Hebrew lexical tools to arrive at a reasonable and coherent meaning of a biblical passage in its original context.
2) Biblical theology: “Sets forth the message of the books of the Bible in their historical setting…expounding the theology found in the Bible in its own historical setting, and its own terms, categories, and thought forms. Biblical theology is primarily a descriptive discipline.” Donald Hagner in George E. Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament, revised ed. (Eerdmans, 1993), p. 20.
3) Systematic theology: Organizes and synthesizes key ideas of the bible in their logical relations in dialogue with philosophy and Christian theological tradition.

John Murray wrote that ‘Systematic theology will fail of its task to the extent to which it discards its rootage in biblical theology as properly conceived and developed.’ [Collected Writings, vol.4, (Banner of Truth, 1982), p. 19]. It may be concluded that the systematic theologian relies on the spadework done by biblical scholars in the exegetical vineyard. Continue reading “No Exegesis Without Theology; No Theology Without Exegesis”

Inerrancy of the Bible: Defined and Defended. Part 2

Related Post: Inerrancy of the Bible: Defined and Defended. Part 1

II. Inerrancy was Affirmed Throughout Church History
Michael Bird refers to a recent historical thesis advocated by Jack Rogers and Donald McKim who assert that inerrancy is a recent a recent development which emerged from conservatives when they reacted defensively to the challenge of the Enlightenment. However, the truth is that the doctrine of inerrancy is not recent phenomenon as it has been affirmed throughout church history. The careful documentation and thorough study by John D. Woodbridge, Biblical Authority: A Critique of the Rogers/McKim Proposal (Zondervan 1982) demonstrates conclusively that Rogers and McKim’s historical thesis is flawed as it is based on skewed handling of historical sources. Woodbridge confirms that while inerrancy was not a major feature in the development of doctrines, nevertheless the Church has always affirmed inerrancy as a matter of fact. Continue reading “Inerrancy of the Bible: Defined and Defended. Part 2”

Inerrancy of the Bible: Defined and Defended. Part 1

I. Clarification of Terms

E.J. Young provides a precise definition for each of the terms “inerrancy” and “infallibility” of the Bible:

Infallible: “By the term infallible as applied to the Bible, we mean simply that the Scripture possesses an indefectible authority. As our Lord himself said “it cannot be broken” (John 10:35). It can never fail in its judgments and statements. All that it teaches is of unimpeachable, absolute authority, and cannot be contravened, contradicted, or gainsaid. Scripture is unfailing, incapable of proving false, erroneous, or mistaken.”
Inerrant: “By this word [Inerrant] we mean that the Scriptures possess the quality of freedom from error. They are exempt from the liability to mistake, incapable of error. In all their teachings they are in perfect accord with the truth.” [E.J. Young, Thy Word Is Truth (Eerdmans, 1957), p. 113]

For our purpose, we shall use Paul Feinberg’s celebrated definition of ‘inerrancy’:  “Inerrancy means that when all facts are known, the Scriptures in their original autographs and properly interpreted will be shown to be wholly true in everything that they affirm, whether that has to do with doctrine or morality or with the social, physical, or life sciences.” Paul Feinberg, “The Meaning of Inerrancy” in Inerrancy, ed. Norman Geisler (Grand Rapids: Zondervan 1979), 294.

However,  some Western theologians who no longer believe that the Bible is inerrant  prefer to describe the Bible as “infallible”. In the process, they use the word “infallibility” as a short-hand for “limited inerrancy”, that is, the view that the Bible contains historical and scientific errors while remaining infallible in matters of faith and salvation. Unfortunately, this redefinition is a departure from classical theological discourse when the word ‘inerrancy’ meant the Bible does not err, and “infallibility” meant the Bible cannot err.

In contrast, Article XI of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (CSBI) emphasizes: “We affirm that Scripture, having been given by divine inspiration, is infallible, so that, far from misleading us, it is true and reliable in all the matters it addresses. We deny that it is possible for the Bible to be at the same time infallible and errant in its assertions. Infallibility and inerrancy may be distinguished, but not separated.” The two terms ‘infallible’ and ‘inerrant’ are, in context, inextricable. In short, inerrancy and infallibility affirm that the whole of Scripture is true and not only parts of it. Finally, the focus of inerrancy is not limited to issues of factual accuracy in Scripture. It is primarily concerned about the authority of Scripture. Thus, CSBI begins in Article 1, “We affirm that the Holy Scriptures are to be received as the authoritative Word of God.” Continue reading “Inerrancy of the Bible: Defined and Defended. Part 1”

Ten Theses of The Theological Interpretation of Scripture

An adequate understanding of Scripture is attained only when exegesis of the biblical text (assisted by believing historical criticism) is unified with theological interpretation of Scripture. How then do we overcome the unfortunate dichotomy between exegesis (assisted by believing historical criticism) with theological interpretation of Scripture (TIS)?

Perhaps the most succinct proposal is given by Kevin Vanhoozer in his “TEN THESES OF THE THEOLOGICAL INTERPRETATION OF SCRIPTURE.”

A preliminary definition of theological interpretation of Scripture is given by D. Christopher Sprinks as “those readings of biblical texts that consciously seek to do justice to the perceived theological nature of the texts and embrace the influence of theology (corporate and personal; past and present) upon the interpreter’s enquiry, context, and method.”

D.A. Carson helpfully outlines the salient features and goals of the Theological Interpretation of Scripture (TIS): Continue reading “Ten Theses of The Theological Interpretation of Scripture”

Historical Criticism and Textual Interpretation – Part 3/3.

Part 3: Biblical History & Textual Interpretation

Related Posts:

Part 1/3: Contested Foundations of Archaeology

Part 2/3: Archaeological Evidence – A Reality Check

God’s verbal revelation to Israel is inscribed in written texts. The inspired authors of scripture crafted the revealed words into whole texts and into differing literary forms, such as narrative, wisdom literature, poetry and prophetic proclamation. Narratives comprise a significant portion of the inspired texts. These narratives depict a literary constructed world (textual world) which is meaningfully related to the real world. That is to say, the literary constructed world necessarily conforms to the requirements of the real world in order to present a world that bears semblance to empirical reality or life as we experience. This may be represented diagrammatically in figure 1

Sailhamer Interpretation Fig1

 

As a reader reads a historical narrative he is ‘drawn’ into the world of the text, but the text also makes an “ostensive reference” to the real world behind the text which may also be accessed by the reader by other means, e.g. archaeology, relevant historical texts etc. But the two worlds (the world of the text and the background real world) must not be confused or identified. Continue reading “Historical Criticism and Textual Interpretation – Part 3/3.”

Zakir Naik and the Inerrant Bible

The controversy arising from Zakir Naik’s visit to Malaysia reminds Christians that it is crucial to uphold the inerrancy of the Bible. First, it is well known that Zakir Naik and other Islamic dakwa-gandists unceasingly attack the Bible as a corrupt text. They further assert that the Bible cannot be the Word of God in the light of the alleged errors and contradictions found in it. It is self-defeating and futile for a Christian to try to witness to Muslim critics like Zakir Naik if he agrees that the Bible is corrupt.

Second, critics like Zakir Naik do not respect Christians who simply appeal to authority. They expect Christians to give a rational defence of the truth claims of the Bible. Naturally, they hold Christianity in derision when Christians concede that the Bible contains errors. Furthermore, it comes across that Christians are irreverent when they suggest that God does not always speak the truth. Such irreverence will not impress Muslims who are well known for their reverence for God. The only authority that Christians may rely on is the authority of the truth of the Bible. J.I. Packer explains, “Biblical veracity and biblical authority are bound up together. Only truth can have final authority to determine belief and behavior, and Scripture cannot have such authority further than it is true.” [J.I. Packer, Truth and Power (Eagle 1996), p119.] Continue reading “Zakir Naik and the Inerrant Bible”