Bible reading skill: logical argument

Take Root, Bear Fruit

[What follows is an excerpt from my book, Take Root, Bear Fruit, Reading the Bible for an Organic Understanding of Theology. Look for its release soon.]

In our Bible reading and study, we sometimes lose sight that at its literary heart, it is a human book. The Bible, as the inspired Word of God, is a unique book, but at the same time it is literarily a normal book. The historical literature is written like all historical writing of its time. When Paul wrote his epistles to various churches or individuals, he wrote in the common means of letter writing of the day.

But, because we revere the Word of God, we have sometimes fallen victim to the forms that our Bible takes. No other book in our collection is bound like our Bibles, in calf-skin leather with gold edging and multiple ribbon markers. The pages are very thin, to the point that we can even see the printing on the pages behind, even though we’ve learned to tune that out. Some of our Bibles are printed in two columns per page; what other book does that? Some editions have notes; others have “cross references” in a center column. Some Bibles start each new verse at the beginning of a new line; others arrange the verses into a paragraph style.

All of these features, while good in and of themselves, have had the tendency to color our perception of Scripture. And we begin to read the text differently than it was intended to be read.

Perhaps the most significant feature of our modern Bibles is the inclusion of chapters and verses, which were not part of the original manuscripts and have only commonly been in use for about 500 years. This feature, while handy for looking things up and memorization, has not been without its unintended negative consequences. The very fact that Scripture is divided into bite-sized verses tends us toward only looking at the text as a series of sayings. As we said in the Introduction, “pearls on a string.” At best, we lose sight of the whole of the text. At worst, we can abuse the meaning of the verses by quoting them out of their context. This is why, as I said, this book is being written with a focus on passages.

One of the “normal” literary forms the Bible takes is of making a cohesive and logical argument. Instead of the analogy of pearls on a string, think of an unbreakable chain of iron, as the passage builds the argument. John 1:1-18 is one such passage where we can examine this form of logical argument. This is especially important because John 1:1 – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” – is a common proof text for the deity and Godhood of Jesus Christ. However, false teachers, notably the Jehovah’s Witnesses, translate the last clause of this verse, “The Word was a god.” What are we to do if our doctrine of the deity of Christ depends only on this single verse? Well, we could argue for the correct translation and many have done so. But we could also delve into the full passage and discern the logical argument in which John is engaging. It is scarcely possible to proclaim Jesus a merely “a” god, when the passage goes on to assert that he is eternal, that he holds the power of being (“life”) in himself, and that all things were made through him.

John reasons in logical fashion to make his case. To put the argument into a simple syllogism-

The Logos (the Word) is God.
Jesus Christ is the Word made flesh.
Therefore, Jesus Christ is God.

The logical argument trumps any mistranslation of any single verse.

One Word 2021

For the past 4 years, I have lead our leadership team in the One Word exercise. Coming from the book One Word that will Change Your Life by Jon Gordon, Dan Britton, and Jimmy Page, it’s the idea that you select one word to encapsulate your goals and aspirations for the year.

In the past, I’ve used “Press” with the thought of pressing into some new routines and pressing myself to do my best. The next year, my word was “Pilgrim” to remind myself that my journey is heavenward and I ought to live like it. Last year, I chose “Ezra” (I wrote about that here), based on Ezra 7:10 and focused on setting my heart to learn God’s word, to obey it, and to teach others.

Pour is my word for 2021

I am in transition this year, as my work at Chick-fil-A will be morphing from operational to consultative. Because I will start taking Social Security this year (amazing!), I will be able to cut my hours down and devote more time to writing and developing my platform. Because of these transitions, and because of the temptation to slack off and take it easy, “Pour” just seemed to be the right word.

“Pouring” is messy; it is indiscriminate. When I think of the story of the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet with oil, I think of how she wasn’t parsimonious with the perfume; she lavished it on Jesus so that the aroma filled the room. That’s how I want the pouring of my life to be.

Isaiah wrote, “If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday” (58:10). I love the imagery of giving oneself for the sake of others as a pouring, a generous bestowal to those in need.

Finally, since I’m not getting any younger, I think more about the end of my days. Some of the Apostle Paul’s last words were, “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:6). While I can’t say that the time of my departure has come, it’s much closer than ever, and I want to finish strong.

Therefore, I think of “pour” in 2021 in these aspirational ways:

-I will pour into all the endeavors of my life with enthusiasm, generosity, and liberality

-I will pour out myself on behalf of others

-I will be poured out by Almighty God, to be used and used up by him with nothing in reserve

-and thus be able to say, I have fought the fight, finished the race, kept the faith

-so help me God

Knox reads books: 2020 reading list

2020 may have been a year like no other, but that doesn’t mean that some good things didn’t happen. This happened to be a year when I committed to reading books that would help me grow and think. I tried to commit to read 30 minutes a day from my chosen reading stack of developmental, theological, or devotional tomes. (I also read for pleasure each night before bed, fictional titles that were just for fun.)

Now, I’m not the voracious reader that supposedly Tim Keller is (3 books/week), or Spurgeon (6), Rick Warren (7), Don Carson (9), or Albert Mohler (10), but I probably read more this year than I have since my college days when such things were assigned. I’d like to say I kept to the 30-minute goal throughout the year, but it did tail off toward the end of the year, so that I I hit my goal of 24 books early in the 4th quarter and only added 1 more by the end for a total of 25 non-fiction books for my growth and development.

Here’s a little bit about my 2020 reading list.

3 titles from Michael Hyatt. I’ve become a bit of a Hyatt disciple, using his Full Focus Planner and gobbling up new titles as they’re released. I started Free to Focus in 2019 and finished it early in 2020, and this productivity system, along with his planner, has revolutionized my time management and goal-setting. The Vision-Driven Leader and No-Fail Communication were both helpful in my professional life, and we adopted several systems from these books.

Gospel Fluency by Jeff Vanderstelt. This was read as part of my training for becoming an elder. I’ve been a Christian since I was 10, but my greatest growth in the past 10-12 years has been in my understanding of the gospel. This book was part of that. I wish I had learned this 40 years ago.

Does God Control Everything? by RC Sproul. This tiny little book is part of Sproul’s “Crucial Questions” series. Written in his clear, inimitable style. And, yes. Yes, God does control everything.

One-to-One Bible Reading by David R. Helm. From the people who brought us The Trellis and the Vine, this is a handy booklet for getting you started in evangelistic or discipling endeavors of Bible reading.

Making Vision Stick by Andy Stanley. What Stanley lacks in theology, he makes up for in practical leadership advice. He’s an effective communicator, and this book is an example of that.

True Spirituality by Francis Schaeffer. This is a title I hadn’t read from Schaeffer back in my college days when I was reading a lot from this theologian-philosopher. It’s been awhile since I’d read him, and this was heady stuff but fitting in with what I’ve been learning about the gospel.

The Reformed Faith by Loraine Boettner. According to Goodreads, this was my shortest book. I find it beneficial to regularly remind myself of the doctrines of grace. This book did the trick.

Worship Leaders, We are not Rock Stars by Stephen Miller. As an occasional worship musician, this was a helpful reminder of what we need to be about. I could have used more negative examples, but I’m sure he didn’t want to cast aspersions on other worship leaders.

Mover of Men and Mountains by R.G. LeTourneau. This book was a gift from a customer and as I was already somewhat familiar with LeTourneau, I was happy to read this autobiography. His story goes all the way back to the late 19th century, and it was interesting to see how this engineer and inventor devised ways to move great amounts of earth in his building endeavors. There was also a bit of cringiness as he spoke in glowing terms of how much forest could be cleared in South America and Africa in short periods of time. But, it was a different time with different sensibilities.

Coronavirus and Christ by John Piper. This short book was quickly released in the wake of the onset of the COVID pandemic, almost like those supermarket paperbacks that come out a week after a celebrity dies. This book was somewhat controversial when a head army chaplain secured copies for his subordinates. This was due to Piper’s contention that one of the reasons for the pandemic may have been God’s judgment on sin. However, this book is biblically rich and almost a prophetic word that we need to hear.

The Gospel-Centered Life by Robert Thune and Will Walker. Another book in my journey toward a greater understanding of the gospel, I would recommend this for any small group to tackle.

North: Finding My Way While Running the Appalachian Trail by Scott Jurek. This was a gift from a friend. It’s the first-person account of an ultramarathoner who ran the 2,200 mile Appalachian Trail in just over 46 days. Nothing in his interesting account has inspired me to try to beat his record.

Gospel and Kingdom by Graeme Goldsworthy. When I was prepping to become an elder in my church, I identified the concept of “God’s kingdom” as one that I needed further study on. This was one book that was recommended.

The Push: A Climber’s Journey of Endurance, Risk, and Going Beyond Limits by Tommy Caldwell. I read this after seeing the movie The Dawn Wall. Both tell Tommy’s story of free-climbing the Dawn Wall face of El Capitan. Yosemite is one of my favorite places, and this captures the climbing culture well.

The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions. I worked through this fine collection one prayer at a time in my bedtime ritual. The Puritans had a way with words. Beautiful prayers.

Sex and the Supremacy of Christ by John Piper, others. This book was the transcript from the 2004 Desiring God National Conference, and the content is even more relevant today, particularly the address by Al Mohler on homosexuality. It was rather odd to hear Josh Harris and his “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” spoken of in positive terms, given that he has since disavowed that teaching and eventually gave up the faith. Sad.

The Passionate Preaching of Martyn-Lloyd Jones by Steven Lawson. I love biographies as shown by no less than 5 read this past year. As an ocassional preacher, I was interested in how Lloyd-Jones went about it. It was good to be reminded of the need to align to and preach from the text of Scripture. Funny stories are not necessary.

The Baptist Confession of Faith 1689. I read this also as a part of my bedtime ritual to remind myself of my core beliefs.

Pickin’ Up the Pieces: The Heart and Soul of Country Rock Pioneer Richie Furay by Richie Furay. Richie launched the bands Buffalo Springfield, Poco, and the Souther-Hillman-Furay Band in the 60s and 70s, seeking fame before coming to faith in Jesus Christ. After a successful solo career, he became a Colorado pastor. He’s still alive, still sings both his old catalog and his newer songs.

The Gift of Faith: Discovering the Glory of God in Salvation by Bryan Holstrom. A well-written exposition of the early chapters of Ephesians and other Scriptures, laying out a Reformed understanding of the doctrines of grace.

A Gospel Primer for Christians by Milton Vincent. I highly recommend this short book! Based on the idea of “preaching the gospel to yourself every day,” it contains short passages that remind us of our standing in the gospel. This was my second time through this book.

The Grace Effect: What Happens When Our Brokenness Collides with God’s Grace by Kyle Idleman. This is an excerpt from a larger book. It’s a comforting message of encouragement in the grace of God.

Deep Discipleship by J.T. English. This book is a call for churches to take seriously the need for creating learning environments (and not just community environments) in their discipleship programs. Much of this book resonated with me in my passion for biblical literacy among God’s people.

There were several other fictional books that I read for pleasure (I finished the Lord of the Rings trilogy – again). I’ve also created a stack for 2021, sure to be added to as I discover and buy new books. I am hoping to hit 40 books this year, all-inclusive of reading for pleasure and reading for development and growth.

3 questions to break the power of the phone

I read an online article last week where the author admitted to needing help with his cell phone “addiction” (his word). I sometimes find myself being held captive by this tiny pocket computer which occassionally is used for making phone calls.

In his therapy, he was advised to ask 3 simple questions as he clicked on his phone –

What for? Why now? What else?

What for? – What is the purpose for accessing your phone?

Why now? – Why do you need to do this now?

What else? – What else could you be doing instead?

These were the questions that caused him to pump the brakes on his phone use and helped sever the allure. He even put these questions on his phone’s lock screen to provide an additional incentive to do something else.

I thought that was such a good idea that I created such a lockscreen image for myself. And now I’d like to make it available to you.

These 3 simple questions can help you stop wasting time as you consider what better thing you could be doing besides browsing on your phone. Could you have a phone-free conversation? Might you get some work done? Could you read a book? MIght you do something creative? These are 3 questions that could sever the power of your cellphone over you!

Save this image (right-click, or take a screen shot). Then set it as your lock screen to remind you to only use the phone when you really need to.

All I really need to know I learned from The Eagles

[with apologies to Robert Fulgham]

I’ve been on an Eagles kick lately, especially with the release of their Live from the Forum MMXVIII double album. Even with the loss of founder Glen Frey, they’ve come back strong, adding Glen’s son, Deacon Frey, and Vince Gill to the roster. There’s something that feels right hearing Deacon sing his late dad’s signature songs, Peaceful Easy Feeling or Take It Easy.

So without getting too preachy, I’ve been pulling some pieces of good advice and astute observations from the various lyrics of The Eagles’ catalogue. In the spirit of Robert Fulgham [All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten], here’s my take – All I really need to know I learned from The Eagles.

Sometimes there’s a part of me has to turn from here and go – Seven Bridges Road Don’t let the sound of your own wheels drive you crazy – Take It Easy You got your demons and you got desires; well, I got a few of my own – One of These Nights It’s so hard to change, can’t seem to settle down – Take It To The Limit I know we can take it if our love is a strong one – The Long Run

You better let somebody love you – Desperado Life in the fast lane surely make you lose your mind – Life in the Fast Lane Everybody wants to touch somebody – Heartache Tonight What you get is not quite what you choose – How Long Ligthten up while you still can – Take it Easy This old world still looks the same – Tequila Sunrise Somewhere out on that horizon, far away from the neon sky, I know there must be something better – In the City

I found out a long time ago what a woman can do to your soul. Aw but she can’t take you any way you don’t already know how to go – Peaceful Easy Feeling Ain’t it funny how your new life didn’t change things? – Lyin’ Eyes Love will keep us alive – Love Will Keep Us Alive Until we learn to love one another, we will never reach the promised land – Hole in the World Wastin’ our time on cheap talk and wine left us so little to give – Best of My Love Son, you better get on one side or the other – On the Border You can check out any time you like but you can never leave – Hotel California

Things in this life change very slowly – Sad Cafe You can see the stars and still not see the light – Already Gone And my time went so quickly – Ol’ 55 And maybe someday we will find that it wasn’t really wasted time – Wasted Time

I feel like this last group could almost stand as a paragraph on its own. Things change slowly, but life moves quickly. It’s certainly possible to get so accustomed to life that you miss seeing the light. The evidence for God is all around us. If you see it with eyes of faith, it’s not wasted time. Thank you, Eagles.

Songwriters: Don Henley, Glen Frey, Randy Meisner, Joe Walsh, Bernie Leadon, Don Felder, Stephen T. Young, Jackson Browne, Bob Seger, J.D. Souther, Barry R. De Vorzon, Jack Tempchin, Jim Capaldi, Paul Carrack, Peter Vale, Robert Arnold, Strandlund, Tom Waits

Thoughts on the “Romans 7 Christian”

The following is an excerpt on a book I am writing on reading passages of Scripture theologically. Title TBD. This is the conclusion of a chapter on Romans 7:14-25.

[Note: I believe that Paul, in these verses, is describing his life as a believer (not a pre-Christian experience) and thus is describing our reality as believers in Christ. While others have taken a different view of this passage, it doesn’t change the fact that believers continue to struggle with sin throughout the course of their lives until they go to be with Jesus.]

The theology of this passage is immensely practical. Who among us has not dealt with the frustrations and guilt feelings of ongoing sin?

There is a dynamic that happens to believers that as we grow, we tend to see our own sin more clearly, leading to the kind of inner dialog we see in Romans 7:14-25. Here’s how it happens:

  1. As we grow closer to the Lord, we see more and more distinctly the holiness of God.
  2. In comparison, we become more and more aware of our sinfulness.
  3. As life goes on and this dynamic continues, the gap between the holiness of God and our actual experience grows.*

The irony in this is that as we grow, we may feel more sinful. We are not actually; we were simply not as aware of our sinfulness in our earlier walk with Christ. Let’s get real here; let’s talk in specifics.

For example, let’s say that Jeff struggles with an addiction to pornography and habitual masturbation. He knows it to be wrong, and he sincerely hates his sin and wants to forsake it. His self-talk is full of Romans 7: “I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”

Now suppose that in time, through knowing that his old self was crucified with Christ (Rom. 6:6), considering himself dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus (Rom. 6:11), Jeff begins to no longer present his members to sin as instruments of unrighteousness but presents himself to God (Rom. 6:13). He stops letting sin reign in his mortal body and no longer obeys the passions of the flesh in this matter (Rom. 6:12). Jeff puts away pornography from his life and stops the habit of masturbation. Victory!

Jeff might at this point think that the battle is over. This was a big deal for him. And let’s not minimize this victory. Anyone who has experienced an addiction knows how exceedingly difficult it is to overcome. So Jeff praises God and thanks Jesus for the victory he has seen in his life. However,

If Romans 7 describes the normal Christian life of the believer [and I believe it does], a life-long war with indwelling sin, Jeff needs to be aware of two things. First, without diligence, he may fall right back into the same patterns of sin. Many, many believers have given testimony to this happening. Jeff will never be “done” with this temptation. Second, Jeff will now begin to see other sins in his life, because he will continue to grow in his knowledge of the holiness of God.

Where the teachers of old thought that they were OK if they didn’t commit adultery, Jesus raised the bar and said that if you look with lust at a woman you have broken the law against adultery (Matthew 5: 27-28). Jeff may think he’s done with this because he has put away the very outward sins of pornography and masturbation, but having put those away, he may still find that his real sin was lust occurring in his mind, and he has more work to do.

How often does this happen to each of us? We put away outbursts of anger (yelling, screaming, cursing, fighting), only to find that we still must battle against the inward sins of grumbling, complaining, anger that is internalized. We stop gossiping and creating division, and discover that there are still the sins of self-comparison and self-righteousness that we now must fight.

This is why we will never “leave Romans 7.” We become more and more aware of the depth of our sin even as we overcome and achieve victories. The only reason to leave Romans 7 is to encounter the present comfort and future deliverance described in Romans 8. But our reality is still one of warfare, the flesh against the Spirit. The “Romans 7 Christian” is not a defeated Christian; she is a fighting Christian. A fight that will continue until we see Jesus! Brothers and sisters, let us never give up that fight.

*Thune, Robert H. and Walker, Will. The Gospel-Centered Life, New Growth Press, 2011. pp. 12-14.

Creativity and technology

There has probably never been a time where “creativity” has been as much in the forefront as now. Watch pretty much any ad for the newest phone, and the thrust of the ad is not the phone capabilities (I mean, you can make and take calls; how exciting is that?). Rather, our phones – or should I say, mini pocket computers) appeal to us for the ability to express our creativity. Suddenly, we’re all capable of being photographers, movie makers, music producers, and more.

“Creative” has become a nown, as in, one could identify as a “creative.” Not just creative, adjective. “I am creative.” But, A creative.“I am a creative.” “I am part of the creative community.”

There’s nothing wrong with this impulse. I believe it’s part of our nature as being created in the image of God, who displays his enormous creativity throughout all the things he has made. Everyone of us has marvelled at the beauty of a sunrise, the refraction of light into brilliant colors in a rainbow, the variagated song of a mockingbird. And then there’s those weird-looking creatures at the bottom of the ocean, just because.

So, if our technology allows us to explore our creativity more freely, I’m all for it.

I’ve been a hobby photographer for my whole adult life, starting with an Olympus half-frame 35mm camera that belonged to my brother, to now going back and forth between my Canon DSLR and my “phone” – my Galaxy S20 Ultra. A few years ago, I discovered that shooting a digital photo was not the end of the process, and I began learning Lightroom and other processing apps that really helped clean up and enhance my photography.

Technology has made that easy, too. Sometimes, a little too easy.

It has raised a question in my mind about what is really creative. For a simple illustration, look at this collage of a photo I shot a couple weeks ago in my back yard.

The picture on the left is pretty much “no filter.” In other words, this is the way I saw it and captured it. The scene caught my eye because here was this lone tree amidst others that had maintained its fall folliage, standing tall against the inevitable forces of winter.

For the picture on the right, I simply took the original into the app Photoshop Camera, and with one click applied a filter that turned everything that was not yellow or green into black and white. It looks cool.

But with which picture did I engage the most creative activity? One might say the right picture is more creative. But technology allowed me to create that with one click. And there are dozens and dozens of effects out there, that someone else has created, that I could have applied. Yeah, I chose which one I liked best, but I didn’t really feel like I was being all that inventive.

On the left picture, the original one that I shot, I had to take notice of the scene, value its creative potential, compose the shot. While I like the effect of the second picture, I chose to post the left one to Instagram because it felt like it was mine.

Is creativity accomplished on the presets of others really creativity? Well, to a degree, of course. Anything that helps me to see in more creative ways becomes visionary. But we must beware of the danger of pre-fab “inventiveness.”

I remember going to an art boutique in downtown Asheville once, where one of the booths featured a local landscape photographer. This photographer took some beautiful shots, but honestly, had applied too many and too extreme Photoshop filters to the photos, increasing the saturation levels to create bold colors and other-worldly vistas. In the guest sign-in book, one person commented that it was “cheap” to simply apply a bunch of filters and then pass it off as original “art.” That might have been harsh, but it was a valid point.

As the creative community grows with the rise in inventive technology, I welcome you. Use the tools at your disposal. But while you do, make sure it’s your vision, your skill, your creativity.

Saved for good works

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

-Ephesians 2:8-10

Many think that verses 8 and 9 form the climax of this paragraph (verses 1-10), so much so that verse 10 is seldom quoted. This is a sad omission, because I believe that verse 10 – “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” – completes the thought begun in verses 8-9. Without verse 10, we have an incomplete view of the place of good works.

If we focus on verses 8-9 while excluding verse 10, we may come to the erroneous conclusion that there is to be no consideration of good works in the salvation experience. But what part do good works play? While 8-9 clearly show that good works have no place in a person becoming saved, verse 10 just as clearly show that these works are a necessary part of the life of the believer after being saved.

It would be a grave error to assume that because we are saved by grace through faith (not works), that good works are optional to a believer. This verse makes this impossible. The same God who saves by grace those who believe is the same God who purposes and prepares good works for those who are his creation in Christ. To divorce our position in justification from our daily walk in sanctification as if one can be reality and the other optional is to do disservice to this and many other passages of Scripture (Romans 6:1ff; James 2:14ff to name a couple). To be sure, our practice of these good works is imperfect in this life, but a life with no works is not a true, redeemed Christian life. Faith without works is dead (James 2:26).

-excerpt from my upcoming book on reading Scripture theologically, title TBD

Will you “KISS” this upcoming week?

I am a fan and long-time user of Michael Hyatt’s Full Focus Planner. Check it out here. I moved away from a digital planning system several years ago and back to an analog system that has boosted my productivity. Your mileage may vary.

Each week, one of the rituals to accomplish is a Weekly Preview. Part review, part preview, it allows me to look back on the victories of the previous week and plan the upcoming week. I have found that one of the better exercises is the question, What will you keep, improve, start, or stop doing? In acronym form, “KISS.”

What will you KEEP?

Were there some productivity techniques or habits that worked especially well? Maybe getting up earlier. Perhaps you found that setting out your clothes for the next day the night before empowered your morning. If it worked, keep doing it.

What will you IMPROVE?

Was there something you accomplished that you could do better? So you set out to walk 10,000 steps each day, but only reached that goal on 4 days? That’s a prime example of something you could improve.

What will you START?

We all probably have things in our “goal hopper” that we want to get to “someday.” How about starting this week? 8 glasses of water a day? Writing 10,000 words? Taking time to pray/meditate? Start this week!

What will you STOP?

If you’re like me, there are habits and activities that don’t contribute to productivity at all. Can you put a full stop to them? Time-wasting apps are a killer for me. Maybe you could stop your non-constructive self-talk. Put a stop to such things.

It’s wise to write these things down and place them where you can see them often. For me, it’s in the Weekly Preview of the Full Focus Planner. No matter where, write it down somewhere. And “KISS” this week!

The State of Theology

Image from thestateoftheology.com

The word “evangelical” used to mean something. It distinguished those churches who believe in the authority of Scripture and the gospel of salvation by grace apart from works from churches that don’t, notably the mainstream denominations like the Presbyterian Church, USA and the United Methodist Church.

Where mainstream Christianity tends to be more pluralistic in its beliefs, and more meritorious in its salvation message, evangelicalism has stood for salvation by grace and the Bible as God’s inerrant Word. But there has been a drift among evangelicals.

Earlier in 2020, Ligonier Ministries and LifeWay research partnered to create “The State of Theology” survey, asking what Americans believe about God, salvation, ethics, and the Bible. Some of the responses, particularly from so-called evangelicals, are shocking.

Among evangelicals (those who claim to be Christians):

46% agree that God accepts the worship of all religions, including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.

56% agree that Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God. This was shockingly a higher percentage than the general population.

32% agree that Jesus was a great teacher, but he was not God.

47% agree that everyone sins a little, but most people are good by nature.

23% agree that the Bible, like all sacred writings, contains helpful accounts of ancient myths but is not literally true.

31% agree that God will always reward true faith with material blessings in this life.

While 80% agree that God counts a person as righteous not because of one’s works, but only because of one’s faith in Jesus Christ, 15% of evangelicals disagreed with this statement. This is the sine qua non, the essential condition for being “evangelical.” In other words, if you can’t affirm salvation by grace apart from works, don’t call yourself an “evangelical.”

In Ephesians 4:14, Paul describes Christian maturity as no longer being “children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.”

Doctrinal stability and surety are not a matter of nerdy interest; they are a matter of life and death. I’m not speaking of minor doctrinal issues about which we may legitimately disagree but not disfellowship. There are winds of doctrine that would shipwreck souls to eternal destruction. Some of these “ill winds” include

  • Denial of the eternal deity of Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man
  • Acceptance of extra-biblical revelation that renders the Bible insufficient for life and truth
  • Denial of the sinfulness of sin and the wretchedness of our state
  • Denial of Jesus as the only way of salvation
  • Drift from salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, apart from works
  • Emphasis on material blessings as the “stuff” of Christianity, rather than forgiveness of sins, fulfilling our mission, and citizenship in heaven

These are “human cunning and deceitful schemes” (v. 14), because they can deceive someone into thinking they are saved when they are not.

The answer to this doctrinal drift is to become immersed in the Bible and in the historic doctrines and creeds of the Christian Church. One learns to recognize error by becoming better acquainted with authentic truth. May this be so!