Limited Inerrancy In The Church of the Nazarene

At the Church of the Nazarene General Assembly in 2009, the following amendment submitted by the Southwest Indiana District failed to be voted on, and instead was referred to the Board of General Superintendents for further study.  The recommended change is highlighted in bold:

RESOLVED that Manual paragraph 4 be amended as follows:
IV. The Holy Scriptures
4. We believe in the plenary inspiration of the Holy Scriptures, by which we understand the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments, given by divine inspiration, [inerrantly revealing the will of God concerning us in all things necessary to our salvation] inerrant throughout, and the supreme authority on everything the Scriptures teach so that whatever is not contained therein is not to be enjoined as an article of faith.
(Luke 24:44-47; John 10:35; 1 Corinthians 15:3-4; 2 Timothy 3:15-17; 1 Peter 1:10-12; 2 Peter 1:20-21)


REASONS:
1.  Stating that the Holy Scriptures are inerrant “concerning all things necessary to our salvation” implies the possibility that the Holy Scriptures could be errant regarding other matters (not necessary to our salvation).
2. The divinely inspired Holy Scriptures are the supreme authority on everything the Scriptures teach. No other authorities should be considered more credible and thus above the plain sense of divinely inspired scripture.

The following is a summary of a comprehensive position paper on the subject of limited inerrancy as a doctrine within the Church of the Nazarene.  You can download the full position paper here: Position Paper on Limited Inerrancy, written by Jason Bjerke, a licensed minister in the Church of the Nazarene.  Please add this paper to your library, and distribute it to as many Nazarenes as you can if you agree with the conclusions of this paper on such an important topic.  Limited inerrancy is the view that the Bible is inerrant and infallible and without error ONLY in matters of salvation, but not necessarily as it pertains to science, geography, mathematics, or history.

Limited Inerrancy In The Church of the Nazarene
by Jason Bjerke, Gospel of Christ Ministries

(full paper: Limited Inerrancy)

There has always been controversy surrounding the Bible’s inspiration, inerrancy and authority (IIA): throughout history there have been those who have attempted to deny and discredit orthodox views on the Bible. Traditionally, this controversy was levied against the Bible from those outside of the church; however, there has been a gradual shift in this paradigm as now the Bible is being attacked from within the church. This attack is not blatant or overt but rather subtle in its nature as it begins with the compromising of Orthodox Christian beliefs.

Many of the mainstream denominations hold different positions on the IIA of the Bible. These differences can be seen in what a denomination affirms and does not affirm about the Bible in their statement of beliefs. While these differences may appear to be subtle and minor in nature they have major theological implications, and their logical conclusions can have a detrimental effect on Christian living.

An in-depth look at the position that the Church of the Nazarene affirms on the IIA of the Bible begins with Article of Faith IV which states,

We believe in the plenary inspiration of the Holy Scriptures, by which we understand the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments, given by divine inspiration, inerrantly revealing the will of God concerning us in all things necessary to our salvation, so that whatever is not contained therein is not to be enjoined as an article of faith1

In this Article of Faith we find that the Church of the Nazarene affirms the following about the Bible:

1. The Scriptures are plenary inspired.

2. There are 66 books in the Old and New Testaments.

3. These 66 books were divinely inspired.

4. These 66 books inerrantly reveal the will of God as it relates to salvation.

The third affirmation from the Article of Faith is orthodox in its content as it correctly affirms the mode of transmission;2  however, this statement’s application by the Church of the Nazarene is neo-orthodox.3  The Church of the Nazarene affirms that although God inspired the original autographs,4  His use of human authors disallow these original autographs from being written without error. The Church of the Nazarene further affirms that while the human element allows for the personality of the writers to be seen in their writings, it also allows for the limitations of human knowledge and the human condition to be seen in their writings. These limitations can be seen in the historical, geographical, scientific, and mathematical statements made by the inspired authors.

The Church of the Nazarene’s official position on inspiration can also be seen in a statement by the Board of General Superintendents which states,

“[T]he Bible becomes the infallible word of God, the authoritative rule of faith and practice in the Church.”5

This affirmation, along with others issued on April 21, 2010 in a statement titled “We Believe” are said to,

“[C]omprehend the full scope of scriptural theology held by the Church of the Nazarene…and reaffirms the core beliefs of nazarenes everywhere.”6

In this statement the Board of General Superintendents give a response that subverts the Word of God and affirms a neo- orthodox position on inspiration and inerrancy. The Board of General Superintendents state that the inspiration occurs as the Bible is being read, and becomes the infallible Word of God which is used for faith and practice or “things necessary for salvation.”  This neo-orthodox view of inspiration will lead to difficulties with the view of inerrancy, and this is demonstrated by General Superintendents Dr. Paul Cunningham and Dr. Nina Gunter who dismiss the importance of the full inerrancy of the Scriptures in an email where they state,

“An understanding of inerrancy that is focused on the literal accuracy of data is misdirected in a quite modern direction.  It reflects a western scientific understanding of truth and language that is inadequate for biblical (and Christian) notions of truth.”

This difficulty concerning inerrancy is also evident in the fourth statement, which appears to be consistent with Orthodox Christianity based on what it affirms; however, what it does not affirm makes it consistent with neo-orthodoxy. This statement does not affirm the full inerrancy of the Bible, and this is demonstrated by the use of the words “inerrantly” and “reveal” to describe the extent of the inerrancy of the Bible.

This leads to the conclusion that the inerrancy of Scripture is limited, and that the only way Scripture is inerrant is in its function to reveal what is necessary for salvation. The limited inerrancy view is again confirmed by General Superintendent Paul Cunningham when he was asked, “What is the official position of the Church of the Nazarene on the issue of inerrancy?”

Dr. Cunningham responded,

“Our view on the inerrancy of scripture does not apply to geography, science, mathematics or historical statements.  The Bible’s soteriological7 message does not embrace the scope of these other areas of human knowledge.”

It is clear from both Article of Faith IV and the statements by the Board of General Superintendents that limited inerrancy is the official position of the Church of the Nazarene. Although the Church of the Nazarene has adopted a neo-orthodox definition of the word ‘Scripture’.  This neo-orthodox definition has redefined the word ‘Scripture’ to only apply to those things which pertain or concern salvation, and anything that does not apply to the salvation message is not Scripture.

This can be seen in an email written by General Superintendent Dr. Nina Gunter in which she states,

“We can say with great trustworthiness that the whole body of Scripture taken together regarding the story of salvation is fully inspired.”  Dr. Gunter goes on to say, “[W]e believe that the scriptural message is indeed ‘free from error’.”  (emphasis added)

In these statements Dr. Gunter clearly indicates that the whole body of Scripture and the scriptural message is limited to those things related to salvation (faith and practice), and anything outside of this is not Scripture, and therefore would not be included in the truth taught in 2 Timothy 3:15-17.

Therefore according to the Manual of the Church of the Nazarene, statements from the General Superintendents, and statements from the General Editor for the Board of General Superintendents, the Church of the Nazarene affirms the following concerning the inspiration, inerrancy and authority of the Bible:

1. The original autographs are not error-free.

2. The Bible is not fully inerrant.

3. The term “Scripture” only applies to those things that concern salvation.

4. The Bible becomes the inspired Word of God.

5. Inerrancy reflects a modern, western scientific understanding of truth.

6. The Wesleyan position on the inerrancy of the Bible is limited inerrancy.

The controversy over the inspiration, inerrancy, and authority of the Bible is often labeled as ‘conservative theology’ vs. ‘liberal theology.’  However, this type of terminology can be very misleading as both terms are subjective. A more appropriate terminology is right-theology or wrong-theology as right-theology is bible-centric and wrong-theology is man- centric. This wrong-theology is addressed by Jesus Christ when He addressed the Big Tent Approach when he said, Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it. (Matthew7:13-14)

While it cannot be argued that contemporary scholarship points to the limited inerrancy view of the Bible, it would seem that this is not an issue of scholarship, but rather an issue of Lordship. It is often said that minor errors and discrepancies in geography, history, and science are not important because the Bible is the lens we use to see God. However, it must be realized that if the lens is dirty then the image seen will be distorted.

————————————————————————————————–

Footnotes:

1 Manual Church of the Nazarene 2005-2009, page 31.

2 Transmission refers to the process by which the inspired writers received the inspired Word of God, and then wrote this inspired message.

3 Neo-orthodox Theology redefines traditional or ‘orthodox’ words and concepts to align with a more liberal theological position.

4 Original autographs are the original writings of the inspired writers.

5 http://www.ncnnews.com/nphweb/html/ncn/article.jsp?id=10009167&sid=10009167

Note: The Board of General Superintendents quote from H. Orton Wiley’s Christian Theology, 1:171

6 http://www.ncnnews.com/nphweb/html/ncn/article.jsp?id=10009167&sid=10009167

7 Soteriology is the branch of theology that deals with salvation or things that concern our salvation.

 

Ill-Informed Critics? Part 2

 

 

Update: On May 30, 2011, Rev. Felter’s post that I referenced here disappeared, but you can read it all at the end of my comments:

As I continue my response to David Felter’s latest blog post, which can be read at the end of my comments, I wonder if he realizes how many faithful Nazarenes he has maligned with the phrase “ill-informed critics.”  If I am one of those he considers “ill-informed”, then he has also included a lot of like-minded Nazarenes and other Christians in the same category.  He has a right to judge me and others of course, but I would at least like to know what he is judging us about- specifically.

In part one, I critiqued his assertion that the Nazarene denomination is not “turning from its roots and becoming more liberal”. By the way, I did not expand on the fact that Rev. Felter uses a strawman argument by trying to link most of the “ill-informed” to those who have come into the church with a Reformed or Calvinistic perspective.  It would take another post to refute this, so I will simply say that is not the case, and it is an argument that mirrors the NazNet diversionary playbook. However, I don’t know if Rev. Felter is a member of that group, which I have asserted is a breeding ground for emergent heresy.

Rev. Felter continues on with his second point, regarding the emerging/emergent church.   He begins with a somewhat mild criticism of the emergent church, questioning whether it is minimizing the role of evangelism.  He has never named the names of any false teachers in the emergent movement, as far as I know; and as far as I know, he has never openly rejected any of its false teachings, including contemplative spirituality, open theism, and theistic evolution, all of which are a part of this emergent movement.  He then proceeds to go back to his standard formula with the following:

“The rhetoric in some quarters has gotten out of hand with unfounded accusations flying everywhere, creating unnecessary dissension and division in the Body of Christ.”

Just what are these unfounded accusations that he never puts a finger on publicly?  Will Rev. Felter ever be specific?  Has he ever criticized the emergents in the Nazarene church for “unfounded accusations?”  No.  He seems to have a pattern of criticizing those who object to heresies in the church, and which are causing undue angst amongst our long time Nazarenes. Yet he is strangely silent in his criticism about the emergent church.

“Where there has been the substitution of human ideas for the clear teachings of Scripture and the time-honored, Spirit-inspired teachings of the Church, one must declare one’s allegiance to Christ and His teachings.”

I challenge Rev. Felter then to tell us please, and give us examples of those instances where “human ideas have substituted clear teaching of scripture.”  If we are to declare allegiance to Christ and His teachings, we must also be ready to refute without timidity all the practices and ideologies whose origins are satanic, regardless of who is teaching them!  I don’t care if the person has the title of “Most Reverend Doctor.” We are commanded in scripture to “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.” Eph. 5:11.  This clearly means to call them out and stay away from them!

Sadly, in point number three, Rev. Felter makes some statements that mirror the heart of the problem we are having in our denomination, and that is a lack of complete trust in God’s written Word.  This is a problem that is literally destroying the faith of many of our college students!  It has led many longtime faithful Nazarenes to leave their church, because of pastors who reject the authority of scripture.  Here are some quotes:

“We do not receive the Bible as a textbook on science.”

True, it is not a science textbook, but it is God’s word, and whenever it speaks on anything related to science, it is always true and accurate and without error. Otherwise, how do we accept it as God’s word?  Yet, the emergent church does not agree that the Bible is the infallible, inerrant word of God.  Rev. Felter seems to be accepting the same premise.

“Some Nazarene scientists and educators recognize evolution as a methodology that explains the mechanics of creation, but not the reason for creation…”

This really simply means, they don’t believe the Genesis account!  Evolution is an ungodly interpretation of the plainly spoken creation process as described in Genesis, and a rejection of the testimony of Jesus Christ; so I guess Rev. Felter will accept the words of man over the words of Holy Scripture.  With his own words, I refute that premise:  “Where there has been the substitution of human ideas for the clear teachings of Scripture and the time-honored, Spirit-inspired teachings of the Church, one must declare one’s allegiance to Christ and His teachings.”

“The Bible is the word of God.  But it is not a proof text for science, geography, or any other discipline.”

Rev. Felter affirms that the Bible is the word of God, then refutes it by making exceptions, which if he concurs with many others, also believes that it is not a proof text for historical events!  Many of our Nazarene pastors and professors from our universities, do not affirm that the Bible gives an accurate historical account of creation, and instead claim that they are most likely allegory and myth.

“The Bible is to be read, studied, and its teachings to be incorporated, but it is not to be placed on a pedestal and worshipped. That belongs to God alone.”

This reminds me of the argument emergents use, which is similar to a quote by Brennan Manning, who called those who hold the Bible in high regard as “bibliolaters.”  It’s just another red herring argument that does not hold water.  Of course we do not idolize the Bible, but we do recognize it as God’s inerrant, infallible revelation to us, and the only true authority for our faith and practice.  These people will never affirm this statement I just made, because they do not trust the word of God completely, and instead they want to uphold other sources of authority equal to Scripture, namely man’s “wisdom.”

“It is unfortunate that so many other believers have rushed to condemn those who have sought to resurrect ancient methods of worship, reflection, prayer, and meditation.”

That is because these ancient methods are based in mysticism and pagan religions, and therefore their source is not from God, but from satan.  Practicing the silence, prayer labyrinths, repetitively praying the Jesus Prayer; these things are ancient methods- BUT they are not scriptural!  So, what is unfortunate is the inability, or refusal, or fear, to speak out against these false teachings.  It could be a lack of biblical discernment, but how can that be?

 “Numerous voices are extant today that are full of criticism, censoriousness, and confusion. Satan would like to confuse the people of God. Clearly, the Church of the Nazarene is not perfect. It is, however, a vine of God’s planting.  It is committed to the message of Scriptural holiness.  I encourage you to take heart and be faithful, for God is still working with His people.”

Here, Rev. Felter concludes with more non-specific attacks against  many God-fearing Nazarenes and Christians who are just trying to be faithful to God’s word, and ironically, are trying to pursue Scriptural holiness.  We do not subscribe to the teaching that “practicing the silence” will get us any closer to God.  We do not believe that our future pastors should be learning occultic practices at our very own seminary.  We do not believe that placing ashes to the forehead anywhere near resembles our great holiness heritage.  And, we do not believe in picking and choosing what parts of the Bible are inerrant, because all of it is.

I am not saying that the problem lies here solely with the editor of Holiness Today.  He is only one of many who are defending what is going on in our schools, and in many of our churches.  Where is the Board of General Superintendents to speak on these specific matters, and give clear guidance and direction?  I have yet to get one clear answer from the letters I have received, and I’m sure others have had the same result.

Rev. Felter is correct, satan is trying to confuse the people of God, but he’s doing it through the emergent church, and through other ungodly movements such as social justice, environmental justice, and all sorts of other man created programs that often change like the wind and are discarded after failing, other than increasing numbers in the church.  Is that our goal, and is that a reflection of God’s favor on us?  Or is it simply obedience to God, whether a church grows, or shrinks in size?

Yes, God is still working with His people.  But God’s judgment will come as well, if His people continue on a path of disobedience to His word.  The emergent church movement is doing nothing but harm to the Church of the Nazarene, and it really needs to go.

Rev. Felter, please prayerfully consider my words here.  It’s nothing personal against you, but I am clearly against what you seem to be supporting, and I will continue to fight and expose it.  I pray that God will open your eyes, and awaken many more Nazarenes to the false teachings that have come into our denomination.

 

DAVID FELTER’S ORIGINAL POST:

What about those Nazarenes?

As General Editor of the Church of the Nazarene, I frequently get the same questions about the status of the church. These undoubtedly come from well-meaning, sincere people who have picked up bits and pieces along with rumors from here and there that trouble them. Additionally, there are voices on the sidelines seriously critical of just about everything the church does; from conferences on spiritual formation to NYC.

I have combined the queries into two main questions, making them representative of the spectrum of concerns that I receive on a fairly regular basis. In this response, I have posted my perspective and am speaking as a member of the Church of the Nazarene who loves the church and grieves over the rending of its fabric by ill-informed critics.

1. The Church Of The Nazarene is slowly turning away from its roots so to speak and becoming more liberal.

The Church of the Nazarene has consistently affirmed its 16 Articles of Faith and its Agreed Statement of Belief. These documents form the very foundation upon which rests the theological and doctrinal trajectory of the denomination. Additionally, nothing has happened officially, within the decision-making of the General Assembly, to change these documents. If anything, we have strengthened our commitment to these foundational truths. We reference them in relationship to every book we print and every message we send because they represent our DNA.

The challenge behind this accusation is unfounded. Individual members of the Church of the Nazarene may have altered their perspectives and such alterations by individual members may have been mistakenly perceived as wholesale changes endorsed or adopted by the denomination. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Additionally, another challenge has arisen from the influx of new members over time who have come to the Church of the Nazarene from differing theological traditions. Some have come from Reformed, Calvinist, or charismatic traditions and when they discover the significant differences between our Wesleyan-holiness theological tradition, they may perceive such differences as liberalizing. This is especially true for those whose former religious experiences were in fundamentalist, Reformed, and Calvinist traditions. Wesleyan-theological traditions view many elements of Christian theology through ancient lenses stretching back to our roots in the 18th century Methodist revival under the ministries of John and Charles Wesley who were Anglican priests and remained such until their deaths. Our historic theological positions rest on ancient premises, supported by Early Church Fathers.

Reformed churches developed strains of Augustine’s predestinarian perspectives (God’s divine decrees), especially through the work of the towering theological giant, John Calvin. Presently, there are Bible Churches, Baptist Churches, and many Evangelical churches whose theological base is informed by these insights. Doctrines like eternal security and male-only ministry do not find their way into their way into the Nazarene theology because our roots return to the tap root of the ancient, apostolic fathers, mediated by the Church of Rome, the Church of England, the Reformation, the Wesleyan Revival, the American Holiness Movement, right up until now. Consequently, some Nazarenes hear our theological message and sense differences but perceive it incorrectly as a liberalizing trend. Nothing could be further from the truth.

2. The Emerging/Emergent church.

The discussions surrounding the Emerging/Emergent Church have been rather confusing because there is no one, single, all-encompassing definition of the Emergent Church. Some would say it is the church practicing hospitality, openness, and embracing all regardless of their knowledge or understanding of Grace. Others would say that it refers to a theological position staked out by popular authors and church leaders like Brian McLaren, Tony Jones, et al. In truth, much of what is occurring in the so-called “emerging church” is driven by the changes in society as a whole. This is why one rarely if ever hears of “emergent churches” in global areas outside North America.

There are facets of the emergent movement that are truly troubling in that they seem to minimalize the role of evangelism, preferring instead the compassionate ministry approach of listening, serving, and representing the heart of Jesus in their world. While there is something eminently beautiful about selfless service to others on behalf of, and in the name of Jesus, there is also the reality that the Church cannot neglect the proclamation of the Gospel. Many young people are rejecting the heavy-handed approaches of another era, preferring instead “conversations” and solidarity with the world in Christ’s name. Clearly the jury is still out on this, but in my mind, any local church that ignores the responsibility of proclaiming the Gospel in decisive terms, misses its God-appointed mandate given by the Son in Matthew 28. Moreover the words of General Superintendent J. K. Warrick help us in his reference to those who espouse the teachings of the Emergent/emerging church: “When they drift into heresy we draw lines and hold the line firm.”

The rhetoric in some quarters has gotten out of hand with unfounded accusations flying everywhere, creating unnecessary dissension and division in the Body of Christ. Many of us who are older are having a difficult time adjusting to the changes we see and hear in the local church; from worship styles to the way the local church perceives its place in the mission of God. The reality is the church is always changing. No methodology is sacrosanct. Everything we do in the Body of Christ must acknowledge our human limitations, relying fully on the grace and power of Christ for the furtherance of His mission.

Where there has been the substitution of human ideas for the clear teachings of Scripture and the time-honored, Spirit-inspired teachings of the Church, one must declare one’s allegiance to Christ and His teachings. Where the message that is proclaimed no longer affirms or is enriched by faithfulness to the Articles of Faith, then that congregation is slipping away from its theological moorings.

Corrective, constructive criticism can be offered without disconnecting one’s self from the Body. Prayer, fellowship, and involvement can bridge gaps between those whose knowledge of Scripture and proper, correct theological doctrine is insufficiently developed.

3. The Church of the Nazarene, Evolution, Legalism, and the Word of God

There is much debate in the evangelical world about these three issues. Some of it stems from widely differing positions on the nature of Scripture. The Church of the Nazarene is not, and never has been a fundamentalist denomination. Our view of Scripture rests on the solid foundations of the Early Church Father’s positions, and has been affirmed by the “holy, catholic Church” (the Church universal) down through the ages. Here are some quick associations between that perspective and some common issues.

    • We do not receive the Bible as a textbook on science. Instead we receive the Bible as a library of 66 books, authored by human authors writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to reveal and disclose the love, grace, and salvation of God.
    • Science is in the business of positing theories based on research. Our foundational understanding of Scripture is not disturbed when science suggests methodologies associated with the study of natural and human origins. All we insist is that all theories must recognize the eternal God who is behind all that exists; or as Gen. 1 says, “In the beginning, God!”
    • Some Nazarene scientists and educators recognize evolution as a methodology that explains the mechanics of creation, but not the reason for creation, and thus they emphasize the faithfulness of God who sovereignly reigns supreme and has disclosed Himself in the person and work of Jesus to bring us to Himself in reconciliation and redemption.
    • The Church of the Nazarene rightly respects the conscience of its membership. Where moral and ethical issues are in play, the Church of the Nazarene recognizes the value of stating beliefs and values in light of the church’s “collective conscience.” Hence, in our Manual you will read statements regarding human sexuality, abortion, homosexuality, and the value of a Scripturally-informed, Spiritually-sensitive conscience when it comes to participation in entertainment venues, both personal and collective.
    • The Church of the Nazarene rejects legalism and affirms the role of the Holy Spirit, Scripture, and the collective conscience of the Church to inform its membership with principles whereby they can navigate the issues of life. Alcoholism and drug abuse with their attendant wreckage in tow, challenge to Church to prescribe a position of total abstinence; not because it can be proved from Scripture, but because it represents the way of compassionate love for others, and for Christ.
    • The Bible is the word of God. But it is not a proof text for science, geography, or any other discipline. The Bible is not the domain of literalists who disfigure the Scriptures to support untenable positions like forbidding women to be ordained as elders in the church of God. The Bible is to be read, studied, and its teachings to be incorporated, but it is not to be placed on a pedestal and worshipped. That belongs to God alone.

Some Conclusions:

A new generation, weary of modernist assurances based on empiricism alone, have sought fresh wells from which to drink of the living water offered by our Lord (John 7:37-38). Many Christians have searched the ‘memory’ of the earlier generations of believers, in different times and locations, and have found rich treasures that offer simple, fresh ways to experience the transcendence and holiness of God in worship, praise, prayer, and community.

It is unfortunate that so many other believers have rushed to condemn those who have sought to resurrect ancient methods of worship, reflection, prayer, and meditation. It is always possible that someone will take something too far, idealizing it and in turn actually creating the inverse of what they thought they were finding by making their discovery an end in itself. Clearly some conferences or gatherings in universities have pushed the limits and have, or are, learning from their experiences. The criticism they experienced as a result served as a corrective.

Take the issue of homosexuality; the Board of General Superintendents has affirmed our traditional stand found in the Manual through their pastoral letter. They also reminded the church that as Wesleyan’s we view sin as any willful, voluntary breaking of a known law of God. They have reminded the church that there is a difference between a tendency or temptation, and acted out behavior. The latter separates an individual from fellowship with God, while the former offers the Spirit opportunity to perform the work of transformation and recovery.

Our institutions like Pt. Loma and others are intersections where critical issues will surface from time to time. They offer an environment where the fine line of love for the person and commitment to law of God are balanced to provide an opportunity for discussion, clarification, and redemption.

Numerous voices are extant today that are full of criticism, censoriousness, and confusion. Satan would like to confuse the people of God. Clearly, the Church of the Nazarene is not perfect. It is, however, a vine of God’s planting. It is committed to the message of Scriptural holiness. I encourage you to take heart and be faithful, for God is still working with His people.

Grace & Peace

David Felter

Ill-Informed Critics? Part 1

Update, May 30, 2011:  Rev. Felter’s post apparently disappeared today, but I have the full article copy at the end of my commentary:

In a new article on his blog, What About Those Nazarenes?, the editor of Holiness Today, David Felter, continues his analysis of the emergent church influence on the Church of the Nazarene.  In the past, I have sent two open letters to Rev. Felter, and I have yet to get a substantive response.  I have been particularly interested in getting very specific answers to some questions, so I can know what his thoughts are on some issues of importance.  I believe that some of his comments from this post are again aimed at concerned Nazarenes like myself.  It is my premise that Rev. Felter has missed the mark on some of his points by a wide margin, and I would like to give my opinion on them.

Here are some excerpted quotes:

“there are voices on the sidelines seriously critical of just about everything the church does; from conferences on spiritual formation to NYC.”

 “I have combined the queries into two main questions, making them representative of the spectrum of concerns that I receive on a fairly regular basis. In this response, I have posted my perspective and am speaking as a member of the Church of the Nazarene who loves the church and grieves over the rending of its fabric by ill-informed critics.

1. The Church Of The Nazarene is slowly turning away from its roots so to speak and becoming more liberal.”

That we as a denomination are “turning from our roots” and “becoming more liberal” is without a doubt true, but Rev. Felter does not agree.  Instead, he says that:

“The challenge behind this accusation is unfounded. Individual members of the Church of the Nazarene may have altered their perspectives and such alterations by individual members may have been mistakenly perceived as wholesale changes endorsed or adopted by the denomination. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

This accusation IS founded!  And it is true!  So, in my opinion, when Rev. Felter says, “nothing could be further from the truth”, that conclusion he makes is far from the truth.  With the incredible amount of evidence for Rev. Felter to read, much of which crosses his desk by way of my emails to the Board of General Superintendents, he should know by now this is not a case of just a few individuals going off the Nazarene doctrinal railroad tracks!  He has had almost two years of my annoying emails and enough information within the denomination to sift through the truth, and if anything is true, it is that this emergent church phenomenon is not just a few individuals going off the deep end.  This should be very clear to him.  Or is it that Rev. Felter is on board the emergent church express?

Another quote:

“Consequently, some Nazarenes hear our theological message and sense differences but perceive it incorrectly as a liberalizing trend. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

Not much space here to get into it all, but here are a few examples of liberalism making its way into the Nazarene denomination now: social justice, environmental justice, denial of the Bible as the infallible word of God (which is attested to by John Wesley himself, which Rev. Felter likes to reference often, as well as many NazNetters and emergents who try to distort Wesley’s position on scripture).  Even some are promoting liberation theology.  These and the positions of such ideologies as open theism, process theology, and theistic evolution,  are all on the side of liberal thought.

And then Rev. Felter states the following:

“The rhetoric in some quarters has gotten out of hand with unfounded accusations flying everywhere, creating unnecessary dissension and division in the Body of Christ.”

Time and again, Rev. Felter has said similar things like this, without substantiation.  Just what are those “unfounded accusations?”  Here are possibly a few that he might be referring to:

-  Contemplative spirituality is being promoted in practically all of the Nazarene universities including the seminary, and in many Nazarene churches.  This includes the use of prayer labyrinths, a clearly pagan practice.

-   Nazarene Theological Seminary taught a course this semester that was based on Celtic spirituality, which is nothing short of occultic “Christianity.”

-   Northwest Nazarene University has a professor, Tom Oord, who teaches open theism, which says that God cannot know all of the future.  Dr. Oord is also a proponent of process theology, which concludes that God can make mistakes.

-   Trevecca Nazarene University for years has been promoting and sending students to a Roman Catholic monastery, including encouraging the use of a mystical practice called “the silence.”  The school also promotes the prayer labyrinth, which for some reason they now call it a prayer walk.

-   Point Loma Nazarene University allowed a student chaplain to remain in his position after he openly professed that he was homosexual, and intended to live an open homosexual lifestyle after graduation.  The local Nazarene church also hosted a support group for homosexual students that did very little, if anything, in helping these students see the sinfulness of their lifestyle.

-   Many of our Nazarene schools are using books in their theology curriculums by such false teachers as: Brian McLaren, Richard Foster, Henri Nouwen, Brennan Manning, Rob Bell, and others.

-   The Shack, a blasphemy-filled book, is being promoted as a great missional book for pastors and laypeople alike.   It is an example of a total lack of discernment on the part of leaders who promote it.

-   Most serious and egregious: the trust and reliability of the Holy Scriptures is being weakened in our Christian universities and churches, including the acceptance of the unbiblical views of theistic evolution.

Are any of the above examples the “unfounded accusations” Rev. Felter talks about?  Believe me, I can give him, yet again, clear and irrefutable evidence of all these accusations and more, if he would like.  I can assure him, the above are all true.  The only question remaining is this: where does he stand on all of these issues?  There is no doubt where I stand, and there is no doubt where many- many Nazarenes stand on these issues.

But the question remains unanswered: where does the editor of Holiness Today stand on the specifics of these issues?

DAVID FELTER’S ORIGINAL POST:

What about those Nazarenes?

As General Editor of the Church of the Nazarene, I frequently get the same questions about the status of the church. These undoubtedly come from well-meaning, sincere people who have picked up bits and pieces along with rumors from here and there that trouble them. Additionally, there are voices on the sidelines seriously critical of just about everything the church does; from conferences on spiritual formation to NYC.

I have combined the queries into two main questions, making them representative of the spectrum of concerns that I receive on a fairly regular basis. In this response, I have posted my perspective and am speaking as a member of the Church of the Nazarene who loves the church and grieves over the rending of its fabric by ill-informed critics.

1. The Church Of The Nazarene is slowly turning away from its roots so to speak and becoming more liberal.

The Church of the Nazarene has consistently affirmed its 16 Articles of Faith and its Agreed Statement of Belief. These documents form the very foundation upon which rests the theological and doctrinal trajectory of the denomination. Additionally, nothing has happened officially, within the decision-making of the General Assembly, to change these documents. If anything, we have strengthened our commitment to these foundational truths. We reference them in relationship to every book we print and every message we send because they represent our DNA.

The challenge behind this accusation is unfounded. Individual members of the Church of the Nazarene may have altered their perspectives and such alterations by individual members may have been mistakenly perceived as wholesale changes endorsed or adopted by the denomination. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Additionally, another challenge has arisen from the influx of new members over time who have come to the Church of the Nazarene from differing theological traditions. Some have come from Reformed, Calvinist, or charismatic traditions and when they discover the significant differences between our Wesleyan-holiness theological tradition, they may perceive such differences as liberalizing. This is especially true for those whose former religious experiences were in fundamentalist, Reformed, and Calvinist traditions. Wesleyan-theological traditions view many elements of Christian theology through ancient lenses stretching back to our roots in the 18th century Methodist revival under the ministries of John and Charles Wesley who were Anglican priests and remained such until their deaths. Our historic theological positions rest on ancient premises, supported by Early Church Fathers.

Reformed churches developed strains of Augustine’s predestinarian perspectives (God’s divine decrees), especially through the work of the towering theological giant, John Calvin. Presently, there are Bible Churches, Baptist Churches, and many Evangelical churches whose theological base is informed by these insights. Doctrines like eternal security and male-only ministry do not find their way into their way into the Nazarene theology because our roots return to the tap root of the ancient, apostolic fathers, mediated by the Church of Rome, the Church of England, the Reformation, the Wesleyan Revival, the American Holiness Movement, right up until now. Consequently, some Nazarenes hear our theological message and sense differences but perceive it incorrectly as a liberalizing trend. Nothing could be further from the truth.

2. The Emerging/Emergent church.

The discussions surrounding the Emerging/Emergent Church have been rather confusing because there is no one, single, all-encompassing definition of the Emergent Church. Some would say it is the church practicing hospitality, openness, and embracing all regardless of their knowledge or understanding of Grace. Others would say that it refers to a theological position staked out by popular authors and church leaders like Brian McLaren, Tony Jones, et al. In truth, much of what is occurring in the so-called “emerging church” is driven by the changes in society as a whole. This is why one rarely if ever hears of “emergent churches” in global areas outside North America.

There are facets of the emergent movement that are truly troubling in that they seem to minimalize the role of evangelism, preferring instead the compassionate ministry approach of listening, serving, and representing the heart of Jesus in their world. While there is something eminently beautiful about selfless service to others on behalf of, and in the name of Jesus, there is also the reality that the Church cannot neglect the proclamation of the Gospel. Many young people are rejecting the heavy-handed approaches of another era, preferring instead “conversations” and solidarity with the world in Christ’s name. Clearly the jury is still out on this, but in my mind, any local church that ignores the responsibility of proclaiming the Gospel in decisive terms, misses its God-appointed mandate given by the Son in Matthew 28. Moreover the words of General Superintendent J. K. Warrick help us in his reference to those who espouse the teachings of the Emergent/emerging church: “When they drift into heresy we draw lines and hold the line firm.”

The rhetoric in some quarters has gotten out of hand with unfounded accusations flying everywhere, creating unnecessary dissension and division in the Body of Christ. Many of us who are older are having a difficult time adjusting to the changes we see and hear in the local church; from worship styles to the way the local church perceives its place in the mission of God. The reality is the church is always changing. No methodology is sacrosanct. Everything we do in the Body of Christ must acknowledge our human limitations, relying fully on the grace and power of Christ for the furtherance of His mission.

Where there has been the substitution of human ideas for the clear teachings of Scripture and the time-honored, Spirit-inspired teachings of the Church, one must declare one’s allegiance to Christ and His teachings. Where the message that is proclaimed no longer affirms or is enriched by faithfulness to the Articles of Faith, then that congregation is slipping away from its theological moorings.

Corrective, constructive criticism can be offered without disconnecting one’s self from the Body. Prayer, fellowship, and involvement can bridge gaps between those whose knowledge of Scripture and proper, correct theological doctrine is insufficiently developed.

3. The Church of the Nazarene, Evolution, Legalism, and the Word of God

There is much debate in the evangelical world about these three issues. Some of it stems from widely differing positions on the nature of Scripture. The Church of the Nazarene is not, and never has been a fundamentalist denomination. Our view of Scripture rests on the solid foundations of the Early Church Father’s positions, and has been affirmed by the “holy, catholic Church” (the Church universal) down through the ages. Here are some quick associations between that perspective and some common issues.

    • We do not receive the Bible as a textbook on science. Instead we receive the Bible as a library of 66 books, authored by human authors writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to reveal and disclose the love, grace, and salvation of God.
    • Science is in the business of positing theories based on research. Our foundational understanding of Scripture is not disturbed when science suggests methodologies associated with the study of natural and human origins. All we insist is that all theories must recognize the eternal God who is behind all that exists; or as Gen. 1 says, “In the beginning, God!”
    • Some Nazarene scientists and educators recognize evolution as a methodology that explains the mechanics of creation, but not the reason for creation, and thus they emphasize the faithfulness of God who sovereignly reigns supreme and has disclosed Himself in the person and work of Jesus to bring us to Himself in reconciliation and redemption.
    • The Church of the Nazarene rightly respects the conscience of its membership. Where moral and ethical issues are in play, the Church of the Nazarene recognizes the value of stating beliefs and values in light of the church’s “collective conscience.” Hence, in our Manual you will read statements regarding human sexuality, abortion, homosexuality, and the value of a Scripturally-informed, Spiritually-sensitive conscience when it comes to participation in entertainment venues, both personal and collective.
    • The Church of the Nazarene rejects legalism and affirms the role of the Holy Spirit, Scripture, and the collective conscience of the Church to inform its membership with principles whereby they can navigate the issues of life. Alcoholism and drug abuse with their attendant wreckage in tow, challenge to Church to prescribe a position of total abstinence; not because it can be proved from Scripture, but because it represents the way of compassionate love for others, and for Christ.
    • The Bible is the word of God. But it is not a proof text for science, geography, or any other discipline. The Bible is not the domain of literalists who disfigure the Scriptures to support untenable positions like forbidding women to be ordained as elders in the church of God. The Bible is to be read, studied, and its teachings to be incorporated, but it is not to be placed on a pedestal and worshipped. That belongs to God alone.

Some Conclusions:

A new generation, weary of modernist assurances based on empiricism alone, have sought fresh wells from which to drink of the living water offered by our Lord (John 7:37-38). Many Christians have searched the ‘memory’ of the earlier generations of believers, in different times and locations, and have found rich treasures that offer simple, fresh ways to experience the transcendence and holiness of God in worship, praise, prayer, and community.

It is unfortunate that so many other believers have rushed to condemn those who have sought to resurrect ancient methods of worship, reflection, prayer, and meditation. It is always possible that someone will take something too far, idealizing it and in turn actually creating the inverse of what they thought they were finding by making their discovery an end in itself. Clearly some conferences or gatherings in universities have pushed the limits and have, or are, learning from their experiences. The criticism they experienced as a result served as a corrective.

Take the issue of homosexuality; the Board of General Superintendents has affirmed our traditional stand found in the Manual through their pastoral letter. They also reminded the church that as Wesleyan’s we view sin as any willful, voluntary breaking of a known law of God. They have reminded the church that there is a difference between a tendency or temptation, and acted out behavior. The latter separates an individual from fellowship with God, while the former offers the Spirit opportunity to perform the work of transformation and recovery.

Our institutions like Pt. Loma and others are intersections where critical issues will surface from time to time. They offer an environment where the fine line of love for the person and commitment to law of God are balanced to provide an opportunity for discussion, clarification, and redemption.

Numerous voices are extant today that are full of criticism, censoriousness, and confusion. Satan would like to confuse the people of God. Clearly, the Church of the Nazarene is not perfect. It is, however, a vine of God’s planting. It is committed to the message of Scriptural holiness. I encourage you to take heart and be faithful, for God is still working with His people.

Grace & Peace

David Felter


More On “Divorced From The Church”

“My husband took his little family across country to his first pastorate in 1971 and we have pastored many churches since then.  We both grew up in the Nazarene Church and love her dearly, however our hearts are broken over the brokenness of our beloved church.  We have been learning about this new “movement” for several years now and are realizing we are going to have to make a difficult choice.  We have been studying in our home now with other believers, not Nazarenes, although they are welcome to join us.  We are simply going back to the teachings of God our Father, YHWH, from the beginning and are doing our best to know Him more deeply and to follow in obedience the best we know how.  Relying on His Scriptures alone has been more satisfying than ever. We have separated ourselves in order to protect ourselves from any of these false teachings.  God’s Word is Truth, yesterday, today, and forever.  God bless you in your work, we shall keep you in in prayer.” Linda (May 15, 2011)

I received the above email Sunday morning.  It’s not unusual, I get them almost every week, sometimes two or three in one week.  In the two years I have been engaged in this war- and it is war- most of us rarely see the “casualties” or hear about them.  But they are there, and it is happening every day, every week, to many faithful Christians.  They are being divorced from their church by those who are elevating man’s religion and man’s ideas to equality with God’s word.  We must forget what is happening under the radar of all the public debate, and and we must continue to pray for and give encouragement to all who have decided to suffer for Christ’s sake, rather than compromise in exchange for the applause and approval of men.

I was recently interviewed by Eric Barger on Saturday, May 7, on the radio program of Jan Markell’s ministry, Olive Tree Ministries, along with two pastors.  One of them is Pastor Joe Staniforth, who was “rewarded” for standing up against emergent church heresy with the removal of his pastorate, his mission on the border of Texas, and finally, his credentials in the Church of the Nazarene.  (You can listen to my interview on my YouTube channel).  The topic, “Divorced From The Church” was covered in the second hour.  The first hour discussed what Eric describes as the “most dangerous cult”, which is the cult of liberalism (not political) within the evangelical Christian church of today.  Both full hours can be listened to at Olive Tree Ministries radio archive page, look for the May broadcasts.  Jan’s excellent radio program can also be subscribed to as an iTunes podcast.  Eric is now in his 28th year of apologetics, and he travels across the country bringing both warning messages and encouraging reports for Christians who are living in such dangerous apostate times we are in.  He is a good friend and brother in the Lord, and he was very helpful to Concerned Nazarenes when we went down to General Assembly in 2009 in Orlando, Florida.

This topic of Christians “divorced” from their church, which happens very often in the most stressful and unpleasant ways, is not to be taken lightly.  I have received many emails in the last two years from Christians of different denominations, telling me of what happened to them, simply for asking questions and trying to get answers as to why their church was changing.  Instead of getting honest answers, they were labeled as troublemakers, dividers, hateful, or even worse.  At best, they were painted as people who “needed help” and were misguided.  Reputations were smeared, in order to deflect from the real problem in the church.  These stories are painful reminders of what we have gone through, but the totality of these stories barely scratches the surface. Yet you need to understand the consequences of standing for biblical truth, and be willing to deal with any consequence that comes if you are facing false teaching in your church or school.

THESE DIVORCED CHRISTIANS JUST WANTED TO KNOW…

They wanted to know why sermons were no longer focusing on the simple gospel of sin and repentance, the consequence of hell, the shed blood of Christ, and instead messages were filled with quaint stories of human interest, or too much humor, with quotations from mystics and emergent heretics, and a watered down gospel message that centered on “acceptance” and “non-judgmentalism”.

They wanted to know why all of a sudden, their Nazarene church service was starting to resemble a Roman Catholic mass, replete with new rituals, candles, and icons, or even the use of prayer labyrinths.

They wanted to know why was there an emphasis on “practicing the silence” as a way of praying to God, since they could not find anything in scripture that justified “silence” as a form of prayer.  No, it is not supported by Psalm 46:10.

They wanted to know why the Purpose Driven Church and other man written books were supplanting the study of God’s word, and why Bible studies were more about “what do you think this means to you?”, instead of “what does scripture teach us?”

They wanted to know why their pastor no longer (or never) preached about the infallible word of God; instead, they were told that God’s word was infallible “only in matter so salvation.”  And no answer came when they asked, “on what authority do you say that?”

They asked “why do we no longer sing the hymns of old, and instead we are sounding more like the world with it’s rock and roll music”, that often focuses on “me” and how I feel, instead of focusing on praising the only One who we ought to focus on.  It’s all about feelings and experience now, isn’t it?

They even asked their pastors, why do you believe that God does not know everything?  If that is true, why should I trust God for anything, if He does not know everything, and if He does not know the future?  How can I trust the prophesies in scripture, if I cannot trust God and what He says that He will do? How can I trust a God who makes mistakes?

They asked, how can I trust any story written in scripture, when you doubt that Adam and Eve were real people?  Or that God created man from the dust of the ground, as the scriptures tell us, but instead, Adam came into existence after millions of years of death and pain, even though the Bible clearly tells us that Adam’s sin brought about death, pain and sin?  How can that be?

And so they asked the questions.  They pleaded for answers.  They asked for time to explain their concerns, but were denied.  And the more they asked, and the more they insisted on biblical answers, the tolerating smiles faded, the long knives came out, and they were demonized, and characterized as liars, slanderers, and dividers.  Yes, that is the modus operandi of those who do not know the truth, but exchanged the truth for a lie.  It’s not an easy story to tell, but tell it we must.

At my YouTube channel, you will only hear part of our story.  You will hear why my wife, my two children, and me were “divorced from the church.”  You will not hear the details of the pain that it subsequently caused my wife and older son, and how my wife spent three days in the hospital for the stress and pain the “divorce” caused her.  But do not mistake this as an attempt to draw sympathy for me or my family.  However, don’t not think my story is the exception, because it is not, it is one of many.  And I’m sure this story will be labeled as being motivated by hate or revenge, as telling the truth is now called, while hiding or ignoring the truth is now considered a loving thing to do.   The truth is painful for some to hear, but it must be heard, because it is happening everywhere, to Bible believing Christians, and it is wrong.

Yet, there is good news at the end of that short story.  The good news is this: God is faithful to those who are faithful to Him, and we have grown stronger for standing for the truth, and for refusing to compromise to any person, or any denomination.  We do not consider ourselves better than anyone as we tell our story, because all the glory goes to God, and no one else.

What about you, my friend?  Where do you stand?  To whom do you hold unwavering, uncompromising allegiance?  To God, or to man?  To God, or to fellowship with other people?  To God, or to a church building?  To God, or to a pastor?  To God, or to a denomination?  To God, or to your spouse, children, or parents?

Can you at least give yourself an honest answer to the question?

Galatians 1:10 Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.

Would Jesus attend PLNU?

The following was posted by an alumnus of Point Loma Nazarene University recently.  I believe they reflect the concerns of many Nazarenes, alumni, as well as parents of students who attend, or are thinking of attending, Point Loma Nazarene University:

In recent weeks, professors have written articles that answer timeless questions such as “what retirement plan would Jesus have?” and “would Jesus drive a BMW?”

This caused me to come up with a question of my own: Would Jesus attend PLNU? Or if He visited, what would He say? Here are a few points to consider:

•  Would He be pleased that a PLNU biology professor is praised by the Atheists Coalition of San Diego for his work on Darwinism and evolution?

•  Would He be pleased that PLNU asked Brian McLaren to speak in chapel, an emerging church leader who calls God a “woman and a chick” and refuses to call homosexuality a sin? A person that places a higher value on an individual’s “experience” as the way to find the truth of God than the truths in God’s Word?

•  Would He be pleased that PLNU hosted a pastor’s conference in honor of Rob Bell, a person who is a proponent of universalism, or the no-vacancy-sign-in-hell-is-lit-up so all people go to heaven? Pretty diminishing to Jesus, wouldn’t you think?

•  Would He question why the administration did not speak up when a professor emailed the student body about a “Good Friday Walk With the Suffering” which equated “Jesus being nailed to the cross” to “immigration reform” and “Jesus being laid in the tomb” to the “environment and global warming”?

•  Would He ask why the administration did not ask their director of spiritual development to step down after coming out as gay and who made this statement: “Thanks be to God that He made me gay. This is my proclamation: I am gay. I am a Christian. And I will continue to live in that manner.”

Many professors have suggested that John 3:16 is about the environment. I was called “selfish” for thinking the translation of “kosmos” said otherwise. I disagreed that Jesus died for people and the planet, tree stumps and empty water bottles included.

In my four years at PLNU, I had a Bible professor claim that modern Israel is worse than Hitler ever was, that parts of the Old Testament are only myths, that some of the miracles that Jesus claims to have performed in the Gospels are false, and that some books in the Bible are “irrelevant.” There are professors that claim that God makes mistakes and that He does not know the future, despite more than 400 verses related to eschatology. I even had a professor claim that human life has no more value than a plant.

The chapel leadership continually chooses to invite social and theological liberals to speak, and then hosts pastoral conferences in their honor. Do many of the school’s supporters mistakenly believe that the chapel leadership chooses speakers that align with their traditional evangelical or Nazarene beliefs? If their supporters believe this shows that PNLU is deceiving through omission rather than communicating the “merits” of these speakers to the supporters in the same vigorous way they communicate to the students.

Charles Swindoll said: “Our society would have us think that if we truly love people, we’ll accept them regardless of their beliefs. This is called ‘tolerance.’ Yet what kind of love lets someone believe a lie that eventually destroys them? That’s not love; that’s indifference, the opposite of love.”

I encourage professors, faculty, parents and students to study the Word in order to best present yourselves to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and  who correctly handles the Word of Truth.

Nathaniel Spatz

2010 Alumnus of Business Management

Brian McLaren’s Attack Against Hell And Jesus’s Atonement: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8SOUfsX2fbk&feature=related

The New Evangelism: Michael Dowd’s Evolutionary Christianity

SFT Note: Dr. Karl Giberson of Eastern Nazarene College has announced his resignation effective this year to “pursue several professional scholarship and writing opportunities”, according to an ENC news article.  He had been the subject of several posts by me, as well as others such as Ken Ham and Dr. Albert Mohler.  Although I wish him well in his future endeavors, I am honestly happy that he will no longer be teaching his unbiblical theistic evolution and open theism ideas to more young students.  Please pray that ENC will seek to hire professors who uphold the biblical view of creationism, who reject open theism, and who hold to the full authority and infallibility of God’s word.  I urge all who are concerned to keep holding our Christian schools accountable for what they teach, who they allow to teach, and to make sure they uphold the truth of scripture above all else.

Gailon Totheroh April 22, 2011
(originally posted at www.evolutionnews.org)

hands with the sun.jpg

BACKGROUND

Who is Michael Dowd? He calls himself an evangelist. Not surprisingly, he can be found in churches preaching. But Dowd’s gospel is not one where sin is rebellion against God, but rejection of Darwin.

Likewise, salvation doesn’t come from Jesus on a Roman crucifix, but merely embracing the emergent Universe. Thus, we should Thank God for Evolution, the title of his 2008 magnus opus. Subtitled “The Marriage of Science and Religion,” the popular book-endorsed by no less than six Nobel Laureates-unfolds a central theme that standard Darwinism is scientifically accurate and religiously inspiring.

With faith-evolution controversies running unabated, Dowd’s Darwin-for-all-occasions may seem a hard sell. Yet Dowd’s effusive friendliness and seeming openness are swaying many his direction. His sales technique even wins over atheists and Christian evangelicals.

Still, Dowd is a mover-and- shaker who doesn’t move everybody to awe. The unwilling might include those who question Neo-Darwinism in whole or part, those who are uncomfortable with religion, and conservative adherents of traditional religions.

Since 2002, the self-described “evolutionary evangelist” has been on the road across America in a marathon of speaking engagements held mainly at schools and church groups. In addition, Dowd has four main websites, three books, and has spoken at the United Nations for their Values Caucus, a group dedicated to provide an “open forum . . . in order to allow a new culture to emerge.”

But Dowd’s background emerges from the old culture. Growing up Roman Catholic, he says he became a born-again Christian while serving in the army in 1979. He accepted that evolution was mostly harmful bunk until a few professors at Evangel University (conservative, Pentecostal) convinced him otherwise. From there, he went to seminary and then signed on with the liberal United Church of Christ for nine years.

While still with the UCC, he fully embraced evolutionary mysticism in 1988. Within an hour of starting a course on “The New Catholic Mysticism,” Dowd says he was weeping and seeing the “scientific story of the Universe” as a “sacred epic.” “I knew I would spend the rest of my life sharing this perspective as great news,” he adds. In fact, Dowd’s worldview moved from Christian monotheism to religious naturalism.

His commitment to naturalism while retaining the language of Christianity can be glimpsed in his statements from a recent article in Skeptic magazine:

“God is not a person; God is a personification of one or more deeply significant dimensions of reality.”

“‘Getting right with God’ means coming into right relationship with our planet and all its gloriously diverse species and cultures.”

“I foresee a time when religious leaders get their guidance and inspiration from humanity’s common creation story (Darwinian evolution) and teach and preach the discoveries of science as God’s word. When that day comes, our faith traditions will thrive and many of us will look back and exclaim, ‘Thank God for the New Atheists’.”

Despite his co-option of theological language, there is little left of traditional monotheism, let alone traditional Christianity, in Dowd’s worldview. Indeed, the “supernatural” itself doesn’t exist according Dowd; it’s merely an invention of the Western mind. “Evidence suggests that the only place that the so-called supernatural realm has ever existed has been in the minds and hearts (and speech) of human beings–and only quite recently.” Accordingly, the God of the Bible is no more real than the Greek gods Poseidon or Helios, and the Bible itself is a jumble of “old mythic stories” that provides no real guidance for the challenges we face today: “Ours is a time of space telescopes, electron microscopes, supercomputers, and the worldwide web. It is also a time of smart bombs, collapsing economies, and exploding oil platforms. This is not a time for parsing the lessons given to a few goatherds, tentmakers, and camel drivers.” (emphasis added)

EVANGELICAL ASSISTANCE

Given Dowd’s turn to religious naturalism, one may find surprising the number of Christian evangelicals interviewed for his recent online series at www.EvolutionaryChristianity.com, “The Advent of Evolutionary Christianity.” Some of the evangelicals’ tacit approval of Dowd’s agenda is curious.

For instance, among the nearly 40 interviewees was Karl Giberson, professor of physics at Eastern Nazarene College, who bemoans, “Evangelical theology has not made peace with evolution.” That is, some evangelicals have not accepted Darwin’s take on evolution as is and incorporated it into their theology.

Giberson serves as vice president with the pro-Darwin BioLogos Forum, a group he helped found with the most well-known evangelical advocate of Darwinian evolution, Francis Collins. The BioLogos website states, “We believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. We also believe that evolution, properly understood, best describes God’s work of creation.” But Dowd thinks God is only a metaphor for the universe and the Bible can’t be used to determine right and wrong. Science is the new Bible. This would seem to put BioLogos and Dowd at odds with one another.

Indeed, Giberson estimates that he disagrees with 60% of Dowd’s thinking. Yet Giberson objects to nothing Dowd asserts in their hour-long interview for the Advent series. Why is that?
Giberson says, “It’s fine to be working arm in arm with Michael Dowd, comfortably setting aside our differences and promoting the harmony of Christian faith and evolution.”

And Giberson also disagrees with Dowd about the New Atheists, taking them to task in his book Saving Darwin. What gives? Aren’t the Dawkins and Harris crowd the same people Dowd honors as God’s prophets? But Giberson says building a coalition to promote Darwinian evolution is more important than the gulf between their religious beliefs.

WINNING OVER THE RELUCTANT

Even apart from Dowd’s celebration of the New Atheists as prophets, he shows an ability to win over secularists. Atheist blogger Phil Ferguson originally wrote with ambivalence about Dowd’s Advent series. For Ferguson, Dowd and his cohorts’ made-up religion stuff is okay as long as they “don’t fight known science.” At the same time, “Maybe they are just abusing science to promote religion.”

After Dowd responds online by saying that he’s a “religious naturalist” in which God doesn’t mean what it used to mean, Ferguson is on board. He applauds Dowd’s “intentions and efforts”-and his pragmatism in “reaching people that would run screaming from this blog, so keep up the good work.”

EVANGELICAL OPPOSITION

Not everyone has hopped onto Dowd’s bandwagon. New Testament scholar Peter Jones has described Dowd’s worldview (“One-ism”) in his book One or Two: Seeing a World of Difference (2010). Jones finds Dowd’s use of Christian and Biblical language deceptive; he rejects establishing common cause with someone who engages in “worship of creation.”

Stanford scientist Richard Bube, whom both Dowd and Giberson greatly respect, was extremely critical of Dowd’s first book written in 1990, The Meaning of Life in the 1990s. Bube was once president of the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA), an organization of devout Christians in science-and a pioneer in efforts to put science and faith in harmony.

Dowd says Bube’s writing were his “lifeline” during college. Yet Bube calls false Dowd’s assertions that “every atom of the universe has an inner intelligence which is non-material and ultimately unknowable” and “the earth is alive and we are the Earth’s reflexive consciousness.” Bube also criticized Dowd for taking liberties with the Bible and Christian theology, concluding that “we must not let the idea take root in the Christian community that these aberrations on Christianity are the prescribed way to go.”

A COMMITMENT TO DIVERSITY?

Dowd frames all he does in terms of openness and diversity. After all, he says, “Just like a forest or a pond eco-system, variety and different diversity of species makes for the health of an eco-system. I think that’s true in consciousness and culture as well.”

But the range of diversity he is willing to embrace seems to have sharp limits. For one thing, by endorsing and heaping fulsome praise on the New Atheists and their bashing of what he calls “superstitious, other-wordly religiosity,” Dowd certainly appears to encourage the exclusion of traditional monotheists from being part of any discussion about Darwinian evolution. After all, one of the driving goals of the New Atheists is to so debunk traditional religion that its adherents will be driven out of the public square entirely.

In his own series at EvolutionaryChristianity.com, meanwhile, don’t expect to find any supporters of intelligent design in biology as part of the conversation.


When asked why he didn’t include someone from the intelligent design movement among the nearly 40 interviews in his “Advent of Evolutionary Christianity” series, he replied, “If I were to do it again, I would probably include one, two, or three people from that perspective . . . I certainly anticipate interviewing and occasionally featuring some of the work of a more ID perspective.”

However, Dowd added pre-conditions for interviewing an ID proponent. Candidates would have to subscribe to four concepts Dowd says were held by the Advent interviewees: “We’re all committed Christians, we all value evidence as divine communication and divine guidance, we all have deep-time eyes, and we all have a global heart.”

But how can this group of interviewees truly have these four points of common ground when they obviously don’t agree on what being a Christian means? Or what “divine communication” signifies? What serves as evidence? Are “deep-time eyes” a reference to an old earth chronology or more about “one’s communion with the powers of the earth” as Dowd’s website states? Does “global heart” mean any animal is just as good as a human because people are only a part of “the larger body of life”?

While Dowd’s stated commitment to many voices matches his assertion that his is just one voice among many — his lone voice dominates the Advent series. By interjecting stories and commentary during the interviews, Dowd exerts far more influence than that of any other individual.

DOWD’S WORLDVIEW AND ITS IMPACT

What is true of Dowd is that he has held a worldview of religious atheism for over 20 years. The difference is that today there are millions of people who have switched to Dowd’s faith in the Universe. In fact, analysts have estimated that there are 50 million Americans and 100 million Europeans who fit what used to be called New Agers, but now want to be known as Cultural Creatives, Progressives, Brights, or Integral Spiritualists.

So what wins out in the end for Dowd, the advocate of blending Christianity and evolution? Party-line evolution-with mysticism in tow-or is it vice versa?

And what true blue evolutionist might not welcome Dowd? Dowd himself finds even the atheist evolutionary biologist PZ Myers a kindred spirit: “There is very little about which PZ and I disagree, other than perhaps the fact that I’m working to evolve religion and he’s working to free society of it.”

In the process, well-reasoned scientific objections to macroevolution and alternatives to Neo-Darwinism like intelligent design are cast aside. The other casualty is well-considered traditional religion – thrown under the bus for the latest mystical fad that is nothing more than recycled paganism.

How Do We Know/Discover The Truth?

by Nazarene Pastor Dan Campbell (HighCross Ministries)

(High Cross Ministries, Inc. is a not-for-profit 501(c)3 incorporation created to frame and facilitate the evangelical Christian ministries of Dan & Tammy Campbell.  Our purpose is to share the Word of God and lift high the message of His cross through music, preaching, writing, and teaching ministries. Throughout a lifetime of ministry opportunities, we intend to follow God’s call to reach the lost and disciple the believers using the gifts & talents that He alone can give.)

I believe the church is in a state of flux regarding the long-heralded truth known as The Inerrancy of Scripture. There are several well-known Christian teachers who are teaching doctrines that are contrary to Scripture, and they often explain their teaching by advocating an understanding of scripture as full of errors. “The Bible must be wrong”, for example, because it doesn’t make sense with my conclusions, or “The Bible is out of date”, for example, because a modern issue is beyond it’s teaching. Still, many Bible teachers, including me, still hold to the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy and hold that any modern issues must still be understood in the context of full scriptural authority.

For generations, and without substantive resistance, the Protestant church has taught that the Bible is the final authority for us. For certain, there are areas of secular life about which the Bible is specifically silent. In each of these instances the values and principles taught in scripture can be applied to discover not what God did say about these specific things, but what God would say about them, given what we know of God from the Scripture. And thus, my generation and our denomination has had very little substantive conflict over whether God’s Word is the final authority for our lives.

But today there is reason for confusion. Various Bible translations and paraphrases of the Scripture are full of contradictions. Instead of making a thoughtful, discerning decision about which translation to read many people pick which one is easiest, most convenient, or which ever one is suggested to them. Many years ago, while working at a Christian book store in Olathe, Kansas, I was given the task of being in charge of a large section of the store reserved for the display and sales of Bibles, Bible software, commentaries and reference materials, Bible study guides, etc. One of my specific tasks was to create a categorized binder which would give guidance to customers in selecting an appropriate Bible or Commentary for them based upon what specific theology they adhered to, and which church they attended. All of the material was Christian material, but the lines of demarcation were well drawn. It was interesting work for me, then a masters student at Nazarene Theological Seminary, and also very eye-opening regarding the differences between our Christian churches. Yes, there is much confusion out there.

But the differences between denominations are minor compared to the lines being drawn today. Many Christian leaders are casually lending support and lip-service to some well-known Christian teachers who have crossed some pretty formative lines in our theological understanding. Instead of simply seeing lines of theological differentiation between denominations, we are now seeing in our churches, our schools, and in our publishing companies, a re-emergence of leaders who clearly teach doctrine that is outside of orthodoxy. The foundation of our Christian understanding of the truth is crumbling. It is disturbing. Among well-known and widely heard ministers there are those who teach such wrong doctrine as 1) Jesus may not have been born of a virgin, 2) Heaven and Hell may not be real places, 3) Creation may have been a Biblical myth, 4) Satan may not be a reality, 5) the Bible may not be the final authority on matters of faith, etc. I have been shocked, then disturbed, then bewildered, and now am incensed by what I have heard and continue to hear. The problem isn’t that we are dumb, or even uninformed. The problem is that we listen blindly to the wrong teachings. The church needs to be repopulated by a generation of Christian leaders who rebuild our foundation of Christian thought finally on the authoritative Word of God.

Let’s look back at one Christian leader who got it right. John Wesley sought out truth from several different sources, but strained all acquired truth through the authority of the Scripture. His pathway to truth is now called the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. Information about the Wesleyan Quadrilateral is widely available on the internet and the following information is from Wikipedia.

The term itself was coined by 20th century American Methodist Albert C. Outler in his introduction to the 1964 collection John Wesley (ISBN 0-19-502810-4).[1][2] Upon examination of Wesley’s work, Outler theorized that Wesley used four different sources in coming to theological conclusions. The four sources are:

•Scripture – the Holy Bible (Old and New Testaments)
•Tradition – the two millennia history of the Christian Church
•Reason – rational thinking and sensible interpretation
•Experience – a Christian’s personal and communal journey in Christ. (www.wikipedia.com)

Wesley taught that the world in which we live was a gift from God, but that man has spread the lies of the devil so widely that believers must adequately protect themselves in order to preserve holiness of heart and life. Wesley, himself, who came to be known as the father of Methodism, established many very methodical practices to keep himself from impurity, from sin, from temptation, and from wrong doctrine. In his quest to keep himself and his doctrine well founded upon Scripture Wesley determined that any thought (reason) must be accountable to the Scripture, and personal experience must be accountable to Scripture, and any tradition of man, including what has been taught ot us by any human source must be accountable to the Scripture. John Wesley was not so blind as to not see the mistakes that men make in translation. Instead he was so convinced in the doctrine of Biblical Authority that he founded his faith upon the belief that God would forever protect the inerrancy of His Word. I believe that John Wesley would not have formed Methodism at all if he had not believed in the inerrancy of Scripture.

In our day, many denominations are straying from this teaching. The United Methodist Church, the standard bearer of the Wesleyan movement, is now forming doctrine based upon reason rather than Scripture. The scripture is clear, for example, that homosexuality is a sin, but the UMC is now ordaining openly gay ministers. Why? Because they reason that the Scripture must be wrong when homosexuality is forbidden there. Do you see how reason has become the final authority instead of Scripture? The Catholic church, which never stated agreement with Wesley, has always believed that Church tradition is of higher authority than scripture. This was the defining reason for the Reformation; that men are saved by grace alone, but the Catholic church believes that that grace must come from the church. And in recent years there have been a multitude of leaders teaching that something experienced in the throes of spiritual ecstasy is to be more formative to the individual even than the words of Scripture. Friends, these teachings are wrong. These avenues for pursuing the truth are good, but must always be understood through the Word of God. We have a great deceiver (Satan) among us who wishes us to have only a form of Godliness. This mere form of Godliness is attractive, and gathers large crowds, but it has no power. It is deceit.

Every Christian has the responsibility to know the Scripture so that we may test and approve the truth.
Originally posted at Nazarene Pastor Dan Campbell’s blog at HighCross Ministries