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Round the Sphere Again: Questions

About Assurance
How can I know I’m a Christian (Tim Challies)? And what is the right basis for assurance of salvation?

Of God
Both Mary and Zechariah asked God a question. “Why is Mary’s treated with respect while Zechariah’s is an occasion for spiritual discipline? (Justin Taylor)”

About the Dictionary
How do words get in the dictionary (Grammar Girl)?

And what is a dictionary, anyway? In answering this second question, Grammar Girl makes the point that 

most modern dictionaries are descriptive, which means they attempt to describe the language as it is actually used.

In other words, a dictionary isn’t going to tell you which words are acceptible and which are unacceptible. For that, you need a usage or style guide.


Christianity and Liberalism: Chapter 4

Good news! I finally have a copy of Christianity and Liberalism. It arrived Friday of last week by Purolator. Yes, for the first time in this round of  Tim Challies’ Reading Classics Together, I read from an actual book. 

Last week’s reading discussed the doctrines of God and man, what Machen calls “the presuppositions of the [Christian] message,” showing that liberalism was diametrically opposed to true Christianity on these points. This week, Machen moves beyond Christianity’s two great presuppositions to the means by which we receive the message, the Bible. 

“The Bible” says Machen, “contains an account of a revelation from God to man.” 

[T]he revelation of which an account is contained in the Bible embraces not only a reaffirmation of eternal truths … but also a revelation which sets forth the meaning of an act of God.

What’s more, this account itself is true because the writers of the Bible were kept from error by the oversight of the Holy Spirit. 

Modern liberalism, however, rejected the doctrine of an error-free Bible and claimed instead to accept the authority of Jesus alone. Yet that was not a true claim, because when it came to the words of Jesus, a typical liberal only accepted “those elements in the teaching of Jesus … which happen to agree with the modern program.”

It is not Jesus, then, who is the real authority, but the modern principle by which the selection within Jesus’ recorded teaching has been made. Certain isolated ethical principles of the Sermon on the Mount are accepted, not at all because they are teachings of Jesus, but because they agree with modern ideas.

And when you work that out, it all boils down to each individual’s experience being the final authority, and, when you boil that pan dry, you get no authority at all, “for individual experience is endlessly diverse, and when once truth is regarded only as that which works at any particular time, it ceases to be truth.”

To sum up: The foundation of true Christianity is the Bible; the foundation of modern liberalism is “the shifting emotions of sinful men.” Could they be any more different?

So far we’ve covered the presuppositions of Christianity (chapter 3) and the authority by which the Christian message is received (chapter 4). What comes next? It’s the message itself, starting with the person of Christ. See you next week for a summary of chapter 5.


Thankful Thursday

I’m thankful for phones and cell phones. Without a phone, I would have gone to my early morning dentist appointment only to find out that the dentist was sick. And it wouldn’t have been so convenient to make plans for a walk with a friend, either. I’m thankful that while I was at the grocery store I could receive a text telling me not to forget salsa. God created human beings to be inventive and creative so that we have many tools and gadgets to make our everyday lives easier, and for that I am thankful.

I’m thankful that God gave us work to do so our lives have purpose. I might get bored if all I had to do was sit in a recliner eating bonbons. I’m thankful that God has provided steady work for my son’s business, since all that work provides income for both my sons.

I’m thankful that my son and his wife found a new place to rent. There is nothing to rent at a reasonable price in this town, but through a friend they found a little house downtown to live in.

Throughout this year I’m planning to post a few thoughts of thanksgiving each Thursday along with Kim at the Upward Call and others.


Round the Sphere Again: While We're on the Subject

Trevin Wax discusses vocation (a recent Theological Term of the week) with Ben Witherington and Gene Veith. He’ll be posting this in three parts, with two posted already:

My friend Eddie, who recently started the blog Eddie’s Epics, has responded to my post Ordained Is a Wonderful Word, adding to what I wrote by explaining what God’s ordination means to believers. He writes:

I’m glad the Bible teaches this. I’m glad that it’s a truth. Otherwise, I’d be afraid of the moments that weren’t ordained, that didn’t have His purposes behind them, that were just random or extra. What would those moments be? What purpose would they serve? Even the moments in which I am weak ultimately produce the fruit of my reliance on grace!

Read his whole post.

A discussion with Sye TenBruggencate on presuppositional apologetics (Hip and Thigh). (I know I posted presuppostionalism as a theological term about a year ago, but it’s a subject I’m still thinking about.) 


Theological Term of the Week

moral influence theory of the atonement
The view of the atonement that maintains that the purpose of the death of Christ was to show God’s love so that sinners will be moved to repentance; also called exemplarism.

  • From Theories of the Atonement by Leon Morris: 

    Some form of the subjective or moral view is held widely today, especially among scholars of the liberal school. In all its variations this theory emphasizes the importance of the effect of Christ’s cross on the sinner. The view is generally attributed to Abelard, who emphasized the love of God, and is sometimes called the moral influence theory, or exemplarism. When we look at the cross we see the greatness of the divine love. this delivers us from fear and kindles in us an answering love. We respond to love with love and no longer live in selfishness and sin. Other ways of putting it include the view that the sight of the selfless Christ dying for sinners moves us to repentance and faith. If God will do all that for us, we say, then we ought not to continue in sin. So we repent and turn from it and are saved by becoming better people.

    The thrust in all this is on personal experience. The atonement, seen in this way, has no effect outside the believer. It is real in the person’s experience and nowhere else. This view has been defended in recent times by Hastings Rashdall in The Idea of Atonement (1919).

    It should be said in the first instance that there is truth in this theory. Taken by itself it is inadequate, but it is not untrue. It is important that we respond to the love of Christ seen on the cross, that we recognize the compelling force of his example.

    Probably the best known and best loved hymn on the passion in modern times is “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” a hymn that sets forth nothing but the moral view. Every line of it emphasizes the effect on the observer of surveying the wondrous cross. It strikes home with force. What it says is both true and important. It is when it is claimed that this is all that the atonement means that we must reject it. Taken in this way it is open to serious criticism. If Christ was not actually doing something by his death, then we are confronted with a piece of showmanship, nothing more. Someone once said that if he were in a rushing river and someone jumped in to save him, and in the process lost his life, he could recognize the love and sacrifice involved. But if he was sitting safely on the land and someone jumped into the torrent to show his love, he could see no point in it and only lament the senseless act. Unless the death of Christ really does something, it is not in fact a demonstration of love.

  • From The Christian Faith by Michael Horton:  

    Already in the twelfth century, Abelard (1079-1142) challenged the interpretation of his contemporary, Anselm, by offering his own view, which has come to be called the moral influence theory. According to this theory, the purpose of Christ’s death was to provide a moving example of God’s love for sinners that would provoke repentance. The image of Christ’s death on the cross demonstrates God’s love in such a powerful way that only the coldest hearts could resist its lure and remain enemies of God. In fairness it must be observed that Abelard also included other elements (particularly in his Exposition of the Epistle to the Romans). However, the Pelagian tendency of modern theology adopted this model as the proper interpretation of Christ’s death. Already in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries the Socinian movement embraced this subjective view—and, not surprisingly, rejected the divinity of Christ’s person. A moral example of influence need hardly be God incarnate. Eventually, this view appealed to the leaders of the Enlightenment. Especially in Kant, Christ’s death can offer only a motive to repentance, but it is our own repentance that finally effects absolution.

Learn more:

  1. Theopedia: Moral Influence Theory of the Atonement
  2. Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry: Moral Influence Theory
  3. William Sasser: Erroneous Theories of the Atonement (pdf)
  4. Bible Doctrine: Essential Teachings of the Christian Faith: Other Views of the Atonement

Related terms:

Filed under Defective Theology.

Do you have a term you’d like to see featured here as a Theological Term of the Week? If you email it to me, I’ll seriously consider using it, giving you credit for the suggestion and linking back to your blog when I do.

Clicking on the Theological Term graphic at the top of this post will take you to a list of all the previous theological terms in alphabetical order.