Category Archives: Modern Reformation

From Demand to Free Gift

Listen to Lutheran Church Missouri Synod minister, Dr. Rod Rosenbladt, talk about what drove Luther’s hammer

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Emerging Monastic Transformationalism versus Biblical Christianity

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.

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).

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