Wittenberg at 500

Wittenberg, Tuesday, October 31, 2017: The 500th anniversary of the Reformation in this little hamlet that was once the intellectual hub of Saxony and beyond. Reformation Day was a big event (even Angela Merkel made an appearance), and I was there with my bride. My third visit to Lutherstadt. The crowds swelled, especially close to the Schlosskirche and the town square. The day before and after, the town was virtually empty.

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How many of the celebrants really knew what the Reformation was all about? Sure, it changed western civilization, gave modern man the Bible in his own language—one that was based on the original tongues, delivered to the Renaissance a swift kick in the derriere, moved toward integrating science and religion and bringing both out of the middle ages (which were, in many ways, still the dark ages), elevated the education levels of children throughout Europe, established biblical scholarship on a new plane, inaugurated critical thinking of the Bible, added to the scientific method, built hospitals, toppled governments, granted individuals their God-ordained dignity, began to produce the wealth of nations, instigated the Protestant work ethic, and increased learning of the arts, science, history, and literature like no other period before or since has ever done.

But what did it ultimately do? It was begun by a lone Augustinian monk, standing up against the world, who articulated that salvation is free, and it comes by faith alone in Christ alone. Simul iustus et peccator (“at the same time, just and a sinner”) was the slogan based on Rom 3.23–24, and it’s still true today. The greatest good that Luther did was to remind us all of God’s grace and the redemption that we find in Christ alone. One lone monk changed the world because he had the courage of his convictions and believed that his God would not deny him. How about we change the world again—just one of us, or more (!)—and remind people of God’s grace, of the sacrifice that his own Son made on our behalf and in our stead, so that by the merit of Christ’s life and death alone—not ours—our eternal life is secured.

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The clarion call of the Reformation is as desperately needed today as it ever was, yet after 500 years it has become muddled once again. And many evangelicals nowadays are denying the very roots of the Reformation—the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to our accounts, our Lord suffering God’s wrath in our place on the cross, salvation as a free gift (not based on our works), Scripture as our final authority, the exaltation of Christ.

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Sure, Luther got a lot wrong. His hot-headedness got him in trouble often, and many times unnecessarily so. But that same passion is exactly what was needed at the Diet of Worms. However, he also kept Erasmus from joining the ranks of the Reformers in spite of the priest’s own arguments with Rome. He needed a Melanchthon to temper him, to be the quiet, peaceful, intellectual force behind the Reformation. Luther’s worst offense was what he wrote about the Jews in his later years (On the Jews and Their Lies [1543]). It was ugly, un-Christian, hate speech. The Jüdensau is still in the same spot it has occupied for over 700 years—up high in the southeast corner of St. Mary’s Church—the first Protestant church—where Luther preached hundreds of times.

But let us not use Luther’s very flawed nature as an excuse to turn a deaf ear to his gospel proclamation. After all, we stand on the shoulders of giants today, but those giants more often than not had clay feet. And their very failings remind us that, of all the men and women who have ever lived, Christ alone is worthy of all honor.

Will another lone Christ-follower stand up today? Just think what one person can do if fear is not part of their vocabulary!

A Gift of Charity, Part 2: The Body of Christ at Work

Two months ago I posted a blog called “A Gift of Charity.” It was about my friend, Ed Komoszewski, whose health has been in very bad shape for many years. He is dealing with multiple diseases that have no known cure. And now, he needs to go to the hospital every few weeks for costly treatments that seem to have no end in sight.

Ed Komoszewski

Just last month, I drove Ed down to Houston to the funeral of our dear friend, Nabeel Qureshi. Ed could not drive that far. The funeral was at 10 AM—an hour that is almost impossible for Ed to get up by. But God was gracious and enabled Ed to do that very thing for Nabeel’s funeral. The next day, when we drove back to Dallas, Ed didn’t get up till almost noon.

As I’ve reflected on Nabeel’s death (and written about it on Facebook and this blog site), I can’t help but see some parallels between Nabeel and Ed. Nabeel had an amazing conversion experience through the instrumentality of David Wood. In Nabeel’s short life, he had an incredible impact for the sake of the gospel. His first book, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus soon became a New York Times Bestseller.

After Ed came to Christ, he went to a Christian college then earned his Master of Theology degree at Dallas Seminary. He graduated with Highest Honors. Ed worked on apologetics and ecclesial ministry afterward. And although his conversion was not as dramatic as that of a committed Muslim who became a Christ-follower, Ed’s publications, his counseling of many people in need (including me on several occasions), and his crystal clear proclamation of the gospel have shown him to be an unusually gifted servant of the King. But like Nabeel, Ed’s health is holding him back. Nabeel’s cancer came on suddenly—in the last year and a half—while Ed’s has been declining for over fifteen years. The GoFundMe account for Nabeel has already topped out at over $900,000.

Nabeel’s death is a tragic loss. The sting of this loss has hit many of us. We are grateful that Nabeel’s suffering is over, and I am glad that Michelle Qureshi will not have to face medical bills now. The body of Christ has responded in incredible ways to help her and her little girl out! I pray that we can also help out Ed in his time of need.

As a reminder: in spite of his health, Ed has published a couple of very important volumes on the Christian faith—Reinventing Jesus, co-authored with Jim Sawyer and me; and Putting Jesus in His Place, co-authored with Rob Bowman. The latter book is the most accessible, clear, and up-to-date volume on the deity of Christ you can get your hands on. Endorsed by an international cadre of biblical scholars, it’s a work you can trust. Ever since his seminary days, Ed has devoted himself to understanding and articulating all he can learn about his Lord and King, the theanthropic Person.

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But his health continues to pose severe challenges. He continues to work as best he can while the medical bills mount. He cannot do as much as he used to, but what he does is pure gold.

On August 3, a mutual friend, Alex Blagojevic, started a GoFundMe campaign to help pay for Ed’s medical costs. The goal was to raise $50,000. To date, $23,306 has been raised! This is the body of Christ at work, my friends. When I posted my blog about this campaign a few days after Alex made his announcement, I asked people to spread the news—tell your friends, put it in church bulletins, mention Ed’s need and the GoFundMe campaign on Facebook. And give to the cause. Here’s the link: https://www.gofundme.com/ed-komoszewski039s-medical-expenses 

And you responded. To date about half of the initial needs have been met. But Ed needs much more help. The bills will go on for many years. I would like to see the Lord’s people continue to contribute to Ed’s account each month and go well beyond $50,000. Some of you may want to put on your calendar to donate a gift on the first of each month. Scores of small gifts add up quickly. And for Christians to give to this cause will show that we are not just interested in contributing to charities that are tax-deductible.

Ed is a man who will not squander such gifts but will use them for these medical bills. And this will free him from concern about meeting financial obligations, enabling him to concentrate on expounding the great truths revealed in scripture about the Lord Jesus Christ. This is a time for believers to come to the aid of a brother. The eternal rewards for such an investment cannot be overestimated.

 

A Sad Home-Going for Three Saints

Autumn, for me, has been over many decades a time of adrenalin rushes, über-busyness, and frantic logistical outworkings. The cause of all this? The beginning of a new school year. This year was no exception, yet right out of the gate one biblical/theological giant after another departed this sphere for his eternal home. All died this month.

In different ways these three men all influenced me. Stanley Toussaint was a colleague at Dallas Seminary, a man who taught the Bible for forty-two years at DTS. He was one of the last of the luminaries of the 1970s (my time in the ThM program)—John Walvoord, Charles Ryrie, S. Lewis Johnson, Jr., Haddon Robinson, Harold Hoehner, Zane Hodges—who have all gone beyond the sufferings of the present time. Stan taught in the Bible Exposition Department (which is different from the Old Testament and New Testament Departments). He lectured from his Greek New Testament and had a down-home wit, pastoral heart, and penetrating insights into the text.

Stan was always cheerful in spite of having a severe limp from polio that struck him down when he was just a child. I never had the privilege of taking a course from Stan, however: I came in to DTS with plenty of English Bible and was permitted to pass on my English NT courses as long as I filled up the units with courses from the Biblical Studies Division; I loaded up on Hebrew. We agreed on much, but we also disagreed on some things. For example, he tenaciously held to Matthean priority, a position my own department chairman, Harold Hoehner, also embraced. I came to the position of Markan priority in 1987, a dozen years after following in Hoehner’s train.

Robert L. Thomas, professor of NT at Master’s Seminary, 1987–2008, also died just a few days ago. He was a professor at Talbot Seminary when I was a student at Biola University. I heard him speak in chapel a few times and learned that he would frequently invite my Greek professor, Harry Sturz, to his Greek classes to introduce students to Sturz’s perspective on NT textual criticism. Afterward, Thomas would refute Sturz’s position.

Bob and I had a few tangles over the years. In his school’s journal, he critiqued my Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics in the article, “The Principle of Single Meaning” (TMSJ 12/1 [2001] 33–47). He claimed that the book has some interesting points, but it also was “extremely dangerous.” Why? Because I had presumably imbibed Roman Catholic hermeneutics with my category of plenary genitive. Ironically, what Bob did not know was that I learned of that category of usage (though not by that name) by one of his revered theology professors, Charles Ryrie—a man who could hardly be accused of following Roman Catholic hermeneutics.

Bob also didn’t care much for ideas with theologically liberal roots, especially the historical-critical method—this in spite of responses by my colleague, Darrell Bock, and many other evangelical exegetes who argued that method and presupposition are not the same thing.

I suspect that Bob and I would probably have agreed more on many points of Reformed theology than I did with Stan Toussaint. Regardless of what one thinks of how Thomas dealt with other evangelicals, I confess that I admire the man for his faithfulness to scripture and to studying the original languages his whole life.

This past Thursday, September 21, I drove down to Houston with my good friend, Ed Komoszewski, to the funeral of another good friend, Nabeel Qureshi. Nabeel was diagnosed with stomach cancer in August 2016 and succumbed to the disease on Saturday, September 16. He leaves behind his wife, Michelle, and their young daughter, Ayah. Nabeel came to faith in Christ dramatically through the instrumentality of his college roommate David Wood and through visions of Christ, about a dozen years ago. He became a champion for the gospel. His first book, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, has been a huge success, selling hundreds of thousands of copies. Nabeel died too soon. He was only 34.
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Nabeel and I had our differences, too. He didn’t care much for Calvinism especially. We would have vigorous, passionate discussions about God’s sovereignty and mankind’s responsibility/free will, but these never harmed our friendship.

His interest was in the Gospels and he would be on the opposite end of the spectrum from Bob Thomas when it came to evangelical historical criticism. He was an internationally-known evangelist, especially to Muslims.

And his brain-power was legendary. He had read the entire Qur’an in Arabic (the only true Qur’an) by the age of five. Nabeel was a medical doctor who then went on to earn three master’s degrees—one from Biola, one from Duke, and one from Oxford. He was working on his Oxford DPhil when he died. When Nabeel came to Dallas, we would get together to discuss the Gospels. He was a sponge! He soaked up everything I said, then wrung it out and gently refuted many of my points! He had great respect for me—far greater than I deserved. I have known few people with such an insatiable desire to learn or with such an incredible impact for the sake of Christ.

Many believers throughout the world are grieving for each of these men right now. All three will be missed. They are saints of the Lord who now know the glory that will some day be revealed to all of God’s sons and daughters.

A Gift of Charity

Nearly ten years ago I wrote four ‘living eulogies’ about people who had influenced my life in ways impossible to measure. These four folks—three men, one woman—were believers who had shaped my thinking, infused me with direction and purpose, inspired me to press on, and pointed me to Christ. I posted the eulogies at Parchment & Pen. Three were my elders, one my junior. One was a relative who instructed me from my birth; three were godly leaders whom I met later in life.

Ed Komoszewski

Three are now with the Lord. Only one is left. Dr. Harold Hoehner was the New Testament department chairman at Dallas Seminary and a genuine Doctor-Father to me. He instilled in me the desire to dig deeper into God’s word and above all to have integrity in my scholarship. Dr. Joe Aldrich was my pastor at Mariners Church in Newport Beach back in 1970—he joined the staff just a couple of weeks after I did as the church’s first youth director. He was one of the main reasons I decided to enroll at Dallas Seminary.

Harold Hoehner and Joe Aldrich both died on the same day, February 12, 2009.

The third influential person was my mother, Nayda Baird Wallace. She taught me the importance of centering my life on Christ and on getting the core of my theology right. She would say, “Nail one foot to the floor inside the circle where Christ is; let your other foot tap dance all it wants, recognizing that you can never get too far away from that inner circle.” The makings of a rudimentary doctrinal taxonomy!

Mom passed into the presence of the Lord on January 30, 2017.

The last person is still with us. He is the only one on this list younger than I am—and by more than fifteen years. He was one of my interns back in c. 1999. He volunteered to be an intern not to learn from me but to help me in any way he could. I had contracted encephalitis in 1997 and lost much of my memory—most of my languages, most of the people I knew, who the president was, even my wife’s name! I was in a wheelchair for nearly a year and had next to no energy for many years afterward. At one point I was sleeping 22 hours a day and not able to read more than ten minutes without falling asleep. I could read for a maximum of twenty minutes a day. Two men wanted to help me get back on my feet—literally. One of them, a promising young man named Kris Boring, died a year after the internship from a bizarre disease that he contracted in Guatemala. The other is, frankly, barely hanging on because of other diseases that have ravaged his body.

And yet, in spite of his physical limitations, he has been able to co-author two books in the last few years—Reinventing Jesus and Putting Jesus in His Place. His name is Ed Komoszewski.

Over the past two decades our friendship has deepened, and my respect for Ed has soared. In many respects he, too, has become one of my spiritual mentors, and in the process he has become my best friend. I could tell you about the variety of diseases that have taken hold of his mortal shell, but I want to respect his privacy. Ed’s energy levels on his best days almost make my encephalitis look like I was some sort of an energetic superhero. I don’t know how much time Ed has left for this realm, but I do know that he intends to use all of it to magnify the name of his God and King. His book, Putting Jesus in His Place, co-authored with Rob Bowman, was endorsed by dozens of the world’s most notable biblical and theological scholars. I consider it the best—and most accessible—Christology to come down the pike in a long, long time. It belongs in every thinking Christian’s library.

Ed Komoszewski breathes Christ. He has often stated pensively, “Even though I’ve thought about it a lot, I don’t know what I’m going to say when I meet my Lord face-to-face for the first time. One thing I know I won’t say is, ‘Hey, it’s good to connect a name with a face’!”

We need Ed to stay in the fight, to continue working on his vital writing projects, to struggle through the pain and weakness and bring glory to the Risen One.

But the medical bills are mounting. They’re getting out of control. A good friend of Ed’s, Alex Blagojevich, has started a GoFundMe campaign to raise $50,000 to help cover Ed’s medical costs. Alex has already committed to match the first $2500. Ed has a growing family and his dear wife, Shelley, works full time. They need our help.

This is a time for believers to come to the aid of a brother in Christ. The eternal rewards for such an investment cannot be overestimated. I ask you to consider making a generous, even sacrificial gift, to Ed’s GoFundMe account. Share the news with your friends on social media. Tell your church. Get involved. Only a small fraction of the funds have been raised so far. The word needs to spread. Here’s the link, my friends:

https://www.gofundme.com/ed-komoszewski039s-medical-expenses

Contradictions in the Gospels: An Interview with Mike Licona

On April 21 Christianity Today published an interview with Dr. Michael Licona about his new, provocative, and innovative book, Why Are There Differences in the Gospels?: What We Can Learn from Ancient Biography (Oxford). In the interview Licona says things such as, [Christians] often engage in “harmonization efforts, which sometimes subject the Gospels to a sort of hermeneutical waterboarding until they tell the harmonizer what he wants to hear”; “If I fail to [let the Bible’s evidence about itself speak], I deceive myself, claiming to have a high view of Scripture when in reality I would have a high view of my view of Scripture.”

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And the heart of the interview–and the recent book: “What my book does is look at how one of the most highly regarded biographers of antiquity—Plutarch—reported the same events differently. By looking at those different accounts, I can identify patterns in those differences, infer compositional devices from those patterns, and then read the Gospels with those devices in mind. It’s truly amazing to see the Gospel authors using many of the same compositional devices employed by Plutarch!”

And what does he say about historical reliability in the Gospels? You’ll just have to read the interview and, more importantly, read the book!