Craig Blomberg on Church Discipline

Church discipline is a widely neglected practice in our evangelical churches. Craig Blomberg has some excellent observations on what the key passage (Matt. 18:15–17) means. Because Blomberg always begins with the biblical text, he finds things that others miss entirely. This time he hits the target by noting that Jesus emphasized searching our hearts for what others might have against us (Matt. 5:23–24).

Blomberg makes a contribution to our understanding by saying that church discipline is never said to be about major sins, yet that is the only form I have ever seen. Most minor issues could and should be handled privately (Matt. 18:15). That out to happen routinely for the unity of the body of Christ. Too many of us avoid people over minor things that could have been resolved long ago.

He also suggests that instead of what amounts to total expulsion at the end of the process, churches might consider barring the offending person from taking communion or other activities only a believer could participate in. After all, our church services are generally open to non-Christians and we want them there to hear God’s Word and see the body of Christ in action.

Check it out!

Books: The Bible Made Impossible by Christian Smith

Roger E. Olson, a church historian and theologian at Baylor University, is conducting an illuminating dialogue on his blog concerning the book The Bible Made Impossible by Christian Smith. Smith is Professor of Sociology at the University of Notre Dame, and he identifies himself as a former evangelical who has now joined the Roman Catholic Church, partly because of the issues he raises in his book.[1]

Obviously, Smith has given his book a provocative title. That action appears to imitate the sad and blasphemous trend championed by such enemies of the Bible as Bart Ehrman (with titles like The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture and Misquoting Jesus: The story Behind who changed the Bible and why) and atheist Christopher Dawkins (The God Delusion). In saying that, I do not question the Christian faith of the author, just his wisdom.

At least outwardly, Smith wrote this book to attack what he calls biblicism. You probably want to know what he means by that term. I’m sorry you asked, because the answer is way too long. (Smith tends to unload everything in the truck in an apparent attempt to overwhelm the reader or critic.) Rather than giving you a data dump from the book, I will summarize each point in my own words.

Biblicism, according to Smith[2], consists of ten assumptions about the Bible — which I have greatly simplified — including its interpretation and its application:

  • Divine Writing: The words of the Bible are exactly what God wanted to say to us.
  • Total Representation: The Bible alone contains all that God has to say to us.
  • Complete Coverage: The Bible addresses every issue relevant to Christian faith and life.
  • Democratic Perspicuity: Christians can correctly understand the plain meaning of the Bible’s content simply by reading.
  • Commonsense Hermeneutics: The best way to understand the Bible is to accept the text’s most obvious literal sense, sometimes considering the original cultural context and sometimes not.
  • Solo Scriptura [a needless variant of the Sola Scriptura phrase (“The Bible alone”) of the Protestant Reformers]: Theology may be derived directly from the biblical text without regard for conclusions reached in church history.
  • Internal Harmony: All of the Bible’s statements about any theological subject may be harmonized.
  • Universal Applicability: What the Bible says to God’s people at any time is universally valid for all Christians, unless later revoked.
  • Inductive Method: Careful study of the entire Bible will allow the reader to discover the correct beliefs and practices.
  • Handbook Model: Using the Bible, the reader can assemble a complete handbook for Christian belief and practice on many subjects, “including science, economics, health, politics, and romance.”[3]

What is Smith’s complaint?

Smith believes the assumptions sketched above — collectively called “biblicism” — are held by as many as one hundred million American Christians.[4] Since he rejects all ten assumptions, Smith is greatly disturbed by that prospect.

Smith identifies the biggest problem with the form of Bible interpretation called biblicism to be “pervasive interpretive pluralism” (chapter 1). Smith says, “The very same Bible — which biblicists insist is perspicuous [clear] and harmonious — gives rise to divergent understandings among intelligent, sincere, committed readers about what it says about most topics of interest.”[5] In the remainder of this post, I will abbreviate “pervasive interpretive pluralism” as PIP.

Concerns about Smith’s critique

When I look at the specific way Smith has worded the assumptions that he says amount to biblicism, I find myself in agreement with only one of them, possibly two. So, my biblicism score is low even though my respect for the Bible could not be greater! Here are some other concerns.

First, I consider it disingenuous that Smith hammers evangelical Protestantism for PIP when the same theological diversity can readily be found within the ranks of his new faith, Roman Catholicism. Smith admits as much but buries the admission in the massed chapter notes at the back of the book (page 180, note 9). Smacks a bit of currying favor with his new management!

Second, I am a lot less concerned about PIP than Smith is. When I am reading Douglas Moo’s fine commentary on Romans and he describes ten different views that have been held about some Bible verse through the ages, it does not lead me to run screaming into the night and wailing about disunity. Sorry. As I read the Gospels, there seems to have been a divergence of viewpoints even among the twelve who walked with Jesus. Peter and Paul had some disagreements. Why does this diversity cause Smith such panic?

Third, the use of many quotes from evangelical doctrinal statements and other position papers to establish a baseline of belief seems misguided. It has unfortunately been a longstanding trait of human beings, Christian or not, to oversell their ideas. Reading a long doctrinal statement is often like reading the platform of a political party. Doctrinal statements are not the Bible, and they serve a limited purpose.

Fourth, Smith defines biblicism in such a way that it seems unlikely to fit very many of the people who call themselves evangelicals. I agree with Roger Olson that fundamentalists are Smith’s primary target. Yet Smith speaks as if the definition fits a much larger group of people (“perhaps as many as a hundred million” page 6).

Fifth, I must agree with Smith about the lame idea of using the Bible as a handbook for everything (cooking, exercise, health, cosmology, etc.). Some Christian publishers and bookstores are a scandal in that they offer so much theological junk!

Sixth, I don’t understand why anyone would think the Bible is easy to understand, no matter who said so! Even the Apostle Peter said some of Paul’s writings are hard to understand (2 Pet. 3:16). When I have Peter’s comment on the subject, not even Calvin and Luther can change my mind.

All in all, Smith has made a few cogent points, but I see a swarm of problems. As we work further into the book it will be interesting to see if the magic solution is to allow some higher authority — say, for example, the Roman Catholic Church — to get rid of PIP by telling us the one authoritative interpretation for each Bible passage. No thanks!

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.



[1] Christian Smith, The Bible Made Impossible (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2011) xiii.

[2] Smith, Impossible, 4–5.

[3] Smith, Impossible, 5.

[4] Smith, Impossible, 6.

[5] Smith, Impossible, 17.

Politics 2012 — Michele Bachmann on wifely submission and homosexuality

Denny Burk, a Baptist college professor in biblical studies, has posted a handy compilation of Michele Bachmann’s responses to sharp questions from the press about her Christian faith. She was quizzed on her views of God’s guidance, submission of a wife to her husband, homosexuality, so-called same-sex marriage, and the potential appointment of atheists or homosexuals in any Bachmann administration.

By making such a direct appeal to evangelical voters, both Bachmann and Rick Perry will get these questions for certain. Burk correctly pans Bachmann’s claim that a wife’s “submission” to her husband means “respect” in texts like Ephesians 5:22. In most other cases he gives her a passing grade on her responses, except that he wonders if being even more direct might work better politically. By trying to hit some happy medium, a candidate can fail to hold supporters from either side of the argument.

While I think government without compromises is a ticket to national ruin, those compromises cannot be made by contradicting what the Bible plainly says. Homosexuality is sin without a doubt, and a Christian candidate for president should never say otherwise. But the United States is not a theocracy and presidential appointments should focus on competency rather than theological purity. Bachmann said that neither atheism nor homosexuality would rule out a person for appointment.

It would be wise to remember Judas Iscariot, who had charge of the money held by Jesus and the twelve disciples (John 13:29). Since we must all live in the world, it would serve us well to remember the words of Jesus: “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16). Christian candidates for president should think carefully about what Jesus said.

Copyright © 2011 Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.

Politics 2012: Will Rick Perry run for (Christian) President?

Yes.

There has not been any real doubt about this question for months. Consider Perry’s book, cleverly titled Fed Up: Our Fight To Save America from Washington (released November 15, 2010). Ever since Barack Obama wrote The Audacity of Hope (July, 2008) and Dreams from My Father (January, 2007) before the 2008 election, it has become fashionable for presidential candidates to write a book to spell out their vision for America before running for the highest office in America. That’s also why we have Sarah Palin’s books Going Rogue (November, 2009) and America by Heart (November, 2010).

Perry has known for a long time that he planned to run for the presidency. That’s why he moved from Tarrytown United Methodist Church in Austin — which he and his wife, like George and Laura Bush, had attended since the 1990s —  to Lake Hills Church in Austin. The Dallas Morning News ( 8/7/2011, page 2A) describes Lake Hills Church as “an evangelical megachurch.” Any political advisor who knows evangelicals can tell you that you do not reach evangelicals from Tarrytown Methodist Church. You do reach them from Lake Hills Church in affluent west Austin.

After courting pro-life voters, Perry’s next step in religious terms was the prayer rally which involved 30,000 Christians in his plans. He initiated a prayer gathering called “The Response” at Houston’s Reliant Stadium on Saturday (8/6/2011). That event was an important step for Perry, who has not formally announced his candidacy, because religious conservatives have a major influence on the Republican primary races in Iowa and South Carolina. Some Christians ate it up and immediately took Perry as their candidate!

It is my assessment that evangelicals are not going to flock to Mitch Romney, a Mormon, when the purported evangelical Rick Perry is running. Michele Bachmann also claims the evangelical mantle, so Perry is trying to gain support at her expense. Of course, spiritual theater is not the only thing evangelical voters think about — consider that my prayer — and a deeper look will have to play out over time. I hope evangelicals see Perry’s maneuvers with a clear vision.

Rick Perry’s performance in Texas will come under careful scrutiny. He is already claiming credit for the relative economic resilience Texas has shown, though his decisions have had little to do with what has happened. For historical reasons, the governorship is not a powerful position in relation to the Texas legislature, but it makes a nice pulpit. (The lieutenant governor actually has more power within the Texas state machinery.)

In my opinion, Perry is not primarily concerned about the cause of Christ; he is mostly concerned about his own prospects. Rick Perry’s election would result in further reaction against Christian faith in America. George W. Bush brought credibility problems — consider the easy access to power by certain Christian leaders in a distinctly Christian White House — and Perry would further harm the way non-Christians look on Christian faith. Non-Christians want a theocratic government about as much as they want rule under Islamic law.

Perry argued passionately that Texas had to cut its spending to avoid the moral taint of putting a debt on our children. He also signed into law cuts of four billion dollars from education funding aimed at preparing those same children for the future. In net terms, Perry took from the children to help the children! That is a mean-spirited and contradictory policy. I see plenty of Tea Party politics in that policy, but no sign of the concern for the poor and the weak that is strongly asserted in the teachings of Christ. Yet these types of decisions are never discussed in relation to the candidate’s asserted Christian faith. It is as if policy decisions are totally isolated from their alleged Christian faith.

Careful readers of this blog already know that I consider the marriage of evangelical faith with the Republican Party to be a grave error by the Christian community. For now, I will cite only two reasons: (1) our primary loyalty must be to Jesus Christ, not to a secular political cause; and (2) the Republican Party cares nothing for major social values expressed clearly by Christ in the New Testament.

Being against abortion and homosexual rights is only half of a loaf. While the Republican Party has a vision for the national debt, it has none for the poor or the elderly. The Bible is clearly immigrant friendly, but the Republican Party wants all undocumented aliens deported as criminals.

To be clear, the Democratic Party is also unworthy of Christian loyalty, but at this writing there is little sign within evangelical circles of that specific misplaced loyalty.

As Christians, we should weigh all issues in making political decisions. To carry out our role as life-managers for Christ, it makes more sense to be political independents than it does to support extremist political parties. They often want to use us to get elected.

It would be far better to spare the cause of Christ in America another detour into vicious, heartless politics.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.

Politics 2012: Article on Michele Bachmann

Ryan Lizza of The New Yorker magazine has just published an article about Tea Party candidate Michele Bachmann, who is running for President. The author does not like her very much and clearly has qualms about some of the influences — including Christian influences of varying quality — that made her the person she is today.

Since some readers of this blog may be considering support for Bachmann, the article has a lot of factual information that may enter into an assessment of her fitness for office. That information includes her conversion experience and some clues about how her faith influences her political actions.

Not my candidate, but everyone will have to reach their own conclusion as the relentless campaign cycle picks up speed.

Copyright © 2011 Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.

Are Evangelical Churches Neglecting the Cross of Christ?

Roger E. Olson, a well-known Arminian theologian, has written a blog post that has me wondering. The post is titled “Whatever Became of the Cross?” and may be found here.

Olson gets lots of opportunities to attend evangelical church services throughout the United States (and elsewhere). He says (1) the cross of Christ — as a physical symbol — is disappearing from evangelical churches, (2) the cross of Christ and the atonement of Christ for our sins are disappearing from “Worship and Praise” music, and (3) the cross of Christ is disappearing from evangelical preaching and is being replaced by practical solutions to life problems and an emphasis on the love of God. If true, this situation is serious!

Hey, I lead a sheltered life! I attend one church (Christ Fellowship in McKinney, Texas) and have not been in another church in three years. We have a large cross that hangs over the general area where our pastor stands to preach. Our pastor, Bruce B. Miller, presents the gospel in some form during every sermon. Our worship and praise music may or may not mention the cross, but we have the other areas covered so well that I have not noticed. Also, I really like our music and singing; it neatly bypasses my analytical tendencies.

So, tell me — are other evangelical churches trying so hard to blend in with the culture that the cross is getting lesser emphasis? What about Olson’s observation about “worship and praise” music failing to mention the cross or the death of Christ for our sins? I would like to hear some opinions about whether the cross of Christ is getting less emphasis over time.

One thing is sure: just mentioning “Jesus” in song or sermon is not enough. The Jesus Seminar mentions Jesus all the time, but they certainly do not believe in him or his atonement for our sins on the cross! If the trend Olson sees is real, then I condemn any decreased focus on the cross. The cross of Christ and his substitutionary atonement for our sins are central to Christian faith (1 Cor. 1:18–24 and 15:3–4).

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.