Metrics for assessing doctrine

fruit

There are numerous methods (or metrics) for assessing doctrine. By this, I simply mean that we have a wealth of tools for evaluating the quality of our faith.

There are few, however, that are as simple or effective than the one I wish to share. This particular tool for assessing doctrine does not require years of study. It does not even require months of study. It is a tool that any Christian can apply right from the get-go.

The fruit of a doctrine

That is the metric of the character the doctrine inevitably leads to. A doctrine that is righteous should lead to righteousness. If a doctrine is loving then it should lead to love. While a doctrine that leads to pride, factions, conflict, aggression, condemnation, and all those other bad things must, self-evidently, be bad.

This stems, from Matthew 7:15-20 which tells us “by their fruits you will know them”. Given axiom zero (that all scripture is good for teaching), we can know that this has something to teach us. Specifically, that the fruit of a doctrine must be good for it to be considered a good doctrine.

What is good fruit?

Now Galatians 5:22-23 shows us what fruits we should be looking for when assessing doctrine:

  • love
  • joy
  • peace
  • patience
  • kindness
  • goodness
  • faithfulness
  • gentleness
  • self-control

A doctrine that leads to these sorts of characteristics must, at the very least, be good even if it is not perfect. Yet a doctrine that leads to the opposite is fatally flawed.

Why this matters?

Too frequently we Christians have been quick to insist that a doctrine is right because we say “the Bible says” and yet the very attitudes it leads to are anything but Biblical.

Such characteristics as found in Galatians 5:20 such as hostilities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish rivalries, dissensions, and factions. These are the symptoms of a doctrine or belief that are at odds with the character of Christ. They lead to the sort of behaviour I call “trolling for Christ” – which we need to stop doing.

If at any time we find our belief leading us towards hostilities, strife, and dissension then it is our belief and not those of others which needs to be assessed. I can assure you that if we are not readily assessing doctrine that we preach then others will do it for us and be far less kind when they do.

If you need a scripture for this act of self-assessment – 2 Corinthians 13:5 directs us to examine ourselves.

Let us examine our own doctrines to be sure that they produce good fruits and be ready to uproot any that have failed to yield good fruit.

Thoughts on translation

One of the many things that disturb me about practitioners of modern Christianity is a reliance on translated text without a mind towards the source material.

When Christians insist that “the bible is clear” on some topic and then point to the English language edition for support – that worries me. It worries me because any translation is difficult and something is always lost in the transition.

I have read Galatians 5:9 where it says that a little leaven makes the whole loaf leaven. What if the translators were pushing an agenda? My theology would have that agenda in it. What if some vital clue was lost? What if some bias was introduced? My theology would be off-kilter too. What if a subtle point was obscured? How would I know I had missed it?

As a complete amateur in the field of linguistics, I am wholly dependant on the translation notes of the likes of Thayer and Strong. I have my suspicions that Strong may have had an agenda with some of his translations. When Strong gives the possible meanings of a word, there is often one (the one that is used) that sticks out as being quite different to the other possibilities. That bothers me. The best I can do is trust but verify.

The Bible was not written in English

I hope it does not come as a surprise to you to learn that the Bible was not written in English. (It was not). The Bible was written in Hebrew and Greek and first translated into Latin. Anyone who reads any of those languages fluently is going to have insights that we, who only read English, lack.

I have learned that some parts of the ancient Hebrew are so obscure that without the Latin version for a comparison, translation into English is only so much guesswork. “I guess my theology is right” does not sound all that trustworthy.

How do I know that what I am reading is what the original author intended?

1 John 4:1 says to test every spirit. I take that to mean: Test every message that is preached. By test, I mean:

  • Look and check to see if it measures up.
  • Think about it logically.
  • Study and make sure.
  • Ask questions.
  • Be as certain as I can be.

I cannot do that with Hebrew and Greek. The best I can do is check multiple translations and the translation notes. Anything I come up with must be subject to the caveat that it is based on other people’s interpretation. It could be flawed.

Trolls for Christ

Today, we have (what I hope are) well-meaning Christians hounding all and sundry on the Internet bombarding them with the English language translated scripture. Some are doing it in a way that borders on trolling. If there is one thing we can agree on scripture does not teach us to “troll for Christ”.

When the recipient of this Christian trolling knows scripture – in the original Hebrew – better than the Christian, all they are doing is making us all look stupid. When these people also offer a humble and gentle rebuke we have a choice expressed in Proverbs 9:7-9 – learn and be wise or demonstrate our lack of Christ-like-ness.

Humility is the only refuge

When it comes to debating scripture, teaching it, preaching it, or in any way talking about it – our only refuge from looking like fools is to remain humble. Unless we are fluent in ancient Hebrew and Greek, we are dependent on the translation work of others. We see only through the darkened glass of others, to quote 1 Corinthians 13:12.

To pretend we do not suffer from agnosis – a lack of knowledge – is both proud and very, very stupid; not to mention, self-deluded. Have you not read Proverbs 16:18 which says what pride goes before?

For that matter what about Psalm 138:6 and James 4:6? God opposes the proud, but he gives grace to the humble. I will leave it to you to work out if “trolling for Christ” is humble or proud. (Hint: It is not humble at all).

I think it is the time that we Christians climbed down from our high horse and gave up the pretention that we are in any way experts. Proverbs 17:28 says that “Even a fool who remains silent is considered wise”. Let us be wise.

Sola scriptura

The phrase sola scriptura literally means from scripture alone.

Specifically, sola scriptura is a doctrine which holds that the Christian Scriptures are the sole infallible rule of faith and practice. This is a touch more specific than I got with my zeroth axiom (which just states that scripture can be used to establish doctrine).

Sola scriptura is a formal principle of many Protestant denominations. It has been assumed in almost all that I have encountered. Charismatic churches seem to preach some variation of it.

Sola scriptura sits very happily with doctrines that ascribe infallibility to scripture. It is not the same as prima scriptura – which is that the scriptures come first and above all else.

Sola scriptura was a foundational doctrinal principle of the Reformation held by the Reformers. The reformers taught that authentication of Scripture is governed by the discernible excellence of the text as well as the personal witness of the Holy Spirit to the heart of each man.

Sola scriptura and the Axioms of Faith.

As far as the axioms that I have published so far go, both sola scriptura and prima scriptura are compatible with the axioms. Axiom Zero assumes that one of the two is true.

Criticisms of sola scriptura

I don’t intend to get into one right now but I thought I would list some of the objections to sola scriptura.

Please correct me if I get any of these wrong.

One argument is that if scripture is seen as the only source of infallible teaching, its interpretation is subject to fallible interpretation. Generally, these arguments go on to state the need for an infallible interpreter in order to reach a certainty of Christian belief.

Sola scriptura can be argued to be self-referentially incoherent. The Bible itself does not specifically seem to teach sola scriptura. Therefore, the belief that the Scriptures are the only source of Christian belief is self-contradicting because it cannot be supported without extra-scriptural doctrine. (I hope I’ve presented that clearly enough).

Sola scriptura is not so different to the teachings of the Sadducees that held only to the written law and not the oral traditions. I’m not sure what sort of objection that is but I thought I would mention it. You might want to look at Karaite Judaism if this interests you as Karaite Judaism holds the Tanakh alone as its supreme authority in Halakha (Jewish religious law) and theology. I don’t know enough to say if Karaite Judaism and the Sadducees are the similar (or not).

I read about a writer called Dave Armstrong. Armstrong apparently made the point that, since Jesus and the Apostles acknowledge authoritative Jewish oral tradition, Christians cannot dispute oral tradition’s legitimacy and authority. However, as found in Scripture, Jesus also challenges some Jewish oral tradition. Therefore, Christians can dispute some of that tradition’s authority since they hold that Jesus’ authority is greater. The conclusion of total infallibility is therefore brought into question.

How I intend to use the phrase “sola scriptura”.

I’ve not really thought about using it but I think I might write about the differences between sola scriptura and prima scriptura and try to come down one way or the other. It is a big can of worms, as evidenced by the arguments against it. I might leave that topic for a while.

Hermeneutics

Hermeneutics is the study and interpretation of scripture. Most of us just call it Bible Study.

  • It could be fair to call this website a hermeneutical website.
  • On the whole, you will find the word written with a prefix such as “Biblical hermeneutics”.
  • Most Christian debates surrounding theology stem from different hermeneutical approaches.

While reading up on hermeneutics, I learned that Jewish and Christian biblical hermeneutics overlap but have very different interpretive traditions. Which goes some way to explaining why Jewish and Christian readings of scripture vary so much.

My use of the word hermeneutics.

I am not one for big words when shorter ones will do. However, with the Axioms Of Faith, I will be dealing with hermeneutics. I might, if I am feeling verbose, use the word. If I do, you should now know what I mean.

 

Amyraldism

Amyraldism is a word I bumped into for the first time right at the end of October 2017. If I do a poor job of defining it, please forgive me.

Amyraldism is, as I understand it, a form of theology introduced by Moise Amyraut. With amyraldism, you get the Calvinist doctrines of total depravity, unconditional election, irresistible grace and perseverance of the saints. Which, up to that point, is regular vanilla Calvanism.

With amyraldism however, only the elect are brought to faith and actually saved but salvation was available to everyone anyway (so going to hell is your fault). As I said, you get the teaching that Christ died to save all which (as I understand it) is at odds with regular Calvinism.

Moise Amyraut was alive between 1596 and 1664 which makes this doctrine less than 400 years old. Or, in other words, the Church taught something else for more than 75% of our history.

As doctrines go, amyraldism is one which does not fit terribly well with Romans 8:32 as well as pretty much any verses that talk about God saving all men.

Amyraldistic theology might explain Bob’s rather odd flavour of Calvinism. If it does then I disagree strongly with it.

According to one website I read (which gives a better definition), it is also known as “four-point Calvinism”.

How I plan to use the word “amyraldism”.

I have no plans to use this word. I just thought it was interesting and (once again) avoiding working on my book. I’m not sure I fully understand the term but figured I would define it as best I could because of topics I have covered previously.

Can you expand this definition?

If you have a better, clearer or deeper explanation of amyraldism, please speak up. If I was wrong about any point, say something.

Share your thoughts – if only to let me know that someone is reading this.

Agnosis

Agnosis is the first of the seven principles I listed in an essay I wrote called, “Travellers along the path of The Way of Yeshua”.

It comes from the Greek, and means literally “lacking knowledge”. ἀ- (a-, “without”, “lacking”) + γνῶσις (gnôsis, “knowledge”).

In my essay I wrote:

Man is ignorant and the full truth is inherently unknowable to us. All that we think we know is faulty due to our own limitations. Our own best knowledge, doctrines, and understanding are forever flawed and full of error. We seek to embrace metanoia – a change in our thinking – freely confessing our ignorance and, in doing so, we allow our nature to be changed into the nature of Yeshua.

The concept of agnosis is that there is simply so much that we do not know about The Father and about even ourselves. It follows that as we are finite and God is infinite that we cannot possibly know as He knows.

Many of the other principles flow from this one. Along with love, and trust in Yeshua, you could easily work out the others.

Embracing our own agnosis requires humility. Appreciating our own agnosis keeps us from being proud about what we do know. Agnosis keeps us open to learning from others. Which is why I recommend it for the Church of tomorrow.

Agnosis from the axioms of faith.

The principle of agnosis can be reached from the axioms of faith. The zeroth axiom states that all scripture is good for establishing doctrine.

  • Luke 10:21 and Matthew 11:25 show us that there are things that The Father has hidden from us.
  • 1 Corinthians 13:12 says, “For now we see in a mirror indirectly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, just as I have been fully known.”
  • Romans 3:23 tells us that all have erred (sinned) and therefore we are flawed.

Scripture never asks us to understand everything, only to trust Father, and walk humbly in righteousness.

How I intend to use the words agnosis and agnosia.

Sparingly. However, when I do use these words it is always as a reminder (to myself) of the limits of human understanding.

A vision of the Church of tomorrow

I would like to set out seven principles that I think it would be healthy for all Christians to adopt using language that is free from the colouring of doctrinal debates.

Before I get to those principles I would like to paint a picture for you.

Imagine a body of believers that operates, despite differences of tradition, in perfect unity. A bride ready for the bridegroom, if you will. Revelation 19:7 made real. Imagine glory going only to the Father. Imagine a time when the pretences of perfection give way to humility. Imagine the Christian body with room for everyone.

You are now starting to consider the Church of tomorrow. Keep doing that.

Travellers along the path of The Way of Yeshua

Sometime before I hit upon the idea of using axioms as stepping stones to build a systematic and self-consistent framework for evaluating doctrine, I wrote an essay. This essay carried the title, “Travellers along the path of The Way of Yeshua“. In it, I dreamed of a better tomorrow.

I had found that the “normal” language of doctrine and creed often colour our thinking. Rather than help us explore our faith, I suspected (and still do) our words do more to obstruct discussion. Which is why my introduction said this:

I have long dreamed of a return to the foundations Christianity as expressed in the book of Acts and demonstrated in the letters of the new testament in general. However, tradition and history have tarnished the name of Christianity and we have imbued much of its language with meaning unique to our own doctrines and traditions. Therefore, I have attempted to write down this vision of the Church of tomorrow with little of the language of the past so that our current understanding does not colour or distort what I feel The Father is trying to show us. I have looked to our roots, as best I understand them, to provide for this. So if this seems familiar, that is probably because it is.

I could have probably done with a few more commas. Feel free to imagine them.

When I write about the path of The Way of Yeshua, what I am doing is both imagining a better Church (the Church of tomorrow) and attempting to express what unites us without any distracting language. I will almost certainly fail. If in failing, I spark a discussion that leads to the Church of tomorrow, I will have been a success.

Making the vision known

The essay opened by quoting Habakkuk 2:2-3. While I got as far as the writing down the vision, I failed at the making it known part. This post, and the ones I hope will follow it, aim to correct this failing.

These principles might be summed up as: we do not know everything and we should not pretend that we do.

7 Principles for the Church of tomorrow

In my essay “Travellers along the path of The Way of Yeshua“, I set out seven guiding principles. If you have ever wondered where I am coming from when I write, these principles are it. In many ways, they are the foundations of the axiomatic (using axioms) approach I have started to apply.

These are not just fine ideas but express the very core of how I read the Bible. These are the principles that guide my study.

  1. Agnosis – Man is ignorant and all that we think we know is faulty due to our own limitations.
  2. Incompleteness – We realise that our transformation is incomplete.
  3. Retirement – We must be ready, as we mature, to put away less mature doctrines and ideas.
  4. Knowing only Yeshua
  5. Scriptural mystery – While the scriptures are God-breathed, we lack the spiritual wisdom to fully understand them.
  6. Faith – We trust The Father to guide us and place our faith in Him.
  7. Love – Above all else, in all things, we act from love.

Over the next few months, I will try to unpack these principles. I hope that you will explore them with me.

What are your hopes for the Church of tomorrow?

Metanoia

Metanoia, an Ancient Greek word (μετάνοια) meaning “changing one’s mind”.

Metanoia is translated as repent most of the time in English language Bibles. However, reform might be closer to the original meaning. “Reform, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17). I think only Young’s Literal Translation renders metanoia this way (read it here).

Metanoia is a fundamental change in thinking and living rather than a confession of sins as repentance is often explained.

How I intend to use the word metanoia.

Sometimes I try to avoid words which bring colour or meaning that they should not have. For example, the word repentance is so heavily charged, so thoroughly defined that it might not be fit for use in a particular discussion of doctrine. Where I wish to specifically refer to the radical change of heart and mind implicit in the original Greek, there I may use this word.

Yeshua

Yeshua and other variants on the name of Jesus.

In the west, we use the name, Jesus. We do so with such consistency that it is often overlooked that Jesus was not His name back then. A direct rendering may have had us talking about Joshua Christ.

The Wikipedia does a surprisingly good job of explaining this:

Yeshua (ישוע, with vowel pointing יֵשׁוּעַ – yēšūă‘ in Hebrew) was a common alternative form of the name יְהוֹשֻׁעַ (“Yehoshua” – Joshua) in later books of the Hebrew Bible and among Jews of the Second Temple period. The name corresponds to the Greek spelling Iesous, from which, through the Latin Iesus, comes the English spelling Jesus.

The variation in name pronunciation does not stop there.

In English, the name Yeshua is extensively used by followers of Messianic Judaism, whereas East Syrian Christian denominations use the name Isho in order to preserve the Aramaic or Syriac name of Jesus.

Regardless of if you know Him as Isho, Jesus, Yeshua, Iesous, Yehoshua, or even Joshua, this is the exact same messiah (anointed one) that we are talking about.

Eschatology

end of the world

Today’s topic is eschatology, and specifically what on earth the word means.

Theology is a funny old thing with a lot of big words that seem designed to make understand God an impossible task for the average human being. So while I am putting off writing anything remotely related to my book, I thought I would start a new category a glossary of words.

Eschatology is that part of theology concerned with death, judgement, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind. Or, in more common language “end times”. (Here’s how you pronounce eschatology).

The end of the world as we know it.

Scripture talks about aeons (or ages): The present age, the age to come, and so forth. Scripture also talks about aiṓnios which while basically being part of the same word family as aeon gets rendered as eternal quite a lot.

As a result, eschatology can also be a study of the end of things as we know them right now. This is particularly true when dealing with “the end of the age”.

Along with eschatology comes words like apocalypticism. The book of Revelation is apocalyptic, for example.

If we talk about eschatology we may be about to discuss matters such as:

  • The end of the world
  • The Second Coming of Jesus
  • Heaven and Hell
  • The Rapture
  • The Tribulation
  • Millennialism
  • Death and the afterlife
  • The resurrection of the dead
  • The Last Judgment
  • The New Heaven and New Earth in the world to come

How I plan to use the word “eschatology”.

I don’t.

Not that eschatology is not a fine word that says a great deal but I just do not feel familiar enough with the word to use it convincingly. Besides, the word means so much that I feel it might be better using more precise language.

If I do us use the word, however, at least you will know what it means.