Oneness in Christ

I appreciate the discussion on unity in the articles in the [CT Institute, “Has the WCC Kept the Faith?” April 5]. I am challenged by what I believe is a renewed work of the Holy Spirit in bringing together Christians from all varieties of backgrounds and the obvious difficulties to be overcome.

The rapid expansion of movements such as Pastors’ Prayer Summits and the de-emphasis of denominational distinctives in many mainline denominations are portents of greater cooperation between churches in seeking to win the world to faith in Jesus. I feel very positive about this trend.

One cannot ignore, however, our differences in areas such as baptism, the Eucharist, and church polity. Can our unity in Christ supersede these differences? I believe so. Jesus’ prayer for unity (John 17) is tantamount to a mandate for us to continue working towards oneness. But it is not oneness on the basis of the lowest common denominator. Our oneness must be in Christ.

Rev. Alan L. Newlove

First Baptist Church

Clovis, Calif.

In the article by Tokunboh Adeyemo, I was quoted. I am sorry to say it was a total distortion of my views, then and now. I was dealing generally with the attitude of Christians sharing with others when I made the statement, “We get involved not because we are different but because we are not.” This is a mere echo of an Exodus sentiment when the people of Israel were urged to receive the exiles because they themselves were exiles at one time in Egypt, and of Paul when a master was called to be just to the servants because he too has a master in heaven. That is, he too is a servant.

The categorical and exclusive identification of the poor with the sinned against attributed to me is a figment of Adeyemo’s imagination.

My understanding of the nature and theology of evangelism, its practice, and my concept of sin are all a matter of public record, laid out in a recent book, Evangelistically Yours (wcc, Geneva, 1992).

Raymond Fung

Hong Kong Christian Institute

Kowloon, Hong Kong

What concord hath Christ with Belial? The photo “invoking spirits of the dead” answers the story headline. We cannot be partakers of the LORD’s table, and the table of the devils. Ron Sider thinks we can learn from them?

John Schaefer

Herndon, Va.

The resurrection muddle

Thanks for airing the issue first raised in my book The Battle for the Resurrection in “The Mother of All Muddles” [News, April 5]. Several muddles call for comment.

First, there is the muddle emerging from Professor Harris’s denying Jesus rose in tangible flesh and yet claiming that Jesus had “flesh” in some kind of spiritual sense. Many New Age cults make the same claim.

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Second, Millard Erickson and the other Trinity consultants have added to the muddle by pronouncing Harris’s view orthodox, even though it affirms that believers are resurrected at death while their physical bodies remain rotting in the grave. Further, they claim it is evangelical; yet Roger Nicole says Harris should write “retractions” about it. But why, if it is orthodox? Not surprisingly, Nicole revealed his prior bias in a letter admitting that being a consultant “provided some chance to vindicate a colleague and institution that appeared to be the target of unjust criticism.”

Third, the issue was muddled by overstressing irrelevant differences between the views of Jehovah’s Witnesse and Harris while overlooking their essential similarity on the point under discussion—whether Christ rose in the same body of flesh and bones in which he died.

Finally, CT has muddled the matter by labeling my efforts to expose this doctrinal deviation as “evangelical fratricide” [Books, May 27, 1991]. Then, [you] downplayed scholarly efforts by a noted ex-Jehovah’s Witness expert, Duane Magnani, and over 90 countercult groups in declaring Harris’s view unorthodox. Further, quotations by Robert Bowman and the Passantinos were selectively cited, failing to mention that they too believe that Harris holds views on the resurrection that are not orthodox.

CT and Trinity, where CT Senior Editor Kenneth Kantzer has long been associated, have cooperated to pronounce a view orthodox that has been condemned by both creed and council of the Christian church!

Norman L. Geisler

Southern Evangelical Seminary

Charlotte, North Carolina

Faith Without Wurst Is Dead

The early church evangelist Saint Casserole was perhaps the first to note the theological correlation between meeting and eating. He said the best way to get any man’s heart “strangely warmed” was by handing him a bowl of spicy chili. “The way to a Roman’s heart is through his stomach,” wrote the saint, who had hawked hot dogs to Coliseum crowds before his conversion. His treatise, Against the Weight Watchers, is now in the university library at Munchen.

But further back, sketchy traditions link each of the disciples with a special dish, such as Peter’s Tuna Surprise and the Zucchini Tacos of James the Less (which may explain why he was considered “the Less”), And at the Jerusalem council, it is said, the church deemed fish/loaf miracles unnecessary when they saw how many could be fed by these amazing covered dishes.

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It shouldn’t be overlooked that some of the most important theological showdowns occurred at meetings called “Diets.” Which is just what I need after I attend enough church meetings. We can’t seem to worship, have fellowship, plan, or even talk on the phone among ourselves without also ingesting a few thousand calories. Where I live the body of Christ is having to add notches to its Bible Belt.

There is one spiritual discipline we read plenty of in the Bible and see little of in the world: fasting. I think we should convene a Diet to discuss it.

I commend you for the generally balanced treatment given to the controversy. Although I was quoted accurately in the article, only one side of my position was given. I do indeed think labeling Harris’s view “cultic” is an overstatement. At the same time, I think labeling it “orthodox” without qualification is also an overstatement. Harris’s denial of the essentially flesh-and-bone composition of the resurrection body is at odds with both Scripture and ancient creeds, and to this extent is unorthodox. Insofar as this is the central point being made by both Norman Geisler and the countercult ministry coalition led by Duane Magnani, I agree with them.

Robert M. Bowman, Jr.

Palm Bay, Fla.

I must protest: CT has done a serious disservice to Murray J. Harris by continuing even to suggest that there is substance to the charges raised against him by Norman L. Geisler. Anyone familiar with Harris’s work on the New Testament’s teaching concerning the Resurrection recognizes the care he has taken to be faithful to the full witness of Scripture.

Prof. Dale T. Irvin

New York Theological Seminary

New York, N.Y.

J. I. Packer’s “analysis” aims to diminish any undesired derogatory effects of “The Mother of All Muddles” and almost succeeds. It blunts or obscures Tim Morgan’s concessions to the criticism of Harris’s doctrines while directing attention away from teachings even Harris’s defenders acknowledge to be errors. It also skews some views of his critics and ignores all their contrary evidences and arguments.

The analysis erroneously asserts that: (1) important orthodox scholars Ladd and Westcott agree with Harris, whereas Ladd, who did agree, is widely regarded as unorthodox on the point, and Westcott did not agree; (2) Harris’s “hypothesis” “comfortably” fits the texts “as Harris, a skilled exegete, is able to show,” whereas Harris’s hermeneutics is bizarre and his theology uninformed. Only if one adopts principles of liberalism is Packer correct; (3) any “theory” of the resurrection body “must be tentative at best” on account of the mystery of it, whereas Jesus’ words were blunt, “flesh and bone”; the angel plain, “this same Jesus”; and the church’s testimony unvarying and clear. Witness creeds, sermons, funeral rituals, volumes of theology, and hymns.

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Furthermore, Packer pointedly draws attention away from Harris’s central error, shared by Adventists and JWS, that man’s soul is inseparable from the body at death (monism).

Robert D. Culver

Former Chair of Theology

Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

Houston, Minn.

While CT stands by its news report, it owes an apology to its own visiting scholar, J. I. Packer. Somehow (we still don’t know how), two paragraphs (not from Dr. Packer’s pen) recounting the early church’s debate on the Resurrection were attached to his analysis of Murray Harris’s teaching. Several well-informed readers disagreed with material in those paragraphs. It should relieve them to know that Dr. Packer does as well.Eds.

What a tragedy when countercult ministries expend precious time and funds to attack a professor at an evangelical seminary, while at the same time truly unorthodox movements such as the Mormons and the Jehovah’s Witnesses expand at a record rate in this country and abroad.

Ruth A. Tucker

Grand Rapids, Mich.

We believe our position was misrepresented, and we need to set the record straight. It is true that neither we nor our apologetics organization formally joined the Witness, Inc., coalition of cult apologetics organizations criticizing Harris’s resurrection views as cultlike. However, our reason for not taking a public stand was because we wanted to avoid anyone dismissing our authentic disagreements with Harris as simply based on our friendship with Geisler.

Bob and Gretchen Passantino

Answers In Action

Costa Mesa, Calif.

Of mediators and intercessors

The article by Timothy Jones, “Rumors of Angels” [April 5], was interestingly written and scripturally documented, but had one ironic note. He states, “When people suggest relating to angels instead of God, they repeat and yield to the medieval Catholic temptation to multiply mediators.”

Jones has made a false judgment condemned by God’s Word. If it is wrong to have intercessors of those heavenly persons who are close to God, then it is wrong for all those churches who ask for intercessory prayer of one earthly human for another here on earth.

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Stephany Miano

Wantagh, N.Y.

I was delighted to see your cover story on angels, but a little less delighted to realize my book was not mentioned. Where Angels Walk; True Stories of Heavenly Visitors (Barton & Brett) has been on Publisher’s Weekly’s Religious Bestsellers list for four months, and is [currently] #1. It is the most traditional of the current angel books, leaning heavily on Scripture. I’ve taken great pains to explain to readers that a genuine angel experience never stops there, but must lead us on to God.

Joan Wester Anderson

Arlington Heights, Ill.

“Theological bungee-jumping”

James Heidinger’s editorial “Toxic Pluralism” [April 5] hit the nail on the head by highlighting the need to guard against trendy “theological bungee-jumping.” I have noticed three disturbing patterns when evangelical pastors place relevance (and sometimes pragmatism) above truth. First, disloyalty to Jesus Christ takes place when the Christian leader forms a kind of personality cult. Second, distraction often results from focusing on the methods to get the gospel out rather than the message itself. Third, disconnection of the gospel from the historical person and work of Jesus Christ is a common way to “soft-sell.” Nowadays it is rare to hear sermons on the lordship of Jesus Christ, repentance, and personal holiness.

Mrs. Theresa Ip Froehlich

Fresno, Calif.

As a mainline Lutheran pastor who graduated from a mainline Lutheran seminary, I’ve been shopping for D.Min. programs of conservative seminaries. My gut reaction to Heidinger’s editorial is that conservative seminaries also have contradictory claims when it comes to pluralism. For example, try not to believe in premillennialism or a particular brand of baptism of the Holy Spirit and apply to certain conservative seminaries. Or else try to be a high church sacramentalist in some conservative Bible college or seminaries.

Pastor David Coffin

Malinta, Ohio

Henry the greatest since Paul?

Kenneth Kantzer’s excellent eulogy of Carl Henry [From the Senior Editors, April 5] could also have added this dimension: Carl Henry is the greatest Christian theologian since St. Paul.

How can I say that? Take a poll of Christian theologians and ask: Who are the two greatest theologians since Saint Paul? The odds are they will answer, Calvin and Augustine.

Henry is at least the equal of these two giants by any measurement, except one. On this one measurement, Henry towers high above them—that is, on his undiluted, unswerving, absolute acceptance of Christ as his reference.

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In their greatest apologetics, Calvin and Augustine both defaulted on that kind of acceptance. Both of these documents were political in purpose; both prescribed the church-state relationship. That being so, we could expect that these authors would refer to Christ’s classical summation: “give to Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and to God that which is God’s.” But neither ever referred to these words; political pressures made it inexpedient. These men deserted their Christ when their lives/reputations were at stake.

Carl Henry has never deserted his Christ! By this measurement alone, he deserves to be elevated to “the greatest Christian theologian since Saint Paul.”

Leo Peters

Grand Rapids, Mich.

Dallas County prison ministry

Your [News] article in the March 8 issue, “Gutting the Soul of America’s Prisons,” was good. However, it states: “In 1991, the Dallas County (Tex.) jails cut all jail positions.” This is a misleading statement. The Dallas County Sheriff’s Department hired an assistant director of programs to act as liaison between the paid volunteer chaplains of the Greater Dallas Community of Churches and the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department. When the Greater Dallas Community of Churches began to minister in the jails, there were a little over 1,000 inmates. The population has grown to approximately 7,000. The assistant director of programs was to help relieve some of the load being carried by the volunteers and also to institute new programs if possible. The volunteers were not cut by the sheriff’s department but chose to cease their operations in October 1991 due to budget constraints.

Since January 1992, the Sheriff’s Department Religious Services Office has expanded services to inmates to include distribution of over 14,000 Bibles; “special” religious programs for inmates; three hours per day of religious programming on our closed-circuit TV channel; new Bible studies and church services; and a pilot program that uses students from the religious schools in our community as interns to assist in the jail work.

When I became part of the department, the sheriff told me religious services and the things done for inmates in these areas are limited only by imagination. He has given tremendous opportunity for inmates to practice their religious beliefs.

Mike Allcorn

Sheriff’s Department

Dallas, Tex.

A “vicious slam”

One of our Baptist Bible Fellowship ministers, R. L. Hymers, was blatantly attacked by Michael Medved in his otherwise excellent article, “The Last Temptation of Hollywood” [March 8]. Dr. Hymers has a congregation of about 300 to 400 in regular attendance, which is multiracial, including Anglos, Hispanics, blacks, Jews, and Orientals—a model of a multicultural inner-city congregation, seeking to meet the needs of those who reside there. Mr. Medved sarcastically ridiculed it as “an obscure church in downtown Los Angeles”—an ugly slur against pastor and people.

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Medved implies that Dr. Hymers is a “deranged religious fanatic,” a vicious slam against a dedicated man, whose sacrificial ministry to inner-city people is an example other major denominational leaders failed to follow when they moved their churches out of the inner city of Los Angeles. He moved his church into the inner city.

As a matter of fact, very little was being done to oppose the blasphemous movie The Last Temptation until Dr. Hymers, with his “sensational” methods, called attention publicly to what was happening.

James O. Combs

Baptist Bible Tribune

Springfield, Mo.

Letters from readers are welcome. If intended for publication, they must include a signature and address, and refer to a subject covered in a recent issue of CT. All letters are subject to editing for clarity and condensation for space. Write to Eutychus, CHRISTIANITY TODAY, 465 Gundersen Drive, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188.

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