Monday, April 25, 2011

Bavinck on Christ's Exaltation

“But in the state of exaltation, consequently, he has also been given the divine right, the divine appointment, the royal power and prerogatives to carry out the work of re-creation in full, to conquer all his enemies, to save all those who have been given to him, and to perfect the entire kingdom of God. On the basis of the one, perfect sacrifice made on the cross, he now--in keeping with the will of the Father--distributes all his benefits. Those benefits are not the physical or magical aftereffect of his earthly life and death; the history of the kingdom of God is not an evolutionistic process. It is the living exalted Christ, seated at the right hand of God, who deliberately and with authority distributes all these benefits, gathers his elect, overcomes his enemies, and directs the history of the world toward the day of his parousia. He is still consistently at work in heaven as mediator. He not only was but still is our chief prophet, our only high priest, and our eternal king. He is the same yesterday, today and forever.
“There is, of course, an enormous difference between the work of Christ did in his humiliation and what he accomplishes in his exaltation. Just as after the resurrection, his person appeared in another form, so also his work assumed another form. He is no longer servant but Lord and Ruler, and his work is now no longer a sacrifice of obedience, but the conduct of royal dominion until he has gathered all his own and put all his enemies under his feet.” (Reformed Dogmatics, vol 3, p.474).
A couple of thoughts:
1. I think there are many who disconnect the kingdom of God from the cross and the resurrection. Equally, it is important to see that the mode of the kingdom as it is present today by some minimizes the significance of the ascension and Christ reigning from heaven (where he dwells bodily in his resurrected state). As such it is this minimization that tend to see the kingdom advancing today in a sort of evolutionary process. Thus, we are told that we build the kingdom as opposed to seeing Christ as the one who builds the kingdom and we receive it. Christ has one the kingdom and he distributes the benefits. While the kingdom advances, it does so because Christ has won the kingdom on the cross.

2. The resurrection is the first phase of the exaltation of Christ. And so as Bavinck says elsewhere "in the state of his exaltation there remains must for Christ to do." We should connect the ministry of the work on the cross with the ministry that Christ carries out as priest and king in his resurrected-exalted state.

3. We should temper the work of Christ around the two phases of his humanity: humility and exaltation. This gives us a paradigm for thinking about the work of Christ on the cross and now in the kingdom inaugurated. It gives us the paradigm for salvation history. It also gives us a paradigm for the structure of the Christian life. We are united to the king who is exalted but our present state and activity here on earth is to be one of humility, that often includes suffering like Christ suffered.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Resurrection & Christ's Exaltation

The resurrection is the crowning of Jesus with glory and honor. It is crucially connected to the kingdom of God and the inauguration of Christ's reign.

Here are 6 things we can say about the resurrection of Christ.
Romans 1;1-4

You can listen here:

Michael Bird writes this:
One thing that Resurrection and Ascension day tell us is that there is no other intermediary between God and his people. Jesus is installed as priest and king for all eternity. No emperor, no clergyman, and no temple stands in between us and God. We are a kingdom of priests and we are the holy temple of the Priest King Jesus Christ.

Larry Hurtado writes this:
This [resurrection] was not a claim that Jesus had been resuscitated and brought back to life of this world, but instead that God had catapulted Jesus forward into life of the world to come. 
One immediate implication of this claim was that God had vindicated Jesus against the death-penalty imposed by the earthly authorities.  That is, in the earliest setting, Jesus’ resurrection was very much divine vindication.
The likelihood that Jesus had been executed as a messianic/royal claimant meant that God’s resurrecting him vindicated this claim.  That’s probably why the messianic claim about Jesus seems to have been so central in earliest Christian preaching. 

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Good for a Laugh

I've believe that a well rounded person never takes themselves to seriously. A mature person knows there are real issues and real problems in this world. This world has enough trouble that I should not take myself so serious. Being able to have a good laugh at yourself is typically not only a mark of good wit but maturity and even sometimes intelligence. Most often a wise person can see when they've done something stupid or funny and will laugh.

In this light, I find it very interesting that Weird Al has posted on his blog that Lady Gaga refused to allow herself to be parodied. I confess, I don't follow Lady Gaga very much (meaning at all except for the reports of antics that the morning "news" shows force me to endure--thankfully with the royal wedding approaching I am forced to endure "celebrity" news that is at least civil, whether its news that I need to hear about every day is another story--I digress).

What strikes me as down right ironic is that Lady Gaga takes herself so serious. So she has standards and draws the line at parody? I mean at what point did she say "this parody has gone to far"? She's a performer no doubt. Her antics border on absurd to draw attention. She's in it to sell records and I don't begrudge her of that. But really, do you expect us to take you seriously? 

It would seem that Lady Gaga takes herself so seriously since she won't even let Weird Al parody one of her songs. Either that or she knows to be true what so many have suspected: she's already the joke. Kudos to Weird Al for having a personal policy of consulting with all the musicians before he parodies them. This just puts Lady Gaga in an even worse light: she obviously takes herself far to serious, and that itself is a good joke.

Now maybe she might say 'My song 'Born this Way' is about a serious issue and parodying it makes a mockery of the issue.' When the antics performance art isn't drawing attention--suddenly we are supposed to listen the celebrity championing a cause? Excuse me if I'm suspicious that it is just another shout out for attention--almost in the way a prisoner has a miraculous conversion to religion in order to appeal to his parole board.

It seems the whole thing is like the court jester complaining when the second court jester parodies the first. Wierd Al has some funny parodies and I had some friends in high school who got me into him for a little while. It's good for a laugh. But this whole thing strikes me as Lady Gaga's trying to avoid an 'the Emperor has no clothes moment.' "No, No, take me serious! Pay no attention to the obvious." One could make the case Wierd Al is the little boy getting dangerously close in his parody to pointing out what should be absurdly obvious.

The whole thing is good for a chuckle. It's a good reminder: don't take yourself too seriously--especially if you have to engage in antics to say "take me serious." As an aside one moral from the story: churches and pastors beware. You can't engage in antics and at the same time say "take me and my message seriously." How many churches engage in the equivalent of modest Gaga-antics and then say "but take our cause serious." What does that tell you? 

Wierd Al writes this:
"My parodies have always fallen under what the courts call “fair use,” and this one was no different, legally allowing me to record and release it without permission. But it has always been my personal policy to get the consent of the original artist before including my parodies on any album, so of course I will respect Gaga’s wishes. However, given the circumstances, I have no problem with allowing people to hear it online, because I also have a personal policy not to completely waste my stinking time."

What is so ironic here is its the professional comedian that we can actually take seriously.

Here's the video.  It was uploaded April 20th and as of today has 1.8 million hits. And surprise, surprise, it looks like Lady Gaga has now approved it. Makes you wonder what she's really in the business for.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Not-So-Final 'Final Judgment'

Craig Carter has a helpful post on what he thinks is the real problem of universalism. He writes:
I propose the thesis that the main theological problem with popular ideas of universalism is that they ultimately make our relationship to Christ something less than the most important issue we face in life...Is living a comparatively good life - for your day and age and society - and maybe a bit of moral heroism sprinkled in here and there enough for salvation? What happened to Rom. 1-3? What happened to "All have sinned and come short of the glory of God?" (Romans 3:23) Why did Jesus bother to come and die anyway? 
Usually, when this problem becomes apparent to would-be universalists who don't want to lose their Evangelical audiences completely, the next step is to begin speculating on the possibility of hell being eventually emptied by the love of God drawing everyone to Himself. 
What this does is to make life basically unserious: "Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we don't exactly die, we just move on to a stage in which it will make a lot more sense to be religious than it does in this life."  
What universalism does for this life is a big problem but I think it is not the big problem. The big problem is what it does to the final judgment. So for example here is the document Mars Hill released to defend Rob Bell. They write:
What does Love Wins say about judgment?
In the book, it is stated that we experience judgment now for choices we make and there will be the final judgment to come. God cannot tolerate sin and injustice and will judge acts of injustice decisively. Rob addresses God’s judgment in Love Wins several times [See pages 37-39, 49-50, 89-90.] In Love Wins judgment is also viewed as self-induced. When we continue to reject the way of Jesus we choose hell, bringing judgment on ourselves. [underline mine]

But a paragraph earlier they wrote:
What does Love Wins say about heaven and hell? 
Love Wins recognizes heaven and hell to be realities all around us. We see hell everyday through the atrocities of war, famine, human trafficking, broken relationships, and abuse. We also see heaven all around us through acts of love, kindness, and compassion.
There is also the reality of heaven and hell in the future. Our ultimate future hope is a restored creation under Christ where God will dwell with us forever on a restored heaven and earth [Rev 21-22]. There are many who accept the invitation of the life of heaven and many who reject the invitation. Those who reject the invitation experience a purifying “fire” of judgment in hell, yet there is hope. We live in the hope that the redemptive work of Christ is beyond what we can ask or imagine. Love Wins helps us have a biblical imagination that leaves room for the hope of the redemption of all while recognizing humanities free will to continue to reject God.

So, we have final judgment but it really isn't all that final. Rob Bell tells us that because heaven has no gates people can come in from hell when they want. Gregory MacDonald writes, "The universalist would see the lake of fire as deserved and terrible but as educative, being aimed at producing a realization of one's sins and thus repentance" (The Evangelical Universalist, p.121). Thomas Talbott writes, "On the other hand, for those who refuse to step into his ordained system of repentance, forgiveness, and personal sacrifice, he [God] has an alternative strategy: In their estrangement from God, they will experience his love as a consuming fire; that is, as wrath, as punishment, and, in the the end, as a means of correction. So in that sense, they will literally pay for their sin; and God will never--not in this age and not in the age to come--forgive (or set aside) the final payment they owe, which is voluntarily to step inside the ordained system of repentance, forgiveness, and personal sacrifice" (The Inescapable Love of God, p.106). But in this scheme even after the final judgment when the person finally chooses he's done "kicking against the goads" as it were, well then out you come.

It is ultimately man who has control over the final verdict. Sure God may give the verdict, but when we say "uncle"--ok then, you're done. The final verdict is not a verdict but an educational experience. While this of course makes this life somewhat trite more than that it demeans the character of what God does in judging in order to set the universe right and establish his universal reign. Instead of letting God be God, man will always get the last say on his terms and when he wants. 

I think the pernicious problem with universalism is that the "Last Judgment" is not really all that final and last. God can, in this scheme, change and redo the judgment whenever he wants. When man decides he's done God will change the verdict and welcome someone back into heaven. It will hardly do to say that the verdict is final with an included condition because meeting the proviso still nulls the actual verdict of "guilty."

So if the judgment isn't really all that final then the resurrection doesn't then really furnish proof that he's fixed a day in which he will judge the world (Acts 17:30-31). I mean he may judge the world on a particular day--but hey, if you want to come along sometime after that and do something for reversing the verdict so be it. In the end the day may be a day, but it isn't all that fixed. Eschatology may be inaugurated but never really gets all that consummated since whenever you want the final verdict reversed just let God know. Then it makes a mockery of the notion that God will be 'justified his his words and prevail when he judges' (Romans 3:5).

While I agree with Craig Carter that universalism makes this life trite as the "day of salvation" that is "now", (and this is no small problem), I think the greater problem is how it universalism robs God of his glory in the final judgement. Just my thought.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Little Girls Gone Wild

Here is an interesting article that starts with the story of an eight year old dressing inappropriately in a public setting. The problem is not just that young girls are dressing in things that are not even appropriate for teens and young women but that parents endorse and support this behavior. While corporations can market and influence buyers, the bottom line is there would be no emerging market for 'sexy' little girls apparel if parents just said "no" and meant it. The article makes some great points. Here's an excerpt:

And then I realize as creepy as it is to think a store like Abercrombie is offering something like the "Ashley", the fact remains that sex only sells because people are buying it. No successful retailer would consider introducing an item like a padded bikini top for kindergarteners if they didn't think people would buy it.
If they didn't think parents would buy it, which begs the question: What in the hell is wrong with us?
It's easy to blast companies for introducing the sexy wear, but our ire really should be directed at the parents who think low rise jeans for a second grader is cute. They are the ones who are spending the money to fuel this budding trend. They are the ones who are suppose to decide what's appropriate for their young children to wear, not executives looking to brew up controversy or turn a profit.
I get it, Rihanna's really popular. But that's a pretty weak reason for someone to dress their little girl like her.
I don't care how popular Lil' Wayne is, my son knows I would break both of his legs long before I would allow him to walk out of the house with his pants falling off his butt. Such a stance doesn't always makes me popular -- and the house does get tense from time to time -- but I'm his father, not his friend.
Friends bow to peer pressure. Parents say, "No, and that's the end of it."
The way I see it, my son can go to therapy later if my strict rules have scarred him. But I have peace knowing he'll be able to afford therapy as an adult because I didn't allow him to wear or do whatever he wanted as a kid.
Maybe I'm a Tiger Dad.
Maybe I should mind my own business.
Or maybe I'm just a concerned parent worried about little girls like the one I saw at the airport.
In 2007, the American Psychological Association's Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls issued a report linking early sexualization with three of the most common mental-health problems of girls and women: eating disorders, low self-esteem and depression. There's nothing inherently wrong with parents wanting to appease their daughters by buying them the latest fashions. But is getting cool points today worth the harm dressing little girls like prostitutes could cause tomorrow?

It a bit humorous but makes some sobering points. You have two choices: (1) be the parent; (2) let the child be the parent. And it's good to see a dad being a dad one these issues. Above all, as I've said before, Dads should be the ones concerned about what their little girls are wearing. 

The parents job is not to get the child everything they want. The parents job is to instruct their children and instill virtue in them so that they do not follow the zeitgeist. It is true that the parents bear the responsibilities for raising their kids and saying "no." However, one cannot under estimate the power that culture can have when young kids are seen as markets for products that used to be considered limited to late teens or adulthood.

In their book The Narcissism Epidemic,  Jean Twenge and Keith Campbell write:
"Until recently, parents consider it their responsibility to deal with these emotional storms by standing their ground. Many of today's parents instead seek to raise children high in self-admiration and self-esteem, partially because books and articles have touted its importance. Unfortunately, much of what parents thing raises self-esteem--such as telling a kid he's special and giving him what he wants--actually leads to narcissism...Parents who want to stick with the older model of child rearing that downplays materialism and emphasizes politeness and discipline are swimming against the cultural tide."  (p73-74).
"It's also not good news for parents who tell their little girls they are princesses ("How's my princess today?"). Although girls have always liked to play princess dress-up, complete with sparkly pink dress and shoes, it's now common for girls to carry this fantasy beyond dress up time and believe they are modern royalty. The kind of parenting that leads to narcissism--putting your child on a pedestal and overpraising--could be called "princess parenting."
Many parents intend princess parenting to lead to good outcomes: your little girl will think she's the best, so she'll succeed in life and blow off the loser guys she'd otherwise bring home. Given that narcissism leads to failure and to relationship problems, this is unlikely to work. Instead your daughter might end up thinking she's so special that she deserves to be treated like royalty--a perscription for narcissism, and considerably less amusing in a teenager than in the baby you first called "princess."...Even if you don't practice princess parenting, little girls somehow absorb the princess idea out of the ether of our culture." (p.80-81).
There is nothing wrong with your girls playing a little dress up and even dressing up like the occasional princess. But this is a far cry from treating them with a sense of entitlement where parents give so much deference to the child that the child runs the house. 

All parents want their children to succeed and become self-confident and assured. We want them to enter healthy relationships instead of unhealthy dependencies. I have a feeling that this is the type of outcome {self-assured and confident} that many parents think they are cultivating when they let their young children wear the kinds of things described in the first article:
Her beautiful, long blond hair was braided back a la Bo Derek in the movie "10" (or for the younger set, Christina Aguilera during her "Xtina" phase). Her lips were pink and shiny from the gloss, and her earrings dangled playfully from her lobes.
You can tell she had been vacationing somewhere warm, because you could see her deep tan around her midriff thanks to the halter top and the tight sweatpants that rested just a little low on her waist. The icing on the cake? The word "Juicy" was written on her backside.
Yeah, that 8-year-old girl was something to see alright. ... I hope her parents are proud. Their daughter was the sexiest girl in the terminal, and she's not even in middle school yet.

Allowing kids to where whatever they want, especially clothes that accentuate their figure and draw attention to "me, me, me" will only cultivate and encourage the growing narcissism. Rather than producing kids who are well grounded and morally responsible--it does just the opposite. Given a child what they want, just because they want it, actually makes them more vulnerable growing into less-than-well balanced adults. Letting a young child wear what they want because it makes them look "hot" is a prescription for the child's undoing not the path to their mature confident adulthood.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Book Review: Every Man's Battle

Every Man's Battle is a practical book written to help men see the need for and have the ability to fight the battle against lust in its various forms. It is helpful, balanced and straight forward. It talks plainly about the battle, the problems of lust and the solutions. 

The book is divided into 6 sections.
1. Where are We?
2. How We Got Here.
3. Choosing Victory
4. Victory with Your Eyes
5. Victory with Your Mind
6. Victory with Your Heart

The book is broader than just fighting pornography and so deals with lust in all its form. Those who find pornography particularly luring will find it helpful--although you will want to supplement it some for this problem. While those men not enslaved to that particular form of lust will find the book helpful in rooting out lust that can run deeper.

The book speaks in plain language with helpful instructions and tips. It includes short sections written for women. The book as a whole gives helpful stories and examples from the perspective of men and women. Yet it speaks clearly to men and motivates them to stand up and be men. It challenges men to draw a line in the sand and fight this battle. Men will be challenged with clear direct language that strikes at the core of who they are. It is in an analogous to the rousing speeches generals have their men on the eve of battle in thousands of wars. Will men fight this battle for the sake of their wives and women?

Helpful are the tips about "bouncing" ones eyes for dealing with random images that can distract our minds if we dwell on them. For women (other than wives) that we must know in our lives, the analogy shifts from a defensive battle to a customs agents. There are certain thoughts that we must immediately detain and take captive for Christ. Once the thoughts are taken captive and killed, it is possible, with caution to have a healthy relationship with a women who say for example a co-worker. Arterburn and Stoeker flesh this out in detail offering sobering examples of where men have failed, why and how men can and must keep "their shields up" and be on "red alert" (Star Trek allusions). 

While the book lays out a clear pattern of Biblical obedience, one weakness is that it does not entirely ground obedience in the gospel. It does not deny the gospel and certainly references the Holy Spirit's power. In the end it's method is analogous to the "third use of the law." A biblical counselor or pastor will want to supplement this book with material on repentance, gospel living and crucifying the flesh. However, the book gives helpful tips and tools for fighting lust. It will be tough to read this book and look at lust in the same way again. The goal of the book is not merely to set men free from lust but to set men free to wholehearted love God and their wives. 

I'd give this book three and half stars (if three= fair/good; four = great; five = superb).

I would like to thank Waterbrook Multnomah Publishers for providing me with a complimentary copy of this book for review purposes. 

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Is Rob Bell a Universalist?

In his defense Mars Hill in Grand Rapids writes:

Does Love Wins promote Universalism?
No. Rob isn’t suggesting Universalism [all will be saved, regardless of their faith]. He is proposing that God’s love is so big that the invitation to God’s grace may extend into the next life so that all could be saved. Love Wins clearly points to the centrality of Jesus and the work of his life, death, and resurrection and the hope that Christ’s work will bring restoration to all. Jesus is the only way to God. God’s love does not force anyone and there may be those who continue to reject the invitation extended to them. Love Wins speaks often speaks of human freedom [72-73, 103-104, 113, 115, 117]. Rob shares, “Love demands freedom. It always has, and it always will. We are free to resist, reject, and rebel against God’s ways for us. We can have all the hell we want.” [113]

Ok, so Rob Bell isn't a universalist if you only define universalism is saying that people are dragged to heaven kicking and screaming (politely "regardless of their faith"). He's not a universalist in the sense that he believes all people are good and Jesus didn't need to die because everybody automatically goes to heaven.

But what about Christian Universalism in the type we see in Gregory MacDonald's The Evangelical Universalist or Thomas Talbott's The Inescapable Love of God. My cursory use of these works has left me asking: what if any is the real difference between this universalism and Bell?

By Rob Bell's standards then Origen wasn't an universalist because he believe the cross reconciled everybody. But any standard discussion of this Christian notion of universalism labels Origen as such. It's a fair term applied in a fair way even with Origen's specifics which differ from 19th century unitarian universalism or some other species.

Rob Bell says he's been slandered (although he does not say where--see imbeded video). Maybe he believes along with Mars Hill that saying Rob Bell is a universalist is "slanderous."

I think it is far more slanderous and abusive to redefine universalism (the large category) to be limited to one sub-species of universalism. Whether intentional or unintentional it is misleading and deceptive to relabel categories. So you try to win a hearing with "I believe in hell" while you are clearly advocating a very different conception of what "hell" means.

If in the end God's redemption accomplishes the winning back of all people even those condemned at the final judgment, then regardless of what you say about Jesus, his death, his saving power, and how and when his "Love Wins" you are still a universalist (albeit a very specific subspecies--but what universalist doesn't belong to a sub-species?). No amount of decrying can change things. A duck is still a duck--even if you're a Merganser but clearly not a common stock Mallard.

I'm not sure why Rob Bell does not just embrace the title "Christian Universalist" in the general category of the works cited above. But then what do I know I'm just a blogger and we live to slander (*sarcasm).

(Even wikipedia gets the differences between types of universalisms and Christian universalism but with clear commonalities. See also Trinitarian Universalism.)

Saturday, April 16, 2011

"All"; the Bible vs. Universalism

One of the hallmarks of the 'Christian universalist' presentation is that he determines that when Scripture speaks of "all creation" being reconciled it must invariable mean every person and created being without distinction.

When it comes to the Bible, "all" does not mean "all." In other words, 'all creation' can speak of an expansive concept through out creation, all in terms of vastness, not necessarily all in terms of comprehensive of each individual and being. For example, are notoriously divided over whether or not Satan and demons are reconciled (set aside that Scripture says they are not and Christ did not die for angels).

Consider Colossians 1:20

Colossians 1:20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. 
Read the context. In Colossians 1:22-23 it is clear that only those who believe and remain in the faith are those who will be reconciled and presented blameless in the day of the Lord.
Colossians 1:22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister. 
The Christian universalist then plays fancy with Christ's judgment and the Day of the Lord. It might not be final--and so of course everybody is saved only through faith in Christ--and they might come to faith after the day where those who believed in this life are present spotless and holy.* To which we reply like Paul "μὴ γένοιτο" ("May it never be" or "God forbid") and which we reply this way not because it is not a nice idea--for on the surface it seems more pleasurable-- rather it runs contrary to the Biblical concept of the Last Judgment. And it's called the Last Judgment for just that reason.

Consider a more potent example:

The New Heavens and the New Earth is the final state of the resurrection of the righteous. It is the restoration of ‘all creation’ yet we should understand that the unrighteous are made to dwell in away from God’s goodness and under his wrath that has been kindled for them:
Isaiah 66:22 “For as the new heavens and the new earth that I make shall remain before me, says the Lord, so shall your offspring and your name remain. 23 From new moon to new moon, and from Sabbath to Sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship before me, declares the Lord. 24 “And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.” 

Notice that contrary to the universalist “all flesh” does not mean every individual but “all flesh” living in the time of the New Heavens and New Earth who have experienced eternal life. There is a clear distinction between "all flesh" those who are "of your offspring and your name" (and perhaps other created beings) vs. the dead bodies of men who rebelled and are 'cut off from the land of the living.' 

The New Heavens and the New Earth is the final state of the righteous and it lasts forever. They enjoy everlasting life and are classified as part of "all flesh." Those under the second death are not part of the "all flesh" but are under death and God's eternal judgment.

The final state of the wicked lasts equally long as the state of the righteous. Again we are told the fire  is not quenched. The worm that eats at them does not die mean it does not end. In this life when a worm eats a dead corpse it will run out of food to consume and die--not so in the final state. 

In this day, the wicked will not switch teams. They will not turn and worship rather they shall be looked upon for their rebellion. They have rebelled and their is no turning back.

Of course, as Paul says "now is the Day of Salvation"--by all means please turn and be saved.

*See for example Gregory MacDonald The Evangelical Universalist, pp. 43-48.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Moral Revulsion and Hell

Many people believe that hell and a conception of eternal conscious torment is morally revulsive. For example Clark Pinnock in Four Views of Hell states:

There is a powerful moral revulsion against the traditional doctrine of the nature of hell. Everlasting torture is intolerable from a moral point of view because it pictures God acting like a bloodthirsty monster who maintain an everlasting Auschwitz for his enemies whom he does not even allow to die. (qtd. in Pettegrew "A Kinder, Gentler Theology of Hell?" TMSJ 9/2 p. 207).
Setting aside the emoting and the clear cheap shot at the painful reality of innocent suffering at Auschwitz, this intolerability lacks foundation outside of the human will.

But consider: if we have moral revulsion at the traditional view of hell we will invariably have moral revulsion at the holiness of God. If we revile the holiness of God then we have is not moral revulsion but immoral revulsion. We have defined categories of rightness and wrongness based upon our preferences. We have risen up and become the judge of the living God that he should be judged and condemned in our court rather the reverse.

It is one thing to ask: does the Bible really say that about eternal punishment? or What is the Biblical doctrine? It is quite another thing to say: "Hath God really said?" Defining moral revulsion by our own terms will leave us reviling a infinitely holy God. When we cannot see God's holiness we cannot find how moral revolting our sin really is. Good becomes evil and evil becomes good. Justice becomes tyranny and tyranny becomes justice.

Romans 3:4 "Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written, “That you may be justified in your words, and prevail when you are judged.”"

Warfield and Annihilationism

I don't know much about C.S. Lewis view of external suffering and hell other than the generic sort of account where you don't burn up in hell but you slowly lose your humanness. N.T. Wright's "Surprised by Hope" pp. 181-183 argues for something like this when it comes to hell. I am not convinced that this is the Biblical portrait although it does lead to some right helpful theological questions: are those suffering in hell still bearing the image of God? 

Scripture is clear that those who are throne into the Lake of Fire are so condemned in resurrection bodies. I think we have to distinguish them from the resurrected bodies of the believers that "shine like stars" however it is clearly resurrected bodies. Body and soul is condemned to hell not just souls.

That said, I was reading B.B. Warfield's discussion of annihilationism and this is how it ends:

There is a particular form of conditionalism requiring special mention which seeks to avoid the difficulties of annihilationism, by teaching, not the total extinction of the souls of the wicked, but rather, as it is commonly phrased, their "transformation" into impersonal beings incapable of moral action, or indeed of any feeling. This is the form of conditionalism which is suggested by James Martineau and by Horace Bushnell. It is also hinted at by Henry Drummond when he supposes the lost soul to lose not salvation merely but the capacity for it and for God; so that what is left is no longer fit to be called a soul, but is a shrunken, useless organ ready to fall away like a rotten twig. The Alsatian theologian A. Schäffer similarly speaks of the wicked soul losing the light from heaven, the divine spark which gave it its value, and the human personality thereby being obliterated. "The forces out of which it arises break up and become at last again impersonal. They do not pass away, but are transformed." One sees the conception here put forward at its highest level in such a view as that presented by Professor O.A. Curtis, which thinks of the lost not, to be sure, as "crushed into mere thinghood" but as sunk into a condition "below the possibility of any moral action, or moral persons in this life when personality is entirely overwhelmed by the base sense of what we call physical fear." There is no annihilation in Professor Curtis' view; not even relief for the lost from suffering; but it may perhaps be looked at as marking the point where the theories of annihilationism reach up and melt at last into the doctrine of eternal punishment. (Warfield, Works, Vol. 9, pp. 456-57; References cited in original were omitted here)
Warfield does not advocate this view, he is merely presenting it. It is interesting though as a point of historical inquiry that this idea is not sui generis to Lewis or Wright.

The problems that I would have with the ideas Warfield reviews are:
  1. At least in the quotes Warfield cites there is no discussion of body and soul condemned to hell just what happens to the soul. (Although Warfield does not cite these works in whole--my concern is that we think in terms of body and soul in the lake of fire).
  2. The Biblical discussion of worm and fire that is not quenched seems to indicate that the worm and fire does not consume though it is clearly torturous. In this form of conditionalism while the suffering is eternal, it seems that this conception the fire does consume away at the soul in some fashion, albeit not a strictly annihilationist conception.
  3. While creation in general currently bears the curse of sin, God's Wrath is not abstract by directed at personal beings. If God's wrath 'burns' away their personhood, at what point is it no longer his wrath directed at them but just an abstract concept.
  4. Finally, at the state that the person is non-personal can they really be considered to be being punished and suffering eternally?

I must say, I will have to look into O.A. Curtis a little more. His idea might have merit in a limited extent.  Consider how the effects of sin often lead to the loss of rationality in this life. Indeed rational thought is grounded in being made in God's image. The Biblical portrait is resurrected bodies and souls suffering eternally and these things are not consumed away or 'burned down' as it were, but the Scriptures gives us very little insight into what happens to the psychological state of those suffering. Strictly speaking what happens to the personality of those burned? Does their resurrected state cause them to constantly recognize the rightness of God's wrath and judgment or as so often in this world does being unregenrate keep them blind to this? Scripture is clear that all will be bow before Jesus so they have to recognize the majesty of God and his rightness in judgment at some point. Scripture is clear that they will hear a clear verdict which they are forced to submit to regardless of whether or not they "like it." We should be careful to not go beyond what is written, yet we may have hints from Romans 1 as to the effects on psychology and conscience [note: not consciousness] that come to bear when one is under God's wrath and from these hints we may be able to say something small about the effects of this eternal bearing of God's wrath that is suffered in Gehenna. 

It seems to me that Warfield is right (not to mention clever) to say: "it may perhaps be looked at as marking the point where the theories of annihilationism reach up and melt at last into the doctrine of eternal punishment." While I'm not convinced from what I know about these views that they are Biblical,  and while there is a limited value is some of what Wright says on the issue, it is important to note that the view is not traditional annihilationism or even proper annihationist. In other words they may give up something, but they do not give up as much ground as the annihilationist-- in the same way the annihilationist does not give up as much Biblical doctrine as the "Christian universalist". While truth is truth, it is helpful to recognize that wrong views are not all equally wrong to the same extent.

In the end, we must stick to Scripture and it's clearness on the doctrine of endless/eternal punishment. This punishment will be just and fair and vindicate the holiness of God. God will show Himself to be God for His own glory.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Three Reasons Jesus Died on the Cross -John 17:1-5 Part 3

This is part 3 of a series and so deals with a second reason for Jesus dying on the cross as found in John 17:1-5. You can read part 1 here. You can read part 2 here.

Reason 3: Jesus dies on the cross so that he might be exalted into glory with the Father.

The Father is glorified in Jesus finishing the work the Father gave Him.
John 17:4 “I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do.
The mission of the Son was to glorify the Father. This means on earth he has perfectly done the will of the Father. Jesus has accomplished the work given to Him by the Father. We should understand that Jesus has completed all that he was to do before it was “his hour.” We should also see this with an eye to the future. In Jesus’ death, John’s gospel emphasizes Jesus says “it is finished.” The cross will be the final accomplishment of Jesus doing the Father’s will.

John 6:37 “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. 38 “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. 39 “This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. 40 “For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.”

The Son is glorified when he is exalted back into heaven returning to the glory he has always had.
John 17: 5 “Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.

Who is the one who is dying? It is one who dwelled in the glory of the Father and had glory with the Father before the foundations of the world. Before the world was created the Son dwelt with the Father and dwelt in the glory of the godhead. Heaven did not exist before the foundation of the “kosmos” when heaven and earth were created. Jesus is an eternal being: without beginning or end. He was not created. Jesus is God but a distinct person from God the Father.

John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.
John 1:18 No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.

In Biblical thinking only God can create. Only God existed before creation--Jesus is saying I was there.

In Biblical thinking God cannot share his glory with another being: by Jesus is saying restore me to the glory that I had! Jesus shared in the glory before the foundations of the Word.

Isaiah 42:8 “I am the Lord, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another, Nor My praise to graven images.
Isaiah 48:11 “For My own sake, for My own sake, I will act; For how can My name be profaned? And My glory I will not give to another.

Asking for this glory, asking to be restored to this glory and to be glorified with the Father--is blasphemous unless Jesus is truly God.

Why did Jesus come to die? Jesus came to act on behalf of the Father to glorify the name of God. It is God taking action for the sake of His name--for His own sake. It accomplish redemption but more than that in this accomplishing of redemption the glory and majesty of God is shown to all creation.

Jesus is to be praised, honored and glorified. But we can not ascribe more glory to Jesus than he already has. We don’t add to Jesus’ glory, we acknowledge it. --But we cannot glorify the Son more than the Father has already glorified the Son in lifting him up on the cross, resurrecting him and exalting him to His own right hand.

The Father is to be praised, honored and glorified. We cannot ascribe more glory and honor to the Father than the Son already does.

We cannot rob God of glory. You would think the cross is the defeat of Jesus. You would think God is defeated on the cross: he lets his Son die. Dying on a cross puts him under a curse. This seems like a failure. Now it is the victory of God! It is the glory of the Father and the Son displayed in the most humble of means.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Politics and the Devil

Wherever you stand on politics this essay is worth reading. "Politics and the Devil" by Charles J. Chaput over at Public Discourse. It is helpful for thinking about the issues of power and standing up for ethical pro-life issues. For those who believe that the kingdom of God should determine our ethics, and therefore govern our use of power, one often finds a reticence for any use of power. The danger of over realizing our eschatology in our ethics is that it can make us unwilling or unable to stand in anyway. While we should not use power in the way the world does, we should not confuse the effects of the gospel (standing for right and wrong, loving the poor and weak made in the image of God) with the gospel itself. Sometimes the effects of the gospel are to use power responsibly (like the king or centurion who becomes a Christian) in distinction from the gospel's power itself (which never spreads through human means; in this area our weapons are not the weapons of the world). While the essay itself does not delve into all of these issues in the way I have framed them, I think it is an essay worthy of reading and reflection particularly as it relates to our activity as citizens of the kingdom of God but citizens still living in the kingdom of this world.

Some excerpts I liked:

Politics often works like a virus. The simpler a political slogan is, the faster people absorb it, the faster they transmit it, and the less likely they are to really think about it—which means they don’t develop an immunity to its content.
All law in some sense teaches and forms us, while also regulating our behavior. The same applies to our public policies, including the ones that govern our scientific research. There is no such thing as morally neutral legislation or morally neutral public policy. Every law is the public expression of what somebody thinks we “ought” to do. The question that matters is this: Which moral convictions of which somebodies are going to shape our country’s political and cultural future—including the way we do our science? 
The answer is pretty obvious: if you and I as citizens don’t do the shaping, then somebody else will. That is the nature of a democracy. A healthy democracy depends on people of conviction working hard to advance their ideas in the public square—respectfully and peacefully, but vigorously and without apologies. Politics always involves the exercise of power in the pursuit of somebody’s idea of the common good. And politics always and naturally involves the imposition of somebody’s values on the public at large. So if a citizen fails to bring his moral beliefs into our country’s political conversation, if he fails to work for them publicly and energetically, then the only thing he ensures is the defeat of his own beliefs.  
We also need to remember that most people—not everyone, of course, but most of us—root our moral convictions in our religious beliefs. What we believe about God shapes what we think about the nature of men and women, the structure of good human relationships, and our idea of a just society. This has very practical consequences, including the political kind. We act on what we really believe. If we don’t act on our beliefs, then we don’t really believe them.
The rights of the poor and the rights of the unborn child flow from exactly the same human dignity guaranteed by the God who created us. 
In Europe and the United States, our knowledge classes like to tell us that we live in an age of declining religious belief. But that isn’t quite true. A culture that rejects God always invents another, lesser godling to take His place. As a result, in the words of the great Jewish bioethicist Leon Kass, we live in an age of “salvific science.” In the place of the God who became man, “we have man become as god.” And in place “of a God who—it is said—sent his son who would, through his own suffering, take away the sins of the world, we have a scientific savior who would take away the sin of suffering altogether.” 
The irony is this: the search for human perfection implied in modern science—or at least, the kind of science accountable to no moral authority outside of itself—leads all too easily to a hatred of imperfection in the real human persons who embody it with their disabilities. The simplest way to deal with imperfections is to eliminate the imperfect. In our daily lives, Kass warns, “the eugenic mentality is taking root, and we are subtly learning with the help of science to believe that there really are certain lives unworthy of being born. . . . [T]he most pernicious result of our technological progress . . . [is] the erosion, perhaps the final erosion, of the idea of man as noble, dignified, precious or godlike, and its replacement with a view of man [as] mere raw material for manipulation and homogenization.” 
Politics is the exercise of power; and power—as Jesus himself saw when Satan tempted him in the desert—can very easily pervert itself by doing evil in the name of pursuing good ends. But this fact is never an excuse for cowardice or paralysis. Christ never absolved us from defending the weak, or resisting evil in the world, or from solidarity with people who suffer. Our fidelity as Christians is finally to God, but it implies a faithfulness to the needs of God’s creation. That means we’re involved—intimately—in the life of the world, and that we need to act on what we believe: always with humility, always with charity, and always with prudence—but also always with courage. We need to fight for what we believe. As Kolakowski wrote, “Our destiny is decided on the field on which we run.” 
[emphasis all original] 

His example of the meme: "return science to its rightful place" is spot on. I won't reproduce it here so that you will read the essay. The discussion of biotechnology is helpful: science and technology is not an end in itself. Those who want to argue morals and technology are ends in and of themselves and these disciplines have the ability in themselves to pronounce moral ends grasp neither the complexity of the issue, the philosophical roots of the question nor the limits of said disciplines. It is "idiotic" in the classical sense of barbaric and uncivilized (see the essay).

The essay is a good reminder of the actually state of things when you hear people say things like laws should impose morality or that beliefs on certain moral issues should not form our public policy. I agree that Christian have a responsibility in the public square to use the gifts of common grace and natural law to make are arguments--but we cannot set aside a regenerated conscience when it comes to moral claims.

On the issue of separation of church and state:
"As a result, the idea that the “separation of Church and state” should force us to exclude our religious beliefs from guiding our political behavior makes no sense at all, even superficially. If we don’t remain true in our public actions to what we claim to believe in our personal lives, then we only deceive ourselves. Because God certainly isn’t fooled. He sees who and what we are. God sees that our duplicity is really a kind of cowardice, and our lack of courage does a lot more damage than simply wounding our own integrity. It also saps the courage of other good people who really do try to publicly witness what they believe. And that compounds a sin of dishonesty with a sin of injustice." [emphasis original]

The essay ends with the unofficial model of the Texas Rangers and extols the important of virtue in defending all.

Setting aside the issue of Roman Catholicism as a support for the ethics in the article, this is a well articulated essay that is worth a read. Read the whole thing.

Three Reasons Jesus Died on the Cross -John 17:1-5 Part 2

This is part 2 of a series and so deals with a second reason for Jesus dying on the cross as found in John 17:1-5. You can read part 1 here. Part 3 is here.

Reason 2: Jesus dies on the cross to accomplish eternal life for those the Father has given him.
God the Father has given Jesus all authority over all flesh.
John 17:2 even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life.

Jesus did not give up his authority when he became flesh. He did not give up his deity. However, this reception of authority where he is given it by his Father, refers to the authority he has over all flesh as the Son of God who has become flesh. It is authority in his humanity, in his incarnation.

While his exaltation is his crowning as the King in his humanity--we still see that from his incarnation on he has authority over all flesh. It is like the authority a king has before the crown is properly put on his head for all to publicly recognize.
Matthew 11:27 “All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.

While Jesus is on earth--the Father interacts with Jesus as one who has authority over all creation. This is for example why Jesus is “Lord of the Sabbath” even before he is crowned Lord of the earth in exaltation.

Jesus will accomplish eternal life for all whom the Father has given Him.
John 17:2 even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life.
The Father gives a people to Jesus--this is a theme in John’s Gospel.
John 6: 37 “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.
John 6:39 “This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.
John 6:44 “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. 45 “It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught of God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me.

Jesus teaches us the plan of God. We are all unable to come to God in and of ourselves. John 1:13 tells us that when we are children of God--we are not born of the human will or of our decision but because of the will of God.

In the context the Jews were grumbling. They did not want to believe what Jesus was saying. And Jesus says: you can’t believe I am the bread of life unless the Father draws.

When the Father draws a person, they will come to Jesus. Jesus will not lose any the Father has given Him. Their salvation is secure because of the plan and purpose of God.

Jesus is given a people by the hand of the Father. When the Father “draws” people--we are to think of a person who draws water from a well--the water cannot move--it is put in the bucket and lifted up.

We are dead in our sins. We do not move towards Jesus. Rather the Father draws us and we come. The Father gives us to the Son.

The Son’s purpose is to win eternal life for those people.
John 17:2 even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life.

The Son does not give eternal life to all people. The Son gives eternal life to those whom the Father has given him. In fact, in the next section of verses he makes it very clear that he is not praying for the world but those the Father has given him. He goes to the cross knowing that he will lose none whom the Father has given him. He prays for their protection and he accomplishes their salvation on the cross.

What is the purpose of the Son in getting on the Cross? He intends to win and perfectly accomplish eternal life for those who the Father has given him.
John 10:11 “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep...14 “I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, 15 even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. 16 “I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd.

The Son dies for the sheep. These will be people from every tongue, tribe and nation. This are people who live scattered across time and geography. But those whom the Shepherd dies for--His sheep--they will hear His voice and respond.

In coming to Jesus--we turn and believe in Him. But you are not to draw attention to yourself in coming to salvation. You are to turn and say: “wow, I only came because the Father did a work. And I only came because the Son infallible accomplished my salvation.

The plan of God and the blood of Christ is effective in salvation. Anyone who believes in Jesus will be saved! But the reason they are saved is because the Father drew them and the Son died for them. The Father gives them to the Son and the Son wins for them without fail their salvation.

Not one drop of the blood of Christ falls to the ground ineffective and unable to accomplish what the Father and Son intend.

Dear Saint: please glory in Jesus--please see how wonderous and precious his blood is. That he would not just make your eternal life a mere possiblity and leave the work up to you to finish. Rather He starts and finishes it.

Eternal life is knowing the Father and the Son.
John 17:3 “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.
“to know” means to have a relationship. It does not mean merely “know something about.” Eternal life is constituted--made up of ‘knowing God’. It is not that I come to know God and then I get eternal life. Rather eternal life is itself “knowing God.”

When I was a young man, I would snarkly tell people that "no where in the Bible does God use the word 'relationship.'" This was not because I didn't believe in a relationship with God, I was reacting against a certain conception of it that was not grounded in the language of Scripture. Sometimes we interpret a "relationship" with God based on what our human relationships look like. However, the concept of a "relationship" with God is Biblical. In fact, to "know God" is to be in a covenant union, a marriage relationship with the true and living God. We "know" God.

This is the hope of the New Covenant of Jesus’ blood:
Jeremiah 33:33 “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 
34 “They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”

You must know “the only true God and Jesus Christ.”

It is not Biblical to say that there are many ways to God or eternal life. Because eternal life consists in knowing the only God and the true God--there are not multiple paths.

Some people believe today a more insidious version of this. Some will say “well you are only saved through Jesus, but we can all come to find Jesus in various ways.” You don’t have to know Jesus by the name Jesus--in fact you can be in other religions and if you are spiritual/religious you are being saved by Jesus even if you don’t quite know it yet.

They will say “only Jesus is saving everybody” but Jesus can bring this people in through various beliefs and understandings. One writer who advocates that one can be reconciled to God through Jesus but not really know in this life that it is Jesus through whom you have this says the following:
“Sometimes people bump into Jesus, they trip past the word, they drink from the rock, without knowing what or who it was...The last thing we should do is discourage or disregard an honest, authentic encounter with the living Christ. he is the rock, and there is water for the thirsty, whereever there is...Sometimes people use his name, other times they don’t. Some people have so much baggage with regard to the name “Jesus” that when they encounter the mystery present in all of creation--grace, peace, love, acceptance, healing, forgiveness--the last thing they are inclined to name it is “Jesus.”
The problem is that this is not Biblical. It is not sufficient to say "everybody who is saved is saved by Jesus but at the time they don't actually have to know that it's Jesus whose doing it." First the Bible is clear that only Jesus saves:
Acts 4:12 “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.””
Salvation is described as “calling on the name of the Lord.” You cannot call on one you have not heard about. Not only is Jesus the only Savior but only in calling in the one and only Savior is one actually saved.

But notice specifically: eternal life is knowing--specifically, intimately, relationally--the only True GOD and Jesus Christ whom his sent. Eternal life is not a generic knowledge of a god. Or of nice qualities like grace, peace, love acceptance and forgiveness.

One cannot claim eternal life without naming Jesus--crying out, calling on him, repent to Him and the Father. YOU CANNOT HAVE ETERNAL LIFE WITHOUT KNOWING THE GOD OF THE BIBLE AND HIS SON BECAUSE BY DEFINITION ETERNAL LIFE IS KNOWING THE ONLY TRUE GOD AND HIS SON.

You can define marriage as “knowing your wife” --it is an intimate covenant union. How silly would it be to describe yourself as in a marriage just because you’ve felt warmth, love and acceptance. When my wife invites you to our are home--you may feel warmth, love and acceptance--but that doesn’t mean you have a marriage.

And how can you be in a marriage but not know your partner’s name by her name. What if you called your wife by the name of one of your ex-girlfriends?

In fact look at what John says earlier:
John 10:11 “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep...14 “I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, 15 even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. 16 “I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd.
The way the Father and the Son "know" each other becomes an analogy for the way that we come to know the Father and the Son. There is intimate union and communion with in the Trinity that will transcend anything we can understand and experience. But on a created level, we are invited as a creature to join in fellowship with the Triune God. We are ever always a creature in this relationship but this is a high privilege of fellowship. We will not know God the way God knows himself because his mind and knowledge is infinite--but there is still an analogy that holds: we come to know the true and living God in a true and real intimacy of fellowship.

Can we say that the Father knows the Son but doesn't know him by name? Can we say that the Son knows the Father but not by name? Would the Father be pleased if the Son came to acknowledge empty attributes of God but identified them in some other deity or being? Of course not. Neither can we say that a person has eternal life without knowing the Father and the Son--knowing entails understanding and experiencing their covenant names and character given for us.

You must know “the only true God and Jesus Christ.”

Soteriology is intimately connected to the Trinity and the Trinity is intimately connected to our view of soteriology. Since eternal life is by definition knowing the Father and the Son---we cannot claim to know him who we do not properly identify and have intimate union with. Do not think that as long as someone identify goodness in some deity that they belong to the Triune God of the Bible even if they worship him by a different name or set of practices. Salvation is for those who call on the name of the Triune God; to be saved is to know this God by the name and way that he has revealed himself.

Please hear this: you only have eternal life if you know of and have a relationship with God the Father and God the Son. This comes through faith and repentance.

This essay is an expanded version of the second point from the following sermon:

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Rob Bell, Hell & Heaven in First Century Judaism

This thought has bugged me for a while, but I am not an expert on Second Temple Judaism so I didn't have the time to track down the sources. Rob Bell misrepresents Second Temple Judaism's view of hell. Dr. Preston Sprinkle covers it well in a balanced but brief essay that is worth your time.

His major question:

[D]oes Rob consistently follow his own bent towards situating the NT in its Jewish context in his defense of the doctrine of Hell? 
No. No he doesn’t. He’s actually being very inconsistent to his own love for Judaism. Early Jewish literature around the time of the NT unashamedly spoke of an eternal hell, where there would be on-going punishment for the damned (those who rejected the God of Israel). And let me tell you, their descriptions of hell would make your toes curl! [emphasis original]

Here are a couple of the sources cited:

Just a few passages will suffice. A book called 1 Enoch (about 100 B.C.), a book that Jude quotes, speaks extensively about this place of torment for the damned (25:4-5; 27:3-4; 54:6; 90:24-27). Those who reject God will go to “the place of condemnation…into an abyss, full of fire and flame” (90:24).
Another book called Pseudo-Philo, written in Palestine right around the time of Jesus and Paul, speaks explicitly about a hell (16:3; 23:6; 31:7; 38:4). It’s a place where the “fiery worm will go up into the tongue” of the unbeliever and “rot him away” in the “dwelling place…in the inextinguishable fire forever” (63:4).
Two other books, 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch, written near the end of the first-century (right around the time of Revelation) also describe an eternal place of torment for the damned (2 Bar 30:4-5; 44:15; 51:6; 54:14, 21-22; 4 Ezra 7:35-36, 45-51). And for 4 Ezra, most of humanity will be here! “I see that the world to come will bring delight to few, but torments to many” (7:47).

He concludes: "But Rob—while I appreciate much about your ministry and affirm many (or some) things in your book—you can’t have your cake and eat it too! The traditional doctrine of hell correlates perfectly with its Jewish (not 20th century Christian fundamentalist!) context." (HT: Denny Burk)

I've written about the issues of heaven and hell a little bit before in First Century Judaism particularly as it relates to some of the Emerging Church or other "new" conceptions of the issues. The problem, it seems to me is that too many love to throw out the words "First Century Judaism" but have done little or no investigation.

This is also true when it comes to heaven. Most of the popular level writers, so far as I can see, are correct when they talk about the eschatological hope of the "age to come" and that eschatology worked itself into history with God's inbreaking. They are correct to deny that the central Jewish hope was not disembodied existence. They are wrong if/when they say that the first Christians or Jewish did not believe in heaven. (So far as I recall, Rob Bell does not deny heaven). Second Temple Judaism did believe in heaven as the throne room of God. They did believe that ascensions into heaven could be made and that it was in some sense "spatial." Moreover, Christians believe Jesus ascended into heaven and thus heaven is a "place" where Jesus now dwells bodily. It was not Greek or Gnostic dualism where one shed the flesh to become the spiritual, and contemporary writers are right when they stand against that eschatology (as long as one doesn't deny an intermediate state). The final hope is indeed not disembodied existence but resurrection life and heaven itself descending in the New Heavens and New Earth.

Sadly, sometimes this has lead though to fuzzy articulations of heaven ('it's not a place at all but a reality now that has descended'). Heaven still is "somewhere" and that fact that a resurrected body went into heaven means that something with "three-dimension" is quite "literally" sitting in heaven. 

There is a lot of bad 21st century "fundamentalist/escapist" eschatology out there that needs to be rejected. A person is right to hold to an inaugurated eschatology. But lets not forget that part of the inauguration of the kingdom is Christ reigning bodily from a "place" called heaven that is the throne room that God created for Himself and where the locus of his glory resides. (see my conclusion to a series on heaven that I wrote a couple of years ago: "Heaven in a Worldview")

Friday, April 8, 2011

Three Reasons Jesus Died on the Cross -John 17:1-5 Part 1

We have a tendency to think about Jesus' death in terms of what it does for humanity and how it specifically benefits us. We need to recognize that first and foremost God's work is not about us--it is about glorifying his own name and person.

The first reason Jesus dies on the cross to glorify the Father.
Jesus begins his prayer by telling us that hour has come.
John 17:1 Jesus spoke these things; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You,
Jesus is coming down to his last hours on of his life. But the idea that: “the hour has come” is that it is the moment that he has come to earth for. This is the center of his mission: to die on the cross and be raised up in triumph over death. John's gospel has been pointing us along the way that with all the things Jesus was doing and all the things that were happening to him--his hour wasn't here yet. It is sort of like the little child in the car: "are we there yet." Previously it has not yet been his hour.
John 2: 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does that have to do with us? My hour has not yet come.”
John 7: 6 So Jesus said to them, “My time is not yet here, but your time is always opportune... 8 “Go up to the feast yourselves; I do not go up to this feast because My time has not yet fully come.”
John 8: 20 These words He spoke in the treasury, as He taught in the temple; and no one seized Him, because His hour had not yet come.
This is important because many people want to pit ‘the kingdom of God’ that Jesus brings as separate from the cross and resurrection. While sometimes evangelicals have little or no use for the life of Jesus other than “he’s an example,” we are right to maintain that the kingdom of God culminates in the first Advent in Jesus’ work on the cross.

However, more common today is to speak of all the kingdom work that Jesus does but fail to see that it is his cross and resurrection that is the culmination of this kingdom he brings. In all of his preaching of the kingdom of God that is "at hand"--it forever remains "not yet his hour" until the moment of his death. There is, in short, no kingdom of God, if this kingdom is not won on the Cross. 

The way that this gets played out in many popular studies is to argue that if we want to get to the message of the kingdom we must set aside what Paul says and go to Jesus. Paul's gospel focusses on the cross but Jesus focusses on earthly kingdom activity, so the thinking goes. While we cannot explore the entirety of this through the gospel to show that Paul and Jesus are preaching the same things in the kingdom/gospel message, we must say that Jesus is quite clear in his prayer that his purpose is to come and die. He ushers in the kingdom by being the king who dies to secure the redemption of the citizens of the kingdom. The enemy kingdom of sin, death, Satan and evil cannot be defeat unless Jesus can lose the  cords of death from around his creation. This he will do in the most humble of means: he will seemingly be defeated by death in order to free all creation from this curse. In securing the kingdom, his hour is the hour of his death. No death equals no kingdom or kingdom message. His constant message through the gospels is the Son of Man has come to die.

With this impending death, Jesus asks to glorify the Son so that He might glorify the Father.
John 17:1 Jesus spoke these things; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You,

What is Jesus’ #1 purpose in dying on the cross? Jesus’ first mission assignment on earth is not to save sinners. His first job priority is to glorify the Father. Now it is the plan of the Father and the Son that the Son will die to save sinners. They have planned this and agreed to this and promised to this from before the foundations of the world.

Think of this like a tactical plan. When an army begins a mission they have a set of mission objectives. They are usually laid out in order of priority. All the objectives must be accomplished by certain objective come first or are more important. The salvation of sinners is one of Jesus' mission objectives. Freeing all of the created realm from the bondage to sin and death is another mission objective. But his first priority mission objective is to glorify the Father. He can accomplish none of his other objectives if he is not first and foremost glorifying the Father. Every secondary and tertiary objective further adds to the first objective of glorifying the Father. So while he saves sinners because he is their shepherd this act is not done in exclusion to the first objective. Being the shepherd who dies for the sheep glorifies the Father. Being the vice-regent who sets free the captive creation glorifies the Father.

We tend to think of Jesus' glorification as only the events of resurrection and ascension--it is true that this is when his glory is noticed and announced to the world. But the Son will be raised up and glorified not just in the resurrection but on the cross. The Cross of our Lord Jesus is part of how the Father glorifies the Son.

While the Father does pour out His wrath upon the Son--the Father is “pleased” to crush the Son. While their is humiliation and God’s curse reigning down on the Son--this is the moment of his glory shining first. We are to look at the cross of Christ and marvel: that the Son--would give up all the riches and glory that he had in heaven and step up onto that cross for our sake. He is a far greater man in his humanity--but he is a greater being then we have ever seen.

We again notice that the Son is so bold as to ask to be glorified. The manner with which the Son asks for glory is unlike ours. The Son asked to be glorifed--but that glory will be humiliation before the world. We ask for greatness and exaltation but not the Son of God. We often ask for help, riches, success, and functional "glorifications" because we want things to go well for us, we want a successful family, job, company, or ministry. We asked for something mostly so that we can get and then we often add an obligatory "in your name" or "for your praise" but all through our prayers our only conception of how God might be glorified is through our success. We scarcely envision a manner in which God might be glorified that would involve our humiliation. We assume our success will bring the most success to God. This is unlike the Son's asking for glory.

The Son asks for glory but this glory to the Father will come through the "glory" of the Son's humiliating, shameful, suffering death. The Son asks for this “glorification” not because he has a death wish but because He wants to exalt the Father. In John’s Gospel one of the reacurring themes is the unity of purpose in the Father and the Son. The Father send His Son. The Son does not work by Himself but does His Father’s will.

On the cross, Jesus is not drawing attention to Himself--He draws attention to the Father. You see the Father receives glory from the Cross. When we look at the cross we can glorify God because we see the holiness of the Father. He must punish sin. When we look at the cross we see the mercy and love of the Father. He has planned to save a people to himself but providing a substitute for our sake. When we look at the cross we should say with Romans 11:33-- “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!

Application: The first goal of the cross is not about you.
We should always be grateful about what the cross does for us--but it does not turn attention to us. It does not tell us how great we are. It does not tell us we are precious in and of ourselves rather it tells us about the greatness of the Father and the Son.

When you meditate on the cross--do you boast that God would die for you?

Marvel in the Father: what is his work? He glorifies the Son. Even when he pours out curses on his Son--we can hear the words of the Father given to the Son at his baptism: “this is my son in whom I am well-pleased.”

Jesus does not take glory for himself on the cross--He gives it to the Father.

We are glory hounds. Jesus did not die ultimately to give you praise and honor and boasting you. Look at the superiority of Jesus. In the book The Nacissism Epidemic psychologists Jean Twenge and Keith Campbell point to the growing narcissism in America marked by “arrogance, conceit, vanity, grandiosity  and self-centeredness” (p.18). It is a “look at me, I’m great” --even though you are not doing anything special or noteworthy.

Here Jesus is doing some special and noteworthy. He is great and noteworthy. And he is saying, “look at my Father--I glorify him, see how great he is.” This brings into our purview the majesty of the Son and the Father. They draw attention not first to themselves and their unique person but they draw attention to the other. The Father does not glorify himself but the Son. The Son, while he asks for glory, he does it not for himself or for his renown but for the Father. In fact, the Son asking for glory is his asking to be raised up on the cross for all the world to see. The Son will take on the most horrible of pain and suffering; He will bear the wrath of the Father--not for his own credit but for the credit, renown and honor of the Father.

Understanding the cross penal substitutionary atonement should make us glorify both the Son and the Father. Far too many people caricature it as making the Father mean and spiteful but the Son is the "nice guy" who steps in to save the day. We are told it is a form of divine child abuse. Such horrid lies. We are not to see the Father as the bad man and the Son as the good guy. In fact, even as the Son excepts the wrath of His Father and the Father is well-pleased with his Son, the Son at that very moment is shouting to us by his actions: "glorify my Father, see how wonderous and majestic he is!"

Brad Pitt famously quipped that a ‘God’ who wants exclusive worship and praise must have a big ego. While God wants exclusive worship, notice how the members of the Trinity direct attention away from themselves to the other persons. God deserves all worship because of who He is but notice how the persons in the Trinity are not self-grandizing but rather one person in the Godhead draws attention to the other two. The Father to the Son. Jesus to the Father. John's Gospel tells us that when the Spirit comes He will lead people to the truth and to Jesus.

Part 2 is here. Part 3 is here.

This essay is an expanded version of the following sermon:
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