A Clarification (Legalism, An Addendum to Parts 5 and 6)

After posting parts 5 and 6 in my series on legalism, I’ve received some feedback that leads me to believe an important word of clarification is needed at this point.

You can go back and read those posts here:

At this point, I’m not necessarily arguing that Kevin is wrong to denounce a work-righteousness approach to Christianity, and I’m not attempting to build an argument that gives us a back door into a work-righteousness approach to Christianity. I believe Paul (and all of Scripture) is clear that we are saved by God’s grace. God is the primary actor in our salvation – not us. We do not “earn our way to heaven”. Kevin and I agree on these points. I’m not attempting to build an either/or case.

My point is this: if we pay close attention to the contexts in Galatians and Romans, it doesn’t sound like the church was arguing over whether or not we can earn our way to heaven by good works. The major questions Paul was dealing with were “who are we allowed to eat with?” and “who can be welcomed into full Christian fellowship?”

My major criticism is not that Kevin is wrong oppose works-based righteousness (in fact, there are lots of really smart Bible scholars out there who believe that even though the Jew/Gentile relationship was the primary question being wrestled with, these texts still contain seeds, which when fully developed, can certainly be used to denounce a works-righteousness approach towards Christianity). My criticism is simply to point out that Kevin approaches these scriptures through the lens of whether or not we earn our way to heaven, while the early church would have read these scriptures through the lens of thinking about Jew/Gentile relations. To really grasp what these verses are saying (and what they are not saying), it is helpful to go back and read them in that light.

If we define “legalism” as whatever it was Paul was arguing against, we should conclude that Kevin’s book addresses a different kind of legalism from that which was addressed by Paul. Again, this doesn’t make Kevin wrong. It just means he is addressing a different kind of legalism.

The change in emphasis can have several important implications when it comes to how we understand several different scriptures and concepts. These implications will be the focus of the next few posts in this series, so it is important to grasp this point.

It is not necessary to disagree with what Kevin says about works-righteousness in Christianity. But we must recognize that when we think of the question of whether or not we earn our way to heaven, we are dealing with a question that scholars have spent a lot of time wrestling with ever since the reformation movement. But that’s not necessarily the same question the church was wrestling with in the first century.

With that cleared up, I invite you to continue reading Part 7 here:

A Different Kind of Emphasis on the Gospel (Legalism, Part 7 of 14)


A Different Kind of Legalism (Legalism Part 6 of 14)

In the last post we saw how Galatians 2.19 was not written to confront Christians who were trying to earn their way to heaven by doing enough good works. Rather Galatians 2.19 was written in the context of certain Jewish Christians who were refusing to have full fellowship with Gentile Christians unless they adopted certain “works of the law.” In this context, the “works of the law” refer to particular aspects of the law which Jewish Christians were using to exclude Gentiles from being fully welcomed into the family of Abraham. Paul argues against this sectarian exclusiveness by saying that justification is by faith, not because Gentiles are forced into accepting certain Jewish “works of the law” such as circumcision. This basic, but critical mistake distorts the discussion of legalism throughout the entire book and has several implications.

If you haven’t read the earlier posts in this series, I am writing these posts in conversation with Kevin’ Pendergrass’ book “A Different Kind of Poision: How Legalism Destroys Grace”. You can read those previous posts by clicking below:

Another example of this same basic mistake can be seen on page 154 where Kevin quotes from Romans 3:27-28:

Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.

Kevin adds this commentary:

Any law in which we are judged by our works will always end in our condemnation. It is only through faith that we are justified.

Unfortunately, I had taken the law of faith and had turned it into another works-based system. Yet, that was the very point Paul was refuting. We are not justified based upon the works of the law because there is no way anyone can be justified by their own works.

Not only can we not be justified by the works of any law system, we can’t be justified by any works at all, even works of obedience.

Now, ask yourself, is that really the point Paul was refuting? Or was Paul arguing against excluding Gentiles from fellowship within the covenant of God? If, as Kevin has stated, Paul was refuting a works-based system of salvation, then you would probably expect Paul to follow up with some sort of statement about trying to earn your way into heaven. But if Paul was discussing the way Jewish Christians were excluding Gentile Christians, we would probably expect Paul to follow up with some sort of statement about Jewish and Gentile relations. So which is it?

Here’s what Paul says next,

Or is God the God of the Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since indeed God who will justify the uncircumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one. – Romans 3.29-30

If you’re following my point then you will recognize the major flaw in Kevin’s book on legalism. If you’re not seeing my point, go back and read Romans 3:27-30 again. First, Paul states that we are justified by faith. Then Paul immediately follows this up with a rhetorical question about how God is the God of both the Jews and the Gentiles because of their faith. Jews and Gentiles are both fully among the justified people of God, not because of their allegiance to certain Mosaic laws, but rather because faithfulness to God.

If it’s still not clear, continue reading into the next chapter.

Is this blessing then on the circumcised, or on the uncircumcised also? For we say, “Faith was credited to Abraham as righteousness.” How then was it credited? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised; and he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised, so that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be credited to them, and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also follow in the steps of Abraham which he had while uncircumcised. – Romans 4.9-12

That’s a big chunk to digest, but if you read it slowly it will be seen that Paul’s main point is that Abraham was credited righteousness before he became circumcised so that he could be a father to all who believe, both Jews and Gentiles. The idea that Paul was writing to combat the tendency of Christians to view salvation as a points-based system or trying to earn their way to heaven is non-existent in this text.

I don’t intend to discredit the entirety of the book. As I’ve said before, there is much to be appreciated in Kevin’s book, and there are lots of good points raised throughout the book. I plan on addressing more of these positive aspects in later posts. But it must be noted that the “legalism” addressed by Kevin is a different kind of legalism from that which is addressed by Paul.

Note: After recieving several comments in response to this article, I thought it would be helpful to add a quick clarification. Here’s what I’m saying and what I’m not saying:

A Clarification (Legalism, An Addendum to Parts 5 and 6)

You can continue to part 7 here:

A Different Kind of Emphasis on the Gospel (Legalism, Part 7 of 14)


The Major Flaw in Kevin’s Book (Legalism, Part 5 of 14)

In my last post I gave an overview of Kevin Pendergrass’ arguments about legalism as he presents them in his book “A Different Kind of Poison: How Legalism Destroys Grace”. You can go back and read that post (as well as the earlier posts in this series) by clicking here:

In this post I want to discuss what I see as being the most fundamental disagreement I have with Kevin’s book. My biggest critique by far is that “legalism” as it is defined and discussed in Kevin’s book is a different kind of legalism from that which is described in scripture. As a result, Kevin views several scriptures and concepts through a difference lens from that with which the first century church would have viewed those same scriptures. In other words, Kevin’s way of discussing the problem of and solution to legalism is quite different from the way the problem is identified and discussed in scripture.

I have no doubt that this book will make a lot of sense to readers in the church today. If I had a time machine, and I could take Kevin’s book back to the 15th or 16th century, I believe that Kevin’s way of talking about concepts like “the gospel” and “faith” and “works” and “grace” would have made a lot of sense to them too. But if I were to take that time machine all the way back to the first century, I think most early Christians would have been left scratching their heads. I don’t know that they would necessarily disagree with the book as a whole, but I think they would describe it as a really strange way of talking about the gospel.

In chapter 2 Kevin defines what he means when he speaks of legalism:

The meaning of legalism is simply “the doctrine that salvation is gained through good works.”… Paul used the root word for legalism when teaching against salvation by works. When Paul wrote to the Christians in Galatia who were caught up in attempting to be justified by the law, he said:

“know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law now one will be justified.” (Gal. 2.16)

Like many others for the last few hundred years have done, Kevin reads this passage as confronting “salvation by works” by teaching that we are justified through faith apart from our own moral efforts. While this is true, if we are to rightly understand Galatians 2:16 we need to recognize confronting “salvation by works” is not the main point of the passage. When we read Galatians 2.19 in context, the verse takes on a different flavor.

The passage is in the context about Paul confronting Peter for withdrawing from eating with the gentile Christians.

For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision. (Gal. 2.12)

When Paul witnessed this hypocrisy in Peter, he confronted him by saying,

If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the gentiles to live like Jews? (Gal. 2.14b)

This statement about Jew/Gentile relations sets the immediate context of Paul’s statement about faith and works in verse 16. This is not to suggest that Kevin is wrong when he points out that Christianity is not a “points system”. But it should be noted that when Paul says “a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus” he is not making that statement to confront Christians who were trying to earn their way to heaven by doing good works. Peter was not being corrected for teaching that Christians must earn their way to heaven. That statement was made in direct  reference to Jewish Christians who were excluding Gentile Christians from full Christian fellowship.

In other words, these “works of the law” are not referencing any generic action we may do in obedience to God. Paul used the phrase to refer to the specific “works of the law” that the Jewish Christians were using to distinguish themselves from Gentile Christians, namely circumcision, eating pork, and observing the Sabbath. So when Paul says “a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus”, he’s saying that we are among the justified people of God (i.e. the church) because of our faithfulness to Christ and not because of any practice or belief that people might add to the gospel. We are acceptable to God because of our loyalty to Christ, not because we adopt the special markers of any particular group.

“Legalism” as it is defined by Kevin is a different kind of legalism from that which was addressed by Paul. This observation has several implications which I plan to address in later posts. But since Kevin’s mistake is a very common one, I think it will be helpful to develop this point further in the next post.

A Different Kind of Legalism (Legalism Part 6 of 14)

An Overview of Kevin’s Argument (Legalism, Part 4 of 14)

This is the fourth part of a 14 part series in which I converse with Kevin Pendergrass’s book: “A Different Kind of Poison: How Legalism Destroys Grace.” Here I will attempt to provide a brief overview of his arguments, but I am confident that my overview fails to do him justice. For that reason, I encourage you to read his arguments in his own words by buying his book here.

You can read the earlier parts of this series here:
The Fascinating Story of Kevin Pendergrass (Legalism, Part 1 of 14)
Admitting My Bias (Legalism, Part 2 of 14)
What I Appreciated the Most About Kevin Pendergrass’s Book on Legalism (Legalism, Part 3 of 14)

Kevin’s Definition of Legalism

Kevin understands legalism as the mistake Christians make when they “view Christianity through the framework of a legal system and attempt to earn their salvation through works”. Kevin understands legalism to be a “poison” because of how it “impairs, injures, and can even destroy us in different ways.” He believes legalism is a “different kind of poison” because it is often a silent killer, worn by “Christians with good hearts and the best of intentions” without them even recognizing their own legalistic tendencies. (p. 10-12)

The Problem With Legalism

Kevin argues that Christians will often misapply various verses to teach that “unity demands perfect agreement in all things”, while common sense and scripture together teach that no two Christians will ever agree on every biblical matter (p. 101-105). Kevin therefore suggests that we should draw a distinction between having an incorrect view and being a false teacher, and points out that it is okay for Christians to disagree on spiritual matters (p. 113-116; cf. Rom. 14.1-23; 1 Cor. 8.1-13).

Kevin points out that Scripture teaches that Christians should be confident in their salvation, and when we demand perfect understanding of all biblical issues, the fear of being wrong destroys our confidence in God’s grace (p. 123-128; cf. 1 Jn 4.17-19; 1 Jn. 5.13; Rom. 8.1; Heb. 2.14-15).

We can only achieve this biblical confidence by understanding that “Christianity is not about my righteousness before God. Christianity is about Christ’s righteousness before me” (p. 141). The gospel should be understood as the good news that Jesus died for our sins rather than “frivolous issues that have nothing to do with Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection” (p. 148).

Kevin is quick to point out that law isn’t inherently bad.

“The problem with legalism is not with the law itself, but in a misplaced trust and application of the law. Therefore, law in Christianity is not bad. Law is a good thing if we use it correctly and understand its proper place. The problem is that it is very easy to misuse the law and begin to trust in the law itself for salvation.” (p. 153-154; cf. 1 Tim. 1.8).

In other words, the problem isn’t the emphasis on obedience and truth. The problem is approaching Christianity as if it is a “points system”, where we have to do enough right in order to get to heaven (and if we don’t do enough right, we go to hell).

The Solution to Legalism

The solution put forth by Kevin is to stop approaching Christianity as a cold, ritualistic system, and instead to focus on developing a genuine loving relationship with God.

The major problem in legalism has always been with people knowing about God, but never knowing Him deeply and intimately. We can’t know Jesus through the law; we can only truly know Him through relationship. (p. 205)

Again, Kevin is quick to emphasize that this idea does not mean that we can do whatever we want to do (cf. Rom. 6.15).

Viewing Christianity through the framework of relationship isn’t a license to sin. On the contrary, it gives us even more reason to love God and be obedient to Him. (p. 209)

Practical Applications

Kevin wraps up the book by discussing how our approach towards Christianity should drastically change when we approach it as a relationship instead of a ritualistic system. When we truly love God, “it isn’t just about finding loopholes. Instead, its about doing everything I can to please Jesus Christ in my daily life.

With this framework, we can stop approaching the New Testament as a legal document full of rules to keep, and instead we can begin to grasp the true purpose of scripture, that is, to love God and our neighbors more deeply (p. 219-223). When it comes to questions of unity and fellowship, instead of “looking for any and every opportunity to wage warfare when we disagree with a brother or sister in Christ”, we will begin to “err on the side of mercy instead of judgment” (p. 225-231; cf. Ja. 2.13; Mt. 7.1-2).

If the whole argument of the book could be summed up in one sentence, it might be this one:

In order to overcome legalism in all areas of your life, your framework must change. It must become relational and not legal. (p. 250).

Kevin makes lots of good points. Later in the series I want to discuss some of the excellent questions raised in this book. But first, I want to dedicate the next several posts in this series to a major flaw in Kevin’s book as well as some of its implications.

Continue reading part 5 here:

The Major Flaw in Kevin’s Book (Legalism, Part 5 of 14)

What I Appreciated the Most About Kevin Pendergrass’s Book on Legalism (Legalism, Part 3 of 14)

In this, the third part of a 14 part series, I want to point out three things that I greatly appreciated about Kevin Pedergrass’s book entitled, “A Different Kind of Poison: How Legalism Destroys Grace”.

You can read the earlier parts here:
The Fascinating Story of Kevin Pendergrass (Legalism, Part 1 of 14)
Admitting My Bias (Legalism, Part 2 of 14)

First of all, this book was a wonderfully written book. This is one of those books that you don’t want to put down. After a brief introduction (chapters 1-4), Kevin tells his personal story (chapters 5-33). Kevin begins with his upbringing, and describes how he grew to becoming legalistic without realizing it, questions he wrestled with, mistakes he made, relationships he struggled with, and how he finally came to develop a deeper appreciation for God’s grace. I have always respected Kevin, but after reading his story, I grew to develop a deep appreciation of his courage and his sincere desire to stand for the truth. There were times where I struggled to hold back tears, felt his frustrations, and felt his excitement as he grew closer to God.

Beginning with chapter 34, the tone shifts as Kevin systematically walks the reader through how and why his thinking shifted. This section reflects the depth of Kevin’s thinking, and yet it is communicated in a very simple and easy to follow style. Kevin has an incredible talent as a writer, a storyteller, and a teacher. In this respect, the book was thoroughly enjoyable.

Secondly, I was pleasantly surprised to find that this book on legalism was not written to discourage our commitment to obedience and teaching the truth. As I stated in part 1, this was one of my biggest concerns going into the book. But right off the bat in chapter two Kevin writes:

Please understand that obedience to God is not legalism (Heb. 5.8-9; 1 Jn. 5.3). Teaching that the Bible is the objective standard of right and wrong is not legalism (2 Tim. 3.16-17; Jn. 8.32). Teaching against sin is not legalism (2 Tim. 4.3). Holding other Christians accountable is not legalism (Heb. 3.12-13). Emphasizing the whole counsel of God is not legalism (Acts 20.20, 27). (p.8)

And he doesn’t stop there. At multiple points throughout the book, Kevin pauses to make sure that his readers understand that he is not suggesting that obedience doesn’t matter. Kevin recognizes that “a true faith is a trust in Jesus that will produce works” (p. 168; cf. Ja. 2.19). Now perhaps Kevin is lying, or perhaps he’s a lunatic, but I really think we should give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he really isn’t trying to downplay the important of teaching and obeying the truth.

Thirdly, this is not a “church bashing” book. Yes, the book offers some critiques for the church, but critique can be healthy.  Paul warned Christians never to think of themselves above self-examination. “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith” (2 Cor. 13.5). But there can sometimes be a very fine line between self-examination and bitter church-bashing. There are far too many self-appointed “church critics” out there, eager to vomit bitter accusations against the church every chance they get. But Kevin chose a different path.

Kevin does an excellent job offering his critiques in a loving way. In fact, Kevin seems to go out of way not to name any specific churches with which he has been associated. He has obviously taken great care to avoid painting the church in a negative light. The worst villain of the book is none other than Kevin himself.

In chapter 52, Kevin writes a passionate appeal to those who, like him, have grown frustrated and discouraged with legalism, in which he urges them to “show mercy and grace to those around you” (p. 240). But even more importantly, Kevin practices what he preaches. It seems evident to me that Kevin loves the church, even those within the church who have mistreated him.

If other Christians desire to write a book which critiques the church, I highly recommend Kevin’s book as a model and an example of how this should be done. I am deeply appreciative to Kevin for this aspect of the book.

In short, I respected Kevin Pendergrass before reading this book (that’s part of the reason I was excited to read it). But after reading this book, I’ve grown to appreciate and respect Kevin even more. If every Christians shared Kevin’s passion, Kevin’s willingness to grow, Kevin’s courage to follow what he understands to be true regardless of the consequences, the church would be much stronger in knowledge. If every Christians learned to navigate differences of opinion with the kindness, mercy, and love that Kevin has worked to develop, the church would quickly grow in their reputation of graciousness. Yes, I have disagreements with Kevin, several of them significant. But these disagreements have nothing to do with a lack of respect, admiration, or love for Kevin Pendergrass.

Continue reading Part 4 here:
An Overview of Kevin’s Argument (Legalism, Part 4 of 14)

Admitting My Bias (Legalism, Part 2 of 14)

In this series I will be in conversation with a book written by Kevin Pendergrass entitled “A Different Kind of Poison: How Legalism Destroys Grace.” If you would like to purchase his book or read some of Kevin’s articles, you can do so here.

You can go back and read part 1 here:

The Fascinating Story of Kevin Pendergrass (Legalism, Part 1 of 14)

There is an excellent chapter in the book entitled “Confirmation Bias.” Confirmation bias is the tendency to process and analyze information in such a way that it reaffirms one’s preexisting ideas and convictions. Kevin observes:

The truth of the matter is we are all guilty of confirmation bias to an extent. Let me demonstrate this point.

When we study something that we already disagree with, we usually approach it from the perspective of why it is wrong. When we study something we already agree with, we usually approach it from the perspective of why it is right. (P. 76)

Kevin is exactly right on this point. To be fair, it needs to be recognized that I was reading Kevin’s book from the perspective of figuring out where he was wrong.

Kevin describes confirmation bias as a “subconscious disadvantage”. And while this might be true at times, I believe that more often than not confirmation bias is actually a subconscious advantage. I believe that God designed us to have confirmation bias. That’s just how we think. It’s how we identify falsehoods. We process information through a paradigm built upon other supposed truths. When we hear an idea that doesn’t seem to fit within our paradigm, our first response is to examine the new idea extra critically to find it’s error. In other words, confirmation bias encourages us to be critical thinkers and to examine ideas very closely.

In Scripture we are encouraged to examine scripture to “see if these things are so” (Acts 17.11), “be wise in what is good and innocent and in what is evil” (Rom 16.19), “pass judgment” when we listen to teachers (1 Cor. 14.29); “examine everything carefully” (1 Thess. 5.21); and “test the spirits to see whether they are from God” (1 Jn. 4.1). Confirmation bias makes “red flags” go off in our minds when we come across an idea we suspect to be wrong. We are self-aware of our need to examine the new idea critically. In this sense, confirmation bias is a subconscious advantage.

This doesn’t mean we should automatically dismiss any new teaching that doesn’t fit neatly into our paradigm as being wrong. After “searching to scriptures to see if these things are so” we must have the humility to reexamine our preconceived understandings in light of our study and reflection. It is possible, after all, that we are the ones who were wrong. Kevin rightly observes,

Humility is the best friend of objectiveness. On the other hand, the more arrogant someone is, the more they tend to be subjective and closed-minded…

The road of pride leads to destruction and the road of humility leads to God (Prov. 16.18; Ja. 4.10). The arrogant are closed off to listening to others (Prov. 18.13; 15.22). Instead, they only wish to express their own hearts and beliefs (Prov. 18.22; 28.26). It doesn’t take any humility to admit when we are right, but it does take humility to admit when we are wrong. (p. 77)

It should be noted, however, that our natural tendency towards confirmation bias is not a subconscious disadvantage. The real subconscious disadvantage is pride, which refuses to admit when we are wrong.

With this in mind, there is a sense in which confirmation bias can be a disadvantage, but it’s not found when we critically examine the uninspired words of those we suspect to be wrong. The real disadvantage of confirmation bias is found when, we pridefully and uncritically accept the uninspired words of those we suspect to be right.

We are at a subconscious disadvantage when we are listening to preachers we trust and when we are reading books and articles (and book reviews) which argue a position we believe to be true. The very best preachers and authors among us are still uninspired people with the capacity to be wrong. We must not stop critically examining the teachings simply because we believe someone is probably right.

For this reason, I believe that those who are already frustrated with the church or already suspect the church is “too legalistic” are the ones with a subconscious disadvantage as they read Kevin’s book. It would be too easy for them to get entangled in the idea that neither they nor Kevin could be wrong, pull arguments out of Kevin’s book that they can use against “legalistic churches”, while failing to critically examine those arguments.

Whatever your bias might be towards Kevin as you approach his book, it is important to approach Kevin’s book with humility. We should strive to understand the real reasons why Kevin takes the position he does, and be careful not to misrepresent his arguments. For those who are bias against Kevin (like myself), I believe that if you approach Kevin’s book with humility, you will find that he raises some really important questions and makes some really important points; points which the church needs to carefully consider. For those who are bias in Kevin’s favor, I believe that if you will approach Kevin’s book critically, closely examining his arguments in light of scripture, you will find that his perspective has a few big flaws as well.

Continue reading part 3 here:
What I Appreciated the Most About Kevin Pendergrass’s Book on Legalism (Legalism, Part 3 of 14)

The Fascinating Story of Kevin Pendergrass (Legalism, Part 1 of 14)

I’ve only had a few interactions with Kevin Pendergrass over the years, but I’ve been intrigued by his story. Just a few short years ago, Kevin had a reputation among many as a “sound” gospel preacher, or, if you ask others, they might say he had a reputation as an “ultra-conservative”.  Yet over a relatively short time, Kevin changed drastically. According to some, he “left the faith” and joined the ranks of liberalism. According to others, “he came to understand his own shortcomings and his desperate need for God’s grace.” Regardless of your opinion of Kevin Pendergrass, the fact that someone could change so drastically in such a short period of time is intriguing. (If you want to get a feel for yourself, you can read some of Kevin’s recent articles here).

Kevin grew up running in many of the same circles I did. He graduated from the East Tennessee School of Preaching (now the Southeast Institute of Biblical Studies), and spent over six years living in Oklahoma working as preacher, debater, and co-host for “The Gospel of Christ”, a television show that has been supported by several congregations I’ve been associated with.

I first had interactions with Kevin back when he was at preaching school and I was in college. Although there were some points of doctrine where he and I disagreed, I’ve always respected Kevin. Even in our disagreements, I have been impressed by Kevin’s knowledge of scripture, his logic, and his ability to skillfully combine the two when he makes his arguments. More than anything, Kevin has always struck me as someone who loves the truth and is willing to follow the truth wherever it leads.

After college I lost contact with Kevin for several years. Then a few months ago I noticed an article on Facebook which he had written, and I was shocked. Kevin had changed his position, drastically, on several points of doctrine. Kevin had apparently swung from one extreme to another. Yes, I had several disagreements with him in the past, but now I found myself disagreeing with him on a number of issues – issues that I think are important.

Shortly thereafter I learned that Kevin was working on a book on legalism. This was a book I definitely wanted to read for multiple reasons.

For one, I have had it “up to here” with the accusation of “legalism” being thrown out against churches simply because they emphasize Scripture as an authoritative standard for right and wrong, teach against sin, emphasize obedience, or hold other Christians accountable to the whole counsel of God. And more than that, I’ve had it “up to here” with church bashing books, written by bitter souls who seem to look for every possible shortcoming of Christians to tear down the church which Jesus loves.  In part, I wanted to read this book so I could be better prepared to make counter arguments against such false accusations.

But secondly, I wanted to read this book because of the respect I have for Kevin. Whatever can be said about Kevin, nobody can accuse Kevin of being ignorant of scripture, insincere in his pursuit of truth, or illogical in his thinking. That’s why I was so curious. Why would Kevin, of all people, write a book to bash the church for being too legalistic? What had happened with Kevin? Why had he changed? I couldn’t wait to read this book.

The book is entitled “A Different Kind of Poison: How Legalism Destroys Grace”. If you are interested, I encourage you to purchase the book here.

After I received Kevin’s book and started reading it, I’ve had several ask me to “share my thoughts” on his book. So I planned on writing a book review. But once I got started, I quickly realized that the depth and the importance of the topic of “legalism” demands much more than a quick book review. So what started as a book review has quickly developed into a multi-part series on legalism.

Even if you aren’t familiar with Kevin Pendergrass or his story, there is a good chance that you know of stories similar to his. Kevin is certainly not the only Christian to leave “conservative” churches behind. This story happens often. Why is this? Why do so many accuse the church of being too legalistic? Could they be right? Does the church need to make changes to avoid legalism?

Throughout this series I plan on conversing with several of the ideas discussed in Kevin’s book. From the start I want to say that I greatly enjoyed reading Kevin’s book, and I recommend that you read it. After a couple of introductory posts, I want to share some specific things that I really appreciated about this book. After that I plan on giving an overview of Kevin’s argument as it is presented in the book. Then I plan on spending several posts addressing what I see as the book’s major flaw and flushing out some of the implications of this flaw. Finally, once we have developed a biblical understanding of legalism, I want to discuss how our understanding of legalism can help the church to navigate some tricky issues.

Continue reading part 2 here: Admitting My Bias (Legalism, Part 2 of 14)

Breaking the Pagan Paradigm

Do Christians Have a Responsibility to Influence Our Culture for Good?

In recent years, I have written several articles to discourage Christians from getting involved in the pursuit of political power. (For example, read here, here, or find a full list of articles here).

In response to these articles, one objection is continually raised: Christians have a responsibility to be salt and light to influence our world for good. Therefore, when it comes to social and/or moral issues, Christians have an obligation to be politically involved.

In response to this objection, let us first consider the question, “Do Christians have a moral obligation to be salt and light, influencing culture for good?” I believe scripture makes the answer clear.

  • Disciples of Jesus have a responsibility to be the “salt of the earth“, and to be the ‘light of the world” (Mt. 5.13-14)
  • The church has the responsibility to “expose” the “unfruitful deeds of darkness” (Eph. 5.11)
  • Christians should encourage the surrounding culture to glorify God (1 Pet. 2.12)
  • Peter instructs the church to “silence the ignorance of foolish men” (1 Pet. 2.15)

Other scriptures could be cited to this same end. I’ve never questioned whether or not Christians should strive to influence our culture for good. Although I have tried to discourage Christians being politically active, I’ve never believed that Christians should do nothing.

So why does the objection continue to come up? I don’t think anybody is intentionally trying to misrepresent my position. Why is the objection so common? Why do so many Christians feel they have a moral obligation to be involved politically?

The answer is found when we realize that many Christians continue to be trapped in a pagan paradigm. Once we recognize this pagan paradigm, these objections begin to make a lot of sense.

Trapped In a Pagan Paradigm

For a vast majority of people in our world “influencing culture for good” is basically equated with “using political power for good.” This shouldn’t surprise us. If someone doesn’t believe in the power of the gospel, they will naturally believe that power lies elsewhere. From a worldly perspective, nobody has more power, more influence, or more capacity to do more good than those who wield political power. Therefore, according to this paradigm, if we have an opportunity to influence political powers for good, and we refuse that opportunity, we have forsaken the opportunity to influence our society for good.

Unfortunately many Christians struggle to break free from this paradigm. For them, whenever they read someone suggesting that Christians should not be politically active, it is assumed that they are suggesting that Christians should not influence culture for good. For those trapped in this paradigm, to withdraw from political involvement is to withdraw from being “salt” and “light”.

The problem with this paradigm is that it does not recognize the conceptual possibility that Christians could be socially active, engage moral issues in society, and influence society for good while at the same time separating the gospel from political involvement. Yet this is precisely what I understand that Christians should do.

At this point I anticipate another objection to be raised. “You’ve over simplified the matter. I don’t ‘equate’ being salt and light with being politically active. I recognize that there are other non-political ways a person could positively impact culture. But still, political influence is one of several methods a person may use to confront social and/or moral issues.”

Perhaps this is true. But if we really believe this counter-objection is true, why continue to raise the initial objection to Christians who withdraw from political powers? If we recognize that Christians can be “salt” and “light” in non-political ways, then why suggest that someone is forsaking their Christian responsibility by not being politically active? Either we don’t actually believe that Christians have a responsibility to be politically active or we don’t actually believe that Christians can influence culture for good while not being politically active. We can’t consistently hold to both at the same time.

I suspect the reality is that these Christians recognize that we can influence culture for good without being politically active, but view non-political methods as less influential than political methods. In other words, they don’t believe in the effectiveness of non-political methods in comparison to political methods. Thus they continue to essentially equate the responsibility to “influence culture for good” with the responsibility to “be politically involved.” They continue to be trapped in a pagan paradigm.

Where Does This Pagan Paradigm Come From?

It is important to recognize that this way of viewing the world did not originate with Jesus. Jesus never so much as commented on the hot political issues of his day. Whenever Jesus was asked directly about sensitive political issues, he used these questions as opportunities to point people to the kingdom of God (Mt. 22.15-22; Lk 12.13-15). On multiple occasions, Jesus had the opportunity to gain political power (power He most certainly would have used for good) yet He continually refused that power (Jn. 6.15). This was precisely the kind of power Jesus rejected as a temptation from Satan (Lk. 4.5-7).

Would we suggest that Jesus was failing to be salt of the earth? Was Jesus forsaking an opportunity to be the light of the world? Does this mean that Jesus had forsaken the opportunity to be socially active? Does this mean Jesus didn’t care about the moral issues in His society? Did Jesus thereby fail to influence His culture for good? Of course not!

(For more on Jesus, read here.)

We should also recognize that this paradigm did not originate with the New Testament church. The only things the New Testament commands Christians to do in relation to political powers is to submit to them (Rom. 13.1-4; 1 Pet. 2.13-14), to strive to obey them (Tit. 3.1), to pay taxes (Rom. 13.7), to honor them (Rom. 13.7; 1 Pet. 2.17), and to pray for them (1 Tim. 2.1-2). More significantly, Christians are commanded not to act as judges over non-Christians (1 Cor. 5.12-13; 1 Pet. 4.17; Mt. 7.1-5). And yet, the early church was credited with “turning the world upside down” (NKJV), not because of the way they influenced Caesar for good, but rather because they claimed “there is another king, Jesus” (Acts 17.6-7).

(For more on how the early church approached politics, read here, here, and here.)

So where does this paradigm come from? The answer can be seen in Matthew 20.25-28:

But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your salve; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

According to Jesus, the pagan world is characterized by their quest for power and ruling authority. The quest to influence the world for good by the means of political power is a pagan strategy resulting from a pagan paradigm. And it is precisely at this point that Jesus challenges His disciples to differentiate themselves from the world. The greatest in the kingdom of Christ do not rule; they serve. If Christians are to be “salt” and “light” in the world, we must be “salt” and “light” in the same way Jesus was salt and light; through self-sacrificial love. Christians should have absolutely no desire to take part in the pursuit of ruling power.

Jesus reinforced this point in John 18.36-37:

Jesus answer, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then my servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.”

The way Jesus’ disciples are differentiated from the world is in their refusal to fight for power the way that kingdoms of this world fight for power.

Christians aren’t distinguished from pagans simply in that we want to influence the world for good (Christians and non-Christians both want to influence the world for good, though they may disagree what “good” should look like). Christians are to be “salt” and “light” by being poor in spirit; by being gentle; by being peacemakers; by allowing themselves to be persecuted by their enemies (Mt. 5.1-12). We must not lose this key distinction.

But if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to the thrown out and trampled under foot by men. – Matthew 5.13

 “But the Church Doesn’t Have Enough Resources”

“But the church doesn’t have enough resources. We can do far more good by influencing political powers than we could ever achieve by ourselves.”

I disagree.

If only a small fraction of Christians worked together and sacrificed to help the poor, to support adoption, to support struggling mothers who might otherwise consider abortion, or to lead the fight against racism, they could make an incredible difference.

Can the church do more? Absolutely. But the reason the church is not currently having a bigger influence in the world is because we’re too busy fighting over what Caesar should do about social and moral issues instead of actually doing what Jesus has called us to do. Too many Christians feel like they are doing their part by simply visiting the voting booth once every couple of years. “I voted against abortion, so I did my part” or “I voted to help the poor, so I did my part”. I’m not suggesting that Christians cannot vote, or that every voter fits this description, but we must never be deceived into thinking that political involvement excuses us from sacrificially serving.

The Power of the Gospel

Ultimately, hope for our society (and for our world) doesn’t depend on which party gets in power or which bills get passed into law. Hope for the world depends on Christians using the power God has given us. Hope for the world depends on Christians being distinctive from the world as salt and light.

The power to influence the world for good isn’t a power that gets released when we wrestle ruling authority away from our opponents. The power of the gospel is the power of the cross; the power we have even when our enemies are the ones sitting as rulers, as judges, and as executioners; the power we have when we are nailed into a completely “powerless” position.

The pagan paradigm was put to the ultimate test when Jesus was nailed to the cross. And the pagan paradigm was shattered when Jesus rose from the dead.

It’s time to break free from the pagan paradigm.

What’s the Big Deal about Inerrancy- Part 2

This is a response to Shane Himes’s article: “Israel’s Journey to Know God: Progressive Revelation Part One”

This is the second article I’ve written in response to Shane. You can find his first article here, and my first response here. This response is following his second article in this series.

Again, in the desire for brotherly love and unity, and to keep myself from polemicizing a brother in Christ with whom I greatly disagree, I’ve written to Shane personally.

Hi again Shane, 

To be honest, I hesitated for a few moments before clicking on your most recent article. The thoughts running through my head sounded something like, “What if there is some argument he brings up that I’ve never heard of before and can’t answer?” This initial thought led me to ask a couple of questions: “Why do I feel the need to answer your denial of biblical inerrancy?” and “How much of this discussion deals with our presuppositions before ever even coming to the passages in the text that are a bit troublesome?”

To answer the first question, I feel the need to answer because I believe inerrancy to be foundationally important to the Christian faith, for the reasons I stated in the previous article. Secondly, despite the litany of alleged biblical contradictions, why do I still hold so stubbornly to my belief that the Bible is, in fact, a unified collection of documents and does not contradict itself? 

It seems to me that we are dealing with our presuppositions. You and I are looking at the same evidence and coming to two different conclusions. It’s not that the issue with Exodus 6:3 absolutely convinced you that the Bible was prone to contradiction. I know that because when I look at this discrepancy, I (and others like me) don’t have the “ah-ha” moment you mention.

It saddens me that you felt limited to two options when addressing this issue.

“I could declare the Christian faith a hoax due to contradictions in certain parts of the Bible, or I could nuance my understanding of biblical inspiration and my expectations of the Bible.”

Have you considered a third option? I could hold onto my trust in the reliability of the Scriptures, dig deeper, and find an explanation that reasonably reconciles this passage with the times God is known as YHWH to the patriarchs. 

Yes, I think the issue you initially brought up can be addressed reasonably and without stretching the text. The foundational issue here, however,  is whether or not, at its very core, the Scripture is accurate and trustworthy. Do we get to subjectively decide where we think God’s Word is right and where it must be wrong?

When God states that He was not known by His name to the patriarchs, how can we account for the 100+ times that He (or they) use that name in Genesis 12-50? Here’s my attempt to answer it, but like I said (and will continue writing about), the issue we are dealing with is so much deeper than just one (of hundreds) of apparent discrepancies.

We are dealing with the storyline of God’s name, which doesn’t climax until Exodus 34:5-7. The concept of God’s “name” is never biblically emphasized as the four letters that make up the tetragrammaton, but the very character and nature of God. He is consistent and faithful. He will always be who he always has been (YHWH). The reason we can trust Him is because we can have absolute surety in “who” He is. The writer of Exodus was very familiar with Genesis and wasn’t contradicting it, but pointing out that Moses’s connection with God was so much deeper than what the patriarchs might have experienced. The point wasn’t that they didn’t know the word “Yahweh” in connection with God. The point is that God’s might was revealed to Abraham, but the fullness of His character wasn’t revealed until Moses, and even then it had to be limited so that Moses wouldn’t be destroyed (Exodus 33:17-23).

Can you answer how as a young boy Samuel “ministered before Yahweh” (1 Sam. 2:18; 3:1) but he “did not yet know Yahweh” (1 Sam. 3:7)? Did he know who he was serving or not? Clearly to know in this passage means more than simple recognition of existence.

What about every other time in Exodus when yadah, the Hebrew word to know,” is applied to human engagement with Yahweh (6:7; 7:5, 17; 8:10, 22; 9:29; 10:2; 14:4, 18; 16:6, 12; 29:46)? Each of these passages indicates so much more than simple recognition of existence. Is it good exegesis to use a modern Western definition of know in Exodus 6:3, when it is clearly much more than that?

What about the fact that yadah  is applied to the intimate sexual experience between husband and wife? Did Abraham really not know Sarah before that happened?

What about Jeremiah 16:21 and Isaiah 52:6? Did the people of Israel really not know how to pronounce God’s name? I don’t think either of us would make that claim.

This isn’t stretching the text. This is exactly what you have been asking us to do, recognize the cultural, linguistic, narrative, and historical context of the Writings. We can’t apply the Hebrew word yadah to our cleanly defined 21st century Western understanding of what it means to know something, when it is clear from Scripture that it means so much more.

Moving to the bigger issue, however, where does my trust in the Scriptures come from? Is it a game of circular reasoning? I believe Jesus because I believe the Bible because I believe Jesus because I believe the Bible…and so on? I don’t think so.

I believe in the resurrection of Jesus.

I believe in the “gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 1:1-2). 

Because He was declared to be the Son of God, I believe the things He said to be true.

I believe what Jesus taught about the Old Testament. When did He ever cast doubt on its origin? Did he teach that the Old Testament writings were just the author’s interpretation of what God wrote? Actually, He taught exactly the opposite. Jesus regularly referred to passages from the Old Testament as “the commandment of God” (Matt. 15:3) and “The word of God” (Matt. 15:6; John 10:35). In fact, Jesus, Himself, quoted the very passage that convinced you that the Old Testament must contain errors.

“And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” (Matt. 22:31-32; Jesus is quoting from Ex. 3:6)

Who did Jesus credit these words to? You have attributed this passage from Exodus to a mistaken human, when Jesus attributes it to God Himself. 

I believe in Jesus’s promise to the apostles that they would be given the “Spirit of truth” who would teach and remind them of Jesus’s words (John 14:17, 26). 

I believe what Jesus said to those same apostles when he promised,

“When the Spirit of truth comes he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak…He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (John 16:13-15).

For those reasons, I also believe what the apostles say about the Hebrew Scriptures. When do they ever cast doubt on its origin? Do they teach that the Old Testament writings were just the author’s interpretation of what God wrote? Actually, they teach exactly the opposite.

2 Timothy 3:14-17

“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

When Paul writes this about the Hebrew Scriptures, he emphasizes God’s intimate involvement in the Word. Where exactly is the room, according to Paul, for the Hebrew prophets to misunderstand Him and write their own interpretation of their experience with God?

2 Peter 1:19-21

“And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

Prior to this quote, Peter emphasizes his own role as an eyewitness and how God’s revealed words are even more concrete and trustworthy than what he had previously experienced walking daily with the incarnate Lord. Should this passage read, “No prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as best as they could understand him, while of course being limited by their unscientific, morally unrefined, ancient worldview”?

I’m just not comfortable with the presuppositions that would allow for Jesus and the apostles to be mistaken on their teachings of the Hebrew Scriptures.

I really do appreciate your attempts to show that the Bible must be seen in the cultural and historical context that its authors lived. I agree wholeheartedly, but to suggest that God was not able (or willing), in those ancient times, to communicate his words accurately is contrary to Jesus’s teachings. The term “inerrancy” might be a modern construct, but its definition has been the foundation of most Christians throughout history: the reliability that anyone with a copy of it has access to God’s own words.

As for the Akkadian texts you mention, I think they are amazing finds that really shed light on the Torah! If the global flood really did happen, wouldn’t it be reasonable to expect that other ancient cultures (even those who began writing their histories before the ancient descendants of Abraham) would recount these stories? Even the ancient Māori, in the land I’m currently living in, had a story of an overwhelming flood. Most ancient cultures do. That should increase our faith in the Hebrew Scriptures! 

Sidebar: Does the Bible claim that Moses was the first person to ever write anything down? Does the fact that these Akkadian texts are older mean that they are in some way better? The Sumerian Code of Lipit-Ishtar of Isin is actually much older than Hammurabi.

It’s great that you’ve listed some of the laws from the Code of Hammurabi, written centuries prior to the Exodus. Aren’t they amazing? The similarities to the Torah are awesome! If God did give His Law to a theocratic society that had recently departed Egypt, wouldn’t we expect some of the civil laws found therein to be similar to other ancient law codes? Of course we would. But, I think you forgot to mention some of the important differences. Hammurabi’s law is completely inundated with polytheism, like all cultures of the day (except the Hebrew). The Torah continually declares the Israelites’ reasons for believing and obeying it: God’s faithfulness and rescue. Before giving any laws, God states: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” (Exodus 20:2) Throughout the Torah He emphasizes the mandate for obeying Him is tied to His love and his previous action (Lev. 25:38; 26:11-13, Dt. 4:7). Yahweh’s laws are tied to His real presence and righteousness among His people. Is this something that Hammurabi can claim?

As for Joshua 10:12-14, I hope you can maintain consistency and never again use the phrases “sunrise” and “sunset.” Otherwise, people might consider you ignorant and unscientific. It might be more reasonable to allow the Bible to speak the same language that ancient people spoke, and in this case, the way people still speak today, as things appear from our perspective. 

You mentioned in a Facebook post that “these articles are fun, but they aren’t going to be the best means of academic engagement.” You suggested that we read your thesis if anyone really wanted to “dive into the issue.” While I appreciate the hard work and study that goes into a thesis, I think that since you’ve introduced the topic in a nonacademic venue, its best for us to continue the conversation down here. I also enjoy spending some time in academia’s ivory tower, but if conclusions reached there can’t be effectively communicated to those without access to it, we’re doing a great disservice to the Lord’s people. 

I’m not sure if you plan to respond to my responses, but I think I’ve voiced some questions that many of us have when inerrancy gets the boot. Perhaps you didn’t intend your articles to be a large scale defense of your position of “errancy,” but when you finish your series I would really appreciate your time in helping me understand your point of view in some of the questions I’ve raised. 

Shane, I appreciate you and hope we can come to a better understanding of God’s truth together.

What’s the Big Deal About Inerrancy?

Today as I was scrolling through Aggos.com, a new social media site for members of the church of Christ (check it out!), I noticed a post by Shane Himes sharing his article “Israel’s Journey to Know God: Biblical Inspiration” (find it here). In short, I disagree with his conclusions about biblical inerrancy and want to share why.

In the past authors within churches of Christ who disagreed with each other often wrote to their opponents in journals, blogs, or brotherhood publications to encourage a written debate and sort out the issues at hand. Sometimes, their correspondence was published for the readership of those journals. Unfortunately, and more often than not, these authors resorted to the vilification of those who disagreed with them through twisting the words of an author who would respond and setting up “straw-man” arguments against those who didn’t. These things don’t make for the “unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). While we may disagree, I have a responsibility in my response to show “humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another in love” (Eph. 4:2). In order to do this, and remind myself that I am writing to a brother, not an enemy, I’ve decided to write directly to Shane.

Hi Shane,
I know we’ve never met, but if you’re ever in the Henderson, TN, area in the next year or so, let me know and let’s grab some lunch. I’ve read your article about inerrancy and appreciate some aspects of it. I agree that adages and oversimplified viewpoints of the Scripture can cause more harm than good. The Bible is sometimes confusing and often difficult to understand. Even Biblical authors have acknowledged that. Acknowledging that fact, the question then is, “Where do we go from here?”

As I read, I noticed that you are a young guy, like myself, who obviously loves Jesus and His people. The topic of your writing, however, was troubling and in my opinion, inconsistent with what the Bible teaches. Though the Bible is difficult to understand in some places, I sincerely disagree that the best way to deal with these issues is to give up on inerrancy, deny the unity of the biblical writings, or overemphasize the human involvement in the word of the Bible to the point of neglecting the divine. This seems to be what your article is attempting to do.

For the sake of some readers of this, inerrancy as defined by the Chicago Statement of Inerrancy that Shane mentions is probably taken from article XI:

We affirm that Scripture, having been given by divine inspiration, is infallible, so that, far from misleading us, it is true and reliable in all the matters it addresses.

It is important to remember that this “statement” that Shane and I are referring to is not a denominational creed, but a definition of what many believe to be a summation of biblical principles on God’s authority and man’s involvement in the writing of the Christian Scriptures.

I think that your definition of inerrancy is a bit misleading. Article VI, that you’ve mentioned reads: “We affirm that the whole of Scripture and all its parts, down to the very words of the original, were given by divine inspiration.” Without reading more of the statement, however, it might seem that they mean that God miraculously took control of the biblical author’s writing hand and mechanically dictated each stroke of the stylus. For clarification, Article VIII reads: “We affirm that God in His Work of inspiration utilized the distinctive personalities and literary styles of the writers whom He had chosen and prepared.” The Bible is full of the original authors’ personalities: John’s Greek is easier to read than Luke’s, Paul doesn’t necessarily remember who all he baptized in Corinth, and Matthew’s gospel seems inherently “more Jewish” than Mark’s. These marks of authenticity don’t negate God’s inspiration, they actually emphasize God’s power in providing a consistent message through numerous human authors over long periods of human history.

Many have suggested that the Bible is inspired as far as it speaks to spiritual truths, but not necessarily in regard to what you phrase, “science, sociology, theology, morality, or anything else.” CSOI Article XII reads: “We deny that Biblical infallibility and inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science.” In your upcoming articles, could you please inform us how we can trust the spiritual positions expounded in Scripture that come from a God unable (or unwilling) to correctly communicate the physical aspects of history or geography? Are the human authors involved in the process somehow limiting God’s accuracy of inspiration?

I appreciate your unique view of the growing understanding of the Hebrew people throughout the ages, but I believe you’ve created a false dichotomy between inerrancy and progressive revelation as the Israelites experienced it. In fact Article V of the CSOI states: “We affirm that God’s revelation in the Holy Scriptures was progressive.” It is completely reasonable to assume that God’s purposes and personality were more clear to those who had more of His revelation available to them. Hebrews 1:1-2 make that evident. While those who only had access to the Torah may have been more aware of God’s judgment and less of his grace, it’s an unsubstantiated leap to assume that their writings would contradict what would later be revealed. Is it not possible that the people of Israel were emphasizing different aspects about God as more of His revelation became known through prophecy? Do the supposed discrepancies force us to leap to the conclusion that they often changed their thoughts about God, contradicting themselves previously?

Correct me if I am wrong, but it seems to me that your viewpoint must concede that our ultimate authority as Christians is not Scripture, itself, but our subjective deliberations as to what within the Bible is correct by our own definition of proper morality, history, or science. You make some very concrete assertions about your faith, which is laudable. Let’s look at a few of them and apply your hermeneutic.

“I’m not always the follower of Jesus that I should be, but his grace is enough in the absence of my perfection. ”

Amen, brother. Me too. But if we can’t know with certainty which aspects of Scripture are truly God’s Word and which are just human reflections on God’s revelation (which are prone to error), how can you know that Paul’s description of Christ’s grace was what was intended by God?

“It is in Christ that we find the answer all of humanity, including ancient Israel, has searched for.”

I agree, but once again, I feel like my foundation of scriptural inerrancy upholds this. From your position how can you say this, without allowing for the possibility that the apostles misunderstood certain aspects of God’s revelation in Christ?

“Jesus is the perfect revelation from God and all previous revelation must bow to him.”

Amen again. But, if previous revelation and the human tendency to misrepresent God are any indication of how fallible men have represented Jesus in the books of the New Testament, how can I trust Jesus when I don’t actually know for certain who he is and what he is about? It sounds subjective at best.

If I can venture to guess what strategy you’ll take in regard to the concepts introduced in your upcoming article series, I would say that the “points of error” in the Bible (in your opinion) are actually “according to standards of truth and error that are alien to [the Bible’s] usage or purpose” (CSOI Article XIII). If you are planning to focus on “biblical phenomena such as a lack of modern technical precision, irregularities of grammar or spelling, observational descriptions of nature, the reporting of falsehoods, the use of hyperbole and round numbers, the topical arrangement of material, variant selections of material in parallel accounts, or the use of free citations,” (CSOI Article XIII) these can be explained without throwing out inerrancy in what you’ve termed as the “examining of Scripture on its own terms and in its own context.”

…We… deny that inerrancy can be rejected without grave consequences, both to the individual and to the Church.

Chicago Statement of Inerrancy- Article XIX

This point is vital. Shane, if your view is correct, what are the rest of us missing out on by holding on to the doctrine of inerrancy? Acceptability in scholarly communities? Relevance in the modern world? An easy “out” when difficult questions (like the “violent depictions of God in the Torah”) arise? Is there actually something significant to our faith and knowledge of Christ that we can gain by letting go of inerrancy?

In my understanding, I don’t think those things are worth the price of cutting off the branch we are sitting on. The trustworthiness of God’s inspired word is a pillar that undergirds our faith. When we become the moral, scientific, historical, and theological authorities instead of trusting in God’s Word for all truth, our faith will eventually become a skeleton of what it once was, after we’ve picked it clean of what society deems as inappropriate or distasteful. We certainly won’t look like the church that Jesus built and our witness for Him will be limited to whatever is palatable to the majority.

Shane, as your series of articles appear, I will attempt to show that God’s Word as we have it, the 66 books of the Protestant Bible, is without error in anything that it asserts. The New Testament and Old Testament are in complete agreement with one another and the difficult questions that arise in this discussion can be answered without denying the ability of God to produce an authoritative message to mankind that is free from mistakes.