Wednesday, March 28, 2007

A prickly hypothetical

At our Thirsty Theologians meeting last evening we skipped across the surface of many deeper waters but one that has stuck in my thoughts was the question of whether any of us would accept a pastorate in a KJV-only church. I answered that I would be willing to, but gave little qualification to that answer. The more considered answer I wish I had given is that while I would not disguise myself as a KJV-only advocate in order to get the appointment, I would be willing to teach out of the KJV so long as the church is willing to have me preach according to conviction. Both points develop out of the fact that true ministry cannot proceed out of inauthenticity—how can fresh and sulpherous water both flow from one fountain?

That said, I doubt that any KJV-only church would have someone who expresses the mere acceptability of that version, insisting instead on a minister who holds to the unique authority of it. But, should such a church allow such a one, I would be willing to minister God's truth there, with no agenda but to share the word of God. I would seek to build them up in a base of doctrine out of non-contested scripture over perhaps a period of years before daring to tackle anything contested. Indeed, so long as I could sense an intractable spirit on this matter I would preach series of texts that avoid seriously contested passages (½% of the NT). But, I would not find myself in Isaiah 34 preaching about unicorns and satyrs! When the translation errs in any substantial way, I would have to begin with the KJV, transition into the Greek and explaining my own translation, and draw much as support for the correct translation from other scripture as possible (out of that doctrinal base that had been developed in many years of ministry).

Finally, suppose there was a tremendous uproar and division as the result, is that necessarily bad? If this translation has become an idol then isn't it a good thing to bring some, who are willing to lay down that idol, out of that place? I don't know, but I tend to think that doctrine is more important than unity. If not, then what makes the church distinct from the Moose Lodge? Isn't it truth that unites us?

Thursday, March 1, 2007

The Case for (Abandoning) Faith?

Often heard are the accounts of Philosophy Profs polling their freshman classes to see if there are any Christians in the mix. Perhaps he will then ridicule them by asking if there were any evidence which, once shown to be incontrovertible, might cause them to relinquish their faith. Most, wanting show fidelity to their convictions will answer no—proving them to be hopelessly unteachable and intractable. The better answer of course, the biblical answer is, "if Christ is not risen my faith is futile and I am most pitiable" (which is the thrust of 1 Corinthians 15:16-19). Well, it seems the Philosophy profs have been talking this over with the Archeology profs because here comes the latest wave of "incontrovertible evidence" against the resurrection.

You have doubtless already heard about the 'hard-hitting' documentary from producer James Cameron (documentary≠James Cameron?!) and director Simcha Jacobovici (who brought us the Discovery Channel's documentary on the ossuary of James). The yet-to-be-named drama unfolds around 10 ossuaries, dated to about 2000 years old, found in old Jerusalem with the names Jesua, son of Joseph, Mary, Mary, Mathew, Jofa and Judah, son of Jesua on them. And DNA proves that it is the historical Jesus! Well, not exactly. The producers of the show insist they have hard DNA evidence which establish familial relations, evidence that somehow made it to Hollywood before Harvard.

It is interesting to note that archaeologists in Jerusalem are rolling their eyes at the crypt craze just unleashed in the US, and even the British tabloid press has been rather lukewarm. After all, the same evidence was examined on the BBC eleven years ago. The findings in the cave, including the decipherment of the inscriptions, were first revealed about ten years ago by internationally renowned Israeli archeologist Professor Amos Kloner, who dismissed the hypothesis as conjecture pointing out that a poor family from Nazareth would be very unlikely to be buried in this style. These compelling New Testament names were so popular at the time of burial that the Israeli Antiquities Authority suggests that this cluster is only "coincidence", rather like finding Tom, Dick, and Harry together in an American family tomb of the 1940s. Cameron countered this assertion at his press conference by quipping: "If you found a John, a Paul and a George, you're not going to leap to any conclusions... unless you found a Ringo." The sticking point is whether this purported Mary Magdalene bone box is equivalent to finding a Ringo.

Let me just concur with these points raised by Andreas Köstenberger of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (cited from BaptistPress):

  • The claim that Mary Magdalene's bones were found in one of the ossuaries on the basis that the name "Mariamne" (Mary) is inscribed on it is bogus; the connection drawn here is pulled completely out of thin air.
  • The use of statistics and DNA "evidence" to support their case is highly suspect. Jesus, Joseph, and Mary were among the most popular names in first-century Palestine, and, of course, people buried in the same family tomb would for the most part be related. As Witherington rightly points out, we "would need an independent control sample from some member of Jesus' family to confirm that these were members of Jesus' family" -- but, of course, we have no such thing.
  • All the earliest accounts of Jesus' death and burial indicate that Jesus' body could not be found and had not been moved. There is no ancient evidence whatsoever for Jesus' family tomb.
  • Why would this family tomb have been in Jerusalem? Jesus was born in Bethlehem and grew up in Nazareth.
  • There is no historical evidence for Jesus having a son named Jude. There also is no credible historical evidence that Jesus was married, to Mary Magdalene or anyone else (see the first point above).
  • If Jesus died and a year later his bones were transferred to an ossuary, and this ossuary was placed in a Jerusalem family tomb, this would mean that all the early Christian martyrs, including the apostles, knowingly died for a fraudulent religion. That is highly implausible.

Köstenberger continues, "The problem with Jacobovici's evidence, however, is that he is connecting the dots far too quickly to arrive at his desired conclusion. Surely it will take better evidence to overturn the well-attested fact of Jesus' resurrection."

As with the Last Temptation of Christ, The Search for the Historical Jesus and The DaVinci Code this too shall pass.

Mortification of Sin

Our Thirsty Theologians (Ps 63:1) are beginning to read John Owen's classic work Mortification of Sin, which is one of three works in Overcoming Sin & Temptation from Crossway Publishing (you can read it for free here, though in a slightly less modern form). I've barely begun to scratch the surface of this work and already am under much conviction. Also immediately apparent is the tension between divine sovereignty and human responsibility, which as John MacArthur has said is evident in almost every biblical doctrine. Consider it: who is the author of Scripture? Who accomplishes sanctification? Who enables repentance, evangelism, faith, and so on? Owen makes clear, using Romans 8:13 (For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live), that the putting to death, mortification, of sin is the responsibility of the Christian, but that it is accomplished only by the power of the Spirit.

He makes clear also that this is not a cause-effect relationship, but a ways-means-ends relationship. God has ordained this means (the striving of man against temptation) and provided all the power of this striving by His Spirit, to assuredly accomplish the ends which He has also ordained, the complete work of salvation. Just as conversion is the sole work of God, yet he chooses to use human preachers as a means to accomplish the gospel ministry. And as is the case whenever I consider how God uses us as a means I am humbled that He should deign to use such weak and meager tools. What glorious privilege! How far indeed from drudgery and bondage, which the unknowing heathen attributes to this life lived in service to Christ. How contrary to fatalism is this assurance that despite our failings God's good purpose is always accomplished, and when we do in some small way succeed in obedience He attributes it to us as righteousness! Glory and praise be unto His name, amen.