Friday, August 29, 2003

Comparative Views of the End Times (Lesson 1)

Getting ready for giving this difficult series in adult Sunday School, beginning September 7.

Bibliography

These are the extra-biblical sources I will be using and referring to in the footnotes.

The Millennial Maze, Stanley J. Grenz, InterVarsity Press, 1992.

The Last Days According to Jesus, R. C. Sproul, Baker Books, 1998.

Dispensationalism, Rightly Dividing the People of God? Keith A. Mathison, P&R Publishing, 1995.

Will Catholics be "Left Behind"? Carl E. Olson, Ignatius, 2003.

Before Jerusalem Fell, Keneth L. Gentry, Jr, American Vision, 1998.

A Case for Amillennialism, Kim Riddlebarger, Baker Books, 2003.

Postmillennialism, An Eschatology of Hope, Keith A. Mathison, P&R Publishing, 1999.

The Bible and the Future, Anthony A. Hoekema, Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1979.

Are We Living in the End Times? Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, Tyndale, 1999.

The Gospel of the Kingdom, Philip Mauro, Gospel Press, 1927. Also available online.

Outline1


  1. Introduction

  2. Timelines and other parameters than define the four views

  3. Overview of the four views

  4. Dispensationalism

  5. Dispensational Premillennialism: A Future Kingdom for Israel

  6. Historic Premillennialism: Millennial Blessings for the Church

  7. Covenant Theology

  8. Postmillennialism: Bringing in the Kingdom

  9. Amillennialism: A Golden Age Beyond Time

  10. Partial Preterism

Lesson 1: Introduction


In this class, we will examine four different views of the end times. We begin with some definitions:

• End-times: the time when the present age ends, and the next (and last) age begins.

• Eschatology: the study of the end times or "last things". Eschatology is concerned with: the second appearance of Christ, the general resurrection, the tribulation, the millennium, the rapture, the final judgment, and the ushering in of the eternal state.

• The Millenium: This refers to a thousand year period described in the book of Revelation:

1And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. 2He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. 3He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time.
4I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. 5(The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. 6Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years. 7When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison
(Rev 20:1-7, NIV).

• The Second Coming of Christ: This is the glorious event that all Christians long for. In all eschatological views it is associated with the end of this age, the resurrection, the final judgment, and the onset of the eternal state.

10They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11"Men of Galilee," they said, "why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven." (Acts 1:10-11, NIV).

• Parousia: A term for the Second Coming.

• Chiliasm: The belief, held by some, that the millennium refers to a time of a literal earthly kingdom ruled by Christ (on earth).

• Futurism: The view that all (or most) New Testament prophesy has yet to be fulfilled.

• Preterism: The view that all New Testament prophesy has already been fulfilled.

• Partial Preterism: The view that some New Testament prophesy, especially that of the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24, Mark 13) and the Book of Revelation, has already been fulfilled. Both Preterism and partial preterism require an earlier dating (pre 70 AD) for Revelation than the one that is usually asserted (circa 90 AD).

• Tribulation and/or Great Tribulation: A period of unprecedented physical suffering and political turmoil, resulting from the unleashing of God’s wrath upon the earth. Some tie it to a future seven year period wherein the antichrist has appeared and ascended to a position of great political power. Other views include that the tribulation is over; it refers to the cataclysmic destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of Roman legions in 70 AD and the persecution of the church under Nero Caesar.

"For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will. (Matt 24:12, NASB).

• Rapture: An event where the church (i.e. all true believers) is removed from earth, meeting Christ in the air. The word rapture does not appear in scripture, but the passage that describes this event is:

16For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17After 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 Th 4:16-17, NIV).

Each of the four major views of the end times which we will examine affirms the "rapture". One view, dispensationalist premillennialism (defined later) places the rapture before the tribulation, seven years prior to the visible second coming. The other views place it post tribulation and coincident with Christ’s second coming. (We most likely will not get to views that place it 3½ years before the second coming, in the middle of the tribulation.)

• Dispensationalism: Along with Covenant Theology (below), one of two (and the more popular) widespread systematic hermeneutic (method of interpreting scripture). It has been defined this way: a system of doctrine which divides the history of God's dealings with the world into periods of time, called dispensations.

An essential aspect of the system that in each dispensation God deals with man upon a plan different from the plan of the other dispensations. Each dispensation is a thing entirely apart from the others, and, when one period succeeds another, there is a radical change of character and governing principles. 2

Perhaps its most important feature is its teaching that the church consists only of those believers between Pentecost and the Second Coming. (Note: throughout this study dispensationalism will refer to classic dispensationalism, not new "progressive" variants. New trends in dispensationalism, however interesting, are not relevant in discussing eschatology.

• Covenant Theology: Teaches that God has structured redemptive history around the biblical covenants. It maintains that the covenantal work of God develops progressively and is unified by God’s promise to redeem a people for Himself. 3


Why study Eschatology?


Because between 1/2 and 2/3 of the bible is prophecy. And the apostle Paul tells us:

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: (2 Tim. 3:16)

Saying "All I care about is loving Jesus, not doctrine" sounds like taking the high road, but it is in violation of divine instruction found in scripture. The basic gospel message would take less than thirty pages. God didn't inspire the rest of scripture just to justify a $30 price tag for a bible.

This is tied to perhaps our biggest misconception as Christians, namely that we, quite naturally, mix up our priorities. Of paramount importance to us is our salvation. This makes us tend to wash our hands of these pesky and annoying complex doctrinal studies and debates. But God tells us that our salvation is not our top priority, it is His glory. Everyone who is called by My name, And whom I have created for My glory, Whom I have formed, even whom I have made. (Isa. 43:7). Our salvation is only secondary to our call to glorify God. Our duty and privilege is to worship God. One way we do this is to study His word. All of it.

Do we have hope of figuring all this out?


In a word, no.

So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him. (Mat 24:44)

No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. (Matt. 24:36)

The primary reason we might like to study eschatology, to be able to predict when Christ will return, is clearly beyond our reach. The Old Testament prophets were not able to predict when Christ would come the first time. We'll do no better in predicting His return.

One contentious problem we will face is deciding what passages are to be taken literally, and what passages are written in symbolic manner common in apocalyptic writings.

We should learn from the Old Testament prophets. Consider the following three passages:

And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her seed;
He shall bruise you on the head,
And you shall bruise him on the heel."
(Gen 3:15)

"Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD. (Mal 4:5)

3A voice is calling,
"Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness;
Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.

4"Let every valley be lifted up,
And every mountain and hill be made low;
And let the rough ground become a plain,
And the rugged terrain a broad valley;

5Then the glory of the LORD will be revealed,
And all flesh will see it together;
For the mouth of the LORD has spoken."
(Is 403-5)

What do these have in common?

• Each was a prophecy of the first coming of Christ.

• None was fulfilled literally.

As we look back, we are comforted that there are so many (over 140) Messianic prophesies, and it doesn’t bother us that they were not fulfilled in a literal sense. Christ came and defeated Satan on the cross, but as far as we know he didn’t literally bruise him on the head.

This points out, according Loraine Boettner, a wrong headed view of prophesy. Its main purpose is not to give us a glimpse into the future. That is secondary. The primary purpose is to provide comfort and to strengthen our faith when we look back at prophesy that has been fulfilled.

We should keep that in mind when it comes to prophesy that has yet to be fulfilled.

There is some biblical support for Boettner’s view in Peter’s epistle:

10Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, 11trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. 12It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things. (1Pet 1:10-12).

Here we read that the prophets searched intently for the time and place of the Messiah, but of course they did not succeed, for they were not serving themselves but you, i.e. the church, which can now look back and marvel at what they prophesied.

What won’t this class be?


It won't be a typical class on eschatology that you might encounter in an evangelical church. In particular:

• We will not try to divine any relevance of current situation in the middle east.

• Our source of revelation will be scripture, not the newspaper. We won't attempt to find explanations for current events in scripture.

• We will make no attempt to identify the antichrist.

• We will not discuss how the advent of wireless communications, GPS satellites, and nanotechnology has finally paved the way for a "one-world government and religion".

If you want to believe the ten horns on the beast in Revelation represent the European Union (which now has at least thirteen members) go ahead. I think you are wasting your time, and I won’t be discussing such things in this class.

What will this class be?


An attempt to take a fair, impartial look at the four views. After we introduce the four views in the overview, I’ll let you know my position so you can watch for any bias.

What I hope to do different from most classes on end times, is to connect the views to a systematic view of scripture rather than just enumerate their features. That is why, for example, I will spend some time on dispensationalism. We can quickly list the timelines of the Left Behind (dispensationalist premillennial) eschatology, but by showing its connection to a broader view of scripture we get a firmer foundation.

I will also seek to be gracious to all views. We don’t believe that anyone's salvation depends on their particular view of the end times. This is a subject we should approach with charity.

That is not always the case. We have the sorry examples of televangelist Jack Van Impe, who asserts that those not in alignment with his views are heretics and are lost. And Tim LaHaye (of Left Behind fame) who writes that "only the biblically illiterate are unable to see that these are the last days."

An early hint of my view: Jack Van Impe has condemned me to hell. Stand in line, Jack.




1 Subheadings for the four views in the outline were taken from Grenz, The Millennial Maze.
2 Mauro, p. 17.
3 Mathison, Postmillennialism, p. 13.

Thursday, August 28, 2003

Request for Information

No serious post today—too much real work. However, I have a few requests. I would be interested in
  1. Any source that presents a reasoned biblical case for a complete prohibition against alcohol. I am talking about ix-nay even on drinking in moderation, for the sake of argument defined as a glass of wine at dinner, not a six pack while watching a football game. (Due to my denominational switch I drink like a Presbyterian and eat like a Baptist. Is that the best or worst of both worlds?)

  2. Any source (seems downright impossible) that makes a reasoned case for the King James Version Only requirement of some fundamentalist churches. (If it was good enough for Jesus it’s good enough for me doesn’t constitute a reasoned case.)

  3. Your explanation why Psalm 14 is repeated near verbatim as Psalm 53. (My theory: God just wanted to see if we are paying attention.)

  4. Your opinion as to whether this verse, which I posted on blogs4God yesterday (that post has a link back to this site, so beware of an infinite loop), belongs in the list of humorous scripture (which is always accepting new entries):

    Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun- all your meaningless days. For this is your lot in life and in your toilsome labor under the sun. (Ecc. 9:9, NIV)

    It tickles my fancy, but that means little.

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Debate on Sola Scriptura

I went to a debate last night on sola scriptura (scripture alone) between seasoned Catholic apologist Gerry Matatics and a local Baptist pastor.

In spite of the fact that Matatics, a former Reformed Presbyterian, was on the wrong side of the debate (arguing against sola scriptura) it was clear he won on points. The pastor was clearly a man who loved God, but he was in over-his-head in terms of debating Matatics.

Matatics began his opening statement by affirming, as the Roman Catholic Church does, the inspiration, infallibility, and inerrancy of scripture. It reminded me of the many things we conservative Reformed share with Roman Catholics. A belief in absolute truth. A trust and love for the sacred scriptures. Affirmation of the historic creeds of the church.

Not to whitewash our differences, which are as vast and profound as in the sixteenth century. We are still, in my opinion, teaching different gospels, as I have written about many times. But I always feel a slightly inexplicable kinship toward Catholics that goes beyond (or is in spite of) the fact that I was once one myself. A kinship that I never feel with liberal Protestants.

(Matatics also affirmed belief in a young earth. At this, my pastor, seated next to me, gave me a needling nudge, knowing my position in favor of an old earth. It is possible, given the audience, that on this point I was a minority of one.)

As I said, Matatics won the debate. He did so by setting up a straw man sola scriptura and then knocking it down.

The thrust of his argument was that the bible itself contains many indications of oral transmission of God’s word. For example, Adam and Eve heard the word, God didn’t write it down for them.

Matatics quoted many passages, including:
I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete. (1 John 12)

And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe.(1 Th. 2:13)
(Actually I am not sure he quoted 1 Th. 2:13, but if not then he quoted many similar verses.)

Clearly the apostles (and the prophets, and God Himself) taught orally before anything was written down. So, according to Matatics, if you really believe sola scriptura, then far from being a self-consistent doctrine it actually disproves itself, since the refutation of the sufficiency of scripture is itself contained in scripture.

But Matatics is arguing against a caricature of sola scriptura. Of course God, the prophets, and the apostles taught orally. Only a fool would say otherwise. What sola scriptura states is that anything they said that is vital has been recorded (enscripulated). In the passage from 1 John above, whatever John spoke "face-to-face" either (a) is not crucial for us to know, or (b) was recorded elsewhere in scripture, maybe by the pen of a different New Testament (inspired) writer.

Matatics also kept insisting the pastor, who was slightly flustered by this point, provide a single verse in scripture that teaches sola scriptura. He must have asked that question ten times. This is disingenuous. There is no requirement inherent in sola scriptura that all doctrines, including sola scriptura itself, be defensible via a single verse. Sola scriptura allows for reasonable inference and deduction. In that manner, sola scriptura can be defended via sola scriptura, for example in the Westminster Confession.

No, we do not deny that the apostles taught orally. In fact, if the Apostle Paul spoke at the debate last night, our consciences would be bound by what we heard. The problem is, we Protestants believe that such apostolic authority ended two thousand years ago. I was hoping the pastor would demand, in like turn, a single verse that demonstrates apostolic authority to bind a conscience continues to the present day.

Matatics also used Obadiah as an example. Surely, Matatics noted, (paraphrasing here) Obadiah spoke more than the 21 verses recorded in his book. I was hoping the pastor would ask him (a) does your oral tradition tell you what Obadiah said that wasn’t recorded? If not doesn't it suffer from the same alleged criticism? and (b) If Obadiah said things that are vital for us, why didn't God establish a Magisterium in Old Testament times to safeguard Old Testament oral tradition?

All in all it was an entertaining evening. Afterwards I talked with some conservative traditionalist Catholics. That was very fascinating. I have spoken to many Catholics who have no clue about their own faith. And some like Mark Shea who can defend their faith with skill. But never before have I had the chance to speak with "throwback" Catholics (I don’t mean that pejoratively) who think the ecumenical leanings of the current Pope are wrong, that Vatican II was (at the very least) greatly flawed, and that Protestants are still "schismatics and heretics" rather than "separated brethren". It was great fun! There is something about human nature that makes us admire those that have the courage of their convictions, even when you disagree. Give me a conservative Catholic over a wishy-washy "I’m Okay, You’re Okay" Catholic any day.

Monday, August 25, 2003

Sunday School on Satan

(Note: the following is from a rather impromptu Sunday school I gave yesterday.)


Satan


This is a brief study into the nature of our chief adversary, Satan. We all know that Satan (the name indeed means "adversary") is a fallen angel. So it is useful to start by taking a look at what scripture says the about characteristics and capabilities of angels.

1) What are Angels, what are their characteristics?



As an aside, it is worth noting that in the New Testament the word angel (angelos) appears more frequently than the word for sin or love (agape). Angels should receive more attention than they are generally given. Let's take a look of some of their qualities.

• They are Creatures


The first and most important characteristic is that they are creatures—spirit creatures, to be exact. This means they have none of the qualities that are reserved for God. In particular, they have none of the omnis. They are not:

Omnipotent (all powerful)
Omniscient (all knowing)
Omnipresent (in all places)

• They have been around longer than man


Angels have been here a long time, since at least day two (or day-age two) of creation. When Job questions God and God responds with his own line of inquiry, we read:

4 "Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? Tell me, if you understand. 5 Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? 6 On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone- 7 while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy? (Job 38 4:7)

• Their number is large


Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? (Matt. 26:53)

This verse places a minimum of 144,000 (12×12,000) on the number of angels. Other scripture indicates that the count is probably much higher. Angels are sometimes referred to as heavenly host, a word that can also be translated as army.

13Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests." (Luke 2:13-14)

• They are heavenly, spiritual; their purpose ministering to the saved


An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. (Luke 22:43)

Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation? (Heb 1:14)

• They are mighty, but limited


As we have already mentioned, they cannot be in more than one place at a time. They also have limited power:

12 Then he continued, "Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. 13 But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia. 14 Now I have come to explain to you what will happen to your people in the future, for the vision concerns a time yet to come." (Dan 10:12-14)

The angel was detained in some sort of struggle with an evil spiritual being, the "king of Persia". This demonstrates both limited power and confinement to one place at one time.

Angels are also have limited knowledge

No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. (Matt. 24:36)

10Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, 11trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. 12It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things. (1Pet 1:10-12).

Nevertheless, they are mighty by human standards:

Then a mighty angel picked up a boulder the size of a large millstone and threw it into the sea, and said: "With such violence the great city of Babylon will be thrown down, never to be found again. (Rev. 18:21)

• They are not to be worshipped


8I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I had heard and seen them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who had been showing them to me. 9But he said to me, "Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers the prophets and of all who keep the words of this book. Worship God!" (Rev 22:8-9)

• They have a hierarchy


But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not dare to bring a slanderous accusation against him, but said, "The Lord rebuke you!" (Jude 1:9)

The prefix arch is from the Greek arka meaning chief. We use it in such terms as archbishop, archenemy, and architect (chief builder). Michael appears to be a chief warrior angel, and Gabriel a chief messenger angel.

• They are Metamorphic


They sometimes take on the appearance of man. At other times they have fantastical and dazzling visages. Sometimes they have six wings, sometimes four. Sometimes they cover their feet and eyes with their wings, and sometimes they have many eyes all over their heads. I don’t know if they have "natural" appearances or just adapt as necessary. The bible talks about seraphim and cherubim, but doesn't draw any distinctions between the two. In artwork, seraphim are usually depicted as majestic or fearsome while cherubim look like little fat baby angels. There is no basis in scripture for such a rendering.

• They don't marry, they don't die


35But those who are considered worthy of taking part in that age and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, 36and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God's children, since they are children of the resurrection. (Luke. 20:35-36)

2) Satan’s Fall



A few years ago, Arnold Schwarzenegger made a horrible movie called The End of Days where he battles Satan, played by Gabriel Byrne. I went to see the movie because I had read the book (also not very good). However, the book had one great line. I am working from memory so I don’t know if I will get it exactly right.

In one scene, the Ahh-nold character is fighting the devil in an apartment near the top of a high-rise. Somehow he tosses the devil out the window. He falls fifteen or twenty stories and lands on top of a car, demolishing it. The devil crawls out of the wreckage and gets up on the sidewalk and begins brushing debris from his clothes. A man who witnessed the whole event came up to him and said: "Are you Okay? That was some fall!" The devil brushed off some more dust, looked skyward, and replied. "I’ve had worse."

Great line, simply perfect.

Anyway, I went to the movie just to see that one line acted out. However, they didn’t use it. The fall from the high-rise was there, but not the “I’ve had worse” line. I guess they thought nobody would get it.

Indeed, he did have a fall that was much worse.

12 "Son of man, take up a lament concerning the king of Tyre and say to him: 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: " 'You were the model of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. 13 You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone adorned you: ruby, topaz and emerald, chrysolite, onyx and jasper, sapphire, turquoise and beryl. Your settings and mountings were made of gold; on the day you were created they were prepared. 14 You were anointed as a guardian cherub, for so I ordained you. You were on the holy mount of God; you walked among the fiery stones. 15 You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created till wickedness was found in you. 16 Through your widespread trade you were filled with violence, and you sinned. So I drove you in disgrace from the mount of God, and I expelled you, O guardian cherub, from among the fiery stones. 17 Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor. So I threw you to the earth; I made a spectacle of you before kings. (Ez. 28:12-17)

When Satan fell, he took some angels with him. These fallen angels are now called demons. How many? One passage in Revelation, highly symbolic, seems to suggest that Satan took as many as 1/3 of angels with him.

3Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads. 4His tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child the moment it was born. (Rev. 12:3-4)

The great dragon was hurled down--that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him. (Rev. 12:9)

3) Underestimating Satan



We once lived in a neighborhood where our next door neighbor was the minister at one of the largest churches in the city, a Lutheran church. To get to know him and his wife better, we all went out to a seafood restaurant. Somehow we got to talking religion, and the subject of the devil came up. The minister’s wife allowed as to how she did not believe in the devil.

Not knowing the man, I got a little nervous. This could be uncomfortable or even a little embarrassing. How would he correct his wife? Would he smack her on the back of the head? Call her stupid, roll his eyes, or would he correct her in love? He did none of these things. He smiled, nodded in agreement, and went back to work on his plate of shrimp.

One of the reasons we underestimate the devil is that we have been hoisted with our own petard. In medieval times, people were greatly concerned about the devil. They sought a way to attack him and discerned that his greatest weakness is pride. So they made a mockery of him, silly caricatures of a comical red creature with horns and a pitch fork. Soon the devil was incorrectly relegated to the menagerie of mythological creatures, witches and goblins. He wasn’t taken seriously anymore. That suits him just fine.

In churches, dismissing Satan usually goes hand-in-hand with de-emphasizing man’s depravity. Man is turned into a creature born innocent and good who learns to be bad. The inevitable consequence is a weakened view of God. For if there is no devil, and man is basically good, then how do you answer the question why do bad things happen to good people? You answer by saying God would like to prevent such things, but he is powerless to do so. He is a weak pitiful god, sobbing in the corner at the tragedies befalling such nice humans. Only a proper understanding of evil and sin leads us to realize that the mystery question is not why bad things occasionally happen to good people. The real mystery is why don’t bad things happen to all of us all the time?

It is not just "liberal churches" that underestimate Satan. In spite of the fact that our Lord warned him, the apostle Peter, prior to Jesus’ arrest, underestimated him:

31"Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. 32But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers." 33But he replied, "Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death." (Luke 22:31:33)

Notice that Satan had to ask before he could sift Peter as wheat. In some manner he was given permission, which is why Jesus prayed for Peter. Peter was no match for Satan. As we know, he went on to deny Christ three times. Yet we believe that Peter’s restoration and subsequent ministry brought more glory to God than was lost in his temporary defeat.

Like angels, Satan and demons are stronger and smarter than we are. The demons were the first to recognize Christ for what He truly was:

28 When He had come to the other side, to the country of the Gergesenes, there met Him two demon-possessed men, coming out of the tombs, exceedingly fierce, so that no one could pass that way. 29And suddenly they cried out, saying, "What have we to do with You, Jesus, You Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time?" (Matt 8:28-29)

4) Overestimating Satan


Another mistake, more common among conservative evangelical Christians, is to overestimate Satan.

There are two problems that come with overestimating Satan. One is that it elevates him beyond what he deserves. In effect, we are rerouting glory from God to Satan. The second, more serious problem is that it distracts us from focusing on our own sin. Unchecked, we can develop a "devil made me do it" attitude. In truth, the devil cannot make you sin. We will see he has two main prongs of attack, temptation and accusation. What he does not have is coercion.

Christianity is not a religion that teaches dualism. We do not believe in an eternal struggle between good and evil. There is no Yin and Yang. Good, meaning God, is in absolute control, even over evil, and is in no danger of "losing".

True, we must be wary of the dangers of "asymmetric warfare". This is the term that we use for the current world situation. America is often described as the world’s only super power. In truth, the U.S. is a super-duper power. The disparity between the military might of the U.S. and its strongest potential enemies, China or Russia, is huge. Yet we tremble with fear at the potential damage from a relative gnat like North Korea or Iran.

However, this is an imperfect analogy of our spiritual warfare. In some sense, we are better off on the spitual front. Our potential national military enemies are not under our control. They don't have to listen to George Bush. In the bigger picture God, is in absolute sovereign control, even over the actions of Satan. God does not "battle" Satan. Satan operates only within the confines of God’s permissive will. Satan cannot snatch us away, and believers cannot be demon possessed. We cannot at the same time be under the sovereign control of Satan (or more likely his minion) while indwelt by the Holy Spirit.

You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. (1 John 4:4)

28And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. 29My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father's hand. 30I and My Father are one." (John 10:28-30)

Probably none of us has ever been assaulted by Satan himself. He is a creature. He can only be in one place at a time. I suspect that none of us ever show up on his radar.

We can still say we are under attack by Satan, in the same sense that Iraqis will claim, correctly, to have been attacked by George Bush. We know that George Bush did not take up arms himself. Instead he operated as commander-in-chief. Satan is commander-in-chief of his army of fallen angels.

5) Misunderstanding Satan's Intentions and Methods


The most popular image of Satan's intention is that he is in a struggle with God for our souls. There is little if anything in scripture to support such a notion. There is no battle raging for men's souls. Such an idea is wrong on many fronts. For one thing, if Satan is dueling God, a tug of war for our souls as it were, it makes him an enemy of comparable power. We already know that is far from the truth. Satan is powerful compared to us, but worse than a 98 pound weakling compared to God. The other problem is with God's perfect justice. If we are lost because Satan snatched us, then we are lost for something that is not our fault. God doesn’t send people to eternal damnation because of something that isn’t their fault. We stand condemned on our own account, as reprobate sinners.

In my opinion, Satan doesn't care about our souls, and has no use for them.

What Satan wants, what he always wants, is to rob God of the one commodity that God wants, the very reason that He made us. Satan wants to diminish God's glory.

The compelling evidence that Satan is interested in robbing God's glory and not in stealing our immortal soul comes from the book of Job, specifically the two conversations between Satan and God. Let’s look at the first one:

6 One day the angels came to present themselves before the LORD , and Satan also came with them. 7 The LORD said to Satan, "Where have you come from?" Satan answered the LORD , "From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it." 8 Then the LORD said to Satan, "Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil." 9 "Does Job fear God for nothing?" Satan replied. 10 "Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. 11 But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face." (Job 1:6-11)

Notice again that Satan needs permission to act. He is not an autonomous evil. Note further that no interest is expressed in Job's soul. Nothing is mentioned that suggests Job's soul hangs in the balance. No challenge is made that Job will worship Satan and be lost forever. Instead, Satan makes the following threat: he (Job) will surely curse you to your face.

Cursing is the opposite of worship. Worship is the chief way we glorify God; the two are virtually synonymous. Satan is saying: remove your protection from Job and I guarantee your glory will be diminished. Glory is the one commodity that God desires for Himself. It is why we were created. It is the only "angle" of attack for Satan.

• Satan the Accuser


Then I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, "Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down. (Rev. 12:10)

Satan is also called the accuser. He accused Job of hypocrisy. In that case, he made a false accusation against Job. Usually, however, Satan does not make false accusations. He doesn’t need to. He (or his minion) uses our own sin against us. We can almost hear him: You filthy liar, God could not possibly love you or forgive you. He has taken you back so many times, and every time you failed anew. You are worthless. He seeks to use our guilt to draw us away from God. Maybe stop going to church. No worship, no glory—and Satan achieves a temporary victory.

• Satan the Crafty One


As an angel, Satan is also metamorphic. He can change his appearance. His standard tact seems not to appear fearsome but rather to appear beautiful and good.

14And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. 15It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve. (2 Cor. 11:14-15)

Satan is described as crafty (or cunning) when we first encounter him in Genesis 3. Let's examine this a bit. Notice the first question that Satan asks:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?" (Gen 3:1)

Of course, Satan knew quite well that God did not say 'You must not eat from any tree'. Quite the contrary, as Eve correctly responds:

The woman said to the serpent, "We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, 'You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.' " (Gen 3:2)

Still, we see Satan's guile. It is similar to 20th century existentialism, a tenet of which is: unless man is totally and absolutely free, autonomous if you were, he is not free at all. Adam and Even had such a minor restriction placed upon them: a single tree. But Satan’s question was designed not to coerce Eve into eating from the forbidden tree but to get her wheels spinning: well if I can’t eat from that one tree, pretty soon I may find the God declares other trees forbidden. If I am not totally free, I am not free at all.

Satan follows this philosophical nudge with two lies: you will surely not die and if you eat you will be like God. In the first case he uses a lie to call God a liar and in the second case he projects his own sin of pride onto Eve.

An interesting question: in what sense did Adam and Eve die when they ate the fruit?

• Satan the Tempter


Satan's most direct attack is to tempt us. Again, there is no scripture that says Satan can coerce us into doing something, and if he did then we would not be morally responsible. He merely provides the proverbial rope; we do the rest.

The two most famous stories of temptation in the bible could hardly be in sharper contrast. In the middle of a lush and beautiful garden, with all their needs provided, it took Satan about ten seconds to tempt Adam and Eve successfully. Just three sentences—one subtle question and two quick lies, and mankind’s fate was sealed.

On the other hand, we have Christ’s 40 days in the Judean desert, one of the most desolate and barren places on earth. His human body must have been famished as well as ravaged by the harsh environment. Yet He resisted Satan and his seductive offers. His method of resistance was to use scripture—a lesson we should pay attention to.

It is worth looking at the Lord’s prayer. Contrary to how it is often said, the best translation is:

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. (Matt. 6:13)

We are praying not for deliverance from some impersonal "evil", but to be free of the temptation placed before us by Satan and his host.

• Satan the Mighty



One image we have of Satan is that of a roaring lion.

Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. (1 Pet. 5:8)

Christ is also depicted as a lion, the lion of Judah:

Then one of the elders said to me, "Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals." (Rev. 5:5)

The lion symbolizes power—Christ the lion, Satan the anti-lion. Again, the relative strength is all one-sided; Satan is no match for Christ. At the same time, on our own we are putty in the hands of Satan.

Summary


They main point to remember is even Satan is under God's sovereign control. He has been given some power to rule over the world. The battle is not for our souls, but for God's glory. Satan can diminish it by drawing us (temporarily) away from worship. We also are quite capable of doing this own our own, just from our fallen nature.

Thursday, August 21, 2003

Imblogtus

  • Jeffrey Collins had some kind words regarding yesterday’s post on Carnal Christians. He did, however, disagree with this statement on free will. I wrote:
    No model of the free will is, in my opinion, completely satisfactory. However, as an explanation of the gross features of free will I follow, as I have written about many times, the basic Augustinian, Lutheran, and Edwardsian (and hence Reformed) notion that free will means not only are we free to choose what we want, but in fact we always choose what we want most.
    To which Jeffrey responded:
    I would agree with David that no model of free will is completely satisfactory, but I question the statement that we always chose what we want the most. I have certainly done things which I didn't think was what I most wanted at the time. Was that just an illusion?
    In short, yes it was. If I am presented with ice cream and I choose to eat it, it is because I want the ice cream more than the benefits of self-control. If I choose to pass on the ice cream, it is because I want the benefits of less fat and less calories, or maybe the image of self-control before my family and friends, more than I want the ice cream, even though it will "feel" like self denial. C. S. Lewis once wrote that he never had a selfless thought in his life. I think this is what he meant.

  • Mel Gibson is taking a lot of heat for his movie The Passion. Amazingly, the criticism is not so much that the movie is anti-Semitic but rather it will incite anti-Semitism. This is insane, but we must avoid becoming angry at all Jews because a few prominent Jews (and some useful idiots) do not recognize the stupidity of their argument. There can be no doubt that on a legal basis some Jews were complicit in the murder of Christ. Anybody that watches Law and Order knows that. Jack McCoy would go after Caiaphas with more venom than he would the Roman soldiers who pounded the nails. This is in the same sense that David was guilty of the murder of Uriah. Perhaps truth can incite anti-Semitism among the deranged. It can't be helped. No doubt a realistic portrayal of the holocaust would incite some hateful phone calls to the German embassy, but that is no reason to suppress it.

  • World Magazine in its August 16 issue points out a couple of those useful idiots. One is Boston Globe columnist James Carrol who wrote "A faithful repetition of the Gospel stories of the death of Jesus can do damage exactly because those sacred texts carry the virus of Jew hatred." This is, of course, utter nonsense. Paul's writings in particular are filled with love and concern for the Jews. The only anti-Semitic aspect of the Gospel is its focus on Christ as the only way to salvation. Jews cannot be saved as Jews, they must accept Christ. If I were a Jew I would consider this to be wrong but not hateful.

  • A more idiotic useful idiot is BU religion professor Paula Fredriksen who, according to World described The Passion as an "anti-historical, anti-intellectual, anti-Semitic film about the crucifixion". To Professor Fredriksen it is anti-historical by definition, because it is faithful to what she takes to be inaccurate, namely scripture. I don’t know why she considers it anti-intellectual, most likely because it conflicts with her theories and those of her tweed-jacketed colleagues. It is anti-Semitic because it depicts some Jews as killing Christ even though some Jews killed Christ. (Technically we Christians killed Christ, but we are speaking here in a purely secular legal sense.) Like a former professor of mine wrote: "If you want an atheist for a debate go to the philosophy department (or religious studies). The physics department is useless."

  • Mel Gibson should arrange for a showing of The Passion to Christian bloggers. Hey Mel, are you reading this? I invite other bloggers, especially Catholic bloggers, to encourage Mel to orchestrate a blogger preview. The benefits are self evident.

  • There has been spirited and mostly civil debate, involving yours truly, on the doctrine of Eternal Security, in the comments section of this post on Mark Shea's blog. Go jump in, but please be civil.

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

There are no Carnal Christians. All Christians are carnal.

The phrase "Carnal Christian" is hard on the ears. The definition I will use is that a Carnal Christian is one who "accepts" Christ (let's not rabbit-trail into what that might mean) but in no manner "conforms" to Him. A Carnal Christian affirms the historic Christian creeds and that is the end of it. In everything else, he remains loyal to the world.

A Carnal Christian does not mean the person is "as bad as can be" and is engaged in near constant sexual immorality, gambling, or drunkenness. It can come in a nice family-man package. A Carnal Christian can go to church; he can be a deacon, elder, pastor or priest.

The Catholic Church presently has her hands full of Carnal Christian politicians. These are the fairly common pro-abortion, pro-gay-marriage Catholics in and aspiring to office who are appalled that the RCC would dare to point out how their positions are not biblical.

A Carnal Christian might ace a theology exam. But he displays no fruit whatsoever.

This would all be well and good but for one small thing: there is no such animal. Carnal Christians do not exist.

The concept of the myth of the Carnal Christian is surprisingly rich. It touches upon the ancient (and still thriving) heresy of antinomianism. It dovetails into the meaning of free will. And it rears its ugly head in the modern and poorly named "Lordship Salvation" debate.

Not all Christians, by a long shot, would agree that Carnal Christians do not exist. There is, for example, a great deal of attention paid to them in the literature of the Campus Crusade for Christ.

Nevertheless, I think they do not exist. A Carnal Christian is merely carnal. He may be masquerading as a Christian. He may even believe he is a Christian. But in reality he is just your garden variety unbeliever.

A so called Carnal Christian is at best a heretic. The heresy is antinomianism: the belief that if we are free of the law then we can ignore the law.
Free from the law
Oh blessed condition
I can sin all I want
And still have remission
Paul addresses the heresy full force in Romans, summarized nicely by Romans 6:1-2.

The book of James also utterly refutes the very concept of a Carnal Christians. If you are saved, then your faith is not dead. But James writes that a faith without works is a dead faith. Ergo, a Carnal Christian, by definition without good works (except, possibly, for imitations) has a dead faith. So a Carnal Christian is not saved and therefore is not a Christian at all.

It is impossible to be regenerated by the Spirit and not have your life changed. It may not be outwardly radical, and it may be slow, but your life will change. James offers no probationary period where you are excused from works yet your faith is alive.

The Lordship-Salvation controversy is between those who teach that you can accept Christ as Savior but not, at least immediately, as Lord, and those (count me among them) who say that such a view is contrary to scripture. Counter charges of antinomianism and salvation-by-works were (and are) fired back-and-forth.

In short, the Lordship Salvation debate was really between those who affirm the existence of Carnal Christians and those who deny it.

No model of the free will is, in my opinion, completely satisfactory. However, as an explanation of the gross features of free will I follow, as I have written about many times, the basic Augustinian, Lutheran, and Edwardsian (and hence Reformed) notion that free will means not only are we free to choose what we want, but in fact we always choose what we want most. More importantly, we never choose what we don't want. And what we don't want before regeneration is God:
THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS, THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD; (Rom 3:11)
According to this view, after regeneration our desires are changed. We are made alive. We are given a heart of flesh (in this case, when contrasted with a heart of "stone", flesh is good, not bad.) We now seek God of our own free will. That same new will shall inevitably seek additional ways to please God. Those additional ways are the very definition of good works, and the very antithesis of carnality.


On the other hand, what of, not a Carnal Christian, but a Christian who is carnal? This is a related topic. But that is where the similarity ends. A Christian who is carnal is one who fights a constant battle between conflicting desires to please God and to seek the pleasures of the world. That would include all Christians. The Apostle Paul spoke crystal clearly on this matter in Rom 7:14-19. Occasionally you meet a Christian who will say that he has received the "second blessing" and is free from sin. Such a person is misguided. He is also arrogant, claiming righteousness far beyond what the Apostle Paul wrote of himself.

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Whatever...

Will be light posting if any for the next week. Mostly likely you won't have me to kick around until a week from today (Aug. 20). I am off to the left-coast for work and hopefully a little play. All of us in the family with fewer than four legs are going. That means poor Molly will be "left behind". She is not enraptured. She appears to have detected her fate and is in self-loathing mode.

On an unrelated subject, I now have enough rejections from literary agents for my novel to wallpaper the kitchen. It has caused me to restructure and rewrite. So I will make another round looking for abuse. Only someone who has been through this can appreciate the joy of seeing the SASE that you provided (as required) when you submitted your query, sitting there sneering at you in your mailbox. You know what is inside. You should just burn it. But no, you open it to see if there are any new and clever ways you can be rejected. My most recent (and now a personal favorite) is I was not sufficiently enthusiastic to feel that I would be the right agent for your work.

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Where art thou O fairness?

The other day I heard a report from a young man on staff at Campus Crusade. He described many heartwarming stories of people coming to Christ. He described the evangelical power of The Jesus Film. He described supernatural occurrences in remote third world villages. Of sightings in villages of a stranger, a stranger the villagers later recognized as (the actor who played) Jesus in the film. Of rebel soldiers who emerged from the bush just as the film was starting. Instead of killing the villagers, they were converted by what they saw.

I don't refute, challenge or in any manner impugn any of this. I think the work being done is glorifying to God.

He told of the testimony young girl in an African village. Through the missionaries, she and more than forty members of her family received Christ. The girl had one lament. Her father died just before the missionaries arrived. He never heard the gospel and was lost.

I thought about this girl's story. Because some white guys didn’t make it to the village in time, her father was lost. Maybe they arrived late because they took a wrong turn and got lost. Maybe they were arguing about something trivial and insignificant and missed the bus. Maybe they were delayed because the airline accommodated an arrogant politician.

They didn't make it in time. The man missed his chance.

How can anyone ever claim that Calvinism is unfair while Arminianism is not? Would a supporter of Arminianism tell me how, under their view, this man had a "fair chance?"

Monday, August 11, 2003

God is not "sub-logic"

Today I don’t want to talk about Calvinism vs. Arminianism. Or Postmillennialism vs. Premillennialism.

Today I want to talk about talking about those things.

In particular, I want to talk about a very appealing but in my opinion erroneous position. A position that is expressed in variants of this statement: I don’t care about those doctrinal debates. They mean nothing when it comes to my salvation. I just want to learn to love Jesus more.

Of course, I made a strawman here. But I think it is a fair one. And it contains a great deal of truth.

All that is required for salvation is a saving faith in Christ. The Calvinism-Arminianism debate is about how that faith is acquired. But both agree that it is the faith that is important for salvation, not the knowledge of its origin.

And wanting to love Jesus more—well nobody could argue against that,

The problem, as I see it, is that we nevertheless should care about these doctrinal debates. Even though our salvation does not, thankfully, depend on getting it all right. Why? Well I could write a lot on this subject, but let me make just two points.
  1. Depending on who does the counting, between 1/2 and 2/3 of the bible is prophecy. If only the gospel message were important, then the bible could be much, much shorter. So if these debates are not relevant, why did God provide us with their fodder in the form of the bulk of His inspired Word? Sometimes I think people must believe that God submitted a 30 page bible to Zondervan. Then the editors responded by saying: look we like your stuff, we really do, but nobody is going to shell out 40 bucks for 30 pages. Especially for a first time writer. We need six hundred pages or it is a no go. Get back to us. No, God inspired all the books and all the chapters. We should declare none of the text to be irrelevant.

  2. I actually think the root of the problem is that we, quite naturally, mix up our priorities. Of paramount importance to us is our salvation. This makes us tend to wash our hands of these pesky and annoying debates. But God tells us that our salvation is not our top priority, it is His glory. Everyone who is called by My name, And whom I have created for My glory, Whom I have formed, even whom I have made. (Isa. 43:7). Our salvation is only secondary to our call to glorify God. Indeed, our salvation and our testimony is a primary means to glorify God. I believe that studying God’s Word in its entirety and, yes, debating (in love) is also a way to glorify God. Of course, there is danger here as well, and we are warned about divers and strange doctrines (Heb. 13:9).


In conclusion, people often like to say God is "above reason" or "above logic". I usually nod my head in silent agreement, because I don't know how to argue against those statements. Indeed, I am sure they are correct. I just don't know what they mean. I do know that if God is above reason and above logic, it does not mean He is unreasonable and illogical. Whatever He is, it includes reason and logic. Sometimes when people make that statement, they then feel free to make God below reason and logic.

God tells us to love Him with four things in Luke 10:27. Let's not forget the one that starts with 'm'.

Friday, August 08, 2003

Not Today

Nothing to post today. Enjoying a long weekend. See you on Monday.

Thursday, August 07, 2003

The Kingdom is Now

In Hebrews 8:6-10 the word covenant appears six times. This is the same Greek word that is translated into testament, as in the Old and New Testament. Indeed, it may have made more sense to call the two main divisions of the bible the Old and New Covenant.

One way of looking at the bible is that the Old Testament tells of a Kingdom to come, and the New Testament tells of a Kingdom established.

No argument there? That sounds reasonable you say? Well, as it turns out a huge fraction of evangelical Christians do not believe that—or at least they are in churches whose pastors were trained from a different perspective, the dispensationalist perspective.

Dispensationalism is a movement that began in 19th century England and quickly spread throughout America, thanks in large part to the introduction of the Scofield Bible. Annotated by C. I. Scofield, the notes in the Scofield bible still serve as "the bible" for classic dispensationalism.

In those notes, we read: "this gospel era was not in the view of the prophets at all;"

To a dispensationalist, the New Testament is not the proclamation of a Kingdom Inaugurated. It is the description of an era, the present era, which was unforeseen by the prophets. A mystery. A surprise. A quick parenthetical insert in redemptive history.

Not a Kingdom inaugurated. A Kingdom delayed.

A Kingdom delayed until after the rapture and tribulation. Sound familiar? It is precisely the Left Behind end times view. The pretribulation, premillennial eschatology.

Those who hold that end times view fall into one of three groups. (1) Proud dispensationalists (2) Those who have been taught that view by dispensationalist pastors (or books of fiction) who never bothered to show how it arose from the basic tenets of dispensationalism and (3) Those who believe the eschatology but reject dispensationalism.

The third group is fascinating. Essentially they have to argue that dispensationalists, starting from a flawed theology, nevertheless uncovered the correct eschatology.

Anyway, the end-times controversy is not really that important. At least I don’t think so. The crucial point is the outright violence to scripture inherent in the fundamental dispensationalist axiom that the prophets did not anticipate this present era, because the Kingdom is not at hand—it was delayed.

Well, what does scripture say?

In some sense, we cannot use passages from John the Baptist's preaching and Christ's ministry, passages such as Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Math. 3:2). Dispensationalists can argue that such passages still do not anticipate that (a) Christ would offer the Kingdom to the Jews (not such offer is recorded in scripture) and (b) they would reject the offer, necessitating a delay in the ushering in of the Kingdom. In other words, John the Baptist is a prophet with a false revelation.

It is better to look at the teachings of the apostles following the resurrection. Do they teach that Christ offered the Kingdom, but it was unexpectedly rejected, causing us to enter this unforeseen dispensation? Or do they teach that the Kingdom of God has been inaugurated?

One could say that the entire book of Hebrews should put the question to rest. And one would be right. Hebrews does not teach of a Christ in a holding pattern. However, lets look at just a few passages from elsewhere.

What does Paul teach about the current era: "Indeed, all the prophets from Samuel on, as many as have spoken, have foretold these days. (Acts 3:24). He does not add "alas, they were wrong," or "alas, we will have to wait thousands of more years for 'those days'." No, Paul is clearly teaching that those days spoken of by the prophets are now.

Paul also teaches: But I have had God's help to this very day, and so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen—(Acts 26:22). He is again verifying that the prophets got it right, not wrong.

Dispensationalists have it completely backwards. They teach that the prophets understood what they were saying but got it wrong. In truth, Peter teaches us something more in line with God’s sovereignty: the prophets were somewhat clueless about their own prophesy, but still managed to get it right. For Peter writes:

9for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 10Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, 11trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. 12It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things. (1Pet 1:9-12).

Wednesday, August 06, 2003

Bishop-elect Robinson

The big news here in New Hampshire, both national and local, is the vote to install Gene Robinson as a bishop in the New Hampshire diocese of the Episcopalian Church. Robinson would become the first openly gay Episcopalian bishop.

I am not an Episcopalian. But I agree with most conservative commentators that this is a big mistake. But the ecclesiastic ramifications are not what I want to write about. It just reminded of something I may have blogged about before, but I couldn't track it down. So this may be a repeat.

There is an ongoing debate between conservative Christians and the gay community. The question is whether some are born homosexual, become homosexual, or choose to be homosexual.

Many Christians suggest that homosexuals choose to be so. I seriously doubt that, in any but the most pathological of cases.

I believe Christians adopt this position because if people are born gay, or if they develop that way because of their environment, then in either case it is something outside their control. Then the argument becomes how can God punish someone for something beyond his control? Christians, not understanding basic doctrine, are intimidated by the reasonableness of this complaint. The response is then the nonsensical no, you chose to be that way.

I think that the scientific evidence is inconclusive, which probably means some are born homosexual, and some are affected by their environment. However, for the sake of argument, let us accept the preferred stance of the gay community, namely that all homosexuals are born that way.

It may be relevant for secular legal reasons. I am not discussing that. For considerations related to Christianity, it is totally irrelevant.

We all are born sinners. Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. (Ps. 51:5).

How absurd (but not uncommon) it is that Christians take a ridiculous position, contrary to sound science, because they mistakenly think that it is at odds with scripture. This particular case is perhaps the most grievous. Christians who argue that homosexuals choose to be that way, in spite of no supporting scientific evidence, don't realize that what they are really arguing against is the universal Christian creedal doctrine of Original Sin.

We are all born to sin. We all seem to have unique sinful tendencies. It doesn't matter. We are still accountable to God for those sins, even though we were born to commit them. Tough luck, but it’s the only game in town. Original Sin may very well be built into out genes. A lying gene. A homosexual gene. Genes for wanton lust, stealing, covetousness, sloth, and gluttony.

We don’t get a get-out-of-jail free card. It is, in fact, our intended fate. Whatever we struggle with, being born that way is no excuse. Homosexuals have been dealt a terrible hand. The strongest natural urges humans have are misdirected. But they have to deal with it just the same way the rest of us have to deal with our own dark propensities. Through repentance, prayer, and an ever-improving walk with Christ. To "give up" and live the lifestyle openly, as bishop-elect Robinson does, not even admitting that it is wrong, is evidence of a hardened heart.

Tuesday, August 05, 2003

Blog on the cheap

I am not going to post anything new today. Instead I point you to some ongoing predestination discussions in the comment sections of

This post from Ben Kepple

This post from Deans World

and

This post from Lilac Rose.

I am in the midst of all this, enjoying myself too much, bloody nose and all.

Monday, August 04, 2003

Apropos to today's main post (below)

I am getting a few hits from this post, where Ben Kepple expresses concern about my soul.

Some more thoughts on missionaries/evangelism.

In the comments section of a recent post, the question came up regarding missionary work by evangelical Protestants in predominantly Catholic countries.

This is an interesting question, and I think once again one's response as a Protestant depends on whether you are in the Reformed/Calvinistic or Arminian camp.

As a Calvinist, I think the Bible teaches to preach the gospel, not to save souls. I have no desire in getting someone to say a prayer, and then telling them: if you were sincere in what you just prayed, then you are now saved. What does that sincerity mean? I think it means if you just didn't pray to get rid of me, then it was sincere. But people can pray sincerely because they seek what God offers (e.g., peace), not because the have been regenerated by the Spirit and seek God Himself. In that case, they are sincerely wrong.

No doubt many have come to Christ in this manner. However many others have experienced momentary euphoria based on a false assurance.

Getting back to Catholics. I have said many times on this blog that I feel a closer kinship to Catholics than to many Protestants. I think they are seriously in error, but I also think that they recognize that truth is absolute and there is no compromise when it comes to the gospel (they just haven't gotten it right, which is what they would say about me.)

Ironically, the most virulent anti-Catholic bigotry comes, in my opinion, from fundamentalist Arminian churches. These tend to zero in on important but secondary issues such as "The Immaculate Conception". On the vital soteriological question, Arminians and Catholics are in virtual agreement. For example, from The Council of Trent, on the canons concerning justification, we read:
Canon 4. If anyone says that man's free will moved and aroused by God, by assenting to God's call and action, in no way cooperates toward disposing and preparing itself to obtain the grace of justification, that it cannot refuse its assent if it wishes, but that, as something inanimate, it does nothing whatever and is merely passive, let him be anathema.

Canon 9. If anyone says that the sinner is justified by faith alone, meaning that nothing else is required to cooperate in order to obtain the grace of justification, and that it is not in any way necessary that he be prepared and disposed by the action of his own will, let him be anathema.
This is the crux of the Catholic response to the Reformer's teaching on sola fide. It is also the modern Arminian position, although most would be loath to admit that in the debate between Rome and Martin Luther, they fall squarely in the Catholic camp.

That is worth repeating. In the issue that was at the heart of the debate between the Reformers and the Catholic Church, the overwhelming majority of conservative Protestants (which is the Arminian camp) stand in agreement with the Catholic church. Those of us who agree with the Reformers are a minority.

So what does this all mean when it comes to evangelism? Well to me, I will always teach the gospel to a Catholic, just like to anyone else. That is how I evangelize. The Catholic may not even recognize what I am doing as evangelism. It probably looks more like friendly debate. I would never try to get a Catholic to say the sinner's prayer. Then again, I would never try to get anyone to say it.

I have no problem supporting missionaries in predominantly Catholic countries, for I think they have been taught an incorrect gospel. We are instructed, under threat of eternal damnation, to teach not just any nice-sounding gospel, but the correct one.

On the flip side, but by the same reasoning, Catholics should be evangelizing me. It would not insult me if they tried to "sheep-steal" me. I would respect them for it.

Friday, August 01, 2003

Psalm 22 and Premillennialism

We find support for the optimism of Premillennialism in many places in the Psalms. Let us first look at Psalm 22.


Click here and Psalm 22 should open in another window, so you can follow along.

This remarkable Psalm is noted for its incredible Messianic prophesy:

Verse 1 is poignantly quoted by Christ on the cross.

Up through verse 18, we read of the torture, mocking, and humiliation that Christ will endure. This includes being taunted with "Why doesn't his God save him? (v. 8)", being pierced through the hands and feet (v. 16), and having lots cast for his clothes (v. 18).

When we reach verse 22, however, there is a not-so-subtle change. The lamentation of the suffering of Christ ends. The praise of His victory begins.

I will declare Your name to My brethren;
In the midst of the assembly I will praise You. (Ps. 22:22)

Of particular relevance, we examine verses 27-28:
27All the ends of the world
Shall remember and turn to the LORD,
And all the families of the nations
Shall worship before You.
28For the kingdom is the LORD's,
And He rules over the nations. (Ps. 22:27-28)

Here is a decree from God. Decrees from God always come to pass. There is no thwarting of God's decretive will, and God does not change his mind. This decree is not subject to negotiation. It promises that God will be victorious on earth. Not Ted Turner. Not the European Union. Not the antichrist. Not the United States of America. Not China. Not Islam.

All the families of the nations shall worship.

All the nations will be ruled over.

The great commission is not a fool's errand. It will succeed, God has so promised.

In closing, it is interesting to look at the book of Hebrews:
"I will declare Your name to My brethren; In the midst of the assembly I will sing praise to You." (Heb 2:12)
Christ quoted Ps. 22:1 on the cross. The writer of Hebrews, in the context of the coronation of Christ at the right hand of the Father, quotes Ps. 22:22. The victory phase was ushered in by the resurrection. He will continue to reign at the right hand of the Father until all His enemies have been placed under his feet (1 Cor. 15:25). He then return, His church, through His power, victorious.

We have reason to be optimistic.