back to bible basics - a review of "beyond bible basics" (1)
“THE INCONSISTENCY OF GOD” REFUTED BY SCRIPTURE
In 1999, “The Christadelphian Advancement Trust” published a 946 page book entitled “Beyond Bible Basics”, by Mr Duncan Heaster, seeking to compliment his earlier work, “Bible Basics”. The complete work being readily accessible “online” via the Internet, it is easily available to many brethren and sisters throughout the world – and the fact that it is being used in Mr Heaster’s preaching activities overseas means that it is being received by those who are yet young in the faith. But it is with great concern that several of our readers have pointed out that despite Mr Heaster’s seeming inexhaustible zeal for preaching, this latest book has many serious flaws, rendering it unsuitable for that work. Although it does have it’s good points, it also has many grave errors. Often, the exposition is ambiguous at best, and unsound at its worst. It contains serious errors in the advice it gives both concerning the doctrines it expresses, and the way of life it advocates, and as we shall endeavour to show, it is far from being “beyond Bible Basics”, but fundamentally contradictory to basic Bible Teaching. In this short series then, we seek to go “back to Bible basics” (hence the title) to examine some of it’s claims in the light of Scripture, commencing with Mr Heaster’s teaching that Scripture contains “contradictions” which are “irreconcilable”, and that “God is very often inconsistent”.
It ought to be said at the outset however; that we are well aware of the prominence of Mr Heaster, and this critique is in no way intended to question his good character, or the value of his preaching activities. It merely seeks to compare the words which he wrote in this particular book with the words which Yahweh wrote in the pages of Scripture, to show how there is considerable difference between the two. The seriousness of the issues involved can be seen in the fact that within “Beyond Bible Basics”, there are listed over 30 alleged “contradictions” in the Word, some of which we shall presently consider. And for the present writer; this is a claim which he has never before seen in a book published under the name of the Christadelphians.
THE CLAIM PRESENTED: “GOD IS VERY OFTEN INCONSISTENT”
Whereas the Inspired Word declares the Most High to be wholly consistent in all his ways, being “the Father of lights with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (Jas 1:17), not being “the author of confusion, but of peace” (1Cor 14:33), Mr Heaster claims that God is fundamentally inconsistent in His Ways. Under the heading, “The Inconsistency of God”, he writes: “What I want to put to you is that God is very often inconsistent – to our human eyes. Indeed, the closer we analyse the Bible, the more we meditate upon God’s ways, the more evident it becomes that contradictions and paradoxes are woven throughout the fabric of God’s self-revelation to us”. Mr Heaster’s claim then, is that the more we study the Word, far from growing in understanding, it will become evident to us that the Bible is in fact, a mass of “contradictions” and “paradoxes”. Despite the poetic terms he uses, this is the thrust of his teaching, – that in the declarations of “God’s self-revelation”, there are profound inconsistencies, and the more we ponder the ways of the Most High, the more we realise our “inability to reconcile them”.
It has been suggested that Mr Heaster is merely saying that men cannot attain to a perfect understanding of the Ways of the Most High in their current state of mortality; that there are aspects of the Word which we cannot fully comprehend. And this proposition is one with which we would fully agree. Yet Mr Heaster goes beyond saying this, to claiming that through inspiration, God has caused His Word to contain inconsistencies. He claims that for God to write a faultless book, would be for Him to sink down to the level of man: “His word is not contradictory, but in ensuring this, God does not sink down to the level of a man who wanted to write a faultless book, carefully ensuring that every figure exactly tallied. He has a spiritual culture much higher than this”. So, Mr Heaster implies that figures in Scripture do not exactly tally, for to say that the Word is “faultless” is to bring the Almighty down to the level of humans. Mr Heaster in this place states – quite correctly – that the Word is “not contradictory”. But here is an inconsistency – it is not “contradictory”, yet it is evidently not “a faultless book” either! And so despite stating that Scripture is “not contradictory”, Mr Heaster then proceeds to give us over 30 examples of what he calls “contradictions”, which he says, “simply cannot be resolved by any amount of human words or reasoning”.
But this is not the declaration of Scripture itself. Rather than to make it’s readers become more confused, by inducing an increased awareness of its alleged inconsistencies and contradictions, the Word is wholly consistent in all it’s parts. “Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him” (Prov 30:5). And the Word being “pure” – that is, free from any impurity of contradiction or discrepancy, being a reflection of the Mind of the Eternal Creator, it is able to so operate upon the minds of the unenlightened to cause them to think more in harmony with their Maker. It is “able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” for “all scripture is God-breathed, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (2Tim 3:15-17). It is able to permeate the believers’ entire disposition of thought, transforming the Carnal Mind, related only to the things of the grave, to the Spiritual mind, which is related to “live and peace” (Rom 8:6). So the Apostle exhorts, “put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him” (Col 3:10). And again, “be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God” (Rom 12:2). So it is, that rather than to become more confused by the discovery of more “contradictions”, the diligent Bible Student will have his spiritual perception sharpened to discern between good and evil (Heb 5:14), being able to “rightly divide the word of truth” (2Tim 2:15), continually growing in understanding, that he might become “wise unto salvation” (2Tim 3:15).
“I AM YAHWEH, I CHANGE NOT”
Throughout His Word, the Lord declares His fundamental consistency: “I am Yahweh, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed” (Mal 3:6). What proof is there then, that that Yahweh does in fact change – that he is “inconsistent”? As evidence, Mr Heaster provides a list of what he describes as being “Divinely created paradoxes”, “inconsistencies” in the Word, which he feels illustrate “the principle of contradiction” – a list which is rather akin to the claims of the unbeliever, seeking to undermine the Divine Revelation by presenting discrepancies. And indeed, many of the items in his list are merely the regurgitations of the same old standard arguments presented to us time and time again by many a critic.
ALLEGED “CONTRADICTIONS” CONSIDERED
Lack of space constrains us to limit our observations to but a few examples of what Mr Heaster regards as a “contradiction” – but we would be most willing to comment on any of the others, should our readers so require it. However, as a preliminary point it is important to note that in seeking to set various parts of Scripture against itself, Mr Heaster does not use specific quotations. In other words, he does not cite a verse which states one thing, and then another verse which states the opposite, or another principle which violates the first (which, by definition is what a “contradiction” actually is). Rather, he simply gives his own understanding of particular principles, and sets his own understanding of one thing against his understanding of another. To give an example of this, the first “contradiction” states: “people are either predestinated to be in the Kingdom or not to be. We are not just predestined to be called, i.e. To be given the opportunity; some are predestinated to achieve the image of Christ in their lives. Others stumble at God’s word because they were ordained to do so.” The contradiction, he claims, is seen in that: “God finds fault with those who do stumble at His word, and He is pleased with the obedience of the righteous. In other words, there is free will”.
Note the basic elements of Mr Heaster’s points which comprise the “contradiction”. Some are “ordained” to stumble at the word of God – yet they have free will, and become worthy of condemnation when they do so. Some are “predestinated” to “achieve the image of Christ in their lives”, yet they have free will, and so they are worthy of commendation for what they have sought to do. Indeed, we agree wholeheartedly, this is an absolute contradiction. God makes man do something – yet they do it by free will, by choice, and are commended, or condemned for doing what God made them do – an absurd line of logic. But the error here is not with the Word, but in the fact that Mr Heaster evidently does not understand the Biblical doctrine of “predestination”, and it is only his incorrect presentation of things which is contradictory.
“PREDESTINATION” BRIEFLY CONSIDERED
There are 2 passages in Scripture which speak of “predestination”, which are as follows:
“For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified” (Rom 8:29,30).
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ unto himself, according to the pleasure of his will … In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will;” (Eph 3-5, 11).
The standard evangelical idea of “predestination”, evidently believed by Mr Heaster, essentially states that God chose in advance who will be in His Kingdom – that their “destiny” is therefore predetermined and unchangeable (hence “pre-destination”), The concept is, that nothing a person can do can alter their predetermined destiny – they will be made to conform – their plot in life is inescapable. But as Mr Heaster admits, this doctrine is contradictory to Scripture which teaches Free Will.
But the evangelical idea (and Mr Heaster’s) is wholly unscriptural. The Greek word rendered “predestination” literally means “marked out before”. It speaks not so much of Divine interference of human free will – but of Yahweh’s Foreknowledge. Man has free will to do as he so pleases, but because Yahweh knows the end from the beginning – because he knows the entire course which a man will choose to take in life – he already knows who will be in the Kingdom. He has “marked out before” (that is “before the foundation of the world”), those individuals, because He Knows the degree of faithfulness they will show. Notice this, that both of these passages speak of the foreknowledge of the Almighty, rather than His interference in human affairs: “Whom he did foreknow, he did predestinate (mark out before) to be conformed to the image of his son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren”. And the being in Christ’s image here is not in this life, as Mr Heaster (and the Evangelicals) claim, but is future, “when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is” (1Jno 3:2, cp Ps 17:15). So it is, that due to his foreknowledge of human action, and the faithfulness which Christ’s true brethren would show; the Lord from the foundation of the world had already appointed that they will be in His Kingdom, being made Immortal like His son, that he might be the “firstborn from the dead” (Col 1:18).
So then, the only “contradiction” is in Mr Heaster’s faulty reasoning. Predestination has nothing to do with interference with free will; but is the Lord’s foreknowledge. This illustrates the principle of what we said earlier, that in each case Mr Heaster cites, the actual verse of Scripture is not cited – but his erroneous interpretation of it is. And because his interpretation is wrong – rather unsurprisingly, it does contradict Scripture! As a reason for not citing the actual verses, Mr Heaster says: “These have not been added, because it is not the purpose of this study to analyse the issues themselves, but rather the principle of contradiction”. We suggest however, that if the verses had been left to speak for themselves, there would be found no “principle of contraction” to “analyse”.
COULD SOLOMON HAVE BEEN THE MESSIAH?
Another case where the Inspired Word is said to “contradict” itself, is in Mr Heaster’s assertion that Solomon could have taken the place of Christ as being the Messiah – a claim which brings into question the entire purpose of Christ, the Son of God, dying as a wholly sinless representative of Man. Mr Heaster claims “It seems Solomon could have been the Messiah, if he had continued in faith …”, but neglects to show a single passage which even hints at this. The “contradiction”, he suggests, is that “there is a fixed date for Christ’s return, arranged by God from the beginning, after certain things have happened”. This, he informs us, “particularly is a paradox which defies reconciliation”. We agree, it is. But the “paradox” lies in Mr Heaster’s failure to justify his claim that Solomon – as a sinful man (for being of our nature, he must surely have transgressed, even in some small way, before he was led astray by his multiplicity of wives), could take the role of Christ, as a righteous man, dying for the ungodly (Rom 5:7,8) – a key part of his work as the Messiah. This assertion is truly disturbing. The Scriptures plainly declare from Genesis to Revelation that the Messiah would be the only begotten son of the Most High; a fact which was essential for him to have the ability to overcome sin: “what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh” (Rom 8:3). Several of our correspondents feel that Mr Heaster’s claim that had a normal man been faithful, he could have taken the Role of the Son of the Most high, is bordering on blasphemy against our Lord Jesus. And we find it difficult to disagree.
DID PAUL “FORGET” HIS QUOTATIONS?
Another example given, is this: “The Bible is inspired by God. Therefore every detail is correct and significant” So far so good, although we fail to perceive why Mr Heaster finds it necessary to list alleged “contradictions”, if “every detail” is correct! Anyway, he proceeds to give the “contradiction” thus: “Sometimes the Bible is very vague. Under inspiration, Paul seems to have forgotten the exact quotation, or to have been deliberately vague … “. This, we believe, betrays a wrong understanding of what Inspiration actually is. The words written are not Paul’s words – but Yahweh’s words, given through Paul: “all Scripture is God-breathed and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof …” (2Tim 3:16). The words Paul wrote were the words which the Almighty breathed through him. And this being so, who dare raise the charge of human forgetfulness? If Paul forgot the verses which his expositions are fundamentally based upon; how can we be certain that the lessons being drawn from those scriptures are sound? But we can be sure, for the Bible is the word of God, and makes no allowances for human forgetfulness. Once again, the only contradiction is in Mr Heaster’s own understanding, not within the Word itself.
HAS GOD CAST AWAY HIS PEOPLE?
Consider the following claims of “Beyond Bible Basics”: “Israel have been rejected as God’s people; “Ye are not my people”, he clearly told them. Paul appears to quote this out of context in Romans. In the same section, he seems to get things twisted when he talks of how the bad, wild tree has been grafted into the good one; it’s done the other way round. These designed inconsistencies are surely to show that the meaning of grace can only be understood in terms of contradiction and paradox, when we try to express it in human terms”. In all humility, we would beg to differ. The Eternal Spirit has chosen to express eternal principles is such a way to teach particular lessons, not to show that Grace becomes paradoxical and contradictory when expressed in terms common to man. For instance, the lesson of the olive trees, of Romans 11 (which Mr Heaster elsewhere in the book describes as an “apparent horticultural blunder”) is to show that the Work of the Almighty does not operate according to the natural order of things currently extant under the constitution of sin. Israel have not been rejected as God’s people; even though Hosea, in the passage alluded to, depicts them as having been temporarily forsaken (Hos 1:9). For those who wish to look at things in their context, rather than to merely lift a phrase out of it’s setting; look at the verses following, which clearly depict the Divine blessing of Israel in the future!
The Truth is, that as Paul declared by the Spirit, “God hath not cast away his people whom he foreknew” (Rom 11:2). Here, Paul is not getting things “twisted”, or citing Scripture out of context; but is being guided by the Spirit to draw out a fundamental old Testament teaching: “Considerest thou not what this people have spoken, saying, The two families which Yahweh hath chosen, he hath even cast them off? Thus they have despised my people, that they should be no more a nation before them. Thus saith Yahweh; if my covenant be not with day and night, and if I have not appointed the ordinances of the heaven and earth; then will I cast away the seed of Jacob and David my servant, so that I will not take any of his seen to be rulers over the seed of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob: for I will cause their captivity to return, and have mercy on them” (Jer 33:24-26).
The “contradiction”, Mr Heaster claims, is that on the one hand “Israel have been rejected as God’s people”, “yet in another sense, Israel have not been rejected, due to God’s ‘illogical’ level of love for them …”. From the above, however, we find that it is not the love of the Almighty which is “illogical” (an outrageous claim in itself when we consider the implications of such a statement), but Mr Heaster’s reasoning. Israel as a nation have not been rejected as God’s people, and so there is no contradiction whatsoever in their being restored in the future.
A further “contradiction”. “No man can redeem his Mrther, or bear the iniquity of another (Ez. 18:20). But Christ, as a man, acceptably bore our iniquity”. According to Mr Heaster, “This is one of redemption’s finest mysteries. No theory of atonement can ever explain the paradox of redemption”. This is worrying. No theory of Atonement can explain the paradox of redemption? But this is not true! Scripture gives 2 detailed epistles which beautifully expound the Atonement in all it’s details – Hebrews (to the Jews) and Romans (to the Gentiles). The solution to Mr Heaster’s paradox is simple; it is true that naturally speaking no Man can redeem his Mrther, because all men are sinful. But the Lord Jesus was not just man. He was not simply the Son of Man, but also Son of God; and it was the fact of his Divine Begettal that gave him the ability to overcome sin, meaning he could do what no other man (including Solomon!) could do – offer acceptable sacrifice to atone for the sins of his brethren. The “mystery” of the atonement is revealed in Scripture without paradox, and for a clear exposition of this, we recommend “The TRUTH Concerning the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ”, available from the present writer.
The constraints of space limits our analysis to but one more example – the confused presentation of Prophecy which Mr Heaster Teaches. Consider the following: “Scripture interprets scripture. Yet this leads to the conclusion that the beast in Revelation is a symbol of Arab opposition to natural Israel in the last days”. This is set against: “Scripture interprets Scripture. Yet this leads to the conclusion that the beast in Revelation is a continuation of the Roman empire in a religious form …”. The claim here then, is that by allowing Scripture to interpret itself, it is possible to arrive at two perfectly valid, yet contradictory interpretations of prophecy. Mr Heaster comments, “It is hard to reconcile these two interpretations. Yet both are Biblical”. But notice yet again that as a “contradiction” in Scripture, Mr Heaster is not citing 2 verses, the words of which teach contradictory principles. Rather, he is citing 2 interpretations, which he claims are scriptural, yet both contradict themselves. The answer therefore is simple. One of the interpretations is wrong! As we hope to show at some point in a future article, the claim that the Beast in Revelation is referring to the Arabs is not Biblical. And therefore it is only logical that it contradicts the other interpretation which is.
From this brief comparison therefore, we have demonstrated the fundamental unsoundness of Mr Heaster’s position, as taught in “Beyond Bible Basics”. Rather than to accept the words on the pages of Scripture as being “faultless”, and without contradiction or discrepancy, he allows his interpretations to go way beyond basic Bible teaching. He claims that because his interpretations are inconsistent and conflicting, “contradictions and paradoxes are woven throughout the fabric of God’s self-revelation to us”. We humbly suggest however, that as the only evidence of contradiction which Mr Heaster presents us with is expressed purely in terms of his own understanding – it is that understanding, not the Word of the Most High God which is contradictory – and irreconcilably so.