But Is It Mine To Take?

7 September 2021

“In Christ,” Paul writes to the church at Colosse, “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”  Let’s scrape off the Sunday School language for a minute and ask what that means in the real world.  A “treasure” is something well worth having.  Biblically speaking, “wisdom” is skill — it can be skill at a trade, skill at interpersonal relationships, skill at anything.  “Knowledge” is understanding of facts, but biblically it also includes understanding and intimacy with the facts — grasping how they relate to one another.  So “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” means all the skills worth having and all the things worth knowing — and all of them are hidden in Christ.  Every last one.

So what are we to do when we find a pagan claiming that these particular treasures of wisdom and knowledge right here belong to his idols?

Refuse to believe him, of course.  But does that mean that the pagan really doesn’t have treasures of wisdom and knowledge, even though he thinks he does?  That will be the case sometimes,  but often enough he’s got the real thing, courtesy of common grace, and the devil is lying to him about where it came from.  After all, the Canaanites were not living in make-believe houses and harvesting pretend grapes to make imagined wine.  They had the real thing — all gifts from the loving hand of a gracious God, which the devil was only too happy to claim for his own, with the Canaanites’ complicity.

Faced with that situation, the task of God’s people is obvious enough — take those good things back, and return them to their lawful role in service to the Creator.  The devil is not Abraham, and he may not claim territory everywhere he leaves his cloven hoofprints.  It all belongs to Yahweh, every last bit, and we will be taking it back in Yahweh’s name.  This is as true in the New Covenant as it was under the Old: “The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ….”  

The earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness, and we look forward to a day when everybody knows it, and the knowledge of the glory of God covers the earth like water covers the sea.  This is God’s will, and while we wait to see it come to full fruition, we pray for little pieces of it to invade here and now — “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  

That’s the long view, the answer in principle.  However, just because the whole thing belongs to God does not mean we are fit to take it all back right this minute.  Abraham’s family wasn’t ready to inhabit the land during Abraham’s lifetime — hence the centuries-long delay.  Even at Kadesh Barnea, Israel wasn’t ready.  Still filled with fear, they believed the ten spies instead of Joshua and Caleb.  God told them that He would respect their wishes and give the land to their children instead, and then, predictably, they decided they would try to take it after all.  God warned them that He would not go with them, not now, but they tried anyway, and a bunch of them died in the attempt. 

When they finally went in with Joshua, even then God told them that He would drive out the peoples of the land gradually before them, lest the land be overgrown and overrun with wild beasts.  The conquest has its cataclysmic moments like the destruction of Jericho, but it is a process, and the process was always meant to be directed by divine guidance.  It’s God’s territory, and we have to retake it on His timetable, in His way.  

The question is not simply, “Is this God’s?”  The question is, “Is God giving this to me?”  “Is it mine to take?”

***

Prayer Exercise

  1. We all encounter enemy strongholds — in our own lives, in our communities, in the world we live in.  Where are some of the enemy strongholds that you encounter?
  2. God gives us His armor because He means for us to be active in warfare.  Is there a stronghold that God wants you to assault?  
  3. If God gives you a target, don’t assume He wants you to go charging up that hill immediately.  Ask how God wants you to go about it.

Everywhere He Left His Cloven Hoofprints

31 August 2021

When Israel came up from Egypt and went into the Promised Land, they took up residence in a land formerly owned by thoroughgoing pagans.  God’s people lived in houses built by pagans, cultivated fields cleared by pagans, and harvested orchards and vineyards planted by pagans.  Moreover, all these things were dedicated to pagan gods by the previous inhabitants, a fact which seems to have caused Israel no concern at all.

Israel was able to take all these ‘pagan’ things from their previous pagan owners with a clear conscience for the best of all possible reasons:  God told them to go and take the Land.  For some people, it seems odd that God didn’t have them raze everything and start over from scratch, so that they would owe absolutely nothing to the pagans who had held the territory before them.  God had other ideas.

That’s the way it works in the Kingdom of God.  As Solomon put it several centuries later, “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children, but the wealth of the sinner is stored up for the righteous” (Prov. 13:22).  That transfer of inheritance from the wicked Canaanites to righteous Israel came with strict instructions not to get caught up in the various abominations of the peoples of the land, especially their many idolatries.  In fact, although they were allowed to take over the fields, houses, cities and so on, there was one thing Israel was required to destroy absolutely: “You shall burn the carved images of their gods with fire; you shall not covet the silver or gold that is on them, nor take it for yourselves, lest you be snared by it, for it is an abomination to Yahweh your God, nor shall you bring an abomination into your house, lest you be doomed to destruction like it.  You shall utterly detest it and utterly abhor it, for it is an accursed thing” (Deut. 7:25-26).

Burn the idols; don’t even go through the ashes looking for the gold that melted off.  Don’t bring that junk into your house if you don’t want to be destroyed along with it.  It isn’t worth it — set it on fire and walk away.

In order to grasp the lesson here, we have to understand the nature of Canaanite religion.  In the ancient world, there was no separation between religion and the rest of life.  The hearths would be dedicated to the appropriate goddess; the potter’s shop would have been blessed in the name of the patron god of the trade; fertility rites were performed in the farmers’ fields every spring to guarantee a good harvest; every house, in fact, would have its household gods.  Yahweh did not tell Israel to destroy everything that had been consecrated in the name of some pagan deity — they would have had to destroy the very dirt under their feet!  Rather, He told them to destroy the idols themselves, and take everything else as a gift from Him.

What gave Yahweh the right to offer an Israelite family a house devoted to a pagan deity, as if it were His to give?  It really was His to give.  The very heavens and earth are His; there is nothing that He cannot give as a gift.  

In fact, the land was already theirs, because He had already given it to them in principle, centuries earlier.  More than four hundred years before, their father Abraham had walked through Canaan, and God told Him, “Everywhere the sole of your foot touches, I will give you and your descendants.”  The land belonged to Israel for the service of Yahweh, but in the intervening centuries pagans had taken up residence.  With the pagans came idols, and as Paul later told the Corinthians, “An idol is a demon.”  After Abraham, the devil walked the land, claiming it for his own everywhere he left his cloven hoofprints.

But he is the father of lies, and his claims of ownership were lies, too.

***

Discussion

  1. During their centuries-long task of retaking pagan territory, Israel failed often.  What were the temptations that troubled them?  How might those same temptations trouble us today?
  2. Do you think it’s really possible to take back “enemy territory” and remain faithful to God?
  3. If so, what areas do you see that are “enemy territory” and need to be taken back?  Is there a particular area that you feel called to retake?

Is Secular Safe?

24 August 2021

We have largely succeeded at sanitizing the public square of overt religious references, such that an American Christian can go about his daily life and not be assailed by assertions of Islamic faith, or reminders of religious Daoism, or Hindu deities. In this largely sanitized space lies a subtle temptation.

The temptation is to think that there is a “plain vanilla” way to engage life where one’s religion really doesn’t matter.  You can get the basics of life down, no matter what your religious thoughts might happen to be, and then add in your religion like a condiment on a hamburger.  Some people like ketchup; some people like cheese; in Australia they serve it with a slice of beet (for real!)  Takes all kinds….

This secular approach has a certain amount of street-level credibility.  You change the oil on a Camry the same way whether you’re an atheist, a Christian, or a Zoroastrian.  It’s not as if you turn the nut to the right if you’re Jewish and to the left if you’re Muslim, right?

That’s true as far as it goes, but we need to ask why Muslims and Jews both have to turn the nut the same way.  Why is it that everybody has to change the oil the same way no matter what religion they are?  Why is the world the same for everybody?

Because there is some way of understanding the world that really does go all the way down, and everybody has to bend to it.  The question is, what is it?

When we secularize the public spaces in the name of “neutrality,” we are not in fact being neutral.  We are behaving as if physical reality is all there is, and religion is a fun idea you can layer on top of “real” reality if it helps you somehow.  We are acting as if that is the understanding of the world that goes all the way down.

But it isn’t.

Faced with a secular environment, whether it is in in a gym, a karate dojo, or as mundane a setting as a grocery store, American Christians feel as if there is nothing wrong.  We have forgotten the exhortation that Paul gave us: “The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.”

We are Christians; we seek to live in such a way that every part of our lives is in submission to the Lordship of Christ.  We acknowledge no secular practice of anything at all.

***

Prayer Exercises

  1. It is easy for us to fall prey to a secular world-and-life view because expressions of it are all around us, and after a while we begin to believe it.  Ask God to reveal any areas of your life where you have begun to believe this lie.  Wait in silence to see what He will reveal to you.
  2. In any area that comes to your attention, confess the lie you have begun to believe, and ask God to show you the truth in that area of your life.  Wait to see what He will say to you, but also remain attentive over the coming weeks.  The answer may come in the form of a thought, an interaction with another person, an event, or something else.  Be willing to listen and see what God will do.
  3. Ask God to show you any strongholds in your own life, or in your community’s life, that need to be pulled down, any thoughts that need to be brought into subjection to Christ.

At The Pace Of Life

10 December 2019

In theological discussion, much is made of allowing the conversation to rest on common ground, things all parties at the table accept as true. Those conversations are both useful and frequently important for the growth and development of the church and its people. They are (appropriately) common in, say, a seminary classroom, or over a leisurely cup of coffee among friends on a lazy Saturday morning. I partake in them often.

But those conversations take time–time we often don’t have in the moment. On the fly, we have a different sort of conversation, one that arises from what I call the “practitioner mentality.” No matter how long we might take to discuss an issue in the classroom or over coffee, when the same issue comes up in a practical context, we usually have very limited time and bandwidth, and so it’s a different sort of conversation. We have to do something, now.

In those conversations, authority and trust are vital. We aren’t all going to agree on all the details. If we can agree on who has the authority to make the call, and we can trust God to lead us as we move forward, that has to be enough.

***

A fellow that wasn’t at the wedding at Cana has a certain epistemic right to doubt the accounts of water turning to wine; a servant who was in the room at the time does not have the same right. In fact, it would be foolish and wicked for him to retreat to skepticism instead of bearing witness to what he has seen and heard.

In the moment, a leader makes decisions based on what he knows, and he does this even if other people don’t know all the same things.

I have seen God at work, from simple things like bringing someone to repentance to more showy things like healing and casting out demons. I was there. That which I have seen with my eyes, which I have heard, which I have looked upon, and my hands have handled–this is what I proclaim to you. I can no longer refuse to know, and I don’t pretend ignorance for the sake of someone else’s comfort.

I accept that someone else might be within his epistemic rights to doubt my account of my experiences, particularly if he doesn’t know me anyway. Perhaps I’m lying. Perhaps I’m deluded. Perhaps I’m simply mistaken. How could he know? (There are ways, actually–read the beginning of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe for one of them–but skip that for now.) Thus far, someone else’s epistemic rights.

But I also have an epistemic responsibility. I may not pretend that I don’t know things that I do, in fact, know. And so my decision-making must address the factors I know to be real, and this despite the fact that not everybody I’m leading is going to be on the same page about that.

Nice as it would be to have everyone on the same page before we move forward, Pisidian Antioch isn’t going to evangelize itself while we wait for the Jerusalem Council to figure things out. The opposite, actually: The issues were already worked out in practice; the Jerusalem Council was vetting the theory after the fact. That after-the-fact vetting is a really important church function, but the point here is that you don’t pause all the work of ministry waiting for it. It does happen after the fact. If course corrections are needed, as they sometimes are (cf. 1 Corinthians 12-14), then you make them as soon as you figure it out. That’s how a bunch of the church epistles got written.

The weekly services, the weddings and funerals, this week’s counseling appointments–these things keep coming. Every day, all the problems get a day older, whether we have the necessary theory worked out or not. Life does not wait. Theory does not move at the pace of life; effective practice had better, even if there are unsolved questions.

That’s a panic-inducing thought to a theoretician. With events flying at you at the pace of real life, how do you ever know what to do? But here’s a thing practitioners know from experience: certainly we sometimes don’t know what to do, and we improvise. But very, very often, we actually know what God would have us do; we just can’t explain why it’s the right course of action. In other words, our courage gets tested a lot more than our discernment. So we pray really hard, listen really well, and move forward anyway with the best call we can make at the time. It is enough to obey as best we can, and trust that over time, the underlying wisdom of God’s way will be revealed. 

The underlying explanation, when it comes, will be fascinating, and may even allow us a fresh take on things that will reveal better practices or new frontiers for application. But if we don’t have that, we have to keep moving anyway. We rely on what we know is real, and trust that the explanations will get better in time.

Does that feel a bit shaky to you? Consider this: our best physicists still don’t know how the four fundamental forces relate to each other, but in the meantime, the engineers keep building bridges…and the bridges work pretty well.

So let’s build.


Devouring the Grandchildren

21 May 2019

A doctrine is like a painting. It’s possible for it to be inaccurate—a landscape painter putting a lighthouse on the edge of the Grand Canyon, for example. On the other hand, even an accurate painting is not a perfect representation. You have to know what to pay attention to. You don’t criticize a painting of the Grand Canyon because the real Grand Canyon doesn’t have brush strokes on the rocks. You don’t look at a Monet and think, “Gee, that feller needed glasses.”

Likewise doctrine. An accurate doctrinal formulation will give you a correct impression of the acts of God that it is describing, but there will always be picky little details that aren’t exact representations. You gotta know how to look at the painting without picking at the brush strokes. The best way to do that is to incarnate the doctrine in practice. Once you have firsthand knowledge of the ways of God that the doctrine describes, the whole thing makes a lot more sense. And as it happens, that was the point anyway. Doctrine is not there just to think about; it’s an aid to loving God and your neighbor. It’s meant to be lived.

When a doctrine is proclaimed by a person who has himself experienced it, and seen it at work in the world, God’s people are greatly edified. This is often true even if the doctrinal formulation is…shall we say, a bit impressionistic. People usually still get the  point, and are blessed.

By contrast, when a doctrine is proclaimed by a person who has not experienced it for himself at any depth, it is worse than useless: it is dead. Even if the propositional content  is mostly correct, nonetheless, it is dead, and as all dead things do, it begins to rot, and provide a breeding ground for maggots.

The doctrine of divine election, for example, is indeed “an unspeakable comfort to godly persons,” as the Westminster divines put it—if it is expounded as Luther or Calvin expounded it. In them, as C. S. Lewis explains, the feeling is unspeakable, scarcely believable joy. It is the joy of the lover who has been chosen by his beloved, regardless of merit, despite all flaws, to have been loved and chosen! And to be assured that the choosing is irrevocable, irreversible! What joy!

Now, I believe that the doctrine of election as taught by Luther and Calvin is a bit impressionistic. Their formulation suffers from serious exegetical and theological flaws. But the experience of relationship with God that they were pointing to is real enough. Expounded with the joy and trust in God that Luther or Calvin had, even their flawed formulations can do quite a bit of good, and little enough harm.

On the other hand, when those same formulations are proclaimed in doubt, with some question as to whether one is chosen, the doctrine does incalculable harm. The result is a paranoid, frantic search for many tests or proofs that might allow someone to attain (at least theoretical) certainty—as required by the late New England Puritans, or in modern times by, say, a John MacArthur or a John Piper. The speaker is often himself somewhat unsure of his election, and the fear is contagious. The hearers understand, at least unconsciously, that this is a terrifying doctrine, because they are hearing it from a terrified man. Soon enough, the terror comes to the surface, and the resulting (slanderous) view of God—petty, autocratic, using eternal human destinies as His personal plaything—becomes, in Lewis’ words, “something not unlike devil worship.”

Now, Luther and Calvin could expound divine election with joy because they were chosen, and they knew it. Despite their propositional errors, their basic understanding of their relationship with God was correct. He did, in fact, love them and conspire to save them before the foundation of the world. When they believed, He did bring them into His family irrevocably, and give them life that would last forever. In all this they were entirely correct. Crucially, they did not just know these things by syllogism. They knew them by experience, by knowing God for themselves and hearing Him in their own souls. Thus fortified, they taught God’s love with joy, as similarly joyful children of the Reformation do to this day.

But their formulations were somewhat in error, and as the generations ran on, the errors became apparent. The doctrine of election was not, in fact, an unspeakable comfort; it was a terror to many tortured souls who did not know if they were chosen. Indeed, because of the errors baked into the early formulations, many poor souls were taught that in this life, they could never know if they had been chosen. This doctrine, despite the joy of Luther and Calvin, devoured its great-grandchildren. This was a sign that something was wrong, and needed to be fixed.

Instead of revisiting their formulations to see what might have gone awry, too many Reformed folks have doubled down, willingly sacrificing their terrified children on the altar of conformity to doctrinal tradition. All the non-Calvinists reading this are no doubt nodding their heads and thinking, “Well, such are the dangers of erroneous doctrine.” Not so fast! Do you imagine yourself to be perfect? Do you think you got it all right, that there are no fuzzy little corners in your doctrine? Don’t be ridiculous. Of course there are—and so you have an opportunity to make the same mistake.

None of our doctrinal formulations—however correct—are immune to this danger.  Peter tells us that ignorant and unstable people can twist even the Scriptures to their own destruction (2 Peter 3:16). How much more might they exaggerate the flaws of our all too fallible doctrinal formulations?

The cure—the only possible safeguard against dead, rotting doctrine—is to know God for ourselves, and not just from books. This is also the very definition of life: “to know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent.”


Introducing Five New Fundamentals

15 February 2019

I’ve written recently about the continuous need for discussion about the fundamentals of the faith, for re-articulating the ways in which the Christian faith cuts against the temptations of our own time. It is not enough to rest on the victories of the past; we have to deal with the temptations of the present.

To that end, I present my own modest proposal: five fundamentals for the present day. I believe that these key doctrines must, first of all, be lived. We must joyfully and obediently push them into all the little nooks and crannies of our lives, and reject the temptations that they cut against. Only then can they be effectively proclaimed from our pulpits and across our supper tables, defended in private discussion and public discourse, and paraded before a shocked and disbelieving world.

So without further ado, five fundamentals for the present day:

  1. The Unity and Community of Christ’s Whole Body. Those who are united to Christ are united to each other, and therefore we must fellowship deeply across gender, family, class, ethnic, denominational, and national lines. Every form of individual pride or group-based sectarianism, chauvinism, prejudice, and vainglory is destined for the pit. Every form of individualism that assures us we’re fine without deep and constant sharing of life with one another is also destined for the pit.
  2. Love of Generous Fruitfulness. “Be fruitful” is the first command to humanity; it extends into everything, and obedient, godly fruitfulness overflows in every direction. From reproduction to craftsmanship, every endeavor and way of being that is fruitless by nature falls short of our calling as human beings. Every attempt to simulate generosity through compulsion by guilt, fear, or force is doomed.
  3. The Equality and Difference of Man and Woman. “Male and female He created them.” The existence of culturally constructed differences does not invalidate the existence of biological differences: men and women are different down to the very last cell. Men and women have equal value and dignity and are designed by God to live symbiotically together. Every erasure of real differences — and the social policies based on such follies — can only come to grief. Every form of contempt for one sex, or vaunting one sex over the other, robs us of a chance to flourish.
  4. The Social Reality of the Fall. There is no “system so perfect that no one will need to be good”–and Jesus is the only hope for human goodness. Nothing short of continuing repentance and life in the Holy Spirit will lead to a genuinely good human society. All utopian social designs are counterfeits of the New Jerusalem, and until the New Jerusalem comes, all social designs must plan for the human drive to exploit other humans for one’s own advantage.
  5. Functional Supernaturalism. The world was spoken into being, and is upheld by Jesus’ spoken word. It is supernatural down to the quarks, and God actively intervenes on behalf of His Kingdom. Materialism — including the methodological kind — is not correct “as far as it goes;” it is error all the way down, as wrong as Ptolemy’s spheres.

Every one of these five will be derided as ridiculous, judgy, dangerously retrograde. They* will be outraged when we talk about them, but they will be jealous when we live them. So let’s live all five, to the hilt. They* will argue, but like Sophrony once said, “For every argument there is a counter-argument, but who can argue with life?” We don’t have to out-clever our cultured despisers; we just have to live. As we live these truths, and they do not, we will reap fruit and blessings and joy that — for all their cleverness — they cannot explain. We can hope that induces repentance, but honestly I think it will just make most of ’em even madder.

I can’t wait.

*Spoiler alert: “They” will include an impressive number of Christians, not least the evangelical suits and haircuts from Impressive Universities, Respectable Publishers, and Important National Conferences. But so what?


Eating the Garden Wall

11 January 2019

Heresy is bad for your soul. Christianity, rightly practiced, is a vital relationship with God, and like any vital relationship, it relies heavily on grasping the truth about the person you’re in relationship with. Of course you don’t have to perfectly know all the truth right away — you learn over the course of the relationship, and there’s always more to know — but there are certain core lies that can badly impede the relationship.

It’s not really that strange a concept. The plot of nearly every romantic comedy hinges on the resolution of relationship-threatening lies. If you believe God is not faithful, that’s going to create problems, same as if you wrongly believe your fiancee is not faithful (the plot of Much Ado About Nothing, among many others). Ditto if you believe He’s not really God, not really competent, and so on.

So we work hard to keep heresy out of the church, because those lies wreck our relationship with God.

However — to return to the romantic comedies for a moment — consider where the chief benefits of the relationship lie. Once the lies are dispelled and the happy couple realize the truth about each other, the music swells, they come into each other’s arms, and wedding bells begin to ring. No one with any sense supposes this is the high point of their life together; the point is that this is the beginning. The real benefits of the relationship are not in that one happy moment, but in the many years to come. And so it is with God.

Clearing out the lies opens a channel for the benefits of the relationship to flow. It enables us “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever,” as the Westminster divines put it. But the chief end of man is not to be able to enjoy God, but to actually enjoy God.

This is to say that our creeds and confessions and various arguments against heresy are important, but they are the garden wall, not the garden. If you spend all your time reinforcing the garden wall, foolishly thinking that the garden will somehow take care of itself…well, it’s gonna be a long winter. The garden wall is vital for keeping out pests, but you can’t eat it.

And therein lies one of the critical errors of “discernment ministries.” Heresy-hunting is no kind of occupation for a Jesus-follower; “accuser of the brethren” is a title that’s supposed to belong to the other guys, not us. Too many of these guys are in love with the wall, and neglecting the crops. We have a duty to the truth, and part of that duty is to maintain a sense of proportion and keep our focus where it belongs. So while we necessarily reinforce the wall at the points where it is being attacked, the point of reinforcing the garden wall is to be able to reap the benefits of the garden.

As I develop this series on fundamentals for today, I’ll take note of the errors and heresies that we’re necessarily at war with. But the point of walling them out is not to focus on what we’re at war with outside the wall. The point is what those well-placed walls will enable us to grow inside the wall. Because that’s where the real sustenance is, and that’s why we build the walls to start with.


We Always Need “New” Fundamentals

4 January 2019

Back in the early 20th century, in response to a ruinous drift away from the historic Christian faith, there was a widespread movement in American Christianity to return to a serious and careful exposition of what they termed the “Five Fundamentals” of the Christian faith:

  1. The inspiration and infallibility of the Bible
  2. The virgin birth of Jesus Christ
  3. Substitutionary atonement through Christ’s death on the cross
  4. The bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ
  5. The historicity of Jesus’ miracles

Of course these are not the Five Most Important Truths of Christianity for all time, as though we had a prioritized list that fell from heaven or something. These five truths were foundational elements of Christianity that were under attack at that historical moment. At other times, such a list might have included the deity of Christ (in A.D. 325), or the full deity and humanity of Christ (451), or justification by faith (1517), or the necessity for individual new birth (1741), or the reality of the Holy Spirit’s ongoing ministry (1906).

The point is, the fundamental elements of the Faith remain perennially the same, but the battleground shifts. The same old temptations come back, all tarted up in the latest fashions. The new attacks, having been developed downstream from past battles for orthodoxy, are necessarily framed in a way that–at least at first glance–passes all the older litmus tests.

Take, for example, the battle about biblical inerrancy. As major institutions (and their collections of big donors) took up positions on the right side of the fight over biblical inspiration, they found no shortage of folks willing to agree. However, a bunch of these professor types–having signed a doctrinal statement that clearly stated the Bible was inspired by the Holy Spirit– went on to say (where the donors couldn’t hear them, but the students could) that of course inspiration didn’t mean the Bible had no errors in it. In practice, that meant you could ignore the bits you didn’t like, which was the same temptation all over again. So when we started insisting on inerrancy as well as inspiration, we were providing a clarification rendered necessary by the ingenuity of heretics. The basic error (“Yeah, hath God said…?”) was a few minutes older than the Fall; it was just dressed up in new words. The word-jugglers, of course, affected a wounded stance and asked us why we would needlessly divide the Body of Christ by adding some new doctrinal shibboleth that was unprecedented in the history of the Church. The proper response to their pearl-clutching, or course, is a hearty horselaugh and a boot to the backside.

The enemy is crafty. When he has exhausted one attack on the vital core of the Christian faith, he tries another. And another. And another. There are always seemingly well-taught people who reject all the old heresies and compromises but swallow the new ones whole. These are the same folks Jesus derided for laying wreaths on the tombs of the dead prophets while persecuting the living ones. They have failed to learn the lessons of the past because they understand the old heresies as bad ideas, and not as temptations.

The liquor ad always has a picture of the girl dancing at a party on Friday night, never a picture of the same girl passed out in a gutter on Saturday morning. Temptations always look good at the time, and bad in hindsight. The old heresies were tempting at the time–and we need to learn to see how the temptation worked at the time–but usually don’t look all that appealing today. The new attacks look very tempting now, because they are temptations geared to this historical moment.

And so one of the pastor’s tasks is to continually articulate the unchanging fundamentals of the Christian faith in a way that cuts against the current set of temptations. There is an ever-present danger of being ready to win the battles of the past, but woefully unprepared for the temptations of the present. So while I happily affirm and defend the Creed of Nicea, the Definition of Chalcedon, the five solas of the Reformation, the five fundamentals of the early 20th century, and so on–if I stop there, I am not doing my job.

The need of the hour is to articulate the unchanging Christian faith in a way that cuts against today’s temptations. In this series, I will lay out a modest proposal: five fundamentals to do just that.