Archive for the ‘theology’ Category

In an online Facebook discussion between evangelicals and Mormons, an evangelical gave a link to my 2014 article on IRR’s website, “The Mormon Doctrine of Becoming Gods: What about the Early Church Fathers?” A Mormon named Christopher took issue with the article, beginning with the following claim:

One of the less impressive arguments Bowman makes in his critical article is in his section of “becoming sons of God”. Obviously this approaches the biblical concept of adoption by/into God. But here Bowman is using a modern interpretation of the term (either deliberately or ignorantly).

This comment was odd because in fact I didn’t offer any “interpretation of the term” adoption, modern or ancient or otherwise. The word adoption appears only once in my article, in a quotation from Irenaeus—who was of course an ancient author and so could not be accused of “using a modern interpretation of the term”! The article also has no section on “becoming sons of God.” The term sons occurs only three times in the article: twice in a quotation from Justin Martyr, and once in my comment on Justin’s statement, in which I said:

Furthermore, according to Justin, we are not already God’s children (as the LDS Church teaches), but may become his sons. What Justin teaches here is incompatible with the LDS doctrine that we were God’s preexistent children in heaven and that we came here to make progress toward “growing up” to become full-fledged Gods like our Heavenly Father.

Instead of engaging what I did say on the subject, Christopher erected a straw man of his own invention in which I supposedly used “a modern interpretation of the term” adoption. Read the rest of this entry »

As discussed in my previous post here, on April 9 Hank Hanegraaff, the host of the Bible Answer Man radio program and president of the evangelical parachurch ministry Christian Research Institute (CRI), formally joined the Orthodox Church.

In a forthcoming post I hope to delve more deeply into the story of Hanegraaff’s conversion to Eastern Orthodoxy and its implications for CRI and for evangelicalism. Right now, however, I want to explore some of the initial reactions we are seeing to this story and then point to some resources for those who want to learn more about evangelicalism and Eastern Orthodoxy.

 

The Fundamentalist Reaction: “Hanegraaff…Has Left the Biblical Christian Faith”

Some fundamentalists (and I use that term to distinguish them from mainstream evangelicals) have been quick to judge that in leaving Protestantism, Hanegraaff has left the Christian faith. This is precisely what one blogger, Jeff Maples, claimed at the Pulpit and Pen blog. His post was entitled “The Bible Answer Man, Hank Hanegraaff, Leaves the Christian Faith?” The question mark does not imply that Maples thinks Orthodoxy might be Christian. The only question in his mind at the time was whether the story of Hanegraaff defecting to the Orthodox Church was true. According to Maples,

There are numerous reports that Hank Hanegraaff, the well-known talk show host, and evangelical apologist known as “The Bible Answer Man,” has left the biblical Christian faith for Greek Orthodox tradition…. The Orthodox Church is a false expression of Christianity, much like the Roman Catholic Church, that is highly driven by graven images and denies the biblical doctrine of salvation by grace alone through faith alone, and instead, trusts in meritorious works and a sacramental system for salvation.

For Maples and other fundamentalists, it’s as simple as that: Catholics and Orthodox are not Christians because they don’t understand salvation in the same way that evangelical Protestants do. They are supposedly trusting in their works and religious rituals for salvation. Read the rest of this entry »

On Palm Sunday, April 9, 2017, Hank Hanegraaff formally joined the Orthodox Church. Since 1989 Hanegraaff has been the President of the Christian Research Institute (CRI) and (since ca. 1992) the host of CRI’s Bible Answer Man radio program.[1] Hank, his wife Kathy, and two of their twelve children were inducted by a sacramental rite called chrismation into the Orthodox faith at St. Nektarios Greek Orthodox Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, near where CRI is based. In chrismation, a baptized individual is anointed with oil in order to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.[2]

There was no prior announcement of Hanegraaff’s conversion, although there were rumors he was a catechumen (someone in a formal process leading to conversion). Ironically, the day before his chrismation an evangelical blogger, Jason Engwar at Triablogue, documented evidence from Hanegraaff’s radio broadcasts over the past year that suggested he was moving toward Eastern Orthodoxy.[3] Father Thomas Soroka, an Orthodox priest, first broke the news of Hanegraaff’s chrismation on Facebook.

Although Hanegraaff’s conversion to Orthodoxy is a dramatic development, in a way his theology and religiosity has been in almost constant movement throughout his nearly three decades at CRI. Hanegraaff’s family background was Dutch Reformed and his ministry experience prior to CRI included working with Calvinist pastor and broadcaster D. James Kennedy. When he arrived at CRI he was also a staunch young-earth creationist. Over the years Hanegraaff transitioned to old-earth creationism (which happens to be my position as well) but also passed through two or three forms of eschatology, eventually becoming an advocate for the controversial view known as preterism (which views almost all NT prophecy as fulfilled in the first century). Presumably now that he has become Orthodox he will need to support its traditional eschatology, which is amillennial.

Hanegraaff’s conversion to Eastern Orthodoxy should not be viewed as a mere isolated occurrence. There has been a definite trend for the past few decades of a growing number of American evangelical Protestants converting to either Catholicism or Orthodoxy. As long ago as 1992, the trend of conversions of evangelical clergy to Orthodoxy was noted in a book.[4] I want to suggest some lessons (by no means exhaustive) that need to be learned from this recent turn of events.

Read the rest of this entry »

In a Facebook exchange on March 25, 2017, in the group “B.C. and L.D.S. (Biblical Christians and Latter Day Saints)” with a non-Mormon named Errol Vincent Amey, I presented a series of quotations from the church fathers to counter Mr. Amey’s view of Scripture and authority. In brief, Mr. Amey is a follower of David Bercot, who teaches that true Christianity (which just happens in Bercot’s view to correspond to a modern form of Anabaptist Christianity) is to be determined solely on the basis of the consensus teachings of the ante-Nicene church fathers (i.e., the church fathers who wrote prior to the Council of Nicaea in AD 325). Mr. Amey ignored all but one of the quotations, my quotation of Irenaeus in Against Heresies 3.2.1, which he attempted to counter by quoting the next paragraph as well as a later passage (3.2.2; 3.4.1).

The next day, Mr. Amey’s friend Robert Boylan, a Mormon blogger, posted a critique of what he called my “abuse of Irenaeus of Lyons to support sola scriptura.” Mr. Boylan approvingly repeated Mr. Amey’s argument, again mentioning only my one quotation of Against Heresies 3.2.1 and answering it by quoting 3.2.2 and 3.4.1.

Anabaptists and Mormons make somewhat strange bedfellows, though of course they do share some agreements. Both are modern forms of restorationism, which seeks to re-establish the primitive Christianity that was supposedly lost in a massive apostasy that corrupted virtually all of Christianity for well over a millennium. Yet they have radically different views about what a restored Christianity should look like. The one thing on which they agree is that it would not look at all like traditional evangelical Protestantism. It is apparently this point of agreement that unites such persons as Mr. Amey and Mr. Boylan.

Mr. Boylan’s blog post knocks down a straw man of his own creation. I did not claim that Irenaeus held to the evangelical Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura. Read the rest of this entry »

Ben Witherington III, a well-known evangelical New Testament scholar, recently posted an article on “Why Mormonism is not Christianity.” William J. Hamblin, a Mormon scholar, swiftly responded on his blog with a critique of Witherington’s six criticisms of Mormon belief. The two articles may be read here:

Ben Witherington III, “Why Mormonism Is Not Christianity—the Issue of Christology,” Patheos, 27 Aug. 2012.

Bill Hamblin, “Are Mormons Christians? Witherington Says No,” Mormon Scripture Explorations (blog), 28 Aug. 2012.

For the most part, Hamblin misses the point, as I shall explain. In fact, much of Hamblin’s response misses the context of Witherington’s six points, which are not presented as “six reasons why he believes Mormons are not Christians,” as Hamblin claims. In fact Witherington is very clear as to what the six points represent. Read the rest of this entry »

On IRR’s website, we now have a new resource giving an overview of Mormon doctrine. Entitled Mormon Belief: The Doctrine of the LDS Church, this web article lists 13 basic doctrines of the Mormon faith and provides select quotations from LDS Church publications documenting these doctrines. One notable feature of this article is that all of the quotations can be found at the LDS Church’s official website. For each of the 13 points the doctrine is briefly stated, then a paragraph of explanation is given, followed by the quotations. This article gives no critique or refutation of the Mormon doctrines, instead referring readers to other sources on the site. Thus, the article can be especially useful as a starting point for those who are looking for objective information on Mormon beliefs.

Constructive criticisms and suggestions for improving this or any other article on IRR’s website are welcome.

 

A new feature of this blog will be periodic essays responding to articles in the Watchtower (and occasionally Awake!), the official magazine of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. A regular review of this magazine’s articles is in order: the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society claims that it prints over 42 million copies of each issue of the Watchtower in 185 languages. Even if nine-tenths of these copies never get read, that is still a hefty circulation for any publication, let alone a religious magazine.

First up is an article in the January 1, 2011 issue of the Watchtower entitled “Did God Know that Adam and Eve Would Sin?” (13-15). The article answers its question in the negative. According to Jehovah’s Witness theology, God has the “capacity” to know everything ahead of time, including Adam and Eve’s sin, but “does not have to use this capacity” and “wisely uses his ability of foreknowledge selectively…when it makes sense to do so and fits the circumstances.” God’s ability to foreknow some things and to refrain from foreknowing other things is likened to a sports fan choosing to watch a prerecorded game from the beginning instead of jumping forward to see the end (14).

We agree with the theological premises to which the Watchtower appeals in making its case for this doctrine of selective foreknowledge. Specifically, we agree that God made everything good, that Adam and Eve before the Fall had the ability not to commit sin, that the first humans were not “preprogrammed to please God” (13), that God does not tempt people to try to get them to sin, that God is not to blame for Adam and Eve’s sin (14), that God is love, and that Satan “initiated the rebellion in Eden” (15). However, from these biblically correct premises it simply does not follow that God did not know that Adam and Eve would sin.

For example, from the premise that Adam and Eve had the ability not to sin it does not follow that God did not know they would sin. The truth is that Adam and Eve had the ability not to sin or to sin—that is, they had the ability to choose either path. Suppose that instead of choosing to sin, Adam and Eve had chosen not to sin. Would God knowing that ahead of time somehow rob them of their responsibility for making the right choice? Of course not. God could know what they were going to do without compromising their responsibility in doing it. Likewise, God could foreknow the fact that they were going to sin without causing their sin.

The Watchtower article reasons that it would have been “hypocritical for God to warn them against a specific sin while already knowing the bad outcome” (13-14). Assuming God is omniscient, however, the real injustice would have been for God not to have warned them ahead of time against committing the sin. God’s justice required that he give Adam and Eve fair warning of the consequences of disobeying him. It makes no sense to claim that he needed to be ignorant of the outcome in order to be righteous in issuing the warning!

The article asks if it would “make sense for a wise God” to make creatures that “he knew were bound to fail” if other creatures (the angels) were watching (14). This rhetorical question suggests that God would be restrained, as it were, by public opinion. God has the absolute right to make whatever world he chooses, even if he knows that some of his creatures in that world will abuse their God-given abilities.

Virtually the entire article consists of this sort of a priori reasoning about what would make sense for God to do or know. The one supposed example it cites of God not knowing something falls short of proving any such ignorance. The article points out (14) that after Abraham demonstrated his willingness to sacrifice Isaac, God said, “Now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me” (Gen. 22:12). Yet years earlier God had told Abraham, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed for four hundred years,” after which they would escape “with many possessions,” but that Abraham himself would be “buried at a good old age” (Gen. 15:13-15). How could God know all these things about Abraham and his descendants and not know whether Abraham would pass the test that was coming? Those future events depended on Abraham being the patriarch of promise. The traditional and best understanding of a statement like Genesis 22:12 is that God was accommodating himself to human language by speaking as a human parent would to his child.

The Watchtower’s notion of selective foreknowledge is completely unbiblical. The concept as explained in the article presupposes that it would always be immoral for God to know ahead of time about any specific acts of sin by his creatures. Yet the Bible is full of references to God knowing ahead of time that various individuals and nations would do all sorts of bad things. God knew that Abraham’s descendants would be enslaved in Egypt for four hundred years (Gen. 15:13-14), that Pharaoh would resist letting Israel go (Exod. 3:19-20; 4:21; 7:3-5; etc.; cf. Rom. 9:17-18), and that Israel would become corrupt after Moses’ death (Deut. 31:16-21, 27-29). Jesus knew that people would hate his disciples (Matt. 10:22; 24:9; etc.), that the authorities in Jerusalem would put him to death (Matt. 16:21; 20:18-19; etc.), and that Judas would betray him (Matt. 26:21-25). These are just some of the more prominent examples out of the dozens of such statements throughout the Bible.

Jesus’ foreknowledge of Judas’s betrayal is an especially interesting and important case study. Jesus chose Judas to be one of his apostles, knowing from the start that Judas would end up betraying him (John 6:70-71; 13:10-11, 18-26). Had Jesus not chosen Judas to be an apostle, Judas would not have had the opportunity to commit the infamous act of betrayal for which he will forever be remembered. Yet Jesus chose Judas, knowing what he would do. This example, which is associated with the core events of the gospel, refutes the pious reasoning that God would never put someone in a position to do evil if he knew the person would make that choice.

Selective foreknowledge is not only unbiblical, it is unworkable. If God did not foreknow that Adam and Eve would sin, then he could not have foreknown any of the subsequent events in world history, because that whole history is shaped by their act. The whole history of human conflict and struggle, of villainy and heroism, of sin and redemption, of death and resurrection—all of it presupposes the first sin of Adam and Eve. If God didn’t know that event would happen, he didn’t know anything else that would happen in human history. God’s “selective foreknowledge” would be limited to knowing the future movements of astronomical bodies and the times of sunrise and sunset for the rest of earth’s history.

The argument that it would be immoral for God to know about sin ahead of time has things backwards. Suppose God could have known, but chose not to know, that Adam and Eve would sin. Would God not have been negligent to blind himself to what was about to happen? We are not talking about a sports fan avoiding hearing the final score of a football game so he can enjoy the action. We are talking about the Creator of the universe supposedly avoiding knowing what would happen in the creation for which he was responsible.

The New Testament teaches that God knew that his Son, Jesus Christ, would die as a sacrifice for sins before the first sin was committed. Christ, as the “unblemished and spotless lamb” by whose blood we have been redeemed, “was foreknown before the foundation of the world” (1 Peter 1:18-20). God also knew before the foundation of the world that he would redeem his people in Christ. God “chose us in him before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4). The names of believers in Christ have been “written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain” (Rev. 13:8; 17:8; see also Matt. 25:34). The expression “the foundation of the world” in these passages refers to the creation of the world and thus to a time prior to the first sin (see Job 38:4; John 17:24; Heb. 1:10; 4:3). Obviously, for God to foreknow the sacrificial death of his Son for our sins, he needed to foreknow that sins were going to be committed.

We may confidently conclude, then, that God knew that Adam and Eve would disobey him and plunge the whole human race into sin. He knew, because he already had a plan in place for dealing with sin—a plan that would bring good out of evil (compare Gen. 50:20; Rom. 8:28) and bring glory to him because of his grace (Eph. 1:4-6). It is because God knows all things ahead of time that he is never caught by surprise and his plans for his creation can never be finally thwarted.

There are certain subjects in Christian theology that tend to attract a lot of attention among evangelical Christians. We love to discuss controversial questions concerning soteriology, the doctrine of salvation (e.g., the perennial debates among Calvinists, Lutherans, and Arminians regarding predestination and election). Of course, discussions about eschatology (the Millennium, the Rapture, 666, etc.) seem to be never-ending. Among those who are interested in apologetics, we have some interest in such essential theological subjects as the nature of God and the deity of Jesus Christ. But ecclesiology–the study of the doctrine of the church–tends to evoke yawns.

C. S. Lewis once wrote that “good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered” (The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1949; New York: Collier, 1980], 50). As with other doctrinal matters, ecclesiology may not seem very important–until you encounter bad ecclesiology. Then the need for good ecclesiology becomes a felt need and not just an abstraction. I first discovered this fact when working through the teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses, who claim to be the only true religion on the earth today. Despite their confident assertions that everything about their religion is Bible-based, the bureaucratic structure of the religion, led by a “governing body” that runs “Jehovah’s organization on earth,” does not fit at all with what we find in the New Testament. Studying Watchtower ecclesiology forced me to think through that the Bible teaches about ecclesiology. One gains a different perspective on ecclesiology when one is confronting a heretical religion than when one is caught up in skirmishes among evangelicals over, for example, congregational polity versus presbyterian (elder-based) polity.

The same principle applies when dealing with the ecclesiology of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Mormons confidently claim that the LDS Church is the only true church on the earth today, and one reason they give in support of this claim is that their religion is supposedly organized in the same way as the New Testament church. Superficially, Mormons can make a plausible-sounding case for this claim: the New Testament church had apostles, and the LDS Church has apostles. Hey, my church doesn’t have apostles! Maybe we’re missing something. The LDS Church has other offices that sound biblical but that your congregation or denomination probably doesn’t have: patriarchs, for instance, or high priests. Do Mormons really have a “restored” church that corresponds in its organization and offices to the church of the New Testament era? I discuss this question in a new article on the website of the Institute for Religious Research. That article, entitled “Church Organization and Apostasy,” is a response to chapter 16 of Gospel Principles, a doctrinal manual that Mormons around the world are studying throughout 2010 and 2011. The thesis of that article will surprise some people: my contention is that the apostles did not have an “organization” to run Christianity in the first century. That is, there was no hierarchical institution that directed the activities of Christian missionaries, evangelists, and other church leaders throughout the world, or that dictated doctrine and policy from the top down. I also show that the offices of the LDS Church have little or no connection to the ministries of Christian leaders in the first century. The article also offers a response to the LDS claim that early Christianity became so corrupt that the church ceased to exist for some seventeen centuries (what they call the Great Apostasy) until Joseph Smith came along. Understanding where these claims go astray biblically will not only help us be prepared to confront the errors in the LDS religion, but they will help us have a better appreciation for what the Lord Jesus Christ intended when he founded his church.

On the FAIR Blog—a pro-Mormon blog operated by the Foundation for Apologetic Information & Research— Trevor Holyoak has complained that “some critics” of the LDS Church find fault with its teaching that everyone will be resurrected. He points out, correctly, that the Bible does teach this doctrine (John 5:28-29 and Acts 24:15 are applicable) and that the early Church Fathers did so as well. The Bible clearly teaches the resurrection of the righteous and of the wicked. Unfortunately, Mr. Holyoak does not give any examples of critics denying the resurrection of the wicked. Perhaps there are some, but I do not know of any.

What I and other evangelical Christian critics of LDS theology find objectionable (because it is unbiblical) is the claim that everyone will be resurrected to immortality in some glorious heavenly realm. According to the Bible, the wicked will be resurrected to face judgment and will then suffer “the second death,” which is eternal punishment (Rev. 20:6, 10-15; 21:8; see also Matthew 25:41, 46). Their resurrection is, as Jesus said, “the resurrection of damnation” (John 5:29b). Only the righteous will receive “the resurrection of life” (John 5:29a), the resurrection to immortality of which Paul speaks in 1 Corinthians 15. As I point out in my response to chapter 12 of Gospel Principles, “The Bible uses the words ‘immortality’ (athanasia) and ‘incorruption’ (aphtharsia) to refer only to the nature of God and of the future state of the redeemed (Romans 1:23; 2:7; 1 Corinthians 15:42, 50, 52-54; 1 Timothy 1:17; 6:16; 2 Timothy 1:10; 1 Peter 1:4, 23),” never to the future state of the wicked.

This past week, Mormons throughout the world were studying the subject of atonement in chapter 12 of their doctrinal manual Gospel Principles. I offer a counterpoint in my response to chapter 12, another installment in IRR’s Gospel Principles Scripture Study Guide.

Perhaps one of the most interesting issues pertaining to this subject is the question of what the atonement actually accomplishes. As I argue in my response to Gospel Principles, LDS theology does not view the atonement as actually accomplishing what the word atonement means—namely, reconciliation with God the Father. The atonement in LDS theology does not reconcile us to God; it does not eliminate spiritual death; and it does not even eliminate the debt we owe because of our sin. Instead, as I try to show in that article, LDS theology views the atonement as merely making it possible for us to repay the debt, overcome spiritual death, and become reconciled to the Father by our good works. If you’re a Mormon, you might find my description of LDS doctrine surprising or even shocking. That’s okay—I was rather taken aback myself. Read the article and see for yourself.