Saturday, October 14, 2006

Do You Prove Your Theology By Guru?

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Often I see Christians, including well-known teachers, prove their theological views by quoting some famous "great" Christian of the past. Their thought seems to be, "If Charles Spurgeon, John Owen, and [solemn hush here] Jonathan Edwards said it, that proves it's true!" I just picked those names out of a hat. If you're offended by my hint that those "divines" may make mistakes, you are making my point.

This is Theology By Guru. That's what the scribes did in Jesus' day. They quoted learned Rabbis and used that as their "text".

We shouldn't ignore teachers from past (or present for that matter), but they are not the authority. They may have valuable insights, but understanding the Word of God is spiritual, and every teaching of every teacher needs to be examined according to the Scripture, preferably as we're filled with the Spirit.

God is the authority, and when we hear His words, we may actually be astonished. Matthew 7:28,29 reads,

"And so it was, when Jesus had ended these sayings, that the people were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes."

The Guru-ization of Christianity, in America at least, has dulled the blade of that astonishment. The "pure milk of the Word" re-sharpens that blade, and we can be astonished again.

There are no "great" Christians, just gifted ones who are sometimes right.


Anonymous said...

I believe you are right Terry, when it's a situation where a person becomes closed minded to other teachers outside of their particular denominational box.

Such as the reformed theologians that you have used as an example. It's interesting though, that you singled out the preachers and teachers of the Reformed Protestant Church. But no matter.

We could also throw around some modern evangelical protestant preachers and teachers as well, such as Rick Warren, John Eldridge, Swindal, Dobson, Dr. Jeremiah and so on.

I believe it is always healthy for us to use many different extra-biblical sources to aid us in the better understanding of Gods Word. I prevents us to become "tunnled visioned."

Now with saying that, I would like to point out that there are two types of views of special revelation that is being upheld in the Church today. The Charasmatics and Romans hold to a continual special revelation. In other words, God talks to us now. The other view held by many Protestant churches is that special revelation stopped on the island of Patmos.

As I am in the second camp, I believe that the only way for us to know God is through scripture. I also believe, through proof texts, that the primary means of grace that our Lord uses is scripture.

So with this understanding, I believe that, again with proof texts, God calls certain individuals or gifts certain individuals to study and expound His Word (the scriptures) to His people. i.e., the preacher in a local assembly.

This is why we have preachers and this is why they preach. Their job and God given gift is to study the Word of God during the week so that they may expound on it to their flock on the next Lords day.

So, all I'm saying is that there is nothing wrong with reading the works of and or listening to the teachings and preachings of men who have spent their whole lives learning the scriptures themselves. But we always should use discernment and again not be narrow minded and lock into one docrinal line of thought.

We all make mistakes and certain theologians and preachers teachings and theologies were influenced and reflected the spirit of the age.

Like the Reformers. We see a theology that reflects a pulling away of the Roman Catholic Church. So it is very focused on putting to right the abuses that the Roman Church was doing at that time.

I myself am reformed, but I read and embrace other denominational doctrinal views and I find faults with the Reformed confessions. We are all fallible.

But as the Reformers believe, Sola Scriptura. Scripture alone. Also as Luther said. "Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason—I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other—my conscience is captive to the Word of God."

So we see here, as the Westminster Confession of Faith says: The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.

So I pray that God continues to give His children a heart to approach His Word for themselves and to be honost in their understanding of it. It isn't easy and it is a life long process, but it is edifying and so pleasent to be in Gods Word. Like the Psalmist tells us: " Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path."



Anonymous said...

Actually Terry, sorry, now that I have re-read your post, I have just have to say that I do take exception to it.

I know where your heart is at and I know what your message is and I do agree with the message. But when you say that there are no "great" Christians, I have to disagree.

That is like saying, there were no "great" men and women in our history.

You named Spurgeon and Edwards. Both of these men were "great" in their devotion and passion to preach the Word in and out of season. If we look at their lives we see that they went above and beyond their calling in their service to our Lord and His church.

These men devoted their whole lives in the proclamation of the Gospel and in serving the church until their death.

Do I agree with all their theology? No. Am I an avid reader of either? No. Spurgeon is a little dated for me and Edwards is way to intellectual. But I have and do read their work from time to time. Spurgeon was Credo-Baptist, I am Pedo-Baptist, Edwards was like most Puritans a little too focused on "mortification of the flesh." I do believe we have a responsability to resist temptaion and fight our sinful nature. But not to the point where that is all we think about and we live under Gods condemnation.

But these were "great" men who fought for Christ with everything they had.

I'm sorry, I don't mean to be admonishing, to God be all the glory and we are just His creatures and He is our sovereign Lord and providential in things. But we are still responsible for our actions, we can either take up His cross and follow Him or we can go our own way and there are many good Christians who answer the call and give their lives for Jesus Christ and they are all great. From the street evangelist who proclaims Him to the inner city to the Missionaries and Martyrs in China, Africa, South America and the Middle East. There are many who are giving everything they have for the cause of Christ and we should honor them and consider them "great." in the eyes of our Lord.

May His grace and peace be with you always.


Terry Rayburn said...


Good comments. I really did pick a few famous names at random, but picked those that I really do respect and profit from.

You're so right that modern guys are likewise followed as authorities. And the key word is indeed "authority", which I know you agree should be reserved only for the Scriptures.

As to men being "great", like so many things it cries out for definition. I looked up "great" at, and it has an amazing 23 definition entries!

My point in saying there are no "great" men is in the sense of 1 Cor. 4:7, which says,

"For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?"

In other words, whatever good one does is in itself a gift or grace from God, yet you are right to give honor where honor is due (Rom. 13:7).

For the record, I'm Calvinistic in my soteriology, but "Reformed" tends to carry baggage that I would not subscribe to.

Specifically, I don't think most Reformed teachers understand the radical nature of the New Covenant, and the Heb. 8 teaching that the New Covenant has made the Old Covenant obsolete. So there is a "wrong dividing" of the Word vis a vis the Old and New Covenants.

Thus, for example, they often teach Sabbatarianism, yet a sort of "antinomian Sunday sabbatarianism", not daring to bring down the fierceness of true [Old Covenant] Biblical Sabbath-keeping, yet not understanding Christ Himself as our Sabbath rest.

Another example is that they tend to rightly see Grace for *initial* salvation, but then teach what I call a "performance-based" or "law-based" Christian life.

Thus they have a general inability to understand or exegete Rom. 6:14 which says,

"For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace."

Ask them for a brief explanation of that verse, and you will often hear a mixture of stunned confusion and convoluted smoke-blowing.

Or to paraphrase Paul to the Galatians, having begun by the Spirit, many are now attempting to be sanctified by performance.

Finally, though, if God is truly Sovereign (and He is), then ultimately we are all given light as He sovereignly sees fit, and none of us can take credit for the light we have. This should encourage our humility, and our love for one another (without which we are clanging cymbals).

Thanks for your thoughtful comments.


dec said...

Thanks for the regular post and the comment-post. I have a question that I have pondered for a while. Even with the New Covenant, obedience is highly stressed. In fact, there are many difficult (impossible) commands for Christians to obey in the NC. The promise that Christ works obedience in us does not seem (to me) to be as highly stressed. Thus it is easy to understand why Christians fall into the mentality of “I need to work harder at ________!”. In fact, I seem to recall that some of the “greats” you listed were tremendously liberated from this legalistic thinking in their early Christian life, only to return to it in some of their later writings.

Do the commands in the New Testament serve the same purpose as the Law in the Old? That is, does our failure to obey these commands drive us to Christ in utter despair at our own abilities? Are we commanded to “work out your own salvation” in order that at some point we will begin to understand that we must depend on “God who works in you”?


Terry Rayburn said...

Hi Dale,

Thanks for your comments/questions.

1. First, I would respectfully disagree that "obedience is highly stressed" in the New Covenant.

It's true that there are a lot of imperatives, and they imply that obedience should follow, and it should.

But if you do a concordance search of "obey" and "obedience" (you can do that here, you will see that obedience is generally referring to the obdience of "the faith" or "the gospel". Once one has "obeyed the gospel", they are now a forgiven one.

2. Still, I don't want to deny the importance of obedience, but to stress that it is only true obedience if it comes from the spirit/Spirit. What *looks* like obedience is often merely a show of obedience to earn favor with God or man.

3. People will often answer the radical grace message with a statement something like, "Yeah grace is good and true, but you need to balance it with obedience." This is incorrect. If works (that's what obedience involves) are added to grace, it's no longer grace. There will be works, but they don't "balance" grace. Grace is grace.

4. It's hard for folks to talk about obedience without using the word "must". They invariably will say, "Yeah, but we *must* this, or *must* that." I won't repeat myself, but you may want to look at my post regarding this, here.

5. I have a rule that I think is biblical and helps me sort your great questions out:

The declarative is always more important than the imperative.

So the declarative that God is at work in us both to will and to obey (Phil. 2:13), is more important than the imperative to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12).

Why is it more important? Because it is truth, and truth is an expression of Christ Himself, who is the Truth, and truth is what transforms us by the renewing of our mind, and truth is the *reason* for our obedience.

6. So what is the purpose of the commandments under the New Covenant? Primarily to give us guidance as to the heart of the One we love and worship and *desire* to follow (when we are walking in the Spirit). Secondly, to show us when we are *not* walking in the Spirit, so that we may run back to Him in surrender, be filled with His Spirit once again, and walk in communion with Him.

There are, of course, other lesser reasons, like showing His Life to the world, and edifying one another in the Body, etc. But unlike under the Old Covenant, obedience is never to earn the favor of God, or secure His blessings, which He has already given us in Christ (Eph. 1:3).


dec said...

You wanna "strive"? Don't strive to follow the law. Strive to spend time in His presence, communing with Him, loving Him, basking in His love for you, talking to Him, listening to Him through His Word. Then the fruit of His Spirit will rise up in you (love, joy, peace...), and the glorious law of Christ planted in your heart will make the written commands seem like mere shadows of a much higher glory, fulfilled in you by Christ, as He lives His life through you.

This is going up on the wall!