“Fake News” Theology: How and Why We Use Biblical Authority to Dodge God’s Authority

Kenton Sparks, a wonderfully gifted scholar, has a timely book out

No matter what side you’re on or how you look at it, we’re living in a world that’s filled with “fake news” and with lots of people who believe it. How do Christians fits into this world? In this book, Kenton Sparks argues that certain approaches to biblical authority, which assume that the Bible is a perfect book, make Christians especially susceptible to the deceptions of “fake news” and cause us to embrace false understandings of the Bible and, because of this, about natural science, social science, various academic disciplines, politics, morals, ethics, and loads of other things. The resulting damage to faith and Christian witness is significant. Is there a better way to understand and honor biblical authority? Yes. We must restore God as the final authority over our interpretations of Scripture.

The path forward for this theological agenda was modeled by Jesus Christ in his interpretations of Scripture. Whereas his contemporaries often followed the “letter of the law” or something akin to it, Jesus taught that love for God and neighbor provided the proper foundation and destination for healthy readings and applications of the Bible. If love required more radical, internal commitments to the law, Jesus demanded this of his audience; where love required that we set aside the law’s violent judgments, he pointed his audience in the opposite direction. In modeling this approach to Scripture, Jesus taught “as one with authority” and thus showed us that, when we interpret Scripture through the lens of divine love, we give ourselves the best opportunity to read Scripture under the authority of God.


If It’s In Scripture, We Shouldn’t be Afraid to Mention It

Sometimes preachers are afraid (or at least hesitant) to reference certain texts of Scripture because they want to avoid appearing to be self-serving.  These include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Obey your pastoral leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account, so that they can do this with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you. (Heb. 13:17)
  • The elders who are good leaders should be considered worthy of ample financial support, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says: You must not muzzle an ox that is threshing grain, and, The laborer is worthy of his wages.  (1 Tim. 5:17-18)
  • Remember your pastoral leaders who have spoken God’s word to you. As you carefully observe the outcome of their lives, imitate their faith. (Heb. 13:7)

It’s easy to see why Pastors would be a bit reticent to cite such passages.  But Christians should be familiar with them, as they should be with the whole of Scripture, because Scripture is the source of our knowledge of the will and purpose of God.

To put it simply, John 3:16 is no more important than Hebrews 13:17 or 1 Timothy 5:17-18 or Hebrews 13:7.  They all communicate the will of God.  And all should be known and taken seriously by Christians.*

Preachers, then, should preach the whole of Scripture and not leave parts out simply because someone might look sideways at it. The Church needs to hear what Scripture has to say. The reason our world is in the shape it is, is because too few Christians know, heed, or hear Scripture’s clear teaching. Only proper preaching and teaching can change that.

*Naturally I am not suggesting that Christians should submit to monstrous pseudo-pastors who use, misuse, abuse, or take advantage of others. Those sort are not Pastors, they are monsters. And they should be removed from office. I am, however, suggesting that Pastors worthy of the name are worthy of respect and of a hearing. They are sent by God for the benefit of the Congregation, and the Congregation should recognize that fact

Quote of the Day

The differences among Christians are nothing in comparison of the differences among heathens. The truth is, religion is such an illustrious, noble thing, that dissensions about it, like spots in the moon, are much more noted by the world, than about any lower, common matters. Men may raise controversies in philosophy, physic, astronomy, chronology, and yet it makes no such noise, nor causes much offense or hatred in the world: but the devil and corrupted nature have such an enmity against religion that they are glad to pick any quarrel against it, and blame it for the imperfections of all that learn it and should practice it.  — RICHARD BAXTER

On the Freedom of the Will

“There is great diversity among ecclesiastical writers, some affirming, others denying the freedom of the will. Even the same writer, in different places, seems oftentimes to express opposite sentiments on this subject, sometimes affirming and sometimes denying it. This diversity cannot be more readily settled than by a grammatical explanation of the word. For, if the term free will be used in the most common acceptation, it signifies nothing more than, that the man who possesses it is rational, or has mind and choice; that besides natural emotions and actions, concerning which there is no deliberation of mind or choice of will, a man has voluntary emotions, to the exercise of which the judgment of the mind and the inclination of the will concur; and that in virtues and vices, in order that actions may be called either good or bad, an intelligent mind is required and a will which either yields to or resists the judgment.”  — Martin Chemnitz

That clears it right up, right?  Ah the Orthodox Lutherans…  what a blessing to the theological enterprise…

Quote of the Day

Proponents of American political Evangeliculture believe they are soldiers in a spiritual warfare against satanic secularism. Instead, they are tools in a worldly warfare against flesh and blood.  — Michael Svigel

A Delightful Little Phrase of Luther

Whilst discussing the glories of heaven, Luther compares them to

the latrine* of this life.

Isn’t that brilliant!

*Luther’s German is a bit too crass for most public consumption, since he literally says ‘shit-house’. But that’s Luther for you. Simultaneously crude and brilliant.

Luther: On Atheists

There was mention of a citizen of Wittenberg who was an atheist and who confessed publicly before the town council that he had not received communion for fifteen years. To this Dr. Martin Luther said, “We’ve been sufficiently forbearing with him. After a couple of admonitions I’ll publicly declare that he’s excommunicated and is to be treated like a dog. If in view of this anybody associates with him, let him do so at his own risk. If the unbeliever dies in this condition, let him be buried in the carrion pit like a dog. As an excommunicated person we’ll turn him over to the civil laws.”  –  Luther’s Table Talk

I love Luther’s honest forthrightness.  Sure, he was wrong about some stuff but you just can’t ever accuse him of pandering or equivocating and these days I find that refreshing.

Was he harsh?  You bet.  But so far as he was concerned there was something harsher- death and hell.  He was trying to keep people from experiencing the latter since the former was inevitable.  This makes him miles superior to the likes of Warren and Rob Bell and the other array of self-aggrandizing self promoters.

The Great Apostasy

When the American Church abandoned all talk of sin, death, and hell it signed its own death warrant.

Without those core realities, as understood so well by Christian theology until the Enlightenment, the Church was transformed into nothing more than a social club like the Lion’s Club or the Rotarians.

Without those core truths, Christianity has nothing unique or special to offer men and women who are now convinced that the worst thing they can be is merely ‘unkind’ rather than damned and depraved.

The false gospel of fluffy bunny love whereby the ethical positivism of people like Norman Vincent Peale has taken the place of the Gospel of the Cross and the purging fire of authentic redemptive love. And as a consequence, sin reigns in human hearts.

The false has replaced the true and damnation awaits.

All because the Church thought that it must change to please the world instead of refusing to do so and standing firm against the secularizing impulses of the tares pretending to be wheat.

To be sure, authentic Christianity will survive. But its adherents will be few in number.

One of the Few Things Barth Got Right Was the Hermeneutical Circle

Which he got right from Paul-

The natural person has no room for the gifts of God’s Spirit; to him they are folly; he cannot recognise them, because their value can be assessed only in the Spirit. The spiritual person, on the other hand, can assess the value of everything, and that person’s value cannot be assessed by anybody else. For: who has ever known the mind of the Lord? Who has ever been his adviser? But we are those who have the mind of Christ.  (1 Cor. 2:14-16)

Like it or not, Paul’s assertion that only those gifted with the Spirit understand the gifts of the Spirit is true.  Dwelling outside the hermeneutical circle doesn’t mean one is a bad historian.  But it does mean one is a terrible theologian and a worse exegete.  All protestations to the contrary notwithstanding.

Self Love Rules the World

Because Christ’s teachings contradict the interests of selfish men, that’s why the world so generally rises up against it with indignation, even as a country will rise against an invading enemy: for he comes to take away that which is dearest to them; as it is said of Luther, that he meddled with the pope’s crown, and the friars’ bellies; and therefore no wonder if they swarmed all about his ears. Selfishness is so general and deeply rooted in our world that (except with a few self-denying saints) self-love and self-interest rule the world. — Richard Baxter

What Are You Supposed to Do If You Have an Ignorant Pastor?

If he be intolerable, through ignorance, heresy, disability, or malignity, forsake him utterly: but if he be tolerable, though weak and cold, and if you cannot remove your dwelling, then public order and your soul’s edification must both be joined as well as you can. In London, or other cities where it is usual, you may go ordinarily to another parish church: but in the country, and where it would be a great offence, you may one part of the day hear in your own parish, and the other at the next, if there be a man much fitter within your reach: but communicating with the church you dwell with. — Richard Baxter

Silence is Sin

[When sin abounds] we must not be silent, lest we disgrace religion and the church, simply in order to curry favor with sinners. — Richard Baxter

If Your Faith Is About Power…

Your faith isn’t Christianity.  ‘Take up your cross, and follow me’ Jesus said.  Not ‘take up the sword, and enforce your will’.

That so many Christians seem to think that they are to be power-seekers proves the fact that they don’t understand Christianity.

Zwingli: On the Perpetrators of Fraud

If it is found that he [i.e., someone] has gained his ends fraude egisse, i.e., by fraud, one owes him no more than the Romans did Jugurtha, who by means of bribes sought to have the murder of his own brothers entirely disregarded, of which he boasted openly when leaving Rome, saying: “Oh this venal city! A merchant could attain anything he pleased if he only had enough money”; and in fact Jugurtha could have proved the truth of his own words if the upright Metellus Numidicus had not defeated and overthrown him on several occasions and thus seriously injured his cause; for too long a period had Jugurtha bred treachery in Rome by means of his money. And finally he fell into the hands of the Romans. Thus, in accordance with the proverb, “deceit turns upon its own creator,” and it is well thus when someone attempts to commit treachery and does something behind the back of upright people. — Huldrych Zwingli

Said the Bible Never

Rather, we are encouraged to love God with our whole heart, soul, MIND, and strength.  God gave us brains, not puppet strings.

If you go to a Church like this, you should leave it.  There’s nothing Scriptural about such a viewpoint.  Go to a church where the Pastor is a theologian, not a business major.