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Today on Facebook, someone posed this question in the Reformed Baptist Fellowship & Theology Forum:

“Help me guys on preacher and teacher
A) R.C. Sproul
B) J.F. MacArthur
C) J Piper
Who do you prefer? And Why?”

While this kind of question is like having to choose between Mexican, Italian or Chinese food (another conundrum if you ask me!), it did spark my thought processes and so here they are.

I have a deep respect for all three of these Men of God and choosing one of them in no way diminishes my respect for the other two.

That being said, my choice is John MacArthur. His expository method gets to the heart of every text on which he preaches and I have a deep respect for one who loves the church with such passion.

The slight disagreements that I have with R. C. Sproul and John Piper are certainly secondary, maybe even tertiary differences on issues that do not adversely impact the clear Biblical teaching of Salvation.

First of all, my main disagreement with R. C. Sproul is on the issue of baptism. Baptism is a picture of what has taken place in the heart of one who is elect and from the examples in Scripture was done as an outward sign after one's conversion to illustrate what God has done in that person's life.

Next, my main disagreement with John Piper is Non-Cessationism. He believes that the signs and wonders gifts are still operational today, even though he has not personally experienced them. Once again, the examples in Scripture illustrate that the purpose for the signs and wonders gifts was to validate to their world that the Apostles indeed were called by God and given authority to speak on His behalf. Since we now have the completed Canon of Scripture, there is no need for the message to be validated in the same manner.

Christ spoke in Mark 8 and Luke 11 that an evil generation seeks a sign. Seeking a sign can indicate a lack of faith. I pray that in my own life I can exhibit the kind of faith Christ spoke of in John 20:29:

“Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.'”

But even with these disagreements, all three of these men are being used by God to build His kingdom and I thank the Lord for such giants of the Faith and I pray for His continued blessing on their efforts to bring honor to the Lord's Name and that the Lord continues to draw his elect to Himself in the process.

The False Teachers

A few weeks ago I set out on a series of articles through which I am scanning the history of the church—from its earliest days all the way to the present time—to examine some of Christianity’s most notable false teachers and to examine the false doctrine each of them represents. Along the way we have visited such figures as Joseph Smith (Mormonism), Ellen G. White (Adventism), Norman Vincent Peale (Positive Thinking) and Benny Hinn (Faith Healing). Today we turn to a post-Reformation nun whose mysticism has remained influential through the centuries. She represents the false teaching of mysticism.

Teresa of Avila

Teresa of AvilaTeresa of Avila was born on March 28, 1515, to a family that would soon number twelve. Sadly, Teresa’s mother died in 1529 and against her father’s wishes, she entered the Carmelite Convent of the Incarnation at Avil. Very quickly she encountered significant health concerns and was rendered an invalid for three years. It was during this time that she discovered and developed a love for prayer. However, once her health was recovered, this dedication to prayer soon waned. At that time, and in that area, the Carmelites were a relaxed order and living as a nun was easy, respectable, and could even be glamorous at times.

In 1554, when she was almost 40, Teresa had an intense religious experience while she was before an image of the wounded Christ in the convent’s private chapel. She felt that Christ “was within me, or that I was totally engulfed by him.” Such experiences became more common and she became accustomed to Christ appearing to her and engulfing her in his love, though this was regarded with suspicion by her fellow nuns and by her priest confessors. There was suspicion toward anyone who claimed to be receiving special illumination or revelation from God.

In 1558, increasingly concerned with the laxity of Carmelite life, Teresa began to consider reform. This reform would require Carmelite nuns to completely withdraw from society around them so they could dedicate their time and attention to prayer, and through a life of repentance and penance, do works of reparation for the sins of mankind. Pope Pius IV authorized this reform and in 1562 she founded a new convent, insisting that the nuns survive only through receiving public alms. She would give the rest of her life to establishing and growing sixteen of these convents through Spain. Though it all, she would have ongoing and increasing mystical experiences.

She left behind a significant number of books including The Way of Perfection (1583), and The Interior Castle (1588), which many regard as a masterpiece of spiritual autobiography alongside Augustin’s Confessions. Beside her books, she left behind some 31 poems and 458 letters.

Teresa died of cancer on October 4, 1582. It was said that she died in a state of ecstasy and that as she died, any object she had touched sent forth a sweet odor. Forty years later she was canonized by Pope Gregory XV and shortly thereafter named a Doctor of the Church by Pope Paul VI, the first female to be so honored.

False Teaching – Mysticism

Teresa was a mystic. Donald Whitney says mysticism refers to “those forms of Christian spirituality which attempt direct or unmediated access to God.” Mystics are those who expect to experience “a direct inner realization of the Divine” and an “unmediated link to an absolute.”

At the heart of Teresa’s teaching was the ascent of the soul into sweet and unbroken mystical communion with God. She described four progressive stages in this ascent.

  1. Mental Prayer. The first is mental prayer, devout contemplation and concentration, through which the soul withdraws from everything physical around it. This happens especially during penitence and during times of observing Christ in his suffering and death.
  2. Prayer of Quiet. In prayer of quiet, the human will becomes lost in God’s will in a kind of supernatural state. Faculties such as memory, reason and imagination have not yet been quieted from outside distraction, but the mind and will are quiet in a growing experience of Christ’s presence.
  3. Devotion of Union. The devotion of union is a supernatural, ecstatic state in which human reason has become absorbed in God and only memory and imagination remain unclaimed. This is a state of bliss and peace where the higher faculties experience a sweet rest and the devotee experiences conscious rapture in God’s love.
  4. Devotion of Ecstasy or Rapture. This is a passive state in which the feeling of having a physical body disappears. Sense, memory and imagination are all absorbed in God. “Body and spirit are in the throes of a sweet, happy pain, alternating between a fearful fiery glow, a complete impotence and unconsciousness, and a spell of strangulation, sometimes by such an ecstatic flight that the body is literally lifted into space . This after half an hour is followed by a reactionary relaxation of a few hours in a swoon-like weakness, attended by a negation of all the faculties in the union with God. The subject awakens From this in tears; it is the climax of mystical experience, producing a trance. Indeed, she was said to have been observed levitating during Mass on more than one occasion.”

Followers & Modern Adherents

Despite significant opposition to her experiences and reform, Teresa gained a substantial following in her day and was influential on her generation of fellow Carmelite nuns and on other mystics such as John of the Cross. Her influence has only widened in the centuries since, and especially after her canonization. Her books have been the primary means of disseminating her ideas.

In days past her many admirers have seen her in many different lights. “George Eliot, who cast Teresa as patron saint of the frustrated bluestocking Dorothea Brooke in Middlemarch ; Vita Sackville–West, who made Teresa into a twentieth century free spirit with (but of course) lesbian proclivities; and a range of feminist theorists, from Simone de Beauvoir in The Second Sex to the tenured denizens of numerous women’s studies departments. To them, Teresa was a postmodern “subversive” against patriarchal power structures both secular and ecclesial, androcentric metanarrative, and whatever else is currently deemed oppressive to the female sex.”1

In recent days her influence among Christians has grown, and especially during a resurgence of interest in contemplative prayer. Her doctrine of asceticism is considered a classic explanation and exposition of the contemplative life. Teresa’s understanding of the soul’s ascent and the mystical communion with God through contemplative prayer has been influential to the likes of those who have a fascination with mysticism including Brennan Manning, Richard Foster, and Watchman Nee, along with many who were (or are) associated with Emerging Christianity. We can also spot her direct or indirect influence in the works of bestselling authors like Sarah Young (Jesus Calling) and Ann Voskamp (One Thousand Gifts).

What the Bible Says

At the heart of mysticism is the primacy of experience over Scripture. Mystics seek to experience God directly rather than through the mediation of the Bible. Scripture demands for itself a unique place in the Christian life and church and mysticism threatens to supplant it. One of the great challenges before every Christian and every generation of Christians is this: Will the Bible be enough? Will we affirm the sufficiency of Scripture—that the Bible is all we need for life and doctrine—or will we demand that God reveal himself to us in other ways, such as mystical raptures?

Protestants have long held to the doctrine of sola scripture—Scripture alone. Teresa wrote during the Counter-Reformation, the period of time in which Rome was responding to the challenge of these Protestant doctrines. Donald Whitney says, “the Scriptures alone—and not anyone’s individual experience nor the collected and distilled corporate tradition of the church—are our final authority. And the Scriptures are our final authority because the Scriptures are what God says. In this context sola scriptura means that the Bible is the ultimate authority in all matters of faith and Christian living, and thus the ultimate authority in spirituality.” The Bible is also “a sufficient guide for our spirituality. In other words, the authority for our spirituality claims its sufficiency as the director of our spirituality.” The Bible will guide us not only in what we know of God but also in how we know God.

Whitney offers two ways we cross this boundary of sola scriptura. The first is whenever

we seek an experience with Him in a way not found in Scripture. In one sense it is difficult to think of an example of an encounter with God for which there is nothing remotely similar in the Bible. Yet in another sense mankind seems to have a unlimited capacity to invent ways to “get in touch with God.” And all these have in common the presumption of the ability to experience God apart from the forms He has selected, and/or the presumption of the ability to experience Him immediately, that is, unmediated by God’s ordained means of revealing Himself to us.

A second way to cross the boundary of sola scriptura is

seeking to experience God in a way not inaugurated, guided, or interpreted by Scripture. Scripture should inaugurate many of our experiences with God, for the Scriptures are the clearest revelation of God. This is why He gave His Word to us, so that we would experience Him. And in a real sense we might say that all true experiences with God are ultimately inaugurated by Scripture.

When we understand the unique position Scripture demands for itself, we also understand the danger inherent in mysticism.

 

The False Teachers

A few weeks ago I set out on a new series of articles through which I am scanning the history of the church—from its earliest days all the way to the present time—to examine some of Christianity’s most notorious false teachers. Along the way we have visited such figures as Arius, Pelagius, Joseph Smith, and Ellen G. White. Today we will look at the life and legacy of a man who assumed and further developed theological Liberalism and paved the way for what became known as Progressive Christianity. His name is Marcus Borg.

Marcus Borg

Marcus BorgMarcus Borg was born in 1942 to a Lutheran family in North Dakota. After high school he went to Concordia College in Minnesota determined to become an astrophysicist but soon changed his major to math and physics, and then again to political science and philosophy. As a young man he experienced great doubts about his Christian faith and decided to pursue postgraduate studies at Union Seminary in New York City and here he was heavily influenced by W.D. Davies, a man who laid the groundwork for what has become known as the New Perspective on Paul. After graduating from Union he moved overseas to Mansfield College, Oxford University, where he earned his Doctorate of Philosophy.

In 1979 Borg became a member of the faculty at Oregon State University, a position he would hold until he retired in 2007 as Distinguished Professor in Religion and Culture and the Hundere Endowed Chair in Religious Studies. However, his career as a professor would be overshadowed by his career as a writer and public figure, and his leadership in what has become known as Progressive Christianity, an updated form of theological Liberalism.

Borg is a gifted writer who is adept at popularizing difficult concepts and his prose is attractive for its lively and meditative style. One person he has influenced writes, “Almost single-handedly among progressives, Borg has opened up new avenues of experience and thought for lapsed Christians or nonbelievers interested in re-visioning the Christianity of their childhood. He writes clearly and concisely about the meaning of wisdom, compassion, justice, the kingdom of God, and life as a journey of transformation. His books boldly take us into fresh fields of wonder, mystery, and passion in regard to Jesus, God, the Bible, and the Christian way.”1

His most significant contributions have been as a scholar whose focus has been on the person and work of Jesus Christ. He has written or edited more than twenty-five books, and the great majority of them have been focused on Jesus. He also led two nationally-televised symposia—one focused on Jesus and the other on God—, served as national chair of the Historical Jesus Section of the Society of Biblical Literature, and has made regular appearances on PBS and other television networks. His bestselling book is Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, and it is in this book that he most clearly lays out his convictions. He draws on his own journey, from a childhood, childish faith in Christ to the development of what he considers a deeper, richer, and more plausible set of beliefs based on a historical rather than fabled Jesus. He teaches here that the Christian life is not meant to be rooted in dogma or creed, but in compassion and community.

In 1985 Robert Funk founded the Jesus Seminar, a group of 150 critical scholars who were tasked with re-examining the traditions surrounding the historicity of Jesus, and in particular, his deeds and his sayings. Among these scholars was Marcus Borg. The scholars employed social anthropology, history and textual analysis to attempt to reconstruct Jesus’ life and to separate the historical Jesus from what they take as myth. They famously used a voting system that relied on colored beads to represent whether one of Jesus’ deeds or sayings was authentic. Of the over five hundred sayings of Jesus recorded in the Gospels, they determined that only thirty-one were authentic with the rest being possibly authentic, doubtful or completely inauthentic. Over their many meetings and through much dialog they eventually determined that Jesus was a mortal man who, like the rest of us, had been born of two parents, that he did not perform miracles, that any healings attributed to him were merely psychosomatic, that he did not die a substitutionary death, that he was not physically resurrected, and that the post-resurrection sightings of Jesus were merely visions.

Marcus Borg became and remains one of the foremost leaders in what has become known as Progressive Christianity which differs from Evangelical Christianity in a number of important ways. Where Evangelical Christianity emphasizes life after death, sin and forgiveness, the substitutionary atoning work of Jesus Christ, and grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone as the only way of salvation, Progressive Christianity takes a historical and metaphorical (rather than literal) approach to the Bible, affirms that God can be known through every religion, is far more concerned with good behavior than orthodox beliefs, and pursues progressive social and political views.

Today Marcus Borg has retired from Oregon State University but continues to serve as Canon Theologian at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Portland. He also remains an active writer and blogs often at Patheos.

False Teaching

As a Progressive Christian, Borg denies important tenets of the historical Christian faith while affirming what Christians have long held as unorthodox or outright heretical positions. He has long denied the inspiration and authority of the Bible, saying, “I let go of the notion that the Bible is a divine product. I learned that it is a human cultural product, the product of two ancient communities, biblical Israel and early Christianity. As such, it contained their understandings and affirmations, not statements coming directly or somewhat directly from God.” He explicitly denies Jesus’ virgin birth: “Jesus almost certainly was not born of a virgin, did not think of himself as the Son of God, and did not see his purpose as dying for the sins of the world.” He also denies the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ: “I do not think that the gospel stories of Easter require us to think of the resurrection in material physical terms. I see them as parables of the resurrection. Parables are about meaning. They are truth-filled and truthful stories, even as they may not be literally factual.” In fact, he denies so much of the core beliefs of the Christian faith that it becomes nearly absurd to consider him a Christian at all.

Followers & Modern Adherents

As one of the foremost Progressive Christians, Borg has been an influence on many of today’s Liberal and Progressives Christians. These would include Tony Campolo, Brian McLaren, Karen Armstrong, Shane Claiborne, Anne Lamott, Jim Wallis and many others. He has lent the weight of his scholarship to their attempts to renegotiate the place of Scripture in the Christian life and faith, and to rethink many of its most sacred doctrines. He is often quoted favorably by those who want to consider themselves Christians but without holding to inerrancy, the virgin birth, the resurrection, and others beliefs most Christians have long held sacred.

What the Bible Says

One hardly knows where to begin when countering Borg with Scripture. Not only does he deny many fundamental Christian beliefs, but he also denies the very qualities of Scripture that would allow the Bible to correct him. So perhaps this is the heart of his error: the denial of the place the Bible demands for itself: its inspiration, its inerrancy, its authority, its sufficiency, its finality.

2 Timothy 3:16 assures us, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” Peter speaks of Scripture as God’s inerrant and inspired revelation of himself saying, “no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20-21). The writer to the Hebrews says that, because Scripture is God’s Word, it is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). If any or all of these things are true, then we do not read and judge Scripture—it reads and judges us. We have no right to stand over Scripture; instead, we have the privilege of sitting under it as it does its work in and through us.

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Kevin DeYoung is quickly becoming one of my go-to authors. One of his strengths as an author is taking difficult concepts out of the academy and bringing it to those of us who do better reading at a more popular level. He did this in Why We're Not Emergent, the book that introduced us to him, and has done it in most of the books he has written since. His newest book, Taking God at His Word, is all about the Bible and about loving the Bible and, once again, it is targeted at the general reader.

He begins in Psalm 119, David’s long love song dedicated to the Bible. He begins here because David’s love for God’s Word, and David’s awe of that Word, is exactly where DeYoung wants the reader to be by the time he has finished this book. This means he starts with the application, so to speak, and then works to the information and the defense—an interesting and rather helpful way of going about things. He wants us, like David, to believe the Bible, to feel love for the Bible, and to do what the Bible says.

In the second chapter DeYoung turns to 2 Peter 1 to look at the nature of the Bible as God’s inerrant revelation of himself, given through the agency of human beings who received and transmitted those words. There is nothing more steady and sure than this Word. “You do not need another special revelation from God outside the Bible. You can listen to the voice of God every day. Christ still speaks, because the Spirit has already spoken. If you want to hear from God, go to the book that records only what he has said. Immerse yourself in the word of God. You will not find anything more sure.”

Over the next four chapters he uses the acronym SCAN to highlight four essential characteristics of the Bible: Sufficiency, Clarity, Authority, and Necessity.

Sufficiency. The Scriptures contain everything we need for knowledge of salvation and godly living. We don’t need any new revelation from heaven.

Clarity. The saving message of Jesus Christ is plainly taught in the Scriptures and can be understood by all who have ears to hear it. We don’t need an official magisterium to tell us what the Bible means.

Authority. The last word always goes to the word of God. We must never allow the teachings of science, of human experience, or of church councils to take precedence over Scripture.

Necessary. General revelation is not enough to save us. We cannot know God savingly by means of personal experience and human reason. We need God’s word to tell us how to live, who Christ is, and how to be saved.

This is to say that God’s Word is enough, clear, final, and necessary.

Having put each of these pieces in place, he looks at how Jesus understood the Bible. As Christians we necessarily wish to imitate Christ and this ought to include imitating him in his understanding of the Bible. DeYoung turns to several passages to show that Christ who was the Word, loved and honored the Word. “It is impossible to revere the Scriptures more deeply or affirm them more completely than Jesus did.”

Finally, he concludes with a call to stick with the Scriptures—not to move on and not to pursue something else. And really, if we agree with anything he has taught in the previous seven chapters, we would be crazy to do anything else but to stand with and stand upon God’s Word.

Taking God at His Word isn’t a book that teaches a method for studying the Bible; it doesn’t teach how to interpret or apply Scripture during personal devotions. It does something more foundational: It teaches why and how we ought to honor and respect God’s Word. DeYoung does not rely on flashy defenses or apologetics. Instead, “my conviction, born out of experience and derived from the teaching of Scripture itself, is that the most effective means for bolstering our confidence in the Bible is to spend time in the Bible.” This is just what he does. “My aim is to be simple, uncluttered, straightforward, and manifestly biblical. I make no pretenses about offering you anything other than a doctrine of Scripture derived from Scripture itself.”

There are many books that do roughly the same thing Taking God at His Word does, but they tend to do it on a technical or academic level. DeYoung’s book is written for a very different audience and is meant to be entry-level and reader-friendly. It succeeds well.

At Grace Fellowship Church we like to stock up on books when we can get them at great prices and give them away at strategic times. This is just the kind of book we love to buy and distribute. Every Christian needs to be anchored in the Scriptures and needs to grow in his love for Scripture. Taking God at His Word will help in both respects.

by Frank Turk

From 2006 to 2012, PyroManiacs turned out almost-daily updates from the Post-Evangelical wasteland — usually to the fear and loathing of more-polite and more-irenic bloggers and readers. The results lurk in the archives of this blog in spite of the hope of many that Google will “accidentally” swallow these words and pictures whole.

This feature enters the murky depths of the archives to fish out the classic hits from the golden age of internet drubbings.


The following except was written by Frank back in February 2007. Frank pointed out the necessity of the right kind of hermeneutic.

As usual, the comments are closed.

Can the Bible be figured out? If Deu 6 is one explanation of what Scripture is and does, how does it turn out that so many people disagree about what Scripture says, and how do I make sure that I don’t fumble the football?

We have to use Scripture the way Christ used Scripture. We have to use it the way John the Baptist used it. We have to use it the way Paul and Peter used it – and Stephen, and James, and John and Matthew and Mark and Luke.

You know: the hermeneutic of the men who delivered the word of God to people as prophets and apostles is not actually a very complicated hermeneutic. It is a rigorous hermeneutic, to be sure. And it is hardly an “objective” hermeneutic in the sense that it calls for the reader to be sort of a flavorless paste. And it requires something from us, to be sure. The position these men all put Scripture in was one which is above human reasoning in such a way as to guide and form human reasoning.

But the problem with people today is that we prefer a more-complicated hermeneutic. We have things we like just the way they are, and sometimes we want to find a way to justify that. We can do extraordinary linguistic studies to find out if God saved anyone eternally in the Old Testament in order to justify our truncating of the New Testament expression of salvation; we can do the same thing to make a sin out of wine-drinking, and out of married love, and to tone down the problem of excessive riches because we live in an excessively-rich society. We can use Scripture to buttress our beliefs in the church to make it more than it ought to be, and also less than it ought to be.

What we ought to do with Scripture is come to it in complete poverty and desperation, knowing that it is the wisdom of God which makes the wisdom of men look like foolishness. Our hermeneutic ought to be one where we frame ourselves not as peers to the writer but as abject beggars before the writer. Our hermeneutic ought to be the sinner who will die without God’s intervention.

That’s what Deu 6 says, isn’t it? The word God has commanded is there for us to remember who God is when we think we have enough that we can live without Him. The word of God ought to be taking us down a notch from satisfied to grateful, from safe to seeking refuge, from comfortable to poor in spirit. You can know your conclusion about the word of God is sound when what you have brought out of the text something you could have never put in there. When you are a student of the text, drawn there by God’s wisdom in the face of your own foolishness, you will be getting it right.