It’s that time of year. Christmas is just days away, and I’m pleasantly surprised our media in New Zealand hasn’t trotted out the same “scholars” as last time to break the scandalous story that… I don’t know, Jesus never really existed (yawn), Nazareth didn’t exist (uh huh), Israel never existed, Jesus was a gay feminist or something equally likely.
One reliable Christmas theme is that really, Christmas isn’t Christian in origins. You’ll hear things like:
“Someone keeps putting up “Keep Christ in Christmas” and “Christ is the reason” signs all around my town. I’m guessing they don’t know about the celebration’s pagan roots.”
That’s the caption that was attached to this “pagan traditions” picture. If you do start hearing this sort of things from those heathen carollers of the internet, this year give the gift of knowledge.
In a shocking and unexpected move, overtly progressive Christian bloggers have been making bad arguments against unpopular conservative forms of Christianity and their whacky view of the Bible. If I were not so busy pummeling homeless people with my fists and stockpiling guns, I would be outraged.
It started like this: Someone shared a link to an article by Fred Clark, summarising an article on 2 Timothy 3:16, telling us that his “fundamentalist” friends (he elsewhere in the article refers to them as “fundies”) like to use this verse to address any question about “the infallibility or inerrancy or “literal” interpretation of the Bible.” Surely there’s a bit of rhetorical overstatement here – I’m yet to encounter people using this passage to show that a “literal” interpretation of the whole Bible is correct. But Clark’s point – or at least the one that caught my eye and prompted me to comment on Facebook when somebody shared the article, was about authority.
Fred says that Paul doesn’t claim that Scripture is authoritative or inerrant. He only claims that Scripture is “useful”:1
This verse doesn’t claim that scripture is authoritative, or infallible, or inerrant. It claims that scripture is “useful.” As McGrath puts it: “The focus is entirely on behavior. Scriptures are not said to impart right doctrine, but to be useful in training people in living a particular way.” [Emphasis added]
On the face of it, this is not true. Sure, Paul is, in this context, talking about behaviour. But this verse doesn’t only say that Scripture is useful, it says that Scripture is god-breathed and useful. The writer of the blog was simply omitting the first part of what Paul says, and as a result his claim was false. When “fundies” cite this verse to show that Paul thought Scripture had authority, they are not referring to the fact that he called Scripture “useful” (although of course they don’t deny that). They are talking about the fact that Paul considered the Scripture to be breathed by God. So to deny that Paul calls Scripture authoritative on the grounds that he actually called it useful is simply not a true thing to say. Continue reading “All Scripture is… just handy?”→
I understand that some people think Paul didn’t write the pastoral Epistles, including 1 and 2 Timothy. In recent years I’ve become impressed by the flimsiness of the arguments against Pauline authorship of these letters. I will not comment on that issue here, but I will refer here to the author as Paul. [↩]
Christians shouldn’t oppose X, because Jesus never said anything about X! Right?
With same-sex marriage being the topic of the day for a lot of “progressive Christians,” this is an argument I’ve seen lately. Since Jesus never said anything about same-sex marriage, Christians shouldn’t oppose it either. When I last saw it, I queried whether it was even true, but the same line was repeated back to me each time: Jesus said NOTHING about same-sex marriage (the capitals were used in the reply). Continue reading “Jesus never said ANYTHING about X!”→
We just got back from taking our kids to their first Ash Wednesday service. Ash Wednesday kicks off the season of Lent, a time where we examine ourselves with a repentant heart, confessing our sins and reminding ourselves of God’s mercy. Many people give something up for lent and the practice of fasting during Lent is common, so that people can take their focus off their needs and pleasures and focus on being made right with God.
During the Ash Wednesday service, participants are marked on the forehead with a cross. Tonight the prayer just before the marking with ash really stood out to me:
Loving God, you created us from the dust of the earth; may these ashes be for us a sign of our penitence and mortality, and a reminder that only by the cross do we receive eternal life.
What a simple reality. The prayer wasn’t burdened down with the language that we sometimes use to describe these truths, terminology like “physicalism,” “conditional immortality” or “annihilationism.” One of the frustrating things (but of course not the only frustrating thing) when Christians deny these biblical truths and talk about the immortality of the soul or about everybody living forever (it’s just a question of where they live) is that we have to come up with terminology to describe these positions.
This prayer, though, is a perfect example of how something like “annihilationism” or “conditional immortality” is ideally expressed, with the straightforward, unadorned claims of the Bible. We are mortal, made from the earth (or from stardust as some scientists like to say), we are dust and to dust we will return. We should have no default expectation of living forever, and it is only through Christ that we can have eternal life. Call that “conditional immortality” if you like, but it’s just the Christian Gospel.
Like nails on the chalk board, there are some things I wish my Christian peers (and everyone, I guess) would stop saying. I rarely post lists like this, but you can’t always rely on induction. Now I am posting one.
What would you think if I offered to reward you by killing you? Would you think I was mad? Suppose that I was a well-known preacher who had steadily grown in popularity, so that I now pastored a large church, wrote and sold many books, was keynote speaker at conservative conferences and so on. And then one day I told, not just you but the whole world, that for people who don’t know Jesus to be annihilated forever would actually be a reward, throwing in a claim that really, it’s what they want anyway? Of course it would be just as mad as the person who thought that killing you would be a reward, but you might look at my rise in popularity and influence and wonder at just what point I crossed the line where I would think that this was a healthy thing, not just to believe, but to tell the world.
As far as I can tell, St Paul quoted from the written Gospel of Luke. And since St Paul died in AD 67 or thereabouts, the Gospel of Luke must be younger than that. I’ve also reached the conclusion that what “critical scholars” say to overturn this observation is a whole lot of not very much based on even less.
What is Apollinarianism, and what’s really wrong with it?
Apollinarianism is a well-known Christological heresy; a way of understanding the person of Christ that historic Christianity rejected. The orthodox Christian way of thinking about the person of Christ is summed up in the chalcedonian definition. In brief, it is that Christ is one person who is fully human and fully God. He has everything necessary for a complete human nature, and he additionally has everything necessary for a divine nature. Is Jesus a person? Yes. Is that person divine? Yes, because a person with a divine nature is a divine person. Is that person human? Yes, because a person with a human nature is a human person. But we are still only talking about one person, something possible because Christ has two natures, not just one. Continue reading “What’s really wrong with Apollinarianism?”→