The following episode of the Reformed Forum’s new podcast, East of Eden, was tailor-made for the readers of this blog! East of Eden is a podcast devoted to discussing all things Jonathan Edwards. Not the recent politician with good hair and a bad reputation, but the eighteenth century preacher of the First Great Awakening who became known as the theologian of revival. In this week’s episode, the co-hosts interview a guest to be named below as they discuss Edwards’ sermon on “The Importance and Advantage of a Thorough Knowledge of Divine Truth.” One comment made by Nick Batzig sums up nicely both the sermon and the theme of this blog: “You can have truth in the mind without godliness in the heart, but you can’t have godliness in the heart without truth in the mind.”
Later, I will update this post with a transcript of the context of the preceding quote. In the meantime, listen to the entire episode, “Christian Knowledge,” to be challenged to inform your godliness with a thorough understanding of the truth which accords with godliness (Titus 1:1).
Strike Three and You’re Out
You may have heard that last week Harold Camping apologized for setting dates for the rapture. His bizarre application of civil engineer math geekiness to biblical hermeneutics misleads him to believe he could calculate the date of the rapture and the final judgment (See Robert Godfrey’s posts on Camping parts 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5). Strike one was back in 1994—No rapture. Camping discovers his miscalculation, and revises his date to May 21, 2011, which is also to kick off five months of judgment apparently in the form of rolling earthquakes that were to begin at a certain time of day all around the globe. Perhaps you noticed the billboards in some parts of the country, but most of you will recall the media attention given to it in the weeks leading up to Camping’s second date. May 21, 2011 comes and goes: strike two! Upon this failure, he claims that the rapture really did happen, but it was a spiritual rapture, and that a spiritual judgment has begun which will culminate in the complete end of the world all at once on October 21, 2011. Nothing. Strike three and you’re out, Harold Camping! In the stressful aftermath of this publicly humiliating fiasco, which brought much grief, consternation, and in some parts of the world, persecution, Camping suffers a stroke, and he is removed from regular broadcasting on Family Radio. I don’t know if the strike was brought on by the stress of the events, but a stroke he suffered, nonetheless.
Now that he’s had time to recover, this past week, Camping posts a letter on the Family Radio website apologizing for his “sin” of setting dates (read the letter here). In some ways it is an impressive statement. I was particularly moved to see his state in no uncertain terms that those of us who harped on Jesus’ words that “no man will know the day or hour” were right, and that he was wrong:
…we now realize that those people who were calling our attention to the Bible’s statement that “of that day and hour knoweth no man” (Matthew 24:36 & Mark 13:32), were right in their understanding of those verses and Family Radio was wrong. Whether God will ever give us any indication of the date of His return is hidden in God’s divine plan.
But this candid concession and apology was not good enough for Dan Elmendorf, former Family Radio broadcaster and now founder of Redeemer Broadcasting. In his weekly program, “A Plain Answer,” Elmendorf reminds us that the sin of date-setting was the least of Camping’s doctrinal problems. Absent from Camping’s open letter is any expression of repentance for having called on Christians to leave organized churches in which the gospel is preached and the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper are administered under the oversight by elders with the authority of exercising church discipline on members whose lives are persistently refusing to conform to a biblical standard of holiness and obedience to Scripture. Apparently, Camping still believes, and would have his listeners believe, that “the church age has ended.” So, it’s not that Camping has repented of the more heretical nature of his controversial “ministry.” I recommend that you listen to Elmendorf’s program, the first segment of which addresses Camping’s “weak apology.” The host shares some insight and experience which you can’t get from the Associated Press stories.
The Schuller’s Take Their Ball and Leave
In another recent instance of heresy in the headlines, it is reported that the entire family of positive-thinking televangelist, Robert Schuller, are leaving Crystal Cathedral Ministries. The 85 year-old Schuller, having retired from weekly “ministry” in 2009, was succeeded by his daughter, Sheila Schuller Coleman. According to the LA Times, Coleman announced this past Sunday that she will leave the Crystal Cathedral to start a new church citing a “hostile working environment” stemming from a growing divide between the Schuller family and the Crystal Cathedral’s board of directors. Robert Schuller and his wife applaud Coleman’s decision, but announce they will not be joining her at her new church, and that their plans for weekly worship are not yet finally decided. They will not, however, have any further public association with the work of the Crystal Cathedral and it’s broadcast The Hour of Power, started by Robert Schuller back in 1970. It seems that all positive (as opposed to “good”) things must come to an end. In my humble opinion, this end has been long overdue.
November 10th was the 528th birthday of Protestant Reformer, Martin Luther. The Lutheran radio show, Issues, Etc., hosted by Todd Wilken, interviewed Uwe Siemon-Netto of the League of Faithful Masks, and author of The Fabricated Luther, about the popular notion that the writings of Martin Luther which were critical of the Jews were in fact part of the source of the twentieth-century Nazi form of anti-Semitism. I will attempt to summarize Siemon-Netto’s explanation and defense of Martin Luther.
Some of Martin Luther’s writings from late in his ministry certainly do not match the political-correctness of modern Western civilization, but they are hardly the source of Nazi sentiment against the Jews. For starters, late in his life, Luther was wracked with physical pain and illness, which took a serious toll on him. Psychologically, people under such severe physical and emotional stress are prone to give expression to ideas which they otherwise would not. Luther’s earlier writings were are more affirming and caring, urging the evangelization of the Jews.
In sixteenth century Germany, it was still a civil crime to commit blasphemy against the Christian God. Thus, the Jews’ denial of Christ was legally categorized as a violation of German blasphemy laws. While today, Western civilization considers blasphemy laws unjustifiable, we must not judge a man anachronistically when he is seen acting consistent with the context of his own generation.
Luther’s statements critical of the Jews had been, right or wrong, suppressed by the Lutheran church due to their recognition that they reflect something other than theologically Lutheran attitude. These writings were recovered and misused by proponents of the Volkisch movement which promoted pre-Christian pagan ethnocentricity and Romantic nationalism, among other influences. Their racist views are projected back onto Luther and unjustly point to him as a primogenitor of their own views when they were actually engaging in public relations to popularize their own peculiar views.
These days, when people find how the Nazis and other German anti-Semites utilized quotes by Martin Luther, it is easy to come away assuming Luther was anti-Semitic in a manner comparable to Nazi Aryanism. Todd Wilken asked Uwe Siemon-Netto to put in a nutshell what he would recommend as a helpful response and defense of Martin Luther in the light of such assumptions. Siemon-Netto explained as follows:
A) The entire Lutheran church rejected Luther’s statements that were critical of Judaism;
B) What Luther wrote against the Jews in his later life was un-Lutheran as compared with his earlier writing on the same subject;
C) Luther was fallible, and made egregious mistakes—an admission made by Martin Luther probably more than anyone else.
Evangelicalism is so desparate to be liked by the world, they will seemingly latch onto anything or anyone of any notoriety whatsoever with whom (or which) they find some sort of commonality. Especially if it involves movies or television. A few years ago, evangelical Protestants proclaimed Roman Catholic Mel Gibson’s movie version of a mystic nun’s vision of The Passion of the Christ as the greatest evangelistic tool since Billy Graham. Nowadays, they are opening wide their church doors and their pulpits and plexiglass lecterns to the Mormon with a compelling “testimony” of deliverance from alcoholism who found near-Oprah-like success on FOXNews Channel as one of the leaders of the Tea Party Movement, Glenn Beck.
With the purchase of the old campus of Gateway Church in Southlake, Texas, I’m sad to admit that Glenn Beck is now a neighbor of mine. One of the down sides of this is that Beck will be, and indeed, has already been, welcomed into the evangelical churches of my community to blur the lines between biblical Protestant Christianity and the false religion of Mormonism. A recent episode of the Lutheran radio show, Issues, Etc., features the recording of Glenn Beck’s recent “sermon” delivered at High Point Church in Arlington, Texas where he not only confuses the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of man by speaking on America’s need to stand by the nation of Israel in their ongoing conflicts in the Middle East (a position with which I generally agree), but he confuses the Kingdom of God with the kingdom of Satan as a local evangelical church applauds a Mormon as he ”testifies” that “the Lord Jesus Christ is [his] Savior and Redeemer.”
I’m glad I turned off Glenn Beck long before he ever started preaching American civil religion to his politically conservative viewers. What 60 years ago was called New Evangelicalism, fundamentalists of various denominations who sought the lowest common denominator for a semblence of “unity,” has become the New Liberalism, as they allow members of non-Christian religions to preach in their ostensibly “Christian” megachurch pulpits to seek the lowest common denominator with heresy.
Pray for repentance and Reformation for any and all churches that call themselves Christian. While you’re at it, read Arlington, Texas-based Watchman Fellowship’s “Fast Facts on Mormonism,” and do not attend if Glenn Beck appears at your church some Sunday morning in the not-to0-distant future.
One topic I haven’t treated nearly enough lies ironically at the heart of the underlying theme of my blog, which theme is an expression of my experience as a fundamentalist turned Reformed confessionalist. The topic is the tension in modern fundamentalism and evangelicalism between so-called “head knowledge” and “heart knowledge.” Having been too busy living amidst that tension for the past couple of decades, I haven’t done a great deal of blogging about it since I started this blog.
To be truthful, this blog’s title and theme, “The Misadventures of Captain Headknowledge” is both an indictment and a confession. It’s an indictment for the kind of reason that you may have already read about on my “About Me” page. The confession lies in my honest recognition that I am the sort who has the tendency to, as it is sometimes put, read about the Bible, rather than actually take time to read the Bible.” This is certainly a flaw which stunts my spiritual growth in sanctification and the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. To the extent that my blog is a personal confession, it reminds me to cultivate my own spiritual growth. In the past, I was made to feel that many think this means I must therefore utterly repent of and entirely forsake my tendency to “read about the Bible.” But I disagree, and this is where the indictment part comes in. I regard that attitude to be an overreaction to an otherwise valuable gift of God. A love for reading theology and related Christian literature must not supersede my personal study and application of Scripture, but it needn’t be excluded from my life, either. Old Princeton scholar, Benjamin Breckenridge (B.B.) Warfield has the ultimate quote on this issue, from his book, The Religious Life of Theological Students (P & R Publishing Co.):
Nothing could be more fatal, however, than to set these two things over against one another. Recruiting officers do not dispute whether it is better for soldiers to have a right leg or a left leg: soldiers should have both legs. Sometimes we hear it said that ten minutes on your knees will give you a truer, deeper, more operative knowledge of God than ten hours over your books. “What!” is the appropriate response, “than ten hours over your books, on your knees?” Why should you turn from God when you turn to your books, or feel that you must turn from your books in order to turn to God? If learning and devotion are as antagonistic as that, then the intellectual life is in itself accursed, and there can be no question of a religious life for a student, even of theology. HT: Hot Orthodoxy
Such an imbalanced rejection of academic theology as unnecessary or unhelpful “head knowledge” in favor of so-called “heart knowledge” in its extreme forms often seems little more than an individualistic, experiential mysticism. This brings up another, I suppose, the final member of the Old Princeton (before their fall into theological liberalism) and his comments regarding this very problem. Reformed blogger, Jack Miller, recently posted an excerpt from J. Gresham Machen’s book What is Faith? Miller also includes his own remarks, but here’s a little of what Machen has to say on the question of subjective anti-intellectualism and the resultant mysticism against which this blog is in part an indictment:
The depreciation of the intellect, with the exaltation in the place of it of the feelings or of the will, is, we think, a basic fact in modern life, which is rapidly leading to a condition in which men neither know anything nor care anything about the doctrinal content of the Christian religion, and in which there is in general a lamentable intellectual decline. (What is Faith?, p.28)
But if theology be thus abandoned, or if rather (to ease the transition) it be made merely the symbolic expression of religious experience, what is to be put into its place?… Mysticism unquestionably is the natural result of the anti-intellectual tendency which now prevails; for mysticism is the consistent exaltation of experience at the expense of thought. (p.35)
You can read the rest of Miller’s post here.
My sentiments, exactly, Drs. Warfield and Machen!