Wednesday, May 28, 2014

mercy



What we all desperately need to see is that the love of a holy God is manifested covenantally at the cross. In the sacrifice of the Lamb of God, the Father promises to receive contrite sinners on a daily — no, hourly — basis. The cross says, ‘No matter what your sins, unlimited mercy is available to those who turn to God through Jesus’ merits.’

Having satisfied the demands of His own holy law, the Father must open His mighty arms and embrace every returning son. And he must do it every day. He has promised to do it (Luke 15:11–32, 1 John 1:8–10), and God cannot lie (Heb 6:13–20).

family

Amy Hall writes:
If any liberals or conservatives who supported same-sex marriage feel they’ve been duped, it’s only because they weren’t listening to those who explained the consequences of detaching marriage from two complementary sexes whose union completes “one flesh” and creates new life. Marriage is monogamous because two complete the union. Marriage is permanent because that union creates children who need to be raised. 
Other unions do not complete the human reproductive system and create children, therefore monogamy and permanence are not central. Rather, what’s central is the sexual and emotional fulfillment of the participants, and who’s to say there’s one best way to accomplish that? Therefore, the radical activists seek “liberation”—the freedom to seek their own fulfillment however they see fit. No boundaries, no rules, no societal expectations. Each person acting as his own god, defining for himself what it means to be human. 
So once again we’re back to the truth that sexual expression is a worldview issue. Those who believe in God will always be at odds with those who believe they are gods. Will being their own gods, remaking themselves in any image they like, make them happy? Will society flourish with their view of sexuality and marriage? 
I say with great sorrow, no.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

the bible forbids homosexuality


The following is an interesting post by Jeff Allen in which he surveys the work of liberal scholars on the Biblical position toward homosexuality.

Some time ago, a lesbian living in Canada viewed a few of my YouTube videos on the subject of homosexuality, and a lengthy debate ensued. We went back and forth discussing all of the oft-repeated and ridiculous homosexual talking points.

Our conversations also included an examination of the New Testament’s teachings about homosexuality. I shared the traditional and obvious scriptural prohibitions against all types of same-sex behavior. My lesbian debate opponent, on the other hand, provided the typical contortionist interpretations of biblical sexuality. And no matter how comprehensive or meticulous my explanations, she was completely convinced (deceived) that the New Testament actually sanctions homosexual deviancy.

The numerous Bible scholars to which I referred were each summarily dismissed. She contended that all of them were biased, homophobic, conservative scholars and therefore not to be trusted. Instead, she made the unsubstantiated claim that the vast majority of Bible scholars agreed with her interpretation. Although an anti-supernatural bias and a postmodern influence currently proliferate throughout academia, no names or statistics were ever provided to back up her general assertions. In fact, there has never been a study or survey conducted to determine the specific percentage of biblical professors on each side of the homosexual or same-sex “marriage” divide.

Nevertheless, she did issue me this challenge: To identify any liberal Ph.D. scholars who agreed with the traditional point of view on homosexuality in the Bible. She was convinced that no such academic individual existed – I myself even wondered about that at the time. But after only a little research, I found that there are actually several scholars who agree with the historic, true understanding of Scripture. And what’s more, they are all highly respected (heavily published, recipients of numerous awards, and well-known in their fields) AND either homosexual themselves or strongly pro-“gay.”

Each of the following scholars and their quotes have been gathered from the various books and articles of Dr. Robert Gagnon, Associate Professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, the premier expert on the subject of homosexuality and the Bible. Dr. Gagnon is the author of the brilliant and thoroughly researched The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics.

Dan O. Via: A pro-homosexual advocate, Via has served on the faculties of Wake Forest University, the University of Virginia, Duke Divinity School, and the University of Zimbabwe. He is the author of eight books, 35 scholarly articles, and 17 edited volumes. His research and teaching have focused on various aspects of New Testament theology and ethics and on the issues of interpretation theory. He is currently professor emeritus of New Testament at Duke Divinity School.

In Homosexuality and the Bible: Two Views, a point-counterpoint volume co-authored by Via and Gagnon, Via admits that the Bible’s rule against homosexual practice is “an absolute prohibition,” and that Scripture condemns homosexual behavior “unconditionally” and “absolute[ly].”

“The Pauline texts … do not support this limitation of male homosexuality to pederasty … I believe that [Richard B.] Hays [George Washington Ivey Professor of New Testament and Dean at Duke Divinity School] is correct in holding that arsenokoitēs refers to a man who engages in same-sex intercourse. The term is a compound of the words for “male” (arsēn) and “bed” (koitē) and thus could naturally be taken to mean a man who goes to bed with other men. True, the meaning of a compound word does not necessarily add up to the sum of its parts. But in this case I believe the evidence suggests that it does. In the Greek version of the two Leviticus passages that condemn male homosexuality (Lev 18:22; 20:13) a man is not to lie with a male as with a woman each text contains both the words arsēn and koitē. First Cor 6:9-10 simply classifies homosexuality as a moral sin that finally keeps one out of the kingdom of God.”

“Professor Gagnon and I are in substantial agreement that the biblical texts that deal specifically with homosexual practice condemn it unconditionally.”

— Homosexuality and the Bible: Two Views, pp. 11, 13, 93-95.

Louis Crompton: Emeritus professor at the University of Nebraska and author of the massive 600-page work, Homosexuality and Civilization. Crompton is a self-identified homosexual and a pioneer of “gay studies.”

“According to [one] interpretation, Paul’s words were not directed at ‘bona fide’ homosexuals in committed relationships. But such a reading, however well-intentioned, seems strained and unhistorical. Nowhere does Paul or any other Jewish writer of this period imply the least acceptance of same-sex relations under any circumstance. The idea that homosexuals might be redeemed by mutual devotion would have been wholly foreign to Paul or any other Jew or early Christian.”

— Homosexuality and Civilization, p. 114

Bernadette Brooton: Lesbian New Testament scholar and Chair of the Dept. of Judaic Studies at Brandeis University. Brooten has written one of the most important books on lesbianism in Antiquity and its relationship to early Christianity, especially Rom 1:26 (Love between Women: Early Christian Responses to Female Homoeroticism). From a pro-homosexual perspective, she has criticized both the late John Boswell and Robin Scroggs for their erroneous use of the exploitation argument (the assertion that homosexuality is only wrong when it is practiced within the context of pederasty or temple prostitution).

“Boswell … argued that … ‘The early Christian church does not appear to have opposed homosexual behavior per se.’ The sources on female homoeroticism that I present in this book run absolutely counter to [this conclusion].”

“If … the dehumanizing aspects of pederasty motivated Paul to condemn sexual relations between males, then why did he condemn relations between females in the same sentence? … Rom 1:27, like Lev 18:22 and 20:13, condemns all males in male-male relationships regardless of age, making it unlikely that lack of mutuality or concern for the passive boy were Paul’s central concerns … The ancient sources, which rarely speak of sexual relations between women and girls, undermine Robin Scroggs’s theory that Paul opposed homosexuality as pederasty.”

“Paul could have believed that tribades [the active female partners in a female homosexual bond], the ancient kinaidoi [the passive male partners in a male homosexual bond], and other sexually unorthodox persons were born that way and yet still condemn them as unnatural and shameful … I believe that Paul used the word “exchanged” [Rom. 1:26] to indicate that people knew the natural sexual order of the universe and left it behind … I see Paul as condemning all forms of homoeroticism as the unnatural acts of people who had turned away from God.”

— Love between Women: Early Christian Responses to Female Homoeroticism, pp. 11, 244, 253 n. 106, 257, 361

William Schoedel: Professor Emeritus of Classics and Early Christianity at the University of Illinois. He writes from a stance that is supportive of homosexual unions. Most significantly, Schoedel refutes the false claim that Rom 1:26-27 refers only to “same-sex acts performed by those who are by nature heterosexual [have a heterosexual orientation/preference].” In this regard, he writes:

“We would expect Paul to make that form of the argument more explicit if he intended it … Paul’s wholesale attack on Greco-Roman culture makes better sense if, like Josephus and Philo, he lumps all forms of same-sex eros together as a mark of Gentile decadence.”

— Homosexuality, Science, and the “Plain Sense” of Scripture, pp. 67-68

Martti Nissinen: Professor of Old Testament at the University of Helsinki. Nissinen is author of The Bible and Homosexual Practice, which is considered by many to be best book on the subject of the Bible and homosexuality from a pro-“gay” perspective. In a moment of refreshing candor, Nissinen admitted:

“Paul does not mention tribades or kinaidoi, that is, female and male persons who were habitually involved in homoerotic relationships, but if he knew about them (and there is every reason to believe that he did), it is difficult to think that, because of their apparent ‘orientation,’ he would not have included them in Romans 1:24-27 … For him, there is no individual inversion or inclination that would make this conduct less culpable … Presumably nothing would have made Paul approve homoerotic behavior.

— Homoeroticism in the Biblical World, pp. 109-112

Walter Wink: Well-known liberal scholar and late emeritus professor of New Testament at Auburn Theological Seminary. His faculty discipline was biblical interpretation, and he was an ordained minister in the “flatline” United Methodist Church. In his review of Robert Gagnon’s book The Bible and Homosexual Practice, he was forced to concede:

“Gagnon exegetes every biblical text even remotely relevant to the theme [of homosexual practice]. This section is filled with exegetical insights. I have long insisted that the issue is one of hermeneutics, and that efforts to twist the text to mean what it clearly does not say are deplorable. Simply put, the Bible is negative toward same-sex behavior, and there is no getting around it … Gagnon imagines a request from the Corinthians to Paul for advice, based on 1 Corinthians 5:1-5: ‘Paul, we have a brother in our church who is having sex with another man. But that other man does not put on makeup or heavy perfume, wear women’s clothing, braid his hair, or otherwise try to look like a woman. And the other male is an adult. The two men really do love each other and are committed to spending the rest of their lives together. Neither are [sic] involved in idolatrous cults or prostitution. When you mentioned that arsenokoitai would be excluded from the coming kingdom of God, you were not including somebody like this man, were you?’… No, Paul wouldn’t accept that relationship for a minute.”

— To Hell with Gays? Christian Century, 119:13, pp. 32-33

Abraham Smith: Professor of New Testament at Southern Methodist University in the Perkins School of Theology. Dr. Smith is a New Testament editor for The New Interpreter’s Annotated Study Bible, and he specializes in the Gospels of Mark and Luke and 1 Thessalonians. Among his recent publications are several introductions and annotations for the Oxford Annotated Bible, third edition, and the Oxford Access Bible.

“The statement that such acts are ‘against nature’ [Rom. 1:26] refers to the created order in Genesis and suggests that these acts show a disruption of the natural subordinate/superordinate relations between male and female ordained by God in creation … Paul’s cultural interpretation of the Genesis traditions would indeed have left him with only one option for sexual relationships — that between a male and a female.”

— The New Testament and Homosexuality, Quarterly Review, Vol. 11, 1991, p. 25

Pim Pronk: Gay Dutch professor of dogmatics and philosophy at an affiliate of the Free University in Amsterdam. Pronk is a biologist, theologian and philospher.

“To sum up: wherever homosexual intercourse is mentioned in Scripture, it is condemned. With reference to it, the New Testament adds no arguments to those of the Old. Rejection is a foregone conclusion.”

— Against Nature? Types of Moral Arguments Regarding Homosexuality, p. 279

William Loader: Emeritus Professor at Murdoch University in Australia. A New Testament scholar, Dr. Loader is a strong proponent for “same-sex marriage.” Since 2004, Loader has written eight significant books on sexuality in early Judaism and early Christianity, and he has established himself as one of the premier scholars on sexual ethics for this time period.

Dr. Loader has acknowledged in his important recent work The New Testament on Sexuality that Paul’s indictment of homosexual relations in Rom 1:26-27 “included, but [was] by no means limited to exploitative pederasty,” “sexual abuse of male slaves,” or “same-sex acts … performed within idolatrous ritual contexts.” “Without differentiation he condemns all with such sexual attitudes and desires.” Same-sex relationships in the Greco-Roman world “could include lifelong consensual adult partnerships.” “It is inconceivable that [Paul] would approve of any same-sex acts if, as we must assume, he affirmed the prohibitions of Lev 18:22; 20:13 as fellow Jews of his time understood them.” Again, “it is also hard to imagine that Paul would approach [issues of homosexual practice] without awareness of the prohibition of same-sex relations in Lev 18:22 and 20:13, which had come to be applied to both men and women.”

Loader also affirms that the term arsenokoitai (ἀρσενοκοῖται ), “men who lie with a male,” in 1 Cor 6:9 was “certainly not limited to [pederasty]. Exploitation was a common feature in most same-sex encounters, but not all. Thus it is better to take the word as closely cohering with what Paul condemns in Romans 1 and reflecting the [absolute] prohibitions of Lev 18:22 and 20:13 on which it appears to be built.” “If we return to μαλακοί [malakoi, i.e. the ‘soft men’ of 1 Cor 6:9] in the light of this understanding of ἀρσενοκοῖται [arsenokoitai], then the former are most likely to be those who willingly engaged in the transgression, including male prostitutes, but also other consenting males.” “On balance, then, Paul probably uses the two terms [malakoi and arsenokoitai in 1 Cor 6:9] with reference to men who engage in same-sex behavior, with the first referring to the willing passive partner, whether by private consent or as a male prostitute, ‘those who submit to sexual penetration by other men,’ and the second referring to ‘those who engage in sexual penetration of other men,’ which would have a broader reference and include, but not be limited to, exploitation, also by force.”

— The New Testament on Sexuality, pp. 314, 322, 324-326, 331-332, 565

At the end of the day, I accepted the lesbian’s challenge and found several exceptional Ph.D. scholars who all agreed with the traditional, plain reading of the Scriptures on homosexuality. That’s not to say that these distinguished professors accept or follow the Bible’s teaching, but they at least provided an honest assessment of what it actually says.

Each of these renowned intellectuals is among the most esteemed scholars within their respective fields of study. With regard to the Bible and homosexuality, none of them can be accused of employing a conservative bias in their interpretive methods. They had every reason to distort the Word of God in favor of their prior predilections, but unlike many homosexual activists, these scholars chose academic integrity and accuracy over self-interest and politically correct expositions. And in the process, they flatly rejected the fraudulent arguments that the homosexual apologists level at the Bible in a vile effort to infer God’s sanction on their deviant behavior.

So, if a homosexual decides to reject the Bible on the basis that it forbids same-sex activity, then that’s one thing. But if they want to twist the Word of God and engage in self-deception to validate their perverse lifestyle, that’s another thing entirely. The former response is certainly tragic, but at least it is in keeping with an accurate understanding of the biblical message. The latter, however, involves employing an interpretive approach that is completely unwarranted and also does great violence to the text of the Bible. Moreover, it gives homosexuals a dangerous and false sense of security.

Ultimately, the Bible unequivocally and in no uncertain terms condemns homosexual practice. Even the best liberal scholars know that.

It’s time to stop distorting God’s Word once and for all — and admit that “gay” Christianity is an oxymoron. Worse yet, it’s a lie straight from the pit of hell.

The entirety of the above was copied from Jeff Allen. If you haven't read him before it is worth checking out his posts here.

**** Update from a friend ****

Luke Timothy Johnson (born November 20, 1943) is an American New Testament scholar and historian of early Christianity. He is the Robert W. Woodruff Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins at Candler School of Theology and a Senior Fellow at the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University. Johnson's research interests encompass the Jewish and Greco-Roman contexts of early Christianity (particularly moral discourse), Luke-Acts, the Pastoral Epistles, and the Epistle of James. " I have little patience with efforts to make Scripture say something other than what it says, through appeals to linguistic or cultural subtleties. The exegetical situation is straightforward: we know what the text says. But what are we to do with what the text says? We must state our grounds for standing in tension with the clear commands of Scripture, and include in those grounds some basis in Scripture itself. To avoid this task is to put ourselves in the very position that others insist we already occupy—that of liberal despisers of the tradition and of the church’s sacred writings, people who have no care for the shared symbols that define us as Christian. If we see ourselves as liberal, then we must be liberal in the name of the gospel, and not, as so often has been the case, liberal despite the gospel.

I think it important to state clearly that we do, in fact, reject the straightforward commands of Scripture, and appeal instead to another authority when we declare that same-sex unions can be holy and good. And what exactly is that authority? We appeal explicitly to the weight of our own experience and the experience thousands of others have witnessed to, which tells us that to claim our own sexual orientation is in fact to accept the way in which God has created us. By so doing, we explicitly reject as well the premises of the scriptural statements condemning homosexuality—namely, that it is a vice freely chosen, a symptom of human corruption, and disobedience to God’s created order..."

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

the whole word

"The Word of God well understood and religiously obeyed is the shortest route to spiritual perfection. Nothing less than a whole Bible can make a whole Christian." ~ A. W. Tozer

agnus victor


A great reminder by Martin Downes of Satan's defeat through the substitution of the Lamb:

The first question of the Heidelberg Catechism views the atoning work of Christ as dealing with the satisfaction made for all our sins (penal substitution) and his redeeming us from all the power of the devil (Christus Victor).
What is your only comfort in life and in death?


That I, with body and soul, both in life and in death, am not my own, but belong to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ, who with His precious blood has fully satisfied for all my sins, and redeemed me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, that all things must work together for my salvation. Wherefore, by His Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live unto Him.  
Thus the Catechism holds together what ought never to be separated. Here we have the God-ward dimension of the atonement (satisfaction) and the polemic dimension (conquest). The latter, however, is dependent on the former.

When Scripture explicates how Christ conquers the devil, the reality of which is anticipated in the proto-evangelium (Gen. 3:15), it views the power of the devil as the power of deception and accusation.

Our legal position before God, in view of Adam's breaking of the covenant of works (Gen. 2:15-17), and our own sins, has rendered us guilty, cursed, and under the sentence of death (Rom. 6:23).

How does Christ redeem us from the power of the devil?

By dying for us (1 Peter 3:18). By taking our curse and punishment (Gal. 3:13). By enduring the wrath of God (Rom. 3:25-26). By taking the full penalty of the law (Gal. 3:10).

The legal accusations of Satan are silenced by the blood of the Lamb that has brought us forgiveness for all our sins (Col. 2:13-15; Eph. 1:7; Rev. 12:10-11; Rom. 8:1, 33-34).

How has Christ conquered Satan?

By his active and passive obedience, by making atonement and justification. And now without God's law to condemn us, Satan has no power to accuse us (1 Cor. 15:56).

What truth then will he seek to overthrow with all his might? The truth that the blood of the Lamb saves, the doctrine of penal substitution.

The Lamb slain saves us.

The Lamb slain silences Satan's accusations.

Satan has been defeated through the substitution of the Lamb.

It is seeing this connection that will stop the pendulum from swinging from penal substitution to Christus Victor. As Henri Blocher argued, in a much neglected essay, these doctrines are seen in the biblical proportions and glory together. It is really Agnus Victor, not what is commonly understood as Christus Victor, that best explains the conquering of Satan.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

her heretic

A lot of banter these days regarding the use (or overuse) of the heretic card. I'm not going to say if she is or isn't but if ever a woman was a candidate for this label, Rachel Held Evans is such. Here's Owen Strachan's analysis of her latest affront.

Rachel Held Evans has achieved a measure of recognition among evangelicals, appearing on the cover of Christianity Today, speaking at Q, and giving talks at churches. In recent days, her glowing endorsement of Matthew Vines’s book-length legitimation of “gay Christianity” caught my eye (see the Southern Seminary response, 96 packed pages of dense scholarship, here).

Evans has acted in surprising ways before. On April 6, 2012, Evans used startling language to describe God. I missed this post when it came out, as did many others. At the end of a short spiritual reflection on Mary, Evans gave an unexpected description of God:


Mary was not the first, nor the last, mother to hold the broken body of her child in her arms. … And, because of today, because of the cross, it is a pain that God Herself understands.


It’s just two words: “God Herself,” written in the context of motherhood. Despite the brevity of this description, this is a show-stopper. It’s genuine “God as mother” language, the kind we haven’t seen in some time. The heyday of this discourse, of feminist theology, was decades ago. The movement gradually faded as many of its exemplars came to champion homosexuality, transgender identity, a rejection of inerrancy, and other unbiblical views and practices. In large part because of these deviations, it’s been years since this particular challenge to biblical truth arose. As we’ll see below, Evans seems to this point to be following this well-worn course.

Some will read Evans’s words and think of how Scripture occasionally uses metaphors with feminine connotations to describe the character and qualities of God; in Isaiah 66:13, for example, Yahweh says to his covenant people, “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.” (See Evans’s follow-up post.) This is a gloriously true verse, and there is no hedge in our affirmation of it or others like it. We love the world-rearranging comfort of God. It belongs to the people of God.

But as numerous theologians and the broader Christian tradition have recognized, there is a massive gap between the kind of metaphorical language referenced in Isaiah 66:13 and Hosea 11:3-4 and Matthew 23:37 on the one hand and identifying God as a woman on the other. The gap, in fact, is the difference between fidelity and falsehood, truth and heresy.

1. For Evans to identify God as a woman is wrong in biblical and theological terms. There is abundant biblical substantiation of this claim. In the Old Testament, there’s strong emphasis on the creative action of God’s Word, unlike in other Ancient Near East religions that pictured creation in gynecological terms. The OT’s stress on God’s Word-based creation (see Genesis 1) is altogether different (and thus our names for God are different). In the OT, we find awe-inspiring importance ascribed to the name of God. It is, in sum, his very identity, as we see in Exodus 3:13-15, which reads:
[13] Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” [14] God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” [15] God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.
The name of God is held in similar reverence and continues to be carefully guarded and given throughout the Scripture. In the New Testament, when Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he began the model petition with the words “Our Father,” for example, guiding them in addressing the first person of the Godhead (Matthew 6:9). The intra-Trinitarian Father-Son relationship is of crucial significance both to high Christology and John’s argument in his Gospel, and the names of each signify much more than just what they would wear on a nametag (see John 10, 13-17). At no point did Jesus or any of the apostles address God the Father with a womanly name. At no point does anyone is Scripture do so.

For the significance of this unbroken pattern with relation to the divine name, see the words of systematic theologian Bruce Ware in the book God Under Fire:
[T]he Bible never employs feminine metaphorical language to name God. True, God is sometimes said to be or to act in ways like a mother (or some other feminine image), but never is God called ‘Mother’ as he is often called ‘Father.’ Respect for God’s self-portrayal in Scripture requires that we respect this distinction. While we have every right (and responsibility) to employ feminine images of God, as is done often in Scripture itself, no biblical example or precedence would lead us to go further and to name God in ways he has not named himself (266-67).
Ware’s analysis speaks well to the consensus of orthodox and evangelical theologians over the centuries. His biblical reflection is corroborated by James Kimel, who wrote the following in the edited volume Speaking the Christian God (1992):
Within Christian usage “Father” is not just one of many metaphors imported by fallen sinners onto the screen of eternity. It is a filial, denominating title of address revealed in the person of the eternal Son. “On the lips of Jesus,” Wolfhart Pannenberg states, “‘Father’ became a proper name for God. It thus ceased to be simply one designation among others” (204; Pannenberg, Systematic Theology 1:262).
These are notable words, and we should not miss that Wolfhart Pannenberg—no fire-breathing fundamentalist, he—gets this tricky matter exactly right. The title “Father” is the supreme disclosure of the identity of the first person of the Trinity. We consider also the matter of the Holy Spirit and the pronouns used to describe him. On this, Donald Bloesch (by no means a hard-right conservative theologian) comments in The Battle for the Trinity (1985) that “While the Hebrew word for Spirit, ruach, is grammatically feminine in gender, its meaning is either neuter or masculine….To assert on the basis of the feminine gender of ruach that the Bible therefore provides support for referring to the Holy Spirit as “she” and “her” shows a lack of both solid biblical scholarship and linguistic understanding” (33).

In his landmark book Our Father in Heaven, John Cooper observed that “There are no instances where God is directly identified by a feminine term, even a metaphorical predicate noun. In other words, God is never directly said to be a mother, mistress, or female bird in the way he is said to be a father, king, judge, or shepherd” (89). Furthermore, the Christian church has not historically identified God in womanly terms. The first four major ecumenical creeds, after all, do not name the first person of the Trinity in feminine terms, but as God the Father. In broader church history, there are a few scattered exceptions–Julian of Norwich, for example, widely considered a “proto-universalist”–but the use of feminine language for God simply is not part of the orthodox church’s practice over two millennia.

God, of course, is not a man or a woman. He is spirit (John 4:24). There is no room for Great White American Jesus in our theology. But having made this rather obvious caveat that countless evangelical theologians have made, we note that God’s name is his identity. In the Bible, his name is unswervingly masculine. So, while God is not literally male, the Bible only directs us to address him in masculine terminology. If we do not, we do not only obscure God’s name, but the corresponding pattern of manly leadership in Scripture, which itself derives, ultimately, from God’s imprint. Divine Fatherhood profoundly informs human fatherhood, for example.

To address God the Father as a woman is to speak in tones the Scripture never uses, and to collapse the long-understood and essential distinction in theological linguistics between metaphor and analogy. These are technical theological distinctions, to be sure. Not everyone walks around their workplace turning over the difference between theological metaphors and analogies. But before we write off technical doctrinal work, we should consider its importance. The difference, for example, between God the Father and God the Son being homoiousios (like substance or essence per the 4th-century Arians) and homoousios (same essence per Athanasius and the 4th-century orthodox) is grammatically a dipthong. Spiritually, the difference is heaven and hell.

In a very similar way, speaking of God, and speaking to God, is a matter that calls for the sharpest precision, the greatest reverence. God is likened to a mother eagle, for example, in Deuteronomy 32:11. It is right to find greater understanding of God through this metaphor. But this comparison does not enfranchise us calling God “mother eagle.” Using God’s proper name, the name he has given, is a matter of obedience to biblical authority. We do not have the freedom to make up our own names for God, for to do so would be to remake him and therefore blaspheme him. This is why, in sum, theologian R. Albert Mohler, Jr. recently said to me: “To call God by the wrong name is to worship the wrong God.”

2. Evans’ use of this kind of language does not occur in a vacuum. The larger theological context of her remarks is the embrace of feminine God language among egalitarians and feminists. As Randy Stinson made clear in a prescient 2003 article in the Journal for Biblical Manhood & Womanhood, advocates of “God as woman” language do not stop there. Jann Eldredge-Clanton, an outspoken proponent of addressing God in expressly supra-biblical terms, publicly prayed not simply to God as “Sister,” but as “Mother Eagle,” “Black Madonna,” and “Mother Hen.” Paul R. Smith, author of Is It Okay to Call God “Mother”? (1993), is an openly homosexual pastor who not only has a “female Jesus hanging on the cross” on his office wall but has opined that “The church must stop forbidding gay unions if we are to take Paul seriously.”

These examples show a disconcerting link between using unbiblical language to describe God and subsequent adoption of other unbiblical views and practices. But all this only makes sense, as Mary Kassian has pointed out in The Feminist Mistake (2005): “Feminists took a quantum leap…when they moved from observing the feminine characteristics of God to the practice of addressing God with feminine pronouns. When feminists changed biblical language about God, they changed the biblical image of God.” To rename God is to commit blasphemy against him, and in so doing, begin a pattern of doctrinal and ethical deviation from Scripture.

This relates to why Evans’s two-year-old post caught my eye. I was frankly surprised to see her so strongly endorse Vines’s book a few weeks ago. Then her “God as woman” language was pointed out to me, and things started to click. Though Evans has not extensively used “God as woman” language, her hermeneutics and theology seem to this point to be following a well-charted course. One thinks of the example of feminist activist Virginia Mollenkott, like Evans from a strongly conservative background (Bob Jones University for Mollenkott, Bryan College for Evans). Mollenkott championed “God as woman” language, affirmed homosexual behavior as legitimate for a Christian, and endorsed transgender identity. All these Evans has now done: she’s used the language of “God herself,” she’s endorsed and promoted Vines’s book and noted her lack of opposition to “gay rights,” and she’s written that “We want our LGBT [“T” being transgender] friends to feel truly welcome in our faith communities.”

We should yearn and pray for persons with disordered sexual desires and gender identities to be gloriously saved in our churches. We cry out to God for this to happen, especially in this confused culture! But this, unfortunately, is not what Evans means. She wants “LGBT” folks accepted without regard to necessary repentance. There is a radicalism in Evans’s sexual ethics that emerges when you connect the dots: like the feminist theologians of prior generations, Evans has used God-as-woman language, approved of homosexuality, and approved of transgender identity. This is a disastrous trajectory, for these are not biblical views, and they are not historically Christian or evangelical views. Indeed, when one considers Evans’s sexual ethics, it is difficult to tell where queer theory ends and biblical doctrine begins.

This sad sequence is not surprising, however, when you remember that Evans chafes at inerrancy, the exclusivity of Christ (“exclusivism”), and the apostolic rightness of Paul. If you reject the cardinal doctrines of evangelicalism, how long can you be considered and treated as an evangelical?


Why engage the views of Rachel Held Evans?


Many years ago, Paul told young Timothy that he had to “guard the good deposit” and instructed him to oppose “Hymenaeus and Philetus,” who had swerved from the truth (2 Tim. 1:14; 2 Tim. 2:17). You must risk your solitude to defend the truth, as I’ve written about, and I am thankful for outspoken Christians like Kathy Keller, Justin Taylor, Tim Challies, Aimee Byrd, and Kevin DeYoung, who have clearly spoken against biblical compromise in the last several years so that others might flourish.

I want good for Evans. I want her to thrive in Christ. I do not relish engaging her. I’ve done so only a few times in my writings, though I—as with many other conservative evangelical leaders and institutions—have served ably as a not-infrequent target of her ire. Grounding her attacks in an oft-cited instinct for justice, Evans has—by my count—mocked and opposed the following in just the last few years: The Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood, The Gospel Coalition, Together for the Gospel, The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, Southern Seminary, Desiring God Ministries, Al Mohler, John Piper, Russell Moore, Tim Challies, Mark Driscoll, myself, Denny Burk, Andrew Walker, Doug Wilson, Jared Wilson, and the list goes on. In April alone, I watched with surprise as, unbidden, she Twitter-crashed not one, not two, but three conservative evangelical conferences in a two-week span: the CBMW National Conference, T4G, and the ERLC Leadership Summit.

In short, Rachel shows no hesitation in scrutinizing the views of others. You could say it this way: for a prophetess of light, Evans sure seems to throw a lot of shade.

With her uninvited Twitter-crashing and public calls for repentance on the part of conservative leaders, Evans is not put-upon, as it might appear. She seeks out conflict when she believes things need correcting. No one has asked her to identify God as a woman. No one has asked her to work to legitimize “gay Christianity.” These are choices, very public choices, that she has made. She certainly does not hold back from engaging those she disagrees with, and she often does so strongly. If she takes a seat at the table of theological discussion and disputation, others will join her there.


Conclusion


As has been made clear, Rachel Held Evans deviates from biblical doctrine in several places. I grieve over this. I hope it changes, because I want Evans to use her abilities–her humor, her obvious and commendable instinct for justice, her heart for the downtrodden–to build up the church. Praise God, if she will turn away from falsehood, God will immediately receive her. What a miracle. Grace, suffice it to say, is awesome. It has saved a wretch like me.

I write this post in hope–shining, shimmering, glistening, world-and-sin-defying hope. I genuinely believe that Rachel Held Evans may well turn away away from her unbiblical teaching. I have no desire to wound her, but as one convicted of the biblical need to oppose false teaching (see 2 Peter 2) and to “contend for the faith” (Jude 1:3), I want to pull her back. Foul-mouthed social media attacks against me to the contrary, I love God and his reputation, I love the church, and I love her. I care for her, in fact, enough to speak up. I know that unbiblical doctrine, never biblical truth, always brings pain and disorder as Denny Burk astutely said some weeks back.

So, as a fellow sinner who is no stranger to fallenness, and who is in need of continual correction, I hope and pray that she will leave her unbiblical doctrine behind and taste the goodness of repentance. That is language that we all may speak, and we all must speak, if we will have God for our Father.

**********************

1. Further Reading on “God as Woman” Language:

Donald Bloesch, The Battle for the Trinity

John W. Cooper, Our Father in Heaven: Christian Faith and Inclusive Language for God

Wayne Grudem, Evangelical Feminism & Biblical Truth, 509-13

Mary Kassian, The Feminist Mistake (very valuable)

Alvin F. Kimel, Jr., ed., Speaking the Christian God: The Holy Trinity and the Challenge of Feminism

Two pieces by R. Albert Mohler, Jr.–see here and here

Bruce Ware, “How Now Shall We Think About the Trinity?” in God Under Fire



2. Brief excursus on the term “heresy” and “God as woman” language

The first four councils did not consider this issue, and so “God as woman” language is not heretical in what one could call the historical sense, the way that Sabellianism, for example, is heretical. But Al Mohler, working off of Harold O. J. Brown (author of the noteworthy book Heresies) and the broader confessional tradition, has identified a second kind of heresy, that which is a “gospel-negating teaching.” This usage builds off of 2 Peter 2:1, which references aireseis apoleias, “destructive heresies” (the translation of the KJV, NIV ’84, ESV). The sense here is that the person adopting these views is choosing them to their own destruction.

We see, then, that the term “heresy” has a broader meaning than just “those specific teachings declared out of bounds by the early church.” The connotation of “gospel-negating teaching” is consistent with numerous dictionary definitions, including the New Dictionary of Theology (ed. J. I. Packer & Sinclair Ferguson) and both the American Heritage Dictionary and the Random House dictionary, to name two secular sources. It is in this manner that John Piper recently used the word to speak of unbiblical soteriology, for example.

Clearly we should not be quick to use the term. If, for example, we’re talking about whether we should greet one another with a holy kiss, those who differ with us aren’t acting heretically! There are many other issues of which this is true as well, and we use the word “heresy” with great judiciousness. The term does apply, though, when a false teaching, a doctrinal error, reaches the level of effectively denying the gospel if received and believed. So it is with “God as woman” language, which remakes God in a feminist image. As stated several times above, I tremble for Evans when she uses this term, and I very much hope that she will renounce it and her other aberrant views, not so that a point can be won, but for the good of her soul.

continuing as a continuationist


Great post by Sam Storms on the cessationist v. continuationist debate.

[Last week (May 14, 2014), Andrew Wilson posted an article in which he responded to Tom Pennington’s response to him on the subject of spiritual gifts. I thought you might find it helpful. Andrew is an Elder at King’s Church in Eastbourne, U.K. and is pursuing a Ph.D. at King’s College, London.]

Remember “Strange Fire”? Well, during the conference, I wrote an article responding to the case for cessationism presented by Tom Pennington, which you can read here (www.thinktheology.co.uk). Recently, Tom Pennington responded, with great kindness and care, on the Grace to You blog. His response was an excellent example of patient and faithful engagement, and I am grateful to him, and to the GTY ministry as a whole, for making it available. In response, and in the hope of further future dialogue, here’s a summary of the concessions I want to make (where he is right and I am wrong), some corrections (where I think he is wrong), some encouraging areas of convergence (where we agree), and then finally, the crux of the matter. Let’s hope it brings more light than heat.

Concessions

On two points, I misrepresented Tom Pennington, and I apologise unreservedly. The first is that he referred to miracles being done in the age of “Moses and Joshua”, and I missed the reference to Joshua, before making that omission a basis for part of my response. This was clumsy. The second is that I carelessly missed the distinction he makes, in talking about the end of the apostolate, between eyewitness apostles (which no longer exist) and other apostles (which many Charismatics believe do). He says that this confusion was disappointing to him personally, and I agree; it is both unrepresentative of what he said, and embarrassing. My only defence is that I wrote the piece in the first 24 hours after the talk was given, in more of a rush than I should have, while the conference was still taking place – and since I had no idea that a transcript was available online at the time, if indeed it was, I used Tim Challies’ summary instead of his exact text. My sincere apologies to him for both errors.

Corrections

Tom Pennington does, however, make some clear errors of his own. Firstly, Pennington accuses me of “overstatement and misdirection” in referring to an overwhelming scholarly consensus in the commentaries that the “perfect” in 1 Corinthians 13:10 refers to the eschaton; his evidence for this is that there are “ten possible interpretations” of what the “perfect” means here. What Pennington does not mention, however, is that most of those ten – including the highly tendentious, and common cessationist, view that the “perfect” refers to the closure of the canon – are summarily debunked by those same commentaries, rather than presented as viable alternatives. Since my PhD studies are in 1 Corinthians, I have a fair line-up of commentaries to hand, and every single one of them agrees that Paul is referring to the eschaton: Robertson and Plummer, Lietzmann, Barrett, Morris, Conzelmann, Fee (Warfield’s classic cessationist view is “impossible”), Blomberg (“there can be only one possible interpretation”), Witherington, Schrage, Thiselton (“all that is clear is that the gifts cease at the eschaton”), Garland, Wright, Fitzmyer (“it has undoubtedly something to do with the eschaton”), and Ciampa and Rosner (“the context makes it abundantly clear”). Of course there is the occasional dissenting voice, but this “overwhelming scholarly consensus” is simply a fact, as I said. Not only that, but Pennington’s claim that “for most of church history this text was used primarily to argue against the continuation of the miraculous gifts” is also inaccurate (see the study of Jon Ruthven, On the Cessation of the Charismata, and the summary statement of Thiselton: “few or none of the serious ‘cessationist’ arguments depends on a specific exegesis of 1 Cor 13:8-11”). Surely it is Pennington who is guilty of overstatement and misdirection here, at least when it comes to scholarship on 1 Corinthians.

Secondly, he argues that when Charismatics agree that the eyewitness apostles have died out, we “tacitly accept one of the key tenets of cessationism” and become “de facto cessationists, at least in part”. But neither do we believe this tacitly – I stated it explicitly in my article – nor is it a specifically cessationist tenet, since both charismatics and cessationists agree on it. The question is not whether eyewitness apostles have ceased, since we all agree that they have, but whether gifts like prophecy, languages, interpretation, healing and miracles have ceased. All Christians believe there was something unique about the apostolic period (eyewitnesses of the resurrection, and canonical scriptures being written); all Christians believe many of the gifts have continued (teaching, administrating, helping, leading, and so on). Tom Pennington introduces himself in his article as a “Pastor-Teacher”. Does this mean that he has become “a de facto charismatic, at least in part”, because he believes in the continuation of that gift? Of course not.

Thirdly, it is frankly absurd to say that accusing a billion Roman Catholics of fraud, deceit and delusion is what “the church has always done”, and to suggest that it is what I myself do. Much of the church hasn’t, and doesn’t (unless you limit “the church” to “cessationist Protestants”). I don’t. (I suspect that, as with any miraculous claims, some are true and some are false). Cessationist Protestants do, of course. But let’s not get carried away with historical exaggerations about what the church has always done.

Fourthly, Pennington claims that the following statement I make, in response to his claim that miracles have ceased because the eyewitness apostles have ceased, “isn’t clear”:
“This argument takes us nowhere: all agree that the eyewitness apostles have ceased, and all agree that (say) pastors and teachers have not ceased. Only if we can show that all New Testament miracles, prophecies, tongues and healings came via apostles—which is patently not the case—would this hold any water at all.”
I don’t see why this is unclear, but let me try and make it clearer. Pennington’s argument here is that the miraculous gifts have ceased because the unique gift of apostleship has ceased. And my argument is, simply, that this doesn’t follow, unless we can show that all NT miracles, prophecies, languages and healings came via apostles (which we can’t, because it isn’t true). We all agree that some gifts continue. We all agree that one gift doesn’t. But this in no way supports the claim that “miraculous” (?) gifts across the board have ceased. Is that clearer?

Fifthly, Pennington is simply wrong to say that there are “rarely firsthand accounts” of miracles (see, recently, Keener’s Miracles). I would be happy to introduce him to many firsthand witnesses of my acquaintance, but I suspect I will not be taken up on that ...

Sixthly, his claim that “the consistent testimony of the church’s key leaders is that the miraculous and revelatory spiritual gifts ended with the Apostolic Age” is overstated. Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, Novatian and, famously, even Augustine himself (City of God 22:8) spoke of miracles taking place in their own days. (Pennington might well respond that examples of miracles are not the same as examples of miraculous gifts, but such a sharp distinction is nowhere found in the New Testament). Wesley’s attitude to prophecy was far from cessationist. Of course there are others, like Chrysostom and the earlier Augustine (before he apparently changed his mind), who say the opposite. But it is not a “consistent testimony”.

Seventhly, he reiterates John MacArthur’s point that Charismatics who are either Roman Catholic, or adhering to a prosperity gospel, form such a large part of the whole that “the movement as a whole can claim neither the Scripture nor the Spirit.” This is the saddest sentence of the review to read, from my perspective; it seems like a blanket write-off of millions and millions of charismatic Christians today who are preaching the gospel, defending the truth, standing firm in the face of suffering, and glorifying God in their marriages and lives and deaths, because a speculative statistical appraisal tells Pennington (or MacArthur) that they have been swamped by the loony fringe. But the best response to it is not emotional but logical: surely, if we applied that logic to cessationists, we could say the same, since most professing Christians who deny miraculous gifts today are either nominal believers or liberals. Come to that, we could say it of the global church: since many people in the Church are Roman Catholic, Orthodox, flaky, loopy or weird, we would have to say that “the Church as a whole can claim neither the Scripture nor the Spirit.” Assuming Pennington would not say that – and I sincerely hope he wouldn’t! – he probably shouldn’t say it of Charismatics either.

Convergence

It’s always edifying to point out the areas where you agree with an interlocutor, as well as the areas where you disagree. To that end, I am encouraged by the many points of common ground between us. We agree on the final authority, inspiration, sufficiency, clarity and infallibility of the scriptures. We agree that the biblical canon is closed. We agree that Paul was the last eyewitness of the resurrection, and that there was a type of apostle in the New Testament period who does not continue. As such, we agree that one type of spiritual gift has ceased (the unique eyewitness apostles), but also that many spiritual gifts continue (teaching, leading, helping, administrating, giving, encouraging). We agree that a lot of what goes on in the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements is deplorable. We agree that all spiritual gifts should be practiced in submission to the authority of God in Scripture. We agree that God can heal today. We agree that differing from one another on miraculous gifts does not mean we are saying those who disagree with us are not Christians. That is not an insignificant list!

Crux

Yet the disagreement is still important, and it ultimately comes down to questions of exegesis. Is “the perfect” in 1 Corinthians 13 the eschaton, or the closure of the New Testament canon, or something else? Is any distinction between miraculous gifts (languages, prophecy, healing, miracles) and non-miraculous gifts (teaching, helping, administrating, encouraging, leading) evident in Paul’s letters? Were the prophets and prophecies spoken of in 1 Corinthians 12-14 regarded by Paul as infallible divine revelation? Does Ephesians 2:20 indicate that no further prophecies of any kind will happen in the life of the church? Did Agabus get the details of his Acts 21 prophecy wrong, even as he got the thrust of it right? Are miraculous gifts, in Scripture, exclusively for the purpose of authenticating a messenger, or do they have other purposes as well?

On many of these points, I would argue, the case for cessationism is extremely weak, and rightly regarded as an obscure (and, in one case, risible) minority view in scholarly works on the relevant texts. This does not prove that Pennington, MacArthur and their fellow cessationists are wrong, of course; scholars form mistaken consensuses (consensi?) all the time. It does, however, indicate that Charismatics are on somewhat stronger ground than either Pennington or MacArthur are prepared to admit, and that some of the sweeping statements they have made about Charismatic theology are unjustified. Nevertheless, as long as conversations like this are happening, we can hope that God will bring us closer together in Christ until he returns. We know in part, and we prophesy in part, but then we shall know fully, even as we are fully known.

kingdom theology matters


Here's a great little teaser posted by Luke Geraty on why Kingdom theology matters:
Here are a couple great explanations of the Kingdom of God and its accompanying theology:

“The [kingdom of God] is the abstract or dynamic idea of reign, rule, or dominion…” – George Eldon Ladd 
“… the kingdom of God is the central theological motif that gives definition to all that we believe.” – Phil Strout 
“… the Vineyard is a movement distinctively centered in a renewed understanding of the centrality of the kingdom of God in biblical thought… [we understand] the kingdom of God as the overarching and integrating theme of the Bible.” – Vineyard Core Values 
So a basic summary of Kingdom Theology might be:
  • Inaugurated, not consummated.
  • Both now and not yet.
  • The kingdom has come, comes, and is coming (breaking in).
  • The reign and rule of God (cf. Matt. 6:10).
But why does kingdom theology matter? Why is having a solid kingdom of God framework vitally important? Here are four simple answers to that question:
  1. Kingdom theology is the same message that Jesus and the apostles preached (Matt. 3:2; 4:17; Acts 8:12; 14:22; 20:25; 28:23-31).
  2. Kingdom theology centers our theology and praxis on King Jesus and his kingdom versus our own kingdom (Matt. 26:39; Col. 13).
  3. Kingdom theology is the only way to explain why miracles happen and why we continue to pray for God to break in, for heaven to come to earth. (Matt. 12:28).
  4. Kingdom theology is the only way to somewhat explain why miracles don’t happen and why everyone isn’t healed (Rev. 21:4).
Those are four quick ways in which I think kingdom theology matters.

Please drop by Luke's place and tell him "What would you add?"

Monday, May 19, 2014

don't argue with idiots

A life lesson for arguing with idiots - don't do it!

gay marriage revolution

Kim Riddlebarger posts these insights regarding the notion that gay mirage is much more than a social revolution. They are correct.

Rod Dreher's recent essay, "Sex After Christianity" is a must read(Sex After Christianity).

Dreher points out that
The magnitude of the defeat suffered by moral traditionalists will become ever clearer as older Americans pass from the scene. Poll after poll shows that for the young, homosexuality is normal and gay marriage is no big deal—except, of course, if one opposes it, in which case one has the approximate moral status of a segregationist in the late 1960s.
He concludes,
Gay marriage signifies the final triumph of the Sexual Revolution and the dethroning of Christianity because it denies the core concept of Christian anthropology. In classical Christian teaching, the divinely sanctioned union of male and female is an icon of the relationship of Christ to His church and ultimately of God to His creation. This is why gay marriage negates Christian cosmology, from which we derive our modern concept of human rights and other fundamental goods of modernity. Whether we can keep them in the post-Christian epoch remains to be seen.
Equally important is Peter Jones' response to Dreher's essay (A Response to Rod Dreher). Dr. Jones contends
The homosexual agenda is silencing every memory of behavior, speech, religious conviction, and public policy that reminds people that heterosexuality is the God-created norm for human sexuality. Anyone who adheres to such a heterosexual norm dares say so only at the risk of being arrested for discriminatory bullying.
He adds,
This old Western "Christian" world is indeed "coming apart" and in its place rises a "new world" of multi-sexual liberation, systematically promoted by both an ideological pagan Oneism and a determined elimination of the binary structure of theistic Twoism, which Scripture teaches is the way the world was made. Many in evangelicalism fail to see or refuse to see what is going on. Their superficial solutions only compound the problems.

the church and the kingdom

David Platt briefly delineates the Church and the Kingdom of God.



Church and Kingdom from David Platt on Vimeo.

amillenialism - get it


Sam Storms simple post reinforcing why I'm an amillennialist:


I often hear people say that they have embraced the Amillennial view of biblical eschatology “in spite of” what they read in Revelation 20. I want to go on record in saying that I have embraced Amillennialism precisely “because of” Revelation 20. I find the evidence from this passage to be altogether persuasive in telling me that the “millennial” reign of the saints is a reference to the experience of co-regency on the part of those believers who are now in the intermediate state with Christ. Thus, the millennium is a current phenomenon, in heaven, spanning the age between the two advents of Jesus Christ. Here are ten reasons why.

(1) Amillennialism is better suited to explain the restriction placed on Satan in Revelation 20:1-3. Contrary to the claims of premillennialism, Satan’s binding is not universal, as if during the span of the “1,000 years” he is prevented from doing everything. Rather, he is prevented from perpetuating the spiritual blindness of the nations and keeping them in gospel darkness. He is also prevented from provoking a premature global assault on the church which we know to be the battle of Armageddon.

(2) Amillennialism alone can account for why Satan must be bound in the first place. According to premillennialism, Satan is allegedly prevented from deceiving the very nations who at the close of Revelation 19 have already been defeated and destroyed at Christ’s return. In other words, it makes no sense to speak of protecting the nations from deception by Satan in 20:1-3 after they have just been both deceived by Satan (16:13-16; cf. 19:19-20) and destroyed by Christ at his return (19:11-21; cf. 16:15a, 19).

(3) The amillennial reading of Revelation alone makes sense of the obvious parallel between the war of Revelation 16, 19, and 20. This parallel is reinforced when we note that the imagery in Ezekiel 39 related to Gog and Magog is used to describe both the battle in Revelation 19:17-21 and the battle in Revelation 20:7-10. Clearly, these are one and the same battle, known as Armageddon, that consummates the defeat of God’s enemies at the time of Christ’s Second Coming. They are just as clearly not two different battles separated by 1,000 years of millennial history. This is all confirmed by reference to “the war” (19:19; already noted in 16:14, 16; cf. 20:8). The same Greek phrase “the war” (ton polemon) is used in all three texts (Rev. 16:14; 19:19; 20:8). In fact, in 16:14 and 20:8 the same extended phrase “to gather them unto the war” (sunagagein autous eis ton polemon) is used.

(4) Amillennialism makes more sense of the symbolic nature of the number “1,000” in Revelation 20. In other texts “one thousand” rarely if ever is meant to be taken with arithmetical precision. This is true whether the context is non-temporal (Ps. 50:10; Song of Solomon 4:4; Josh. 23:10; Isa. 60:22; Deut. 1:11; Job 9:3; Eccles. 7:28), in which case the usage is always figurative, indeed hyperbolical, or temporal (Deut. 7:9; 1 Chron. 16:15; Pss. 84:10; 90:4; 105:8; 2 Pet. 3:8).

(5) Amillennialism recognizes the obvious parallel between Revelation 20:1-6 and Revelation 6:9-11. The latter text unmistakably describes the experience of the martyrs who have been beheaded because of the word of their testimony on behalf of Christ. So, too, Revelation 20 portrays the experience of “souls” beheaded for the sake of their testimony concerning Christ. Simply put, the cogency of amillennialism is seen in its recognition that in both texts the intermediate state is being clearly portrayed.

(6) Amillennialism alone does justice to the obvious parallel between Revelation 20:1-6 and Revelation 2:10-11. The latter is an encouragement given to prospective martyrs. They are to be faithful unto death and Christ will give them the “crown of life.” Likewise, in Revelation 20 those who die for the sake of their witness are granted “life” with their Lord in the intermediate state. Reinforcement of this parallel is found in the fact that only here in Revelation 2 and again in Revelation 20 is reference made to “the second death,” from which the faithful martyrs are promised deliverance.

(7) Related to the above is the fact that in Revelation 3:21 those who persevere under persecution and “conquer” or “overcome” are said to sit and reign with Christ on this throne. This is precisely what is said of the martyrs in Revelation 20. They come to life and reign with Christ for a thousand years.

(8) Amillennialism alone accounts for the use of the word “thrones” in Revelation 20:4. This word, both inside Revelation and elsewhere in the NT, consistently refers to heavenly thrones, not earthly ones. These are the thrones in the intermediate state on which the faithful martyrs sit and rule together with their Lord and Savior, King Jesus.

(9) Amillennialism alone explains the significance of the ordinal “first” as a modifier of “resurrection.” Closer study reveals that whatever is first or old pertains to the present world, that is to say, to the world that is transient, temporary, and incomplete. Conversely, whatever is second or new pertains to the future world, to the world that is permanent, complete, and is associated with the eternal consummation of all things. The term first is therefore not an ordinal in a process of counting objects that are identical in kind. Rather, whenever first is used in conjunction with second or new the idea is of a qualitative contrast (not a mere numerical sequence). To be first is to be associated with this present, temporary, transient world. Whatever is first does not participate in the quality of finality and permanence which is distinctive of the age to come. Thus the “first resurrection” is descriptive of life prior to the consummation, which is to say, life in the intermediate state.

(10) Finally, the hermeneutical principle known as the Analogy of Faith is best honored within an amillennial system. When asked for an explicit and unmistakable biblical affirmation of a post-parousia millennial kingdom, premillennialists typically point to Revelation 20, and only Revelation 20. But as we have seen, Revelation 20 is neither explicit nor unmistakable in teaching an earthly millennial kingdom. Furthermore, no single passage in an admittedly symbolic and comparatively difficult context should be allowed to overturn (or trump) the witness of a multiplicity of passages in admittedly didactic and comparatively straightforward contexts. To put this same point in the form of a question: Do the statements in other New Testament books concerning end-time chronology necessarily and logically preclude the notion of a post-parousia millennial age in Revelation 20? I am convinced that this must be answered affirmatively.

My contention is not that the passages in the Pauline, Johannine, and Petrine corpus simply omit reference to a post-Parousia millennial age. If that were the case it is conceivable that we might harmonize Revelation 20 with them, making room, as it were, for the former in the latter. But those texts (see Kingdom Come for an exposition of each one) are not such as may be conflated with the notion of a future millennial kingdom. These passages clearly appear logically to preclude the existence of such a kingdom. My argument is that a premillennial interpretation of Revelation 20 actually contradicts the clear and unequivocal assertions in such texts as John 5, 1 Corinthians 15, Romans 8, 2 Thessalonians 1, Hebrews 11, and 2 Peter 3.

Rather than reading these texts through the grid of Revelation 20, the latter should be read in the clear light of the former. Sound hermeneutical procedure would call on us to interpret the singular and obscure in the light of the plural and explicit. To make the rest of the New Testament (not to mention the Old Testament) bend to the standard of one text in the most controversial, symbolic, and by scholarly consensus most difficult book in the Bible, is hardly commendable hermeneutical method. We simply must not allow a singular apocalyptic tail to wag the entire epistolary dog! We must not force the whole of Scripture to dance to the tune of Revelation 20.

Those, then, are at least some of the reasons why Revelation 20 itself persuades me that amillennialism is true.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

grace at the table


Why we partake of the Lord's Supper by David Mathis:

The Lord’s Supper is an extraordinary meal. To be sure, it is simply an ordinary means of God’s grace to his church, but as eating and drinking go, it can be an unusually powerful experience.

Along with baptism, the Supper is one of Jesus’s two specially instituted sacraments for the signifying, sealing, and strengthening of his new-covenant people. Call them ordinances if you please. The true issue is not the term, but what we mean by it, and whether we handle these twin means of God’s grace as Jesus means, to guide and shape the life of the church in her new covenant with the Bridegroom.

The means of grace — also known as the “spiritual disciplines” — are the various channels God has appointed for regularly supplying his church with spiritual power. The key principles behind the means of grace are Jesus’s voice (the word), his ear (prayer), and his body (the church). The various disciplines and practices, then, are ways of hearing, and responding, to his word in the context of his church.

Shaped and supported by these principles, a thousand practical flowers grow in the life of the new-covenant community. But few, if any, other practices bring together all three principles of grace like the preaching of God’s word, and the celebration of the sacraments, in the context of corporate worship. Here, then, are four aspects of the Supper to consider in seeing it as a means of grace.

The Gravity: Blessing or Judgment

One of the first things to note is that the Supper is not to be taken lightly. Handling the elements “in an unworthy manner” is the reason Paul gives the Corinthians for “why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died” (1 Corinthians 11:27–30).

Great things are at stake when the church gathers at the Table of her Lord. Blessing and judgment are in the balance. There is no neutral engagement. Our gospel is “the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life” (2 Corinthians 2:15–16). So also the “visible sermon” of the Supper leads from life to life, or death to death. As with gospel preaching, the Table will not leave us unaffected, but either closer to our Savior, or more callous to him. Which leads to a second aspect.

The Past: Rehearsing the Gospel

When instituting the Supper, Jesus instructed his disciples, “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19), and Paul twice applies the phrase “in remembrance of me” in his instructions to the church (1 Corinthians 11:24–25).

The Lord’s Supper is no less than a memorial meal that draws us back to the cutting of the covenant at Calvary in Christ’s self-giving sacrifice for us. With baptism and marriage and every good Christian funeral, the Table gives the church a formal rhythm of remembering and rehearsing that which is of first importance (1 Corinthians 15:3), the gospel of Christ’s saving work for us. It helps embed gospel-centrality into the life of the church.

Like baptism, the Supper gives us a divinely authorized dramatization of the gospel, as the Christian receives spiritually — through physical taste, sight, smell, and touch — the broken body and spilled blood of Jesus for sinners. The Table is an act of new-covenant renewal, a repeated rite of continuing fellowship and ongoing perseverance in our embrace of the gospel. It helps us “hold fast to the word” (1 Corinthians 15:2) and “continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel” (Colossians 1:23).

The Present: Proclaiming His Death

And so the Table is more than simply a memorial. In this rich recollection of Jesus’s sacrifice, and the taking of the elements in faith, is a present proclamation of his death. “As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). This visible sermon, like audible preaching, is “able to strengthen you” according to the gospel (Romans 16:25) as a means of grace to those who watch and receive. Those who participate without faith are “guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 11:27) and eat and drink judgment on themselves (1 Corinthians 11:29), while
those who eat and drink in a worthy manner partake of Christ’s body and blood, not physically, but spiritually, in that, by faith, they are nourished with the benefits he obtained through his death, and thus grow in grace. (Desiring God Affirmation of Faith, 12.4)
In this way, the Lord’s Supper is a powerful pathway for deepening and sustaining the Christian life. “Participation in the Lord’s Supper,” writes Wayne Grudem, is
very clearly a means of grace which the Holy Spirit uses to bring blessing to his church. . . . [W]e should expect that the Lord would give spiritual blessing as we participate in the Lord’s Supper in faith and in obedience to the directions laid down in Scripture, and in this way it is a ‘means of grace’ which the Holy Spirit uses to convey blessing to us. . . .
There is a spiritual union among believers and with the Lord that is strengthened and solidified at the Lord’s Supper, and it is not to be taken lightly. (Systematic Theology), 954–955)
The Future: Awaiting the Feast

As Westminster confesses, the Table, received in faith, is for our “spiritual nourishment and growth” (29.1). But it not only strengthens our union with Jesus, but also our communion with fellow believers in Christ. As we come together to the Supper to feed spiritually on Christ (John 6:53–58), he not only draws us closer to himself, but also to others in the body (1 Corinthians 10:17).

Here at the Table, we hear Jesus’s voice, have our Savior’s ear, and commune with his body. We receive afresh his gospel, respond in faith, and knit our hearts together in the bread and cup we share. And in doing so, we look not only to the past and remember what he’s done, and not only to the present and our growing union with him, but also to the future and the full feast to come. “As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26).

“We eat only little bits of bread and drink little cups of wine,” says John Frame (Systematic Theology, 1069), “for we know that our fellowship with Christ in this life cannot begin to compare with the glory that awaits us in him.”

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