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Theology

This I Believe: The Revelation of God

The Revelation of God
I believe that God has graciously revealed himself in the created order. Furthermore, since human beings are created in the image of God, God has given them an inner sense of his existence. This general revelation is sufficient for God’s eternal power and divine nature to be known by human beings so that they are without excuse. This revelation is not sufficient, however, to know God’s will for salvation.

I believe that God has disclosed himself in human words under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, found in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. This special revelation is verbally inspired and inerrant in the original manuscripts. Only it contains God’s will for salvation and his ultimate authority over all matters of faith and conduct.

I believe that God has supremely revealed himself in the person of his Son, the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ. All Scripture is a testimony to Jesus Christ, who is the sum of God’s special revelation.

Gen. 1-2; Ps. 19:1; 12:6; 119:89, 105; Isa. 40:6-8; Luke 21:33; 24:27, 44-46; John 1:1-3; 5:39; 17:17; Rom. 1:19-21, 25; 2:11-16; 15:4; 16:25-26; Acts 14:15-17; 17:24-31; 2 Tim. 3:15-16; Heb. 1:1-3; 1 Pet. 1:24-25; 2 Pet. 1:19-21, 23

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Theology

This I Believe: The Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit

God the Father
I believe in God the Father, an infinite, personal spirit, perfect in holiness, wisdom, power and love. I believe he infallibly foreknows all that shall come to pass, that he concerns himself mercifully in the affairs of men, that he hears and answers prayer, and that he saves from sin and death all who come to him through Jesus Christ.

Matt. 23:9; Luke 10:21, 22; John 3:16; 6:27; Rom. 1:7; 1 Tim. 1:1,2; 2:5,6; 1 Pet. 1:3; Rev. 1:6

Jesus Christ
I believe in Jesus Christ, God the Father’s only begotten Son, conceived by the Holy Spirit. I believe in His virgin birth, sinless life, miracles, and teachings. I believe in His substitutionary atoning death, bodily resurrection, ascension into heaven, perpetual intercession for His people, and personal visible return to earth.

Matt. 1:18-25; 20:28; Luke 1:26-38; John 1:1; 20:28, 30; Acts 1:11; Rom. 5:6-8; 6:9-10; 8:46; 9:5; 2 Cor. 5:21; Eph. 1:4; 1 Tim. 3:16; Heb. 7:25; 9:28; 1 Pet. 2:21-23

The Holy Spirit
I believe in the Holy Spirit who comes forth from the Father and Son to convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment, and to regenerate, sanctify, and empower all who believe in Jesus Christ. In all that the Spirit does, he glorifies the Lord Jesus Christ. I believe that the Holy Spirit indwells every believer in Christ, and that He is an abiding helper, teacher and guide.

John 14:16, 17, 26; 15:26, 27; 16:9-14; Rom. 8:9; 1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19; Gal. 5:22-26

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Theology

This I Believe: The Triune God

Over the next couple weeks,  I will post a series of snippets from a personal confessional statement I wrote a while back for a seminary class. Each day, I will post one article from my personal statement. There’s nothing spectacular or earth shattering about my beliefs. If you are an evangelical, there’s not one thing I will say that will make your jaw drop. Indeed, this confessional statement is remarkable because it is, to be sure, quite unremarkable. It is simple a retelling of the old gospel and the historic doctrines of our faith. If anything, I hope your jaw drops out of delight in our glorious God.

Those who know me or read this blog know that I align myself with the historic Christian faith as articulated first in Scripture, and then in the historic Creeds (Apostles’NiceneChalcedon, and Athanasian) and various evangelical confessions of faith. On matters of doctrine, I embrace the maxim, “In the essentials unity, in the non-essentials diversity, in all things charity.” In other words, while I believe that all doctrine is important, I do not believe that unity on all points of doctrine is not necessary for salvation. I hope you will notice that this conviction is ingrained into my statement.

Of course, no confessional statement should be divorced from God’s people, for we are God’s house, a diverse unity. God is creating a people for himself, not a bunch of lone ranger Christians. Therefore, “we believe” is more essential than “I believe.” In light of this, doctrinal statements should always be vitally connected to the universal and local church. At the same time, I think it is wise for individual Christians to be able to winsomely articulate, “This is what I believe,” while consciously remembering that simply having a personal statement of faith does not constitute an individual as a church!

The following modern statements have highly influenced me (and in some cases, I have simply adopted or slightly modified their wording): the Baptist Faith and Message (2000), the Baptist General Conference Affirmation of Faith, the Evangelical Free Church of America Statement of Faith, and The Gospel Coalition Confessional Statement.


The Triune God
I believe that there is one living and true God, eternally existing in three persons who dwell together in perfecting loving unity: God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. I believe these are equal in every divine perfection, and that they execute distinct but harmonious offices in the work of creation, providence and redemption. God is spirit, immortal, invisible, holy, loving, all-knowing, all-wise, all-powerful, everywhere-present, unchangeable, and sovereign. God has graciously purposed from eternity to redeem a people for himself and to make all things new for his own glory.

Gen. 1:1,26; Matt. 28:19; John 1:1, 3; 4:24; Rom. 1:19, 20; Eph. 4:5, 6

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Theology

A Primer on Mormonism

This past week on NBC, Rock Center had an extensive story on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, popularly known as Mormonism. In that broadcast, the assertion was made that Mormons are Christians. I wrote this brief paper on Mormonism for an apologetics class this summer. It is not meant to be exhaustive by any means as I barely crack the surface on Mormon doctrine goes. This is a “bare bones” overview of Mormon belief, an evangelical critique of its main flaws, and a proposed method for sharing the gospel with Mormons.


Summary of Mormonism
Mormon doctrine begins before the earth existed, and teaches that “before we were born, we lived with God in heaven as spirits.”[1] God is a Heavenly Father, who once was a man, and is married to Heavenly Mother, and they have produced spirit children through procreation.[2] Jesus Christ, the first of these spirit children, was “brought into existence by a physical union between ‘heavenly father’ and his heavenly consort.”[3] Jesus Christ, in Mormon thought, is not eternally God, but “inherited powers of godhood and divinity from His Father.”[4]

When it comes to salvation, Mormonism teaches that redemption is found in Jesus Christ, but only “after all we can do” (2 Nephi 25:23).[5] Christ’s atonement is “fully effective” only after repentance, baptism, receiving the Holy Ghost, obeying God’s commands, receiving the sacred ordinances, and striving to be like Jesus.[6] The strongest emphasis is on obedience to God’s commandments (cf. Mosiah 2:41). Another significant aspect of Mormon soteriology is second chance salvation. Baptism can be performed for the dead so that those who rejected the Restored Gospel or never heard can be saved.[7] Everyone will eventually be saved and progress to one of the three levels of heaven. Only faithful Mormons, however, will achieve the state of godhead and become the heavenly fathers and mothers of new earths (cf. Doctrine & Covenants 132:20).[8]

Regarding holy books, the Mormons call their scriptures the “Standard Works.” They include the Bible (KJV), the Book of Mormon, Doctrine & Covenants (D&C), and the Pearl of Great Price.[9] Final authority does not rest in these works; instead “the direct revelation to a prophet or apostle is immediate and primary…the word of God in the purest sense.”[10]

Critique of Mormonism
There are numerous flaws with Mormon beliefs. Four are mentioned here.

Adapting Theology and Final Authority. Mormon doctrine is much more fluid than evangelical theology. One estimate states that important historical and doctrinal changes have been changed in the over four thousand alterations of the Book of Mormon.[11] One Mormon author admits that their doctrine must be “reincarnated, reformed, and retailored” in order to maintain its universality.[12] Though not the most powerful blow to Mormonism, it is significant. Evangelicals have strong evidence that though original manuscripts of the Christian Scriptures are not available, handwritten copies are reliable. Furthermore, not one major doctrine is at stake despite possible variants of these copies.[13] Also, as mentioned above, Mormonism holds that the prophet or apostle has final authority over Scripture. This violates what God’s word says about itself as the final authority (2 Tim. 3:16; Heb. 4:12-13; 2 Pet. 1:20-21, et al.)

The Nature of God. Joseph Smith, founder of Mormonism, taught that God is not eternal and not immutable.[14] Smith taught that God once was man, and is finite, contingent, and that man may even become gods.[15] This contradicts God’s own decree that he is the only God (Isa. 43:10; cf. 1 Tim. 1:17) and has never been man (Num. 23:19). God is spirit, not flesh (John 4:24); he is immutable (Ps. 102:25-27; James 1:17), infinite (Job 36:36; Ps. 90:2), and omnipotent (Ps. 24:8; Isa. 37:16; Jer. 32:17; Matt. 19:26). Furthermore, Mormonism teaches that “the members of the Godhead are three separate beings. The Father and the Son have tangible bodies of flesh and bones, and the Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit” (D&C 130:22). The classic orthodox position, as expressed in the ecumenical creeds of the early church, is that God is trinitarian, that is, he is one essence, nature, and being, yet three in person and function (cf. Matt. 3:16-17; 28:19-20; 2 Cor. 13:14; 1 Pet. 1:2).

The Nature of Jesus. In saying that Jesus is a spirit-child of the Heavenly Father, Mormonism denies the divinity of Jesus and the Trinity as these doctrines have  historically been formulated in Christian orthodoxy.[16] As one critic writes, “The Mormon God equals a mortal man who assumed godhood…‘Jesus’ is merely a procreated being.”[17] Jesus’ divinity is thus merely derived from the Father. This contradicts countless passages that speak of Jesus as God himself (John 1:1-14; 5:18; Col. 1:15; Titus 2:13; Heb. 1:1-3; 2 Pet. 1:1), and as eternally God with the Father who shares the same attributes (John 1:1-3; 8:58; cf. Heb. 1:10-12; 13:8).

Salvation. Finally, Mormonism denies salvation by grace through faith (John 3:15-16; Rom. 3:28; Eph. 2:8-9; Gal. 1:6). Mormon’s must make Christ’s atonement “fully effective” by adding works-righteousness to his work, thus neglecting the need for Christ in the first place (Gal. 2:21; 5:2). Essentially, the Mormon belief holds that Christ’s atonement is insufficient for man’s need.

Sharing the Gospel with Mormons
There are two ways to witness to Mormons: the apologetic way and the theological way.[18] The apologetic way may convince Mormons that Mormonism is false. This may not necessarily lead them to faith in Jesus, however. With this in mind, I propose a theological method of sharing the gospel with a Mormon, with three particular points to be stressed. This should be done with a great degree of humility, dependence on the Holy Spirit, and a sincere love for the Mormon who is made in God’s image. The greatest thing for a Mormon to hear, in their highly legalistic worldview, is that God’s grace liberates them from the burden of the law.

We are unable to perfectly keep God’s commandments. Though the Mormon gospel states that the atonement was given because of sin, it holds that in order to actually receive the atonement, we must not sin. This is an endless cycle of futility. If we are honest with ourselves, we will freely admit that we have sinned, even after confessing our need for Jesus and his work on the cross. Even the Apostle Paul admitted that he had not attained perfection after his conversion (Phil. 3:12). The law, then, was not given in order to achieve self-atonement. Rather, it was given to show us precisely that we cannot achieve salvation through works (Rom. 3:20). God’s commandments were given so that we might run to Christ (Gal. 3:24). To be certain, the law shows us what God approves of and what God disapproves of, but it was never meant to have saving power.

Christ’s righteousness becomes ours by faith. Now that we have established that we cannot keep God’s commandments perfectly, how do we get the righteousness required to be in God’s presence? Nowhere in the Bible are we told that salvation will come by works—in fact, we are told the opposite. When people approached Jesus to ask what they must be doing to do “the works of God,” he replied, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” (John 6:28-29, emphasis added). Christ lived a life of obedience that sinful humans can never live (Matt. 5:17; Rom. 8:3). That is why Paul writes, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). Jesus Christ is our righteousness when we have faith in him (cf. 1 Cor. 1:30; Rom. 1:17). We will progress in holiness as we mature in the Christian faith, but we will never obtain perfection. That is why Christ must be our perfection. When we trust and believe that his perfect record not only blots out our stained record but also replaces our record, we get his righteousness as our own (cf. Rom. 4:16; 22; Gal. 3:6). So much so that when God the Father looks at us, he sees Jesus, not us (Col. 3:1-4). This happens by faith alone.

Christ’s atonement is sufficient to forgive our sins. Christ’s life provides us with perfect righteousness before God, and his death on the cross provides us with the forgiveness we need to have our sins removed. Jesus “gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession” (Titus 2:14). “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Pet. 2:24). When we try to obtain perfection through our works, we essentially say to Jesus, “Your death was insufficient. It really didn’t matter. I have to complete what you lack.” Note Peter’s words: “By his wounds you have been healed.” When Christ cried, “It is finished” he gave us everything we needed to be reconciled to God. The burden of striving toward sinlessness is exhausting. Through the gospel, this burden has been lifted by Jesus who will give us the rest we have always wanted (Matt. 11:28-30).

 


[1] The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “Our Father’s Heavenly Plan,” http://www.lds.org/plan/ we-lived-with-god?lang=eng (accessed June 19, 2012).
[2] The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “Exaltation,” in Gospel Principles, http://www.lds.org/library/display/ 0,4945,11-1-13-59,00.html (accessed June 19, 2012); James Walker, “Mormonism,” in The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics, Ed Hindson and Ergun Caner, eds. (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2008), 360.
[3] Phil Roberts, “How Wide the Divide—Indeed,” Faith and Mission 17, no. 1 (Fall 1999): 41.
[4] Robert L. Millet, “What Mormons Believe About Jesus Christ,” Mormon Newsroom, http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/what-mormons-believe-about-jesus-christ (accessed August 24, 2012).
[5] Walker, “Mormonism,” 362.
[6] The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “Atonement,” in Gospel Principles, http://www.lds.org/manual/gospel-principles/chapter-12-the-atonement?lang=eng (accessed June 19, 2012).
[7] Walker, “Mormonism,” 361.
[8] Ibid., 361.
[9] Ibid., 357.
[10] Robert B Stewart. “Is Mormonism Christian? An Evangelical Critique of LDS Scholar Stephen E. Robinson’s Arguments For Recognizing Mormonism As Christian,” Journal of Christian Apologetics 1, no. 2 (Winter 1997): 19.
[11] Ibid., 358.
[12] Ibid., 358; Gail Turley Houston, “My Belief,” Dialogue 38, no. 4 (Winter 2005): 116.
[13] William W. Klein, Craig L. Blomberg, Robert L. Hubbard, Jr., Introduction to Biblical Interpretation (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2004), 122.
[14] Stewart, “Is Mormonism Christian?” 28.
[15] Roberts, “How Wide,” 40.
[16] Ibid., 41.
[17] Ibid., 39.
[18] Eli Brayley, “How to Witness to Mormons,” Credenda Blog, published on November 3, 2009, http://www.credenda.org/index.php/Theology/how-to-witness-to-mormons.html (accessed June 19, 2012).

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Theology

Justification by Tweet

Late last week, I tweeted something that I thought was pretty funny, clever, and theologically informed. (The Tweet has since been deleted, and I won’t tell you what I wrote. The content of the tweet isn’t important and it won’t benefit anyone if I repeat it here.) I came home later that day and after talking to Carly she gently rebuked me about my Tweet. She said, “You know, that was really unnecessary. You kind of seemed like the theology police.”

What happened next can only be attributed to the Holy Spirit: I had this overwhelming sense that I actually needed to listen to her (crazy concept, I know…a husband listening to his wife’s correction). I looked at her, nodded and said, “Okay, I didn’t even see it that way. You might be right.” Then, I left to workout at the Y.

At the gym, I thought about what she said. God taught me a precious lesson. What was really happening, at a heart level, was that I was trying to justify myself by my Twitter account. By God’s grace, I don’t do this every time I churn out 140 characters and click “send.” But on this occasion, unfortunately, I was trying to show God, my Twitter followers, and even myself that I am righteous because of my good theology and my recognition of bad theology. I was exalting myself and my efforts rather than exalting Jesus and his work in the gospel.

Twitter didn’t exist in the first century, but if it had existed, I have no doubt disciples of Jesus, like the Galatians, would have been tempted to resort back to a works-based system via tweet rather than trust in what Christ had done for them. The Galatians put their hope in God’s law, in general, and circumcision, in particular. Here’s how Paul responded to their problem: “We know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ… because by the works of the law no one will be justified” (2:16).

And here’s the interesting thing: Paul is writing this to Christians. The Galatians were forgetting that they were freely justified by faith. The result was that they were seeking to progress in the Christian life (what we call sanctification, see 3:3-5 and below) by depending on works instead of living out of the freedom Christ provided (see 5:1). They thought that adherence to God’s law would make them more acceptable to God and others than they already were because of Christ.

My temptation isn’t to add circumcision or dietary laws or even following the Ten Commandments to what Jesus has done. No, I feel more righteous, more sanctified, by showcasing my theological knowledge, my devotional discipline, or anything else that I think I do “well.” If Paul were writing to me he might have said, “Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by your Tweets, James?…Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by Twitter or theological debates or quiet times, or by hearing with faith?” (3:3, 5). In other words, my Tweets or blogs or devotional times or theological competence does not make me more acceptable to God than I already am in Christ. The pressure is off. The gospel secures my righteousness. What good news!

O Father, would that I hear the gospel with faith today! I am a supremely loved and perfectly accepted son because of Jesus’ righteousness-providing obedience and sin-bearing death. Let Christ-exalting Tweets flow from that!