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Thoughts on Evangelicalism Moving Forward, Part 2: Doctrine

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Theology is Application!

Evangelicalism’s goal ought always to be right belief (orthodoxy), right emotion (orthopathos), and right action (orthopraxis).  The church exists to glorify God by expanding His rule, reign, and authority everywhere.

[T]heology [is] “the application of the Word of God by persons to all areas of life…” I would define application as “teaching” in the New Testament sense (didache, didaskalia), a concept represented in some translations by doctrine.  John Frame, Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, p. 81.

Here, John Frame is rightly defining theology as application.  Remember this, write it on your arm or whatever – theology is doctrine is application.  There ought not ever be a dichotomy between theology and application.

The problem with evangelicalism is that for a long time there has been an unchallenged belief that theology and application were two separate things.  Many have had the attitude that, ‘I am concerned with application’ and ‘those smart people and professional Christians (Pastors, Professors, and such) can be worried about all that fancy theology.’  The problem is that even the absence of a theology is a theology.  Everyone has a theology, even if it be staunchly anti-intellectual.

Moving forward, evangelicalism (whether Reformed or populist) desperately needs doctrine, sound doctrine.  Consider what the Apostle Paul says regarding doctrine in I Timothy alone [emphasis mine]:

1 Timothy 1:3 As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine

1 Timothy 1:10 the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine

1 Timothy 4:6 If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed.

1 Timothy 4:16 Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.

1 Timothy 6:1 Let all who are under the yoke as slaves regard their own masters as worthy of all honor so that the name of God and our doctrine may not be spoken against.

1 Timothy 6:3 If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness

I hope that we have established that doctrine is necessary, but whose doctrine?  Paul exhorts Timothy AWAY from different doctrine and TOWARDS our, good, and sound doctrine that agrees with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ. But every aspect of the church claims that their teaching is the Lord’s teaching, so who is more accurate?  The doctrine that is the most accurate will be the doctrine that is in harmony with all of the Scripture.  The doctrine that is the most accurate will be the doctrine that ultimately produces right action and right emotion.  It is important to do theology in community because when we do theology on an island it often strays to heresy.  It is important to do theology historically considering what all Christians have believe for 2000 years, namely our common creeds/councils (Apostles Creed, Nicene Creed, Chalcedonian Creed, and Athanasian Creed) and confessions/catechisms (Heidelberg Catechism, Belgic Confession, Canons of Dordt, Westminster Standards, and London Baptist Confession of 1689).  Neither history nor tradition trump Scripture but there is great value in listening and learning from 2000 years of Christians (and this is not in violation of sola scriptura).  To ignore church history is neither wise nor safe.  Jesus did not die in a vacuum.

Evangelicalism is not the height of church history.  Sorry, to all the manifest destiny Americans who think they are height of human history thus far.  Evangelicalism needs doctrine badly.  We need to rediscover afresh sola scriptura and the wonderful interpretive idea that the best interpreter of Scripture is all other Scripture.  This is how we have sound doctrine.  This is how we have sound action.  This is how we have sound emotion.

Up next we will look at the crucial centrality of a Biblical worldview to evangelicalism moving forward.

Introduction to Apologetics, Part 2: Classical Apologetics

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St. Augustine

Again, classical apologetics focuses on the rational basis of the Christian faith.  It establishes this through several rational arguments for the existence of God (Cosmological, Teleological, and Ontological), and evidences for the reliability of the Bible and miracles.

Some main characters:

-The Apostle Paul (first century) would sometimes cite the resurrection and fulfillment of miracles in his preaching of the Gospel (Acts 17…).

Justin Martyr (100-165 ad) focuses much of his attention defending Christianity to the Roman government and arguing against prominent heretics of that day, particularly Marcion.  Justin keys in on defending the Incarnation of Jesus as the Divine Logos, emphasizing prophecies fulfilled, and highlighting the reality of Jesus’ Second Coming. [there are some presuppositional veins in Justin Martyr as well – most notably, he thinks God’s existence needs no proof]

St. Augustine wrote very widely defending Christianity against the heresy of Pelagius as well as positively refining/defining many central elements of orthodox Christianity.

St. Anselm (1033-1109) is most famous for the original formulation of the Ontological Argument.  The ontological argument for the existence of God is exceedingly difficult to understand, requiring heavy thinking to comprehend its brilliance.  I happen to think that the ontological argument actually establishes the existence of God.  I also happen to think that it is the second best argument behind the presuppositional Transcendental Argument.  I think the best formulation of the ontological argument is Alvin Plantinga’s version employing modal logic.

Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) also wrote very widely, providing much of the foundations for the Roman Catholic tradition up til Vatican II.  Aquinas is a central figure in Classical Apologetics for his 5 arguments for the existence of God.  The 5 arguments are:

  1. Many things are moving.  Everything that is moved was moved by something.  An infinite chain of movers is impossible.  Therefore there had to be an unmoved mover.  We call this unmoved mover God.
  2. Many things are caused.  Existence is a series of causes and effects.  There had to be a beginning, hence there must be a first cause to this chain of causes and effects.  We call this unmoved mover God.
  3. Some things in the Universe may or may not exist, these beings exist contingently.  However, it is impossible for everything in the Universe to be contingent, because something exists right now.  Therefore, there must be a being whose existence is not contingent but necessary.  We call this necessarily existent being God.
  4. Different perfections of a wide range of degrees can be evidenced  in the Universe.  These degrees of perfection assume an ultimate standard.  The ultimate standard is God.
  5. All natural bodies work toward a purpose.  These objects are unintelligent in an of themselves.  Acting towards a purpose is a sign of intelligence.  Therefore, there is an intelligent being that guides these natural bodies to those purposes.  This intelligent being is God.

In recent times several key apologists continue on the rich tradition behind them:  R.C. Sproul, Norman Geisler, William Lane Craig, and J.P. Moreland.

Up next, we will take a look at Evidentialist Apologetics.

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