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.

St Mary's church and town square_500th ann copy

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.

Schlosskirche Wittenberg_27 Oct 2017 copy

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.

Luther statue_500th anniversary copy

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!

15th Anniversary of CSNTM

img_9080

The concept for the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts began long before it became an official non-profit organization. In my sabbatical at Cambridge University in 1995 I logged many happy weeks at the University Library examining New Testament manuscripts. Peter Head then of Tyndale House, Cambridge, and I even spent a day poring over Codex Cantabrigiensis, a fifth-century codex that had been donated to the University in 1581 by Theodore Beza. Digital photography was starting to have an impact in the late 90s. Dr. Hall Harris (CSNTM board member) urged me to start my own institute for examining and photographing NT manuscripts. The need was great: only microfilms were available for most NT manuscripts, and the quality was abysmal. Frequently, the text was illegible on these microfilms, and virtually all marginal notes by the scribes were way too blurry to read. Our knowledge, therefore, of the NT manuscripts was, in each instance, almost always incomplete. Once 4 megapixel digital cameras were produced, the time was right to found a new institute. Digital photography ushered in a new era of textual study: for the first time, these manuscripts would be easily accessible and read with great clarity…. To view the entire article, visit CSNTM.

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.

Screen Shot 2017-10-16 at 11.35.14 AM

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.

 

Michelle Qureshi on Nabeel’s death

Michelle posted Vlog 44 on September 26, offering reflections on Nabeel’s death. Definitely worth sharing, definitely worth watching. Among other things, she declared:

“At the end of the day, you can only rely on the Word of God.”

“I am fully convinced that God will use this death to a more glorious end.”

“Nothing has changed about his character. He’s still sovereign, good, and trustworthy.”

Watch it here.

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.
Screen Shot 2017-09-24 at 12.41.36 PM.png

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.