Monday, July 28, 2014

Elvis has left the building

…So goes a popular line when referencing someone who has left. With Matt Olson’s recent posting at his website and Sharper Iron’s subsequent linking to it in their SIfilings, we certainly see that he has left his position he once held as a Baptist pastor. Our Biblical distinctives as Baptists start with, “the Bible is our only (or sole) authority for faith and practice.” In Matt’s opening sentence he repudiates the very foundation of his previously held position as a Baptist. Here is Matt’s opening sentences,
There are many ways we grow in our Christian faith and one of the most significant ways we do this is through the thoughtful reading of good books—often beginning with the Scriptures. Not only are the Scriptures the very words of God, true and authoritative in every way, they go beyond giving us just an intellectual knowledge of God to bringing us into a relationship with Him through His Son. This work is supernatural and transformational. Because of this fact, many believers make an effort to read their Bibles daily. Few, however, expand beyond this to other Christian literature. Over the past two decades of ministry I have become more and more convinced that the study of other literature is an invaluable resource.
Wow! “There are many ways to grow in our Christian faith”?! The greatest harm here is that he intersperses some truth with this off the wall, unorthodox babble. Matt, where is the Scriptural support for such a statement, that we can grow our Christian faith with some other source other than the Word of God? Paul in Romans 10:17 is rather explicit, “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Our faith comes by the hearing of the Word of God, not man’s writing no matter how “Christian” his literature might be. Instead, we see the influence of these “two decades of ministry” in which he has been pouring over men’s writings to the point of leaving his Biblical mooring of the Bible being his only source for faith. He has imbibed and accepted the notion of the reformed thinkers that say we need a theologian to give us the understanding of the Scriptures. I have posted in another article this statement,
In a book titled, An Introduction to Classical Evangelical Hermeneutics, Dr. Mal Couch does an excellent job researching and expounding a literal, historical, grammatical approach to interpreting the Scriptures (i.e. Dispensationalism). I would encourage you to find a copy and add it to your library. In chapter 8, titled, The Allegorists Who Undermined the Normal Interpretation of Scripture (pp. 96, 97), he writes,
“With allegory the antics of the gods were purified, but who determined the allegorical interpretations? By whose authority were words and concepts changed? If there were no ‘guidelines’ as to the meaning of the ‘new’ message, how did readers know the authors’ intentions? These problems consistently overshadow allegorical interpretation
The personality most cited for the change to allegorical interpretation is Philo (ca. 20 B.C.-A.D. 54), ‘A philosophical Jew who possessed both reverence for the Mosaic revelation and fondness for Grecian metaphysics, [who] aimed to explore the mystical depths of significances allegedly concealed beneath the Old Testament Scripture.
Philo taught that the milk of Scripture was the literal but the meat was allegory. Thus, there was hidden meaning. The Word of God had two levels: the literal was on the surface, but the allegorical represented the deeper, more spiritual meaning. Therefore, anyone who simply interpreted the Bible on its most natural, normal way was simple and missing the great meanings of the Scriptures. Ramm writes,
Philo did not think that the literal meaning was useless, but it represented the immature level of understanding. The literal sense was the body of Scripture, and the allegorical sense its soul. Accordingly the literal was for the immature, and the allegorical for the mature.
To reiterate, allegorical interpretation creates meaning through the interpreter. Accordingly, allegorist believes the average person may be reading and interpreting wrongly without the help of a scholar or, in the case of Scripture, a wise, well-trained theologian. Often, even today, allegorists look down their noses at those who take the Bible at face value with a normal, literal hermeneutic.” (emphasis mine)
Since this system of interpretation (which is the basis for Reformed theology) requires “a wise, well-trained theologian” to give the fuller, deeper understanding of the Scriptures, then those who are confessedly not a theologian must locate someone who they believe is and place themselves at his or her feet for further instruction. This leaves them at the mercy of the “theologian” for spiritual growth/maturity rather than where the Scriptures places that responsibility which is on the individual (II Peter 3:18 for starters).
That folks, is dangerous territory. History has shown us repeatedly, that relying on other men for our spiritual understanding because we are unable to comprehend apart from their expertise, has enslaved Christianity and deadened the church to the point of the lost running things rather than the regenerated believer. Reformed theology has no place and cannot reside within a true Baptist church, for our very foundational distinctive is at odds with the foundation of Reformed theology’s allegorizing of Scriptures and subsequent reliance upon theologians for its understanding. One or the other foundation will win out, they cannot co-habitate in a church.
Matt must be rather na├»ve of the plethora of Christian literature that is out there for the reading when he states, “Few, however, expand beyond this to other Christian literature.” Christian literature is all the rage and has been for quite some time, to the extent that secular publishing houses have bought some Christian publishing houses (Multnomah Press comes to mind) because it makes good business sense. Even when we narrow down “Christian” to the purer sense of the word, this too has experienced growth and popularity. Now I am not against reading good Christian literature. I have a library and desire to see it grow. The volumes I possess are helpful to me, but they do not to grow my Christian faith because I have read them. My faith doesn’t grow because I read author X’s book on Y. My faith grows because I read the Word of God and the author, God the Holy Spirit, takes that Word and transforms me, changes me, conforms me into the image of Christ. Author X can NEVER accomplish that.

Elvis has left the building and Matt Olson has left the anchored, Biblical position of Baptists down through the centuries who rightfully, Biblically stated, “the Bible is our only (sole) rule for faith (and practice).”

19 comments:

Lou Martuneac said...

Ps. Ernsberger:

Olson’s article reads to me as if he has nearly elevated “other literature” to co-pre-eminence status with the Word of God. Matt’s application of what he gleaned from the so-called “other literature, invaluable resources” forever ruined the once fine Northland Baptist Bible College.

From my primary blog I will be posting a reference and link to this must read article. May many read what you have shared here, and come away resolved to do all they can to be faithful to the Word of God for all matters of faith and practice.


Lou

Brian said...

Thanks Lou, for stopping by and linking to the article.

Jon Gleason said...

Brian, my brother, I don't think Matt Olson has expressed himself well, and he certainly has drifted far from what his position used to be.

But to be fair, if we didn't believe that there is spiritual profit in reading other things besides Scripture, we wouldn't write.

There are many things I've read, in blogs and books, that have helped to sharpen my understanding of the Scriptures and of how we should apply them. I trust that things I've written help others in the same way. This does not diminish the Scriptures or put human writings on a par with them.

I honestly don't think Matt Olson is really saying anything other than that.

To me, the real issue with what he has written is >which book< he is advocating. Certainly, there is some value in Grudem's book, but there is also some pretty serious doctrinal error, and he gives not the least hint of that, not even a tiny warning.

He's abandoned vigilance for the flock, apparently. He's got himself into a mess in a variety of ways. But I don't think he has put human books above or on a par with Scripture in this article.

Just my thoughts.

Brian said...

Jon, thanks for stopping by and adding to the conversation. I certainly see what you are saying as being possible. I will add this, I have sent Matt through his blog some of what I have said here, expressing this concern. I've heard nothing back from him seeking to clarify what he has said. Since he has neither replied to me nor re-edited his original article, nor posted a subsequent article to bring clarification, I am left to think he means what he says.
I do agree with you that there is profit in books, I state as much, but that is not what Matt said in his opening sentence. As preachers, we are men of words, and yes, sometimes we stumble, and bumble about, but we must be careful and clear with the words we use so that we can be understood.
And yes, there is the whole issue of what book he is advocating without any disclaimer whatsoever. Which is not what was done at NIU in their systematic theology classes. Grudem was valid reading material but given with disclaimers/warnings. Matt seems to not be concerned anymore with the problems.

Jon Gleason said...

Thanks, Brian. I suspect Matt is unlikely to respond, whatever his intent. It would be better if he did. I hope (rather than know) that you've put meaning to his words that he didn't intend.

He's chosen his course, and it isn't one I could take or endorse. (Not that I think that matters to him.)

Brian said...

Jon,
Matt has responded in the past to such questioning when I have engaged something on his blog, but not this time to date. So, until such time he seeks to clarify, we must take him at his word as it is currently and that is a pretty clear wrong statement.

Jon Gleason said...

Thanks, Brian. I agree that the wording as stated is troubling. I certainly am not in the "defend Matt Olson" camp. :)

Brian said...

Jon, I understand you're not in that camp and never had that thought in mind as you addressed the issue before us. You brought up what is normal when looking at books, their level of profitability to the believer. Matt chose words that moved him away from that understanding.

Lou Martuneac said...

Hi Jon: Good to see you here. Always appreciate your perspective, thanks.

Brian wrote, to you, “Matt seems to not be concerned anymore with the problems.” I think we all remember how Matt Olson violated NIU’s published guidelines/policy against getting involved with the modern day Charismatic movement, but did so anyway. He aligned NIU with the Sovereign Grace, Charismatic Movement at the Grace Bible Church in Philadelphia, PA. See, NIU and the Modern Charismatic Movement for that report.

We’re talking about a CJ Mahaney Sovereign Grace church here that Olson got himself, some staff (Greg Dietrich) and the college involved with. Olson’s actions were both doctrinal and institutional infidelity.

All that to say this: It is IMO obvious why Olson does not offer any caution whatsoever about Grudem, especially his unbiblical teachings on the charismatic movement. Olson had already allowed for and/or embraced that teaching while at NIU.

LM

PS: Olson not offering any caution reminds that Kevin Bauder, when quoting, recommending or “heaping lavish praise” on men with questionable doctrine and/or practices, offers virtually no caution either, possibly none whatsoever.

Jon Gleason said...

Hi, Lou. Olson's direction (and his denial of change while taking it, the saddest part of the whole story) has been pretty well documented. I wonder what he really thinks of it all in private moments.

Lou Martuneac said...

Jon:

No way to know his inner-most thoughts today. I think it is obvious that he had a plan for Northland, enacted it aggressively, tried to do it under the radar and surely saw nails going into the coffin with each successive change he made. He had to eventually know the school, was on the way to financial ruin, and it has been.


Lou

Jay Edwards said...

Hey Brian,
Isn't it time to leave Matt Olson alone? I pretty much agree with Jon's 1st response, except I believe Olson was crystal clear in his post. Your response to Olson's post is something I've come to find in your writings. What is that? An underlying dislike for another brother. If you don't like Matt Olson or Wayne Grudem's theology, is it really necessary to go to the lengths you have to discredit them? My head is still swirling trying to figure out how you directed this conversation towards dispensationalism and allegorical Bible interpretation. (??) I don't know how you weren't encouraged by Matt Olson's post. To me, it's obvious his love for Scripture has led him to study outside sources. In fact, you set up his post to have others believe he is leading folks away from the Bible. You certainly use outside sources in your study for sermon prep. Olson isn't telling us to do more than that.....
God Bless,
Jay Edwards

Brian said...

Thanks Jay for stopping by. I am amazed at some who don't actually read. What is Matt's opening statement, which is the basis for this article? That we can grow our Christian faith by many ways. Really? No, we can't. Our faith grows by hearing the Word of God, period. I won't re-write my article here, but seriously, you need to re-read it, Jay. I don't deny the benefit of books but I do deny that books other than the Bible can grow my Christian faith.
I've made no statement about my liking or disliking Matt or Grudem's book. You confuse disagreeing with disliking.
Maybe when you re-read you'll see the link between Matt's Christian growth by men's word and RT.

Jay Edwards said...

Hey Brian,
Thanks for hearing me out here. I was a little concerned I had come on too strong. I did re-read your post, but I still don't see why what Matt Olson says is so disagreeable to you. To me, Matt spends his entire post trying to explain what he means by “There are many ways to grow in our Christian faith". Yet, it seems you ignore the rest of what he says to clarify that statement. He doesn't make much of Grudem as a man, but seems truly grateful for the insight gained by reading him. Nor does Olson imply that any book is as insightful or important than the Bible. I apologize for saying you 'disliked' Olson, however, your disagreement is clear. I'm not trying to defend anyone here, I'm just tired of us fundamentalists being so full of venom toward any person they don't see eye to eye.
God Bless

Brian said...

Jay, sorry it took a few days to post your comment and reply. I was away from a reliable internet source.
A couple things to note, "venom" around here? Hardly. Not seeing eye to eye? How about John the Baptist and the Pharisees? John didn't see "eye to eye" with them and had some rather vitriolic words, do you tire of reading the Gospels? Do you "tire" of reading the pastoral epistles with Paul naming names to Timothy and Titus? What about the OT prophets and their constant warning (with some very harsh words) to Israel? This is not a pleasant thing to do. But when I find something like this that is contrary to Scripture, I will speak up.
As far as Matt and his article, he does not go on to explain his opening statement. He lauds Grudem's systematic theology book and encourages his readers to do the same with the understanding, "There are many ways we grow in our Christian faith and one of the most significant ways we do this is through the thoughtful reading of good books...." Matt's understanding as he states it, is that you can grow in faith by reading men's works. I again state, YOU CANNOT. Faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. I have already stated in my article and elsewhere, I am not against good Christian literature, or good Biblical resources. I have a library that I continue to add books to.
Maybe Matt chose his words poorly maybe he didn't. As it stands we can only take him at his word as he has expressed it, since there has been no effort to clarify.

Brian said...

Jay,
I'm not posting your last comment simply because we're not going to continue going around in circles on this.

Chris Y said...

Brian, I notice you've listed Pilgrim's Progress along with the Bible as a favorite book. I would be curious to know how your appreciation for Bunyan's tale (which I share) differs from Olson's appreciation for Grudem's reference work on biblical topics. Or are we just dealing with semantics? Thanks.

Brian said...

Chris Y,
Seriously, really? Are you not reading the article and the comments? Olson's opening sentence is not expressing "appreciation" for an author and his book. Really, how many times do I have to restate that? And restate that I do appreciate good books (however, Grudem's systematic theology isn't one of them, Matt could have chosen far better in that category), but that appreciation doesn't grow my faith. This is not about semantics and wordsmithing, though that is what some are trying to make this out to be.
I'm not upset or angry when I write this, if I could put a set of rolling eyes in my comments I probably would do it. It isn't difficult to separate appreciation for an author and his book and the growing of one's faith by the Word of God, or least I thought it wasn't difficult.

Brian said...

Chris Y,
Not going to go around in circles with you. What does Romans 10:17 say? Does faith come by a man's words? NO! It comes by hearing the Word of God. The Holy Spirit uses the Word of God in the heart of the believer and "guides us into all truth." Again, faith doesn't grow, isn't produced, our sanctifying doesn't progress by men's word.
Why is that so hard for you to grasp?