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The Pope’s Appeal for Inter-Religious Unity and Love

In the light of the debates now raging among Christians regarding how to respond to people of other faiths Pope Francis gives us here a short video in which he expresses his heart and personal hope.

Many evangelicals will see this video and conclude something like the following: “Pope Francis believes all people are brothers and sisters and thus he believes all will be saved by God regardless of their life and faith. Therefore, it makes no real difference whether or not the church does evangelization and mission since ALL people who are sincere in their faith will be saved in the end.”

Am I right or am I wrong in the way in the way I state this conclusion?

I think I am right. I know this is how I would have heard this message twenty years ago. So, my next question is this: “Does this make me a pluralist (or liberal) who denies John 14:6 or sees no urgency for sharing the good news and making disciples of Jesus?”

The problem lies in the meaning of all the words and ideas presented here by my comments. The Catholic

Must the Reformation Wars Continue? (Eighteen)

6a00d83451cfe769e20147e3770cdd970bIn my opinion what the Council of Trent anathematized was (ultimately) a caricature of the robust and clear evangelical view of justification. Who is to blame for this problem? Honestly, both sides bear fault in my estimation. The Reformers were careful thinkers about these matters. They did not speak with a divided mind, though Luther at times spoke both aggressively and in ways that remain, to me at least, a bit confusing. (His strong law-gospel contrast underscores what I mean by this statement, to give but one example.) But many followers of the Protestant Reformers misrepresented their views in ways that radically separated faith from works. This plainly helped to provoke the growing tensions in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. A better understanding on both sides would have helped then and can surely help us now. Most evangelicals are not (generally speaking) separating sanctification from justification. With the exception of those who advocate radical “non-Lordship” theologies I think few genuinely  advocate antinomianism. A strong view of union with Christ, as taught by John Calvin, would go a long way

Must the Reformation Wars Continue? (Part One)

I confess that I do not read the popular blogger Tim Challies. I was aware that he writes blogs which are very popular among conservative Christians, especially extremely conservative Reformed Christians. (I do not think my choice of words here is offensive and think Challies would accept this designation based upon how he presents himself!)

Before last week I was aware that Tim Challies covers a lot of ground in his blogs and touches on many “hot button” issues. He also alerts his readers about great deals on books and kindle specials almost daily. This is a very clever way (and I do not mean this in a flattering way) to increase online traffic and to draw readers back to his site and to reach new readers. I wish I was this clever (and had so much time) but I am not a blog-marketing writer. I obviously do blog but I am content to use this social medium as a side-line for my more important face-to-face friendships, public and academic teaching, networking and permanently published writing of new books, articles and academic papers.

Tim Challies is currently serving

Dialogue vs. Dogma?

social-media-wheel-with-icons-10090170The word dialogue is very important to me, and my view of truth, at least in terms of the way Christians live with one another, and with non-Christians, in the modern age. What do I mean by dialogue? Could it be that the very idea behind this word is deeply flawed, as some cultural and religious conservatives maintain?

Back in 1971 I was in the candidate process for the assistant pastoral role in a church near Wheaton, where I had begun graduate theological studies in mission and theology. The senior pastor preached a sermon one Sunday that fatally finished my intent to work with him. The title of his sermon is one I shall never forget: “Dogma or Dialogue?” He made the case, rather poorly I thought, that dialogue was always the enemy of Christian dogma and true belief. I could not tell you why he was wrong, at that time, but I knew that he was. I began a journey to figure out why I thought that he was wrong. I was only a twenty-one year old

Philip Schaff and the Unity of Christendom – Part Two

UnityIcon3Last week I wrote about the unity of the church in light of my visit to Moody Bible Institute on December 3 and the dialogue that took place between Fr. Robert Barron and me before Moody students in Chicago. I then cited the work of the famous theologian Philip Schaff. I ended my final blog of the week last Thursday by promising to reflect on Schaff’s “means” for the pursuit of visible unity.

Think of this very carefully – one hundred and twenty years ago this great Reformed theologian referred to what he called the “moral means” by which a similar affiliation and consolidation of the different churches may be hastened in the future. His points are as fresh now as when he wrote them in 1893. These are:

  1. The cultivation of an irenic and evangelical-catholic spirit in the personal intercourse with our fellow-Christians of other denominations. We should meet these other Christians “on common rather than disputed ground, and assume that they are as honest and earnest as we in the pursuit of truth.” he says we should

The Depth & Extent of God’s Forgiveness Displayed in the Atonement – Part 2

UnknownOver the centuries theologians have developed numerous models for expressing the saving significance of Jesus’ death. We have sketched out several of these models, ever so simply I freely admit, in several blogs the past few weeks. I have concluded, along with Joel B. Green, Professor of New Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary, that: “No interpretation of the atonement can be regarded as the only authentic one, not least because no one model or metaphor can exhaust the significance of Jesus’ crucifixion” (Fuller Theology, News & Notes, Fall 2012, 3, italics are my own). I urge you, friends and readers, to grasp the importance of Green’s statement. You should realize that by opposing the simple clarity of this conclusion that you are likely opposing other important Christian truths, especially the unity of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.

Joel Green suggests that this was true even within the time in which the New Testament itself was written since several different models seem to clearly be at work in the apostolic texts. This was true as well in

The Atonement Debate: “Why Did Christ Die?” Part 5

JesusOnCrossMake no mistake about this a serious debate about the nature of God’s wrath, and the doctrine of penal satisfaction, is extremely important for many conservative Protestants.  Some of this heat, so I believe, is a carry-over from the earlier battles of fundamentalism with theological liberals who wanted to have a God who loved all and accepted all into his redeemed family.

The recent attempt by the Presbyterian Committee on Congregational Song to change the words of a popular modern hymn (“the wrath of God was satisfied” was to be changed to “the love of God was magnified”) touched off a new debate about defining the atonement in terms of God’s wrath and Jesus’ death as the sacrifice that appeases his wrath. (Some Catholic theologians agree but their position is more encompassing of other ideas and distinctly more nuanced. The Orthodox, as I’ve briefly indicated, take a different view.)

images-2Al Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, provided USA Today some context to his concerns when he said this

The Atonement Debate: “Why Did Christ Die?” Part 4

imagesThe contentious issue in the current atonement debate among conservative evangelical Christians centers around various doctrinal distinctions that have been important for several centuries. Most conservative preaching has spoken of Christ’s death as meeting God’s just requirement for the punishment of sin, a death that satisfies God’s wrath against mankind’s rebellion. A central text employed by this argument can be seen in Paul’s argument about the ministry of reconciliation in Second Corinthians.

16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. 17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ,

The Atonement Debate: “Why Did Christ Die?” Part 1

JesusOnCrossA recent dispute over the meaning of the atonement has sparked an outbreak of charges, and countercharges, among Protestant leaders. This particular dispute, not unlike so many in Christian history, arose from a line in a popular song. At issue are various theories of the atonement, not the simple confession made by all Christians from the earliest Christian era. We hear this simple faith confessed in the Apostle’s Creed:

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,

maker of heaven and earth.

And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,

born of the virgin Mary,

suffered under Pontius Pilate,

was crucified, died and was buried.

That’s it – pretty simple and straightforward: Jesus Christ suffered under Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. It would be some time later, indeed centuries later in many cases, before major debates arose about the meaning of these simple words.

Today the atonement is often a matter for intense debate, especially among conservative Protestants. More than fifteen centuries of time have allowed Christian thinkers to offer various doctrinal interpretations of what “Christ’s death”

If Rome is the One Church How Can Pope Francis Speak of Our Being One in Christ?

Yesterday, I shared the general audience address of Pope Francis from last week on Christian unity. Today I would like to offer some simple commentary and explanation of this amazing address.

The pope began his audience by saying:

Today I will focus upon another expression with which the Second Vatican Council indicates the nature of the Church: that of the body, the Council says that the Church is the Body of Christ (cf. Lumen Gentium, 7).

imagesLumen Gentium, in English, means: “The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church.” It is one of sixteen dogmatic documents that make up the whole of Vatican Council II’s work. Lumen Gentium was the third of the sixteen formal documents, or decrees, that were passed by the council between October 1962 and December 8, 1965. Here is a part of that dogmatic constitution cited by Pope Francis last week:

The present-day conditions of the world add greater urgency to this work of the Church so that all men, joined more closely today by various social, technical and cultural ties, might also attain fuller

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