Category Archives: Westminster Books

Tullian Brings Reformed Gospel to TBN

captain-headknowledge-contreras4

The Daily Evangel: A subliminal reminder to preach the gospel to yourself every day.

I guess it had to happen someday. Turns out it did this past summer. Megachurch pastors tend to accept invitations to places where there are TV cameras, and that’s exactly what happened in this case. Tullian’s message of “radical grace” has reached the first family of the Trinity Broadcasting Network. While in many ways, this is an example of worlds colliding, I figure if Peter Lillback can accept an invitation to Glenn Beck’s TV show a few years ago with the intention of making sure the gospel is clearly communicated on his air, then why not Tullian on TBN? The world’s largest Christian television network could do a lot worse, and has built an empire on doing just that.

For those unaware, Tullian Tchividjian is the grandson of Billy Graham and the pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. He is a favorite among the New Calvinists and is notorious for his popularization of the Lutheranesque “law-gospel distinction” which is taken by many to his right, myself included, as repeating the mistakes of historic antinomianism in some of his rhetoric and in his application of the otherwise valid hermeneutic pioneered by the Protestant Reformer. Among Tullian’s influences are Steve Brown (RTS Orlando and Key Life) and the theologians associated with Modern Reformation magazine and The White Horse Inn radio show. While I believe Tullian when he says he affirms the Reformed teaching on the third use of the law , I also believe his critics when they say his rhetoric smacks too much of historic antinomianism (read about that here). Tullian’s intention is to minister to those burned by legalism, and I’m all for that, even if he may be pushing the envelope of Reformed theology further to the left than I think he should.

But I like Tullian in small doses. Few and far between. It has been a while since my last dose of Tullian, so I am prepared to have a good attitude about his appearance on TBN to promote his recent book One Way Love. Besides, it would be inconsistent of me to criticize him for accepting an invitation to speak on Word of Faith turf, since the seeds of Reformed theology were planted in my own mind when Michael Horton appeared on TBN to promote his very first book originally entitled Mission Accomplished (now Putting Amazing Back Into Grace) while still a student at the Bible Institute of Los Angeles (BIOLA). The difference between Horton’s and Tullian’s appearances is that the latter they post on YouTube, while the former they immediately erase, cancel the talk show that featured him, and have the host reassigned to a job behind the scenes. This reaction was due to the fact that Horton was a known critic of the Word of Faith heresy who would go on to edit The Agony of Deceit. My hope is that Tullian’s interview will likewise plant and water the seeds of Reformed theology and the true gospel of Christ among today’s regular TBN viewers.

While Tullian admits to being a one-sermon preacher, his message that Christ kept the law perfectly and earned eternal life for those who believe and so frees us to gratefully, though imperfectly, respond to his amazing grace with love toward our neighbors is one we need to be reminded of on a daily basis. In fact, it is this “preach the gospel to yourself daily” notion that motivated me to put “Daily Evangel” on the building in the background of my picture of Captain Headknowledge. We need the Evangel of the free grace of God in Christ every day, and may it spur us on to love and good works, though we’ll never do them as well as Jesus did them for us.

Westminster Releases Tome on Doctrine of Scripture

Pleasing to the eye, desirable to make one wise 😉 Get one for yourself, and one for your church library!

Edited by Richard Gaffin and Peter Lillback of Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, PA

Edited by Richard Gaffin and Peter Lillback of Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, PA. Click image to view at wtsbooks.com.

Jesus Loves Religion

Portrait of a Religious Republican

Many of you may have already seen this viral video originally posted by The Resurgence website. A co-worker told me about it and it linked (at that time) to The Resurgence. At that point it had three million views. By the time I got home Friday morning and pulled it up again (about four hours later), it had six million views! Now it’s plateaued at over seven million. It’s effective, because it’s edgy. It’s edgy because it features a misdefinition of the word “Religion.”

Watch the video, before we move on:

Another friend of mine shared it on his Facebook page, with a lengthy discussion in which I just had to participate. Here’s what I wrote:

This forty-something Republican is down with most of this. But the “semantic” issue is that by “religion” he does mean legalism, but I’d like to submit that he’s also talking about hypocrisy. But I guess if he used the right words, it wouldn’t have been nearly as edgy and would have gotten a couple million fewer views on YouTube. At first I thought he was coming too close to advocating “don’t go to church, be the church” like Barna’s “Revolutionaries,” but I rewatched it and retained his clarification about “loving the church” which I suppose means he doesn’t advocate dropping out. He’s just, again, challenging legalism and hypocrisy.

Fortunately, a trained professional has now written a lengthy and helpful critique, which is not uncomplimentary, about this latest YouTube phenomenon. Kevin DeYoung, co-author of Why We Love the Church: In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion (2009?, Moody Publishers) writes “Does Jesus Hate Religion? Kinda Sorta, Not Really.” Here’s DeYoung’s comments on the poet’s misleading use of the word “religion,”  how religious Jesus was, and how religious he wants his followers to be:

More important is Bethke’s opening line: “Jesus came to abolish religion.” That’s the whole point of the poem. The argument—and most poems are arguing for something—rests on the sharp distinction between religion on one side and Jesus on the other. Whether this argument is fair depends on your definition of religion. Bethke sees religion as a man made attempt to earn God’s favor. Religion equals self-righteousness, moral preening, and hypocrisy. Religion is all law and no gospel. If that’s religion, then Jesus is certainly against it.

But that’s not what religion is. We can say that’s what is has become for some people or what we understand it to be. But words still matter and we shouldn’t just define them however we want. “Jesus hates religion” communicates something that “Jesus hates self-righteousness” doesn’t. To say that Jesus hates pride and hypocrisy is old news. To say he hates religion—now, that has a kick to it. People hear “religion” and think of rules, rituals, dogma, pastors, priests, institutions. People love Oprah and the Shack and “spiritual, not religious” bumper stickers because the mood of our country is one that wants God without the strictures that come with traditional Christianity. We love the Jesus that hates religion.

The only problem is, he didn’t. Jesus was a Jew. He went to services at the synagogue. He observed Jewish holy days. He did not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets, but to fulfill them (Matt. 5:17). He founded the church (Matt. 16:18). He established church discipline (Matt. 18:15-20). He instituted a ritual meal (Matt. 26:26-28). He told his disciples to baptize people and to teach others to obey everything he commanded (Matt. 28:19-20). He insisted that people believe in him and believe certain things about him (John 3:16-18; 8:24). If religion is characterized by doctrine, commands, rituals, and structure, then Jesus is not your go-to guy for hating religion. This was the central point behind the book Ted Kluck and I wrote a few years ago.

The word “religion” occurs five times in English Standard Version of the Bible. It is, by itself, an entirely neutral word. Religion can refer to Judaism (Acts 26:5) or the Jewish-Christian faith (Acts 25:19). Religion can be bad when it is self-made (Col. 2:23) or fails to tame the tongue (James 1:26). But religion can also be good when it cares for widows and orphans and practices moral purity (James 1:27). Unless we define the word to suit our purposes, there is simply no biblical grounds for saying Jesus hated religion. What might be gained by using such language will, without a careful explanation and caveats, be outweighed by what is lost when we give the impression that religion is the alloy that corrupts a relationship with Jesus.

Update: Poet Jefferson Bethke responds on his Facebook page to those using his video to “bash the church”:

If you are using my video to bash “the church” be careful. I was in no way intending to do that. My heart came from trying to highlight and expose legalism and hypocrisy. The Church is Jesus’ bride so be careful how you speak of His wife. If a normal dude has right to get pissed when you bash His wife, it makes me tremble to think how great the weight is when we do it to Jesus’ wife. The church is His vehicle to reach a lost word. A hospital for sinners. Saying you love Jesus but hate the Church, is like a fiancé saying he loves his future bride, but hates her kids. We are all under grace. Look to Him.

My Favorite Sport!

Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, home of the Texas Rangers

I’m one of those especially unfortunate fellows who grew up with a love-hate relationship with sports. I played several sports on several little league teams as a child, and played plenty of sports in the streets of my neighborhood. My lack of skill then is probably the chief reason I do not follow sports today, although I do tend to catch the Super Bowl, mostly for the commercials. My new membership in a Reformed church and their biblical and confessional (we view these two adjectives as synonymous) emphasis on delighting in the Lord on the Lord’s Day may have implications for the Super Bowl in the future. All I can say is, thanks be to God for digital video recording.

 In light of my lack of interest in sports, I am fond of informing folks that “my sports are politics and religion,” which probably tells people I can relate even less to them, when they may already see me as a socially challenged individual who doesn’t follow sports. It is for this reason that you may not be surprised by my interest in the following lecture series that was held at Christ Reformed Church (URCNA) in Washington, D.C., called “Christianity & Politics,” which is yet another venue for the Westminster Seminary California faculty and alumni, among others, to focus our attention on their attempt at recovering the Reformed notion of the Two Kingdoms approach to the relationship between “Christ and Culture.” A timely offering in this year of presidential politics.

 Here’s their introduction to the series, speaker bios and links to the lectures:

Why We Confuse Church & State

Separation of church and state?

 Whatever you may think of the contemporary application of our first amendment freedom of religion, Christianity and politics are ever confused in our national consciousness. Preachers seek influence in the political sphere; politicians manipulate and calculate the faithful in their constituencies.

What are the faithful to do? How should we understand our callings as citizens, both on earth below and in heaven above?

 Christianity & Politics presents a range of speakers approaching this topic from a range of perspectives while discussing topics as diverse as the mission of the church, the place of evangelicals in American political culture, natural law, and the spirituality of the church.…

Lectures [were] sponsored by Christ Reformed Church, and [took] place in our place of worship, historic Grace Reformed Church, home of President Theodore Roosevelt….

 Speakers

MICHAEL HORTON is the J. Gresham Machen Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary California, Host of the White Horse Inn radio program and Editor-in-Chief of Modern Reformation magazine. He is a minister in the United Reformed Church.

 MICHAEL GERSON is an opinion writer for the Washington Post and former head speech writer and senior policy advisor to President George W. Bush.

 DARRYL HART is Assistant Professor of History at Hillsdale College, author of numerous books, and blogs on religion and public life at oldlife.org.

 TERRY EASTLAND is the Publisher of The Weekly Standard and an elder at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Bethesda, Maryland.

 BRIAN LEE is the pastor of Christ Reformed Church in Washington, DC (United Reformed Church). He is a Guest Faculty at Reformed Theological Seminary and formerly worked on Capitol Hill, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Department of Defense.

 DAVID VAN DRUNEN is the Robert B. Strimple Professor of Systematic Theology and Christian Ethics at Westminster Seminary California. He is a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and holds a Law Degree from Northwestern University School of Law.

 DAVID COFFIN is the Senior Pastor at New Hope Presbyterian Church in Fairfax, Virginia.

 Audio

Michael Horton

The Great Commission (Sermon on Matthew 28)

The Great Commission and Social Justice — (Q&A Session)

 

Michael Gerson, Darryl Hart, Terry Eastland

The Future of Evangelical Politics (roundtable discussion)

 

Brian Lee

The Primacy of “Church” in “Church & State” (Sermon on Romans 12)

“Govern Well?” or “Be Governed”? — (Q&A Session)

 

David VanDrunen

Natural Law and Christian Politics — (Q&A Session)

 

David Coffin

The Biblical Doctrine of the Spirituality of the Church (Sermon on John 18)

The Historical Doctrine of the Spirituality of the Church — (Q&A Session)

 

HT: Christ Reformed Church Presents

Mixing Politics and Religion

Despite the last few posts on the New Apostolic Reformation, I generally reserve my political views for my Facebook page, but the intersection of this current political issue with theological issues commends its appearing on my blog to some extent. You may have heard that the next weekly Republican debate will feature questions submitted by the general population via YouTube. I simply could not resist taking this opportunity to question the logic of this association of Rick Perry with the so-called Dominionists of the New Apostolic Reformation. I’m neither endorsing Rick Perry nor Dominionism, just attempting to point out how the political Left are demagoguing on this issue (at which they are masters, if you ask me), at least in the blogosphere. A prime source of Left-wing blogging on the topic of the New Apostolic Reformation is called NAR Watch. Much of the information is interesting and useful, but I still contend that they engage in too much assumption as it relates to just what members of this movement wants out of any presidential candidates they may endorse. 

The following video is my question submitted for consideration to be used on the night of the debate. I’m not holding my breath that it’ll actually be aired, but I’d like to share it with you. Most of you could probably take it or leave it, but if you either enjoyed it very much, or seriously take issue with it, please take the opportunity to go to the FoxNews Channel’s YouTube page, browse through the hundreds of videos which are apparently organized in no particular order, and click on either the thumbs up or thumbs down icon so others can see whether my question warrants attention.

No jokes about my booming announcer voice 😉

All in all, this whole episode is a great argument for Two Kingdom theology (also see here). 

Evangelicals, Meet the Two Kingdoms

It may just begin to be “all about” Dr. Darryl G. Hart from now on. (But I jest–read Hart’s post to know what I mean by that–and notice my comment on his post). Hart, his new book, and his Augustinian approach to the relationship of the church to culture and politics, known to conservative Protestants (as opposed to “Evangelicals”) as the Two Kingdoms view, have been introduced to the broadly Evangelical listeners to Christian talk radio. 

Janet Mefferd is appropriately the host of Salem Radio Network‘s The Janet Mefferd Show, which is broadcast here in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex on 100.7 FM KWRD. Mefferd may have just given Dr. Hart his big break–and may it redound to the benefit and enrichment of Evangelical understanding of their place in the political and cultural life of the United States of America. On her Thursday, Sept. 1st program, Mefferd interviewed Dr. Darryl G. Hart about his latest book, From Billy Graham to Sarah Palin: Evangelicals and the Betrayal of American Conservatism (2011, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.). This book “provides an iconoclastic new history of the entrance of evangelical Christians into national American politics. Examining the key players of the Religious Right–Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell, Chuck Colson, James Dobson, Pat Robertson, and many others–D. G. Hart argues that evangelicalism is (and always has been) a bad fit with classic political conservatism” (punctuation improved by me). 

On the air, before God and the Religious Right, Janet Mefferd encouraged Dr. Hart by her agreement with him that politically conservative Evangelicals could learn a thing or two from St. Augustine’s ancient classic City of God, which is the theological progenitor of the Two Kingdoms approach to “Christ and Culture.” 

Here’s a transcript of Hart’s description of this Augustinian Two Kingdom view of Christ and Culture and how it applies to the Religious Right:

Mefferd: …This concept that we need to embrace, I think, and you’re absolutely right about this, is this Augustinian view of the relationship between the city of God and the city of Man as we’re examining politics. Explain briefly what that is, the City of God and the City of Man.

Hart: Well, Augustine wrote this book at the time when the Roman Empire was falling, and people were blaming the Christian Church for that fall—that Rome had turned from its own gods to this other God, and so Christians were to blame. And part of Augustine’s defense, was to say that God’s ways are higher than Man’s ways, and you cannot identify the history of salvation with the history of any particular place or empire, like the Roman Empire, so there is this City of God that transcends the City of Man. And the application for America, as for any nation, would be that God doesn’t have necessarily a special relationship with any particular nation, though he did at one time with Israel, but now has a special relationship with his church which transcends all nations. You find churches and church members around the world, and that is where God’s plan of redemption is being carried out, in the “City of God,” the Church being sort of the earthly representation of it. And the “City of Man,” the affairs of nations, are things that God controls through his providential power, but you cannot correlate what God is doing necessarily in a redemptive way with the rise and fall of empires or nations.

Mefferd: Which may be sounding sort of heretical to a lot of very patriotic Evangelical conservatives who say, you know, this is a nation founded in large part by Christians, on Christian principles, etc., etc., and yet, you almost set yourself up for, if and when, God forbid, America does have a decline or a fall, as the Roman Empire did, then we may be in a bad place of saying, while, you know, this is somehow the Church’s fault, and, I think you’re absolutely right, we have to think in a different way as Christians about God’s purposes in the world beyond just who we want to get into office at a particular time, you know?

 Hart: Right. I think we’re all prone to think this way. Though, I mean, even if I trip, or if I oversleep, you know, I wonder if it’s because yesterday I yelled at my wife that these things are happening to me. So, we always want to view our relationship to God, and what happens in our lives, as whether we’re living in favor or out of favor, and we do that in politics as well, but it’s not a very helpful way for looking at politics. And political conservatives have actually drawn on that Augustinian perspective often. 

Dr. Hart also has a thought-provoking defense of Rick Perry’s recent appeal to states rights as a way to deal with the issue of gay marriage. But I’ll leave that for you to find for yourself on the podcast.

A True Presbyterian Hymnal for “A True Presbyterian Church”

1961 Edition of the Trinity Hymnal

One of the many factors that won me over to embrace Reformed theology and practice was the fascinating Trinity Hymnal (c. 1990). Back when I worked at what I endearingly call “The Reformation Station,” the print shop where God cornered me after years of on-again, off-again confrontation by the TULIP and other aspects of Reformed belief and behavior, I had the opportunity to print the bulletins for a local PCA church, which would include in its liturgy hymns selected from the Trinity Hymnal, printed in the bulletin, music and all! For this reason, there was a copy of the hymnal in the office, which they could use to prepare those bulletins, and which I could peruse from time to time and thereby enter the world of Reformed psalmody and English hymnody, and further tie my heart to my future spiritual and theological home in the Reformed tradition.

 Due to my abundance of affection for the Trinity Hymnal, I was very pleased to notice that I wouldn’t have to wait long to learn its history in Daryl Hart’s OPC history, Between the Times: The Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Transition, 1945-1990 (c. 2011, The Committee for the Historian of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church). The reader of this volume is treated to the story of the hymnal in chapter two, under the simple title, “Trinity Hymnal, 1944-1961.” Here’s a synopsis of what you’re in for if you purchase Hart’s history.

 In 1933, the PCUSA revised their hymnal, dropping 400 traditional hymns in favor of songs that reflect the liberalizing trend in the mainline denomination. J. Gresham Machen knew this was a problem. Reasoning from the old adage that the laity learn more theology from singing hymns than from systematic theology, he resolved that something had to be done about it. In the Lord’s providence, from the seed of this thought process on the part of Machen in response to the PCUSA’s threat to further corrupt the doctrine of rank and file Presbyterians, until the final publication of the Trinity Hymnal, a truly orthodox Presbyterian hymnal, 28 years would come and go. But what a glorious harvest of sound theology and biblical doxology would result from such a careful process of cultivation and fertilization.

With this opening anecdote, Dr. Hart surveys the history of American Presbyterian hymnals. Since the first one rolled off the press in 1831 there had been an average of one new hymnal per decade due to the number of controversies and divisions within the PCUSA between 1831 and 1961 (the date of Trinity Hymnal’s eventual publication). Although it would not be published under the auspices of the liberal mainline denomination, the Trinity Hymnal shares this common origin with its predecessors in the crucible of theological controversy. For this reason, it would be compiled with a commitment to aid the worship of the church in accordance with eternal truths, not contemporary trends.

 American Presbyterians also produced so many hymnals so frequently because Reformed and Presbyterian practice regarding the Word of God sung as an element of corporate worship was undergoing a transformation from the Scottish and Dutch commitment to exclusive psalmody, to embrace the English hymnody of Isaac Watts, Charles Wesley and others, in order to better respond to the gospel of Christ in terms of the full revelation of Christ in both Testaments.

Much discussion among the members of the Committee on Song in the Public Worship of God over the propriety of this historic move away from the stance of earlier Reformed churches would consume a number of General Assemblies between 1944 and 1961. Dr. Hart reports for us the discussions between the “foreign” element of “psalm-singers” on the committee lead by the Scottish John Murray and his cadre of Scottish and Dutch dissenters and the more Americanized majority who would eventually prevail in the appropriation of English hymn into the practice of not only orthodox Presbyterians in general, but the OPC in particular.

1990 edition of Trinity Hymnal in three colors

With the conclusion of this discussion would arise more rubber-meets-the-road problems like financing the hymnal. We learn the various ideas considered and how the Lord would provide just in time, enabling them to pay off the loans obtained to supplement the giving of Orthodox Presbyterians toward this end, neither too soon, nor too late.

 Finally, the reader is pleased to learn just how successful the hymnal was once it hit the market. There really was a need for just such a hymnal among many conservative Protestants outside the OPC.

 Chapter two of Hart’s Between the Times is a joy to read, especially if you love the Trinity Hymnal as much as this reviewer does. But with the recent 78th General Assembly of the OPC, we learn that the work of compiling psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to aid the worship of the Reformed is to march forward as it was announced that the OPC will be teaming up with the URCNA to publish a new Psalter-Hymnal in the years to come. I believe there will be enough love in my heart for both of these hymnals to share!

Machen “Concerning the Times and Seasons”

Notice the similar color schemes? Interesting match!

I just finished reading “Encouragement for New Converts,” chapter 17 of  The New Testament: An Introduction to its Literature and History (1976, 2009 Banner of Truth Trust) by J. Gresham Machen. This book makes a concise introduction to the major themes in the New Testament and clearly and effectively makes a positive presentation of orthodox New Testament scholarship, while at the same time providing textually based correctives to the academically popular theories of modernist liberal scholarship. Dr. Machen was, above all else, a New Testament scholar. While most known for both his New Testament Greek for Beginners, which is still used in many seminaries, and his popularly written Christianity and Liberalism, New Testament scholarship is his specialty.

Each chapter in Machen’s New Testament Introduction first assigns a selection of New Testament readings on which the following chapter is based. In this case, I read both 1 and 2 Thessalonians out of my ESV Study Bible before taking in Machen’s seven-page chapter on both books. While reading this chapter, which summarized the occasion, contents and issues related to the these earliest of Paul’s epistles, I was struck while reading the section on “The Second Coming of Christ,” in which he expounds “the second advent, with the events which are immediately to precede it” (p. 119). Machen interacts with the dominant modernist theory that Paul actually expected Christ to return during his lifetime.

Date-Setter, Harold Camping

But there is also a bit of timeliness to Machen’s exposition of 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, specifically in the light of the current prediction by Harold Camping that Judgment Day has been calculated by him to be soon to occur on May 21, 2011. That’s 51 days and counting! Despite the fact that Jesus himself said, “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Matthew 24:36 ESV), Camping, not to mention all other date-setters, appeal to verses such as 1 Thessalonians 5:4-6, which read, “But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.” Machen’s introductory commentary also puts these words in perspective for us in the light of Camping’s millennial madness. Following is Machen’s section on “The Second Coming of Christ,” from pages 119-121 in The New Testament: An Introdcution to its Literature and History. Enjoy!

The Second Coming of Christ

Undoubtedly the second advent, with the events which are immediately to precede it, occupies a central position in the Thessalonian Epistles. Evidently the expectation of Christ’s coming was a fundamental part of Paul’s belief, and had a fundamental place in his preaching. ‘Ye turned unto God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven’–these words show clearly how the hope of Christ’s appearing was instilled in the converts from the very beginning, I Thess. 1.9, 10. To serve the living God and to wait for his Son–that is the sum and substance of the Christian life. All through the Epistles the thought of the Parousia–the ‘presence’ or ‘coming’–of Christ appears as a master motive. I Thess. 2.19; 3.13; 4.13 to 5.11, 23, 24; II Thess. 1.5 to 2.12.

This emphasis upon the second coming of Christ is explained if Paul expected Christ to come in the near future. The imminence of the Parousia for Paul appears to be indicated by I Thess. 4.15: ‘For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we that are alive, that are left unto the coming of the Lord, shall in no wise precede them that are fallen asleep.’ This verse is often thought to indicate that Paul confidently expected before his death to witness the coming of the Lord. Apparently he classes himself with those who ‘are left unto the coming of the Lor’ as over against those who will suffer death. In the later epistles, it is further said, Paul held a very different view. From Second Corinthians on, he faced ever more definitely the thought of death, II Cor. 5.1, 8; Phil. 1.20-26. A comparison of I Cor. 15.51 with II Cor 5.1, 8 is thought to indicate that the deadly peril which Paul incurred between the writing of the two Corinthian Epistles, II Cor. 1.8, 9, had weakened his expectation of living until Christ should come. After he had once despaired of life, he could hardly expect with such perfect confidence to escape the experience of death. The possibility of death was too strong to be left completely out of sight.

Plausible as such a view is, it can be held only with certain reservations.

In the first place, we must not exaggerate the nearness of the Parousia according to Paul, even in the earliest period; for in II Thess. 2.1-12 the Thessalonians are reminded of certain events that must occur before Christ would come. The expression of the former Epistle, I Thess. 5.2, that the day of the Lord would come as a thief in the night, was to be taken as a warning to unbelievers to repent while there was yet time, not as a ground for neglecting ordinary provision for the future. In Second Thessalonians Paul finds it necessary to calm the overstrained expectations of the Thessalonian Christians.

Furthermore, it is not only in the earlier epistles that expressions occur which seem to suggest that the Parousia is near: Rom. 13.11; Phil. 4.5. And then it is evident from II Cor. 11.23-29 and from I Cor. 15.30-32 that Paul had undergone dangers before the one mentioned in II Cor. 1.8,9, so that there is no reason to suppose that that one event caused any sudden change in his expectations.

Lastly, in I Cor. 6.14 Paul says that ‘God both raised the Lord, and will raise up us throught his power.’ If that refers to the literal resurrection, then here Paul classes himself among those who are to die; for if he lived to the Parousia, then there would be no need for him to be raised up.

It is therefore very doubtful whether we can put any very definite change in the apostle’s expectations as to his living or dying between First Corinthians and Second Corinthians. A gradual development in his feeling about the matter there no doubt was. During the early part of his life his mind dwelt less upoon the prospect of death than it did after perils of all kinds had made that prospect more and more imminent. But at no time did the apostle regard the privilege of living until the Parousia as a certainty to be put at all in the same category with the Christian hope itself. Especially the passage in First Thessalonians can be rightly interpreted only in the light of the historical occasion for it. Until certain members of the church had died, the Thessalonian Christians had never faced the possibility of dying before the second coming of Christ. Hence they were troubled. Would the brethren who had fallen asleep miss the benefits of Christ’s kingdom? Paul writes to reassure them. He does not contradict their hope of living till the coming of Christ, for God had not revealed to him that that hope would not be realized. But he tells them that, supposing that hope to be justified, even then they will have no advantage over their dead brethren. He classes himself with those who were still alive and might therefore live till Christ should come, as over against those who were already dead and could not therefore live till Christ should come.

Certain passages in the epistles of Paul, which are not confined to any one period of his life, seem to show that at any rate he did not exclude the very real possibility that Christ might come in the near future. But such an expectation of the early coming of Christ was just as far removed as possible from the expectations of fanatical chiliasts. It did not lead Paul to forget that the times and the seasons are entirely in the hand of God. It had no appreciable effect upon his ethics, except to make it more intense, more fully governed by the thought of the judgment seat of Christ. It did not prevent him from laying far-reaching plans, it did not prevent his developing a great philosophy of future history in Romans, chapters 9 to 11. How far he was from falling into the error he combated in Second Thessalonians! Despite his view of the temporary character of the things that are seen, how sane and healthy was his way of dealing with practical problems! He did his duty, and left the details of the future to God. Hence it is hard to discover what Paul thought as to how soon Christ would come–naturally so, for Paul did not try to discover it himself. [emphasis mine, highlighting Machen’s correction of Camping-like date-setting].

Michael Horton on Rightly Divided

Here is Lane Chaplin’s video interview of Dr. Michael Horton on his new book, The Gospel Commission (2011, Baker Book House)part three of a series starting with Christless Christianity, followed by The Gospel-Driven Life. I’d also like to direct you to the Riddleblog, where Dr. Kim Riddlebarger has provided a nice launch pad to read all seven parts of Dr. Horton’s lengthy and informative review of Rob Bell’s Love Wins.


Ask RC: Can a person be evangelical and not believe in hell?

Dr. R. C. Sproul, Sr., founder of Ligonier Ministries and pastor of St. Andrews Chapel, Sanford, Florida.

The following was posted today on R. C. Sproul, Jr.’s Facebook page. Presumably motivated by the current controversy over Rob Bell’s upcoming book, in which he teaches “universal reconciliation,” a doctrine first put on the theological map by the ancient church father, Origen, who suffered from many theological maladies, it is crucial that more self-identified “evangelicals” got back in touch with the true heritage associated with being evangelical, lest the wolves in sheep’s clothing arise, not sparing the flock of the Lord (Matthew 7:15).

The difficult truth of the matter is that language, while actually having the ability to communicate, is not static. Words have real meanings, but those meanings are grounded both in history and in usage. Sometimes those two come apart, and a word is caught in the tension. “Evangelical” is just one of those words.

Historically speaking evangelical was a redundant term for Protestant. In both cases the term referred to those who affirmed the binding authority of the Bible alone and that one could have peace with God only by trusting in the finished work of Christ alone. Contra Rome then the term affirmed sola scriptura and sola fide.

Three hundred years after the Reformation, however, the term took a small turn, a tiny nuance was added by the beginnings of theological liberalism. Institutionally theological liberalism was found within Protestant churches. Its defining qualities, however, were a denial of the truthfulness and authority of the Bible and a denial of the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ. Evangelical suddenly became not a synonym for Protestant, but a sub-category. It was how we distinguished actual Christians from liberal “Christians.” Thus Machen’s later great work, Christianity and Liberalism affirmed that the two were utterly distinct.

One hundred years ago there was yet another shift.The evangelical wing of the Protestant church offered competing strategies for dealing with the liberal wing. One side was slightly less sophisticated, slightly less academic, and, given its accompanying pessimistic eschatology, more retreatist. They, distinguishing themselves from evangelicals, called themselves fundamentalists. On the fundamentals both fundamentalists and evangelicals agreed. Evangelicals, sadly, were slightly more accommodating of theological liberalism, slightly less ardent in denouncing it.

Dr. R. C. Sproul, Jr.

Over the last thirty years that spirit of accommodation has mushroomed inside the evangelical church. Indeed if evangelical has any meaning at all in current usage, it is far more about a mood, a posture, than it is about an affirmation of cardinal doctrines. Evangelicals, on the whole, do not scoff at the Bible like theological liberals. They are willing to affirm, at least in principle, biblical miracles. They are even willing, in a nuanced way that ultimately neuters that authority, to affirm the authority of the Bible, at least parts of it. That nuance typically softens the edges of the Bible by interpreting it in light of our post-modern wisdom. Suddenly the “clear” passages by which we must interpret the less clear are those passages that best reflect current common wisdom. “God is love,” which the Bible clearly teaches, suddenly means that its condemnation of homosexual behavior, or women ruling over men in the church, are suddenly open to re-interpretation.

More important, however, is the notion that “God is love” undoes the necessity of trusting in the finished work of Christ for salvation. Now, either due to a generous inclusiveness that welcomes Romanists, Mormons, Hindus, Muslims, ad nauseum, or a denial of the reality of hell, we no longer must embrace the work of Christ to be with Him forever. This, historically, is nothing like evangelicalism. It is a denial of the most basic element of the word’s historical and etymological root- the evangel.

If current trends continue, evangelical will no longer be a synonym for Protestant, because there is no error so grievous that it must be protested. It will instead become a synonym for liberal. To be acceptable, respectable, we now must give up our narrow evangel. Will we, no are we willing to confess this hard truth- we are all fundamentalists now?

Please pray for reformation and revival in American evangelicalism, and that throughout the world.

“Rob Bellion” is as the Sin of Witchcraft!

In past years, one of my children was exposed to the teaching of Rob Bell by means of at least one of his Nooma videos played in my former church’s youth group, and presumably in some ways through his influence on the teacher of that class. Knowing his interest in Bell’s teaching, and being singularly interested in keeping up with who’s teaching what, I urged him a number of times that Bell’s teaching is not good for an orthodox church. The rest of the time I would tease him in a good-natured, but persistent way, that “Rob Bellion” is as the sin of witchcraft! This is my own personal play on the KJV’s translation of Samuel’s words to Saul when he refused to obey the Lord’s commands regarding the spoils of his fight with Amalek, whom he was to wipe out entirely as God’s appointed means of judgment against them for the way they attacked the children of Israel at Rephidim while they were still lead by Moses and the pillar of cloud and fire (1 Samuel 15:23; cf. Ex. 17:8-16; Deut. 25:17-19). Notice from the parallel line of 1 Samuel 15:23, that Saul’s “rebellion” is tantamount to a rejection of the word of the LORD regarding his plans to judge and destroy his enemies (see the whole passage, 1 Samuel 15:1-35). Such is the heresy of the universalist Rob Bell.

Justin Taylor at “Between Two Worlds,” a Gospel Coalition blog, shows Bell’s promotional material related to his latest book, Love Wins: Heaven, Hell and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, surely not to help sell his book, but to raise our awareness of how Bell’s trajectory towards theological liberalism is becoming more and more apparent in his growing trend of teaching the heresy of universalism. This is the doctrine that, in eternity, regardless of one’s reception or rejection of Christ during his lifetime, everyone will be forgiven and reconciled to God, and none will justly spend eternity  hell.  It’s funny how so many people who break the law wind up complaining about the fact that they had to suffer the consequences of their crime. This is analogous to the fact that unbelievers find the doctrine of eternal conscious torment in hell so unattractive. Hell, condemnation and the righteous judgment of an infinite, eternal and holy God is bad public relations for Christianity, if you listen to Rob Bell. But compare the concept of universalism with what the Lord Jesus said in John 3:16-21:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”

Here, Christ clearly states that the condition for escaping condemnation is faith in him. Reader, be clear: if you do not trust the Christ of the Scriptures, not the Christ of any cult’s misinterpretation or “reimagining” of him, not the Christ of the Gnostic gospels, but the Jesus Christ of historic, apostolic, catholic, orthodox, evangelical Protestant Christianity, then you are already under the condemnation of God. If you persist in this unbelief, you will not be saved in the end. Your end will be the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20:11-15).  Confess that you are indeed a sinner, repent by turning from your sins and cling to Christ (Acts 26:18) who suffered for sinners in every nation, sinners like you (1 John 1:8-10). Reject your false gods and goddesses (you know who you are!), and run to Christ, who lives to justify the wicked who repent and believe.

With Rob Bell, on the issue of universalism, finding the error in his teaching is no longer a matter of reading between the lines. Watch the video below and you will see Bell himself explain how we need to deny the Biblical doctrine of eternal, conscious torment in Hell because it makes people reject Christianity. Apparently, what the world thinks about Christianity is more important to Bell than what God reveals in his Word. Read Taylor’s post, “Rob Bell: Universalist?”

If you find that your church has been, or is being exposed to the teachings of Rob Bell, I would suggest that you present the facts regarding Bell to your pastor and patiently, but persistently, help them see that he is not just an emerging evangelical postmodern hipster, but a theological liberal of the first order whose materials ought to be avoided by every church and Christian that loves the Word of God. This is a process I had the regretful duty of engaging in myself back then.

This article by former co-founder of Brian McLaren’s Emergent Village, Mark Driscoll (who later separated from them when they began showing signs of postmodern liberalism) navigate what he calls “The Emerging Church Highway.” It would also behoove you to read D. A. Carson’s book, Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church: Understanding a Movement and It’s Implications (2005, Zondervan).


Total Depravity Implies Total Inability

Matthew 19:16-26 ESV

And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?”

And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.”

He said to him, “Which ones?”

And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?”

Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.  And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”

When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

You see? The doctrines of grace are biblical, if one would only open his mind, heart and eyes to find them on the surface of the text of the Bible.

The doctrine of Total Depravity is the foundation of the rest of the doctrines of grace, also known as the TULIP. Edwin H. Palmer, in his book, The Five Points of Calvinism (©1972, Baker Books), outlines the doctrine of Total Depravity as follows (pages 9-16):

  1. What It Is Not
    1. It is not absolute depravity
    2. It is not a complete absence of relative good
  2. What It Is
    1. Positively: only and always sinning
    2. Negatively: total inability

i. Man cannot do the good

ii. Man cannot understand the good

iii. Man cannot desire the good

Palmer’s conclusion: “There are three lessons to be drawn from the Biblical teaching of the total depravity of man” (page 19)

  1. Total depravity explains the troubles in our world.
  2. A knowledge of total depravity should also teach us that we are thoroughly bad and in a terrible state of affairs unless God helps us.
  3. A knowledge of total depravity will teach a person that if he has a desire to ask God to help him, it is only because it is God who is working within him to will and to do according to His good pleasure (Philippians 2:12, 13).

Finding Your Way

Dr. Kim Riddlebarger has written a helpful article in the January/February 2011 issue of Modern Reformation Magazine called “‘You Are Here'”: The Map of Redemptive History.” Especially enlightening for us recovering Dispensationalists is his treatment of the ever-popular “signs of the times.” If you like scouring current events for prophetic fulfillment, be ready to have your bubble burst! You’ll have to subscribe at the Modern Reformation website to view the entire article.

I’ve frequently repeated the saying of apparently unknown origin, “you can’t know where you’re going until you know where you’ve been.” I, however, usually modify it this way: “When you learn where you’ve been, you can see where you are, and know where you’re going.” In other words, as this applies to the visible church, when we’re informed by church history, we learn from many of the valuable lessons learned in the past, and it helps us figure out how to avoid those mistakes in the future. But if we ignore the past lessons learned, we in the present are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past (an allusion to a better known saying). Dr. Riddlebarger assists us by appropriately moving us further back into our formative collective past by summarizing the history of redemption as progressively revealed in the Bible. His article helps us see where the church has been from the very beginning, the book of Genesis, and the promise and fulfillment of redemption in the Person and Work of Christ. But especially, we learn how to better interpret those signs of the times which we recognize in the present, and the portions of Scripture that reveal them, and how they point forward to the future coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. If you want the theological terminology, Dr. Riddlebarger helps the Dispensational-Premillennialist see how the Amillennial view of eschatology interprets end-times prophecy. If you’d like to learn more about Amillennial eschatology, I’d like to recommend Dr. Riddlebarger’s audio series “Amillennialism 101” located in the sidebar of his Riddleblog, and his books, A Case for Amillennialism, and Man of Sin. If you give this position some thought, I think you’ll find it makes clear some things that remain fuzzy for the average Dispensationalist.

In “You Are Here,”  His synopsis of the article is as follows:

In this article, I will concentrate upon the nature of the course of the post-apostolic history of the church as defined in the New Testament itself, and consider several of the signposts—given to us by those same New Testament writers—that serve as indicators of what to expect as post-apostolic history continues to unfold until the end of the age.

Dr. Kim Riddlebarger (Left) and myself (Right) after services at Christ Reformed Church, Anaheim, CA.

Dr. Riddlebarger illustrates the history of redemption and the end times by the image of a Mall Directory with it’s “You Are Here” sign. He writes:

The practical ramifications of finding the “You Are Here” arrow are immediately apparent. Since we live in the post-apostolic age—some two thousand years removed from the time of the apostles—how do we relate to the apostolic age so long ago? Should we do as many Pentecostals do and understand the dramatic events found in the book of Acts as normative for what should go on in the church today? Or should we see ourselves as living in a different age entirely—one that has little or no connection to the time of the apostles?

We can push this matter even further. How do we as Christians living in the post-apostolic age relate to the old covenant era that preceded the time of the apostles? Can we look to the history of ancient Israel to help us understand how we are to relate to non-Christians around us? Should we look to the monarchy in Israel for guidance as to how the nations of the earth should govern themselves in the modern world?

These questions find their answers in knowing where we are in terms of the progress of history after the close of the canon of Scripture with the composition of the book of Revelation, written in the early- to mid-nineties of the first century. For those of us who live nearly two thousand years after “Bible times,” where do we place the “You Are Here” arrow? In order to place that arrow properly, we need to have a good understanding of what has gone before, especially since those living during the apostolic era (that is, Jesus and the apostles) told us what to expect after the close of the apostolic age.

We are also introduced to the so-called “Already/Not Yet” approach to the Kingdom of God in the New Testament:

In the so-called prison letters (Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians), Paul speaks of a believer’s heavenly citizenship (Phil. 3:20) based on the believer’s assurance that Jesus’ bodily resurrection guarantees our own resurrection at the end of the age (Phil. 3:21). Paul also tells us to seek the things above where Christ is (Col. 3:1-3) because this gives us a heavenly perspective on earthly things. Paul reminds us that all those who trust in Christ are seen as though they were already raised with Christ and seated with him in the heavenly realms (Eph. 2:4-7). For Paul, Christ’s death and resurrection (the critical historical events of the apostolic era) ensure our own salvation and grant us a heavenly perspective on earthly things. Even though the “You Are Here” arrow is placed in our own day and age some two thousand years after the apostolic age, the placement of the arrow itself must be seen as the guarantee that the same Savior—who was crucified, died, and was buried—will also ensure we reach our final goal: the redemption of our bodies and life eternal.

This future hope based upon certain historical events reflects another major theme running throughout the New Testament: What God has done in Jesus Christ (“the already”) ensures that everything God has promised his people will come to pass (“the not yet”). Paul speaks this way in Romans 8:23-25 when he talks of understanding our present sufferings in the light of that glory yet to be revealed when Christ returns at the end of the age. Because we trust in the finished work of Jesus Christ, we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, who not only grants us hope (based on what God has already done for us through the doing and dying of Jesus), but the Spirit’s indwelling is itself the guarantee of the redemption of our bodies (Eph. 1:13-14).

This “already/not yet” perspective on things reminds us that we are pilgrims making our journey to the heavenly city. Although God has ordained all things in this life—giving everything we do meaning and purpose—the journey is not complete until we reach our final destination. Like the ancient Israelites who wandered through the wilderness of the Sinai desert awaiting entrance into the Promised Land of Canaan, we too look forward to our entrance into that heavenly city of which the earthly Canaan was but a dim shadow. Material blessings are not an end in themselves, but point to heavenly blessings far greater than our minds can conceive. This is what the author of Hebrews was getting at when he commended Abraham for looking beyond the land of the promise to what lies ahead at the end of the age (Heb. 11:9-10).

When we see God’s record of faithfulness in the past, we are able to look to the future, knowing that God keeps his promises. Knowing how things will turn out in the end gives us the “big picture” perspective we need to make sense of a life lived between the time of Christ’s first advent and his second. The “You Are Here” arrow makes sense only when placed on a map of the whole shopping mall. An arrow on a blank sheet of plastic does us no good. The same holds true for seeing our current place in redemptive history in the light of all God has done before we came along, knowing that Christ’s finished work is the guarantee of reaching our final destiny. The arrow makes sense only against the big-picture backdrop of redemptive history.

But what about the signs of the times? Here’s an excerpt of Dr. Riddlebarger’s treatment of them:

There are three categories of “signs” of the end in the New Testament. The first category of signs includes those that are specific to the apostolic era. The second group deals with those signs that characterize the entire interadvental age (the time between Christ’s first and second coming). The third group of signs includes those that specifically serve to herald the end of the age.

As for those signs that are specific to the apostolic age—those signs to be witnessed by the disciples in their lifetimes (“this generation,” Matt. 24:23)—there are four specific events foretold by Jesus. There will be false prophets, along with the arrest and persecution of the disciples (Matt. 24:9-14; Mark 13:9-13; Luke 21:12-19). Jesus also predicts the Roman siege of Jeru-salem, as the so-called “times of the Gentiles” begins (Luke 19:41-44; 21:24). Our Lord also speaks of the destruction of the city and the temple in A.D. 70 (Matt. 24:1-2; 14-22; Mark 13:1-2; 14-20; Luke 24:56; 20-24). Finally, Jesus speaks of the desolation and the Diaspora of Israel (Matt. 23:37-38), which came to pass with the complex of events associated with the Jewish Wars. These signs have been fulfilled with an amazing accuracy.

Then there are a series of signs that characterize the entire interadvental-period birth pains of the age to come. Jesus warns of false Christs (Matt. 24:3-8; Mark 13:3-8; Luke 21:7-11), wars and rumors of wars (Matt. 24:3-8; Mark 13:3-8; Luke 21:7-11), earthquakes and famine (Matt. 24:3-8; Mark 13:3-8; Luke 21:7-11), false teachers and false doctrine (2 Tim. 3:1-5), as well as the persecution of believers (2 Tim. 3:12-17). These things are not only present during the lifetimes of the apostles, but may be said to characterize the entire post-apostolic era. Given the presence of such things until our Lord returns, Jesus compared the interadvental age to the days of Noah (Matt. 24:37-38). God has announced that judgment is at hand, yet unbelievers go on with their immorality as though nothing important was about to happen.

Finally, the New Testament speaks of certain signs that particularly serve to herald the end of the age and the return of our Lord. The first such sign is that the gospel must be preached to the ends of the earth (Matt. 24:14)….

The second sign that foretells of the end is the salvation of “all Israel” as recounted by Paul in Romans 11:25-26….I take Paul to be speaking of the dramatic conversion of large numbers of ethnic Jews immediately before the time of the end as gospel progress rebounds from a largely Gentile mission to a Jewish one. I understand “all Israel” to be a reference to those ethnic Jews who embrace Jesus as their Messiah because God once again has mercy upon his ancient people. These folk become members of Christ’s church as a testimony to the grace of God. This mass conversion of “all Israel” tells us the end is at hand….

The land promise God made to Abraham (Gen. 15:18-21) has already been fulfilled—at least that is what Joshua reports (Josh. 23:14). It is Paul who universalizes the original land of promise far beyond the narrow confines from the rivers of Egypt and the Euphrates to include the whole world (Rom. 4:13). Although Israel’s national role in redemptive history has run its course with the coming of Jesus, when we see large number of Jews becoming Christians we know that the end is rapidly drawing near. The presence of a modern nation-state of Israel in the ancient land of promise is certainly tied to God’s mysterious purposes for the Jews, because all of the promises God made to the true children of Abraham (those Jews and Gentiles alike), who believe the promise and receive the Holy Spirit, have come to pass because Christ has come and the gospel has been preached to the Gentile nations….

The third sign of the impending dawn of the end of the age is a great apostasy, which is closely connected to the appearance of the man of sin (“the antichrist”), who is the final eschatological enemy of the church (2 Thess. 2:1-12; Rev. 20:7-10). Although Christians have often been tempted to see any moral decline in their own age as a sign of the end, the final apostasy will surpass anything witnessed to date. Even though there have been many “wannabe” antichrists since the apostolic era, and many of the signs associated with the antichrist have been present to some degree throughout the post-apostolic period, at some point in the future God will cease his restraint of the mystery of lawlessness (2 Thess. 2:7), when Satan is released from the abyss (Rev. 20:7-10). Only then will the final antichrist appear, soon to be crushed by Jesus at his return.

When this final apostasy occurs and the final antichrist is revealed, God’s people will face horrific persecution from a reinvigorated beast (the state) and its leader (the antichrist) who insist that the people of God declare “Caesar is Lord.” This is the one thing Christians will refuse to do, while at the same time refusal to do so is that which provokes the beast to its great fury against the people of God. Thankfully, the reign of this archenemy of Christ and his people will be short, as he is revealed only to go to his destruction (2 Thess. 2:8; Rev. 20:7-10).

Although it would behoove you to invest in a subscription to Modern Reformation Magazine to read the entire article for yourself, and benefit from the other helpful features, I’ve pretty much given you the heart of the article. I don’t want you to wonder as you wander, unnecessarily fearing things you shouldn’t as you look forward to the return of Christ. Reformed theology in general, and Reformed Amillennial eschatology in particular, is a liberating, comforting and most importantly, Biblical approach to our redemption in Christ from “In” (see Genesis 1:1) to “Amen” (see Revelation 22:21).

A Review of Dr. John Fesko’s Lecture on Word, Water and Spirit, part 3

Read parts 1 and 2.

In Part II of Dr. John Fesko’s book, Word, Water and Spirit: A Reformed Perspective on Baptism (2010, Reformation Heritage Books), he, in 3 chapters deals with the Biblical data related to baptism as “New Creation” (chapter 8), “Covenant Judgment” (9) and as “Eschatalogical Judgment” (10). The following is my summary of his remarks on this material at the Christ Reformed Church Friday Night Author’s Forum in Anaheim, California last Friday, January 21, 2011.

When you look at New Testament texts that teach about baptism, not merely the occurrences of the event, but which present the theology behind the event, the passages tend to point back to Old Testament passages and concepts. In 1Peter 3, the apostle shows the correspondence between the flood and baptism:

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.(1 Peter 3:18-22).

Elsewhere, the apostle Paul mentions the Israelites were baptized while crossing the Red Sea.

For I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness (1 Corinthians 10:1-5).

Notice that not only did the adults of the nation of Israel cross the sea and so become baptized into Moses, but so did the entire households of those adults, which necessarily includes any and all infants that were present at the time. Even the cloud, we learn, typifies the Holy Spirit in 1 Corinthians 10, says Dr. Fesko (see Isaiah 63:10-14).

Colossians 2:11-12 has been the field of a pitched battle between credobaptists and paedobaptists:

In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead (Colossians 2:11-12).

Critical of the paedobaptist appeal to such a correspondence between circumcision and baptism based on this text, some Baptists argue that circumcision is a physical, national rite–the “Jewish passport,” if you will–whereas baptism is entirely spiritual. To this, Fesko responds by pointing out that water of baptism is physical. Old Testament circumcision had spiritual connotations as well as baptism. For example, in Deuteronomy 10:16, the Israelites are commanded to circumcise their hearts. “Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn” (Deuteronomy 10:16). Later, we find that in chapter 30, this command becomes a promise, when Moses proclaims that the LORD will circumcise their hearts. “And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live” (Deuteronomy 30:6). Paul in Romans 2:28-29 says the true Jew has had his heart circumcised.

“For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God (Romans 2:28-29).

Thus Fesko describes the spiritual referent of circumcision.

But why was the act of circumcision chosen to serve as the sign of the covenant in the first place? Remember the first gospel promise in Genesis 3:15?

“And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel” (Genesis 3:15 NASB).

It is the seed of the woman who will bruise the serpent’s head. Elsewhere in the Old Testament, it is the seed of Abraham who will be “cut off.” The prophets applies the terminology of circumcision to the cross of Christ. Consider Isaiah’s great 53rd chapter alludes to circumcision in the sacrificial death of the Servant of the LORD: “By oppression and judgment he was taken away;       and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people?” (Isaiah 53:8)

In Genesis 17, those who are circumcised are included in the covenant, and those who are not are said to be “cut off” from covenantal relationship with the LORD.

He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant” (Genesis 17:12-14).

Finally, the sex of the recipient of circumcision was significant in its allusion to the fact that the Seed of Abraham to come, who would be cut off for his people, would be a male—the Lord Jesus Christ. These are some of the reasons that the act of circumcision is the appropriate sign of the Covenant of Grace. Therefore it makes sense that when we go to the New Testament, we find in Colossians 2 that when Paul makes reference to the “circumcision of Christ,” it is to his crucifixion, when Christ was cut off for his people, that he refers.

But why is it, then, that circumcision is replaced as the sign of the Covenant of Grace by a rite such as water baptism? What is it about the application of water that so well fulfills in the New Testament the significance of Old Testament circumcision? In the opening of the Gospels, John the Baptist announces:

“I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3:11-12).

Did John simply pull this ceremony out of thin air? Did he appropriate the immersion ceremonies of the Qumran community with whom he is considered to have possibly resided for a time? Was he simply applying Jewish proselyte baptism to repentant Jews? In the case of Jewish proselyte baptism, Dr. Fesko’s research seemed to indicate that, in fact, this baptism may have been devised only sometime after Christians began baptizing in the name of Jesus, and it may have been that they did so in imitation of Christian baptism. Instead, Dr. Fesko affirms that the true point of origin of John’s baptism is found in the Old Testament itself.

Joel refers to an outpouring of the Spirit (Joel 2:28); again, the Genesis flood corresponds to baptism in Peter (1 Peter 3:18-22); Ezekiel’s vision of the Temple features water flowing out from underneath it which makes fruitful everything it touches (Ezekiel 47:1-12); in Isaiah, the Spirit is poured out, making the desert bloom like the garden of Eden (Isaiah 51:3; cf. 35:5-7). John, then, would have concluded from passages like these that the Messiah would come and would baptize his people in the Spirit. Therefore, now, under the New Covenant, we baptize young and old, male and female to testify to the fact that the Christ has come and fulfilled circumcision by being cut off for his people and he has baptized his people in the Spirit.

For the most part, baptism is presented as a blessing, but what about the baptized who apostatize? Is baptism somehow neutralized, or rendered ineffective? Dr. Fesko declares that there are no neutral encounters with the living God, according to the Word of God. You do not enter God’s presence and leave unchanged. The professing believer, and his household, receives the visible sign of the baptism of the Spirit either to their blessing or to their cursing. When Christ was crucified between two thieves, was the thief who asked him to remember him the only one affected by his encounter with the Son of God? No, the other thief, who mocked Christ, went to his doom. Scripture identifies Christ either as the Rock on which the believing fall upon, or he is the Rock which crushes those on whom it falls (Matthew 21:44). Thus, the revelation of Christ is double-edged.

Ministers often fear that when they see no tangible results to their preaching in terms of conversion, that perhaps the preaching of the Word is an ineffective enterprise. But the faithful minister who sees no results isn’t a failure, for the unresponsive will be judged.  Just as the Old Testament prophets preached with no prospect of positive response. Isaiah was called to preach a message of judgment. Paul, in 2 Corinthians 2:14-16 says that ministers are either the fragrance of life to some, and the fragrance of death to others. Consider the warnings for unworthy reception of the Lord’s Supper—Paul indicated that for this reason, some were sick and dead among the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 11:27-32). Likewise, water baptism is either the water of new creation, or it is the water of judgment. Again, during the flood, those sealed in the ark were saved through the waters (1 Peter 3:20), while those outside of the ark were lost in judgment. Similarly, the Israelites in the exodus were saved through their Red Sea baptism, while their Egyptian pursuers were drowned (Exodus 14:26-29).

Subjecting the New Testament doctrine of baptism to the classical Protestant hermeneutic of the analogy of faith, by interpreting unclear passages in light of the clear parallel passages, demonstrates how it corresponds in many of its particulars to circumcision. I find it especially helpful to see how the connection between the two is found ultimately in the Lord Jesus Christ himself. The Great Seed of Abraham has been cut off from the covenant for the transgressions of his people, and he now baptizes his redeemed with cleansing influence of the Holy Spirit, but false professors who receive the sign of the Spirit’s cleansing will instead be burned with unquenchable fire (Matthew 3:11b-12).

A Review of Dr. John Fesko’s Lecture on Word, Water and Spirit, part 2

In an attempt to explain why he wrote such an extensive presentation of the development of the doctrine of baptism in Word, Water and Spirit: A Reformed Perspective on Baptism, Dr. John Fesko paints a picture of a pair of believers who begin discussing their differences on a given theological issue, and the lively conversation lasts a number of hours. When a third party approaches and asks what they’ve been talking about, they are faced with the daunting task of rehearsing the entire track of the conversation. On a broader scale, just such a conversation has been going on, not just for a few hours, but for nearly two thousand years. Getting his readers caught up on this conversation was Dr. Fesko’s goal for the historical-theological section of his book, which makes up roughly half of the book. This is intended to help the reader see that what the Roman Catholic believes about baptism differs from what the Reformed Protestant believes and teaches, and also the differences between Reformed and Lutheran, as well as Anabaptist and Baptist.

In Part I: “The History of the Doctrine,” Dr. Fesko covers early church witnesses such as Augustine and what the medieval church thought about Augustine’s doctrine of baptism. There is also a presentation of medieval theologians such as Bonaventure, Peter Lombard, and Thomas Aquinas. The bulk of the historical section covers Reformation views, with a chapter on the view of Luther and the later Lutherans. He also brings us through the developments of figures like John Calvin and Ursinus, with the contributions of the venerable Three Forms of Unity. His description of this development progresses on from the writers between the time of the Reformation and the production of the Westminster Confession of Faith, through the later development of the London Baptist Confession. Sketching the history up to the present day, theologians such as  Moltmann and Karl Barth are treated.

Dr. Fesko introduces the Roman Catholic teaching that baptism literally cleanses the recipient of sin, introducing what is known as the “created grace” of God into him. He explains that uncreated grace is the Holy Spirit’s incommunicable power; created grace is created by God and infused into the recipient at baptism. This is said to then create a “habit,” the newly formed ability to do good works.

On the other end of the spectrum, Dr. Fesko describes how that the Anabaptists in Zurich, Switzerland developed the unintended consequences of Ulrich Zwingli’s doctrine of baptism. Zwingli did accept the term sacrament, but he emphasized the term’s patristic-era usage as an oath taken by a Roman soldier who swears loyalty to his commanding officer. From this, he concluded that baptism was no more than one’s pledge of allegiance to the Lord. While Zwingli did include more nuance than this in his own teaching, the first Anabaptists reduced his argument and developed a doctrine that  featured exclusively this oath-taking emphasis. For the Anabaptists, baptism became no more than the believer’s pledge of fidelity to the Lord. In this view, there was no grace attached at all to the rite.

Thus, whereas the Roman Catholic formulates an undue admixture of grace and the water of baptism, the Anabaptist radically separates the water of baptism from almost any reference to the grace of God, making it merely a believer’s pledge and in no way God’s pledge. Insofar as modern Baptists generally tend to appear to hold a view that appears to broadly coincide with this Anabaptistic kind of emphasis, Dr. Fesko assures his Baptist friends that he understands that they teach what man is doing in baptism, but he would ask them what they believe that God is dong in baptism, if anything. Why water? Why not some other substance? Or, why not some other ceremony? Even Charles Ryrie, he indicates, suggested a non-water ceremony would be just as acceptable. Maybe this could be a viable option, if baptism is all about what the believer is doing, but the historical Reformed tradition calls baptism a sign and a seal. It signifies Christ, not a thing or a substance, but Christ himself. Dr. Fesko says that what he likes about the historical Reformed view is that it reflects the ancient view that baptism is the visible Word: that which is heard in preaching is seen, felt and tasted in the sacraments—baptism, no less than the Lord’s Supper—making them what some have called “the double preaching of the Word.” In this regard, the sacrament is dependant upon the presence of the Word preached for its efficacy. The Word preached may stand alone and retain its efficacy apart from the sacrament, but the sacrament has no efficacy apart from the Word preached and so cannot stand alone.

According to Dr. Fesko, contemporary theologians are trying to run as far away from tradition as fast as they possibly can. They’ll claim that previous ages engaged too much in bad philosophy, and simply desired to defend “the traditional view.” But to these innovators, Dr. Fesko says our generation was not the first to open the Bible. For example, the middle ages are maligned as always and only engaged in extra-biblical, or even unbiblical philosophical speculation. But consider, for example, the case of Aquinas, who, before he taught theology, was first required to teach exegesis, and wrote a number of Biblical commentaries. This does not mean we must uncritically accept everything he wrote, but it at least indicates that medieval theologians were not utterly disengaged from the text of Scripture, and many of their writings do contain Scripturally-based insights from which the church in all ages can benefit.

Next time, we’ll review Dr. Fesko’s description of Part II: Biblical-Theological Survey of the Doctrine.

Read part 1

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