Tag Archives: Bible

Debunking the Protestant “T” word part V (conclusion): Learning to love tradition


This article is continued from “Debunking the Protestant ‘T’ word: An edifying tale, part I,“ “Debunking the Protestant ‘T’ Word part II: How to spot a heresy, “Debunking the Protestant ‘T’ Word part III: What was the beef at Nicea?“ and “Debunking the Protestant “T” word part IV: How sausage was made.”

So now in conclusion: Some of you may be inclined to say: “All I need is my Bible, and I know everything about God and Jesus and salvation that I need to know.” I hope you’ll see the moral of this story about the Council of Nicea. The doctrine of the Trinity—that is, the doctrine that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all uncreated, all co-eternal, all equal in divinity—is, in one sense, all over the Bible. But in another, very literal sense, the Trinity is never mentioned even once in the Bible. Nor is the exact nature and relationship of the “two natures of Christ”—his divine nature and his human nature. Those were clarified at later councils. Nor will you find in the Bible every detail of the right way to run a church—including church government, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and so much more. (That’s why there are so many denominations!) Nor, of course, does the Bible contain instructions about what job each of you should take, or who you should marry.

You can and should ask the Bible each of those kinds of questions. But it’s not a great idea to just ask the Bible. Continue reading

Debunking the Protestant “T” word part II: How to spot a heresy


Statue de Constantin Ier, Musée du Capitole, Rome

Constantine, looking imperial

This article is continued from “Debunking the Protestant ‘T’ word: An edifying tale, part I” and continues in “Debunking the Protestant ‘T’ word part III: What was the beef at Nicea?

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. When the debate about Jesus’ divinity first hit the streets of Alexandria, the Emperor Constantine saw the handwriting on the wall (perhaps literally, if he came across some of that theological graffiti!). He said to himself, “This empire isn’t going to fall apart on my watch!” And so he called together a giant council of the church at his summer palace in Nicea (Nicea is now a town called Iznik, in Turkey—and sadly for us historians, there’s nothing left of that palace). Constantine was doing, on a larger scale, what the church had always done in its first three hundred years when a crucial matter like this came up. He called on the bishops—that is, the teaching pastors of key churches—to come together.

The point was not to have these top pastors get all creative and brilliant and make up some new doctrine that everyone would have to follow from then on. No, since the beginning, the bishops in the church had had only one main function, and everyone understood it. The job of each bishop—and especially of all the bishops together—was simple: they were expected to faithfully pass on the teachings of the Apostles. Continue reading

Is contemplative prayer a legitimate Christian practice?


Cover of

Over at Internet Monk, an excellent review of a book on classic Christian spirituality, Gary Thomas’s Sacred Pathways, has stirred up a heck of a hornet’s nest. A couple of critics are insisting at some length that contemplative prayer of the sort Thomas, Foster, Willard, and others recommend is “syncretistic” and thus dangerous.

Here is an excerpt from the review:

If you’ve read anything else by Gary Thomas or checked out his website, you know that unlike some evangelicals he believes that the Holy Spirit has been active throughout Christian history, not just since 1517. Continue reading

Foundations of a free and virtuous society:


What follows are my sketchy notes on a session at Acton University yesterday, June 16, 2010. The presenter was Dr. Stephen J. Grabill. Dr. Grabill received his Ph.D. from Calvin Theological Seminary. He is a research scholar in theology and editor of the Journal of Markets & Morality. He is the general editor of The Stewardship Resource Bible: ESV, which was released in November of 2009. He is the author of Rediscovering the Natural Law in Reformed Theological Ethics and is currently editing Sourcebook of Late Scholastic Monetary Theory.

Foundations of a Free and Virtuous Society, Dr. Stephen J. Grabill

Christian social thought is distilled wisdom over the ages . . . Christian thought will be anti-revolutionary, as Guillaume Groen van Prinsterer and Kuyper used the term. The former offer titled a book Unbelief and Revolution. A Protestant Lord Acton. He thought false dichotomy between spiritual destiny and earthly _____. Thought Christians should see selves as the people God had called to shape history according to God’s ordinances. But saw conflicting religious visions at work. Autonomous vision of French Rev at odds w/ Christian vision. That vision couldn’t be carried on by preserving orthodox church in secularized world, but must be carried out in all departments of life. Continue reading

Two talks: Why study early Christian history? (Everett Ferguson); The church fathers as wise exegetes (Robert Louis Wilken)


From the Wheaton Center for Early Christian Studies, check out these talks by Everett Ferguson and Robert Louis Wilken on the whys and wherefores of patristics:

3-18-2010 | Center for Early Christian Studies Spring Gathering Keynote Address by Dr. Everett Ferguson
“Why Study Early Christian History and Literature? ” (MP3)
10-30-2009 | Center for Early Christian Studies Inaugural Lecture by Dr. Robert Louis Wilken
“Going Deeper into the Bible: The Church Fathers as Interpreters” (MP3)

Signs of the times: What spiritual and social renewal looked like to the Pietists in the early 1700s


The following is a “progress report” on the famous Pietist renewal. It was published an appendix to a 1716 book by Pietist church reformer August Hermann Francke, Pietas Hallensis. It may be interesting and instructive to ask: are these the sorts of signs of spiritual and social renewal that we would get excited about today? How are we doing in these areas?

Part I of the book itself is a brief account of the “rise, occasion, and progress” of the Halle complex. The complex, in Halle, Germany, was dedicated to renewing society through Christian services offered in a hospital, schools, a printing house, and much more–see this post for an account of Francke’s life and the Halle complex. It starts with descriptions of each part of the complex, then relates instances of financial miracles (unexpected gifts) by which these works were sustained once Francke had committed himself in faith to undertaking them.

You may have heard of the orphanage of 19th-century German minister George Muller, which inspired the “faith missions” of many 19th-century missionaries (that is, missionary works with no visible means of financial support, sustained by prayer and the free-will gifts of “friends”). Halle was Muller’s pattern and inspiration.

Part II of Pietas Hallensis includes many more accounts of individual gifts, in the years 1707 and 1708, including the texts of many touching letters enclosed. The report on the Pietist renewal reproduced below comes from an appendix to part II, titled “Signs of the times since 1688.” The book was printed in 1716, so the period reported on stretches across roughly 28 years.

Here is the report (with a few comments interjected by me); I read the book and made these notes in a 1994 seminar on the Pietists given by Richard Lovelace at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Massachussets: Continue reading

Thanks, Da Vinci Code . . . for sending us back to Christianity’s founding fathers


Once in a while, a book or movie comes along that presents its own twisted version of the Christian faith or of events from Christian history, and the faithful rise up to object. And sometimes, the faithful also dig into our history to find out “what really happened.” This was the case with Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, first published in 2003:

Thanks, Da Vinci Code …
… for sending us back to Christianity’s “founding fathers”—and the Bible we share with them.
Chris Armstrong

It’s been a while since Christian History got an online response to rival the emails that poured in after last week’s “Behind the News”. We enjoyed reading your responses to staff writer Collin Hansen’s fact-checking piece on Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code.

One thing that encouraged us about your letters is this: In the face of spurious claims from a man who poses himself as a historian even as he writes a novel (“All descriptions of … documents … in this novel are accurate”), some of you turned to the apostles and church fathers, to see what they and their Bible really had to say about the divinity of Jesus Christ.

Anything that leads people back to those dynamic early centuries of the church can only help the Christian cause. Obviously no human untruth can obscure the truth of the Gospel. And the first thing you notice when you read the early “church fathers” is that they are completely convinced Jesus is God himself. I’m talking about those bishops and teachers from the 100s and 200s too—long before the Nicean council (Brown claims) enforced on the church the supposedly minority position of Christ’s divinity. Continue reading

“The Bible alone”? Not for John Calvin!


This reader’s comment on another post reminded me of something I once wrote, which sparked response both positive and extremely negative. Some people just can’t handle the truth 🙂 :

“The Bible Alone”? Not for John Calvin!
When we seek answers to churchly and societal issues in the Bible alone, citing the Reformation principle of sola scriptura, we are actually contradicting the Reformers.
Chris Armstrong

There’s no question that the Bible is at the very center of conservative Christianity in America. When tough legislation limited access to the Bible in our public schools, Christians sought creative ways around the wall, legal prosecution notwithstanding. When translators set out to “modernize” the Bible’s gender language, conservatives kicked up a storm. When lawmakers removed a Ten Commandments monument from a courthouse, Christian protesters mobbed the scene.

All of this activity hearkens back to the Reformation tradition of Sola Scriptura—the belief that the Bible should be the ultimate authority for the church, trumping all human traditions. For many conservatives, this authority is not only unquestioned within the church, but extended beyond the church to society at large. The dream of some evangelicals is a country—perhaps some day even a world—where every moral and political question is submitted to the Bible, which will provide answers both obvious and immediately applicable.

Worth asking, however, is whether we really understand what Sola Scriptura means within the church itself. Continue reading

Bible only? A response


I thought a comment posted on my “Evangelicals and psychiatric services” article was worth re-posting here, along with my response. I’d be interested to hear others weigh in on this “Bible only” issue:

Karen said 4 days ago:

Chris,
I haven’t read the previous articles on evangelicals, as of yet anyway. I appreciate what you’ve written in this one. I have a question. Have you written any articles on how to respond to other Christians who criticize you for seeking answers to questions in other places besides the Bible? It doesn’t really matter what issue the questions concern. I have a really hard time dealing with Christian family members & friends who believe that all answers are found only in the Bible, & for those who go to others resources are sinning. Thanks.

You said 14 hours ago:

Well, two responses.

First, I do point out to students who are inclined to this sort of “bibliolatry” that while the Bible has always been a primary source for Christian churches, it has not been the only source. Most Christians have always, until the past century or so, turned also to the wise writings of a wide array of writers and thinkers who have thought carefully about the gospel, and have used these “traditions” as a hermeneutic lens through which to understand the primary revelation of Scripture. Continue reading

Evangelicals and psychiatric services


The following is part of a talk I was invited to give to a group of psychiatric residents (doctors-in-training) here in the Twin Cities a few years ago. The talk was on “the evangelical tradition,” and was intended to give these medical practitioners a sense of the beliefs of evangelicals, possible impediments to serving this constituency, and ideas of how to serve them better.

I have already posted other portions of this talk here under the titles “Basic, basic Christianity” and “Evangelicalism–a basic summary,” part I, part II, and part III. What follows is the final portion of the talk, which outlines issues that may face a professional providing evangelicals with psychiatric services, and ideas on how to serve (some) evangelicals better:

Now I’d like to turn the corner and address more directly some of the challenges that may come up in serving evangelical Christians from within the field of mental health care.

The insights that follow mostly come from my Bethel colleague Steven J. Sandage, Associate Professor of Marriage and Family Studies, Bethel St. Paul. Steve has served as clinician, psychologist, and chaplain in a variety of settings (community mental health, correctional, university) and currently engages in part-time clinical practice. He taught at Virginia Commonwealth University and the Medical College of Virginia as an adjunct faculty prior to coming to Bethel.

As Steve has related it to me, some evangelicals have a tendency to over-spiritualize—they frame problems as spiritual, not being able to think in an integrative way about the interactions of their minds, emotions, spirits, and the material world. They may refuse medication, for example, because they think this would show a lack of faith in spiritual truth or spiritual reality. Continue reading