Three ways to live

Which is your way?

Sola Scriptura

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 9:22 pm on Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Here is a short summary of what I have been recently learning about Sola Scriptura.

1) What is “Sola Scriptura”?

In English it means “Scripture alone”, a term coined by the Reformers to signify the Bible as the only source of infallible truth

2) Do you mean there are no other sources of truth?

No, of course there are! But Sola Scriptura asserts the Bible to be the only infallible source of truth. Other sources may contain truth, but it can fallible. Practically, this means that if some other source contradicts the Bible, it is the latter that should be trusted, not the former.

3) Who are those who disagree with Sola Scriptura?

There are three groups that can be identified.

The first group consists of those who either don’t believe that God exists (atheists) or belong to a religion that is not based on the Bible. For them, the Bible is just one of many historical books that people have written, nothing more.

The second group are liberal or critical theologians who try to keep an open mind about the Bible and compare its claims with the claims of other historical accounts. If there is a contradiction, they often side with these historical accounts, thus suggesting that Bible is not an infallible source of truth.

Note that the first two groups reject the infallible part of the definition of Sola Scriptura. The third group are Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christians who reject the only part of Sola Scriptura on the basis that it might sometimes be unclear what the Bible teaches without the help of the writings of say Early Church fathers (church leaders in the first four centuries AD). These writings are often put on the same level of authority (if not higher) as the Bible.

4) What is the main problem with Sola Scriptura?

This problem is clearly articulated by Catholic and Eastern Orthodox church. It is difficult to claim that Bible is the only infallible source of truth if there can be so many interpretations of the same passage. Basically, Sola Scriptura starts to mean Sola Interpretation, which defeats the one of the purposes of the Sola Scriptura which is to set one objective source of truth, rather than many contradicting truths.

5) What is my own personal take on Sola Scriptura?

I would say I am much closer to Reformers than to Catholics and Eastern Orthodox. I wholeheartedly assert that Bible is infallible source of truth, a belief that is shared by all Christians. I also agree with the Reformers that Bible’s authority is much higher that authority of all other writings, Early Church fathers included. However, I do see 4) as a very big issue and do think that others writings should be used to help us correctly interpret the Bible. However, this can be done without ever denouncing the concept and putting other writings on the same footing as the Bible.

New Perspective on Paul

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 3:14 am on Friday, January 25, 2008

New Perspective on Paul (NPP) is a recent significant shift in the interpretation of Paul’s letters. We have come across this teaching already several times as we study the book of Romans, so here I provide a short summary of this doctrine for the benefit of our bible study group.

But first a disclaimer, there are actually quite a few streams in the NPP teaching, which makes any unified summary a difficult task. While originally started with liberal theologian E.P. Sanders and later picked up by James Dunn, its recent growth in popularity is attributed to N.T. Wright, who is very popular with many evangelicals. Yet in 2003, N.T. Wright, distancing himself from both Sanders and Dunn, comments that “there are probably almost as many ‘New Perspective’ positions as there are writers espousing it – and I disagree with most of them”.

At the foundation of NPP is the correction of the Reformed view that Judaism was based on the salvation by works. NPP scholars claim that historical documents as well as a fresh look at Paul’s letters support the view that Jews believed they were saved by grace, by simply belonging to the covenant God has established with them. They treated obedience to the law as the sign of belonging to the covenant, rather than a way to earn their acceptance by God. Hence the main problem Paul had with the Jews was not their reliance on works but rather their arrogance of being a chosen people and hence creating hurdles to spreading the gospel to Gentiles, requiring them to be circumcised and obey food laws.

An important consequence of this view is revisiting of the doctrine of justification by faith. Traditionally, the best way to explain this doctrine was to emphasize the difference between justification by works (Jews) vs. justification by faith (Christianity). But if Jews were justified by faith, the difference fades. Justification by faith in NPP takes somewhat less important role compared to the Reformed doctrine, as a simple declaration that one is right with God rather than the essence of how we are saved. This is how John Piper summarizes this view:

When the gospel is preached, it is not the doctrine of justification that is preached but the death and resurrection and lordship of Christ over the world. The Holy Spirit uses this news to awaken faith in the heart. This is God’s divine call through the gospel. By this call and faith, we are made partakers of Christ’s victory and become part of God’s family. Then the doctrine of justification comes in and declares to us what has happened to us. It thus gives assurance – but does not save, or convert, or make us part of God’s family.

Overall, the NPP seems to shift the attention away from an individual to community, away from the way we receive salvation to the source of this salvation. N.T. Wright continuously argues that many mentionings of “faith in Christ” (see Romans 3:22 and 3:26) should be translated as “faith of Christ” and hence does not teach how the salvation is received.

What’s my own take on this? First, I haven’t studied it well enough to make up my mind. When I first heard of this teaching, it was presented to me as a modern day heresy. Yet now I realized it is deeply rooted in serious scholarship and cannot be easily discarded. I am now reading Douglas Moo and John Stott commentaries on Romans in preparation for Bible studies; both of these are well established conservative theologians and they go into great length to address the issues that NPP raises. Their take is that many things that NPP teaches are either true or at least plausible. I guess only time will tell whether it survives the scrutiny and develops itself into alternative understanding of the gospel.

Are you sure you are saved? True signs #1-2

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 6:08 pm on Thursday, January 24, 2008

After mentioning signs that prove nothing about your conversion (see my previous post), Edwards finally moves onto twelve “true signs”. Today I mention the first two.

1) True believers should experience a new supernatural inward sensation on their mind that is entirely different from anything they experienced before. The main reasoning for this comes from the fact that a true believer is a spiritual (as opposed to physical) man, his life is united to the Spirit of God, who lives in him. Physical man can also be affected by the Spirit, but there is no union and no regenerative work.

I must admit it’s a bit difficult to understand exactly what Edwards means here. Basically, Edwards says that the Spirit can you give you a dream or vision, but these prove nothing if they don’t lead to some supernatural affection (of the love or fear of God) following it. Or you might somehow develop a strong affection for God, but if it is pure natural, e.g. the outcome of a long thought process, it proves nothing. It’s only when the supernatural experience of the Spirit’s work (a vision or a scripture coming to mind) as well as its effect on the mind (stronger love and affection), one can be sure that he is truly saved.

2) True believer loves all things God for themselves, not because of potential benefits these can provide to him. A person can love God because of the favor and love that God shows him. But true Christians don’t see first that God loves them and then see that he is lovely, but exactly the opposite.

Another way to put it, what do we love more? Christ or our experience of him?

Summary of Bible Study – Romans 1:18-3:20

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 7:31 pm on Monday, January 21, 2008

The main idea of this section is summarized on 3:9-11,20:

Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin.

10 As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one;
11 there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. “

Let’s trace this theme throughout the section.

Whom does Paul address in vv. 1:18-32?

Gentiles. It is clear because all their revelation about God comes from nature.

What is the state of gentiles, according to Paul?

Not so good:

a. They are under the wrath of God (v.18)
b. Though they knew about God from creation – they didn’t honor him, worshipping idols instead (v. 19-23)
c. They are given up by God to pursue all the evil things they want – homosexuality, depraved mind (v.26-28)
d. They are filled with evil, jealousy, murder, strife, deceit, and many, many other bad things (v.29-32)

Whom does Paul address in 2-3:8?

Jews, see 2:17. It is interesting also that instead of using plural language on gentiles, Paul switches to personal address to a Jew. This was a standard rhetoric tactic designed to carry a higher impact on readers.

Well, Gentiles don’t seem do be fairing well. Are Jews any better?

Not at all – they do exactly the same things! And they deserve the same condemnation from God as the Gentiles, despite their greater revelation about God.

So what is the difference between the Jews and Gentiles?

There appears to be no difference between the Jews and the Gentiles with respect to sinful nature and God’s judgment. God does not show favoritism (v. 2:11). He applies the same standard of judgment to everyone, the standard that is compatible with what is revealed to them. Those under the law (i.e. Jews) will be judged based on the requirements of the Law. Those who are not given the written law (i.e. Gentiles) will be judged based on the law written on their hearts (i.e. their conscience).

There is, however, one quite a big difference. While both Jews and Gentiles are guilty of sin, the Jews may believe that they are not condemned by God because they are favoured as a “chosen race”, have undergone physical circumcision and given the law to obey. Some Rabbis even used preach that no Jews who are circumcised will go down to Hell. And Paul agrees with this statement, except for definition of the circumcision; the real circumcision is not physical, it is spiritual, and any person who openly sins undoes his physical circumcision and hence is not a part of covenant. The real circumcision is the circumcision of the heart, accomplished by the Spirit, and is not limited to Jews alone.

Application point 1. The right relationship with God is not only about how much you know. Yes, Jews knew much more than Gentiles. Yet this didn’t stop them from sinning. In fact, it made it worse in some sense. John 9:41 – Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains”.

Do we think we are better Christians because we regularly study the bible? Think again. It is not the knowledge that pleases God, it is the obedience. What value is then in studying the Bible? Much in every way, but only if your gained knowledge leads you to better obedience.

Application point 2. From 1:1-12 it appears that God’s salvation standard is based on performance. But what about salvation by faith alone, which is what Paul is driving at?

There is no contradiction here. God’s last and final standard is our works. Yet, we are simply unable to do them. When we try, we fail. When we start doing good works to make ourselves right with God, to make God owe us, we sin and distance ourselves from Him even more. Salvation, our making right with God is only possible by faith alone. Yet good works will follow, if we properly understood our salvation and will be a basis for our final judgment.

To put it in other words, in v.3:20, by saying “No one will be declared righteous by observing the law”, Paul means that everyone can be declared righteous by observing the law, but never will be, as obeying it simply impossible. In other words, God says, run 100m in 5 sec and you will be right with me. It is theoretically possible to accomplish that, but very likely will never happen. In the words of Jonah, “Salvation is of the Lord”, it is not of our making.

Some tried to interpret these verses as saying that it is possible to achieve salvation without the gospel. Yet, this is not what Paul is trying to say. It is only theoretically possible, but practically impossible. This is how one commentator puts it:

Salvation for both Jew and Gentile is available only by doing good (2:6, 11, 13)
The power of sin prevents both Jew and Gentile from doing good (3:9 – 19)
Therefore: No one can be saved by doing good (3:20)

Application point 3. Jews seemed to believe they were superior because they belonged to God’s chosen people. Wisdom of Solomon 12-15 talk about Jews being sure that God will love them despite their sin. Are we any different?

Not really. This attitude that you can do whatever you like as soon as you become a Christian is quite widespread today. Paraphrasing Paul’s words, it is not the hearing of the gospel and professing the belief which makes one Christian, just as it was not being born a Jew that makes one a Jew. What makes one Christian is the circumcision of the heart by the Holy Spirit.

Bullwhip guy

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 8:30 am on Sunday, January 20, 2008

Here is a funny critique of Rob Bell, Nooma style. Not sure whether it’s justified, as I am not yet very familiar with Rob’s teachings. Yet, I thought it was a nice expose of some of the excesses of the emergent church. 

Are you sure you are saved? – Signs of nothing – Part 5

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 8:55 am on Tuesday, January 15, 2008

After establishing the correct relationship between religion and emotions (see my previous post), Edwards moves onto the meat of the book – signs that determine whether you are saved or not. But prior to providing the positive signs, Edwards mentions twelve “Signs of nothing”, i.e. signs that are often attributed to salvation but don’t actually prove anything. Below I mention a few of them that I thought were the most relevant.

(1) The affections themselves are not a proof, only a sign. This means their absence proves that person is not saved, while their presence may or may not result from Spirit’s saving work. The Israelites at the Red Sea sang God’s praises only to forget his mighty works soon. People who shouted “Hosanna! Hosanna!” at his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, soon replaced this cry with “Crucify! Crucify!”.

(2) For the same reason, fainting or shaking does not proof anything. Mind and body are connected – intense emotions, which don’t prove anything, will have some effect on the body.

(3) Inclination to talk about God does not prove anything. It is natural that someone who is deeply affected by something will often speak of it, yet the scripture is full of example of eloquent Pharisees.

(4) A scripture reference suddenly coming to mind does not prove anything. There is simply no proof of this in the Bible. People tend to think that since Bible is pure and true, any affections arising in conjunction with it must be from God. Yet Bible talks of Satan using scripture verses to tempt Jesus. Why can’t he do that to you?

(5) Well, how about this one? Having a deep and profound assurance that one is saved proves … nothing. The Bible is full of Pharisees who were very sure of their special relationship with God but were actually not saved. True believers embrace assurance of salvation with humility and caution.

Jesus makes it clear that we are to judge the sincerity of one’s belief by the quality of its fruit. But if the presence of the fruit does not prove anything anything, what does? According to Edwards, it is the perseverance of the fruit. But more on signs of true affections in my future posts.

Some updates

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 7:56 am on Monday, January 14, 2008

I haven’t been blogging much recently – too many things are happening. My parents are in town and I spend a lot of time talking to them and taking them around Singapore. With our bible study group we’ve just gone to wonderful weekend retreat in Bintan, Indonesia. And this week we start a new series of  bible studies on the book of Romans. 

Here are my near future plans for this blog:
1) Finish the series “Are you sure you are saved?” on Jonathan Edwards’ Religious Affections
2) I will soon do a few posts on the topic of Christian community, which was the topic of our retreat
3) Following our weekly studies we will be posting teaching summaries on Romans 1-7

Posting using Google docs – detailed explanation

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 7:39 pm on Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Why?

Well, I was quite disappointed with Blogger’s editor. My main issue was that if I use a list, suddenly the text that comes after it starts having less space between the lines. This might be due to some wrong settings, I don’t know. Then there is a strange preview option that doesn’t look anywhere close to what it will look like on the blog. If you are having similar problems, Google Docs maybe for you.

How?

Well, when you sign up with Google, it gives you access to most of its services, e.g. Groups, Calendar, Sheets, Docs. If you go to www.google.com, you should see a link on top, as shown in the figure below.

When there, create a new document and start typing up you post. The editor is somewhat similar to that of Blogger, but more predictable and have some nice additional options. For example, it will keep all your revisions. You can insert tables, bookmarks, separators (horizontal lines), even special characters. You can also adjust the images sizes. I am pretty sure there is even more things that didn’t immediately noticed.

When done, click on “Publish” tab on the right, and then on “Publish to blog” button. Prior to that, you will need to provide details of your blog to Google. See example in the figure below.

Now go to your blog and the post is already there. You can keep editing the post in Google Docs and republish it after you’re done.

Posting using Google docs

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 9:33 am on Monday, January 7, 2008

I just found out that you can actually edit your blog directly in the Google docs. This is actually very cool, as you get so much more control compared to standard blogger editor. Well, here is my first attempt.


Let me do a numbered list:

  1. Item 1
  2. Item 2
  3. Item last
  4. Well, one more

Now, let me insert an image, in the center:

     

You can also edit html directly, very good. Let me try publishing now.

Adding comments from blogger now – that was easy! Just choose publish to blog and it’s there. The only problem is that the title was missing, had to add one manually. Oh well, maybe there is a way to resolve this.

Are you sure you are saved? Part 4

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 8:56 am on Monday, January 7, 2008

Before getting into debate on what it means to be saved, Edwards spends a few chapters to address Chauncy’s concern regarding emotionalism in the religion. According to Edwards, there can be no true religion without emotions. However, instead of emotions, he uses the term ‘affections’, and it is very important to understand the difference between the two.

Affections, according to Edwards, are extreme longings of the will. Emotions can often be no more than states of either euphoria or fear that are unrelated to what mind perceives as true. Affections, on the other hand, are always a fruit of what mind understands and knows.

If I correctly understand Edwards, affections are emotions that arise as a result of some kind of deep understanding of the truth. So if you feel happy on a sunny day, it is an emotion, but if you feel happy if you win a lottery, it’s an affection. If you feel angry because somebody cut into your lane, it is an emotion. If you feel angry because of somebody’s misery or misfortune, it is an affection.

To Edwards, affections are a true sign of Christian understanding; if our understanding did not affect our emotions, we didn’t really understand it. So insisting on emotionless worship and study is really pointless as it prevents the most natural expression of what we learn. Yet, while emotion is a sign of true understanding, it is not a guarantee. To outsiders, affections and emotions look alike. Only as we examine our own hearts we can understand whether we are truly saved. But more on this in my future posts.

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