August 2010

Is the Bible enough?

Theme: Doctrine
‘All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.’     2 Tim 3:16-17
Early last year a member of my congregation brought me a book and asked me to evaluate it for him. He said that his managing director regarded it as a sort of ‘new age’ revelation that he should read in addition to the Bible. The book was ‘A Course in Miracles’ by?. I did what he requested, and produced a very critical appreciation of its content.
I mention this book as only one of many examples of works some people claim equal the Bible. I am sure you have come across other examples; the Bible plus the writings of so and so. Is the Bible enough for us? Do we need another source of truth, or is the Bible sufficient to thoroughly equip us for faith and life? 

It goes back to my two questions in an earlier posting: is the Bible inspired and is it authoritative? If it is, then it must also be sufficient, unless God has given us some other writings to supplement it. Islam teaches that the Bible was an early revelation, but that the Koran is both additional and superior revelation. Cult leaders usually make the same claim concerning their literary works. One large branch of the church actually includes additional sections, which they call the Apocrypha, in their version of the Bible.

This is a complex issue and I deal with it in some detail in my book ‘Truth is the Word’ (See Books tab in this blog). The first question we need to ask concerning the Bible is, ‘Is it inspired and authoritative?’ The next question has to be, ‘Is it all we need for faith and life?’ If the answer to these questions is ‘yes’,  we still have to learn how to interpret it, but we will not go chasing after some additional source of revelational truth such as ‘A Course in Miracles’ by?
In my next posting I will explore this topic a little further but right now, may I suggest you give some thought to what you believe concerning the sufficiency of the Bible?

Is the Bible enough? Read More »

Inspiration and Authority

Theme: Doctrine
‘Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.’ 2 Peter 1:20-21

I started my preaching career as a Methodist Lay Minister in the Port Elizabeth North district. Every quarter I would meet with my fellow preachers to discuss issues and to receive a briefing from the Superintendent Minister. At one of these meetings, I got to talking with a woman preacher who was quite a bit older than me. The subject of the nature of the Bible came up, and I spoke passionately of my belief that the scriptures are both inspired and authoritative. She shook her head sadly and said, “When you are more spiritually mature you will come to understand that it is neither.” Her response amazed and perplexed me because this was my first encounter with a Liberal theological view of the Bible.

If the Bible is inspired, in the sense that orthodox Evangelicals believe it to be, then it is a very real form of the Word of God. Jesus is the Word made flesh and the Bible is the written Word. If it is inspired in the sense that the woman local preacher meant, then it is no more special than the works of Plato or Mohammed. We appreciate these writings and draw some profound ideas from them, but we do not claim that they are the products of men who ‘spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.’

If the Bible is purely a human product, then it will contain useful information, inspiring stories, and an ancient appreciation of God and His ways… but that’s all. If the Bible is the result of the Holy Spirit inspiring people to write and if, in its totality, it carries the approval of Almighty God, then it must have authority. By that, I mean that we need to obey what we truly believe it has to say about how we should believe and live.
Once we have settled the matter of the inspiration and authority of the Bible, we still need to wrestle with how to interpret and apply it. More about that in a future insert. For now let me ask what you believe – is the Bible inspired by God in a real and direct sense and do you accept its authority? Your answers to these questions are critical.

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Jesus Deficit Disorder

I am currently re-reading the book ‘Jesus Manifesto’ by Len Sweet and Frank Viola subtitled Restoring the Supremacy and Sovereignty of Jesus Christ‘. (http://www.thejesusmanifesto.com) In this book Len coins the phrase ‘Jesus Deficit Disorder’ (JDD), a play on the familiar mental condition labelled Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).

His contention is that the focus of today’s church flickers from one thing to another but seldom settles on Jesus. Like a child with ADD the body of Christ focuses first on social upliftment, then on politics, then on getting rich, then on biblical knowledge acquisition, and so on … but seldom on Jesus.

Yet Jesus Christ is the creator, sustainer, head, and lord of the church. Without Him the church just isn’t the church. It may be a religious institution, or a philanthropic society, or a bless-me club; but without Jesus at its very centre it cannot be the church.

When a person is diagnosed with ADD they are most frequently prescribed a psychostimulant drug like Ritalin, but I was interested to discover that the same drug is often given in cases of lethargy, depression, and obesity. Perhaps if I were a medical doctor instead of a Ph.D I might be tempted to prescribe a spiritual Ritalin to treat the church’s JDD, lethargy, depression, and obesity. However, before attempting to prescribe I have to ask two questions: Is the church in general suffering from JDD? And if it is, then what is the spiritual equivalent of Ritalin that it can take?

A colleague of mine wrote to Len to enquire what sort of research he had conducted in order to diagnose the church as suffering from JDD. He replied that his observations had come out of ‘a lifetime of learning and living in the Spirit’. Len Sweet travels extensively as a speaker and theology professor and has been exposed to countless churches and Christian leaders over many years and in several nations, and so he is well able to diagnose the church’s current condition. I think his diagnosis is correct, but on what do I base my opinion?

I conducted a little rough and ready ‘research’ of my own. I looked at the list of the top ten articles for pastors published on SermonCentral.com over the past five years. (http://www.sermoncentral.com/articlec.asp?article=top-10-articles-past-10-years&ac=true) I reasoned that what pastors valued most as input must reflect in some way on what they believed was most important to them.  The first article listed was ’21 irrefutable laws of communication’, the second was ‘5 things God never said’ and the third was ’20 non-preaching websites for better preaching’. The list continued with not a single mention of Jesus or anything to do with Him.

I read the list to my wife and she responded, with a gentle smile, that pastors like me were focused on leadership and preaching related matters and that the list didn’t represent the real focus areas of Christians in general. So, I Googled ‘bestselling Christian books in 2010’ and found that the name of Jesus features in only one book title, and that was 365 day devotional! (http://michaelhyatt.com/the-100-bestselling-christian-books-of-2010.html). After reading through the list I can understand why Sweet and Viola write of ‘ best-seller Christianity, which has become self-centeredness wrapped up as “spirituality,”’

So, from the evidence of my rough-and-ready research it looks like the church may well be suffering from JDD. But what can the body of Christ take to treat this malady? Perhaps the Bible is the Ritalin the church needs for recovery. No I don’t think it is. In general, the church still honours the Bible and often makes it the focus of attention.

However, it is all too easy to read the scriptures without seeing that they consistently point to Jesus.
The Pharisees of New Testament times had this problem because Jesus had to say to them, “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (John 5:39-40). Not much has changed since then. Sweet and Viola write; ‘The written Word is a map that leads us to the living Word. Or as Jesus Himself put it, “The Scriptures point to Me! ”Every part of the sacred text breathes the same oxygen—Christ. So the Bible is not the destination; it’s a compass that points to Jesus— heaven’s Lodestar’.

No, there is no spiritual Ritalin for the JDD of today’s church. More Bible study isn’t it and nor is a revamped social upliftment program ‘it’, or a larger worship band, or a power-preacher in a white suite!

The only remedy for JDD is for the church to reform itself around the centrality of Jesus.
Sweet and Viola put it this way; ‘Only a recovery of the greatness, supremacy, sovereignty, brilliance, and “allness” of Christ will lead us to restoration and even revival. The wonder of Jesus as “all in all” is the only hope for igniting the flame of a new reformation and resuscitating a church that’s presently on life support.’

 

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God is in control?

It’s a Friday early-morning prayer meeting and one of the regulars is recounting to God the many problems in our troubled world.

The prayer moves from the terrorist attacks in Nigeria, to the endemic problem of abortion on demand, and then concludes with prayer for the two teenage girls who were burnt alive as part of a satanic ritual. At the end of this sorry litany the dear person ends with, “But you are in control of everything O Lord, so all is well. Amen.” What, I wonder did he mean when he claimed that God was in control? Did he mean that God had wilfully decided to blow up a whole bunch of innocent Nigerians, slaughter a couple of million unborn babies, and kill one girl after days of agony while simply maiming the other for life?! Or did he mean that God had specifically decided to allow these particular things to happen, which in my view is tantamount to the same thing?

So, what do we mean then when we say ‘God is in control’?
Usually we sanitise questions like this by immersing them in complex theological argument. We call it predeterminism, or sovereignty of God, or something like that and then plunge the troublesome issue into a huge pool of theological dogma. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that theology is important. However, we are created to live in relationship with God, not merely to study Him and his ways. Theology is meant to affect the way we live out our lives in relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. So I am asking the question about divine control from a practical and pastoral perspective.

Over the years I have been with several grieving parents after their child has died, often suddenly and brutally.  I don’t say to them “Well God must have had a very good reason for this. Just trust him and I am sure that in time you will see the good that comes from this.” Why should they trust a God who has just caused their beautiful daughter to crash her car into a tree and die?” She had just turned 18 and had only obtained her driver’s license that very week. Where is the good that is so immense and pressing that God would bring about such a tragedy?

At times like this I would rather assure the parents of God’s love and concern and the promise that He is with them, holding their hands and weeping with them, through this terrible time.
ArmageddonYes I know the theology around all this – the so called immutability of God, His sovereign predetermination of all things, and so on. Frankly, I don’t think that this is good theology at all but I am not going to argue this in this article. Rather, I want to ask the question of how we understand statements like ‘God is in control’ from the perspective of a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Is the triune God as revealed in and through the Lord Jesus Christ the author of evil? Is it perhaps that we just don’t understand the nature of true goodness and that what appears to us as evil is really divine goodness that we cannot comprehend? This is essentially what we express when we ask ourselves and others to trust that God is in control of situations that result in international or personal tragedy.  Whether it’s the Jewish Holocaust of the Second World War, the more recent Twin Tower disaster, or the rape, murder and dismemberment of a ten year old child, the issue is the same – if God caused it then it must be good… or else God is a monster!

I have never understood the argument that what we all clearly perceive as evil is in fact goodness in disguise. God has revealed to us in the scriptures what constitutes good and evil. He expects us to be able to discern the difference between the two and embrace good while shunning evil. Is God a two-faced trickster then? Does He practice the opposite of what He preaches? My answer is a resounding “No!”

I believe that our theology must influence what we say and how we live, and that what we say and do reflects what we truly believe.
The ultimate theological reflection should be on what Jesus Christ reveals to us of the nature and character of God. I believe that a theology that flows from this will be sound both in theory and in practice. And in the light of this it is easier to see that the competing theological systems of our day ultimately stand or fall on how they present the nature and character of God. The God revealed in Christ Jesus is good and truthful and He is not the author of specific evil, no matter what philosophical sleight of hand we attempt to employ to call evil good or to claim that God is directly in control of all things while absolving him from evil acts.

 

God is in control? Read More »

About Me

My name is Christopher Peppler and I was born in Cape Town, South Africa in 1947. While working in the financial sector I achieved a number of business qualifications from the Institute of Bankers, Damelin Management School, and The University of the Witwatersrand Business School. After over 20 years as a banker, I followed God’s calling and joined the ministry full time. After becoming a pastor of what is now a quite considerable church, I  earned an undergraduate theological qualification from the Baptist Theological College of Southern Africa and post-graduate degrees from two United States institutions. I was also awarded the Doctor of Theology in Systematic Theology from the University of Zululand in 2000.

Four years before that I established the South African Theological Seminary (SATS), which today is represented in over 70 countries and has more than 2 500 active students enrolled with it. I presently play an role supervising Masters and Doctoral students.

I am a passionate champion of the Christocentric or Christ-centred Principle, an approach to biblical interpretation and theological construction that emphasises the centrality of Jesus

I have been happily married to Patricia since the age of 20, have two children, Lance and Karen, a daughter-in-law Tracey, and granddaughters Jessica and Kirsten. I have now retired from both church and seminary leadership and devote my time to writing, discipling, and the classical guitar.

If you would like to read my testimony to Jesus then click HERE.