Category Archives: Tools

To Know With Certainty: A Perfect Present for a High School Graduate

On a recent trip down to Florida, my wife and I met up with a cousin of my mom’s, Dr. G. Lee Southard. Lee has been retired for a few years, living with his wife, Nancy, in Ft. Myers, Florida. After a successful career in pharmaceuticals, Lee has now become a Christian author. So, if you are looking for a great book, to give to a high school graduate, I can make the perfect recommendation, as I personally know the author!

The title is pretty self-explanatory, To Know With Certainty: Answers to Christian Students’ Questions Upon Leaving High School. As a proud grandfather, Lee has become burdened with what he sees is a crisis among today’s Christian youth. In his book, Lee cites a troublesome statistic, that roughly 1 out of 3 kids growing up, in Christian homes today, will probably leave the church, sometime after hitting age 18, never to return back to the church. Like me, Lee believes that most young people, in evangelical churches, are woefully unprepared, to survive the cultural pressures that exist to desensitize young Christian people from sticking with the Christian faith. Many Christian parents and even youth leaders and pastors, are either unaware of the challenges that young people face today, or they lack the resources to know how to help equip young people to face these challenges.

After taking a quick read, I am excited to say that Lee has written a most excellent book. To Know With Certainty has several features that make this such a great gift to a high school graduate:

  • To Know with Certainty is unpretentious, and down-to-earth, without being shallow. Lee opens the book with a forward, by a former classmate of his, Bobby Ross, a retired college football head coach (The Citadel, University of Maryland) and retired NFL football head coach (San Diego Chargers and Detroit Lions). Lee’s writing shows that he is a thoughtful writer, as you get a sense of his strive for excellence and detail, harkening back to his years getting a PhD in chemistry.
  • To Know with Certainty is short, without being skimpy. At under 130 pages, this book is far from being overwhelming. But he hits all of the major topics, and challenges facing students today, in Christian apologetics.
  • Want to know about the challenges to a young person’s faith, once they leave high school? Read this book. Does God exist? Who is Jesus? Is the New Testament true? How did the Christian church develop? Is America a Christian nation? What about the supposed conflict between science and faith? These and many more topics make this a very comprehensive, compact tool.
  • To Know with Certainty is fair and balanced. This is what I liked the most about the book, in that a lot of books, in this genre, can sound like they have an axe to grind. But Lee is really good about laying out some facts and ideas, and encouraging the reader to do their own research, and think for themselves.

I know I sound like I am gushing with enthusiasm for To Know with Certainty, as I know the author, but it really is wonderful. Nevertheless, I would change up just a few things, if I was writing this book.

For example, Lee’s treatment of Christianity’s role in American history is very good, yet I would not make as much use of the work of populist historian David Barton, as Lee apparently did. There are much more reliable evangelical Christian historians out there, who can give an accurate reading of American history, with respect to the story of Christianity.

Also, Lee uses the terminology of “theistic evolution,” to describe the efforts of some Christians, to try to find compatibility between Neo-Darwinian biological theory and the Christian faith. A lot of “theistic evolution” advocates are all over the place theologically, and do not necessarily present the best case for reconciling the Bible with contemporary science. Alternatively, those who intentionally speak of “evolutionary Creationism,” are generally better advocates for a view of science that is compatible with conservative evangelical Christianity, a point that Lee does not bring up clearly. However, Lee does a great job showcasing some of the leading ideas, being advanced by Christians, including Young Earth Creationism and Old Earth Creationism. Nevertheless, it is clear that Lee favors an Old Earth Creationist approach, blended with arguments for Intelligent Design, which is arguably a centrist position in the Creation debate.

Lee also does not address timely, cultural issues regarding race, and particularly gender, ranging from same-sex marriage to the transgender trend, that confuses a lot of young people today. Having just a short chapter on such topics would have rounded out the book a bit more completely.

But these criticisms are minor, as the book is really geared as an introduction towards your typical high school graduate, and their parents. I just ordered several copies, to give out to some young people, who are finishing high school this June, to encourage them in their faith journey. If you want to learn more about the book, go to Lee’s website.  He might even send you an autographed copy, just like I got!! Or just go over to Amazon, and order that gift to that young person leaving high school soon!

 


The Church Needs Both Fathers and Mothers: A Plea for Unity and Truth

FINALLY, the last in a series on women in ministry in the church.

In the midst of this Holy Week, I want to close out this series with some personal reflections, as I “land the plane,” and propose a vision of how to move forward in the complementarian vs. egalitarian discussion, with respect to ministry to the world around us. At the outset, I will acknowledge that a lot of my Christian friends, to either side of me, will disagree with me. I will admit, right off, I might be quite wrong about a lot of this. Nevertheless, I am quite OK about going out on a limb here. So, let us see if I fall off or not.

All I ask is for you to hear me out, look back over the previous 19 or so blog posts, to see how I built my argument, and then engage me on that basis, and show me where I am falling off balance. Most of my critics have either not read the whole series, or have selectively read what I have written, which is a pattern I have come to expect. If I need correction, I encourage you to provide it. Just please engage the actual arguments I present. Thanks!

Christians today are divided by many issues. Whether it be the age of the earth, the nature of the millennium, the timing of the Rapture, infant vs. believer’s baptism, charismatic gifts, etc., the opportunities for division come up quite frequently. The problem is that the Evil One enjoys seeing believers in conflict with one another, as it is part of the demonic strategy to divide and conquer the church of God. When Christians are involved in pitched battles with one another, the witness of the church is compromised.

A word of wisdom I have gained over the years, as relayed by a pastor in my church:  Divisions in the church breeds atheism in the world.

The question of “should women serve as elders, deacons, or pastors” is a particularly sensitive topic in this category. Whereas topics like “science vs. the Bible” typically generate interest only among a few, the relationship between men and women in the church impacts everyone who calls themselves a Christian. Pile on top of this, the cultural pressures in recent times, that seek to redefine gender, in all sorts of areas, one could argue that gender-related issues might well become more overpowering than a “disputable matters” approach can bear. Time will tell.


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Can Women Serve as Elders, Deacons or Pastors?

Second in a multipart blog series.

In the first post in this multipart blog series, I raise the question: “Should women serve as elders, deacons, or pastors” in a church?

But notice what I did NOT ask. I did NOT ask: “Can women serve as elders, deacons, or pastors?”

Do women have the capabilities, talents, stamina, etc. to exercise leadership? So, can women serve as elders, deacons, or pastors?

Of course they can.

At least, it should be apparent by now that women are just as talented, if not more so, than men, at many, many things. Granted, this must be examined at the individual level. Some are more capable than others, whether they be men or women.

Various Christian groups have been electing women to serve as ordained, or otherwise, as spiritual leaders for a long time. Various Pentecostal and Holiness groups have been ordaining women since the late 19th century, and many of these women have done a spectacular job at what they have done. The Quakers have been encouraging women leadership in the church since the 17th century. Plus, there are different kinds of leadership and ministry skills needed in the church, where the needs far exceed the willingness of Christians to heed the call. It would be fair to say that God has used these women preachers and leaders to build His Kingdom.

An old traditional, patriarchal view suggested that women were somehow inferior, or that they lacked something to be able to perform as well as men. Many Christians over the years have been guilty of perpetuating the idea. Some still do so today. But Galatians 3:28 should be evidence enough that such misogyny has no place in the thought of the believer:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (ESV).

Old habits die hard. But die they must.

Nevertheless, the question of can women do these things is NOT the same as should they do them. For some who overreact to the old patriarchal ways, the fact that I distinguish between the two questions might come as a shock, and may even sound abrasive. I just encourage both sides in the discussion to keep reading.1

Broadly speaking, at the risk of grievously oversimplifying, there are two camps within evangelicalism that try to address this question of “should.”

Complementarians believe that men and women are to complement one another in ministry. However, women should not exercise positions of spiritual authority or headship, over men, in the church.

Egalitarians believe that men and women are equal with one another in ministry.  As a result, both men AND women should be eligible to serve together in all positions of spiritual authority in the church.

The issues between complementarians and egalitarians are complex. Complementarians are concerned that egalitarians are minimizing the differences between men and women, to the detriment of both women and men, and introducing complex assumptions into our reading of Scripture, that are hard to sustain, in good conscience. Egalitarians are concerned that complementarians are trying to smuggle misogynist, woman-hating thinking back into the church, while they ignore valuable cultural factors present, in how Scripture is read.

A lot of Christians, perhaps the majority, are somewhere in between. In fact, it is probably more realistic to think of the complementarian/egalitarian debate as something that exists on a continuum. A number of Christians, like me, might lean one way, more than the other, but we want to try to figure out how to make peace with one another, so that we can move on towards other, more important things.

The following blog posts are an attempt to address just some of the issues, mostly related to how the Bible is to be interpreted, in a way that the average student of Scripture can comprehend. Hopefully, I have done my homework correctly, and put such weighty matters down on the bottom shelf, as much as possible, so that as many as possible can reach for them, and think them through.

You probably will not be able to tell where I will “land the plane,” based on the majority of these blog posts, near the beginning. Both sides deserve a fair hearing. Just hang in there, as you will eventually discover where this is going. But you will quickly figure out that there are hyper-complementarian and hyper-egalitarian readings of the Bible that ought to be rejected. Some of these hyper-complementarian and hyper-egalitarian views are amazingly popular, in different corners of the evangelical church.

Before continuing on, I would urge the reader to consider looking at some of the other blog posts I have written on this topic before, to fill in some of the gaps. In particular, one of the most troublesome issues is in the very terminology we use, such as terms like “elder,” “deacon,” and “pastor.” You might want to start there before moving on much further. If you get lost, go back to the first blog post, where I am keeping track of the series.

Until next time…..

Notes:

1. Well, surely questions like should women serve as X, Y, or Z, as well as can women serve as X, Y, or Z, are good questions. But perhaps a more profound, and more meaningful question is, who are the elders, deacons, and pastors in a church? This is quite a different question, as it touches upon very deep topics regarding the structure of the church (ecclesiology) and a theology of gender (part of a theological anthropology), which is too much to go into here, at the present time.


The Shifting Theological Landscape Regarding the Land: Zionism #14

Changes in theology over the years has shifted the conversation regarding the land promise for Israel.

Changes in theology over the years has shifted the conversation regarding the land promise for Israel.

Up to this point in this series, I have been painting the conversation, between dispensationalist and covenant theologies, in rather broad strokes, when it comes to the question of Christian Zionism. Here I want to explain why the actual conversation is a lot more fluid, as this has been a learning process for me over the years.

As a young believer in Christ, not knowing much about the Bible, I was taught a number of things about Israel and prophecy. I did not know it at the time, as it was all presented to me in terms of “this is what the Bible says.” Why else would I have thought any differently?

A few years later, I was involved in a Bible study (with a bunch of NASA engineers!), and I learned that what I had been taught, was part of the theological system of dispensationalism. There were some in the group, who favored covenant theology, as the traditional perspective, and others who favored dispensationalism, as the critique of that tradition. I felt like I was watching a ping-pong match, as representatives from both sides were duking it out verbally with one another, each side with their list of Bible proof texts. I knew some of my Bible, but not as well as I wish I had, to follow the discussion. My head was spinning.

My Journey Through the Shifting Theological Landscape of Regarding Israel

Determined to try to get a grip on this stuff, I took an opportunity to go on a trip to the Holy Land, and find out for myself, in 1994. I walked away from that experience thinking that the dispensationalist framework I had been originally taught was lacking. It did not match up well with what I saw, touring around the streets of Bethlehem, Jericho and Jerusalem, and conversing particularly with Palestinian Christians.

Numbers 24:9 tells us that, “Whoever blesses Israel will be blessed, And whoever curses Israel will be cursed (Good News Translation).”  So many of my Christian friends were telling me that the modern geopolitical entity of “Israel” was to be equated with the “Israel” of the Old Testament. Therefore, as a Christian, I needed to think of the modern-state of Israel in some type of special, “spiritual” manner. If I failed to do so, I would be missing out on the blessings that God would have for me, at best, or at worst, even heaping curses upon myself.

However, I simply had trouble trying to line up the Biblical description of “Israel” with what I was seeing in this Middle Eastern country, where the majority of the people (still) do not appear to believe in God. They needed, and still need, to hear about Jesus, just like anyone else.

So the whole “Numbers 24:9” thing about modern, secular Israel just did not make sense to me any more.

I realized that I was not getting “the rest of the story,” as Paul Harvey put it. So, with less time and energy left to spend on the issue, I just checked off the box favoring “covenant theology” instead, and I promptly moved on.1

Rethinking Israel, Yet Again

But things have changed dramatically over the past twenty-five years.2 There was a time when Dallas Theological Seminary was the theological springboard for sending out pastors and Bible teachers all over the world, for promoting Scofield-approved, full-blown dispensationalism.

Those days are long over. Now, Dallas Seminary still holds to a broad dispensationalist framework, but there is a progressive dispensationalism movement that has sought to correct some of the missteps of older generations, while still holding onto some fundamental principles.3

Just as progressive covenantalism attempts to reform the older, classic covenant theology, and purge it of “replacement theology” excesses, progressive dispensationalism does the same for classic dispensationalism, for its extreme excesses. In progressive dispensationalism, the distinction between Israel and the church in the Bible is still there, but it is more muted and relaxed. A sense of the oneness of the people of God is maintained through the whole of Scripture, but not at the expense of particular promises made to Old Testament Israel.

In progressive dispensationalism, there is still a place for the promises made specifically to ethnic Israel, though they are to be fully realized when the Jewish people come to faith in Jesus as their Messiah, when the Messiah returns to rule at the Second Coming. This would include the land promise. The emphasis is not so much on the events of 1948 or 1967, but rather on the future hope of the returning Messiah, being reunited with His lost people.

Interestingly, if the fulfillment of the land promise is only fully realized when Jesus comes back to a converted, worshipping national Israel, that would largely nullify much of the critique that is often leveled against Zionism. Among Christians, what drives a lot of the antagonism towards Zionism today is the current secular and controversially (!!!) ungodly character, associated by many observers, with the modern nation-state of Israel. But what if the picture of “Israel’s” future, as described in the Bible is bigger, than what you hear about from the news media?

For years, I was stuck on this: If the “Israelis” are really “the people of God,” how come they do not apparently act or think like God’s people? But if national Israel, who claims the land promise, truly comes to faith and knows Jesus as the Messiah, that would be a game changer. For with a truly converted national Israel and a believing church, the oneness of the people of God would be firmly established. That would be something to see.

Frankly, in the past five years, the discovery of this progressive dispensationalism view, has made me rethink a lot of how I view the land promise. It has encouraged me more to pray for Israel, not so much for geopolitical interests, but rather for spiritual interests. It has prompted me to seek the Lord that He might reveal the true messianic identity of Jesus to those who dwell in the Holy Land.

Zionism is Not So Much a Dispensational/Covenant Theology Issue Anymore

Furthermore, what has been more challenging, and (at times) rather confusing, is that the traditional boundaries between dispensationalism and covenant theology, regarding the land promise, have been breaking down.  There are Christians now who do not consider themselves dispensationalists, but who nevertheless are supporters of Zionism. Likewise, there are dispensationalists who are against Zionism. Go figure.4

In other words, there are Christians who do not buy into the whole dispensationalist theological program,5 but they nevertheless believe that the land promise given to national Israel is still applicable regarding the Holy Land. They may not subscribe to “the Rapture,”  or even a belief in Premillennialism, but they do think that God does promise the Jews their traditional homeland, in some sense.

At the same time, there are those who embrace many of the doctrinal points of dispensationalism, yet they are cautious about the brand of Zionism that is popular today. Who knows? Granted, this is a terrible thought, but not beyond possibility: If God could kick the people of out the land twice before (the Babylonian Exile, the Roman destruction of Jerusalem), what is to prevent God from doing it again?

So, while the classic evangelical dispute between dispensationalism and covenant theology may help to frame the principles that define the debate, it may not serve as a clear indication as to where someone “stands” on the question of Zionism. Christian belief in Zionism defies easy categorization.

There are a few more things to consider before I can come to any sort of conclusion regarding the future of “the land,” but I will save that for the next couple of blog posts.

Notes:

1. Just prior to my trip to the Middle East, I also had read George Eldon Ladd’s highly influential, A Theology of the New Testament, along with some of Ladd’s other shorter writings, which convinced me that a classic, dispensationalist reading of the Bible was far from an obvious reading of the actual Scriptural text, contrary to what I had been taught as a young Christian. Dispensationalism was more like a system being imposed on the text of Scripture. When I first read (on page 123, the 1974 edition), that dispensationalism taught that the Sermon on the Mount was not for the church, I wrote a note in the margins, “How convenient.” If you did not like something in the Bible, you could just “dispense” with it by placing God’s commands for righteousness into a different dispensation. Ladd’s book was an eye opener. Interestingly though, this did not mean that Ladd was necessarily a “covenant theologian” either. Critics of covenant theology can make a similar case, that covenant theology is also theological system imposed upon the text!…A FURTHER NOTE: the old Scofield Bible has this to say about the Sermon on the Mount, “The Sermon on the Mount in its primary application gives neither the privilege nor the duty of the Church.” However, in fairness, such a radical statement can not be found in my 1967 copy of the New Scofield Bible. Thankfully, more recent generations of dispensationalists have revised their position!

2. I will never forget a conversation I had with a former pastor, about five years ago, who told me that the late, radio preacher J. Vernon McGee was not convinced that modern day Israel was necessarily the fulfillment of Bible prophecy. I was stunned by the news! In his day, McGee was probably one of the most vocal proponents of “Charles-Ryrie-style” dispensationalism around, so I just merely assumed he would have been a full-fledged support of contemporary Zionism. If you are a dispensationalist, and you are disappointed by McGee’s uncertainty, I would encourage you to read the following blog essay from New Zealand film writer and author, Dalton Thomas, excerpted from his book, The Controversy of Zion and the Time of Jacob’s Trouble, who makes a Scriptural argument, demonstrating that the establishment of the modern state of Israel in 1948 does not meet the criterion of Bible prophecy fulfilled. Less you get confused, Dalton Thomas still believes that the land promises to Israel are for the future.

3. Darrell Bock, a New Testament scholar at Dallas Seminary, whom I highly respect, stands out as the leading spokesperson today, among scholars, for a progressive dispensationalism. Bock understands that the millennial saints who rule with Christ in the coming national kingdom of Israel will be resurrected Jews in glorified bodies (see Perspectives on Israel and the Church, footnote, page 16): This is a very interesting view, and very new to me within the past year or so of exploring this issue. If the city of Jerusalem and the surrounding area is to be run by “resurrected Jews,” at some point in the future, I sincerely doubt that Palestinian Christians, who have felt the weight of oppression from modern, secular Israel, will have much to worry about then!

4. For example, Messianic Jewish scholar and apologist Michael Brown does not consider himself to be a dispensationalist, but he is very much an advocate for Zionism. Old Testament scholar, Walter Kaiser, told me in a personal conversation that he considered himself to be a promise theologian, neither a dispensationalist, nor a covenant theologian! 

5. The recent shift in the discussion about the theology behind Zionism is very helpful to me. While there are extreme elements in some covenant theology that are not very good, I am also bothered by the extreme elements in dispensationalism. When I started to dig more into the topic of Israel a few years ago, I was pretty much dead-set against Zionism because of its tight connection to “hyper” forms of popular dispensationalism. Advocates of Zionism would do well to try pry away the negative elements of the dispensationalist tradition, if they wish to advance their cause, particularly among young people.


THEOCAST (Evangelical Discretion Is Advised)

In his Veracity video interview, Clarke Morledge described his theological leaning as, “Reformed with a small ‘r’.” What in the world does that mean? Is it about the mode of baptism, or is there more to it than that? Clarke?

Our church is currently working through Wayne Grudem’s foundational   Systematic Theology.  Grudem describes his theological perspective as ‘Reformed.’ The glossary in his indispensable text defines Reformed as, “Another term for the theological tradition known as Calvinism.” Who am I to disagree with one of Evangelical Christianity’s foremost 21st Century theologians, but I’m not sure that Reformed = Calvinism.

These and many other potentially thorny topics are the subjects of a new blog and YouTube channel. Theocast is, “Four broken men and their humble attempts to explain infinite grace with finite minds. Simply just adding to the ongoing (2,000-year) conversation about biblical and theological matters from a reformed perspective.”

Theocast

These four pastors are sharp. If you watch their About Us video, they describe their goal to give everyone access to discussions you don’t hear in ‘normal’ conversation. They have gone to great pains to do so, and they do it very well.

If you’re a little worn out listening to shallow conversations, give these guys a try. You may not agree with their perspectives and opinions, but you will probably learn something interesting.

 


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