Friday, April 20, 2007

Division: what history can teach us

I've recently read 'conteding for our all' John Piper's brief biography of Athanasius, John Owen and J.Gresham Machen. And there are lots of things i would love to say about what i learnt from it, but i want to focus on one particular thing for now. This won't be particularly systematic and is mostly aimed at people who don't see what all the fuss is about over differing views of the atonement, and why the Spring Harvest/Word Alive split is so important.

My 'liberal' friends, i'm not scared of you, i'm scared for you. By liberal i guess i mean people who don't hold the Bible to be the infallible, inerrent word of God, who are happy to move away from historic Christianity to something more acceptable in the 21st century. It doesn't really bother me what stream you fall into, emergent, anglican, charismatic or anything else. Anyway, we're not scared that you're onto something and we need to hide away in north wales or we'll be proved wrong. You can not beat or successfully argue with a literal reading of the Bible. We're scared for you. Scared that for the sake of, well i don't quite know what, ecumenicalism or whatever else, you are turning your backs on the living God and risking an eternity of torment away from His goodness and love. I believe that we must have a multi perspectival view on the cross. Penal substitution was not the only thing going on at Calvary. But i do believe that it is at the heart of the Gospel, and that once you take the heart from an animal it's not going to last long.

I also want to say that it really really is ok to disagree on big issues. We mustn't be dragged into a post modern view of our faith, where every different strand is ok as long as you're sincere. No no no. As Tim Suffield rightly points out evangelicals are supposed to have balls. If Luther wasn't brave enough to stick his head over the parapet we'd probably still be paying indulgences now. If Tydale hadn't had the guts to stand up to the authorities we'd probably all be reading our Bibles in Latin still. And that would be bad. I sucked at Latin. Some issues are big enough to stand up and speak up about. We're not arguing about whether we can wear hats in church, or what the third heaven is...this is the Gospel. This is life and death. This is big time.

In some issues, it really is ok to be liberal. Politics i guess is a good example. But there is nothing in life more important than what the Word of God says about the Son of God for the glory of God. And of course UCCF/Keswick don't have it all right, but i do wholeheartedly believe they've got this right. It concerns me that the tag of 'liberal' is being worn with pride. This is not good. Come back to the Bible. Sit joyfully under it. Come back.

Athanasius and Arianism.

Athanasius spent his whole ministry contending for the truth of the deity of Christ. He was fighting against Arians who said that Christ was created. He was exiled from his own congregation three times, and spent most of that time in the desert living like a nomad, all the while writing to defend the orthodox view of the Incarnation. In fact he was more or less defining what the orthodox view was. He stuck to the scriptures, was faithful to what they said, and Arianism was seen off. Imagine if he, for the sake of unity, decided that it didn't really matter whether Christ was created or not. If, for the sake of unity, he had not devoted his life to correcting error. Risking sending people to Hell in the name of temporal unity is a bad thing. Despite, perhaps because of, all the dispute, the church in this time grew and grew and grew.

The Reformation.

The fullness of the Gospel was preserved in this doctrinal war. I believe that the Reformation is one of the most important post Bible historical events. In fact in the century after Calvin's death churches in the Reformed Tradition grew at an astonishing rate. People had once more started to love and cherish and become bold in the Gospel. Some of our greatest Pastors and theologians cut their teeth on the controversy of Wittenburg and Geneva.

The Second Great Awakening.

Perhaps the best example of 'growth in division' is the second great awakening. The division here was between Calvinism and Arminianism, a slightly (slightly) less important issue than the one at stake today. The SGA was the largest revival in American history, as people came to the Lord and renewed their interest in Him in great numbers. One of it's leaders was Francis Asbury, a man with an 'unusual' style of ministry and close links to John Wesley. Despite the controversy God blessed the fourty-five years of his ministry. His collegue Charles Finney has been described as more arminian than Wesley, and that sort of theology was bound to provoke interest and controversy. This came particularly in the form of Calvinists Asahel Nettleton and Lyman Beecher (Calvinists have better names as well see!) who were also blessed in their ministry by God. In fact it has been said of Nettleton that 'no other minister...was the cause of so many conversions'. Another man clearly blessed by God, more revival in the face of controversy. The differences between these men came to a head at a meeting in New Lebanon, New York in 1827. It ended without reconciliation, and produced possibly my favourite quote. I think this quote shows both the nature of disagreement and illustrates how wet we are when it comes to contending for the truth of the Gospel. So here is Nettleton to Finney
'Finney, i know your plan and i know you do; you mean to come to Conneticut and carry a streak of fire to Boston. But if you attempt it, as the Lord liveth i'll meet you at the state line, and i'll call out the artillery men, and fight you every inch of the way to Boston, and then i'll fight you there'.
Now,doesn't that seem an extraordinary thing for one Christian to say to another? And yet this was carried out against the backdrop of unprecedented revival. Oh that we would be brave enough to mix our words when it comes to the cause of the glory of Christ.

So what can history teach us?

Please don't hear what i'm not saying. I'm not saying that controvery is good, or that it is a strategy for church growth. Although history seems to testify otherwise. These are frustrating and sad times for Evangelicals. And yet at the same time, good times. Bible's are open, truth is being contended for and people are deciding where their passions fall. History teaches us that controversy is good in the long run. As sad as it is at the time, it's good in the long run. History teaches us that not everything needs to be 'just so' in our house to proclaim the Gospel and for the church to grow. These are, as i said, sad times for evangelicals. Lets pray they would be exciting times of revival as well... It's not impossible. It might even be likely.

Bish is linking to a lot of great stuff here, you could do a lot worse than take some time to read them, as well as Adrian Warnock's original.


hatchris said...

"You can not beat or successfully argue with a literal reading of the Bible."

Just out of interest, would you say your reading of the bible actually is literal? If it is indeed 100% literal, you must believe some very interesting things indeed.

I still don't really see what the fuss is about. Have you actually read the book which seemed to kick all this off?

FloydTheBarber said...

what i mean by literal is reading the poetry as poetry, the apocalyptic as apocalyptic etc. In this case i guess it means reading Romans 3:25 etc as they were written.
The 'fuss' is about the heart of the Gospel, about the way God answered man's greatest need...can you really not see why that is important?

Sally said...

Personally, no, I can't see why that is so important. As long as you believe that he did, why does the methodology/process matter?

Ed, please don't feel sorry for me. My faith is strong, Biblically-based, liberal and personal. I have a relationship with the one true & living God which is real, powerful and life-giving.

I have a question for you... What do you believe one needs to do to be saved? Because I am intrigued by the fact that I am apparently "risking an eternity of torment away from His goodness and love", yet I have placed my trust in God and believe Christ to be my Lord and Saviour. Could you explain?

PS. Chris, last time I asked (a couple of months ago), the answer was 'no'.

FloydTheBarber said...

hello sal,

the answer's still no. i read 'redeeming the cross' the other day and plan to interact with that soon. that could obviously take some time though, given the amount in there that is simply wrong.
I guess i feel sorry for people who worship a God they either don't know is Holy or they don't know has forgiven them. I can't see how you can have both unless you subscribe to the doctrine of penal substitution.
what do you need to do to be saved? confess with your mouth and believe with your heart. Have faith in Christ. I don't think you need to know your doctrine inside out to be saved, and i thank God for that. I do believe, as i said earlier that penal substitution is the heart of the Gospel. Rip the heart out of anything, it's not going to last long.
Sal, our sin is the greatest barrier we have before a Holy God. How has that been dealt with if not through it being punished on the Cross?