What do we believe and teach?

Churches or individuals often ask questions about what a university religion department teaches. Here, are responses to recently asked questions.

"The following topics represent a range of issues that extends from central Christian theological affirmations, to decisions about scholarly / academic method and on to personal / individual opinion. Each response should be read and weighed in light of the nature of the topic being addressed."
    -- Hal Cauthron, chair of the School of Theology and Ministry, Southern Nazarene University

Question: "Does God have foreknowledge?"
Cauthron: The Scripture disposes to a "Yes" answer to the question. Three New Testament texts (Acts 2:23; Romans 8:29; 11:2) attribute foreknowledge to God. Certain Old Testament texts, such as Isaiah 42:9, present the claim, by God, of telling things before they come to pass. In this way, God's declarations through the prophets are often taken as examples of foreknowledge. Still, Scripture does not discuss the nature and extent of God's foreknowledge in a detailed manner. As a result, says H. Orton Wiley: "The question of divine foreknowledge has been the occasion of much speculation" (Christian Theology, volume 1, page 355). I would guess that all this may account for the fact that Nazarene General Assemblies have not put in our church Manual an article of faith on divine foreknowledge.
Question: "Are the first 11 chapters of Genesis allegory or actual occurrences?"
Cauthron: The biblical text does NOT present these stories as allegories. A good way to describe these texts is to call them "primeval narratives / traditions" in the words of Discovering the Old Testament, page 62 (the new college-level textbook recently published by Nazarene Publishing House). This denominationally-approved textbook further says: "These stories focus on events that took place long before humanity began to document its history and civilization.. . . These chapters contain narratives about the world out of which Israel's ancestor Abraham came to follow God's call." (Discovering the Old Testament, page 62)
Question: "Are the individuals mentioned in the Old Testament (such as Adam, Eve, Noah, Jonah, Job, David, and Solomon) real people or just allegories for teaching principles?"
Cauthron: Scripture everywhere speaks of them as real people. Archaeological exploration in the Middle East have pointed increasingly to many identifiable parallels (names, places, artifacts, and texts) with things in the Bible. These parallels give warrant for accepting the actuality of persons named in the Old Testament.
Question: "Are there specific prophecies in the Old Testament that only Jesus could and did fulfill?"
Cauthron: Yes. Two examples would be the New Testament's application of the Servant of the Lord hymn in Isaiah 52:13-53:12 (see Matthew 8:17; Luke 22:37; John 12:38; Acts 8:32-33; Romans 10:16; 1 Peter 2:23) and the application of the Melchizedek priesthood in Psalm 110:4 to Christ in Hebrews 5:6; 7:17, 21. There are others, but these two are likely the most well known.
Question: "Was the virgin birth a reality or a myth?"
Cauthron: A reality. This is one of the central affirmations of the Church of the Nazarene found in the Articles of Faith section of the Manual. In part, Article II declares: "We believe in Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Triune Godhead; that He was eternally one with the Father, that he became incarnate by the Holy Spirit and was born of the Virgin Mary, so that two whole and perfect natures, that is to say the Godhead and manhood, are thus united in one Person very God and very man, The God-man."
Question: "Was the resurrection of Jesus a bodily, physical resurrection or was it a spiritual resurrection only?"
Cauthron: It was bodily. According to the testimony of the New Testament (the Gospels, and 1 Corinthians 15) regarding the resurrection appearances, Jesus lived in a new "spiritual" body (as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15). His resurrection was not the mere resuscitation of a corpse. In that case, the risen Jesus would not have had the unique abilities described in the Gospels (appearing inside of locked doors; disguising himself; grave clothes simply left where the body had been lying in the tomb, not unwound; see Luke and John for these). Indeed, it has been said that the stone was rolled away from the tomb's entrance, not to let Jesus out, but to let the disciples in to see that He was no longer there. [ more on resurrection ]
Question: "What do you believe and teach regarding the doctrine of the Trinity?"
Cauthron: Exactly what the Nazarene Manual affirms in Article 1 of the Articles of Faith: "We believe in one eternally existent, infinite God, sovereign of the universe; that He only is God, creative and administrative, holy in nature, attributes, and purpose; that He, as God, is Triune in essential being, revealed as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."
Question: "Did Jesus actually cast out demons?"
Cauthron: Yes. It is the unified witness of the Gospels that Jesus thus demonstrated the power of God's kingly rule breaking into the world of humankind.
Question: "I read some stuff on your site that seems to say that even though you have accepted Christ fully and with all of your heart, you can lose your salvation. Is that what you believe?"
Culbertson: A major problem with the "once-saved-always-saved" belief is that it creates grave problems for the idea of free will. That is, the once-saved-always-saved belief says that even if a person decides to walk away from God and even goes so far as to try to renounce any belief at all, he or she is still saved.
     The once-saved-always-saved idea gives problems in trying to understand the events involving Adam and Eve in Genesis 3. If they were "saved" before the Fall (and I think we can say they were), then how do we explain the fact they were able to make a choice that led them to "lose" that salvation?
     Actually, in the tradition we're a part of (Salvation Army, Free Methodist Church, Nazarene, Friends Church, Assemblies of God, Church of God, Methodist church, Free Will Baptist, etc.) the phrase "lose your salvation" is not used much. Saying "lose your salvation" makes it sound like salvation is a ticket or coupon or some kind of object. At the very heart of salvation is a relationship. Relationships can be broken; they can be renounced and walked away from.
     To say once-saved-always-saved doesn't square with what is said in the letters to the churches in Revelation. There, it is announced several times that the person is faithful to the end will be the one who wins the prize (instead of the prize going to everyone who starts the race).
     Those in the once-saved-always-saved camp have sometimes accused us of believing that our works count toward our salvation. That is not true. Salvation is of grace. God offers us a renewed relationship with Him based on Christ's work on the cross. We can choose to begin that relationship and we can choose to continue it or even -- tragically -- end it.
Question: "What is Church of the Nazarene's stand on ecumenicalism with the Roman Catholics?"
Culbertson: The Church of the Nazarene belongs to some interdenominational organizations like the National Association of Evangelicals. However, we have never been a part of the "ecumenical movement" exemplified by organizations like the National Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches.
     We do share some historic Christian doctrines with the Roman Catholic Church such as a belief in God as Triune and a belief in Jesus Christ as the incarnate Messiah who was born of a virgin and whose death is the atonement for our sins. On the other hand, we stand with historic Protestantism in rejecting Roman Catholic beliefs and practices that are rooted more in their own history rather than in Scripture.
     We are not, however, anti-Roman Catholic. We are anti-sin and anti-Satan.
Question: "What is your church's view on the use of images, such as statues supposedly depicting Christ?"
Culbertson: We reverently follow the Ten Commandments which forbid making statues into objects of worship. We do not, however, share the feeling of our Muslim friends that any representation of any kind is idolatry.
     So, you will find drawings of biblical characters, including Jesus, in our Sunday school literature. You will find us using the Jesus film (which is an artistic representation of Christ) in global evangelistic outreach. In fact, Nazarene Jesus film teams have shown that film to more than 30 million people worldwide.
     You will also find some of the classic paintings of Christ -- the one by Warner Sallman, for instance -- in Nazarene buildings. Lots of Nazarene churches have adopted from Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church the use of Salmon's Christ knocking at a door in personal, one-on-one evangelism to talk about how Jesus is knocking at our heart's door.
     What you will not find in the Church of the Nazarene is the adoration of those images. For instance, you will not find people kissing images or statues or placing lighted candles in front of them.
Question: "How do you pursue the healthy questioning that drives academic excellence without diminishing the value of the humble and childlike faith that drives spiritual excellence?"
Cauthron: First, by saying to all students in our General Education courses that humility of heart and life is very important for anyone reflecting upon theological issues. To be lacking in humility is to be guilty of the arrogance of claiming to have all the answers (when actually no one has all the answers).
     Secondly, by being transparent about our own faith journey, and letting students see and hear us practice our faith, as well as hear us ask and try to answer the hard questions of theology.
     Thirdly, by trying very hard to begin where students are, to encourage them to think about the ramifications of their own faith commitments, and then to help them weigh alternatives and issues.
     In all of this, we seek to convince students that we have been where they are and that we have submitted our own faith affirmations to rigorous examination and have found our faith renewed and strengthened.
Question: "Can you diminish the historical legitimacy of any Biblical character without also diminishing the theological legitimacy of the lessons which that particular character conveys?"
Cauthron: This question appears to assume that historical veracity is the complete measure of all truth. To say it another way: It takes the affirmation "If it is historical, it is true" and turns it into the statement "If it is true, it is historical." Yet, one must ask how we usually understand Jesus' parables in the gospels. Must we hold that Jesus referred to a specific, living individual when he spoke about a farmer, a land owner, a wife making bread, a pearl merchant, a father who divided his possessions (see Matthew 13 and Luke 15)?
     The theological truth of a parable is not lessened or made any less legitimate when we assume that parables were stories of what might happen rather than specific reports of what actually transpired in someone's life. In fact, Biblical interpreters through the centuries have argued that the father in the prodigal son parable would not have been a real Jewish father in Jesus' day. In that culture, no father would be so foolish as to do what the younger son asked. Such a request would have been an insult to a First Century Jewish father. Yet, these same interpreters have spoken at length about the message and meaning of the parable with regard to Jesus' emphasis upon God as Father.
     To return to trying to answer the question: Yes, to "diminish the historical legitimacy" of a particular character in the Bible may in some cases undermine the legitimacy of the theological affirmations associated with that character's story. However, that is not necessarily so in every instance -- such as those instances of characters that appear in parables or other illustrative stories.
Question: "Is the Bible true and authoritative on all issues it addresses?"
Cauthron: Yes. Of course, the issues the Bible addresses are the issues about who God is, who human beings are, and how human beings are to find restoration to worship of and fellowship with God. This is the focus of Article 4 in the Nazarene Articles of Faith: "We believe in the plenary inspiration of the Holy Scriptures, by which we understand the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments, given by divine inspiration, inerrantly revealing the will of God concerning us in all things necessary to our salvation, so that whatever is not contained therein is not to be enjoined as an article of faith." What we are affirming with those words is that the Bible can be fully trusted to lead anyone to a saving knowledge of God in Jesus Christ.
     When we are converted, we choose to accept the preaching of the gospel we have heard (based as it is upon the Scripture), and we discover the reality of the Holy Spirit's presence affirming to our spirit that the gospel is true. We simply know that we are forgiven and reconciled to God, and thus, what the Scripture has said to us through the preacher is in fact both authentic and authoritative.[ more on authority of Scripture ]
     Other questions that are sometimes raised on this topic -- "And, if it is not entirely true, can it still be entirely authoritative? Can the Word of God be inaccurate and yet authoritative?" -- do not raise options that we must necessarily deal with. Those questions appear to presuppose that anyone who hears the gospel must become convinced of the Bible's authority and truth before they can confess faith in Christ. Requiring that sequence of belief (believing the Bible before believing in Christ) is not the appeal we make in gospel preaching.
Question: "How can you begin to dissect inspired texts (inspired not only originally but perpetually) as true or untrue without making your own understanding the measure of objective truth?"
Cauthron: This question would be a good description of what has happened in what is known as The Jesus Seminar. That is a group of scholars who tried to evaluate all the words of the gospels to determine -- in their collective judgment -- as to whether those words were actually Jesus' words. What they came up with raises exactly this question. Fortunately, those scholars do not represent a majority of the scholars devoted to the study of the New Testament. Furthermore, those in The Jesus Seminar carried on their program in isolation from the wider forum of scholarly dialogue. The answer to the question is, of course, "You can't." Such a way of dealing with biblical texts is not the approach of any scholars / professors in any of our Nazarene institutions -- at least none that I know of.
Question: "I've spent 18 years praying God's call and God's glory down on my children. Can I be assured the Southern Nazarene University Religion Department will strengthen their immature faith and refuse to undermine the simple confidence they have placed in the Bible stories they learned in Nazarene Sunday schools?"
Cauthron: You can have the same confidence I had in sending my own children to SNU, and having them study their faith commitments under the supervision of my colleagues -- something four of us have done already, and something the other five will do eventually. I trust my colleagues. I have not been disappointed in how they have related to my two children.
     Please take a look at the pamphlet which my colleagues and I produced three or so years ago, titled "Teaching Theology at SNU." [ read pamphlet ] We have sought to spell out our theological and pedagogical commitments. We have shared this with various representatives among SNU's primary stakeholders, including the Nazarene General Superintendents. We have been congratulated for the approaches we declare to be our intentions. One further observation: As believers, we must grow, mature, develop and as the Apostle Paul tried to urge the Corinthians, we need to mature from drinking mere milk to solid food (1 Corinthians 3:1-3)

     -- Hal Cauthron

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