“Unless the bible is without error, not only when it speaks of salvation matters, but also when it speaks of history and the cosmos, we have no foundation for answering questions concerning the existence of the universe and its form and the uniqueness of man.  Nor do we have any moral absolutes, or certainty of salvation, and the next generation of Christians will have nothing on which to stand.”

 

(Francis Schaeffer, The Complete Works of Francis Schaeffer: A Christian View of the Church, Vol. IV, “The Church at the End of the Twentieth Century,” Book One, “What Difference Does Inerrancy Make?,” Appendix B, p 103, March 1982, 2nd Ed.)

Francis Schaeffer on the Inerrancy of Scripture

God, Creation, and Pope Francis

Religion News Service (RNS) is a renowned source for news, which specializes in covering stories and current events for their implications regarding religion, ethics, and more.  One of its reporters, Josephine McKenna, broke the story about Pope Francis’ controversial statements with respect to evolution, creation, and God this past Monday.  The USA Today picked up her story, and ran it on their online website the very next day.  Since then, every legitimate news outlet has covered this story six ways to Sunday.  Some have cheered the Pope’s language decrying intelligent design and its related views.  There are others who have sounded the alarm regarding the Pope’s statements, but sadly, those brave souls have been rare.

I expected R. Albert Mohler, Jr. to be one of the first to engage with the theological problems associated with the Pope’s comments.  When one reads the transcript of his podcast addressing Pope Francis’ statements regarding evolution, creation, and God, the reader will discover a sharp, albeit brief, critique of Christianity’s failure to hold this man accountable for his views.  Mohler’s keen observation is spot on at the present time.  There really has not been much discussion within Christianity-at-large over the Pope’s comments.  Of course, the structure of the Roman Catholic Church makes it difficult for the laity to raise genuine concerns over its theology and practice.  If there is going to be any questioning or examination of the Pope’s theology, then it must come from the current priests and bishops within the Vatican.

The Pope’s comments have made their way through the blogosphere, too.  One of the most incisive posts that I have come across can be found here at The Protestant Pulpit.  In this piece, the author highlights the fallout one should expect after incorporating evolution into one’s theology.  I heartily recommend my readers check out this post.  It covers way more ground than I will in this one; however, I will throw in my two cents into the pot for what it’s worth.  Before I focus on the issue that jumps out at me, I will let Pope Francis speak for himself:

“The beginning of the world was not the work of chaos, which owes its origin to another, but it derives directly from a Supreme Principle who creates out of love. The Big-Bang, that is placed today at the origin of the world, does not contradict the divine intervention but exacts it. The evolution in nature is not opposed to the notion of Creation, because evolution presupposes the creation of beings that evolve” (translation excerpt from Pope Francis’ Inauguration Address, Mon., Oct. 27, 2014).

From my perspective, this statement is a jumbled mess of ideas and concepts.  The first independent clause about the world not being the work of chaos fits nicely with the notion of intelligent design.  Where the Pope goes astray is in the next clause describing God a supreme principle.  This  seems to suggest that there might be another principle higher than him.  I might be splitting hairs, but the article a conveys something entirely different than using the in this case.  Rather than calling God the supreme principle, the Pope refers to him as a supreme principle.  To my mind, the Pope’s language effectively diminishes God as the Supreme Being.  If the God of the bible is not Almighty, then there is no real reason to order one’s life according to his words.

There is another issue that flows out of the Pope’s descriptor of God as a supreme principle.  This appears to turn God into an abstraction or an impersonal deity similar to Hinduism’s Brahman.  Yes, the Pope does attempt to smuggle into the back door the notion that this Supreme Principle creates out of love; however, he has painted himself into a corner.  Do concepts think or feel or express themselves using personal attributes?  A person has attributes or traits that find expression in relational contexts.  There is no mention of the Trinity in the Pope’s comments.  Long before the foundation of the world, God existed as himself in three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  If the Pope had interjected into his address anything about the Trinity, then I can allow for his comment about God creating out of love.

Because the Trinity makes no appearance in the Pope’s address, and he refers to God as a Supreme Principle, then in what way can the Pope attribute creation as flowing out of love?  This creates enormous philosophical and theological problems regarding sin, death, and evil.  One might argue that the Pope was not aiming for theological and philosophical precision.  To quote ESPN College Gameday commentator, Lee Corso, “not so fast, my friend.”  The Pope occupies the highest position of authority in the Roman Catholic Church.  His position grants him a special grace or favor known as Papal Infallibility.  This doctrine teaches that the Pope is preserved from the possibility of error “when, in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole.”

Has Pope Francis spoken on behalf of Roman Catholics throughout the whole world?  Of course he has not, but priests and bishops may not risk their jobs for opposing his eminence.  I keep wondering what my grandparents on my mom’s side would think about the Pope’s statements if they were still alive.  The only hope for God-fearing Roman Catholics who disagree with Pope Francis is to gather in numbers to pray and support those bishops and priests who do rise up to question the errors of his eminence.

 

“The first thing we must note about the atonement, Finney says, is that Christ could not have died for anyone else’s sins than his own. His obedience to the law and his perfect righteousness were sufficient to save him, but could not legally be accepted on behalf of others. That Finney’s whole theology is driven by a passion for moral improvement is seen on this very point: ‘If he [Christ] had obeyed the Law as our substitute, then why should our own return to personal obedience be insisted upon as a sine qua non of our salvation?’ (p. 206). In other words, why would God insist that we save ourselves by our own obedience if Christ’s work was sufficient? The reader should recall the words of St. Paul in this regard, ‘I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.’ It would seem that Finney’s reply is one of agreement. The difference is, he has no difficulty believing both of those premises.

“That is not entirely fair, of course, because Finney did believe that Christ died for something–not for someone–but for something. In other words, he died for a purpose, but not for people. The purpose of that death was to reassert God’s moral government and to lead us to eternal life by example, as Adam’s example excited us to sin. Why did Christ die? God knew that ‘The atonement would present to creatures the highest possible motives to virtue. Example is the highest moral influence that can be exerted…If the benevolence manifested in the atonement does not subdue the selfishness of sinners, their case is hopeless’ (p. 209). Therefore, we are not helpless sinners who need to be redeemed, but wayward sinners who need a demonstration of selflessness so moving that we will be excited to leave off selfishness. Not only did Finney believe that the ‘moral influence’ theory of the atonement was the chief way of understanding the cross; he explicitly denied the substitutionary atonement, which ‘…assumes that the atonement was a literal payment of a debt, which we have seen does not consist with the nature of the atonement…It is true, that the atonement, of itself, does not secure the salvation of anyone'” (p. 217).

(Michael Horton — “The Legacy of Charles Finney,” Modern Reformation, 1995)

 

Michael Horton critiques Charles Finney’s view of the Atonement

The Way of Man

King Solomon wrote in the book of Proverbs that “there is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death” (Prov. 14:12; 16:25, ESV).  There is so much to say about this particular verse; however, I will keep things simple.  When I apply the above quoted text to my own life, it causes me to consider the direction of it.  Another way to say this is that Prov. 14:12 magnifies the condition of my heart and my mind.  Passion comes from the heart and informs the mind.  Passion is the engine that sustains any action, word, or thought.  A problem arises if the passion is a misguided one; consequently, the above text seems to teach that I may not be aware of the danger connected to following my passion.  I may have good intentions about pursuing something or someone.  In fact, it might even feel as if everything inside of me says yes to this endeavor.  This results in believing and acting as if this passion is life-giving, but Prov. 14:12 says that it is a road toward death.

How do I avoid these roads that end in death, which look and feel life-giving?  I will answer that question a little later in the post.  King Solomon’s Proverbs is not the only book in the Old Testament to address this subject.  The book of Jeremiah contains the following passage:

23 I know, O Lord, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps.  24 Correct me, O Lord, but in justice; not in your anger, lest you bring me to nothing” (Jeremiah 10:23-24, ESV).

At first glance, Jeremiah’s words and King Solomon’s seem to deal with different issues and contexts.  Upon closer examination, both passages shine a light onto the governing principle of life for mankind or humanity.  I will phrase it as a question.  Are human beings the final arbiter for life and living?  Is a person able to self-govern himself or herself to such an extent that it leads to life?  According to Prov. 14:12, human beings lack the ability to self-govern themselves on roads or paths that lead to life.  It seems to me that Jeremiah 10:23 teaches the same thing by the clause, “the way of man is not in himself.” Let me state this in plainer words.  Human beings lack something intrinsic to their nature in order to govern themselves in life, so that it leads to life.  If the ability to live life in a way that leads to life is foreign to human beings, then they must rely on this knowledge or guidance coming from outside of them.

Earlier I posed the question, how do I avoid taking false roads?  The larger context of Jeremiah’s tenth chapter is rather enlightening in this regard.  According to Jeremiah the prophet, God pronounced judgment upon the city and people of Jerusalem due to following the false gods of the surrounding nations.  Instead of seeking the one, true God for his life-giving, counsel, the people, the prophets, and the leaders of Jerusalem seek it from false gods made of wood, stone, and precious metals; consequently, they become stupid, foolish, vain, and subject to God’s wrath (Jeremiah 10:2-3, 8, 14-15, 21, 25, ESV).  If the people of Jerusalem had turned from their idolatry in order to seek after God, their lives and the city would have continued rather than come to an end in 586 B.C. by the armies of Nebuchadnezzar (Jeremiah 39:1-10, ESV).  The point behind all of this is that in Jeremiah chapter ten, the false road is idolatry whereas the true road requires one to worship God.

There is something else to mention here, too.  It requires that I widen out the lesson of the false road being idolatry.  Some who travel down the false road of life toward death are not worshiping idols in the strictest sense of the word.  Their form of idolatry comes in the guise of leaning on their own understanding rather than God’s (Prov. 3:5-6, ESV).  Basically, this means that mankind is the one who determines the course of his life, or “that the way of man [is in himself]…to direct his steps” (Jeremiah 10:23, ESV).  This view runs contrary to the plain teaching of scripture.  The people of Jerusalem experienced judgment and exile precisely because they saw themselves as the determiners of their fate.  In Jeremiah 10:24, the prophet conveys a much different attitude by humbly offering up a prayer to God for his correction and guidance.  He sees his need, and knows that God is the one to provide for it.  Jeremiah’s words and actions bring to mind those of Moses who wrote that “…man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:3, ESV).

We know that these words of Moses convey a principle of living for God’s people that transcends all ages.  Jesus uses them to rebuke the enemy in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-4; Luke 4:1-4, ESV).  The Son of Man relies on God and his word to sustain him during this time of testing in the wilderness.  Jesus models for his people trust and dependency upon the Father for provision and protection in the harshest of circumstances.  The Father’s provision for his own is limitless.  This was not the case with the people in Jeremiah’s day.  They believed that they were walking along a road toward life by forsaking God for the false gods of the surrounding nations.  Instead, the people of Jerusalem met death at the end of the road.  Nebuchadnezzar’s armies decimated the city and the temple while taking those who remained alive into exile for the next seventy years (Jeremiah 52:4-30, ESV).  It was a devastating reality and lesson for the ancient Israelites, but it pertains to us, too.

What this means is that what took place thousands of years ago in Jerusalem can happen today.  God’s people must order their lives by his word, or something or someone else will take that place.  All of creation came into being by God’s spoken word, and all of creation remains in existence by his spoken word (Genesis 1:1-31; 8:21-22; 9:9-17, ESV).  Given the power of his word displayed through creation, it should not surprise us when Moses writes in Deuteronomy that “…man lives by very word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deut. 8:3, ESV).  In many ways, the apostle Peter echoes Moses’ words when he tells Jesus that “…you have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68, ESV).  Both testaments, Old and New, convey the life-sustaining power of God’s word.  We must read it, memorize it, study it, and live it in order to avoid the false road called the way of man.

“At the same time, when you do start studying life issues and abortion, you realize that some contraceptives are abortifacients, and you ought to take a serious view of sex. The sad thing is that abortion and sex without consequences is turning women against their own uniqueness. So many women at the end of the day regret not having children. Abortion is definitely a war on women. There are a lot of base motives for pushing certain contraceptives, pushing abortion. There’s money-making (Planned Parenthood, after all, is a billion-dollar business!) and there’s eugenics. The big push for contraceptives, especially dangerous kinds like Norplant, which focuses on certain demographics, is eugenics. But if the mainstream media is against you right now, they’ll twist the reasonable things you say and they’ll let slide things other people say that are horrible.”

(Stella Morabito interviews Maria McFadden Maffucci — Human Life Review: Forty Years Of Fighting For Human Life And Dignity)

A War on Women

“That a life of daily self-consecration and daily communion with God should be aimed at by everyone who professes to be a believer – that we should strive to attain the habit of going to the Lord Jesus Christ with everything we find a burden, whether great or small, and casting it upon Him – all this, I repeat, no well taught child of God will dream of disputing.  But surely the New Testament teaches us that we want something more than generalities about holy living, which often prick no conscience and give no offence.  The details and particular ingredients of which holiness is composed in daily life, ought to be fully set forth and pressed on believers by all who profess to handle the subject.  True holiness does not consist merely of believing and feeling, but of doing and bearing, and a practical exhibition of active and passive grace.  Our tongues, our tempers, our natural passions and inclinations – our conduct as parents and children, masters and servants, husbands and wives, rulers and subjects – our dress, our employment of time, our behaviour in business, our demeanour in sickness and health, in riches and in poverty – all, all these are matters which are fully treated by inspired writers.  
“They are not content with a general statement of what we should believe and feel, and how we are to have the roots of holiness planted in our hearts. They dig down lower.  They go into particulars.  They specify minutely what a holy man ought to do and be in his own family, and by his own fireside, if he abides in Christ.  I doubt whether this sort of teaching is sufficiently attended to in the movement of the present day.  When people talk of having received “such a blessing,” and of having found “the higher life,” after hearing some earnest advocate of “holiness by faith and self-consecration,” while their families and friends see no improvement and no increased sanctity in their daily tempers and behaviour, immense harm is done to the cause of Christ.  True holiness, we surely ought to remember, does not consist merely of inward sensations and impressions.  It is much more than tears, and sighs, and bodily excitement, and a quickened pulse, and a passionate feeling of attachment to our own favourite preachers and our own religious party, and a readiness to quarrel with everyone who does not agree with us.  It is something of “the image of Christ,” which can be seen and observed by others in our private life, and habits, and character, and doings” (Rom. viii. 29).
(J.C. Ryle, “Introduction,” Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties, and Roots, p5, `1877, enlarged 1879) 

J.C. Ryle on the Particulars of Holiness

“The answers are: First, infinite guilt demands an infinite punishment, but not therefore an everlasting one; provided the sufferer could suffer an infinite one in a limited time.  We do not view the atoning value of Christ’s sacrifice, as a quantity, to be divided out by pound’s weight, like some material commodity.  We do not hold that there must be an arithmetical relation between the quantity of sacrifice, and the number and size of the sins to be satisfied for, nor do we admit that, had the sins of the whole body of elect believers been greater, the sufferings of the substitute must also have been increased; as when the merchant buys more pounds of the commodity, he must pay more money for his purchase.  The compensation made to justice is not commercial, but moral.  A piece of money in the hand of a king is worth no more than in the hands of a servant, but the penal sufferings of a king are.  One king captive would exchange for many captive soldiers.  Hence, Christ paid, not the very total of sufferings we owed, but like sufferings, not of infinite amount, but of infinite dignity.

How Could Temporal Suffering Satisfy For Infinite Guilt?