Evangelicals claim to believe the evangel or good news and base their theology on Scripture regarded as the word of God.
Professor Howard Marshall, who was apparently a month older than me and died recently (2017?), once said that the first theological work he read was In Understanding Be Men by T.C.Hammond. Not surprisingly the same is true in my case and consequently I have tried hard to become mature in my understanding. However, nearly sixty years later it has become painfully obvious that many evangelicals have failed to gain the maturity urged by Paul in 1 Corinthians 14:20. Bound by tradition they continue to believe things that are plainly contrary to Scripture. This being the case, I outline some of them as follows:
1. Most if not all evangelicals believe in what is known as original sin which was cemented into church tradition by Augustine of Hippo. It teaches that we all sinned ‘in Adam’ and so we are born sinners. The problem is that Romans 5:12 on which Augustine relied fails to teach this. Augustine, whose knowledge of Greek was apparently minimal, depended on a false Latin translation of this verse to arrive at his conclusion.
As a rule Psalm 51:5 is also held to support the dogma, but the Jews and the Orthodox rightly reject the idea. Regrettably, both its translation and its interpretation are often suspect.
2. John 3 is perhaps the best known chapter in the Bible but it is certainly among the worst understood. It teaches that we must (John 3:7) be born again because we are born of the flesh (cf. John 1:13; 3:6). Augustine taught that rebirth or birth from above was necessary on account of original sin. By contrast, Jesus maintained that we cannot even see, let alone enter, the (spiritual) kingdom of God because we are flesh. In other words, according to this passage our nature, not our sin, is the prime problem that must be overcome.
3. The point at issue becomes plainer when we consider 1 Corinthians 15:35-56 where Paul tells us that we must be changed. Whereas Jesus drew attention to our natural spirit, the apostle focuses on our fleshly body. Like Jesus he tells us that we cannot inherit the kingdom of God on account of our nature (1 Cor. 15:50), which is perishable flesh and blood, and the perishable cannot inherit the imperishable (spirit). So we must (15:53) be changed. What Augustine considered to be a moral imperative in John 3 is in fact a natural necessity irrespective of sin in both John 3 and 1 Corinthians 15.
See further my Two ‘Natural’ Necessities
4. Many evangelicals hold that 1 Corinthians 15:36-44 involves a change like the one we see after we have sown our gardens: the ugly, unimpressive-looking seed we sowed becomes a wonderful plant (cf. Mark 4:26-29) – an excellent illustration of change. But Paul’s point is that the transformed natural and perishable body (of flesh) must be changed into an imperishable spiritual one, that is, changed in kind not degree, like the temple (John 2:19-21). The apostle doubtless considered that his readers would realise that a perishable seed could only produce a perishable plant (cf. John 3:6; 1 Cor. 15:48; 1 Pet. 1:23). What was needed therefore was an imperishable seed to produce an imperishable plant or glorified body. That is why the new birth was necessary: it occurred before the transformation of the body (cf. 1 John 3:9).
See further my Are Believers Butterflies?
He goes on then to point out that Jesus’ body is a heavenly or glorified one (cf. Phil. 3:21; Rev. 21:22, etc.). But if this is so, Jesus, as incarnate, that is, a man of flesh, must have been born again. Of course, this has been almost universally and strenuously denied on the (Augustinian) assumption that new birth was necessary only for sinners, and Jesus was not a sinner. But if this is so, his transformation, glorification and heavenly session proves beyond question that he was born again. Indeed, according to Paul he was the first to be so (2 Tim. 1:10, cf. 1 Cor. 15:53). All his antecedents (cf. Mt. 1:1-16), as a knowledge of the background of Hebrews 11 proves, were sinners and failed one and all to keep the law and gain the righteousness that was the precondition of eternal life or salvation (Gen. 2:17; Lev. 18:5, etc.). Jesus was their pioneer (Heb. 6:20; 12:2).
Was Jesus Born Again?
5. All this leads on to another fallacy entertained by many evangelicals, especially Anglicans, the idea that Jesus was transformed at his resurrection. Though it has a long history in the church, it is based on very dubious evidence, evidence that founders when its implications are recognised. On its supposition, it is argued by many leading writers that since Jesus’ body of flesh was glorified when he rose from the grave, it pointed to the redemption of what was considered by many misled by Augustine to be a fallen creation. The argument may be ingenious but it is also fallacious. First, there is no evidence for it in the Bible where to my knowledge the resurrection of Jesus is nowhere linked with creation. Second, Jesus’ resurrection was not intrinsic to his personal life. After all, if he had not freely given his flesh for his sheep as one who had not earned the wages of sin, he would not have died at all. But if he hadn’t died, he would not, or rather, could not have been raised. In other words, he would have been like a sinless Adam who as implied above would necessarily have had to undergo a change of nature, that is, be transformed, in order to go back to heaven (John 3:13).
At the end the day, this fallacy implies that Jesus was neither physically raised at his resurrection nor bodily transformed at his ascension. After all, his putative resurrection transformation logically dispensed with his physical resurrection and his failure to be physically resurrected made his ascension transformation unnecessary, though Paul says perishable flesh must be changed by divine design. Bluntly, Jesus’ resurrection transformation nullifies his ascension transformation which is reduced to the termination of his spiritual appearances and so to mere drama. But if Jesus never rose physically from the dead but instead was transformed, he never overcame death and we are still in our sins. Again, if he was not transformed at his ascension, he never overcame his natural corruption or decay. The confusion at this point is massive. Clearly what happened was that Jesus, first, rose physically from the dead and so conquered death, and, second, he was transformed at his ascension and so overcame decay.
Again it must be stressed that if Jesus, like a sinless Adam, had never died, he would still have had to be changed since naturally perishable flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 15:50, cf. 2 Cor. 5:1). In any case, he was transformed at his incarnation with a view to regaining his former glory as man (John 3:13; 6:38f.,62; 13:3; Eph. 4:9f., etc.). He was flesh only for a little while (Heb. 2:9, cf. 1:4; 1 Pet. 3:22).
When Was Jesus Transformed?
The tragedy is that the inference drawn from this fallacy is precisely the redemption of creation which is contrary to clear scriptural teaching like Hebrews 12:25-29 and 2 Peter 3. In fact, it is evident from as early as Genesis 1:1 that creation, being temporary, provisional and visible by nature (2 Cor. 4:18), was naturally impermanent and so never intended for redemption. If it had a beginning, it had to have an end (Gen. 8:22; Mt. 24:35). It was and is intrinsically obsolescent, perishable and hence futile by divine design (Heb. 1:10-12; 8:13; Rom. 8:20). While created things may demonstrate the power of God (Rom. 1:20), they are nonetheless slated for ultimate destruction (Heb. 12:27). The new earth and heavens alluded to by Peter (2:3:13) and John (Rev. 21:1) where righteousness dwells is just another way of describing heaven (cf. Mt. 6:33).
6. This leads to the recognition that the idea of a fallen creation is typically Augustinian. Romans 8:18-25 is NOT an echo of Genesis 3:17-19 regarded as the result of sin. The latter relates to the effects of Adam’s sin on mankind as such (cf. Rom. 5:12-21); the former deals with God’s purposive action in creation and points to its end both as termination and goal. Verse 21 clearly refers to the creature man, not to the whole creation which is distinguished in verse 22. Translators misled by false interpretation have got it wrong.
7. These fallacies inevitably affect the theology of many evangelicals in other ways. Contrary to much modern teaching our goal in life is to go to heaven or the presence of God (Phil. 3:14; 1 Thes. 2:12; Heb. 3:1; 1 Pet. 5:10; 2 Pet. 1:11), not to live on a newly re-created earth which in the nature of the case would not be eternal. If this is so, then it is vital for us who are created imperfect, that is, immature, to attain to perfection. Because we cannot keep the law ourselves and gain the righteousness which is the precondition of salvation (perfection), we have no option but to accept Christ as Saviour (John 14:6; Acts 4:12). We do this by faith. Fortunately, evangelicals are noted for their acceptance of justification by faith. Regrettably, however, many belie this by their errant practice in other ways. For example, they adopt infant baptism which by its very nature eliminates faith. Little wonder that many who are ‘baptized’ show no evidence of the conversion (repentance and faith) and regeneration that baptism in the NT signifies. The stark truth is that we are no more born Christian than Adam was but have to become Christian by faith and regeneration. Even Jesus was not baptized until he had kept the law (the precondition of regeneration) and won his Father’s approbation (Mt. 3:17, and note Gen. 2:17; Lev. 18:5; Mt. 19:17, etc.).
8. This brings us to the Christian worldview. Augustine’s teaching has led evangelicalism into Marcionism. (Marcion was an early church heretic who virtually dispensed with the OT.) In fact, far from being born Christian we all as the offspring of Adam (Gen. 5:1-3) begin at the beginning like Adam himself as flesh which derives from the ground (dust, cf. 1 Cor. 15:47-49). In other words, we all recapitulate the lives of our forebears as Irenaeus and others taught in the early church. Thus we begin as seed and gestate in the womb till we are born of woman who typifies the earth in procreation (cf. Gen. 3:20). We then progressively become infants, children, adolescents and finally adults (cf. 1 Cor. 13:10-12). Briefly, after (pro)creation, provided we mature as we should, we all evolve from flesh to spirit till we achieve the generic nature of God in whose image we are in principle created. The prime example is Jesus himself who as we have already seen was our pioneer or trailblazer. He evolved from ground to glory or from dust to destiny till he regained his place as man (Eph. 4:9f.; John 3:13; 17:5, etc.) at his Father’s side (Heb. 1:3).
It is important to note that man as both individual (Mt. 5:48; Heb. 6:1) and race (Eph. 2:13-22; 4:9-16) evolves to perfection as the body of Christ (cf. John 15:1).
See further my Worldview; Creation and / or Evolution; Perfection; Epitome – Jesus The Epitome Of Recapitulation; Jesus the Epitome of Evolution (Perfection); If the Individual Recapitulates in Miniature the History of the Race …
9. Almost all evangelicals accept the Chalcedonian Creed which maintains that Jesus had two natures at one and the same time (dyophysitism). This means, first, that he retained his divine nature throughout his earthly life, and, second, that he never really became man. This is a denial of the incarnation (John 1:1-18; Phil. 2:1-11) and this the Bible labels as serious heresy (1 John 4:2; 2 John 7). It is little wonder therefore that in debate with liberals and others evangelicals usually stress the deity rather than the humanity of Jesus. The problem with this is that, contrary to Hebrews 2:14,17 (cf. 1:3b), it jeopardizes the atonement and hence our salvation. It implies that man as such never met the divine requirement of law-keeping apart from which there is no eternal life. Furthermore, if Jesus as man did not gain eternal life at his baptism, he was in no way qualified to give his flesh to atone for our sins.
But Chalcedon harbours another major problem for it denies change. As conservatives, like so many others in the realm of religion, evangelicals fear change. The assumption is that if the Word did not retain his divine nature at his incarnation, he ceased to be God. Of course, this is not the teaching of Scripture but of the ecclesiastics. Yet Jesus is said explicitly by Paul to have ‘emptied himself’ (Phil. 2:7, cf. 2 Cor. 8:9; Heb. 2:9) which can only reasonably mean that he set aside his divine nature just as he set aside his divine glory (cf. John 17:5,24). I conclude therefore that as a man who was perfected in the image of God he gained the generic nature of God (Heb. 1:3) and so became Lord (Phil. 2:9-11). So it is to his image that we who accept him as Lord are conformed (Rom. 8:29; Heb. 2:10-13).
But there is another problem or contradiction involved in the Chalcedonian claim. It implies that man himself cannot change his nature, that is, his flesh and blood, without ceasing to be man. And this some apparently believe. But the apostle explicitly denies this maintaining that unless he changes man cannot go to heaven, as we saw above. So if man can retain his humanity despite changing his nature, so Jesus could retain his divinity despite changing his. Indeed, Jesus was transformed at his incarnation and again at his ascension (cf. John 3:13; 6:62f.; 13:3; 20:17, etc.), and there is never any real doubt that he retained his identity and remained the divine person he always was. (Regarding his change from flesh, see Hebrews 2:7,9 and 5:7. John Stott’s claim in comment on 1 John 4:2 that the flesh assumed by the Son of God in the incarnation has become his permanent possession and has never been set aside is a shocking mistake. Surely what is true is that he retained his humanity, not his flesh! (See The Epistles of John, London, 1964, p.154 and his The Contemporary Christian, ch.4, Leicester, 1992.) Such thinking is the fruit of, first, his Augustinian worldview and, second, his assumption that Jesus was transformed at his resurrection instead of at his ascension. This, of course, leads in turn to the radically erroneous notion that the present creation, considered as ‘fallen’, can be redeemed. (See Rowley as quoted in my The Goodness of Creation) The Bible teaches something different, that is, that the hand-made creation, which has both a beginning and an end, is naturally corruptible, that is, subject to decay (Isa. 34:4; 51:6,8), obsolescence (Luke 12:33) and futility (Rom. 8:20) by divine design irrespective of sin (cf. 2 Cor. 4:18; Col. 2:22; Heb. 1:10-12, etc.). That is the way God made it as Genesis 1:1, to go no further, implies.). Indeed, this implication is confirmed by the fact that our salvation was not only gained by man but also by God (cf. Isa. 45:22, etc.). In light of this, I conclude that Jesus was both God and man and ever remains so. (Note that Isaiah maintains that God refuses to give his glory to another, Isa. 42:8; 48:11, and that before him no flesh will boast, 1 Cor. 1:29.)
See further my More on Docetism; Re Resurrection Transformation
10. Finally, it may be asked why evangelicals nurture these fallacies even in the 21st century. The prime problem it would seem is that traditionally both man and the Bible have been seen as flat uniformities. The truth is, however, that man is not static but dynamic. Otherwise expressed, he is not merely created but is also subject to development or evolution both as an individual and a race. He changes with the passage of time. He advances from immaturity to maturity (perfection) and Jesus is our prime example (Heb. 1:3). (1* Note, first, Jer. 2:21 (seed); second, Ps. 80:8 (plant); third, Isa. 5:1-7 (natural vine); John 15:1 (true vine). See also Mark 4:26-29.) The same can be said with regard to revelation. It was only during the nineteenth century that it was widely seen to be progressive. Thirdly, biblical covenant theology is progressive by nature. Thus we are first baptised into Noah (1 Pet. 3:21, nature), then (if we are Jews) into Moses (1 Cor. 10:2, law), then finally into Christ (Rom. 6:3, etc., spirit). Fourth, we listen far too uncritically to the views of well-known commentators, writers and preachers who have gained a high reputation defending either traditional orthodoxy or new-fangled teaching but whose understanding of Scripture is questionable. Thus I argue that the churches’ blind acceptance of the worldview of Augustine of Hippo has been disastrous. To refer merely to one of his blunders, infant baptism, especially infant baptismal regeneration, is not only contrary to Scripture, it is absurd and should have been abandoned years ago. Refusal to accept reformation is, however, an unfortunate characteristic of religions in general. All too often they end up proving false after inhibiting the growth and development of their devotees on the one hand and persecuting critics on the other.
So far as the church is concerned, instead of loving the world as God does (John 3:16), by following Augustine it has virtually damned it, heathen and Jew alike, hence historical persecution. Remember the Inquisition ….