Wednesday, July 31, 2002

Whither the Christian Blog

Over at bloggedy blog Andrew Careaga worries about the accessibility (actually the inaccessibility) of Christian blogdom’s content. The mysterious Bene Diction, whose identity is the topic of tremendous speculation (some have said, and I will not mention names, that he is actually a renegade non Y2K-compliant cobol program), gave a hearty second.

I have also wondered about whether blogs in general are effective ministries for reaching significant numbers of new believers or seekers. I know that my own blog is not. There is nothing, apart from providence, that would bring a seeker to my blog--- and if by some chance one trundles in, there is nothing compelling enough to captivate him. On the other hand, if my blog is used by God to reach just one seeker/new-believer/back-slider then its value would far exceed the effort spent on its production. After some initial angst about its ineffectiveness I have come to peace with the realization that I blog because (a) it is devotional, (b) the iron-sharpening-iron phenomenon, (c) I like to write, (d) I like the discussions, both friendly and heated (but respectful-- usually) and (e) it’s fun. We Calvinists don’t have too many problems with anxiety.

My gut-instinct tells me that the “uber pundit” Christian bloggers like Mark Byron and Joshua Claybourn (just to name two), with enviable links from the outside world, stand a much better chance of being effective ambassadors. I suspect a lot of people come to their sites unaware that they are about to be exposed to a Christian world view.

The blogs4god portal, as we native Pittsburghers say, is "a whole nother" story. If it succeeds like I think it will, it will soon place near the top of many seekers’ google searches. So it may be a good idea for blogs4god to have a prominent “seekers” area with appropriate, accessible content.

What do you think?

The Intermediate State

What happens to us after physical death? The ultimate answer is quite clear (details of timing depending on your eschatology):
  1. Some will escape physical death if they are lucky enough to be around during the glorious rapture, wherein the living saints shall meet Jesus in the clouds.
    Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. (1 Th. 4:17, NASB)

  2. For the rest of us, there will be a resurrection of the dead, where the dead will receive incorruptible glorified physical bodies, likened to our Lord and Savior.
    having a hope in God, which these men cherish themselves, that there shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked.(Acts 24:15, NASB)

    who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself. (Phi. 3:21, NASB)

The question before us: what happens in between death and the resurrection of the dead? The two possibilities are:
  1. Soul Sleep. This is a state of unconsciousness. The effect would be a seemingly instantaneous transition from life on earth to the final glorified state, including your incorruptible body. Thousands of years may have passed, of which you will have no awareness.

  2. The Intermediate State. In this view, your soul, immediately upon death, goes to heaven. There you are made perfect in holiness and enjoy a conscious relationship with Christ (and presumably other saints). In that state you await the bodily resurrection to come at the second advent.

In either case, your first conscious thought after death with be in glory. The intermediate state has the appeal of actual rather than perceived immediacy.

The majority of Christians believe in the intermediate state, but a sizable minority affirms soul sleep. While I am in the intermediate state camp, I would not, and I think most Christians agree, place this issue in the “essential” category.

The reason that there is some debate is that scripture does not speak at length on this subject and a literal reading of scripture sends some mixed signals. There are passages that refer to the dead as "sleeping" which some take to support the idea of soul sleep. However, taking scripture as a whole, with the hermeneutic approach being that the explicit guides the implicit, I believe the evidence favors the idea of the intermediate state.

One verse in support of the intermediate state is Jesus’ comfort to the repentant thief:
And He said to him, "Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise." (Luke 23:43, NASB)

Jesus states clearly that he will see the thief today. Yet even Jesus will be without a body for three days. Soul sleep supporters must argue that “it will seem like today to the thief" (who is actually still waiting to see Jesus) or that the comma in Luke 23:43 is misplaced and should be moved from its present location in front of the word "today" to after “today” so that it reads: "Truly I say to you today, you shall be with Me in Paradise."

Another, from the Old Testament, is:
then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it. (Ecc 12:7).

And, let us not forget:
6 Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord-- 7 for we walk by faith, not by sight-- 8 we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord. (2 Cor. 5:6-8, NASB)

Which indicates that there is a state in which we are (a) absent from the body and (b) at home with the Lord. That is a description of the intermediate state.

Tuesday, July 30, 2002

Thank You

I want to thank everyone who prayed for me and my struggle of witnessing to my childhood friend. It was a great comfort knowing I wasn’t alone. Only time will tell if the seed will bear fruit. I hope to see him one more time before he returns to Arizona.

The Law

In the book of Romans (and elsewhere, especially Ephesians), the discussion of the law does not make for easy reading. We long for a simple statement that we can just forget about the law all together. However, Paul’s message is more complicated than that. It’s almost as if the question is “Is the law dead or are we still under it?” and the answer is “Yes.”

The law is part of the old covenant, a covenant of works. A contract with God that says if we do our part, which is to completely obey His law with no missteps, then God shall bless us with eternal life. God never has had to, and never will have to, “pay up” on the basis of this covenant. Only Christ fulfilled the law without blemish.

The old covenant, harsh as it may seem, was a gift from God. We are the creatures and He is the creator. We are obligated to obey Him on that basis alone without the promise of any blessing. He chose voluntarily to offer a reward for our perfect obedience.

With Adam’s sin, the old covenant became like one of those math challenges that promises a huge monetary reward for anyone solving a problem, but where the problem is in fact insoluble. When the prize is eternal life and failure means eternal damnation—well that is really bad news.

Man is still under the old covenant – it has not been abrogated. We are still obligated to obey God’s law. And God is obligated to keep his promise: If anyone perfectly obeys God’s law throughout his entire life, he will be the first person to merit his own salvation. The first person saved by works. Don’t hold your breath.
Or do you not know, brethren (for I speak to those who know the law), that the law has dominion over a man as long as he lives? (Rom. 7:1, NKJV)

So why then have the law? Why this covenant of works for which our compliance is unattainable?

The law teaches us what sin is. And that we are sin. And so, being the antithesis of what we must be, we are hopelessly lost. We need a savior who can fulfill the law and then die, under no condemnation, and endure our punishment. We need Christ. With faith in Christ, we die as far as the law is concerned. The law ends. We are reborn into a new covenant, the covenant of grace, a remarkable contract in which all the parts required of us are provided as gifts.
For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. (Rom. 10:4, NKJV)

What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, "You shall not covet." (Rom. 7:7, NKJV)

22But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. 23But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. 24Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 25But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. (Eph. 3:22-25, NKJV)

The futility of the old covenant—the hopelessness of living under the law, is in stark contrast with the freedom on living under grace and resting in the righteousness of Christ. As everyone knows, Gospel means “good news”. Knowledge of the law enables you to know just how good the good news really is. And what an understatement it is! Calling the new covenant “good news” is like saying McDonalds has sold more than 1 hamburger. True enough, but not exactly illustrative.

In Christ, we are reborn and are released from the law. And then something wonderful happens. The law, such a yoke before, becomes a blessing. Where we were hopeless in our previous state, where even one violation condemned us, we now take delight in doing our utmost to obey the law. When we fail we are grieved-- but we don’t despair. When we obey we praise God.

We hated the law. Yet when we are released from it, instead of discarding it, we begin to love His precepts. A struggle is transformed into a joyful mission. The law is still there, and perfect obedience is as fultile as ever, but it is now a friend rather than a stumbling block.
2For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband. 3So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man. 4Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another--to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God. (Rom. 7:2-4, NKJV)

Monday, July 29, 2002

Dead Bones

1 The hand of the LORD was upon me, and He brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of the valley; and it was full of bones. 2 He caused me to pass among them round about, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley; and lo, they were very dry. 3 He said to me, "Son of man, can these bones live?" And I answered, "O Lord GOD, You know." 4 Again He said to me, "Prophesy over these bones and say to them, 'O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD.' 5 "Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones, 'Behold, I will cause breath to enter you that you may come to life. (Ezekiel 37:1-5, NASB)
We were all dead, bleaching bones-- scattered about the ground without even the dignity of a burial. Left to our own devices, nothing awaited us except further decay. Yet a merciful God, who loved us before we knew Him, breathed life into us, and through his grace, we were made alive in Christ Jesus.

When you witness to a non-believer, you are talking to a dead man. No matter how elegant your words, how persuasive your argument, or how moving your testimony, if God doesn’t quicken him he will remain dead. And if God does give him life, make sure He gets the glory. Take delight in the privilege of being used by God, but take not the credit.

Yet witness we must. God doesn’t tell us to get out of the way while He resurrects the corpse. We are to prophesy over the dead bones. And when the dead are reborn, if they are given life, we must continue to nurture the new believer. As has been said often: there are many evangelical obstetricians but few pediatricians, and that is a serious flaw.

I am thinking about witnessing because I will be doing it tonight, and I need prayer since it will be of the difficult variety. I friend I grew up with in Pittsburgh and went to school with from Kindergarten through college is coming to visit – a bolt out of the blue type thing. I haven’t seen him since before I was a Christian. He is going to encounter a much different "me" than he is expecting. Perhaps like some of you, I find it more difficult to witness to family and old friends than to strangers or coworkers. It is complete mystery to me, as common sense dictates that is should be easier to witness zealously to someone you know and care about. So pray for me also that I am not harboring some vestigial embarrassment about the gospel.

To paraphrase Spurgeon (I cannot remember the exact quote—maybe someone can help me) I am so grateful He chose me before the foundation of time, because if He waited to see how I actually turned out, I would be in big trouble.

Scientific Un-American

The most recent Scientific American cover story is on the possibility that there is no need for “Dark Matter”. (Dark Matter, thought to comprise up to 95% of the mass of the universe, is “invisible” mass needed to explain large-scale gravitational anomalies.) Yet inside the magazine, there is a small blurb in a different section about new evidence for its existence! This dissonance is good fodder for our critics (speaking as a scientist). Actually, the “no Dark Matter” article is a highly speculative suggestion that the anomalies are due not to undetectable mass but to an alteration in Newton’s venerable second law: F = m•a.

There is also a story about Ted Turner and his conservation efforts. That, in and of itself, is not bad. Still, it fits with a disturbing trend in Scientific American: A deemphasis on hard science in favor of the soft variety, including the social sciences. Furthermore, Sci Am doesn’t even try to disguise its political leanings: the social science articles will invariable reach left-leaning conclusions. Any article on missile defense will purport to demonstrate its futility. A story on global warming will likely confirm the worst case scenario, blame the U.S., and ridicule any naysayer such as Bjorn Lomborg. An article on evolution will contain requisite slogans on how evolution is “well beyond the theory stage and on firm evidentiary ground” and will also include mean spirited swipes at creationists. And to think the magazine's founder was a Christian! My current subscription will be my last—in fact, maybe I’ll cancel today.

Friday, July 26, 2002

What's that all about?

Does anybody understand what Mark Shea is talking about in this post? If so, please enlighten me.


I was teaching about Rahab in our church's family hour (a summer replacement for Sunday School) two weeks ago. You will recall that after the Jews had miraculously crossed the Jordan River and were readying for an assault on Jericho, Joshua had this encounter:
13 And it came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, a Man stood opposite him with His sword drawn in His hand. And Joshua went to Him and said to Him, "Are You for us or for our adversaries?" 14So He said, "No, but as Commander of the army of the LORD I have now come." And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped, and said to Him, "What does my Lord say to His servant?" 15Then the Commander of the LORD's army said to Joshua, "Take your sandal off your foot, for the place where you stand is holy." And Joshua did so. (Joshua 5:13-15, NKJV)

Who was the Commander whom Joshua worshipped? If he is an angel, then Joshua made a big mistake, for we are not to worship angels. Paul writes about this in Colossians:
Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worship of angels, intruding into those things which he has no seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, (Col. 2:18, NKJV)

And the angels themselves will rebuke someone who makes this mistake, as the Apostle John discovered:
8 I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed me these things. 9 But he said to me, "Do not do that. I am a fellow servant of yours and of your brethren the prophets and of those who heed the words of this book. Worship God." (Rev. 22:8-9, NASB)

So we are left with a few possibilities:

  1. This was an angel, who made a mistake by not rebuking Joshua.

  2. This was an angel who did rebuke Joshua but the rebuke was not recorded in scripture. This seems a bit odd, for it would have clarified the encounter.

  3. This was not an angel, but an Old Testament appearance of Christ, though not in a human body—a Christophany.

Most people don’t really like the idea of a Christophany although I see no place in scripture where it is ruled out. What do you think? Who was the Commander of the LORD’s army?

Thursday, July 25, 2002

Five Points of Arminianism

Craig Schwarze has an interesting post on Calvinism vs. TULIP-ism. I think he is a bit too harsh on TULIP, but his point that it (TULIP) is not really a Calvinistic “creed” is worthy of investigation. Craig writes:
TULIP was derived, not from Calvin, but from the Canons of Dordt in response to a theological controversy

I thought it might be interesting to take a look at that controversy to get a better understanding of the origin of TULIP.

The principals in this history are John Calvin 1509-1564 and James Arminius, 1560-1609. TULIP, we shall see, was developed just after Arminius’s death. About a half century after the death of Calvin.

James Arminius

James Arminius went to staunchly Calvinistic Geneva to study theology at the Academy. Calvin had already died, and leadership of the Academy had passed to Theodore Beza (1519-1605). Arminius was a gifted scholar and ultimately, after serving as a pastor, became a theology professor in Leiden.

At this time, the majority of Protestants were strict Calvinists. Very strict: there was intolerance toward even slight deviations. Arminius argued against Calvinistic dogmatism, writing:
There does not appear any greater evil in the disputes concerning matters of religion, than the persuading ourselves that our salvation or God's glory are lost by every little difference. As for me, I exhort my scholars, not only to distinguish between the true and the false according to Scripture, but also between the essential articles of faith, and the less essential articles, by the same Scripture.

Arminius’s radical “tolerance” is now widely accepted. On the essentials of the Christian faith there is no compromise. In other areas, such as eschatology, there is charity in dealing with different views.

In addition to more tolerance, Arminius championed a more “practical” faith, more of a role for the believer, and less emphasis on esoteric doctrine. Although once a dedicated Calvinist, he ultimately objected to the Calvinistic view of sovereignty and predestination. Back in the Netherlands he developed a substantial following of believers who were known then, as they are today, as Arminians.

A Remonstrance

Shortly after the death of Arminius, his followers engineered a Remonstrance (formal protest) and presented five articles of faith to the state church in Holland. They sought to have the Church of Holland revise both the Catechism and Belgic Confession. Here are the five points of Arminianism as summarized by Roger Nicole1:
  1. God elects or reproves on the foreseen faith or unbelief.
  2. Christ died for all men although only believers are saved.
  3. Man is so depraved that divine grace is necessary to bring man unto faith.
  4. This grace may be resisted.
  5. Whether or not all who are truly regenerate will certainly persevere requires further investigation.2

It is very likely that these five points seem quite reasonable to you—they enjoy widespread acceptance in many churches today.

The Synod of Dordt

A synod was called in 1618 to address the Arminian “problem”. Seeing no way to reconcile the five points of Arminianism with scripture, the synod unanimously rejected the views of the Remonstrants. To counter the five points, they developed (54 years after the death of John Calvin) the five points of Calvinism:
  1. God unconditionally elects, from the foundations of time, some unto salvation.
  2. Christ’s Atonement was intended to be efficacious only for the elect.
  3. Man is so depraved that divine grace is necessary and sufficient to bring man unto faith.
  4. This grace can not be resisted.
  5. All who are truly regenerate will certainly persevere.

These five points were later “fit” into the acrostic TULIP, with (in my opinion) some violence to item 2 in order to make it begin with ‘L’ for Limited Atonement.

There is certainly more to Calvin that is present in TULIP, but I must disagree with my friend Craig. I think TULIP, when each of the five points is investigated in depth and not just used as a slogan, does capture the essence of Calvinism and Reformed Theology.

1 David N. Steele and Curtis C. Thomas, The Five Points of Calvinism, 1963.
2 Later modified to affirm that a regenerate believer could, through unrepented sin, lose his salvation. However, modern day Arminians are still split over this point.

Wednesday, July 24, 2002

God's Immutable Love

God’s love for us is often likened to a parent’s love for his or her child. In truth, it’s nothing like that. God’s love for his elect is immutable. A parent’s love is not. It is possible for a parent to stop loving a vicious and depraved child, but God’s love endures.
The LORD hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee. (Jer. 31:3, NKJV)

It is all the more remarkable when one considers that no matter how “bad” our children become, not matter how heinous their crimes, the gap between their vileness and our own is infinitesimal when compared to the gap between us and God.

How mysterious God’s love is:
2 "I have loved you," says the LORD. "Yet you say, "In what way have You loved us?' Was not Esau Jacob's brother?" Says the LORD. "Yet Jacob I have loved; 3 But Esau I have hated, And laid waste his mountains and his heritage For the jackals of the wilderness." (Mal. 1:2-3, NKJV)

From what we read in Genesis, humanly speaking Esau was more “lovable” than Jacob. But Jacob was the beneficiary of God’s love.

Is God’s love different not only in its immutability but also in its very nature? It may very well be that His love is not the intense emotional feeling that we associate with love, but more along the lines of companionship. Not the overwhelming heart racing emotion that occurs at the beginning of a courtship, but the bond of fellowship and common purpose evident in mature and healthy marriage.

Likewise when God “hated” Esau it is not in the same visceral manner that we hate, and we rightly recoil at the very thought of attributing this ugly emotion to God. We hate people because of their works, which we perceive as "bad" in some way. Yet God’s hatred of Esau is not because Esau was “bad”, for in Romans it states clearly that it was a decision made before the twins were even born when Paul, referring to Esau and Jacob, writes:

(For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;)(Rom. 9:11, NKJV)

Sproul points out that, at this point in writing Romans Paul had the golden opportunity to confirm Arminianism, just by writing something along the lines that “God saw from the foundations of time that, unlike Jacob, Esau would never come to faith and therefore He hated him." Instead Paul makes it clear that God’s love (and hate) has nothing to do with the actions of the object. So very unlike our love and hate.

God didn’t first love and then chose those He loved, or first hate and then pass over those he hated. He first chose, and then love and hate become synonymous with chosen and passed-over. On what basis does He make His choice? It’s a complete mystery.

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, 5 having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved. (Eph.1:3-6, NKJV)

For the good pleasure of His will. It is not a very satisfying explanation but it’s the only one we are given. We would rather there is something about us that caused God to love us. My wife is secure in my love for her, be still she often asks me why I love her, and I had better have a satisfactory reply! God only tells us He loves us because He wants to love us.

This actually gives me enormous comfort. If I had to worry about whether I am worthy of God’s love—well I wouldn’t sleep very well you can be sure of that.

Tuesday, July 23, 2002


Amillennial means of course “No millennium”, although this is not really an accurate portrayal of the amillennial position. Like the postmillennialist position I described yesterday, amills do not believe in a literal 1000 year reign of Christ on earth. The amillennialist, we shall see, is something (but not totally) like the postmillennialist who believes the millennium began during the New Testament era, say at the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D.

That is why there is some confusion over whether to label Augustine an amill or a very-early-onset-of-the-millennium postmill, not that the controversy should keep you awake at night.

According to the books I’ve been reading, the amillennialist position is both (a) the most commonly held eschatology throughout the history of Christendom (although today it is dwarfed by the newcomer: dispensationalist premillennialism) and (b) is still the dominant view among Reformed believers.

Kenneth Gentry 1 gives the following characteristics of amillennialism (to which I have added commentary):
  • The present church age is the kingdom era prophesied in the Old Testament.

  • The New Testament church is the "spiritual" Israel. However, some amillennialists hold that, for example, the phrase "all Israel" as found in Rom. 11:26
    and so all Israel will be saved
    might indeed refer to Jews, but unlike dispensationalist view they are not the Jews of an eschatological nation of Israel but the elect among the Jews, i.e. the remnant. (Which I suppose might include me, as my maternal grandfather was a Russian Jew. And my mom was a Lutheran. And I was a Catholic. Now I am a reformed baptist. Go figure!)

  • Satan was bound, or more accurately restrained, during Christ’s ministry, particularly when he was defeated on the cross and in the initiation of the great commission. Consider Luke 10:18
    And He said to them, "I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning.
    Given that this is spoken to the 70 returning disciples, an amill might view it as referring not to Satan's original fall but to the reduction of his power concurrent with Christ's ministry.

  • Christ is ruling now through the hearts of believers. The Kingdom of God is now. Thus amills are delighted with verses that read "The Kingdom of God (or Heaven) is at hand" which they say implies a near term fulfillment.

  • Toward the end of the age, evil’s growth will accelerate (Satan’s unleashing, for a short while, as described in Rev. 20) culminating in the tribulation and the appearance of the antichrist.

  • Christ will return to end history and judge all men. The same glorious consummation described in all millennial views.

All Old Testament promises to Israel were either (a) conditional and become null and void when the Jews did not meet the conditions (b) have already been fulfilled or (c) will be fulfilled in the New Testament Israel, the church. Like postmills, amills do not attach eschatological importance to the nation of Israel. There are no pending promises to the nation of Israel that must be kept in a future millennium 2.

Unlike postmillennialism which has a gradual or evolutionary aspect to it, Amillennials actually proclaim the biggest discontinuity of all the millennial views. The present church age, is the Kingdom of God. Satan is already bound although not completely powerless (hence the paucity of demonic possession?). Throughout this age, a diminished (but strengthening) Kingdom of Evil will coexist with the Kingdom of God. Both will be replaced virtually instantly with the eternal dispensation. There is no 1000 year buffer between this age and the ultimate age. This age, and indeed history itself, will end abruptly with the second advent, which will occur in the midst of a final intense persecution of the church.

Reasons to be Pessimistic

While postmillennialism is criticized for being unrealistically optimistic, amillennialism is charged with being too pessimistic. There is no rapture to spare believers from the tribulation. Nor is the tribulation reserved for unconverted Jews. The church itself will endure the tribulation (and may be doing so right now) as things gradually get worse, perhaps culminating with the appearance of the antichrist. The is no danger in this view being co-opted by utopian liberal progressives, as was the case with postmillennialism.

The different eschatological views also result in different anticipations in terms of the numbers of people saved. Postmills, who look forward to the ultimate success of the great commission in converting many nations, generally expect a much more "populated" heaven than do the amillennialists.

Noted Amillennialists

Well known proponents of amillennialism include Jay Adams, G. C. Berkouwer, and Louis Berkhof. (And Augustine, in my opinion.)

1Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., He Shall Have Dominion: A Postmillennial Eschatology, 1992.
2Stanley J. Grenz, The Millennial Maze, 1992.

Monday, July 22, 2002


The book of Revelation describes the millennium earthly kingdom:

1Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. 2He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years;3and he cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished. But after these things he must be released for a little while. 4 And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. 5But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. 6Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years. 7 Now when the thousand years have expired, Satan will be released from his prison 8and will go out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle, whose number is as the sand of the sea.(Rev. 20:1-8, NKJV)
For a thousand years (taken figuratively to mean “a long time” by some) Satan will be bound and the saints shall rule the earth with Christ.

Postmillennialism, like premillennialism, teaches there will be a millennial kingdom. The difference is in the timing of Christ’s second coming. In postmillennialism, Christ’s second coming is after the millennium. In premillennialism, His second coming is before.

Part of the explanation for this difference in chronology comes from the previous chapter in Revelation, summarized by the rider of the white (pale) horse:
And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war. (Rev. 19:11, NASB)
Both postmills and premills agree that the events described in Rev. 19 occur prior to the events of Rev. 20 (the millennium) but they differ greatly in their interpretation. Premills interpret Rev. 19 as the second coming, and since it occurs before the millennium of chapter 20, well that’s what makes them premills. Postmills interpret the events of Rev. 19 as signifying the ultimate victory of the church on earth, not the second coming. It symbolizes victory of the gospel and the ultimate success of the great commission to evangelize the world.

To the postmill, Christ will rule during the millennium but it will be from heaven. For the premill, Christ will physically be on earth during the millennium.

Postmillennialism is by its nature optimistic about human history, and this is a logical necessity given their interpretation of Revelation 19. To the postmill, the New Testament church is the transformed Israel, and thus he attaches no eschatological significance to the nation of Israel. The gospel will spread throughout the world, and Christianity will strengthen, not weaken. Many nations will be Christianized as the great commission succeeds in winning converts, including Jews, to Christ.

So what ushers in the millennium? Here is a big difference with premillennialists. For the postmills, there is no catastrophic event signaling the onset of the millennium, there may even be no discernable discontinuity at all. (Indeed, some believe we may already be in the millennium period, although this is a minority view among postmills.) Christianity will expand; at some point the millennium begins, perhaps with defeat of the antichrist, and Satan (having been largely defeated by the gospel) is bound. The difference between the culmination of the church age and the millennial kingdom may be as much one of extent as of substance. At the end, Satan is freed and a great apostasy ensues which is terminated by Christ’s second coming and His judgment.

But things are not getting better

This is the most common criticism of the postmillennial view: it is not supported by recent world history. Indeed, postmillennialism was the dominant view among evangelicals until the nasty business of the 20th century world wars. Further damaging postmillennialism’s reputation was an unfair guilt-by-association with liberal secular progressive movements that also held to the notion that things would get better. But where the postmills attribute improvement to the work of the Holy Spirit in converting the nations, the secular progressives see man’s social evolution as the solution to world problems.

The postmillennial answer to this criticism includes at least two responses. One is that people always think they are living in the worst of times; that the past was in many ways substantively better. Indeed, literature from the 18th (and other) centuries bears a remarkable similarity with our own writings in its pessimism about the state of the world, the condition of the church, and the deplorability of education and the youth. The postmill would ask: would you really rather live in, for example, the 14th century than the present one?

Another response acknowledges occasional valleys in the church’s battle against evil, but contends that if one looks at the overall trend from the apostolic age a clear picture of success emerges. If, for a while, we are going through a slight setback, there is no reason to assume that we are in an inevitable downward spiral; the next great revival could be just around the corner. Keep spreading the gospel and the tide will turn. In a world in which there is ubiquitous pessimism, including in the church, the optimism of the postmillennialist is refreshing.

Postmills do not share the sense of urgency that the premills do—many of whom are convinced that events in the Middle East signal that the end of the age is at hand. To a postmill, the millennium might still be thousands of years away.

Famous Postmills

There have been many famous proponents of postmillennialism including Athanasius, Calvin, A. A. Hodge, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Hodge, J. M. Kik, Augustus Strong, Loraine Boettner, R. J. Rushdoony and Greg Bahnsen. (The movement claims Agustine, but so do the amillennialists.) The reason I point out that there are theological “big shots” in the postmill camp is assure you that, as in all the millennial views, serious scholarship has occurred. I do not have the time or space to include all the biblical support for the postmill position, but you can be sure that it rests on much more that a casual interpretation of the rider of the pale horse in Revelation 19.


There is a subgroup within postmillennialism know as theonomists or reconstructionists. This group advocates an active political agenda in addition to the evangelical efforts. The idea is to accelerate, through political gains, the Christianization of the nations (or in some cases to reverse the de-Christianization) and to make the earth “ready” for the onset of the millennium. Theonomists advocate the institution of mosaic laws, including its capital offenses, into the civil code-- nothing less really than the establishment of Christian countries.

Friday, July 19, 2002

Beta Testers?

Want to Beta test some collaboration software? Chat, whiteboard, telephoning, video, presentations, and lots more. Go exactly right here And follow these instructions:

  1. Click on Quick Start Web-4M. There will be a big download the first time (and anytime there is an upgrade, which will happen soon during this test period). Otherwise, you'll be able log in quickly.

  2. After the download, you should get a login screen. Enter a user name (if possible, use your blog name for easy ID) and a password and hit New User. Next time, of course, hit login.

  3. You will be asked if you "trust" JDH Technologies. You can trust them. Not just one but both founders are Reformed Christian Nuclear Physicists with Two Biblically Named Sons and are Fans of Pennsylvania Sports Teams although Only One hails from the Side of Pennsylvania that Has Actually Won a Super Bowl.

My user name is heddle. If I am on, feel free to bug me. If you see sheddle, that’s my wife. Don’t bug her. She can be vicious!

Please report any bugs. It will work better on PCs and unix/linux than on Macs. On Windows, somewhat better with IE than Netscape.

Make Your Call and Election Sure

A reading from the book of 2 Peter:
1 Simon Peter, a bondservant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained like precious faith with us by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ:

2 Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, 3 as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, 4 by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.

5 But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, 6 to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, 7 to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. 8 For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins.

10 Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; 11 for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
(2 Pet. 1:11, NKJV)

Some comments on this wonderful passage:

  • In verse 1, Peter describes faith as having been obtained, not attained. In the NASB, obtained is replaced by received. Faith is something we are given, not something we bootstrap ourselves into. Also in verse 1, we see once again that our faith is based on Christ’s righteousness, not our own.

  • In verse 4, Peter corroborates Paul’s teaching that we are no longer in bondage to sin, but rather have escaped the corruption of the world.

  • In verses 5-8, Peter tells us how to grow fruitfully. We are to add to our faith virtue, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love. Of these, I would single out knowledge as the one that is most under our own control. Read the Word as much as possible. Get thee to a church— and not just the service—Sunday school and prayer meetings and/or evening services. And pray unceasingly. Then the other fruits, by the help of the Spirit, will make themselves manifest. This we have been promised.

  • In verses 10 and 11, Peter tells us to do these things not for salvation but for an assurance of salvation. If we are exhibiting the fruit, then our election is sure. We will persevere (never stumble) and can rest assured of our eternal destiny.

Have a glorious weekend.

Thursday, July 18, 2002

Foreign Missions

I am pleased to present for your consideration an interesting post on the foreign mission field by Joshua Claybourn.

Before I make a general comment, I have to make a specific one. Mr. Claybourn writes:
Aside from my Christian brethren who take predestination to an extreme, most Christians believe evangelism is extremely important.

Let’s be clear that Calvinism takes “predestination to an extreme” and holds that evangelism is extremely important. We are commanded to evangelize. It is an unspeakable privilege to be God’s instrument to reach the elect. And evangelism, successful or not, brings Glory to God.

As to the post as a whole, Mr. Claybourn discusses the advantages of native versus foreign missionaries. While there is a risk of over generalization, I agree that in many cases a native will be more effective.

My wife, who is Taiwanese, was evangelized by foreign missionaries. (Extremely foreign: Canadians-- who, to their utter dismay, were forever being called Americans. Such a big state country-- you wouldn't think they'd have an identity crisis.) Although she is forever grateful to those dedicated servants, she also acknowledges that there was some resentment (or perhaps cynicism) over the way they lived. Small but not unnoticed things, like the fact that unlike most of the native population (at that time), they enjoyed air conditioned housing.

On the other hand, I can imagine there are cases where foreigners are taken more seriously because of their obvious commitment and sacrifice. Or, in cases where there is national self esteem problem, simply because they are foreigners.

For a view of missionary work that I find just about on-the-mark, take a look at the philosophy of Heart Cry Missions.

Montezuma Gold

Peter Sean Bradley, Cathlolic and Lawyer, has been slumming in the terra incognita of reformed blogdom. He writes:
Tenor is an important part of persuasion. I have been dipping into the “reformed” wing of the Catacombs. Mark Byron reads like well-aged Scotch Whiskey - smooth and mellow. Dave Heddle on the other hand reads like a shot of tequila - pure unadulterated Calvinism.

Rarely have I received such a compliment! I am seriously considering placing his description of me as a “review” on the left side of my blog, just above the Verse of the Day.

Hey Doc Byron—I noticed he didn’t say you were single malt. I would be incensed at such an unspeakable slight! The mind literally reels!

One pick of one nit with Mr. Bradley: It would bring some balance to the equation if, when writing that the hole in my approach “seems obvious to Mr. [Mark] Shea as a former evangelical” you would refer to me as “David Heddle, a former Catholic”.

My fellow evangelical bloggers, what libation does your blog read like?

Famous Believers

Oliver Tseng provides an interesting (partial) list of famous intellectual believers. He is making the point that being a believer does not imply that one is also a country bumpkin. I am happy to see many physicists in the list. Clever lot, those physicists.

The Ascension

Craig Schwarze had an interesting post on the Incarnation and the death of Christ. (The link wasn’t working when I checked, but you can go to his main page and scroll down to the July 14 post “Did God Die on the Cross?”. It got me thinking about other Christian essentials that do not receive much treatment. In my experience I do not think I ever heard a sermon devoted to the Ascension of Christ.

We read in Luke’s gospel:

50 And He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them. 51 While He was blessing them, He parted from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they, after worshiping Him, returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53 and were continually in the temple praising God. (Luke 24:50-53, NASB)

And in the book of Acts:
9 And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. 10 And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. 11 They also said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven." (Acts 1:9-11, NASB)

Why didn’t Christ just vanish? Why the spectacular exit? In the passage from Acts we learn that Jesus will come (back) in the same way that he was seen to leave: in a cloud. So part of the reason for the “grandness” of the exit might be to give focus on His return in glory-- His parousia.

Or, or perhaps additionally, His grand exit from earth may have been a grand entrance into heaven as part of His coronation ceremony. He now assumes his position at the right hand of the Father and His role of King of Kings and supreme judge of all mankind. From there He also sent forth the Spirit in His role as comforter to the believers on earth.

I think that sometimes we think that Christ “just returned” to heaven and resumed heaven ly business as usual. But, having successfully completed His work, Christ returned to heaven with a new mandate and new authority to judge the nations. And yet he also intercedes for us in His additional duty of High Priest. Our final judge, from whose judgment there will be no appeal, is also our defense lawyer. Not a bad deal. It is indeed far better for us that He returned rather than remained on earth.

The Ascension should not be overlooked. It is a critical event in redemptive history, to be surpassed in majesty only by Christ’s return.

Ascended from Whence?

One scriptural reference to the Ascension may be the source of a dispute among Christians:
8 Therefore it says,
9 (Now this expression, "He ascended," what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth?
(Eph. 4:8-9, NASB)

Those who believe Jesus descended into hell offer the phrase of “the lower parts of earth” as supporting scripture. This belief (for which I have some sympathy) made it into the Apostle’s creed.

Wednesday, July 17, 2002

Simply Irresistible

The Gospel call goes out to many, yet few respond. From a Reformed perspective we would say:

  • Everyone who assents to the Gospel call was supposed to do so.

  • Everyone who is supposed to assent to the Gospel call, does so.

The first of these bullets says that only the elect will respond positively to the Gospel call. In mathematical terms, the set of believers is identical, ultimately, to the set of the elect. This means the verses that talk about believing (as if to suggest a person can will himself to believe) as the condition for salvation, are not at odds with the idea of predestination.

The only caveat (and it is relevant to this discussion) is that there is a time lag before the two sets equilibrate: the elect are always elect, but they must be brought into a state of believing. And they will, inevitably. That is the second bullet. If you are of the elect then God wills that you believe and, believe me, you will believe. That is Irresistible Grace. A person who is of the elect may, for a while, resist the Gospel call, but ultimately his will is broken.

Although many hear the Gospel call, only for the elect is the call efficacious (effectual). Why is that? Are the elect genetically hardwired to respond positively? No, the difference is the Holy Spirit gets involved; He gives the elect a special inward call. Without he help of the Spirit, no person can come to saving faith on his own. A person might toy with the idea; he might even come forward during an alter call. He might attend church for years. He might even become a pastor. And most frightfully, he might actually be surprised in the next life when he hears our Lord pronounce the terrible words “I never knew you”.

We cannot look into the hearts of men, but we all have seen people in our churches that we suspect of being in this horrible state. They never seem to grow in their walk. They are minimalists or maybe legalists. And perhaps most tellingly, they do not seem to enjoy God.

Anyway, that’s off the subject. The issue here is whether a person can indefinitely resist an effectual call. (Put that way, it’s a silly question, isn’t it?) The answer is no: to do so you would have to be stronger than God for it is the Holy Spirit dragging you, perhaps kicking and screaming, to the place where you’re supposed to be.

1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. (Eph 2:1-2, NASB)

The Westminster Confession says this about Irresistible Grace:

All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, He is pleased, in His appointed time, effectually to call,by His Word and Spirit,out of that state of sin and death, in which they are by nature to grace and salvation, by Jesus Christ; enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God, taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them an heart of flesh; renewing their wills, and, by His almighty power, determining them to that which is good, and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ: yet so, as they come most freely, being made willing by His grace.

This work of grace with the elect is, among other things, enabling. Your eyes and ears are open. You see things differently; you hear and understand and believe things that used to seem foolish to you. You have been regenerated. In the words of the confession you are enlightened. The inexorable process of salvation has begun. You already possess eternal life and it will never, under any circumstances, be revoked.
12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, 13 which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. 14 But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. (1 Cor.2:12-14, NASB)

Yet in a real sense you do choose to come to Christ of your own free will. That sounds paradoxical, but it is not. As I blogged about before, you are not a robot, but your vaunted free will is really a slave to your own desires: you choose what you want, in fact you must choose exactly what you most want. Before regeneration, no man truly wants God, so no man chooses God. After your rebirth, your desires change. You now want God. And you choose Him. But you are able to do so only because He first chose you.

This rebirth and reforming of our desires so that we want to be imitators of Christ, so that we then freely choose to believe, is the greatest gift imaginable and one that should bring us to our unworthy knees in gratitude.

But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. (2 Th. 2:13, NASB)

This internal change is the result of the effectual call of the Holy Spirit which (thankfully) does not require our cooperation. It happens in spite of us, not because of anything we do. If God has chosen you, can you even seriously entertain the possibility that you can thwart His will? It will never happen. Be very, very grateful that it will never happen.

And all the people said: Amen.

Tuesday, July 16, 2002

By Imputation or Infusion?

The great mystery of salvation is justification. How are we made acceptable to a Holy and perfect God who demands an unattainable perfect compliance with His law? Clearly we can never, on our own, meet such a demand.

The problem is not that our sins are not forgiven. The problem is that the price of admission to heaven is an unblemished record. And once one has sinned, the record can never be expunged. Christ said “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:13). The (mythical) righteous man has no need of justification.

Justification is like being acquitted of a crime, though not because the accused is innocent, but because an innocent third party (Christ) has made a satisfactory restitution to the offended (God). We get off on some clever legal maneuvering.

So exactly how does this happen? Here again is an area where there is a substantive difference between the Roman Catholic view and the Reformed view.

As always, when I talk about the Roman Catholic position I do so with great humility and welcome any corrections.

More than a quibble over the word “alone”

The difference between the Roman Catholic view of Justification is sometimes cast as the “mere” addition of the word alone:
  • RCC: Justification is by faith.

  • Reformers: Justification is by faith alone.

There has been much unpleasant discussion in blogdom over just how important this difference is, and who meant what back in the 16th century, and who was or was not cursed at Trent, and historical context, and many other details.

However, there is another big question here, above and beyond the nontrivial insistence on the word alone. To wit, how does justification happen? And here we find another substantive difference between the RCC and the Reformers. It is not “just” the “aloneness” of justification, but also that way it happens.

The question is whether we can actually become righteousness (and are therefore acceptable to God) or whether God treats us as if we were righteous. The former is the view of the RCC, the latter of the Reformers.

Neither side holds the position that any sort of justification can occur apart from Grace (that is the heresy of Pelagianism). Both the RCC and Reformed position is that grace is necessary for justification. There is a difference as to whether it is sufficient.

The Reformed View

Calvin wrote:
Thus we simply interpret justification as the acceptance with which God receives us into his favour as if we were righteous; and we say that this justification consists in the forgiveness of sins and the imputation of the righteousness of Christ.
Calvin also writes that the justified is “deemed righteous” and “regarded not as a sinner.”

This makes it clear that the Reformed view is that man himself does not have inherent righteousness even after justification. The righteousness with which we present ourselves to a Holy God is by imputation; it is not inherent or infused into us. It is symmetric with the view that our sins were imputed to Christ on the cross and he was punished as if they were His own even though they were not.

The Roman Catholic View

Contrast Calvin’s view with what Rome declared at the Council of Trent:
… the instrumental cause [of justification] is the sacrament of baptism, which is the sacrament of faith, without which no man was ever justified finally, the single formal cause is the justice of God, not that by which He Himself is just, but that by which He makes us just, that, namely, with which we being endowed by Him, are renewed in the spirit of our mind, and not only are we reputed but we are truly called and are just, receiving justice within us, each one according to his own measure, which the Holy Ghost distributes to everyone as He wills, and according to each one's disposition and cooperation.
We see here a very different view from Calvin’s. The RCC view is that we are justified not by an imputation but by an infusion. We acquire inherent righteousness, initially from the instrumental cause: baptism. Justification also requires cooperation. Furthermore, the state of being justified can be lost through the commission of sin and must be restored by another sacrament: penance. This is turns leads to the idea of congruous merit that is so alien to the reformed view and that Luther so despised.

The RCC disputes the Reformed view of Justification and holds that if we must be righteous before God then we must have a true, internal righteousness which, though accomplished through grace, is nevertheless “ours”.


The RCC and the Reformed views on justification are very different-- different enough to be the primary cause of the Reformation. It is very important to appreciate that these differences are not superficial (some have said that the only difference is the Reformers and the RCC interchange the meanings of Justification and Sanctification). There are additional ramifications when it comes to other doctrines such as predesitination, perseverance, the atonement, original sin, types of merit, purgatory, and virtually all other salvation related topics. Whether or not these differences are substantive enough in our eyes to warrant the greatest schism in the history of Christianity, they were without question considered very important to both the Reformers and Rome.

Monday, July 15, 2002

What is a Cult?

I have been meaning to blog about cults. However, before zeroing in on any specific cult, it is important to take on the difficult task of defining exactly what is a “cult”. There is necessarily a certain amount subjectivity involved. Furthermore, political correctness often rears its ugly head. You probably have read editorials excoriating some Christian who dared to call Mormonism a cult. Would a Mormon who called the Southern Baptists a cult get into the same amount of trouble? Probably not.

In addition to the Internet, I have two books I will use as references. One is Lawson’s New Book of the Cults. The other is Martin’s The Kingdom of the Cults.

Here are some things are not part of the definition:

  • A cult does not always practice sexual immorality. Some do, while others are more like monasteries.

  • A cult does not always have members that are “outside” of society. Nor are they necessarily, in any sense, “disreputable”. Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses are prime examples of cults whose acolytes are typically well-respected members of society and the workforce.

Lawson identifies four traits shared by most cults.
  1. A centralized authority that keeps tight reigns on both philosophy and lifestyle.

  2. A “we” versus “them” attitude that emphasizes the battle between the superior insights of the group and the unenlightened philosophy of the outsiders.

  3. A commitment of the members to proselytize vigorously.

  4. An entrenched isolationism that divorces the devotee from the realities of the world at large.

Again, he (Lawson) writes that these are traits shared by most cults; this does not constitute a definition per se.

I think the last trait, in particular, should be de-emphasized. Some cults are motivated by perceived ills in society and are highly aware of the world and deeply engaged in political activity. And as already mentioned, some cult members are highly respected “normal” people. Mormons, for example, hold high-ranking positions in the military, the government, and business. They are hardly divorced from the world at large.

The problem with just using the first three traits is that it opens up the definition of a cult to be uncomfortably large, possibly large enough to include some mainstream Christian organizations.

I think we can solve this problem by including deviation from orthodox Christianity (apostasy) as another possible trait of a cult. This, of course, makes it even less politically correct, but that should not concern us. Personally I could not possibly care less whether Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses or anyone else considers me to be a member of an intolerant, Christian cult, so I am not going to worry much about giving offense.

So I would add a fifth trait to Lawson’s list:

(5) A substantive deviation from Christian orthodoxy such that, judged solely on theological grounds, the views of the organization would be deemed apostate.

This trait would be ignored for organizations that do not even “pretend” to be Christian or have nothing whatsoever to say about Christ. However, it would strengthen the charge of cultism against groups like the Mormons who claim to be, in some sense, Christian.

Still Unsatisfactory

So my present working definition of a cult is a group that has “most” of these five traits; this is hardly precise. So I appeal to readers to help me out—if you have any way to improve or even replace this definition please let me know.

In particular, should another trait be related to undue psychological pressure on the members to conform, or is that already implied in the other traits?

Cults from Within

Could a truly Christian group be a cult? I think it depends on what you mean by “truly Christian.” I think there could be a cult that teaches an accurate gospel message. However, there could not be a cult that teaches (and tries to follow) the entire Bible. The Bible has safeguards against Christian cultism in its teachings about church government and the checks and balances in place to correct and ultimately remove false teachers. If the Bible’s teachings on church government are ignored and a church is taken over by a forceful charismatic leader with complete unchallengeable authority, then I think this could be considered a cult, even if the gospel message is sound.

Not Your Normal Sunday

I was sitting in church yesterday, in between Sunday School and the service, when a woman came running in to tell my wife and me that my son Samuel had taken a terrible fall in the parking lot. The kids go there during the break to play soccer. He was in some sore of collision and fell down hard-- hitting his head along the way on a bench that sits off the parking lot at the church entrance. When I got to him he was on the ground moaning. Someone called an ambulance, but after they arrived and some consultation we decided to take him to the emergency room ourselves.

He appears to be fine with no signs of a concussion. He did have to go all day on a clear liquid diet, and was a real trooper about it (I would have been whining nonstop).

The church was wonderful in their concern. Even though this was a minor emergency it reminded us that we have no family nearby—without the church we would be completely alone.

In the afternoon I took him to the bookstore and CompUSA, his favorite two places. We bought a switch/firewall/Nat and when we got home we hooked it up with our cable modem so that now we have two computers connected to the Internet. Then we played chess over the web (at which drove my wife nuts: she just couldn’t see the fun of sending signals over thousands of miles of wires when we were just four feet apart and could have used an actual chess board. Women just don’t get it! What to expect from a sex that cannot grasp the comic genius of The Three Stooges?

For Baseball Historians Only

My son is fascinated with sports history and has always been intrigued by the 1986 World Series, even though it occurred more than four years before his birth. As such, he always uses Bill Buckner as his user name. So when I registered on to play him, I naturally chose Mookie Wilson (he hit the infamous grounder) as my name. So if you ever see a match between Bill Buckner and Mookie Wilson on, you’ll know who it is.

Saturday, July 13, 2002

We Need A Playoff!

Why it is truly scandalous! Ranking systems giving different results! What are we to believe? In the table below I give the top 25 Christian blogs from the well known Chairon Leaderboard compared with the top 25 (there is a tie for 25) from the upstart He Lives rankings. (He Lives actually does much better in the Chairon rankings than in its own, where it drops precipitously. Go figure.)

The Chairon ranking system, while highly respected, is shrouded in more secrecy than an Enron board meeting. (It is rumored to involve Hostess HoHos and the Sydney Opera House.) The He Lives ranking system believes that sunshine is the best disinfectant, and publicly describes its system:

  • Martin Roth’s page is downloaded and parsed to get all the blogs from his definitive blogroll.
  • Links to each “target” blog are searched for on the main page of all the other blogs.
  • If a link of any type (back to the target) is found (not necessarily a blogroll link), then the target blog is credited with another unique “site”.
  • The total number of links is also counted, but the ranking below is based on the number of unique sites. ( If you rank by total number of links, then MartinRoth stays on top but In Between Naps jumps to number 2, indicating that Amy Welborn gets a lot of reference links).

So whether you have a site that puts He Lives on your blogroll or you have a post in which you write Look what that knuckle-head at He Lives has written this time! (or both) I would credit He Lives with a "site".

Again, no matter how many links there are back to the target blog on a particular site, the target blog gets credit for just 1 site. The total links is also tallied, but not shown here.

Blog (Chairon Rank)LinksBlog (He Lives Rank)Sites
Sacra Doctrina40MartinRothOnline60
MartinRothOnline.com37Sacra Doctrina51
Fool's Folly36In Between Naps49
In Between Naps34beautiful feet41
beautiful feet33Catholic & Enjoying It38
Catholic Blog for Lovers30jimhart300037
Andrew Sullivan29Fool's Folly36
Relapsed Catholic28Presbytermark35
Presbytermark27how now, brownpau?34
Nota Bene27Relapsed Catholic33
lollardy25barlow farms32
Catholic and Enjoying It25Catholic Blog for Lovers31
barlow farms24lollardy30
Mark Byron24Andrew Sullivan30
how now brownpau?23Mark Byron29
EveTushnet.com23Minute Particulars28
Catholic Light22Nota Bene27
Minute Particulars22Annunciations25
He Lives22Carrifex25
Kairos21bloggedy blog24
------Sursum Corda24

Friday, July 12, 2002

The Steps of Salvation

There has been much talk on this and other blogs about regeneration and justification. It seems like a good idea to be explicit about the time-ordering of all the steps of salvation.

  1. Regeneration. This is the instantaneous, resurrection or quickening of our spiritually dead hearts. This is the first step, and I believe there is nothing that a person can do to initiate it, given that prior to regeneration you are, in fact completely dead and in a state where you can do nothing pleasing to God.

    And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins. (Eph. 2:1)

  2. Faith. This is the ability to believe in Christ. Is it also a gift or is it your “own” faith? Well, I think that is a distinction without a difference. Given that faith and all the other steps in salvation require regeneration, and regeneration is absolutely a gift, then the whole chain of salvation must be viewed as a gift.

    For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;
    (Eph. 2:8)

  3. Justification. This is where we are made acceptable to a Holy God. Not by anything we have done, our self-righteousness is but filthy rags, but by the imputation of Christ’s abundant and perfect righteousness. This necessary step rests entirely on the finished work of Christ. Faith precedes Justification and this faith is the only thing we have (except our sins) to contribute. Thus we say Justification by faith alone and not by works. The “alone” refers to us; Christ has contributed mightily to our justification. What hasn’t contributed are any “counterfeit” works.

    because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin. (Rom. 3:20)

  4. Sanctification. Throughout our post-justified earthy life we will, to differing degrees, become better and better imitators of Christ. This sanctification is the working of the Holy Spirit now indwelling us. We will begin to do good works for which there is associated merit, but not merit that is applied to our salvation—which by this point is already assured.

    according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood: May grace and peace be yours in the fullest measure. (1 Peter 1:2)

  5. Glorification. This is our final destination, but we don’t get there as soon as we die. This step is complete with Christ’s second coming when we receive imperishable glorified bodies. (It will be especially interesting for physicists to see a place where there is no 2nd law of thermodynamics.)

    For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. (1 Cor. 15:53)

Notice the beauty in that each person of the Godhead: Father, Son, and Spirit, plays a necessary role in our salvation.

Regeneration is just the first step but, once it happens, the rest of the process is inexorable. There is no thwarting God’s perfect will. If you are regenerate, you will make it through the other steps to complete your salvation. The steps may be rapid (as they must have been for the thief on the cross) or they may take a lifetime, but you will definitely arrive at your (pre)destination.

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:6)

Thursday, July 11, 2002

More on Science and Christianity

Jeffrey Collins asked about my opinion of this Samizdata post.

In that post David Carr (whom I infer is not a believer, but this is the first post I ever read on Samizdata) says that he agrees with American creationists that “Christian doctrine most definitely is in head-on collision with modern science.” He contrasts this with the situation among Christians he knows in Europe where “[European Chrisitians] seem to believe that Christianity is about different things to science, and that you can be a completely Christian Christian, and a completely scientific scientist, without any intellectual conflict.”

He goes on about the how the theory of evolution is at odds with creation in Genesis. He concludes with:
You can't have it both ways. Only by completely overturning what Christianity has meant for the best part of two thousand years, as the Church of England seems now to be doing by turning Christianity from a religion into a political sect, can you possibly believe that there's no argument here.
So, if I understand what he is writing, he is saying that at least Creationists (for which I think it is safe to say he means American style Evangelicals) acknowledge the “obvious” problem of a difficult if not impossible reconciliation between Christianity and Science, while many European Christians treat science and Christianity as two different domains that don’t have to be consistent-- because they don’t overlap.

I will take a bold stand on this: I completely agree and I sort of, kind of, disagree.

Two Points in One

Carr is really making two points:
  1. Science and Christian doctrine cannot be “separated”.

  2. Science and Christian doctrine are colliding.

On the first item I completely agree and have even blogged about this before when I wrote about Francis Schaeffer and the Unity of the Bible. Allow me to reiterate some of the points I tried to make in that post.

Schaeffer attacked the duality David Carr attributes to European Christians as existential theology, which holds that the Bible is infallible only in spiritual matters, not when it comes to history or science.

In other words, Schaeffer would say, you can’t have your cake and eat it too.

Schaeffer also lamented creeping existential theology in the Evangelical community when he wrote: "Evangelism is not consistently evangelical unless there is a line drawn between those who take a full view of scripture and those who do not." And goes on to write that “[Evangelicals] must accept as infallible the creation and pre-Abrahamic history of the first 11 chapters of Genesis.”

I believe this is the same point Carr is trying to make in the Samizdata post, albeit from a different perspective. And I agree – it is an untenable philosophical position.

As to whether science and Christianity are colliding, I think the jury is still out. I see that there are three broad areas where there is at least the appearance of, if not actual, collision:
  1. The age of the universe

  2. Evolution

  3. Quantum Mechanics

In looking at these three areas one must ask (a) how strong is the scientific evidence and (b) is the Bible definitely at odds with this or am I just making the Galilean mistake all over again?

It is only if the answer to (a) is very strong and the answer to (b) is a resounding yes is there necessarily a conflict.

Old Earth/Universe

The first of these I have written about here. To me the scientific evidence is irrefutable for an old universe. On the other hand, I don’t think the Genesis account must be interpreted to be at odds with the science, so I personally do not see a conflict here. Many do. They would say I am not interpreting the Bible faithfully, and I would say they are making the Galilean mistake.


As for evolution, that is much more complicated and much obfuscation abounds. There is an enormous amount of fossil evidence for extinct species. There is a paucity (less than a handful) of strong candidates for “transitional” fossils. So few in fact that classic Darwinism had to be scrapped (although it is still taught, especially in high school). This also means the strawman of classic Darwinism that we (Christians) use to discredit evolution should also be scrapped: it does us no good to criticize a scientific view that is no longer held by scientists.

Mathematical models suggest there is not nearly (by a long shot) enough time for evolution to have occurred-- especially given that evidence also suggests that complex life burst forth suddenly (on geological time scales). This rapid emergence of complex species shortens the time available for a transition from simple organisms and further stresses the evolutionary explanation.

In some sense, I feel comfortable at the moment (which will probably carry me through the rest of my lifetime) with attributing the huge fossil record to the old earth alone, without invoking evolution. I am far from convinced that the fossil record supports it. I am not sure what I would do if I were convinced of evolution—would I become a theistic evolutionist? I don’t know. Fortunately I don’t have a conflict with evolution because I see the evidence for it, in contrast to the evidence for an old earth, to be weak.

Quantum Mechanics

Believe it or not, it is here where I see the greatest conflict. Quantum Mechanics is the explanation of how nature behaves in the microscopic realm. As a pure and applied science (e.g., lasers, micro-electronics), it has been an unqualified success. In a real sense the entire high tech sector of the world’s economy is based on the success of Quantum Mechanics.

Yet at its heart Quantum Mechanics says the world is probabilistic. Quantum mechanics can tell you the average time for a species of radioactive atom to decay—but cannot tell you when or even whether a specific atom will. One atom may “live” much longer than expected, while a different atom of the same type might decay faster than the average. The difference between the two? Quantum Mechanics says that there is none—just a random dice roll caused one to decay and the other to stay put.

That, my friends, is not so easy to reconcile with a sovereign God. Yet Quantum Mechanics is on much firmer ground than evolution (and that is an understatement).

Billions and Billions of Dollars to Earn

Gary Petersen is reading John MacArthur’s book The Battle for the Beginning: Creation, Evolution, and the Bible, which I haven’t read but sounds intriguing. In hist post, Gary discusses the hideous Carl Sagan and his atheistic view of the universe.

I would only suggest that we should not paint all scientists with the Sagan brush. First of all, Sagan was in business to sell books and promote his TV show and his lucrative lecture circuit. To feed his lusts for fame and money he had to make outrageous statements—careful statements don’t sell nearly as well. Second, scientists, especially hard scientists, are less atheistic than is generally assumed.

When scientists make claims of what happened billions of years ago are they actually violating the scientific method by studying something they cannot actually observe? I don’t think so for a number of reasons:

  • They can ask what would be the effects, still directly observable today, of something that happened long ago. This is how the cosmic background radiation was discovered (after it was predicted).

  • They can look far into space— which is really the same as looking back in time—to see objects as they were in the early universe.

  • They can reproduce conditions (temperatures and densities) of the early universe in particle accelerators (something I am very familiar with).

I don’t think all scientists are the fools discussed in Rom. 1:20-22. I think that some, in revealing the obvious intelligent design of the universe, are helping to uncover more general revelation.

Correction: the author of the Samizdata post is Brian Micklethwait, not David Carr. Sorry about that.

Wednesday, July 10, 2002

The Geek Within

I wrote a small Java program 1 that tells you not just how many blogs on Martin Roth's blog roll link to you, but which sites they are and how many links they have. It cannot tell the difference between a blog roll link and a “reference”, but the count gives an indication. I was going to put it on a website as an applet but that has been deprecated by hints on Martin Roth’s site that there is a secret society of geeks working on some exciting blog tracking tools.

Anyhow, the program is fun because it can identify new links, which sometimes (in my case, anyway) are scathing embedded references to one of my blogs (in someone else’s blog) that are questioning my intellect and breeding. Never want to miss one of those.

Anyway, just for fun I ran it on my good friend Jeffrey Collins, (I hope he doesn’t mind being a guinea pig) and here are the results:

For the blog Joyful Christian [] has 2 links
Xavier+ [] has 1 links
Barrabas [] has 2 links
He Lives [] has 2 links
Mark Byron [] has 2 links
On the Web [] has 1 links
Joshua Claybourn [] has 2 links
Journal [] has 1 links
Thought Crime [] has 1 links
Country Keepers [] has 2 links
Spudlets [] has 2 links

1 Didn't know I was a geek huh? Well I am. In fact, I am even the 'H' in JDH Technologies, a surviving "dot com" currently accepting orders, if you are buying.

Infant Baptism

Baptism signifies many things: faith, redemption, resurrection, adoption, and sanctification. It is a sign of the New Covenant, so being covenantal it also signifies God’s promise to His church.

Baptism is a sacramental sign of (or ordinance signifying) regeneration 1, not a cause. Faith alone, through grace and by the working of the Holy Spirit, regenerates.

The question that has received much debate is whether infants should be baptized (paedobaptism), or should baptism be reserved for those old enough (let us call them adults) to make a credible profession of their faith (believers baptism).

I cannot add anything to this debate. I certainly will not be persuasive one way or another. I intend only to point out the big picture reasons, from a reformed perspective, for supporting paedobaptism. Complicated, thought provoking, un-bloggish detailed discussions are but a Google search away.

This post concerns the debate between two camps that agree that baptism, however practiced, is a sign of the promise of salvation. The debate with those who think baptism is something more than this is an entirely different and more serious question, and is not addressed here.

Given that both camps agree that baptism is not cardinal, it is surprising (and sad) how vitriolic the debate can become. Countercharges of “Romanist” and “Judaist” used pejoratively are fairly common. Reasoned, gracious debate is not the norm.

Infant baptism is by far the more prevalent practice throughout the history of Christianity. Explicit references to infant baptism can be found in 2nd century literature, and debate about paedobaptism versus believer’s baptism is a fairly recent development. That says nothing about which side is right—it’s just history.

Oh If Only…

It would be nice if scripture were explicit about this. But nowhere in scripture does it explicitly say to baptize infants, and nowhere does it say to exclude infants.

I don’t agree with anyone from either side of the debate that claims the scriptural accounts of baptisms are sufficient proof of their position. Each side must make a case based on inferences.

About 25% of the accounts of baptism refer to families. Again, none of these is explicit as to whether or not infants were included.

Most of the baptisms described in the New Testament concern adults. This is understandable in that these were first generation Christians—it only makes sense that those coming forward would be adults who accepted Christ.

Believe and Be Baptized

It is important to remember that those churches that practice infant baptism, for example the Presbyterian (PCA) denomination, do not baptize just “anybody”. An adult cannot trundle into the church and demand to be baptized. An adult must be able to make a credible testimony attesting to his belief. The many scriptural accounts of adults who believed and were baptized may be an important plank in the argument for believer’s baptism, but the supporters of paedobaptism would agree that since they were adults a profession of faith was required. Thus these accounts, in and of themselves, do not preclude the baptism of infants as a covenantal sign.

The Circumcision Parallel

Much of the support for infant baptism comes from parallels with circumcision as a sign of the Old Covenant and baptism as a sign of the New Covenant. In some sense, your view depends in part on how much continuity you see between the old and new. Supporters of paedobaptism emphasize the continuity, those arguing against it don’t.

Circumcision was:
  • A sign of a covenant.
  • A sign of faith.
  • Was applied to adults of faith (e.g., Abraham).
  • Was applied to children prior to any profession of faith (e.g., Isaac).

If circumcision was applied to those prior to expression of their faith then, the argument goes, why not baptism?

And if the New Covenant is, by including Gentiles, more inclusive, why would the covenantal sign be less inclusive by excluding infants?

Now Batting less than 1.000

One thing is for sure, in either case (paedobaptism or believer’s baptism) some who never attain a saving faith are baptized, be they infants who never accept Christ or adults who have fallen prey to “easy-believism”.

On that cheerful thought, I am done.

1 Baptismal Regeneration is not free of debate among scholars within the Reformed Community (See, for example, Joel Garver's article here). However, those discussions are well beyond the scope of this blog. Part of this "internal" debate is related to the changing definition of regeneration. And part of it is a defense of the Westminster Confession, which, it must always be remembered, might itself be in error. But there is real substance to this question that is glossed over in this blog.