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Biblical Interpretation: 5 Things To Consider When Studying God’s Word

Everyone would like to think that their understanding of the Bible is accurate, but with so many different denominations and doctrinal positions, we can’t all be right. So how can we ensure that our theological conclusions are inline with the heart of God and the truth of the Word? Here are a few tips to help keep you on the right path and prevent you from ending up in a theological ditch.

1.) Study Multiple Translations – Although the original text is infallible that doesn’t mean that the English translations always are. If you don’t speak the original languages of Greek and Hebrew, then I suggest studying the Bible in multiple English translations in order to gain a fuller understanding.  By using multiple translations, you can cross-reference these readings with one another in order to validate your conclusions and to temper your findings.  This prevents extrapolating some misguided truth from one translation that is clearly not intended in the original language nor found in other translations.  Some of my personal favorites to use are: NASB, KJV, AMP, MSG, and the HCSB.

2.) Validated by History – Although Church history certainly has its fair share of abuses and skeletons in its closest, this doesn’t mean that history doesn’t have anything to offer.  After 2000 years of Biblical study, I get a little concerned if I’m the only person to come to a specific conclusion.  Have I challenged the status quo of religion before? Certainly! But it’s important to never do this lightly. When writing my book Good God, I challenged the traditional understanding on the book of Job, James 1, and several other passages, but I wasn’t alone in my findings.  Additionally, I took over a decade before I released my findings publicly to ensure that I had uncovered every theological stone possible.  But don’t fool yourself; we all want to think that we’re right. Recently, I’ve witnessed a tendency by those holding to Christian Inclusionism and Universalism to find support for their faulty theological preferences among obscure Eastern Church Fathers, most of whom were considered heretics by their own peers while they were still alive due to their associations with Gnostic thought and other false teachings. If you search far enough into history, you’re certain to find someone who agrees with you, but this doesn’t mean that you’re right.  History alone should never be the only determination, right or wrong.  Remember, instructing people about the heart of God is a beautiful thing, but its also an awesome responsibility.  Recklessness from the pulpit by sharing poorly constructed doctrines and rushed theological conclusions is irresponsible pastoring and should be avoided whenever possible.

3.) In Accordance with the Person of Jesus– The book of Hebrews calls Jesus the “exact representation of God’s being”. This means, if you want to know what God is like, just look at Jesus. As we study the Word, this is an important understanding. If our conclusions about God, derived from the Word, don’t line up with the person of Jesus, then its time to reexamine our interpretation of the scriptures. Did Jesus ever make someone sick?  Give someone cancer? Steal someone’s child? Then neither does God. So when Bible teachers tell you that God will give us trials in order to teach us something, it’s time to find new teachers.  A true interpretation of scripture will never violate the real character of God.

4.) Listen to the Holy Spirit – Although the most subjective, confirmation from the Holy Spirit is easily the most important aspect of gaining revelation from the Bible. Often in my studies, God will first show me something in the Spirit, which will lead me to begin searching out a particular topic or verse. Proverbs 25:2 offers this, “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings.” Does this mean that what you hear is always right? No, but it offers at least a starting point. Sure there are some who have fallen into religious arrogance and rush to claim “God told me” to justify their slanted opinions, but this shouldn’t stop us from seeking the Holy Spirit.  On the contrary, no amount of scholarly study can ever adequately portray and understand the heart of God and the message of the Gospel without a revelation from the Holy Spirit.

5.) Check Your Motive – Perhaps one of the most important considerations in studying the Bible is our own personal motives. Are you studying a particular topic simply to justify your own desires? Does your ego “need” to find something “new” in the Word in order to feel smart? Or are you studying the Word in order to know God and to make him known, regardless of what you discover about him?

What other tips do you have to help ensure that your study of scripture stays on track?

Enjoy what you’re reading?

Make sure and pick up a copy of Lucas’ new book, Good God: The One We Want To Believe In But Are Afraid To Embrace, and don’t forget to download the free missing chapter from the book at www.lucasmiles.org/missingchapter

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The Shack Revisited

Since the release of my article, The Shack:  A Story of Freedom or Force?, I’ve received an almost constant stream of hate mail regarding the concerns that I expressed, not about the film itself nor even the book, but rather the beliefs of the author, which he himself expressed clearly in his new theologically driven book, Lies We Believe About God.  In this Young states, among other things, “Are you suggesting that everyone is saved? That you believe in universal salvation? That is exactly what I am saying!”

My article in response to such bold and blatant theological error, which has received significant traffic and support over the past few days, was criticized as being unfair to Mr. Young, judgmental, and offering unsubstantiated accusations.  Because I am simply unable to respond to each individual diatribe that I have received over the past few days, I felt it best to assemble my response and to clarify my position, in a single follow up post – which I felt is only appropriate to call, The Shack Revisited.

To begin with, let it be known that I have never met Mr. Young, though I am certain that we have nothing short of a long-list of mutual friends and acquaintances, including pastors, journalists, filmmakers, etc.  From all of these mutual relationships combined, not once have I ever heard anything but wonderful things about Young’s disposition, character, and personal integrity.  As a fellow author and filmmaker, I also have the utmost respect for his creativity and talent, which are beyond evident in The Shack.  In fact, I have nothing against the man. I simply don’t agree with his theology, especially that which is expressed in his new book.

Contrary to this generation’s thin-skinned opinion, disagreement doesn’t equal insult.  I’m absolutely certain that Mr. Young and I agree about many things regarding the nature of God and the gospel of grace, but I would ask, “Are a few commonalities reason enough to ignore the false doctrines that he also holds, such as Inclusionism and Christian Universalism?”  The Apostle Paul didn’t think so.  He and Peter had much in common, but this didn’t stop him in Galatians 2:11 from calling Peter out for his doctrinal drift and theological error.  In doing so, I’m not questioning Mr. Young’s salvation, nor the beauty of his book, rather his love affair with progressivist theology, which is as equally harmful, if not more so, than Peter’s unwillingness to let go of his legalistic tendencies and constant people pleasing.

I’ve been amazed this past week at countless Christians who have been presented with excerpt after excerpt of Mr. Young’s own words describing his adherence to spurious doctrines such as Inclusionism, “Open Hell” (if he believes Hell exists at all), and Universalism, only to look the other way or justify his beliefs as being taken out of context.  Ironically, these same individuals, I have found, are among the first in line to call out legalistic tendencies in mainstream authors as an aspersion against the gospel itself.  Yet, when the pendulum swings the other direction, into liberalism, progressivism, and at times, antinomianism, all remain silent.  The consensus seems to be that there is no evidence for Mr. Young’s doctrinal drift and that The Shack is only a work of fiction, but this just isn’t the case.

In fact, Mr. Young’s own co-writer of the Shack, Wayne Jacobsen, said in an article he penned himself for Lifestream.org that when he first received the manuscript from Mr. Young that “universalism was a significant component in the resolution of that story.”  Mr. Jacobsen, in reference to his objection to Mr. Young’s position on Universalism, states, “Paul hoped to convince me I was wrong and sent me his paper on universalism.  We spent some time discussing it, but in the end I felt it took too much linguistic gymnastics to bend Scripture to that conclusion.”  As the article continues, Mr. Jacobsen explains that Mr. Young agreed to allow him to remove the theme of Universalism from the Shack in order to make the story more palpable to the audience that needed it the most.  Although Mr. Jacobsen was successful in removing the overarching concept of Universalism from the story-line, he says nothing of removing this line of thinking from his co-author, Mr. Young.  In fact, if anything, Jacobsen only further reinforces my concerns, that Young is not simply an Inclusionist, but a Universalist as well.

With that being said, I don’t believe the issue for the church is as much Mr. Young’s personal theology, as it is the obvious idolization of a fictional story by believers.  Hearing people speak about The Shack, one would think that Mr. Young has presented a clearer gospel than Jesus himself.  This is problematic for multiple reasons, but most importantly, it demonstrates the love lost in the heart of the church toward Christ and his word.  Like a desperate housewife bored with her first love, the church has revealed that it is on the prowl for a new gospel that is more exciting than the first.  This I intend to address further next week in a new post entitled, “Legalism or Progressivism:  Which is More Deadly to Faith?”

Until then, those who know me, should recognize that if the issues I’m describing where merely related to a movie, I would never take the time to present such a case, but in no way is this about a single author or a current film, but an evolving distrust for the church, the Bible, and ultimately for God.

“Who is wise?  He will realize these things.  Who is discerning?  He will understand them.  The ways of the Lord are right; the righteous walk in them, but the rebellious stumble in them.”

– Hosea 14:9

 

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