Monday, May 2, 2011

Dead Heroes Don't Save

This past Easter I was able to deliver the message for our sunrise service. It was exciting since it was my first time "preaching". Normally I teach in a "classroom" setting, which is quite a different environment. God certainly blessed us with a beautiful morning and time together. Many have asked for a copy of the text so that can be downloaded here as a PDF.

Jesus is called a HERO using the Greek word archēgos four times in the NT (Acts 3:15; 5:31; Heb 2:10; 12:2). This word describes a hero as:
-         A Leader.
-         One who is a founder or originator of something
-         One who goes first (leads from the front) to open the way for others to follow.

The sermon examined Hebrews 2:10 looking at Jesus our HERO who tasted death for everyone but was raised to glory and honor. As our archēgos - the Hero of our salvation, He led the way so that we all could follow Him into glory. We then saw in Hebrews 7:11-25 that despite all of our dead heroes who can never save completely - Jesus can save because He lives!

 The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he [lives] forever.


Consequently, he is able to save [completely] those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.
This passage (Heb 7:25) is the “John 3:16” of Hebrews. It concisely gives us the gospel message.


With friends and a brother (ER doctor) in the area I encourage you to check out this blog entry (click on the image) to see what is going on in Alabama. And help out if you can.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Agabus the fallible prophet? (Part 2)

It has been interesting how often a relatively obscure prophet named Agabus keeps coming up in seminary. This week he also came up in the "General Epistles" class  during our discussion on 2 Peter 1:20-21.
For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
This would seem to be a fairly straight forward NT definition of how prophecy works that would rule out a fallible prophetic gift. With this in mind let's examine the case against Agabus.

We meet Agabus in Caesarea where he intercepts Paul and his team who are on their way to Jerusalem having concluded the 3rd Missionary Journey (3MJ). As Paul has made his way through the cities of Macedonia and Achaia, numerous prophets have warned him that he will be face prison and hardship in Jerusalem (Acts 20:23). As Paul gets closer to Jerusalem he is warned again in Tyre (21:4) and in Caesarea by Philip's daughters (21:9) before Agabus reaches him. Apparently Agabus had a prophetic vision while in Judea and felt compelled to  travel north to warn Paul as well. Agabus' prophecy provides the most detail about what awaits Paul and includes the OT practice of having the prophet act out some part of the prophecy.  
While we were staying [in Caesarea] for many days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. And coming to us, he took Paul's belt and bound his own feet and hands and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’” When we heard this, we and the people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” And since he would not be persuaded, we ceased and said, “Let the will of the Lord be done.”(Acts 21:10-14)

In this account as in the others those who are with Paul, including his 3MJ teammates, are urging him not to go to Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit has certainly made it a priority to warn Paul that he will endure hardship if he goes.  As we study this some questions arise:
  • Did the Holy Spirit want to discourage Paul from going to Jerusalem?
  • If not, why the repeated warnings about Paul being imprisoned?
  • Given the warnings, why was Paul so insistent on going to Jerusalem?
 Reviewing the passages from Acts 19:21 through Acts 21:10, it seems clear that it was Paul and not the Holy Spirit that had determined that he would go to Jerusalem before starting his next ministry journey in Rome. Once Paul had made his plans it seems that the Holy Spirit did not tell Paul that he should or should not go to Jerusalem leaving the decision up to him. Since the  prophecies were warning Paul the implication seems to be that if he did not go he could escape these afflictions (Jer 18:1-13). However, I am not sure why Paul was so intent on going to Jerusalem, ignoring the warnings of the Holy Spirit and his friends.

When Paul did go he was arrested at the temple. Luke provides the details of that account in Acts 21:27-36. Based on that account Grudem assesses Agabus (p78):
the events of the narrative itself do not coincide with the kind of accuracy that the Old Testament requires for those who speak God's words. In fact, by Old Testament standards, Agabus would have been condemned as a false prophet
This is based on two observations. First, the Jews do not bind Paul the Romans do (Acts 21:33,22:29). Second, the Jews do not hand Paul over to the Romans. The Jews wanted to kill Paul and he was resuced by the Romans. Grudem reconciles the "Thus says the Holy Spirit" that precedes Agabus' warning by claiming that Agabus added his own information to the actual prophetic message from the Spirit.
However the account does not end there. Paul through his various defenses recounts what happened when he was arrested. Claudius writes a letter to Felix recounting the events (Acts 23:26-30). While he describes the events similar to Luke, he does note that the accusations of the Jews are what keep Paul imprisoned. Later Festus, bringing Paul before Agrippa will note that there are no charges that he can write when he sends Paul to Rome based on his appeal (Acts 25:24-27). After hearing Paul's defense Agrippa agrees that Paul should be set free (Acts 26:30-32).

From these accounts, Agabus can be cleared of one mistake. The Jews did deliver Paul to the Gentiles. It was their baseless charges and attempts to kill him that kept Paul in custody for 2 years before being sent to Rome. When Paul reaches Rome and recounts the events he says that he was delivered as a prisoner into the hands of the Romans because the Jews objected to his release (Acts 28:17-19). Is Paul wrong in describing the events this way? If not, then neither is Agabus.

On the second mistake, it must be acknowledged that it is an argument from silence. None of the accounts describe Paul as being bound by the Jews. However the accounts do not say that he was not bound by the Jews either. Given that Paul was seized and dragged outside the city to be beaten and killed, it is possible that the Jews bound him. Since it was a mob scene they may have even used something quick like a rope or Paul's belt. That would clear Agabus of his second mistake. [1]

Is this view without difficulties? No. However, I think it best deals with the information provided in Acts and what we know about OT prophets. This view allows the phrase "Thus says the Holy Spirit" to be used in its more normal sense of introducing a prophecy that carries with it the full weight of revelation from God. It also uses Peter's definition of a prophet to align with the narrative - Agabus moved by the Holy Spirit spoke without adding fallible human details.

[1] Edgar defends Agabus in "Satisfied by the Promise of the Spirit" p 81-84. His presentation spurred me on to look at this further and this post is indebted to his work

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Agabus the fallible prophet?

One of the many seminary classes I am taking is pneumatology (the theology of the Holy Spirit). In this class we evaluated various positions on the spiritual gifts which exposed me to the a view that regards the NT gift of prophecy as operating today in a fallible manner. It is held by such esteemed pastors and scholars as John  Piper, Wayne Grudem, and D. A. Carson.

Piper gives this succinct definition of the NT prophet:
the gift of prophecy is in the New Testament [and it] is a Spirit-prompted, Spirit-sustained utterance that does not carry intrinsic, divine authority and may be mixed with error.
Grudem is a bit more verbose in his definition from "The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today" (p 142):
Because New Testament prophets do not speak with the very words of God, the content of the prophecy should not include a preface such as, "Thus says the Lord," that would mislead hearers into thinking that the prophecy had or was claiming authority equal to the very words of God in Scripture. Of course, some of the very words in a prophecy may have been revealed by God, but it would be unwise and misleading for any prophet today to claim certainty that this was so. And even if God did bring some specific words to mind, the New Testament gives us no warrant for saying that God wants us to hear these words as his own words, carrying his own absolute authority.
I can tell you that I don't hold this view. For the record I hold that the NT gift of prophecy is God directly revealing infallible absolute truth to a person who then has the responsibility for handling that revelation correctly (Ex 7:1-2; Deut 13:1-5;18:21-22). Anything else is not prophecy. I think Dan Philips calls it out well in #24 of his NEXT! series.

However the fact that far more gifted teachers and pastors do hold this view will require more study on my part to understand the overall position better. However it is not my intent to get into the full set of arguments for or against this view on prophecy in this next series of blog posts. What I do want to look at is Agabus the NT prophet in the book of Acts.

One of the arguments for this view is that Agabus had "mistakes" in his prophecy. On this both Grudem and Carson agree. Although Piper holds the overall position on fallible prophets, I am not sure of his view regarding the prophecies of Agabus.

Carson in "Showing the Spirit" assesses Agabus (p 97-98):
The prophecy of Agabus in Acts 21:10-11 stipulates that the Jews at Jerusalem would bind the man who owns Paul's girdle and hand him over to the Gentiles. Strictly speaking, however in the event itself, Paul was not bound by the Romans; and the Jews did not hand Paul over to the Romans, but sought to kill him with mob violence, prompting a rescue by the Romans. I can think of no reported Old Testament prophet whose prophecies are so wrong on the details.
Grudem provides several pages looking at this example (p 77-83) in "The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today" concluding (p 79) that:
What was unique about Agabus's prophecy was this prediction of "binding" and "delivering into the hands of the Gentiles". And on these two key elements, he is just a bit wrong.
So was Agabus wrong as Grudem and Carson argue? 
Is he a Biblical example of a fallible NT prophet?

More to follow...

Sunday, January 23, 2011

You might be an Arminian if...

There is a good post from the Society of Evangelical Arminians that tries to help you determine where you fall in the Calvin-Arminian debate.

These were the determining questions in my mind:
  1. Do you believe that Jesus died for every human being?
  2. Do you believe that humans are so depraved that they can do nothing to earn salvation and that they cannot choose to believe in Jesus without the intervention of God’s grace?
  3. Do you believe that a person can resist the convicting power of God’s grace?
  4. Do you believe that you are born again when you put your faith in Jesus?
If you answered yes to all of the questions above you might be an Arminian. If you answered yes to any question (except #2) you certainly would not be a Calvinist.

I would also slightly reword #4 as follows since that makes it a little clearer for me but says essentially the same thing:

Do you believe that regeneration (born again) follows placing your faith in Jesus?

Some of the other questions asked on the survey covered believing in predestination, election, eternal security, and the sovereignty of God. For each of these questions a person accepting either soteriological system could answer yes. However the yes/no answers to these questions would be difficult to assess since there are vast differences in how these terms are defined (which is pointed out in the post).

Thursday, January 20, 2011

New Site: Ehrman Project

A new site - the Ehrman Project - is up and posting video responses from scholars like Dr. D.A. Carson, Dr. Darryl Bock, and Dr. Daniel Wallace answering various challenges that Bart Ehrman has made.

HT: Theology in the News