Category Archives: Essential Beliefs

What Is the One True Christian View on Evolution?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Trick question!  There isn’t one, despite what some people will tell you.  You see, the issue of exactly how God brought forth life on earth is just not something that is part of the essential teachings of Christianity.  What are the essential teachings of Christianity?  Those doctrines that were elucidated by the creeds and councils of the first five centuries of the church.  The question of how life formed was never a central part of these creeds and councils, so we can safely assume that the apostolic tradition was not particularly concerned with it.

Today, there are a great variety of views on the formation of life within orthodox Christianity.  Tim Keller gives a nice survey of the wide spectrum of views:

Some Christians in the highly publicized Creation Science movement . . . insist that Genesis 1 teaches that God created all life-forms in a period of six twenty-four-hour days just several thousand years ago.  At the other end of the spectrum are Christians who take the independence model and simply say that God was the primary cause in beginning the world and after that natural causes took over.  Other thinkers occupy the central positions.  Some hold that God created life and then guided natural selection to develop all complex life-forms from simpler ones.  In this view, God acts as a top-down cause without violating the process of evolution.  Others, believing there are gaps in the fossil record and claiming that species seem to “appear” rather than develop from simpler forms, believe that God performed large-scale creative acts at different points over longer periods of time.

I tend to lean toward the last view Keller mentions, but I am not completely certain and stand ready to hear differing points of view.

Why am I bringing this up?  Because there are too many non-Christians who are letting the question of evolution get in the way of their turning to Christ.  My plea is simple.  Focus on the central teachings of Christianity first.  Take a good look at Jesus Christ – who he is and what he accomplished.  After getting those things straight, you may want to investigate the origins of life to try and figure out how God created all the organisms we see around us.  Please put first things first and don’t let the debates over evolution divert you from the most important decision you’ll ever make.

What Is the Gospel?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

You would think this question would be pretty easy to answer because the gospel message is something that Christians talk about all the time.  However, it is difficult to find the gospel explained in one place within the Bible.  There is, however, one passage where the gospel is defined, and that is in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, specifically 1 Cor. 15:1-8.  Here it is:

Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand.  By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.  After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.  Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

Theologian Scot McKnight summarizes some key points from this text in the December issue of Christianity Today.  First, “this is the gospel handed on to Paul (v. 3), which suggests it was the gospel the earliest apostles preached.”

“Second, the gospel saves people from their sins (v. 2-3).”

“Third, the essence of the gospel is the story of Jesus (vv. 3-8) as the completion of Israel’s story (v. 3).  Both the word Christ (Messiah) and the phrase ‘according to the Scriptures’ are central to how the apostles understood the word gospel.”

So what is the gospel?  According to McKnight, “Added together, it means this: The gospel is first and foremost about Jesus.  Or, to put it theologically, it’s about Christology. . . . ‘To gospel’ is to tell a story about Jesus as the Messiah, as the Lord, as the Son of God, as the Savior.”

Gary Habermas often summarizes these verses in this way: the gospel is the deity, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

If you’ve overlooked these verses in the past, go back and study them.  After all, we need to constantly remind ourselves of the message we are to give the world.

What Were They Arguing About at the Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

In A.D. 325, an ecumenical council of Christian bishops gathered to discuss a theological issue that was tearing apart the unity of the church. A common misconception about this council was that the argument was over whether Jesus was God or man. In fact, this idea has become so popular that one of my skeptical friends, who usually knows his stuff, made this mistake recently in a discussion we were having.

He said, in effect, that the church was arguing about whether Jesus was a man or God all the way up to and including the Council of Nicaea. This view, however, is completely false.

The two major positions presented at the council were proposed by Arius and Athanasius. Arius believed that Jesus was created by God the Father in eternity, but that he did not share eternality with the Father. Athanasius believed that Jesus and the Father both existed from eternity, that one never existed without the other.

Please note that the issue was not about whether Jesus was merely a man or God, but what kind of God Jesus was. Both parties agreed he was divine, that he was much more than a mere man, but they disagreed about how he was divine.

The council sided with Athanasius against Arius, declaring that Jesus always existed along with the Father. The debate about Arianism, however, did not subside until the Council of Constantinople in A.D. 381 provided further clarification of the terms used at Nicaea and united the church around its understanding of the nature of Christ.

How Brittle Are Your Christian Beliefs?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Agnostic New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman wrote in his book, Misquoting Jesus, that his Christian beliefs began to fall apart when he realized that there was a mistake, an error, in the Gospel of Mark.  Now, I think that the alleged mistake is not a mistake, but let’s assume for a minute that we just don’t know for sure – maybe Mark made a mistake, and maybe he didn’t.

Is this any reason to jettison your belief in Christianity?  That has not been my reaction when I’ve been faced with many of the same kinds of difficulties in the Bible.  Why does Ehrman feel that he has to give up the whole show when he finds one error?

There are a few Christians who have been upset with me when I’ve talked about the fact that the 5,800 Greek manuscript copies of the New Testament differ from each other so that we are unsure of about 1% of the text in the New Testament.  These verses have nothing to do with any major Christian doctrine, but nonetheless they believe it is unacceptable to have any uncertainty at all.  Their faith is threatened by the science of textual criticism, even when textual criticism is practiced by conservative Christians.

Other Christians claim only the King James Version of the Bible is correct, that all the others are full of significant mistakes.  They feel their faith threatened by the other versions.

What do these people all have in common?  New Testament scholar Darrell Bock referred to these kinds of Christians as brittle fundamentalists.  They are brittle because when one of their cherished beliefs are challenged, their faith either falls apart, like Ehrman, or they retreat deep into isolation so as not to deal with anyone who disagrees with them.

I have a deep concern for the brothers and sisters who hold these beliefs.  They are majoring on the minors of Christianity.  They are making secondary things primary things.  There are certain teachings of the church that have always been recognized as the essentials, the things that form the core of our faith.

Holding on to the essentials, we need to make room for the findings of history, science, and philosophy that help us better understand our faith.  We need to be willing to learn about our faith, and maybe even change some of our secondary beliefs.  If your understanding of a Bible passage has never changed, if your understanding of a secondary doctrine has never changed, you are not growing and your Christianity may be brittle.

I have been studying the tough issues that face Christians for 7 years now, and I have had to modify several of my secondary and non-essential ideas about Christianity.  It can be uncomfortable sometimes, but what has happened to me is that the core beliefs I hold have become stronger and stronger, the more I learn.

I hope the same will happen for you.  We have nothing to fear.  We really don’t.

What Do God and Science Have to Do with Each Other?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Ever since I became an evangelical believer in Christ, about 12 years ago, I have noticed that there is uneasiness among my evangelical brothers and sisters with certain fields of science.  This uneasiness, I quickly learned, has much to do with the age of the universe and the origins of mankind.  There are other areas, as well, but those are the two primary areas of dispute.

Because of the perceived hostility of science toward basic beliefs of Christianity, some evangelicals have forsaken science altogether.  So what I want to address today is what science and God have to do with each other.

Christians have long recognized that there are two ways that God communicates with mankind: special revelation and general revelation.

Special revelation is what is communicated about God through the incarnation of Christ and the Bible.

General revelation is what is communicated about God through the natural world, including physical nature, human nature, and human history.

Science offers a method for observing and then explaining facts about the natural world, so science is the study of God’s general revelation.  Christians that forsake science are, in effect, dismissing God’s general revelation.

Why?  Because they feel that the findings of science contradict the teachings of Scripture (special revelation).

But the answer is not to throw out one of God’s revelations.  In cases where general and special revelation overlap, we must examine our fallible interpretation of Scripture and compare it to our fallible interpretation of scientific findings.

You see, the Bible is infallible, but our interpretation of it is not.  Likewise, God’s revelation about himself in nature is infallible and will never contradict his revelation in Scripture.  But our interpretation of general revelation is not infallible.

What do we do when our fallible interpretation of science conflicts with our fallible interpretation of the Bible?  We seek the interpretation that seems more certain and we go with that.  If the special revelation interpretation seems more certain than the general revelation interpretation, then we go with special revelation.  If the general revelation interpretation seems more certain than the special revelation interpretation, then we go with general revelation.  We can’t just assume one is always right and the other always wrong.  That will lead to error.

Notice that this method of seeking the right interpretation requires the Christian to study diligently the Scriptures and the findings of science.  We cannot just study the Bible, but we must also dig into science if we want any hope of finding the answers to these tough questions where science and the Bible seem to conflict.

Fortunately, these perceived areas of conflict are few, and usually do not have to do with essential doctrines of Christianity.  However, they are still important and we owe it to God to honestly and earnestly seek the answers.

Do Catholics Affirm Justification by Faith Alone?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

One of the most remarkable lectures I ever heard at an apologetics conference was a Friday morning session with Peter Kreeft, professor of philosophy at Boston College.  Kreeft is a highly respected Catholic scholar who has taught at BC for many years and written more than 60 books.

Kreeft’s lecture focused on his desire to see Roman Catholics and Evangelicals move toward unity, certainly a worthy goal as long as we’re not compromising any essential doctrines.  But what I wasn’t expecting to hear was his statement that Catholics now agree that justification is by faith alone.  Yes, you read that right.

Kreeft explained that in 1999 the Catholic Church and Lutheran World Federation jointly issued a declaration on the doctrine of justification, the central issue of the Reformation.  In 2006, the World Methodist Council also voted to affirm this declaration.

In this declaration, the Catholic Church agreed that justification is by faith alone and it withdrew the condemnations of the Council of Trent toward those Protestants that affirmed justification by faith alone.  Kreeft explained that the Council of Trent was condemning the idea that works are not part of the totality of salvation, which is composed of justification, sanctification, and glorification.  Luther, on the other hand, was specifically speaking of justification, not sanctification and glorification, when he said works were not involved in salvation.  So the Council of Trent misunderstood Luther, according to Kreeft.  It took 400 years to figure this out, but better late than never.

During Q&A, Kreeft was quick to add that there are many other areas of disagreement that need to be discussed among Catholics and Protestants, but he believed that if Catholics and Protestants can come to agreement on the doctrine of justification, which was the defining controversy of the Reformation, then there is hope to come to agreement on other issues as well.

I have read the declaration and I believe Kreeft’s interpretation of it is indeed correct.  I invite all who are interested in this issue to read the declaration.  It is not that long and can be read by someone who is moderately familiar with theological terminology.  Also, to preempt fruitless discussion, I would ask that folks not comment or jump to any conclusions about this issue until you have read the declaration yourself.  I am very curious to hear reactions from both Catholics and Protestants alike.

Vatican Opens Door to Anglicans

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Pope Benedict XVI has decided to make it easier for Anglicans who have become disaffected with liberalism in their communion to join the Roman Catholic Church.  Below is a quote from a Wall Street Journal article:

Pope Benedict XVI introduced a fast track for Anglicans seeking to join Roman Catholicism, a move paving the way for conservative Anglicans frustrated by their church’s blessing of homosexuality in the priesthood and same-sex unions to enter the Catholic fold.

The Vatican on Tuesday announced plans to create a special set of canon laws, known as an “Apostolic Constitution,” to allow Anglican faithful, priests and bishops to enter into full communion with the Vatican without having to give up a large part of their liturgical and spiritual traditions.

The Christian world appears to be organizing itself into two general camps: traditional, orthodox Christianity built around the early creeds of the church; and liberal Christianity which denies many of the doctrines taught in the creeds.  It will be interesting to see how many Anglicans take the Pope up on his offer.

What do you think?  If you had a choice between staying in a liberal denomination which was denying essential doctrines of the faith, or joining the Roman Catholic Church, which way would you go?

Should Catholic Apologists Be Invited to Speak at an Evangelical Apologetics Conference?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

In a recent post, I mentioned some of the speakers at an upcoming apologetics conference sponsored by Southern Evangelical Seminary.  One blog commenter noticed that Catholic speakers were being featured at the event and argued that they should not be.  He believes that Catholics are not Christians, and therefore cannot properly defend the Christian faith (which is the goal of apologetics).  Specifically, the commenter mentioned the fact that Catholics do not agree with evangelical views of justification by faith alone.

I disagreed with the commenter and argued that Catholics are Christian and should be able to present at the conference, but I want to know what readers of this blog think.  Should Catholics be allowed to speak at an evangelical apologetics conference?  Tell us what you think by voting in the poll below.  Also, share your comments on this issue by commenting on this blog post.

Thoughts On This Past Sunday

We had The Lord’s Supper this past Sunday.  For the Mormons reading this, the Lord’s Supper is essentially the same as partaking of “The Sacrament”.  It was a wonderful experience!  We started the service by Baptizing several new members/believers and the Spirit of Christ filled the chapel the entire evening.  Some close friends and their children were among those baptized… it brought tears to my eyes!!

Our Pastor shared some thoughts I found to be particularly significant in light of the common Latter Day Saint claim all Christian denominations are in disagreement with one another.  At the beginning of The Lord’s Supper he said:

“This is not Cornerstone’s (our church) table or the Baptist’s table.  This is Christ’s table.  If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, no matter what denomination you belong to, you are welcome to partake.  For we are all one family… all of us who are believer’s in The Lord Jesus Christ.  This is His meal.  Please feel free to partake.”

We, meaning all believer’s no matter what church you attend, are all one family! 

I had a similar experience a few weeks ago while attending a Methodist Church.  I, as a Baptist, was invited to speak to a Sunday School class (sounds like disagreement, huh!!) and decided to attend their service as well.  They were having The Lord’s Supper and, while blessing the bread and juice, the Minister expressed the exact same view.  Knowing I am a member of another denomination he freely gave me The Lord’s Supper with a smile on his face.  It was wonderful!

My being invited to teach Sunday School at a Methodist Church as well as the thoughts shared by both of these ministers are in direct contradiction to the Mormon claim all Christian Denominations are in disagreement and fight against one another.  In my personal experience nothing could be farther from the truth!  The Church I attend does not profess itself to be “God’s only true church on the face of the earth”.  Instead we, as members of  Cornerstone Baptist Church, profess ourselves to be part of Christ’s Global Church…  which consists of all who confess Him as Lord and Savior –  whether they be Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, Non-Denominational, etc.  

Many Mormons fail to understand that while the denominations may disagree on minor, non-essential issues, most of us are in agreement on the essentials –The Nature of God, The Nature of Man, Deity of Christ, Salvation By Faith Alone, etc.  These are issues which effect salvation and which unite us all as Christ’s Body of Believers.  Other minor, non-essential issues (whether to partake of The Lord’s Supper Weekly or Monthly, Baptism by immersion or sprinkling, etc) are of no consequence to salvation and thus we grant liberty in these areas.  In contrast, the reason we cannot accept members of the LDS Faith as Christian is precisely because they are in disagreement with us on the essential issues – those which do have an impact on salvation.

As Augustine said…

“In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.”

All praise be to Christ!

Darrell

Is the Trinity Biblical?

Many non-Christian groups who accept some form of the New Testament – Muslims, Mormons, and Jehovah’s Witnesses – claim that the Christian doctrine of the Trinity is false.  One of the arguments often used is that the concept of the Trinity cannot be found in Scripture, so the doctrine cannot be true.

This argument, however, will not fly.  The argument for the tri-unity of God is straightforward and well grounded in the biblical text.

The first premise of the argument is that God is one.  We know this from verses like Deut. 6:4 and 1 Cor. 8:4.

The second premise is that three persons – the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – are all called God

Concerning the Father, we read a verses such as John 6:27 and Rom. 1:7

Concerning the Son, we read a verse such as John 8:58, where Jesus uses an Old Testament name of God, “I am,” to refer to Himself.  We also read of instances where Jesus does things that only God would do, such as forgiving someone’s sins in Mark 2:5-7

Concerning the Holy Spirit, we read a verse like Acts 5:3-4, where the Holy Spirit is called God.

Therefore, if the Bible teaches that God is one (and it does) and the Bible teaches that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all God (and it does), then the doctrine of the Trinity is established.  There are three persons in one God.  This is what Christians affirm and non-Christians deny.  

Now I have to quickly state that there are far more verses than the ones I mentioned above that establish the doctrine of the Trinity.  I am only providing a tiny sampling in order to refute the claim that the Trinity is not based on the Bible.  It is biblical, but please don’t think that my evidence above is exhaustive.  If you want to dig deeper, then this study of the Trinity should more than satisfy you.