Christendom in America has been steadily declining for decades, with the views espoused by many who claim to be Christians straying further and further from pure orthodoxy. Like the audience of Hebrews, the church in America needs the pure spiritual milk that can only come through Scripture.
For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits.
—Hebrews 5:12-6:3, ESV
The Problem of Theological Illiteracy
One of the biggest problems I see in the church today is what I refer to as theological illiteracy. This means that many Christians have an overly limited or even erroneous understanding of the basic doctrines of the Christian faith. This is a serious problem, as an inadequate knowledge of God causes us to worship not the true God as revealed in Scripture but a god our minds create, which is the definition of idolatry. Erroneous views of Scripture, God’s nature, our sinful condition, and the process of salvation can cause us to trust in the wrong Gospel, which actually brings about God’s curse (Galatians 1:6-9). Such views also cause us to distort what Scripture teaches and misapply it to our lives, even leading us to approve what is evil and shun what is good, which similarly brings about God’s curse (Isaiah 5:20, Romans 10:2-3). But is it really that bad? The recent “State of Theology” study by Ligonier Ministries suggests it is. In this post I will look at the general takeaways from that study, while future posts will examine more specific lessons from that study. Ultimately, the goal is to begin to counter the epidemic of theological illiteracy found throughout the church in America.
The “State of the Theology” Study and Methodology
Ligonier Ministries regularly surveys American Christians to gauge the general state of theology in the American church. They present various statements that address Scripture, God’s nature, human nature, sin, salvation, the church, and how Scripture clearly applies to certain current issues. People could answer that they strongly or slightly agreed or disagreed with the statement or were unsure. These statements are written so that a Christian with general knowledge of the basic tenets of Christianity can easily identify whether the statement is true or false, as the validity of all of the statements can be determined either directly from Scripture or derived from Scripture. This means that the more people answer them correctly, the healthier the state of theology in America. The most recent results can be found here. The site also has a data explorer that allows you to view results broken down by region, denomination, age, gender, population density, education, income, marital status, ethnicity, and regularity of church attendance.
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By Cole Newton — 5 months ago
In Leviticus 16, which is the very heart of the Pentateuch, the instructions for the Day of Atonement were given. This was the only day that the high priest was allowed to enter into the most holy place, which contained the ark of the covenant, for it was the day where the high priest would make a sacrifice to atone for the sins of Israel. Indeed, one goat was slaughtered before the LORD on that day; however, another goat was sent into the wild. Just as the sacrificed goat was meant to be a substitution for the rightful death that Israel’s sin had earned, the other goat was meant to carry the sins of the Israelites away into the wilderness, never to be seen again. This is the origin of the term scapegoat. Being delivered into the hands of the Gentiles is a foretelling that Christ’s death would be the great atonement of which both goats were only signs and shadows. Jesus would not only shed His blood for the forgiveness of sins, but He would do so outside the covenantal community, into the Gentile wilderness.
And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.”
And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Mark 10:32-45 ESV
The story of Elijah’s ascent to heaven has always intrigued me. Elijah clearly chose Elisha to be his successor because he knew that his prophetic ministry was coming to an end. And though we tend to think of Elijah’s direct trip to heaven via fiery chariots as being one of the most fascinating stories in the Bible, the whole account reads with a significant amount of heaviness. Elijah is going to be with the LORD, yes, but where will that leave Israel? Who is bold enough in the Spirit to call fire down from heaven to consume God’s adversaries?
Indeed, as they make the long journey, Elisha is greeted by prophets along the way, asking if he knows that his master is being taken from him. Elisha simply says, “yes, I know it; keep quiet” (2 Kings 2:3, 5). As Elijah crossed the Jordan and prepared to be taken up, he asked Elisha if he had one final request. “Please let there be a double portion of your spirit on me.” Elijah answered, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it shall be so for you, but if you do not see me, it shall not be so” (2 Kings 2:9-10).
Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem is marked by a far greater heaviness, for he was going not to be taken back to the Father but to be crushed by the Father. Although the prophets knew of Elijah’s departure, even the very wisest could not bring themselves to understand the plain plan that Jesus revealed to them. And in our text today, John and James make a request that seems reminiscent of Elisha’s so long before. Elisha’s request was granted so long as he had eyes to see Elijah’s departure, and while Jesus states that only the Father can grant the request that James and John desire, they will indeed become more like Him than they presently knew. Yes, they would reign with Him in His kingdom, but first they would share the cup of His suffering.
The Third Prediction // Verses 32-34
With this third prediction, Mark tells us explicitly for the first time that Jesus is going to Jerusalem. The Son of David, heir to that eternal throne, will be killed in the city from which He ought to rule. As He was walking, we read that the disciples followed behind in amazement, and those who walked behind the disciples were afraid. R. C. Sproul writes:
I believe Mark gives us this curious detail because of the resolute determination that the disciples saw in Jesus to go to His destiny. He had set His face like flint (Isa. 50:7) to go to Jerusalem, for He knew He was called to give Himself over to His enemies there, and He had taught his disciples what would happen to Him on more than one occasion (8:31-33; 9:30-32). Now, as He approached Jerusalem, Jesus did not linger. He moved quickly, keeping ahead of His disciples, going to His death with a firm step. Most of us, if we knew we were going to our deaths, would drag our feet. Not Jesus. He was prepared to obey the Father to the utmost end. The disciples could not get over it. They were amazed by His resolution and were terrified at what might befall Him at Jerusalem.
Pulling the twelve aside a third time, Jesus gave them the most explicit and detailed foretelling yet:
See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.
While our eyes may be drawn to the details of mocking, spitting, and flogging, the disciples would have likely found the being delivered over to the Gentiles the most shocking portion to hear. I think that Sproul is right to see an allusion to the Day of Atonement here.
In Leviticus 16, which is the very heart of the Pentateuch, the instructions for the Day of Atonement were given. This was the only day that the high priest was allowed to enter into the most holy place, which contained the ark of the covenant, for it was the day where the high priest would make a sacrifice to atone for the sins of Israel. Indeed, one goat was slaughtered before the LORD on that day; however, another goat was sent into the wild. Just as the sacrificed goat was meant to be a substitution for the rightful death that Israel’s sin had earned, the other goat was meant to carry the sins of the Israelites away into the wilderness, never to be seen again. This is the origin of the term scapegoat.
Being delivered into the hands of the Gentiles is a foretelling that Christ’s death would be the great atonement of which both goats were only signs and shadows. Jesus would not only shed His blood for the forgiveness of sins, but He would do so outside the covenantal community, into the Gentile wilderness.
The Bold Request of James & John // Verses 35-40
And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” Mark does not tell us whether this happened immediately after Jesus’ final prediction of His death and resurrection, but under the leading of the Spirit, he has clearly intended to set the request of James and John against that backdrop. What exactly was their request? Let us read it as well as Jesus’ reply.
And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”
Tim Keller summarizes this scene well:
To them, “in your glory” means “when you are seated on your throne,” in which case the people on the right and the left are like the prime minister and the chief of staff. John and James are saying, “When you take power, we would like the top places in your cabinet.” Here’s the irony of their request. What was Jesus’s moment of greatest glory? Where does Jesus most show forth the glory of God’s justice? And where does he reveal most profoundly the glory of God’s love? On the cross.
When Jesus is at the actual moment of his greatest glory, there will be somebody on the right and left, but they will be criminals being crucified. Jesus says to John and James: You have no idea what you’re asking.
Christ’s triumphant and conquering glory will come through His horrific and brutal humiliation, through Him being delivered into the hands of the Gentiles to be mocked, spit on, and flogged. Notice the two images that Jesus uses to convey His imminent suffering: a cup and a baptism.
The cup is common image of God’s wrath within in the Old Testament.
By Tom Hervey — 3 weeks ago
Note, I do not say this about questions of worship style, apologetic method, manner of dress, whether or not one’s church has a Sunday evening service, views of the millennium, internal administrative arrangements, confessional subscription, or other such things about which there has been internal disagreement within the PCA, but rather about cases of flagrant, impenitent, public wrongdoing. There can and should be peaceful dialogue about those other matters, (though simple tolerance is preferable in some of them, Rom. 14). But there cannot and should not be dialogue where PCA ministers have committed sins before the whole world, as is the case at present.
Dialogue occurs when two or more parties discuss their differences under circumstances in which each party is afforded equal dignity and equal opportunity to express their views, and when they do so to reach a rapprochement (in cases of conflict) or for mutual edification (where conflict is not present). Probably most people will agree on such a definition, but the question of the function of dialogue in the present, controversy-ridden Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) merits a few further reflections.
Dialogue Has Been Attempted
In 2018 prominent members of the National Partnership (NP) and the Gospel Reformation Network (GRN) met to discuss differences. Some idea of the meeting’s temper may be gleaned from the title of the GRN article relating it (“Cultivating the Bonds of Peace in the PCA”). There have been other attempts, formal and informal, in both person and via written format. For example, at the 2021 General Assembly David Strain and David Cassidy discussed differences regarding confessional subscription, while Jon Payne and David Coffin contributed differing articles at ByFaith viz. Overtures 23 and 37 at the end of 2021.
Dialogue Does Not Appear To Have Worked
Judging by the tone of “Cultivating the Bonds of Peace,” its author, GRN head Jon Payne, thought that 2018 meeting went well. Skip forward to March, 2022 and a publicly-avowed member of the National Partnership accused him and the GRN ruling council of bearing false testimony for using labels too loosely. That 2018 meeting’s restoration of peace either did not last, or else it achieved peace only between some of the members of the respective parties. So also with other attempts at dialogue: judging by the continuing controversies, they have not ushered in an era of general peace and good will in the denomination. If they have had good effects they have been limited in extent, and it is not clear that dialogue has accomplished even such limited benefits in most cases.
Dialogue Is Not Possible Between Many In The PCA
Where presuppositions and perspectives differ, the respective parties are often unable to understand each other, thus making meaningful dialogue impossible. Consider the matter of the National Partnership. Its members assert that it is merely a private forum for like-minded elders to discuss denominational polity and voluntarily coordinate their efforts regarding it. Others say it is a secret organization that seeks to alter the denomination according to its own agenda, and which to that end is working to elevate its own men to key positions within the denomination and its presbyteries after the fashion of the old Presbyterian Church in the United States’ Fellowship of Saint James. Between ‘innocent private club’ and ‘inexcusable subversive conspiracy’ is a difference of type, not merely degree. If dialogue is attempted between people whose understanding is so radically different, probably nothing will be accomplished except to create more misunderstanding and strife.
It Is Doubtful That Dialogue Is Truly Desired By Everyone
I do not accuse any of our public proponents of dialogue of such mendacity. But probably people of all opinions can agree that there are some people who simply want to argue – it is a fairly common Reformed failing, after all. In addition, I have correspondence from elders whose revelations about the inner workings of their courts and committees suggests that dialogue is certainly not always wanted under those circumstances, even in matters of great importance. And experience has often shown that when someone says he wants dialogue, what he really means is that he wants an occasion to force his views upon others: dialogue means ‘I’ll talk and you can nod your head in agreement,’ not ‘let’s chat it out together in a spirit of give and take.’
Dialogue Is Not Always Useful For Achieving Peace
As any parent (and many bosses and teachers) can attest, what is needed in many cases of conflict is not dialogue but silence, perhaps arranged and enforced by higher authority.
Dialogue Is Not Always A Duty Or Act Of Prudence And Obedience
Were Paul and Barnabas wrong to forgo gentle dialogue and instead engage in “no small dissension and debate” with the Judaizers (Acts 15:2)? No. Their opponents were wrong and were upsetting the faith of new believers by distorting the gospel (Gal. 2:4-5; 5:1-12). Dialogue would have been wrong, for dialogue implies that the respective views of the varying parties are worthy of equal audience and respect. But heresy and the truth are not equally legitimate, and they do not deserve an equal audience or respect. Where a matter is one between truth and falsehood, wisdom and folly, light and dark, life and death, obedience to Christ or obedience to the flesh, the respective options are irreconcilable, and one must predominate to the exclusion of the other. “What accord has Christ with Belial?” (2 Cor. 6:15a). In such cases the believer is not to engage in dialogue with the errant, but is to rebuke them and urge them to repentance (Gal. 2:11-14; 1 Tim. 5:20; Tit. 1:13; 2:15). If they persist in error the individual is to avoid them (Rom. 16:17; 2 Tim. 3:5; Tit. 3:10-11) and the church is to excommunicate them (Matt. 18:17; 1 Tim. 1:20).
Dialogue Is Not The Need Of The Hour In The PCA
Many people would likely agree with the last several sentences above. But many would probably disagree that they bear upon our present case. Many speak and act as though we are discussing nonessential matters of mere taste or form. I disagree. The very soul of the denomination is at stake. Consider the following example. In an article in 2021 Greg Johnson quoted approvingly a statement from Francis Spufford’s book Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense, in which he refers to “the human propensity to [expletive excised].” With Spufford this phrase is a formal concept—he capitalizes the acronym—and he uses it as a substitute for the doctrine of sin.
Now, one could say that this is just an example of nuanced, culturally-sensitive, and well-informed ministry. Johnson is providing comfort to the afflicted, and doing so in language that is understandable to people who have grown up outside of the church. The correct way of looking at it recognizes that this represents a severe offense against the holiness of God that brings the church and her ministry into disrepute (Jas. 1:26; comp. Eph. 4:29 & Col. 4:6); risks making the little ones stumble by commending bad sources and suggesting that foul language is acceptable (Lk. 17:1-2); and is evidence of an unclean heart (Matt. 12:33-37) and a bad character unfit for office (1 Tim. 3:2). Even many unbelievers would fire an employee who used such language – should the church not have a higher standard of holiness for its ministers?
In such a case what is needed is not dialogue. What is needed is for the officers of the PCA to take seriously their sworn duty to preserve the church’s purity and for Greg Johnson to be meaningfully disciplined and told that Christ’s judgment is fast-approaching and that such behavior does much harm to everyone, not least he himself. A failure to do so makes the denomination tolerant of wrongdoing, a thing which invites divine judgment (Rev. 2:20), even where an offense is hidden or has been committed by a single individual (Josh. 7:10-26).
Note, I do not say this about questions of worship style, apologetic method, manner of dress, whether or not one’s church has a Sunday evening service, views of the millennium, internal administrative arrangements, confessional subscription, or other such things about which there has been internal disagreement within the PCA, but rather about cases of flagrant, impenitent, public wrongdoing. There can and should be peaceful dialogue about those other matters, (though simple tolerance is preferable in some of them, Rom. 14). But there cannot and should not be dialogue where PCA ministers have committed sins before the whole world, as is the case at present. There is a pastor in Utah who committed obvious blasphemy; that situation does not call for dialogue, but for discipline. I know a man who was at a church with deaconesses. When he pried he was first told that they were ‘creatively complying’ with the BCO, but when he persisted he was told that they were in willful violation of it and he could either accept that or go elsewhere. Such men are rebels and oath-breaking liars; they should not be engaged in dialogue, but disciplined.
Examples could be multiplied, but the point holds true that what is needed is not high-sounding rhetoric and polite dialogue, but meaningful action. Many of us in the pews do not wish to dialogue with flagrant offenders, nor for our courts and officers to do so. Such a thing is not morally or spiritually safe (1 Cor. 15:33). We want our leaders to exercise their vows faithfully, which means punishing wrongdoing in our own midst.
Dialogue Can Only Occur When Heinous Offenses Are First Removed
The latest entry at ByFaith that calls for dialogue (as well as trust and appreciation of differences) comes from Tom Gibbs, president of Covenant Seminary. Covenant seminary employs a librarian who praises Allan Boesak, a pro-LGBT theologian who threatened to quit his church if it failed to interpret the Belhar Confession to also prohibit discrimination about sexual preferences; uses the Black Lives Matter hash tag (an organization with some concerning ideas about nuclear families); approves Calvin University retaining faculty that disagree with the CRC’s recent disapproval of homosexual sin; and has no qualms whatsoever about using foul language in various ways. Compare those last couple examples to Eph. 5:4&6: “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking . . . for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.”
This is the face of (theological) liberalism and creeping infidelity. It is here in the PCA at Pres. Gibbs’ institution, as well as elsewhere – check out what qualifies as holiness and pastoral humility and gentleness with the National Partnership’s founder (comp. Christ: “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks,” Matt. 12:34) – and the question of the hour is this: what is going to be done about it? Because until the relevant parties begin to maintain holiness and discipline among those for whom they are responsible, they have no business lecturing the rest of us about trust, dialogue, and agreeing to disagree.
Tom Hervey is a member, Woodruff Road Presbyterian Church, Simpsonville, SC. The statements made in this article are the personal opinions of the author alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of his church or its leadership or other members.
 The Fellowship of Saint James was a secret group in that denomination that included major figures who worked to strategically place the group’s preferred men in pulpits and professorships at major churches and the seminaries. It resisted inquiries into its doings and membership and asserted it was an innocent club for mutual edification, so there is uncertainty as to how decisive of a role it played in the Presbyterian Church in the United States becoming faithless.
 There is a difference between dialogue and debate: the former seeks the unification of the parties; the latter, the identification and triumph of the truth.
Spufford’s book, it must be noted, is full of vile content and heresy, and I strongly recommend against reading it.
 Note that I excised the profanity in those examples, and that the one provides a good reason why we should not get caught up in the ‘Elon Musk is great’ craze.
 The librarian in question is also a vocal Democrat: I do not criticize him for that, nor do I wish for the church and its agencies to do so.
 The video is of a sheep repeatedly getting stuck in a ditch after every rescue.
By Andrew Wilson — 2 months ago
The modern sexual revolution was responding to real problems. But its solution, Perry argues, has been weighed in the balance and found wanting. It hasn’t delivered on its promises. Young people are having less (and less satisfying) sex than their parents or grandparents; divorce, abortion, sexual violence, and pornography have all shot up. And women have borne the brunt of it.
Louise Perry has written a feminist critique of the sexual revolution, and it’s brave, excoriating, and magnificent.
The Case Against the Sexual Revolution isn’t a Christian book. Perry’s critique is rooted in evolutionary biology, feminist passion, and empirical observation, not biblical interpretation or theology. (We could of course argue that feminist passion is ultimately a product of biblical interpretation and theology, but that discussion can wait for another day.) Her language will offend some readers. She mentions practices and depravities that most of us would prefer never to think about. The devastating consequences of sexual “liberation” on vulnerable young women, particularly through loveless sex (chap. 4), pornography (chap. 5), sexual violence (chap. 6) and prostitution (chap. 7) are unsparingly exposed through analysis and personal narratives that can be deeply uncomfortable to read.
But it’s an outstanding book nonetheless: courageous, punchy, compellingly argued, and well written. From the haunting epigrams on the opening page to the delightfully robust conclusion, Perry—a New Statesman columnist and campaigner against male sexual violence—mounts a full-on assault against the sexual free market, the denial of male-female difference, the exploitation of women, the trivialization of sex, and “the matricidal impulse in liberal feminism that cuts young women off from the ‘problematic’ older generation” (189–90). If you have the stomach for it—and if you don’t, you can always skip chapters 5 to 7—you would do well to read it.
Perhaps the best way of summarizing The Case Against the Sexual Revolution is through the chapter titles: “Sex Must Be Taken Seriously” (chap. 1), “Men and Women Are Different” (chap. 2), “Some Desires Are Bad” (chap. 3). It almost sounds like a preaching series based on the opening chapters of Genesis. The echoes of Christian anthropology continue throughout the book, as Perry engages the various ways in which sex is distorted and abused in our culture (chap. 4–7) and concludes with “Marriage is Good” (chap. 8) and “Listen to Your Mother” (conclusion). Yet the rationale for each of these statements is empirical, not exegetical, and draws on peer-reviewed research rather than biblical authority.
Sexually speaking, Perry explains, men and women have different interests. These interests are rooted in biology and are as old as the hills. Some relate to the basic facts of life: the male contribution to creating a child takes minutes and costs nothing, while for the female it takes months and could cost everything. Some emerge from psychological differences, such as the statistical reality that men have a much higher desire for sociosexuality, or sexual variety, than women. Some are simply a function of anatomy; the differences in strength and speed between the average man and the average woman mean that men pose an incalculably greater physical risk to women than vice versa.
Every society has to work out how to balance these interests, and no way of doing it is flawless. But, Perry argues, “Western sexual culture in the twenty-first century doesn’t properly balance these interests—instead, it promotes the interests of the Hugh Hefners of the world at the expense of the Marilyn Monroes” (10–11). Powerful men win. Vulnerable women lose.
Not All Desires Are Good
At the heart of this culture is the disenchantment of sex. Sex means nothing for the liberal feminists Perry is challenging; sexual intercourse is just a form of physical recreation, sex work is just a form of work, and any restrictions on either are nothing but outdated, patriarchal, Victorian prudery. Any way in which you want to express your sexuality is good, by definition: “A woman should be able to do anything she likes, whether that be selling sex or inviting consensual sexual violence, since all of her desires and choices must necessarily be good” (14).
But this, for Perry, is simply not true. Some desires are bad. “Liberal ideology flatters us by telling us that our desires are good and that we can find meaning in satisfying them, whatever the cost,” she explains. “But the lie of this flattery should be obvious to anyone who has ever realized after the fact that they were wrong to desire something, and hurt themselves, or hurt other people, in pursuing it” (20).