Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Why Am I Concerned About Belief in the Virgin Birth?

Al Mohler:

Bishop Joseph Sprague of the United Methodist Church offers further evidence of modern heresy. In an address he presented on June 25, 2002 at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Colorado, this bishop denied the faith wholesale. Sprague, who serves as Presiding Bishop of the United Methodist Church in northern Illinois, has been called "the most vocally prominent active liberal bishop in Protestantism today." Sprague is proud of this designation and takes it as a compliment: "I really make no apology for that. I don't consider myself a liberal. I consider myself a radical." Sprague lives up to his self-designation.

In his Illiff address, Bishop Sprague claimed that the "myth" of the virgin birth "was not intended as historical fact, but was employed by Matthew and Luke in different ways to appoint poetically the truth about Jesus as experienced in the emerging church." Sprague defined a theological myth as "not false presentation but a valid and quite persuasive literary device employed to point to ultimate truth that can only be insinuated symbolically and never depicted exhaustively." Jesus, Sprague insists, was born to human parents and did not possess "trans-human, supernatural powers."

I've asked why any Christian would reject the Virgin Birth. What possible reason would exist for doing so? I've been a bit coy because I know quite well why those who reject the Virgin Birth do so -- because they reject the divinity of Christ. If Jesus was just a great, but human teacher who talked about turning the other cheek and so on, then his birth from a virgin, miracles, and bodily resurrection are impossibilities derived from myth, not historical fact. Mohler, unlike me, however, is not interested in tap dancing around this issue:

Thus, Sprague dismisses the miracles, the exclusivity of Christ, and the bodily resurrection as well as the virgin birth. His Christology is explicitly heretical: "Jesus was not born the Christ, rather by the confluence of grace with faith, he became the Christ, God's beloved in whom God was well pleased."

Can one be a Christian and reject the divinity of Christ? Mohler is more generous than I by responding to this preposterous question:

Can a true Christian deny the virgin birth? The answer to that question must be a decisive No. Those who deny the virgin birth reject the authority of Scripture, deny the supernatural birth of the Savior, undermine the very foundations of the Gospel, and have no way of explaining the deity of Christ.

Anyone who claims that the virgin birth can be discarded even as the deity of Christ is affirmed is either intellectually dishonest or theological incompetent.

Exactly. As I stated previously, rejection of the Virgin Birth is not in and of itself heretical, but is symptomatic of heresy. One only rejects the Virgin Birth after one has rejected the divinity of Christ.

So if there is some reason why anyone would reject the Virgin Birth but support the authority of Scripture and the divinity of Christ, I would like to hear it. That is the challenge that I lay down to skeptics of my position: explain why anyone would reject the Virgin Birth while simultaneously upholding the authority of Scripture and the divinity of Christ.

46 comments:

JD said...

John,

Excellent posts and thanks for defending the faith...once again. I know you read this comment over on Jason's Blog, but I figured I would share it here as well.

Mark Driscoll, fairly recently, spoke about contending for certain doctrines in the Christian Church (you can get the link to the lecture HERE). One of them, of course, was the Virgin Birth. Here were his comments, which I found rather funny, but VERY true.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
In Mark Driscoll's response to Rob Bell's description of church doctrine as a brick wall that can have pieces removed yet the faith is unshaken. Rob Bell has asked if taking the "brick" of the Virgin Birth would cause any serious issues in Christianity. Mark Driscoll comments, "Yeah (giggle), we'd lose Jesus. I went to public school and I could figure that out...I am not sure that my IQ is bigger than my waist, but I think we need that. I was reading in Isaiah where it said that was important."

He continues on to quote Jude 1:3 and finishes by saying, "Don't mess with Jesus' mother, I doubt He would take it kindly."
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Do any of those individuals that are acquiescing to societal norms for the sake of making Christianity more attractive, more natural, and less super-natural realize, as Mark Driscoll points out, they are starting a new religion that, in truth, is no longer Christianity?

PAX
JD

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing that.
God bless
Maria in the UK
www.inhishands.co.uk

Dan Trabue said...

"So if there is some reason why anyone would reject the Virgin Birth but support the authority of Scripture and the divinity of Christ, I would like to hear it."

Sprague answers that fairly clearly, I thought (for the record, I don't know Sprague or any of his positions beyond what's been posted here). He said, "not false presentation but a valid and quite persuasive literary device employed to point to ultimate truth..."

There are some out there who think that the biblical writers used literary devices that were common to the times to tell a story of Truth. The TRUTH would be what matters, not the facts.

If you read the story of Jonah, the Truths include that you can't run from God, that God loves everyone - even Ninevites and xenophobes, etc. The Truths of that story are not dependent upon the veracity of Jonah having been actually swallowed by a great fish.

When someone starts contradicting the Truths of God, THAT'S when I'm concerned. Whether they agree with me that I think the facts are that marry was a virgin, that Jesus walked on water or that Jesus was killed and rose again...whether they agree with these facts (which are unprovable and accepted on faith) does not concern me nearly as much as those who'd say we DON'T need to love our neighbors or enemies, that God isn't Love, that God isn't a God of Justice...these sorts of Greater Truths.

That's where I'm more concerned about a person's soul and teachings.

Dan Trabue said...

Mary, of course, not "marry..."

John said...

But Dan, if we take these events of Jesus' life, written as a historical description of events, as 'literary devices', then we have no basis to believe that there ever was a Jesus to begin with. And furthermore, we have no basis to believe that his teachings, such as the Sermon on the Mount or the parables, were actual tellings of the person Jesus who walked the earth, or just fabrications of the Apostles. If the apostles ever existed, or were just fabrications of the early church. If the early church ever existed, or was just a fabrication of the medieval church.

If the Virgin Birth narratives were written parabolically, then you would have a point. But they simply are not presented this way. They are presented as historical events.

Dan Trabue said...

"if we take these events of Jesus' life, written as a historical description of events, as 'literary devices', then we have no basis to believe that there ever was a Jesus to begin with..."

And that is the reality of our situation. We have nothing but faith to support our belief in the Bible and to discern what parts are historical and which parts are parabolic. We can't prove the literal factuality of the Bible or its parts.

That is one reason why some of us deem the Truths found with the Bible the essential part of our faith and belief system. If my faith is dependent upon an actual 6 day creation, an actual "great fish" swallowing Jonah, an actual virgin birthing the actual son of God, then my faith could be shaken by any proofs to the contrary (which proofs would often be equally hard to produce).

This is why some cling so adamantly to a 6 day creation - if God didn't create the earth in six days as described in the Bible, then it's all a lie, they would say (my best friend growing up says).

I believe God created the world, that Jonah went reluctantly to Ninevah, that Mary had a baby, that Jesus was born, died and rose again because Jesus is the Son of God. But the great Truths of the Bible is that God loves us, loves us enough to be right here with us, to die for us.

I believe that God is love, that is God's essential nature. I believe that God wants us to share in the joy of that Nature, that God wants us to love our neighbors - even our enemies! That this Love is the way to peace, justice, God's Kingdom.

THESE are the essential Truths of my faith. If someone can prove that the world wasn't created in six days, my faith is intact and alive with joy.

Anonymous said...

Let me try to shed light on what Dan is trying to say in a different way. I had a professor who related to these things in this way:

We all have what he calls, "faith proxies". They are not God, but they are things that sustain our belief in God. For some faith proxies include a lot of things: no makeup, skirts only on women, innerancy of the Bible, infalliability of the Bible. Other people's faith proxies may include different things such as: innerancy of the Bible in the original texts, the Virgin Birth, the Bodily Resurrection of Christ, and a Trinitarian God. Still others have different faith proxies the Five Fundamentals.

Everyone has faith proxies.

Faith proxies are not a bad thing.

These faith proxies are not God, but they reveal to us the nature of God.

Faith proxies may change over the years. (For example, the early church believe the world was flat and that heaven was above and hell was below. This faith proxy has changed)

The problem arises when people of different faith proxies collide as is the case with Bishop Sprague.

Pax,
Stephen

John said...

Dan wrote:

And that is the reality of our situation. We have nothing but faith to support our belief in the Bible and to discern what parts are historical and which parts are parabolic. We can't prove the literal factuality of the Bible or its parts.

Exactly. We have to have faith. But if we lack that faith -- if we decide that Jesus was never a real, earthly person let alone the Son of God -- then we are not Christians.

JD said...

Dan said:

If my faith is dependent upon an actual 6 day creation, an actual "great fish" swallowing Jonah, an actual virgin birthing the actual son of God, then my faith could be shaken by any proofs to the contrary (which proofs would often be equally hard to produce).

The biggest difference between a virgin birth and the creation story is that God may have created the world in 6 days, but the days, in God's time, may have been millions of years for us. The virgin birth on the other hand either happened or it did not. If it did not, then Christ was not divine, and if not divine...what then is Christianity all about?

Christianity, at its core, is the understanding that we are so depraved, and that God loved us so much, and that we "just did not get it" all the other times God tried to show us he loved us and wanted us redeemed, that He sent is only Son as a final sacrifice for all. No more burnt offerings, but Jesus. If the Immaculate Conception was not Immaculate, in other words, without sin or the intervention of man, then Jesus was not divine. If He was not divine, then no resurrection. If no resurrection, no heaven, no heaven...you see where I am going with this.

There are hundreds of witnesses, some even outside of Jesus' circle, that saw these things take place. There is also historical documentation, by Josephus (sp), regarding these things.

Enough of that for now.

PAX
JD

JD said...

Stephen wrote:

Faith proxies may change over the years. (For example, the early church believe the world was flat and that heaven was above and hell was below. This faith proxy has changed)

I thought they believed that because it is actually in the Bible, Hell is a fiery place of torment. Jesus ascended into Heaven. I would not consider that a faith proxy, I would consider that Biblical, but more important men than me have commented on this and I am getting off the subject of the virgin birth...

PAX
JD

JD said...

Taking a lesson from a smart, Godly guy I know who quoted this recently on another post, I want to remind everyone that Jude spoke to all about those that would come and challenge the faith and try to make what was in scripture less than it is:

"Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ." Jude 1:3-4

"But you, beloved, remember the words which were spoken before by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ: how they told you that there would be mockers in the last time who would walk according to their own ungodly lusts. These are sensual persons, who cause divisions, not having the Spirit.

But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.

And on some have compassion, making a distinction; but others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh."
Jude 1:17-23

I'm just sayin'...

PAX
JD

Andy B. said...

Just to speculate, why exactly would the presence of human sperm have made Jesus less than he was? (I'm not trying to be funny, I just want a little dialogue.)

Keith Taylor said...

Andy,

I'll tell you why it matters.

If Christ's conception didn't happen as the Bible says it did in multiple (not, just two) places, then that means that the Holy Bible and the Gospel accounts of our Lord are lies, or at least they contain untruth. And our God is all about TRUTH. So, if a Christian believes that Christ was a good man, what the hell is he worshiping. I am also a good man, should you come and worship and tithe to me? Of course not, I am not a good man. I am infected with the orginal sin of Adam and Eve just like everyone else who has ever been born, except Christ.

As I said back in November when we were having this debate:

Christ is the co-eternal, 2nd person of the Holy Trinity, who lived as a man on earth the same as you and I, except without sin, that he died and his blood attonement covers mine and your sin from a just and righteous God, that he bodily arose from the dead as a sign of his diety and defeat over sin and death, and that he promised he would come again and since he promised it, it has to happen since he is God and cannot lie, and all of this is recorded in the Holy Scriptures, if your Church doesn't teach that, then it is unreasonable to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, he was instead an idiot and was mentally derranged, and our salvation is totally not true and the muslims are correct, we are infadels.

And I'll go a step further, any Christian that doesn't think that the Virgin Birth of Christ is a fact is a bigger idiot and lunatic than Jesus would have been if he had proclaimed himself to have one and same with the Father and it was patently untrue.

These questions were all put to bed 1700 years ago at the council of Nicea, what on earth is being taught in our modern Christian Churches today if there is anyone of the Christian Faith that doesn't believe these fundamentals of the Christian Faith are facts, not some gospel writer's fiction to make the story better. God Forbid.

I can think of nothing better to say to such foolish idiots that believe such nonsense as the words of the Saint Paul, the Apostle in his second letter to Timothy.

1: I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom;
2: Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.
3: For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears;
4: And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.
5: But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.


To say that Christ was a common with a good message is a foolish fable. To say that, denies the Divinity of Christ.

I have a question then, who's kingdom is advanced by the spreading of such lies? the kingdom of the enemy. and anyone who spreads such utter foolishness and nonsense needs to understand whose kingdom they are ultimately advancing.

Dan Trabue said...

"Preach the word"

Indeed. But the Word that we are to preach is that God loves us, wants to invite us to God's table, to God's kingdom. That's the Good News.

Good news to the poor, to the imprisoned, the ill, to those who long for the year of the Jubilee. This is the Good News as Christ defined it. This is the Word.

Mary being a virgin or a harlot or a donkey's ass is not the Word. I fear that we lose sight of the Good News when we worry about these rather small and non-crucial factoids.

Anonymous said...

What is very interesting is that if you take this in a different way and look at the reaction Jesus received in his hometown. (Where it was probably widely known that he was conceived out of wedlock and not Joseph's son and therefore most likely considered a bastard)

He couldn't do many miracles, considered just a carpenter, and "without honor" most likely due to his status.

This has a lot to say about status and class and how God works in this world.

John said...

Mary being a virgin or a harlot or a donkey's ass is not the Word. I fear that we lose sight of the Good News when we worry about these rather small and non-crucial factoids.

They are crucial if people disbelief them because they disbelieve in the divinity of Christ. If there is some other motivation for disbelief in the VB, I'm still waiting to hear it.

Dan Trabue said...

I've said already what that Bishop said: Some people think that there's evidence that some of the Bible was written in literary traditions that allowed the use of what looks like historical reporting using non-factual writing.

That question HAS been answered.

I don't know that I agree with that in the case of a VB - I'm not familiar enough with all the writing involved. And so therefore, I take it as it's written.

However, nothing in the Bible says that belief in a VB is a necessary belief for salvation. Nothing. So, if some have researched the topic and been led to believe that the writers talked of a VB using that literary device, it causes me no reason to think they're heretical.

The question HAS been answered, if you don't like the answer, it doesn't mean it hasn't been answered.

BruceA said...

Keith Taylor -

any Christian that doesn't think that the Virgin Birth of Christ is a fact is a bigger idiot and lunatic...
...such foolish idiots that believe such nonsense...

Is that kind of language really appropriate?

BruceA said...

Okay, I've found the text of Bishop Sprague's speech online. It turns out that his denial of the virgin birth is not motivated by denial of Christ's divinity. In fact, the bishop affirms Jesus' divinity at the end of the speech:

In conclusion, simply stated, Jesus was fully human and fully divine. His humanity was given in his conception and birth through the natural processes of procreation. His divinity was derived, given as a gift, from his relationship of trust and obedience with God.

It's a heretical view of divinity, but it's not a denial.

Keith Taylor said...

Bruce,

If you feel my language is out of line, I will again quote St. Paul (this time from Galatians)...

1: O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?
2: This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?
3: Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?
4: Have ye suffered so many things in vain? if it be yet in vain.

John said...

Dan wrote:

I've said already what that Bishop said: Some people think that there's evidence that some of the Bible was written in literary traditions that allowed the use of what looks like historical reporting using non-factual writing.

Thanks for addressing this. Now, how do they reach this conclusion in a way that does not make the historical reality of Jesus mythological -- that is, that there even was a Jesus at any point in Judean history?

John said...

Thanks for digging that up, Bruce.

Sprague's text is nonetheless heretical. Specifically, it is the heresy of Adoptionism, long rejected by the early church.

Dan Trabue said...

Let me try another angle: Where do you find biblical justification for the notion of VB as essential doctrine or, conversely, that nonbelief in a VB (or belief in adoptionism) is heretical?

It seems to me that some make heresies based upon church tradition rather than biblical reasoning.

Keith Taylor said...

Dan,

Help me to understand something. I promise, I'm not baiting you, I just don't understand where you stand. Honestly.

Through out this whole month long debate, you have been very passionate on the facts that we as Christians should be more concerned with the actual teachings of Christ, the His commandments to us as Christians as to how we should worship God, care of for our fellow man, our relationships, our care for those in need. You may be surprised to read that I agree with every single thing about that you have said about how we should undergo what I will call faith based works.

I just don't understand. How can you spend so much time studying the Gospel concentrating on every single thing that Christ said and commanded for us to do, yet you seem to argue so vehemently that the Gospels (and the OT prophets for that matter) are not correct on the Virgin Birth? How can you hang your faith on every jot of the gospels in relation to Christ's teachings, but you are so adament that the same authors really didn't mean that Christ was literally virgin born?

In my mind, this is not an either/or proposition. If I ask myself, is it more important that follow Christ's teachings, that I follow his example toword God and my fellow man, that teach the saving Good News of his Gospel to the lost and my fellow man; or is it more important that I believe that Christ is the same Diety as God the Father, that he was born of a Virgin as the Gospel says, that He died as a blood attonement for my sins, that He rose from the dead and that He will come again to judge the quick and the dead?

This is not an either/or question. The answer to that question is a resounding YES. They are both equally important to the Christian faith.

Who Christ is (I mean his attributes)is equally important as what Christ said and taught. Is this not the Faith vs. Works arguement of St. James?

JD said...

Keith,

Thanks for the question to Dan, and everyone else for that matter.

As I understand it, the "good works" from faith is a touchy subject for one reason (and this delves back to the pluralism issue) there are individuals that are not Christians doing "good" things in the world like clothing the homeless and feeding the hungry. Are they saved since they seem to be living the Gospel? Pluralists would say that they are living a "Christ-like life," thus they can go to heaven because their lives mimic the teachings of Christ. This too takes away His Deity and makes Him a "good man." Christians look at the works as an outward expression of their faith, giving complete glory to God for His bounty. Yea, we may feel good, but that is not the motivation behind it. It is a living of the calling of Christ. On the other hand, and I know this may be a generalization, but most non-Christians do “good works” for the feeling that they get, or publicity, not due to an altruistic reason, but more of egotistic reason. (bring on the smack :) )

I digress, but come back to this understanding: The entire concept of Christianity is based on the understanding that we are fallen. God tried over and over again to show us He loved us and wanted us to be with Him for all eternity. We did not get it...The Entire Old Testament. The prophets then prophesied that God loves us so much that He was willing to sacrifice His only Son so that we may be saved, one last covenant that allows us to be forgiven even as we are sinners by nature. For this to happen, Christ had to be the pure incarnation of His father. He had to be conceived in a way that was free from sin, thus the Immaculate Conception. Because of this, He is truly God and man at the same time. Facing the temptations of man, but due to His communication with His heavenly Father, always able to overcome, something each Christian strives for today. If we believe it in our hearts and profess with our lips that we believe that He is the savior, then our faith allows the "good works" to flow. If Christ was not divine and sinless, Christianity is the biggest "OOPS" cover-up that has ever been. Unfortunately we jump back to the logic debate that we have had this month and realize that you cannot have one without the other. To deny one is to deny the other.

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.... And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth." John 1:1-5,14

We are all children of God when we become Christian, but you cannot be the TRUE Son of God unless you are Fathered by God. How did He become flesh? Immaculate Conception and Virgin Birth.

Enough for now...
PAX
JD

Dan Trabue said...

I was asked:
"How can you spend so much time studying the Gospel concentrating on every single thing that Christ said and commanded for us to do, yet you seem to argue so vehemently that the Gospels (and the OT prophets for that matter) are not correct on the Virgin Birth?"

My answer is because I view the Bible as a Book of Truths - God's Truths. And I understand that not every fact need necessarily be correct in order for the Truth to be correct.

While I'm no scientist and not wanting to debate the matter, I don't believe the world was created in six days. I think there's ample evidence in what logic and reason God has given us to scientifically discount that notion.

As I've said, my best friend growing up has his faith based on every word of the Bible being literally true. If the world wasn't created in six days, his faith would be rocked, crushed perhaps.

Why? Because he has misunderstood the Bible to be something less than a book of Truth, more along the lines of a science book or a history book.

It is neither, it is a much greater book of Truth.

Is this making sense?

Dana said...

Sprague's statement makes it sound like he maintains the divinity of Christ but has dropped the co-eternal bit, if I'm reading that correctly: God the Father granted divinity to Jesus, the son of Joseph and Mary.

I think other posters have mentioned his stated reason for doing so: the literary form apparently used in those Gospels supports the use of myth and metaphor to convey ideological truth.

John, you seem to be implying that Sprague has an ulterior motive, that what he really wants to do is deny the divinity of Christ, which I'm not sure is necessarily the case. I think he's interested in stretching the boundaries of doctrine, saying, "What if THIS were the case - does it fit? It seems to. How does it affect how we live our lives?" I don't think he's right, but it's important to remember that one can love God and be truly well-intentioned and STILL be WRONG!

Rather than attacking the man, I think it would be wiser to say, "no, I think he's wrong, and here's why," and go on to explain that. Gamaliel was a pretty smart guy.

Dan: It is an accepted practice to base orthodoxy on tradition, because much of church doctrine isn't spelled out in Scripture (such as the divinity of Christ and the divinity of the Holy Spirit, which were accepted as doctrine in part because it was seen that the apostles had promoted worship of both of them - and also, those ideas could be derived from Scripture).

With that said, I can't be certain about the attitudes of other posters, but it's quite possible for me to have disagreements with people of other faiths and to accept them as they are, despite my disappointment. However, when someone claims to be a Christian and then promotes teachings that directly contradict what Christianity teaches - we do need to take a stand against that. I think this really goes back to the question of whether or not Mormons should call themselves Christians. I think Islam also teaches that Christ was an important prophet. (?) Does that mean that Muslims are actually a type of Christian? The issue is the identity of Christianity as a religion, and that's pretty important.

Whew. Sorry for being so long-winded!

John said...

Let me try another angle: Where do you find biblical justification for the notion of VB as essential doctrine or, conversely, that nonbelief in a VB (or belief in adoptionism) is heretical?

I'm not saying that the Bible insists upon the Virgin Birth for orthodoxy. I'm saying that it insists on the divinity of Christ; that Christ was born both fully God and fully man. Denial of the VB is symptomatic of rejection of this doctrine and not symptomatic of anything else (that I can find).

Adoptionism has not only been rejected by the whole of the historic church as heretical, but the Bible flatly contradicts it. The stories of Jesus are not mythological, but intended as factual. For the Scriptures are not the composition of men, but of God.

John said...

Dana wrote:

John, you seem to be implying that Sprague has an ulterior motive, that what he really wants to do is deny the divinity of Christ, which I'm not sure is necessarily the case. I think he's interested in stretching the boundaries of doctrine, saying, "What if THIS were the case - does it fit? It seems to. How does it affect how we live our lives?" I don't think he's right, but it's important to remember that one can love God and be truly well-intentioned and STILL be WRONG!

Rather than attacking the man, I think it would be wiser to say, "no, I think he's wrong, and here's why," and go on to explain that. Gamaliel was a pretty smart guy.


I'm sure that the many heretics that the early Church wrestled with had the best of intentions (although the writers of the Bible would appear to disagree).

I know it may seem mean-spirited to say that someone else's doctrines are false. But then again, I guess that the epistolary writers, who were deeply concerned with false teachings, were mean-spirited. If I am wrong, then they are wrong.

Dan Trabue said...

"The stories of Jesus are not mythological, but intended as factual."

Factual? Shall we gouge out our eyes and lop off our hands? That is what Jesus factually said.

Shall we sell our belongings and give alms to the poor? That's what Jesus directly and factually said.

The fact is, the Bible is full of analogies, parables, allegories and other stories and we all have to cipher out what is to be taken literally and what metaphorically. We do not and will not always agree upon which are to be taken literally and which metaphorically (would to God that we'd take Jesus' economic teachings a little more literally!).

I'm just saying that I don't draw my Outsider circles in nearly such a small diameter as some here appear inclined to do.

If you want to disagree with me about the VB, by all means, do so brother/sister! I could be wrong! If you want to disagree with me about whether or not God created the world in six days, knock yerself out. You can still be part of my church.

We have matters of real depth to be concerned about: How are we going to look after the least of these? How to we join in solidarity with the oppressed and work to end oppression?... Let us resolve some of these issues before we start excluding people because they disagree with us on mere biblical factoids.

Dan Trabue said...

Dana said:

"when someone claims to be a Christian and then promotes teachings that directly contradict what Christianity teaches"

And this is what I'm saying I think is the heart of the matter. I just really don't care about the VB, a six day world, a triune nature of God, etc, etc, etc.

Christianity teaches the Good News of Jesus. Love our neighbors. Love our enemies. Overcome evil with good. Live simply in solidarity with the oppressed and marginalized. THIS is what Christianity teaches and these are the areas where we ought to be concerned about orthodoxy/orthopraxy.

Seems to me...

Andy B. said...

John: You wrote, "Denial of the VB is symptomatic of rejection of this doctrine and not symptomatic of anything else (that I can find)."

I haven't found much denial of the virgin birth, but a lot of shoulder shrugging.

I hear you saying that the real importance of affirming VB is so that you can affirm Jesus' divinity. However, I hear Keith saying that affirming VB is important because it is in the Bible. Leaving aside Keith's response, may I ask how is it that his being born from a Virgin makes him divine - or how would his having been born 40 weeks after sex made him less so?

John said...

Being born of a virgin, performing miracles, and being bodily raised from the dead are perfectly normal activities for a god. These are only doubted by those who doubt the full divinity of Christ. Therefore denial of the VB is an indicator of denial of the full divinity of Christ (as it has been understood through the whole of Church history). If Jesus is fully divine, why not believe in the Virgin Birth. Why is it so implausible?

Keith Taylor said...

Dan,

John does make an excellent comment which I'd like to continue.

If you in your Christian walk can seemingly throw overboard the VB of Christ, then what about his literal blood attonement as a perfect sacrifice before a just, holy, and righteous God? Does that go? What about the Gospel accounts and witnessed testamoney of over 500 persons that saw him alive? The bodily resurrection of Christ from the dead? Does that go? If that doesn't go, then how can a dead body rise to live again, but a virgin can't concieve a child by the Holy Ghost?

I'm not picking (I know is seems I am, but I am not), but as a brother in Christ, I am really trying to understand this theology.

Anonymous said...

Your premise seems to be that VB=divinity therefore if you don't believe in VB then you don't think Jesus is divine. It seems that some of the arguments firmly belive Jesus is divine even if they question the VB. Why does VB have to be the formula for divinity? If God created the world, he can surely make anyone divine he chooses (from a VB or not).

Keith Taylor said...

Anon,

There is one large thing that you are overlooking. I don't equate Christ's divinity with the VB. You are absolutely right, God can make anyone divine by any means He chooses to do so.

However, the Holy Bible (the OT law, the OT prophets, and at least two of the Gospels) state that Christ was Virgin Born as a testimony to His divinity. It is not my requisite that Christ be VB to be divine, it is the scriptures themselves that testify to this fact as a witness to Christs divinity.

JD said...

Andy B said:

Leaving aside Keith's response, may I ask how is it that his being born from a Virgin makes him divine - or how would his having been born 40 weeks after sex made him less so?

I made a comment about that earlier.

We are all children of God when we become Christian, but you cannot be the TRUE Son of God unless you are Fathered by God. How did He become flesh? Immaculate Conception and Virgin Birth.

How can you be actual divine if you are not part of the divine? The power of God allowed God to become man. God did not bestow divinity on Himself, or some "good man" for that matter. That being the case, the Virgin Birth is important. I wonder, Andy, if you ask this question, that you probably do not believe in original sin? If you do believe in original sin, then there could be nothing but the Holy Spirit that could father Jesus. Otherwise, He would be born with original sin, which, as we understand it, Jesus was born without and never did sin.

Again, as I have stated before, if there was no Virgin Birth, to me, Jesus and His life as a "good man" is the biggest "OOPS" cover-up of all time.

PAX
JD

Anonymous said...

I haven't read the comments, yet, so this may repeat others. I don't know Bishop Sprague and I have no interest in denying miracles. But Mohler (whom I know--he's a complete idiot whom no one should take seriously)'s argument that the Virgin Birth is necessary for believing in Christ's divinity is absurd. Muslims hold to the Virgin Birth of Jesus (it's in the Qu'ran) and DENY his divinity!
As Paul says in 1 Cor. 15, it is the Resurrection which is the basis for claiming that Jesus Christ is divine. 1 John adds that denying the Incarnation makes one anti-christ, but John's Gospel affirms incarnation (in fact, that's where we get the term) without ever mentioning Jesus' birth AT ALL.
Bishop Sprague's definition of myth, at least as reported by the unreliable Mohler (well known for misrepresenting people and twisting their words), is deficient. A myth is an identity narrative--a story in which a people are told the truth about who they are. It may or may not have historical elements. A myth is not a "false story."

We don't need the infancy narratives to affirm that Christ lived--that's not only affirmed in Gospels without such narratives (Mark, John), and in Jewish and pagan secular documents, but the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is the only explanation for the rise of the Christian church. No serious historian today disbelieves in Jesus' existence.

Isaiah's prophecy in 7;14 was not about Jesus or even the future Messiah, but about a pregnant young woman (in Hebrew not even a virgin) whose pregnancy was a sign to the king from God that the Assyrian threat would be shortlived--since Assyria would be destroyed before the child was old enough to know right from wrong. Matthew quotes the Greek translation (which uses the term parthenos which CAN, but doesn't HAVE TO, mean "virgin") because he sees Jesus' birth as displaying the same pattern as earlier biblical events. That's a broader notion of "fulfillment" than you're using.

I have already written why I think there are good reasons for believing the Virgin Birth to be a historical event and not just theological shorthand for the Incarnation. But the Virgin Birth is NOT essential doctrine as the Incarnation is--at least not on a historical level. It is NOT necessary to belief in Jesus' divinity or sinlessness. Mohler's contrary assertions show that he is the theological equivalent of a dunce.

Anonymous said...

My good friend, Dan (we go to the same congregation) said, " I just really don't care about the VB, a six day world, a triune nature of God, etc, etc, etc. " I can only partly agree with this. I don't care about a literal 6 day world because it isn't true. I don't think the literal historicity of the VB matters although I do think it happened. But the Triune Nature of God is different: It goes to the heart of the Gospel of Love that Dan (rightly) wants to put front and center.
This was one of the most important things I learned in seminary: the Trinity is not just a numbers game. A monadic god is sufficient unto itself and doesn't really need people or creation, etc. But the Triune God of Christianity is ALREADY a community of giving and receiving and mutual submission--of RADICAL self-giving love.
The love of God displayed in creation, in Jesus, etc. is not an aberration but a reflection of WHO GOD IS in GOD's VERY BEING.
True, this is not spelled out so easily in the NT. The doctrine of the Trinity was hammered out as Christians were confronted with two immutable facts: There inherited Jewish belief in ONE GOD and the fact that Jesus was clearly God--and the experience of the Holy Spirit in worship. It took time--and is still going on-- to try to make sense of how God can be One and Three--Triunity. And the various trinitarian heresies should not be hated, but seen as deficient attempts to work this out. But there is importance here. Importance that laity often don't see because we do such a poor job of teaching theology in local congregations.
So, while I follow Dan in wanting to divide essential from nonessential--I have to put the Trinity in the former.

Anonymous said...

John, you say that rejecting the historical-literal view of the Virgin Birth is a symptom of heresy--usually only done after one rejects Christ's divinity. I think this is a false statement, especially the "usually" part. I don't believe you have any statistical evidence to back that up.

The following major theologians who reject a historical-literal view of the VB, but who affirm the divinity of Christ, Trinity, etc. come quickly to mind--just off the top of my head: Emil Brunner, Wolfhart Pannenberg, Eduard Schweizer, John Baillie, Donald Baillie, Reinhold Niebuhr, John Macquarrie, Edward Schillebeeckxx, Juergan Moltmann, Hans Kung. It was at least questioned by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, although I am not sure where he came out in the end.
I have deliberately left out of that list well-known liberal theologians since you would count all of them as heretics.

Again, I am a defender of the historicity of the Virgin Birth, but you make it far too central.

Anonymous said...

I would think that the witness of those closest to the actual events of Jesus' day would trump the thoughts of liberal postmodern bishops and neo-orthodox theologians. Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, Igantius and Aristedes--just to name a few--repeatedly and vigorously promoted and defended the doctrine of the Virgin Birth. The earliest form of the Apostles' Creed includes the VB, too.

Oh, not to mention the Bible.

But what do I know? I'm just one of those crazy evangelists.

Keith Taylor said...

Well, well, well I've been waiting on the trump card to be played. The, ...I've been to Divinity School and I know more than the average layman who is obviously more ignorant about such complex things about God, trump card.

So now Isaiah 7:14 is no longer a prophetic verse concerning Christ after being so by church fathers for hundreds of years. I guess the printer sneaked that star in there when they were printing my King James Bible.

I reckon I'm glad God called me to be an ignorant layman, Mech. Engineer. The laws of the physical universe seem to be a lot more fixed than the doctrines of the Christian faith that we seeming have been living in ignorance with for the past 2000 years. And most of those men and women didn't go to Divinity School! I thank God that most of those poor Methodist Episcopal circuit riders were non divinity schooled ignoramuses as well, but they did a mighty fine job building the Lord's church here in America. I will tell you this. Everything I came to know about my Christian faith was taught to me by the United Methodist Church and my own personal reading of the King James Bible. In my UMC we stand and recite the Apostle's Creed each and every Sunday. I think that creed contains all I really need to know about the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith concerning God, Christ, and the Holy Ghost. I'm sticking with it and I'm keeping my King James Bible. The one with ALL the verses from Gen 1:1 to Rev. 22:21 kept intact.

Keith Taylor said...

Oh, I did mean to ask a question...

You are rightly pointed out about the Muslim's beliefs of Christ's VB and their failure to identify Christ's divinity.

Now I will ask you, whose kingdom is advanced by that school of thought? the kingdom of God or the kingdom of the Enemy? Before you answer quickly, really think about our Christian faith.

Anonymous said...

Michael, Reinhold Niebuhr believed in the divinity of Christ and the Trinity???

Anonymous said...

Jonathan asked, "Michael, Reinhold Niebuhr believed in the divinity of Christ and the Trinity???" Yep. Although, I admit that his concept of the former tended to non-ontological and he wasn't really interested in the latter. But I have read sermons by Reinie that mentioned the Trinity. His brother, H. Richard, did more with the Trinity, of course. And, Yoder's criticisms of the WAY that HRN used the Trinity in his reasoning in Christ and Culture are very much on target. But saying someone's Trinitarian thought is deficient is different from saying they don't believe in the Trinity.

Mr. Keith Taylor, I was not playing a seminary trump card. Unlike engineering, theology is the business of all Christians. That's why I think we should do more of it in churches. But there is a difference that theological education makes--would you trust me to build a bridge without engineering education? I can't even program my VCR. My wife teaches me most of the electronics stuff.

Now, I was not claiming that "modern liberal theologians" should be trusted more than either the Bible OR the theologians of the ancient church. Please read carefully. I am DISAGREEING with those modern theologians on the Virgin Birth. As I have tried to argue on my blog, I think there are good reasons for holding it to be a literal event. I cited those theologians specifically to counter the argument John is making that denying the Virgin Birth (as historical) MUST LEAD to denying Christ's divinity or that only those who deny his divinity deny the literal nature of the VB. That is patently false. That's the kind of question that can be settled by a survey--whereas the historical question cannot.

Anonymous said...

John, you say that rejecting the historical-literal view of the Virgin Birth is a symptom of heresy--usually only done after one rejects Christ's divinity. I think this is a false statement, especially the "usually" part. I don't believe you have any statistical evidence to back that up.

"I" (and I'm using this word as literary device, not referring specifically to myself) do not have problems with certain ideas because: a) I don't accept the Lordship of Christ; b) Because I don't believe I'm a sinner. I have problems with certain ideas because I have problems with certain ideas.

To opine theoretically on the motives of very real brothers and sisters in the Church is unfair at best and divisive at worst. It IS actually possible to profess the Lordship of Christ and to have difficultly with the factuality of the mechanics of a virgin conception.

For a start, having problems with an idea isn't the same as denying the idea. Secondly, since I believe in an omnipotent God - and I sincerely do - I'm not sure why I'm supposed to say "The Trinity could not have ensured that Jesus was divine any other way than to have him be born of a virgin." Why? If God is omnipotent, do we need an explanation that satisfies our human desire to understand the facts? Could God have not ensured the divinity of Jesus in a way that we don't understand?

The reason for not making this a Gospel issue is because it may be a stumbling block to faith for a number of people.

Conservative Christians seem to love to paint a picture of mainstream Christians making doubt and distrust the centre of our faith; that is inaccurate. To me, it looks like conservatives seem to love to focus in on theological details and propose another hurdle that one has to jump in order to be "a real Christian". Everyone must believe the factuality of this or that or their faith is automatically called into question; I'm frankly tired of it - although I know it will not stop.

To me, conservative faith often seems not to be trust in the goodness of God but rather cognitive assent to the factuality of esoteric events. The discussion here along the lines of "I could not believe if I thought A, so I conclude that everyone who thinks A does not believe" is a case in point.