C. Edwin Gheens Lecture Series 2008: Theology Needs Help – Informal Q&A
Following today’s lecture at Alumni Chapel, Dr. Erickson graciously held an informal question and answer session in Heritage Hall as part of the three-day C. Edwin Gheens Lecture Series. What follows is a summary of the students’ questions and Dr. Erickson’s answers.
Q: Would you consider yourself a covenant theologian (covenant of grace) or a new covenant theologian (the promise made to Abraham’s seed)?
A: I am certainly not a dispensationalist and I believe there has always been one way of salvation and that basis was (and is) the work of Christ. All receive salvation through Christ but in a somewhat different manner. Those who lived in the Old Testament placed their faith in the coming Christ and in the mercy of God. There medium of salvation (Christ on the cross) was less transparent as those who placed their faith in the crucified Christ.
Q: Do you believe the rise of Pentecostalism in the Southern Hemisphere is affecting the post-modern Christian?
A: In Latin America, we see a rise in conservative Christians who are Pentecostal. I have found that the problem of post-modernism in evangelicalism is more prevelant in North America and Western Europe than anywhere else. However, post-modernism is slowly moving east. Canada is quickly becoming what Western Europe is and I am fearful that America will is heading down that same path.
Q: Could you speak to the popularity of the mega-churches?
A: The mega-churches from a generation ago are no longer in existance. Yes, they exist and probably always will, but I am cautious of them because they seem to have no staying power. Some mega-churches are built on the solid foundations of the Bible while others are built on the charisma of the pastor. Those built on biblical principles will last longer than those built on the pastor.
There is one thing for which we should commend the mega-churches. They are able to offer ministries that the smaller churches can’t becuase of a lack of man-power. It is the unselfish mega-churches that will prosper. However, for every plus, there is a minus. I fear that the fanfare of the mega-church will blind us to the message coming from the pulpit. Even worse, I am afraid it will not matter to most.
I am undecided on the multicampus church phenomenon. I am still sorting out the pros and cons.
Q: What is your greatest success as a husband and as a father?
A: I wish my wife were here to talk about this one. I am sure I have had more failures than successes but I think my wife would say that I have encouraged her to use her gifts. As for my children, I made it a point to spend time individually with each child–just dad and one of my kids. These times always led to opportunities to really share with kids. I would give anything to attend another gymnastics event with one of my daughter’s where she would perform for like 60 seconds and I had to sit there for the whole event. Many times, I would grade papers during these events just so I could watch those 60 seconds.
I do believe that I am a better grandparent than a parent (that is why you have kids, right?). I have found that I learned from my mistakes as a parent.
Q: As a theologian, how do you approach the doctrine of hell with an unbeliever and with a congregation?
A: First, I would not lead the evangelistic encounter with this subject. However, it can’t be deleted from the gospel presentation. I think C.S. Lewis said it best–there is a latch on the door to hell on the inside. God does not send people to hell; we go on our own choice. I see people going to hell and I see a tearful God giving them what they want. I believe hell is a place of loneliness where the individual realizes he or she now has no chance at fellowship with God. I believe there is an awful sense of separation that we cannot relate to here on earth.
Regarding the congregation, I think maybe we dwelt too much on the hellfire and brimstone and now we have overreacted and do not speak of hell at all. There needs to be a balance. I also think we need to find creative ways to bring up the subject of hell and not be more offensive than what the Bible is.
Q: Could you give us any general insights to guard against error from the other disciplines?
A: The closer you get to the God-Man relationship, the more distortion is sin in one’s discipline. For example, there is not much perceivable distortion at the chemical level whereas the sociological level one can’t help but see the distortion of sin. I believe the greater degree of distortion today is in the humanities and social sciences instead of biology (evolution) from a few decades ago.
Using biblical insights to sift through other disciplines’ truths takes great work. I believe the best way to ease the workload is repeated exposure to the Bible. This cannot be said enough! I found that studying at a secular university, I had to work twice as hard at my studies because I was having to read books on apologetics in order to counter the junk in the other disciplines. Unfortunately, there is an acceptable close-mindedness on secular campuses that prevents the Christian worldview from having equal treatment in the class room.
Q: I am new to the southern style of doing things. What are your thoughts regarding a wife staying in the home versus being in the workforce?
A: Next question. Seriously, I think I come from a different background than many in this room. My wife worked even when our daughters were in the home. I do believe the ideal situation is to have a care-taker (one of the parents) in the home dedicating their time to the children. Unfortunately, our culture today seems to demand a two-income family. I believe it is culturally acceptable that a wife remain in the home and not as much geographical as you may think. In any event, there should always be a parent at home with the kids.
Q: What is the one thing you know now that you wished you knew in seminary?
A: When I was in seminary, it was a simpler time theologically. The categories were much more clear than they are today. I believe the changes in worship styles and structures of the churches has changed more in the last 30 years than in the preceding 100.
If I had one thing I could go back and learn it would be more preparation on pastoral counseling. I wish I had better models for pastoral work in general. I believe your first experience in the ministry is foundational to the way you view ministry. I would work harder at developing my pastoral skills and focus more on my weaknesses than my strengths.
Q: How did you get the vision to be an author?
A: I just thought it was something you had to do. As a professor though, I see it as I teach today what I researched yesterday. So the question could be asked, “What will I teach tomorrow?” Writing is definitely hard work that needs to be done and I am afraid that many drain the scholarship without adding to it. I also believe you should write because you have a burden to share something. In other words, you believe the church needs to deal with an issue competently. I also think that the professors at our Christian schools need to be equal to or better than those at a secular school.
Q: Regarding John Stott and his view of annihilation, at what point do you no longer trust a theologian because of his heretical views in some areas?
A: I believe we are all wrong in some areas of our theology–I just have not been shown where I am wrong. Seriously though, we should not negate the valuable insights from scholars because they are wrong in some areas. We should be discerning as to what they are saying. I would caution people to not become a disciple of a human. Normally, you will cease being critical and no longer evaluate what they are saying and just accept it as true. If you are not disagreeing with someone at some point, then you are no longer thinking and that may be the greatest disservice to both you and your teacher.