Great minds great ideas Sunday, Oct 19 2008 

It is often said that “great minds discuss ideas, and weak minds discuss people”. In my writing, I find it very difficult to leave out the names of people. After all, people have ideas; and we tend to connect the two. The difficulty lies in the fact that the minute a name is mentioned, the reader tends to lose focus on the idea.

Recently, I have heard several people make that mistake. What do you do when two people are running for public office and neither one of them, from our point of view, is qualified? The emotional responses are easy: “I will just stay home; “I won’t vote”; or “Now is the time to vote for a fringe candidate”. That would be all right if people were the issue, but government is about ideas and principles rather than people. Can we really make these very important decisions based on frail, fallible humans? If so, I would never vote.

The Curse in the Local Church

If I can claim expertise in any area, it is that of ecclesiology, the doctrine of the church. This comes not only from experience gained by thirty-seven years in the pastorate, but also from much research, study, teaching, and publishing. What I have discovered is that local churches very often are all about people, not ideas. The emerging and emergent churches have begun their cultural tsunami on this shifting sand. The traditional church has been mired in the same problem for years, and as a result is finding it easy to fall into man-centered worship and ministry.

Of all the church splits I can remember, only a handful were due to differences concerning biblical truth, theology, doctrine, and ideas. In most cases, those church fights were about people. This is the very reason the majority of our churches fail to experience spiritual or physical growth. Perhaps we should ask, is it possible to grow a church built on truth, doctrine, theology, and biblical ideas?

An Application

And now, with all this in mind, how will you decide whom to vote for? The problem is that there has never been a perfect candidate. Give me a name, and I can find some moral, spiritual, or social failure. You will have to admit that every candidate for whom you have ever voted was in some way flawed. Some are better than others, of course, but all are flawed; so that at least makes the playing field level.

Choosing leaders or servants becomes much easier when we base our choices on ideas. For a believer, the decision is basic. While we normally base it on “what I think”, “what I believe”, “what I want”, and “what I like”, that suddenly turns into a human focus. I am pleading for a godly focus.

The question we should be asking is this: “What has God clearly said in His Word?” This is assuming, of course, that we know what the Bible has set down as the final word on each issue. In our circles, many people – both in the pew and in the pulpit – know about the Bible, but fail to really know the Bible. This, then, is how we should make our decision: consider ideas – what God has said, and not just what we think He has said.

Some Key Ideas

Forget the names of the candidates. Instead, discover what their ideas are, and then compare them to God’s standard. Make a list, a long list, and then decide what ideas we are obligated to support no matter how flawed a certain candidate may be. You may argue that you can’t separate the two; but if that is true, you have missed the whole point of this lesson.

What are some of these issues? How can I test a candidate’s ideas? During my years in the pastorate, just prior to any major election, I would choose to preach an election message. (Don’t get me started!) This was after the pattern of early colonial pastors.[1] The message was not about people or parties, only about ideas, some of which were marriage, capital punishment, abortion, infanticide, sodomy, war, morality, authority, and separation of church and state.

To miss the point, one would have had to be asleep or have a false allegiance to a political party or an unnatural attraction to a person. So, I have made up my mind. If this election were only about people, I would stay home or choose some ineffective fringe candidate in order to make my personal point. As for me, I intend to speak for truth and for ideas. The flawed candidate who is closest to God’s perspective on truth gets my nod. How easy is that lesson? Now, it is time for you to take the exam. Don’t fret – I will not be grading your exam; I have no right to do that. God Himself will do the grading.


[1] Headly, J.T. The Chaplains and Clergy of the Revolution. New York: Charles Scribner, 1864

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The nature of psychology and biblical counseling Sunday, Oct 19 2008 

We always begin with what we know about any subject. Because it has many aberrations, we know that this issue of psychology/biblical counseling is not a two-sided debate. Most of us very likely believe that medical assistance will never be replaced by Bible teaching. Both true medicine and Bible truth have value. As a rule, our readers appear to hold Scripture as the final authority on any matter about which it speaks. We can clearly observe that there are extremes to all positions.

With these things stipulated, we can do away with about half of the arguments surrounding this debate.

Physical medicine has value and is based on science, even though it is an incomplete knowledge, rather than an absolute, which is why our physicians are very likely to say, “We will try this or that”. It is also why almost all medicines come with warning labels – not because we know what they will do in every case, but because of the unknown factors, or “non-knowledge”. Science, after all, does have some rather severe limitations.

We know that the Bible is true and absolute in every way, with no flaws. Following the “prescriptions” of Scripture will always bring the promised results. No warning labels are needed regarding salvation or holiness; they always work. When there are problems, it is because of man’s limitations; God’s Word has none. Any perceived failure of a Bible “prescription” is due to man’s failure to use the “medicine” properly.

The ground between these two factual issues is less than stable. Any part of the physical body can be physically and scientifically studied, including the brain. The problem is that psychology has never been fully proven to be a true or exact science. While there undoubtedly is value in a secular study of the mind, we are often left with more questions than answers.

The study of behavior is an interesting one. It is possible to modify behavior by the use of mind-altering drugs. The resulting changes, however, are external. Only the Holy Spirit has the power to change the inner man. The secular approach may limit or expedite an individual’s activity, but it has no power to change the inner man permanently. For that reason, most people who are put on drugs must continue using them, or their negative behavior is likely to return.

Only God has the power to change the inner man in a permanent way, and every true believer will admit to that power. Could a reason for the high suicide rate among psychiatrists and other counselors possibly have anything to do with the severe limitations of those practices?

On the other hand, a “Christian” approach to counseling has it’s dangers. Some counselors have been accused of “throwing Bible verses” at a problem and, unfortunately, that accusation is sometimes true. Every Bible verse has value, but the worth of a text can be found only by proper biblical interpretation. Use of the Bible in counseling requires a solid understanding of a biblical theology. Each verse must be approached carefully, using the self-revealed hermeneutical rules of Scripture. The use of Scripture in counseling demands the ability to properly see the meaning of the text, its grammar, its context, and the historical setting at the time of its writing.

This practice can be a double-sided sword. Not only is it dangerous to toss Bible verses like bombs at a distraught person, it is also dangerous to attempt to integrate Bible text into counseling when the counselor is unskilled in biblical interpretation. After all, you can’t integrate what you don’t know. Although they may exist, I have yet to meet a psychologist who is also a biblical theologian. On the other hand, the casual or nonchalant using of verses like a magic wand is suspect. There is no difference between the two extremes.

God can use any Bible verse with great effectiveness and in any way He chooses. We are not God, however; and when we use the Scripture in a setting that is clearly not in the text, we hinder its effectiveness.

Whats’ the big deal? Wednesday, Jun 4 2008 

WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL?

 

On my desk is a piece of literature mailed from an institution with which I am very familiar.  It discusses spirituality, excellence, finances, enthusiasm, and the Christian worldview.  What’s wrong with that? Thank you for asking.  First, the only theology it mentions has to do with king and kingdom, which always makes me want to ask what kingdom they’re referring to.  I already know what their answer would be.  It would contain not one word about the authority, sufficiency, and importance of Scripture; thus, the only theology mentioned has to be an errant one.

 

The real window to this publication is the term “Christian worldview”. Does anyone stop to ask why that term is used so often?  Why not just state what the Bible text tells us in relation to looking at, and living in, this world?  The reason we use such generic terms is that using the Bible text is far too limiting.  We need plastic words that will let us add things that do not come from, or agree with, the Scripture.  I challenge you to come up with one of these “worldview” statements that is not in some way an affront to Holy writ.

 

INSERTING HUMAN IDEAS INTO THE BIBLE

 

This is why so many people use the word “philosophy”.  This may be the language of the so-called intellectual crowd, but we ought to ask exactly what it means.  Why would we refer to a “ministry philosophy”?  Why not talk about a “ministry theology”, which would require a careful dependence upon the Bible text?  Philosophy demands the infusion of human perspective, rather than total dependence upon the revealed word of God.  Philosophy is really “humanology” (get over it; I know I made up that word!), which is centered on man and human reason.  Theology in its pure form is centered on the Sovereign Creator God.  If you want to claim that your philosophy is really theology, then why don’t you call it theology so that no one is left to wonder what you are adding to the equation, as if it were equal to God’s Word?  Philosophy is not a synonym for theology; it is a suspect attempt to be as wise as God.

 

Having said all that, we must ask if philosophy has value.  Of course it has value; even rocks and dirt have value.  The point is that philoso-phy loses its value when it trumps theology or even pretends to be an equal.

 

THEOLOGICAL FAD OF THE MONTH

 

It is an arrogant intellectualism that creates new brands of theology that are cloaked in philosophy.  At this point in our society, you can almost count on the appearance of a new theological fad every month.  How do we make our way through all this?

 

Actually, the problem really isn’t theology.  I often tell my students that what a person believes is not as important as how he or she arrives at that belief.  Preterism, open theism, annihilationism, and progressive dispensationalism share the same problem with all other doctrinal error. 

 

The watershed issue is not theology; it is hermeneutics.  Anyone using a flawed system of interpretation is bound to join the theological fad-of-the-month club.  There is only one biblical hermeneutic, and this system rises naturally from the Scripture text.  I speak of the system that is the normal, plain, ordinary, consistent, and literal use of literature.

 

This system makes use of the grammar, context, and historical setting at the time of its writing.  The worthy goal of this construct is the glory of God.  The one biblical hermeneutic is a science – an exact science – and is mathematical in its function.

 

Detractors would cry foul and claim that it is impossible for such a system to work with that kind of accuracy.  On the other hand, for some of us who long for a pure interpretation, it is a source of confidence.  We fully realize that fallible man will make mistakes, and a perfect interpretation is limited by what we are.  We also know that, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we can come closer to truth by using the rules that God has given instead of inventing our own.  Just as the truth was placed in Scripture through inspiration, without “private interpretation”, our goal is to reject every vestige of private interpretation in our task to lift from the text the truth as it was placed there.

 

MARKING THE PITFALLS

 

The problem is that, in our own circles, we have built our own pitfalls. Obeying every rule of the one biblical hermeneutic means using all the rules like they were meant to be used.  Any one rule that becomes the rule, rather than merely a tool, will guarantee error.  Each rule found in the text will lead us to a question, not an answer.  Only when we use the one biblical hermeneutic, along with all the rules, can we be sure of finding anything near the truth that was put into the text at the time of its inspiration. 

 

Often, the problems come from the bad habit of isolating texts.  There is no way to establish a full meaning with only partial truth.  In the end, I am asking for proper attention to be given to the greatest problem in theology today: lack of a biblical hermeneutic, God’s plan for the interpretation of Scripture.