Archive for the ‘Theology’ Category

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The Kingdom of God is: Greater than its Current Appearance…

April 8, 2013

msHe put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”
He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”
(Matthew 13:31-33 ESV)

As believers we live life in light of a promise.  A promise found in the very beginning of time and recorded in the very beginning of the Bible which speaks to the inevitable rise of God’s kingdom on earth. Genesis 3:17 is known to some as the protoevangelium, or “first gospel.” In this verse The Lord God speaks to the serpent and foretells the demise of the serpent’s reign over the surface of the earth.  The offspring of the woman Eve would be at odds with the offspring of the serpent.  The seed or offspring of the serpent would bruise the heel of the woman’s seed; and the woman’s offspring would crush the head of the serpent. This tiny phrase contains within it a promise of One who would come and be the One, bruised and beaten, but One who would crush death and defeat the serpent by His death and resurrection through the power of God. This promise had come to those fallen in the garden, but to them, it was not yet fully realized. This promise courses through the entire scripture all the way to Matthew 13, and like leaven lifts the entire word of God.  It’s truth of the kingdom’s rise and evil’s demise is declared in the garden, finished at the cross, and yet evil is still prevalent.  What are we to make of this reality that has already occurred but is somehow not yet completed?

This passage in Matthew is ripe with meaning and nuance.  One of the greatest mysteries surrounding the kingdom of God is that it has appeared with Christ, and yet it is not fully here.  Apologetically this is a huge conundrum; If Christ the King has come, and He has proclaimed that the kingdom has arrived then where is it?  Is he talking about a mere heavenly reality or a true earthly dominion.  The disciples themselves asked this same question to the risen Christ in Acts chapter 1.  As they stood on the mount called Olivet, their minds awash with thoughts of the kingdom they asked, “is now the time the kingdom will be restored?”

Many of us, as we read this passage in Matthew, are prompted to question its meaning.  We are prompted by general biblical curiosity to be sure, but also something by deeper.  The paradox of tiny seeds and mighty kingdoms, minute yeast and massive loaves speaks to a larger discontinuity we all face.  We are citizens of Christ’s kingdom but residents of Satan’s world.  So we ask, If the kingdom is here then why is there still suffering, injustice, sin and tumult?  Like the disciples, each new generation of believers face the risen Lord and ask “is now the time?”

The answer to these reasonable questions is found in this passage in Matthew.

The kingdom is already present, though not yet fully consummated. The technical term for this is inaugurated eschatology, the kingdom has been inaugurated, but not yet fully consummated.  Jesus alludes to this truth in both of the examples he provides in verses 31-33.

The mustard seed, while the smallest known seed at the time, contains within in it all the potential for a mustard tree.  In essence, it is already a mustard tree, but not yet fully developed.  It is greater than its physical appearance.  It is teaming with potential, give it the right conditions and it will blossom beyond every tree in the garden.

The yeast speaks to the same metaphor.  It is tiny, almost insignificant, and yet it activates and causes growth and increase. Yeast is alive, and has an impact greater than its physical appearance.

God’s kingdom is found on earth in the form of his followers, in the body of believers known as his church.  In every captive heart, and in every renewed mind, there resides the measure of kingdom impact.  We experience love, family, fellowship, and loss through the experience of this kingdom community.  To those who undergoes this divine naturalization, the reality and the presence of God’s kingdom on earth is overwhelming.  And yet there is something lacking, something not yet present.  Think of all the good the church accomplishes, think of all the love that you experience in the fellowship of believers, think of all the service done on the part of the church attempting to make the world right; now consider the following: The millions of believers across the globe, and the love of the believers across this country, are but a minute expression of the kingdom that is to come.

So what are we to do with this truth? I believe the answer comes from Acts 3:19-21.  Peter and John are speaking to a crowd on the Temple Mount, following the miraculous healing of a lame man at the gate called beautiful.  This instance is a perfect example of kingdom living, through the proclamation of God’s love and the power of His Spirit, the lame are made whole and the Word is proclaimed.  Immediately after this, Peter and John proclaim the following to the crowd of witnesses:

Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that the time of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago. Acts 3:19-21

Peter and John acknowledge the arrival of the kingdom through their actions, but they also call on the listeners to hope in the kingdom that is to come.  Our response to the signs and proclamation of God’s kingdom is to repent, turn from sin, receive Christ and wait until the time that he will return and restore all things.  Christ has come, He has come in power, He has deployed His Spirit that we may proclaim the kingdom of Heaven.  While some are restored in the present, He will restore all things at a future time.  So we preach.  So we act in love to a hurting world.  And we relish the joy of His calling on our lives, knowing full well that as great as that joy is, it will pale in comparison to what is to come.

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Deliver Us From Evil…

October 9, 2012

As we examine the Lord’s Prayer as found in Matthew 6, we have taken it phrase by phrase. We have examined what it means to Hallow God’s name, to seek provision, to seek forgiveness, now we will focus on seeking deliverance.

Lead us not into temptation, BUT deliver us from evil…

The word here translated deliver is the Greek word “Rhu-o-mai” ῥύομαι literally to rescue, or deliver, “to rescue from danger, save, rescue, deliver, preserve someone.” It occurs some 18 times in 15 verses. To give you a picture of its use in the New Testament texts it is used to describe:

i. Deliverance from death (2 Timothy 3:11)

ii. Deliverance from the power of darkness (Col. 1:13)

iii. Deliverance from wrath to come (1 Thes. 1:10)

iv. Deliverance from temptation (2 Peter 2:9)

v. Deliverance from evil (Matt 6:13)

Each of the above (i-iv) could be summed up in (v.) for certainly evil is the source of temptation; the power of death; and the cause of the wrath to come. But praise be to God that He and He alone has defeated evil and can deliver us. Indeed the Father is greater than all and when we are in his hand we are delivered from evil’s effect of death and nothing can snatch us out of the Father’s hand, (John 10:29) We pray to be delivered with confidence knowing that “the Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen and protect [us] from evil.” (2 Thess. 3:3) What is meant by evil and what does evil look like?

Word Study: “Evil” [evil generally/evil “one]

Evil in this passage is the Greek word is “poneros” πονηρός, in the text it possesses an article so it literally reads, “the evil” of “the evil one.” It is occurs 80 times in 72 verses in the New Testament. There have been many interpretations as to what this word means, there are two equally valid readings.

• The evil one. This would be our adversary Satan, the evil one (Eph 6:16; 1 John 2:13, 14; 3:12; 5:18-19). Satan always stands ready to test us, and lead us away from God. (e.g. Eve, Gen. 3; Job 1 & 2) Peter tells us that he is like a roaring lion, prowling the streets seeking whom he may devoir. (1 Peter 5:8) “He stirs up enemies to persecute us (Rev 12, 13), he inflames our lusts (1 Chronicles 21:1; 1 Cor. 7:5), and he disturbs our peace (1 Peter 5:8). It is therefore our consistent need and duty to pray for deliverance from him.” We pray with confidence knowing that we have been delivered our of the hands of the evil one, Christ keeps us and the evil one can not touch us (1 John 5:18)

• Evil. This rendering has evil in general in mind, specifically sin, “for sin is evil (Rom. 12:9), the world is evil (Gal. 1:4), and our corrupt nature is evil (Matt 12:35)” Our boasting is evil (James 4:16), so we humbly pray that if we find ourselves tempted/ tried that we will be delivered from sin, the source of so much evil.

a. What is the context of this request within the Sermon on the Mount?

Jesus began his instruction on prayer in 6:8 with the proclamation that God knows what we need. So prayer is not our opportunity to come to God and tell him things that He doesn’t know, but rather it a chance for us to humble ourselves and admit that we need God, in His knowledge, in His Kingdom, In His power to care for us, to provide for us, to forgive us and to delivers us from all evil. Through Christ’s instruction on prayer we learn to ask for the items we need to exist and serve God this is taught in Matthew 6:9-13.

In the next section verses 20-24 Jesus continues to turn our eyes upward away from earthly needs and wants to the desires for God’s kingdom. We are to ask for what we need daily, but we are not to store these things up. First and foremost we are to seek after God, if we focus too much on these earthly possessions they soon begin to take God’s place in our heart. And instead of focusing on Him, we focus on getting more, keeping more. But Jesus says that we cannot serve both these things and God. God must be first, and God must be the most important, because moths and rust will destroy what we have invested in this world, thieves may take it away, but no one can take God or His kingdom from us.

Even after you pray the Lord’s prayer, you may ask the question, “Great, glad I did that, but will He really do these things?” “Will God give me daily bread? Forgive me? Deliver me?” Etc. Because we are sinful it is in our nature to doubt, especially if we do not see immediate results. Paul, though, instructs us in Philippians 4:6 to “be anxious for nothing but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God.” Likewise Matthew 6:25 comes as a reassurance to our questions and concerns. Beginning in verse 25 Jesus encourages us not to worry about our material needs. Three times in this section he instructs us not to worry. (vss. 25, 31, 34) He gives the example of the birds, they live their entire existence solely dependent on God, and He feeds them. Flowers do not lie around fields worrying about whether or not they will bloom, God provides them clothing more beautiful than kings. He repeats His earlier encouragement that God knows what we need, and if we seek Him first, he will add to our lives all we need; if clothes, then clothes; if food, then food; if years, then years; so that we may continue praying, forgiving, seeking and giving Him praise.

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You Heard it Here First: The Exclusive Need for the Proclaimed Word…

September 3, 2012

Having previously covered in the prior post some positive affirmations of Christ’s exclusive role as savior and the exclusivity of the Gospel, we shall now turn to two deficits that appear within the inclusivist argument and attempt to show how these deficits are corrected by the claims of exclusivism.

Throughout the biblical narrative are instances of the general revelation of God in creation working in concert with God’s special revelation to His people.  However salvation is seen as coming not from the recognition of God within creation, but rather from deferent faith in light of His revealed mastery of it.  An excellent example of this lies in the first three chapters of the book of Joshua.  Israel, God’s exclusively chosen race, has been delivered from the bonds of Egypt and received the special revelation of His Law, and has arrived at the banks of the Jordan.  As Israel’s spies hid within the home of Rahab the prostitute, Rahab provides an illuminating and ultimately justifying testimony concerning God and His creation. ” I know that the Lord has given you this land…we have heard how the Lord dried up the waters of the Red Sea… as soon as we heard it our hearts melted… for the Lord your God, He is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.” (Joshua 2:9-11)  Rahab doesn’t trust in God because he merely created the water, rather she trusts in His revelation displayed in parting the waters for His people.  An act He would perform again in Chapter 3 with the Jordan.  Her confession of this truth, and her corresponding action of hiding the spies displays that God justified her by faith. (James 2:25)  God general revelation in creation becomes special and able to save when God wields His creation in an act of revelation to His people.  The water alone saves none, but belief in He who parts the waters; it is by water and spirit that one is born again. (John 3:5)  The above speaks to effectiveness or lack thereof general revelation, if it is ineffective alone for salvation what is its purpose according to Scripture.

Scripture clearly indicates that the general revelation of God in creation was given to remove excuse from those who would claim ignorance of God absent access to the “gospel.”  A text which is indispensable to this point is Romans 1:19-23

19For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

Inclusivists attempt to address the issue of the “seeker” outside of the reach of the revealed gospel.  What of the person who would want salvation but can not access it because he/she has no access to the gospel, which exclusivists claim is necessary?  The exclusivist response to this query would be that the natural man rejects God in light of creation rather than seeks Him.  Having received revelation about God’s existence from creation, and rejecting it, they are without excuse before God.  Instead of acknowledging divinity’s true source they exchanged His truth for His creation and thereby inherited a shadow of the Light available to them.  Luther comments on this passage drawing attention to the excuse that some may say that, “only in our time it was possible to know God.”  One could add  ‘place’ to the listed restriction of time.  Whether located in a different time, or a different and perhaps distant place, “it has been possible to know him [God] from the beginning of the world and at all times, and it is possible now.”[1]  So it is clear from this passage that God’s general revelation in creation is meant not for salvation but to act as a witness against those who would claim that His attributes were unperceivable.

The exclusivist argument is not without objection, in conclusion we shall now briefly address two common critiques.

One.  Is it not unjust for God to condemn people merely because they have never heard the gospel of Christ?  Does this not impinge on His mercy?[2]  The answer to the first questions is as follows;  people are not condemned because they have not heard the gospel, rather people are condemned because they are guilty.  This may appear to represent circular reasoning but scripture clearly states that our guilt lies not in what we have done but in who we are as sinner.  All of us have fallen short of God’s glorious standard (Rom 3:23) and each and every one of us is guilty in need of forgiveness from the outset.  Even those who hear the gospel and reject it do so because the natural mind is limited by its sinful condition and does not comprehend spiritual things. (I Cor. 2:14)  That one receives salvation at all is a less a testimony of having heard the word and responded, and more to being a recipient of God’s grace. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Two.  Are there not examples in scripture of those who received salvation apart from the specific revelation of Christ, and so by extension is that same generic faith, held by some in the world today sufficient to provide salvation?[3]  This argument addresses the idea of “holy pagans” individuals who appear in the Bible as believers but do so without any evidence, within the text,  that they were ever exposed to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  These include: Abel, Noah, Melchizedek, Job, Jethro, Balaam, Naaman the Ninevites and Cornelius.[4]  Scripture provides the key to understanding this mystery.  Acts 4:12 states, “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”  This axiom was true for the time of Melchizedek, as it was for Paul, and as it is today.  Christ too stated that no one comes to the Father but by Him. (John 14:6)  That these men are listed in scripture as being believers, saved by God, is a testimony that at sometime and at some point, they experienced the special revelation of God unto Salvation.  The revelation may have been in the form of a promise ala Abram or Noah, nonetheless they were responding to a specific promise in faith to a special revelation from Yahweh.  What they displayed was more that a generic faith in an undefined creator God.[5]

That God provides access to Himself is by far the greatest measure of grace extended to His creation.  While His attributes are clearly displayed in the universe, its order and form, beauty and character, His greatest gift is the revelation of His Son.  Those whom he foreknew He predestined to receive this gift, and by it traverse the hurdle of sin and be justified into the transcendence of glory.   Such is the nature of the exclusive revelation of the Gospel.


[1] Luther, Martin. Lectures on Romans. ed. Wilhelm Pauck. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press. 1961.) 23.

[2] Peterson, 15.

[3] Ibid. 15.

[4] Kaiser, Walter. “Holy Pagans: Reality or Myth?” in Faith Comes by Hearing ed. Christopher Morgan and Robert Peterson (Downers Grove: IVP. 2008) 123.

[5] Ibid. 141.

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The Necessity of the Word to Salvation: Inclusive vs. Exclusive…

September 2, 2012

 

One of the enduring mysteries of the Christian faith surrounds the nature and rational behind God’s revelation of Himself to His Creation.  “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork,” (Ps. 19:1) and yet God’s action of revelation did not cease with the heavens and the earth.  Nor did God rest solely on the bearers of His image in creation.  God spoke this creation into existence by His Word.  He spoke to Adam and Eve in the Garden, issuing commandments from day one, precepts to secure the prosperity of His creatures within His creation to and for His Glory.  When that creation fell, God spoke the words of both judgment and promise.  Pain would come and toil would increase with enmity toward the speaking serpent, but salvation also was declared from the inception of sin.  God continued to speak directly to His creation, revealing callings, covenants, and commandments for His people with an eye toward their salvation and end toward His Glory.  That we know any of these facts in detail is due to their record written in the Word of Holy Scripture.  The testimony is clear that these things were written so that “we may know that we have eternal life.” (I John 5:13) God chose the Word  displayed, spoken, and written as the means of revelation of purpose and glory to those who bear his image.

The issue here in this effort shall be to focus on the extent to which, in light of natures testimony, the scripture is necessary to salvation. Due to the immediacy of spoken and written word, the objection has often been made; How can souls be saved who never hear?  In accordance with God’s declared will that none should perish but all should have eternal life, has He not engineered creation to speak of not only His glory but also His salvation?  We are told that there is no place where natures voice, “day to day pouring out speech,” is not heard.  The stars, planets, streams and mountains cry out “His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature,”  If creation speaks it speaks of God; what it says and to what extent its testimony is effective for salvation shall be our focus here.  We shall examine the two most prominent positions on the issue:  The inclusive position which appeals to the efficacy and need of “general” revelation for salvation vs. the exclusivist position which holds to the necessity of special revelation to a chosen people for the purpose of salvation.  We shall attempt to address how each position differs in form and purpose, and to what end each works consistently within God’s plan of redemption.  It shall be our position that; while creation declares His Glory, it is His word and His word alone which must be received for Salvation.  The belief must be affirmed that Jesus alone is the way to the Father, and that no other road, path, or revelation exists by which one may be saved.  While the word is implanted within our conscious and witnessed in creation, it still must be received with meekness, for it and it alone is able to save men’s souls. (James 1:21)

POSITIONS

INCLUSIVISM

God sent His son so that those who believe in Him should not perish but should have eternal life.(John 3:16)  The gift of His son came as a result of His love for the entire world.  Would God love the world, send His son for that world, provide salvation for those who believe and not give that same world, in its entirety, the opportunity to believe?  This question frames the problem Inclusivism attempt to address.     That God has prescribed a method for salvation is not up for debate among ‘inclusivists.’  The question, rather, is absent access to that method, can salvation occur?  Inclusivism is an attempt to address the issue of the un-evangelized, those who will never hear.

When one considers further the nature of salvation one is instinctively drawn to the apparent hurdles that exist in its path.  There is the immeasurable gulf of sin that has separated man from God since the fall; and the effect of that sin on the human mind, both in terms of comprehension and the will to listen.  There is the issue of access to the message by which one is saved.  If it is God’s desire that all be saved, has he not provided the means for salvation to all, regardless of location or access to the gospel?  Not surprisingly, believers and non-believers approach these questions differently, and reach diverse conclusions often from the same texts.  Even within the Christian community opinions as to these questions differ.  Inclusivism agrees that “Jesus is the only way to salvation,” only “one does not have to believe the Gospel to be saved.”[1]  They simultaneously affirm Jesus’ claim to exclusive access to the Father, but solve the dilemma eluded to above by allowing multiple and even “extra-biblical” routes to Jesus.

On the conservative side of this spectrum there are inclusivists who claim general revelation in addition to special is salvific.  Broader definitions of salvific intent can be found on the liberal side, which can and has affirmed, in addition to general and special revelation, the ability of other religions to lead to the one God able to save.[2]

Scripturally Inclusivists point to certain key texts to bolster their case for broad salvation.  First and foremost are God’s declarations of “universal love” for the world.  John 3:16-17 provide a fitting example of God’s intent; God loved the world, he gave his son that those who believe in Him shall not perish.  According to verse 17, God did not send the revelation of his son to Judge the world, but that the world would be saved through Him.

Psalm 19, a psalm of David which begins by extolling the act of creation as it bears witness to its maker God.[3]  Key to their understanding of this psalm as it relates to the efficacy of general revelation is verses 2 through 4; Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.  There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard.  Their measuring line goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. [4]

These heavens and sky are said to be revealing knowledge, and that knowledge proceeds throughout the entire creation, “to the ends of the world.”  Inclusivists claim that in accordance with God’s mercy and His love he provides a “witness in creation and providence that God uses for human good.”[5]  This witness is echoed in Psalm 8 in which David declares that the works of God in the heavens and throughout the earth makes His name majestic “in all the earth.” (Psalm 8:9)  Jesus seems to allude to such a witness in Luke 19:40.  When approaching Jerusalem, the crowd began to proclaim His Lordship as they did the Pharisees demanded Jesus rebuke them and he replied, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”

Any attempt to limit general revelation to merely a means of rudimentary knowledge or a testimony to render one without excuse and thereby eliminate the defense of ignorance, is flatly rejected by inclusivism.  General revelation is on par with scripture in its ability to provide saving knowledge and both testify of the saving love of one God.  “saying that the God known through creation condemns while the God known through the Bible saves, sounds as though there are two Gods– one damning, one saving. There is one God [however] whose Holy Spirit is actively seeking the lost wherever they may be.”[6]  Greater than the apparent proclamations of the Gospel’s necessity to save, God’s love seeks to save those who are lost regardless of their access.

EXCLUSIVISM

In contrast to inclusivism, those who subscribe to a belief in the exclusivity of the Gospel and salvation see the questions surrounding these topics as present but not particularly troublesome in light of scripture.  God’s method of salvation is exclusive in terms of means as well as in terms of scope.  Exclusivists claim that God created the world and is displayed throughout that creation.  That He loved the world, and sacrificed His Son for the world. They differ however in the method and means by which one obtains salvation.  They would agree that, “scripture nowhere indicates that people can know the gospel, or know the way of salvation, through such general revelation.”[7]  Jesus alone is the way to the Father, unto salvation.  Therefore knowledge of Jesus, and belief in Him, even confession of Him as Lord is essential for Salvation.

Scripture correspondingly proclaims that there is a particular method of revelation, designed by God, that leads to salvation.  Romans 10:9-15 demonstrates this in typical Pauline directness.  There is an individual task for personal salvation but that task is in response to a particular subject and specific method of revelation:

9because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heartthat God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek;for the same Lord is Lord of all,bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

4How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hearwithout someone preaching? 15And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”

Those who would believe, must first hear; and those who hear, to be saved, must confess; moreover they must confess Jesus Christ as Lord.  These components of God’s plan of salvation do not seem up for debate according to scripture.  “God has prescribed the way of salvation which is faith in Jesus Christ in special revelation ordinarily through the hearing of the gospel message through a human messenger in this life.”[8]   Scripture affirms that “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)  Furthermore, Jesus while on earth, proclaimed the exclusivity of God’s salvation in that “I am the way the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”

God’s salvation is not only exclusive in terms of means, but also in scope. God, through special revelation, by his eternal will, has revealed himself to a select group alone.  That this is the case is not troublesome for those who subscribe to an exclusivist position.  Rather God’s special revelation to some and not all is demonstrated and defended throughout the entirety of scripture.  God chose one man to form a nation, one people out of many.  They were to worship one God, and by Him be saved.  God sent one son, a shepherd to a particular ‘special’ flock.  God said of Israel, “you are my sheep, human sheep of my pasture, and I am your God.” (Ezekiel 34:31)  Jesus proclaimed that “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27)  These passages stand in start contrast to the idea of universal access to Christ apart from His revealed ordained will in His Word.

Further proof of the differentiation between those who simply know of Him and those who have received revealed knowledge of Him unto salvation, is found in Matthew 7.  This text attests that mere knowledge of God from whatever the source is not adequate for salvation.  There will be those who will come to Christ on the last day and claim to have known Him and acted in His name; but it will be made clear that while they had a ‘general knowledge’ of God and even Christ, Jesus will be right in saying depart from me for I never knew you.  (Matthew 7:23)  We maintain that while general revelation and special revelation work in concert to proclaim God’s glory and testify to His existence; the special revelation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ through the Holy Scriptures and the preaching of the same, is the divinely chosen exclusive method that God has ordained to effect salvation among the lost.

In the next post we shall focus on the scriptural support for this position.


[1] Peterson, Robert A. and Christopher Morgan ed. Faith Comes by Hearing. (Downers Grove: InterVaristy Press. 2008.) 12.

[2] Catholic Scholar Hans Kung demonstrates this in “The World Religions in God’s plan of Salvation,” in Christianity Revelation and World Religions, ed. Josef Neuner (London: Burn and Oates, 1965.)  Stating “Since God Seriously and effectively wills that all men to be saved…A man is to be saved within the religion made available to him in his historic situation.”

[3] “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above His handiwork.” Psalm 19:1

[4] Emphasis mine.

[5] Pinnock, Clark, “An Inclusivist View” in Faith Comes by Hearing, ed. Christopher Morgan and Robert Peterson (45)

[6] Sanders, John cited in Faith Comes by Hearing.46.

[7] Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology: an Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Pub. 1994) 123.

[8] Strange, Daniel. “General Revelation Sufficient or insufficient.” In Faith Comes by Hearing. 54.

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On Eternal Conscious Punishment…

August 31, 2012

On the topic of Eternal Conscious punishment:

“Then [there] will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and the will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.”[1]  Jesus spoke these words on the road to Jerusalem, and hence they have been the source of great anticipation and great apprehension for almost two thousand years.  Jesus spoke to His disciples about an impending moment of time, a moment impending still.  Most who read this text can detect the tension, the glorious and awful day of the Son of Man’s return.  We read this text confident with the knowledge that, “Heaven and earth may pass away, but (His) words will not pass away.”  The day is coming when; the trumpet shall sound, the elect shall be gathered, the wicked cast aside and the kingdom of God will endure forever more.  Then what? You might ask.  What is next?  What of the wicked?  Shall the wicked endure in punishment as the righteous in delight?  Can God’s kingdom, where the corruptible has become incorruptible, exist?  With the wicked present, suffering torment in light of God’s justice?

From the first Easter on these questions persist.  Christ’s resurrection and subsequent appearances to His disciples and community secure our faith’s belief in the like-resurrection awaiting the righteous; this belief is fundamental to that faith.[2]  His resurrection serves as a first-fruit of the promise, that for the saints, there is victory in death; “victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”[3]  Death’s sting shall not be removed for all however, for some will be raised not to inherit the kingdom, but to reap eternal punishment.  Our aim will be to address what shape that eternal punishment will take.

This view can be described as the orthodox position or traditional position within the church.  Throughout the history of the Church, many diverse individuals have found common ground on the profession that “the wicked will suffer the pains of hell forever.”[1]  “It is an almost invincible presumption that the Bible does teach the unending punishment of the finally impenitent, that all Christian churches have so understood it.”[2]  To dissect this position let us take it word for word.

Eternal:  This means that the wicked that are cursed by God and have rejected His grace shall face punishment forever.  Jesus himself foretold that He shall declare to the wicked on the Day of Judgment: “depart from me in to the eternal fire…” and to the condemned He shall say, “…go away into eternal punishment.”[3]  This is furthermore declared in book of Christ’s Revelation, “and the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night…”[4] The torment that awaits the wicked shall not end but shall endure eternally.

Conscious:  The conscious in Eternal Conscious Punishment denote that those who exist in torment and punishment forever will be cognizant of the punishment they receive and shall react with all the attributes of consciousness.[5]  In the previous passages mentioned, when Christ addresses the Day of Judgment, those who are cast into the outer darkness shall, “weep and gnash their teeth.”[6]  This is powerful imagery in that when one gnashes teeth it is in response to the infliction of pain.  There are no unconscious individuals who weep, none who knowingly gnash their teeth.

Punishment:  For those who hold the belief that the wicked shall suffer Hell eternally and consciously also believe that there shall be punishment.  Indeed just as “no eye has seen, nor ear heard… what things God has prepared for those who love him,” so too what has he prepared for those for do not love him.  “Hell is torment beyond comparison, the outcome of marvels, wrought by the greatest marvels of divine omnipotence, torment beyond any we could conceive.”[7]  These are strong words and powerful images, not the substance of joyous thought.  Those who cannot bear the thought of any suffering in such a manner, for such a time, have sought different interpretations of the same texts sighted.  Their conclusions hold that the future which awaits the damned is just as permanent but far different in experience than the one listed above.

I support the position of eternal conscious punishment; and I shall briefly outline the justification for said support.  My argument is really two-fold: one that ECP represents the majority and orthodox position and this fact is by no means incidental.  Two, I believe that ECP belies a consistency both biblically and theologically, which has accounted for its support throughout the development of Christianity and Christian Doctrine.

Orthodox for a Reason

The adoption of ECP as the orthodox view within Christianity was not an arbitrary choice.  Its support is first detected within the proclamations of Christ which lie at the very heart of the Faith.  Throughout the gospels Jesus proclaims the fate of those who fail to heed the call to follow Him.  Matthew 25:30, 41, 46 all speak to the “weeping and gnashing of teeth”, in the “eternal fire” for the purpose of “eternal punishment.”  Jesus affirms in Mark chapter 9 that the same fire is “never quenched.”  We see in Luke 16 He tells of the rich man and Lazarus, and the torment of the rich man.  Jesus first raises the dichotomy of eternal reward mirrored by eternal punishment.  “Matthew, as D.A. Carson notes, ‘uses the adjective aionios… only for what is eternal.’ The punishment that the lost suffer in hell is parallel to the bliss that the righteous enjoy on the new earth.”[1]  Like ripples in a pond Jesus’ testimony of future eternal punishment was adopted and perpetuated the apostles.

The apostles expanded and added interpretation to the gospels’ record of Jesus’ teachings.  While the word hell is not mentioned in Paul’s writings[2] there can be no doubt that from Romans to 2 Thessalonians, Paul proclaims that God’s judgment awaits the wicked.  The author of Hebrews considers eternal judgment to be a “foundational elementary teaching.[3]” James, Peter, Jude and John, in their letters, all allude to coming torment for the wicked apart from Christ.  The pinnacle of this commentary comes in apocalyptic narrative form in John’s Revelation of Christ.  We have mentioned some of the passages previously, suffice it to say, Revelation chapter 20 stands as a vivid picture “emphasizing that hell is just [and eternal] punishment for the wicked.”[4]  As the church developed and strengthened, so too did the affirmations of this doctrine by the early church fathers.

By the late second century the theologian Tertullian arguing against the Gnostic heresy and the denial of physical resurrection argued that the enduring punishment in view is akin to “never-ending killing” the continual conscious penalty for those who die in sin.[5]  Tertullian led to Augustine in AD 400; Augustine to the Council of Constantinople in AD 553;[6] from Constantinople to Aquinas in AD 1270; on through to Luther and the Reformation in AD 1553.[7]  In fact, “from Augustine to the Reformation, only the ninth century Irishman, John Scotus Erigena, positively denied an eternal, or even material hell.”[8]  ECP, as a doctrine of the church, maintained almost unparalleled loyalty throughout the churches history, this loyalty springs from its consistency with biblical theology.

 


[1] Matthew 24:30

[2] I Corinthians 15:14-19 “ And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hopein this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”

[3] I Corinthians 15:57

[1] Peterson, Robert A. The Dark Side of Eternity: Hell as Eternal Conscious Punishment. From the Christian Research Journal Issue 30-04.

[2] Beale, Christopher W. contr. Hell Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents Eternal Punishment. (Grand Rapids, MI. Zondervan Pub. 2004.) 139.

[3] Hebrews 6:1-3 (Beale, 140.)

[4] Beale, 141.

[5] Peterson, Robert A. contr. Two Views of Hell: A Biblical and Theological Dialogue. (Downers Grove, IL. IVP, 2000.) 119.

[6] Constantinople declared that “whoever says or thinks that the punishment of demons and the wicked will not be eternal, that it will have an end… let him be anathema.” Johnson, Paul. A History of Christianity. (New York, NY. Simon and Schuster, 1976) 340.

[7] Peterson, 119-122.

[8] Johnson, 340.

[1] Peterson, Robert A. The Dark Side of Eternity: Hell as Eternal Conscious Punishment. From the Christian Research Journal Issue 30-04. Indeed Peterson goes on to list 11 prominent figures from Christianity History who subscribe to this doctrine; among the 11 listed we find: Tertullian, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Edwards, Wesley, and Millard Erickson.

[2]  Hodge, Charles. Systematic Theology, vol. 3 (USA, Hendrickson Pub. Inc.

1999.) 870.  Hodge also attests that the broad reception of this view among the church is due to more that simply church authority in protecting doctrine, “it was universally received before the external church had aggregated to itself the right to dictate to the people…what they must believe.”  The churches teaching on this was not upset or challenged by the reformation rather the reformation continued and affirmed the doctrine of ECP.

[3] Matthew 25:30 (emphasis mine), and Matthew 25:41 respectively.

[4] Revelation 14:11

 [5] The most chilling account of this conscious torment is found in Luke 16:19-31.  Here Jesus tells the story of the rich man and the poor man Lazarus; both die and head into eternity, the rich man to Hades and Lazarus to Heaven.  The Rich man Begs Abraham to dip the tip of his finger in water to quench the burning of his tongue, and even to send Lazarus back so that the rich man’s brothers might be warned.  Both requests end in denial and the realization that such torment is irreversible and permanent.

[6] Matthew 25:30

[7]  Winklhofer, Alois. The Coming of His Kingdom: A Theology of Last Things.

(New York, NY. Herder and Herder. 1966.) 86.

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God’s City: Augustine and His Great Work…

August 28, 2012

Tension marks the life of the believer.  This fact is as true today as it was in the time of Augustine.  The tension begins when one is ushered out of the realm darkness and into the light of salvation in Christ.  Once delivered a tension forms between the new creation in Christ (Christian), and the world he/she has both escaped and still occupies.  It is this ‘in the world but not of the world’ conundrum that draws Augustine’s intention in City of God.

Augustine, confronted by the harsh socio-political realities of life and death, freedom and conquest in the Roman empire, with realistic historical, theological and ecclesiastical focus.  In City of God (CG) he attempts to address three questions, each question is not treated in isolation rather, there is a constant interplay between them.  Historically he attempts to answer the question, ‘What is happening?’; Theologically he attempts to address the ‘why it is happening?’; in terms of ecclesiastical or pastoral focus he constantly asserts ‘how a Christian should respond?’ to their reality.

Within this collection of works slowly and systematically composed in the second decade of the fifth century after the sack of Rome; Augustine begins seeking answers by examining the ‘problem’.  Namely, mans’ fallen nature on display through; poor governance, idolatrous worship and misplaced affections.  One can detect the influence of neo-Platonism in his structure and thought; as this section (roughly chs. 1-7) represent the world we see displayed out against the wall before us.  But like any good Platonist, what we see is not enough, we must seek the source of our manifest troubles.

Augustine then, leaves the cave, so to speak, and examines the true reality behind our calamity.  In this section (chs. 8-14) he examines some of that other realm which has historically and theologically impacted man and his actions.  The source of the debauchery, idolatry, mis-governance, and ‘falleness’ is found in: the fall of Satan, His angels, and finally the fall of Adam, and all of mankind within him.  This alone would have represented a monumental work of history, philosophy and theology but Augustine exercises his discipline of rhetoric and constructs the argument further.  This section represents the root of the ‘city of man’ that realm in opposition to God, which we occupy in body if not in spirit.

Augustine then plays out the theory of fallen man in the course of human history.  In this section (chs. 15-20) Augustine examines history from pre-Adam to post-man, from Genesis to Revelation, he proceeds to trace his themes and their effects.  This is the civil history of God’s city and its inhabitants from Adam to Abraham; from Jeremiah to Jesus, and from Rome to Revelation.  In addition to his many specific admonitions concerning the Christian life, this section provides biographical examples of virtue and Godly character, which are just as informative as any specific pastoral encouragement.

He then looks beyond in the final section (chs. 21-22) to what amounts almost to an epilogue on the entire work, discussing Hell, Heaven, and hope.  So let us briefly examine Augustine’s structure and assertions as we have laid them out above.

The Problems with the City of Man chs. 1-7

For Augustine, misunderstanding and darkness cloud the minds of the pagans in and around the Roman empire.  These are the inhabitants of the city of man, denied the light of Christ they fumble around in darkness attempting to answer similar questions to Augustine’s   What is Happening? i.e. to the empire and Why do things occur? i.e. Rome being sacked by the Visigoths. Their answers are less than satisfying for Augustine, as they blame everyone but themselves; Christians, the Christian God and the pagan gods.  Their lack of understanding breeds confusion and that confusion inevitably led to conflict and persecution of Christians.  Augustine’s apologetic was to basically deconstruct their argument systematically and deductively reason that Christ, His followers and His God are not to blame for Rome’s recent calamities.  First he argues that pagans are wrong to even make the accusation. Second he asserts that Rome had experienced great suffering and events of defeat long before Christ.  In other words, while Christ is the pivot point of history, He is not the contributing factor to the degradation of their society, in fact quite the opposite.  God and His Son are the only true source of power and its exercise on earth.

Finally in this section, he examines the pagan’s clouded judgment on fate, freewill (versus pagan fatalism tied to idolatry), theology (worshipping the wrong gods), and civil life (the worship of things that do not lead to eternal life).  These are the underpinnings of the pagan experience in the city of man exemplified in Rome and its condition.  Chasing after a misunderstanding of power, its use and its source, ultimately leads society at war with itself and at enmity with is Creator God.  Now Augustine turns to the back-story, the ‘rest of the story’ if you will.

The Source of the Problem chs. 8-14

Augustine attempts to shed a light on the dark recesses of history far beyond human experience and revealed knowledge.  How did God’s good creation ‘devolve’ into what can only be described as unholy and odds with the creator.  This section addresses the privation; initially of Satan, then of his angels, and finally the privation of man through exercise of God’s gracious, if not misused, gift of free-will.  Book IX is especially helpful in discussing the origin of the cities.  Wrapped around this description is Satan’s fall found in his exercise of idolatrous pride; his angels too, lacking in the full measure of grace given to others, follow him precipitously down.  The chief gross domestic product of man’s city is death, and death saw its beginning in Adam’s sin.  Through his sin, death was exported to us as a punishment for our fallen natures.  This sad effect is most keenly seen in the role of reproduction.  Reproduction or man’s propagation, is muted in two ways by sin: one, in that its fruits ultimately spoil in death; and two, the effort becomes sinful and damning win corrupted by lust.  This is part of the penal judgment of man, in that the very means and ends of his God-prescribed role to pro-create are marred and subject to futility.  Having grappled with the source of man’s city, Augustine then traces the city’s development throughout history.

The Drama of History chs. 15-20.

As proof of the existence of these cities, Augustine offers parallel histories of each throughout the course of the human experience. From Adam on, the choices presented to the patriarchs, prophets, and finally to Christ, represent the grim effect of God’s bifurcated creation.  The murder of brothers, the devastation of flood, the proliferation of sacrifice, and the death of Christ and the coming of His church fill this section in an attempt to inform the miserable condition of man.  It also draws a subtle picture of God’s sovereignty and provision throughout history.  It is not a story of a passive creator and His unruly creation.  Rather a dynamic drama of fall, death, redemption and renewal.

Conclusion: Hell, Heaven and hope. Chs. 21-22

Much like the scripture that so richly informs Augustine’s thought his monumental work finishes with a description of two ends. The calamitous eternal judgment of the wicked and refreshing resurrection of the saints to eternal joy.  This above any single admonition throughout his work, serves to inform the Christian of how they should act and what awaits them in the future.  That which awaits is of preeminent importance to the Christian.  For it is in the hope of God’s heavenly city prevailing that the Christian should seek and rest in.  We pray that His kingdom come, over this earthly, fallen realm.  It is in this hope that we place our faith, that we shall one day ‘rest and see, see and love, love and praise’.

Augustine’s work for me, is both encouraging and informative.  As a perennial student I am often confronted with the drive to delve deeply into the things of God, but I also face the realities of life and pastoral care which pull at my greatest challenge of stewardship, my time.  Augustine displays a life and work lived out accomplishing both purposes, and he reconciles the apparent disparity of scholarship and pastoral ministry.  One informs the other, and serve to compliment each other.  The greatest end to ones endeavors in life is to lose that life in love and service to a brother; and the greatest means to that end is a life lost in study of the Word, and lived out in accordance with its example.  To that end, Augustine succeeds in a measure rarely seen among theologians and pastors.  May God grant me a mere taste of such delight and success.

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The Unanswered Cry: Lord, Lord! But didn’t we…

August 3, 2012

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21 “ Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. 22 Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many [n]miracles?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’

“To be active in religious affairs is no substitute for obeying God.”

Throughout the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus has been reorienting His disciples to a new reality, that the Kingdom of Heaven was upon them, and that they were to seek it above all else. These truths stood in marked contrast to the attitudes of the world which sought to receive temporary solutions to permanent problems. The world still seeks the quick fix. A law to follow, a checklist to finish, magic words to say; would that they could only live the way the wish and cry out Lord Lord when it suits them. But Jesus is testifying to a greater truth, that beyond the broad road of conflict their lies the difficult path of compassion; above the low road of worldly satisfaction there is the higher rocky trail of salvation. Fundamentally this text testifies to the fact that one must do more that simply declare Jesus as Lord to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. (“For even the demons believe and shutter” James 2:19) It is not enough to proclaim Him Lord if you are not willing to let your life reflect the reality of that proclamation.

The Blessed, Happy life that Jesus calls us to, in the Sermon, is one that is constricted compared to the loose ways of the world. We achieve blessing by being poor in spirit among those rich in arrogance; by mourning among the indifferent; by being meek amidst the mighty; by finding God more appetizing than the world; by being merciful to the undeserving; having a clean heart in a filthy world; by being a people of peace on a planet of warriors, and finally by being a people persecuted among the privileged. None of those things are easy, each confession of blessing is a testimony to a rough and difficult life amidst a world of ease. But Jesus looks out across the crowd of His disciples and “those simply seeking him for signs and wonders” and He declares that it is not enough that the recognize Him; they must follow Him.

During His ministry Jesus encountered people who were willing to do much to gain His blessing; they would testify to His greatness, they would call Him teacher, but when it came time for them to lay down what they had, they clinched their fists around their possessions instead of grasping His hand. (“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. Matt 16:25) They were willing to do anything except truly giving themselves over into the hands of One who made them.

Consider Judas, among the crowd that day, who went out with the disciples to perform miracles and proclaim the Kingdom come, and yet he soon displayed his true loyalties turning his eyes on perishing silver and betraying his savior. Consider the rich young ruler, who approached Jesus as a Rabbi, but upon hearing the cost of the cross fled in despair, unwilling to part with what he valued greater than Christ. It is not enough to approach Christ, it is not enough to simply confess, we must “believe in our heart that Jesus is Lord and we will be saved.” (Romans 10:9-10)

What Jesus is saying here is that we are to live in the light of the future reality that there is a Day coming when all will be revealed; a Day when we will stand before our Lord and the book of our life will be opened, and the truth will come out. This fact should give us pause. Each and every one of us must work out our salvation with fear and trembling, awaiting the Day of God’s judgement. To prepare for that Day, we are to ask, seek and knock; we are to believe that Jesus’ words are true. We are to live our lives bearing witness to the reality of that the truth we have heard has not only impacted our minds but changed our hearts. We must rely on God, rely on God, rely on God; we cannot trust in our own confessions, we can not trust in our own works. For if our hearts are not right with God, even if we prophesy in His name, do wonders in his name, cast out evil in His name, it will not matter. So ask yourself, when that Day comes will I push aside my sin and try and win God over with all I have done “in His name?” Or, will I lay myself bare before Him, and come to Him empty handed, poor in spirit, meekly seeking entrance to the Kingdom having displayed a life lived on the narrow road declaring “All I have is Christ”?

So to sum up, what are some take aways from this passage and from what we’ve discussed above? God prizes obedience over sacrifice, He always has, and He always will. He calls us to live according to all He has taught, and He calls us to repent and live a new life according to His will. So if you are living within un-repentant sin in your life and you are justifying it by saying, ‘its ok, surely God will accept me, I mean I go to church every Sunday, I teach Sunday school, I go on mission trips, Ive even led people to the Lord, surely all that will out-weigh my sin.’ IF that is your inner monologue, then you should question your citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven; for that is the same works-righteousness that fails every time. That is the wide road taken by Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, some Catholics, some protestants, and the vast majority of Americans who believe that ‘if I live a good life, then I’ll get into heaven.’ The ONLY way to enter the kingdom is through the narrow gate of Christ. The only work that we can present before God in order to enter His kingdom is the work of His Son on the cross, and our unqualified obedience to all that God has called us to in light of that wondrous work.