Books Read in 2012: No. 21 – What is a Healthy Church Member?

healthyThis little book by Thabiti Anyabwile should be required reading for anyone who attends church. Unfortunately, many of us do not understand the importance of being involved in the local church and see it as an optional (and even sometimes offensive) aspect of our faith. Those of us who do attend often refrain from getting too involved and leave all the work of the church in the hands of a small minority.

Anyabwile, however, has provided readers with a wonder tool to benefit an individual who wants to get the most out of their church life and has identified ten marks of a healthy church member. According to Anyabwile, a healthy church member is:

1. An expositional lister
2. A Biblical theologian
3. Saturated in the gospel
4. Genuinely converted
5. A Biblical evangelist
6. A committed member
7. A seeker of discipline
8. A growing disciple
9. A humble follower
10. Is a prayer warrior

Each of these marks of a healthy church member represents a chapter in this little book. For each chapter, Anyabwile explores the concept and provides study questions the reader can use to conduct a self-examination.

If every Christian would read this little book and commit to the principles Anyabwile recommends, the Church would benefit greatly. I highly recommend this book.

Five-Point Strategy for Sharing the Gospel with a Cultist

Five-Point Strategy for Sharing the Gospel With a Cultist

Got Questions Ministries defines a cult as “a religious groups that denies one or more of the fundamentals of Biblical truth” (Got Questions). John Thomas Rogers adds that a cult “… is a religion that as not yet achieved respectability or has not grown up yet – a baby religion” (Rogers xxiv). An estimated seven million Americans have been involved in cults (Cult Hotline) with new members being recruited everyday. With such growing participation in the cults, it is in the Church’s interest to identify the theological issues cults have in common, refute them with sound Biblical doctrine, and to create strategies to share the gospel with those unfortunate people who have been led astray. There is a two-fold purpose behind the need of such a proactive stance by the Church. First, such a strategy would serve to ‘inoculate’ church members who may be in danger of being attracted to cults. In addition, the issue is a matter of salvation for those lost amid the cults. Christ charged the Church with the mission of spreading His gospel to the world and creating disciples[1]; refusing to formulate a strategy to refute the cults is akin to ignoring the soteriological needs of those who are lost. This paper will serve as a preliminary attempt to address these issues. Theological issues common to the cults will be addressed with an eye towards how these issues impact the individual cult member. These issues will then be refuted Biblically and a five-point strategy for sharing the gospel with a cultist will be presented.

Of the theological issues common to the cults identified by John Thomas Rogers (Rogers xxiv), three will be addressed in this paper. First, cults do not see the Bible as the final authority on theological issues and, as such, include outside authorities. Rogers writes, “One of the most common reasons cults give for their existence is that the Bible has errors, or at least that it cannot be understood without help … In other words, cults exist on authority outside the Bible” (Rogers 65). This view of the Bible’s authority (or lack thereof) stands in stark contrast to Biblical Christianity, which teaches that the Bible alone is authoritative on matters concerning God. One of the foundations of the Protestant Reformation is the principle of sola Scriptura (or by Scripture alone), which means, “only the Bible has the authority to bind the consciences of believers” (Sproul 42). The Bible is seen by Biblical Christianity to be the ultimate form of authority, inerrant, and infallible.[2] Furthermore, Biblical Christianity teaches that the Bible is complete. Rogers writes, “Once the task of completing the Bible was done, the apostles would be replaced by the Bible” (Rogers 129).

Once the sole authority (and inerrancy) of the Bible is denied, cults are then free to deny the deity of Christ. Rogers writes, “… most cults doctrinally lower Christ to the level of an angel or claim that He is only an angel …” (Rogers 108). This is in direct contrast to Biblical Christianity’s teaching that Christ is God the Son and the Second Person of the Trinity. John Walvoord writes, “Christianity has always honored Jesus Christ as its historical and theological center [and] one’s faith in and understanding of Jesus Christ involve the most important theological issues anyone can face” (Walvoord 11). One of the wondrous aspects of Christianity is the hypostatic union; the weaving of Christ’s complete deity with His complete humanity. A concise vision of Biblical Christianity is expressed by the Nicene Creed of the 4th Century; Christ is eternally begotten of God the Father, assumed humanity by incarnation through a virgin birth, and secured salvation for a sinful mankind through His death on the cross and resurrection. Furthermore, Biblical Christianity teaches that Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead and will reign over an eternal kingdom.[3]

Finally, having denied the deity of Christ, cults are free to replace the salvation offered by His sacrifice on the cross with a salvation secured by works. Rogers writes that this salvation by works is accompanied by an absolute obedience to the group (Rogers xxiv). This teaching is opposed to the Biblical teaching of salvation by grace, “ For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9 NASB). Rogers writes “To comprehend that salvation truly is the work of God apart from my insignificant efforts caused me to realize that even my response to God as He drew me to Himself could be a source of personal pride. Jesus paid it all; all to Him I owe!” (Rogers 113).

It doesn’t take much imagination to see how these theological issues could work together to impact a member of a cult. Without the authority of the Bible to guide their beliefs, cult members are subject to the ever-evolving theology of cult leaders. Rogers writes, “The doctrines of cults change as needed. If a doctrine has positive results, it can be developed. If it has negative results, it can be changed and then later forgotten” (Rogers xxvii-xxviii). As a result, cult members are left on unstable ground theologically speaking. Their core beliefs are subject to the whims of their leaders. When this is coupled with an inadequate understanding of Christ’s deity and a salvation that is guaranteed only by works, cult members are eventually forced into a situation that requires blind allegiance to their group. Ultimately, and more importantly, these issues work together to become a matter of salvation. Cult members are lost and prevented from seeing a clear picture of the salvation offered by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. It is for this reason that Christians should take great care in sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with cult members. What follows is a simple five-point for Christians to adopt when sharing the gospel with cult members.

  1. Know Your Own Doctrine: Rogers writes, “To know the doctrine of every cult or religion is impossible” (Rogers 55). There are simply to many cults out there that employ evolving doctrines to be an expert in all of them. It is best to be grounded in a good knowledge of Biblical doctrine when sharing the gospel with cult members.
  2. Keep the Discussion Friendly: Refuse to engage in an argument with cult members regardless of whether or not they attempt to argue with you. Their salvation is of utmost importance and we do not want out behavior to serve as a stumbling block in their acceptance of Christ (see 1 Peter 2:12).
  3. Establish the Authority of the Bible: As a Christian, do not sacrifice the authority of Scripture. Politely explain to the cult member in question that if they want to prove a position, they must do so using the Bible only. Rogers writes that by insisting the discussion revolve around the Bible alone “… you are not being unfair; you are being honest. You are asking the [cult member] to do with you what you would have to do with a Jewish individual who rejected the New Testament and accepted only the Old” (Rogers 70).
  4. Continually Point the Discussion to Christ: Remember, it is common to all cults that works be required for salvation. By continually returning the conversation to the Person of Christ you are offering the cult member something they simply don’t have – salvation by grace alone.
  5. End Well: Rogers writes, “How one closes a conversation with religious people or cultists is just as important as how one opens it” (Rogers 114). If you sense tension developing in the conversation or can tell feelings are being hurt, don’t be afraid to recommend a break in the conversation. Your task is to share the gospel with the cult member and then allow the Holy Spirit to convict them. Time away from the conversation might be just what the Spirit requires.

 

Conclusion

It is been demonstrated that the prominence of cults in the United States requires the Church to formulate a strategy to share the gospel with cult members. It should be recognized that there are theological issues that separate the cults from Biblical Christianity. Three such issues are of immense importance; the authority of Scripture, the deity of Christ, and a salvation of works as opposed to grace. Ultimately, these issues boil down to matter of salvation. Christians who hope to share the gospel with cult members should keep these issues in mind and employ a five-point strategy; know Biblical doctrine, keep the discussion friendly, establish the authority of the Bible, continually turn the discussion to Christ, and ensure the discussion ends well. By employing such a strategy, Christians may successfully lead a cult member to Christ and proactively protect their own church members from being attracted to the cults.

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

Cult Hotline & Clinic. The Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services, 2010. Web. 30 October 2012.

Rogers, John Thomas. Communicating Christ in a Religious World. Xulon Press, 2009.

Sproul, R.C. What is Reformed Theology? Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1997.

Walvoord, John. Jesus Christ Our Lord. Chicago: The Moody Bible Institute, 1969.

“What is the Definition of a Cult?” gotquestions.org. Got Questions Ministries, n.d. Web. 1 November 2012.


[1] “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).

[2] 1 Peter 1:23 describes the Word of God as being living, imperishable, and enduring.

[3] Unfortunately, it is beyond the scope of this paper to offer a complete treatment of Christology, however, the Nicene Creed sums traditional Biblical Christology up well.

The Biblical Mandate to Share the Gospel

John Mark Terry defines evangelism as “presenting Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit so that people will become His disciples” (Terry 1). Unfortunately, for many Christians today, sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ has become optional. Perhaps the Church has bought into the postmodern belief that faith and religion are personal pursuits. On the contrary, there is a clear Biblical mandate to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with others. It is a mandate that was exemplified and passed on to Christians by Jesus Christ Himself. This post will examine the Biblical mandate to share the gospel as it applies to all Christians.

Christ’s directions to His Church are found in the first chapter of Acts. Verse six depicts the disciples asking Christ if the time has come to restore His kingdom. In Christ’s response, we find a clear mandate for His followers, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:7-8 NASB). Christ’s instructions are clear. Though we may not completely understand the timing of God’s eschatological plans, in the mean time, we are to share the gospel of Christ with other people. These instructions are echoed in Christ’s Great Commission to the Church, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20). Surely, if Christ Himself thought it was important to instruct Christians to share His gospel, we should take His instructions seriously. Fortunately, Christ also provides a model of evangelism for us to emulate.

Richard D. Phillips writes that the John’s depiction of Christ as evangelist “… proves to us that the gospel is for everyone. Jesus came to save not a certain class of type of person, but all kinds of people, each of whom must receive him only in faith” (Phillips 108). Phillips asserts that the Gospel of John juxtaposes the stories of Nicodemus and the woman at the well to demonstrate that both people at the top of life (Nicodemus) and the bottom of life (the woman at the well) are in need of Christ’s gospel (Phillips 108). In fact, it is of Jesus’ encounter with the sinful woman at the well that Phillips writes, “… here the Lord Himself sets us an example of speaking the truth in love” (Phillips 109). In his encounter with the woman, Jesus acknowledged the woman’s sin and provides her with the truth of the gospel. It is this example that Christians are called to follow. However, can Christians truly be expected to follow Christ’s example? Certainly, some of us simply aren’t gifted with the ability to evangelize, right? Wrong, people of all personality types can follow Christ’s example.

Mike Bechtle writes that both extroverted and introverted personalities can follow Christ’s example of evangelism (Bechtle). For those introverts who find it difficult and intimidating to boldly evangelize, Bechtle recommends they mimic the pattern of Colossians 4:6, “Your speech should always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer each person” (Bechtle). The point for Christians who hope to evangelize is that their words should always pave the way to make sharing the gospel possible. If we are continually generous and gracious with our speech, opportunities to share the gospel will eventually present themselves. These opportunities are sure to appear because “Evangelism isn’t our job – it’s God’s job” (Bechtle). God paves the way for Christians to participate in evangelism regardless of our personality type. As Christians, all we need to do is patiently await God to present us with an opportunity to share the gospel of Christ. Once God’s provides opportunities for evangelism, Christian’s can rest assured there are a variety of methods at their disposal.

One common method of sharing the gospel has been dubbed the Roman Road. Walking a person through salvation as it is presented in the Book of Romans “is a simple yet powerful method of explaining why we need salvation, how God provided salvation, how we can receive salvation, and what are the results of salvation” (gotquestions.org). Without leaving the Book of Romans it can be demonstrated that all of us are sinners (Romans 3:23), the wages of our sin is death (Romans 6:23), that Christ dies for our sins (Romans 10:9), and all we need to is confess Christ as Lord to receive salvation (Romans 10:9 and 10:13). There are other methods of evangelizing at the Christians disposal. For instance, Karl Bastian has created a system using different colored pages to represent different stages of salvation called the “Wordless Book” (Bastian). This particular means of sharing the gospel has proven to work particularly well for children. The wide variety of methods to evangelize makes it obvious that it is possible for any Christian to share the gospel with anyone.

In conclusion, it has been shown that there is a clear Biblical mandate for Christians to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with others. In fact, the mandate originates from Jesus Christ Himself. As such, Christ provides the inspiration and example of evangelizing for each of us. It has also been shown that the gospel is a message intended for everyone. It can be shared by people of all personality types – extroverted and introverted. Finally, there are a variety of methods at the disposal of a Christian who chooses to share the gospel. As such, Christians are left with no excuses for not accepting Christ’s mandate to share His gospel with the world.

Sources

Bastian, Karl. “Using the Wordless Book to Share the Gospel.” Kidology. n.d. Web. 26 October 2012.

Bechtle, Mike. “Evangelism for Introverts.” On Mission Magazine. Retrieved on 26 Oct. 2012 from http://www.caseresources.org/whatcanido/evangelismforintroverts.htm

Phillips, Richard. Jesus the Evangelist. Orlando: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2007. Digital.

Terry, John Mark. “Accept the Biblical Mandate of Evangelism.” Faith Baptist Church. n.d. Web. 26 October 2012.

“What is the Romans Road to Salvation?” gotquestions.org. Got Questions Ministries, n.d. Web. 26 October 2012.

Christology in the Gospel of Matthew

In preparation for a paper on the Divinity of Christ this post examines Christology as presented in the Gospel of Matthew. I decided to specifically look into Matthew’s Gospel because it was recently charged in an online discussion forum I take part in that the writer of the Gospel of Matthew did not believe Christ was God. This post researches that question. What did the writer of Matthew’s gospel believe about Jesus Christ? This post represents just the beginning of my research and could turn into multiple posts.

I think the proper place to start is at the end of Matthew’s Gospel:

16 But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated. 17 When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful. 18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (NASB)

The type of Christology presented in the above passage is intended to be the culmination of everything that comes before it in Matthew’s gospel. Here are my observations of the above passage:

Verse 16: All eleven disciples are present during these events. It is probably relevant if we consider that John’s gospel is much more explicit than Matthew’s. If the gospel of Matthew disagreed with the conclusions of John’s gospel (based on shared experiences), surely it would have argued that Christ wasn’t God just as explicitly. However, such explicit arguments against Christ’s deity are not found in Matthew’s gospel. In fact, I believe the culmination of Matthew’s gospel is in complete agreement with John’s.

Verse 17: The eleven disciples worshiped Christ. The Greek word translated as “worshiped” is “proskuneo.” Strong’s Dictionary defines this word as “to Fawn or crouch to, that is, (literally or figuratively) prostrate oneself in homage (do reverence to, adore): – worship. This verse paints such a powerful image that Matthew Henry wrote, “They gave divine honor to Him, which was signified as by some outward expressions of adoration. Note, all that see the Lord Jesus with an eye of faith are obliged to worship Him” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible).

I think it is also noteworthy that Matthew’s gospel records that some were still doubtful at this point. I think this gives us all direction when we face doubts concerning the identity and person of Jesus Christ – in the face of doubts, we should worship  Him.

Verse 18: Christ claims all authority in heaven and on earth. “Authority” or the Greek “Exousia” denotes not just the power of authority but the right of privilege to possess such authority (see Thayer’s Greek Definitions). Christ owns the right to claim such authority because He is divine. In his commentary on the Book of Matthew, Dr. Thomas Constable refers to this verse as “Jesus’ great claim.” I think it is a claim that is directly tied into His divinity.

Verse 19: In response to Christ’s universal authority, the disciples are to go out and make disciples of all nations. Christ’s authority is no longer seen as one localized to the Jewish nation as Messiah, rather, it transcends the Jewish nation and applies to all people everywhere. Jesus is portrayed as having sovereign control and authority over all things in heaven and earth. This is a divine sovereignty that is in accord with the attribute of sovereignty that is reserved for God Almighty.

Furthermore, the second part of Verse 19 is one of the clearest expressions of the Trinity we find in Scripture, “… in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” So much so that it has been written:

“It is one thing for Jesus to speak about his relationship with God as Son with Father (notably 11:27; 24:36; 26:63- 64) and to draw attention to the close links between himself and the Holy Spirit (12:28, 31-32), but for ‘the Son’ to take his place as the middle member, between the Father and the Holy Spirit, in a threefold depiction of the object of the disciple’s allegiance is extraordinary.” R.T. France in his commentary on Matthew.

Surely, Christ is claiming divinity in this expression of the Holy Trinity!

Verse 20: From Edmond Heibert’s An Expository Study of Matthew 28:16-20, “This Gospel ends not with a command but with a promise, or rather a fact. Jesus will be with His disciples as they carry out His will. This is His great commitment. Immanuel is still God with us (1:23; cf. 18:20). The expression “to the end of the age” (Gr. pasas tes hemeras) literally means “the whole of every day.”1321 Jesus promised to be with us every day forever. It does not mean He will cease being with us when the present age ends and the messianic kingdom begins. Throughout the present age (Gr. sunteleias tou aiovos) Jesus’ disciples are to carry out His Great Commission.”

So is it true that the Gospel of Matthew fails to present Christ as God? I would suggest a belief in the deity of Christ is the very culmination of this gospel! Was it as developed as John’s Gospel or expressed in the same manner? Certainly not! But I think the Gospel of Matthew honestly depicts the evolution (if I may use this word) of thought concerning Christ. This final passage of this gospel expresses a culmination of thought that perhaps begins with Peter’s confession in Matthew 16:15-16 that Christ was the Son of the Living God. An expression that Thomas Constable writes, “He further defined Jesus as the Son of the living God. This is a more definite identification of Jesus as deity than “God’s Son” or “a son of God” (14:33). That title leaves a question open about the sense in which Jesus was God’s Son. The Jews often described their God as the living God, the contrast being with dead idols. By referring to God this way Peter left no doubt about the God who was the Father of Jesus. He was the true God. Since Jesus was the Son of God, He was the Messiah, the King over the long anticipated earthly kingdom (cf. 2 Sam. 7:14; Isa. 9:6; Jer. 23:5-6; Mic. 5:2). Peter expressed belief that Jesus was both Messiah and God.”

Book Read in 2012: No. 17 – The Power of the Prophetic Blessing

Title: The Power of the Prophetic Blessing: An Astonishing Revelation for a New Generation
Author: John Hagee

When I agreed to read and review this book for the publisher, I will admit that I knew very little about author John Hagee. I recognized his name from his television ministry but, if I’m being honest, I spend very little time watching televangelists because television ministries lack a key component of ministry – relationship. I say this simply to convey that I have no idea where Mr. Hagee stands theologically. I do not know his denomination or his stances on the popular theological debates of our time.

I will, however, argue that his book, The Power of the Prophetic Blessing, reveals some theological miscues. To make a long story short, Mr. Hagee is asserting that God proclaimed certain blessings on the Israelites that are now offered to Christians (who have supplanted, or at least joined with, the Jewish people as God’s chosen ones) and all we must do is claim those blessings in the name of Jesus Christ. Hagee writes, “The priestly blessing was not just for Moses. Levi, and the elite members of the tribe of Levi; it was intended for every person on the face of the earth!”

According to Hagee, all you have to do to claim your blessings is say them out loud and claim them as your own. Or as my wife astutely put it – Name it and claim it.

For example, Hagee writes:

I want you, regardless of your circumstances or how hopeless you feel at this moment, to say aloud, “I was born to be blessed.”

Begin thinking of yourself as successful in everything you put your hand to. I encourage you to end all destructive speech about yourself, your spouse, your children, your current circumstances, and your future.

You have the power to turn your life around!

Hagee claims that when he began preaching on the power of the prophetic blessing in his local church that everyone’s lives suddenly took a turn for the better. He even shares a heartwarming, personal story of how his unborn baby was saved from birth defects simply because Hagee claimed blessings in his name.

I have several problems with Hagee’s theology.

First, I am a dispensationalist. I believe the the church and the Israelites are distinct groups. Both are saved by Jesus Christ, but a promise or blessing made to the Jewish people is not automatically conveyed upon the church. I believe God has separate programs in store for both. Hagee seems to believe the Jewish people and the Church are one in the same. He is certainly not alone in this belief, however, it is one that I do not agree with.

Secondly, while I do believe that God blesses believers (and unbelievers to a certain extent), I do not believe that I can claim the specific blessings I desire simply by proclaiming them. Hagee seems to take the power of blessing away from God Almighty and claim it for himself. As he shared the story of his unborn baby’s rescue from birth defects it seemed less about what God did and more about what Hagee himself did. This makes me very uncomfortable.

Finally, Hagee’s theology doesn’t jive with reality. Life is hard sometimes. Heck, when Siddhattha Gotama ventured from isolation to view the world for the first time his immediate observation was that life is hard. According to Hagee, these hardships can be wished away in the name of Christ. This is hogwash. The Bible I read tells me that life is difficult and that God will stand by us no matter how mad it gets. It tells me that I can experience the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and a taste of Heaven on earth provided I put my faith in Jesus Christ. And finally, it promises me that someday I will live in a literal Kingdom ruled by Christ Himself. It does not, however, promise me a perfect life in the here and now provided I simply claim it.

Hagee’s theology offers no hope to the believer who is truly suffering. What about the couple whose baby is born with a birth defect. In Hagee’s church, the couple could of avoided the trauma if they had just had a little more faith and proclaimed their blessings with just a little more boldness.

This is a twisted and perverted take on the gospel that is presented in the Bible. Personally, I do not recommend this book for anyone.I was, however, given a promotion copy of the book to use in a give away promotion on this blog. If you want it, let me know. First come, first serve!

Disclaimer: A review copy of this book was given to me by Handlebar Publishing in exchange for this review.

 

Books Read in 2012: No. 15 – Revelation: The Way it Happened

Title: Revelation: The Way It Happened
Author: Lee Harmon

When author Lee Harmon approached me on goodreads.com about reviewing this book I wondered if he knew what he was asking. My reservations were based on the knowledge that our doctrinal beliefs couldn’t be further apart. Harmon is a self-described follower of the “historical Jesus” which means “he appreciate(s) and attempt(s) to exercise the humanitarian teachings of Jesus without getting hung up on supernatural or religious beliefs” (taken from Harmon’s Goodreads page). My views are quite different. I am a member of a Southern Baptist Church, a student at a conservative Baptist graduate school, and a Calvinist with a dispensational understanding of God’s Word. I agree with C.S. Lewis’ argument that Christ simply doesn’t give us the option of respecting Him as a teacher without accepting His Deity. Christ is either God or insane. Considering all of this, I wondered if I was capable of actually giving this book a fair review.

I’m going to give it my best shot.

Revelation: The Way it Happened is a Preterist’s presentation of the Book of Revelation.   Simply put, Preterism is the belief that the prophetic books of the Bible (especially Daniel and Revelation) all concern events that have solely happened in the past. As such, Preterists argue that the Book of Revelation has very little to do with future eschatological events and more to do with the way in which Jews believed the end of the world would be ushered in almost 2,000 years ago. Quite often this assertion is coupled with the notion that the prophetic elements of the Bible were all written after the events they predict. This argument has the added benefit of robbing the Bible of any  “supernatural” elements that are hard for some to wrap their minds around. Preterists start with the assumption that it would be impossible for the writers of Scripture to predict the future and then shape their theology around that assumption (often ignoring any arguments to the contrary). Harmon is no exception to this and plays the part of the Preterist quite well.

While I disagree with his theology, I prefer to focus on those aspects of his book I enjoyed and agree with.

Harmon is spot on when he argues that the original audience of the Book of Revelation would have understood it differently than we do today. God’s plan throughout Scripture is presented as a progressive revelation. By that I mean that God slowly revealed His plan to us. Believers in the Old Testament had a far different level of understanding concerning the future arrival of their Messiah than we have of Jesus today. We must remember that those of us who live in the current age are blessed to have the complete revelation from God in the form of the Bible. This wasn’t always the case. While salvation in every age is found in Jesus Christ not every believer in every age had the same level of understanding concerning Christ that we have today. So I agree with Harmon that it is important to understand Scripture as it was originally intended. In fact, this step (exegesis) should always be addressed before trying to apply Scripture to our own lives (hermeneutics).

This book is suitable to this sort of exegesis. While he may take liberties at times and seems to exercise great effort in making the text fit into his Preterist assumptions, Harmon does offer an explanation of how early Christians may have interpreted the Book of Revelation. I also must congratulate Harmon on the method he used to accomplish this task. Revelation: The Way it Happened is part exegesis and part story. Harmon intermingles the two switching back and forth between his own commentary and a fictional story about an early Christian and his sons. For the most part, Harmon’s methods work. At times, things become a little confusing for the reader due to formatting issues, however, it is a method that I think he will perfect in future books.

I also completely agree with Harmon that not all of Revelation deals with future eschatological events. In fact, practically every conservative, Biblical scholar would agree with this statement. The author of Revelation even writes, “Therefore write what you have seen, what is, and what will take place after this” (Rev 1:19, HCSB). This single verse provides the student of the Bible with a road map to understand the Book of Revelation. The truth is that Revelation deals with things in the past, the author’s present, and the future. Responsible scholars recognize this and interpret Revelation accordingly. Herein lies my chief complaint with this book. Harmon seems content to interpret solely from his presuppositions. He has essentially re-written Revelation to fit into his own preconceived notions. Responsible Biblical scholarship does its best to suspend preconceptions and shapes its conclusions from the Scripture itself.

While this may sound like a harsh complaint, I still believe Revelation: The Way it Happened has a place on my bookshelf. As stated, I respect Harmon’s technique of blending fiction with exegesis and actually learned a little about the writing process by reading his book. I’m impressed by his attempts to use fiction to reveal Biblical truth. I also think his book would be valuable to anyone wishing to learn more about Preterism. I would, however, recommend that students approach this book along with other resources (perhaps a good commentary such as John F. Walvoord’s) if they desire to get a complete picture (and understanding) of the Book of Revelation.

Think Like a Calvinist, Live Like an Arminian

In a recent post, Pastor Jared Moore wrote of the Calvinist-Arminian debate that “both sides largely arrive at the same conclusions.” This is one of the wisest statements I’ve heard concerning the debate between Arminians and Calvinists within the SBC.  More leaders need to step up and embrace the common ground between the two sides. While their soteriological beliefs may differ in extent and process, the end result for an individual is the same. Salvation is found in the blood of Christ whether you’re Arminian or Calvinist. That’s a huge amount of common ground between the two camps.

I believe there is room for both Arminians and Calvinists under the Christian umbrella.

For myself, I’ve slowly drifted towards the Calvinist side of the debate over the last few years. My migration to Calvinism wasn’t as much a conscience decision as it was a natural outgrowth of studying the Bible. I would staunchly argue that if left to my own accord I would never have expressed faith in Christ. God had to step in and gift me with that faith. It was all Him and none of myself that led me to Christ. Thus, I am distinctly Calvinist in my attempts to express God’s saving grace in my life. I say that not to brag of my election but rather to point out how much I needed Him to save me. I wasn’t capable of choosing Christ on my own and I am humbled that He chose me.

But even as I embrace Calvinism it is important for me to remember that not everyone shares my unique perspective. More importantly, I am incapable of seeing things from God’s perspective.  As such, though I may believe in Calvinism there are moments when I must live my life like an Arminian. Let me explain:

Concerning Election: Yes I believe that God elected me for salvation and that my discovery of Christ was purely His work and His alone. But because God is fair and just I certainly don’t perceive any violation of my free will in the midst of His election. Who in his right mind would resent the embrace of a perfectly holy God? Yes, God elected me, however, I can honestly say that from my perspective it was my choice to accept His embrace. His election is such that there is nothing unfair about it.

Sharing the Gospel: Some people suggest that the Doctrine of Unconditional Election somehow renders evangelism obsolete. Quite frankly, this is an absurd assertion. Though God elected people for salvation before the beginning of time, we must remember that, from our perspective, we don’t know who’s elected and who isn’t! And while God can save whomever He desires with or without our help, the beauty is that He invites us to play a small part in the process and enlists us into the wonderful cause of His Kingdom! And we must remember that Christ commanded us to venture into the world and make disciples. No one should need more  motivation than that to share the Good News of Jesus Christ!

So while my theology is reformed I can agree with the Arminian that it is preposterous to suggest that God violates anyone’s freewill. And as I venture out to the world I can enthusiastically share the gospel knowing that God is control of the outcome.

In short, Calvinists should live their lives in ways that seem Arminian and both sides should step up and embrace their common ground.

 

 

Have You Read the Canons of Dort?

Council at Dort

I’ve been trying to watch an online discussion concerning the pros and cons of Calvinism via Ed Stetzer’s program The Exchange (video embedded below) without much success. For some reason, the video keeps freezing up on me. However, I did get far enough to hear one of the contributors, Michael Horton recommend that viewers take a look at the Canon of Dort for themselves. The Canons of Dort is the official judgement of the Dutch Reformed Church issued in 1619 in response to the five main points of contention between Arminianism and Calvinism.  Having never read them entirely, I looked them up.

I’m glad I did. The Canons expand upon the popular TULIP acronym that summarizes the positions of the traditional five-point Calvinist. Each point is illustrated point by point with Scripture references in most cases. For anyone who desires to know more about the Calvinist/Reformed position, the Canons are an excellent source. Each point of contention is divided into two segments. First, the Reformed/Calvinist position is illustrated, then the challenges offered by Arminianism are refuted. It’s good stuff. I highly recommend it.I would suggest that it is good reading whether you consider yourself an Arminian or a Calvinist. The former will understand the opposing opinions better and the latter will learn more about what it is they profess to believe.

For the record, I consider myself a Calvinist (for the most part anyway). The problems I have with the traditional five points are mainly semantic (you can read more of my thoughts here) and my judgement of Canons are no different. I agree with them for the most part and and only take issue with a couple of minor semantic phrases. However, I must admit that I do my best to look for common ground between the Arminian and Reformed/Calvinist positions. Both camps are, after all, sitting under the umbrella of Christianity. My personal motto is Christ first, Calvinism and Arminianism second – with generous loads of grace offered to each.

I’m also dispensational, so put that in your pipe and smoke it.

Below is a link to the aforementioned Canons. I have also embedded the video from the exchange show. I may write more about the Arminian-Calvinist debate in the future along with how a dispensational view effects both. It is a topic I find as interesting as it is complex.

The Canons of Dort

 

 

 

Books Read in 2012: No. 11 – The Interpretation of Prophecy

Title: The Interpretation of Prophecy
Author: Paul Lee Tan
Completed on March 10, 2012

Paul Lee Tan’s book The Interpretation of Prophecy was completed as part of the assigned reading for Reverend J. Stallard’s Interpreting Biblical Prophecy course at the Baptist Bible College & Seminary. Tan approaches the subject of prophecy from the dispensational premillennial viewpoint and endorses a literal, or normal, rendering of the prophetic books of the Bible. The Interpretation of Prophecy “is based on the proposition that consistent literal interpretation of prophecy is good hermeneutics” (Tan, 1974, p. 22). It is Tan’s assertion that a consistent literal hermeneutics naturally lead an interpreter to a premillennial, pretribulational interpretation of prophecy (Tan, 1974, p.22) and The Interpretation of Prophecy is his attempt to illustrate this point.

Summary

Tan’s book begins with a practical defense of literal interpretation methods. He defines literal interpretation as “… explain[ing] the original sense of the Bible according to the normal and customary uses of its language … consider[ing] the accepted rules of grammar and rhetoric, as well as the factual historical and cultural data of Biblical times” (Tan, 1974, p.29). It is a definition that closely resembles those of other writers on the subject. For instance, in The Moody Handbook of Theology Paul Enns defines literal interpretation as meaning “… the words and sentences of Scripture are understood in their normal meaning – the ways that words are understood in normal communication” (Enns, 2008, c.18). It is on this foundation that Tan begins a reasonable defense of literal interpretation. Tan asserts, “… the words of Scripture are adequate in conveying all that God wants man to know” (Tan, 1974, p.33) and reminds readers that “There is nothing clandestine about Christianity. The proper approach to God’s Word is the reverent one of accepting what it says and then making applications to life” (Tan, 1974, p.35).

Having established the terms of what constitutes a literal interpretation, Tan then briefly explores the history of interpretation. Tan walks readers through the methods of the Alexandrian Jews to the early church fathers, the medieval period, the reformation, and post reformation all the way up to the twentieth century. In this section of the book, Tan explores the paradigm shifts throughout history in the way interpreters viewed Scripture. He then asserts, “… although the battle for the interpretation of Scripture has largely been won in evangelical circled for the literal method, a hard and bitter conflict still looms over the interpretive method for the prophetic Scriptures” (Tan, 1974 p.57-58).

Having established that there are still some disagreements over interpretation methodology concerning the prophetic Scriptures, Tan then makes the case for the literal interpretation of these Scriptures from a Biblical perspective. Tan’s argument is based on the supposition that the prophetic Scriptures, like the rest of the Bible, originate from God and are intended to be understood (Tan, 1974, p.59-61). Tan references multiple Scriptural passages including Matthew 24:15 and 2 Peter 1:19 to strengthen his point. He sums up this argument by asserting, “Practical consideration demands that the literal method of interpretation be used for all of Scripture” (Tan, 1974, p.74).

Following this appeal to Scripture, Tan explores the nature of Biblical prophecy itself. The author divides Biblical prophecy into two main categories – predictions and apocalyptics.  Predictions are those that involve events in the near future while apocalyptics are prophecies that involve the end-times (Tan, 1974, p.76-77). Tan then argues, “The prophets see future events in their visions as the common observer would observe the stars, grouping them as they appear to his eyes and not according their true position is space” (Tan, 1974, p.92). It is for this reason that prophecies often can only be interpreted correctly from the perspective of history (Tan, 1974, p.93).

It is at this point that Tan appropriately chooses to explore the principles of interpreting prophecy. Tan spells out the process for his readers with common sense applications. Tan then progresses into the nuts and bolts of prophecy with sections that explore prophetic language, symbols and types, the fulfillment of prophecy, and specific hermeneutical issues. Tan even includes an extensive appendix that addresses specific elements of prophetic Scripture. He concludes his book with the reminder, “When the interpreter has arrived at a well-based interpretation of prophecy, the next step is to apply this discovery to lives” (Tan, 1974, p.281).

Analysis

The strengths of The Interpretation of Prophecy far outweigh the weaknesses. In fact, any attempt by this student to explore the weakness of Tan’s book may seem slightly contrived. However, if forced to divulge a quibble with Tan’s work, it would have to concern his statement on page 33 that “literal interpreters believe that the words of Scripture are adequate in conveying all that God wants man to know” (Tan, 1974, p.33). While I agree in principle with this statement I would revise it to read ‘all that God needs man to know.’

Most Biblical scholars agree that God communicates with mankind via Special and General Revelation. By definition, prophetic Scripture is Special Revelation as it involves God directly revealing Himself in miraculous ways.[1] While I would agree with Tan that Scripture provides mankind with all that God needs mankind to know, his brief exploration of the subject seems to ignore the existence of the General Revelation as defined by the Apostle Paul in Revelation 1:20. The issue is further complicated when Tan appeals to history (often an extra-biblical discipline) as the proper perspective by which to observe prophecy (Tan, 1974, p.93).

It must be acknowledged, however, that an in-depth exploration into the nature of Special and General Revelations may be beyond the scope of Tan’s book. Furthermore, the strengths of The Interpretation of Prophecy far outweigh any perceived weaknesses. Mainly, Tan’s book provides as well-balanced argument in favor of literal interpretation that progresses in a logical and thoughtful manner. Tan’s arguments are flavored with the sort of common sense that is often absent from such discourse. Rather than simply attacking liberal and spiritual interpretations of Scripture, Tan spends the majority of his time explaining in layman’s terms why a literal approach to interpretation leads to the best possible interpretation.

The strongest sections of Tan’s work include the opening chapter that seeks to define literal interpretation and in chapter three that appeals to Scripture as the basis for such an interpretation. Tan is at his best when he writes:

When the Alexandrian church fathers left the sure footing of the literal interpretation of Scripture in favor of the allegorical method, a runaway situation resulted. Taking flight from the literal Word, every father became virtually an authority unto himself, and the sky was the limit. No concrete test of an acceptable interpretation was available. And exegesis differed from church father to church father, and even from time to time under a man. (p.72-73)

Tan’s words are appropriate because they can be seen in practice today. With the popularity of movements such as the emergent church that are drifting away from literal methods of interpretations, students can see the folly of such spiritualization in progress.[2]

How The Interpretation of Scripture has influenced this Student

Tan’s work has helped solidify a number of concepts in my mind. Most notably, I am more convinced than ever that a literal approach to the interpretation of Biblical prophecy is the most Biblical and appropriate method. Having once viewed Biblical prophecy as mysterious and vague I was content in just knowing that God was in control of such things. I was not convinced that God actually intended for me to understand such matters. As a result of my studies under Reverend J. Stallard and of reading The Interpretation of Scripture I now understand that God wants me to understand prophecy and that an adequate understanding of such matters is actually attainable.

Tan’s work has also clarified some very specific issues in my mind. For instance, Tan’s Rule of Simplest Alternative as presented on page 123 has especially resonated with me. Basically, the rule of thumb is that when two or more interpretations are offered for a single text (which is often the case with prophecy) the interpreter should choose the one that “imposes the least strain on credulity” (Tan, 1974, p.124). This single rule is one that I will carry throughout my life when reading the prophetic Scriptures.

In closing, Tan’s work helps dissolve the fanciful interpretations of Scripture in favor of a common sense, literal approach. In an age when everyone seems concerned with far out apocalyptic predictions, Tan’s book is a reminder that it is far better to rely on the Word of God as was intended by the writers of Scripture. The Interpretation of Scripture is one that I will refer to often throughout my life as I engage with the Word of God.


References

Enns, P. (2008). The moody handbook of theology. Chicago, Illinois: Moody Publishers.

Tan, P. L. (1974). The interpretation of prophecy. Dallas, Texas: Bible Communications, Inc.


[1] My definitions of Special and General revelation are derived from those found at http://www.gotquestions.org/general-special-revelation.html

[2] For an example of such modern spiritualization read Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christianity, 2010, Harper One.

"Does God Exist?" William Lane Craig verses Peter Millican

I found this debate embedded below between William Lane Craig and Peter Millican to be quite enjoyable for a few reasons. Primarily, I enjoyed the level of professionalism and civility that both men modeled. The debate was virtually devoid of the snarkiness that usually enters into such discourse. Both men carried themselves well and presented their sides without resorting to backhanded insults or rudeness. Secondly, I find the topic to amazingly important in the field of apologetics.

Too often, Christian apologists move quickly to establish the deity of Christ while forgetting that their opponents and/or audience may be struggling with the concept of deity in general. This debate centers around the question of deity, “Does God Exist?” When engaging with those who are struggling with the concept of God, it is often necessary for the Christian apologist to lay the groundwork and establish that the concept of God is acceptable prior to making the argument that Christianity best explains God. Following this approach, the apologist is free to use both evidential evidence and  presuppositions to win his case. It is a topic I explore in a brief paper found here.

I think Craig does an apt job in this debate of laying this important groundwork. In his book, Reasonable Faith, Craig makes the argument that the task of the apologist isn’t necessarily to convince his opponent. Rather, in a day and age where secularists try to monopolize reason and academia, the apologist is better served to simply claim intellectual ground in the name of faith. If the apologist can accomplish this task, he has successfully given his audience “intellectual permission” to consider God. I think Craig accomplishes this task rather well in this debate.

I also think Craig wins this particular debate. He seemed much more concerned with actively proving his case while Millican seemed more concerned with rebutting Craig rather than proving his own argument that God doesn’t exist.

I invite you to check out their debate and consider their arguments for yourself. I must warn you, however, the debate is rather long. You might want to watch it in segments or pour yourself a cup of coffee before you settle in.

I hope you enjoy!