Rob Bell Is Coming to Town

Pastor Rob Bell is bringing his “The Gods Aren’t Angry Tour” to Dallas next week. In anticipation of the big event, Kate Goodloe from the Dallas Morning News called to get me to comment on Rob Bell’s controversial ministry. Like most most reporters who cover controversial issues, Goodloe includes in her story both supporters and critics. I was brought in as the critic.

Her account of our conversation is good, so far as it goes. But I thought I would fill in some of the gaps since some of my remarks need some more context. Here’s the relevant excerpt from Goodloe’s report:

Critics say he’s taken that idea too far and questioned “fundamental doctrines” of the church, including whether Christians need to believe in the trinity, said Denny Burk, a professor of New Testament at theologically conservative Criswell College in Dallas.

“He says we should be able to question it without Christianity falling,” Mr. Burk said. “That’s why he’s been so controversial.”

Despite his fundamental disagreements with Mr. Bell, whom he calls a “revisionist” of evangelical history, Mr. Burk said Mr. Bell is engaging to listen to – and he knows his students are paying attention, because they often talk about reading his books. “I don’t agree with questioning fundamental doctrines,” Mr. Burk said.

Without more context, I think my comments look a little bit boneheaded. Let me explain.

The fundamental doctrines to which I am referring in the article are the doctrines of the Trinity and the virgin birth of Jesus Christ. In the opening chapter of his book Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith, Rob Bell suggests that these doctrines are not as fundamental to Christianity as some may think. Even though he claims to affirm both doctrines, he at least implies that Christians shouldn’t get their hackles up when someone questions them because Christianity doesn’t rise or fall on either of them.

My problem with Bell’s approach is not that I think it dangerous for Christians to be self-critical. As a matter of fact, I would say that we all need to be more self-critical and by God’s grace should be seeking to bring our lives and our thinking into greater conformity with the truth of the gospel. But that kind of “questioning” is not what Rob Bell commends. Nobody has a problem with questions like, “What hath God said?” But every thinking Christian will have big problems with questions like, “Hath God really said?” (Genesis 3:1). And I’m afraid Bell’s approach reads less like the former and more like the latter.

I’m glad that Rob Bell affirms both the Trinity and the virgin birth of Jesus. I’m outraged at any suggestion that either can be jettisoned without seriously damaging God’s people. If Christians give up the virgin birth of Jesus, they are giving up the Gospels’ accounts of Jesus’ birth. If we give up the Gospels as reliable witnesses to Jesus’ life, we don’t just lose a book. We lose Jesus.

Likewise, one cannot treat the Trinity as if it were an optional add-on to Christian faith. Biblical Christianity is irreducibly Trinitarian. To use a simple analogy, if you take the chocolate out of chocolate pie, it’s no longer chocolate pie. You may still have a pie, and you may still call it chocolate pie. But it’s not chocolate pie. Likewise, if you take the Trinity out of Christianity, you may still have a religion, and you may even call it Christian. But make no mistake; it’s not Christianity.

Unfortunately, Bell’s questions are more about deconstructing than they are about setting forth a positive account of the gospel of Jesus Christ as it is taught in the scriptures. In my view, such deconstruction is more an accommodation to the spirit of the age rather than a faithful witness to it.

For other thoughtful critiques of Bell’s message, see the following:

“Review of Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith” – by Greg Gilbert (9Marks)

“Convergent Conference” Message – by Mark Driscoll (Southeastern Seminary)

P.S. One last minor point of clarification: The article also quotes me saying, “But it’s very fun to listen to. … He’s very real.” Why did I say that? Goodloe had asked me why people were so attracted to Bell. So I told her that he is very charismatic, very fun to listen to, he comes across as authentic, compassionate and real. But I think I also told her that his charisma is precisely what makes him so subversive to traditional Christianity.

123 Responses to Rob Bell Is Coming to Town

  1. Bryan L November 12, 2007 at 12:51 am #

    I’ll be honest I’ve never heard or read Bell or been all that interested in checking him out. What’s the big fuss?


  2. Michael Krahn November 12, 2007 at 9:29 am #

    The big fuss is this: Bell is making enormous inroads to Evangelicalism with his Nooma series. These are being used widely and in themselves are decent, well produced, short programs that make one think about how we should live our lives.

    Unfortunately, Bell’s books and some of his sermons are, shall we say “less than orthodox.”

    Denny, I wrote a series on “Velvet Elvis” earlier this year that I will post a link to if you don’t mind. Also, I just sent you email by way of your comment form about missiology and the Emergent Church but I’m not sure it went through. Please let me know if it did.


  3. jeremy z November 12, 2007 at 10:35 am #

    Wow Denny not only did they twist your words, but you now look like an idiot.

    Bell is not debunking the trinity, Bell is not dismissing the virgin Mary, and Bell is not de-constructing the faith. Bell is simply put fresh spins and perspectives that are awakening people’s spirits and making them fall in love with Jesus.

  4. Todd Pruitt November 12, 2007 at 10:53 am #


    I am curious as to how Bell’s “fresh spins” can “awaken people’s spirits” and “make them fall in love with Jesus.” I thought that was the role of the Holy Spirit.

    Bell compares the doctrines of the Trinity, the resurrection, the atonement, etc to springs on a trampoline – you don’t need all the springs to still enjoy jumping. This is hogwash.

    I don’t understand the arrogance of Bell, MacLaren, Padgett, etc that leads them to think they need to “repaint” or “reimagine” the Christian faith.

  5. David Hamilton November 12, 2007 at 12:20 pm #


    what really gets my hackles up is when people try to “put fresh spins and perspectives” on Jesus in order to make people fall in love with them.

    Jesus does not need to be changed. He is and was the King of this universe. And for that He should be loved, subjected to, and lived for, period.

    My issue is this: if you change Jesus, in an effort to “repaint” or “reimagine” Him in a way that will “reach the mainstream,” you run the risk of giving people a “Jesus” that, although “he” might fit into their lives, “he” will not save their souls.

    The only Jesus that will do that is the real Jesus, the Messiah that the Old Testament looked forward to and that the New Testament tells of. Anything that is not Scriptural Jesus is not the real Jesus, and runs the risk of not being a saving “Jesus.”

    And anybody who defends the Scriptural Jesus should not be called an idiot for doing so.

    “For who is this uncircumsized Philistine, that he should taunt the armies of the living God?” -1 Samuel 17:26

  6. David Hamilton November 12, 2007 at 12:21 pm #

    *fall in love with Him

  7. Benjamin A. November 12, 2007 at 1:03 pm #

    I’m not ‘up-to-speed’ on all that Rob Bell has said or done, and couldn’t endorse him personally, but Denny does make it clear that he hasn’t rejected Trinitarianism or Mary’s virginity prior to Christ’s birth.

    What of the CORE fundamental doctrines has he actually rejected?

    To those who dislike his style or ministry approach, GET OVER IT! I would simply challenge us to find creative/culturally engaging ways to get the truth of Jesus to a lost world. To assume that individuals aren’t used by God to draw lost people into a saving/loving relationship with Jesus is error itself (see 2 Corinthians 5:20). Billy Graham is a prime example of an ambassador of Christ used by God to draw people into a saving/loving relationship with Jesus.

  8. David Hamilton November 12, 2007 at 1:44 pm #

    Billy Graham sowed a lot of seed, but it is presumptuous to know how many of his seeds fell beside the road, on the rocky places, or among the thorns. (It might also be a bit presumptuous to compare Billy Graham and Rob Bell)

    It would be interesting to see the stats on how many people walked the aisle during a Billy Graham altar call, and yet are not professing Christians now.

    I know entirely too many people who were professing Christians at one point and are not now, to believe that every person who was “saved” at a Billy Graham sermon was drawn into a saving/loving relationship with Jesus.
    Just as there is an insane number of people who were in Christian youth groups who have gone astray. So, you have to bring in the whole perseverance issue.

    I still say we are saved by faith alone. But, you have to put some qualifiers on the word “faith,” because too many people do have “faith” or have had “faith” that I do not believe to be saving.
    Two qualifiers that I would add would be faith that is living and faith that perseveres.

    In a world full of roadsides, rocky places, and thorns, I believe that the seed of faith that will be living and will persevere can only come from seeing a Biblically accurate picture of Jesus Christ, of which both the Virgin Birth and the Trinity are essential. They can be “doubted” and they can be “questioned,” but they cannot be disbelieved, at least not while still holding to Christianity. I also believe that the “living-faith seed” must be watered by expository preaching and church discipline, but those are whole other issues altogether.

  9. David Hamilton November 12, 2007 at 1:50 pm #

    Ben, some clarification:
    I realize my last response had a little bit more of an antagonistic feel than your comment deserved.
    I guess my “hackles” are still up from the “idiot” comment.

    Nonetheless, if Bell suggests that the Virgin Birth and the Trinity are not essential, he has a different Jesus than the one in the Bible. And that is dangerous!

  10. jeremy z November 12, 2007 at 3:01 pm #

    okay I am getting blasted again here on

    Here is the deal: I would love to invite any of you to come speak at a student ministries event here in So. Cal. Then, I will invite an individual who brings a freshness to the gospel. I guarantee the students will be engaged and enlighten to the gospel truths, rather than bored and checked out.

    I want a Christian communicator to bring the Scriptures alive. I want to be convinced the communicator has tried and tested the scriptures. I want a communicator who brings a nuance to the scriptures, that I have not been introduced to before. Every time you sit down to a movie, you select a different movie. More than likely you will not chose the movie you have seen over and over again.

    Let me be clear I am not critiquing the message, but I am critiquing how the message is being deliver. One thing the church has done real well: Is boring students into the Kingdom.

  11. jeremy z November 12, 2007 at 3:08 pm #

    Todd I did not attribute Rob over the Holy Spirit. Rob is only a mere instrument to a perspective of the gospel message.

    I would really like to conduct a study that would compare Bell’s church to ya’ll churches. I would love to see the difference and contrasts. Seemingly, ya’ll churches are more worried about the correct doctrine presentation, then who’s heart is being moved towards Christ.
    At the pulpit, we can articulate a “clear” doctrine all day long. However, people do not want pre-packaged doctrine about Jesus. People want a message that is going to move them closer to Jesus. I am sorry but “correct” doctrines do not change people. Experiencing and feeling a sense of Jesus love, acceptance, and forgiveness changes people. I have never heard an individual say: Boy I am sure glad I am crystal clear on the Penal Subst. Now my faith in God has sky rocketed.
    To be honest, our lay people really do not care about doctrine. The are more concerned about message that will meet them where they are at, which means excluding lofty theological language. It is all about how one is translating the doctrine into reality.


  12. David Hamilton November 12, 2007 at 3:20 pm #

    I don’t think that you are saying that the Gospel is boring, but I definitely hope not.

    I might have missed this by a mile, but the issue that I thought Denny was addressing is that Rob Bell suggested that issues that are fundamental to Christianity, specifically the Virgin Birth and the Trinity, are not absolutely fundamental.

    Without the Trinity and the Virgin Birth, you depict a Jesus that was either only a man, or at least a man that was not fully God. That type of “Jesus” can do people a lot of good. “He” can make them a more virtuous person, teach them to be more loving, teach them to be self-denying, help them discover the champion inside them, and make the world look nicer. But, “He” cannot save our souls. In that case, we would be trusting in Jesus for this life only, which would mean that, according to Paul, we are of all men most to be pitied.

    I don’t think that anybody here would have a problem with you bringing in a person who is a good, exciting, fresh communicator; as long as he has solid doctrine. Without solid doctrine that paints an accurate picture of Jesus, you might as well get a clown and start a circus. Without Jesus and the Gospel, it doesn’t matter how entertaining a speaker is, he is going to be as effective at saving souls as a circus.

  13. Brian L. November 12, 2007 at 4:04 pm #


    People a your church don’t care about the penal substitutionary atonement? W/out that, we have no CHRISTIANITY!

    What a rash statement to make. People do care, my kids care, our church cares, most Christians care.

    Again, a fallacious statement by JZ.

  14. jeremy z November 12, 2007 at 4:08 pm #

    Keep the comments coming boys.
    I would much rather my kids have a deep connection to Jesus, than being able to recite the core concepts in the Penal atonement.

  15. David Hamilton November 12, 2007 at 4:25 pm #

    Penal Substitutionary Attonement is the only way that we can have righteousness that surpasses that of the Pharisees, or be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect.

    You might not need to beat them over the head with all the big words, but they should have an understanding of the concept.

    Seeking a “deep connection to Jesus” without explaining the necessary Scripture and strengthening their faith Biblically, is probably the main reason that I went through 5 years of unbelief, even though at 18 I’m sure I had all the outer appearances of a “deep connection to Jesus,” and even thought I really had a “deep connection to Jesus.” And thats probably the reason that 80%, or whatever the per centage is, of youth group kids stray from the faith.

  16. bonnie November 12, 2007 at 4:25 pm #

    Jeremy Z – What does that mean, “a deep connection to Jesus?” What does “Bell is simply put fresh spins and perspectives that are awakening people’s spirits and making them fall in love with Jesus” mean?

  17. Yvette November 12, 2007 at 4:29 pm #


    This is petty…but in your 6th paragraph you wrote “expleain.” I think you need to remove your second “e.”

  18. David Hamilton November 12, 2007 at 4:46 pm #

    I thought maybe “expleain” was just another “Denny word.”
    I’ve heard a lot of “Denny words” since moving to Houston…
    like “Chijis” yesterday…

  19. jeremy z November 12, 2007 at 5:14 pm #

    Bell is connecting people to God’s word and to Him who were sick of religion and their doctrines, but hungry for Jesus. Bell is capturing an audience that no one else would have been able to capture.

    Essentially Bell is doing something different that what every “first Baptist Church” has done and is currently doing.

    That is what I mean Bell is putting a fresh spin and perspectives on the Holy Scriptures.

  20. Casey November 12, 2007 at 6:03 pm #


    Your zeal for wanting to see kids have a “deep connection” and be “hungry for Jesus” is encouraging and commendable but your kids are going to want those metaphors substantiated. I know “doctrine” may be a bad word for you but your “fresh spinning” will slowly become just as dogmatic as your current perception of doctrine.

  21. brian November 12, 2007 at 6:18 pm #


    How can you connect kids to Jesus w/out teaching them doctrine? Nobody (kids?) can know Jesus w/out doctrine. The bible places a huge emphasis on it. Are you actually being serious? nobody needs doctrine? Why are you even a Pastor?

    (Romans 16:17) I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.

    (Ephesians 4:14) so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.

    (1 Timothy 1:3) As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine,

    (1 Timothy 1:10) the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine,

    (1 Timothy 4:6) If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed.

    (1 Timothy 6:3) If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness,

    (Titus 1:9) He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.

    (Titus 2:1) But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine.

    (Titus 2:10) not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.

    (Hebrews 6:1) Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God,

  22. Steve Hayes November 12, 2007 at 7:09 pm #


    I gave Kate your name. I hope that was ok. My quote seemed a bit goofy too, but it was very diplomatic! Anyway, it was fun to be in the same article with you. Who would’ve thought ten years ago that we’d be in the DMN together?!

  23. jeremy z November 13, 2007 at 12:03 am #

    I think the issue boils down to snytax here. Obviously I have core theological convictions, but I stay away from the word doctrine.

    Sometimes I feel like I am confronted by a bunch of Pharisees wanting me to recite sound doctrine.

  24. jeremy z November 13, 2007 at 12:04 am #

    by the way Denny you have two tickets awaiting for you on the box office to view the angry tour.

  25. Denny Burk November 13, 2007 at 12:51 am #


    Yes, she mentioned that you were the culprit. I meant to send you a note earlier about it. Sorry about that, but thanks for mentioning it to her.

    Can you believe that we used to be lifeguards about 10 years ago?! Can you believe that all my memories of one theologian in particular are of him in his speedos?! Now that’s even more bizarre!



  26. Kevin J November 13, 2007 at 1:10 am #


    Do you stay away from other biblical words like “salvation” and “justified” too?

  27. Lucas Knisely November 13, 2007 at 7:23 am #

    To be honest, our lay people really do not care about doctrine. The are more concerned about message that will meet them where they are at


    Our lay people don’t care about Jesus. They want a neutered gospel to meet them where they are at.

  28. Kevin J November 13, 2007 at 8:33 am #

    Jeremy Z,

    Does this passage sound familiar?

    2 Timothy 4:1 – 5 (KJV) I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.

  29. Bryan L November 13, 2007 at 9:51 am #

    I think the important thing about doctrine or theology is that those who teach it always find out ways to connect it the the life of the community and show them how it really makes a difference in their lives. People want to know what difference the gospel makes in their lives and what change it will bring about. They want to know how the gospel will change their marriages or their relationship with their children or their neighbors or their boss and co-workers. They want to know how it will help them become a better person and help them not give into the bad desires they have. They wan’t hope for when they die and hope while they’re alive that gives them something than just what we often settle for. The people in the churches have all these concerns and questions and fears and hopes and often their concerns are ignored and they are just fed more information instead, thinking that all people need is to know more doctrine and theology to make a difference in their lives.

    When I read Paul’s letters I’m struck over how the doctrines and theology he was teaching always seemed to have to do with the situation going on in the community he was writing to. He didn’t just teach them doctrines for no reason but the doctrines he taught addressed issues that they had and they made a difference in the life of the community. Even a doctrine like justification wasn’t just taught because it’s important to know. It was taught most strongly in the context of controversies in the churches where Jew and gentile relationships were at stake. Where gentiles were being told they need to be circumcised and observe Sabbath and food laws to complete their salvation. That’s why Paul goes into it because of the impact it will have on the community and the lives of the believers.

    Look at the “Christ Hymn” in Philippians, where we get so much of our high Christology. Paul wasn’t just teaching it because it’s interesting to know how Jesus is God. We was telling them about Jesus’ amazing sacrifice and all that he gave up, how he didn’t consider his equality with God as something to be exploited or taking advantage of (Denny I know you probably disagree wit this reading but still) but instead he emptied himself instead taking the form of a slave and was obedient even to the point of death and how God has exalted him because of this. And then Paul tells the Philippians to have the same mind as Christ and put others before themselves. He doesn’t just teach these doctrines and this theology for the sake of giving them more information. He connects it to the life of the community in fresh and creative new ways.

    Now is it important that we use words like justification, or sanctification, or penal substitution, or trinity, or soteriology, or ecclesiology, or eschatology or any of those thousands of other theological words to communicate the truths about them in the church to the average person who doesn’t think in philosophical and theological categories? I’m not so sure. I think this is one of the things that many postmodern Christians are beginning to realize, the power of stories to communicate deep theological truths in ways that get inside people and put roots down and profoundly impact the way they think and live because of the profound power of a story. And they do this without having to adhere slavishly to the categories and language of systematic theology.

    I mean C.S. Lewis was able to communicate an important truth like the atonement in his book “The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe”. He was communicating the gospel (or an aspect of it) in a fresh and new way that makes sense and is interesting to adults and children. Of course it was informed by doctrine and theology but not in a way that I feel like I’m reading a theology textbook that’s just full of a list of propositions to believe. Think about how many theological truths Jesus communicated through stories, parables and symbolic acts. These are the things that people often remember instead.

    If that’s all that people like Rob Bell are doing then I’m fine with that. If they’re just looking for creative and fresh new ways to communicate the gospel to a generation that is immediately suspicious of church and dogmatic claims then I’m glad somebody’s doing that. I’m glad someone is willing to cross the street and meet those people where they are and speak the language they speak and address the concerns they have instead expecting them to take the first step, which often they never end up doing.

    Bryan L

  30. Benjamin A. November 13, 2007 at 9:53 am #


    Doesn’t sound like ‘syntax’ to me?

    p.s. go read an article from the Baptist Press, November 6, 2007, titled, “First Person: A shocking confession from Willow Creek Community Church leaders”.

    Willow Creek has released a multi-year study on the effectiveness of their programs and philosophy of ministry in a new book titled, “Reveal: Where Are You?”.

    Hybels admits, “We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become ‘self feeders’. We should have gotten people, taught people, how to read their Bible between services, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own.”

  31. D.J. Williams November 13, 2007 at 10:01 am #


    I have to encourage you, as a fellow youth minister, don’t shy away from doctrine. I am one who said I would NEVER do youth ministry because of the ways I’d seen it abused, yet it is where God has chosen to place me, and the last 2 1/2 years have been extremely rewarding. We as an American church culture sell youth short way too much – they can handle doctrine. We often pander to and design our programs around kids who don’t give a rip about Christ (calling it seeker-sensitive) and thus neglect our true calling, which Kevin wonderfully reminded us of from 2 Timothy 4:1-5. If we want kids to have a balance of sound doctrine and a “real” faith, simply teach them expositorily from God’s Word – it does the job for us. In my 2 1/2 years, our group has studied expositorily James, Jonah, 1 Timothy, Esther, and we are now almost halfway through a yearlong study of the gospel of John (pausing a couple times to discuss certain issues important to our teens – but always from an expository platform). I have watched students who had no interest in “religion” changed thoroughly by the Word of God. I’m not very good at “relating” to teenagers (I wasn’t all that good at it when I was one), but our God does all things well, and he has perfectly equipped us with his Word. From what I have seen of Bell, his emphasis is not on Scripture, and while he may be engaging (that I can’t deny), his approach seems to put more focus on the power of the messenger then the message.

    Sorry if this comes off as a rant, but this subject is an important one to me. I have many flaws as a man and as a minister, but I pray desperately that a neglect of God’s Word in favor of “relatability” will not be one of them.

  32. Todd Pruitt November 13, 2007 at 10:23 am #

    I am amazed at the stunning arrogance that would say that teaching the substance of biblical doctrine is unimportant or even pharisaical. I supposed God wasted His time revealing so much information to us in that thick book from which some of us teach.

    Where does this desire come from to separate sound doctrine from passionate spirituality? I have found secular people to be accutely interested in doctrine. I am asked deep doctrinal questions by lost people on a regular basis. I suppose I should start replying with “Oh, I don’t want to bore you with all that stuff. Just fall in love with Jesus.” That will be, I am sure, crystal clear.

    I grieve that the church has so many youth pastors who are so easily lead astray by every new fad. This breed of youth pastors know precious little about the Word of God. I am saddened that our churches have so many youth pastors who are not competent to teach the substance of God’s Word to young people so they reject those who do as pharisees. On the other hand, I am thankful for a youth pastor who loves Jesus AND His Word. I am thankful for a youth pastor that actually believes that the doctrines of Scripture are powerful and life-changing because they are God’s truth. I am thankful that he actually is competent to teach young people the substance of Scripture with passion and love. I am sure it is very frustrating to not have those competencies.

  33. Todd Pruitt November 13, 2007 at 10:53 am #

    I would like to know which doctrines of the Bible God wasted His time revealing to us in Scripture. Does God have regrets filling so many pages with doctrine when they really aren’t that important? Should a man be entrusted with the responsibility of leading God’s people if he thinks doctrine is uninteresting or irrelevant?

    Also, if people today “don’t want doctrine” does that mean we should honor that preference? What else do people today not want? What are the things that they do want? Did the people of Jesus’ day want Him to teach as He did? Is that why He was so routinely abandoned by the crowds?

  34. Brandon November 13, 2007 at 12:07 pm #

    DJ Williams (#31)…thank you so much for your comments regarding teens and the need to teach them soundly from God’s Word in an expository way. I’m so glad that you did so and appreciate your comments as this world too often dumbs it down for teens as if they cannot handle it. As one who colabors with you in working with teens, I thank you for your positive comments.

  35. jeremy z November 13, 2007 at 12:42 pm #

    Okay, Okay, Okay……
    There needs to be a stop to this craziness. Also, I need to clarify.
    Firstly, I never said biblical doctrine is unimportant.

    Secondly, I do not like the word nor the implications in the word “DOCTRINE”. I would prefer theology. What doctrine means is that the teaching of God is been spoon fed to you. Essentially, doctrine is all or nothing type of theology. Here let me illustrate. If you subscribe to the Penal Subs. theory (that is right it is a theory, which means there are other correct theories that are warranted in scripture), then that means you are Calvinist, strong on baptism, and very very in support of pulpit preaching. I am arguing that Doctrine is very dependent on other theological issues. Your Doctrine is a very all or nothing type of deal. You cannot subscribe to the Penal Subs “theory” and still be considered a Christian. That is now how your doctrine works. Your doctrine has a list of what is correct theology and what is not correct theology. The problem is theology is rooted in the Scriptures and theology has many different perspective on many different theological topics. And you know what….that is okay!!

    This is why I did not want to go to Dallas Theological Seminary. Not only is Dallas full of all white males, but their theological convictions are very one sided. I would only hear about the Penal Subs. theory. I would only hear how the gifts of the spirit were for the apostles and not for today. Fuller theological seminary took scripture very seriously and takes theology very seriously!! Fuller exposed me to a lot of Biblical theology. Fuller gave me a broader understanding. Fuller challenged me to land from what God was telling me. Therefore, my experience with the scriptures shaped my theological convictions.

    Thirdly, I do have theological convictions/doctrine.
    I am a free-will, Christus Victor, already, but not yet, and Charismatic type of Youth Pastor. All of my teachings try to replicate Calvary.

    Fourthly, you guys (and maybe gals????) have a problem with people who do not align to your doctrine. If one does not align themselves to you theologically that is okay. That is the world we live in. Our world is not as black and white as you think it is. There is disagreements and problematic issues all of the place. Also, to say your Doctrine has the ability to answer all of the questions about God is a bit……..well……foolish. I worship a God who has some mystery to Him.

    I do not want a doctrine that has it all figured out. I want a theology that embraces who God is, while leaving room for Him to make some unexpected move. God is bigger than any of my “doctrine” that my little mind articulated.

    So in conclusion, please do not burn me to the stake. I am guy trying to be real to the scriptures and be honestly real trying to translate theological truths in this complicated and complex world to a generation of students who hates church and religion. Your methodology or theology may be different than mine and that is okay. At the end of the day if we can all say we are on the same team, I am okay with that. I am okay disagreeing enough to agree.

  36. Ken November 13, 2007 at 12:58 pm #

    jz: You have some…interesting ideas of what is meant by doctrine. Brian did a wonderful job up in post 21 of laying out the NT passages that exhort careful attention to sound doctrine. The Pastorals are particularly full of such. Paul there instructed Timothy and Titus what it meant to be a responsible shepherd of God’s people. Why do you think he placed such a heavy emphasis on correct teaching?

    If one means to distinguish sound doctrine from false doctrine, then it most certainly is an “all or none” phenomenon. Who wants knowingly to give place to false doctrine in his teaching? Only a false teacher, a wolf in the fold, would be so persuaded.

    I don’t believe anyone on this site is prepared to insist he or she has it all figured out. But unless we want to admit that God cannot or at least has not communicated clearly in his word it is incumbent upon us to work out an understanding of what he has said.

    If you really want to speak to the students you believe are so alienated from church and religion, the most powerful tool in your possession is the unadulterated gospel. Preach the word, jz, in season and out of season. Strive to know nothing but Christ and him crucified. The Spirit will take care of the rest.

  37. MatthewS November 13, 2007 at 1:07 pm #

    Jeremy Z, I have to tease you a little. You sound a little like the yappy dog who starts a fight, then wants out of it. Don’t take it personally. I hope you keep blogging and writing. I was just reading over the comments here and couldn’t resist poking a little fun at ya.

    …you now look like an idiot.

    After six posts by three people – only one post directly addressed you, and that one was to ask a quesiton:
    okay I am getting blasted again here on

    Keep the comments coming boys.

    Okay, Okay, Okay……
    There needs to be a stop to this craziness.

  38. jeremy z November 13, 2007 at 1:46 pm #

    Yeah, I tend to start big and then slowly diffuse. (that is what she said…)

    I felt like I was in a dog fight with bogey firing at me every which way. I realize I am out numbered, so I have to be stragetic in the way I fight the good fight.

    My intention is to make a few jabs and stir the pot a bit, and hopefully get the conversation going. However, this conversation got over my head. People started accusing me of my pastorate position, that I was a heretic, and taking the argument personally. Naturally, I want to fight by the sword, but I am laying down the sword for this post and going to go study the scriptures. If there is time maybe throw on some Chris Tomlin, or Dave Crowder.

  39. Ken November 13, 2007 at 2:25 pm #

    Well, jz, there’s a difference between stirring the pot and sticking your hand in the hornet’s nest. You have to know by now that the people who frequent this blog (not to mention the blog’s author) are committed to the importance of sound doctrine. Many believe American evangelicalism has de-emphasized doctrine to the detriment of the health of the church. They are very suspicious and rightly critical of ministries that emphasize methodology over content, as if the gospel has to be remade and repackaged for each new generation.

    You said in post 10, “I want a Christian communicator to bring the Scriptures alive.” JZ, the Scriptures are already alive (Hebrews 4:12); it is we who are dead. It does not require a “communicator” to make alive that which already lives. All the communicator needs to do is speak the word faithfully. And the power of the preached word is such that by it the Holy Spirit brings new life to men, regardless of their age.

  40. jeremy z November 13, 2007 at 3:52 pm #

    Ken you have to realize Doctrine is not like a true or false test. You cannot simply answer true or false regarding theological content. There are too many variables, directly and/or indirectly, related, namely exegesis, personal experience, denomination, interpretation, and tradition.

  41. jeremy z November 13, 2007 at 3:57 pm #

    Ken I get that and that I why I love this blog. I am looking for Christian followers who demonstrate love, not their doctrine.

    To be honest I am more concern about how doctrine is flushed out in the practical sense. It is called practical theology/doctrine.

  42. Bryan L November 13, 2007 at 4:21 pm #

    I think people forget that when Paul was talking about teaching sound doctrine those who were reading that from him knew exactly what he was talking about. He had personally taught them what that sound doctrine was. That is not the case with us (unless you think Paul still visits you but then you may have some other problems). The Bible doesn’t come to us pre-packaged, already translated and with the correct interpretations already in there for us. Paul didn’t write lists of propositions to believe, he wrote letters and often were stuck listening to one side of the phone conversation trying to piece together what he is responding to. And on top of that Paul isn’t the only author we have in scripture. There are plenty more and they all don’t appear to be saying the exact same thing.

    I think we all realize this. We realize it takes work to do exegesis, theology and doctrine and even more work to make it all fit together. It didn’t just fall out of the sky, given to us by God. There are a lot of steps in the process to get from the words in the Bible to doctrine.

    I think maybe Jeremy is just asking for a humility and graciousness from some who seem to act like it has come to us in the way just described. I think we realize that equally great exegetes and theologians disagree and we can’t just attribute the disagreement with our particular views to liberalness. And it doesn’t help to paint those we disagree with as heretics or unorthodox (which they may very well be). It doesn’t help to automatically jump to that conclusion without being willing to listen and discuss.

    The trinity was one of the doctrines that was first brought up. The reality is the trinity in it’s full form is not clearly taught in the Bible. There’s a reason it took a few hundred years to hammer it out and why there were plenty of councils that had to take place. The same can even be said with the divinity of Christ. We read the Bible being taught all this time that Jesus is both God and man, and we can easily see it, but this isn’t the case with church history. We find them debating that for a few hundred years as well, disagreeing about whether he was really God and not man, or he was really man and not God or he was both but more one than the other and then discussing how he could be God, impassible, and man at the same time and then we get the 2 natures thing and the rest is history.

    Penal Substitution is another view that was brought up. People talk about it like it is obviously in the Bible spelled out for us. And then there’s rhetoric thrown out against those who don’t believe it. Dever just said something to the effect of if you didn’t like a particular book on PSA then you didn’t like Christianity? What?! That’s uncalled for, but many follow in his footsteps and go even further. If PSA is such a big deal and clearly taught in the Bible then why do we not find it showing up for so much of church history? Jeremy pointed to Christus Victor which was more widely believed before PSA came along. And there were other widely held beliefs too.

    Anyway all that to say that we do need a little more humility in dealing with others who disagree with our theology and realize that certain doctrines that seem obviously taught in the Bible may not appear that way to others who’ve haven’t had it drilled into them by their favorite teachers. Let’s not just assume that those who disagree are just being rebellious to the word or heretics or unorthodox. Let’s show each other a little more grace in our disagreements.

    Anyway that’s just my opinion.


  43. jeremy z November 13, 2007 at 5:13 pm #

    Bryan very well said and articulated. I agree 100%!!!

    A simple acknowledgment of that there are other “correct” interpretations.

    You the man Bryan L.

  44. Ken November 13, 2007 at 5:17 pm #

    I read a tremendous Chesterton quote just this morning on the subject of humility and conviction. The man speaks truth to this generation even more than he did his own. I’ll have to post it when I get the chance.

  45. Ken November 13, 2007 at 5:19 pm #

    Bryan and JZ: What do we do when “correct” interpretations differ? How about when they contradict one another?

  46. Todd Pruitt November 13, 2007 at 5:26 pm #


    It is very easy to knock down straw men. I am not aware of anyone who thinks they have everything about God figured out. I don’t know anyone who says that “their doctrine has the ability to answer all the questions about God.” To accuse someone of that is a bit…well…foolish.

    However, I don’t think it is a virtue to be more ignorant than God wants us to be. I’m pretty sure that God did not give us the Bible so we could shrug our shoulders at important theological matters and say, “Who can know? God is a mystery.” Has not given us a massive volume of truth? Has he not communicated truth to us in the genres of law, history, poetry, proverb, narrative, apocalyptic, and didactic instruction?

    My problem is with the Christian (especially the pastor) who says things like, “The questions are more important than the answers.” Imagine if Peter had said that at Pentecost in answer to the cries of “What must we do to be saved.”

    Jeremy, your definitions of “doctrine” vs. “theology” are quite novel. I have never heard that before. Can you point me to the source of that distinction?

    Also, I think Paul would be shocked at the assertion that Penal Substitution is just a theory. Have you had a chance to read Romans 3?

  47. Bryan L November 13, 2007 at 5:47 pm #

    We get the wood and burn the others at the stake. Just kidding.

    What do you do when you disagree with anyone over anything? If you and the person are open to it, y’all talk about it. You discuss your points of view. You listen to each other. You find out what the root of your disagreements are. You find out what your presuppositions are and how your worldview affects your interpretation. At some point you may find that the evidence only takes each of you so far and that at some point both of you are forced to make a leap of faith one way or the other and that’s where your disagreement lies. At that point you have to be a little more understanding as to why you came up with different interpretations and not immediately write the other off because they don’t agree with you. I think if we’re honest when it comes to different views and interpretations there are good reasons to go either way and sometimes it’s our own personal preference that causes us to go one way instead of the other.

    Just look at the Charismatic issues. I’ll be honest I don’t see how anyone can read Paul and come up with the idea that certain gifts were only supposed to be for a certain time and certain groups and that they would be discontinued. But many come to his letters and walk away with that interpretation. But they don’t only get that from the text. Their personal experience or lack thereof also helps them go in that particular direction, not to mention the circles they run in and what the predominant view is around them. Now I understand that and understand how cessasionists could come up with a different interpretation. I don’t think they’re necessarily and willfully being rebellious to the word (although some do and employ that kind of rhetoric like Dwight McKissic). I just think there’s more involved in that.

    How do I approach my disagreement with someone over an issue like Charismatic gifts? I do so in love. Patiently listening to them and when I disagree I try to do so respectfully. I don’t try to humiliate them or take away their dignity. And I try to help them see my point of view and convince them that it is the right interpretation. If we walk away still disagreeing I still love them as a brother or sister in Christ and I don’t write them off or consider them outside the fold or heretics or whatever. And I keep the lines of communication open and continue trying to convince them, and at the same time realizing that if we are truly having a real discussion and real dialog, open to hearing what the other has to say, then it may in fact be me who changes my view. And that’s the dangerous thing about dialog and debate. Sometimes we go into it and it is we who are changed not the other person and I can look at many things that I once believed fervently and through dialog and study and conversation I ended up being convinced that I was wrong. And that’s a humbling experience to have to admit that and having it only happen once is enough to cause me to be a little more humble and gracious in these types of discussions.

    Hope that helps.


  48. jeremy z November 13, 2007 at 5:56 pm #

    Todd thank you for your comments. “You have knocked me down and I cannot get up.” Remember that commercial? Classic.

    anyways, I did not extract the idea of: Doctrine vs. Theology from anywhere. This was just a mere observation from being in multiple conversations with multiple people who belong to different traditions within Christianity. It is funny, you South people love the word doctrine while us west coast people love the word theology.

    I have just argued that doctrine is compiling of certain theological positioning that seemingly run congruent with one another. Doctrine is very linear.
    However Theology deals only one one theological topic at a time. For instance eccelesiology, eschatology, atonement, pnuematology, election, etc… Theology specifically deals with one aspect at time. In contrast, doctrine has defined positions of each theological topic. Doctrine articulates a set of theological convictions within systematic theology.

    I think Paul would be shocked to hear Penal Substitution is just a theory too because he never used that exact language of PNS. Yes, he alluded and stated ideas layered in the Penal position, but he also alluded and stated to elements layered in other atonement theories.

  49. Bryan L November 13, 2007 at 6:05 pm #

    Todd you accuse Jeremy of setting up a straw man and then you turn around and do the same thing you accuse him of and you seem to go one and put words in Jeremy’s mouth that he never said or take the things he did say further than he intended.

    I can’t say that I’ve ever heard a pastor say “The questions are more important than the answers.” Does that make you wrong?
    I can also say that I’ve come across plenty of Christian who even if they didn’t say they knew it all they still acted like it. Does that make Jeremy right?

    So is one of you wrong or is one of you setting up a straw man?

    I don’t think either of you are setting up straw men. I think both of you are describing actual experiences you’ve had and I don’t think it is helpful to try to discount those experiences writing them off as straw men arguments.

    Someone doesn’t have to say they know it all to act like they do and a pastor doesn’t have to say the questions are more important than the answers to imply that in their teaching.

    I think both of you are speaking for your actual experiences and we should try to listen to each other and see where we are each coming from and address the actual concerns we are each raising.


  50. Mason Beecroft November 13, 2007 at 6:48 pm #

    The heretical impulse is hard to overcome in sinful man. And the Christian “Chicken Littles” continue their cry: “The church is dying, the church is dying!” So from John Spong to Bill Hybels to Rob Bell, the church and its message is recreated and repackaged to be palatable to modern man. “If the church doesn’t change, then it will die!” Of course the underlying assumption is that the problem is with the catholic faith. The catholic faith responds that the problem resides in the depravity and idolatry of modern man. The problem is not with the church, its confession of faith, its liturgy, its sacraments, etc. The problem is our own arrogance and hubris accompanied with our narcissistic consumerism. Bell, Spong, Hybels, and company are short-sighted and will soon fade away. True catholic faith is directed toward the eschaton, now present in Word and Sacrament and yet future at Christ’s Second Advent, and will not be swayed by the weak-mindedness of such pundits. But many will be swayed by their pious and impious emoting because we have been taught to think more highly of ourselves than we ought. Ichabod on the North American “church”.

  51. jeremy z November 13, 2007 at 7:16 pm #

    Mason can you repost your post in english please?

  52. Carlito November 13, 2007 at 7:34 pm #

    I think we need to reaffirm Paul’s exhortation to speak the TRUTH in LOVE. To walk worthy of the gospel means to embrace both of these elements wholeheartedly as we minister and teach and preach and all that good stuff.

    I think JZ and Bryan L would both agree that sound doctrine is important. I think those who prioritize doctrine would agree that true Christ-like servanthood within and outside the church must be characterized with a humble die-to-self-type love.

    I think we can get swept away in caricatures and stereoptypes without realizing it.

    JZ – From reading your posts, I think you may have some misconceptions about what it looks like to esteem doctrine. You may have a picture in your head of some fundy-type screaming and sweating and yelling fire & brimstone. Either that, or agonizing through sermons (and trying to stay awake) that are akin to reading the dictionary.

    The guys who are blasting JZ may have some misconceptions about what it looks like to make some elements of youth ministry “seeker-friendly” (for lack of a better term). These people may be assuming that if messages or evangelistic methods are progressive or “contemporary” and don’t use the 18-letter doctrinal words, they are totally abandoning the fundamental elements of orthodox doctrine.

    All that is to say that I think we’re all on the same team, and sometimes (as with the Calvinist/Arminian debate), we take both views to extremes when there’s really no need to do so.

    Also, for me, it ultimately comes down to exalting the name of Jesus alone and, with Paul, preaching Christ and Him crucified and Him raised from the dead in power and glory. We must exalt Christ and not center the faith on ourselves. The danger lies in allowing people (especially youth) come up with their own self-deluded ideas about who Jesus is and how He works and how He saves. We can’t just pat them on the back and say “Jesus is cool and He’s whoever you want Him to be”. As long as we’re exalting Christ and the wonderful cross above all else, it’s all good in the neighborhood.

  53. Carlito November 13, 2007 at 7:38 pm #

    By the way, I believe this is the Chesterton quote Ken was referring to..

    It’s a gem!

    “What we suffer from today is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert – himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt – the Divine Reason. . . . The new skeptic is so humble that he doubts if he can even learn. . . . There is a real humility typical of our time; but it so happens that it’s practically a more poisonous humility than the wildest prostrations of the ascetic. . . . The old humility made a man doubtful about his efforts, which might make him work harder. But the new humility makes a man doubtful about his aims, which makes him stop working altogether. . . . We are on the road to producing a race of man too mentally modest to believe in the multiplication table.” – G.K. Chesterton

  54. Carlito November 13, 2007 at 7:50 pm #

    Sorry, 1 more comment, and then I’ll let you guys get back to the discussion:

    My church has a neat take on teen youth ministry, and it’s been unbelievably fruitful – God has blessed it richly. See below for a high-level description. I think the foundation of the ministry being parent-driven is huge because doctrine or no doctrine, kids in the church tend to be rebellious and aren’t typically chomping at the bit to honor their parents. What a beautiful thing to use the ministry to buid relationships and biblical fellowship within the family – which is probably one of the most important aspect of a young person’s life.

    Relay is a parent-driven youth ministry. The name represents the commitment to equip and help parents pass the baton of their faith to their children. RELAY’s moto “Live well, Live Long” (based on Ephesians 6:1-3) reflects the goal of building God-glorifying relationships between parents and their youth. Once a month, youth and their parents meet for worship, teaching, small group discussion, fellowship and refreshments. These Saturday night meetings serve to strengthen RELAY’s goal of encouraging parents and youth to grow in their individual relationship with God, each other, and develop God-honoring relationships in the local church. In addition to monthly meetings, students and parents can participate in recreational activities, service outreach projects, and a yearly summer retreat to receive relevant teaching, participate in exciting worship, and make memories together through fun activities…..

  55. Mason Beecroft November 13, 2007 at 8:12 pm #

    Here’s a translation: We do not need a fresh presentation of the Gospel, but a faithful proclamation of the Gospel. It alone is the power of God for salvation to all who believe. Thus, the grace of the Gospel alone will transform us into the image of Christ. Reimagining, reinventing, reconfiguring, reestablishing, etc. ad nauseam serve the ego of both the communicator and overly pious listener, but really do nothing more. But it does sell books.

  56. David Hamilton November 13, 2007 at 8:15 pm #

    Jeremy Z,
    I’d just like to say that this whole thing started out of you calling Denny, on his blog, an idiot.

    You probably could have saved yourself a lot of bogies by coming from a different angle than that.

    And you did not address what Denny’s concern with Bell appears to be: which is that Bell suggests that things that are fundamental to Jesus, the founder and foundation of Christianity, are not as fundamental as we believe them to be.

    Undermining the importance of the Trinity and the Virgin Birth is like Joel and Victoria Osteen not wanting to put Crosses in their “church,” and saying that they hope more churches will start to resemble theirs in that manner.

    Taking away the Trinity, the Virgin Birth, and the Cross might be putting a “fresh spin” on things, and that might be a way to bring “Jesus” to the mainstream, but I don’t think that kind of “Jesus” is going to save souls.

    Can we disagree on Penal Substitutionary Atonment? Maybe- I think its important, but if we agree on more important things, I think I can agree to disagree.
    Can we disagree on the Trinity or the Virgin Birth? No.


  57. Bryan L November 13, 2007 at 8:18 pm #

    Wise words as always Carlito.

    Mason can you unpack your last post a bit more? What does what you’re advocating look like in practice? What does that which you are speaking against look like in practice?

    It sounds interesting in the abstract but I would like to know how I would identify each aspect of what you are speaking of if I saw it in the real world. Maybe some examples would help.


  58. Mason Beecroft November 13, 2007 at 8:52 pm #

    I am a confessional Lutheran, which means that we are part of the Western Catholic heritage. Thus, we retain the Mass where we confess that Christ gives His gifts of forgiveness of sins, grace, and salvation according to His Word. The Western rite liturgy and lectionary guarantee that the Word dominates and directs us to Christ. Our preaching consists of repentance and forgiveness in Christ (law and Gospel). Didn’t Jesus command His followers to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins in His name? For Luther, the entire life of the Christian was one of repentance (thesis 1 of the 95). We are constantly called to examine ourselves according to God’s commandments so that we are repeatedly driven to the grace and lovingkindness of God revealed in Christ on the cradle and the cross. For us, the Christian life is not about principles for morality or the subjectivity of our circumstances. Rather, the Christian life and faith is realized in the objectivity of Christ crucified for you. And the message of Christ incarnate, crucified, resurrected, and ascended is the power of salvation as well as transformation.

    In theory, the culture and its fads should have no impact on the faith and life of the Church. In practice, I admit, many of our parishes have gone the way of generic American evangelicalism, which is, in my opinion, unfortunate.

    I believe that our desire to repackage the Gospel indicates a lack of trust in God’s power of salvation. Finney and company have won the day in many respects.

    I readily admit that it is impossible to understand a church from the outside. I am a graduate of DTS and understand evangelicalism to a degree, but have been Lutheran for some time now. So I speak a different language-the sacramental world is strange for evangelicals, I have found. If interested, Gene Veith’s book, “The Spirituality of the Cross: the Way of the First Evangelicals” is the best introduction to Lutheran faith and practice.

    Hope this helps explain my screed.

  59. Ted November 13, 2007 at 8:58 pm #

    Here’s what I wish Denny and the legion of commentators here would answer:

    If Rob Bell affirms, yet minimizes the Trinity and the Virgin Birth, what doctrine or idea does Bell highlight? What doctrine(s) is essential to know and worship Jesus?

    If you’re going to minimize a doctrine, either something else must take its place or what still remains central must gain greater prominence.

  60. Mason Beecroft November 13, 2007 at 9:00 pm #

    Just read your question again-

    I am preaching against the mainline impulse to modernize the Christian message, which is not an issue for most who read the blog, and the emergent/evangelical impulse to modernize the Christian message, which is an issue. When worship becomes what we do for God (or ourselves?) and doctrine/dogma is set against practice, then the Gospel is lost. The entire movement of the Gospel is God coming to us in Christ by the Spirit for our salvation. We respond by faith created by the Holy Spirit to offer our prayer, praise and thanks through Christ to the Father. We also respond by faith in service of our neighbor, although this does nothing for our standing coram deo. Our faith, worship, and life are essentially Trinitarian. When this essential element of Christianity is replaced by our piety, response, charity, giftedness, Charisma, emotion, etc., then we risk losing the Gospel. Would you like actual examples? I can name a few…

  61. Bryan L November 13, 2007 at 9:25 pm #

    I’ll be honest Mason I have a hard time understanding what your saying. It sounds nice and theological and profound but I’m wondering how if I, someone who is interested in theology and biblical studies, find it hard to understand what you are saying and what the implications are of what you’re saying, then what does the average uninformed Lutheran church goer hear? Please don’t take that the wrong way Mason.

    Does the average church goer in the Lutheran church see it the way you do Mason or is your perspective generally unique since it is informed by your theological education? What would I see that is any different among the average church goer in your church and any other evangelical church?

    I guess I’m just wondering if I would see a lot of great theology and lofty words spoken but little in the way of power and changed lives. No matter what tradition we are talking about I guess that is one of my main concerns. In an average evangelical church if the preacher is preaching sound doctrine and deep theology week after week and the clergy have ways of putting a nice theological spin on everything that is being done, yet at the same time the average person in the pew is bored, unexcited about the gospel, walking out the same that they came in and showing no difference in their lives or from the world then all that theological talk really means nothing to me and it’s clear that something is wrong and maybe we do need to figure out other methods of communicating the gospel.

    It reminds me of Luke Timothy Johnson in his book “Religious Experience in Earliest Christianity” commenting on the catholic church and how in the front of the church in the sanctuary you have the formalness of religion where everything is orderly and correct, and “In the vestibule of the church, however, another religious
    world thrives,” where you have the evidence of the average church members looking elsewhere for the real power to make a difference in their lives.

    I think this describes many regular churches. The members come to practice their formal religion but look elsewhere for the real power to change their lives (TV Preachers, self help books, Oprah or DR Phil, mysticism, astrology, etc…)

    Again please don’t take any of this the wrong way or see it as finger pointing or accusatory. I’m just trying to get past any nice pious talk so that we can be honest about what we really see going on in the church.

    Thanks for sharing Mason.


  62. Mason Beecroft November 13, 2007 at 10:07 pm #

    I am not easily offended so please do not feel the need to apologize.

    Interests in theology and biblical studies, however, do not guarantee understanding of the liturgical and sacramental life of the Church. A wise friend of mine once told me it is impossible to understand a church from the outside. But your lack of understanding does not in any way detract from a rich, profound proclamation of Christ that has endured in a myriad of forms for hundreds of years. Luther, Melanchthon, Chemnitz, Bach, and company hardly need a defense when it comes to Christian faith.

    Yet I will not pretend that the average Lutheran churchgoer, whoever that might be, is always engaged by the liturgy or sermon. Nor will I pretend that people always find the “power” to change their lives. But the question is where does this power reside?

    Morality is not holiness, although holy people are certainly moral. For those who reduce Christianity to moral principles for living a blessed life, then the power for transformation will reside in behavior modification. The Marines are good at this and so is legalism, but neither are the stuff of the Church. Or for those who think the “power” of Christianity is contentment, blessedness, and happiness, then they will run to the therapeutic and effeminite (Osteen, Dr. Phil, Oprah, dockers-clad boomer huffing and sighing, word-faith, etc.). I won’t even comment on what this speaks to our Lord and the martyrs of the faith. If people are bored and look for the “power” in enthusiastic or charismatic leaders, hip music and human response, then they should probably just go the movies, a Springsteen concert, or watch the NFL. All this is to say, the “way of power and changed lives” is not the proper criteria for understanding the Gospel and Christian faith.

    The “power” of the Gospl resides in Christ being for us in His death and resurrection. So I remind my parishioners that Christ is for them. If I preach a stinker, then they still encounter the grace and love of Christ in Holy Absolution of the Holy Sacrament. Our Lord comes to us time and again with His grace. And He does this through the Word preached and the Sacraments administered.

    The self-righteous, narcissistic consumer is bored by such things. But sinners are comforted by the Gospel. After all, our Lord seeks out sinners and gives them His grace. The grace of Christ both declares sinners righteous and makes sinners righteous. The power resides in Christ and His work. The making, however, is not always transparent. And sinners continue to sin. Thus, they need to hear the grace of Christ applied and preached to them over again. They need to feed on His Word and His Sacraments. They constantly need Christ.

    Now you might not notice anything different about a Lutheran. In fact, your piety might be offended that Lutherans would drink beer or smoke. But we would contend that holiness does not consist of such things. Holiness is found in Christ. And holiness is defined by pure love of God and neighbor, which escapes us all. But this is not a reason for despair. It only points us again to our Lord and His grace, which reminds us that we belong to Him and nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. And belonging to Christ we are called to love our neighbor both in sharing the good news of His death and resurrection for sinners and in offering ourselves as servants in our vocations in life. So we plod along, praying, “Lord, have mercy on me.” And we trust that He does have mercy. After all, this is Jesus’ promise.

    If people are bored and miss the beauty and comfort of Christ for them in the proclaimed and sacramental Word, then I’m not sure that a rock band, creative communication, relevance, or a banal moral lesson will make the connection. The liver might quiver, the sensitive might be burdened with their need to love Jesus more or be a better person, and the pious might look with disdain at those less pious, but such things are not the Gospel.

    I do not pretend to “really see” what is going on in the church because I believe such things are beyond my finite grasp. But I do confess and believe that apart from fidelity to the proclamation of Christ and Him crucified, the Spirit does not create, sustain, or strengthen faith.

    For further study, I would recommend Robert Wilken’s latest book, “The Spirit of Early Christian Thought”, which effectively debunks the Harnackian thesis and opens up the Christ-centered piety of early Christianity, which I believe is part of the Lutheran heritage. Or, as already mentioned, check out Veith’s book, “The Spirituality of the Cross.” Not prosletyzing, but offering a different perspective than American evangelicalism.

    In Christ,

  63. jeremy z November 14, 2007 at 1:17 am #

    Carlito very well said. I appreciate the understanding and valued insight.

    Also thanks Mason for re-clarifying.

  64. Brian L. November 14, 2007 at 3:00 am #


    Long comment thread….lol

  65. Bryan L November 14, 2007 at 3:59 am #


    Earlier you spoke against a modernizing tendency in the church yet at the same time you mention that the Lutheran church has only been around for a few hundred years. I’m sure there are aspects of it that were modern at one time or another am I wrong? I mean lets be honest we probably wouldn’t be able to find many churches that look like the earliest church which was itself variegated and looked different depending on it’s geographical context and itself was modern as well (one of the things against it and other religions like it was that it was not an ancient faith). And if that is the case then they all reflect a time in history when the church was modern and reflected the modern culture although differing from it in key places.

    Also I’m curious how you seem to speak about Christianity not being about morality or contentment or blessedness or happiness. Yet Paul would say those who have been justified will live righteous lives, and those who have received the Holy Spirit will live holy lives and he speaks of a contentment, of being satisfied in all circumstances that only comes from being in Christ. Our status in Christ does effect our behavior. And I don’t think you would say that the mark of being in Christ is immorality, unsatisfaction, cursedness and depression would you?

    Now true those things are not what Christianity is all about but they are still part of it and not things that shouldn’t be neglected or assigned an inferior role should they? And I don’t think anyone is talking about finding those things apart from Christ after all are you truly finding contentment, blessedness and happiness if you aren’t finding them in Christ? And even if you are finding ways to live moral or ethical lives outside of Christ (marines, legalism as you mentioned) is it really the same since only Christ and his Holy Spirit can truly change the heart instead of just the outside?

    I reminded that Paul said to the Corinthians in 1 Cor 2:4-5 “My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.”
    And again a little later in 1 Cor 4:20 he says “For the kingdom of God depends not on talk but on power”

    Paul had a lot to say about power and apparently this was power that they could visibly witness and was undeniable by those he was writing to. They didn’t just have to trust God that it was there when everything looked to the contrary like the Emperor’s new clothes. He didn’t think it was enough to come with eloquent speech or fancy theology (which I’m sure he probably was capable of) after all you can get that anywhere. He was determined to come with power so that people would really see the difference of being in Christ.

    That’s all I’m concerned with, that we haven’t replaced true power with profound theology and fancy words. Sacraments and liturgy are great for me as long as they don’t become a replacement for God moving and doing awesome things in the lives of the believers in the community of faith, visible things than can be seen. I think there needs to be balance and I think we need to be honest with ourselves and what we see. If we speak about power and what a differne being in Christ makes but you look around in our churches and it looks like just the opposite in that we are finding bored, unengaged, uninvolved, unresponsive, religious in a formal sense Christians who look not much different from the world around them then I think we need to do some inward reflection and ask if this is what Christ intended his church, his body, to look like instead of us coming up with theological rational as to why it’s ok to look this way or writing off the average church goer who just doesn’t get it (which is obviously their fault).

    Again please don’t see any of this as accusatory or finger pointing. I’m speaking to myself and my context just as much in all of this.

    Thanks for the book recommendation. It looks interesting although I’m not sure what Harnack’s thesis was since Harnack doesn’t really seem to be brought up much in the book (based on my search in Amazon). Maybe you could explain that to me.

    And thanks for your perspective which is probably different from many others here but still valuable.


  66. Mason Beecroft November 14, 2007 at 7:26 am #

    I’ll get back to this tonight. I don’t want to leave you hanging.

    Quickly, Harnack’s thesis, which reflects Bauer and 19th century German biblica criticism, contended that the pristine Jesus movement declined into Hellenism and philosophical categories, borrowing from the larger culture. Thus, the early church tainted and obscured the pure. This thesis has dominated biblical scholarship, which largely attempts to recreate the original community, get in the mind of the author, figure out the text through grammatical or critical methods. Creeds, liturgy, piety, etc. are dismissed as Hellenistic or political maneuvers or whatever. Wilken claims that such an approach is ignorant of early Christianity, its liturgy, faith, and piety. Hurtado’s work also speaks to this as well. Thanks for the engagement. I look forward to speaking to the “modern” Lutheran Church!
    Pax et bonum,

  67. Carlito November 14, 2007 at 8:53 am #

    Mason – FYI, I just gave a standing ovation to your post #62..

    GREAT words, my man.

  68. Bryan L November 14, 2007 at 9:07 am #

    Thanks Mason.

    The book sounds interesting. One of the things it brought to mind is a question on whether Harnack’s view of the church’s move towards Hellenism and Hellenistic category was primarily concerned with the first century (so that it was an early move refelcted in Paul) or the later centuries (the patristic period). If it was primarily concerned with the first century then I can see how that view would be over turned. If it was concerned with the later centuries then it does seem like the later centuries were dominated by Hellenism and Hellenistic categories and so I’d be interested in seeing how how he argues against that. When I read about the debate of the nature of Jesus it seems completely dominated by the Greek philosophy of the day.

    But anyway the book sounds interesting and I’ll have to give it a read.


  69. Benjamin A. November 14, 2007 at 11:53 am #

    Mason, in post #63 you said:
    “If people are bored and miss the beauty and comfort of Christ for them in the proclaimed and sacramental Word,”

    Question: In as few of words as possible: What do you mean when you say ‘sacramental Word’?

    I have an idea, but I would like to hear your understanding.

    Also, in that same post you state:
    “Now you might not notice anything different about a Lutheran. In fact, your piety might be offended that Lutherans would drink beer or smoke. But we would contend that holiness does not consist of such things. Holiness is found in Christ. And holiness is defined by pure love of God and neighbor, which escapes us all. But this is not a reason for despair. It only points us again to our Lord and His grace, . . .”

    Ok, drinking beer is not sinful, but drunkenness is; smoking is harmful to your health (not sinful) and the health of other around whom you smoke (Phil 2:3-4 Others needs as being more important than your own; that should probably preclude you from smoking around non-smokers (demonstrating a pure love for your neighbor concept).

    So the two items you mention (beer drinking/smoking) are essentially non-issues as holiness is concerned. Would you as freely put adultery, homosexuality, hostility, drunkenness (not just beer drinking), etc., into your list and still say, “we would contend that holiness does not consist of such things.”?

    Could I attend your church, profess Christ, live in open homosexuality, and simply remind you and others that “holiness does not consist of such things” and that my real holiness “is found in Christ”, so don’t bother me about my sexual preference, after all, “it only points me to my Lord and His grace” in my life?


  70. Lucas Knisely November 14, 2007 at 1:55 pm #

    My response to this quote from #62:
    I guess I’m just wondering if I would see a lot of great theology and lofty words spoken but little in the way of power and changed lives. No matter what tradition we are talking about I guess that is one of my main concerns. In an average evangelical church if the preacher is preaching sound doctrine and deep theology week after week and the clergy have ways of putting a nice theological spin on everything that is being done, yet at the same time the average person in the pew is bored, unexcited about the gospel, walking out the same that they came in and showing no difference in their lives or from the world then all that theological talk really means nothing to me and it’s clear that something is wrong and maybe we do need to figure out other methods of communicating the gospel.

    Saying that something needs to change based solely on someone’s response to it is a tad rash. It is clear to you that something is wrong? Me too. They may be bored because they are more concerned with the world than the language, doctrine, and gospel of God. Sure, using big confusing words isn’t a good approach if your congregation has no clue what you are saying. But a good preacher will educate his people.

    Here are two extremes that hopefully we can all agree should be avoided.

    1. A preacher who never stretches his people by introducing new concepts, words, and doctrines. Milk, milk, milk.

    2. A preacher who constantly preaches over his people and never comes down to their level to teach them what 50% of his vocabulary even means. Burnt steak, burnt steak, burnt steak.

    I throw out these extremes to show you that just because your people are bored does not mean you are doing something wrong. It could be their hearts. Think of how much work it is to really study and know God’s word. Naturally most people will stiff arm it and think it just “isn’t for them”.

    Good and sound doctrine will change lives because the Holy Spirit works through the proclamation of God’s word. To deviate simply because people are bored isn’t necessary.

  71. David Hamilton November 14, 2007 at 2:14 pm #

    Dr. Jim Hamilton just did a seminar on the local church this past Saturday.

    You can listen to the two sessions here:

    Or just listen to session 1 here:

    and part 2 here:

  72. Mason Beecroft November 14, 2007 at 2:19 pm #

    I’m still listening and will reply tonight. I am at the office and getting ready to make some home visits.

    For Lutherans, the sacramental Word refers to Christ working grace through His appointed means. We believe these means are the Word proclaimed, Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, and Holy Communion. Obviously, the last three are not considered means of grace by most evangelicals. But we argue they were commanded by Christ; His Word is joined to a visible element; and His grace operates in them. In no way are they divorced from faith, but actually they create, sustain, and nourish faith.

    With respect to holiness, I used those examples in a somewhat flippant manner. Lutherans believe that sin is defined by God’s Law. God’s requirements for humanity are love God and love neighbor, which is summarized, although not exhausted, by the commandments. The function of God’s law is to kill and crush the sinner with the weight of their sin so that they may be brought to repentance and true faith. Homosexuality is a clear violation of God’s law and calls for repentance, just like heterosexual immorality , drunkenness, idolatry, coveting, etc. Our tradition is rich with tools for self-examination meant to bring us to repentance before Christ. Please don’t get the impression that we are soft on sin or afraid to call a thing what it is- read Luther’s Hiedelberg Disputation for a wonderful explanation of the Theology of the Cross that will further elucidate this approach.

    The law, however, does not produce righteousness. It only brings us to Christ and His righteousness, which transforms us into His image. Again, the Gospel of Christ is the power of salvation for all who believe. It is not based on man-made rules, techniques, responses, feelings, or whatever else that can be manipulated into false righteousness and holiness.

    I need to leave for appointments, but will check back later.

    I’m curious- what have people read about Luther/Lutheranism?

  73. Brian L. November 14, 2007 at 3:25 pm #

    Quote from J. C. Ryle’s “Holiness” book:

    “A religion without doctrine or dogma is a thing which many are fond of talking of in the present day. It sounds very fine at first. It looks very pretty at a distance. But the moment we sit down to examine and consider it, we shall find it a simple impossibility. We might as well talk of a body without bones and sinews. No man will ever be anything or do anything in religion, unless he believes something…No one ever fights earnestly against the world, the flesh and the devil, unless he has engraven on his heart certain great principles which he believes.”

  74. Carlito November 14, 2007 at 4:22 pm #

    “Bondage of the Will” is a great read from Luther. I’m a big fan of his.. One of my buddies has a shirt with his mugshot on the front and it reads “Luther is My Homeboy”. I love it.

    One other random fact, Mason – I’m getting married in March at a Lutheran church here in Knoxville. My church is a rather large non-denominational and the building isn’t really conducive to a wedding. That’s about the extent of my knowledge on Lutheranism :o)

  75. Mason Beecroft November 14, 2007 at 7:08 pm #

    I would actually argue that the Lutheran church is most faithful to the Western Catholic Tradition. It is why I am Lutheran. Our liturgy, hymnody, and doctrine, I believe, reflects the best of the Great Tradition. We are the Church of Ignatius, Irenaeus, Athanasius, Gregory the Great, Bernard of Clairveaux, etc. I would even argue that the “Roman” church doesn’t formally exist until the Council of Trent, which is response to Luther. In other words, there was a Western Catholic Church until the schism of the 16th century. Only then do we find Lutherans, Romans, Reformed, Anabaptists, etc. Luther and company rejected the proposition that catholicity was determined by the Bishop of Rome, opting instead for fidelity to Christ. Ignatius defined catholic as wherever Christ was present, not according to the Bishop of Rome. Of course this debate also raged, and still rages, with the fractured East as well as the fractured West. As I Lutheran, I define myself as both evangelical (Gospel-centered) and catholic (heirs of the biblical, sacramental, liturgical, and Christ-centered tradition).

    There is always a pull for the Church to be modern, if this means to accomodate itself to the spirit of the age. This is why the Church is semper reformada (always reforming). And the Church is always contemporary in the sense that it exists in the here and the now. But the Church, the Body of Christ, is a different people and a different culture. We live under the reign of Christ, being purchased not with gold or silver, but with His precious suffering and death. We now belong to Him. We are a community that now is oriented toward the fulfillment of history, His Second Advent. Thus, I am not of the mind to repristinate some ancient, pure church that never existed like those who are “New Testament Christians.” Nor do I feel the compulsion to recreate the faith in order to appease the fads and novelty of our age. Rather, the catholic church is focused on Christ and Him crucified, the power of salvation for all who believe. I’m off to dinner, but will continue later.

  76. Bryan L November 14, 2007 at 7:32 pm #

    Thanks for sharing Nick. Not much I can say to that except that was the first time I encountered the word “repristinate”, which I will now try to use in a sentence in the coming week (BTW I thought the sentence you used it in was right on the mark.)

    Bryan L

  77. MatthewS November 14, 2007 at 7:33 pm #

    We are a community that now is oriented toward the fulfillment of history, His Second Advent. Thus, I am not of the mind to repristinate some ancient, pure church that never existed like those who are “New Testament Christians.”

    Great comment!

  78. Mason Beecroft November 14, 2007 at 9:50 pm #

    When I refer to Christianity not being about morality, contentment, blessedness, or happiness, I am objecting to the common understanding of these terms. Morality is the stuff of Kant. Holiness is the stuff of Christ. Of course holiness includes morality, but depends on grace and is defined specifically by Christ. Morality is only behavior modification, which can be reduced to legalism, fear, and such. This is a minor, but important distinction. It necessitates that the Christian is constantly engaged by God’s grace in order to be transformed to be “holy”. This is never realized until we fall asleep in Jesus, but our faith and lives are directed in this way. I don’t think we disagree at all on the impact of the power of the Gospel. Such holiness, however, is not determined by our emotions, feelings, pious platitudes, or Christian pop-culture identity. The holiness of the Christian is evident in love of God and neighbor, defined by God’s law. Holiness takes place in the messiness of the home, the workplace, and the church. Holiness is working for the sake of others. It has nothing to do with our response to a contrived variety show or powerful communicator in an auditorium that really says nothing of substance, but preaches a bunch of law and what is wrong and makes us feel a little guilty, but say, “right on!” In no way do I believe you are saying this, but it seems to be popular. Perhaps this pop-culture Christian approach is the new hairshirt?

    I ramble on. In our current culture, contentment, blessedness, and happiness are largely understood in terms of self-actualization, autonomy, and fulfillment. In scripture, these terms are understood in relation to Christ. Our contentment is in Christ and Him crucified. Our blessedness is in the things of His kingdom–humility, meekness, suffering, service, and mourning over sin and death. Our happiness is in the Word, Sacrament, prayer, fellowship, and such. Generally, generic American Christianity is providing the therapeutic; principles for living; guidelines to being good; approaches for being happy and content; and excuses for an indulgent, narcissistic existence. We have turned the pearl of great price into costume jewelry. How else can we explain the popularity of Osteen?

    Our Lord calls us to a life of bearing the cross, sacrificing ourselves for the sake of others, and serving all humans with the Gospel in thought, word, and deed. I would contend that this runs against the grain of how most Americans conceive of happiness, blessedness, etc.

    Finally, your comment “Sacraments and liturgy are great for me as long as they don’t become a replacement for God moving and doing awesome things in the lives of the believers in the community of faith, visible things than can be seen” gives me pause. I believe God moves and does awesome things by the power of His Word. The Sacraments and Liturgy cannot be separated from the power of His Word. They do not work against each other. In fact, the Sacraments and Liturgy are birthed from the Word and bear fruit according to the Spirit. Do people resist and reject? Certainly. The problem, however, is not with the Liturgy or Sacrements. The problem is with the limitless capacity of the human person to deny and reject the Word. This further relates to the assumed hellenization of the patristic era. The fathers were formed more by the liturgy, scriptures, and apostolic tradition than they were ever affected by hellenistic philosophy. This is the bulk of Wilken’s argument. And I agree with Wilken. But you will need to read Wilken for yourself and come to your own conclusions.

    Thanks for the dialogue. I will try to stay up to speed, but parish responsibilities call. We had a dear member fall asleep in Jesus and we will celebrate the Resurrection on Saturday.

    If interested in Luther/Lutheranism, read “The Large Catechism” or “The Freedom of the Christian” by Luther; “Luther’s Faith” by Olivier; or “The Book of Concord”.

    In Christ we all have much in common. Our differences are important, but Christ will one day bring His flock together once and for all. Of course you will all be singing from a Lutheran hymnal at that time.:)

  79. Bryan L November 14, 2007 at 10:07 pm #


    I agree with most of what you’re saying and would shout an Amen! if I was in your church listening to you preach this. I also thank you for not assuming that I was saying or endorsing the negative aspects of popular Christianity that you mentioned.

    I do have some disagreement or at least some areas I’d like you to flesh out more, as well as wanting to discuss how we help the average lay person who doesn’t get this, and just experiences that sacraments, liturgy and the preaching as formal religion devoid of any power.

    I fear that there is too much of a tendency to quickly blame them for not getting it, or assume they’re rejecting it, or that they’re not spiritual or theological enough to get it. It seems to be easy to be prideful and say obviously it’s not us, it’s them. I’m not saying you are saying that but in this type of conversation that is usually seems like the quick answer that is often given for why the average lay person doesn’t go deeper or see or experience it the way we do, or why they go elsewhere to find the power they are looking for and not finding in the church.

    But as it is are similarities are enough to rejoice in and I think we’ve both said enough in this conversation, as well as the fact that we both have lives to continue and this kind of discussion on a blog could take far too much time out. So I’ll leave it at that. Thanks again for sharing your perspective which was very valuable.

    BTW my grandfather was Lutheran (I guess because he was a German from Germany) and I have two of his books, one is Martin Luther’s Catechism (I think) and the other might be a Bible or something else Lutheran. They are both in German and from 1910 and 1920. Just thought I’d share that since you asked earlier.

    Bryan L

  80. Mason Beecroft November 14, 2007 at 10:19 pm #

    The need for constant catechesis and mystagogy in the church would seem to be obvious, but is not. I try to intentionally engage our people with the rites and their meanings/realities (mystagogy) as well as instruct them in the doctrines of faith (catechesis). There is always the danger of formality apart from faith. And I hope I never blame “them” for not getting it, but love them so much that I won’t stop pointing them to how Christ is made known through the liturgy and Sacraments.

    Thanks for the pleasant, mature discussion and I’ll continue lurking. Christ be with you and your family.

  81. Bryan L November 14, 2007 at 10:21 pm #

    And also with you.

  82. Scott November 15, 2007 at 1:12 am #

    Are we really comparing the Trinity to chocolate pie? I think a better argument could be made, especially from someone so educated.

    As far as Bell goes… His point is being made yet again. We hold too tightly sometimes to our doctrines. We don’t hold to doctrine for the sake of doctrine, but for the sake of finding God. Bell’s point is use doctrine more to point people to God, not to push the cause of Calvinism for our own argumentative ego boost.

  83. Lucas Knisely November 15, 2007 at 9:21 am #

    The cause of Calvinism? What is that?

  84. Mason Beecroft November 15, 2007 at 9:35 am #

    Your posts suggests that doctrine is contrived by man in order to reach up into the heavens, something like Babel. Most Christians would hold that their doctrine is revealed by God through Holy Scripture and/or Holy Tradition. If doctrine is merely something that helps me make sense of God, then it is idolatrous. But if it is revealed by God, then it is iconic.

    If doctrine is truly an icon, then the iconoclast does no one any favors when it comes to Christian faith and practice. The key is to have a person who is able to distinguish between idol and icon- and the people qualified to really shepherd are rarely the ones putting themselves out there in these ways. But they are certainly engaging….

  85. Carlito November 15, 2007 at 9:55 am #

    Mason, you need to write a book.. Seriously, I couldn’t agree more…

  86. Benjamin A. November 15, 2007 at 12:08 pm #


    In post 50 you wax eloquent against the types of Hybels, Bell, etc., and conclude with these words, “Ichabod on the North American “church”.” It seems from that post your view of the ‘North American church’ in its entirety is “without honor”. Is that an accurate assumption from said post? It also seems to imply that said “pundits” are somehow ‘protestant popes’ within the North American church; and all other N.A.C. pastors take their cues from these Vicars. An implication that isn’t appreciated nor one that is anywhere close to reality. Obviously, I don’t believe you think such ways, however, your statement, “Ichabod on the North American “church”, having waxed on said “pundits”, is a very broad sweeping statement that is inclusive of all in that tradition.

    Many North American churches have stood against the likes of Hybels and the ‘seeker-sensitive’ approach to ‘doing church’. Many North American churches are faithfully preaching/teaching the Word and celebrating the sacraments of communion and baptism. And many North American churches have faithfully been ‘equipping the saints for the work of service’ and of taking the words of Christ to His disciples seriously when He said, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”

    In reading your posts I see very little doctrinally that is strictly limited to Lutheranism; Your being a confessional Lutheran probably has more to do with its ‘Holy traditions’ and unique application of certain scriptures that support those ‘Holy traditions’. Our primary distinctions seem to be more an issue of form and function than one of core doctrine.

    I for one am not in favor of dividing the true universal church of Jesus Christ regardless of its various distinctions in either form or function. This is why I am distinctly a Christian with a Bible. Scripture alone is my guide for faith and practice. Calvin, Luther, etc., are simply men who also studied scripture and left a legacy in writing; but they are simply men and their writing, as solid as it may be is never to take the place of holy scripture. Being called a Calvinist makes Calvin either an idol or an icon; the same can be said of any other man. Paul addressed this very issue in 1 Corinthians 3: v4 “For when one says, “I am of Paul [Calvin], and another, ‘I am of Apollos [Luther]’ are you not mere men.”; v.7 “So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.”; v.11 “For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.”

    In Christ alone will I place my spiritual heritage. And by His name only will I be identified. Christ is building one holy universal church that is called to be faithful in loving God and neighbor. Ichabod should be reserved for the ‘so called church’ lurking around in sheep’s clothing, leading people away from the simplicity of the gospel.

  87. Mason Beecroft November 15, 2007 at 12:40 pm #

    It certainly was a sweeping generalization for rhetorical effect. But there is always a faithful remnant. Even in the wasteland there is reason for hope as the Gospel of Jesus Christ is still proclaimed and the Spirit creates faith.

    I don’t have the time to make defense of the “Holy traditions” of Lutheranism or address the impossible, but popular, distinction between form and content. I’ll just offer the maxim: lex orandi lex credendi. And there is a difference between “sola Scriptura” and “nuda Scriptura”. The just “me and my Bible” argument is not feasible, in my opinion. It sounds pious, but you are a member of a local church and it has a tradition/perspective on the Gospel and Christ. You do not exist in a vacuum. Yet I firmly agree that Christ alone is sufficient for faith, life, and salvation.

    Ichabod is appropriate for the departing of the glory of God from the presence of His people. When the Gospel of Christ and Him crucified is absent or diminished or obscured, then the stamp is worthy. Our Lord is present in Word and Sacrament. If neither are there, then our Lord is not there for forgiveness and salvation. Thus, Ichabod. I confess that I must always be on gaurd to watch my life and doctrine closely, in order to insure the salvation of myself and my hearers (1 Tim. 4:16). If I depart to become a therapist, life-coach, guru, or entertainer, then Ichabod.

  88. Mason Beecroft November 15, 2007 at 12:43 pm #

    Also, please note the quotation marks around “church”, which served to include on those who seek to save the catholic faith from itself. It is an important qualification, I think.

  89. Bryan L November 15, 2007 at 12:52 pm #

    “nuda Scriptura”? Man I haven’t heard that one either, but I like it. I’m gonna use that in a sentence sometime in the coming week too (BTW your statement concerning the distinction between the 2 was spot on in my opinion).

    How many other cool words do you have that I just don’t know about?!

    Bryan L

  90. Benjamin A. November 15, 2007 at 4:28 pm #


    Indeed there is a difference between Sola Scriptura and Nuda Scriptura:

    Taken from an article titled, Old Answers to New Questions, by Rob Smith.
    “Sola Scriptura did not mean that Scripture was the only authority in the church (Nuda Scriptura, i.e. bare Scripture). What it did mean was that Scripture was the only infallible authority, and therefore the final authority. All other authorities (e.g., church tradition, human reason, religious experience, Christian preaching) were regarded as norma normata (i.e. ‘ruled norms’) which were to be continually tested by Scripture.

    “The urgency in all of this was that many of the traditions that had developed over the centuries (such as the practice of indulgences) were, according to Luther, “noxious parasites” on the gospel and only served to ensnare people’s consciences and obliterate a true knowledge of salvation. For this reason, all things had to be brought to the bar of Scripture. It alone was the “genuine tradition” (i.e. divine/apostolic tradition), and by it all other “lesser traditions” (“the traditions of men”) must either stand or fall.

    “Hence Luther’s now famous statement at the Diet of Worms (1521): “Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason—I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other—my conscience is captive to the word of God.”

    Again, “Scripture is the only infallible authority, and therefore the final authority.”

    That which Scripture gives authority indeed has authority, (Elders, Pastors, etc.,) but when that source of authority contradicts scripture, it ceases to be authoritative. Thus, when the traditions of the church are scriptural, they are binding because scripture is binding. When the traditions of the church are non-scriptural, they are non-binding and non-authoritative.

    You also stated, “I don’t have the time to make defense of the “Holy traditions” of Lutheranism or address the impossible, but popular, distinction between form and content. I’ll just offer the maxim: lex orandi lex credendi.”

    “Lex orandi, lex credendi (Latin loosely translatable as the law of prayer is the law of belief) refers to the relationship between worship and belief, and is an ancient Christian principle which provided a measure for developing the ancient Christian creeds, the canon of scripture and other doctrinal matters based on the prayer texts of the Church, that is, the Church’s liturgy.” Source- Wikiapedia

    Before Lex orandi, lex credendi, we simply have Paul; who clearly was concerned about the relationship between worship (ones walk) and belief (ones doctrine).

    Ephesians 4:1-3, “Therefore, . . . walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, . . .to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

    Philippians 1:27 “Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ . .”

    Philippians 3:17 “Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us.”

    Colossians 1:10 “so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, . . .”

    1 Thess. 2:12 “so that you would walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.”

    So by saying, as I did “Our primary distinctions seem to be more an issue of form and function than one of core doctrine.” I’m not referring to the relationship between ones walk and ones doctrine; of obedience to Scripture. All Christians are called to “be holy as [God] is holy”. I’m instead referring to distinctions in methods/formalities. When you preach you may do it in a robe and clerical collar which is fine, but it’s not Scripturally required (form/function). Another pastor of a different tradition may preach in a suite and tie; another may dress totally different than either of these. Obviously a simple example, yet there are many other distinctions that are tradition driven and non-binding forms and functions within the church. Far too often however, sinful man puts far too much authority behind tradition. Such as, “I’m a Baptist and alter calls are next to godliness.”

    This is why I personally reject labels such as Calvinism, Lutheranism, or any such ‘ISM’ when defining my Christian heritage. I’m not opposed to saying if I have read and agree with the writings of others, and to tip my hand as to what tradition has affected my theological leanings; obviously my thinking about scripture is informed and supported by others, I do not live in a vacuum, but to the degree that my understanding of scripture is wrong, regardless of the line of godly men I can line up behind said doctrine, it matters not; tradition is not authoritative if its not supported by and/or in line with the Scripture.

    Again, “Scripture is the only infallible authority, and therefore the final authority.”

    Grace and peace-

  91. Mason Beecroft November 15, 2007 at 6:33 pm #

    So what church do you belong to?

    Defining worship as “ones walk” hardly does justice to the Eucharistic community of Paul, Peter, and the apostolic witness to the faith. Any attempt to remove them from a liturgical and sacramental community, in my mind, inhibits understanding Scripture as the only infallible and final authority. Of course you cannot separate “ones walk” from the Eucharist, but issues of community, authority, canon, and scriptural tradition versus non-scriptural tradition still remain. Are “icons” scriptural? Is the Mass scriptural? Does Holy Baptism save? Is Christ present in the Eucharist?

    Your discussion of “adiophora” or “indifferent things” is important. If the Scriptures do not mandate something, then the Christian conscience cannot be bound. Yet the way that we worship does reflect what we believe and vice versa. As such, there is no clean divide between form and content. If I believe Christ is present in the Eucharist, then I will conduct myself in manner appropriate to belief. If I do not believe grace is communicated through the Sacrament, then I will not partake on a regular basis.


  92. jeff miller November 16, 2007 at 2:17 am #

    Dear Mason,

    Paul and Peter never used the word “Eucharist” the way you are.

    And surprisingly The word “worship” in the New Testament has more to do with how you “walk” than it does with with cultic actions (liturgical) or singing praises (modern evangelical).

    The word “sacrament” used as such, and the DOCTRINE that “grace” is something that can be communicated in a “sacrament” are both directly borrowed from helenistic religion by later “Christian” teachers and is not the doctrine of Christ.

    I do not think the distinction between idol and icon would have made much sense to Paul in the first century and it probably does not make much sense to God now.


  93. jeff miller November 16, 2007 at 2:26 am #

    oh yes,

    Most historians commenting on the subject agree that there were “anabaptists” before Martin Luther.


  94. Benjamin A. November 16, 2007 at 10:17 am #


    There is only one true living universal church being built by Christ; so my affiliation is with Christ’s body. More to your question however, the local expression of Christ’s body that I meet together with for the teaching of the Word and the observance of communion and baptism, is a non-denominational Bible Church.

    Defining worship as ‘ones walk’ is the only way I know to define the word scripturally. Paul in Romans 12:1 says as much- “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of WORSHIP.” Ones spiritual service is obedience to God in each and every detail of life (our walk).

    True worship does not require nor consist of elaborate and impressive prayers (though if genuine and heart felt are fine just as less elaborate prayers are OK with God as well); intricate liturgy; stained-glass windows; lighted candles; flowing robes; incense; or classical sacred music. I’m not saying said forms can’t be used in a church service, or that said forms are prohibited; only that true worship does not require nor consist of such forms. Yet you say, “the way that we worship does reflect what we believe and vice versa. As such, there is no clean divide between form and content.”

    Then my question, Mason, is where do you see such form for worship mandated in Scripture? I just don’t see it in the text. This is where ‘Holy Tradition’, in my opinion, has been granted authority that is unwarranted and is unbiblical.

    Now, if Scripture mandated such form in worship of God then of course I would be in error and would need to change churches. I do not see such requirements in scripture to worship God.

    On the Eucharist: I do not believe the presence of Christ is actually in the elements. That does not lessen, for me, the importance of its observance and our remembrance of Christ’s sacrificial death. The elements in a symbolic way represent the body and blood of Christ; and to that degree only does it ‘communicate’ the grace of God to Christ’s church. Luther, however, insisted on the ‘Real Presence’ of the body and blood of Christ in the consecrated bread and wine.

    In 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 Paul gives instruction to the Corinthian church concerning the Lord’s supper. In vv. 24-25 Paul quotes the words spoken by Christ to His disciples, “This is My body . . . this cup is the new covenant in My blood . . .”. Then in v. 26 Paul, giving commentary and instruction to Christ’s church says, “eat this bread and drink the cup”; v.27 “whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup”; v.28 “eat of the bread and drink of the cup”. If Paul believed and insisted in the ‘Real Presence’ of the body and blood of Christ in the consecrated bread and wine there was no better time for such instruction than right there. He simply referred to the elements as “bread” and “cup”. Nothing said of ‘real presence’ which would have been very helpful if that was the intended meaning of Christ’s words.

    v.26 “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.”

    Ryrie states, “The Lord’s Supper is an acted sermon (proclaim), looking back on Christ’s life and death and looking forward to His second coming.”

    That observance continually calls me back to a life (walk) of obedience (worship) and keeps me focused on my Lord and His commission for the true church.

    On the other items you mentioned, “Are “icons” scriptural? Is the Mass scriptural? Does Holy Baptism save?” You probably already know where my tradition (informed by Scripture alone) has taken me.

    Grace and peace-

  95. jeff miller November 16, 2007 at 12:42 pm #

    One unfortunate thing at the beginning of these comments was that there was no distinction being made between the doctrines of men and the doctrine of Christ.

    The English words “Doctrine” and “Teaching” which we have in our Bibles have one root word in N.T. Greek. This means that in the great commission Jesus is instructing his disciples to get out and indoctrinate people! But with his teachings not ours.

    The parable of the sower,seed, and soils was alluded to earlier. In Luke the seed is “the word of God (Luke 8:11). That “word” is something that is to be heard and done (Luke 8:21). In Matthew the seed is the “word of the kingdom” (Matt. 13:19). I think “word” is synonymous with Christ’s doctrine.

    In Matthew 4:23 we hear that Jesus was going about teaching in synagogues and proclaiming the “gospel of the kingdom.”

    I think we are invited to set at Jesus feet and hear him preach the gospel in Matthew 5-7. So we have in the gospel DOCTRINE or TEACHING which we are stand under and teach others.

    This is why we need “power” or what we might call “strength.”

  96. Mason Beecroft November 16, 2007 at 6:18 pm #

    Benjamin and Jeff,
    I thought I had posted a reply, but it didn’t go through. Let’s acknowledge that we have many differences born out of our understanding of Holy Scripture. I have parish duties this weekend and do not want to take the time to re-post.
    Blessings in Christ,

  97. MJH November 18, 2007 at 9:17 pm #

    Thanks for the fair article. It’s nice to hear those who are critics of my Pastor being nice about it.

    Also, have you ever read a news article that wasn’t messed up. I have yet to meet ANYONE who has spoken to the press and felt like they were portrayed fairly. Most of the time the press seems to write what THEY think and they hear everything in through their own template.

    That being said, she didn’t get you TOO bad.

    God bless in your ministry.


  98. Mason Beecroft November 18, 2007 at 9:37 pm #

    I’m back. Parish duties are over and the game is not very good.

    I disagree on your statement about how the term Eucharist is used in the NT. There are key texts up for debate and discussion, including John 6, feeding of multitudes, institution accounts, and passages in Acts. A bald denial really doesn’t address the complexities of the texts. Of course I would expect that you disagree based on your church affiliation, but just saying it is wrong proves nothing. Your perception is not authoritative.

    Further, your dismissal of sacrament based on the “hellenism” of early Christian thinkers is unfounded. Robert Wilken, one of the finest patristic scholars, says that such claims can only be made by those who are not familiar with the life and literature of early Christianity. His beef is with liberal critics, but certainly applies in this instance. In my understanding of the Triune God and the Holy Scriptures, the “sacramental” view of reality is indeed the Doctrine of Christ. Again, I don’t expect you to agree based on your affiliations, but the assumption that most of Christendom ignorantly swallowed hellenistic influences and that “modern” (last 200 years) thinkers have now rescued Christianity from hellenism is laughable.

    The claim that the distinction between “idol” and “icon” would be unfamiliar to Paul is irrelevant. The distinction is a biblical one, even if the categories themselves might have been unfamiliar to Paul. Certainly, the belief that there are false gods was part of Paul’s worldview. And the belief that God is revealed or that there are objects that bear witness to God’s reality was part of Paul’s worldview. Thus, icon and idol are appropriate categories, whether Paul used them or not.

    Finally, your claim of “most historians” is the fallacy of appeal to popularity. It speaks to nothing of importance. I could use the same argument for sacraments, etc., but it is a useless argument. It does not prove anything. However it is quite democratic and American. Moreover, any “trail of blood” argument stretches all credibility.

    If you want to say the the Christian Church was heterodox and ignorant of the “Doctrine of Christ” from 90 AD until Zwingli (?), then fine. Such a perspective is all too common. But your placing of Christian in quotes reflects a profound arrogance toward those who have gone before you in the faith. I will gladly follow the train of Irenaeus, St. Gregory of Nyssa, Athanasius, St. Bernard of Clairveaux, Martin Luther and a host of martyrs who confessed such faith and shed their blood for the sake of Christ.
    pax et bonum,

  99. Mason Beecroft November 18, 2007 at 9:57 pm #

    Your association with a non-denominational Bible church is reflected in your perspective on Christian faith, just as my Lutheran confession reflects my perspective. We both claim “sola scriptura”, but there are important differences. The question is why? If we are both dealing with the same texts, then what accounts for the differences. Are you smarter? Do you have more Spirit? Is your method more reliable? Is your worldview more coherent? The interpretive issue demands a measure of humility, which often eludes me. Kyrie eleison.

    With reference to worship, most historical traditions (Orthodox, Roman, Lutheran and Anglican) work with the assumption that God is present in the midst of His people through Word and Sacrament. Worship is a heavenly encounter. Thus, the liturgy is meant to reflect heavenly realities. The scripture describes this reality in a number of places and the liturgy, in my opinion, organically developed to reflect this encounter. As a Lutheran, we call our public worship the “Divine Service” and believe that God serves us with His gifts and we respond by serving God with our prayer, praise, and thanks. And we are called out of the Divine Service to be His servants throughout our life. Is this prescribed by Holy Scripture? No. But does our worship reflect a biblical reality and orient us toward Christ and His grace? Yes. Of course you can do anything you want. And that is the problem, in my opinion.

    With respect to you argument on the Sacrament of the Altar, I would contend that Paul doesn’t argue for the real presence, but from the real presence. “Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?” (1 Cor. 10:16). I have a difficult time getting away from the “participation” or “fellowship” (koinonia) language. And if it didn’t really mean anything, then why did some fall asleep?

    Moreover, the word “remembrance” does not mean looking back with sentiment as if we have a photo album on our lap. The Hebrew term for remembrance (zadok, I believe) encompasses the past, present, and future coming together. In the Passover context, God’s past, present, and future work of redemption were brought together, which opens up Paul’s teaching (Institution and sacrifice, celebration, and eschatological hope).

    Not to be glib, but Ryrie is hardly an authority. His work is accessible and I appreciate his labors, but I’ll stick with St. Cyril of Jerusalem, even if he was hopelessly hellenistic.

    pax et bonum,

  100. jeff miller November 19, 2007 at 11:25 am #


    You are right. My appeal to popularity was not an argument.

  101. jeff miller November 19, 2007 at 11:29 am #


    Is it heterodox to submit to papal authority?

  102. Mason Beecroft November 19, 2007 at 11:51 am #

    I would say it is an error to require submission to the Bishop of Rome as a standard of orthodoxy. Yet I have many devout Christian friends who are in submission to Rome. I disagree on a number of doctrinal issues, but I would never question their Christian faith. A deceased Lutheran theologian, AC Piepkorn, once commented that a Lutheran should wake up every day and ask why he isn’t Roman Catholic. I am still convinced that catholicity isn’t bound up with the Bishop of Rome. Melanchthon’s “Treatise on the Primacy and Power of the Papacy” provides our rationale for rejecting the claims of Rome.

  103. jeff miller November 19, 2007 at 6:09 pm #

    Rationales are like opinions, most people have one. Do you embrace a Hegelian model of the Church’s doctrine? Do you allow that it has evolved?

    Would you allow a fundamental distinction between that which is demonstrably taught in the Prophetic Scriptures and that which only takes shape in other writings?


  104. Mason Beecroft November 20, 2007 at 1:41 am #

    All people have a rationale for what they believe- in fact, it is the reason for what they believe, whether it is intentional or not.

    I reject Hegel. He certainly was smart, but what did he do once he figured out how everything in history comes together? Have a drink and decide what to do with the rest of his life? Theory and ideology of Hegel’s sort reduces the human to a beast, which is incompatible with Holy Scripture.

    I am not an evolutionist when it comes to doctrine. Evolution suggests it starts as A and results in X. I believe Christian orthodoxy is A and we gain greater insight into A.

    I don’t understand your other question. Please elaborate.

  105. jeff miller November 20, 2007 at 12:45 pm #

    If the doctrine of the Church has not evolved/changed/developed (which ever word you are most comfortable with) then why do you refuse to submit to the doctrine of the Church. Is it merely because you have developed a rationale for your insubordination? Most people who are insubordinate have a rational for their insubordination. Is it because men you respect and feel aligned with join you in your insubordination?

    My other question was:
    Would you allow a fundamental distinction between that which is demonstrably taught in the Prophetic Scriptures and that which only takes shape in other writings?
    In other words:
    At some point are you willing to admit that we can and should recognize a difference between teaching which is explicit in, or has a clearness that can be demonstrated as being present in, the prophetic scriptures…a difference between that teaching and those teachings which are shaped, formed, developed in other writings?


  106. Mason Beecroft November 20, 2007 at 6:54 pm #

    What do you mean that I do not submit to the doctrine of the Church? Of course I sin daily and I sin much, thus being insubordinate to my Lord. But my faith calls me to constant repentance and trust in Christ’s salvation on my behalf. Thanks be to God who give us the victory in Christ!

    If you are trying to set some Roman/Eastern trap for me, then you would probably need to understand how a confessional Lutheran understands the Church. I believe that my Lutheran confession is faithful to the Holy Scriptures, the Gospel of Christ, and the biblical tradition of the Catholic Church. No Lutheran worth his or her salt believes that our church started in 1521 with the excommunication of Luther. We confess that we restored the Western Church from its abuses, without throwing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater like the enthusiasts. Again, catholicity does not reside in a particular bishop, but in Christ (cf. Ignatius). I would argue that my confession is most faithful. If I am ever convinced otherwise, then I pray that I have the courage to repent and confess accordingly.

    Certainly we should recognize a difference between the prophetic scriptures and secondary/tertiary writings. However the concept of perspicuity, which is thoroughly Lutheran, is not always easy when the depravity of the interpreter is taken into account. Moreover, a positivist approach to history and hermeneutics is a bit idealistic, in my opinion.

  107. jeff miller November 20, 2007 at 10:45 pm #

    Dear Mason,
    It is my prayer that we might press on in the confession which you make in your first paragraph.

    Their is a trap of incosistency for thinking protestants who refuse to submit to the Church’s doctrine of the Church. And so I would repeat my first question in comment #106.

    On the other hand,

    Whether it is difficult or not we must pursue a distinction between the teaching found in the prophetic scriptures and the teaching of other writings. Jesus told his disciples to teach others what he commanded. This implies that he has an (idealistic?) expectation that we will be able to distinguish between what He has taught and what others teach.


  108. jeff miller November 21, 2007 at 9:52 am #

    oops, I should have typed: “There is a trap of inconsistency…”

  109. jeff miller November 21, 2007 at 12:12 pm #

    Jesus asked questions and made distinctions.

    It may be that He expects us to ask similar questions and make similar distinctions in order to faithfully carry out the commission He gave to us as disciples.

    Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one thing, which if you tell Me, I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. “The baptism of John was from what, from heaven or from men?”

    In another place Jesus says; “Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME. BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME, TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN.’ “Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men.”

    Mason, If I understand the two passage I refer to below then we have the teachings of Christ so that we might carry out our work, not so that you and I can get together and form the orthodoxy police.

    John said to Him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we tried to prevent him because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not hinder him, for there is no one who will perform a miracle in My name, and be able soon afterward to speak evil of Me. “For he who is not against us is for us. “For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because of your name as followers of Christ, truly I say to you, he will not lose his reward (Mark 9:38-41).

    So Jesus is saying we should have salt (obedience to His commands) in ourselves and be at peace with others (Mark 9:50).

    From my church, I should be faithful to Christ’s commission. From your church, you should be faithful to Christ’s commission. And if (endeavoring to have)uncut faithfulness to Christ gets either of us put out of a synagogue we should not fret. He won’t leave us or forsake us.

    If it would help our discussion I would attempt to substantiate and demonstrate the importance of what I asserted in #93.

  110. Mason Beecroft November 21, 2007 at 3:05 pm #

    We do not disagree about the Church belonging to the Lord and our call to be faithful to Him and His mission of redemption and salvation. Neither do we disagree about the sole primacy of Holy Scripture in determining our faith and life before God.

    Our points of disagreement reside in how we understand aspects of Christ’s teaching and how we understand the existence (enduring or absent?) of Christ’s teaching in the history of Christendom. These are obviously huge issues that will not be resolved by either of us.

    I still have a great respect for DTS and what was offered to me through my studies there. Some of my dearest friends remain in the evangelical tradition. Obviously, there are parts of that tradition that I believe are inconsistent with Holy Scripture. It is why I am a Lutheran. Yet I would never doubt your faith in Christ, even if I believe aspects of your ecclesiology/theology are deficient. And I trust that you do not doubt my faith because you consider aspects of my theology to be deficient. In other words, I do not question your orthodoxy. It becomes a matter of error, rather than heresy. Yet as undershepherds of Christ’s flock, we do have the responsibility to act as orthodoxy police for the sake of Christ’s people. Thus, if Bell or anyone else begins to diminish or deny the Holy Trinity or the person of Christ, then we must sound off. After all, it is vitally important what people believe about who Jesus Christ is (cf. Matt 16:13-19).

    If you desire to demonstrate you claim of #93, then please go ahead. I will just confess, however, that I spend much of my time reading the fathers with a critical and reflective eye and find their sacramental theology to be largely biblical.

  111. jeff miller November 21, 2007 at 4:01 pm #

    Yeah, my comment about not being “orthodoxy police” would be better if I had said something about not taking up means of coercion that have not been afforded us by Christ.

    With regard to your reading of “the ancients” I am not surprised that many statements can be gleaned from their writings that you find agreeable. After all, I could pull comments from “The Catechism of the Catholic Church” or from John Paul II’s book that most non-Roman Catholic people I know would find edifying.

    Do you happen to have a copy of “Eucharistic Consecration in the First Four Centuries and its Implications for Liturgical Reform” by N.A.D. Scotland? It is a little green booklet.


  112. Mason Beecroft November 21, 2007 at 10:30 pm #

    I do not have the book by Scotland nor am I aware of it.

    You are correct that we could all find points of agreement in the ancients as well as contemporaries of a different confession. This points to a certain catholicity that we share, even if we do not share full communion yet.

    Have a blessed Thanksgiving,

  113. jeff miller November 23, 2007 at 6:26 pm #

    Dear Mason,
    Back to substantiating what I asserted in #93. The name “Eucharist” has been borrowed from the greek word “eucharistia” which means thanks or thanksgiving. It only later becomes a traditional technical term for the evolving catholic “sacrament.”

    Samuel Angus wrote, “the rites practiced from a very early date by the Church in its native Jewish environment were not sacral acts….These symbolic rites rapidly and inevitable in the larger Hellenistic environment developed into sacraments and were equipped withe the efficacies of Hellenistic mysticism.”

    In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the mutated version of the Lord’s Supper is called “The Eucharist,” “The Sacred Mysteries,”
    “Holy Sacrifice Of the Mass,” “Medicine Of Immortality,” and “Pure and Holy Sacrifice.”

    None of these technical terms are used as such in the prophetic Scriptures.


  114. Mason Beecroft November 23, 2007 at 6:54 pm #

    Look how Eucharist is used in the NT. It is used in most of the passages that I mentioned earlier (Jn 6, feeding of multitude accounts, Acts, institution accounts). The language of “Lord’s Supper”, “Lord’s Table”, and “Communion” are also used in related passages. But the language used does not prove your point or mine.

    The quote from Angus is merely the fallacy of appeal to authority. Just because Angus, a supposed authority, makes the claim does not mean it is true. I would quote St. Ignatius in response. As a disciple of St. John, why would he use such forceful language of real presence?

    Neither does your guilt by association approach prove anything. I am not Roman Catholic and do not use any of those terms. Yet I still believe in the real presence. I don’t think anyone is arguing that those technical terms are used in the Holy Scripture.

    If you want to demonstrate the “hellenism” of early Christianity, then you need to make the link between Greek philosophy and category as the determining factor in early Christian thought. I would argue with Hurtado that the worship life of early Christians has more inluence than Plato or Aristotle. In fact, the incarnational theology of early Christianity was offensive to Greek minds. And incarnational theology is the root of all sacramental theology.

  115. jeff miller November 23, 2007 at 8:19 pm #

    You said,

    “I don’t think anyone is arguing that those technical terms are used in the Holy Scripture.”


    we agree that there is a development, evolution, or change (again, which ever term you are most comfortable with) at least in nomenclature.

    “Mysterion”, the greek word for “mystery” and the Latin translation “Sacramenta” were technical terms for the sacrificed foods of the various helenistic mystery religions these “sacramenta” salvivfic power or grace before this nomenclature was used for the evolving catholic mutation of the Lord’s Supper.

    In The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge It was written “…the same influence of pagan religious tradition…began about the same time, though more slowly and gradually, to have an effect on the Church…. This is most clearly seen in the history of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The very name “sacramenta” is a token of this.”

    Some more recent dictionaries oftheology have provided definitions that might be more palatable to evangelical tastes by emphasising that the Latin “Sacramentum” was used to describe Roman military oaths. However, the military oaths described were rligious initiation rites which coincide with the “mysterion.”


  116. Mason Beecroft November 23, 2007 at 11:15 pm #

    No, we didn’t agree on development, evolution, and change with respect to technical terms used in the Catechism for the Catholic Church. Lutherans are very happy sticking with the language of scripture (eucharist, Lord’s Table, Lord’s Supper, body and blood), but wouldn’t forbid using other descriptive language if it serves the Gospel. And change of language does not necessitate a change in doctrine.

    Paul refers to apostolic ministers as stewards of the “mysteries” of God (1 Cor. 4:1) and later refers to the cup as a participation in the blood of Christ and the bread as a participation in the body of Christ (1 Cor. 10:16) before further discussing the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:17-34). The language in all of this is quite sacramental. Moreover, I could go to any number of places in Holy Scripture where God uses the visible and material to communicate His presence and grace to His people. The early Christians didn’t need anything from the pagans- they only needed the Hebrew scriptures, the scandal of the incarnation, the Lord’s commands, and the Lord’s promise to be with them always.

    If you want to follow the argument that the finite is not capable of the infinite, therefore eliminating the concept of sacrament, then fine. If you want to contend that Jesus is far off in some Protestant heaven and with us in spirit, then fine. And if you want to substantiate your beliefs with resources that share your view of reality, then fine. If you want to make the argument of hellenism based on a theory I reject, then fine. But none of these arguments are convincing. I have heard them before and they have been around for some time.

    I would further argue that your position is more influenced by Nestorianism, a Gnosticizing tendency, German idealism, American transcendentalism or a host of other ‘-isms’ as all of them, in their various forms, deny the incarnational and sacramental principle in some form or fashion.

    What I don’t have to do, however, is explain away the language of 1 Cor. 10:16; the language of John 6 (Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life…); the institution language (is doesn’t always mean is, but metaphors are explained by Jesus and the institution accounts are bald for a reason, imo); or the “breaking of bread” as the revealing of Christ (Luke 24:35). In my perspective, these and other texts were understood sacramentally by the apostles and their disciples well before the end of the first century (see Ignatius, Justin Martyr, Didache). I believe that the Word has the power to effect what it says.

    I would be happy to discuss Wilken’s book on early Christianity or even Angus. Our discussion is actually a hot-topic in NT and early Christian studies. It is one area that I am an iconoclast, siding with those who deny or diminish the prevailing claims of rapid deterioration in the early Church due to hellenism and politics.

  117. jeff miller November 24, 2007 at 11:25 am #

    Mason do you agree that the words eucharist and mystery are never explicitly used to name the rite of the bread and the wine?

    My position is influenced by crying out to God for clarity on doctrinal matters of great importance.

    I am prepared to work through the passages you mention without explaining away anything except confusion. And I can use Justin Martyr as a case study in what I have asserted.


  118. Mason Beecroft November 24, 2007 at 2:22 pm #

    Neither are the words Holy Trinity used to refer explicitly to the biblical revelation of the Triune God.

    And I commend your desire for clarity on such important matters. I confess that I submit to a mystery with respect to the sacraments that is beyond my reason or grasp, but not beyond my faith and believing. I remember reading St. Cyril of Jerusalem while at DTS and being confronted by the sacramental mysteries; obviously, I went in one direction while most stayed. It speaks to nothing other than my convictions led me in one way and led others in another. Yet we share the same faith and trust in Christ Jesus for forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.

    We can discuss Justin Martyr, if you would like. I do confess, however, that my time grows short as the end of the church year is at hand and I prepare to enter into Advent and preparations for the celebration of the Nativity, which includes extra services and spiritual disciplines.
    In Christ,

  119. jeff miller November 25, 2007 at 5:01 pm #


    You are right niether “Trinity” nor “Triune” are part of God’s word to us and that may be important.

    I am convinced that the “sacramental system” and that which from the catholic perspective is called “the church” are both great distractions from the faith and teachings of Jesus Christ.

    You can read an essay in which I criticize the category “means of grace” by scrolling to the document title at the bottom of

    I will try to add an essay on Justin Martyr and another one on a NT view of eating in general soon.

    Praying for your success under the great commission,

  120. Mason Beecroft November 25, 2007 at 8:18 pm #

    I read your criticism of “means of grace.”

    Of course I disagree with the idea that doctrinal language needs to be taken verbatim from Scripture. I think language like Holy Trinity, Triune, Means of Grace, etc. are faithful to the voice of Scripture. I’m not sure what Christian faith and practice would look like apart from this language….

    Also, means of grace as understood by sacramental Christians actually bring us into union and communion with Christ. We believe that He instituted them so that He can give us His grace according to the power of His Word and by the Holy Spirit. Humans are not ghosts or angels. We live in a physical, tangible, visible world as physical, tangible, visible human beings. The Son of God Himself took on flesh, bringing grace and redemption through His incarnation, suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension. What a scandal! And Christians have further contended that Jesus gave us physical, visible, tangible means of grace so that His forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation can be communicated to us. Holy Baptism with its water to joined to the word; Holy Absolution with the word spoken by another person; and Holy Communion with the word joined to bread and wine all bring us into union and commuion with Christ. Of course we also believe His Word effects the same. I realize this seems so earthly and unseemly, but it is born out of the incarnation and the words of Jesus (Matt. 28, John 20, and Institition accounts), not the vain or idolatrous imaginations of pagans. We actually believe that the word brings the infinite into the finite.

    I don’t expect you to agree with this, but please don’t think that our faith resides in anything but Jesus Christ and Him crucified for us and for our salvation.
    Blessings on your proclamation of Christ as well,

  121. jeff miller December 5, 2007 at 4:50 pm #

    If you like you can now read a few essays which relate to comments above. Again at
    and scroll down to document links. I would suggest this order: 1)Means of Grace 2)A New Testament Perspective on Eating 3)Justin Martyr and the developing “orthodox” Eucharist.


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