Tag Archives: Dick Woodward

Spiritual Diagnosis


Transmission Sphygmograph, c. 1900

Do you ever think about your spiritual health? Spiritually speaking, how are you doing? How about those around you? How about your church? Are you making a difference? Are you trying hard enough? How good is good enough?

I do. I think about spiritual effort a lot.

Dick Woodward used to call this kind of thinking “a checkup from the neck up.” (Dick had a way with words.) Spiritual diagnosis was a prerequisite for the Sermon on the Mount—it’s all about attitudes. And Jesus Christ had a lot to say about attitudes and spiritual effort.

“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”
Revelation 3:15-16, NIV84

That sounds frightfully harsh…but wait a minute. No need to worry, we have Sola Gratia. What about Ephesians 2:4-5 and Romans 3:23? It’s all about grace, right? We don’t have to be good enough. Gimme a break, we all fall short. I’ve got a job that wears me out, responsibilities…I don’t have the time or energy to do more. Besides, salvation doesn’t depend on our works.

The problem with that kind of attitude about spiritual effort is that it constitutes what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace.”

“Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

Grace without Discipleship? How can we diagnose grace without discipleship? Well, it could look like serving your church or ministry in a leadership position and feeling a little too complacent. How is your personal discipleship coming along? Is there urgency in your service? Are you working effectively to promote discipleship—or are you part of an organization that’s largely going through the motions? Isn’t it best if everyone just gets along and serves in harmony? It’s best not to rock the boat. Maybe. But if we heed Christ’s words to His churches in Revelation, this is indeed serious business. So how hard should we row? There’s that checkup from the neck up again.

An Ethic for Ministry

Excellence: The Character of God and the Pursuit of Scholarly VirtueMarion and I recently had dinner with Drs. Andreas and Marny Köstenberger. Not surprisingly, we got around to talking about personal discipleship and the Veracity blog. When I mentioned the spiritual basis for the blog in Philippians 2:12, Andreas told us about a book he had written that expands upon these ideas.

Excellence: The Character of God and the Pursuit of Scholarly Virtue is an exhortation written to scholars, but with broad application to anyone involved in ministry. The burden of the book is to “urge all of us who sense God’s call to scholarly labor to pursue earnestly, and with God’s help, the scholarly virtues discussed in this book.”

We don’t really talk about virtues anymore. It’s as if the word went out with parasols and medicine shows. But the pursuit of biblical virtues constitutes an appropriate cornerstone for personal discipleship.

The biblical basis for Excellence is the apostle Peter’s exhortation for believers to “grow in the rich knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord” (2 Peter 1:2).

“For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith excellence, to excellence, knowledge; to knowledge, self-control; to self-control, perseverance; to perseverance, godliness; to godliness, brotherly affection; to brotherly affection, unselfish love. For if these things are really yours and are continually increasing, they will keep you from becoming ineffective and unproductive in your pursuit of knowing our Lord Jesus Christ more intimately. … Therefore, brothers and sisters, make every effort to be sure of your calling and election.”
2 Peter 1:5-8,10a (NET Bible)

Just as Paul instructed believers to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12), Peter directs us to work on our faith. And he sets the bar very high—the first virtue is the pursuit of excellence in increasing measure. With this scripture in focus, we have the answer to “how hard should we row?” and we have an ethic for ministry. Complacency has no place in the church, so go ahead, rock the boat if need be, but appreciate that Christianity is serious business.

One of the things I appreciate most about Excellence is the passionate humility with which Dr. Köstenberger paints the text. A book exhorting readers to steadfastly pursue excellence and Christian virtues could easily have swayed between dogmatic cheerleading and impersonal instructions for self-help. But it doesn’t. Without pulling any punches, he makes the point that mediocrity is not pleasing to God but does so with a gentle and genuinely humble voice. The book is extremely well written and thought out.

Dr. Köstenberger also offers practical suggestions for keeping the work of the ministry from becoming stale and getting off track. I particularly appreciated what he had to say about the importance of balancing purposeful rest with hard work. In fact, the book is full of well-formed balancing points. For lots of reasons, I read the text at just the right time.

The following quotes from Excellence: The Character of God and the Pursuit of Scholarly Virtue should give some indication of how helpful this text can be in thinking about spiritual diagnosis and spiritual effort.

Being set apart unto God as a scholar also entails a rejection of the false modernist dichotomy between faith and scholarship, a wholehearted pursuit of truth, complete dependence on the guidance and empowerment of the Holy Spirit, a balanced life that does not turn our scholarship into an idol, an awareness that the primary orientation of our work is to be missional, and an engagement in spiritual warfare through faithful witness to the truth.

Without the Spirit’s empowerment, our pursuit of holiness and excellence through growth in godly virtues will devolve into mere human self-effort that invariably results in pride and failure.

The primary spiritual disciplines advocated by Scripture are prayer and the obedient study of God’s Word.

We need to cultivate the discipline of rest, of regular time set aside for reflection, planning, and relaxation. In the long run, this will ensure that we will be at our most productive. I often find that after a week or two away from the office, I return invigorated, sharper, and more focused and alert.

The principle, then, is this: rest in God’s grace, look to him for guidance, and then do the work (in that order!). Don’t put self-effort and striving ahead of listening to God. And balance hard work with regular rest and relaxation (which means don’t forget to take a vacation once in a while, or take a day off on your son’s or daughter’s birthday or on your anniversary).

Mediocrity, sloppy workmanship, and a half-hearted effort do not bring glory to God or advance his kingdom.

The message here is not simply to try harder, to put in more effort, and to make things happen through sheer force of will. Salvation is entirely by God’s grace (Eph. 2:8–9), and sanctification is by grace as well (Eph. 2:10). This means that the pursuit of scholarly excellence must be undergirded by a keen sense of God’s continual grace in the personal and professional spheres of our lives and that we should pursue scholarly excellence in an environment of grace, not in a spirit of self-effort or unhealthy competition.

As evangelicals, we have too often, in Franky Schaeffer’s words, been “addicted to mediocrity,” and this mediocrity has in many cases become a curse—a curse that has kept us from reaching our personal, creative, and academic potential given to us by God, and has prevented us from impacting other believers as well as unbelievers for the glory of God and for his kingdom.

To your wisdom, add grace. Everything a Christian does should be characterized by grace. Grace should permeate our thoughts, words, and actions, and make a noticeable impression on those with whom we come in contact, both believers and unbelievers.

What are you and I going to do? Will our scholarship be characterized by a mean-spirited, confrontational, and harsh attitude? The writings of some evangelicals show little love for their scholarly opponents; in fact, one might almost conclude that they despise them. Unfortunately, these brothers in Christ do not seem to realize that the scholars on the other side of a given issue are, ultimately speaking, not the enemy. Satan is our common enemy.

Graciousness in response to criticism requires that we take ourselves out of scholarship to some degree and leave the results in God’s hands.

This balance, of course, is hard to achieve. It is much easier to spend long hours in one’s study and to ratchet up an impressive record of scholarly publications while neglecting one’s family. Conversely, someone may be a great father and husband but only a mediocre scholar (though, if a choice has to be made, the latter is, of course, to be preferred over the former).

While dangers are doubtless lurking ahead, commit yourself to excellence. The God you serve is himself characterized by excellence, and that same God has called you to the pursuit of excellence for his glory and for the good of others. If you pursue excellence and progress in it, you and others will be blessed, and God will be glorified.

HT: Dr. Andreas Köstenberger, Museum of Historical Medical Artifacts (transmission sphygmograph photo)

A Layman’s Faith


Religio Laici, or A Layman’s Faith. John Dryden’s radical 1682 poem comprises a warrant for personal discipleship.

“For every man is building a several way; impotently conceited of his own model, and his own materials: reason is always striving, and always at a loss; and of necessity it must so come to pass, while it is exercised about that which is not its proper object. Let us be content at last, to know God, by his own methods; at least, so much of him, as he is pleased to reveal to us in the sacred Scriptures; to apprehend them to be the word of God, is all our reason has to do; for all beyond it is the work of faith, which is the seal of heaven impressed upon our human understanding.

“Yet to such as are grounded in the true belief, those explanatory Creeds, the Nicene and this of Athanasius, might perhaps be spared: for what is supernatural will always be a mystery in spite of exposition: and for my own part the plain Apostles Creed, is most suitable to my weak understanding; as the simplest diet is the most easy of digestion.

“But, by asserting the Scripture to be the canon of our faith, I have unavoidably created to myself two sorts of enemies: the papists indeed, more directly, because they have kept the Scripture from us, what they could; and have reserved to themselves a right of interpreting what they have delivered under the pretence of infallibility: and the fanatics more collaterally, because they have assumed what amounts to an infallibility in the private spirit: and have distorted those texts of Scripture, which are not necessary to salvation, to the damnable uses of sedition, disturbance, and destruction of the civil government.

“The florid, elevated, and figurative way is for the passions; for love and hatred, fear and anger, are begotten in the soul by showing their objects out of their true proportion; either greater than the life, or less; but instruction is to be given by showing them what they naturally are. A man is to be cheated into passion, but to be reasoned into Truth.”
John Dryden, Preface to Religio Laici, 1682

(Ed: One of our regular readers complained recently about the length of a typical Veracity post. His complaint was that they are too short. Well…far be it from us to ignore our readers.)
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How We Got the Bible (Part 1)

“We should not imagine a committee of church fathers with a large pile of books and these five guiding principles before them when we speak of the process of canonization. No ecumenical committee was commissioned to canonize the Bible.”

Norman L. Geisler and William E. Nix, From God To Us Revised and Expanded: How We Got Our Bible

The Ecumenical Council

The Ecumenical Council by Salvador Dali, 1960


Our church’s Statement of Faith is pretty minimal. We only list eight core beliefs, the second of which states that we believe “in the inspiration of all the Scriptures by the Holy Spirit, and that they are the final authority for our faith and practice.”

“…final authority for our faith and practice?” Really?!

Our founders didn’t draft up this idea—it is delineated in the historic confessions of the Christian church. Consider the absolute implications of this statement. It means the Bible contains the foundations for Christian faith and practice, and that we are bound to it in all matters. We don’t get to impart our personal, alternative views. We don’t get to cherry pick which parts we like or which parts we would write differently. We don’t get to interpret what it says in ways that are contradictory to it. When we disagree with someone else’s view or interpretation, we submit to the final authority of the Bible. No appeals. We believe the Bible comprises God’s special revelation to us.

If you’ve been reading Veracity for any length of time, you know that we are big on personal discipleship—which we define as the process in which a believer or seeker takes personal responsibility for investigating the claims and content of the Bible. Personal Discipleship is based on the Bible.

Exactly how did we get the Bible?

Welcome to our latest Veracity series.  If you’re like me or Salvador Dali you may have developed some loose derivative notions such as:

  • God told a select group of human authors what to write,
  • Their writings were evaluated by committees of men in silly hats,
  • These ecumenical councils voted on which writings would be in “the Bible,” and
  • Later ecumenical councils clarified and solidified the final selection (and some modified it).

In fact, if you read what Wikipedia has to say about Ecumenical Councils it sounds like a pretty cut-and-dried historical process. But is that all there is to it? For that matter are these notions even correct? Are we to live our lives under the complete authority of documents that were assembled by ancient and medieval committees? How do we know that the Bible we hold in our hands today is what God intended for us to have? What if it was corrupted in its translations or transmission? How do we know that we have the right books, and why do we disagree along denominational lines about what should be included in the ‘Holy’ Bible?

In preparing for this series I read a lot of texts that come at these questions from a canonical perspective (focusing on how the official list of biblical texts was created and adopted). I must confess, that was originally my interest as well. But Drs. Norman Geisler and William Nix have a more comprehensive, full-orbed understanding, which they explain in From God To Us Revised and Expanded: How We Got Our Bible. So let’s dig in and see what these and other scholars have to bring to our understanding of how we got the Bible.


Over the course of this series we will look at the inspiration, canonization, transmission, and translation of the Bible. But before we dive into the topic of inspiration here’s a Mini Bible College audio clip from Dick Woodward to give us the big picture.

Dick did a masterful job summarizing the basics for us, and Geisler and Nix will delve more deeply into the details (particularly when we get to the process of canonization). We’ll go slowly and see what we can learn about the book that comprises the authoritative basis for our Christian faith and practice.

Additional Resources

From God To UsNorman L. Geisler and William E. Nix, From God To Us Revised and Expanded: How We Got Our Bible.

Michael J. Kruger, The Question of Canon: Challenging the Status Quo in the New Testament Debate.

Dick Woodward, Mini Bible College Audio Download.

Robert Laird Harris, Inspiration and Canonicity of the Bible: An Historical and Exegetical Study.

Jack P. Lewis, Jamnia After Forty Years.

Brooke Foss Westcott, A General Survey of the History of the Canon of the New Testament during the First Four Centuries.



Podcasts for the Thinking Christian

Plumb LineJohn’ s recent post on William Lane Craig’s Defender Series of podcasts brought to mind that I should update my list of recommended podcasts for the thinking Christian (here is an earlier list John and I have discussed).  I do not have the time to read books as much as I would like, but the marvel of MP3 players is that I can download audio files and listen to them while I work in the yard or drive to and from work.

John’s suggestion of William Lane Craig as the “graduate school” for the next step following after Dick Woodward’s Mini Bible College is very appropriate. Dick was an amazing teacher who continues to impact the world through his unique ability to “put things on the bottom shelf” for people by exploring the basic contours of the Bible. Dr. Craig then makes it more in-depth in terms of helping you grasp and develop your own understanding of God (theology) founded on Scripture and then applied in terms of being able to offer a rational defense of the Christian faith (apologetics).

But just as there are fine and different academic graduate schools out there, there are different “graduate school” approaches to theology and apologetics. For example, Dr. Craig is probably one of the leading Christian apologists alive today, such that atheist Richard Dawkins awkwardly still refuses to debate him. But Dr. Craig is known for his “Middle Knowledge” approach to the issue of God’s sovereignty vs. free will. He is also known for his classical/evidentialist approach to apologetics.  Without digging too much into those things right now, let me just say that not everybody is totally with Dr. Craig on these issues. But, PLEASE, do not let that dissuade you from digging into William Lane Craig! He is awesome! It is just important to know that there are other approaches that Christians take to these issues. You might want to check out some of the other podcast resources available to get a flavor of what is out there. So here we go!

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Resurrection: Dick Woodward

Dick Woodward

Dick Woodward. Evidence #1 for the Hope and Truth of the Resurrection.

My favorite Dick Woodward story goes back to my days just out of college, about 25 years ago. Dick and I met for lunch at Taco Bell. After I had taken his scooter out of the car and we got into the restaurant, Dick immediately ordered five large tacos.  I leaned over to Dick and said, “You know, I am not really in the mood for tacos, as I was just hoping to get a quesadilla or two“. Dick, in his most charming way, replied, “Well, actually I was just ordering for myself.”

The man could put away some food.

If you have not read John Paine’s tribute to Dick Woodward yet, I would encourage you to do so. Today, our church held a service celebrating the life and legacy of Dick Woodward. I have a few thoughts of my own to add…
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