25 May 2006

On men (great and otherwise) and our faith

by Dan Phillips

[Preface: these reflections grow out of the post Stupidity hurts. A lot.]

Name-dropping can be fun. It can blow up in your face, too.

It's always a great thing to have some Big Names on your side. Anyone who's written even semi-academically knows the value of some juicy corroborative footnotes, "proving" your point. Even on a personal level, if you can't find one soul in all of the ages of Christendom who sees a verse as you see it, you know you're probably wrong. But if you can say, "Well, John Calvin saw it the same way," you're golden -- thanks to enlisting a "gold-standard" Big Name.

I was at a Bible conference once, decades ago. The speaker, a well-known Bible scholar, was setting out his view of Ezekiel 38-39, which was very much a minority view. I asked him if he could name anyone else who took that view. He named one little-known scholar. I asked him if he could name anyone else. He glared at me.

"Ezekiel!" he snapped.

As long as I've been a Christian, I've noted how infatuated some of us are with names. We "prove" that Christianity is scientific by citing the names of a lot of dead Christians who were scientists, and one or two living ones. We like big names, actors and writers and politicians, scholars and poets and painters, singers and novelists, humanitarians and the notorious. It makes us feel, at some level, that our faith is validated. "See? [Jack/Jill BigName] was a Christian -- and (s)he's really smart/cool/attractive/famous!"

Perhaps it makes us feel "cool" by association. I'm a Christian, like those "cool" people. Therefore, it's a "cool" faith.

But there are problems with this fond attachment. If our faith is validated when the big and the mighty profess it, what happens when they don't, or when they bail on it? What happens when they apostatize? Or what of those in the same field (biology, archaeology, philosophy) who seem not to find a glimmer of compelling attraction in the Gospel, or the Bible?

If we are going to validate our faith in the Bible as God's Word by telling of William Ramsay's journey towards the truth, or William Foxwell Albright's -- then what of Bart Ehrman's apostasy from it? Does that discredit our faith?

This is where I think we need to hear Paul speak afresh.

What I mean is that each one of you says, "I follow Paul," or "I follow Apollos," or "I follow Cephas," or "I follow Christ." 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? (1 Corinthians 1:12-13)

For when one says, "I follow Paul," and another, "I follow Apollos," are you not being merely human? 5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. (1 Corinthians 3:4-7)

...and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (1 Corinthians 2:4-5)

And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. (1 Thessalonians 2:13)
In the final analysis, regeneration, conviction, conversion, saving faith -- these are all one-on-one transactions. God uses means, and He likely used someone to bring the Word to you, as He did in my case (Romans 10:14). But I did not savingly believe because Gregg, the endlessly-patient fellow who told me about Christ, believed. I believed because God struck His word to my heart, convicted me of my sin, convinced me of the truth of His word, and of the compelling glory of His Christ.

So when I found out that "cool" and impressive people were Christians, that was great. But it didn't convince me more of God's truth. Nor, did it lessen my conviction when I learned that some defected, went wobbly, or apostatized outright. They weren't why I believed; and they wouldn't cause me to disbelieve.

So in the course of my later education, I had the wonderful blessing of getting to know some real scholars, personally and from a distance, and it was an encouragement to me. But then I found that some had what we call "issues" and/or feet of clay -- I was saddened, but my faith was unaffected.

Their professed belief was not why I believed. Their professed disbelief would not cause me to disbelieve.

This is why I respect scholarship, and profit greatly from scholars -- but I don't follow them, and I certainly don't worship them.

And this, too, is why Bart Ehrman's story, as reported in the article I discussed, saddens me. It saddens me because of what it tells me about Bart Ehrman.

But it doesn't tell me one thing about truth, God, or His Word.

Listen to godly men. Learn from godly men.

But lean on God alone (Psalm 118:9; 119:99; 146:3).

Paul gets the closing thought: "Let God be true though every one were a liar" (Romans 3:4a)

Dan Phillips's signature


Steve said...

Dan said, "Listen to godly men. Learn from godly men.

But lean on God alone (Psalm 118:9; 119:99; 146:3)."

Nice alliteration there, with listen, learn, and lean.

And a timely word in a day when the church is becoming more and more celebrity-driven.

And finally, putting Jonathan in front of the PyroManiac logo was a nice touch...yet it provides a touch of irony given the topic of the post.

REM said...

Well said, Dan. It's easy to pendulum swing between consensus building by quoting our favorite scholars to outright ignorance of God gifting them for the body, both of which can be done by looking at men, not Christ.

DJP said...

Thanks, Steve.

Nice alliteration there, with listen, learn, and lean

Well, you can take the preacher out of the pulpit, but... well... you know what I mean.


Kay said...

This is one of hiccups I always come to when witnessing to Catholics and JWs. They keep wheeling out the sins of Calvin, or Luther, or whoever I cite as having an influence on me.

To which I point out that David was a great big fat sinner too, and I still read the psalms.

Nice thing about holding to Sola Scriptura - you have some solid friends, but they aren't your masters.

DJP said...

I've had the same experience over and over, Libbie; RC's seem utterly gobsmacked by the freedom of the Christian. They don't seem to understand it at all, except to hate it.

Momo said...

The potential for future apostasy is one of the reasons I like reading the dead guys.

Hebrews 13:7 (KJV)
Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation.

The odds for apostatizing for any given theologian/preacher/stalwart/gifted teacher tends to plummet at the moment of his death.

Kay said...

With all due respect to the highly wit-heavy combined gifts of Mr Turk, Bill Phillips, and Pyro himself, that is one of the funniest things I've read for a good while, James...

donsands said...

It can be so easy to lean on men, instead of our heavenly Father at times.

Good thoughts to keep in the heart.

God is always faithful. Even when we are not. What a gracious Savior and Lord we do serve!

Neil said...

Good post and comments. Thank you for them.

Michael Herrmann said...

Libbie said:

To which I point out that David was a great big fat sinner too, and I still read the psalms.

Very wise! I've used that a time or two myself and although it didn't turn the conversation, it generally shut down the "but your guy was such a bad man" comments.

And Dan, thanks for the post. I love it when you keep my head on straight!

DJP said...

Bugblaster -- Good post and comments

Thanks for noticing. Got buried faster than a miner in the Sahara.


Steve Sensenig said...

Dan, excellent post on a very important topic. I think this might be the first time I've ever completely agreed with one of your posts! ;)

Oh, and I really am sorry about stealing your thunder over on Libbie's blog ;) hehe

steve :)

Craig Schwarze said...

"Ezekial!" - Classic, I want to use that.

I fully agree with your sentiment DJP. However, I am a terrible name dropper when I debate. Sometimes Calvin/Luther/Baxter really *did* say something so well and concisely that its better just to quote them. And sometimes it's easier to say "Calvin believed this..." then get into a debate from first principles.

As Calvin said, "...in raising up teachers, God confer's a special benefit on men..."

Daniel said...

One danger in lyonizing other Christians is that you can get to a place where don't want to believe anything until one of your heroes believes it.

I know people like that - intellectual Christians who spend all their time defining a faith they have no time to practice, and refusing to practice a faith until it is thoroughly defined (which it never is I might add).

Like mice on a wheel - always learning, but never able to come to the truth.

Good thoughts DJP - shame it was buried so fast.

Screaming Pirate said...

Hey, Dan "the man" Phillips, good post. As a matter of fact, I think I am going to start quoting you when i want to give a lession to the youths at church. That will really add some credablity to what I say then. Man can you imagen all the acolades that I would receive.....