Can anything beat the feeling of cuddling up to your favorite cup of coffee in front of a stack of steaming, syrup-smothered flapjacks with a side of sausage links as you get set to dive into a study of God’s word with your favorite Bible teacher? I’m more of an egg man (over hard, thank you very much) than a flapjack man (although lately it’s been more like Egg Beaters® with a side of soy-based sausages), but there just seems to be something about all that caffeine and sodium and cholesterol coursing through my bloodstream and coagulating in my brain that really makes those tough passages in Scripture open up with a whole new meaning! How ’bout you?
Well, it sure seems to be working for those bachelors-till-the-rapture at the Trinity Foundation! The siren song of Aunt Jemima beckons them, oh, it seems about five times a week to lay their burdens down next to that endless river of java and listen to the voice of their guru against the soothing melody of silverware clanking on ceramic plates and bowls.
This experience can be yours, too, although you will need to provide your own coffee…and flapjacks, and sausage, and eggs, and the whole silverware-on-ceramic background music thing. How, you ask? Well, the home page of the Trinity Foundation has a link labeled “Morning Bible Studies” which takes you to a page titled “Bible Studies at Trinity Foundation.” By clicking on one of the magic links (think “hypertext,” not “sausage”) you can be transported via your favorite audio software (e.g., Windows Media Player) to a world where open Bibles share tabletops with salt and pepper shakers and an old man who spends most of his spare time tracking televangelists says the darndest things (imagine that!).
Of course, now the obvious question is: “Why?” Why would anyone want to spend time listening to the ruminations of an obscure soon-to-be septuagenarian as he holds forth to an all-male audience of unmarried AARP candidates?
Isn’t it obvious?
Well, perhaps to those following this blog it is, but if you don’t count yourself among that select crowd, then please allow me to explain. Nearly a month ago now I wrote a post titled, “The Enemy of My Enemy,” which opened up with background information on Ole Anthony and his Trinity Foundation, but eventually focused mainly on a recent Wittenburg Door article by his disciple, John Bloom, titled, “Putting Women in Their Place,” in which Bloom denied that the Apostle Paul wrote the Pastoral Epistles (1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus). Not only did he deny that Paul wrote them, but he also denied that the Holy Spirit inspired them. Referring specifically to a passage in 1 Timothy, his exact words were:
This is not the voice of God… This is the voice of a man called “Paul” by the writer, but we don’t really know who it is.
I don’t know how to take these statements as meaning anything other than that the Pastoral Epistles are purely human products, lacking any divine authority. Trying to reconcile anything remotely resembling the status of canonical Scripture for these books with the denial that they carry the authority of God’s voice should be enough to tax the intellect of the most clever logician, and yet Bloom seemed to feel up to the challenge.
To kick off the little back-and-forth exchange that followed between us in the comments section of my post, Bloom accused me of exceeding the malevolence of even the worst hate mail the Door has thus far received. He used words like “Wow,” and “nasty,” and phrases like, “seems a little much,” giving me the general impression not only he didn’t take very kindly to my criticism of his position, but also that he didn’t seem to think there was anything particularly questionable about his views. Meanwhile, his article and his follow-up comments to my post firmly establish that he holds to a heretical view of Scripture.
It should not surprise us that hand-in-hand with a heretical view of Scripture we should also find a disturbing lack of spiritual discernment, which is more than obvious when Bloom declares the theologically-liberal sources he cites as being theologically neutral (or as he put it, as having “no doctrinal position whatsoever’), when in fact they deny the inspiration of Scripture. At least as disturbing is Bloom’s attempt to retain the Pastorals in the canon while he himself denies their inspiration! (I refer you to his comments on my post for these blindingly-brilliant examples of his theological insight.)
It is inevitable that many reading Bloom’s article will ask themselves, “What kind of magazine publishes articles like this?” I’ve been reading the Wittenburg Door on-and-off since 1977 (I know that was during the Carter administration—so just shut up!), when I first came across a copy in the magazine racks of the Emmaus Bible College library. Sure, they’ve printed some wacky and sometimes-questionable things over the decades since then. There was that time they interviewed a Bible-based cult leader, who was already separating his members from their families, as if he were involved in a legitimate Christian “reconciliation ministry.” (It’s a long story…) But I am unaware that the magazine’s editorial staff has ever made a low view of Scripture the publication’s official position, as it seems Bloom may have done. (Bloom’s official title is “Doorkeeper,” and he is listed above the senior editor on the Door’s “About Us” page.)
So, since looming over the heads of the editorial staff of any magazine there is usually someone known as a “publisher,” the next question one might naturally ask is, “What kind of publisher would allow his magazine to print something like that?”
Please pass the Oleo—er, margarine…
I hear that some people who have been trying to be a friend to Ole Anthony—the Door’s publisher of record—over the years have also tried to confront him about the things he teaches his followers. Since he doesn’t put much into print, these would be people who have either personally heard him say these things, or have heard about them through his followers, which means they would primarily be people who have actually made the pilgrimage to Dallas to visit the Trinity Foundation. To say we’re not talking about the same ballpark numbers as those who make the Hajj to Mecca every year is something of an understatement. Outside of actual Trinity Foundation members, those who have received Ole-isms straight from the horse’s mouth are probably as rare as non-Chinese-made products at Wal-Mart. But, thanks to ubiquity of the Web, it no longer has to be that way.
Sometime in the not-too-distant past, the Trinity Foundation began uploading MP3 files of Ole’s messages to his little breakfast group to the page I mentioned earlier. I am grateful to Jackie Alnor for referring me to this page, and for expressing concern over the content of what Anthony teaches through the audio files found there. I believe I actually stumbled across this page quite some time ago but I’d forgotten about it, and thanks to Jackie’s prompting I remembered it long before I otherwise would have. In the right-hand margin it has photographs of Ole and his pupils sitting with Bibles open in a Bob-Evans-like setting, though I have since learned that they’re probably chowing down cold cereal and milk rather than the eggs, flapjacks, and breakfast swine flesh I originally imagined. (Hot breakfasts, I am told, are limited to Saturdays.)
So now I had somewhere to go in search of answers to questions about Anthony’s public teaching about Scripture. Not only was I wondering what kind of publisher would allow his “doorkeeper” to write the kinds of things Bloom, wrote, but I also wondered to what extent Bloom derived his views from Anthony. Where, however, in this vast list of audio files should I begin listening? The archives go back to May 2003, and at the rate of four roughly half-hour messages per week I could easily be looking at nearly 500 hours of listening to get through it all. How could I cut straight to the chase?
My first idea came from Bloom himself. When I inquired directly with hims concerning his views on biblical inspiration and canonicity in the comments to my previous post, one of his responses intrigued me. He wrote:
I think the impasse here is over our conflicting views of word and Word. I believe that scripture is words about the Word. If you consider that heretical, then I don’t see how we can travel much further down the road of disputing scripture.
“Words about the Word?” So this is what gives him permission to deny that Paul wrote three of the epistles that bear his name? Whatever he meant by this phrase, it was hardly a ringing endorsement of the Bible’s inspiration. So I fired back:
What does it mean to say that “scripture is words about the Word?” Since you capitalize your second use of the word “Word,” I assume it’s a reference to the title of Jesus in John 1:1, in which case you’re affirming that Scripture is words about Jesus. I’ve got hundreds of books on my shelf that have words about Jesus in them, including some that deny the clear statements of Scripture. You haven’t explained why I should believe Scripture’s “words about Jesus” over the “words about Jesus” contained in those other books.
If you consider that heretical, then I don’t see how we can travel much further down the road of disputing scripture.
John, not only do I consider it heretical, but the entire conservative evangelical church considers it heretical! All those Christian counter-cult apologists who endorsed the Trinity Foundation for fifteen years or so—they consider it heretical, too. Any Christian who believes that the Bible is the word of God, and by that mean that it is verbally inspired, would declare your view heretical.
Defining Scripture as “words about the Word” is such a problematic statement that I could have gone on about it at much greater length. What about those parts of the Bible that do not speak directly about Jesus? Are they less inspired than those that do, or even uninspired? Is that how you, John Bloom, think you can get away with denying the inspiration of the Pastoral Epistles, because you don’t think they contain “words about the Word?”
But I didn’t go there. Now I only wanted to know to what extent Bloom represented his mentor. So I sat in front of this immense list of MP3 files, and in my web browser’s little search box I typed the phrase “words about the Word,” hit the “Enter” key, and—voilà!—it immediately took me to Anthony’s February 9, 2007 message on Romans 1:2, which has in its written introduction the following sentence: “Scripture is the words about the Word.” Apparently Bloom got this expression directly from Anthony. Now I wondered how much of Bloom’s theological baggage came along with that expression.
“I am the eggman / They are the eggmen…”
Actually, it was quite a relief to be able to so quickly locate this important verbal similarity between John Bloom and Ole Anthony, especially since Bloom traced our entire disagreement to “conflicting views of word and Word,” and set forth his “words about the Word” as the superior option. But the real reason it was such a relief was because as I scanned down the page and read the descriptions of the other messages I began having flashbacks to the reckless lifestyle I lived in the ’60s—which is really odd, because I was only 10 when they ended.
Here’s a brief sampling of blurbs describing the messages I haven’t listened to yet:
October 28, 2005:
God doesn’t want you to have an identity; He wants you to have your true personality, which can only be revealed when your identity is gone.
January 3, 2006:
In order to make this real, you have to go after what you think you want until you can experience that you don’t want it any more. What is evil, from God’s perspective, is to sit and want something in your mind and never have the courage to go after it. The church will try to get you to act like you don’t want it.
February 17, 2006:
Nobody wants to hear that his attempts to better himself, even spiritually, is the essence of what sin is. The only way you can understand Him is to be apprehended by Him. The only way to be apprehended by Him is when you are fully convinced that everything you know about is wrong.
February 7, 2007:
The Gospel. It’s not good news to modern man. The good news is simply that Messiah has come.
So that’s where N.T. Wright got that from! Oh!—sorry…where was I?
November 20, 2007:
There are two natures in us. Jesus Christ in you, God loves. You, He hates.
Well, there you go! Apparently there’s nothing wrong with me that changing everything about me can’t fix! And how hard can that be?
I just have to keep in mind that I’ll never amount to anything until I realize that I’ll never amount to anything! Then I need to get out the scissors and cut up my driver’s license and anything else that might prevent me from losing my identity so I can get a personality.
Yep, that pretty much sounds like what the other kids told me in junior high.
Then, once I lose my identity, I have to go after what I want until I don’t want it anymore—and, of course, at that point what I want will probably be to know who the heck I am…but why would I want to know that if God hates me?
Okay, let’s simplify this: all I really have to do is start out by knowing that I don’t know anything…but wait: if I know that I don’t know anything…
Man, it’s hard to be a Christian in the Trinity Foundation!
The word according to Ole
So let’s get back to our original goal: to see whether John Bloom is simply reflecting the views of his teacher, Ole Anthony, when he denies the Pauline authorship and inspiration of the Pastoral Epistles.
I began listening to Anthony’s 35-minute, 18-second “words about the Word” message from February 9, 2007 on Romans 1:2 soon after I discovered it, which was shortly after Jackie Alnor sent me the link. In the upper-right-hand corner of the page that lists Ole’s messages there’s a little paragraph that begins: “Ole’s Bible studies frequently produce cognitive dissonance (to put it nicely).” Of course, I realized that this couldn’t actually apply to faithful members of the Trinity Foundation, since they would have made sure to get rid of any cognition that could become dissonant. I, on the other hand, was another story.
My ears began perking up one minute, 48 seconds (1:48) into Ole’s message when he said, “And so, the whole idea of what are the Scriptures becomes a critical issue to whether or not we believe things.” But I would have to wait until the 4:40 mark on my Windows Media Player before Ole directly addressed this critical issue. He read through the passage in Revelation 19 and he came to the end of verse 13 in the King James Version:
“…and his name is called The Word of God.”
To me that—that’s pretty clear. And so, then, is the Bible the word of God? Well, yes and no. The Bible is words about the Word. But my position is that if we had eyes to see, if we truly understood the cross, if we truly understood the book of Revelation—I mean, Ecclesiastes, then we would be able to say that everything is-is revealing this mystery.
But what—the meaning and purpose of Scripture—and let’s go there, let’s see what—the only thing that-that the Jews and the first-century Christians, the only thing they called and named as Scripture was the Torah, the first five books: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy.
At this point—the 5:44 mark—Anthony wanders off into a fairly bizarre narrative about Moses leaving the space-time continuum while up on Mount Sinai. (As Dave Barry would say: I am not making this up!) I guess that makes this as good a place as any to pause and reflect on the profundity of the words we have considered thus far.
If a Bible teacher answers the question “Is the Bible the word of God?” with a ludicrous statement like, “Well, yes and no,” can you ultimately blame his followers if they later turn around and say some pretty unorthodox things about the Scriptures?
And if a Bible teacher essentially says that everything is revelation (quote: “everything is-is revealing this mystery”) in a way that implies that natural revelation is equal to the Bible, should you really be surprised when his disciples say things that call into question the uniqueness of Scripture as God’s special revelation?
And if a Bible teacher limits the definition of the word “Scripture” to the Pentateuch, meaning that no other book in our Bible can be properly called “Scripture,” I ask you: where does the ultimate indictment belong when those he has taught these things turn around and treat the Pastoral Epistles as if they’re not actually Scripture?
Granted: none of these statements constitute a “smoking gun,” in the sense that they prove that Ole Anthony is the source of John Bloom’s notions about 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus. And frankly, for reasons I’ll go into shortly, I don’t think such a “smoking gun” exists. I think Bloom was acting as a lone gunman when he tried to fire his magic bullet at the Pastorals.
And no, I’m not trying to say that John Bloom has no responsibility for what he wrote. Regardless of how theologically confused and spiritually disoriented one might become from sitting under the kind of nonsense that masquerades as Bible teaching from the golden trachea of Ole Anthony, his followers are responsible for what they say and write.
What I am saying is this: according to the teaching of the Scriptures—i.e., the 66 books of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation—specifically, in the book of James, we learn that Ole Anthony will bear a stricter judgment for this mess than John Bloom will, since Anthony set himself up as Bloom’s teacher (James 3:1).
And how do we know that the word “Scripture” is not confined to the five books of Moses? Because the Bible tells us so. In Matthew 21:42, Jesus refers to Psalm 118:22 as part of “the Scriptures.” In Luke 4:21 He refers to Isaiah 61:1-2a as “Scripture.” In Romans 11:2 Paul calls 1 Kings 19:10-18 “Scripture.” In Luke 24:27, Luke includes the Old Testament prophets in “the Scriptures.”
Nowhere does the Bible, or any document from church history limit the term “Scripture” to the Pentateuch. The only group in the first century that was known limit the concept of “Scripture” to the five books of Moses were the Sadducees, who also denied the resurrection and the existence of angels! (Cf. Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity, 2nd edition [Grand Rapids, MI, USA: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1993], 486.)
It’s late. I’m tired. I came home from work this afternoon, Wednesday, May 7, and dragged my sorry carcass to my computer knowing that I had to complete this blog post. I was almost completely spent, and I’d received an email earlier that day from Ole Anthony. We’d been exchanging them since late last week.
While Ole was very forthcoming about other things, I was still waiting for the answer to one simple question: “What is your definition of the Bible’s inspiration?” In his latest email he once again skirted the question. Actually, he begged the question by quoting 2 Timothy 3:16-17 to me, and at the end of his email he left his phone number. If I still had any questions, he said, I should just call him.
I honestly didn’t know if I had the energy to have a verbal face-off with this man and produce the kind of article I thought was demanded by the gravity of this situation. Should I call him, or should I just finish this post and let the chips fall?
No, I had to call him; so I did. It didn’t turn out to be as confrontational as I thought it might. A little over 13 minutes later, it was over.
When we were finished talking I still did not know how he precisely defined the inspiration of the Bible. I did, however, hear him declare that all of its 66 books are equally inspired—whatever that may mean to him. On the other hand, when I provided the traditional Christian definition, that the Holy Spirit sovereignly superintended the writing of the biblical authors so that what they produced contained the very words of God, he raised no objection.
Even better, he flatly contradicted John Bloom’s assertion that the Pastoral Epistles were not written by Paul and do not speak with the voice of God. This was good to hear. Nevertheless, he defended his assertion that only the Torah was called “Scripture” in the first century, even in the face of verses I quoted to him that proved otherwise.
Contradictions and inconsistencies remain. Some of his phone statements beg for more scrutiny than I have time for here. Of more immediate concern is the following question: how can I reconcile the Ole Anthony who spoke with me on the phone today with the Ole Anthony who said the following on February 9, 2007 (message time 11:28-12:45)?:
Okay, and then he says, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God,” and in here he is talking specifically about what Gary was saying, this is the Torah. That’s the only thing anybody—they considered Scripture. Remember that was—that was the Torah. That was the inspiration of God. And the writings, and the prophets were given because of the people’s rebellion. But the five books were all that was necessary—and that’s what this says—“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.”
So, do you understand this? He’s not talking about something Paul would say, and calls it Scripture. Paul would be appalled if his writings were called Scripture. Can you understand that? Because he’s saying that everything that was necessary for you to come to the fullness of salvation was revealed in the Torah.
How I can I listen to these words and not conclude that for Ole Anthony, if the Torah was “all that was necessary,” then the rest of the Bible must be somehow, in some way, or to some extent unnecessary? How can I not conclude that someone sitting under Anthony’s teaching for an extended period of time, and being fed a steady diet of this kind of doctrine, would not come to believe that the rest of the Old Testament and the entire New Testament was not as important as the Pentateuch?
So much for Augustine’s famous adage, “The New is in the Old concealed, the Old is in the New revealed!” Little did he know that the New Testament didn’t actually reveal anything that wasn’t already fully revealed in the Pentateuch.
So much for Paul’s teaching that Jesus “brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:10)! Little did he know that Moses already brought this stuff sufficiently to light more than a thousand years earlier, making the Gospel superfluous.
So much for the fact that Peter puts Paul’s writings on a par with “the other Scriptures” “which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:16, ESV). Little did he know that first century Christians such as himself only referred to the Torah as “Scripture.”
The truly appalling thing here is that a cursory scan of the descriptions on the “Bible Studies at Trinity Foundation” page would seem to indicate that there is so much more wrong with Ole Anthony’s teaching than what I’ve been able to cover here, even though Ole’s final words to me in our phone conversation conveyed assurances of his orthodoxy. I’ve already begun listening to some of them…I think we need to talk about the meaning of “orthodoxy…”
Please stay tuned…