Saturday, January 16, 2010
Helpful interchange for understanding modern theological liberalism
A local pastor friend of mine, Steve Rives, wrote a bold post confronting another local pastor.
Adam Hamilton is the pastor of the Church of the Resurrection (United Methodist) just a few miles away from us (Redeemer). The Church of the Resurrection was the fastest growing church in the U.S. at one point and I believe has a membership roll of well over 10,000 people. Mainline churches are predominantly liberal theologically denying the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture, Christ as the only way of salvation, and heterosexual marriage as the biblical mandate, among other erroneous teachings. Adam Hamilton is no different, except he is exceptionally gifted at re-phrasing liberal disbelief in ways that seem so religious. He has found a masterful way of using evangelical-esque language to disarm, all the while cooking his congregation in the slow heating water of liberal theology and disbelief until they are boiling like the proverbial frog.
Pastor Steve Rives has determined the same thing and so wrote the following post. Amazingly, Adam Hamilton got wind of Steve's post and responded to Steve, also posted below. Finally, Steve responds to Adam.
This interchange will teach the reader a bit about modern theological liberalism (Adam Hamilton) and how slippery it is.
Pastor Steve Rives' letter to Adam Hamilton:
Adam Hamilton is the pastor of Church of the Resurrection — one of the largest churches in America and perhaps the largest church in the Kansas City area. He wrote the book, Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White. In 2007 I had to dive into this book, and I want to pull out a representative quote that should cause his supporters and his congregation great alarm.
Adam writes: How could the God of the parable of the Prodigal Son, who cries from the cross, “Father forgive them,” be the same God who says in Deuteronomy 32:41b-42 (NIV), “I will take vengeance on my adversaries and repay those who hate me. I will make my arrows drunk with blood, while my sword devours flesh”? Did God change, or did humanity grow a deeper and clearer understanding of God? The later is possible if we reject the idea that every word of Scripture was chosen by God and is “totally true and trustworthy” — Pastor Adam Hamilton, Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White, page 70-71 footnote 7.
Hamilton pits an Old Testament view of God against a supposedly different New Testament view (i.e., his view of Deuteronomy vs. his view of the Gospel Prodigal). But these two records of God are not two contrary views — where one is to be preferred over the other. Deuteronomy and the Gospels represent the one True God, not two gods. But Adam has it that humanity grew or evolved in an understanding of what God is like, and this development can be traced in scripture. The Bible, in this way of thinking, is not God’s Word to man, but is man’s reflections on who or what God is. And so Adam is able to embrace it is as a growing document that corrects itself and improves with time.
Adam says that we can reconcile what he sees as a problem. Namely, if we jettison the idea that the Bible is “totally true and trustworthy” we can get to the kind of God that fits the right way to think about God. That is, the loving God of the Prodigal Son can be found in the Bible, and the non-loving God can be seen for what he was: the invention of fallible men (so goes Adam’s basic argument).
The true solution lies elsewhere. Instead of pitting the Old Testament against the New Testament, we are better to accept that God’s Word is totally true and trustworthy, and then explore why it is that Adam (and maybe others like him) have a problem with that true and trustworthy revelation. It is okay to struggle with the Bible, and to seek how to work out the meaning of the text, but Adam’s solution is no solution at all. He ends up without a Bible from God, and when he does that, he erases his original problem. By attributing the hard parts of the Bible to human error, he rejects what God has really revealed about himself. It may satisfy him that he doesn’t have to struggle with what God is like, but it means he chiseled God into a mold that better matches his image and expectations.
Whatever it is that is troubling Adam about Deuteronomy, the problem is not with revelation itself. The problem is the way Adam is coming to it. In his pride, however, he rejects the revelation. That is, he exalts himself above God’s Word and calls it mistaken. Adam must abandon this way of thinking and his own solution. Adam is in the same boat as the rest of us. We all must accept the Bible. Therein we discover from the Word of God itself that God is ultimate — he indeed creates people that are the objects of his wrath (see Romans 9:19-26). This may trouble us, but we can explore the ramifications of this teaching by first accepting it.
Adam will not have a God who says, “I will take vengeance on my adversaries and repay those who hate me. I will make my arrows drunk with blood, while my sword devours flesh.” Why would God do this and be like this? That is the better question. It is better to explore that than to explore the path Adam proposes. Adam is not in charge here. We don’t have to accept his ideas. But he wants us to reject the revelation of God and follow his teaching. But we can’t. We can’t because it is not right for us to assume that the Bible is the creation of mere men. Instead, we should accept the Bible as totally trustworthy. At that point, it may be permissible to humbly ponder, “Why is God like God?”
Adam wants to ask, “How has mankind grown up and bettered their view of God?” But the Bible does not represent mankind’s evolving view of God. That is Adam’s first mistake. The Bible represents God as God (it is totally trustworthy and true)! The Bible is an accurate telling of who God is and why.
Adam has made himself a priest of what is revelation. That is, now that Adam seems to know which parts of the Bible are not representing God, he has exalted himself as the one who can tell the rest of us which parts are about God (accurately) and the other parts which are not trustworthy. Adam is like a new Adam or a new Moses. He makes himself higher than he is.
The reason Adam can’t see through to a better solution is because he has adopted the ideas of so-called “higher criticism” (which he articulates and defends in Chapter 8 of his book). These ideas are nothing more than a renewing of the early heresy of Marcion. The church identified teachers of this system as Heretics.
Here is what saddens me most: One of the largest churches in the world accepts Adam as their teacher (even after he has clearly published his views). Scores of thoughtful people are supporting Adam and his ministry. When I have brought this to the attention of people who attend his church, they defend him and their church. This is stunning. They have replaced affection for truth with affection for one single instance of an institution. They seem to protect their idea of a particular community and the significance of that organization (a place where they themselves are plugged-in, accepted and loved) more than fundamental convictions about God — convictions which may drive them to strike out and go where the revelation of God is ultimate and not the filtering abilities of the pastors (a place where Christ is worshiped in Spirit and in Truth).
I conclude that some people would rather stay under a false teacher (and promote his work) than to embrace the clear teachings of Scripture. I want to address these very people. To them I say: Look at Jesus. Observe how he left his glorious position from above and came among us to live the life of a slave. If Jesus can divest himself of all his privileges, then we can abandon the meaningful relationships of a group that is under a teacher of heresy.
Dear Church of the Resurrection, I beg of you, reject the heresy of Adam Hamilton and embrace that the Bible is totally true and trustworthy. Call Adam to repent. If he will not correct his writings, and you stay and support him, then you participate in his guilt. You have a holy responsibility in this. You will be held responsible for enabling the publication of this falsehood. Adam may love you, he may seem so nice, he may be a great teacher, he may speak eloquently about the love of God and he may advance the cause of the poor and needy. Satan (if you believe in him) would have you to support a false teacher exactly for these reasons. False teachers are enabled by you when you overlook their error because of their virtues. You can have an orthodox pastor and continue your ministry. You are not in an either-or position. Call Adam to repentance, or find a repentant pastor. Then call all of your leaders to repentance for overlooking this book. Your church will have a great revival if you do this. And Adam will be blessed if you call him to this repentance. If you love your pastor, then help him! He is worth your effort. It is worth your energy to get this right and to help your leaders and your pastor. If your church will not listen, and if Adam will not repent, then don’t be surprised. Adam rejects the clear teaching of Deuteronomy about God, why would he listen to you? If he is too proud to bend to the Bible, then he will be too proud to bend to you. But the Holy Spirit uses people just like you to help the proud. So mobilize around this, go to him, help him, you can do it. And you all can make it and overcome this.
Sincerely, Steve Rives
Adam Hamilton responds to Steve's post:
I would invite your readers to read the entire chapter in Seeing Gray that you are referring to and not simply the quote you’ve included here.
I stand by what I wrote there – it attempts to capture both God’s inspiration of scripture and the humanity of the authors who heard God’s word and understood God’s purposes in the light of their own times and theological framework. I believe that Jesus is the definitive Word from God – unmitigated – and that all other words about God must be judged in the light of the revelation of God that came to us in Christ. I would reject Marcion’s claims – and find it interesting that you would seek to associate me with his views.
I hope your readers will take the time to read the chapter and come to their own conclusions.
Most mainline pastors and theologians, many moderates in your own denomination, and an increasing number of evangelicals recognize that inspiration does not preclude the human authors of scripture from seeing and understanding the promptings of the Spirit in the light of the prevailing understanding of God in their time.
In Seeing Gray I raised the question many thinking people ask when reading the Bible: How do we reconcile the character of God revealed in Jesus Christ with those handful of pictures of God in the Old Testament in which God appears cruel, unjust and unmerciful? Your readers might appreciate reading Dennis Bratcher’s article on the inerrancy debate at http://www.crivoice.org/inerrant.html.
A couple of helpful books written by evangelical scholars include The Biblical Canon by Lee Martin McDonald published by Hendrickson and Craig Allert’s A High View of Scripture? published by Baker Academic. One last word – you noted in your response to Woody that you wrote your column out of love for me. I might suggest that another way of expressing that love might have been to actually seek to share your concerns with me personally, rather than writing an open letter to the church I serve.
Blessings in your work at Eastside.
A brief note on Hamilton's final statement gently scolding Steve for not speaking privately with him- Hamilton's views are public and published. His book is erroneous and guilty of deep theological error and heresy. Thus, due to the public nature of Hamilton's teaching, it was proper for Steve to address the letter as he did.
Pastor Steve Rives' response to Hamilton:
You wrote: “I believe that Jesus is the definitive Word from God – unmitigated – and that all other words about God must be judged in the light of the revelation of God that came to us in Christ.”
You are mistaken to believe that we must judge the Old Testament (which is included in your phrase, “all other words about God…”) in the light of Jesus. We read the Old Testament in the light of Jesus, we do not judge it. By proposing that we use Jesus to judge the Old Testament, you have it that there are parts of the OT that we can now recognize as not Christ-like. You make Jesus judge over the rest of revelation. You pit text-revelation (the Bible) against Flesh-Revelation (Jesus). But Jesus is not the judge over God’s Word. Jesus is the judge of the world (and he will come in wrath and glory) but he is not our paradigm as judge over the written Word. We are under the Bible, not over it (not even in the name of Christ are we over it).
Contrary to your suggestion, God’s inscripturated Word is as equally unmitigated as his incarnated Word. That’s why Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to destroy but to fulfill” (Matt 5:17). Jesus never reflected your sentiment, but really the opposite. He said, “If you believed Moses you would believe me; for he wrote about me” (John 5:45). Jesus never gave the sense of correcting the Old Testament as one who reveals the standard by which to discover the false parts (as where you said he appears, “cruel, unjust and unmerciful”), but he points to himself as embodying and fulfilling the Old Testament. Jesus is the very God who is exactly like the verse you reject in your book: Deuteronomy 32:41b-42 (see Revelation 14:19-20).
You cannot reject parts of Moses’ books (even if you reject them in the name of Christ) and still have Christ, for Jesus said, “But if you don’t believe his writings, how will you believe my words ?” (John 5:46).
You have not given textual evidence why you reject parts of the Old Testament, just theological argumentation. You have not refuted that you are Marcion, but only denied it. You did not defend your position, but affirmed it and pointed to others who you claim to be like you (which is not a defense).
Your church has a holy obligation to deal with your persistent lack of repentance. This is not a private matter between you and me, this is a matter of your public writings. May God have mercy on you and bring you to the great joy of seeing that Scripture is “Yes and Amen” in Jesus. As it stands, you are arguing on the side of Satan who is the first to have uttered these words, “Has God Really Said… ?” (Gen 3:1).
You are in a fearful position, you and all those who are afraid to oppose you. But God is good, merciful and ready to forgive. You can repent, and he will enjoy your change of mind! Those around you can be bold and bring this to a good resolution, but do not delay, for we are not to treat God’s patience presumptuously.
I say this even as I find myself repenting of my own sins,
Pastor Steve Rives
Steve Rives is the pastor of Eastside Church of the Cross in Louisburg, Kansas