jasonbwatson

November 4, 2014

What the Composer intended

The November/December issue of RELEVANT Magazine includes an essay by Michael Gungor entitled “Wrestling with Faith and Doubt.” If you read this blog regularly then you will recall that I took serious issue with Gungor back in September over comments he made about evolution and his suggestion in a Liturgist podcast that Jesus may have either been wrong or lied about Adam and Noah. I commend RELEVANT for giving Gungor the opportunity to explain himself and I commend Gungor for taking the opportunity to do so.

In his essay, he begins with the illustration of a symphony orchestra and the fact that some instruments, like the first chair violinist, may play hundreds of thousands of notes while a percussionist may play very few notes but must play them “at precisely the right time.” Gungor uses this to stress his point that “all effective groups contain both diversity and unity.” He even makes a thought provoking observation about the importance of diversity in obtaining unity, writing, “it is arguable that without diversity, there is no unity (only a much less effective uniformity).”

From here, Gungor proceeds into his observation that today “the Christendom that claims to follow Jesus is divided into tens of thousands of bickering sects and denominations, more splintered and fragmented than ever before.” In many ways this is true, and there are many issues over which Christians vehemently disagree which are not of eternal significance. There are many subjects on which the Bible is quiet, if not silent, providing only guiding principals to shape our beliefs and behaviors. When the Scripture is not explicit no one should hold dogmatically to the notion that their position is the right one; no one should claim or exert superiority over anyone else because they are convinced of their own right-ness on issues Christian liberty.

Gungor says that he thinks “a little healthy friction in a team is OK. … But friction and division are not the same thing. There is a big difference between ‘you’re not doing your job well enough!’ and ‘I’m not playing on the same team with him anymore!'” I agree with Gungor here, too. Friction can absolutely be a positive thing. I seek out differences of opinion and insights from others than I may not have ever considered. I believe that we reach the best decisions when we weigh a variety of options and possibilities in the process of deciding. I believe this, though, when there are not absolutes already provided. If we were to argue at the school where I serve that students did not need to learn geography or to take Algebra we may well be able to develop convincing arguments but it would not matter. We are an accredited school, required to ensure that students meet graduation requirements established by the state before we can grant a diploma. In other words, it matters not at all how strongly, passionately or convincingly we may be able to argue against geography or Algebra because it is not up for debate. It has already been decided for us.

Gungor transitions from his explanation on the merits of friction within a team to his argument that he has been unfairly treated, labeled and opposed since his comments on evolution and Jesus’ references to Adam and Noah. “In the last few months, I personally have been called a heretic, a blasphemer, a two-fold son of hell and a fool who is leading thousands to hell, in which I happen to have a special spot reserved for me.” His explanation of why he has been called these things is that he “like a lot of Christians” believes that God created humans by means of evolution. Gungor says that he has no problem with Christians disagreeing with him or even arguing passionately that he is wrong. His issue, he writes, is when those who disagree with him start using “words that are intended to break unity, loaded words like ‘apostate,’ ‘heretic,’ ‘false teacher,’ and so on.”

I’ll own it. I am one of those who referred to Gungor as a false teacher. Not only did I blog about it, I used his comments as the basis for an entire sermon I preached on the importance of contending for the faith, defending the inerrancy of Scripture and rejecting the subtle but deadly false teaching that can easily slip in when we open our hearts and minds to “differences of opinion.” I did not do any of that, however, because Gungor believes in evolution. I think evolution is wrong and is contrary to Scripture and I think teaching it as truth is false teaching. But I took issue with Gungor because he suggested that Jesus either was wrong or knowingly lied, and, on top of that, said he wouldn’t be “freaked out” if that were the case. The problem is, if Jesus was either wrong or knowingly lied then the entire foundation of Scripture and Christianity is demolished. If you want to read more on that, check out my blog post of September 10.

Gungor goes on to explain that the early church used words like “apostate” and “false teacher” to refer to those who preached things such as Christ never coming in the flesh, but not to refer to those who “merely had differing interpretations of Scripture.” “Even in disagreements about significant doctrinal issues such as ‘Should we follow the law anymore?’ the early Christians maintained unity,” Gungor writes. I am not sure what Bible Gungor is reading, though, because he must have somehow missed Galatians. Paul addresses those who were teaching a continued adherence to the Old Testament law is very harsh terms. There were those who were teaching that salvation required following the law, including circumcision. In Galatians 1:6 Paul calls this “a different gospel,” continuing in verse 7 with, “not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.” In verse 8 Paul says that if anyone, even an angel from heaven, preached anything contrary to the gospel message being preached by Paul, that person should “be accursed.” So strongly does Paul feel about this, so important to is the identification and rejection of false teaching, that Paul reiterates this in verse 9: “As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” Paul reinforces throughout the letter that teaching adherence to the law is false teaching.

Gungor then reverts back to his orchestra illustration, suggesting that by dividing over things like Gungor’s statements on evolution and Jesus’ statements about Adam and Noah is akin to a situation in which “every single player in the orchestra has gone off into her own corner, playing her part to whatever tempo she deems best in the moment. And what we have as a result is a din of clamorous noise–a series of competing factions, each trying to prove they are more right about the musical score than the others.” While this is no doubt the case at times, it is not the case with the reaction of myself and others to Gungor’s position. When Gungor suggested that Jesus may have been wrong about Adam and Noah or may simply have lied because his audience believed something that was not true and it was more convenient for him to let them believe that he was the one insisting that he was “more right about the musical score than the others.” Indeed, he was creating his own score! To his original point, there is indeed a difference between saying someone in the orchestra is not playing their part right and saying you will not play with that person anymore. The reality is that Gungor’s position is the equivalent of demanding the orchestra allow him to play a different piece of music than the rest of the group is playing, to acknowledge that he has the freedom and liberty to do so and that his playing his piece while they play the score the composer wrote is both acceptable and harmonious. This is patently absurd.

Gungor ends his essay by suggesting that the ultimate goal of the Christian is found in Matthew 26–which is true. What he fails to understand is that we are neither loving God nor our neighbor when we allow false teaching to go unchallenged. To suggest that we show love to Gungor by letting him hold to–and spread–his false interpretations of Scripture is the equivalent of suggesting that it would be loving for a parent to allow a toddler to stick a fork into an electrical socket simply because the child thinks it would be fun. The parent knows the danger involved and the damage that would result, meaning that the only loving course of action is to stop the child from his intended action and to teach him, sternly if necessary, not to pursue such behavior in the future. We are not loving Michael Gungor to suggest that his beliefs on this matter are acceptable or merely a difference of interpretation on an issue of liberty. We are not loving anyone else by allowing them to be exposed to Gungor’s position without warning them that it is wrong and dangerous. I hope and pray that Michael Gungor comes to see the error of his ways. Until then, however, I will continue to call his position what it is–false teaching. Because, contrary to what Gungor thinks, that is what the Composer intended.

September 10, 2014

Contend for the Faith

Last week World Net Daily ran an article entitled “‘Christian’ singer: Jesus may have lied about Adam, Noah.” This article looked at comments made by singer Michael Gungor, lead singer of the worship band Gungor, in an episode of The Liturgist podcast posted on August 12. In that episode, titled “Genesis & Evolution,” and which you can listen to here, Gungor suggests that Jesus may have been wrong when He discussed Adam and Noah, or possibly even intentionally lied in order to accommodate His audience.

That’s a troubling thought to say the least, so let me allow Gungor to speak for himself: “Even if Jesus knew that Noah and Adam were mythical, but knew He was talking to people who thought they were real, that’s another possibility. Jesus was just referring to a story he was part of to these Jewish people that know that story.” You read that right, and that is an unedited quote from the podcast. Gungor is suggesting that Jesus may have knowingly referred to Noah or Adam as real people even though He knew they were not. Perhaps even more troubling than that is that Gungor also said in the interview that Jesus may have legitimately believed that Adam and Noah were real people and was wrong. Said Gungor: “And even if He was wrong, even if He did believe that Noah was a historical person, or Adam was a historical person, and ended up being wrong, I don’t understand how that even would deny the divinity of Christ.” Gungor also said in the podcast, “It wouldn’t freak me out if He was wrong about it.”

There is plenty in the above paragraph to raise serious concern among Christians. First, to suggest that Jesus may have lied is a serious red flag for a professing Christian to make. If Jesus did lie then Jesus sinned. If Jesus sinned, then He was not a perfect sacrifice. If He was not a perfect sacrifice, then He could not pay the penalty for your sins or mine or anyone else’s–including His own. If He could not, and therefore did not, pay the penalty for sins then no one who has professed and accepted Christ as Savior is truly saved because the one in whom they have placed their trust was incapable of saving them! Suggesting that Jesus lied is to completely contradict all of Scripture and the entire basis of Christian belief. In other words, this is no small matter.

Romans 3:23 says, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” This is a well-known verse, and understandably so since it reveals our need for a Savior. But if this verse is true then what Gungor is saying, whether he intended to or not, is that Jesus, too, fell short of the glory of God. Look at the full context of Romans 3:23, by reading verses 21-26 (from the ESV):

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

If Jesus sinned, and therefore fell short of the glory of God, He could not justify Himself, let alone anyone else (verse 24), meaning no one could have redemption in Christ Jesus (verse 24), God could not have “put [Him] forward as a propitiation” for our sins (verse 25) because a sinner would be unable to provide propitiation (atonement) for sins. As a result, Jesus could not be the justifier (verse 26) and no one who received Him by faith could be just (verses 25 and 26).

Now, even if we deny the possibility that Jesus lied, Gungor’s other option is also troubling–the idea that Jesus was wrong. While Jesus was fully human, He was also fully God at the same time, and therefore incapable of being wrong. If it were possible for Jesus to be wrong in holding that Adam and Noah were real people, it would necessarily be possible for Jesus to be wrong about other things, too. No small part of the reason why we can have such faith in God is that He is never wrong; He is incapable of being wrong. If Jesus was wrong, then Jesus was not omniscient; since Jesus and God (and the Holy Spirit) are one, if Jesus is not omniscient then God cannot be either. The little string that Gungor has pulled will unravel the entire Bible and all of Christianity; it is not a little matter!

Gungor states that when the Bible and science contradict, the Bible must be wrong: “[F]for thousands of years or at least hundreds of years, people in Christian history have been saying things like hey, you can’t try to read the Bible as a science book when science conflicts with the Bible and your reading of the Bible.” He continued, “Re-read the Bible. Change that, because you’re probably the one that’s wrong; and if you don’t do that you’re gonna look like an idiot. … The church made pretty big mistakes in the past … thinking the world was flat.”

The problems here are many, as well. First, the Bible and science do not contradict. Man’s interpretation of science, or man’s purported understanding of science, can contradict Scripture, but that is a different animal altogether. Second, if we start to put our beliefs in science, or data, or, more importantly, man’s understanding of those things, then we throw open the door for all kinds of reinterpreting of Scripture. These kinds of arguments have led to many beliefs that are simply not compatible with Scripture, from justification for abortion to the idea that homosexuals are “born that way.” Third, there is a difference between making a mistake and contradicting the Bible. Even if there were members of the church, or even the Church as a whole, who held at one point that the earth was flat, that is not even close to being the same thing. No where does the Bible specifically state that the world is round, for one thing. For another, that the earth is round is verifiable and observable. Evolution–even theistic evolution, which Gungor believes–is neither verifiable nor observable.

On September 1 Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis addressed this matter in his blog on answersingenesis.org. In it he included this statement: “Sadly, it appears that Gungor has adopted the idea that holding to the inerrancy of Scripture is treating the Bible as an idol. You see, in response to a recent Facebook comment about my views, Gungor wrote, ‘There is a trend in modern society, no more than a trend . . . a religion, an idolatry that elevates Scripture above Jesus.'” Ham’s blog included an image of the Twitter discussion that included this statement from Gungor. This is another troubling comment and provides alarming insight into Gungor’s “faith.” The Bible is how we know Jesus. Scripture itself refers to Jesus as “the Word.” John 1:1 states, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:3, by the way, states, “All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made.” That would seem to be a solid counter to Gungor’s position on theistic evolution). I really do not comprehend the notion of elevating Scripture above Jesus; we know Jesus through Scripture and Jesus Himself quoted Scripture.

Ham correctly writes, “Michael Gungor has an influence on the youth of this generation and will lead them astray with such views.” Others agree with Ham, and are acting on those concerns; the World Net article includes this statement: “Gungor’s views have already cost him among fans, as at least one church canceled a concert, and a Wisconsin radio station removed itself from an event featuring Gungor, saying it ‘cannot be a party to introducing more doubt into the hearts and minds of young Christians already being fed doubt and lies by the world.'”

This is an excellent reminder of the needs for Christians to be discerning. Not everything or everyone who claims to be a Christian believes, teaches or promotes the Truth of Scripture. While Gungor may have written and/or may perform beautiful songs, his very public position on this issue necessitates that he be treated as an unbeliever, one in need of being reached with the message of the gospel. Gungor said that those who deny evolution will end up looking like idiots. I’m afraid that, if adhering to the dictionary definition of the word, it is Mr. Gungor who looks like an idiot. According to dictionary.com an idiot is “an utterly foolish or senseless person.” Foolish is an adjective that is defined as “resulting from or showing a lack of sense; ill-considered; unwise” or “lacking forethought or caution.” To suggest that Jesus Christ either was wrong in His understanding of the Old Testament or that He knowingly lied to audiences during His time on earth is nothing short of lacking sense and it is certainly unwise. Saying Jesus could have lied definitely comes with a real lack of caution.

Proverbs 14:7-8 says, “Leave the presence of a fool, for there you do not meet words of knowledge. The wisdom of the prudent is to discern his way, but the folly of fools is deceiving.” We are not meeting words of knowledge from Mr. Gungor and his folly will undoubtedly confuse or lead astray many of his fans and followers. Gungor’s statements cause me to feel like Jude must have when he wrote his short but powerful letter. In verse 3 he says, “I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” We must contend for the faith, take a stand for the truth, in the face of Gungor’s foolish words. And we should pray for Michael Gungor.

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