Is the Spiritual Gift of Tongues Still Available to the Church Today?

Pentecost Pic_Fire

Sadly, the very spiritual gifts and move of the Spirit that once drew the early church together are currently being used to drive a wedge between the universal church and various denominations of faith today. Thus, the focus of this paper is to demonstrate how the Holy Spirit continues to empower people through the spiritual gift of tongues. By examining what took place on the day of Pentecost, by analyzing Paul’s epistles and address to the church in Corinth, and comparing other uses of glossolalia, this paper will demonstrate the spiritual gift of tongues has not ceased. If the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues is still available to all followers of Christ to: edify the church, to build up the speaker’s spirit, to serve as a sign to unbelievers, and to bring glory to God, then all followers of Christ should seek the gift. Followers of Christ who possess the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues are better equipped to edify the church, themselves, and bring glory to God. Therefore, all Christians should seek the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues.

OT DEMONSTRATES HOLY SPIRIT RESTED ON SPECIFIC PEOPLE

In the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit was not regular or consistently active, but He was certainly not random either. The Holy Spirit regularly occurred upon the transfer of leadership (Numbers 11:17, 25; Deuteronomy 34:9; 1 Samuel 10:9-10, 16:16 & 2 Kings 2:15-19), as a sign of authentication (1 Samuel 10:1; 2 Samuel 23:2), and for the empowerment of service (Exodus 28:31, 31:3, 35:31). The Holy Spirit would come upon prophets, priests, kings, and judges and some would be gifted with wisdom, military prowess, or strength, but many were also gifted with inspired utterance or prophecy.

Throughout the Old Testament, the Spirit would come “on” people, but in the New Testament, the Spirit would take up residence “in” the believer. Regarding the foreshadowing of Jesus’ earthly ministry, Isaiah 11:2 says, “The Spirit of the LORD will rest on Him;” Isaiah 42:1 says, “I will put My Spirit on Him;” and Isaiah 61:1 says, “The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me.” The entire ministry of Jesus was Spirit-anointed, Spirit-led, Spirit-filled, and Spirit-empowered. Jesus would bring the new covenant referenced in Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Ezekiel 36:14; 26-27. Here, the shift moves to the Spirit being “in” you, as an indwelling Spirit. Joel 2:28 prophesied, “I will pour out my Spirit on all people.” Since all the disciples and people gathered were already Christians with the Spirit already dwelling inside them, this reference by Peter only makes sense if the Spirit coming “on” them was to further equip them, as was the pattern in the Old Testament. In contrast to the Old Testament, the Spirit was now continuous and available to all, the transfer of leadership was from Jesus to the church, the authentication of God’s call was evidenced by the Spirit’s presence, it was observable by the wind, fire, and tongues, and it was functional, as three thousand people were added to their number that day. The gifts of the Spirit remain appropriate to the calling, and the gifts must always be viewed as tools and not trophies.

NT REVEALS HOLY SPIRIT DWELT INSIDE ALL BELIEVERS

How one reads the book of Acts dictates how he or she will understand the Bible as a whole. Some, such as cessationalists believe Acts was a historical document of the way the early church used to be, but if believers today do not hold the same power of those in Acts, which was prophesied about, (Joel 2:28; Luke 24:49; John 14:26) what power is available to believers today? Ultimately, Luke must be viewed as both a historian and a theologian and while some try to make the distinction between being baptized in the Holy Spirit and being Spirit-filled, Stephen Clark points out, “The Holy Spirit is a He, [so] we are talking about an experience that brings a relationship.”[1] Others, like extreme dispensationalists contend speaking in tongues ceased at the close of the New Testament canon, where they believe “perfection” came. However, this “perfection” and “change” being spoken of will only happen at resurrection when, “We shall see face to face” (1 Corinthians 13:12). As Howard Ervin asserts, “Until then, prophecy, tongues, and other gifts of the Spirit will still function through those who, in faith and obedience, are open to the Spirit’s enabling.”[2] On the Day of Pentecost, Peter, empowered by the Spirit, told the people to repent and be baptized and upon receiving forgiveness of their sins, they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Ervin illustrates, “To this promise, he added, ‘[It] is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call’ (Acts 2:38-39). [Therefore,] Spirit baptism is available to all today, since the call to salvation is still going forth wherever the gospel is preached.”[3] As a result of the events at Pentecost, three thousand Jews from all over received Christ and were baptized in the Holy Spirit, making them among the first converts who would carry the gospel message around the world. Clinton Arnold further shows how, “Peter, at this point, may not realize it, but the intent of the application of this promise is for Gentiles as well. God will show him this by a vision and by involving him in the conversion of the Gentile household of Cornelius (Acts 10). Paul will also apply this prophecy to the inclusion of Gentiles into the one body of Christ (Ephesians. 2:13).”[4]

In 1 Corinthians 12:7, Gordon Fee illustrates Paul is saying what each one is given in this case is not a gift, but a manifestation of the Spirit, so “One should not make too much of this change of words. The change reflects Paul’s own emphasis throughout these chapters, which is on the Spirit Himself, not on the ‘gifts’ as such. Thus each gift is a manifestation, a disclosure of the Spirit’s activity in their midst.”[5] Gaebelein further explains, “Paul goes on to declare that many spiritual gifts are given by the Spirit for the total good or profit of his church. Different gifts are given different people—not all have the same gift. The gifts given to each person are clearly intended to be used for the common good.”[6] While one would think Paul’s epistles would have much to say about Spirit baptism, this is not the case because it was something most first-century Christians had already experienced. However, Paul, in 2 Corinthians 1:21-22 and Ephesians 1:13 does speak of a seal and a deposit. By putting His Spirit in believer’s hearts as a deposit, it can be seen as the first installment of something greater yet to come, which is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Paul Barnett demonstrates, “The ‘seal’ is nothing less than the Spirit Himself, by whom God has marked believers as His own ultimate possession.”[7]

In 1 Corinthians 14, Horton explains, “With love in mind, [Paul] goes on to give practical directions for the exercise of two spiritual gifts – tongues and prophecy… [Edification is the key.] Paul wanted to see the gifts manifest in such a way as to build the Church both spiritually and numerically.”[8] F. F. Bruce adds, “Paul did not rule out glossolalia as a phenomenon inspired by the Spirit but he was anxious to convince his Corinthian friends that there were other charismata which, while not so impressive as glossolalia, were much more helpful in building up the Christian fellowship.”[9] The power of speaking in tongues allows the Holy Spirit to use the speaker as a conduit reaching directly to the throne room because when a believer speaks in tongues, he or she speaks directly to God. The spiritual gift of tongues continue to baffle scientists due to MRI scans revealing the frontal lobe, where the speech and language center are located not being engaged when people speak in tongues.[10] This further demonstrates the Holy Spirit creates a direct pathway to God so the speaker can pray, praise, or express thoughts beyond the limits of a human’s finite understanding and inability to see all and know all.

THE CONTROVERSY OF PENTECOST AND SPIRITUAL GIFTS

At Pentecost, as Peter said, “This is now what the prophet Joel spoke,” Gaebelein shows, “God’s covenant people were primarily in view. Joel went on to point out that what the Lord intended is that His Holy Spirit would be poured out, not on selected individuals for a particular task, but on all believers, young and old, male and female alike, regardless of their status. It would be a time of renewed spiritual activity: of prophesying, of dreams, and of visions.”[11] As Peter quoted Joel 2:28; the outpouring of the Spirit predicted by Joel occurred on Pentecost. Acts becomes so much more than history here, as speaking in tongues was the sign of a new and mighty act of God. This is that and that which was is, so if God is truth and His Spirit speaks truth, why not ask for the fullness of His Spirit? Many reject Acts as grounds for theology or doctrine, but as Horton explains, “Luke uses history to present divine truth with Jesus as the center and the advancement of the church’s mission by the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit as an important theme.”[12] Luke saw the sign of the age to come being the presence of the Spirit. In the past, God’s Spirit was only available to prophets, priests, kings, and judges; however, Joel envisioned a time when the Spirit would be available to every believer. Ezekiel also spoke of an outpouring of the Spirit (Ezekiel 39:28, 29). With the coming of the Spirit, Luke uses a variety of terms to suggest a receiving and active taking of a gift (Acts 2:38); a falling upon (Acts 8:16; 10:44; 11:15); and a pouring out of the gift (Acts 10:45). Horton emphasizes, “With this variety of terms, it is impossible to suppose that the baptism is any different from the filling.”[13] These can also mean a continuous infilling of the Holy Spirit. In Acts 2:2, Gaebelein explains, “In OT times, prophetic utterances were regularly associated with the Spirit’s coming upon particular persons for special purposes”[14] and as Bruce demonstrates:

They were all filled with the Holy Spirit. The spiritual baptism foretold by John and promised by the Lord were now an accomplished fact. Being filled with the Spirit was an experience to be repeated on several occasions, but the baptism in the Spirit, which the believing community now experienced, was an event, which took place once for all.[15]

In Christianity, cessationism is the doctrine that spiritual gifts such as speaking in tongues, prophecy, and healing ended with the apostolic age. However, Jack Deere asserts, “The doctrine of cessationism did not originate from a careful study of the Scriptures. The doctrine of cessationism originated in experience.”[16] Many scholars trace this belief back to Augustine of Hippo, who in his homily The Epistle of Saint John, referred to the tongues at Pentecost as a sign “adapted to the time” that had passed away.[17] Despite this early belief, Eddie Hyatt demonstrates, “Augustine’s interest in the miraculous has led some writers to conclude correctly that, in later life, he changed his views on the miraculous ministry of the Holy Spirit.”[18] [19] Nevertheless, the seed was planted and many influential leaders of the time chose to adopt his earlier views. In many religious circles and academia, the spiritual gift of tongues is mocked and simply dismissed. Christopher Moody, professor of systematic theology at Liberty University, the largest Christian university in the world laughs as he tells his students to disregard the book of Corinthians because, “It is a book written to the black sheep of the church who had all sorts of problems and that tongues is not an ecstatic utterance, but merely babblings in one’s made-up private prayer closet language.”[20] While making doctrine out of only several verses goes against all hermeneutical practice, to say various chapters in Corinthians must be ignored because they teach about spiritual tongues being a private prayer language seems excessive and makes for bad theology. If anything, the decrease in the use of tongues is to be attributed to spiritual apathy and the institutionalization of the church following Constantine’s conversion in A.D. 312.

Gary McGee illustrates, “As Pentecostals affirmed the twofold usage of speaking in tongues, they struggled to articulate the way in which the gift of interpretation worked. They needed to distinguish the perceived personal function of tongues in the Lukan literature, from the Pauline.”[21] While Luke emphasized the Spirit baptism had occurred and remained in the life of the seeker, Paul taught it was a requirement that a manifestation of the gift of tongues in a church service needed interpretation. As a result, McGee demonstrates questions naturally arose: “Should the personal utterance of tongues be interpreted? Does the public use of the interpretive gift, expressed when people are gathered in worship, parallel the gift of prophecy in a way that makes their purposes virtually identical? The faithful generally answered, “yes” to both questions.”[22] Of the four types of tongues mentioned in the New Testament, two are for private and two are for public. The two private tongues are tongues for intercession (Romans 8:26-28) and tongues for personal prayer, which result in personal edification (1 Corinthians 14:4). The two public tongues are tongues for interpretation (1 Corinthians 14:5) and tongues as a sign to the unbeliever (1 Corinthians 13:22).

Stephen Chester addresses the issue of interpretation of 1 Corinthians 14:20-25 asserting, “Tongues do serve as a sign for unbelievers in the straightforward sense that they alert the outsider to the presence of divine activity among the Corinthian believers [however,] from Paul’s perspective, they do not signify enough [since] tongues do not communicate the gospel.”[23] Paul states, “Tongues are a sign for unbelievers and prophecy is for believers, yet it is prophecy that converts the unbeliever and tongues that fail to do so.” Chester further concludes that the, “Examples seem to prove the opposite of what was stated in v. 22, and this exegetical puzzle has provoked much disagreement and considerable displays of exegetical gymnastics, [but] the solution to this puzzle is best pursued by focusing our attention on the reaction to hearing tongues of the outsider, described by Paul in v. 23.”[24]

Blaine Charette demonstrates “The presence of both the Holy Spirit and fire at Pentecost serves as a reminder that God’s activity is often a double-edged sword. This event marks a meaningful and complex moment in God’s program from which ensues both blessing and judgment.”[25] To this statement, one could argue one of the Holy Spirit’s main functions is to convict people of sin (John 16:8), so “Discussions of Pentecost that focus exclusively on the blessings of the occasion are not only one-sided, but run the risk of misrepresenting the role of the Spirit in the world and in the community of God’s people.”[26] Charette maintains:

The judgment in view is directed against those who fail to respond appropriately to the Word of God present in the redemptive revelation centered in Jesus. The positive response of obedient disciples results in their experience of the baptism with the Holy Spirit. At the same time, the language of another tongue that characterizes this experience serves to demonstrate the divine judgment that has come upon the disobedient.[27]

THE HOLY SPIRIT EQUIPPED EARLY CHURCH FOR MINISTRY

When looking at the role of the Holy Spirit in the Pentecostal Movement, Richard Bliese explains, how many facets of the Pentecostal Movement seem to create doctrinal anxiety, specifically: “The gift of tongues, a second baptism, private prophetic experiences, and the spirit-filled. Like those first congregations in Corinth, [many faiths] are a divided community when it comes to the experience of the Holy Spirit, yearning both for the fullness and freedom of the Spirit and yet scared that the Spirit’s work will lead to serious mistakes and communal chaos.”[28] Paul instructs the Romans the final ministry of the Spirit is intercession by asserting, “The Spirit helps us in our weakness” (Romans 8:26). Robert Brandt and Zenas Bicket seek to illustrate, “Never is a believer more effective and assured than when praying by virtue of the indwelling Spirit… The Spirit joins us in intercession to fashion prayer that cannot be grasped by human understanding… Just as Christ intercedes in heaven for the child of God (Romans 8:34), the Holy Spirit intercedes within the believer on earth.”[29] The word “συναντιλαμβάνεται” or “sunantilambanetai” is an interesting word, which means “joins in to help” or “to come to the aid to.” The only other mention of the word for “help” occurs in Luke 10:40. In this passage Gaebelein illuminates, “Martha had more than she could handle in the preparation of the meal and asked the Lord to bid her sister Mary come to her aid. Everything that is said relates to the activity of the Spirit on our behalf, culminating in the declaration that He intercedes for the saints.”[30] This is a perfect representation of what the indwelling presence of the Spirit does and A. C. George further explains, “To argue that Charismatic gifts were necessary only for the first century church and that they are not needed today in our individual and corporate worship is contrary to the teachings of Scripture, as well as the experience of millions of Pentecostal and Charismatic believers who are living in all continents of the world.”[31]

When looking at the gift of tongues as a prayer language, J. Ford Massingberd illustrates, “The gift of tongues is essentially a gift of prayer, especially of praise and love. Usually the mind is not active but the prayer is one of simple, loving regard – often accompanied by the experience of God’s presence.”[32] This tracks with spiritual gift’s primary function being bringing unity and love within the church, so “To see why the gift of tongues may be productive of ‘touches of infused contemplation’ and contribute to the building up of spiritual characteristics, one may measure the constructive power of love in the gift of tongues against the destructive, demolishing power of the tongue.”[33] “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits” (Proverbs 18:21). Anything God has established, Satan will always try to destroy, counterfeit, or pervert, so the spiritual gift of tongues must always be held to a high standard.

SPEAKING IN TONGUES IS NORMAL, BUT NOT NORMATIVE

Russell Spittler captures the tension over the debate when he wrote, “Tongues is a broken speech for a broken body of Christ till perfection comes.”[34] What God meant to bring unity and love into the body of Christ has caused division. Frank Macchia demonstrates how this statement “Falls like a bombshell on one-sidedly triumphalistic Pentecostal spiritualties. In this weak groaning of glossolalia, we already gain a foretaste of eschatological transcendence and bridge-crossing as we flow from ourselves to others. Tongues symbolize this self-transcendence and bridge-crossing.”[35] If Scripture is not available to determine what is normative, the question then becomes, “Do we allow experiential evidence to take precedence in places where Scripture is silent?” Ultimately, the debate over the speaking in tongues being the initial physical evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit raises a bigger issue for those who do not hold to this position. The larger question being raised is, “Does the baptism in the Holy Spirit happen at conversion or after conversion.” It is this writer’s belief there are two distinct baptisms: one which happens at the moment of salvation, and a second infilling that empowers the believer to fulfill the Great Commission. Taking narratives and making them normative can be dangerous, so the goal must always be to understand the narrative in the context of redemptive history. While mighty moves of God have happened without the presence of speaking in tongues, experiential displays of the Holy Spirit, like the Pentecostal Azusa Street Revival in 1906 cannot be ignored either.

Anthony Palma lists three reasons God ordained glossolalia for the Day of Pentecost: “First, it was a new thing signaling a new era; second, it drew attention to the Great Commission to spread the gospel to all nations; and third, he who speaks in a tongue edifies himself.”[36] Bruce demonstrates how, “Paul insists that it is not the phenomenon of ‘tongues’ or prophesying in itself that gives evidence of the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit, but the actual content of the utterances.”[37] In Ephesians 5:18, Gaebelein shows the theological implications of “be filled” plerousthe, “Are crucial for a biblical doctrine of the Holy Spirit. The imperative makes it clear that this is a command for all Christians. The present tense rules out any once-for-all reception of the Spirit but points to a continuous replenishment. Nor does it appear that Paul is urging his readers to enter into a new experience. Rather, he is inviting them to go on as they began.”[38]

Clark Pinnock also illuminates, “The gift of speaking in tongues is related to renewal but suffers from polemics. Some exaggerate its importance by claiming it as sole initial evidence of Spirit filling, while others, in reaction, refuse to take it seriously.”[39] On this assumption, Pinnock believes, “It is best to say that speaking in tongues is normal rather than normative, [since] the Spirit is given in baptism and is realized in experience throughout life.”[40] Harm Hollander shows; “In order to understand Paul’s different approaches to glossolalia and prophecy as spiritual phenomena in the context of the Christian gatherings, a detailed analysis of the text is appropriate. [Paul’s] starting-point is all things should be done for the edification of the body, and everything, including glossolalia and prophecy, should be done decently and in order.”[41] Hollander reveals Paul, “Argues that the gift of prophecy is to be preferred to the gift of glossolalia; whereas those who prophesy speak to other people for their edification, encouragement, and consolation; people who speak in a tongue only edify themselves. In fact, glossolalia does not benefit anyone else unless somebody is able to interpret these tongues.”[42] Paul’s main concern is utilization of the spiritual gifts. He seeks to demonstrate their primary purpose is to edify the church, to bring unity, and advance the gospel. However, since both prophecy and glossolalia are gifts of the Spirit, Paul urges the believers in Corinth to seek them, to not forbid speaking in tongues, to be eager to prophesy, and that all must be done in order.

A 21ST CENTURY PERSPECTIVE ON SPIRIT BAPTISM

Jacob Dodson illustrates, “For many Christians in Pentecostal churches in the United States today, the role of prophecy and speaking in tongues is ambiguous. While these two practices have been integral for the Pentecostal tradition since its origin at the Azusa Street Revival, a pervasive shift has taken place in Pentecostal piety and ecclesial life.”[43] In the year 2000 there were, worldwide, 66 million denominational Pentecostals, 176 million Charismatics, and more than 295 million independent neo-Charismatics. However, despite over one-third of the world’s full-time Christian workers (38%) being Pentecostal/Charismatics/Neo-Charismatics,[44] Dodson believes, “The apparent declining interest in prophecy and speaking in tongues in American Pentecostal churches is misleading because it does not adequately acknowledge ecumenical developments in the broader Pentecostal theology of charismatic gifts.”[45]

Jack Hayford believes that, “The experience of Spirit baptism grants one the capacity to pray in tongues but that there is no guarantee that someone would use that gift.”[46] Macchia then concludes, “There is strong evidence in early Pentecostal literature that, for the Pentecostals, the highest expression of the Spirit’s indwelling is the love of God [and] a number of authors have defined Spirit baptism as a baptism of divine love.”[47] Amos Young demonstrates how, “Baptism in the Holy Spirit as a metaphor for Christian salvation calls attention to the process of humans experiencing the saving graces of God along with the presence of crisis moments when such grace is palpably felt as transformative.”[48] While there is much debate over doctrine versus experience, it is hard to deny what takes place during revivals around the world. Del Tarr speaks of such an example in Burkina Faso, West Africa where the national pastors had prayed and fasted for weeks asking God for the Holy Spirit to be poured out. Tarr claims, “When God answered their prayers, meetings continued day and night for three months. Even Muslims were converted and baptized in the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues and the church soon grew to over 400,000 members.”[49] Macchia would claim this clearly fits in with Luke’s “Assumption about tongues as the most significant sign of the bringing together of Jew and Gentile in the one mission of God.”[50]

CONCLUSION

It is tragic that the very things that drew the early church together are what cause such division today. There is no doubt people misuse spiritual gifts, much like those in Corinth did, but there are also those who doubt or quench the Holy Spirit’s gifts, essentially putting God in a box and limiting the impact He can have in and through a Christian’s life and ministry. To say there are no miraculous gifts today is to say that God is not supernatural. Only as a believer taps into the power of the Holy Spirit, first received at salvation, does he or she have the opportunity to experience that same Spirit overflow from within for the empowerment of ministry. The gifts of the Spirit bring unity and love, so to deny their use hinders God’s will, and dangerously approaches blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Paul affirms, “Do all people speak in tongues?” No. “Should all seek the gift?” Yes. As much as Christians should seek the gifts of the Spirit, the fruit of the Spirit, specifically love and self-control must also be sought (Galatians 5:22-23) because the church desperately must maintain a healthy balance between all of these gifts.

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[1] Stephen B. Clark, Confirmation and the “Baptism of the Holy Spirit” (Pecos, NM: Dove Publishing, 1969), 11.

[2] Howard M. Ervin, “These Are Not Drunken as Ye Suppose” (Plainfield, NJ: Logos, 1968), 218-221.

[3] Ibid., 37-39.

[4] Clinton E. Arnold, ed., Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary on the New Testament – John, Acts (USA: Zondervan, 2002), 237.

[5] Gordon D. Fee, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987), 589.

[6] Frank E. Gaebelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary – Volume 10: Romans through Galatians (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1976), 262.

[7] Paul Barnett, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – Paul’s Second Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 112.

[8] Stanley M. Horton. What the Bible Says about the Holy Spirit. Rev. ed. (Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 2007), 223-224.

[9] F. F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 1977), 260.

[10] Benedict Carey, “A Neuroscientific Look at Speaking in Tongues,” The New York Times, November 7, 2006, http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/07/health/07brain.html (accessed July 1, 2017).

[11] Gaebelein, Frank E., ed., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary – Volume 7: Daniel and the Minor Prophets (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1985), 255.

[12] Stanley M. Horton, Perspectives on Spirit Baptism: 5 Views, ed. Chad Owen Brand (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2004), 56.

[13] Ibid., 59.

[14] Frank E. Gaebelein, ed., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary – Volume 9: John and Acts (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981), 271.

[15] F. F. Bruce, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Book of Acts (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 51.

[16] Jack Deere, Surprised by the Power of the Spirit (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 1993), 99.

[17] Augustine, The Epistle of Saint John, vol. 12 of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, 497-498.

[18] Eddie L. Hyatt, 2000 Years of Charismatic Christianity: A 21st Century Look at Church History From a Pentecostal/Charismatic Perspective (Lake Mary, FL: Charisma House, 2002), 45.

[19] Francis Sullivan, Charism and Charismatic Renewal (Dublin, Scotland: Gill and MacMillan Publishing, 1982), 147.

[20] Christopher Moody, “Miraculous Gifts,” Filmed [2015], Liberty University Website, THEO 530, Systematic Theology II, Course Content, Week Three Video Presentation, 16:50. (accessed June 30, 2017).

[21] Gary B. McGee, “The New World of Realities in Which We Live: How Speaking in Tongues Empowered Early Pentecostals,” Pneuma: The Journal Of The Society For Pentecostal Studies 30, no. 1 (March 2008): 124. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed May 24, 2017).

[22] Ibid.

[23] Stephen J. Chester, “Divine Madness? Speaking in Tongues in 1 Corinthians 14:23,” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 27, no. 4 (July 2016): 445-446. DOI: 10.1177/0142064X05055747 (accessed May 25, 2017).

[24] Chester, “Divine Madness?” 445.

[25] Blaine Charette, “Tongues as of Fire: Judgment as a Function of Glossolalia in Luke’s Thought,” Journal Of Pentecostal Theology 13, no. 2 (April 2005): 185. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed May 25, 2017).

[26] Ibid., 185.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Richard H. Bliese, “Speaking in Tongues and the Mission of God, Ad Gentes,” Journal Of Pentecostal Theology 20, no. 1 (2011): 38-47. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed May 24, 2017).

[29] Robert L. Brandt and Zenas J. Bicket. The Spirit Helps Us Pray: A Biblical Theology of Prayer (Springfield, MO: Logion Press, 2006), 270.

[30] Gaebelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary – Volume 10: Romans, 96.

[31] A. C. George, Dimensions of Spirituality (Chennai, India: Bethesda Communications, 1997), 27.

[32] J. Ford Massingberd, “Toward a Theology of Speaking in Tongues,” Theological Studies 32, no. 1 (March 1971): 23, (accessed May 25, 2017).

[33] Ibid.

[34] Russell P. Spittler, “Glossolalia,” Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements, ed. S. M. Burgess and G. B. McGee (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1988), 341.

[35] Frank D. Macchia, Baptized in the Spirit: A Global Pentecostal Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), 281.

[36] Anthony D. Palma, The Holy Spirit: A Pentecostal Perspective (Springfield, MO: Logion, 2001), 137.

[37] F. F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 1977), 260.

[38] Frank E. Gaebelein, ed., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary – Volume 11: Ephesians through Philemon (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981), 72.

[39] Clark H. Pinnock, Flame of Love: A Theology of the Holy Spirit (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 172.

[40] Ibid., 172-173.

[41] Harm W. Hollander, “Prophecy and Glossolalia and Paul’s Concern for Order in the Christian Assembly,” The Expository Times 124, no. 4 (July 2012): 172-173. DOI: 10.1177/0014524612464189 (accessed May 25, 2017).

[42] Ibid., 172.

[43] Jacob D. Dodson, “Gifted for Change: the Evolving Vision for Tongues, Prophecy, and Other Charisms in American Pentecostal Churches,” Studies In World Christianity 17, no. 1 (January 2011): 50-51. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed May 24, 2017).

[44] D. B. Barrett and T. M. Johnson, “Global Statistics” in Stanley M. Burgess, ed. The New International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), 285-287.

[45] Dodson, “Gifted for Change,” 50.

[46] Jack Hayford, The Beauty of Spiritual Language: My Journey Toward the Heart of God (Dallas, TX: Word, 1992), 95-98.

[47] Frank D. Macchia, Justified in the Spirit: Creation, Redemption, and the Triune God (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010), 89.

[48] Amos Young, The Spirit Poured Out on All Flesh: Pentecostalism and the Possibility of Global Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005), 105.

[49] Del Tarr, “The Church and the Spirit’s Power” in Benny C. Aker and Gary B. McGee, Signs and Wonders in Ministry Today (Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 1996), 9-10.

[50] Frank D. Macchia, “Groans Too Deep for Words: Towards a Theology of Tongues as Initial Evidence,” Asian Journal of Pentecostal Studies 1, no. 2 (July 1998): 164.

Can You Be Gay and Christian?

Westboro Protest

Michael Chiavone is correct in his assertion that the ecclesiology of the 21st century looks much different than centuries of past, largely in part due to the success and increase of alternative church’s arrangements. Through the use of technology, specifically multi-site and streaming churches, it is now extremely challenging to offer an all-encompassing universal definition of the church. At the forefront of controversial topics regarding the church’s relationship to the state is homosexual marriage, which continues to be an area of much debate. This topic leaves many people with a poor perception of the church, and in many settings serves to demonstrate more what the church is against than what she is for. As the boundaries of religious freedom continue to be tested, Michael Brown offers perhaps the most appropriate response to the question, “Whether one can truly follow Jesus and practice homosexuality at one and the same time” (Brown 2014, xi).

In chapter ten, Brown attempts to balance grace with the truth of God’s Word, illustrating, for “gay Christians,” there is often an experiential claim associated with their argument, which attempts to justify the homosexual practice being perfectly acceptable because a committed relationship exists between two individuals. The biblical response recognizes it is possible to be a devoted follower of Christ, while also having same-sex attractions, as long as those thoughts and attractions are not affirmed. The problem arises when those attractions are acted upon making it then impossible to live a holy life.

To God, sin is sin, but humanity takes the process one step further and ranks various sins, much like crimes and classifies them as misdemeanors or felonies, with each having various degrees of offense and penalties or judgments. For many Christians, the very thought of being gay or acting upon those attractions would be equated to a crime of premeditated murder, but to God, homosexuality is no different than idolatry. Idolatry, by definition is anything placed before God in one’s life, and this can be a person, place, or thing that comes before God. In the Old Testament, certain sins required specific sacrifices and some sins affected the individual and/or the community. To advance this thought, a few of the texts that speak of homosexuality use the term תּוֹעֵבָ֖ה (tôʿēbâ) to mean abomination, which indicates, “That these sins are not simply something that God peevishly objects to, but that produces revulsion in Him” (Erickson 2013, 526). The result of any sin is separation from God, but Erickson furthers this thought and illuminates, “We are not simply sinners because we sin; we sin because we are sinners [and] sin is any lack of conformity, active or passive, to the moral law of God. This may be a matter of act, of thought, or of inner disposition or state. [Ultimately,] sin is failure to live up to what God expects of us in act, thought, and being” (Erickson 2013, 528-529). Jesus, in Matthew 5:28 clearly establishes the mere thought of a sinful act is the same as committing it, which demonstrates the effect desires have over the propensity to sin.

In recent years and through various human rights groups, the paradigm now perpetuated is God versus gays, meaning homosexuals must either be condemned or affirmed. Currently, as this assignment is being written, members of the Westboro Baptist Church are across the street waving “God hates fags” posters in the air as the people are gathering in the church for Sunday morning service. A much more accurate sign should read, “God hates sin.” Just as sinners should not be defined by his or her past/present sin, the universal church should not be defined by the actions of extremists like those outside telling homosexuals a fiery-hell awaits them. Brown demonstrates, “The problem is many gay-affirmative people will say their sexuality is ‘who they are’ and ‘essential to their being’ and ‘very core’” (Brown 2014, 205-206). Humanity’s fallen nature leads to one’s inclination to sin, so as Brown suggests, “Rather than saying, ‘I am gay, and Jesus died to help me fulfill my sexual identity,’ they should say, ‘I struggle with the sin of homosexuality, but by God’s grace I will not be defined by it or ruled by it’” (Brown 2014, 209).

Homosexuals should not be defined by their actions, nor should their desires enslave them to feeling as though change is impossible. Brown asserts, “You can [abstain from sex,] be single, but you cannot live without God” (Brown 2014, 221). Instead of focusing on one’s sexuality or allowing sin to define someone, the emphasis must always be trying to redirect the individual’s focus back to Jesus Christ, the Lord and Savior. Some churches shun people for being gay, while others make it known gay people are not welcome, but acting on homosexual desires, in God’s eyes, is no different than gossipers who gossip or thieves who continue to steal. The right does not belong to humans to say homosexuals are not welcome in the house of God and it surely does not instruct followers of Christ to treat homosexuals with disdain and demoralizing insults. When God says something is wrong, and despite His warning and commandment, the individual still chooses to sin, the body of Christ should come alongside and stake themselves next to the lost sheep until Jesus Christ, through the transforming work of the Holy Spirit produces such a radical encounter, that the person repents and turns away from a life of sin. This “God, and by default the church versus homosexuals” rhetoric must stop. We all are children of the Most High God, and Jesus Christ gave His life for everyone, regardless of what sin someone struggles with.

Another major issue that must be addressed is whether homosexuals should be ordained or serve in a ministerial capacity. Millard Erickson asserts, “While a homosexual orientation combine with a celibate lifestyle, does not seem to be sinful, the consistent biblical proscriptions of homosexual practice (Leviticus 18:22, 20:13; Romans 1:27-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10) seem to disqualify practicing homosexuals from holding such positions” (Erickson 2013, 1007-1008). Reading about Rev. Troy Perry, founder of the Metropolitan Community Church, and home of the largest “gay Christian” denomination was bizarre. This lifestyle choice was very reminiscent of the book of Judges, where each person did what was right in his or her own eyes. Perry’s early homosexual childhood encounter was surely traumatizing, but as Brown proposes, “Could you imagine a heterosexual Christian leader describing his first youthful sexual encounter with a little girl as being an ‘innocent time of religious and sexual discovery’” (Brown 2014, 215). While the Bible does say, “It is not good that the man should be alone,” this does not justify homosexual relationships. God promises to neither leave nor forsake His children, just as He promises in Him one will find escape from the corruption of the world and everything needed to live a life of godliness. Brown rightly concludes, “[God] will either satisfy you with His presence, He will provide you with godly friends and companions, or He will help to bring change in your attractions, so you can marry a fitting, lifelong companion” (Brown 2014, 219). The message of the gospel must not be watered down, but the church needs to embrace people despite the presence of sin. If church were only for those without sin in their life, the chairs or pews would be empty, so to cast judgment on homosexuals, and not others living in sin is hypocritical and ungodly. So, can you be gay and be a Christian? In this writer’s opinion, yes, but only by recognizing those attractions being contrary to God’s design and resisting them as sinful” (Brown 2014, 213). Being a disciple of Christ begins with dying to oneself daily and denying sinful desires because being gay and a Christian does not work when those sinful attractions are acted upon. God loves us just the way we are, but He loves us too much to leave this way, regardless of what area of sin attempts to sever the relationship between God and His children. If we, the church, the body of Christ are not a part of the solution, then we are a part of the problem and this is not a place anyone wants to find themselves when he or she must give an account to God during final judgment. Love, acceptance, and forgiveness must be the motivation to reach those in need of God’s grace, mercy, and truth.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Brown, Michael L. Can You Be Gay and Christian? Responding With LOVE & TRUTH to Questions About HOMOSEXUALITY. Lake Mary, FL: FrontLine Publishing, 2014.

Elwell, Walter A. ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2001.

Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. 3rd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2013.

Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ – Book Critique

Believer's Baptism

Shawn D. Wright, professor of theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and member of the Evangelical Theological Society[1] teams up with Thomas R. Schreiner, Dean of the School of Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary[2] to co-edit a compilation of scholarly and theological essays on the history and doctrine of baptism. Using exegesis of Scripture, a detailed history of the theology and practices of early church, and with the ultimate goal of restoring baptism to its rightful place as a central liturgical act of Christian worship, the authors set out to advocate credobaptism (the doctrine that Christian baptism should be reserved solely for believers in the Lord,) over the beliefs and practices of Reformed paedobaptists (those who practice infant baptism).[3] This critique will largely agree with the author’s conclusions that credobaptism is biblically supported and will evaluate the strengths and weaknesses behind the authors’ claims, which assert baptism must be reserved strictly for believers and how baptism remains relevant to the church today.

SUMMARY

The main premise of Believer’s Baptism is to clearly articulate the history and practice of baptism and to affirm: who should be baptized, when he or she should be baptized, and what the act of baptism actually accomplishes in the life of the believer. Schreiner and Wright set out, with the aid of an additional eight highly esteemed Baptist theologians and scholars to demonstrate baptism should only be reserved for those who have believed, repented, and maintained his or her faith. Each of the author’s conclusions and findings presented are rooted in rich biblical truth, and offer practical application for the believer today, while also presenting potential reasons for how and why paedobaptists came to believe infant baptism should be linked to the covenant relationship, specifically found in the Old Testament, and early church practices.

Schreiner and Wright further seek to show how paedobaptists associate the covenant of grace with the Abrahamic Covenant, in an attempt to reduce the Abrahamic Covenant to its most basic spiritual components. While this argument presents no middle ground, Schreiner and Wright successfully demonstrate baptism must be reserved for believers who have received Christ as his or her personal Savior, have turned away from a life of sin, and seek to make a public profession of faith, thus fulfilling the command found in Scripture. While the doctrine of baptism has increasingly become a topic of debate in denominational circles, the secondary objective of Schreiner and Wright is to provide pastors and leaders with a practical resource when faced with many of the questions surrounding the practice of baptism e.g., Does baptism save the believer? Does baptism forgive one’s sins? Does baptism have an age requirement? And how should one respond when challenged with any of the above questions?

A tertiary goal of Schreiner and Wright is to cultivate a greater sense of unity within the body of Christ. To many, how, when, or why someone should be baptized may seem like a minor issue but as Timothy George demonstrates, “Baptism is important precisely because it is tied to the gospel, and to the saving work that Christ accomplished in His death and resurrection.”[4] Within Christianity, there are doctrinal hills worth dying on and the practice of baptism is one of those hills, as Paul Jewett demonstrates, “To baptize infants apart from faith threatens the evangelical foundations of evangelicalism.”[5] Believer’s Baptism combines biblical exegesis, history and theology, and practical application to provide a powerful argument for credobaptism.

CRITICAL INTERACTION

Beginning with the Gospel accounts, Andreas Köstenberger provides concise historical context into the practice of credobaptism. While there are not a great deal of passages that deal with baptism, the ones which do clearly establish the rite of baptism: “Is designed for believers who have repented of their sin and have put their faith in God and in His Christ, is an essential part of Christian discipleship, most likely consisted of immersion in water, and presupposes spiritual regeneration as a prevenient and primary work of God in and through the Holy Spirit.”[6] The Gospels each clearly demonstrate the believer’s baptism is the intended teaching and A.T. Robertson further demonstrates, “the Gospels provide no evidence or support for the baptism of infants, the notion of baptismal regeneration, nor does the principle of believer’s baptism enunciated in the Gospels allow for such a practice.”[7]

Robert H. Stein then analyzes Luke and Acts, illustrating God’s intimate role in the process and counters claims of baptismal regeneration and belief that the act of baptism forgave sins. Despite household conversions and baptisms taking place, Stein answers the question, exactly who can be baptized, by asserting “Those baptized… have heard the gospel preached, as responding with repentance and/or faith, and proceeding on their own to the place of baptism.”[8] Robertson further illustrates, “Baptism, as taught in the New Testament, is the picture of death and burial to sin and resurrection to new life, a picture of what has already taken place in the heart, not the means by which spiritual change is wrought. It is a privilege and duty, not a necessity. It is a picture that is lost when something else is substituted in its place.”[9] Stein adequately advances the position for credobaptism, but in a climate where many congregations are seeking to go back to an early church model, some practical and modern-day application of the credobaptism principles would have been a nice companion to this chapter.

Next, Schreiner examines the epistles and reveals how, “Baptism relates to washing, to sealing, to redemptive history, and [answers] whether baptism should be confined to believers.”[10] Schreiner’s main emphasis is on the act of baptism only being for those who have confessed his or her sins and trusted in Christ for salvation. Paul, in Ephesians 4:5 asserts there is one baptism, which unifies all believers. Paul’s emphasis here is to bring balance to the rite of baptism, with his primary focus being on unity within the body of believers, while also making it known baptism is not restricted from any ethnic or social group. Galatians 3:27 is a prime example, illustrating, “Believers who are baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” This verse denotes the close connection between one’s faith and the practice of baptism. Ronald Fung further demonstrates, “Baptism is here regarded as the rite of initiation into Christ, that is, into union with Christ, or, what amounts to the same thing, of incorporation into Christ as the Head of the new humanity.”[11] These passages counter the singular claim of paedobaptists regarding God’s grace and illuminates how God’s grace must be combined with the human response.

Despite there being no record or command of infant baptism in the canon of Scripture, Stephen J. Wellum explains, “At the heart of the doctrine of infant baptism is the argument it is an implication drawn from the comprehensive theological category of the covenant of grace.”[12] To address this claim, Wellum looks at the relationship between the covenants and explains, “[Only] if the interpretation of the covenant of grace, along with its understanding of the continuity between Israel and the church can be maintained do we have a strong case for infant baptism.”[13] Despite paedobaptists’ argument for infant baptism, Wellum verifies the key problem is rooted in a, “Failure to understand correctly the proper relationship between the biblical covenants, [since] a truly covenantal approach to Scripture… demands an affirmation of believer’s baptism.”[14] Another important contribution is Wellum’s response to paedobaptist assertion that, “Circumcision and baptism carry essentially the same spiritual meaning and that in the new covenant era baptism is the replacement of circumcision as a covenant sign.”[15] Ultimately, baptism and circumcision carry two very different meanings and Paul could not be clearer that circumcision was no longer a covenant sign. Wellum rightly concludes, “[Baptism] signifies a believer’s union with Christ, by grace through faith, and all the benefits that result from that union.”[16] Wellum’s contribution for the defense of credobaptism was a key component.

Steven A. McKinion looks to the early church fathers and patristic writings to conclude, “Baptism had less to do with the age of the baptized person than with the role of repentance, profession of faith, and entrance into the full life of the church.”[17] The main issues facing those in the third and fourth century were the high infant mortality rate and debate over whether infants needed forgiveness of sins. Despite these issues, McKinion demonstrates why early church fathers like Tertullian rejected the defense of infant baptism on two counts: “First, infants are innocent, guiltless, and not in need of forgiveness; second, faith alone is sufficient for salvation. [Thus,] baptism should follow faith, and since young children do not need forgiveness and cannot possess faith, baptism is unnecessary.” Despite few supporters, the early centuries of the church are often cited in defense of paedobaptist belief, predominantly since it was the practice of some churches, but it was never universally practiced and those in favor of paedobaptism seemed to have a more refined view on the doctrine of original sin.

With the rise of Anabaptists, Jonathan Rainbow contrasts Ulrich Zwingli and Balthasar Hubmaier’s views explaining, “For Zwingli, baptism was a mere sign, [while] for Hubmaier it was more than a sign. [Ultimately,] Baptists consider, on the basis of an open and personal confession, that the person coming to the water believes in Jesus Christ, and that there is an inner reality to which baptism corresponds… This was the heart of Reformation Anabaptists…”[18] Rainbow offers profound insight between Zwingli and Hubmaier’s viewpoints by illustrating, “There is a fear of allowing water baptism to come too close to the work of grace in the sinner’s heart; there are raised eyebrows and puzzled looks at the New Testament texts that closely associate baptism with salvation; and many would rather not baptize at all than leave room for the impression that baptism is an integral part of the conversion experience.”[19] This assertion is exactly what paedobaptists have done in their departure from biblical doctrine. Making too much or too little of baptism are both dangerous roads to travel, so Rainbow is correct in his word of caution. With this word of warning, Timothy George highlights, “It is important to [remember] and recognize that in the Reformation tradition of believers, baptism was forged in the context of persecution and martyrdom.”[20] Looking back in time at the formation of doctrine and tradition, it can be easy to forget exactly what was going on at that time to warrant the beliefs and practices, which resulted. Rainbow does a great job advancing the credobaptism position in this section.

Shawn D. Wright presents the logic of Reformed paedobaptists in an attempt to examine and understand their logic. Calvin, Murray, and Marcel all hold to the covenant of grace, but as Wright demonstrates, “Their biblical exposition is oriented toward the Old Testament with a lack of attention to the New Testament’s teaching. [Further,] by using the Westminster Confession of Faith as evidence for infant baptism… it is neither ‘good’ nor a ‘necessary’ deduction.”[21] Each of these Reformed paedobaptists seemed to believe God regenerates the infant at baptism, but without faith, this process cannot begin. Another doctrinal error in this vein of theology occurs by paralleling circumcision with baptism, which Wellum has previously covered in depth.

Duane A. Garrett then looks at the Israelite traditions and shows Meredith Kline’s “Error is in taking Old Testament events that are retrospectively and metaphorically called ‘baptism’ and enlisting them as guides to the ritual mode of actual baptism. [Ultimately,] by interpreting baptism under the rubric of a suzerainty treaty means that a Christian must require all persons under his authority to be baptized, [which] validates the Constantinian vision of Christianity.”[22] In Cornelis Bennema’s critique of Believer’s Baptism, he cites, “Kline’s defense of paedobaptism being closely connected with the idiosyncratic theology of the covenant and whenever historic divergences exist within the church, it is best to engage the arguments that have historically been most influential and decisive; this can hardly be said to hold true for Kline’s formulations.”[23]

Baptism was a source of division amongst early Christians, as Ardel B. Caneday explains, by using Paul’s letters to the churches at Corinth and Galatia to show, “All who have put on Christ with all who are baptized into Christ, as though the two are fused into one. To be baptized into Christ by submission to the symbolic foot washing called for by the gospel is to be clothed with Christ Jesus.”[24] Paul seems to be equating those who are baptized into Christ Jesus share in part with the redeeming effects of His death. Caneday further demonstrates, “While Paul warns the Galatians that submission to the ritual act of circumcision would be to sever oneself with Christ (5:2-6), he identifies Christian baptism as the ritual act that marks one as clothed with Christ.”[25] This is a significant contribution to the difference between the ritual acts.

In the context of the local church, Mark E. Dever illustrates, “Only forty percent of baptisms in cooperating churches are ‘first time’ baptisms of converts, [attributing this trend to:] confusion, ignorance, prejudice, and a misplaced and distorting cultural conservatism that besets most churches today in their practice of baptism.”[26] Dever successfully brings together the culmination of previous chapters to answer questions like: Who should baptize? How is baptism to be done? Who is to be baptized? When are baptisms to be done? And should unbaptized individuals be excluded from: the Lord’s Supper, church membership, and should baptisms from other churches be accepted. Bennema adds, “Though it may well be that many Reformed churches have not lived up to their covenant theology, it is hardly the case that this theology diminishes the obligations of faith and repentance in respect to the children of believers. On this point, the claims of several authors in this volume seem to be overstated.”[27] Overall, the predominant Baptist background of the authors limits the scope of this work. Had other denominations of faith been included, the book would become more relevant to a larger number of people, but Schreiner and Wright are quite clear their goal was simply to promote credobaptism over paedobaptism, and this goal was adequately accomplished.

CONCLUSION

Schreiner and Wright have also clearly established baptism requires the public profession of faith, which acknowledges one’s salvation and honors Christ’s atoning sacrificial death, burial, and resurrection. In a time where the world seems to know more what the church is against than what she is for, Believer’s Baptism is a treasure-trove of wisdom and practical application, which has the ability to bridge the gap and produce unity and love within the body of Christ. Baptism plays a pivotal role in the fulfillment of the Great Commission and is vital in advancing the kingdom of God. Ultimately, God wants His followers to live in unity and love, but as Timothy George demonstrates, “Unity in love must also be unity in truth, else it is not genuine unity at all.”[28] Upon this premise, Schreiner and Wright are to be commended for producing a work that brings clarity to the practice of credobaptism over paedobaptism and this work would be well suited for anyone interested in understanding not only the history of baptism but also how this practice should be applied to the church today.

 Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ. Edited by Thomas R. Schreiner and Shawn D. Wright, Series Edited by E. Ray Clendenen, B&H Academic Publishing Group, 2006, 364 pp. $29.99 (Hardcover).

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bennema, Cornelis P. A Review of Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ., by Thomas R. Schreiner and Shawn D. Wright, ed. Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 52, no. 3 (September 2009): 655-61, (accessed June 12, 2017).

Elwell, Walter A. ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2001.

Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. 3rd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2013.

Fung, Ronald Y. K. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Galatians. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998.

George, Timothy. “The Reformed doctrine of believers’ baptism.” Interpretation 47, no. 3 (July 1993): 242+. Academic OneFile (accessed June 12, 2017).

Jewett, Paul K. Infant Baptism and the Covenant of Grace. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1978.

Robertson, A. T. “Baptism, Baptist View,” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Edited by James Orr (Chicago: IL, Howard-Severance Co., 1915), 1:416-417.

Schreiner, Thomas R. and Shawn D. Wright, ed. Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ. Series Edited by E. Ray Clendenen. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic Publishing Group, 2006.

[1] The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Website, http://www.sbts.edu/academics/faculty/shawn-d-wright/ (accessed June 8, 2017).

[2] The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Website, http://www.sbts.edu/academics/faculty/thomas-r-schreiner/ (accessed June 8, 2017).

[3] Thomas R. Schreiner and Shawn D. Wright, ed. Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ, Series ed. by E. Ray Clendenen (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic Publishing Group, 2006), 6.

[4] Timothy George, Believer’s Baptism, 1.

[5] Paul K. Jewett, Infant Baptism and the Covenant of Grace, ed. James Orr (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1978), 162.

[6] Andreas Köstenberger, Believer’s Baptism, 32-33.

[7] A. T. Robertson, “Baptism, Baptist View,” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (Chicago: IL, Howard-Severance Co., 1915), 1:416-417.

[8] Robert H. Stein, Believer’s Baptism, 65.

[9] Robertson, “Baptism, Baptist View,” 417.

[10] Thomas R. Schreiner, Believer’s Baptism, 68.

[11] Ronald Y. K. Fung, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Galatians (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998), 172.

[12] Stephen J. Wellum, Believer’s Baptism, 68.

[13] Ibid., 124.

[14] Ibid., 160.

[15] Ibid., 153.

[16] Ibid., 159.

[17] Steven A. McKinion, Believer’s Baptism, 186-187.

[18] Jonathan H. Rainbow, Believer’s Baptism, 206.

[19] Ibid., 205.

[20] Timothy George, “The Reformed doctrine of believers’ baptism,” Interpretation 47, no. 3 (July 1993): 242. Academic OneFile (accessed June 12, 2017).

[21] Shawn D. Wright, Believer’s Baptism, 254.

[22] Duane A. Garrett, Believer’s Baptism, 281.

[23] Cornelis P. Bennema, Review of Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ, by Thomas R. Schreiner and Shawn D. Wright, ed. Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 52, no. 3 (September 2009): 660, (accessed June 12, 2017).

[24] Ardel B. Caneday, Believer’s Baptism, 285.

[25] Ibid., 286.

[26] Mark E. Dever, Believer’s Baptism, 329.

[27] Bennema, “Believer’s Baptism,” 661.

[28] Timothy George, Believer’s Baptism, XIX.

Role of Christ and Spirit in Salvation and Security of Believer

salvation_is_found

The distinctive work of the Son of God and the Spirit of God in the procurement of salvation begins with an understanding of the oneness and unity, achieved between Christ and the new believer. Millard Erickson demonstrates, “All that the believer has spiritually is based on Christ’s being within. Our hope of glory is Christ in us [and] our spiritual vitality is drawn from His indwelling presence” (Erickson 2013, 878). Christ Himself came into the world and took on human nature (John 1:1, 1:14). He then paid the ultimate sacrificial price for all of humanity, with His life, and through His vicarious atoning death on the cross. Christ’s sinless life, His suffering, and His death satisfied the demands of God’s divine justice (1 Peter 3:18) and restored the severed relationship between God and His children (Romans 5:10). Humanity’s problem was, “Our sinful acts have alienated us from your God; and our sins have caused Him to reject us and not listen to our prayers” (Isaiah 59:2). However, “God demonstrates His own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Christ’s death ultimately provided salvation and as Erickson shows, “Christ: (1) gave us a perfect example of the type of dedication God desires of us, (2) demonstrated the great extent of God’s love, (3) underscored the seriousness of sin and the severity of God’s righteousness, (4) triumphed over the forces of sin and death, liberating us from their power, and (5) rendered satisfaction to the Father for our sins” (Erickson 2013, 729). The satisfaction theory or atonement as compensation to the Father best encapsulates the role Christ played in procuring humanity’s salvation.

At the moment of salvation, there is a union the new believer attains with Christ, one made up of several parts, and one in which can never fully be comprehended, due to the union being a profound mystery (Ephesians 5:32). Erickson defines the act of salvation as, “The application of the work of Christ to the lives of humans” (Erickson 2013, 826). The first part of this union is of a judicial nature and recognizes believers as being righteous because Christ dwells within. Erickson illustrates, “God does not say, ‘Jesus is righteous but the human is unrighteous.’ [Instead,] He sees the two as one and says in effect, ‘They are righteous’” (Erickson 2013, 881). As the parable of the vine and branches demonstrates, one’s union with Christ is also vital (John 15:4). Leon Morris explains, “The two ‘abidings’ cannot be separated, and ‘abiding’ is the necessary prerequisite of fruitfulness. No branch bears fruit in isolation. Every fruitful branch has vital connection with the vine. So to abide in Christ is the necessary prerequisite of fruitfulness for the Christian” (Morris 1995, 595). In this union, the life of Christ flows into the life of the believer providing both spiritual strength and renewing the believer’s inner nature. The final union is spiritual in nature and in large brought on by the Spirit of God, as Erickson reveals, “Not only is our union with Christ brought about by the Holy Spirit; it is a union of spirits” (Erickson 2013, 881). The union with Christ, as a result of salvation, seems to have the most impact with regards to justification or how God views sinners as now being righteous in His sight. While justification is a single act, occurring at salvation, sanctification and regeneration are an ongoing exercise of faith, with the ultimate goal of becoming more like Christ in one’s thoughts and actions.

The Spirit of God or Holy Spirit plays a major role with conviction of sin, which leads to repentance (John 16:8-11). This divine call or prompting that leads to salvation is an act of God, and is called efficacious grace since it is an effective operation of grace. Charles Hodge explains:

There are three classes into which all events of which we have any knowledge may be arranged. First, those, which are produced by the ordinary operations of second causes as, guided and controlled by the providential agency of God. Secondly, those events in the external world, which are produced by the simple volition, or immediate agency of God, without the cooperation of, second causes. To this class all miracles, properly so called, belong. Thirdly, those effects produced on the mind, heart, and soul, by the volition, or immediate agency of the omnipotence of God. To this class belong, inward revelation, inspiration, miraculous powers, as the gift of tongues, gift of healing, and regeneration” (Hodge 2011, 683).

To this third class belongs the work of efficacious grace, so while the Spirit of God plays a major part in pre-conversion, the Spirit is also the driving force behind regeneration. Erickson describes this process as, “God’s transformation of individual believers, His giving a new spiritual vitality, and direction to their lives when they accept Christ” (Erickson 2013, 872). The Spirit of God facilitates God’s renewing work in the life of the believer and this is a never-ending process. After conversion, the Spirit of God continually works to sanctify the believer (Galatians 5) and Erickson describes this process as, “The Holy Spirit’s applying to the life of the believer the work done by Jesus Christ” (Erickson 2013, 897).

When looking at the assurance, evidence, and security of believers, there are several key components to each of these terms. The assurance of salvation refers to the question, “How do I know I am saved/rescued from my sin.” This is rooted in God’s ability to see the heart of His children and there is no middle ground; He is either Lord of one’s life or He is not. 1 John 5:11 says, “And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.” This is a propositional truth, meaning we are saved by grace, through faith, based upon on our own beliefs/faith. I. H. Marshall explains, “The question whether we accept God’s testimony or not is not a merely academic one. On our answer too it changes the question whether or not we participate in eternal life. For what God’s testimony means is that he has given us eternal life; but this life is given only in His Son” (Howard 1978, 241). Assurance also is reflected in one’s behavior, meaning, “Do we look like and act like out Father?” One’s faith must be rooted in the blessed assurance of salvation and no amount of good works will ever satisfy.

When referring to evidences of salvation, the key difference between this and the assurance is now the focus is placed on whether someone else is saved. The book of James, specifically 2:17 establishes faith must be expressed and lived, by walking the talk. Frank Gaebelein explains, “James states the proposition he intends to demonstrate in the following verses: ‘Faith… not accompanied by action is dead. Action is the proper fruit of living faith. Because life is dynamic and productive, faith that lives will surely produce the fruit of good deeds. Therefore, if no deeds are forthcoming, it is proof that the professed faith is dead” (Gaebelein 1981, 183). The distinction James is making is not to deny faith; rather, he is indicating it is not the right kind of living faith, which does not possess the power to save. Only by inspecting the fruit in other peoples’ lives can the evidence of salvation be determined, but one must be careful not to solely base the assurance of salvation on what he or she does, but instead on what Christ Jesus has already done in their lives.

The security of the believer answers the question, “How secure is one in his or her salvation?” This is a highly debated subject matter amongst theologians and has become dogma and/or doctrine for many denominations of faith. In this writer’s opinion, an adopted child of God cannot be disowned. Paul, in chapter 5 of his letter to the Romans says, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Douglas Moo explains, “By believing in Jesus Christ, the divine agent in God’s climactic act of deliverance, Paul and the Christians of all ages and places, have been declared innocent of all charges justly brought against those who sin and fall short of God’s glory. Paul presents this declaration of justification as a past act, which brings to the believer a new and permanent status and acquits the sinner” (Moo 1996, 298). A more reformed theology views justification as God’s declaration of one’s righteousness on the merits of Jesus Christ. Proponents of Arminianism warn falling away from Christ is possible citing passages such as: Hebrews 6, 10, Matthew 24, and 1 Corinthians 10. Ultimately, as Erickson illustrates, “It is possible to fall away and by relying on our own strength we surely will. However, if we are secure in Christ it is because of the work of the Holy Spirit, and the work of God in our lives that keeps us from falling” (Erickson 2013, 919-922). Essentially, this means a true follower of Christ we will not fall away despite the warnings that a believer can fall away. The warnings in Scripture serve in many ways like a fence, to keep believers committed to serving the Lord, without removing their free will to choose.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Elwell, Walter A. ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2001.

Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. 3rd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2013.

Gaebelein, Frank E. Gaebelein, ed., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary – Volume 12: Hebrews through Revelation. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981.

Marshall, I. Howard. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistles of John. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1978.

Moo, Douglas J. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Romans. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996.

Morris, Leon. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Gospel According to John. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995.

Christology, Person and Work of Christ, & Atonement

jesus-paid-it-all-wallpaper-from-sofie-scott

The doctrine of salvation and the study of exactly how Christ’s death secures the salvation of those who believe remains a highly debated topic amongst theologians. Ultimately, one’s view of Christology and biblical understanding of Soteriology sets Christianity apart from any other religion, in that Christianity is the only religion that bases one’s salvation on faith alone, by grace alone, and through Christ alone. Millard Erickson emphasizes, “In the history of the church, the most heated debate in Christology has been over the understanding of the person and work of Jesus Christ” (Erickson 2013, 603). In the early history of the church, the person and work of Christ were viewed as one and the same, but during the medieval period, there arose a shift in scholastic theology, which began to separate the doctrine of the person of Christ: (His divinity, humanity, and the unity of the two) from the offices and work of Christ (Erickson 2013, 617). This quickly led to disputes over the deity of Jesus and ultimately estranged the average Christian from having an impactful or experiential relationship with Christ, because the theological questions caused Christology to no longer be relevant to the average follower of Christ. An opposing view and the second shift in the view of the person and work of Christ would occur during the nineteenth and twentieth century, defined by Philipp Melanchthon’s statement: “To know Christ is to know His benefits” (Pauck 1969, 21-22). Luther further emphasized Christ’s saving activity for the believer, while Friedrich Schleiermacher stressed the importance of the experience of what Christ does in the believer. Paul Tillich would synthesize these views and assert, “Christology is a function of Soteriology. The problem of Soteriology creates the Christological question and gives direction to the Christological answer” (Tillich 1957, 2:150). Erickson illustrates how in this theory, “The theological answer is correlated with the existential question. Accordingly, we should concentrate upon the symbolism of the biblical materials, since it stresses the universal significance of the Christ event” (Erickson 2013, 617). By approaching the person of Christ through the work of Christ, it creates a greater unity between Christology and Soteriology and demonstrates the significance of the doctrine of Christ. Regardless of which view is taken, it is virtually impossible to separate the work and person of Christ and any effort to do so has the potential to lead to heresy. Erickson does demonstrate there is an acceptable way of beginning Christology with Christ’s work. However, he cautions, “While it must not be allowed to set the agenda, it can be used as a point of contact for more elaborate discussions of His nature” (Erickson 2013, 618).

Through a proper understanding of Christ’s work, it aids the believer in understanding exactly how Christ fulfilled the offices of: prophet, priest, and king, which leads to the three major functions of Christ being: revealing, ruling, and reconciling. The life and ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection of Christ then provide the framework for the doctrine of atonement, which Erickson explains, “Is the transition point from the objective doctrines of God, humanity, sin, and the person of Christ to the subjective doctrines. This transition point is the key element in balancing Christian theology to make it relevant to the believer” (Erickson 2013, 713). Just as there are multiple views pertaining to the person and work of Christ, the doctrine of atonement is no different and over the years, many inadequate theories have been presented. Ultimately, as Erickson emphasizes, “The example of Christ, the demonstration of the extent of God’s love, the severity of God’s righteousness and the seriousness of sin, the victory over sin and death, and the satisfaction for our sins are all truths, and should all be included in the explanation of the atonement” (Erickson 2013, 713). Thus, when looking at the atonement, there is an immediate shift from Christ’s nature to His work on the behalf of all sinners.

The Socinian Theory and the Moral-Influence Theory both emphasize the primary effect of Christ’s death is on humans. Both theories fail to recognize retributive justice and minimize God’s justice, holiness, and righteousness. The Governmental Theory or atonement as a demonstration of divine justice views that God does not inflict punishment as a matter of strict retribution. Sin is not punished simply because it deserves to be, but because of the demands of moral government. This view theorizes the sufferings of Christ are an atonement for sin. In stark contrast, the Satisfaction Theory, popularized by Anselm, reasoned the death of Christ was an actual penalty inflicted on Him as a substitute for the penalty that should have attached to the breaking of the law by sinners (Erickson 2013, 721). Anselm argued that it was necessary the atonement took place, in order to satisfy the justice of God. This view recognized the atonement was not primarily directed at humans, nor did it involve any sort of payment to Satan (Erickson 2013, 727). The only other theory that maintained a large following was the Ransom Theory, which viewed the atonement as victory over the forces of sin and evil. Origin and Gregory of Nyssa popularized this view, but the main problem arises as Origen viewed Satan, rather than God, being the one who demanded Christ’s blood as atonement. Another major problem with this view is that the direct effects of Christ’s atoning death were neither on God nor on humans; instead, it was directed towards Satan, making Christ’s work in relationship to God secondary (Erickson 2013, 727).

Christ, being both God and sinless human did not deserve death and it seems clear Anselm’s view of atonement, being the compensation to the Father, best encapsulates that Christ’s death: “(1) gave us a perfect example of the type of dedication God desires of us, (2) demonstrated the great extent of God’s love, (3) underscored the seriousness of sin and the severity of God’s righteousness, (4) triumphed over the forces of sin and death, liberating us from their power, and (5) rendered satisfaction to the Father for our sins” (Erickson 2013, 729). Anselm’s view of atonement also grew out of his understanding of the doctrine of sin, which is failing to render God His due. By failing to give God his due, “We take from God what is rightfully His and we dishonor Him. As sinners, we must restore to God what we have taken, but it is not sufficient merely to restore to God what we have taken away. For in taking away from God what is His, we have injured Him; and even after what we have taken has been returned, there must be some additional compensation or reparation for the injury that has been done” (Anselm 1098, 1.7). Only Christ could satisfy these requirements, and only through His atoning sacrifice could reparation be made between God and His children. Paul goes as far as to describe Christ’s work of atonement as propitiation or the appeasement of God’s wrath for the sins of humanity, so as Erickson suggests, “We must understand how the atonement involves sacrifice, propitiation, substitution, and reconciliation in the relationship of God to humanity and why it is the penal substitution theory that best describes this relationship of atonement” (Erickson 2013, 732). To fully understand atonement, one must also understand the nature of God, the status of God’s moral and spiritual law, the fallen nature of humanity, and the Old Testament sacrificial system, which demanded the blood from a sin offering for the remission of sins. The animals to be sacrificed had to spotless, without any imperfection, to atone or to cover one’s sin. Jesus’s humanity and sinless life made His vicarious atoning sacrifice applicable to all people, and as Erickson explains, “The iniquity of sinners is transferred to the suffering servant, just as in the Old Testament rites the sins were transferred to the sacrificial animal. The laying on of hands was an anticipation of the believer’s active acceptance of Christ’s atoning work” (Erickson 2013, 736). Christ’s atoning death was substitutionary, as He took our place, and took the weight of world’s sin and curses on His shoulders.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Anselm of Canterbury. Cur Deus homo, “Why God Became a Man?” 1098.

Elwell, Walter A. ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2001.

Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. 3rd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2013.

Pauck, Wilhelm ed. Melanchthon and Bucer. Library of Christian Classics 19. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 1969.

Tillich, Paul. Systematic Theology. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1957.

Contemporary Issues in the Christological Methods

christology

Millard Erickson emphasizes, in the history of the church, the most heated debate in Christology has been over the person and work of Jesus Christ. Erickson then presents several views pertaining to the “quest of historical Jesus,” and “Christology from above and below” illustrating how, “Some theologians have researched the life of Jesus based on their determination that Christ cannot be both human and God, while others either understood Christ from above, grounded in the church’s proclamation, or from below, basing their view of Christ on historical investigation.”[1] Against this framework of theologies, Erickson contends only, “A perspective utilizing faith to interpret the history of Jesus found through reason, may provide the most adequate Christological methodology.”[2] This is a crucial starting point in the debate, because an understanding of this principle is fundamental for Christians to comprehend. In addition, Christians must also grasp how and why a proper understanding of the person and work of Christ is rooted in the doctrine of humanity and sin.

The search for the historical Jesus attempts to uncover what Christ was actually like, but this liberal theological position attempts to view the Gospels as being unconsciously fabricated and Jesus as being a non-miraculous figure. Adolf von Harnack was a proponent of this view contending, “Jesus’s message was primarily not about Himself, but about the Father and the kingdom. [Harnack believed:] firstly, in the Kingdom of God and its coming; secondly, in God the Father and the infinite value of the human soul; thirdly, in the higher righteousness and the commandment of the love.”[3] The major distinction in this view came from Martin Kähler, who noted that the Jesus of history, the Jesus found in the Gospels had very little influence. Kähler further exhibits how, “[during Jesus’s earthly ministry, He] was able to win only a few disciples, and these to a rather shaky faith. [However,] the Christ of faith has exercised a very significant influence. This is the risen Christ, believed in and preached by the apostles. This historic Christ, rather than the historical Jesus, is the basis of our faith and life today.”[4] The search for the historical Jesus continues to this day, but as Erickson demonstrates, these endeavors have been marred by significant flaws and have been based on anti-supernatural presuppositions and unusual historical assumptions.[5]

As Erickson explains, “Christology from above was the basic strategy and orientation of the earliest centuries of the church… when there was no question as to the historical reliability of the whole of Scripture.”[6] Karl Barth, Rudolf Bultmann, and Emil Brunner were proponents of this view characterized by: “the basic understanding of Christ not being historical Jesus, but the kerygma, the church’s proclamation regarding Christ. [Additionally,] there is a marked preference for the writings of Paul and the fourth Gospel over the Synoptic Gospels. [Finally,] faith in Christ is not based on nor legitimized by rational proof.”[7] Erickson illuminates one accepts historical statements by being rationally persuaded, thus accepting proclamation by faith. Erickson then explains how, “Brunner emphasizes the Christ in the flesh, but does not ignore the Christ after the flesh. For although faith never arises out of the observation of facts, but out of the witness of the church and the Word of God, the fact that this Word has come ‘into flesh’ means that faith is in some way connected with observation.”[8] Essentially, this means the picture of Jesus must always be present in both the witness of the church and in Scripture. The major problem with this approach is subjectivity and the sustainability of belief. Erickson then poses a great question to demonstrate the weakness behind this approach: “Is commitment to the kerygmatic Christ based on what really is, or is it an unfounded faith?”[9]

Christology from below or “the new search for the historical Jesus” attempts to discover a Jesus who was a human being and much more, despite previous “Jesusologies,” which found Jesus to be a human being and little more. Wolfhart Pannenberg, in Jesus – God and Man, while noting some benefits to the Christology from above approach, offers three reasons why he could never employ this method: “The task of Christology is to offer rational support for belief in the divinity of Jesus, for this is what is disputed in the world today; Christology from above tends to neglect the significance of the distinctive historical features of Jesus of Nazareth; and Christology from above is possible only from the position of God Himself, and not for us.”[10] Pannenberg further illustrates, “If we rest our faith upon the kerygma alone, and not upon the historical facts of Jesus’s life as well, we may find ourselves believing not in Jesus, but in Luke, Matthew, Paul, or someone else.”[11] Upon this premise, Erickson explains, “If kerygma is solely what one’s faith is put in, the remainder of the New Testament witnesses do not give us unity, but diversity, and on occasion even antithesis, [so] we must penetrate beyond these varied witnesses to discern the one Jesus to whom they all refer.”[12] The major issue with Christology from below has to deal with establishing its historical contentions with objective certainty. Essentially, as Erickson points out, “The real point of Christology from below has been compromised when one begins to appeal to such concepts as the need to naturalize reason.”[13]

A final alternative approach is offered by Erickson, which attempts to unite Christology from above and Christology from below, so as to preserve the best elements of both while minimizing the problems of each. The goal is combine the kerygmatic Christ and the historical Jesus with faith and reason. Erickson’s approach recognizes, “Since the Jesus of history is approached through reason and the kerygmatic Christ is seized by faith, we are apparently dealing with a case of the classic faith-reason dichotomy. Whereas in the traditional form, faith and philosophical reason are involved, here it is faith and historical reason.”[14] This alternative model is not Christology from below, which ignores kerygma. Nor is it Christology from above, which fails to recognize the earthly life of Jesus of Nazareth. Instead, Erickson presents a model that displays the historical Jesus being the confirmation of the Christ of faith. This model allows, “Neither the Jesus of history alone, nor the Christ of faith alone, but the kerygmatic Christ as the key that unlocks the historical Jesus, and the facts of Jesus’s life as support for the message that He is the Son of God. [Thus,] faith in the Christ will lead us to an understanding of the Jesus of history.”[15] Erickson’s model addresses the weaknesses of the other model and synthesizes each of the model’s strengths to present this alternative approach, which passes all tests of logic and reason.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Brunner, Emil. The Mediator. London, UK: Lutterworth, 1934.

Elwell, Walter A. ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2001.

Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. 3rd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2013.

Kähler, Martin. The So-Called Historical Jesus and the Historic Biblical Christ. Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Publishing, 1962.

Pannenberg, Wolfhart. Jesus – God and Man. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 1968.

von Harnack, Adolf. What is Christianity? New York, NY: Harper & Bros., 1957.

[1] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology. 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2013), 603.

[2] Erickson, Christian Theology, 603.

[3] Adolf von Harnack, What is Christianity? (New York, NY: Harper & Bros., 1957), 33.

[4] Martin Kähler, The So-Called Historical Jesus and the Historic Biblical Christ (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Publishing, 1962), 65-66.

[5] Erickson, Christian Theology, 616.

[6] Ibid., 608.

[7] Emil Brunner, The Mediator (London, UK: Lutterworth, 1934), 158 & 172.

[8] Erickson, Christian Theology, 609.

[9] Ibid., 612.

[10] Wolfhart Pannenberg, Jesus – God and Man (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 1968), 35.

[11] Pannenberg, Jesus – God and Man, 25.

[12] Erickson, Christian Theology, 610.

[13] Ibid., 613.

[14] Ibid., 613.

[15] Erickson, Christian Theology, 615.

Doctrine of Sin: Where Did it Come From & Why Does it Exist?

what-is-sin

Sin, in its very essence, is contradictory to the nature of God, creating separation in the intimacy between God and man; however, it is allowed and even used by God in the provision of man’s free will, but is ultimately conquered by God’s grace, in the ultimate redemptive plan, through Jesus Christ. However, several questions still remain: “Why did God allow sin to enter the world,” and “why does He continue to allow it, especially considering, ‘The wages of sin is death’” (Romans 6:23). The problem or doctrine of sin continues to be a highly debated topic amongst scholars, because to fully understand the grace of God; one must first comprehend the depth of despair rooted in sin and its origin. Furthermore, one must also comprehend the nature of God, in order to offer a proper apologetic response to theological questions like: “If God made everything in creation good, how did evil and sin enter the world? If God is good, why does He allow evil and sin to exist? Why, if humans are created in the image of God, is there an inherent propensity to sin? And what purpose could evil and sin serve in accomplishing the will of God?” Ultimately, the sovereignty of God is on trial when people question the mystery of how and why evil and sin entered the world, so one must know sin’s origin and purpose to defend the faith. The thesis of this paper will show God allows sin in order to establish the freedom of mankind to freely choose Him.

By examining the introduction of sin into the world, it will be established sin was first found in Satan because of his desire to seek something contrary to what God intended. While God is sovereign in and over all things, He did not create sin, so it will then be revealed how evil originated in the created and not the Creator. The rejection of God’s will leads to spiritual death and this was played out in the lives of Adam and Eve, leading to the fall of mankind and all future generations. Working from the Old Testament to the New Testament, it will be displayed, God was not surprised or caught off guard by anything that has happened or will happen. In Old Testament times, animal sacrifices were continually offered at the Temple. These sacrifices showed the Israelites the seriousness of sin because: “Blood had to be shed before sins could be pardoned” (Leviticus 17:11). But the blood of animals could not fully remove sins (Hebrews 10:4). The sacrifices could only point to Jesus’ future sacrifice, which paid the final penalty for all sins. Paul, in his letter to the Romans, asserts the law failed only because “It was weakened by the flesh.” Douglas Moo illustrates, “In light of this criticism of the law in Romans, and the focus on liberation from sin and death in, ‘what the law could not do’ is not to condemn sin, but to break sin’s power—or, to put it positively, to secure eschatological life. It is God Himself who has done what the Law could not do, and He has done it through the sending of His own Son.”[1] When sin corrupted the world, God first provided the law as a means for sinners to know just how sinful they were and how far they had deviated from God’s standards. Before the law was given, sin existed (Romans 5:13). However, after the law was given, sin could be quantified and each act and could then be identified as an offense of a specific commandment found within law.

In the New Testament, God then provides a way for mankind to restore communion with the Father, which came through Jesus Christ. Ultimately, sin stands in the way of God’s best, and modern-day culture has become numb to its very presence, leading many to just do what feels good. However, the ripple effect of “original sin” still carries immense consequences. Lastly, it will be shown how Satan uses sin to isolate and condemn people, while God uses it to redeem and make His children whole. Sin has corrupted the world; so only by understanding how to counter Satan’s strategy will followers of Christ be able to use what the enemy meant for harm, for ultimate good (Genesis 50:15-21).

ORIGIN OF SIN

When most people think of sin’s origin, Adam and Eve’s choice to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is often what is stated. However, while this was mankind’s first sin, it was actually Satan’s prideful fall from grace, which would set events in motion, ultimately leading to Adam and Even’s banishment from Eden and mankind’s separation from God. When the serpent in the garden tempted Eve, this created a death sentence for all future generations, because God had previously told both Adam and Eve, “For when you eat from it, you will certainly die” (Genesis 2:17). Millard Erickson explains, “One of sin’s obvious results is death and this death we have deserved has several different aspects: physical death, spiritual death, and eternal death.”[2] Paul, in Romans 5:12 says; “Yet while death entered the world through Adam’s sin, it spread to all humans because all sinned.” Here, Paul is alluding to physical death, while spiritual death relates to the separation created between God and man. Because sin is contrary to the very nature of God, it acts as a barrier and condemns man to face both condemnation and judgment. Erickson, then further illustrates the final component in death: “Eternal death is the extension and finalization of spiritual death. If one comes to physical death still spiritually dead, separated from God, that condition becomes permanent. As eternal life is both qualitatively different from our present life and unending, so eternal death is separation from God that is both qualitatively different from physical death and everlasting in context.”[3]

Pride was the root of Satan’s sin and he would be consumed by it, causing him to desire both God’s authority and dominion. Satan no longer wanted to serve and worship; he wanted to be worshipped like God. These same desires and schemes can be seen played out in Satan’s attempt to have Eve first question God’s command and then make her think by eating the fruit she would be like God. While the serpent deceived Eve, Adam made a choice, which led to mankind’s curse, estrangement from God, guilt, and shame (Genesis 3:1-7, 12-13). Because of the fall, John Frame explains sin is not only a disruption in the personal relationship with God, but that it is also disruptive in authority. “In God’s order, He is the ultimate authority. Adam is a subordinate authority, to whom Eve is to be submissive (Ephesians 5:22). Together, Adam and Eve are to have dominion over all the animals, but in the story of the fall, the woman submits to an animal, the man submits to his wife, and both claim to be judges of God’s behavior.”[4] Anything God stands for or has created, Satan attempts to pervert, counterfeit, or destroy. While the Bible does not fully explain the fall of Satan and his angels, both Isaiah 14:3-21 and Ezekiel 28:2-19 contrast the defeat and fall of the kings of Babylon and Tyre. The imagery used in both passages portrays the ramifications of pride. In Isaiah, John Oswalt illustrates how pride was:

Seen in the fact that it would prefer the world to be a desert in its own hands than a garden in the hands of someone else. In fact, the capacity to destroy and oppress becomes a source of pride. This is perversion at its plainest. But again the poet has turned the boast back upon the boaster. He who had exiled hundreds of thousands from their homes and would not let them return now is himself homeless, and in a much more profound sense. This man is a spiritual exile. His pride has driven him from the home, which the Father has given in trust to all his children. Because pride denies God it must deny us what God has given, ultimately life itself.[5]

The passage in Ezekiel similarly depicts the king proclaiming himself to be divine in nature, authority, and intelligence. As a result of these proclamations, Daniel Block shows:

The assault on the prince involves three actions, which, while directed at a human monarch, reflect the treatment that images of a deity in the temple would receive from an attacking army. If the king of Tyre would claim the status of a god, then let him put up with the treatment of a god at the hands of invaders. First, the nations will attack the source of the prince’s pride, the symbols of his wealth and glory. Second, the invaders will desecrate and profane the prince’s radiant splendor. Third, the strangers will send the prince down to the Pit and the prince will exchange his falsely secure position “in the heart of the seas” for the world of the dead. The one who dares to claim the status of deity and demands to live among the gods must join the dead in Sheol. For this man the way up led down.[6]

Some scholars have viewed this text as being related with the fall of humanity, while others have chosen to interpret the text strictly as being mythological, due to Mesopotamian influences in the text. Block maintains the imagery of these oracles point to Eden, the Garden of God and, “Like the king of Tyre, the first man (1) was created by God, (2) was divinely authorized to rule over the garden as king, (3) not being satisfied with the status sought or claimed divinity, and (4) was punished for this hubris by humiliation and death.”[7] William Harrison believes, while this passage may be addressed to the king of Tyre, it in no way describes any human king, or other man. Instead, Harrison asserts, “The great angel was originally the sum of wisdom and perfect in all his ways until he sinned. This sin resulted from the fact that his mind was set on his own beauty rather than on the glory of the Creator. The ensuing pride led him to determine to follow his own will rather than submit to God.”[8] Oliver Crisp further explains, “There is no single, agreed-upon definition of original sin in the Christian tradition – no hamartiological analogue to the person of Christ given in the canons of the Council of Chalcedon. Instead, there are various versions of doctrine that attend to a common set of theological themes, which differ about dogmatic shape of original sin.”[9]

NATURE OF SIN

Sin is caused by ignorance, error, inattention, and pride. It is then characterized by missing the mark, irreligion, transgression, rebellion, treachery, perversion, abomination, and lack of integrity.[10] These causes and characteristics of sin have detrimental results and consequences, which lead to guilt, wickedness, and evil. In Psalm 51, David becomes convicted of his sin with Bathsheba after his confrontation with the prophet Nathan making both this confession of sin and pleading for forgiveness a prime example of what all sinners should do. In v. 2, David laments, “Cleanse me from my sin.” David uses several different forms for the word sin and here חַטָּאת or ḥaṭṭāʾt is used, which literally means missing the mark deliberately and purposefully disobeying God’s Word. In v. 3, David calls upon the Lord to blot out his transgressions, wickedness and rebellion. Here, David uses ‏פֶּשַׁע or pešaʿ, which essentially means forgiveness for knowing what God’s Words says, but choosing to revolt or rebel against His commands. In v. 9, David asks God to, “Blot out all my iniquities.” In this verse, David chooses the word עָוֹן‎ or ʿāwon to signify the crooked thinking and living that results when one acts against God’s Word. In each of these examples, David assumes responsibility for his sins and he knew that only repentance and forgiveness would cleanse his perverted inner state.[11]

A similar model can be found in Paul’s letter to the Romans in chapter five. In v. 12, Paul is dealing with the topic of sin coming into the world through one man: Adam, but through the obedience and sacrifice of Christ, all believers might know the righteousness of God. Paul uses the word hamartia or ἁμαρτία, which is synonymous with the Old Testament חַטָּאת or ḥaṭṭāʾt, meaning a purposeful missing of the mark and of God’s standards, His holiness, and His Word. In v. 14, parabaseōs or παράβασις is used to describe sinning as going beyond or over and disregarding or overstepping God’s Word. As humans, it is part of one’s fallen nature to test limits and boundaries of what is acceptable and allowed, but here the sin is to put one’s foot over the line to test what the consequences are and this is exactly what Adam and Eve did. In v. 19, parakoēs or παρακοή is used to define disobedience or the willful choice not to hear. Selective listening never fares well, especially when people hear what he or she wants to hear. In vv. 15, 17, and 18 paraptōma or παράπτωμα is used to describe the offense or trespass. Another deviation of this word means falling sideways or false stepping, which means instead of doing what is necessary or right, one chooses to go around. In this particular passage, Paul is addressing not only the problem of sin, but also the issue of continuing to sin. Before Paul could teach about the new life believers had in Christ, his listeners had to know the definition of sin.[12]

L. Thomas then demonstrates, “The biblical understanding of sin is not only an act of wrongdoing, but a state of alienation from God. [While] the origin of sin is indeed a mystery and is tied in with the problem of evil; the sin is personal and social, individual and collective. The effects of sin are also moral and spiritual bondage, guilt, death, and hell.”[13] The Bible has multiple words relative to sin, all of which convey its causes, its nature, and its consequences. As Robert Eagan illustrates, “Sin – that is, alienation from self-transcendence due to failure to be attentive, intelligent, reasonable, and responsible – results in faulty apprehensions of value, and subsequent false judgments of value, and ultimately in poor decisions and wrong actions. This notion of sin takes into account the role of feelings in the apprehension and judgment of value.”[14] Crisp asserts, “Original sin is a real moral corruption or deformity of soul that affects all human beings with the exception of Christ.”[15] This view is rooted in the bedrock of Anglicanism, and Article 9, which states, “Original Sin is the fault and corruption of the Nature of every man, that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam; whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and is of his own nature inclined to evil, so that the flesh lusteth always contrary to the Spirit and in every person born into this world, it deserveth God’s wrath and damnation.”[16]

PURPOSE OF SIN

Temptation exists when something or someone attempts to influence another person to sin. Jesus Himself was tempted, so the act of being tempted is not sin, but acting on those thoughts is. God does not tempt His children, (James 1:13-15) but Satan does. In an attempt to corrupt the world, Satan wants everyone to live in total depravity, but as Frame demonstrates, “The corruption of sin remains until death, but it grows weaker and weaker, through the continual strength from the sanctifying Spirit of Christ. Scripture promises victory in Jesus, so the final word about the believer is not corruption, but overcoming. Paul said, ‘For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace’” (Romans 6:14).[17]

The doctrine of sin reveals man’s fallen nature and often can be difficult to identify. Frame shows, “Many people are unable to grasp the concept of sin as a inner force, an inherent condition, a controlling power. People today think more in terms of sins as wrongful acts. Sins are something external and concrete, logically separable from the person. On this basis, one who has not done anything wrong [generally conceived of as an external act] is considered good.”[18] In today’s society, sins are often ranked by a variety of manmade circumstances. In the judicial system, there are felonies and misdemeanors and each crime will carry with it a sentence or judgment. In a like manner, Christians often do the same thing with sin, but in God’s eyes all sin is still sin. While there can be some argument that blasphemy of the Holy Spirit was considered an unpardonable sin, a proper understanding of the historical context and environment Jesus was speaking in reveals His authority came from the Spirit of the Father.

Joseph Haven provides two logically possible suppositions on the existence of sin in the world: “(1) That God cannot entirely prevent sin and (2) That for some reason, He does not choose to prevent it. Each of these propositions supposes what the other denies; and, as such, by the laws of contradiction, and of excluded middle, while they cannot both be true, one or the other must be true.”[19] It is the view of this writer that God chooses not to prevent sin based on four principles highlighted by Haven: (1) Because its existence is in itself desirable; (2) because, though not in itself desirable, it is still the necessary means of the greatest good; (3) because, thought not in itself tending to good, it may be overruled to that result; or (4) because, in general terms, its permission will involve less evil that its absolute prevention. The most valid response is the permission of sin serves the greater good and that God allow its presence, under specific restrictions. Haven then asserts, “It is not sin, but the purpose on the part of God not to do more than He is doing to prevent sin, that is for the best. [This view] puts the existence of sin, not in the light of a greater good, but only of a lesser evil.”[20] Harrison further demonstrates how, “The consequences of sin are so terrible that in permitting it the righteous and just God must see it as essential to the achievement of a purpose who benefits are of supreme importance to Himself.”[21] Upon this premise, Harrison claims sin entered the creation for three primary reasons: (1) God desired His creature to know Him and receive His blessings; (2) The freedom to choose exercised without any influence by God was the direct cause of sin; and (3) Sin and all of its consequences were necessary to show His love and holiness, and the inability of man and angel apart from God, not only to be redeemed, but so every creature would understand.[22]

EFFECTS OF SIN

Sin always leads to more sin, and ultimately suffering, but even in this state, God uses suffering, according to His good purposes to: transform and to save the sinner. Kenneth Himma, when dealing with the continuing-sin response, illustrates this premise claiming, “There is no wrong any person can do in this life that merits an infinite punishment and hence that punishment would be disproportionate to his or her worldly wrongdoing.”[23] [24] King David and his sin with Bathsheba is a prime example (Psalm 51 & 2 Samuel 11). To cover up the sin of adultery, David ultimately ends up committing murder by sending Uriah to the front lines to die at the hands of his enemies in battle. Himma then explains, “The most likely response by traditionalists is to deny that punishment in hell is disproportionate to the sum of one’s worldly sins and to embrace some form of the controversial thesis that sin against an infinite being is infinite.”[25] Mattias Gockel illustrates four claims which shows evil and suffering to be essentially two sides to the same coin: “(1) Evil is defined by events in which someone experiences ills, not by an act of the will or an evil intention; (2) One must distinguish carefully between suffering and various forms of evil; (3) Suffering is not always and in every case evil; and (4) From a Christian perspective, evil is something God has overcome through good.”[26] According to Friedrich Schleiermacher, “The existence of sin with and besides grace is ordered for us by God, since a consciousness of sin continues to exist besides a consciousness of grace.”[27] However, due to the consequences of sin and the effects of the fall, guilt, punishment, and corruption are the results. Erickson adds, “The impact of sin has several dimensions. There are effects on the sinner’s relationships with God and fellow humans, as well as oneself.”[28] Sins against God lead to guilt, punishment, and death; sins against oneself cause denial, strongholds, enslavement, and selfishness; and sins against community cause rejection, isolation, and inability to care about the needs of others. Octavio Esqueda demonstrates how, “Sin permeates our entire being and alienates us from ourselves, other people, our world, and most importantly from our Creator.”[29] The more people look to the world for answers; Esqueda explains the more culture continues to play a dominant role in determining what is right and wrong. Esqueda then explains sin’s primary role is to diminish God’s plan for His creation, leading to lives being corrupted, isolated, and prideful. These traits are detrimental because each is contrary to God’s nature. Esqueda explains because, “We are communal beings as our triune God is, our sinful pride makes us focus only on our self-interest and [this causes one to] neglect God and others. The more we pursue our own happiness by our own efforts and for our own benefits, the more lonely and isolated we become. This is the fallacy of sin!”[30]

Everyone is born into the world as sinners because of Adam’s sin. David Wilcox explains, “Adam’s sin is and was therefore indeed our sin – for Adam’s sin is embedded in those who make us human, and they can only make us after their image. Adam’s rebellion has come down to us generation after generation – culturally transmitted, and neurologically inevitable.”[31] Ian Boyd, when dealing with the issue of self-destroying sin, demonstrates how the problem of sin and evil is often contested when it affects the unwilling suffering of innocents. Boyd explains, “The problem of self-destroying sin can lead a Christian to doubt God’s power or God’s goodness toward the one who sins self-destructively. God appears to betray and be unable to save and redeem, which calls Christianity itself into question because of the central promise of redemption from sin.”[32] Despite this view, the justice and love of God work in conformity.

DEFEAT OF SIN

The law was ultimately incapable of providing life to those who adhered to it, as Dirk Venter explains, “All sin was collectively condemned by God in the flesh of Jesus Christ, and He bore that condemnation out in the destruction of His flesh. Those who partake of this reality through their participation or inclusion ‘in Christ’ by faith can boldly proclaim with Paul that ‘there is now no condemnation for me’” (Romans 8:1).[33] Thomas further explains the mission of Christ and how, “Christian faith teaches that sin cannot be overcome through human ingenuity or effort. The solution to the problem lies in what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. The penalty for sin is death, judgment, and hell, but the gospel is that God has chosen to pay this penalty Himself in the sacrificial life and death of His Son, Jesus Christ.”[34] The vicarious atonement Christ provided at Calvary made a way not only to restore fellowship with the Father, but also to provide payment in full for all past, present, and future sin. Only an infinite God could cover the multitude of sin found within mankind’s fallen nature.

In 1 Corinthians 15:55-56, Paul wrote, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.” Here, Gordon Fee shows, “The law not only makes sin observable as sin, but also, and more significantly, shows that one’s actions are finally over against God, and thus leads to condemnation. The law, which is good, functions as the agent of sin because it either leads to pride of achievement, or reveals the depth of one’s depravity and rebellion against God, becoming either death-dealing or life-giving.”[35] Ultimately, Jesus conquered and defeated sin, through his death, burial, and resurrection. The fashion in which He did it bears mention. 1 Peter 2:24 declares, “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed.” Peter Davids illustrates, “Because of its use in Deuteronomy 21:22, the idea that the one so hung was cursed by God cannot be far from the author’s mind, but without explicitly mentioning this he points out that this death was vicarious, for it was “our sins” that he bore.”[36] This curse is reminiscent of the curse that fell upon mankind as the result of “original sin” in the Garden of Eden. In 1 John 2:2, Jesus is referred to as, “The atoning sacrifice or the propitiation for our sins.” These two translations represent an atonement made for sin and a sacrifice made to God. Howard Marshall explains Jesus was acting as our advocate before God, and, “Jesus is pleading the case of guilty sinners before a judge who is being petitioned to pardon their acknowledged guilt. He is not being asked to declare them innocent, i.e. to say that there is no evidence that they have sinned, but rather to grant them pardon for their acknowledged sins.”[37]

CONCLUSION

The existence of sin and the mystery of why a good God would allow its presence in a creation in which He declared as being good is a direct result of mankind’s free will. While sin did not originate with man, its effects and curse are still felt throughout time. As a result of the fall, sin has plagued humanity, leaving many to question God’s motives. While the problem of evil is a moral problem,[38] the problem of sin is the process of death at work in the lives of God’s children. C. S. Lewis suggests, God in His omniscience “Saw that from a world of free creatures, even though they fell, He could work out… a deeper happiness and a fuller splendor than any world of automata would admit.”[39] Norman Geisler advances this theory by suggesting, “The ultimate goal of a perfect world with free creatures will have been achieved, but the way to get there requires that those who abuse their freedom be cast out.”[40] Lewis then adds, “The freedom of a creature must mean freedom to choose: and choice implies the existence of things to choose between.”[41] While free will makes it possible to choose wrong, Geisler emphasizes, “Forced love is rape; and God is not a divine rapist.”[42] God desires everyone to be saved, but He will never do anything to coerce one’s decision. Lewis put it best, “The door of hell is locked on the inside. [All who go there choose to] because there are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’”[43] When Christ died for all of humanity’s sins, Ravi Zacharias articulates how, “God’s justice demands that sin be punished, but His love compels Him to save sinners, [so] surely justice and mercy kissed on the cross at Calvary.”[44]

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Betenson, Toby. “Evaluative Claims within the Problem of Evil.” Religious Studies 51, no. 3 (09, 2015): 361-77, http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/docview/1703895888?accountid=12085 (accessed May 10, 2017).

Boyd, Ian T. E. “The problem of self-destroying sin in John Milton’s Samson Agonistes.” Faith and Philosophy 13, no. 4 (October, 1996): 487-507. (accessed May 10, 2017).

Block, Daniel I. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Ezekiel Chapters 25-48. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976.

Crisp, Oliver D. “On Original Sin.” International Journal of Systematic Theology, 17, (June 2015): 252–266. doi: 10.1111/ijst.12107 (accessed May 10, 2017).

Davids, Peter H. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The First Epistle of Peter (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990.

Durden, John. “The Doctrine of Sin.” Filmed [2015], Liberty University Website, THEO 525, Course Content, Week Seven Video Presentation. 12:48. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_351169_1&content_id=_16910176_1 (accessed May 11, 2017).

Egan, Robert. “Epistemological Foundations for A Theology of Sin.” The Heythrop Journal, 57, (May 2016): 553–567. doi: 10.1111/heyj.12318 (accessed May 10, 2017).

Elwell, Walter A. ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. 2nd Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2001.

Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. 3rd Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2013.

Esqueda, Octavio Javier. “Sin and Christian Teaching.” Christian Education Journal 8, no. 1 (Spring 2011): 164-176. General OneFile http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/ps/i.do?p=ITOF&sw=w&u=vic_liberty&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA254754469&sid=summon&asid=7cd444ab8fa87f29079655e13d84de39 (accessed May 10, 2017).

Fee, Gordon D. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The First Epistle to the Corinthians. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987.

Frame, John M. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2013.

Geisler, Norman L. The Problem of Evil, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing, 1999.

Geisler, Norman L. and Ronald M. Brooks. When Skeptics Ask. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 1995.

Gockel, Matthias. “‘Be not overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good’: an orientational approach to suffering and evil.” Modern Theology 25, no. 1 (January 2009): 97-105. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed May 10, 2017).

Groothuis, Douglas. Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011.

Harrison, William K. (William Kelly). “Origin of Sin.” Bibliotheca Sacra 130, no. 517 (January 1973): 58-61. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed May 10, 2017).

Haven, Joseph. “Sin, As Related To Human Nature And To The Divine Purpose.” Bibliotheca Sacra 020, no. 79 (July 1863): 445-488. (accessed May 10, 2017).

Himma, Kenneth Einar. “Eternally Incorrigible: The Continuing-Sin Response to the Proportionality Problem of Hell.” Religious Studies 39, no. 1 (2003): 61-78. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20008447 (accessed May 10, 2017).

Lewis, C. S. The Complete C. S. Lewis Signature Classics: The Problem of Pain. New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers, 2002.

Marshall, I. Howard. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistles of John. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1978.

Moo, Douglas J. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Romans. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996.

Oswalt, John N. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Isaiah Chapters 1-39. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976.

Schleiermacher, Friedrich. Der christliche Glaube, nach den Grundsätzen der Evangelischen Kirche im Zusammenhange dargestellt. Zweite Auflage 1830/31 (Kritische Gesamtausgabe 1/13), ed. Rolf Schäfer (Berlin, New York: de Gruyter, 2003), vol. 1     (§ 80).

The Church of England Website, “Article IX Of Original or Birth-sin.” https://www.churchofengland.org/prayer-worship/worship/book-of-common-prayer/articles-of-religion.aspx#IX (accessed May 11, 2017).

Venter, Dirk J. “Romans 8:3-4 and God’s resolution of the threefold problems of sin, the incapability of the law and the weakness of the flesh.” In die Skriflig 48, no. 1 (2014). Academic OneFile http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/ps/i.do?p=AONE&sw=w&u=vic_liberty&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA406163579&asid=6a1e0a7a5321bc7b9c4c11a1a02b29d6 (accessed May 10, 2017).

Wilcox, David L. “A proposed model for the evolutionary creation of human beings: From the image of God to the origin of sin.” Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 68, no. 1 (2016): 22-43. Academic OneFile http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/ps/i.do?p=AONE&sw=w&u=vic_liberty&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA486164679&sid=summon&asid=e80c6aa2b9a2eae051ab74327ee96e56 (accessed May 10, 2017).

Zacharias, Ravi and Norman Geisler. Who Made God? And Answers to Over 100 Other Questions of Faith. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003.

[1] Douglas J. Moo, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 477-478.

[2] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2013), 557.

[3] Ibid., 560.

[4] John M. Frame, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2013), 852.

[5] John N. Oswalt, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Isaiah Chapters 1-39 (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976), 323.

[6] Daniel I. Block, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Ezekiel Chapters 25-48 (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976), 98.

[7] Block, TNICOT, The Book of Ezekiel, 117.

[8] William K. Harrison, “Origin of Sin,” Bibliotheca Sacra 130, no. 517 (January 1973): 60. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed May 10, 2017).

[9] Oliver D. Crisp, “On Original Sin,” International Journal of Systematic Theology, 17, (June 2015): 256. doi: 10.1111/ijst.12107 (accessed May 10, 2017).

[10] Erickson, Christian Theology, 517-529.

[11] John Durden, “The Doctrine of Sin,” Filmed [2015], Liberty University Website, THEO 525, Course Content, Week Seven Video Presentation, 12:48. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_351169_1&content_id=_16910176_1 (accessed May 11, 2017).

[12] Durden, “The Doctrine of Sin.”

[13] R. L. Thomas, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. 2nd Edition. ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2001), 1103-1104.

[14] Robert Egan, “Epistemological Foundations for A Theology of Sin,” The Heythrop Journal, 57, (May 2016): 553–567. doi: 10.1111/heyj.12318 (accessed May 10, 2017).

[15] Crisp, “On Original Sin,” 258.

[16] The Church of England Website, “Article IX Of Original or Birth-sin,” https://www.churchofengland.org/prayer-worship/worship/book-of-common-prayer/articles-of-religion.aspx#IX (accessed May 11, 2017).

[17] Frame, Systematic Theology, 870.

[18] Erickson, Christian Theology, 516.

[19] Joseph Haven, “Sin, As Related To Human Nature And To The Divine Purpose,” Bibliotheca Sacra 020, no. 79 (July 1863): 472. (accessed May 10, 2017).

[20] Haven, “Sin, As Related To Human Nature And To The Divine Purpose,” 481 & 483.

[21] Harrison, “Origin of Sin,” 60.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Kenneth Einar Himma, “Eternally Incorrigible: The Continuing-Sin Response to the Proportionality Problem of Hell,” Religious Studies 39, no. 1 (2003): 69. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20008447 (accessed May 10, 2017).

[24] See also William Wainwright, “Original Sin,” in Thomas V. Morris (ed.) Philosophy and the Christian Faith (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1988), 34-35.

[25] Himma, “Eternally Incorrigible,” 77.

[26] Mattias Gockel, “Be not overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good: an orientational approach to suffering and evil.” Modern Theology 25, no. 1 (January 2009): 97. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed May 10, 2017)

[27] Friedrich Schleiermacher, Der christliche Glaube, nach den Grundsätzen der Evangelischen Kirche im Zusammenhange dargestellt. Zweite Auflage 1830/31 (Kritische Gesamtausgabe 1/13), ed. Rolf Schäfer (Berlin, New York: de Gruyter, 2003), vol. 1, p. 488 (§ 80).

[28] Erickson, Christian Theology, 548.

[29] Octavio Javier Esqueda, “Sin and Christian Teaching,” Christian Education Journal 8, no. 1 (Spring 2011): 164. General OneFile. http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/ps/i.do?p=ITOF&sw=w&u=vic_liberty&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA254754469&sid=summon&asid=7cd444ab8fa87f29079655e13d84de39 (accessed May 10, 2017).

[30] Esqueda, “Sin and Christian Teaching,” 166.

[31] David L. Wilcox, “A proposed model for the evolutionary creation of human beings: From the image of God to the origin of sin.” Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 68, no. 1 (2016): 22-43. Academic OneFile http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/ps/i.do?p=AONE&sw=w&u=vic_liberty&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA486164679&sid=summon&asid=e80c6aa2b9a2eae051ab74327ee96e56 (accessed May 10, 2017).

[32] Ian T. E. Boyd, “The problem of self-destroying sin in John Milton’s Samson Agonistes,” Faith and Philosophy 13, no. 4 (October, 1996): 489. (accessed May 10, 2017).

[33] Dirk J. Venter, “Romans 8:3-4 and God’s resolution of the threefold problems of sin, the incapability of the law and the weakness of the flesh,” In die Skriflig 48, no. 1 (2014). Academic OneFile http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/ps/i.do?p=AONE&sw=w&u=vic_liberty&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA406163579&asid=6a1e0a7a5321bc7b9c4c11a1a02b29d6 (accessed May 10, 2017).

[34] Thomas, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 1106.

[35] Gordon D. Fee, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987), 806.

[36] Peter H. Davids, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The First Epistle of Peter (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 112.

[37] I. Howard Marshall, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistles of John (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1978), 118.

[38] Toby Betenson, “Evaluative Claims within the Problem of Evil.” Religious Studies 51, no. 3 (09, 2015): 361. http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/docview/1703895888?accountid=12085 (accessed May 10, 2017).

[39] C. S. Lewis, The Complete C. S. Lewis Signature Classics: The Problem of Pain (New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers, 2002), 561.

[40] Norman L. Geisler and Ronald M. Brooks, When Skeptics Ask (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 1995), 73.

[41] Lewis, The Problem of Pain, 562.

[42] Geisler and Brooks, When Skeptics Ask, 73.

[43] Lewis, The Problem of Pain, 120.

[44] Ravi Zacharias and Norman Geisler, Who Made God? And Answers to Over 100 Other Questions of Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003), 31.

 

Doctrine, Theology, and Religion

doctrine

It should be no surprise with the multiplicity of world religions and various denominations within each that even defining the word doctrine has proven to be problematic. Millard Erickson asserts, “Doctrines consist of genuine knowledge about God, and that religion involves the whole person: intellect, emotions, and will. This view of doctrine and theology has two major advantages: it enables us to account for the full richness and complexity of human religions… [and] it fits more closely the actual understanding of religion and doctrine with which the early church and the authors of Scripture”[1] However, liberation theologians, such as Gustavo Gutiérrez, believe “Religion is clearly pragmatic, concerned with alleviating the injustices within the human race, [making] the role of doctrine speaking to those inequities. Theology, then, becomes a critical reflection on praxis.”[2] Others, like John Hick, take a more subjective view of religion claiming, “The essence of religion is an experience of the one great reality, which he terms the ‘Eternal One.’ Doctrines, then, whether of different religions or of varying denominations within a given religion, are the differing interpretations various groups of people place on this generic experience as they interpret it through the grid of their own culture.”[3] Lastly, postliberals like George Lindbeck hold to a view that “Rejects both the idea that religion consists primarily of its doctrinal teachings in proportional form and that it is primarily an expression of emotional experience. [This cultural-linguistic view] is the idea that religion is a set of categories or teachings that each culture constructs to interpret life and on the basis of which its members function.”[4] Erickson further explains, “Doctrine on this view, is a second-level activity that serves a regulative function. Rather than giving us ontological knowledge about God, doctrines are rules governing the community. [Ultimately,] it does not grow out of experience so much as it shapes it. It is a story, told by its adherents, on the basis of which serves a regulative function.”[5]

The extent to which Christians view the Bible as being, valid, primary, authoritative, and inerrant is the foundational piece to any doctrine. As P. D. Feinberg explains, “The question of authority is central for any theology, [so] biblical inerrancy is [a highly debated topic, which] views that when all the facts become made known, they will demonstrate that the Bible in its original autographs and correctly interpreted is entirely true and never false in all it affirms, whether that relates to doctrine or ethics or to any life sciences.”[6] Erickson similarly defines inerrancy as, “The Bible, when correctly interpreted in light of the level to which culture and the means of communication had developed at the time it was written, and in view of the purposes for which it was given, is fully truthful in all that it affirms.”[7] Through the study of this course, this writer has become more resolute on the topic of inerrancy and believes the Bible makes no false or misleading statements about matters of faith and practice, but admits there are grounds to debate the infallibility of the church’s interpretation and teachings throughout the centuries. Human beings are flawed and Feinberg explains, “Human knowledge is limited in two ways: first, because of our finitude and sinfulness, human beings misinterpret the data that exists; and second, we do not possess all the data that comes to bear on the Bible.”[8] However, when it comes to the Bible, “The writers were under the supernatural influence of the Holy Spirit, which rendered their writings an accurate record of the revelation or that resulted in what they wrote actually being the Word of God.”[9] The main issue faced, throughout history, was how to preserve this revelation and for multiple generations, oral tradition was used, which certainly made it possible for specific details to be modified and/or changed. Because of this and other issues resulting in various scribes’ translations, this writer holds to more of a full inerrancy view. Absolute inerrancy has some questionable areas pertaining to history and science. For example, II Peter 3:8 says, “A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day.”

Feinberg further explains why the doctrine and debate of biblical inerrancy is very relevant to the church today, by illuminating how the Bible is a divine-human book so, “To deny the authority of the original is to undermine the authority of the Bible the Christian has today [and] to deemphasize either side of its authorship is a mistake.”[10] Additionally, biblical inerrancy does not explain how to interpret Scripture; that is the job of hermeneutics; however, it does assert, “Whatever statements the Bible affirms are fully truthful when they are correctly interpreted in terms of their meaning in their cultural setting and the [original] purpose for which they were written.”[11] Erickson adds, “Scripture inspired by God is necessary because it confirms the nature of God’s special revelations through Scripture”[12] and this is one of the primary ways God made Himself known to man. The argument for biblical inerrancy rests on the foundation that the Bible is the inspired Word of God or “God-breathed” (II Timothy 3:16). Additionally, as Erickson illuminates, “If the Bible is not inerrant, then our knowledge of God may be inaccurate and unreliable.”[13] The final argument for the inerrancy of the Bible is Jesus, Paul, and the apostle’s teaching Scripture as though it was authoritative, leading the church to continue that tradition and hold fast to the inerrancy of the Bible. Ultimately, it comes down to one’s belief in the power and authority of God’s Word and whether or not Scripture then leads a person to change his or her behavior and/or conviction.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Elwell, Walter A. ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. 2nd Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2001.

Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. 3rd Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2013.

Frame, John M. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2013.

Gutiérrez, Gustavo. A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics, and Salvation. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1973.

Hick, John. God Has Many Names. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 1982.

Lindbeck, George A. The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 1984.

[1] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2013), 383.

[2] Gustavo Gutiérrez, A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics, and Salvation (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1973), 6-15.

[3] John Hick, God Has Many Names (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 1982), 42-51.

[4] George A. Lindbeck, The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 1984), 32-41.

[5] Erickson, Christian Theology, 7.

[6] P.D. Feinberg, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd Edition, ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2001), 156.

[7] Erickson, Christian Theology, 201-202.

[8] Feinberg, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 156.

[9] Erickson, Christian Theology, 169.

[10] Feinberg, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 159.

[11] Erickson, Christian Theology, 206.

[12] Ibid., 168.

[13] Ibid., 188.

[14] P.D. Feinberg, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd Edition, ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2001), 156.

[15] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2013), 169.

[16] P.D. Feinberg, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd Edition, ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2001), 157-158.

[17] Ibid.,158.

[18] Ibid., 157-158.

[19] Feinberg, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 159.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Erickson, Christian Theology, 202-205.

[22] Feinberg, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 159.

[23] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2013), 206.

[24] Ibid., 168.

[25] Ibid., 188.

Four Approaches to Theology

theology

While theology is the rational reflection on God/god(s) and every religion, regardless of simplicity or intricacy has a theology, Bruce Demarest defines systematic theology as, “the attempt to reduce religious truth to a coherent and relevant whole for the church [which serves to:] (1) edify the believing community, (2) allow the gospel in its fullness to be proclaimed, and (3) preserve the truth content and lived experience of the faith.”[1] Demarest further illustrates, “systematic theology concerns itself with God’s saving history with His people, the utterances of divinely ordained prophets and apostles, and supremely the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.”[2]

            In contrast, Demarest explains how, “biblical theology sets forth the message of biblical books by author or other scheme, while historical theology traces the church’s faith topically through various eras of history. [Then,] systematic theology incorporates the data of exegetical, biblical, and historical theology to construct a coherent representation of the Christian faith.”[3] Lastly, philosophical theology is also utilized by systematic theology and Millard Erickson highlights three contributions, “philosophy may: (1) supply content for theology, (2) defend theology or establish its truth, and (3) scrutinize its concepts and arguments.”[4] Philosophical theology prepares one to receive the special revelation revealed in Scripture and Erickson, explains how, “Philosophy also performs the second function of weighing the truth-claims advanced by theology and giving part of the basis for accepting the message.”[5]

When looking at each branch of theology, it is apparent systematic theology and biblical theology are closely connected, however, as Erickson demonstrates, “in biblical theology, there is no attempt to contemporize or to state these unchanging concepts in a form suitable for our day’s understanding, [but Erickson does recognize,] the systematic theologian is dependent on the work and insights of the laborers in the exegetical vineyard.”[6] Historical theology also contributes to systematic theology, as it makes one aware of his or her own preunderstanding or presuppositions, it always one to look back at how other theologians in the past approached a specific topic, tradition, or issue, and it also provides the ability to analyze a specific belief by looking back to exactly where and when it began, which allows today’s scholars the ability to see how people came to various professions of faith, conclusions, and/or deductions.

In a ministerial setting, an understanding of each field of study is necessary, but overall, systematic theology appears to provide the most benefit and context. Demarest demonstrates, “Although Scripture is inviolable, fresh theological understanding and reformation are required in every generation and for every culture, first, because the corpus of Christian truth must be clad in every distinctive cultural form and context, and second, because new issues and problems arise to challenge the church, [so] theologians need to be continually re-contextualized.”[7] Being proficient in systematic theology allows one the ability to openly communicate the gospel message while also being able to provide a relevant rationale why one should choose the Christian faith over other various belief systems. However, without an understanding of the other fields of theology, one will have a difficult time utilizing systematic theology to its fullest potential.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Elwell, Walter A. ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. 2nd Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2001.

Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. 3rd Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2013.

Frame, John M. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2013.

[1] Bruce A. Demarest, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. 2nd Edition, ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2001), 1162-1163.

[2] Ibid., 1163.

[3] Ibid., 1164.

[4] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology. 3rd Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2013), 13-14.

[5] Erickson, Christian Theology, 14.

[6] Ibid., 10-11.

[7] Demarest, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 1162.

Finding the Messiah in the Psalms

psalms

ABSTRACT & PURPOSE OF BIBLE STUDY

Bible Study Class: How to find the Messiah in the Psalms.

Summary Statement: All psalms have a relationship to the person and/or work of Christ, not just the traditional Messianic psalms.

Goal: This study’s goal is not to uncover Christ in every verse, but instead to understand how the major concepts and ideas of the Old Testament are foundational in understanding the person and work of Christ. Additionally, by understanding the different roles the Messiah/Jesus played in the psalms will enable the reader/student to view the psalms and the Old Testament through a new Christological lens.

PART I: UNDERSTANDING GENRE AND CONTEXT

            Genre classifications are vital to understanding a psalm in terms of proper context, mood, and structure and Richard Belcher correctly shows how the genre of a psalm also has implications for how a psalm relates to Christ.[1] When looking at genre, Belcher emphasizes it is critical to, “take into consideration the context of the psalm in its historical or literary setting, the unfolding of revelation through redemptive history, the unity of the purposes of God for His people, and the fullness of revelation in Jesus Christ.”[2]

Points to Avoid

            The reader must not solely focus only on the human author because this limits the meaning to only the historical or literary context and does not allow for the development of legitimate connections to Christ. Such connections only arise when the major concepts of a psalm are understood in their proper context and when those concepts in redemptive history are also understood.”[3] Additionally, as Gary Yates advises, “We must first do our work of establishing the original and historical message of the Old Testament text, but then we must also consider the canonical implications of the Old Testament text in light of its fuller canonical context in the New Testament. [Above all else,] we must be faithful to both.”

Key Themes About Jesus/Messiah in the Psalms

            One of the greatest ways to identify and understand the Messianic nature of the psalms is to analyze how Jesus viewed the Old Testament, specifically the encounter Jesus had with the two individuals on the road to Emmaus.[4] Belcher demonstrates why this is so significant, because “If Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament Scriptures, then the Old Testament itself must be seen as preparatory and incomplete, moving toward the coming of the One who would fulfill all things. Thus the Old Testament is anticipatory and always looking ahead.”[5]

The covenant of marriage is a common concept used throughout the Old Testament[6] and New Testament[7] to define the relationship between Christ and His people. Paul portrays the oneness of marriage and the covenant role Christ plays in His relationship with the church[8] and Belcher illustrates, “Jesus points to Himself as the bridegroom and uses the parable of the royal marriage[9] to emphasize the necessity of accepting the invitation to the wedding feast and to come wearing the proper robe given by the king.”[10]

Psalm 22 pictures the Messiah as the suffering servant and is best understood first in its Old Testament context and then in terms of the crucifixion of Jesus. Belcher depicts “the suffering of the individual in Psalm 22 as a type of Christ’s suffering.”[11] This Messianic psalm has elements of both typology and prophecy and is best described as an individual lament, but also includes a section of praise and thanksgiving following God’s answer. Belcher shows the deliverance of the son of Jesse is a foreshadowing of the ultimate deliverance of the son of David and he rightly identifies, “All aspects of the work of Christ come into view in Psalm 22: His priestly work of suffering on our behalf; His prophetic work of proclaiming His deliverance; and His kingly work of reigning over all things.”[12]

When looking at royal psalms, especially in their historical context, the Lord was adopting the king as His son and the Lord was putting him on the throne as His human vice-regent. Belcher illustrates, “[While] the king leads the people in military battle, Yahweh is the one who ultimately fights for His people and wins the victory.”[13][14] Nancy deClaissé-Walford et al. further clarify, “The deification of the human king was pervasive in Israel and these ideas were adapted into a concept of the king being the ‘son of God,’ an earthly representative of the Lord, chosen by the Lord to rule over the people Israel.”[15] Frank E. Gaebelein further explains, “The king was God’s anointed representative [and] submission to the king implied submission to the God of Israel.”[16] John Walvoord brilliantly illustrates how the trilogy of Psalm 22, 23, and 24 gives a panoramic view of Christ. Walvoord expounds how, “Psalm 22 speaks of His work as the Good Shepherd dying on the cross for our sins.[17] Psalm 23 speaks of His present care for His own as the Great Shepherd,[18] interceding for them in heaven. Psalm 24 [then] describes Christ as the King of Glory, the Chief Shepherd,[19] who will enter the gates of Jerusalem.”

The psalms also picture Jesus as being a second Adam, by which communion was restored between God and humanity. Jesus is then pictured being a second David, by which the Davidic covenant truly becomes fulfilled and salvation was made possible. At the same time, while these passages often foreshadow a future event, they also demonstrate the humanity of Jesus. Psalm 41:9 captures the immense betrayal of a close friend, which Jesus would suffer at the hands of Judas Iscariot. Isaiah 53:3 prophesizes the Messiah would be despised and rejected, leading right back to Psalm 41:9, which showed betrayal was not a foreign experience to David.

Scholars use a variety of approaches to determine if a passage is directly or indirectly referring to Jesus. For example, the historical-critical approach has issues declaring any of the psalms as being Messianic because any hope for the future was centered in a historical king and as Belcher illuminates, “The problem with an approach that denies any Messianic elements in the psalms is that it disconnects the original meaning of the Old Testament from the New Testament.”[20] The literary critical approach moves away from a strictly historical view and emphasizes a more literary view, but as Belcher explains, “it still suffers from a dichotomy between the original meaning of the psalms and the New Testament interpretation.”[21] The historical grammatical approach is a step in the right direction, with the goal of affirming the importance of the divine element in the psalms, but “there is still no agreement on how to determine whether a psalm is Messianic…”[22] However, the Christological approach Belcher uses combines elements of the previous three methods by highlighting the “importance of historical context, the grammar of the Old Testament text, the literary characteristics of the text, what the text teaches about God (theology), the significance of the divine author, and sees the New Testament as a guide to how we approach the psalms.”[23] In this final approach, both the human author and divine author play a significant role. Belcher explains, “without taking into account the implications of a divine author, one is left trying to bridge the gap between the historical meaning of a psalm and a later meaning related to Christ. Focusing only on a human author limits the meaning to the historical or literary context and does not allow the development of legitimate connections to Christ.”[24] Ultimately, without Christ, the purpose of the Old Testament can never be fully understood.

PART II: TYPES OF MESSIANIC PSALMS

Royal Psalms

            Royal psalms are prayers offered to the Davidic king during special times, wars, or events based on the covenant promises that God made to the house of David, that his sons would rule forever.[25] Clarence Bullock identifies the common thread that holds these psalms together is the subject of kingship and, “The most obvious criteria are they (1) refer to the ‘king,’ (2) mention the ‘anointed’ one as a noun or make use of the verb, and (3) they refer to David by name.”[26] Royal psalms pray for the king of the day, but they also point to Jesus, specifically the indirect Messianic psalms because only Jesus can fulfill all the prophetic elements. This is clearly seen in Psalm 2 and serves as a great example, especially how verse 6 shows how the Lord has put the king on the throne and given historical context, this would be like the Lord adopting the king as His son. DeClaissé-Walford et al. demonstrate, “The themes of speech and kingship continue to be developed as the king reports God’s words and promises: He said to me, ‘You are my son, today I have begotten you.’ In the Old Testament, as in other parts of the ancient Near East, the king was considered God’s son.[27] Many interpreters interpret the announcement today I have begotten you as a reference to God adopting the king as a son.”[28] Essentially, the Lord was establishing the king as His human vice-regent. Psalm 89 is another important royal psalm, especially considering when it was written. There was a crisis and serious problem when this psalm was penned because the Davidic rule had been compromised due to the Babylonian exile. However, despite the disobedience in the house of David that led to God removing the king from the throne, the purpose of this psalm is to ask the Lord what happened to His covenant promise, so this psalm is uttered in a way that is hoping and expecting God to keep His promise.

Typological Prophetic Messianic Psalms

            These psalms involve typology, which simply means they employ analogies or comparisons. This is commonly seen between David and Jesus or the righteous sufferer and Jesus. Psalm 41 is a great example, specifically verse 9 as DeClaissé-Walford et al. highlight, “The psalmist asserts that the suffering he is experiencing is exacerbated by those around him. When the text of the psalm is examined closely, it seems as if the sin of the enemies is a sin of omission rather than of commission and rather than acting as active agents of evil, the enemies have turned their backs on the psalmist by giving up hope for his recovery and by expecting his demise.”[29] Looking ahead to John 13:18, Leon Morris shows how quoting this psalm, “Represented the betrayal not of an acquaintance but of an intimate friend,”[30] which was exactly what the psalmist had experienced. Another good example is Psalm 69:9, which depicts the psalmist enduring persecution due to his devotion and zeal. Then in John 2:17, Morris explains how the Old Testament is present at every crucial moment in the Gospel and he then illustrates, “The action of Jesus gave evidence of a consuming zeal for the house of God and the ancient Scriptures found their fulfillment in what He did. John’s aim [was] showing Jesus to be the Messiah and all His actions imply a special relationship with God, which proceeded from His Messianic vocation.”[31] One of the most important principles to keep in mind is how the New Testament writers viewed the Old Testament, specifically the book of Psalms, which is the most cited book in the New Testament. In addition to seeing the similar roles between David and Jesus, the introduction of the Holy Spirit adds a prophetic element, which allowed the New Testament writers to make these connections.

Prophetic Typological Psalms

            These psalms are very similar to the Typological Prophetic Messianic Psalms, in that analogies, comparisons, and typology are still present. The noticeable difference is these psalms take on more of a prophetic element because as the writer of the psalms speaks of his own experience, the words that he is speaking and the things that he says actually go well beyond his own literal experience. Psalm 16 deals specifically with the deliverance from enemies and in verses 9-10, the psalmist is convinced God will protect him. DeClaissé-Walford et al. demonstrate, “The assurance that a person shall not be moved (bal ʾemmôṭ) is a statement of confidence, because the psalmist trusts in the external grace of the Lord, who is before me continually and is at my right hand.”[32] In Acts 2:25-28; F. F. Bruce further explains how Peter uses this psalm of confidence in his speech regarding the exaltation of Jesus taking place in the fulfillment of God’s promise to David. “The words, ‘you will not abandon my soul to Hades, nor let your holy one see corruption,’ refer therefore to the Messiah of David’s line, ‘great David’s greater Son,’ whom David himself prefigured and in whose name he spoke those words by the Spirit of prophecy. These prophetic words, Peter goes on to argue, have been fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth and in no one else; Jesus of Nazareth is therefore the expected Messiah.”[33]

Purely Prophetic Psalms

            These are specific and direct prophecies found throughout the Old Testament.[34] While there are not many found in the Psalter, Psalm 110 is a royal psalm that proclaims, “The Lord says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’” Writers of the New Testament quote this psalm fourteen times, more than any other passage because of its ability to illuminate the ministry of Jesus Christ, who became prophet, priest, and king over all people. Matthew 22:44 is one such occasion as R. T. France shows, “Apart from this underlying presupposition that the scriptural text is divinely inspired and therefore authoritative, this introductory formula makes three hermeneutical assumptions which will be crucial to Jesus’ argument: (a) that the speaker in Psalm 110 is David; (b) that David is speaking about the Messiah; and (c) that someone described as “my lord” is superior to the one speaking. Of these the third is the most obvious.”[35] What makes this psalm even more profound deals with it being written in the postexilic period, when Israel had no king on the throne. In an attempt to answer why a royal psalm of David was presented here, DeClaissé-Walford et al. explain, “Ancient Israel was seeking a rationale for continued existence as a distinct people within the vast empires. The people chose to find a way to remain a separate entity, so they rebuilt their temple; they resumed their religious observances; they wrote down their history; and they pledged their loyalty to their sovereign God, YHWH, the God of their ancestors.”[36] Here again, the king is depicted as God’s adopted son and while the king fulfilled some of the priestly roles, only Jesus Christ completely fulfills all the prophetic elements of this passage.

Eschatological Kingship Psalms

            These psalms focus on the reign and rule of God Himself and Psalm 47 serves as a great example. In its historical context, this psalm celebrates the kingship of God, making it an enthronement psalm, which also speaks of the lordship of Yahweh over all nations. As Frank Gaebelein indicates, “Its genre conforms to the psalms celebrating Yahweh’s kingship, [but] it also has a prophetic, eschatological dimension as the psalmist longs for the full establishment of God’s rule on earth.”[37] The purpose of this psalm was most likely the celebration of a mighty victory provided to Israel by Yahweh, but it also echoes what will happen in the future when every nation will recognize Yahweh as king. It is important to note every kingship promise found in the Old Testament can be applied to Jesus in the New Testament.[38] Messianic psalms point the reader to Jesus and the psalms are among the most widely cited Scriptures found in the New Testament, as they clearly define the work, role, and worship that Jesus deserves as king.

PART III: A NEW LENS

            Once an understanding of genre and context is gained, the reader is positioned to read the psalms and the Old Testament through a Christological lens. This was something many New Testament writers employed as they witnessed the life, death, and exaltation of Jesus, which provided them with a new insight to interpreting the Old Testament. Daniel Estes and many other scholars agree, “Several psalms have come to be called Messianic psalms even though it is quite likely the original psalmist did not grasp the Messianic dimensions that would later be explicated in the New Testament text.” Essentially, the New Testament writers understood the Old Testament text in a deeper reality that even the original authors might have. One important principle to keep in mind here is the Holy Spirit divinely inspired all Scripture,[39] but until Christ came, many of them were not fully understood.

Whenever contemplating the Messiah and the psalms, context is critical, but it is also important to understand what the fuller implications are as it relates to what Christ has done and what He will come back to finish. New Testament writers understood the historical and literary context of the Old Testament, which enabled them to clearly develop and explain how and why Jesus was the fulfillment of everything the prophetic Old Testament passages spoke of. John Goldingay accurately shows, “In light of Jesus’ coming, the Holy Spirit now inspires people to see significance in the Old Testament that was never there before.” New Testament writers were able to view the psalms in a new way. Psalm 8 is a great example because it is not only is a reflection of God’s creation and man’s role found in the Genesis account, but it also finds fulfillment in Hebrews 2, which applies these verses to Jesus Christ alone and His supremacy. In the original and historical context, man was given dominion, until sin entered the world. As a result, the passage speaks of Jesus and the writer of Hebrews makes a insightful conclusion that while humanity lost the image of God in the Garden, the first coming of Christ restored fellowship with God, and the second coming will make all things new. Jesus not only became a second Adam; He also became and a second David. The writer of Hebrews also recognized that Jesus had essentially become the sin and guilt offering, which was required for the remission of sins.[40] As F. F. Bruce demonstrates, “For a biblical statement of the sacrifice which could take away sins our author goes back to the Psalter,[41] and he finds a prophetic utterance which he recognizes as appropriate to the Son of God at the time of his incarnation. The title of this psalm marks it as Davidic[42] and the words of the psalm could not refer to David in propria persona,[43] and that therefore they should be understood as referring to ‘great David’s greater Son.’”[44]

While the failure of the Davidic Covenant appeared problematic, especially to those living in exile, it is important to understand the difference between the messiah in historical and eschatological terms. Bullock explains, “The historical level refers to the literal meaning: the king is the Israelite king, and David is the David of the Old Testament. By eschatological level, we refer to a future person: the king is a superhuman figure, designated by Yahweh to accomplish a superhuman task, and He is the Messiah, the Christ of the New Testament.”[45]

SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION

            In an effort to find the Messiah in the psalms, this study has sought not to simply uncover Christ in every verse, but instead to understand how the major concepts and ideas of the Old Testament are foundational in understanding the person and work of Christ. Through a proper understanding of genre, historical and literary context, roles of Messiah/Jesus, and how the psalms are viewed through a Christological lens, it is apparent that all psalms have an unbreakable relationship to the person and/or work of Christ, and for that matter, so does the entirety of the Old and New Testament.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Belcher, Richard P. Jr. The Messiah and the Psalms: Preaching Christ from all the Psalms. Scotland, UK: Christian Focus Publications, Ltd., 2006.

Broyles, Craig C. Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Psalms. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 1999.

Bruce, F. F. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Book of Acts. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988.

_______. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Hebrews. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990.

Bullock, Clarence Hassell. Encountering the Book of Psalms: A Literary and Theological Introduction. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2001.

DeClaissé-Walford, Nancy, Rolf Jacobson, and Beth Tanner, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Psalms. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2014.

France, R. T. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Gospel of Matthew. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007.

Keil, Karl and Franz Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament – Volume 5: Psalms. Edinburgh, UK: T. & T. Clark, 1891.

Morris, Leon. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Gospel According to John. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995.

Gaebelein, Frank E. ed., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary – Volume 5: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1991.


[1] Richard P. Belcher Jr., The Messiah and the Psalms: Preaching Christ from all the Psalms (Scotland, UK: Christian Focus Publications, Ltd., 2006), 197.

 

[2] Belcher Jr., The Messiah and the Psalms, 195.

 

[3] Belcher Jr., The Messiah and the Psalms, 195.

 

[4] Luke 24:26-27, 44-47

 

[5] Belcher Jr., The Messiah and the Psalms, 32-33.

 

[6] Hosea 1-3; Psalm 45:10,16-17

 

[7] Revelation 19:6-8, 21:26; Ephesians 2:11-12; & Matthew 22:1-14

 

[8] Ephesians 5:22-27

 

[9] Matthew 22:1-14

 

[10] Belcher Jr., The Messiah and the Psalms, 133.

 

[11] Ibid., 167.

 

[12] Ibid., 172.

 

[13] 1 Chronicles 29:23

 

[14] Belcher Jr., The Messiah and the Psalms, 132.

 

[15] Nancy deClaissé-Walford, Rolf Jacobson, Beth Tanner, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Psalms (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2014), 419.

 

[16] Frank E. Gaebelein, ed., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary – Volume 5: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1991), 347.

 

[17] John 10:11

 

[18] Hebrews 13:20

 

[19] I Peter 5:4

[20] Belcher Jr., The Messiah and the Psalms, 24.

 

[21] Ibid., 25.

 

[22] Ibid., 28.

 

[23] Ibid., 31.

 

[24] Belcher Jr., The Messiah and the Psalms, 195.

 

[25] II Samuel 7

 

[26] Clarence Hassell Bullock, Encountering the Book of Psalms: A Literary and Theological Introduction (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2001), 178.

 

[27] II Samuel 7:14

 

[28] DeClaissé-Walford et al., NICOT– The Book of Psalms, 69.

 

[29] Ibid., 388.

 

[30] Leon Morris, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995), 552.

 

[31] Morris, NICNT – The Gospel According to John. 172.

 

[32] DeClaissé-Walford et al., NICOT– The Book of Psalms, 181.

 

[33] F. F. Bruce, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Book of Acts (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 64.

 

[34] Isaiah 9 & 11; Jeremiah 23 & 33; Hosea 3; & Ezekiel 34

[35] R. T. France, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007), 850.

 

[36] DeClaissé-Walford et al., NICOT– The Book of Psalms, 837-838.

 

[37] Frank E. Gaebelein, ed., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary – Volume 5: Psalms Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1991), 357.

 

[38] Isaiah 45; Zechariah 14; Philippians 2; & Revelation 19

[39] II Timothy 3:16

[40] Hebrews 9:22

 

[41] Psalm 40:6-8

 

[42] It is found in both the Masoretic and Septuagint texts alike.

 

[43] David did offer sacrifices.

 

[44] F. F. Bruce, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 239.

 

[45] Bullock, Encountering the Book of Psalms, 182.