28 January 2010

Having (and heeding) the Teacher's Guide

by Dan Phillips

Our family has homeschooled for many years. My dear wife and I both always have carried differing classes. At first, I did most of the teaching; for years now, that's been her ministry, with me picking up other classes such as English and Bible. But when I'm taking on a new course, I always ask that Valerie get the teacher's guide to the course. Primarily I need it because it's a big time-saver. They aren't inerrant, of course; sometimes I have to correct their answers. But on balance, having a Teacher's Guide is a huge help.

You know right where I'm going with this: in Bible, we have the Teacher's Guide. Literally. Is it not so?
Blessed are you, O LORD; teach me your statutes! (Psalm 119:12)

When I told of my ways, you answered me; teach me your statutes! (
Psalm 119:26)

Put false ways far from me and graciously teach me your law! (
Psalm 119:29)

The sum of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous rules endures forever. (Psalm 119:160)

So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, "If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples,
 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (John 8:31-32)

"Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth" (John 17:17)

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
There are countless ramifications of this, literally countless. But I want to stay at the universal level, the level of principle.

We've been handed the Teacher's Guide, so to speak. What this means is that Christianity isn't the conclusion of a series of deductions leading to open conclusions, per se. It isn't the conclusion of a syllogism. It is revelation, and the Christian starts his thinking with that revelation. If it isn't covered by the revelation ("Wonder what the trout are biting on today?"), he works it out. But if it is ("Wonder if I should cheat on my wife today?"), then he knows what's in the Teacher's Guide.

That means that, if I'm working on a dandy, shiny, impressive, lovely theory or hypothesis, and then get T-boned by the clear teaching of Scripture, I bail on my theory. No matter how much I loved it, what admiration it would earn me, what applause and kudo's — I bail on it. No matter how much the world would prefer it to the old Christian answer — I bail on it. No matter how much better-feeling sense it made to me that the Biblical position — I bail on it.

What's so bemusing is when a man or woman professes to be a Christian — which is to say, someone who agrees with Jesus that the Bible is the Teacher's Guide — approaches issues like a non-Christian.

You have an idea or attitude about something, but you find the Bible doesn't reflect it. What you should do is say "Rats, I see the answer's different than mine. I must have worked it through wrong. Better start over."

All but two of you are nodding. You're thinking of safe things, and you're right. For instance, if a professed Christian says, "Because of X, Y and Z, I just don't see why women can't be pastors."

So here's where Christian thinking — the thinking of a disciple (= student), of a slave — would note the answer in the teacher's guide: they can't. And here is where Christian thinking would say, "Evidently not. I must have done the math wrong. Start over." And a Christian would work it through until his answer matched the answer in the Teacher's Guide, knowing that in this case the TG is in fact inerrant.

Ditto homosexuality. Ditto the moral imperative of wives to subordinate themselves to their husbands, of children to their parents; of parents to love, train, discipline their children. Ditto church-attendance. Ditto the Gospel. Ditto eschatology. Ditto ecclesiology, anthropology, geohistory, abortion, and on and on.

Before we close in prayer, though: don't feel too safe about this. Again and again on this blog we've had commenters, confronted with some Biblical teaching they don't like, say "Because of ABC, I think Blort." To which the Christian answer would be, "Evidently not." With such intelligent reasons, often it's "Because of ABCDEFGHIJ, I think Ba-zink." Still, the answer should be, "Evidently not."

Take the thread I linked above. I am absolutely positive that, reading this, many folks' reaction was, "Because of [my very complicated theories of Christian living], I think we shouldn't talk about slavery and obedience to commands and such." One fellow left a church I pastored for that very reason: his theory of Christian living did not allow for apostolic commands being apostolic commands which God expects us to obey.

So, rather than revising his position to match the one in the Teacher's Guide, he ran off to find another church.

Confronted with a Biblical phenomenon that doesn't match our theory, the Christian response should be, "Evidently not." That is, in this case — as I pointed out in that post and many other times — clearly God the Holy Spirit has no problem whatever moving apostles to issue commands to Christians, and calling Christians to obey. That's in the Teacher's Guide.

So if a Christian sees that phenomenon, and sees it clashes with his theories of Christian living or anything else, he should say, "Evidently I did the math wrong. Start over!" And he should re-work it until his answer matches the Teacher's Guide.

So in closing I say: do that.

Dan Phillips's signature


Truth Unites... and Divides said...

DJP: "For instance, if a professed Christian says, "Because of X, Y and Z, I just don't see why women can't be pastors."

So here's where Christian thinking — the thinking of a disciple (= student), of a slave — would note the answer in the teacher's guide: they can't."

I agree with you on what the Teacher's Guide says about women in clergical offices.

Tom Chantry said...

And yet so many don't want to do that. Even the respected and the trustworthy are liable to err in this manner.

I once listened to a respected and trusted professor of theology speak this way: there was a proposition which he had always accepted as biblical truth - it was handed down by his theological forebears and etched in his church's confessional standards. But he had been working out a system by which he hoped to explain - well - everything. It was his "dandy, shiny, impressive, lovely theory." And one day he said that he woke up and realized that Proposition A - which had always struck him as biblical and correct, really didn't fit within System X. So he simply and easily ceased to believe Proposition A. If he was to be believed, he made this adjustment without much soul-searching and - worse still - without a careful re-examination of what he previously held to be the biblical basis of Proposition A!!! It just didn't fit with his system, so it was out.

At about that point in the back of my mind I heard Captain Kirk calmly say, "Red Alert," and that annoying klaxon began wailing on some subconscious level. And I thought, "Lord, save me from ever having a clever theory."

DJP said...

Well, right, Tom. I find a certain comfort in not being very clever.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Tom Chantry: "And I thought, "Lord, save me from ever having a clever theory.""

A clever theory like Darwin's theory of evolution, perhaps?

A number of Christians subscribe to theistic evolution.

Solameanie said...

Dan, you hit this one out of the park.

Tom Chantry said...

See, that doesn't strike me as a "clever theory." Darwinism begins by denying that which any even semi-rational creature must know: for all this to exist there must be a God. Having denied the most obvious of propositions, Darwinism proceeds to make the most irrational explanation imaginable for life.

That isn't clever, it's sort of sad. It's the sort of theory that makes me feel a little bit embarrassed on behalf of anyone who actually believes it.

Here, though, is an example of a clever idea. The evangelical scholar is tired of being looked down on by an academic world that has enshrined Darwinistic irrationality as irrefutable truth. Yet he knows that he cannot maintain the support of his evangelical brethren if he fails to say that Genesis 1 is true. So he concocts a theory - perhaps Framework Hypothesis - by which he can say, "I believe that Genesis 1 is true. It's just that, contrary to what the church has held for ages and what any reasoning nine-year-old would deduce from reading the passage, Genesis 1 does not teach that God created the world in any particular sequence or time frame." In his mind, he has maintained his evangelical credentials by maintaining that Scripture is true, but he has also appeased his academic critics by winking and telling them that it's just not true in the way that the unwashed troglodytes in the pew think it to be true.

Now that is clever. God save us from clever.

REM said...

Well said. In a day and age that praises creativity far too much, it is good to heed the teacher's guide. Besides, it is more creative to live within unburdensome boundaries of scripture rather than acting like a pointless lava lamp and playing make believe with notions of "freedom" and "creativity" that aren't that free or creative.

Christopher said...

I went to the other post that you link to about being a slave and saw the "Biblical" drabble that Phil-not-Johnson was spouting. I am always amazed (though I do not know why) how people will take Scripture and turn it on its head to make things sooo complicated. For example:

The argument against women preachers says something like, "Well, when Paul was writing to Timothy about a woman not leading a man he was only talking about Ephesus. He was not laying down a general rule for all the church."

The question I normally want to ask that person is this: So, the command that men everywhere should lift up holy hands in prayer is merely a cultural, bound to Ephesus alone, command as well then? (1 Tim. 2). If so, I feel a little bit better about those times when I am not lifting my heart to God in prayer as I should...besides, only Ephesians were to pray anyway.

Jeremy said...

Thank you for this insightful post. I agree with the earlier commenter, "you hit this one out of the park!"

The Teacher's Guide is oft maligned--even by those who would name the name of Christ.

Titus 1:16 comes to mind: "They profess to know God, but they deny Him by their works."

Sir Brass said...

Excellent post. I went back and read over the comments from the "slave" post and realized something sad, though. What happened to the awesome humor that used to be here? We've been left with all the sobriety (good!), but the humor seems to have departed faster than Deliah cutting Samson's hair.

Waiting for Frank's classic derail, and enjoying chewing on Tom Chantry's words.

Keep up the good work, Dan. And commenters: Step it up! :)

John said...

In the first place, the implied parallelism between trout fishing and wife cheating was a gem. In the second, everything in our faith is oriented by our perception of Scriptures. Teacher's guide, or self-help manual? Great reminder here!

Robert said...

Excellent post...streams right along with the liberal "theology" posts earlier in the week.

I always cringe when somebody says they have some teaching from the Bible that is new and insightful. Now, it is easy enough to say there is plenty I do not know (and will be plenty I will not know in this life) about the Bible. But that isn't because there is some new, hidden meaning in it. Just like the opposition that man and the fleshly lusts of this world throw at the Bible are not new.

When we support our desires over those of the Bible, then we are not choosing Jesus as our Lord and are not being His faithful slaves (as referenced in the article you linked). I wish more churches would use the language of the original text to show that we are slaves that He bought. Why else would Jesus say that He came to be the ransom for many? Of course the liberal "theology" would say that this language is too strong for our day and age. Sadly, the liberal churches have replaced the true Teacher's Guide with their own version...one that takes out all of the convicting language and leads to easy believism that clearly goes against Jesus' true teaching.

May we be faithful in pointing those around us to the true TG...and remember that if we face persecution for doing so, we are blessed and can count ourselves in the company of the prophets and apostles.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this Dan. It's exactly what every one of us should be aiming for.

I once heard R.C. Sproul say of John MacArthur something like "I know that if you can show him in Scripture where he is wrong, he will immediately change his mind"

High praise indeed.

CGrim said...

"Evidently Not." I like that. :)

Chris H said...

What about issues on which the Guide is not perfectly clear; consumption of alcohol, for example?

Please note: this is not to derail the meta into a conversation about whether alcohol consumption is permissable for a Christian; I'm not Frank Turk to derail a meta so...

The Bible notes consumption without necessarily condemning it. At the same time, intoxication is clearly right out. We're also called to avoid things that lead us to sin, and alcohol can certainly be in that category.

Essentially, how does one determine in your opinion whether an issue is a "fish lure" or a "cheatin' heart" situation?

Rachael Starke said...

I spent my first couple years out of college as a technical writer at Symantec. While I liked it at first, I eventually moved on to other fields because I couldn't shake the utter sense of futility and pointlessness over what I was writing about. Few people were going to read it, and everything that I wrote would be utterly meaningless several years later, as new versions of software came out and rendered everything I'd worked on utterly devoid of value. (Not to mention that it felt a little odd that I, a young girl with an English degree, was instructing giant-brained techies about anything.)

That's what makes God's Word so incredibly unique and worthy of love and trust. It's not a heartless list of instructions designed to cause frustration. The One who wrote it isn't a disinterested party doing a job for pay. He's, like you, a Father, who love His children and who wants them to know the greatest possible fellowship and intimacy with Him. He knows what will hinder that.

I'd say that I feel really sorry for people that fight against Him so hard on some of those points, but I've got a list of my own that I wrestle with, so I'm not hardly qualified. :)

I'm getting a little time off today, so this was a great reminder that some of that time reading The Guide to rework my thinking on some of those things.

DJP said...

You're all very kind.

I'm not sure I'm satisfied with how I expressed it.

One big point I wanted to make was this. When I have a good Teacher's Guide, I have the answers. So if one of my kids has a differing answer, I know he went astray somewhere. Then we set out to figure out where — unless, as I said, the TG's in error.

But that never happens with the Bible. So if I set out to figure something out (role relations of men and women; family relations; sexuality issues; doctrinal issues), and if I then come up with an answer that "feels right" and makes sense to me — and I then see that the Bible has a different answer....

In that case, I know my math is off. I know I went astray somewhere. I added when I should have subtracted; or I said a toadstool was a mushroom. Regardless, since this TG is in fact inerrant, and comes with God's authority, then I know I need to start over, and find out where I went wrong.

And keep doing it, until I get what I already know is the right answer.

donsands said...

This made me think of two teachings that have been in the church fairly recent: Openism and Full-Preterism.

I have friends who are very open to these.

In fact, when I pressed that Full-Preterism is outside of Orthodoxy, my friend eluded to how Luther was acused of the same, "Thank God for Luthers."

H really believes the Lord returned. And the rest of what follows this heresy.

Open Theism is the same, with teachers like Boyd, who claim the Church simply went along accepting the Calvinistic systematic theology of theologians, and not being Biblical for themselves.

I guess I may be on a rabbit path, but that's what I thought of while I read your post.

BTW, (2 Timothy 3:16-17) is such a powerful verse of truth. All truth is powerful in one sense, but there are verses that are particularly full and weightier than others.

Anonymous said...


I don't think you're so far off topic. What brought me to Calvinism was a recommendation that I read Romans 8-10, and then actually believe it.

So I had to redo my math...

Herding Grasshoppers said...

Had to re-do some (literal) math today with DS1, as the teacher's guide had an error.

Makes me ever so much more thankful that THE "teacher's guide" does not.

But woe is me, because there are far too many "evidently nots" I'd like to cling to.

Also, Tom Chantry's second comment (7:55am) identifies something more insidious, which I've seen more than I ever wish to see... God save us from that kind of clever.

And, Dan... right out of the park :0)

Hayden said...


Great thoughts!


My favorite is when someone say, 'Well you can make the instruction manual say whatever you want!' This happened with a faction that left our church and is in the process of litigating against us in court for some perceived slight. (I guess I am not the one that had stood the instruction manual on its head in response to 1 Corinthians 6, ahhh, that makes me feel a little better :)

Jim Pemberton said...

I like the comparison of doing theology with that of doing math. It fits well with the Teacher's Book analog. The Bible is like a math textbook (or a student textbook / workbook / Teachers Book) in that we are taught the general principles and given a few examples. Then we are given more examples to work out ourselves with the answers in the back of the book so that we can check our work. When we realize we have worked a problem wrong, we have to go back and study the principle until we can figure out how to get the correct answer. When we do this with Bible we learn the principles with enough examples that we can approach current events with the same principles accurately. The examples in the math textbook don't cover all possible scenarios, but the principles are pretty exhaustive so we should be well equipped to work our way through any issue giving God the glory every step of the way.

Anonymous said...

Evidently so!

Not all that sure you could put it any clearer than that.
Excuse me while I er, ah, "borrow" this as a very simple way of explaining sola scripture.

thanks Dan

Rob Bailey said...

Oh, man.
We put our older 3 kids into gov. schools this year. It has been one of the greatest evangelistic ops ever, and one of the best ops for us to teach our kids of the world, and the view of life that different families hold. We have been able to tell many people of the gospel. Several different Muslim families and one Hindu family, not to mention the random idolaters of wealth or power, and the local ignorant.

FTURK usually (not always) does not derail, he gets to the core of the issue. There is always something in the background.

Rob Bailey said...

Did not finish the comment the way I would have preferred. We love homeschooling and will do more of it, depending on the kid.

I had a tearful conversation with my 10yr old just a few minutes ago. Her teacher gave her the definition of a vocab word that was not incorrect, but was very insufficient. I am fairly sufficient with my vocab and told her the full definition and etymology of the word in question. She said "The teacher did not tell me that:" so we had a heated discussion ( she must take after her dad). One of her idols may be the teacher. One of her idols may be knowledge. Her failure to humble herself to the truth in school life, mimics her rebellion to the truth of the gospel.

First of all it reminds me of my primary mission field right now.

Second, it reminds me of my own heart, and how I so easily neglect the way of our savior.

Jim Pemberton said...

Kudos on your daughter knowing the word better than the teacher and you explaining the etymology of it. I love etymology, so my kids hear it from me too. I'm especially refreshed to hear your instruction on the idol of knowledge. That's a lesson very few parents teach their children. More often they'll teach them anti-intellectualism.

We homeschool, although we may put the kids in a private school in the near future. My wife has been acting as the ministry coordinator for the local Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF) chapter as well as the team leader of one of the Good News Clubs (GNC) they do in the government schools. As long as our kids are still homeschooled, they go with my wife to minister with her in the GNC. So, here's to fulfilling the Great Commission in the gov't schools!

Nash Equilibrium said...

Ah, there's the rub:

"All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Those who bail on the Bible rather than their theory, don't believe the first word "all" in that apostolic verse.

Kirby said...


Great point about Romans 8-10. I was brought up in X church which never really brought up election, and I wasn't particularly fond of the idea when I heard it every-so-often back in the late 70's as a teenager. My math was bad. I now granted, see this as some advanced math because parts of the theorem I don't easily comprehend (although I do readily accept them).

And yet, because I accepted the theorem, I have been able to do much greater math in other areas, and it has been a absolute joy.

John said...

Funny - the same thing happened to me. I think I went through about a year in my life where I knew Paul taught unconditional election, and would even admit that to people, but I just couldn't bring myself to embrace it - partly because it would require rejecting most of my family, friends, alma mater (in which I was enrolled), etc. Thank God for changing my heart!

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Tom Chantry,

Do you think it's clever to claim that one can be an inerrantist whilst simultaneously denying the historicity of Adam?

Take a look at this post.

Anonymous said...

The heavens are Yours, the earth also is Yours; The world and all its fullness, You have founded them. (Psalm 89:11)

Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, Or ever You had formed the earth and the world, Even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God. (Psalm 90:1-2)

For the LORD is the great God, And the great King above all gods. In His hand are the deep places of the earth; The heights of the hills are His also. The sea is His, for He made it; And His hands formed the dry land. Oh come, let us worship and bow down; Let us kneel before the LORD our Maker. (Psalm 95:3-6)

Having been reading through the Psalms monthly for a couple of years now, I am often shaken to my core when I read plentious verse like the three above.

Do I really understand that God is Creator?

Do I live as if He is actively watching, sutaining, and blessing not only me but the entire universe?

Do I live in the truth of His ownership of the heavens, earth, mounatins, the sea and dry land?

God as Maker and Sustainer is not just in Genesis one but rampant throughout Scripture. Which implies:

God Almighty is Maker.
Therefore, He has rightful ownership.

His property rights can not be usurped.
Therefore, if He decides to make a New Heaven and Earth (Revelation 21:1) can I stop Him?

Trying to play games attempting to reconcile "Unguided Chance" with a Maker denies all the Psalms above (as well as Genesis One) implicitly and explicitly.

These are two mutually exclusives or where the intersection is null. We either believe God is maker or we believe in "Unguided Chance."

Tom Chantry said...


Two things I loved about that post:

1. I laughed out loud at the phrase "ufological interpretation of Ezekiel 1." I really did. And I had been up sick much of the night and didn't think I could laugh at anything.

2. I thought it illustrated exactly what I mean by clever. This ties Dan's post into the posts lately on liberalism. The view that difficult passages of scripture are not false, but are true - only in a metaphorical sense - is pure liberalism. It's also very clever.

Anonymous said...

“Namely, just as the neo-orthodox roots are only a theological expression of the surrounding world view and methodology of existentialism, so what is being put forth as a new view of Scripture in evangelicalism is also an infiltration of the general world view and methodology of existentialism. By placing a radical emphasis on subjective human experience, existentialism undercuts the objective side of existence. For the existentialist it is an illusion to think that we can know anything truly, that there is such a thing as certain objective truth or moral absolutes. All we have is subjective experience, with no final basis for right or wrong or truth or beauty.”

“Because of the widely accepted existential methodology in certain parts of the evangelical community, the old words infallibility, inerrancy and without error are meaningless today unless some phrase is added such as: the Bible is without error not only when it speaks of values, the meaning system, and religious things, but it is also without error when it speaks of history and the cosmos.”

“Marking the Watershed” in The Great Evangelical Disaster, Francis A Schaeffer (1984)


Lisa said...

So really, Benny Hinn, the "clever", 'little god theology' trend-setter and emergent leader, Brian McLaren, and his "clever" broad, inclusive, universalistic, mystical "christianity" are essentially set up in the same camp of any of us that might hold fast to our 'clever theories' over what is clearly taught in Scripture.
God help us all, and as Chantry stated "save me from ever having a clever theory"

Anonymous said...

God is not deceived by the "cleverness" of existential methodologies of futile men.

He has made His standards known in nature and Scripture.

Twisting scripture to make one feel better about their little universe of there own making is no excuse before the omniscient, all knowing, personal God!

He will judge according to what he has already declared in general and special revelation.

"For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools." (Romans 1:19-22)