Entries tagged with “Scripture”.

The First Council of Nicaea, which condemned Arianism.

A fresco of the First Council of Nicaea, which condemned the heresy of Arianism.

This is just shocking. Worse, it’s terrifying. Apparently, heresies condemned more than 1500 years ago by the Church are making a come back in American Evangelicalism.

That’s not hyperbole either. Christianity Today has a new report highlighting a survey of American Evangelicals on fundamental beliefs, like the nature of the Trinity. And while some of the the numbers are good, many are horrifying. More than half (51%) of American Evangelicals deny that the Holy Spirit is an actual person (and think He’s just “a force”). 16% believe Jesus was a created being made by God. And countless others are unsure on these questions!

At the same time, 22% of American Evangelicals think Jesus is less divine than the Father, and 9% believe that the Holy Spirit is less divine than the Father and the Son. The article goes on to highlight the Pelagian thinking that is infecting American Evangelicals’ understanding of salvation.

These are not small problems. These are big problems—Church dividing problems. There’s a reason the early councils took pains to reject and condemned these heresies. There’s a reason orthodox Christianity faced real persecution over these questions. If you needed a reason why you should read the writings of the Early Church and the Ecumenical Councils, this is it. Scripture is very much the ultimate authority in the Church, but the tradition of the Church helps us to norm our understanding of that Scripture. When we ignore this tradition, we end up resurrecting old heresies.

Churches which divorce themselves from the history of the Church effectively throw away a map which would help keep them on track. Let this be a warning to us all (whether Evangelical or not): we need to encourage stronger teaching of the essentials of the faith in our churches. And that means teaching real doctrine.



That’s the title of my column for the January-February issue of The Canadian Lutheran.  A selection follows below:

Faith comes by hearing, St. Paul tells us—specifically, by hearing the Word of Christ (Romans 10:17). And “hearing” isn’t a one-time act. We constantly need to be listening to the Word of God. We need it to survive. As Moses explained, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD” (Deuteronomy 8:3).

It’s continual feeding on the Word that enlivens faith. We constantly need to hear the Law expose our sin. We constantly need to hear the Good News that Jesus died to take away that sin. We constantly need to hear that, through His resurrection, we are raised with Him to new life, now and forevermore.

This isn’t a passive listening either. Once the Holy Spirit has called us and opened our hearts to believe, He then moves us to act. St. James encourages: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (1:22).

Read the whole article here.

If you follow religious news at all, chances are you’ve heard about the schisms and doctrinal battles happening in denominations like the Anglican Church of Canada and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. As these church bodies and others like them continue to move in an increasingly liberal direction (theologically speaking), congregations and individual Christians who make their stand on the Word of God often find themselves to be in the minority and, as a result, often become the targets of oppression from their denominations.

Enter an article of mine entitled “Standing Firm: The Cost of Confessing the Word of God” which appears in the most recent issue of The Canadian Lutheran. The article explores some of the difficulties facing Christians who affirm the authority of Scripture, and the sacrifices they often face for doing so. But the article doesn’t focus solely on the negative side of things: it also points out new opportunities for dialogue between denominations who do affirm the authority of Scripture – highlighting, for example, recent dialogue between Lutheran Church – Canada (LCC) & the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS) on the one side and the theologically conservative Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) on the other. It also notes the emergence of dialogue between the newly born North American Lutheran Church (NALC) and the LCMS. And it’s not just my thoughts you hear in the article: three major thinkers were kind enough to share their opinions on the subjects in question: the Rev. Dr. James I. Packer (of ACNA), Bishop John Bradosky (of NALC), and Dr. John R. Stephenson (of LCC). Their thoughts are well worth the read, I assure you. Read it for free online here.

As I’m working pretty much all the time on my thesis at current, I can’t take much of a break for blogging. But I want to share, for your edification, a favourite passage from the sermons I’m working on. In my opinion, the thoughts expressed below are as relevant today as they were when the book was first printed in 1547. The first version has been slightly updated by myself (in case reading 16th century English is not your favourite pastime); the second is the selection as it was originally published.

A Modern Adaptation

If we profess Christ, why are we not ashamed to be ignorant of His doctrine? Any man is ashamed to be ignorant of the knowledge of his profession. A man is ashamed to be called a philosopher if he does not read books of philosophy. Likewise, men are ashamed to be called lawyers, astronomers, or physicians if they are ignorant of the books of law, astronomy, and medicine. How can any man then say that he professes Christ and His religion, but will not apply himself to read and hear and know the books of Christ’s Gospel and doctrine? Although other sciences are good, and no man can deny  that to be well-educated in them is also good, but this – our faith – is the chief thing and passes all others studies incomparably. What excuse shall we give at the last day before Christ if we delight to hear men’s fantasies and creations more than His most holy Gospel? What excuse can we give if we never make time to do the very thing we should do above all other things? What shall we say in our defense if we choose to read everything except Scripture, the very thing we ought to make time for before all other readings? Let us therefore apply ourselves, as much as we are able, to know God’s word by diligently hearing and reading it – as we must, if we truly profess to know God and have faith and trust in Him.

The Original

If we professe Christe why be we not ashamed to be ignoraunte in his doctrine? Seyng that euery man is ashamed to be ignoraunt in that learning, which he professeth. That man is ashamed, to be called a Philosophier, whiche readeth not the bookes of Philosophie, and to be called a lawyer and Astronomier, or a phisicion, that is ignoraunt in the bokes of law, Astronomie, and Phisicke. Howe can any man then saie, that he professeth Christ, and his religion, if he will not applye hymself, (as farfurther as he can or may conueniently) to reade and hear, & to knowe the bokes of Christes Gospel & doctrine. Although other sciences be good, and to be learned, yet no man can deny, but this is the chiefe, and passeth al other incomparably. What excuse shal we therfore make (at the last daie before Christ) that delight to reade, or heare mennes phantasies and inuencions, more then his moste holy Gospell, and will fynd no tyme to doo that, whiche chiefly (aboue all thynges) wee should do and wil rather reade other thynges, then that, for the whiche, we oughte rather to leaue readyng of all other thyngs. Let us therefore apply our selfes, as farfuth as we can haue tyme and leasure, to knowe Gods worde, by diligent hearing and readyng therof, as many as professe God, and haue faithe and trust in him.


Selected from Thomas Cranmer’s “A fruitfull exhortation, to the readyng and knowledge of holy scripture.” Certayne Sermons, or Homelies. 1547.

Monday began much like any other day. My alarm clock went off, I rose from my slumber, and then began the typical morning routine. By the time my alarm clock displayed 7:30 a.m., I was grabbing my leather satchel and bustling out the door to catch the bus. I happened to check the time on my cell-phone as I was nearing my office. Imagine my surprise when I discovered it read 6:45 a.m. I was more than an hour early for work. Immediately, I knew I must have mis-set the normal time on my clock the night before when I set the alarm time.

All I can say is thank goodness for coffee shops that open at 6:30 a.m.! A mocha, a muffin, and a few pages into my pocket Reader’s Edition of the Book of Concord later, I was feeling a little less tired and a little more insightful. [Check out Concordia Publishing House here for the pocket edition I’m referring to. Small and sleek, it’s a very portable Book of Concord that can go with you just about anywhere.]

As I sat, my mind began to consider how I had been so duped. I was certain it was 7:30 a.m. when I left. The clock in my room told me as much. The reality, of course, was far different. What you see and what you get are frequently two very dissimilar things.

The same is true in spiritual matters as well as in earthly. Jesus warns us in Matthew to “beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (7:15). The old adage “if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it’s a duck” often misses the mark. If it looks like a sheep and acts like a sheep, it may well still be a wolf. So how then do we distinguish one from the other? Jesus tells us that we shall recognize them “by their fruits” (7:20). It seems simple enough. A true prophet will do good things; a bad will do bad.

But the next passage seems to slightly muddle such an easy interpretation. Jesus continues, “Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (7:21). The surprising thing for us to consider is that those Jesus rejects seem to have truly thought themselves Christian, and have even borne some measure of fruit, at least by their own account. “Did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many might works in your name?” they ask (7:22). But Jesus declares he never knew them (7:23).

So what – to borrow a rather famous line of Luther’s – does this mean? What fruits does Christ here refer to? What does it mean to do the will of the Father?

There is a dangerous tendency in world Christianity today where people attempt to interpret passages while ignoring the context surrounding them. Each passage must be interpreted in relation to the rest of the book it appears in, as each book was written as a whole book. The Gospels are not just random snippets. No, they were thoughtfully planned and written (see, for example, Luke 1:1-4). As such, we must never forget the context of a passage. Neither should we forget that the books of Scripture exist in context to each other. Each interprets and explains the other.

Turning our attention back to the passages under discussion, then, what does the context tell us? The section immediately following is the parable of building houses on rocks and sand. The wise man “built his house on the rock” (7:24); the foolish man “built his house on the sand” (7:26). The wise man’s home survives the storm, but the foolish man’s does not. The point is clear: Build your house upon the rock.

Let us therefore trace the train of thought presented thus far. We must bear fruit. Those who bear fruit will do the Father’s will. Those who do the Father’s will hear Jesus’ words and obey them (7:24), which is what building the house upon the rock is equated with. But we see now that we have not actually yet answered our own question. Rather, we have simply deferred the question for we still do not know what the rock upon which we build is nor what “building” actually entails.

Chapter 8 is a fascinating collection of events where Jesus heals the sick, exorcises the demon-possessed, and commands the winds and waters to obey him. The section is clearly about demonstrating Christ’s authority and power. He commands the bodily realm as he makes the ill well. He commands the spiritual realm as he drives out demons. He commands the physical realm as he calms the storm. His unshakable, unassailable self thus becomes the Rock upon which we must build. In fact, it is Christ that prevents the disciples from being swallowed up by the wind and rain. He saves them from the storm, just as the rock foundation saves the wise man’s house from the storm. And so we see that it is he that is the solid rock on which we build. He prevents us from being swept away in the flood.

So we have discovered what – or rather who – the firm rock is to which Jesus refers. But what about building? What does that mean? It is interesting to note that chapter 8 is as much about faith as it is about authority. We see the faith of the Leper, who professes without doubt, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean” (8:2). We see the faith of the Centurion who proclaims, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed” (8:8). Christ marvels at this, telling those around him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith” (8:10). Indeed, his very own disciples fail to show such trust in Christ. Later on the boat, Christ not only rebukes the storm but also the disciples saying, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” (8:26).

This then is what it means to build upon Christ our Rock. This then is what it means to do the will of the Father and bear fruit. It means above all to have faith. As it is written in John, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” (6:29). It is faith in Christ that identifies the true Christian from the false prophet. It is faith in Christ that identifies those who do mere good works from those who do the will of the Father. For it is through faith that grace is imputed unto us. We see that grace in these passages as Christ heals the sick, exorcises the possessed, and calms the storm. His is a grace that saves, that transforms the old into something new. His is a grace that acts through faith, strengthens faith, even creates faith among the faithless. And this state of grace and faith provide us with the tools necessary to live the lives the Spirit calls us to live. We may do the will of the Father by grace through faith in Christ


Do you remember when pages had purpose?
     Bought with a price,
          Used sparingly, with great intent and planning?

How monks toiled!
     Candlelit caverns with countless copyists
          Producing manuscripts in unending silence
               (Save the scritch-scritch-scratch of pen on velum).
They quiet themselves that others might speak:
     Ancient texts, preserved for posterity.
A Homer here.
     An Augustine there.
Or greater still, an Illuminated Scripture;
     God’s very breath upon a page!
          The Word made flesh made Word again.

This morning, I sit at the kitchen table,
     Thumbing through the daily mail,
          Picking out the trash.
A flyer here.
     A credit-card offer there.
Pages of words
     and words
          and words
               with trivial purpose and vacuous meaning.

Do you remember when pages had purpose?
     Bought with a price?
          Used sparingly, with great inte

– – –

The poet frowns;
     It had been unnecessary to repeat the third line.
Sighing, he rips the marred sheet from his notebook,
     Crumples it (massacring its feeble body),
          And throws it to the floor.

Then, taking up his pen, he starts anew,
     Spilling ink upon a fresh, blank page.

Yesterday evening I began reading a book entitled Beyond the Quiet Time: Practical Evangelical Spirituality. For those who know me, it should come as no surprise that on the subject of faith, I tend to prefer matters of an intellectual nature – sometimes, unfortunately, to the degradation of my personal devotional life. In my mind, I know that devotion is a necessary part of faith; but my heart is too often hard when it comes to expressing that devotion itself. I so despise that practice common among too many modern Evangelicals – that is, “zeal without knowledge” (Prov. 19:2) – that I have taken great pains to prevent this error in my own life. But in my good intentions, I have found myself devaluing devotional practices and pushing them to the side.

While I recognize the shortcomings of my own position, I find that I am not impressed by the frequently shallow “devotional” modes of life advocated by large portions of the Church. And so I have sought in my own life to find a balance between mind and heart faith, often unsuccessfully. Enter the book I have above mentioned. In this work, the theologian Alister McGrath attempts to reintroduce a joint heart/head approach to devotion. But rather than explaining what he says, I find it simpler (and more accurate) to let him speak for himself:

“We can read the Bible as a guidebook to Jesus Christ, appreciating the way in which the many strands of the Old Testament find their fulfilment in him. Yet there is another way of reading the Bible, which supplements this. It is to read Scripture in order to deepen our relationship with Jesus Christ; and that means learning more about him (the objective side of things), and deepening our commitment and love for him (the subjective side of things). These two both need to be there. The head and the heart are both caught up in Christian faith” (17).

And again:

“Faith is related to both our minds and our experience; it concerns both Word and Spirit. Christians do not just believe; they believe certain things. Yet Christian faith is about far more than understanding ideas: it is about the transformation of our experience and the renewal of our lives. A fully developed Christian spirituality will thus deal with both these aspects” (21).

Building on this premise, McGrath rightly criticizes Evangelicalism for failing to provide the tools necessary for Christians to engage with Scripture in this deeply important way. The book in question seeks to reverse this problem by providing a structured format for devotion, recognizing the importance of both intellectual aspects [as we seek to gain maturity as we use “the mind to uncover the way in which Christian doctrines relate to and reinforce one another” (21)] while pursuing experiential aspects [as we seek to use “the imagination as to identify and appreciate the emotional aspects of the gospel, and their implications for Christian living” (22)]. The Scripture studies in the book provide (to name but a few of the elements therein) moments where the reader is invited to visualize themselves in various situations, moments for reflection upon the commentary of great Christian writers, and moments to express and exercise their responses to the devotions.

This book is an excellent devotional tool, and I commend it to any who may be seeking to reinvigorate their quiet times with God. The introductory essay is itself an excellent resource, to say nothing of the studies themselves.


For more information on Alister McGrath, check out his official website here or read the Wikipedia entry. Alister McGrath, formerly Professor of Historical Theology at Oxford University, is currently Professor of Theology, Ministry and Education, and Head of Theology, Religion and Culture at King’s College London. He is the author of numerous books (both popular and academic) including The Dawkins Delusion, Christianity’s Dangerous Idea, and A Passion for Truth.