Tuesday, September 10, 2002

Time is on Our Side

Evolutionists think that time is their friend. It is actually their biggest enemy.

Nobel Prize winning biologist and evolutionist George Wald certainly thought time was the most important parameter of the evolutionary model. He wrote:
"Time is, in fact, the hero of the plot [the chance creation of life]... given so much time the ‘impossible’ becomes possible, the possible probable and the probable virtually certain. One has only to wait: time itself performs miracles."
Unwittingly, Wald has provided a compelling argument against evolution and the accidental creation of life.

It is important to remember Wald’s premise: given so much time. On the surface the argument is strong, and is still an important point in cosmology and the debate concerning the creation of the universe. You can argue that the unlikely event that caused the universe to be created ex nihilo, some sort of quantum fluctuation, can take as long as necessary—without a universe there is no ticking clock.

However, as far as the creation of life is concerned, the clock began ticking as soon as the earth was formed. As it turns out, there is not nearly enough time. Billions of years is not long enough (by orders of magnitude) for a single cell organism to develop from primordial soup. Then you have to squeeze into the equation the single cell evolving into complex life forms, and ultimately into modern humans. There isn’t time. And without the necessary time, Wald’s observation becomes a condemnation of the very theory he was attempting to support.

Why do I keep claiming there isn’t time?

There are many ways to answer this question. One is the approach often taken by creation scientists. It involves a simple chain of independent probabilities required for the formation of life. Suppose the formation of life required a thousand accidents, and each chance occurrence has a probability associated with it, then by multiplying the thousand probabilities together you get the over probability that life formed by chance. These calculations result in estimates of the probability of life emerging from non-life that are so vanishingly small as to be effectively zero.

Such calculations are rightly criticized as too simplistic. It does our cause no good to make trivial arguments that are easy to knock down.

More sophisticated and harder to discredit analyses involving Bayesian networks and other methods of dealing with conditional probabilities and other complications have been done. Although they give results that are not as infinitesimal as the simplistic calculations, they also conclude that per-chance creation of life, for the “impossible to become possible”, requires an earth that is orders of magnitude older.

And it gets worse all the time for the evolutionists, because upon further study the simple cell becomes more and more amazing—with the uncovering of previously unknown biochemical complexity. More complexity means more time, just to get to the cell.

Time is not on the side of the evolutionist. It is his greatest detractor. Four billion years might as well be 10 seconds.

Without time making all things possible, hope rests in the ability of physical systems to create (as opposed to sit around and wait for) complexity from simplicity, and to self-organize.

That the physical world has such properties is beyond debate. Things as simple as sand dunes exhibit the principle of self-organization. From the air we see complex structure in the sands of the Sahara, where at first we might expect a featureless vista. The sand (with help from the winds and terrain) organizes itself into patterns. Striking as they are, they are only dunes.

Simple “cellular automata” rules and nonlinear chaotic models create complex and sometimes life-like (in appearance) patterns from random initial conditions. But they are only pictures.

Self organization and chaos are fascinating mathematical studies. And they may indeed play important roles in the physical world. But so far they only produce inanimate complexity.

Things get more amusing all the time. Wald thought he had billions of years for time to perform its miracle. We now know that he had almost no time. Liquid water, which is needed for all life, formed about 3.8 billion years ago. We now have fossilized bacteria that have been dated to about 3.5 billion years. So that’s 0.3 billion years to get from nothing to, not even viruses, but actual bacteria, which are vastly more complex. That’s an order of magnitude less time than Wald thought he had to get to much simpler forms. He didn’t have enough time then, and he has much less time than he thought. After liquid water was present, life formed very quickly, at least in geological time scales. First water, followed immediately by life. Sound familiar?

9 And God said, "Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear." And it was so. 10 God called the dry ground "land," and the gathered waters he called "seas." And God saw that it was good.
11 Then God said, "Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds." And it was so. (Gen 1:9-11, NIV)

Monday, September 09, 2002

Sola Scriptura in the Early Church

I had an interesting and timely (since I am working on this topic for Sunday School and will have a long post on it sometime this week) exchange over on Peter Bradley’s wonderful blog. Peter posted a small infoblog referring to Steve Ray’s rebuttal of Sola Scriptura. After reading Ray’s article, I posted a critical comment (on Peter's blog). An initialized rebuttal of my criticism arrived in the form of another comment from ELC. I have since responded. If you are interested in this subject go take a gander. The topic is not Sola Scriptura per se, but Sola Scriptura in the early church.

Some Interesting Reading

I’ve been reading Lee Strobel’s The Case For Christ (Zondervan, 1998) and I must say it is very interesting. For those who are not familiar, Strobel uses his experience as an investigative journalist to research evidence supporting the historic Jesus and the trustworthiness of the Bible.

There is great deal of fascinating material contained in the 300 pages of this book. Strobel selects controversial topics, and then interviews experts as if they were witnesses in an investigation. Quite different from your garden-variety theology book. And yes, it must be added that journalists are better writers than theologians.

A couple of Strobel’s topics really got my attention. One is his look at the so called swoon theories which allege that Jesus didn’t really die on the cross. Through various methods of chicanery: collusion with Pilate, death simulating drugs, etc., He feigned death. No death means no resurrection. No resurrection means Christianity is a big hoax. Paul wrote:
And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. (1 Cor. 15:14, NIV)
And in case you missed it, he repeats it three verses later in 1 Cor. 15:17.

Strobel interviews Alexander Metherell, M.D. and Ph.D. Dr. Metherell describes in medical terms the ordeal that Christ suffered. Based on what is known of Roman flogging, the type beating Christ received can be fatal in its own right, and certainly resulted in debilitating blood loss. Then he describes what it was really like to be crucified. The details are chilling and gruesome, all the more so because they are related in dispassionate scientific terms. He even provides a medical explanation for the appearance of both blood and water when Christ’s side is pierced (John 19:34).

The bottom line: there is absolutely no way Jesus could have survived the crucifixtion.

It affected me very deeply. I will tell you why, and it is something of a confession. I have often heard people say that Christ died the most horrible death possible. I always thought that claim to be unsupportable and something of an exaggeration. Clearly man in his depraved state has devised even more hideous and painful methods of torture and execution. I still believe that—our ingenuity in inflicting pain knows few bounds. It was not necessary for Christ to die the most horrible death possible. I don’t even think the physical pain He suffered compared with whatever punishment he endured under the weight of our sins. But I do have an new appreciation (is that the right word?) for just how brutal His death was.

Another interview in Strobel’s book that I found fascinating concerned a finding in the dead sea scrolls. To set the stage, recall Christ’s answer to the John the Baptist’s messengers, when John, already imprisoned, sent an inquiry regarding Christ’s messianic authenticity. We read in Matthew:
4 Jesus replied, "Go back and report to John what you hear and see: 5 The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. (Matt. 11:4-5, NIV)
Jesus is proclaiming himself as the Messiah just as he did at the start of the ministry, by referring to messianic prophesy in Isaiah. The problem is if you read Isaiah it says nothing about the dead are raised. Jesus seems to be adding something to what was in Isaiah’s prophesy. Now Jesus had raised the dead, so he was truthful (obviously), but it would seem that if you wanted to refer to a specific prophesy, you would demonstrate how it was specifically fulfilled so as to be unambiguous.

Strobel interviewed archeologist John McRay, Ph.D. He described a manuscript from the dead sea scrolls (4Q521) that dates to thirty years before Jesus was born. It contains a version of Isaiah 61 that includes the phrase the dead are raised. Remarkable—archeology produces evidence that answers a biblical riddle.

Strobel’s book is probably worth its modest cost just for the interview with McRay, who discusses many fascinating reports of archeological findings supporting accounts given in the Bible. I read it completely spellbound.

Friday, September 06, 2002

The Missing Galilean Meeting

In a comment to yesterday’s post, R.W. recommends this site and in particular its Apologetics Encyclopedia, which has refutations for a large number of alleged biblical contradictions. I found many interesting articles there. Nice site!

Here is a summary of one article from that site, James Patrick Holding’s discussion of the post-resurrection Galilee/Jerusalem question.

Keep in mind the accepted major timeline puts the Ascension at 40 days after the resurrection, and Pentecost about 10 days later. (Acts 1:3-5, Acts 2:1-4)

Here is the problem. In his post resurrection account, Matthew writes that the disciples are to meet the resurrected Jesus in Galilee. (Matt. 28:7, 10). This they did, meeting with Jesus on a Galilean mountain (Matt. 28:16).

In Luke’s post resurrection account (Luke 24:36-53), it reads as if
  • On the night of the resurrection, Jesus met with his apostles.
  • Jesus instructed them to wait in Jerusalem until Pentecost.
  • Barring disobedience or Jesus changing his plans, there is no room for a meeting on a mountain in Galilee.
Let’s look closely at the verses in question:
42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate it in their presence.
44 He said to them, "This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms."
45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, "This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high." 50 When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. (Luke 24:43-51, NIV)
Holding agrees that this passage starts on the night of the resurrection, when Jesus is eating fried (broiled?) fish with the disciples. He then argues (as have others) for a 40-day gap in between verses 44 and 45 during which the events of Matthew 28 occurred.

Holding argues that if we allow, as critics suggest, that all verses (up to 49) refer to the same night (leaving us with no Galilean meeting) then why stop there? The same interpretation should be extended, which would seem to imply that the Ascension, beginning in verse 50, also happened on the same night. Since this would make their claim absurd, the crictics, accordind to Holding, stop at verse 49 for maximum effect.

On that last point, I disagree. Verse 45 starts (in some translations) with the word then, which indicates immediacy. Verse 50 starts (in some translations) with when which implies a gap, or the word and which is more or less neutral. Holding may be correct to place a 40-day gap in Luke’s account. However, I think he is wrong in claiming that the same logic used by critics (of the missing account of the Galilean meeting) implies that Luke’s account also teaches that the Ascension occurred on the same night—in which case he would be contradicting his own account in Acts.

I don’t know if I agree with Holding’s explanation (I have no better one to offer), but it is interesting. And an interesting site. Go take a look.

Thursday, September 05, 2002

Biblical Inerrancy

As described here, this post is part of my notes for my Sunday School.

Scripture is inerrant. That means just what is says. The books of the Bible, as originally written down, were flawless. God the Holy Spirit inspired (see below) the men who wrote them. This was a task (one of many as it turns out) in which God was pleased to use men, but not pleased to leave the results up to men. This was too important. God’s Word is our source of His special revelation and He took special care in making sure it is correct.

Scripture is inspired. What does that mean? It means that the Holy Spirit guided the men who wrote the scriptures. It does not mean God literally dictated the words, but that He breathed the thoughts into the minds of the authors. It means that each author was so powerfully guided as to preclude even the possibility of error -- and yet violence was not done to his individual style or personality.

How can we prove that scripture is inerrant and inspired? Unfortunately we can’t. We instead build up a plausibility argument. Some of the points to consider are:

  • It has never been demonstrated that scripture is in error. That is, nobody has established an irrefutable contradiction of biblical inerrancy. Of course, people often claim that the Bible contains many errors and contradictions. And I will not suggest that all discrepancies in the Bible have been resolved satisfactorily. I do know that most of the “contradictions” people point out (they can never produce “many”, as they first claim) are easy to resolve. Don’t be intimidated by people who make such a claim. Ask them to tell you specifically what contradictions they know of. If they pose tough questions that you cannot answer immediately, confidently promise to get back to them. A little research and discussion with other Christians will do the trick. You will strengthen your own faith and be a better witness when you respond to the naysayer.

  • Recent (20th century) archeological findings confirm biblical accounts of ancient events and locations, sometimes at the expense of prevailing and contradictory theory. The Bible has proved so historically reliable that secular historians have marveled its accuracy, even in comparison to contemporary and scholarly Jewish historians, such as Josephus. These discoveries have caused a shift wherein Christians, who were once leery of archeology-- lest the Bible be disproved, now actively support such research. This can be contrasted with the Mormon church, which is forced to cover-up, as best it can, overwhelming archeological findings that contradict the bizarre claims of Joseph Smith.

  • The Bible claims inerrancy (holy inspiration) for itself.
    All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; (2 Tim. 3:16, NASB).
    This bold, self referential claim is not, due to its obvious circularity, a proof. Yet it leaves little wiggle room. Consider someone you know for whom you have a great respect of their knowledge. If you tell that person “you are always right!” he will undoubtedly reply “Thank you, but hardly!” If that person makes an occasional mistake, your esteem will not diminish appreciably. Suppose, however, that the person had answered “Yes indeed, I am always right.” Then the standard will be very high: the first error will result in a substantive degradation of your respect. The Bible takes such a bold position by declaring itself to be inspired. In some sense, it cannot be just “a little” wrong. It is either the Truth, or a big lie. In essence we have the following possibilities:

    1. The Bible is inerrant, and I worship the true God it reveals
    2. The Bible is inerrant, and I worship an invented, false god
    3. The bible contains errors, I worship the god it reveals, which as presented (since the bible has errors) is a false god
    4. The bible contains errors, and I worship an invented, false god

    Of course we believe (1) to be correct. We consider (3) and (4) to be impossible since they start with the false premise that the Bible contains errors. Item (2) is the mistake made by liberal churches. They choose to ignore the revealed God and invent one that is “nicer”. More about that later.

Another plausibility approach to Biblical inerrancy is a type of bootstrap method. In his Book Reason to Believe, R. C. Sproul outlines this approach: 1
  1. The Bible is a basically reliable and trustworthy document.

  2. On the basis it its reliability, we have sufficient evidence to be confident that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.

  3. Jesus, being the Son of God, is surely infallible.

  4. Jesus teaches that the Bible is more than trustworthy; it is the very Word of God.

  5. The Word of God is infallible and inerrant, ergo the Bible is infallible and inerrant.
Still, the bottom line is that, although we have the above arguments to appeal to our reason, ultimately we must presuppose the Bible to be inerrant. There is nothing wrong with that approach, it’s the first method we use with our children:
Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.
We must believe that the original writings were inspired and hence inerrant. If not, we are basically the most miserable of creatures for we are worshiping an invented god. We can have no confidence in the good news of the gospel.

What about my Bible?

Does that mean the bible you hold in your hand is inerrant? Assuming that you do not have a lunatic-fringe translation, then to a large extent, yes. However, it cannot be ruled out that some small errors that have entered in because of translation.

Different Bible translations use somewhat different sets of ancient manuscripts. The KJV and the NKJV used (primarily) the Byzantine family of manuscripts (A.D. 500 - 1000) frequently referred to as the Textus Receptus.

Other translations (NASB and NIV) will substitute, when they are available, older manuscripts. This accounts for a handful of verses that are in some translations but not in others.

For example, examine 1 John 5:7 using two of the more common translations:
For there are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one. (1 John 5:7, NKJV)

For there are three that testify: (1 John 5:7, NASB)
The additional “bullet proof” description of the Trinity in the NKJV is not in the earliest manuscripts of 1 John, but does appear in the Textus Receptus.

Different Bible translations also have different goals. Some (NIV) have the goal of readability. Others (NASB) seek to translate as literally as possible.

Note that translators do not work from a single set of ancient manuscripts, but multiple independent copies, which they check for self-consistency.

For the commonly accepted English translations, you can be certain that teams of scholarly translators under the supervision of a well-intentioned editorial board worked out the translations. Some of the very latest translations are succumbing to political correctness. For example, Zondervan has released the gender-neutral TNIV (Today’s NIV) which was clearly produced with a political agenda rather than a zest for accuracy.

Scholarly review has documented how accurate the accepted translations have been. There really aren’t substantive differences among the NKJV, NASB and NIV, just to take an example. This is especially impressive when you contrast it with translations of literature. Different translations of, say, The Iliad or Dante’s Inferno, which are often done by a lone assistant professor looking for a ticket to tenure (and hence under pressure to come up with a “new, revolutionary” translation) differ much, much, more than Bible translations.

Among the translations accepted by conservative evangelical Christians, is there a “best” translation? Not in my mind. Personally I prefer the NASB. I think that since the writing of the venerable King James Version two important developments have occurred. (1) Additional (and older) Greek and Hebrew manuscripts have been found and (2) the sciences of translation and lexicography have matured, and the knowledge of ancient Greek and Hebrew has exploded. This gives me more confidence in the (scholarly) modern translations such as the NASB and NIV.

The Canon: How did we get these 39 (OT) plus 27 (NT) = 66 Books?

There are good histories of the Bible that will address this in excruciating detail.

One question that arises is how did a book gain acceptance into the New Testament? In general these guidelines were followed:
  1. It had to be written by an Apostle or be endorsed by an Apostle. For example, it is believed that Mark wrote on Peter’s behalf, and Luke had the sanction of Paul, who in fact quotes Luke’s gospel (and refers to it as Scripture) in his own epistle:
    For the Scripture says, "Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,"and "The worker deserves his wages."(1 Tim. 5:18, NIV)

    Stay in that house, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house. (Luke 10:7, NIV)
  2. They must have been accepted as scripture by the early church.

  3. There were “no-brainer” selections such as the Gospels and the Pauline epistles. In addition to the above requirement, all other books had to be consistent with these obvious choices.
Allow me to comment on two popular misconceptions that exist when it comes to the canon.
  • There was no New Testament before the Fifth Century. There was, obviously, New Testament scripture from apostolic times. As noted earlier, Paul refers to Luke’s gospel. Paul also talks about scripture, in a way that necessarily includes New Testament scripture, in virtually all epistles, especially in his letters to Timothy. Peter gives Paul’s letters the honorific of Scripture:
    He [Paul] writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction. (2 Pet. 3:16, NIV)
    There was no formal New Testament, but the books existed and “the 27” were recognized by the early church, long before they were collected and received into the canon.

  • There was tremendous debate concerning thousands of books. Actually, most of the “candidates” were immediately dismissed as heretical (mostly along Gnostic lines). Of the books that were accepted, there was some debate concerning Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2 John, 3 John, Jude and Revelation. Only a few books “almost” made it, such as 1 Clement, The Shepherd of Hermas, and The Didache. They were generally declined because the authors themselves acknowledged that they had no apostolic authority.

It should be noted that we differ from Roman Catholics on two points when it comes to the canon. The first is that Catholic Church recognizes additional books know as the Apocrypha. Second, Catholics affirm that the canon is infallible, while Protestants do not. As the late John Gerstner put it:
  • Catholic Position: The canon (Bible) is an infallible collection of inerrant books.

  • Protestant Position: The canon (Bible) is an fallible collection of inerrant books.
The Catholic position is much more pleasing. However, it relies on the Catholic Church’s claim of its own infallibility and sacred tradition, which we as Protestants deny (more about this later). As Protestants, we can have confidence that the extreme care taken resulted in the correct books being included. We are also free to believe that the Holy Spirit guided the selection process. What we must stop short of saying is that we are certain that the men (or the church) were absolutely infallible—even though we believe the correct choices were made.

Agreeing on what the Bible says is not always easy

Even if we agree that the Bible is inerrant and inspired, that does not mean that we will agree on interpretation. Not by a long shot. Well intended Bible readers can sometimes come to vastly different conclusions. Here is my favorite example.

And he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate. (Dan 9-27, NASB).
Now if your view of eschatology is amillennial (historically the dominant eschatology, which does not expect a literal 1000 year earthly kingdom), then you interpret the “he” in this verse as referring to the Messiah. If you are dispensational premillennial (think of those Left Behind books), which today has many proponents, then the “he” is the antichrist! Can’t disagree any more than that!

Is it so bad if the Bible is not Inerrant?

It is very bad. It would be a disaster of, well, biblical proportions. For if the Bible is not inerrant, we have no confidence that the promises of God that it contains, the very promises upon which we rest our hope for eternal security, are anything more than cruel fictions.

Claiming that the Bible is not inerrant is the mistake made by liberal churches. There are parts of the Bible that offend our enlightened 21st century sensibilities. God is sometimes too harsh. He commands the killing of women and children (1 Sam. 15:3). He condemns homosexuality (Lev. 18:22) in no uncertain terms. He requires that elders and deacons be men (Titus 1:6). Many if not most (Matt. 22:14) people are going to hell. More people would come to church if he weren’t so intolerant.

And so God is reinvented according to their tastes. He is a much “nicer” but a false god. The question that is never asked is this: If God is not as described in the Bible, how do we know he is nicer? Maybe he is mean, capricious, or even dead. If the Bible lied about God’s commands and attributes, perhaps it also lied about His plan for salvation. How can you have confidence anything?

This is not a road upon which we should travel. Our faith rests on the inerrant Word of God.

As we already discussed, the fact that the Bible is inerrant does not mean that we will always agree as to what it says. Furthermore, it does not mean that God endorses everything that is in the Bible in the sense of it being “good”. It just means it is accurate; sometimes it is an accurate report of something bad. For example, Judges 11:29-35 describes a case of human sacrifice resulting from a foolish vow made by Jephthah. The inclusion of this story in the Bible in no way implies that God endorsed the killing of Jephthah’s daughter.


We can march forward in this study confident that scripture is inerrant. While debates about interpretation will surely arise, those are in-house debates wherein all parties agree that the Bible is the True Word of God.

Next we will discuss whether the Bible is also the sufficient Word of God.

1 Reason to Believe, R. C. Sproul, Zondervan, 1978.

Wednesday, September 04, 2002

A Change in Style

I am teaching an adult Sunday school class, which requires a lot of preparation. As such, my blogging will often track my (still evolving) Sunday School outline. To be precise, I will post my class notes as blog entries on this site. I have already blogged about many of these topics, so you'll be seeing some repeats (as far as subject matter) but not identical posts. Hopefully they will be expanded and reflect some of the feedback I received on the original posts, and so will still be of interest.

I hope to continue to sprinkle in new topics, but not every day. There just isn’t the time. In addition to the Sunday School, I am the beleaguered minion of a brutish Scottish task-master who leads our church’s youth group (I dinna ken how I got myself into that, but I ken my jaiket's on the shoogliest o' nails). And I am playing (well, participating) in an adult soccer league-- which might actually be fatal. Then there’s that pesky day job. Oh, and the wife ‘n kids. You know how it is. Sorry for the whining.

Pretribulation Rapture

This will be the last of my posts on dispensationalism, at least for now.

Although the concept of separate redemptive plans for ethnic Jews and the Church is the cornerstone of dispensationalism, its signature feature is the pretribulation rapture. Is a pretribulation rapture taught in scripture; an inevitable conclusion of the dispensationalist’s literal hermeneutic? Alternatively, is it a contrivance to remove the church from the scene so that dispensationalist eschatology agrees with its view of separate redemptive plans?

It is not an easy question, because the claim of scriptural support for a pretribulation rapture arises from multiple disconnected passages, beginning in the Olivet Discourse of Matthew 24.

In particular, we read in verse 14:
And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (Matt. 24:14, NIV)
Dispensationalists claim this supports a pretribulation (or possibly midtribulation) rapture by the following logic.

  1. Matthew 24 is describing the great tribulation.
  2. Matthew 24:14 is directed not at the church but at the Jews.
  3. After the prophecy of verse 14 is fulfilled, then the end will come (the Second Coming).
  4. Thus the church must be gone prior to the time described in verse 14, and hence prior to the second coming. So from Matthew 24 as a whole the rapture must occur prior to or during the great tribulation.
Critics counter that verse 14 applies to the church, and is stating that the end will come after the completion of the great commission—although what constitutes a successful preaching of the gospel of the kingdom to all nations is not immediately clear.

Another verse used in support of a pretribulation rapture is
For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. (2 The. 2:7)
Dispensationalists argue that the power in question is the antichrist, and the one who now restrains is the church, and so the antichrist is not fully revealed until the church is taken out of the way—i.e., raptured. Unlike Matthew 14, this points not just to a rapture sometime before the worldwide Jewish evangelism, but indeed before the tribulation, which requires the full engagement of the antichrist.

Critics of this position counter that Paul does not identify the restrainer as the church, and that a reading of 2 Thessalonians 2 as a whole implies the tribulation will affect all the church. The passage warns believers not to be deceived during this period. Such a warning is unnecessary if the rapture has already removed church.

Saved from the coming wrath?

Several verses are cited by dispensationalists to demonstrate that the church will not experience the great tribulation:
and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead--Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath. (1 The. 1:10, NIV)

God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 The. 5:9, NIV)

Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him! (Rom. 5:9, NIV)

Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God's wrath comes on those who are disobedient. (Eph. 5:6, NIV)
Critics of dispensationalism say that the wrath from which believers are saved is not the tribulation but the eternal damnation (hell) that awaits the unsaved. Or, as perhaps in some cases it refers to the wrath poured upon the Jews in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.

Another verse used by dispensationalists comes from the letter to the church at Philadelphia:
Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth. (Rev. 3:10, NIV)
There are several problems with the dispensational view of this verse. First, it necessitates abandonment of their coveted literal hermeneutic, since it must be inferred that the literal 1st century church at Philadelphia is actually used symbolically for the future church in its entirety. At the same time, a similar interpretation of the church Smyrna in Revelation 2:10 would mean the entire church will suffer and be cast into prison, which is contrary to dispensationalism. Furthermore, Jesus taught (and prayed) that we may be kept from trial (the evil one) without being physically removed from the earth. (John 17:15), so even if Rev. 3:10 refers to the entire church (doubtful), and if the trial spoken of is the great tribulation, it does not follow that the church must be raptured in order to spared.

Believers present during the tribulation

Some other verses seem to state plainly that believers will be present during the tribulation, which of course then denies the notion of a pretribulation rapture. For example:

"Unless the Lord had shortened those days, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect, whom He chose, He shortened the days. (Mat. 13:20, NIV)

For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect--if that were possible. (Mat. 24:24, NIV)
Both of these verses occur in the context of a discussion of the tribulation, and both imply the presence of believers.

Finally, we must look at 1 Thessalonians 4:
After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. (1 The. 4:17, NIV)
There is no indication that this refers to a secret pretribulation rapture. Rather, it is the glorious fate of those believers still alive at the time of Christ's Second Coming.


Personally, I have to conclude that the idea of the pretribulation rapture is inferred rather than explicit. It is needed to support the more important dispensational foundation: the distinction between the church and Israel. Ironically, it is dispensationalism’s claim of a pretribulation rapture, not its ecclesiastical position, that is its signature feature. Many know, believe, and hope for the pretribulation rapture without appreciating its roots in dispensationalism's view of the church.

Tuesday, September 03, 2002

The Unity of Believers

Dispensationalism stands or falls on whether or not God has separate plans for the Jews and for the church. Opponents of dispensationalism hold that all believers from all time are united, and that the church is the new Israel.

Today we look at some scripture that supports this opposing i.e., non-dispensational view. The strength of scriptural support is part of the reason for the softening of dispensationalism found in its various progressive movements. Nevertheless, dispensationalists of all stripes continue to insist on a clear distinction between God’s dealing with the ethnic Jews and His plan for His church.

The Unity of Believers, Old and New

One of the keys to this aspect of a critique of dispensationalism is to turn to the only inspired commentary on the Old Testament: the New Testament. According to Stanley J. Grenz 1:
In Luke’s account of Pentecost (Acts 2:15-21) Peter found in the events of that day the fulfillment of Joel’s prophesy concerning the Day of the Lord, (Joel 2:28-32), including predictions of cosmic disturbances. He applied Joel’s vision not to national Israel but to the church.

Grenz offers additional OT prophesies (from Amos 9:11-12 and Jeremiah 31:31-33 that the inspired writers of the NT seem to imply had their fulfillment in the church, and thus are not pending obligations to the ethnic Jews. This naturally is also a refutation that there is nothing about the church in the Old Testament. Although the prophets may not have understood the nature of the fulfillment of these promises, the paper tail linking OT prophesy and the present day church does exist, primarily in OT references by the inspired NT writers.

The Olive Tree

Probably the most well know indication of a unity of believers comes from the analogy of the olive tree found in Romans 11:11-24. Mathison writes concerning this passage: 2
  1. From the context it is clear that the cultivated olive tree is natural Israel (cf. Jer. 11:16; Isa. 17:4-6).
  2. The natural branches that are broken off are the unbelieving Israelites.
  3. The good branches that remain are believing Israelites.
  4. The wild branches grafted in are the believing Gentiles.
As many have pointed out, there is but one olive tree. Its root consists of OT saints. Believing NT Jews are left on, but unbelieving Jews are broken off. Believing Gentiles are grafted in, resulting in one tree consisting of OT and NT saints.

Another passage pointing to unity comes from the book of Ephesians. Speaking to Gentiles, Paul writes of their former condition:
that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. (Eph. 2:12, NKJV)
If this is to show the state of the Gentiles prior to the coming of Christ, then it would follow, some would say, that they are no longer aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and no longer strangers from the covenants of promise. They are, in fact, (part of) the New Israel.

Additional passages that support the non-dispensational “New Israel” view are found in other places in the New Testament, including Hebrews 11:39-40, where the writer, in referring to OT saints, writes:
39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. 40 God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.(Hebrews 11:39-40, NIV)
The OT saints are made perfect with us, as one body, not apart from us. Also, from Galatians:
The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say "and to seeds," meaning many people, but "and to your seed," meaning one person, who is Christ.
(Gal. 3:16, NIV)
Through these (and other) passages the case is to be made that the promises to Israel were either (a) conditional promises made null and void due to Israel's disobedience (b) were already fulfilled by the time Christ arrived or (c) have been or will be fulfilled in the New Israel, His church.

1 The Millennial Maze, Stanley J. Grenz, IVP, 1992. This book is recommended in that it has no apparent agenda. I have drawn from its critique of dispenstionalism, but that section of Grenz’s book follows one that provides scriptural support. Grenz applies this same pro/con approach to other eschatological views.
2Dispensationalism (Rightly Dividing the People of God?), Keith A. Mathison, P&R Publishing, 1995.

Monday, September 02, 2002

Should we be asking these questions?

This is just a small holiday post. I will resume my discussion of dispensationalism tomorrow (Tuesday, September 3).

I wanted to write a small response to a comment from Chris on my Dispensationalism II post. Chris wrote:
Say WHAT?!?

Putting aside the truth or falsity of the distinctive doctrines of dispensationalism, in what way do these doctrines help us to

* Preach the Gospel more clearly and effectively
* Better catechize new believers
* Edify the Church
* Live better, more holy lives?

At best it seems that this is idle speculation which distracts us from the central truths of our faith.
Chris directed his comment at my series on dispensationalism, but I think it is a fair question in general. In other words, (and I do ask myself this regularly) is it profitable to look into theological issues that seemingly have little to do with day-to-day Christianity?

(Aside: that may not actually be the question that Chris is asking, but it is the one I am going to address briefy).

I think the answer is yes, although sometimes I am less than completely certain.

Do they help me preach the Gospel more clearly and effectively? Yes, I think so. As I improve my understanding the entire Bible, I am more confident in relating the nitty-gritty Gospel message. Does it better catechize new believers? Certainly a new believer does not need to be taught the details of dispensationalism. But does it help that those who are teaching have knowledge beyond what is required for that task? I think so.

We recognize this in any education system. Calculus instructors are not drawn from those who took math up to the level of calculus, but rather from those that took math many levels beyond what they are asked to teach. Not a prefect analogy, but not a meaningless one either.

Do these discussions edify the church? They can, although at times exactly the opposite can happen. Do they help us live more holy lives? I think that depends on whether we are seeking to glorify God or ourselves.

God did not give us a simple Bible. Was it because he wanted us to ignore the complicated parts and just concentrate on the simple (and beautiful and vital) Gospel message? I don’t think so—I believe the time we spend (as long as it does not become an idol) trying to discern, from scripture, more of God’s nature, is indeed glorifying.
Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (2 Tim. 2:15, NKJV

Friday, August 30, 2002

Dispensationalism II and Daniel's 70 Weeks

This is a continuation of yesterday’s post. I should point out that I am offering neither a defense or a critique (maybe later) of dispensationalism, but rather a brief look at its main ideas.

For purposes of completeness, I’d be remiss if I did not present the seven dispensations identified by classic dispensationalism:
  1. Innocence—Pre-fallen Man
  2. Conscience—From the fall to the flood
  3. Government—From the flood until the Abrahamic Covenant
  4. Promise—From Abraham until Moses
  5. Law—From the institution of Mosaic Law until Calvary
  6. Grace—From the cross until the Millennial Kingdom
  7. Millennial Kingdom—1000 year reign of Christ
Not all dispensationalists agree with all seven, but that is not important for this discussion. Also, merely breaking down history into logical eras, as mentioned in the previous post, is not unique to dispensationalism. Consequently, pointing out that early church fathers spoke of different administrations is not proof that dispensationalism is rooted in the early church.

The distinctive aspects of dispensationalism are not to be found in the dispensations, but in the dichotomy between Israel and the Church. Mathison1 summarizes (classic) dispensational ecclesiology into six propositions: 2
  1. God has distinct programs for Israel and the Church
  2. The Church does not fulfill promises made to Israel
  3. The church age is a mystery; no Old Testament prophets foresaw it.
  4. The present church age is an intercalation (parenthesis) where God has temporarily suspended his promise to Israel (because they did not accept Christ’s offer of a kingdom during his ministry)
  5. The church age began at Pentecost and will end at the rapture.
  6. The Church, as the body of Christ, consists only of those believers saved between Pentecost and the rapture. Therefore, it does not include Old Testament believers.
These are highly interrelated issues and I have no space, expertise, or time to go into details.

Regarding the church, dispensationalism views it as being unspoken of by the Old Testament prophets. One of the more interesting passages of scripture to look at, in order to get a dispensational perspective, is the 70 week prophesy of Daniel 9.

The seventy weeks (each week being taken as a week of years, or seven years—a point accepted by many Christians) consist of 69 weeks (483 years, although each year is 360 days— a Jewish lunar year) plus an all-important final week. The 483 years gets us from the time Artaxerxes sends Nehemiah (Nehemiah 2) to rebuild Jerusalem (the accepted starting point of the prophesy) up to Christ's ministry. There is not enough precision in the dates to make any exact statements, i.e., does it land us at Christ's birth or the start of His ministry?— but it certainly brings us to the apostolic period.

At the beginning of the prophesy, (Daniel 9:24), we are told of six things that will happen in the 70 weeks. The last is to anoint the Most Holy.

Very roughly, the interpretation of Daniel 9 is divided between those who view it as referring in its entirety to things that happen up to and shortly after Christ’s ministry, and those who view it as including events from both the first and second advents, with an unspecified gap in between. Dispensationalists are of the latter school, although not all “second advent” interpreters are dispensationalists.

The dispensational view is that after the 69 weeks, but before the 70th week, the Messiah will be cutoff and the temple destroyed (Daniel 9:26). The latter occurred in 70 AD when Titus invaded Jerusalem. Placing Christ’s crucifixion at no earlier than 29 A.D., then at least 41 years must pass between Christ’s death and the start of the 70th week.

The 70th week, according to dispensationalists, is the last seven years of history. The gap between the 69th and 70th weeks, as it turns out, is not 41 years, but thousands.

The long gap between the destruction of the temple and the onset of the 70th week is the present, parenthetical church age. It occurs as something of a surprise, and came about, so say dispensationalists, because of the Jew’s rejection of Christ.

God provides redemptive history for the gentiles (and some Jews) that accepted Christ. This is the present church age. During this time, He puts His dealings with the Jews in abeyance.

According to dispensationalists, the final week, as is well know to readers of the Left Behind series, is immediately preceded by the rapture (which gets the parenthetical church out the picture).

With the church out of the way, the events of the 70th week, now at least 2000 years following the end of the 69th week, and also known as the Tribulation, can unfold. This includes the arrival onto the scene of the antichrist. He makes a covenant with Israel for this final week (seven years) which he breaks midway through (Daniel 9:27). Upon breaking the covenant, he puts a halt to temple sacrifice. The end of the 70th week coincides with the Second Coming and the onset of the (delayed) Millennial Kingdom.

The distinction between the church and Israel is clear in this view. First, the church is viewed as an intercalation between the 69th and 70th weeks. When the rapture results in the removal of the church, animal sacrifices are resumed (which would be an abomination to Christians) in the temple. This is clearly an indication that, after the interruption due to the church age, God once again is turning his focus back to the Jews.

Dispensationalists do not base their view of the distinction between Israel and the church entirely on the interpretation of Daniel 9. However, looking at that passage demonstrates both one aspect of the difference (the resumption of sacrifice 3, which is obviously not in God’s plan for the church) and how it is linked to premillennial eschatology, in particular pre-tribulational rapture premillennialism, also known, fittingly, as dispensational premillennialism.

It is also easy to see why dispensationalists are among the staunchest (but by no means the only) Christian supporters of modern Israel, and how dispensationalism got an incalculable boost in credibility with the founding of the modern Israeli state. No doubt dispensationalism will gain additional converts should Israel ever actually begin construction of a new temple.

1Dispensationalism (Rightly Dividing the People of God?), Keith A. Mathison, P&R Publishing, 1995.
2 Mathison actually listed seven points, I collapsed his final two into one (point 6).
3 Actually, I don't think dispensationalism demands that the resumption of scarifices cannot occur before the rapture, but only that they definitely will occur in a rebuilt temple following the removal of the church, and will be halted midway through the final week (seven years).

Thursday, August 29, 2002


I am beginning a series of posts on the theological system of dispensationalism. I am doing this for several reasons:
  • Dispensationalism is probably the most common theology among modern evangelical Christians.

  • For the first time I am a member of a church were the dispensationalists far outnumber the Reformed. The two views are historic enemies in Protestantism, although the polemical dialogue is not as harsh as it once was.

  • It is a fascinating subject, both historically and theologically.

  • It is changing—although the vast majority of “real-people” dispensationalists still follow the classic school, the seminaries (as usual) now abound with various “progressive” variants of classic dispensationalism.
Today I will simply try to define dispenstionalism and give a brief history.1

A Definition of Dispensationalism

Dispensationalism has the following features:
  • It recognizes certain distinct dispensations, administrations, economies, or stewardships. During each dispensation, God deals with His people in a certain, specific way. The number of dispensations depends on the particular flavor of your view. We’ll see that classic dispensationalism held to seven, while some newer progressive views describe as few as two. This feature is often given as the definition of dispensationalism, even by its proponents. However, delimiting God’s dealings with man into different stewardships is not unique to dispensationalism and so cannot be regarding as a definition.

  • A literal hermeneutic of Biblical interpretation. This is (rightly) a source of pride among dispensationalists. However, it must be noted that it is impossible (even after excluding obvious metaphors) to develop a self-consistent interpretation of scripture based entirely on a literal hermeneutic. For example, we will look at prophesy that refers to Israel and at the same time mentions nations that no longer exist. Dispensationalists interpret Israel literally, as the modern nation state, but other countries figuratively, as inhabitants of a region.

  • Premillennial Eschatology. Dispensationalists believe that Christ will return prior to the millennial kingdom. Again, this is erroneously offered at times to be a definition of dispensationalism. In fact, premillennialism far predates dispensationalism, and there are non-dispensationalist premillennialists.

  • A emphasis on the Glory of God. This is hardly arguable—what is contentious is that classic dispensationalists claim that their system of theology is the only one that makes God’s Glory its centerpiece. Reformed theology is said (by dispensationalists) to be man centered instead of God centered in that it makes man’s redemption God’s chief purpose—rather than His own glory. Of course, Reformed Christians do not accept this criticism and point to the emphasis on God’s Glory that is evident in the Reformed Confessions.2

  • A clear distinction between Israel and the Church. This is the key feature, and the only one that is truly unique to dispensationalism. According to dispensationalists, God continues to make an ethnic distinction between the Jews and the Gentiles. There is a difference, for all time, between God’s redemptive plan for Israel and His plan for the Church.

A Brief History

Dispensationalism arose in the Plymouth (of late-Puritan Great Britain) Brethren movement sometime in the nineteenth century. The leaders of the movement in England included John Nelson Darby, Samuel Tregelles, and C. H. Mackintosh. The theology colonialized America where it found its most influential proponents in James H. Brokes, D. L. Moody, and perhaps most importantly, C. I. Scofield.

In 1909, Scofield published his classic Scofield Reference Bible. The detailed notes in Scofield’s Bible became, and in many ways still are, (they have been revised) dispensationalism’s text book and articles of faith. The advent and popularity of Scofield’s Bible is an important reason for the success of dispensationalism and its spread around the globe. (To be fair, its proponents would argue that its accurate Biblical interpretation is the primary reason for its popularity.)

Dispensationalists are slightly schizophrenic when it comes to the historicity of their views. They want to claim both novelty and early church support3. So at times, they point to the features of dispensationalism that are ancient (such as premillennialism) and at the same time point out how the early dispensationalists (especially Darby) were able to weave, for the first time, all the features into a self consistent theology.

Dispensationalist Lewis Chafer founded what would become the epicenter for dispensational theology: The Dallas Theological Seminary—which has produced such luminaries as John F. Walvoord, J. Dwight Pentecost, and Charles Ryrie.

More to come…

I’ll be looking into dispensationalism for some time. I hope you find the topic to be of interest.

1So far I am relying on two sources (in addition to the internet): Dispensationalism (Rightly Dividing the People of God?), Keith A. Mathison, P&R Publishing, 1995, and The Gospel of the Kingdom, Philip Mauro, Old Paths Gospel Press, 1927.
2 Indeed, the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism is: Q: What is the chief end of man? A: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.
3 All movements want to avoid, if possible, the somewhat unfair stigma of newness. The question always arises: if this school of thought is correct, why did it take so many centuries to be revealed? All Protestants must deal with this question in response to Catholic criticism. Dispensationalism and the Charismatic movement (unrelated), being even "newer" than Protestantism, are challenged even more on this front. Part of the response is, whenever possible, to point out that aspects of the movement were actually present in the early church.

Wednesday, August 28, 2002

Age of Accountability

Oliver Tseng has a post on the Age of Accountability, and asked me to comment, given that I have been writing about Original Sin.

The Bible says nothing about an age of accountability.

We do know that God makes decisions prior to any acts of good or evil:
11 for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God's purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, 12 it was said to her, "THE OLDER WILL SERVE THE YOUNGER." 13 Just as it is written, "JACOB I LOVED, BUT ESAU I HATED." (Rom. 9:11-13, NASB)
The gut wrenching question is what happens to infants (including miscarried and aborted babies), toddlers, and the mentally handicapped who never have an opportunity to repent.

From the point of view of Calvinism, there is a normative progression for all believers as described by Paul:
and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. (Rom. 8:30, NASB)
Other verses (Rom. 2:4, 2 Cor. 7:9-10, 2 Tim 2:25) link repentance to salvation. Furthermore, repentance is itself is described as a gift from God. It is not a human work, although in appearance it manifests itself as such.
9 I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us. 10 For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death. (2 Cor. 7:9-10, NASB)
If you must repent to be saved (and you must), then no biblically based system of theology is as encouraging to parents who have lost children as Reformed theology. For it requires nothing of man, no assent, and no self-righteous desire to repent: all are free gifts of God’s grace. There is nothing I did on my own as an adult in order to be saved—God can certainly offer the same gifts to a child from the instant of conception.

Children who are taken into heaven are not innocent, but recipients of God’s grace and mercy.

That is the extremely good news. You don’t have to worry that the child did not have a chance to repent, was not baptized, etc. Salvation is entirely from God. Thankfully, we contribute nothing.

Unfortunately, the Bible does not offer any assurances that all children who die receive the gift. Most of us make an appeal to God’s mercy in finding hope that such children were elect and did receive grace although too young to display any outward signs. Some Reformed denominations hold that children of believers are given special dispensation of grace due to the covenant God made with Abraham and his descendants.

One of the great encouragements comes from King David, whose child born of his adultery with Bathsheba died. David wrote, of the time just after the child’s death:
22 He said, "While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, 'Who knows, the LORD may be gracious to me, that the child may live.' 23 "But now he has died; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me." (2 Sam 12:22-23, NASB)
There is no age of accountability. That would mean our salvation is in our hands, and that would be really bad news. Salvation is a free gift of grace that God dispenses to whom He pleases, including, I am sure, infants in the womb. If my wife and I had lost a child through a miscarriage, I would fully expect to see that child in heaven.

Tuesday, August 27, 2002

More on Original Sin

Yesterday’s post on Original Sin elicited comments from astute readers Craig , Chris, and Evan pointing out that I was deviating from Reformed orthodoxy. The telltale sentence was at the beginning of the post where I wrote:
Original Sin does not mean that God charges us Adam and Eve’s sin as if we had committed it.
So what is the orthodox reformed position? Inasmuch as that is synonymous with what is found in the Reformed confessions I turn to the Westminster Confession which teaches:
VI.I. Our first parents, being seduced by the subtlety and temptations of Satan, sinned, in eating the forbidden fruit.[1] This their sin, God was pleased, according to His wise and holy counsel, to permit, having purposed to order it to His own glory. [2]

VI.II. By this sin they fell from their original righteousness and communion, with God, [3] and so became dead in sin, [4] and wholly defiled in all the parts and faculties of soul and body. [5]

VI.III. They being the root of all mankind, the guilt of this sin was imputed; [6] and the same death in sin, and corrupted nature, conveyed to all their posterity descending from them by ordinary generation. [7]

(I wish I could write as cogently and economically as the Westminster divines.)
The points relevant for this discussion are [6] and [7]. The Westminster Confession provides the following scriptural support:
[6] GEN 1:27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. 28 And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. 2:10 And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads. 17 But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.

ACT 17:26 And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation.

ROM 5:12 Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned. 15 But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many. 16 And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift: for the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is of many offences unto justification. 17 For if by one man's offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.) 18 Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. 19 For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.

1CO 15:21 For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. 45 And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit. 49 And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.

[7] PSA 51:5 Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.

GEN 5:3 And Adam lived an hundred and thirty years, and begat a son in his own likeness, after his image; and called his name Seth.

JOB 14:4 Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? not one. 15:14 What is man, that he should be clean? and he which is born of a woman, that he should be righteous?

I am not convinced, in reading the scripture (some of which does no seem to apply), that Adam’s original sin of disobedience goes on our debit column along with all the multitudes of sins we will commit. Nor I am not convinced (although I feel less strongly about this point) that this Westminster Confession is teaching. I do know it is what many claim as the orthodox Reformed position.

No, as I wrote yesterday, the legacy of Adam’s sin is something much worse—a total corruption of man’s character that puts us in a state where we are unable not to sin. Total Depravity is our heritage; that is what the scripture above is teaching us.

My position is probably more accurately represented by stating that guilt for Adam’s sin of disobedience in insignificant in comparison to our own inevitable sins resulting from our being conceived and born in a fallen state. So I would argue that it is utterly Calvinistic to see this esoteric point as being unimportant.

I think the reason alarms go off is that it appears to open the door to the Pelagian heresy, which held that man is essentially good and has the ability to keep the law. Pelagius had to remove the concept of original sin to avoid the possibility of man living a perfect life (which he thought was possible) only to stand condemned by Adam’s sin.

Catholics are not Pelagian, but they have a similar concern with the precise nature of Original Sin because of their doctrine of Immaculate Conception.

The Reformed Position on Total Depravity means that this point is totally irrelevant. We stand condemned from the time of conception (Psalm 51:5) because of the effect of Adam’s sin, not the sin itself. We are awash in our own sins of commission and omission.

In a weird sense I agree with Pelagius that God does not have an ace-in-the-hole that he will pull out if someone leads a perfect life. We had a Covenant of Works before the Covenant of Grace, and it is still in effect. I believe that if someone did live a sinless life that God would honor that covenant and not say “Great job—but unfortunately there is still Adam’s disobedience which I charge against you.”

Unlike Pelagius I do not believe this gives us a chance to work our way to heaven-- again, the Total Depravity thing. There is no Pelagian window because it is not just hard but utterly impossible for anyone to live a sinless life. Once again from the Westminster Confession:
VII.II. The first covenant made with man was a covenant of works, wherein life was promised to Adam; and in him to his posterity, upon condition of perfect and personal obedience.

VII.III. Man, by his fall, having made himself incapable of life by that covenant, the Lord was pleased to make a second, commonly called the covenant of grace; wherein He freely offers unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ; requiring of them faith in Him, that they may be saved, and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto eternal life His Holy Spirit, to make them willing, and able to believe.

Monday, August 26, 2002

Original Sin

Original Sin does not mean that God charges us Adam and Eve’s sin as if we had committed it. It is much worse than that. Original sin means that man’s very nature was radically altered by the fall.

A baby is not brought into the world in a state similar to Adam and Eve before the fall, only to begin some downward spiral as the sins start mounting. No, human beings are not sinners because we sin. We sin because we are born sinners.
Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. (Psalm 51:5, NIV)
Man’s relationship to sin is summarized in the following table:

  1. Pre-fall man (Adam and Eve before the fall)

    • Able to sin
    • Able to not sin

  2. Post Fall Man (Any person before being saved)

    • Able to sin
    • Unable not to sin

  3. Reborn Man (Any person who is saved)

    • Able to sin
    • Able to not sin

  4. Glorified Man (Any person in heaven)

    • Able to not sin
    • Unable to sin

The true meaning of Original sin is that we are born into the state that is similar to Adam and Eve after the fall. It is impossible for us not to sin.
The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? (Jer 17:9, NIV)

To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted. (Titus 1:15, NIV)
Not until conversion does God restore us to something similar to pre-fallen man. Of course, unlike Adam and Eve before the fall, we find ourselves in a totally corrupted world, and with corrupted bodies as our heritage, where temptation and examples of sin are everywhere. Although we have the ability “to not sin” (and to boldly split infinitives no man has split before) it usually doesn’t take us very long after conversion to commit our own original sin. By God’s Grace and Christ’s Sacrifice this doesn’t cause an entirely new fall from which we must time and time again be saved.

Are we, after conversion, exactly like pre-fall Adam and Eve? No. We are similar only in the fact that we can choose not to sin. The effects of our corruption are still with us.
but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. (Rom. 7:23, NIV)
Fortunately, we look forward to a time when we be in an infinitely better state and place. A place where we will lose the ability to sin.

The question always arises as to whether God knew Adam and Eve would sin. The answer is, of course He did. God was not the author of their sin, but he knew they would fall. His redemptive plan was already in motion- believers were chosen before the foundations of the world.
For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all. (Rom. 11:32, NIV)

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. (Eph. 1:4, NIV)

Friday, August 23, 2002

Dead Faith

I am generating a post from a comment by Peter Sean Bradley to an earlier post. Peter wrote :
I realized that I was a Catholic when I was riding around in Tenth Grade during some Youth For Christ event and the YFC types could never stop talking about "faith." It seemed to me that talking about "faith" should end about ten seconds after it started, and the real focus should be on what you do thereafter. It didn't seem likely to me that God was going to base his decision on salvation entirely on what people said or thought, or thought they thought, but that what people actually did probably had something to do with who was saved or not saved.

This comment strikes at the core of one of the most pervasive problems in Protestantism (and one of my favorite stump issues): easy-believism. Say the words at a rally or an alter call and you are in. As you might expect, the recidivism rate for such people is very high.

I agree with what I infer to be the gist of Peter’s comment. I don’t think he was aiming for theological precision so I will skip a thorough analysis from a Calvinistic position in favor of a quick time-line clarification: The things you do that are meritorious (works) necessarily occur after salvation.

Necessarily in the preceding sentence has an important double application: meritorious works must follow conversion (whatever was done before, in the absence of Christ's righteousness, are but filthy rags - Isaiah 64:6) and they must happen if the faith is genuine. Most Protestants strongly agree that you cannot be a true believer in Christ without also being a disciple.

There is a minority position that there can be an indefinite delay-- that you can believe and remain carnal. Most Protestants rightly reject such a view. A new (true) believer’s faith will simultaneously result in discipleship, albeit (usually) immature and undeveloped.

Peter also wrote:
I do believe in the importance of man being freely able - and actually required to exercise his freedom - to respond to the grace that God undeservedly gives man.

Those in support of altar calls and similar mass-market methods for “getting” people to accept Christ acknowledge that many of the partakers are not genuine. They counter the criticism by saying it is worth it to reach the few genuine believers. (And if many go their entire lives with a false sense of assurance, well that may be cruel but in the larger view of eternity what does it matter?) And, they say, if you tell them the whole story, that accepting Christ brings along with it a requirement of discipleship, well you might scare them away.

Peter’s testimony counters this argument. He was turned off not because he was offered a too difficult faith, but one that was too simple.

Peter, Peter, Peter, if you only stopped there! But you go on to write:
Now, to a Calvinist this probably means that I'm predestined to Hell because I have been foredained from the beginning not to have the right kind of faith. I don't know. Down the road someone might be saying show me your faith without works and I will show you my faith by my works.
I think you might be mistaking Calvinism with Fundamentalism. First of all, the easy-believism is not an issue among Calvinists. If you attend a Reformed Church you won’t get a chance to come up to the altar and say the Sinner’s Prayer and be given the secret handshake. Your comments, until this last passage, were directed at practices of non-Calvinistic Protestants (which is why it was so easy for me to agree!) So why the sucker punch thown our way?!

I don’t know of any Calvinist who would say you are predestined to hell because you are a Catholic. (Again, are you thinking of Fundamentalists?) They would say you are in a church with serious errors in its teachings, but that without question there are saved Catholics. Likewise there are professing Calvinists, who should recognize from their dead faith, that they have no assurance of salvation.

Calvinists love the book of James.

Hmm… sounds like that has bumper-sticker possibilities.

Thursday, August 22, 2002

Rise to the Defense of Calvinism!

Kevin Holtsberry is questioning some of the Calvinistic doctrines. All those interested in such debates are directed here.

Baptism of the Spirit

The Holy Spirit regenerates the walking dead. This fortunate gift is given to those God has predestined for mercy. Once dead in sin, by the power of the Spirit they are converted to life in Christ.

The Baptism of the Spirit empowers believers with other gifts so that they can carry out God’s work. They can witness, teach, preach, serve, etc.

These are two separate actions of the Spirit.

For Christ’s disciples, these two events occurred at well separated times. They were first believers (so that had been converted) and later, after Christ’s Ascension, they received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

John explains, at least in part, why these distinct events were also separated in time:
38Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him." 39By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified. (John 7:38-39)
The controversy today between Charismatic and non-Charismatic views is not about the existence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The debate centers around its timing.

If you read John 7:39 as referring to Spirit Baptism which was to come at Pentecost, then the gap during the apostolic period had a reason: the baptism had to wait until Jesus had been glorified (why? I don't know). This particular delay between regeneration and baptism (of the spirit) is obviously unique to the apostolic era. For all subsequent generations, Christ is already glorified, and there is no apparent need for a gap between regeneration and spirit baptism. The very fact that John describes the delay, and goes to the trouble of giving a reason for it, suggests to me that the delay is a special, not an ordinary circumstance.

Some (not all) Charismatic denominations accept this delay as normative for all ages. If so, a distinct, identifiable Spirit baptism is expected, and its prolonged absence ultimately affects (despite, in some cases, warnings that it shouldn’t) one’s assurance of salvation.

I don’t read the Bible as teaching that regeneration and spirit baptism are still separated in time. To me, John 7 instructs us that a universal delay was for the apostolic age only. I think if the delay were something that all believers were to expect, the writers of the New Testament would have gone to great lengths to associate such a watershed event with assurance of salvation.

That does not mean that I don’t think it could happen. God will do what He wills for His purpose. I think the evidence is that it is not normative, and I pray for those in Charismatic churches who have not had a genuine experience, including those that have had fraudulent experiences. Do not be anxious for something that has not been promised (a distinct, identifiable Spirit Baptism) as part of God’s plan of salvation. You are likely waiting for something you already received when you were regenerated.

Wednesday, August 21, 2002

I have learned something about Catholics

I think I have learned something significant about the difference between Catholics and Protestants. It corrects a misunderstanding of mine. What I learned is no doubt old hat to the rest of the world, but it is new to me. And the insight is due to blogdom’s unique type of interaction. I doubt I would have grasped it without the unprecedented ability to hold thoughtful discussions with Catholics.

Two asides before I launch into the substance of this post:

  • I think what makes blogdom unique is the effort required to make a post. It is much more that a chat response, but much less than a polished article. Chat responses are spontaneous, unwashed reactions that are good for communicating small bits of information, but not good for developing larger concepts. Articles demand a proper amount of reflection yet, like a blog, most of that is way up-front. The rest of the time is spent on non-substantive tweaking and dealing with the vagaries of publishing. Blogs are just right. The good ones demonstrate thoughtful reflection, good writing, yet a concession to expediency.

  • As always, by Catholics and Protestants I mean the conservative Bible believing variety. I don’t know what the liberals of each group actually think, or even if they actually do think. They (the repulsive Bishop Spong comes to mind) are good for naught but sport.

Okay, here is what I have learned, pay attention: The seat of the papacy is the antichrist. Just kidding! I am in a bit of a silly mood, sorry.

The insight I have had (again, it is most likely a belated epiphany) has to do with what bugs one group about the other. I assumed that each had different side of the same coin as their most important point of departure. I am now reasonably convinced that each is most concerned about different sides of different coins. Protestants (well, at least this Protestant) are (rightly, honorably, and justifiably) still most concerned with Rome’s denial of Justification by Faith Alone (sola fide) and the unconscionable anathemas placed on the Reformers at the Council of Trent. The thing that bugs Catholics (at least those I’ve been talking to) most is the Protestant proclamation of Scripture Alone (sola scriptura) and the fact that is linked to the dreaded Private Interpretation.

Sola fide and sola scriptura are both important aspects of the Reformation, and are quite related. Nevertheless, the button to push for a Protestant tends to be sola fide, and for a Catholic, it is sola scriptura (and Private Interpretation).

Protestants believe that scripture is inerrant, inspired, and sufficient, and that the church does not have a legitimate claim to bind a believer either through its own interpretation or extra-scriptural revelation. Catholics do not like the sufficient attribute.

Many of the questions asked by Catholics are legitimate technical questions such as:
  • Don’t you really have a form of church tradition but you just don’t admit it?
  • How do you decide what is scripture? (i.e., what about the Apocrypha?)
  • What Bible translation should you use?
  • Can you self-referentially support sola scriptura via sola scriptura?
Good questions, none of which I will answer here, at least in this blog.

Actually I will say something about church tradition because it is one of the things most misunderstood about sola scriptura. It is not that we don’t have church tradition—we surely do. The difference is that we hold that it cannot bind the conscience. Sola scriptura does not mean that every Protestant must start with a clean page and write in his own theology by reading nothing but the Bible. That would be foolish. In addition to scripture, one’s theology is developed by parents, children, Sunday School, Sermons, peers, mentors, elders, other books, the world, nature, everything.

Sola scriptura means that you put everything you can to the simple test: Is this based on scripture alone? In carrying out the test you might still use other resources, but only as they are helpful in addressing the question of scriptural support.

No matter how much I admire a pastor or writer, I test what they are telling me against scripture. That is Private Interpretation. It does not mean I develop all doctrine by myself, locked in a room with only the Bible. I do my homework. I try to start with an open mind. I read what others have written on the same subject—both those that agree with where I am heading and those that don’t. I talk to people. I pray. But when all is said and done, I accept not what I want to believe and not what others want me or tell me to believe, but what I honestly believe I have discerned from scripture.

What seems to be unfathomable to Catholics is the nonchalant way in which we accept the inevitable: intelligent, well intentioned believers will reach different conclusions. Right from the start Luther and Calvin had disagreements. Across the spectrum of evangelical churches there are different views on baptism, the Lord ’s Supper, predestination, etc. It’s the old: In Essentials, Unity; in Non-essentials, Liberty; in All Things, Charity approach.

Now the things I mentioned are not non-essentials in all aspects. The Lord ’s Supper is mandated by Christ. A church that doesn’t celebrate the Lord’s Supper is an apostate church. However, God has chosen not to make it absolutely clear to us precisely what happens during the sacrament/ordinance. So most Protestants (not all, one can never say all) are not overly ruffled by the fact that there are different views.

The fact that we can agree to disagree (by no means always peacefully, but in theory anyway) on important concepts is utterly un-Catholic. That is why Private Interpretation rattles the cage of Catholics the way a denial of sola fide rattles ours.

That is the obvious thing I learned recently. The hot button issue is different for Catholics and Protestants. Not very earth-shattering, I readily admit.

Tuesday, August 20, 2002

20 Somethings

This is the season of discontent among the twenty-somethings in regards to church. They don’t like the rules, the hierarchy, legalistic tithing, buildings, building funds, committees, spiritual deadness, the abandonment of a social agenda, etc.

There is nothing new under the sun. These young adults are not saying anything we didn’t say in our time. The season of their discontent is perennial. The only difference is that we forty-somethings now find ourselves in the role of conservatives rather than reactionaries. Their vantage point is much more fun.

This is a sort of open letter to those twenty-somethings, at least those who accept scripture as the inerrant word of God. If we don’t agree on that we have no basis from which to discuss other areas of concern. If you don’t believe the Bible, or if you think the New Testament stops after the four gospels, then I would like to have another discussion with you, but not this one.

So my premise is that you believe the Bible, but you see the modern church as being an invention of man which is failing miserably at doing God’s work, or at least your problem with today’s church is something along those lines. You seek something fresh, something that is true to God’s plan without the smothering oppressiveness that comes with today’s overly institutionalized church.

Attitude of Platitude

Let me get my requisite forty-something platitudes, which you will scoff at, out of the way. If you completely break from the traditional church scene and start something “new”, it will run for a while on its novelty and your youthful exuberance. It may last the better part of a generation. But slowly it too will institutionalize. Rules will develop. Agendas will diverge. Ad hoc leaders, in areas where none were intended, will emerge. In a shorter time than you can imagine your own kids will feel oppressed in your no-longer-new church. You will be the "youth" for only about ten more years, and that is stretching it.

That is not to say that you do not have legitimate gripes—you do. My plea to you is that you use your youthful energies to reform from within. Speak out loudly in areas where the church is falling short, or being legalistic, or not ministering to the community. At the same time listen to the older folk. Sometimes traditions stem from stubbornness, sometimes from wisdom.

Let’s look at some of the things that I am hearing you don’t like.


The modern church model is almost always some variant of a pastor, elders, and deacons. Some churches (e.g., Brethren) do not have a pastor but a group of elders.

Can church hierarchy be abused? Absolutely—maybe even often. Does that mean its wrong? No it means as fallen creatures we must be diligent in watching for corruption. You can play that role in your church. Does that mean we discard it because egalitarianism sounds like a better approach? No, not if a hierarchy is Biblically mandated. Read Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3. These list the requirements for being an elder. An elder is not, as I have read in one of the threads recently, “just being older”. The Bible doesn’t have to give requirements for getting older. An elder has some authority. Not absolute power, but some authority. Can you read Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3 with an open mind and conclude otherwise?

Because we don’t like someone lording over us do not make the mistake that God could never have ordained such a burden, that it is all legalism. Read the Bible. Leave your church when it steadfastly refuses to do what is biblical, not when it insists on doing so.

I think the Bible has support for the model of a professional pastor. Paul’s instruction to Timothy is a big part of that. Paul also makes it very clear in 1 Corinthians:
In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel. (1 Cor. 9:14, NIV).
There is an important qualification here: those who preach the gospel should be paid. If your pastor is not preaching the gospel, and refuses to do so, then it is time to leave that church (or fire the pastor.) Your church should be a mission to the community and even to its members, some (many?) of whom are not saved.


Rules are also a pain. Who makes them? Well if God makes them then they are not to be questioned, just obeyed. If man makes them then by all means feel free to challenge them. There are rules in the Bible for the worship service. Some are very difficult to understand and controversial. My point here is not to discuss, for example, the true meaning of 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Corinthians 11, but only to point out that however they are interpreted they sure look and smell like rules, so it must be that it pleases God that the worship service is not freeform.


Here you are on very solid ground, as long as you don’t include in legalism (which we are warned about) the biblically ordained hierarchy and biblically ordained rules. Strict tithing (see the discussion in Rachel's Journal and the fascinating comments) is legalistic—the New Testament clearly teaches that God doesn’t want your offering if is given as a work rather than a cheerful sacrifice. All kinds of legalistic minutiae work their way into churches like parasites: Acceptable styles of music, clothing, food, drink, Bible translations, etc. Be vigilant against legalism but, as much as possible, identify it and work to reform from within.

Spiritual Deadness

This is a huge problem in many churches and often you are the solution. The youth make an invaluable contribution in this area. In our church, the youth are out and about in the community witnessing in a reckless abandon than is beyond the capabilities of the older folk. Our youth evangelize in the streets and the malls (from which they get kicked out) and their testimonies invigorate and inspire the older members of the church. It is what they contribute to us. If your church is dead, work to quicken it. If a church is dying and the youth leave, they have killed the church by abandonment.

Social Activism

This is a very challenging area. I agree that one of the great failings of the modern American church is that it has abdicated its role in feeding and caring for the needy to the government. At the same time, conservative evangelical churches are typically politically conservative as well (in the U.S.). So we love to complain about big government and bloated welfare but we are seemingly happy that we don’t have to do anything about it. We should be saying to the government, you don’t have to feed the poor because as we once took care of the problem, we will do it again. Lobby for church monies to be used to help the poor. There are many ways this can be worked, and this is a mission field that, due to its neglect, is crying for fresh leadership. You can fill that role. You may be surprised how much support you’d get from the rest of us.


I’ll probably write more on this later—but I am out of words for the moment!

UPDATE: see posts by 20-somethings Brianna Leone and Joshua Claybourn
UPDATE 2: See the post by another 20-something Mike Congrove