Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Time Off

I need some time off for medical reasons. Nothing life threatening, but it is making blogging impossible. Prayers are welcome. Will update soon. Thanks.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

I chose God from my own free will!

That is the Arminian rally cry, and the antithesis of the 'U' in TULIP, right?

Wrong. The statement I chose God from my own free will! is a far better fit for Calvinism that Arminianism.

In Arminianism, the sinner is wooed by God. He knocks on the sinner's door. He patiently seeks the sinner and provides him the opportunity to accept or reject the gospel. (Leaving aside those multitudes who never hear the gospel. How unfair!) God cradles the head of the wretched, dying sinner in his lap. He gently places the elixir of life in the sinner's mouth. The sinner merely decides whether to swallow the divine medicine. If he does, then he is regenerated. The teeny amount of free will used by the believer is merely a rational assent by a person after a prolonged one-sided courtship; a courtship is which the pursuer (God) sometimes fails. Only after (if he is lucky) realizing that there is no better alternative, does the sinner "give in" and accept the gospel.

His free will does not tell him to seek God wholeheartedly before regeneration. Arminianism acknowledges that grace, acting against the inclinations of the will, is required, and that unregenerate man does not choose, unilaterally, to seek sufficiently after the true God. No, grace, which I earlier called "wooing", is needed. But man is not totally depraved, and a small vestigial goodness is present which allows his free will to accept the gospel, but only after God has worked on him and brought him to the point where the choice should be obvious. The remnant goodness allows anyone (if they get to hear the gospel) to be saved, but Arminianism cannot explain why some sinners choose yes while others choose no. Did one have microscopically more after-the-fall left-over goodness? Was God's grace slightly inadequate in the case of the sinner who declined the gospel? Who knows.

In Calvinism, on the other hand, the sinner uses his free will completely, throughout the process. The same will he is born with, the same one he will have in heaven, is used to choose God. The difference, of course, is that Calvinism teaches total, not just nearly-total depravity. The unregenerate sinner will never choose God. So God regenerates sinners without requiring an assent, an assent of which they are morally incapable. After being regenerated, the sinner chooses God wholeheartedly, with total conviction of his free will. He makes a big, free, and willing choice, not a small coerced one.

Lesson 8: Amillennialism: A Golden Age Beyond Time (part 2)

Amillennialism and the Historic Creeds

Amillennialism is the only eschatological viewpoint expressed or implied in the historic creeds of the church. That the creeds are not premillennial is explicit, for they express as simultaneous certain events which premillennialism has separated by 1000 years. That the creeds are amillennial as opposed to postmillennial is more nebulous. It is based on the lack of mention of the attainment of world-wide Christian dominance prior to the Second Coming.

For example, two of the historic creeds of the early church with amillennial expectations are the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed.

The Apostles' Creed contains the words "He [Christ] shall come again to judge the quick and the dead," implying that both judgment and the resurrection will take place at His coming. There is no intervening millennium.

The Nicene Creed states that Christ "shall come again with glory to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end." Christ’s kingdom is viewed here as eternal, not as a temporal reign of 1000 years.

But the early church statement of faith most explicit in its amillennial eschatology is the Athanasian Creed. Attributed to Athanasius, the Bishop of Alexandria and the champion of the Council of Nicaea, AD 325 A.D. The creed ends with these words:
He shall come again to judge the living and the dead. At whose coming all men shall rise again with their bodies and shall give account for their own works. And they that have done good shall go into life eternal, and they who indeed have done evil into eternal fire. This is the catholic faith, which except a man have believed faithfully and firmly he cannot be in a state of salvation.

Let us examine these statements and see how they conform to amillennialism.
  1. "He shall come again to judge the living and the dead." This means that there will be those who are alive as well as those who are dead when He comes (1 Thess. 4:15). Notice that judgment of the living and the dead occurs at His coming (cf. Matt. 25:31-46), not a thousand years after His coming.

  2. "At whose coming all men shall rise again with their bodies ...." At the second advent, all rise, both the good and the wicked. (cf. John 5:28,29, Matt. 12:41,42). Dispensational premillennialism teaches that the wicked will be resurrected 1000 years after the righteous.

  3. "... and shall give account for their own works. And they that have done good shall go into life eternal, and they who indeed have done evil into eternal fire." This is a reference to the sheep and goats of Matt. 25:31-46. This takes place after the resurrection making it a post-resurrection judgment. This is in contrast to the dispensational view that Matthew 25:31-46 is only a judgment of Gentiles who survive the tribulation. Note again that it is viewed as a judgment of all men.

Amillennialism and the Reformed Confessions

Amillennialists can also point to the various Reformed confessions as proof that the titans of the Reformation were amillennial. From the Westminster Confession (1646) Chapter XXXIII:
I. God has appointed a day, wherein He will judge the world, in righteousness, by Jesus Christ, to whom all power and judgment is given of the Father. In which day, not only the apostate angels shall be judged, but likewise all persons that have lived upon earth shall appear before the tribunal of Christ, to give an account of their thoughts, words, and deeds; and to receive according to what they have done in the body, whether good or evil.

II. The end of God's appointing this day is for the manifestation of the glory of His mercy, in the eternal salvation of the elect; and of His justice, in the damnation of the reprobate, who are wicked and disobedient. For then shall the righteous go into everlasting life, and receive that fullness of joy and refreshing, which shall come from the presence of the Lord; but the wicked who know not God, and obey not the Gospel of Jesus Christ, shall be cast into eternal torments, and be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power.

III. As Christ would have us to be certainly persuaded that there shall be a day of judgment, both to deter all men from sin; and for the greater consolation of the godly in their adversity: so will He have that day unknown to men, that they may shake off all carnal security, and be always watchful, because they know not at what hour the Lord will come; and may be ever prepared to say, Come Lord Jesus, come quickly, Amen.

The London Baptist Confession (1689) is virtually identical. (For my fellow Baptists who have never read the London Baptist Confession, I urge you to examine our proud heritage, which included neither Arminianism nor Left-Behind-ism.)

The Belgic Confession (1561) reads:

Finally we believe, according to the Word of God, when the time appointed by the Lord (which is unknown to all creatures) is come, and the number of the elect complete, that our Lord Jesus Christ will come from heaven, corporally and visibly, as he ascended, with great glory and majesty to declare himself judge of the quick and the dead; burning this old world with fire and flame, to cleanse it. And then all men will personally appear before this great judge, both men and women and children, that have been from the beginning of the world to the end thereof, being summoned by the voice of the archangel, and by the sound of the trumpet of God. For all the dead shall be raised out of the earth, and their souls joined and united with their proper bodies, in which they formerly lived. As for those who shall then be living, they shall not die as the others, but be changed in the twinkling of an eye, and from corruptible, become incorruptible. Then the books (that is to say the consciences) shall be opened, and the dead judged according to what they shall have done in this world, whether it be good or evil. Nay, all men shall give an account of every idle word they have spoken, which the world only counts amusement and jest: and then the secrets and hypocrisy of men shall be disclosed and laid open before all. And therefore the consideration of this judgment, is justly terrible and dreadful to the wicked and ungodly, but most desirable and comfortable to the righteous and elect: because then their full deliverance shall be perfected, and there they shall receive the fruits of their labor and trouble which they have borne. Their innocence shall be known to all, and they shall see the terrible vengeance which God shall execute on the wicked, who most cruelly persecuted, oppressed and tormented them in this world; and who shall be convicted by the testimony of their own consciences, and being immortal, shall be tormented in that everlasting fire, which is prepared for the devil and his angels. But on the contrary, the faithful and elect shall be crowned with glory and honor; and the Son of God will confess their names before God his Father, and his elect angels; all tears shall be wiped from their eyes; and their cause which is now condemned by many judges and magistrates, as heretical and impious, will then be known to be the cause of the Son of God. And for a gracious reward, the Lord will cause them to possess such a glory, as never entered into the heart of man to conceive. Therefore we expect that great day with a most ardent desire to the end that we may fully enjoy the promises of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. AMEN.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Still Here...

On travel--so I haven't been able to post. Just wanted to let you know I haven't given up the ghost.

Hey, that rhymes.

Monday, March 08, 2004

More Criticism of The Passion of the Christ

Getrude Himmelfarb of the Washington Post has criticized The Passion of the Christ without seeing it. Her attack is basically that the movie is an act of social irresponsibility. She offers a couple "how would you feel" thought experiments.

How would Christians feel if "if a Hollywood producer made a film, in the same "over the edge" spirit vaunted by Gibson, dramatizing another historical event -- the auto-da-fé in Spain in February 1481, for example, in which six men and six women conversos (Jewish converts to Christianity) were tortured and burned alive at the stake, while richly robed prelates triumphally presided over the scene?"

Or, Christian, how would you feel about "a film of the First Crusade produced by a Muslim. The venerable 1911 edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica describes, in relatively sober terms, the month-long siege culminating in the capture of Jerusalem: "The slaughter was terrible; the blood of the conquered ran down the streets, until men splashed in blood as they rode. At nightfall, sobbing for excess of joy, the crusaders came to the Sepulchre from their treading of the winepress, and put their blood-stained hands together in prayer. So, on that day of July, the First Crusade came to an end."".

On a stupidity scale of 1 to Bishop Spong, this argument is way up there. It compares a film about what is regarded as the defining moment of God's redemptive work with human tragedies borne of men, not God.

Nevertheless, the answer is simple: I would not rant and rave like those who are screaming that Gibson’s movie is anti-Semitic, revealing nothing so much as their own anti-Christian bigotry.

Predestination, Foreknowledge, Hyper-Calvinism, Open-Theism

I want to talk more about the "universal offer" of the gospel to all mankind. This is related to the question of whether God loves everybody, as has been debated furiously on this and other blogs. But today I want to just touch upon implications for God's sincerity.

Among the Reformed, the "standard" position is that the gospel offer is genuine for all men, given that God loves all men and desires their salvation, but that God will only work in the hearts of the elect, predestined without regards to their works, to enable and even ensure the sinner's acceptance of the offer. All other men will reject the offer, though it was genuine, and so stand eternally condemned. To assume otherwise is to, in the minds of this camp, attack the character of God.

Another school of thought, one of many deviations that get labeled hyper-Calvinist, is that there is no point describing an offer that cannot possibly be accepted as genuine in the usual sense. The phrase genuine offer implies that the one offered can accept or reject. In the case of the gospel offer, this camp (in which I count myself) holds that the correct Reformed position is that the offer is not genuine for anybody: The non-elect have no chance to accept it, and the elect have no chance to reject it. What the so-called offer actually reveals is grace: You cannot accept the gospel in your fallen state unless God unilaterally changes your heart. There is no offer of any kind in the usual sense of the word offer. This camp is naturally less inclined to agree that God loves everybody, and argues that the "standard" position is non-biblical and a liberalization which, like all liberalizations, has at its root the desire to make God more like we would be, if we were God.

The "standard" school of thought is more man-centered than the so-called hyper-Calvinist. The second position is, in my opinion, more in-line with the biblical truth that our primary concern is not with our salvation, but with God's glory.

I don't care what people call me, so in this post I will stick with the labels "standard Reformed" and "hyper-Calvinist", although if you ask me a more accurate labeling is "liberal Reformed" and "self-consistent" Reformed.

Both camps agree that the gospel should be presented to everyone. I suppose the standard school views this offer as genuine, although for the life of me I don't see how, given that they also believe that only a definite "some" have been chosen to respond positively. In my camp, the gospel is presented to all not because God loves everyone and everyone is given a genuine offer, but rather because presenting the gospel glorifies God. To the elect, it may be the instant when God begins His work in their hearts. For the non-elect, their inevitable rejection demonstrates the depravity of man, for what can be more depraved than rejecting the Holy God who gives you your very life. Ultimately the instinctive rejection of natural men magnifies God's glory by demonstrating the depths of His mercy toward the elect.

It is interesting to see how these two viewpoints are criticized by non-Reformed. The hyper-Calvinist position is typically dismissed outright as unbridled heresy. Serious criticism is reserved only for the standard position. A similar thing occurs in end-times debates, where dispensationalists dismiss postmillennialism, with its things-will-get-better optimism, as patently absurd and not worth discussing, while reserving their scholarly attacks, such as they are, to amillennialism.

Ironically, the criticism that non-Reformed bring against the standard position is the same that the hyper-Calvinist charges: such a viewpoint makes God insincere. I agree with their criticism. However, they themselves cannot escape the very same complaint.

In reality, although variants abound, broadly speaking there are only three positions one can take with regards to predestination.
  1. The Reformed or Augustinian view being that it (predestination) refers to God setting aside for His pleasure a people who will be redeemed by the work of His Son and sanctified by the work of the Holy Spirit.

  2. Another view, call it non-Reformed, which states that predestination, actually refers to God's foreknowledge. The elect are simply those that God, knowing all things, foresees will accept the gospel. Thus God loved Jacob and hated Esau not as act of divine selection but because He foresaw that Jacob would accept Him while Esau wouldn't.

  3. The third possibility is basically open theism, which teaches that God does not know the future. In spite of the repeated use of "predestination" and "elect" in the scripture, there is no such thing, either of the "chosen" or "foreknew" variety.

If a Christian is not of the first school, the Reformed, he must be of the second. Because the third way of thinking, open theism, falls way outside the pale of orthodoxy. A god that does not know the future cannot make promises that we can trust, he is not sovereign, he is not God.

So the serious criticism that the standard view makes God insincere comes from group two, which counts among its proponents the majority of professing Christians.

However, their view makes God just as insincere as the standard Reformed view. For in their teaching the omniscient God, who knows in advance who will reject the gospel, still "genuinely" offers it. It is really no different from the standard Reformed position: one group says God makes an genuine offer to those whom He knows are incapable of accepting it, the other group has God making a genuine offer to those whom He already knows will choose to reject. A distinction without a difference.

In a strange-bedfellows development, only the hyper-Calvinists and open theists are self-consistent. The open theists can maintain that a genuine offer is made to all, because God has no clue who will accept or reject the gospel. Wrong, but self-consistent. We hyper-Calvinists are self-consistent because we outright deny the existence of a genuine offer to all, and so avoid the unseemly gymnastics of the standard Reformed position, which tries in vain to shoehorn into scripture that which is not found. The non-Reformed cry out for the foreknowledge view but, after stating it, immediately sweep it under the carpet without wanting to acknowledge that, taken to its logical conclusion, the foreknowledge view leads to many of the same "pitfalls" they find in predestination.

Friday, March 05, 2004

What's in a day?

The word for day used in the Genesis creation account is the Hebrew word yôm.

Like our English word day, it can mean a literal twenty-four hour period, the daylight portion thereof, or an indeterminate extended period, i.e., an "age". In fact, like most biblical Hebrew words, it is overloaded more than an English counterpart, due to a vast difference in the sizes of the vocabularies. Modern English has at least ten times as many words as biblical Hebrew.

The word yôm is used in Genesis 2:4:
This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made earth and heaven. (Gen 2:4, NASB)

No matter how one views the "days" of creation—in this passage the sum-total of all God's creative efforts are summarized as "the day when the Lord God made earth and heaven " (the NIV simply translates "the day" as "when.) This verse is important in the debate because of its proximity to the creation account of Genesis 1.

There can be no doubt whatsoever: The interpretation of the creative days as twenty-four hour days is not demanded by the use of the word yôm in Genesis 1, no, not even by a literal interpretation. This is an important point: One does not have to interpret "day" as twenty-four hours in the Genesis account to claim literality. That would be the case if yôm exclusively meant a twenty-four hour period, but it is used frequently in the bible to refer to an unspecified duration. On this basis, purely discussing the issue of "days", the day-age theory can also claim literality1.

Other places where we find yôm, is in references to the "day" of God’s wrath. For example:
On the ground in the streets
Lie young and old;
My virgins and my young men
Have fallen by the sword.
You have slain them in the day of Your anger,
You have slaughtered, not sparing.
(Lam 2:21)

The events described, the sacking of Jerusalem, destroying the walls, and taking the people captive occurred over a period longer than twenty-four hours.

Two of the Westminster Divines who are known to support twenty-four hour days of creation acknowledge other translations of yôm. John White wrote in his commentaries about its use in Genesis 2:4: "That is, in that Time that it pleased God to take up in forming them, which we know was in Six days, and not in One. But we find the Word, Day, in Scripture is used commonly to signifie Time Indefinitely."2 And John Ley in the Westminster Annotations, also on Gen. 2:4: "The day is not here taken (as in the first Chapter and in the beginning of this) for the seventh part of the week, but with more latitude for time in general wherein a thing is done, or to be done; as verse 17 & Luke 19.42. 2 Cor 6.2. Ruth 4.5."3

1 Although in general chronology is respected, the day-age theory requires overlap of the days if the life created was sustained by secondary (i.e., "natural") means from the time it was created by Divine fiat. For example, the vegetation (day three), if sustained by secondary means, required sunlight (day four) and insects and birds (day five). This is a violation of literality, while viewing "days" as "ages" is not. Some day-agers argue that during the period of creation, God sustained His creation actively (supernaturally) and so do not demand that the ages overlap.
2 John White, Commentary upon the Three First Chapters in Genesis (1656).
3 John Ley, Annotations upon All the Books of the Old and New Testaments (1645).

Thursday, March 04, 2004

Lesson 8: Amillennialism: A Golden Age Beyond Time (part 1)

Though not an accurate description, amillennial means "no millennium". Like postmillennialists, amillennialists do not believe in a literal 1000 year reign of Christ on earth. The amillennialist, we shall see, is something like the postmillennialist who believes the millennium began during the New Testament era. The amillennialist, however, has a much different view of the nature of the millennium.

History and General Features of Amillennialism

Amillennialism has dominated the eschatological landscape far more than any other view. It was the preeminent view starting no later than the time of Augustine and up till the rise of American pietistic postmillennialism, or about 14 to 15 centuries.

While dispensational premillenniallism dominates among evangelical Christians (using the common meaning of that term), amillennialism still dominates among the Reformed and among Roman Catholics. (I don't know what the common Orthodox view on the end times is.)

So strong is its pedigree, that even its harshest (scholarly) critics are forced to pay tribute. Staunch dispensationalist Walvoord writes:
Because amillennialism was adopted by the Reformers, it achieved a quality of orthodoxy to which modern adherents can point with pride. They can rightly claim many worthy scholars in the succession from the Reformation to modern times such as Calvin, Luther, Melanchthon, and in modern times Warfied, Vos, Kuyper, Machen, and Berkhof. If one follows traditional Reformed theology in many other aspects, it is natural to accept its amillennialism. The weight of organized Christianity has largely been on the side of amillennialism. 217

Of course, some of the writers of popularized prophecy are not so gracious. Hal Lindsey has described the eschatology of Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, and Calvin as "demonic, heretical, and the root of modern anti-semitism."218

Some Definitions from Proponents

Anthony A. Hoekema gives this definition:
Amillennialists interpret the millennium mentioned in Revelation 20:4-6 as describing the present reign of the souls of deceased believers with Christ in heaven. They understand the binding of Satan mentioned in the first three verses of this chapter as being in effect during the entire period between the first and second comings of Christ.

Amillennialists further hold that the kingdom of God is now present in the world as the victorious Christ rules his people by his Word and Spirit, though they also look forward to a future, glorious, and perfect kingdom on the new earth in the life to come… Despite the fact that Christ has won a decisive victory over sin and evil, the kingdom of evil will continue to exist alongside the kingdom of God until the end of the world.

The so-called "signs of the times" have been present in the world from the time of Christ's first coming, but they will come to a more intensified, final manifestation just before his Second Coming. The amillennialist therefore expects the bringing of the gospel to all nations and the conversion of the fullness of Israel to be completed before Christ's return. He also looks for an intensified form of tribulation and apostasy as well as for the appearance of a personal antichrist before the Second Coming. 219

Kim Riddleberger provides this description: 220
Amillennialists hold that the promises made mad to Israel, David, and Abraham in the Old Testament are fulfilled by Jesus Christ in His Church during the present age. The millennium is the period of time between the two advents of our Lord with the 1000 years of Revelation 20 being symbolic of the entire interadvental age. At the first advent of Jesus Christ, Satan was bound by Christ’s victory over him at Calvary and the empty tomb. The effects of this victory continued because of the presence of the Kingdom of God via the preaching of the gospel and as evidenced by Jesus’ miracles. Through the spread of the gospel, Satan is no longer free to deceive the nations. Christ is presently reigning in heaven during the entire period between Christ’s first and second coming. At the end of the millennial age, Satan is released, a great apostasy breaks out, the general resurrection occurs, Jesus Christ returns in final judgment for all people, and he establishes a new heaven and earth.

Kenneth Gentry gives the following characteristics of amillennialism: 221
  • The present church age is the kingdom era prophesied in the Old Testament.

  • The New Testament church is the "spiritual" Israel. However, some amillennialists hold that, for example, the phrase "all Israel" as found in Rom. 11:26 and so all Israel will be saved might indeed refer to Jews, but unlike dispensationalist view they are not the Jews of an eschatological nation of Israel but the elect among the Jews, i.e. the remnant.

  • Satan was bound, or more accurately restrained, during Christ’s ministry, particularly when he was defeated on the cross and in the initiation of the great commission. Consider Luke 10:18, And He said to them, "I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning.

  • Given that this is spoken to the 70 (72?) returning disciples, an amillennialist views Luke 10:18 as referring not to Satan's original fall, but to the reduction of his power concurrent with Christ's ministry.

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

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

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

Amillennialists believe that all Old Testament promises to Israel were either, (a) conditional and become null and void when the Jews did not meet the conditions, (b) have already been fulfilled or, (c) will be fulfilled in the New Testament Israel, the church. They do not attach eschatological importance to the nation of Israel, and contend there are no pending promises to the nation of Israel that must be kept in a future millennium. Revelation 20:1-6 is seen as describing what takes place during the entire history of the church.

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

Reasons to be Pessimistic

While postmillennialism is criticized for being optimistic, amillennialism is charged with being too pessimistic. There is no rapture to spare believers from the tribulation; it is not reserved for unconverted Jews. The church itself will endure the tribulation (and may be doing so right now) as things gradually get worse, culminating with the appearance of the antichrist. There is no danger in this view being co-opted by utopian liberal progressives, as was the case with postmillennialism.

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

Reasons to be Optimistic—the Fight is Over and the Good Guys Won

Amillennialists do not like to be labeled as pessimistic. They point out that they proclaim a great victory over Satan has already happened. Anthony Hoekema writes:
Christ has won the decisive victory over sin, death and Satan. By living a sinless life and by dying on the cross as the sacrifice of atonement for our sin, Christ defeated sin. By undergoing death and then victoriously rising from the grave, Christ defeated death. By resisting the devil’s temptations, by perfectly obeying God, and by his death and resurrection, Christ delivered a deathblow to Satan and his evil hosts. This victory of Christ’s was decisive and final. The most important day in history, therefore, is not the Second Coming of Christ which is still future but the first coming which lies in the past. Because of the victory of Christ, the ultimate issues of history have already been decided. It is now only a question of time until that victory is brought to its final consummation.

217 Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom, p. 61.
218 Hal Lindsey, The Rapture, (Bantam), 1983, p. 30.
219 Hoekema, The Bible and the Future, p. 174.
220 Kim Riddleberger, A Case for Amillennialism, pp. 31-32
221 Gentry, He Shall Have Dominion, pp. 57-58.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

I saw The Passion of the Christ.

I saw The Passion of the Christ.

I was not in the least bit disappointed. This is remarkable, that it lived up to if not surpassed expectations, given the hype.

The movie is an accurate and provocative representation of the gospel. I have heard a couple minor criticisms from (Protestant) Christians. One is about the extra-biblical portrayal of Satan. This is a silly complaint—no one would bat an eye if their pastor speculated during a sermon along the lines of "I wouldn't be surprised if Satan taunted Christ all the way until He gave of the ghost." Gibson was taking the same reasonable poetic license. The other minor complaint was regarding some Catholic overtones. In my mind there was little in the film identifiably Roman, and what little I could identify was not substantive. The "stations of the cross", which probably went over the heads of all never-been Catholics. Others calling Mary "mother". Well, she was His mother! And maybe John called her mother. Maybe all the disciples did. No big deal.

The movie is absolutely wonderful. It is as emotionally draining as I hoped; and as painful as it had to be. I left feeling utterly defeated, yet knowing that I should feel celebratory—precisely the gospel tension. What a gift, but what a price that was paid.

Just to mention two professional reviews. One from Roger Ebert of The Chicago Sun Times. Ebert gave a generally favorable review but with the caveat "This is the most violent film I have ever seen." Nonsense. Plenty of films, some of them highly acclaimed are more violent. Natural Born Killers comes to mind, so does Saving Private Ryan. It would be easy for anyone who is a movie buff to come up with many movies that are more violent. The "most violent movie of all time" knock is pure hyperbole.

A more virulent critique is from Jamie Benard of the New York Daily News. She gave the film one star and described it as "the most virulently anti-Semitic movie made since the German propaganda films of World War II."

She has likened an accurate gospel portrayal with Nazi propaganda.

Given that she is obviously not stupid, there can be only one explanation for this: Ms. Benard is a bigot. An anti-Christian bigot.

There is no other way to make sense of her review, at least none that I can fathom. Perhaps she is only pandering to bigots, but that is a distinction without a difference.

No serious movie critic could give this movie one star. I am no a student of film, so I could not argue persuasively whether this film, content aside, on a purely cinematic evaluation, deserves three or four stars. But I have seen enough truly awful movies, speaking of their craftsmanship, acting, and directing, to know that one would have to have an ulterior motive to give this film one star.

I don't know anything about Jamie Benard, except that she has revealed herself to be a bigot.

Lesson 7: Bringing in the Kingdom: Postmillennialism from a partial-preterist perspective (part 14)

[NOTE: This is the last of the series on postmillennialism. A series on amillennialism, the last of the major views, will follow.]

Paul's Warning to Timothy

In the following passages from Paul's (second) letter to Timothy, there is found, according to critics of postmillennialism, clear teachings that things will get worse, not better.
1But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 2People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—

13while evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.
(2 Tim 3:1-4; 13)

Here the attack comes from both amillennialists and premillennialists:
The postmillennial expectation of a future golden before Christ’s return does not do justice to the continuing tension in the history of the world between the kingdom of God and the forces of evil. 213

These seasons will come and go, and the last will be worst than the first. They will be seasons of ever increasing wickedness. 214

The bible speaks of things progressing from bad to worse, of men deceiving and being deceived. We look out at our world and see how bad things really are. 215

Postmillennialists argue that Paul is giving a contemporary warning to Timothy, not a prophecy of the end of history. In verse 10, Paul writes You, [Timothy] however, know all about my teaching. And in verse 15: But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it... Paul is not mixing immediate encouragement to Timothy with end-times prophecy.

Furthermore, the Greek translated as "times" is actually the word for season. The nuance is different, season seems to give the impression that a bad period is coming (and indeed it is, this is just a short time before the horrific events A.D. 66-70) but does no demand that it last indefinitely. Spring can follow winter.

Gentry comments on 2 Tim. 3:13:
The citation of 2 Timothy 3:13 leaves the impression [that] "things" shall irrevocably become worse in history. But the verse actually says: "[E]vil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse." Paul is speaking of specific evil men [including Nero? Vespasian? Titus?] becoming ethically worse, not more powerful. He is speaking of their progressive spiritual degradation…Paul says absolutely nothing about a predestined increase in the number and power of such evil men. He is not teaching that evil is rewarded with power in history.216

Indeed Paul’s message is one of doom and gloom, not for the church, but for the evil men to whom non-postmillennialists are ready to ascribe victory. In verse 9, he writes: but they will progress no further, for their folly will be manifest to all. This alleged weakness in their argument is actually part of the victory taught by postmillennialism.

213 Hoekema, Bible and The Future, p. 180.
214 William Hendriksen, I and II Timothy and Titus, 1957, p. 283.
215 House and Ice, Dominion Theology, p. 183.
216 Gentry, He Shall Have Dominion, p. 506.