Archive for August, 2009

A Nutshell of “Scripture Alone”

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

I’m still going to come back to Romans 9-11, but in the meantime, I have a quick comment on sola Scriptura.

“Scripture Alone”, or sola Scriptura, is the idea that Scripture is the only infallible, absolutely authoritative source of truth that we possess today.  (Or, depending on who’s saying it, you might say, “source of guidance & revelation for the Church”, or some variation.)  Catholics and Eastern Orthodox reject it.  Protestants stand on it.

I’m reading a debate that just started between Rhology, a Reformed Protestant, and David, an Orthodox.  So far the opening statements are up, and I want to comment on David’s.

He says, as Catholics and Orthodox often do,

Sola Scriptura is ultimately self-refuting. If only Scripture is a binding authority on matters of faith, and Scripture nowhere contains the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, then it cannot be true.

David’s missing two things.  The second is very important, and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a Catholic or Orthodox who seemed to be addressing it.  (Not on the Internet, anyway.)  I completely understand how people miss it, and someone had to point it out to me–but once it’s pointed out, it’s pretty simple.  (And if you’re not Protestant, I would welcome your reply.)

Let’s grant that Scripture nowhere directly teaches, “Scripture is the only infallible authority.”

1.) That doesn’t mean sola Scriptura isn’t true. Sola Scriptura doesn’t mean, “All truth is in Scripture.”  There are many true things that Scripture doesn’t talk about.  Sola Scriptura wouldn’t have to be in the Bible for it to be true.

But David could rightly respond:  “You’re nitpicking.  The point is that sola Scriptura can’t be a binding doctrine for a Protestant, because the Bible doesn’t ever say ‘Scripture alone’.”  So, move on to #2.

2.) I only believe in one infallible authority today.  Not because Scripture says, “The Bible is the only infallible authority.”  But because the Bible only points us to one infallible authority.

Jesus & the apostles didn’t direct us to view “the Church” in general or the Pope or the Roman Catholic Magisterium as infallible authorities; that’s why I don’t accept Catholic & Orthodox claims about themselves.

It’s not that “Scripture is the only infallible authority” has been revealed.  It’s that nothing but Scripture has been revealed as an infallible authority.

—–

That’s it.

Actually, I would also argue that the Bible does say things about the Bible’s sufficiency, which would add support to sola Scriptura.  And David might argue that the Bible does teach us to look to “tradition” as infallible, too–which would prove sola Scriptura wrong.  We have to look at what the Bible says to settle it.  But I think it should be clear that “The Bible doesn’t say ‘Scripture alone,’ so it’s self-refuting!” is missing the point.

Stop Attending Church

Monday, August 17th, 2009

(Taken from my Facebook wall and Twitter page today.)

Stop attending church.

Frank Turk’s reply:  “Indeed: what if you loved your church?”

After I posted a link to Frank’s recent blog series called Not Done Lightly (scroll to the bottom and read upward), where he discusses the reasons for his strong belief that we should almost never leave a church unless we’re asked to leave, Kelly F. posted:

I glanced at Turk’s stuff and I think he’s making very good points. A real challenge, though, in committing oneself fully to a church is that in our mobile, unrooted lives we often find ourselves in the position of ‘shopping’ for a church. There’s really no way around it when you move to a new neighborhood or town. But then after you’ve chosen a particular church you have to stop thinking of it as a commodity to choose and start thinking of it as a family you’re called to love, bear with, and serve. It’s a hard switch to make.

The flip side of this is that church leaders (in general) have to stop acting like they are trying to sell a product to a target market. We’re called to make disciples, not make a sale.

So.  Let’s try not to attend church.  Let’s try to commit to loving a church, a community, as a family.

The Church & Israel — How Much Does Romans Say?

Friday, August 14th, 2009

I’m still discussing Romans 9-11 with Bob in the comment section of the last entry.  I may take some of that and make a new entry.  In the meantime, I had already written out this fourth post in the series.  Just a quick thought on how much Romans 9-11 actually addresses.

I think it’s pretty clear that Paul is pointing forward to a future spiritual renewal of ethnic Israel, in which many many Jews will find the Messiah.

But I don’t think Romans 9-11 says anything else about the end times.  It doesn’t say anything about the role of Israel in the end times.  If you only read these chapters, you don’t find anything about Israel’s role in the kingdom of God.  You don’t find anything about the millenium.  You don’t even find anything about the land of Israel.

Not directly, anyway.  Paul does say, “For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (v. 29).  And he does seem to think that the bloodlines still matter for something.  But we have to read other parts of the Bible in order to find out what exactly are “the gifts and calling of God”.

It might still turn out that some of the promises & prophecies were typological, or “spiritual” in some sense.  Not face value.  (When they’re fulfilled, it might not turn out like you would think at first glance.)  But like I said in the last entry, we have to be careful with that.  If you want to claim that’s what will happen, you should have good exegetical reason for doing it.  (Just because you can think of some way that “This promise about Israel is fulfilled in Christ & the Church”, doesn’t mean you’re reading it the way it was intended.)  Especially the further you move away from taking it at “face value”.

The Church & Israel — Thinking About Rom. 9-11

Monday, August 3rd, 2009

Continuing from the last entry, where I put Romans 7-12 in my own words, here are some observations.

Observations

1.) When Paul says that God’s promise hasn’t failed, his emphasis is not, “Because the Church is the true Israel.”  (That’s what Replacement theologians tend to say.)  Instead, his emphasis is, “Because the remnant of the Jews has come to Christ.”   Even if you think the Church is Israel–even if you think Paul says so–it should be clear that Paul doesn’t depend on that idea here.  His response is based on the remnant.

2.) Paul makes a big point of the fact that God did have a faithful remnant of some Jews.  Apparently, if all the Jews had rejected the Messiah, God’s promise would have failed.  So in some way, the bloodlines do still matter.   It does matter for ethnic Jews to follow Christ.

3.) Paul does talk about including the Gentiles as God’s children, as beloveds, as his people.  God brings “vessels of mercy” from out of the Gentiles, as well as from out of the Jews.  But Paul doesn’t directly say anything here like, “Therefore we can call the whole body of Christ ‘Israel’.”  (The arguable place is 11:25-26, which I’ll get to in a moment.  Also, Gal. 6:16 or Rom. 2:29 might say so–but that would be a different argument.  What does this passage mean?)

4.) In some places in the passage, “Israel” can only mean ethnic Israel, not “believing Jews + the Gentiles”.

As an exercise, try walking through all three chapters, and replace “Israel” with either “ethnic Israel” or “true Israel”.  Try it both ways in each case.  See which ones are clearly “ethnic Israel”.  See which ones are arguable.

Especially, let’s try that in 11:25-26.

5.) “Israel” shows up twice in 11:25-26.  The first time is clear, but the second time is arguable.

a partial hardening has come upon [ethnic] Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel [???] will be saved, as it is written,

On the one hand, maybe it means “a vast majority of Jews will come to Christ”.  (“All Israel” doesn’t necessarily mean “every individual”, even though that might sound more natural.)

On the other hand, maybe it means, “every individual from true Israel (whether Jew or Gentile) will find mercy”.

That makes more sense out of “all Israel”.  And the basic idea of “true Israel” makes sense with the earlier stuff about including the Gentiles.  And it makes sense with some other passages.  But–I can’t make sense of it in the context.

Paul had talked about making the unbelieving Jews jealous in order to save them, and desiring them to be grafted back in.  Then he talks about a temporary partial hardening.  It seems to go, “Partial hardening on the Jews until the fullness of the Gentiles comes in, and then the hardening will be released, and more Jews will be saved.”

The “true Israel” really doesn’t fit well, if you keep going from v. 25 through to vs. 32.  You might think “true Israel” works in v. 26, but keep reading.  Pay attention to what happens when you hit v. 28, and especially v. 31:

so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy.

Who has been disobedient?  Ethnic Israel.  Who is Paul hoping will receive mercy?  Ethnic Israel.

If you read v. 26 by itself, maybe it can work.  But it stops working when you hit v. 28.

6.) Last comment: Paul definitely talks about the Gentiles being included as God’s people, and he says they are “children of the promise”.  Galatians also connects us with Abraham (Gal. 3:29).  But what about the later Mosaic covenant?  Maybe we’re included in Abraham, but not Moses.  What about all the later promises that God didn’t make to Abraham, but made to Israel and the people of Israel?  Do we have to be included in both?

I really don’t know.  But I don’t think Paul intended to answer that question in Rom. 9-11–he’s mainly addressing the promises of salvation.  (And in 9:3-5 and 11:28-29, he’s maybe pointing out some particular promises & blessings for ethnic Israel.  I’m not sure.)

So, I don’t think you should take your final answer from Rom. 9-11.  Even if it turns out that Gentile Christians do receive all the promises & covenants & prophecies to Israel, we would need to do more work to figure that out. We need to look at the various promises and prophecies, and look at what the New Testament says about them, and see what makes sense.  In particular, we need to look at the land promises, and see what God specifically promised.  And Jeremiah 31:35-37 is important.

—-

Back to “How do we interpret the Bible?” in general.

Covenant theologians are right–that we need to let the New Testament interpret the Old, where it does so. And Dispensationalists are right–that we need to be careful about over-allegorizing, where the Bible doesn’t justify doing it.  We should take it at face value unless we have good reason not to.

That’s where I’m at.  I need to study the Old Testament promises, and find out what the New Testament says about them.

I have just one more comment about Israel and the Church in the end-times.  But I’ll save that for another entry.  A brief one.  I promise.