The New Perspective on Paul: Calvin and N.T. Wright

What exactly is the nature of the New Perspectives on Paul? So asks Dr. J.V. Fesko, Academic Dean and Associate Professor of Systematic Theology and Historical Theology at Westminster Seminary, California. He presents a lengthy – but very worthwhile – survey of N.T. Wright’s New Perspective on Paul, contrasting it with the Reformation understanding of justification and works of the law as expressed by Calvin. He concludes:

What makes the new perspective most harmful to the church is its use of terminology. Advocates of the new perspective use terms such as Scripture, sin, justification, works, faith, and gospel, but have given them entirely different meanings.

The advocates of the new perspective on Paul give us no reason to abandon the old perspective. Their case lacks evidence from primary sources and has fundamental presuppositions that conflict with Scripture itself. Those who drink at the fountain of the new perspective must drink with great discernment because hiding behind orthodox nomenclature lies liberalism, and the heart of liberalism is unbelief. In the end, it looks like Qohelet was right after all—there is nothing new under the sun.

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Learning from Liberals

Nathan Busenitz, Instructor of Theology at The Master’s Seminary in Los Angeles, outlines seven lessons we can learn from the German liberal theologians and higher critics:

1. The way to reach skeptics with the gospel is not by watering down the gospel. Many of the liberal theologians thought they could make Christianity more appealing to Enlightenment rationalists if they abandoned the historical authenticity of the text; and if they redefined the gospel as something other than salvation from sin through Christ (thereby making it less offensive to modern minds). But, in so doing, they actually undid the very gospel they thought they were helping to preserve.

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The Historical Figure of Pontius Pilate

Issues, Etc. explores the historical figure of Pontius Pilate in a fascinating hour-long audio interview with historian Dr. Paul Maier. Maier is the author of the superb historical novel, Pontius Pilate, and an undoubted authority on Pilate. View article →

Can the Roman Catholic Gospel Save?

In a recent blog post, C. Michael Patton of Credo House Ministries asked, ‘Are Roman Catholics Saved?’ He argued that the most important question was the one Jesus asked of His disciples, ‘Who do you say that I am?’, and that the Church of Rome answers this correctly.

Apologist James White of Alpha and Omega Ministries says that Patton has asked the wrong question. Speaking on his Dividing Line show, White dissects Patton’s post and states that what really matters is whether God’s grace to us in Christ is wholly sufficient to save – are we saved by grace alone? Here, White asserts, Rome commits the same error as the Galatians, adding our works to the grace of God as a requirement for justification. Because the Apostle Paul said that the Galatians who had done likewise were ‘severed from Christ’, the very Gospel itself – and our salvation – hangs on the answer to that question. White concludes, ‘The fundamental issue is the fact that the Roman Catholic Church does not possess – and, in fact, anathematizes – the Gospel of Jesus Christ’. ‘If a Roman Catholic is saved, they are saved in spite of the Roman Catholic Church, not because of it.’

Here is the video of James White responding to Patton’s article (MP3 is also available from the Alpha & Omega Ministries blog):

False Doctrine Destroys Christian Unity

Jesus prayed for the unity of all believers:

I do not pray for these [my disciples] alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me. John 17:20–23

Notice that immediately prior to these words, Christ prayed:

Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth. John 17:17–19

The context of Jesus’ prayer for the unity of those who would believe in Him is the sanctifying truth of God’s word – the very word that the Apostles subsequently delivered to the Church, and through which we now believe in Christ.

Through that word, we are being made ‘perfect in one’ – the word of God itself creates Christian unity. And through that uniting and perfecting word, we know that the Father sent His Son to die in our place, that the Father loves us for the sake of His Son and puts His righteousness to our account. Through God’s word, those who believe it have confidence that:

having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Romans 5:1–2

God’s word, then, is essential to our Christian faith. We hunger for sound doctrine, because sound doctrine is nothing other than that word, faithfully delivered.

The Christian life depends upon sound doctrine. But is it harmful to Christian unity to rebuke false doctrine and separate from those who wilfully assist in its propagation? Some seem to think so. Yet Christians are nowhere in Scripture called to unite around false doctrine or practice, but to reject error and instead speak the truth in love to one another. We are to ‘contend earnestly for the faith which as once for all delivered to the saints’ (Jude 3).

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An Inside Perspective on the Islamic-Friendly Bible

The practice of tailoring Bible translations to Muslim sensibilities by replacing phrases such as ‘the Son of God’ and ‘God the Father’ has been the source of much controversy. In a comment posted on the blog of Dr. Gene Veith (Provost at Patrick Henry College and Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary), David Harriman writes:

For 18 years I served as director of development/director of advancement for Frontiers, the ministry which produced this Turkish translation of Matthew. While I believe the workers behind this project have good motivations, I also believe they effectively rendered the text compliant with Islam. While the volume in question thankfully included a properly-translated Greek to Turkish Interlinear, the purpose of the contextualized translation–and the related footnotes–is to cast a specific “Muslim friendly” meaning upon the text itself.

“One example will illustrate the problems with the Turkish translation. At the baptism of Jesus in Matthew 3:17, “Son” is translated as “representative” in the text. In the footnote to this verse, “Son of God” is defined in several ways, such as “God’s representative,” “the king, Messiah,” and “God’s beloved monarch.” The note incorrectly says the term “is synonymous with the title of Messiah.” Jesus is portrayed only in kingly terms, with no recognition of his divinity or actual Sonship. Needless to say, such explanations have the effect of obscuring the full and true meaning of “Son” and “Son of God,” even if the terms are translated correctly in the footnotes.”

In subsequent correspondence with Dr. Veith, Harriman went on to say:

I work with a lot of former Muslims and they are outraged by this approach to translation. What you have, actually, is the spectacle of Western translators (actually, only a couple of highly-committed advocates, but who are acting with the support of senior WBT/SIL leadership) attempting to tell native speakers of Arabic, Turkish, and other languages what their languages actually mean.

An audio “Stories of the Apostles” volume is in fact far worse than this — Son of God is translated “Caliph of God” — Caliph of course referring to religious/political rulers of Islam who defended and promoted Islam by force; “saints” is replaced with “umma”; Islamic honorifics like “upon him be peace” are used after the mention of Christ’s name (an Islamic prayer for the dead). This audio “Bible” produced by WBT/SIL is still online, BTW.

Harriman’s insightful thoughts are well worth reading in their entirety.

Momentum Gathers as Third Harvest Bible Fellowship Church Dissociates Over ER2

The Elder Board of Harvest Bible Chapel New Lenox has announced its decision to dissociate from Elephant Room 2 organizer James MacDonald’s Harvest Bible Fellowship. In a forthright and Biblically rooted statement, the elders explained that their decision was based upon MacDonald’s doctrinal ‘leniency’ and mishandling of ER2:

Jakes’ position on the Trinity ultimately is not the issue. Rather, the problem is HBF and Pastor MacDonald’s not correcting or rebuking the false teaching presented in ER2. Pastor MacDonald’s doctrinal tolerance and leniency before, during, and after the ER2 is at the heart of our departure from HBF. Pastor MacDonald’s subsequent defenses of the ER2 on his website and on Moody Radio lead us to conclude that this change in direction established is part of the future ministry of HBF. Grievously, doctrinal leniency and disregard for proper theological examination from the pastors present marked the event.

HBC New Lenox joins HBC Prescott and HBC Detroit West, who recently also separated from MacDonald’s Harvest Bible Fellowship. Sovereign Grace Church of Bakersfield similarly left the Acts 29 network founded by ER2 moderator Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church.

The full statement by the elders of HBC New Lenox is available here:

John Newton on Controversy

A minister, about to write an article criticizing a fellow minister for his lack of orthodoxy, wrote to John Newton, author of the hymn Amazing Grace, of his intention. The Ligonier blog presents Newton’s wise counsel. View article →