You know that feeling you get when someone perfectly describes something you have witnessed or seen dozens of times, but never been able to articulate yourself? I had that feeling as I listened to Christian Smith describe the average, American Evangelical Bible study. The following quote is taken from an interview at The White Horse Inn:
Basically, what gets reported [by anthropologists studying evangelical Bible studies], and what I think I agree with, is:
The text is read, umm… what the text actually says is not all that much paid attention to. People, rather, sort of search around in their heads and their memories and their feelings for something that seems to connect to the text. And then, they conclude, “Oh yeah, well that makes me feel like this…” or, “What I think is that…” or, “In my opinion what it means is this…” And usually, the text is serving as a pretext to affirm something they already believe, rather than as an authoritative text to challenge what they already believe.
Maybe you saw this linked from The Gospel Coalition, but if you haven’t read President of Asbury Dr. Timothy C. Tennent’s fall convocation entitled, “The Clarion Call to Watered Down Evangelicalism: Our Mission to ‘theologically educate,’” well then you should go read it now.
Tennent starts off by noting, “Tragically, Niebuhr’s devastating critique [of liberalism] is on the brink of being equally applicable to contemporary, evangelical Christianity.” From there, he turns both barrels on the current state of evangelicalism in America today. Here are some of the heavier quotes:
If liberalism is guilty of demythologizing the miraculous, we have surely been guilty of trivializing it. If liberalism is guilty of turning all theological statements into anthropological ones, surely we must be found guilty of making Christianity just another face of the multi-headed Hydra of American, market-driven consumerism. If liberalism can be charged with making the church a gentler, kindler version of the Kiwanis club, we must be willing to accept the charge that we have managed to reinvent the gospel, turning it into a privatized subset of one’s individual faith journey. I realize that there are powerful, faithful churches in every tradition who are already modeling the very future this message envisions, but we must also allow our prophetic imagination to enable us to see what threatens to engulf us.
This article was sent to me from a friend who does not believe in hell. He believes a loving father would never send His child to hell is what . I know he sent this to me because he knows I do believe in hell. How do I respond in a clear fashion?
You asked about the article that was sent to you, written by an author named Oliver Thomas. In the article, he makes some claims in the article that I want to point out, and then I’ll give you a few thoughts on how you should speak to your friend about this, as well as some resources that are available to help you. But first, let’s examine some of the author’s claims:
Hell in the Old Testament
1. Does the Old Testament teach everlasting punishment after death? The author of the article says, “Nowhere in the Hebrew Bible (Christian Old Testament) is the abode of the dead described as a place of eternal punishment.” The article is quite correct, in that the most common description of what awaited people after death was known as sheol, a shadowy, uncertain place. Both godly, righteous people and the wicked ended up in sheol. But sheol has a few different meanings in the Old Testament, and the author is ignoring parts of what the Bible says. Continue reading →
I mentioned in a different post the tricky nature of distinguishing between heresy, heterodoxy, bad teaching, etc. Johannes Wollebius (1586-1629) described some careful thinking and distinguishing between the various categories. In chapter 27 on “The False Church” of his Prolegomena, he notes:
1. Not every error makes a heretic.
There may be error against the foundation like that of the Arians and Marcionites, who denied, the one the deity, and the other the humanity, of Christ; or concerning the foundation, as the papists err in teaching transubstantiation, by which the truth of the human nature of Christ is taken away; or error by addition to the foundation, which errors are by Paul called hay, wood, etc. (1 Cor. 3:12).
2. The following makes a heretic: (i) an error against the foundation or concerning the foundation, (ii) conviction, (iii) contumacy.
3. Not every schismatic is a heretic.
A schismatic is one who, although holding to the foundation of the faith, departs from some practice [ritus] of the church, rashly or because of ambition.