Select Page

Certainty, Chapter Six

 
TENTATIVE TOWARD TRUTH
(Correlation between Truth and Certainty)
 
Antagonism toward Objective, Propositional Truth
Until postmodernism, most people assumed certain truth to exist. With postmodernism, truth is what you make it to be. There is now no transcendent truth, other than what is found in the individual or in communities. Contradiction between viewpoints is inevitable. Augustine said, “All truth is God’s truth” but postconservatives say, “Everyone’s perspective in consensus is God’s perspective.” Above all, we must jettison certainty about truth. Some even discard a final criterion for truth. The pursuit of relevance as an ultimate assumption will catapult evangelicals into irrelevance. True relevance comes from the eternal God who speaks with utter relevance to man’s needs in his Word. Postconservatives sacrifice truth on the altar of unity. To them, we must be tolerant at all cost, even at the cost of truth.
There is a similarity of postmodernism to existentialism for existentialism denies absolute truth. The difference in postmodernism is that they can create truth as a perspective on reality, not reality itself. Truth is communal so they construct perspectives socially, but this socially constructed truth is subject to change. This makes truth, or rather perspectives on truth, highly subjective.
Brian McLaren in his A New Kind of Christian says through Neo that even Scripture is neither authoritative (in a “modern” sense) nor a foundation for faith.[1] McLaren claims in other places that Scripture should have a supreme place in the church, but not because it is objectively true, but because of its status in the Christian community.
Postconservatives demonstrate proclivity to value doubt and distrust certainty because they alter their view of truth. Postmodernism developed distrust in belief and commitment because of radical commitments such as Nazism, fascism, and communism in the twentieth century. They draw careless parallels to Christianity in this regard. Their only certainty is the self-contradiction proclamation that there is no certainty! This is their indutible and self-evident presupposition.
Jean-Francois Lyotard, professor of philosophy at the University of Paris, is the foremost defender of secular postmodernism. To him, it is impossible to make a universal truth claim. All claims of truth are limited and insular and come from different communities of meaning. Michael Foucault, another secular postmodernist, claimed that even the author died thus all meaning must be deconstructed, thus morals are relative to the individual. The thinking of these men led to a crisis in theology. George Lindbeck and Hans Frei of the New Yale School tried to grapple with postmodernism in relation to theology. They shifted Christian theology from propositional truth based on revelation to self-conscious, local, and particular claims embedded in cultural and language. All this was an attempt to remove the offensive truth claims of biblical revelation such as “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), or “Neither is there salvation in any other” (Acts 4:12).
Following postmodern theology, postmodern evangelical Stanley Grenz (now deceased) bought into theological postmodernism. Bernard Ramm, as well, in his book After Fundamentalism shifts the basis of evangelicalism from “creed-based” viewpoint to spirituality-based distinctiveness. He wants to move from propositions to practical orientation in theological viewpoint. Grenz wishes to move evangelicals from orientation to propositions of Scripture to spirituality. This swing from propositions to spirituality is at the heart of an evangelical crisis. It is a move from doctrine to subjective spirituality. Theology for the postconservative becomes a practical discipline oriented to the Christian community. Truth claims are implicit in community belief. Thus, truth is inherent in the community so the role of Scripture in theology is “ultimately unnecessary.”[2] Grenz simply assumes the authority of the Bible because it is the universally acknowledge book of Christians. The issue is “community faith.”According to him, the community must simply assume the Bible but not defend it. He shifts study of doctrine of the Word to internal discussion within theological systems. This view is similar to the New Yale School of thinkers including Lindbeck.[3] All this abandonment of universal truth to a community “is a massive concession fatal to any evangelical theology” according to Mohler:
It is precisely at the doctrine of Scripture that Grenz’s proposal is most dangerous—and yet most attractive to those seeking a retreat into a ‘postmodern’ evangelicalism. By arguing that evangelicals should simply ‘assume’ the authority of the Bible because we can establish an ‘integral relation’ between theology and the Christian community, and by asserting that the Bible is the church’s ‘universally acknowledged book,’ Grenz offers evangelicals a convenient way out of the pattern of debates and controversies over the inerrancy and inspiration of Scripture. Nevertheless, Scripture has been displaced as the foundation of Christian theology, and it must stand beside communal Christian experience. At root, Grenz’s argument is more anthropological and phenomenological than theological.
Though he directs evangelicals toward a renewed appreciation for narrative with the Christian community, he has effectively forfeited the historic Christian claim to the universal truthfulness of the church’s meta-narrative, drawn from Scripture.[4]
Many evangelicals now affirm errors in biblical autographs. In 1979 Rogers and McKim of Fuller Theological Seminary wrote the book The Authority and Interpretation of the Bible which propagated a functional or coherentist view of Scripture rather than a correspondent view of Scripture. The purpose of the book was to separate the purpose of Scripture from its material content. John Woodbridge, Richard Gaffin, and Richard Muller decisively smashed the credibility of that book, but Rogers and McKim did their damage to the evangelical world.
Most postmodern evangelicals are antagonistic to objective, propositional truth. They accommodate their view of truth to postmodernism becoming antagonistic toward objective knowledge of God. There is no one-to-one correlation between language and reality. All we can know is how it appears in the perspectives of a community as they use their own given language to understand what is out there. All they can know in philosophy of social convention is what constricts to their community’s social convention. They cannot know propositions of objective truth. Doctrine for them is the product of human expression on the stories of the Bible. They have no universal, objective criterion to distinguish truth from error (Deuteronomy 13:1-5; 18:20-22).
For Grenz and Franke, the Bible is not the revelation of God but a means or channel of his revelation. It is the reflection of the Hebrew community and the early church. They displace what the original authors intended with how it affects the current community of believers look at it.
Discarding Certainty of Truth by Assimilation and Accommodation
By decisively assimilating into postmodernism, postconservatives reject objective truth, final truth, absolute truth, or certain truth. In do so, they incorporate postmodern presuppositions about what is true. They do this through “emergent” thinking by accommodating truth to culture. Douglas Groothuis argues against this attempt to reach postmoderns by accommodation of truth:
Some Christians are hailing postmodernism as the trend that will make the church interesting and exciting to postmoderns. We are told that Christians must shift their emphasis from objective truth to communal experience, from rational arguments to subjective appeal, from doctrinal orthodoxy to “relevant” practices. I have reasoned throughout this book that this move is nothing less than fatal to Christian integrity and biblical witness.[5]
David Wells in his 1993 book No Place for Truth says evangelicals are so caught up in culture that “popular sentiment is allowed to define what truth is.”[6] If that statement was true then it is even truer now. Wells also makes this alarming statement:
That this emasculation has taken place among the evangelicals is, on the face of it, most surprising. After all, they have steadfastly resisted until relatively recently every attempt to ease the difficulty implicit in believing in truth in the modern world. They have refused to come to peace with doctrinal change as have Catholics after Newman’s time. They staunchly opposed the Modernists effort to surrender doctrine in favor of “life,” as if religious consciousness could be a substitute for biblical truth. And it is as doctrinal people that they have defined themselves through much of the twentieth century, But this identity is now rapidly dissipating.[7]
Again, Wells spells out pluralism’s impact on truth:
And so evangelicals have also come to terms psychologically with our society’s structural pluralism and its lack of interest in matters of truth. Good works are seldom offensive in the modern world; it is a belief in truth that is troublesome.[8]
Accommodation is another attempt to contextualize truth to culture. Just as Hilton hotels accommodate their guests, so postconservatives accommodate truth to prevailing cultural conditions. This buys into the world system and undermines Christianity by accommodating truth to viewpoints, perspectives, or cultures. The line of demarcation between Christianity and other viewpoints is the unique revelation of God in Christ through his Word. Hindus and Buddhists need to be converted, not accommodated.
All these attempts at accommodation result in negation of truth, the uniqueness of Christ, and Christianity. No doubt, there is a necessity for each culture to express theology in each cultural context, but there is great danger in syncretism and accommodation of truth itself to culture. Postevangelicals do more than contextualize Christianity; they compromise its truth and distinctiveness. In an attempt to reconcile disparate and opposing beliefs, they meld various beliefs into one great glob.
Many other cultures have gone the route of syncretism. Greek paganism incorporated Hellenistic culture. Following Alexander the Great, the Greeks synchronized Persian, Anatolian, Egyptian elements with an overall Hellenic formula. The Egyptian god Amun developed into Zeus after Alexander went to the desert to seek Amun’s oracle at Siwa. Rome identified with Greek deities. Serapis, Isis, Mithras are syncretic deities. They imported Greek Dionysus to Rome as Bacchus.
Syncretism is an inevitable consequence of internationalism. Attempts to fuse differing systems of belief are due to an overarching craving for oneness in culture. When two religious systems fuse, they form a new philosophy or religion and their old belief becomes passé. However, strict adherence to biblical identity maintains purity of belief. Syncretism is flagrant compromise of truth. It is truth co-opted by culture. It is an ambivalent attitude toward truth.
Discarding Certainty by Denying Finality of Truth
Evangelical postmodernism does not believe in finality of truth so it does not believe in certainty about truth. Postconservative spirituality rests essentially on experientialism devoid of substantive objective truth. Because postmodern evangelicalism operates in the domain of spirituality, it will lead evangelicals more quickly down the path of doctrinal decline. Loss of confidence in the Word of God will deeply unravel convictions and standards among evangelicals. Already it is difficult to distinguish moral standards between Christian and non-Christian.
Postconservatism represents a paradigm shift away from classic evangelical doctrines such as the doctrine of Scripture, the doctrine of God, and the extent of salvation. These postevangelicals move from an inerrant Scripture to an errant Scripture that communicates theological truths in general but fumbles in facts in particular. They shift from an absolute God who knows all things at all times both potential and actual to a more finite god who does not have the capacity of foreknowledge in lieu of human freedom. They extend those included in the category of “saved” far beyond what evangelicals have normally defined as evangelical. Salvation is only by Christ’s work but God may save some without believing in Christ.
Because postconservativism moves away from the rational and logical based on factual observation, they now operate on experience and mysticism. It is no longer possible to hold to objective propositions (doctrine) about truth. There is no absolute truth for all beliefs are relative to the individual perspective. The gospel in propositional form (people are sinners; Jesus’ death pays for their sin by his substitutionary death; trust in Jesus death for eternal life) is arrogant and dogmatic. They want to present a moderate gospel that accommodates to culture. In doing so, they change the message of the gospel. They believe if we present the gospel in form of a present social kingdom, then that would be acceptable to a postmodern generation.
Postevangelicals rob the gospel and the Word of God of its power. Stanley Grenz is typical of those who do this. Grenz’s writings, representative of the theology of the emergent church, are so committed to postmodernism that he is “utterly unable to detect any weakness in postmodern epistemology, and therefore all his prescriptions for the future assume the essential rightness of postmodernism.”[9] In a footnote, D. A. Carson speaks to the danger of selling out to postmodernism, Grenz constructs “a form of Christianity that is so deeply indebted to a reigning epistemology that he sells something of its birthright.”[10]
Sliding down the Slope from Sound Doctrine
Metanarratives are out and narratives are in. This blatant rejection of systematic theology or doctrine is at the heart of postconservative postmodernism. Postmodernism cannot accept any universal truth because it is at heart nihilistic.
What they cannot see is that rejection of metanarrative is itself a metanarrative! Since postconservatives hold to the postmodern view that truth does not consist essentially in objective reality but in social constructions, they have no way to get beyond cultural conditioning because they accept a premise that will not allow them to do so. Presuming this view, endless plasticity of interpretations cannot be true because postmodernism is a claim of truth itself. Christianity is more than a preference or individual choice. Neither is it essentially something to use, but something to believe and practice. If we do not believe in something for sure then we have tentative Christianity, devoid of certainty. Why should Christians commit to high level Christian living if we are not sure of its credibility or truthfulness? All that remains is opinion or feeling instead of confidence in certain and objective Scripture. There is a big difference between confident objective knowledge of Scripture and spiritual preference.
Brian McLaren claims that the Bible itself “contains precious little expository prose.”[11] However, the epistles exude prose, even the so-called “personal letters” pulsate with prose. He claims that Paul uses poetry in Romans 11, Philippians 2 and Colossians 1 but these passages comprise prose with very little poetry.
McLaren claims that Paul comes out looking like the lawyer derived from lawyers of the Reformation such as Luther and Calvin, but Paul uses legal terms himself such as the forensic term “to justify” (dikaiow), to cause to be righteous, to declare righteous. McLaren qualifies his attack on propositional truth by saying this mystical/poetic approach can be “pushed too far.”[12] Evidently, he accepts a certain level of propositional truth but does not define its extent. He states that he has never taken a “single for-credit seminary class”[13] but now he is no longer “embarrassed by” his “lack of proper credentials anymore because his literature training helped him to be sensitized to drama and conflict, to syntax and semantics and semiotics, to text and context, to prose and poetry.”[14] This helped him to see “how a generous orthodoxy must be mystical and poetic.”[15] In other words, literary criticism governs his approach to Christianity, his grid for understanding Christianity. He has built his own system of theology based on precarious principles resident in postmodernism. He never questions his dialectical approach to truth, which is the essential approach of A Generous Orthodoxy.
In attempting to explain the doctrine of inspiration, McLaren portrays the evangelical view of inspiration as “dictation,” “Often we have treated the Bible as if God dictated it, with no organic participation at all.”[16] No evangelical scholar I know holds this viewpoint today so this is blatant characterization. He makes the outlandish statement in footnote 129 that “It may be worth noting that many Christians have an understanding (dictation theory) of their sacred text that is more Islamic than truly Christian.”[17] This shows McLaren’s stark lack of theological training. No credible evangelical theologian would make such a statement. On top of this, it is extremely pejorative and characterizes evangelicalism out of unadulterated theological ignorance. Maybe he should have gone to seminary after all!
McLaren claims that he is “biblical” but not from the viewpoint of his characterization of evangelicalism. He characterizes evangelicalism as believing that Christ would come in 25 years. Is this generous? No, because it does not represent evangelicalism, but it is rank characterization of evangelicalism. He also characterizes the evangelical view of the Bible as a “rule book that made it objectively clear, with no subjective ambiguity,”[18] but evangelicals view the Bible as a book of principles for life. Evangelicals also do not believe that the Bible is without ambiguity.
Repeatedly, McLaren presumes doctrine in his attempt to negate doctrine. In his chapter “Why I am Catholic,” he says that we need to bring “blessing to our needy world” and to “become part of God’s solution.” What is the basis for blessing and how does he know “God’s solution?”[19] He cannot know it without a premise of doctrine. He charges “reformers” with “inflated self-image.”[20] Self-image is not the problem but conviction about extant statements of Scripture concerning the condition for salvation is the issue. In other words, if evangelicals hold to conviction, they have “inflated self-image” and “elitism.”[21] The reason he views Reformers as having inflated self-image is that they are certain about what they believe, and no postmodernist can be certain about anything.
Again, McLaren claims certain ends for the church but how does he know this? By tradition or revelation? If by revelation, then he is certain about something. This is a flat contradiction. What he rejects in others, he holds for himself. He says that there is a “special pride that comes from being part of the exclusive, the elite, the prime.”[22]Is there not pride in making this statement? Again, another contradiction. To him, a generous orthodoxy “refrains from judging. It just rejoices where good seed grows.”[23] The Bible, in counter distinction does differentiate between error and truth, and quite extensively as per all the prophets and books of the Bible that attack false doctrine.
While claiming doctrine or truth does matter, McLaren links orthodoxy with a participatory process in finding truth. He wants to differentiate orthodoxy (Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds) from “doctrinal distinctives.” By this, it appears anything that is not in those two creeds is open for debate. That would preclude by faith alone through grace alone as God’s way of salvation. We must put those doctrines out on the margin.[24] What is important to him is “orthopraxy” without doctrinal distinctives. On the other hand, the entire construct of New Testament epistles bases belief on doctrinal understanding of a point in order to apply it to experience. There is no orthopraxy without orthodoxy (doctrine).[25]
McLaren does not want to see other religions as “enemies,” but this is exactly how God sees them, i.e., as reprobates (Romans 1:28), as heretics (2 Peter 2). In “The Seven Jesuses I have Known,” McLaren patches, picks and chooses bits and pieces from various theologies he has known. He prefers to talk about the way Jesus saves the church by the resurrection of Christ from the dead, but neglects the work system of salvation of these theologies. No evangelical holds that Jesus does not continually engage the believer after salvation. That is an untrue and false dichotomy. There is a salvation initially from the penalty of sin, progressively from the power of sin, and ultimately from the presence of sin. What evangelical denies that?
All this takes place in the name of sympathy![26] What is the basis of this sympathy? This is preference for subjectivism and pragmatism. This is an attempt at definition without distinction because it is devoid of truth and syncretistic to the core:
Why not celebrate them all? Already, many people are using terms like post-Protestant, post-denominational, post-liberal, and postconservative to express a desire to move beyond the polarization and sectarianism that have too often characterized Christians of the past.[27]
McLaren blends open theism, N. T. Wright’s new perspective on Paul’s doctrine of justification, and inclusivism, with minimum focus on biblical truth. Formations for his conclusions come from his experiences, dreams, expectations, predilections, but not from propositions of the Word. He does represent his experiences as biblical, but does not root them in the Word. Postconservativism seriously compromises the truth of biblical Christianity.
Perspectivism Produces Cynicism
Postmodernists reject absolute, objective truth. They deem that reality is in the mind of the beholder and everyone views reality through their culture. Logic is not as important as experience or mysticism. Cynicism pervades postmodernism so we can take nothing at face value. The only valid value is the value we create. We must deconstruct all viewpoints and constantly reconstruct them. Evangelicals now claim that we cannot directly know truth of Scripture without contaminating its original meaning. Therefore, the best hope for understanding God’s revelation is through a consensual community of Christians who check with fallible understandings of the individual. In this view, we are to hold multiple meanings or at least “modestly” dialogue with other viewpoints. By constant dialogue with others who disagree with us, we come closer to understanding the Bible.
Postmodern evangelicals emphasize narrative theology as over against propositional theology, community interpretation as over against individual interpretation, positive dialogue with other traditions, and the delimitation of the individual interpreter as the source for understanding Scripture. The idea that God can communicate formal truth in his Word is foreboding. In other words, they diminish the perspicuity of Scripture.
Obviously, there are enigmatic portions of Scripture that causes humility of approach. It is one thing to take a probability approach to enigmatic passages, but it is another to take this approach to all Scripture. Not to draw lines on anything is to end in polyvalence, relativism, and subjectivism. Rejection of our ability to know truth with certainty undermines Christianity at its heart and results in theological compromise. If postmodern evangelicals were consistent, they should adopt nihilism as a formal construct. If our understanding of truth is only approximate and probable then our perception of God and his principles for life can only be probable. We weaken God’s propositional revelation in favor of open interaction with traditions. All this supplants the authority of Scripture (sola Scriptura) and the lucidity of God’s Word (perspicuity). All that remains is a theology of human imagination.
Correspondent View of Truth
Postconservatives confuse reason and rationalism. Rationalism came out of the naturalistic assumption about reality in the Enlightenment. Reason or logic did not originate in the Enlightenment for Aristotle had something to do with logic! Christians cannot communicate God’s Word without logic and reason, and in doing so they do not have to resort to rationalism. Postconservatives who reach past reason into irrationalism go beyond Christianity itself. Christianity revolves around truth and not privatized spirituality. Christianity is essentially about God, and not the self, for it relates to God-revealed propositions.
Christ accepted the truth of the Old Testament wholly. He referred to the Old Testament with the saying “It is written” implying its concursive authority. Jesus relied on propositional statements to convey his ideas. Scripture (what is written) imposed a necessity on Jesus (Luke 24:26). Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for not believing what the Scriptures said about him (John 5:45-47). Jesus insisted belief in every word of the Old Testament (Matthew 5:18; 22:32). He was adamant on his disciples accepting the truth of his words, if they were to love him. We cannot separate personal illumination from propositional revelation.
Both Paul (2 Timothy 3:16) and Peter (2 Peter 1:20-21) held to God as the author of Scripture. If the Bible is the record of God’s writing then it carries his truth. God always identified his Word with the written record in the canon and as an adequate vehicle to communicate his ideas.
The logic of noncontradiction is true because it corresponds to all of reality. A is not non-A. That is true in all places at all times. God never contradicts himself for he knows all things exhaustively and truly. Everything he says in his Word matches reality. His truth is exclusive property not common to all assertions.
Postconservatives want to locate authority in community as a source for doctrine. Locating tradition and culture of the community along with Scripture as final authority, flies in the face of sola Scriptura. How could the Bible exclusively critique the community in this case?
The correspondent view of truth holds that a statement must correspond to reality, i.e., factual. Facts establish truth or falsity. The Bible consistently portrays itself in this way but postconservatives want to deny that the Bible presents itself as objectively real. Since they believe authors of Scripture present their ideas in ambiguous ways, the reader cannot understand the original intent. They, therefore, have the need to “deconstruct” the meaning of Scripture to their personal encounter with the text. There is no objective truth independent of the reader. All this leads to relativism and skepticism within the evangelical camp. These people are hostile to those who hold absolutes. What is worse, they hold skepticism toward the exclusive truth claims of the Word of God itself. It is a compromise of staggering implications. By setting up false antithesis, postconservatives claim that evangelicals hold to “bombproof certainty,” but what evangelicals actually hold is real or true knowledge that correspond to facts.
Grenz and Franke want to distinguish doctrine from Scripture. Doctrine to them is “second-order assertions” within a community. Second-order doctrines regulate how a community thinks about itself and God. Doctrines do not make actual assertions about God. All they have left is dialectical antithesis and not didactic thesis. Is God’s Word revelation or is it communal thinking?
 
Provisional perspective on truth puts distrust in confident proclamation of truth. Postmodernism rejects any claim to universality so when this pluralistic assumption goes without challenge, we are without objective truth and possess little ground to our claim for truth.
To Grenz, doctrine is a “second-order” belief, not first-order propositions. This destroys objective truth in doctrine because it precludes doctrine from the process. All that is left is the community’s culture and language. This reduces doctrine to cultural perspectives, and would fail to speak anything for certain, including the gospel itself. They allow for mutually pluralistic contradictory beliefs because there are no first-order beliefs. There is no overarching standard for determining truth from error in differing communities. This elevation of tradition of communities to the level of Scripture is a major defection from evangelical faith. Although Grenz identified Scripture as the most important of sources, by placing tradition and culture in the same category as Scripture preempts the principle of sola Scriptura.
Grenz does not want to identify the Bible with revelation. He wants the community to encounter the Bible as an act and this becomes revelation. This is very similar to the older Neo-Orthodoxy (also dialectical). This viewpoints looks at revelation as personal, but we cannot know a person without propositions from the Bible. Revelation exposes the person by proposition.
Postconservatives who hold this view of truth have no way to verify universally of what they believe. By rejecting objective and factual truth, they cannot come to certainty; they cannot claim with certainty that Christianity is true. The Bible, on the other hand, presents a unified view of truth and falsity. By not starting with the Word of God, postconservatives wallow in subjectivism with no ability to discern truth from error. All that remains is subjective mysticism arising out of subjective illumination. Apostasy was rampant in both the Old and New Testaments so how can a modern Christian community decipher whether its beliefs are true or not?
2 Corinthians 11:3 But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. 4 For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted—you may well put up with it! 5 For I consider that I am not at all inferior to the most eminent apostles.
Grenz and Franke set up a false distinction between propositional and personal revelation. What is important is not the text of Scripture but the Spirit’s use of Scripture for appropriation for the contemporary church. This puts the Spirit’s present speaking outside the text of the canon and converts the Bible into something other than its original intension. Conversely, we can know nothing about the person of Christ without written revelation of Christ. God is more than talk about a community. True authority does not reside in the readers of Scripture but in what the Holy Spirit revealed to the original writers. Scriptures use of Scripture is very different from how Grenz and Franke use it. By accepting a postmodern approach to truth, these people divert from evangelicalism by denying that people can know truth in an objective, universal way. All of this presupposes an autonomous, sovereign, finite self. Each person has his provisional perspective on the world. It amounts to interpolation of Scripture.
If truth is only personal and not propositional, then there is no adequate way to explain the passages where truth means propositional correspondence. Of the approximately one hundred passages where the New Testament uses the word “truth,” only one passage undisputedly uses it for a person (John 14:6). Some passages relate truth to being in a person or not being in a person (John 1:14, 17; 8:44; 1 John 2:4) but these passages involve true or false propositions. The normal usage of “truth” in the New Testament is in the propositional sense. We can know truth (Romans 2:20). Any Scripture that uses truth in reference to a person is understood as meaning a person who speaks truth or whose word we can trust (Revelation 3:14; 21:5).
Even passages understood in a practical or personal sense still require the correspondence view of truth. An action must correspond to God’s expectations in order to be true. We cannot explain passages where the Bible uses truth propositionally in a strictly personal sense, a sense that is not factually correct. We need to get our view of truth about the Bible from the Word of God. That God reveals himself as a person does not preclude the fact that he reveals himself through propositional truths about himself (1 Corinthians 2:9-12, 16). Some of God’s plans for man are not discoverable by man. Only God can know fully what is in the mind of God.
A proposition is an assertion about what is true or false. It is whatever we can deny, assert, presuppose, maintain, or imply. Propositions are the building blocks of logic and communication. A proposition is simply the meaning of a declarative sentence. It is the content of a sentence. It is the content or facts of a sentence that makes it true. Truth is a quality of proposition that conforms to God’s assertions. False propositions do not conform to data. God’s statements in Scripture are true to reality.
Truth is more than encounter or something personal. If it is possible to commit to a person without propositions then it would hypothetically possible to commit to an evil person as well as a good person. Truth is exclusively propositional for it is a property of propositions. Truth is not an encounter, an event, emotions, or personal. This view abandons truth for personal relationships. The Word of God overwhelming uses the term “belief” and its various cognates hundreds of times with an object. That is, believe in the gospel is believe in the object of Christ’s death for forgiveness. The Bible uses idea of “commit” and its cognates very little and mostly with the commission of sins. Substitution of commitment to a person instead of a proposition has let many astray. This is an anti-reason or anti-doctrine approach to reality.
The Bible is a propositional disclosure of God’s fixed truth so it presents itself in propositional form. Listen to what Carl Henry has to say about propositions:
We mean by propositional revelation that God supernaturally communicated his revelation to chosen spokesmen in the express form of cognitive truths, and that the inspired prophetic-apostolic proclamation reliably articulates these truths in sentences that are not internally contradictory.[28]
We cannot know God’s personal presence without propositions. Those who say that we can know God’s personal presence without propositions confuse ontology with epistemology. God is ontologically different from man but we can only know this propositionally. Biblically, there is no such thing as a personal encounter other than in propositional form. We cannot contrast personal revelation with disclosure of information for on what basis would we distinguish personal revelation from satanic suggestion? It is only through propositional revelation that we can know God. God is the source of all revealed truth, but there are more propositions about him than he revealed in Scripture. However, if we adopt a non-propositional approach to truth, why should one person’s preference for God be any better than the next person’s preference? If God cannot communicate himself properly and only shows himself personally, then we cannot know truth with certainty. If God’s truth is propositionally clear, then we can know how truth differs from falsehood.
We cannot establish non-propositional thesis simply because the Bible reveals God’s personhood. Paul addresses general revelation to the “mind” and understanding (Romans 1:19-20,32). God intends that the Bible reach reason and conscience. Special revelation presents propositional content of general revelation.
God told Old Testament prophets to protect propositional revelation (Deuteronomy 18:18-20). This is how we can distinguish true from error. The Bible warns against the person who presents his own perspective as over against God’s propositions (Ezekiel 13:3).
The Holy Spirit revealed the “things we speak” (1 Corinthians 2:10-13) so that it stood revealed at one point in the past (aorist indicative). The New Testament regularly uses terms of revelation for disclosure of propositional truths (Revelation 22:6-7).
Although the Bible communicates itself in many literary genres such as parable and poetry, all genres have conception adequacy. All biblical literature is revelation.
Postconservatives openly favor certain types of passages such as the incarnation, narrative passages, and parables because they want to ignore propositions. The underlying motivation behind this is that they want to preclude passages that set forth propositional truth and present ideas in their most non-offensive, bland way. They want to blunt the distinctiveness of God’s Word and make it adaptable to cultural mores. All this makes for more diversity and the great acceptance by the greatest number. Postconservatives are a threat to revelation as doctrine. Evangelicalism historically has rooted its beliefs in objective truth cultural or theological trends notwithstanding.
Truth Corresponds to God
The correspondent view of truth has been the long held view of most evangelicals until recently. Correspondence holds that a statement is true if it corresponds to the facts or reality. The statement that my house is in Saint Cloud Florida is either factually true or false. That is the law of the excluded middle—either my house is in Saint Cloud Florida or it is not. There is no other option. The law of non-contradiction says that A cannot be non-A in the same way and in the same respect at the same time. My house cannot be in Saint Cloud Florida and not in Saint Cloud Florida in the same respect and on the same day. This is not a matter of preference or taste; it is a matter of fact.
Truth is not arbitrary in God for it is not a product of his will but a matter of his knowledge in complete self-coherence; truth is constitutional with God. Truth is what corresponds with God; it is propositional expression revealed by God. Truth and fact are synonymous. Truth is more than what corresponds to reality since truth resides essentially in God. Only God knows fully who he is and what he willed. If this assumption is true, then man’s thinking must correspond with the propositions God revealed. Truth is subject and predicate (information, concepts). Propositions are the only means by which by which thinking minds can process information. Non-propositional thinking is inherently contradictory. People like Grenz and McLaren must use propositions to attack propositions. Propositions correctly correspond to states of affairs. Truth is interlocking propositions in one corresponding system.
God as a God of truth means that he is eternally self-consistent. He never contradicts his nature; he is eternally correspondent to fact so his knowledge is perfect, exhaustive, and absolute. Truth is not a product of his will but the essence and constitution of his being. That is why he cannot lie (Hebrews 6:18). Truth is what corresponds to God’s mind and he is ultimate reality. Since only God knows truth exhaustively, he alone can declare truth with certainty. Man can only know ultimate truth if they know truth that corresponds to God. We can only know ultimate, universal truth deductively, not inductively, because only God can reveal God. God’s deductive truth contains eternally directed propositions.
Distinguishing Orthodoxy from Heterodoxy
Paul commanded Titus to speak with authority and certainty in order to silence false teachers (Titus 1:9-16). This is not the same as a militant pugnacious, ugly approach to confrontation. Postconservatives cannot contradict falsehoods in any sense. They cannot affirm truth because they reduce truth to include feelings. If authority is relative to the culture’s idea of authority, then there is no authority for anyone. Postconservative float with flotsam and jetsam of culture without a shore in an ocean of relativity. If they protest that this is not true, then they must appeal to propositional truth to assert their viewpoint. No, they wish to rest on subjective authority and the consensus of the group.
The Bible warns everywhere against false prophets and teachers. False teachers teach doctrines that do not correspond to truth so writers of Scripture warn their reads of those who distort and misrepresent truth (all the major and minor prophets of the Old Testament; John 8:44; Jude; 2 Peter; all of the 2nd books of the New Testament warn against apostasy such as 2 Corinthians, 2 Thessalonians, etc). The evidence for this is overwhelming in Scripture.
The Bible clearly distinguished truth from untruth propositionally. Propositions are the only way to distinguish truth from error. Attacking error presumes knowing truth. It is one thing to be narrowly intolerant by not dealing with others with integrity and honesty, but it is another to deny implicitly what one believes by snuffing any affirmation of contradiction of falsity. The Bible proclaims false religions as idolatry and as purveyors of error.
Paul warns leaders to guard their flock against error (Acts 20:24-31). Paul declared the “whole counsel of God” but doctrinal “wolves” will come not sparing the flock speaking twisted things and draw disciples after themselves. Scripture constantly warns against not straying from propositional doctrines of the Word.
Romans 6:17 But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered.
2 Timothy 1:13 Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. 14 That good thing which was committed to you, keep by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us.
The word for false teaching (??τεροδιδασκαλ?ω– against teaching) occurs in 1 Timothy 1:3; 6:3 for those who disseminate false (??τερο, another of a different kind=heretical) doctrine. The idea is to teach error.
1 Timothy 1:3 As I urged you when I went into Macedonia—remain in Ephesus that you may charge some that they teach no other doctrine.
1 Timothy 6:3 If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which accords with godliness.
Didactic Role of Pastor/Teacher
The primary purpose of the church is for believers, not non-Christians. The emergent church has lost sight of this. Evangelism is one thing but building believers in the faith is another. It is impossible to build believers without solid didactic teaching of God’s Word. How can Christianity maintain its distinctiveness without teaching truth? We cannot play to the fringe element and hope to maintain strong believers. Jesus did not try to play to the Pharisees or Sadducees. He made distinction and difference. He viewed heresy as a reality. David Wells explains how postconservatives have turned theology on its head:
In an extraordinary fashion, then, the theological wheel has turned full circle. Evangelicals, no less than Liberals before them whom they have always berated, have now abandoned doctrine in favor of ‘life’….For evangelicals today, this life is also an ‘essence’ detached from a cognitive structure, a detachment made necessary by the external modern world in which it no longer has a viable place, and it really does not require a theological view of life.[29]
The Bible calls the pastor of the local church “pastor/teacher” and refers both functions to the same office (Ephesians 4:11). This role communicates revealed truth deductively and propositionally to the congregation. The Holy Spirit illumines truth to the mind of the expositor (1 Corinthians 2:10-14). If God illumines the Word to individual believers, why is there a need for pastors?
God bestows the one gift upon certain men called pastor/teacher (one gift). God assigns this gifted person to a local church. Many people in local churches do not have this gift. It is the responsibility of the listener to the pastor/teacher to check out the trustworthiness of what they hear (Acts 17:10-12).
Thus, the epistemology of Scripture is that we can know truth through the illumination of the Holy Spirit. This illumination does not teach anything beyond what God already revealed in Scripture. This illumination does not constitute additional revelation but is an application of Scripture already in existence. The Holy Spirit illumines what is in the text of Scripture. This is not additional normative revelation but rather application of principles of Scripture to experience. The pastor/teacher is not absolute so he must constantly measure what he says against the Word of God. He is a fallible human being. The Berean example of checking the pastor/teacher against the Word is the biblical standard. Scripture is the normative tool for verification.
1 Corinthians 2:12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. 13 These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. 14 But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15 But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one. 16 For ‘who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct Him?’ But we have the mind of Christ.
2 Timothy 2:15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
Thus, the pastor’s role is to teach the Bible; the congregation’s role is to hear the Bible but check what the pastor says against the Bible. The pastor/teacher does not monopolize divine truth or hold a special monopoly on knowing truth. Any believer can verity claims presented by the pastor/teacher (Hebrews 13:7,17). The pastor/teacher’s interpretation is not identical with illumination. The Holy Spirit enables the believer to discern, receive truth, welcome and apply it to experience. This does not imply that a pastor/teach has total comprehensive and complete accurate interpretation of the Word of God.
The Bible speaks of the “pastor-teacher” gift. The pastor is the communicator of biblical truth and the Holy Spirit illumines truth to the believer (John 14:26; 16:13-15; 1 Corinthians 2:10-14). This is not new revelation but understanding of existing revelation. This does not mean that a pastor’s interpretation is infallible for the Spirit’s help in interpretation is not something beyond validation or verification. The Spirit’s work in illumination first means that the Holy Spirit helps the believer understand the passage but more than that, illumination is not complete until the believers appropriates truth to experience.
In Second Timothy 3 Paul challenges Timothy to “know” something so as to keep it in mind. Timothy is to remember that “in the last days perilous times will come (set in)” (3:1). “Perilous times” is hard or difficult times. Then he describes characteristics of this these times in verses two to seven. He concludes in verse seven with “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” “Never able” is finality in their fruitless endeavor to find the truth.
Paul then gives an illustration of two men who rejected the authority of Moses’ (set themselves against) message–2 Timothy 3:8 “Now as Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, disapproved concerning the faith; 9 but they will progress no further, for their folly will be manifest to all, as theirs also was.” As Jannes and Jambres rejected doctrinal teaching so men in Paul’s day also rejected the truth. They had a “reprobate” (adokimos) mind, a mind that rejected truth after a test. Timothy, however, “carefully followed my (Paul’s) doctrine (3:10). The word “follow” means to follow after as a standard or rule. Timothy conformed himself to the rule of Paul’s apostolic teaching. Timothy was loyal to truth.
Paul established the realism that men will constantly allow themselves to be deceived: 2 Timothy 3:12 “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. 13 But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived.”
Then Paul challenges Timothy to maintain doctrinal integrity–3:14 “But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them:” Beginning in 3:14 Paul appeals for doctrinal soundness. Paul challenges Timothy to “continue” in what he taught his son in the faith, that is, to be loyal to Paul’s teaching. Timothy had become “assured” of what Paul taught. Timothy had to learn Scripture before he became “assured” of them. The phrase “been assured of” (?πιστ?θης) means firmly believed (aorist—at one point). Timothy could trust the authority of Paul.
2 Timothy 3:15 “…and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” The “holy Scriptures” refers to the Old Testament. “Scriptures” means that which has been written, writing, or document. The Scriptures do not save, they only point to salvation.
Paul then proceeds to describe the nature of written Scripture: 2 Timothy 3:16 “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:”
“Doctrine” refers to didactic content. The term doctrine occurs fifteen times in the three pastoral books. Doctrine means instruction, teaching. Scripture instructs by content (Romans 15:4).
2 Timothy 3:17 “…that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” God gave “all” (literally “every”), not most, inscripturated writings by inspiration. God inspired each passage as a unit. God views every part of them inspired. “Inspired” is literally “God breathed.” God breathed into writings (not men) so every written Scripture is God-breathed. This is not the process of inspiration (1 Corinthians 2:9-16) but inspiration itself.
Inspired Scripture is profitable for “teaching” (doctrine). “Teaching” is teaching factual material. Scripture is also valuable for “reproof.” “Reproof” is conviction. The Bible conveys conviction of sin. The Bible brings “correction.” This is restoration to an upright state. The Word of God gives “instruction” (paideia) which is training resulting in cultivation of mind and morals, chastening. The idea is not punitive but corrective. God’s reveled Scripture brings maturity to the believer—“may be complete.” “Thoroughly equipped for every good work” carries the idea of fitted out for service.
Paul continues the same approach about objective revelation of propositional truth with a serious warning in chapter four.
Second Timothy 4:1 “I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom.Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.” There are five aorist imperatives in this verse making these commandments urgent. His final charge to the young pastor Timothy was that he “preach the word.” There will come a time when people will not “endure sound doctrine.” This is why Paul charged Timothy before the presence of God and the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus will judge people who responsibly handle God’s Word and those who do not.
The word “preach” is a sharp command in the Greek. The idea is to preach as a public proclamation. Timothy was to be an official herald of King Jesus. In doing this, he was to preach the “Word.” The “word” is the whole body of revealed truth. Timothy cannot herald his own message for God gave him a message to proclaim. He is to do this in a state of constant readiness (“instant”). He is to do it “in season,” an opportune season and “out of season” (inopportune season). He does this in favorable and unfavorable times. There is no season to stop preaching. There is no dialogue in this command.
Paul challenges Timothy to “reprove” his listeners. “Reprove” carries the idea of a rebuke that results in conviction of sin. Timothy is to “rebuke” in a sharp, severe sense. He is also to “exhort.” He is to do all these with a sense of “longsuffering and doctrine.” The word “longsuffering” carries the idea of patience with people. This deals with the manner of handling people aberrant in doctrine. There is skill involved with this. A good preacher does not hastily pounce on people. The second element in correcting people is to do it with “doctrine” (literally, with teaching content or instruction). Didactic instruction in association with “longsuffering” is necessary to preach the Word properly.
People have proclivity toward experience over doctrine so Paul warns Timothy about this problem in 2 Timothy 4:3 “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers:” The “for” gives the reason for verse two; there is coming a time when people will not tolerate sound doctrine. The word “endure” carries the idea of accept. There will be a time when people will not accept “doctrine” as valid. The reason for this is that they have “itching ears.” “Itching ears” occurs only here in the New Testament. This probably refers to speculative teaching of chapter one (1:3-7). These people have an insatiable curiosity for teachers that suit their liking. Not only do they listen to false teaching, but they will “heap up” false teachers for themselves. They hand pick these false teachers to suit their preferences.
There will come a time when “they will not endure sound doctrine.” The word “endure” means to hold upright or firm. Congregations will not hold firmly to doctrine. The word “sound” means healthy; they cannot tolerate solid or healthy teaching. They will fall for the inane and experiential over doctrine. The definite article precedes the word “doctrine” speaks of the system of doctrine or teaching. It is important to be systematic in doctrine. Systematic theology is important after all!
The problem of not enduring sound doctrine is a problem of ego lust. They want their perspective on life to the exclusion of God’s viewpoint on life. Their “itching ears” love to hear what they want to hear from their own perspective. The word “heap” denotes to accumulate in piles. They will listen to anybody anywhere if it meets their perspective on life. They want teachers who give them what they want, not the unadulterated Word of God. The word “itch” means to scratch, to tickle, to make to itch. These people take gratification in listening to some novel perspective (Acts 17:21). This is the orientation of postconservative postmodernism–relativism and uncertainty. They “turn away (avert) their ears from the truth.” They do not want their ears to be open to truth so they will not meet the truth. The effect of this is they will “turn away” (they do the turning) from the truth and “be turned” (someone else turns them) to “fables” (fiction as opposed to fact). The second word for “turn” means to twist out. The medical use of this term meant to wrench out of its proper place such as a limb. The Greek used this term for a dislocated arm. When people avert their ears from listening to the truth, they open themselves to dislocated satanic influence. They put themselves out of adjustment to the Word of God incapacitating them to think biblically. The Bible nails postconservativism at its uncertainty core.
2 Timothy 4:4 “And they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables:” The result of not enduring sound doctrine is that these people turn away from the truth and wander into myths. “Turn away” carries the idea of deliberately refusing to open themselves to the truth. The word translated “myths” occurs four times in the New Testament and refers to doctrine that is not true.
Exclusive Truth
Paul challenges Timothy to charge those in Ephesus to teach exclusive truth or doctrine from the Bible.
1 Timothy 1:3 As I urged you when I went into Macedonia—remain in Ephesus that you may charge some that they teach no other doctrine.
The Greek for “teach no other doctrine” means that we should not teach that which is different from what we should teach. First, “doctrine’ is important. Secondly, there are teachings that violate correct doctrine. There is a standard against we can measure truth from non-truth. There is such a thing as heresy or untrue doctrine. These doctrines are “destructive.”
2 Peter 2:1 But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction.
Paul in Galatians 1:6-8 shows how seriously he views issues of heresy within the church. “I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel.” The introduction to the book of Galatians covers the first 10 verses. The occasion [reason for the letter] of the epistle runs from verse 6 through verse 10. This section carries a denunciation of the Galatian believers for leaving the true gospel for a false gospel, and is conspicuous by the lack of any expression of gratitude toward the Galatian readers anywhere in the book, which is normal in introductions. Doctrinal deviation deserves no thanks.
“I marvel:” Paul moves abruptly into the problem at the church in Galatia. What a transition from praising the glory of God in the previous verse to this statement of shock about the Galatians’ defection from the gospel of grace! “Marvel” means to wonder. Paul is astonished and surprised that the Galatians would abandon the gospel of grace. Paul says in effect, “I am shocked that you are so unstable that you would move away from the gospel of grace so quickly.” This beginning of the body of the epistle makes it very clear that Galatian Christians deserved severe rebuke. Very few evangelicals today express shock about anything, even defection from the gospel. Jesus marveled at this issue as well, “And He marveled because of their unbelief. Then He went about the villages in a circuit, teaching” (Mark 6:6). His “teaching” corrected unbelief.
In the phrase “that you are turning away,” “turning away” carries the idea of to change places, put in another place, to remove a person or thing from one place to another, to transpose. This is a military term used for deserting from the army. By changing from the gospel of grace to the gospel of works, the Galatians deserted from the true gospel and capitulated to another gospel.
The present tense indicates that the defection of the Galatians from the gospel of grace is not yet complete at the writing of Galatians. They were still in the process of transposing the true gospel into another gospel. They were transposing the gospel from grace to legalism. They were altering the gospel itself and thus were deserting or turning apostate from the true gospel. This changes the nature of the gospel into a works gospel. People today change the gospel into something significantly different from its original design by God by carelessness with doctrine.
The word “soon” in “so soon” means quickly. The Galatians moved away from the true gospel in a very brief interval between the times that Paul gave them the gospel and the time when the legalizers came to Galatia. It took only a brief time for them to abandon their earlier convictions. They were rash in embracing false doctrine and moving into legalism. They failed to give due study to doctrine about the issue. False teachers can easily seduce ignorant Christians because of their instability. Instability in the truth of the gospel makes one vulnerable to false doctrine. There is such a thing as a true gospel and a false gospel. Our culture holding to the absolute belief in tolerance cannot tolerate truth. If someone claims that he has the true gospel, he sounds like a bigot, or at the very least, very narrow-minded. The gospel is as narrow as the multiplication table. Two times two equals four, and there are no exceptions. We cannot have two gospels. It is incomprehensible that evangelicals today would hold to distortion of gospel. This cancer threatens the essence of Christianity. Issues of heaven and hell are at stake.
The phrase “from Him” indicates the Galatians deserted God himself. When we defect from the truth of the gospel of grace we desert from more than a doctrine, we desert God himself. God is the one “who called you.” God called the Galatians in the sphere of the grace of Christ, but they deserted their call in grace to works salvation. Paul says that they are not true to their calling. Their apostasy was from God and his grace, not simply from Paul.
The prepositional phrase “in the grace of Christ” indicates the sphere of the Galatian defection from the truth. God called them to a gospel that rested upon the finished work of Christ on the cross (1:4). Christ suffered all that needs to be suffered on the cross. We do not need to suffer for sins because he did the suffering. He took my hell that I might have his heaven. This is grace. It is a gospel of salvation by what Jesus did, not by what we do. There are no strings attached to this salvation for it is free because Jesus did all the work. He bore all of our sins in his own body on the cross.
God called us in the sphere of grace but the Galatians did not clearly understand the truth of salvation by grace through faith. Grace is the means of our call, that is, God effectually summons us to salvation only as procured by Christ on the cross. God freely bestows this gift. It comes from the unadulterated generosity of God with no strings attached. Christians are the objects of God’s eternal favor. To revert to law is to miss completely this truth. God saves and sustains us by the finished work of Christ on the cross. Some Galatians believed that they came to Christ by grace but works sustained their salvation. This makes salvation dependent upon works.
There is such a thing as heresy. Note the phrase “to a different gospel.” There are two Greek words for “another.” One means another of the same kind and the other means another of a different kind. The latter idea is our word “different” here. We get the English term “heretic” or “heterodoxy” from the Greek word. The gospel they were buying into was different in its very nature from the gospel of grace. Their new gospel was different by essence. The hazard is high here because the very essence of the gospel is at stake. “For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted—you may well put up with it! [a facetious remark]” (2 Corinthians 11:4).
Counterfeiters try to make the fake look as much like the real thing as possible. A gospel with a touch of works seems reasonable to some folk, but God views this gospel as a “heretical” gospel. This is not an orthodox idea but a heterodox idea and polar opposite of orthodoxy. A gospel of justification or sanctification by works is heterodoxy.
The test of the true gospel is the test of grace. We are under obligation to protect the purity of the gospel of grace. When we defect from the gospel of grace, we defect from God himself. If we lose sight of the Word of God, we can become turncoats to the true gospel very quickly. This is a deadly issue because we cannot live the Christian life properly without a true understanding of the gospel. Doctrine affects how we live as Christians. We need to restore our capacity for shock at distortions of the gospel.
The next phrase shows a heterodox gospel–“which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.” The word “another” refers to another of the same kind. If people change the essence of the gospel, it becomes no gospel at all. It is not another gospel of the same kind as Paul preached but a perversion of the true gospel. When they modify the gospel, it is not the gospel at all.
Legalists came to “trouble” the Galatians with their false doctrine—“but there are some who trouble you” (Acts 15:24; Galatians 1:7; 5:10). Legalism always unsettles the soul and throws the church into confusion (5:10-12). “Trouble” carries the idea of to shake back and forth. Legalist gospel makes trouble that shakes belief.
The Holy Spirit through Paul then makes an alarming statement—“and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.” The idea of “pervert” is to transform something into an opposite character. The Judaizers transformed the gospel into something diametrically opposite to its true character, thus, they perverted the gospel. They turned it around into the very opposite of its original design. They altered its message from a doctrine of grace to a doctrine of works. A distorted gospel is more dangerous than no gospel at all.
The gospel is Christ’s gospel, not Paul’s gospel. When people distort the gospel, they violate Christ. There is no alternative to the gospel of Christ. A different gospel is no gospel at all for there is no alternative to the gospel of Christ. The gospel of Christ is mutually exclusive to any other gospel. Any gospel that finds the completed work of Christ on the cross as insufficient to pay the penalty for sin is a false gospel. Salvation is always by grace through faith apart from works.
We live in a day of such theological latitude that we distort the gospel into something other than the New Testament gospel and no one blinks an eye. Some say, “We must be tolerant of people who don’t believe the same as us.” Fakers stand in affiliation with true believers as long as they are “sincere.” Christianity is not 50% faith and 50% works. No, the true gospel excludes work as a way of salvation or sanctification. “Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?” (Hebrews 10:29).
Christians today need to deal with those who distort the true gospel. Tolerance means that we judge no one. Truth demands that we judge those who pervert the gospel. Salvation by works is not good news. It is bad news because salvation would depend on us, not Christ.
Paul makes the point further in Galatians that just in case some might think that Paul’s team is an exception, he includes his gospel team in this hypothesis: “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you.” Paul draws the unlikely hypothesis that if even his gospel team or an angel from Heaven were to preach a different gospel than the gospel of grace, that God should curse them along with anyone else who distorts the gospel. It makes no difference who preaches the gospel but the gospel must be the unadulterated gospel of grace. This is not a question of who preaches but what is preached.
Paul now moves to the severity of how he views those that would distort the gospel of grace. If anyone preaches a gospel other than grace, “let him be accursed” If anyone preaches not only a markedly different gospel, but also any gospel other than what Paul preaches, then they should undergo a curse. The Galatians probably assumed that the gospel of the legalizers were not very different from the gospel of grace.
The translators take the Greek word anathema and carry it over as it sounds into the English. The metaphorical idea of “accursed” means something devoted to destruction, a curse. People who preach a different gospel than the gospel of grace stand under God’s judgment. We deal in very serious matter when we distort the gospel. The tone of the Word of God is very different from postconservative tone; in fact, it is the polar opposite.
Postconservatives try to make it appear that if you castigate false teaching, you are not Christian in attitude. If that is true, then Paul is not Christian in his approach in Galatians. The prophets of the Old Testament and many statements in the New Testament would not be Christian under that thesis. Clearly, Paul declared that the Galatians violated a core principle in Christianity. He speaks plainly when it comes to people who defect from the gospel of grace. True unity revolves around faithfulness to the truth of the gospel. Few call a spade a spade when it comes to false doctrine. Many hate a gospel that claims that people are poor lost sinners, that they are helpless and hopeless without Jesus’ death for them on the cross.
Paul refers to a previous warning in a previous visit about gospel counterfeits–“As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.” The phrase “said before” refers to Paul’s previous warning about gospel counterfeits that hurt his team’s visit to Galatia. This attack on false teachers was no temper tantrum. He calmly and deliberately reiterates his point—“so now I say again.” Paul says in effect, “I told you before and now I am telling you again;” he did not and would not change his mind on this crucial doctrine.
Paul addresses the actual state of affairs in the churches in Galatia—“if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received let him be accursed.” The idea of “received” is welcome. The Galatians embraced the gospel warmly when Paul’s team was in Galatia.
Those who add works to salvation impugn the cross. The very nature of the gospel is at stake when people introduce works into salvation or sanctification. Because of this, we hold those who change the gospel in abhorrence. “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds” (2 John 10-11).
How different the biblical message is from the postconservative message! Postconservatives cannot “endure sound doctrine.”
Isaiah 30:8 And now, go, write it before them on a tablet and inscribe it in a book, that it may be for the time to come as a witness forever. 9 For they are a rebellious people, lying children, children unwilling to hear the instruction of the Lord; 10 who say to the seers, ‘Do not see,’ and to the prophets, ‘Do not prophesy to us what is right; speak to us smooth things, prophesy illusions, 11 leave the way, turn aside from the path, let us hear no more about the Holy One of Israel.’ 12 Therefore thus says the Holy One of Israel, “Because you despise this word and trust in oppression and perverseness and rely on them, 13 therefore this iniquity shall be to you like a breach in a high wall, bulging out, and about to collapse, whose breaking comes suddenly, in an instant; 14 and its breaking is like that of a potter’s vessel that is smashed so ruthlessly that among its fragments not a shard is found with which to take fire from the hearth, or to dip up water out of the cistern.’
 





 



[1]McLaren, A New Kind of Christian, 162.
[2] Stanley Grenz, Revisioning Evangelical Theology: A Fresh Agenda for the 21st Century (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1993), 94.
[3] David S. Dockery, editor, The Challenge of Postmodernism, R. Albert Mohler, Jr, “The Integrity of the Evangelical Tradition and the Challenge of the Postmodern Paradigm,” Baker Book House: Grand Rapids, 67.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Douglas Groothuis, Truth Decay (Downers Grove, Intervarsity Press, 2000), 265.
[6] David F. Wells, No Place for Truth or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology (Grand Rapids, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1993), 127.
[7] Ibid., 127-128.
[8] Ibid., 131.
[9]Millard J. Erickson, Paul Kjoss Helseth, and Justin Taylor, eds., Reclaiming the Center: Confronting Evangelical Accommodation in Postmodern Times (Wheaton, Crossway Books, 2004), 45.
[10]Ibid., 45-46.
[11] McLaren, Generous Orthodoxy, 155.
[12] Ibid.,156.
[13] Ibid., 157.
[14] Ibid.
[15] Ibid.
[16] Ibid., 162.
[17] Ibid., 253.
[18] Ibid,, 160.
[19] McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy, 224.
[20] Ibid.
[21] Ibid., 225.
[22] Ibid.
[23] Ibid., 230.
[24] Ibid., 32.
[25] Ibid., 30ff.
[26] Ibid., 61.
[27] Ibid., 66.
[28]Henry, C. F. H. (1999). God, revelation, and authority. Originally published: Waco, Tex.: Word Books, c1976-c1983. (3:457). Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books.
[29] Wells, No Place for Truth, 131.

 

Share