In this episode Kurt talks with Erick Erickson on the value of studying Christian doctrine, how it develops, and the importance it plays in our society today.
Kurt: Good day to you and thanks for joining us here on another episode of Veracity Hill where we are striving for truth on faith, politics, and society. It’s a pleasure to be with you here today. The topic for today’s show is the development of Christian doctrine, but before we get into that, let me just briefly mention some of the past shows if you haven’t had an opportunity to check those out. A few weeks ago I did a show on Christmas Eve on objections to Christmas, sort of dealt with the issues therein if you’ve encountered things like “Why should Christians have Christmas trees?” and do we know that Jesus was a historical figure. Those sort of things. Then we had a great episode, a year in review, just with the panel here talking about the things we like and our hope for the future of the show. Last week we played an interview with you with Ed Stetzer who’s at the Billy Graham center at Wheaton College where we talked about American Christianity, church planting, he’s a missiologist, so he’s really very much into evangelism, and we also even talked at the end about the Chicago Cubs and today we’ve got a special guest, Erick Erickson, and before I bring him on, let me just mention if you would like to participate in today’s discussion, there’s a couple ways you can do that. You can give us a call at 505-2STRIVE, that’s 505-278-7483 or you could also text into the show. Just text the word VERACITY to the number 555-888 and I will get those text messages here live during the show so it’d be great to interact with you, get your questions and comments about what you’re hearing and if you’ve got suggestions for the show as well we’d be happy to take those too. So the development of Christian doctrine is something that I’ve personally studied myself because it’s a sub-area of my theological studies in my Ph.D. work so I’m excited to share a little bit about Vincent of Lerins, but I’ve decided to bring in a voice here to join me, Erick Erickson. He is the editor and chief, well he was the long time editor and chief of Redstate.com and now he runs a site called the Resurgent.com and it’s a great opportunity for you to check out some political articles, but he doesn’t just have interest in politics. He also has interest in theology and so we’ve brought him on the show today so he can tell us a little bit about why we should all be interested in theology to a certain extent and what areas really interest him, so without further ado, Erick, thanks for joining us on the show today.
Erick: Thanks for having me.
Kurt: How long have you been doing political talk radio? It’s been a number of years now.
Erick: I started really as a full-time job in 2011. I dabbled in it a little bit before then just helping people out, but it actually became a job on January 11, 2011.
Kurt: Right, and it all got started because you did a fill-in for a Christmas show or something like that. Right?
Erick: Yeah. So years ago living in Georgia, I filled in one time on the radio for a friend of mine the day after Christmas and it was three hours, 6 AM to 9 AM, didn’t think anything about it and then several years later after my friend had left the radio station, the new guy actually got arrested in a drug raid and they needed someone to fill in on the radio and they remembered me and they called and asked if I would do it and that one day filling in while the guy was getting out of jail, turned into three months 6-9 in the morning for no money whatsoever. I got paid in expired gift certificates.
Kurt: Hilarious. That was obviously a good opportunity for you to showcase your talents as a talk radio host and that’s led for you to do your own show now. You’ve got the, is it called, I’m not too familiar with the radio terminology, but you’ve got the drive time. Right? You’ve got the drive home.
Erick: Yes. I’ve got evening drive time in Atlanta which is the most listened to segment of the day, and WSB, my station right now in the ratings is the second most listened to station in the nation, so it’s a huge audience for a local show. It’s just Atlanta’s evening news and I do the resurgent.com web site as well and I’m on Fox News trying to tie it all in together.
Kurt: Right. For those that are interested, you can go check out those various outlets and you’ll see that Erick is very much involved with political thought and political commentary, but that’s not what we’re going to be talking about on today’s show, even though we do devote the show to some political issues from time to time. Today we’re going to be talking about Christian doctrine. So Erick let me ask you, how is it someone like yourself has gotten interested in studying Christian theology?
Erick: Well on the radio being in the south I found myself spending a lot of time talking about cultural issues which then developed into talking about faith issues as well, particularly as so many Christians in the country feel more and more under assault and I started getting invited to deliver Sunday sermons in churches and I felt very awkward about that because I had never been to seminary and that and just finally recognizing one day whether I want to admit it or not I’ve got a pulpit and I know what the book of James says about pastors leading people astray. I figure I’d better get seminary so I enrolled now I guess two years ago working on, I was working on a Master’s in Biblical studies. I just converted to a Master’s in Divinity. I have just thoroughly enjoyed it much more than I ever expected to.
Kurt: Ah. So I’ve got to ask just personally as someone, who as you know I’m someone interested in theology. Why the switch over to the M.Div?
Erick: Because everybody thinks I’m doing it and the only thing different really between the M.Div. and the Master’s in Biblical studies is the Hebrew, the Greek, and the preaching package and since I’m already going and giving sermons on Sundays and teaching Sunday Schools I’m already collecting those hours so I might as well just roll over to that.
Kurt: Right. Yeah. And I guess maybe someday in the future then that would open you up to have the credentials to be a pastor whereas the…
Erick: I figure the way culture’s going, the pulpit’s going to be the last safe place where I can get a job.
Kurt: Yeah. Perhaps so, and that’s a fascinating thing trying to predict the culture as well, and what a great segue. Since culture ever seems to be changing on its own, it’s very important that we hold firm to the faith that the apostles had and that that faith be brought through the generations safely and so that’s why it’s important to study Christian theology. So we don’t let the culture decide what beliefs we have and which ways we’ll behave. My first question that I’ve got may be for both of us. Before we get into specifics, is why should Christians study theology? Why is it that we two protestants here should look at church history?
Erick: Because particularly in the 19th to 20th and now the 21st century a lot of protestant Christians have decided that Scripture speaks to them and they’re oblivious to the fact that Scripture has spoken to other people for 2,000 years as well and so instead of trying to come up with unique ideas and interpretations of Scripture based on their own reading, it’s always wise to go see what Scripture has revealed to the Democracy of the dead over the last 2,000 years.
Kurt: That’s a very great point and let me just share, I got some excerpts here of Vincent of Lerins who was a monk in Southern France roughly and he wrote a piece called Commonitorium which is basically a remembrance about why it’s important to hold fast to the faith, so Erick here, you just mentioned it’s important because people have had different perspectives on Scripture and so let me read for you a little bit here. I’ll just take a slight shortcut here reading this second chapter here in Vincent’s Commonitorium. He often writes “I have often then inquired earnestly and attentively of very many men, imminent for sanctity and learning, how and by what sure and so to speak universal rule I may be able to distinguish of the Catholic faith from the falsehood of heretical pravity” and here let me just say what he means by catholic faith is broadly universal. He’s not talking about the Roman Catholic Church. Vincent lived during the 5th century, the 400’s, and so he lived in a time before there was the great schism between the east and the west and long before the Protestant Reformation, so let me skip ahead here. He writes, “But here, someone perhaps will ask since the canon of Scripture is complete and sufficient of itself for everything, and more than sufficient, what need is there to join with it the authority of the church’s interpretation. For this reason because only to the depth of holy Scripture, all do not accept it in one and the same sense, but one understands its words in one way, another in another, so that it seems to be capable of as many interpretations as there are interpreters”, and he goes on then to list a number of heretics and so his rule of thumb then is basically this. That the universal church should hold the faith which has been believed everywhere always, and by all, and that’s sort of what’s called the Vincentian rule or the Vincentian canon, so Erick, it’s very fascinating that you talk about “Hey. It’s just the Bible and me. It’s my interpretation.” But that doesn’t seem to be the case. It seems like there are at least some interpretations that are not valid and so that’s why it’s important to study church history, Christian doctrine, because these people have come before us and thought long about this, so for you what got you interested to study Athanasius?
Erick: One of the requirements for my degree was early church history and I had always been fascinated by Polycarp and Athanasius and in reading more about Athanasius in the process of this class, just understanding how much of our understanding of Christianity comes from this guy and that the reason it comes from him is because he was someone who refused to go with the wind. He had five emperors send him into exile, they began referring to him as Athanasius contra mundum, Athanasius against the world, and a lot of the heresies that we understand today were named by him and his thoughts were precursors to thoughts that shaped Christianity well after he was gone and it was Athanasius who influenced St. Ambrose who influenced Augustine and his influence is just felt throughout Christendom.
Kurt: Yeah. Even still, not even just in the west, Ambrose and especially Augustine, but also the east is also very much influenced by Athanasius so he really just, whichever way the camps break down eventually throughout time, a lot of the Christian even denominations would get to Athanasius because he does cite some of those core beliefs about Christianity that we all agree upon and so it’s really great to trace a lot of Christian doctrine back to him so it’s a good opportunity that you had there to look at his thought. So what were some of your observations?
Erick: What makes it so interesting to me is that there were people before Athanasius, Tertullian for example and Irenaeus who were dealing with heresies like Modalism, but it was Athanasius who finally named Modalism Sabellianism even though Sabellius had long been dead, Athanasius had forced himself to become political, he didn’t want to be political, but he needed political support to survive all of these exiles and in the process he came to this conclusion that it sounds very 20th century politics, that if you named things you did not like after the names of the individuals who came up with them, suddenly you personalize the heresy more so the heresy of the created Christ became Arianism, the heresy of the modes of God became Sabellianism, the heresy of withholding the divinity of the Holy Spirit became the Pneumatomachianism. All of these things were named by Athanasius and then he recognized before he died problems the church would run into after his death including the humanity and divinity of Jesus and if you read Athanasius he did not appreciate the humanity of Jesus until the very end of his life and suddenly you find after he’s dead at the Council of Chalcedon, they’re relying on Athanasius’s writings to say Jesus was fully God and fully man and had a divine will and a divine nature and a human nature and they wouldn’t have gotten there but for his writings, he had foreseen it fifty, sixty years before then.
Kurt: Yeah. And it’s really important to look at the church fathers in their context because sometimes they were battling a heresy. It wasn’t formally heresy while these battles are going on, but they were battling a view that they believed did not represent the church from its history and so as they’re battling these guys, they might be emphasizing the other aspects, so like you’d mentioned, Athanasius was very big on the divinity of Christ. Well that’s because he had to be because his opponents were talking about how Christ was a created being, but that does not seem to be what the church has affirmed through the history and even for Athanasius a relatively short history and so it’s very important to say…go ahead….
Erick: One of the things that I have seen in current culture is a lot of particularly progressive liberal Christians and atheists say that orthodox Christians spend so much time arguing about what Christianity does not stand for as opposed to what Christianity does stand for, whether it’s on abortion or gay marriage, you name it. Eusebius is writing his church history who noticed in 324 A.D. that it was after the apostle John died in 100 A.D. that the church changed from advocacy of what Christianity was to advocacy of what Christianity was not because so many people in the early church tried to co-opt it once John had died and Athanasius also wrote on this, that to understand what Christianity is, you have to understand what it is not.
Kurt: You’re right. There are different methods of talking about God and it can be a very complex thing how we should describe God and at the very least though, and this is something we Protestants like to emphasize, we’d like to get back to, and as someone who’s part of the covenant denomination, where is it written? Where is it in the text, in the Scripture, because we might have some philosophical speculative models for how it is that God could be human, but some of those speculative models go beyond and outside and even against what the biblical text says and so that’s why at least Erick, I don’t know, we’re both Protestants here so we would affirm Sola Scriptura, but perhaps flesh just a little bit out with this, so here Vincent of Lerins who I’ve quoted talks about how, yes, well there is the Scripture but there could be as many different interpretations as there are interpreters and so we need to look to the church, but how does that fit with us as Protestants who affirm the authority of Scripture?
Erick: Again, we affirm the authority of Scripture, but there’s no harm in looking at how others have reviewed the same Scripture and see what the consensus is over time. In particular going back to the very early church because that’s when it was most real. These were not abstract issues in the first several hundred years of the church. They were issues on which people were dying over and how did those early church fathers look at things? You don’t want to just go directly into Scripture per se if there’s something confusing, but how for example did Polycarp or Ignatius who studied at the feet of John the apostle interpret something John had written? That’s rather useful research.
Kurt: Yeah. So does there seem to be a place for even Protestants to study church history. I don’t know if you’re too familiar with the late Methodist theologian Thomas Oden who has sort of revived a study of the church fathers for Protestants. He sort of made it cool again to look at church history and theology.
Erick: I think it’s a necessary requirement and I actually think that something is lost in a number of seminaries these days where church history is no longer a requirement to get a degree in divinity. I think everyone who gets a degree in divinity should be required to learn what these early church fathers went through because essentially we are Chalcedonian Christians. What does that mean? You don’t know if you haven’t taken early church history.
Kurt: Right. By learning about what happened in church history we will not make those same mistakes then.
Erick: Very much so.
Kurt: There’s nothing new under the sun and the issues that Christians face today with Islam, with cults like Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses, guess what? The church has already dealt with these issues and the names I just mentioned are just new names for other heresies and so there are ways that we can defend against the objections. Now some might say that Islam is not sort of a cult. It’s not an offshoot of Christianity. In some respects it kind of is because if you study Islamic theology, you talk about the Injil as being a revelation from Allah and at the very least you can say this, by studying church history, you can learn the arguments the church fathers used to defend the concept of the Trinity or the concept of the incarnation which are the two main objections that Muslims bring against Christian belief.
Erick: I’m learning now that in fact for the last several weeks I’ve written recently about the Trinity the number of people, Christians, identified Christians, and I don’t even include Mormons in the statement, who consider themselves non-Trinitarian Christians, but Baptists, Methodists, who reject the idea of the Trinity because their churches don’t really delve deeply into the theology. One of my funniest encounters in the last several weeks was a twenty-something who was arguing adamantly with me that the word Trinity is not in the Bible therefore the Trinity is not biblical. He believes that Jesus is God but He has a Father and He has a Spirit and his pastor replied to him on Twitter copying me just saying “See me after church next Sunday.”
Kurt: mmm. Yeah. It’s very fascinating. In fact there’s been a couple studies now out that have shown how American Christians are just uneducated on some of the core Christian beliefs so here this comes from Lifeway research. This is an article, 9/27/2016. Americans love God and the Bible, are fuzzy on the details. Only 40% agree that hell is an eternal place of judgment where God sends all people who do not personally entrust in Jesus. We have all sorts of things about the character of God. Only 64% think that God accepts the worship of other religions. That’s 64% of people who don’t recognize that Jesus is not the only way. They think there are other ways. Just on core doctrines like the Trinity, here’s a couple other stats here. 61% agree Jesus is truly God with a divine nature and Jesus is truly man with a human nature, which means if you do the math, 39% of Christians are not really orthodox Christians. This is, I should say, 39% of American Christians let me qualify that way. There’s some here that say 56%, the Holy Spirit is a force, not a personal being. Over 50%! This goes against Christian theology and, that’s why it’s so important to study Christian doctrine because so many of us and you know what? At least that’s maybe a challenge to us Erick. It’s a challenge that we have to help teach people and it just starts at our local churches. It starts by teaching classes on this stuff to help educate people about what Christians do believe, what Christians have believed, and how those beliefs line up with the Scripture. There are of course, there is of course room for non-essential debates, so Erick I know that you’re reformed and I’m not so much. Of course, I am in a small sense because of just the heritage so I’m sympathetic to certain Wesleyan and Methodists which of course you can trace the roots back. At any rate, there is room for a non-essential disagreement, but there really is not room for essential disagreement. This is, Christians have dealt with these issues already and to believe otherwise is heretical so what would you say then, how should the church deal with these issues? How should the church deal with people that are unaware of these core Christian beliefs and who reject the Trinity? They may not even know what that means, but they don’t accept it.
Erick: I think churches have to seriously recommit themselves to basic Christian education in the 21st century. We can no longer presume that people coming into churches really understand these things. My church for example, if you want to become a member of the church you have to go through a month and a half long class on Sunday mornings, a Sunday school class for essentially a month and a half where you learn the basics of Christian doctrine and Christian church organization within our church before you can become a member, but many churches, including Baptist churches, and no harm, I grew up Baptist, you walk the aisle and make a profession of faith. What does that profession of faith actually mean? I am a very big proponent of expository preaching but at the same time I think there is room for thematic preaching using expository preaching. You don’t have to say, “Well this month we’re going to preach through the book of 1 Corinthians.” Instead this month we’re going to preach the Trinity and what it means because the number of people who still to this day will say, “Well the Trinity’s not in the Bible. I don’t see the word.” I actually wrote a newspaper column this past week. I was ambushed in my local grocery store two weekends ago by a guy that was a local columnist in our paper who had been a Catholic priest, fell away from the church, he calls himself a progressive heretic now, he claims to be a Christian but doesn’t recognize anyone you and I would recognize about the faith and so this person in the store was angry with me that I don’t use my weekly newspaper column to rebut this guy every week and my response was, “I’ve got stuff I want to write about. I don’t want to take him on every week and let him guide what I write and I’m actually fascinated by someone who’s fallen away from the faith sees the faith,” but I did commit to write a column on what I thought the boundaries of Christianity were and I realize some will add more than this, but I said there were three. The first is the death and physical resurrection of Christ. The second boundary is the virgin birth and the third boundary is the Trinity, that there’s a lot of room for disagreement within that fence, but anything beyond is heresy and of course the man whose column inspired was outraged, that well my Jesus doesn’t recognize the virgin birth. Well that’s your problem. It’s your created Jesus. Not the one the rest of us recognize.
Kurt: Wow. Fascinating. It does seem to be a problem that we’ve sort of in our subjective relativistic society people are just taking on their own interpretations. Well that’s not my Jesus. I want to know not just what your Jesus is and what someone else’s Jesus is, but what about who is the real Jesus. Right? Who is not just a lord but the Lord? That’s why it’s very important for us to study Christian history, to study the Scriptures. Be like the Bereans who studied the Scriptures and frequently and to see if orthodox Christian beliefs line up with what the Scripture teaches. Alright, Erick. We’ve got to take a short break. This has been so good and afterward I’ve got a few questions, not just from Rapid Questions, which I hope you’ll enjoy, but some other questions about our discussion today so thanks so much and we’ll be right back after this short break from our sponsors.
Kurt: Thanks for sticking with us through that short break with our sponsors. Today, I am here with Erick Erickson. He’s the editor-in-chief at the Resurgent and a radio host in Atlanta at WSB radio, 750 and 95.5. It’s the second-largest radio slot in the nation, is that right Erick?
Kurt: So you’ve got a great forum to be not just a thoughtful political commentator, but a great witness to the Christian faith and so as someone who has listened to your show, I appreciate your willingness to talk about your Christian faith because I think it is so important that Christians think well about politics and we also then be not ashamed of the Gospel and so that’s why I appreciate who you are and the platform that you have, so thanks so much.
Erick: Thank you.
Kurt: On today’s show we’re talking about the development of Christian doctrine and before we jump into that it’s time for a segment of the show that we like to call Rapid Questions and this is just a segment where we ask short light-hearted questions and we want fast responses so we’ll put a minute on the clock here. Erick. Are you ready?
Erick: I’m ready.
Kurt: Alright. Here we go.
Kurt: What is your clothing store of choice?
Kurt: Taco Bell or KFC?
Erick: Taco Bell.
Kurt: Where would you like to live?
Erick: Bora Bora.
Kurt: What’s your favorite sport?
Erick: Football, college.
Kurt: What is your spouse’s favorite holiday?
Erick: Her favorite holiday would definitely be Christmas.
Kurt: What’s your most hated sports franchise?
Erick: Most hated sports franchise? Probably the Yankees.
Kurt: Good answer. Do you drink Dr. Pepper?
Erick: Yes I do.
Kurt: Have you ever driven on the other side of the road?
Erick: I have.
Kurt: What’s the one thing you’d be sure to keep with you if you’re stranded on an island?
Erick: Probably my telescope.
Kurt: Hokey Pokey, Electric Slide, or the Macarena?
Erick: Um. Kill me now? Hokey Pokey?
Kurt: That’s a funny question because we get similar responses. People like, ah, none of them. Thank you so much for playing Rapid Questions. Just a good opportunity for us to learn a little bit more of the personal side of our guests so thanks for being a good sport. And yes, great answer with the Yankees. Definitely the most hated sports franchise.
Erick: I am by the way wearing my Chicago Cubs T-shirt just for you.
Kurt: Wow. Thank you so much. That is a blessing to my soul right there. I wasn’t sure. I don’t know. Are you a Braves fan?
Erick: No. I’m actually a long time Cubs fan. And my best friend was a diehard Cubs fan so I just became a Cubs fan by default and I mean I root for the Braves but the Cubs are my team and they always have been and going to Wrigley Field is just the greatest thing ever.
Kurt: That’s right. I remember that now when you were here a couple of years ago at a conference that I had coordinated. That’s right. I think you told me that. But what you say is right. I’m not even sure how long I’ll be in the Chicago area because of it being in theology that might take you to different places where there might be an opportunity to teach but wherever I move in this nation or worldwide, I will always be rooting for the Cubs.
Kurt: This weekend is the annual Cubs convention in Chicago so a lot of young fans and their families are off seeing the players, getting their signatures. I did that when I was a kid. What a fun opportunity. So let’s get back here to the development of Christian doctrine. One of the things that you had talked about was how Athanasius had sort of set the stage. He provided linguistic terms for us and sometimes these were polemical by associating a position with a person, but sometimes they were not sort of political or polemical. They were beneficial for defending or apologetic. They provided the terminology for us and so you saw how Ambrose and Augustine benefitted from Athanasius’s work and so here I just wanted to read a little bit from Vincent of Lerins who talks about Ambrose and the influence and the work that he did. So here regarding Ambrose Vincent writes,
“He restored churches which had been destroyed, quickened with new life peoples who were spiritually dead, replaced on the heads of priests were the crowns which were torn from them, washed out those abominable, I will not say letters, but blotches of novel impiety with a fountain of believing tears which God opened in the hearts of the bishops. Lastly when almost the whole world was overwhelmed by a ruthless tempest of unlooked for heresy recalled from novel misbelief to the ancient faith, from the madness of novelty to the soundness of antiquity, from the blindness of novelty to pristine light.”
So basically here, Vincent is attesting to the witness that Ambrose had for the orthodox faith, that he restored churches that were broken and not here just by persecution, but from heresy, that the heresy had led to the downfall of local congregations because of those beliefs and so it’s very fascinating how we see Ambrose doing that and that’s a call for Christians today to do the same so Erick, the next question I have for you is this. When we see churches declining what do we do? I’m sure you’re familiar with the PEW study that came out a few years ago, in fact I think we talked about it, where we see a decline of mainline denominations. Sometimes at least, from my evangelical sensibilities, the idea is well if you don’t agree with the church you just find a new one. What would you say? What’s your sort of method for dealing with churches that are decline as a result of heretical untraditional beliefs?
Erick: There was actually a great research paper that has been released in the last week or so. It’s a review of the 2015 PEW research paper and it was conducted over the last five years by a group in Ontario looking at colleges and one of the things that they noticed, the great John Shelby Spong, heretic of the Episcopalian church, used to claim that Christianity needed to change or it was going to die and the churches who followed his methodology are the ones dying and what these people noted, and let me just give you some of the data that they have found, just so fascinating. It’s a study of 22 mainline congregations with over 2,200 congregants participating, and what they found is that 93% of clergy members and 83% of worshippers from growing statements agreed with the statement, “Jesus rose from the dead with a real flesh and blood body leaving behind an empty tomb.” This compared with 67% of worshipers and only 56% of clergy from declining churches. Now here’s the most amazing statistic. Of all growing church clergy, or 100% of growing church clergy members and 90% of the worshippers in growing churches agree with the statement that God performs miracles and answers to miracles. 80% of worshippers in churches that are on decline agreed with that statement, but only 44% of clergy members of declining churches agreed with that statement.
Kurt; 44% of clergy! Wow.
Erick: 44% of clergy in declining churches agree with the statement that God performs miracles and answers to prayer. So believe what you are preaching and maybe your church might grow. That’s not the only reason here, but it is first and foremost. One of the other great data points from that PEW study is that of millennials who are leading churches, the #1 reason millennials leave churches isn’t that they don’t believe, but it’s that they’ve become convinced the preacher doesn’t believe.
Kurt: Wow. That’s so fascinating and my first thought is as someone who is aspiring to teach theology in academia someday, my first thought is, “Wow. What are they teaching those future pastors, those future clergy at the seminaries that they go to?” Those would-be liberal seminaries, because if they’re not….
Erick: There’s a great video, my alma mater, they don’t call it a seminary now, they call it a school of theology, and they put out this video several years ago where the dean of the school has seminarians sitting around Indian style on the floor as he reads them the opening chapters of Luke and the virgin birth and he reads a couple of lines and he says, “Well that didn’t really happen,” and explains why it didn’t really happen. He reads some more and, “Well that didn’t really happen.” I do wonder what exactly are they teaching these students did happen if you’re reading the text of the Bible saying this didn’t happen?
Kurt: Right. Right. Where is that line between what didn’t happen and what did happen and it seems like whatever did happen was so uninspiring that it doesn’t really bring about salvation. It’s just self-help and I’ve heard a number of sermons that are self-help focused, but there’s no power to it. There’s no power through those self-help talks. Ultimately, it’s the Gospel. It’s the good news that really brings about change, not just for a person but for a community and so yeah, it’s very important that we even train our pastors well so very fascinating and thanks for sharing those statistics. I hadn’t yet come across those.
Εrick: I’ll send you the link by the way. It’s a Washington Post story from the other day.
Kurt: Yeah. You’re on top of it with the news. I guess you’ve got to be for your job. You’ve got to be on the cutting edge and sometimes maybe even breaking news.
Kurt: Now I’m curious, do you have a staff that helps you to procure those articles or is that all just you?
Erick: My day job writing at the Resurgent I come across all this stuff and by 5 o’clock when my show goes live east coast time it kind of shapes the stuff I’ve read. Now I do have a producer and a managing editor for the Resurgent and they go out and try to find me non-political filler stories if I get bored with the news of the day but by and large, I try to do my own research. That’s actually a tip. Rush Limbaugh’s been a friend of mine for a number of years and I guest hosted for him several times and one of his long-time pieces of advice is before I got into radio is if I decide to go down that road, I have to commit to do my own research.
Kurt: That’s good because then you know what you’re going to say and you’ve already had it in your head for a few hours as you say so that’s good. I guess it’s a bit better than just having articles thrown your way because at least you can do your research and you can be in charge of which resources you are getting that information from as well so you don’t…basically it works better than having an echochamber built around you. That’s good. I want to talk about something, a methodology. We’ve brought it up on the show a couple of times of associating an unorthodox position or an ill-advised, let me broaden it out, an ill-advised position with a person and so we see this in church history when we talk about heresies. Nestorianism. Pelagianism. Sabellianism. All these different isms are named after people that defended these views. In 21st century America today, it seems like this methodology is not as welcomed. Now maybe in certain theological discussions it is for non-essentials, Calvinism and Arminianism for example, that seems to be a very popular one, but otherwise maybe not, so for example covenant theology vs. dispensationalism or premillennialism vs post or amillennialism, but let’s broaden this out a bit more Erick just to the everyday lifestyle of the Christian. To what degree should we associate an ill-advised proposition or belief with the person that does that, and I’m sure for someone like yourself who talks about politics, that happens perhaps fairly frequently. One thing right now that’s a hot topic is Obamacare. Right?
Kurt: So is there a valid place for it?
Erick: I think it becomes, well from a political standpoint, it’s useful. Connecting an individual to a thought personalizes the thought whether it’s good or bad, it personalized much more than you otherwise would. I really think one of the problems we have with heresies now is that what I say Nestorianism, well who was Nestorious?…Or Arius? What is Arianism as opposed to say the heresy of the created Christ? In today’s world I think people would understand it more if I said the latter instead of the former. It depends on keeping with the times how you do it.
Kurt: Yeah. That’s a good point. So these labels are culturally contexted, meaning that when you lose that context you lose what it means and so eventually the labels just wear off and the downside then I guess with that, like you’d mentioned, maybe there are some good benefits to doing this, to having these labels if you will, cause labels do serve purposes, but one of the shortcomings then is that people, when they lose that context, they lose what that meaning of the label is or was and so then we’re left sort of reinventing the wheel. We’ve got to reeducate Christians on what Nestorianism and what Pelagianism is and that seems to be a tough task.
Erick: I think it’s worth noting that before Athanasius started calling it Arianism it was called by the early church in the writings of the early church leaders, it was called the dispute of the eternality of Christ or the dispute of the created Christ and then subsequently the heresy of the non-eternal Christ or the created Christ and it was Athanasius who said, “no no no no no no. Call it Arianism because Arius is the guy who came up with it”, and that stuck.
Kurt: Right. Well on the description that you provided can be a mouthful so it’s just easier, Arianism, a lot easier for people to say and remember….
Erick: I think it was also useful if you read Athanasius’s writings on this that he recognized that Arius was an exceedingly popular preacher. He was drawing people across the empty half of the Roman Empire, and by suddenly connecting his name with something negative, they could eradicate his popularity, which they actually did a pretty good job of doing except in the Constantinople area.
Kurt: Right. And we do the same today. That’s not to say it’s bad. Perhaps it just needs to be taken on a case by case example. Perhaps there are good cases where we attack the reputation of someone, contingent upon the context let me say, because of course I don’t want to confuse people here, so like logically speaking, an ad hominem is when you attack the character of someone, but that just means when you attack your character that doesn’t mean what they believe is true or false. Right? But there’s a certain aspect to culture shaming if you will someone, say for their behavior, so one example, let me bring this up for those that like Christian pop culture, is Mark Driscoll, who had this great huge megachurch, a network of satellite churches over in Seattle called Mars Hill, and his church except for two of the satellite locations just basically diminished instantaneously when a number of the past elders came out and spoke against some of the behavior that Driscoll had so there was a sort of cultural shaming and what makes this interesting is now Driscoll’s trying to make a comeback as a preacher of a church in Phoenix so it’s interesting because he didn’t hold himself to church authority and so then there was sort of this cultural shaming and yet here he is still trying to do his thing so I think there is a valid place for in a sense shaming people so that’s a good case. There are bad cases though where we might be doing that and, especially if it’s unwarranted, so if we don’t have our facts straight, if the person doesn’t know better, then that’s another issue where maybe someone was mistaken but we didn’t treat them, maybe we gave them a certain level of authority and they shouldn’t have been perceived that way so really we’ve got to take it on a case by case basis.
Erick: I think in these conversations a lot of people, they forget the concept of grace as well and there certainly is a difference between someone who thumbs his nose in the face of church authority and someone who’s just ignorant.
Kurt: Yes. Exactly!
Erick: For grace. Something all of us I think could stand to do more of.
Kurt: Yeah. Right. That’s a very good point. Even someone like myself, I’m studying a specific area of doctrine that will make me an expert in that area. When people ask me to participate in some debates about issues I haven’t studied, I really don’t feel like I’m an expert so if I were to speak on it, I really have to do it in a place of humility because I just haven’t studied it, studied the topic really in depth and so, yeah, we really need to do our best to understand that, that sometimes people, they just are ignorant on certain aspects so, and then we shouldn’t lambaste them. I know I was in a debate on a certain topic and there was a blogger out there that, this is so fascinating, the blogger had dug into my personal history and saw that I went to Kings College, London and attacked me on the basis of one of my former professors being a Roman Catholic even though I’m not Roman Catholic. It was just a fascinating work around and Erick, I know someone like yourself, gosh. You’ve probably got all sorts of criticism for not just your political views but even your Christian faith. How often do you get hate mail?
Erick: On a daily basis and what’s so interesting is that it is frequently the people who are not Christians or are hostile to Christianity who see something I’ve written about politics, don’t like it, and immediately reply, “Well not very Christian of you to say something like this.” I oftentimes find that it is when I have made a joke or laughed at something that they find very precious that my laughing at their cause makes me not a very good Christian and of course, there are people out there, a long held American tradition, that you can either talk about politics or religion, but you can’t talk about both and here comes this guy talking about both, I get it from both sides.
Kurt: Right. So you’re kind of held to a higher standard, shall we say an unfair standard from the non-Christian perspective, but yeah, maybe there is that case as we’ve mentioned in the Christian church we want to hold our leaders to a higher standard. We want our leaders to defend Christian orthodoxy and so when they don’t do that, then we’ve got a situation on our hands where we’ve got to have church discipline, we’ve got to perhaps do cultural shaming. We’ve got to be wary of heresy that finds its way into the church. Okay. Erick. We’ve got shy of under ten minutes here. I want to move forward then to sort of shall we say the future of doctrinal development. When I use this term development what I mean to say is that we find a way to describe in a different, perhaps more detailed way and maybe even relative to our culture, what the Scripture teaches, so I don’t want people to think that when we talk about developing doctrine that we’re coming up with novelties, new ideas, not found in the Scripture, so Erick I know we as good Protestants would reject by and large a lot of the Marian theology of the Catholic Church, which emphasizes Mary, you pray to Mary, the sinlessness of Mary, the perfection of her, right? We reject that and we think that is then ultimately a novelty from our perspectives and so when we talk about the development, we’re just talking about how we describe in our day what the Scripture teaches so with that said, looking to the future, what do you think are doctrinal developments needed in the church today?
Erick: Oh. Gosh! That one is a harder question than…I will say on doctrinal development one of the things that I think the church has to do is to provide a better current modern answer for the relationship of creator to creation, particularly a lot of churches begin to waffle on the issue of marriage being between a man and a woman, I think it becomes more and more urgent that modern churches rediscover the doctrine of creation, that in the beginning God created and the verb used bara applies only to God, He creates in a way we can’t and He created marriage and having churches go back to that understanding. I wouldn’t say it’s so much a creation of new doctrine but a rediscovering of old doctrine.
Kurt: Good. That’s sort of what I was getting at a little bit. I didn’t mean for it to be perhaps a harder question than otherwise, but you’re co-author of a book that focuses on the issue of homosexual marriage in our society today and historically the church has affirmed the traditional marriage view, that marriage is for a man and a woman, so maybe there is a place for, and one of the benefits of a society that becomes more secular is that Christians become more open to working across denominational lines together, to talk about where we are unified in our beliefs and so devout Protestants….
Erick: Yes. I thought it was very interesting for example that on the issue of marriage that Pope Francis had Protestants and Catholics and the Orthodox, all three major denominational branches of Christianity together at the Vatican to discuss marriage, I mean Russell Moore from the Southern Baptist Convention was sitting with Robby George and the Pope to discuss marriage and I think there have to be frankly, the idea of creedal Christianity has allowed now progressive Christianity to corrupt doctrines within the church because they say, well, marriage isn’t in any of the agreed creeds therefore I’m a creedal Christian, but I don’t believe this stuff. Of course marriage wasn’t there because no one in their right mind ever considered that marriage could be between two people of the same sex.
Kurt: Right. That’s right. It’s just so fascinating that something that’s so obvious from church history. It doesn’t need to be written or codified or creedified if I can make up a word because it’s just so obvious. There was no need to put it down in stone so to speak, but maybe now in our world today, in our new world, there is a need to go back and write down a creed that all the different branches of Christianity, the devout branches of Christianity, those who take the Lordship of Christ seriously and truthfully in accordance with the other Orthodox creeds need to come together and say this is where we stand and so we’ve done this a little bit, maybe not to the extent we should. For example in 2009 there was the Manhattan Declaration. Right? Which came together to talk about the sanctity of life, traditional marriage, religious liberty, all those various ethical issues that we’re still dealing with seven years later, but at least there was a call for unity here for Christians and maybe there’s a place where we need to be more firm and make the Manhattan Declaration or something like it more official instead of just sort of an agreed statement. It’s very fascinating finding and thinking about where is the development of Christian doctrine headed. Someone like myself and Erick for someone like you who even studies theology. Of course, we read the scholarship. We read about what scholars are saying and think about but we really need to look at our society and look at what are the issues the church is dealing with because if the academy becomes separated from the church, then we’ve got a problem. Right? Because Christian scholarship is not serving the church and so that doesn’t make it beneficial or edifying so….
Erick: Very much so and I find one of the 21st century trends I find most troubling in that is there are a number of Christian theologian academics who want to be so high-mindedly academic that they present theology in such a way that cannot be related to the church and it’s a trend that comes from secular academia where theses and doctoral papers are written in such a way that they’re inaccessible to the average person, the language of academia, and that’s crossing over into Christianity in very troubling ways, I will call them snooty theologians want to write in such ways that only other snooty theologians can understand them.
Kurt: Yeah. It’s unintelligible for the lay level and that’s a problem so we’ve go to make theology accessible so that’s why it is beneficial to label terms and concepts so people can remember them more easily than, oh yeah, that doctrine that posits that Christ was a created being. It’s easier to think Oh, Arianism. Oh yeah. That’s right. It makes it more accessible which is good. Well we’ve got to close up shop here Erick, but thank you so much for taking the time to come on the show today and to talk about your research into Athanasius and the influence that he’s been and again thank you for the work that you’re doing, providing insightful commentary on politics and at the same time retaining the witness to Jesus and the Gospel so thank you so much for all that you’re doing and we’ll have to bring you on the show again sometime soon.
Erick: Happy to do it. Thanks very much.
Kurt: God bless.
Kurt: Alright. So it was a great opportunity to talk there just now with Erick and this is one of the most favorite parts of the show when I get the messages and the questions where I get to play this little jingle.
Kurt: I like that very end there where he goes, aaah! Okay. So a few weeks ago we had a question from a listener named Michael who asked a question on my view on soteriology or salvation and I think it’s the same fellow here, he follows up. He writes, “Kurt. Thanks for answering my question at the end of the show. Maybe you can further unpack what you mean by anthropological theology and corporate election.” So I apologize if I used these terms and I didn’t describe them sufficiently. Anthropological theology is basically the study or the doctrine of man. What does the Bible teach about human nature and so for me on my view, I would reject a certain, a number of doctrines about man that talk about his inability to do any objective good. I think that non-Christians can perform objective goods that God does recognize, whereas other theological camps would deny that and say that any good that appears to be good is actually just an evil because it’s self-centered for example so I would brush against that. Moving along let me just briefly address corporate election. I affirm the position called corporate election which looks at the passages in the Bible that talk about predestination and some interpret them to be about individuals being predestined by God for eternal salvation. There are two main passages that talk about this. There are a few verses here and there elsewhere but too main passages. Romans 9 and Ephesians 1, and in both of those contexts I think the apostle Paul is writing about a corporate group, how the Gentiles were included in salvation. It’s about a corporate group. It’s not about individuals and so what is true of the group is not necessarily true of each part of the group. Right? If you think that’s true necessarily then you’re committing a logical fallacy, so I think there’s not enough evidence for us to think that those passages at the very least, those passages are about individual election for eternal salvation, so I affirm the corporate view and so an individual is elect insofar as they’re a part of that group, so for example if you belong to a baseball team, if you belong to a club or a church. Right? If you belong to this group then that’s what God has elected and pre-determined, that is he’s elected and pre-determined the group, so I still think people are elect but there is this nuance from the way most Protestants would understand it so at any rate Michael I hope that clarifies the questions for you. Of course, if it doesn’t, feel free to follow up again and if you’re listening to this show too, if you’ve got any questions, this mail bag time is the opportunity to ask me any questions about anything. I’m happy to have my brain picked and if the question is sent in ahead of time then that gives me an opportunity to even maybe do a little bit of research. Alright. That does it for our show today. I’m grateful for the continued support of our patrons and partners that we have there. You can check them out on our web site. Defenders Media, Consult Kevin, The Sky Floor, Rethinking Hell, The Illinois Family Institute, and Evolution 2.0. Thank you to the tech team today, Chris, the Lone Ranger, I appreciate your help, and thank you to our guest Erick Erickson for coming on and talking about the development of Christian doctrine and thank you for listening in and for striving for truth on faith, politics, and society.