Westminster Confession of Faith 1.7. All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all: yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.
Westminster Confession of Faith 5.3. God, in his ordinary providence, maketh use of means, yet is free to work without, above, and against them, at his pleasure.
Westminster Confession of Faith 18.3. This infallible assurance doth not so belong to the essence of faith, but that a true believer may wait long, and conflict with many difficulties before he be partaker of it: yet, being enabled by the Spirit to know the things which are freely given him of God, he may, without extraordinary revelation, in the right use of ordinary means, attain thereunto. And therefore it is the duty of everyone to give all diligence to make his calling and election sure, that thereby his heart may be enlarged in peace and joy in the Holy Ghost, in love and thankfulness to God, and in strength and cheerfulness in the duties of obedience, the proper fruits of this assurance; so far is it from inclining men to looseness.
If everything in the Christian life is “dynamic,” “epic,” “impactful,” “powerful,” and “extraordinary,” then the extraordinary becomes the expected norm, rather than the exception. It’s easy to see that with such high spiritual expectations, disillusionment is sure to follow. For this reason, I’d like to direct you to a series of episodes of the White Horse Inn called “Ordinary.” Along with concepts like “sovereignty,” and “predestination,” one of the unsung distinctive doctrines of Reformed theology is the way that God ordinarily works through ordinary means in our lives by His Word and sacraments. He reveals himself and his work of redemption to us in the Scriptures, grants to his chosen regeneration, faith, justification, repentance, sanctification, communion with him in grace and assurance. That he ordinarily does so through the “ordinary means of grace” (the Word read and preached, the sacraments and prayer), means that, indeed, in extraordinary circumstances, he is free to work by extraordinary means. The extraordinary nature of these means should be our first hint that this will not be what Christians should expect every Sunday during their so-called “worship experience.” Take some time to listen and be reformed to a liberatingly ordinary Christian spirituality.
Yesterday I tweeted a request to Reformed bloggers in the know to post on the Reformed side of American medical icon, the late Dr. C. Everett Koop, who died Monday at the age of 96. Dr. Koop’s medical and public service bonafides are a matter of public record. One quick and easy summary may of course be accessed, where else? Wikipedia! Here also is a press release from HHS Secretary, Kathleen Sabelius, detailing his legacy from the point of view of the federal government. But in addition to his service to the City of Man, Dr. C. Everett Koop was an accomplished lay leader in the City of God, serving as a Presbyterian church elder, and until the day of his death, a board member of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals (ACE), the para-church organization which was so instrumental in introducing me to and cultivating in me the Reformed faith and theology.
Incidentally, tomorrow afternoon, my pastor and I depart for ACE’s Texas Hill Country Bible Conference in Boerne, Texas. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of tribute they put together for him there. For now, though, the ACE website offers a “Koop Classic”: Life, Bioethics and Christianity (2010, ACE).
But in answer to my (“all about me”–apologies to Dr. D.G. Hart 😉 request, two of my favorite Reformed bloggers has indeed posted remembrances of Dr. C. Everett Koop: Drs. Michael Horton and Kim Riddlebarger. You may read Dr. Horton’s at the White Horse Inn blog, and Dr. Riddlebarger’s post at the Riddleblog. Horton gives a nice summary of meeting Dr. Koop and his service to his church, Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, PA and the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, featuring the audio of a 2001 interview and a link to Dr. Koop’s contribution (“Faith-Healing and the Sovereignty of God”) to Horton’s out of print 1990 expose of televangelism, The Agony of Deceit–download it as soon as possible! Riddlebarger adds an amusing anecdote of Dr. Koop’s sobering reaction to his sense of humor. Both posts are great reads.
Be sure to peruse the other links I tweeted yesterday regarding the late Dr. C. Everett Koop from Christianity Today and Banner of Truth magazines and the Gospel Coalition blog featuring both compliment and criticism. Finally, in search of an image of Dr. Koop inside the building of Tenth Pres, I ran across a video of his 2010 marriage to Cora Hogue (pray comfort for her in her loss), officiated by former pastor, Phil Ryken, who is now the President of Wheaton College, whose sermons are still featured on ACE’s broadcast, Every Last Word. For those who are interested in viewing this heartwarming moment, the service begins about 30 minutes into the video, after the beautiful music of Westminster Brass.
Listen to Lutheran Church Missouri Synod minister, Dr. Rod Rosenbladt, talk about what drove Luther’s hammer…
The September 9 episode of the White Horse Inn featured an interview between Michael Horton and Jeffery Burton Russell, author of Exoposing Myths About Christianity: A Guide to Answering 145 Viral Lies and Legends. The following is an edited excerpt from this interview, in which Russell summarizes in layman’s terms common misconceptions about Christianity’s guilt regarding chattel slavery and the Crusades. I hope you find these to be helpful thumbnail sketches:
Horton: The moral questions–that Christianity is intolerant–if you look back at the history of Christianity, very often that criticism is wrapped up in lots of things, like getting hit with tennis balls coming out of that machine; they’re shooting at you so quickly you can’t bat them away.
[They say] Christianity is intolerant. Look at slavery; look at the history of injustice towards women. There’s just so many problems, that Christianity cannot possibly keep its promise to make the world a better place.
Russell: Yeah, let’s just mention a couple of them. Let’s look at slavery, for example. Well, it’s precisely Christians who did away with slavery. People may point out that people had slaves; well, so did everybody else! Slavery was unfortunately a worldwide institution in the ancient world. The whole movement against slavery was started by Christians: by Catholic bishops and Protestant clergy. They were the great leaders of the movement, first to abolish the slave trade, and then to abolish slavery altogether. So, Christianity’s record with regard to slavery is extremely good.
Unfortunately, we know that many of our founding fathers had slaves, but again, it was Christians, not atheists, who moved against the institution.
Then, on the intolerance question: people always raise questions about the Inquisition and the Crusades. The Crusades are somehow seen as a colonialist, Western invasion of indigenous peoples, and view it as a terrible thing. But people seem to be ignorant of the background of the Crusades.
The background of the Crusades is simply that all of the southern Mediterranean lands from Spain to all around North Africa, to as far as what’s now Iraq and Iran–these were Christian territories with Christian populations. The great cities of Alexandria, Jerusalem and Antioch were the centers of Christian bishops, and this is a thoroughly Christian area up until the 600’s. In the 600’s, the Arabs quickly come out of Arabia. By 750 BC, the Muslims defeated the Byzantine Empire and occupied most of the Christian lands. So it’s not as if Christians were attacking these innocent people who had been there for ages and ages.
Christians were fighting a defensive war. The immediate cause of the Crusades lies in the fact that most of the Muslim rulers that previously allowed Christians to go on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, had taken over Jerusalem, and by the 1080’s were forbidding any Christians to go to Jerusalem, and that created a horrible reaction in Europe. So the Crusades were to open up the pilgrimages back to Jerusalem.
So, in a sense, there is no doubt that a lot of the Crusaders behaved very badly. We certainly have plenty of evidence of that. But the motive of the Crusades, and the motive of most of the Crusaders were to open up the pilgrimage to Jerusalem and to take back some territory that the Muslims had taken from them 400 years earlier.
Horton: So in many of these cases, one, it’s just that we don’t understand enough of the historical background; and two, that we sort of anachronistically project our standards of universal human rights on cultures that in any case–whether they were Christian, Muslim, Jewish, whatever—simply had no reference for what we are talking about.
Russell: Yeah. There’s a lot of projection, on the part of historians in the last forty years, of modern values and attitudes back onto the past. It used to be that our aim was to open minds to the various ways of thinking: how did Babylonians think? How did the Chinese think? Christians, Jews and so forth. But now, most teaching of history seems to be very propagandistic. Instead of opening peoples’ minds to various points of view, most historians seem to be imposing a particular ideology on their students and teaching them only one side of things.
There he goes again… 🙂
I am currently reading Michael Horton’s Thanksgiving post at Out of the Horse’s Mouth (the White Horse Inn blog), “Joining the Thanksgiving Parade.” In his introduction, he brings up a famous quote–sort of a theological proverb. Here’s Horton’s words:
The Heidelberg Catechism, in fact, is structured in terms of Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude, leading G. C. Berkouwer to conclude, “The essence of theology is grace; the essence of ethics is gratitude.” Or, as we have say around here, duties (imperatives) are always grounded in gospel promise (indicatives). The appropriate response to a gift is thankfulness. (emphasis mine)
In light of this reminder, I simply have a question for students of Reformed theology in general, and the Heidelberg Catechism in particular:
- If grace is the essence of theology, and gratitude is the essence of ethics, then guilt is the essence of what?
Please submit your answers in the comments thread.
May the grace of God in Christ crucified and risen to atone for your guilt inspire much gratitude in you this Thanksgiving!
Happy Reformation Day! October 31, 2011 marks the 494th anniversary of the legendary event considered the spark that ignited the Protestant Reformation when Augustinian monk, Martin Luther, nailed the Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences(commonly known as the 95 Theses) to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg, Germany in 1517. In the years that followed, Luther lead the movement to reform the church’s understanding of what the Bible teaches about the doctrine of justification by God’s grace alone, received through faith alone, in Christ alone, according to Scripture alone, to the glory of God alone. The Lutheran tradition would build on Luther’s work on justification, and they placed it at the center and starting point of all of the benefits of the redemption purchased
by Christ for his people. But biblical reformation of soteriology didn’t end with Luther and the Lutherans. The Reformed movement also grew alongside of the Lutheran movement, and while both were co-belligerents against the Roman doctrines of justification and the other benefits of redemption in Christ, they differed on the most biblical way to systematize these truths.
Friday on the Reformed Forum’s podcast, Christ the Center, Camden Bucey, Jim Cassidy and Jeff Waddington interviewed Dr. Lane Tipton, the new Charles Khrae Professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Dr. Tipton was allowed two hours to spell out the differences between the Lutheran and Reformed approaches to justification and many current issues related to this essential aspect of Protestant theology, such as whether Dr. Michael Horton’s academic work on the subject is moving Reformed theology toward a more Lutheran, and therefore,according to Dr. Tipton, semi-Pelagian doctrine of justification. Listen to the podcast at this link.
I was introduced to Reformed theology by Michael Horton’s materials and the Lord used his parachurch ministries Christian United for Reformation (CURE) and the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals (ACE) and the White Horse Inn radio show to gradually bring me around to embrace it. I will certainly be looking forward to a future Christ the Center program in which Dr. Horton responds to Dr. Tipton’s characterization of his work on justification and the other benefits of redemption in Christ. More public dialogue on this ought to take place, IMHO. At this point, Dr. Tipton’s case sounds convincing and more in line with the Reformed confessions and catechisms, as opposed to Dr. Horton’s efforts to, as I once heard him state on the air, build a kind of ecumenism between Reformed, Lutheran and Anglican traditions. I can see how some synthesis may be taking place in that effort. But what do I know?
Reformata, Semper Reformanda!
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….
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.
Michael Gerson, Darryl Hart, Terry Eastland
There are a number of especially common and compelling misconceptions about the Bible which are held by the unbelieving world. One of the more popular ones is using nonmoral Old Testament laws against the eternally binding moral laws. For instance, in arguing against the Christian’s appeal to the Old Testament’s prohibition of homosexuality, many will accuse us of inconsistency since we don’t also equally observe the Mosaic Laws against eating unclean animals like shellfish, or meat with blood in it. From my standpoint as one who grew up being instructed that there are distinctions between moral, civil and ceremonial laws, it looks like those not so informed don’t know how to draw simple distinctions. But the apostle Peter once wrote about the fact that uninformed people twist Scripture to their own destruction (2 Peter 3:16), so I guess it’s not uncommon for unbelievers to have such trouble with handling the Word of God correctly (2 Timothy 2:15).
URCNA Associate Pastor, WSC Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics, prolific author and host of The White Horse Inn radio show, Dr. Michael Horton has written an informative explanation of this distinction between Old Testament laws. He shows why and how some were typological and thus temporary, associated with the ancient Israelite theocracy until their fulfillment in the redemptive life and ministry of Israel’s Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. He also explains that others are eternally and universally binding on all people at all times and in all places as part of God’s way of informing the world of their common need for redemption in the same Messiah of Israel, the Lord Jesus Christ, since the Bible teaches that the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23). After his sacrificial death and miraculous resurrection, Christ has ascended to the right hand of God the Father enthroned in heaven to rule over all the nations spiritually, not geo-politically (John 18:36), through the preaching of the Law and the Gospel by calling out a people for his name (Acts 15:14) from every tongue, tribe and nation (Revelation 14:6).
In “Why Can’t I Own Canadians? Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth,” Horton writes (read the rest here):
The commands in the old covenant law (viz., Leviticus and Deuteronomy) are specific to that remarkable geo-political theocracy that foreshadowed the universal kingdom of Christ. The deliverance of Israel in the exodus anticipates a far greater exodus through the waters of death and hell in Christ. The holy wars pale in comparison with the judgment of the nations that Christ will execute at the end of the age. Even if Israel had been faithful to this covenant, Canaan would have only been a type or small-scale model of the extensiveness and intensiveness of God’s reign at the end of the age. Moses could not give God’s people rest in the land of everlasting Sabbath. As the prophets proclaim, this would only come when one greater than Moses would rescue his people and lead them victoriously into the perfect peace, love, and joy that he would win for his co-heirs.
Don’t miss Dr. Michael Horton’s great blog post responding to many Evangelicals’ negative reaction to President Obama’s recent comments about the borders of Israel. Many Evangelicals react negatively because, due to a largely Dispensationalist method of interpreting Scripture, they see the modern state of Israel in identical terms as the Bible views ancient Israel back when they were actually in covenant with God. Dr. Horton presents a more biblical approach to what happened with ancient Israel and the Mosaic covenant, and applies it to how we ought to view modern Jews in modern Israel in light of the cross of Christ. Read, “Biblical Foreign Policy?“
By the way, I dug Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech before both houses of Congress yesterday!
How timely. The March/April 2011 issue of Modern Reformation magazine has arrived, featuring an article related to the postmodern liberal (aka, “emerging”) emphasis on being “missional.” Editor-in-Chief Dr. Michael Horton attempts to demonstrate how this emphasis tends to emphasize certain aspects of medieval monasticism in his piece called, “Missional Church or New Monasticism?“.
Medieval monasticism was divided between those who prized the contemplative life (spiritual ascent to heaven through private disciplines of the mind) and those who gave priority to the active life (spiritual ascent through good works, especially for the poor). Francis of Assisi–and the Franciscan Order named after him–emphasized the latter.
First, today we see a revival of contemplative spirituality. It is a traditional evangelical emphasis on personal piety: discipleship as inner transformation through spiritual disciplines. Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline (1979) introduced many evangelicals to the medieval mystics and contemplative writers. From The Divine Conspiracy (1998) to The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus’ Essential Teachings on Discipleship (2006), Dallas Willard has repeated this call to discipleship: inner transformation through the spiritual disciplines.
Next, Horton explains how contemplative and postmodern liberal writers tend to confuse Scriptural gospel indicatives with sin-exposing legal imperatives of Scripture, tending to warp the gospel into how one lives, rather than the message Christ sent ambassadors to proclaim.
Both contemplative (“spiritual disciplines”) and active (Emergent) writers tend to blur and merge commands and promises, indicativees and imperatives. That is, there is a strong tendency to identify the gospel with what we do rather than with what God has done for us–and the world–in Jesus Christ. We are active agents more than beneficiaries and witnesses of God’s reconciling work, building his kingdom through our efforts more than receiving a kingdom that expands through preaching and Sacrament. . . . (emphasis mine)
Although the Emergent movement reflects a more communal emphasis on social transformation, it shares the medieval, Anabaptist, and Pietist emphasis on deeds over creeds. Brian McLaren explains, “Anabaptists see the Christian faith primarily as a way of life,” focusing on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount rather than on Paul and doctrines concerning personal salvation [Brian McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy (Grand Rapids: Zondervan: 2004), 206.] More than proclaiming Christ’s finished work of reconciling sinners to the Father, the focus is on completing Christ’s redeeming work of social transformation. Tony Jones, another leader in this movement, relates: “In an emergent church, you’re likely to hear a phrase like ‘Our calling as a church is to partner with God in the work that God is already doing in the world–to cooperate in the building of God’s Kingdom.'” Trying to anticipate Reformed objections he notes, “Many theological assumptions lie behind this statement,” although “the idea that human beings con ‘cooperate’ with God is particularly galling to conservative Calvinists, who generally deny the human ability to participate with God’s work” [Tony Jones, The New Christian: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier (New York: Jossey-Bass, 2009), 72].
According to McLaren, being “missional” means that we encourage Buddhists, Muslims, and Jews to become better Buddhists, Muslims, and Jews to become better Buddhists, Muslims, and Jews as followers of Jesus’ example. It is not what we proclaim but how we live that transforms the world. McLaren writes, “To say that Jesus is Savior is to say that in Jesus, God is intervening as Savior in all of these ways, judging (naming evil as evil), forgiving (breaking the vicious cycle of cause and effect, making reconciliation possible), and teaching (showing how to set chain reactions of good in motion)” [McLaren, 96]. There is no mention of Christ bearing God’s wrath in our place–in fact, no mention of the cross having any impact on the vertical (God-human) relationship. “Then, because we are so often ignorantly wrong and stupid, Jesus comes with saving teaching, profound yet amazingly compact: Love God with your whole heart, soul, mind, and strength, Jesus says, and love your neighbor as yourself, and that is enough.” This is what it means to say that “Jesus is saving the world” [McLaren, 97]. Although Jesus called this the summary of the law (Matt. 22:37-40, citing Deut. 6:5) for McLaren it becomes the summary of the gospel.
Horton then goes on to constructively explain the proper distinction between law and gospel:
First, “living the gospel” is a category mistake. By definition, the gospel is news (euangelion, “good news”). You don’t “do” news: you do law and you hear gospel. Second, the specific content of this good news is the forgiveness of sins through faith in Christ’s saving life, death, and resurrection. We are beneficiaries of this action, not active participants. Scripture certainly teaches that we live in view of God’s mercies, in a manner worthy of the gospel we profess, and so forth. However, it represents our lives and good works as the fruit of the faith created by the gospel, not as part of the gospel itself. (emphasis mine)
Third, the Scriptures teach consistently that faith comes through the proclamation of the gospel, not through good works. Christ himself was not arrested and arraigned because he was trying to restore family values or feed the poor. Even his miraculous signs were not by themselves offensive, except as they were signs testifying to his claims about himself. The mounting ire of the religious leaders toward Jesus coalesced around him making himself equal with God (John 5:18) and forgiving sins in his own person, directly, over against the temple and its sacrificial system (Mark 2:7). In fact, at his trial he was chared by the Jewish Council with announcing the destruction of the temple. When the high priest asked, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” Jesus answered: “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” With that, “the high priest tore his garments and said, ‘What further witnesses do we need? You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?” And they all condemned him as deserving death” (Mark 14:53-64).
Jesus was never charged on the grounds of trying to bring world peace: quite the contrary (Matt. 10:34-37). Jesus’ opponents never included a revolutionary blueprint for improving world conditions among the indictments against him. In fact, his mission was an utter failure for those who saw him as a leader of political revolution. He will return in glory to judge, to deliver, and to make all things new in a global political kingdom of righteousness and blessing. However, between his advents is the space in history for repentance and faith.
Thus, Horton contrasts the Jesus of the Bible and the Christianity of the Bible with the Jesus of postmodern liberalism and it’s appropriation of medieval contemplative spiritual disciplines and politically liberal social justice activism. The simple fact is that the Christian is not the gospel, and his Christian obedience is not the gospel (but rather its result)–the gospel of Jesus Christ will be heard each Lord’s Day at a church that is committed to proclaiming it, and that is likewise committed to doctrinal (doctrines like the deity of Christ, his virgin birth, his penal-substitutionary atonement, etc.) as well as practical discipleship in Christian obedience that leaves Christians to work this out in the various vocations to which the Lord may call his people, not specifically the favored social agenda of any local church, be it a liberal or conservative agenda. Here is the context in which true liberty in Christ will emerge, in a spirituality that will gradually, neither instantaneously nor holistically (in this age before Christ’s return to glorify his people) see Christians growing in love for God and neighbor in response to the preached gospel of the grace and forgiveness of God in the Lord Jesus Christ.
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. 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).
If you’re anything like me, you’re looking forward to your copy of Michael Horton’s new systematic theology, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way (published by Zondervan), to arrive, if you haven’t already received it. If you aren’t like me, then perhaps this interesting interview of Horton by John Starke, of the Gospel Coalition, promoting his systematic theology, will make you more like me (but only in this one way).
The following is a sermon by Lutheran (Missouri Synod) Seminary professor, Dr. Rod Rosenbladt, who is also co-host of The White Horse Inn radio show. The title of the sermon is “The Gospel for Those Broken by the Church.” He addresses two kinds of believers who have given up on going to church: the “sad,” who feel they couldn’t measure up, so they quit trying; and the “mad,” who’ve been “used up and spit out” by the church, or who have been justly scandalized by Christianity’s many historic misdeeds. Dr. Rosenbladt’s premise is that the good news of Christ’s cross and blood shed for sinners will save not only the pagan unbeliever, but also the wounded believer who, for whatever reason, has given up on Christianity.
In some ways, Dr. Rosenbladt’s presentation may come off a bit academic, but if you hang with him, you’ll find that the heart of the message is clear as a bell. If you’ve got friends or relatives who are mad or sad at the church, please forward this post to them.