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Category Archives: Theology

Theology and the Bible

E. W. Kenyon, part 2

This post continues the previous post here. McIntyre’s book provides more 19th century history and shows how E. W. Kenyon’s teachings reflected his background in the Holiness movement.

The Holiness movement in America was rooted in the Methodist church, which was the largest Protestant denomination during the nineteenth century. John Wesley had taught the doctrine of Christian perfection in earlier years, and many voices were calling the church, within and without Methodism, back to a “higher Christian life.” p.46

The most distinctive doctrine of the Holiness movement was what was known as the second work of grace. At conversion the believer’s sins were forgiven. He was justified. Then the convert was to seek an experience known as entire sanctification. This was the “second work of grace.” It consisted of an instantaneous crisis of consecration, or total abandonment to the Lord, believed to remove the sin nature which was not affected by conversion. After this crisis the believer was able to live without sinning. This experience was often referred to as the baptism of the Holy Spirit. p.46-47

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E. W. Kenyon, part 1

D. R. McConnell in A Different Gospel, 1988, and Hank Hanegraff in Christianity in Crisis, 1993, accused E. W. Kenyon of promoting heresies such as those found in New Thought. However, Joe McIntyre in E. W. Kenyon and His Message of Faith: The True Story, 1997 (rev. 2010), documented how Kenyon’s teachings were well within evangelical Christianity. Since Kenyon is considered to have influenced the controversial Word of Faith (or simply Faith) movement, an assessment of this requires a closer look at Kenyon and his teachings. This series of posts will include excerpts from McIntyre’s book and Kenyon’s writings.

McIntyre quotes Kenyon on his seven-fold test for the truth of Christian doctrines (p.33-34):

This danger of being led into false teaching stood at the threshold of every new truth in the early days of my Bible study, and I prayed much that the Lord would give me a real testing tube, scales, weight, and measure, whereby every step could be satisfactorily proved. (May 1916)

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The real literalists

There is a kind of scholarship that starts with a very literalistic reading of a source text, finds contradictions in it, and concludes either that it is a combination of contradictory texts or that a very non-literal reading is justified. This is a method that seeks to justify one extreme by criticizing another extreme. No serious thought is given to the many options between these extremes, that the text is meant neither as a literal extreme nor a figurative extreme.

For example, Genesis 1:1 to 2:2 contrasted with Genesis 2:3 to 2:22 has differences that are asserted to be in conflict and hence represent contradictory traditions. The Documentary (Wellhausen) Hypothesis explains perceived inconsistencies in the Pentateuch by asserting it was written independently by four different authors and subsequently woven together by redactors. While the presence of various sources in the Bible is not a concern, the assertion that these contradict one another is.

This line of scholarship leads in two directions: (1) discerning every contradictory thread and inferring various factions, and (2) interpreting the whole text by inferring poetic license. So a whole panoply of figurative devices is promoted for hermeneutics and a playwright’s brew of characters is encouraged for historical studies.

There is an alternative to this game: reading the text not too literally and not too metaphorically. That is how people normally speak and it works rather well. People who are called biblical literalists usually do this and are able to reconcile supposed contradictions through a natural but close reading of the text. Those who are most opposed to literalism are the ones who follow the kind of scholarship I have outlined and end up with a one-two punch of a very literal reading (rejected) followed by an excessively metaphorical reading that knocks out the intended meaning.

Religion in Ngrams

Google’s Ngram Viewer gives the frequencies of words and phrases in books since about 1800. It is an interesting way of looking at history in the last two centuries. What follows are some observations about the usage of words associated with religion and Christianity:

Usage of the word religion has gradually decreased since 1810, steeply until 1860. The words virtue, virtues and virtuous have declined since 1810. Trinity has decreased since 1815.

The words priest and pastor move in parallel with priest more common and both declining moderately since 1860. Bishop declined rapidly in the 1840s and 1850s.

Several words have declined since 1840: irreligious, evil, wicked, church, God, Jesus Christ, Christianity. The word theology had a peak in 1890 and a trough in 1940. Christian declined from 1850 to 1920 then leveled off.

The words atheism and atheist decreased until 1920 then leveled off. The terms evangelical (or Evangelical) and reformed (or Reformed) declined from the 1840s to 1920 then leveled off.

The words moral and prayer declined from 1840 to 1940 then leveled off. Holy Spirit decreased from 1840 to 1940 then increased as Holy Ghost declined.

Contrary to this trend Christmas increased from the 1830s to the 1940s, declined until 1970 and then has increased since then. Charles Dickens’ novella A Christmas Carol was published in December 1843 and likely contributed to the rise.

Buddhist and Buddhism have been on the rise since 1820. Hindu has been on the rise since the 1790s. Islam and Moslem slowly rose from 1820 to 1950 but then diverged: Islam sharply higher and Moslem lower. Pagan and Paganism were on a long decline since before 1780, with a modest rise since 1990.

The words secular and secularism have increased since 1920. The phrase organized religion took off from 1900 to 1940, and has oscillated since then.

Bible peaked in the 1850s but has been on the rise since the 1970s. Bible study had a steep peak in 1915, declined to the 1940s, and a steep rise since the 1970s.

So the period 1840 to 1920 had a general decline in usage of religious words. Since then it is more mixed: some decline but also some increases, Bible study being the most dramatic.

Fourfold Gospel

There is one Gospel but four ways of understanding it.  These correspond to the four “Gospels”, that is, the Gospel according to Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John.  They each emphasize different aspects of the good news of Jesus Christ.  For example, see Characteristic Differences of the Four Gospels (which Kregel Publications calls “Four Views of Christ”) by Andrew Jukes.

The fourfold Gospel includes a fourfold atonement corresponding to the key roles and accomplishments of Jesus Christ:

(1) Victor:  He overcame death, hell, sin, and Satan, that is, evil and all its manifestations, without denying the rights of Satan and his minions.  Christ is Lord, King, and Ruler of all.

(2) Sacrifice:  He provided a way for God to forgive us without compromising righteousness.  He did this by satisfying the requirements of justice on our behalf.  Christ is Priest, Lamb, and Temple for all.

(3) Mediator:  He restored our relationship to God, that is, overcame our alienation from God, without ignoring the development of our alienation.  Christ is Prophet and Intercessor for all.

(4) Exemplar:  He embodied the way, the truth, and the life of God, showing us how to live, what to think, and which actions to take.  Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

2005

Faith that works

Is this a dispute about words? It could be but these are key terms and so much is bound up with them that it is important to get their meanings right.

What is this faith that works? In the first place, this faith always leads to some action, and such action is always more than saying that one has such a faith. However, the Apostle Paul affirms that verbal confession of the Lordship of Jesus Christ accompanied by belief in the heart is sufficient to ensure one’s salvation. Rom. 10.9.

We can begin to see a difference between the confession of faith in Romans and the mere claim that such faith exists in James’ letter. Here is a financial analogy: One person has money on deposit at a bank and they trust that the bank will return the deposit with interest on request. Someone else owns a financial derivative that is based on this deposit and they believe this will benefit them financially. In the latter case a deposit exists somewhere but the person does not own it; they own something related to it. In the former case the person owns the deposit although they can’t see it except in documents they trust. In the analogy, these documents are like the Bible which provides assurance that salvation is ours to possess. The derivatives are like an assertion that such faith exists but are not personal possessions.

So we see the danger of a derivative faith, which is mere assent without conviction.

There is another aspect of saving faith: follow through. Jesus gave a parable about a farmer planting a seed and not knowing how it grows but trusting that it does. This is implicitly contrasted with someone who plants a sees and doubts that it is growing so they dig it up frequently to check it out. Such a seed doesn’t mature. The former is saving faith that follows through and the latter is faith that is undermined by doubt and doesn’t follow through. As Jesus said in another context, “He who endures to the end will be saved.”

While the formula “sola fides” is rejected by the scriptures as a formula, it expresses scriptural truth when accompanied by further explanation. What is the scriptural formula? Why do we need formulas? The scriptural truth is clear enough: salvation is by faith and saving faith confesses the lordship of Christ and follow through with corresponding actions. The particular actions are not specified; the content of the faith is specified: Jesus is Lord. Believe it and act accordingly.

2008

Radical orthodoxy

Radical Orthodoxy is a movement (or ‘disposition’) among some theologians which attempts to articulate Christian orthodoxy in the context of post-modernist critiques of modernism, post-liberal critiques of liberalism, and post-secular critiques of secularism. They’re not creationists but they do make some similar points about creation, fall, and redemption contrary to naturalism.

According to its best-known exponent, John Milbank, theology should speak “directly out of the Biblical tradition, without any recourse to external supplementation,” and should be using “the resources of revelation alone.” And Paul Tyson in the online journal Radical Orthodoxy makes points that creationists could approve in Can Modern Science be Theologically Salvaged? (2014)

Here are some excerpts:

Entirely de-temporalizing the cosmological and teleological horizons of the biblical narrative does profound damage to the biblical narrative, for that narrative is inescapably temporally constructed. History is the texture of Judeo-Christian revelation, even if history is certainly not understood in modern historiographical terms. p.130

… the texture of history cannot be extracted from the Christian revelation, and that history has an Edenic age just as it has an eschatological age, and those alpha and omega ages are ages located within Christ, yes, but they are ages of a different yet real nature to the present and somehow less than fully real nature. p.132

Modern naturalism recognizes only one age, only one nature. Life is a strange and transitory visitor in such a picture of reality. Without some sort of true meaning to Eden, the radicality of goodness in creation, which persists but is marred by sin, death, scarcity, and disease, is lost, and the radical eschatological horizon of total redemptive hope for nature is also lost. p.133

For in the final analysis, there is a profound imaginative dissonance between a reality outlook embedded in a three age canonical narrative of salvation history and modern naturalism, particularly in relation to cosmogony. p.134

Looks like a movement worth watching.

November 2014

Links

Here are various links worth exploring.

Seeking Answers?

Religion and Public Life

Help the Persecuted

Defending Liberty

Review of Gillquist’s Becoming Orthodox

On Peter Gillquist’s Becoming Orthodox (Conciliar Press, 1992)

This book presents an engaging story and defense of the transition of a group of evangelicals into the Antiochian Orthodox Church. Parts One and Three tell the story and Part Two presents a defense of Orthodox positions on issues sensitive to many evangelicals. The key point in their journey he says was letting history judge them instead of the other way around. This meant giving priority to the faith and practice of the ancient, undivided church.

The group of leaders that Peter represents did careful historical research, were open to what they found, and were willing to change if necessary.  Their guiding desire was to find the one, true church if possible. They ended up starting their own Evangelical Orthodox Church that eventually merged with (if that’s the right term) the Antiochian Orthodox Church.

He addresses several issues that are hot buttons for some evangelicals: tradition, liturgy, calling priests “father”, the Virgin Mary, and the cross. Their background is apparently the anti-liturgical wing of evangelicals who are suspicious of all tradition and liturgy because they are associated with dead ritualism. But there are many evangelicals in Anglican, Lutheran, and Methodist communions, for example, who don’t have such attitudes. Though admittedly the high church “smells and bells” type of liturgy he defends is the liturgy of only a few evangelicals.

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Three streams movement

The three streams concept was introduced in the book, “The Household of God” by Bishop Lesslie Newbigin of the Church of South India in the1940’s. The movement developed further from the “third wave” of the Spirit in the 1980’s. The basic idea is that the church has been needlessly divided because of differences that should flow together rather than apart. There is the Catholic stream, the Evangelical stream, and the Charismatic stream.

Catholic Stream

This is the catholic and orthodox stream which is the most traditional and liturgical.  It’s roots are in the church of the first millennium. There is formality and mysticism, devotion and communion, inwardness and community. It is a theology of the Father, a gospel of victory over evil. It is sacramental, focused on the Eucharist. It has a kingly, top-down authority structure.

Evangelical Stream

This is the biblical and evangelistic stream from the Reformation but with roots in earlier theologians such as St. Augustine. There is decision and consecration, dedication and sanctification, explication and education, outwardness and commonality. It is a theology of the Son, a gospel of sacrifice for sin. It is Bible-based, focused on the Word. It has a priestly, bottom-up authority structure.

Charismatic Stream

This is the Pentecostal and Charismatic stream from the twentieth century but with roots in the primitive church. There is anointing and envisioning, infilling and enthusiasm, fervor and power, informality and spontaneity. It is a theology of the Spirit, a gospel of overcoming the curse of the law. It is Spirit-filled, focused on Praise. It has a prophetic, egalitarian authority structure.

Three Streams

These three streams have grown apart for the most part. The evangelical stream and the liturgical stream parted after the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century. The charismatic stream was rejected by the other streams in the Pentecostal movement at the beginning of the twentieth century. However, combinations of the streams have joined together somewhat. Some protestant churches such as Lutherans and Anglicans retain a strong sacramental element. The Vatican II reforms opened the Catholic Church to more evangelical and charismatic elements. The charismatic movement in the latter half of the twentieth century flowed through most denominations.

The three streams movement seeks to unite these streams as much a possible. It honors every stream rather than exalting one over the other. It accepts the strengths of each stream. It allows each stream to complement and correct the others. It seeks to unite the church with multiplicity-in-unity.

The movement is most active in some Anglican or Anglican-like churches but is relevant to all churches.

January 2008