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Taking a look at Lectio Divina

lectio_divinaPerhaps you don’t know what Lectio Divinia is, and in a few moments you may be smelling the beginnings of a polemical argument over an abstract point of Theology, I encourage you not to stop reading, because even if you don’t grasp everything, you can still benefit from this article in a number of ways. If you do know what Lectio Divinia is, then I guess I need not give you a reason to keep reading, but hopefully what I write will add something to your own thoughts on it.

‘Lectio Divinia’ is a practise of ‘holy reading’ and listening as a way of praying with Scripture which emphasizes reflection on God’s Word. The practise has four essential movements:

  1. Reading the The Scripture (Lectio)
  2. Meditating (Meditatio) and apply it to yourselves
  3. Praying (Oratio) in response to the word of God
  4. Listening (Contemplatio) in silence to receive what God offers

Essentially ‘Lectio Divina’ is a technique for learning, meditating upon, and praying the Holy Scriptures.  The contemplative aspect is most usually thought of as the goal of Lectio Divina. One writer helpfully defines ’Lectio Divina’ as “a slow, contemplative praying of the Scriptures which enables the Bible, the Word of God, to become a means of union with God”[i].

Brief History

I don’t want to go into too much of the history of this practise, there are many fine resources for that. But let me just mention its origins, at least in Christianity. It was most likely Origin (185-232) who paved the way for Lectio Divina as he taught the idea of reading to discover a deeper meaning that lay beyond the literal sense of the biblical text.  “He used the Greek phrase thea anagnosis to describe scriptural reading for the purpose of finding a hidden message from God”[ii]. This practise became a tradition in monasticism, where it was an important part of the daily routine. It seems that by the 5th century it was pretty well an institution in all monasteries.

I first came across this as a young fundamentalist teen, but did not give it much thought at the time. I was not really interested in thinking through issues at the time, but rather embracing every heresy-hunting thing I came across as truth. Recently I was presented with the practise again, however from someone I deeply respect. Tim Keller, a pastor and author has been very helpful to me as a church planter and thinker; it was in his material that I read again of this mystic practise.

should-christians-meditate-or-use-lectio-divina-21617254What About the Man with the Mallet ?

So having spent some time thinking, praying and reading what I can, it struck me; Martin Luther was a monk! Not only was Martin Luther a monk, but the reformers were all former Roman Catholics. Why had they not seen fit to preserve this practise in the Reformed tradition? So I did a bit of research. It seems that when Luther finally came to understand the gospel, as taught in the Scriptures it lead him to reject Lectio Divinia.

One of the results of Luther’s “reformation discovery” was a new understanding of language.  In his early years Luther handled the Scriptures in terms of Augustinian and Stoic theology, namely, that “language is a system of signs that refer to objects or situations or of signs that express an emotion. In either case the sign is – as a statement or as an expression – not the reality itself[iii]”.

Luther’s theological breakthrough was his discovery that the word of God is the reality in itself. “That the linguistic sign is itself the reality, that it represents not an absent but a present reality, was Luther’s great hermeneutical discovery, his ‘Reformation Discovery’ in the strict sense”[iv]. It is clear that Luther’s fully developed understanding of Scripture would have conflicted with the basic premise of Lectio Divina.

In Luther’s writings however there appears a reformation of the practise and a much need corrective. Luther seems to have suggested a method of Oratio, Meditatio, Tentatio as a corrective to Lectio Divina.

In contrast to the somewhat manipulative method of Lectio Divinia, Luther proposed an evangelical model of spirituality as reception rather than self-promotion. This involved three things: prayer (oratio), meditation (meditation), and temptation (tentatio).  All three revolved around ongoing, faithful attention to God’s word”[v].

As I mentioned earlier, the ultimate goal of Lectio Divina is contemplation wherein one comes into an experiential encounter with God.  Here one is enabled to transcend the text of scripture and achieve direct communion with the divine.  The basic belief behind this is the idea that the Word is merely a sign.  The Word is a mediator between God and man which, while certainly important and useful, is not the thing in itself.  True, actual, communication with God cannot take place until one, by prayer and meditation, is finally by God’s grace, enabled to go beyond the text to establish mystical communion with God.  It is for this reason that, in Lectio Divina the Word can only be the point of the departure which leads ultimately to the ultimate goal of true communion with God on a mystical level.

Luther’s Oratio, Meditatio, Tentatio has no place for Contemplatio.  For Luther the direct encounter with God happens in the word itself.  The word does not just signify God’s speaking to us.  The word is, in fact, God speaking to us.  There is no reality to be sought beyond the Word of God. Luther wrote:

Therefore if you want to be certain what God in heaven thinks of you, and whether He is gracious to you, you must not seclude yourself, retire into some nook, and brood about it or seek the answer in your works or in your contemplation—all this you must banish from your heart, and you must give ear solely to the words of this Christ; for everything is revealed in Him[vi].

One thing, and only one thing, is necessary for Christian life, righteousness, and freedom. That one thing is the most holy Word of God, the gospel of Christ, as Christ says, John 11[:25], “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live”; and John 8[:36][vii] .

3The order of oratio, meditatio, tentatio is important.  Distinct from Lectio Divina which sees the Word as a means to an end, Luther’s list continually leads one back to God’s word.  Oratio, meditatio, tentatio portrays the Christian walk as cyclic; beginning with prayer for the gift of the Holy Spirit, concentrating on the reception of the Holy Spirit through meditation on God’s word, and resulting in spiritual attack.  This again draws a person back to further prayer and intensified meditation[viii].

For Luther, the Word of God was central.  Prayer does not stand above the text as a more spiritual exercise removed from the Scriptures.  Luther does not see the believer seeking for something beyond and above the text in prayer.  Rather, true prayer (oratio) drives believers toward the Scriptures.  In prayer the believer asks for understanding and faithfulness as he approaches God’s word.  In addition, the very words of scripture form the language of prayer itself.

But that is not the only issue Luther took with Lectio Divinia.  He also totally redefines meditatio.  Whilst in Lectio Divina meditation is focused on human memory and its ability to make the text personal through the recollection of past events, Luther’s understanding of meditation focuses on God’s word.  For Luther, meditation is simply the continual study of scripture.  God’s word is not just a sign that needs to be internalized in order to be heard properly, it is the very voice of God that comes with power both to kill and make alive.

Finally, Luther replaces Lectio Divina’s contemplatio with tentatio.  The goal is no longer subjective, experiential contemplation with God.  Rather, in his addition of tentatio he refocuses our attention on the word as the goal.  Tentatio (sufferings and temptation) is a form of spiritual attack which drives the believer away from the ‘internalized self’ to the external Word.  Tentatio is not a goal.  It is not the highest rung on a spiritual ladder to heaven.  It is God’s way of turning self-seeking men back to the Scriptures and therefore back to Himself.

Conclusion

I think the resurgence of Lectio Divinia definitely says something about a spirituality that is lacking in much of evangelicalism. There is a hungering for more of the experiential religion spoken of by the Puritans.

However, in the final assessment, it may be that Lectio Divinia much like the tradition that formed it, is merely paying lip service to God’s Word preferring rather the ‘more spiritual’ goal of contemplation. I think it is unable to stand up to the full blown theology of Sola Scriptura put forth by the Reformers. Perhaps there is room for Luther’s oratio, meditatio, tentatio as a truly faithful substitution and corrective for the kind of spirituality being promoted in much of evangelicalism today.

Let’s give Luther the final word:

Yet all these seeming holy actions of devotion, which the wit and wisdom of man holds to be angelical sanctity, are nothing else but works of the flesh. All manner of religion, where people serve God without his Word and command, is simply idolatry, and the more holy and spiritual such a religion seems, the more hurtful and venomous it is; for it leads people away from the faith of Christ, and makes them rely and depend upon their own strength, works, and righteousness[ix].

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[i] Dysinger, Luke Fr., “Accepting The Embrace of God: The Ancient Art of Lectio Divina,” St. Andrew’s Abbey [website]; http://www.saintandrewsabbey.com/Lectio_Divina_s/35.htm ; Internet; accessed 14 July 2014.
[ii] O’Hagan, John, “Lectio Divina,” Monastery of the Ascension [website]; http://www.idahomonks.org/sect810.htm; Internet; accessed 14 July 2014.
[iii] Bayer, Oswald, “Luther as Interpreter of Holy Scripture,” The Cambridge Companion to Martin Luther, Edited by Donald K. McKim, Cambridge University Press, 2003. Pg 76
[iv] IBID
[v] Kleinig, John, “Oratio, Meditatio, Tentatio: What Makes a Theologian?” Concordia Theological Quarterly; Vol. 66:3 (July, 2002), pg 258
Luther, M. (1999, c1961). Vol. 24Luther’s works, vol. 24 : Sermons on the  Gospel of St. John: Chapters 14-16 (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther’s Works. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House. Pg 257
[vii] Luther, M. (1999, c1957). Vol. 31Luther’s works, vol. 31 : Career of the Reformer I(J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther’s Works. Philadelphia: Fortress Press. Pg 453
[viii] Kleinig, John, “Oratio, Meditatio, Tentatio: What Makes a Theologian?” Concordia Theological Quarterly; Vol. 66:3 (July, 2002), 258.
[ix] Tabletalk, 1626 AD
 
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Posted by on July 14, 2014 in Christianity, Doctrine, Religion

 

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What I Never THORt About Jacob and Esau

jacob-and-esauJacob and Esau; few sets of siblings have had such an impact on world history. The three major Monotheistic religions of the worldall own these brothers as part of their own story. It was in a group study on these two characters from Genesis that I realised the most offensive part of their story is often not grasped. As these two brothers were described, I couldn’t help but think of the famousThor and Loki. If you haven’t seen the recent Thor movies, don’t worry too much, I am sure you can pick up my point as we go along.

In the Marvel produced Thor movies (not to be confused with the Nordic Eddas of Thor), Thor is a man’s man. He has a rugged handsomeness about him, well-built, always ready to rush into battle and never passing up a good party. Naturally the viewer has an affinity for him, and though he messes up a bit, he manages to prove his real character drawing the support of the viewing audience. He is  rightfully the heir to his father’s throne, and he shows why throughout the story.

On the other hand, we have Loki. The thin, pale, greasy brother of Thor. He is conniving and manipulative. Despite his loveable brother’s overtures toward him, he is unresponsive and shrinks further and further away from his adoptive family, becoming the arch enemy of the film. There is nothing in his character than one would naturally like. He feigns weakness till he has power. Thor is the natural choice for a hero; Loki is the natural choice if you want to squash something.

Enter Jacob and Esau. Esau is a hairy guy, a guy that goes hunting; his father loves hanging out with him. He loves good red meat and is always the guy that braais (barbeques) the best. Jacob on the other hand is a momma’s boy. He is not a really a rugged type but prefers his gardening. He is also manipulative, eventually lying to his own father and consequently stealing his brother’s blessing. Nothing in the opening part of his story makes you like him.

avengers___thor_and_loki__sons_of_odinThis is how the Thor movie helps us. When God makes his choice, he chooses Jacob, not Esau. Or to link it to their mythical marvel counterparts God chooses Loki not Thor. God chooses the opposite of what people would generally choose. But we should know this about God; the Psalmist himself says, “God does not delight in the legs of a man.[i]” Meaning, that which people esteem in the culture as a sign of strength, God does not.

When the Bible talks about God’s choosing, it says, “not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, and not many were of noble birth[ii]”. God saves sinners, God saves Lokis. That is the only clue we have in Scripture about how God chooses. When we read about heroes of the faith, we don’t have a litany of manly strong guys with loads of integrity. We often find men who we would characterise as losers and villains; men who in the end are justified by their faith alone.

However my thoughts on the Thor movie don’t stop with that personality comparison. A different analogy from the story yet still related to election and adoption also came mind.

The Baptist Confession of Faith describes adoption in its 12th chapter like this:

“God has granted that, in and for his only Son Jesus Christ, all those who are justified share in the grace of adoption. By this they are numbered with and enjoy the liberties and privileges of the children of God. They have his name put upon them and receive the Spirit of adoption. They have access to the throne of grace with boldness, and are able to cry, ‘Abba, Father!’ They are pitied, protected, provided for, and chastened by him as by a father, yet they are never cast off, but are sealed to the day of redemption, and inherit the promises as heirs of everlasting salvation.”

Well as the story of Loki goes, Odin, once the ruler of the Asgardian gods, led his subjects in a war against their enemy, the frost giants from the land of Jotunheim (one of the nine worlds of Asgard). Laufey, king of the frost giants, was slain in battle and the giants were defeated. Surveying the spoils of war, the Asgardians discovered a small god-sized baby hidden at the giants’ maloki and thorin fortress. Odin adopted Loki into his own family, raising him like a son along with his biological son, Thor.

As far as that part of the story goes, it is analogous to the doctrines of election and adoption. We were not pretty, cute babies that draw our natural paternal instincts. Like Loki, we were part of the kingdom of darkness; we were “following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience.[iii]” “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,  even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—  and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus[iv]”. Just as Odin adopted the frost giant child and placed him along side Thor, So now God the Father takes us who are obedient to Satan, and makes us his children alongside Christ.

The analogy ends there. This is because in the film and comic books, one sees Odin favouring Thor in a way that provokes Loki. But what I hope you see is something that moves you to worship and humility. God chose to save those He had every right to destroy. God elects and saves not those we would naturally choose, but those that will graphically portray his mercy and kindness.

Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’
and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’”
 “And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’
there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.[v]

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[i] Psalm 147:10

[ii] 1 Corinthians 1:26

[iii] Ephesians 2:2

[iv] Ephesians 2:4

[v] Romans 9:25-26;

 
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Posted by on July 7, 2014 in Christianity, Devotional, Doctrine, Religion

 

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Sanctity of Life #3

This is my third and final post in the series on ‘the Sanctity of life’ and I would like to end off with a few words of application (to go back to the first in the series click here). What does the sanctity of life mean? How do we apply it? Here is the general principle, and then several specific applications.

The general principle is very important. If you are a Christian and you want to take this seriously, you have got sanctityto start this way; don’t start by asking,” Well how does this relate to war, capital punishment, suicide, abortion, and euthanasia?” We could spend a long time on those 5 things, don’t go there first, we will get there towards the end, but you can really get bogged down in the ethical applications. The first and the primary application of this commandment is that everybody who comes into your world must feel honoured and valued. They must feel that you take them so seriously. You are breaking this commandment when you treat people with indifference, when you treat people with flippancy, when you treat people with coldness. Does everybody that comes into your orbit sense that you treat them with dignity, with warmth, with seriousness, do they feel valued when they are done talking with you?

How easy it is when we think about ‘thou shalt not kill’ to think about things like suicide and war? You have to start here, and this is what really gets to me. C.S Lewis said “If we are all made in the image of God, look at the sun, look at the mountains in their massive seeming permanence, and then look at the person sitting next to you. Do you realize that when that sun is so old, if it gets that old, that it’s just a cinder, and when those mountains are so old that they have been worn down by the wind and the tides of time that they have been ground down into little grains of sand on the seashore that does exist now. That the persons sitting around you will still be alive in some condition. Do you realize that the life of the persons around you makes the life of those mountains nothing?”

Have you thought about what it means to live in a society of people made in the image of God. And do you treat people with value, do they sense that you are warm, do they sense that you are interested, do they sense that you are serious about them, do they just feel your love when you talk to them. Do they sense that you are trying to size them up to see whether or not you want to be with them, whether or not this is a good use of your time, or do they sense that you are just trying to find out what they need? Here is Lewis’ quote from his famous sermon ‘the weight of glory’:

It may be possible for us to think too much of our own potential glory hereafter, but it’s hardly possible to think too often or too deeply about that of our neighbour. The load of weight of my neighbors glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud shall be broken. It’s a serious thing to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may someday be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet if at all only in a nightmare. All day long we are in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities. It is with the awe and circumspection proper to them that we should conduct all our dealings with each other, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization, these are mortal and their life is to ours is that of a gnat. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn, we must play, but our merriment must be of that kind, and it is in fact the merriest kind, which exists between people who from the outset have taken each other seriously. No flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. Our love of which we love the sinner, our love must be real love with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner no mere tolerance or indulgence which parody’s love, as flippancy parody’s merriment. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and circumspection proper to them that we should conduct all our dealings with each other , all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics.”

hellWe live in a city where people do discard you, where the retailers know there is a long line of people after you if you are not happy. Where the people who you work for know that there is 100 other people who want your job and they don’t have to deal with you. The more modern a city gets, the more we lose sight of the sacredness, the weight of your neighbours glory.

Now, having said that, when it comes to ethics, let me just give you one principle that this particular passage, this truth gives us. It gives us an ethical rule of thumb to be used in all these strange, and careful and difficult situations like suicide, and euthanasia and physicians assisted suicide and abortion and even war. It’s the doctrine of carefulness.The doctrine of carefulness is this: Human life is so important and precious that anything that might harm or weaken it in any way must be avoided at all cost.

Now Thomas Watson took the doctrine of carefulness and applied it in some amazing ways in his little commentary he wrote 300 years ago on the 10 commandments. In summary he said that if we understand that human life is so important that anything that might harm or weaken it must be avoided at all costs then we should be taking care of the poor like nobody’s business. He says the poor lack the basic necessities, they lack beauty, they lack food, they lack shelter. And he quotes Matthew 25, in a passage where Jesus says, “on the last day, he is going to come to some people and say,” I was sick and you didn’t visit me, I was in prison and you didn’t come to me, I was homeless and you didn’t give me shelter, I was hungry and you didn’t feed me, I was naked and you didn’t clothe me, and the people will say when did we see you in these conditions Lord. And he will say, because you didn’t do it to them, these hungry people, these homeless people, these sick people, you didn’t do it to me”. Now Thomas Watson points out that that’s image of God reasoning, it’s the same reasoning you have in Genesis 9. God is saying that “my image is on those people” and to assault a human being is to assault me.

Well in Matthew 25 what Jesus is saying is, “I’m the poor”. When you weaken their life, when you fail as Thomas Watson put it, to do everything in your power to prevent their death, this is the only way to obey this commandment, when you do everything in your power, because of the doctrine of carefulness. Anything that might weaken in any way human life has to be avoided at all costs. And that means if you have something in your power to alleviate a condition that might lead to someone’s death, somebody’s destruction, then you must do it. It doesn’t mean that you can save all the poor people in the world; but what is within your power. Jesus says I am the poor person, how you treat him or her, tells me how you regard me.

How can a person be like that? The only way is if you know that you are a sinner saved by grace. If you think God loves you because you are a good person then you are going to look at the poor and say why should I help them, they must pick themselves up. But if you know that you are a sinner saved by grace alone, that God came in spite of the fact that you got yourself into the mess that you are in and in a costly way poured himself out; though he was rich he became poor so that through his poverty we might become rich, you take that verse and it burns itself into your heart and you say I have got to do something about these folks. The doctrine of carefulness says you have got to be helping those people who don’t have the basic necessities of life.

Secondly, suicide is wrong. You know a lot of people say, “Well don’t you own your own life”? You know it’s interesting that humanists and Christians agree that you can’t murder other people because those people’s lives aren’t yours. That’s an accidental coincidence isn’t it, because a person who is not a Christians thinks that an individual’s life belongs to themself. I belong to me, therefore I can take my life if I want, but here is the big problem with that, the only way that you would belong to yourself is if you were not created. Whatever you create you own; if I make something it my house I own it- if God created you he owns you and your life is not your own, you can’t do what you want with it. If you think  you can commit suicide because you are your own and no one created you, then we have a problem because if it’s ok to commit suicide because you are not in the image of God, then what’s wrong with murder? You see it weakens the whole idea of the sanctity of human life

When it comes to suicide Roman Catholics have invented this idea of mortal sins, and if you commit one of them then you are damned. But Romans 8:1 says “no condemnation! “ That means if you are not a Christian and you die whether its suicide or not you are lost, and if you are a Christian and you die whether its suicide or not, you are saved. But suicide is a terrible thing to do and it’s wrong.

gospelOne thing is important to say as I wrap up. Here is the joy in this, and I hope nobody thinks I am being overly dramatic, lots of people both men and women have paid or done what was necessary to have abortions, maybe some people here. And now you may be sitting there and saying “well now where does this leave me?” Everybody has assaulted human life, some have done it, maybe very literally, some have done it maybe through abortion, some have done it maybe by attempting to take their own lives, but everybody is a murderer. And Paul says, “but by the grace of God we can be His, his children, because Jesus though he was rich became poor, though he was alive became dead, so that those of us who spread death, could come to life and spread life.” That is the gospel, and that is the only way to understand the sacredness of human life. Thou shalt not kill means, love one another as I have loved you.

 
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Posted by on February 3, 2014 in Christianity, Doctrine, Religion, Social Issues

 

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Sanctity of Life #2

Last Monday we began looking at the ‘Sanctity of life’, we looked at two reasons from Genesis 9:5 that human life is sacred. Today I want to add a final reason and then finish this series with some implications next week. If you didn’t read last week’s post you may want to do that first by clicking here

michelangelo-finger-of-god-lgThe final point is that human life is sacred as we read in Genesis 9:5, “Whoever sheds man’s blood, By man his blood shall be shed, For (because) in the image of God He made man.” Divine glory rests on every human being. God has put his stamp on us. God has put his sign of ownership on us. Thomas Watson a great Puritan who wrote a commentary on the 10 commandments says that whenever you harm another human being, physically, spiritually or emotionally, whenever you abuse or violate a human beings humanness, whenever you use them, you are tearing God’s picture.  What does it mean when we tear someone’s picture? God says that’s what you are doing to me. An assault on someone in my image is an assault on me. You are tearing my picture.

OK but what is the image of God? To be in the image of God means that God gave us some kind of structure that enables us to reflect aspects of His being, which we alone can reflect. In other words, the idea of the image means that there is something about us; there is something about our nature which makes us able to reflect… He has made us a mirror.

Now we know for example that we can see our reflection in a dim way in maybe polished rock. We can see our reflection in a better way in still water, but we can see our reflection in almost a perfect way in a certain kind of metal, like a mirror. Depending on the structure, the physical structure of the substance, we are able to see our image, because each kind of substance is a little bit better at reflection. It can reflect in different dimensions. Now the Bible tells us that all of creation to some degree reflects God’s glory. It says in Psalm 19, the Heavens declare the glory of God. What does that mean? Take a look at a waterfall… can you see anything of God in there? Of course. Look at the mountains, look at the horses. Do you see anything of God in there? Of course. They reflect something, but they reflect dimly, they reflect the way polished rocks reflect- you can see a little bit of your face, you can see a shadow , you can see something of it. The Heavens declare the glory of God. But what God is telling us right here is that humans are more than animals, you don’t have this accountability for animal’s lives; that doesn’t mean we must not be good stewards of the created order, but there is a higher accountability. Because we are made in the image of God, we are like a mirror. There is something about us that can reflect God’s glory in a peculiar way that no other created thing can.

catsNow what are those things? Let me ask you a couple of questions. How come humans are some much more unhappy that horses? Have you ever thought about that? Your cat is far more well adjusted that any other member of your family. Horses, cats they have similar needs, right? The cat wants to be fed and wants cosy places, a cats life is an eternal quest for what? It’s not a very high quest, it’s a quest for cosiness. Cosy and warm spots, with a good supply of food, that’s all the cats after. And the cat glorifies God. The cats beautiful, the cat’s fun, the cats fascinating. And the Bible says that the horse glorifies God by being a horse, the mountain glorifies God by being a mountain, and a cat glorifies God by being a cat. And it’s our job not to worship nature, but to be stewards of nature, and let them glorify God by being what they are. See this is a great Christian basis right here for environmentalism, not the loony side that says we have to worship nature as if nature is no different from us, but not the other side that says we can just ravage nature and do anything we want. It’s our job to enable the created order to glorify God by being itself. We need to let mountains be mountains, that’s how they glorify God, they tell us something about the majesty of God. We need to let the Drakensberg be the Drakensberg. We have to let horses be horses and cats be cats. And yet they are much simpler things. And yet why is my cat so much more well adjusted that everyone else in my family?

ID-10099322Think about it this way. Why do we want more love than we can ever get? Why are we so frustrated in our desire to create things? No matter how good the job is? Just about the time you get old enough for your head to be mature, your body starts to deteriorate. Why is it that we never can achieve what we want to achieve, why is it that we want beauty and we never have enough, why is it that we want love but we never have enough? Why is it that we have higher standards? Why are we so unhappy? Why are our desires insatiable? We want a job, we want a love, we want a beauty, we want creativity that the world doesn’t afford us, why? Why are we so unhappy?

Or one more question: why do we hate death so much? You know if this world is all there is there is nothing more natural than death. Animals don’t fear death, they feel pain, but death is perfectly natural. Here is the reason why: The Bible says that we are made in the image of God, we have that complex structure by which we can reflect things that the mountains and horse and cats cannot, we can reflect God’s rationality, his personality, his eternity, and his creativity, and they can’t. Because we are rational we hunger to know, because we are personal we hunger for love, because we are eternal we hunger to last! That’s why we hate death, we rage against the dying of the light. And because we are creative we hunger for beauty

We and we alone are mirrors of God; we can reflect his rationality, his personality, his eternity, and his creativity, in a way that nothing else can. And if you don’t understand that you are made in the image of God, you will never know why you are unhappy. You are so unhappy because you are so great.

If our souls are so great that no degree of success can satisfy, what were we made for? There is something so great about us, that’s why we are so unhappy. Animals aren’t so unhappy, they are very happy, cosiness, food, running fast like the horses, they are happy. What do we want? We were built to reflect God, we were built as mirrors to face God, that’s the greatness that we have been given, and the reason that we are so unhappy is because we are not faced to God. If you face a mirror toward the sun it brilliant, if you face the mirror towards the darkness its dark, it’s still a mirror, but it’s not doing what it need to do. If you turn the mirror toward nothing, it reflects nothing, but it’s still a mirror, and that’s the nature of human beings in sin. We are turned away from that which we were built to reflect; we are still mirrors, we still have that capacity for personality, rationality, for eternity, for creativity; but we are faced toward the darkness; and we rage against the dying of the light and we hunger, and we thirst to know, to last. In our unhappiness you see our greatness, and God says it’s because He has put his stamp on you, He has made you in his image, He has made you little versions of himself, mortal versions, that’s how great you really are.

Wacken Open Air, Freitag (03.08.07) Foto: Roland MaguniaSee, the sacredness of human life!. Whether rich or poor, smelling good or bad, whether elect or reprobate, going to heaven or going to hell, satisfying or irritating, the 6th commandments puts a protective shield around every human life and says “sacred”. The image of God, the divine stamp is upon ever human being.

Two small points before we end today’s post. If you don’t understand that every human being is made in the image of God you will not understand yourself. You won’t understand why you are so unhappy, you will think there is something wrong with you if you are unhappy; you need counselling and you might, but there is an unhappiness underneath the aggravated unhappiness of the moment, there is a base note of unhappiness because we are so great that nothing but God himself will fill our mirror.

Lastly, sociologically, unless you believe every human being is made in the image of God you can’t build the kind of society we need to have. Do you believe that we are created in the image of God, then you have a basis for saying that we must not trample on each other, but if you believe that there is no God, that we all essentially evolved out of the ooze, that we just are just a bag of chemicals, that we are not essentially any different from animals, you suddenly have lost your ability to talk about building a just society.

The horror of Apartheid or slavery should not lead us to disbelieve in God. If there is no loving and just God, we are just animals, and how then do you have a problem with the way animals treat animals.

G.K Chesterton said about a person who doesn’t believe in God, “As a politician he will cry out that war is a waste of human life, but as a philosopher he admits that all life is a waste of time. A Russian philosopher denounces killing a peasant, then in his other philosophical writings proves that the peasant should have killed himself. A scientist goes to a political meeting where he complains that we are treating indigenous people like beasts, but then he goes to a scientific meeting where he proves that we are beasts. Therefore, the modern rebel has become useless for all purposes of revolution. By rebelling against everything including God, he has lost his right to rebel against anything.”

Get rid of God, get rid of the idea of ownership, get rid of the idea of the image of God and eventually we have no basis for not abusing each other, you get rid of the idea of the sacredness of human life.

 
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Posted by on January 27, 2014 in Apologetics, Christianity, Doctrine, Religion

 

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A Christmas Meditation: For us and for our salvation

“who for us men and for our salvation
came down from heaven”

This is my favourite line of the Nicene Creed. When I read it I want to shout out in worship, and I hope it will do the same for you. It is a perfectly apt line to consider this Christmas season. It answers questions like: What is the reason for the season? Why is there ‘joy to the world’? Why did Jesus come? Where did Jesus come from?

Consider these words from Paul that were probably part of the inspiration for this line, “Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”[i]

conversion-of-st-paul-largePaul was a Pharisee of Pharisees, before meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus he was passionately opposed to Christians.  He saw them as a crazy cult who derisively believed that Jesus had risen from the dead by the power of God. Paul knew what the implications of this would be if it were true: If Jesus had been raised from the dead, then the Old Testament – the only Bible in existence at the time -was no longer infallible. And that was not an option for Paul.

The major influence that drove Paul was Deuteronomy 21:23: “anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse”. How could God have blessed Jesus by raising him from the dead if He was cursed by God for hanging on a tree? When the apostles began to proclaim the resurrection Paul had to react. However, when he was confronted by the resurrected and ascended Lord on thst dirty road, he was pressed between a rock and a hard place: The Bible is infallible, yet God had raised Jesus from the dead.

The next three years Paul spent alone in Arabia, trying to come to grips with this paradox. What was he thinking during these years? How frustrated must he have been with his own blindness to the Scriptures? Paul returned with a clear understanding of the Gospel: Jesus Christ died in our place, suffering under the wrath of God, to pay for our sins. And his resurrection from the dead was the proof that God accepted his payment on our behalf. In Paul’s first letter, he quoted from this Deuteronomic curse and knitted it into his theology of the cross: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us -for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’” (Galatians 3:13). He understood how the sacrificial system pointed ultimately to the death of Jesus. The innocent one suffered, died taking our sins on Himself, in order that we might have life. Here we see our Passover Lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7). The imagery is clear: The unblemished lamb was slain so the first-born of each home would live. The lamb died in the place of the first-born, the innocent for the guilty.

the gospelIn the magnificent letter to the Roman church, Paul’s topic was the vindication of the righteousness of God. Some had accused Paul of being licentious and relaxed with regards to sin, he vehemently denied this. Central to Romans we discover what is arguably the most significant paragraph ever written, Romans 3:21-26. This passage beautifully unfolds the gospel; yet that is not the main point.  The passage is really about God’s righteousness: How could God wink at sin, and how is the cross God’s display of His righteousness- it is because God poured out his wrath on His Son. And the Son as we saw earlier went to the cross willingly.

And so the Gospel is indeed what Christmas is all about. Christ came;it wasn’t an accident, He wasn’t forced to come, he didn’t arrive because others wanted Him to. He acted volitionally and came. He came down from heaven;He left the glory and perfection of heaven with all its unending joy and satisfaction, and was born as a human on an earth of suffering and wickedness. And He came down from heaven for us men and for our salvation;He didn’t come to be a good example, He didn’t come to give wise teaching; though those are benefits derived from His coming. He came so that sinful people like us might be saved from the wrath we deserve. Celebrate that this Christmas time!

Christ came for us, and our Salvation.


[i] Philippians 2:5-11

 
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Posted by on December 23, 2013 in Christianity, Devotional, Doctrine, Reflections

 

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4 Ways to Grow in 2014

A new year is upon us. In just over two weeks we will be enveloped in all the hustle and bustle of 2014. Now you may think a New Year post like this is a bit early, but do read on. Assuming you plan on making new year’s resolutions, I have a four suggestions here that require a bit of preparation. If you are anything like me you want to begin on time with all the resources you need, so below find four resolution ideas with support material. These are all great ways to grow in the faith so make use of one or more.

bible read1. Read through the Bible in a year

What more beneficial resolution could you have than to spend the year in God’s Word, from cover to cover? Soaked in the Word, picking up the full story line, coming to grips with the redemptive-historical message.

Recommended tools:

-         Bible Eater: This is my favourite Bible reading tool. It is a bible reading plan with a flexible format, has readings from both Testaments each day and highlights the historical-redemptive passages of Scripture

-         M’Cheyne  1-year reading Plan: This is an older well know reading plan. It brings you daily readings from the Old and New Testament as well as the Psalms or Gospels.

-         Chronological Reading Plan: A straight up reading plan, from the beginning to the end of the Bible. Personally I don’t think it’s the easiest or way to read the Bible, but if you are looking for hard way to get through the Bible, this is probably for you :).

-         Still haven’t found what you are looking for? There are a few more plans here

 reformers2. Read widely in Church History

Recommended Tool:

-         Canon of Theologians: Dever has a suggested reading plan that you can use for one year or more. He directs our attention to the most significant authors and works from various points of Church history, ranging from the First Century till the modern era; moving from era to ear from month to month. This is a brilliant reading plan that helps prevent historical ignorance and chronological snobbery. If you have a problem sourcing any of the books, drop me a message in the contact me section and I’ll see how I can help. Make sure you have the books before the month is upon you, otherwise you will end up struggling to keep up with the plan.

267297_213608865343940_172982576073236_565270_7792602_n3. Read Calvin’s Institutes in a year.

Karl Barth, the most influential theologian of the 20th century, once wrote: “I could gladly and profitably set myself down and spend all the rest of my life just with Calvin.”

Packer explains that Calvin’s magnum opus is one of the great wonders of the world:

“Calvin’s Institutes (5th edition, 1559) is one of the wonders of the literary world—the world, that is, of writers and writing, of digesting and arranging heaps of diverse materials, of skillful proportioning and gripping presentation; the world . . . of the Idea, the Word, and the Power. . . .

The Institutio is also one of the wonders of the spiritual world—the world of doxology and devotion, of discipleship and discipline, of Word-through-Spirit illumination and transformation of individuals, of the Christ-centered mind and the Christ-honoring heart. . . .

Calvin’s Institutio is one of the wonders of the theological world, too—that is, the world of truth, faithfulness, and coherence in the mind regarding God; of combat, regrettable but inescapable, with intellectual insufficiency and error in believers and unbelievers alike; and of vision, valuation, and vindication of God as he presents himself through his Word to our fallen and disordered minds. . .”

Recommended Tools (note that both are based on Battle’s edition):

-         Institutes Reading Plan from Chapel Library: A reading plan that spans five days of the week, leaving one day as a catch up day and the Lord’s Day free.

-         Institutes reading Plan by J.R. Harris: This reading plan allows no days off, but every 14 days gives a day for reflection. This means you will read slightly less every day, but won’t have much margin for error.

catechism4. Memorise a Catechism

The English word “catechize” simply means to teach biblical truth in an orderly way. In his introduction to The Baptist Catechism, John Piper explains the biblical support for a pattern of doctrine: there is a “pattern of teaching” (Romans 6:17), a “pattern of sound words” (2 Timothy 1:13). This used to be a normal practise in the church, to learn the catechism, and it will be deeply beneficial and helpful for you to do the same. The two that I am suggesting today are made to be used in a year; they are neatly broken up into 52 weeks. This make it easy to learn one a week.

Recommended Tools:

-  The New City Catechism: New City Catechism is a wonderful new Catechism based on and adapted from Calvin’s Geneva Catechism, the Westminster Shorter and Larger Catechisms, and especially the Heidelberg Catechism. A good next step would be to learn either Westminster Shorter or Heidelberg. It consists of 52 questions and answers so the easiest way to use it is to memorize one question and answer each week of the year. Because it is intended to be dialogical it is best to learn it with others, enabling you to drill one another on the answers not only one at a time but once you have learned 10 of them, then 20 of them, and so on. The Bible verse, written and filmed commentary, and prayer that are attached to each question and answer can be used as your devotion on a chosen day of the week to help you think through and meditate on the issues and applications that arise from the question and answer. Best of all it is available on different platforms. Thus making it very accessible; its on AndroidAppleWeb-browser and Downloadable pdf

-  The Heidelberg Catechism: The Heidelberg Catechism, written in 1563, originated in one of the few pockets of Calvinistic faith in the Lutheran and Catholic territories of Germany. Conceived originally as a teaching instrument to promote religious unity in the Palatinate, the catechism soon became a guide for preaching as well. It is a remarkably warm-hearted and personalized confession of faith, eminently deserving of its popularity among Reformed churches to the present day. Like the New City Catechism above, it fits neatly into 52 weeks, however some week have more than one question, so you will be doing slightly more memorizing if you pick this one.This is also available on various platforms:AndroidAppleWeb-browser and Downloadable pdf.

Accountability Group

Now best of all, I will be providing Accountability Groups, for those of you tech-savy enough to be on Facebook. Join a group and interact with others who are taking part in the same resolution as you. Hold yourself accountable to the group by sharing whether or not you completed the task on a weekly basis. You can also swap tips and discuss how the week’s task went for you. Also share insights you picked up that may be a blessing to others. Sadly I will only make groups to cater for the first options on all the above resolutions (these are the ones I deem to be the best); but don’t despair if you wish to do another one, you can still join as there will be much overlap.

If you plan on doing one of these resolutions and want to join the Facebook group, leave a comment below naming which one you are doing or drop me a mail in the contact me page. (Share this post on social networks so more can join in, the more that join the merrier)

Links to the Groups are:

Read the Bible in a Year

Canon of Theologians

Calvin’s Institutes

Catechism

 
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Posted by on December 16, 2013 in Christianity, Doctrine, Reformation, Religion, Tips

 

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Common Questions of Amillenialism. #Ed. 3

The is the third post in this series, to see the first click here and to see the second click here.

templeWhat is the Amil interpretation of Ezekiel 40-48, since it clearly implies a future temple?

This is a great question since discussions on the temple come up regularly, especially in light of the dispensational expectation of a rebuilt temple in Jerusalem during the tribulation and then during millennial age.  I will try give sense of how these things should be interpreted[i].

There are four main interpretations of Ezekiel’s prophecy and how it is fulfilled (or not) in the New Testament.  Dispensationalists believe that this vision is a prophecy of an earthly temple to be built within Israel during the millennial age[ii].  Dispensationalists base this interpretation upon their literalistic hermeneutic, which they say demands that a prophecy such as this one be interpreted literally, unless there is good reason to believe the prophecy should be interpreted figuratively.

Unlike dispensationalists, advocates of the other main interpretations all agree that the context demands a figurative interpretation.  I agree.  Some see this an ideal temple never intended to be built upon the earth (possibly the weakest interpretation), others see this as a vision of the ideal temple (not a terrible), while still others see this as a picture of a real heavenly temple, which will be established on the earth in a non-structural way in the latter days[iii].

In other words, I reckon Ezekiel is giving us a picture of the new earth in the prophetic terms with which his readers were familiar[iv].  This is a picture of the new earth as the dwelling of God.  Ezekiel prophesies it in earthly terms (complete with all the temple utensils), while John describes its fulfilled version (in eschatological terms).

Based upon a number of factors, I think it is clear that the prophecy is points to a non-structural end-times temple.

First, the prophecy cannot be interpreted literally and still make any sense.  When God places the prophet on a very high mountain (40:1-2) he sees something like a city (obviously Jerusalem).  Yet, there is no such high mountain near Jerusalem from which the prophet could have had such a vantage point.  But this literal high mountain is required by the dispensational view.  Given the character of Ezekiel’s prophecy, this language should prepare us for follows, given the symbolic geography of the prophet.

This is confirmed in Revelation 21:10, where John is carried away “in the Spirit” to a high mountain from which he sees the Holy City coming down out of heaven.  Obviously, the visions are related to each other as type-antitype (earthly language, eschatological fulfilment).  What Ezekiel promised, John sees as a reality, and yet the reality seen by John far exceeds anything in Ezekiel’s vision.  As Beale points out, there are a significant number of other instances in this prophecy which make the literal interpretation very unlikely, if not impossible[v].

Second, there are a number of features within the prophecy which refer to something much greater than a localized temple in Jerusalem during the millennium.  In verse 40:2, it is clear that Ezekiel sees a structure “like a city” (the temple), while in the final verse of the prophecy (48:35) he says that the cities’ name is “the Lord is there.”  Here we have the expansion of the localized temple into an area the size of the entire city of Jerusalem.  This expansion of God’s temple is a consistent theme throughout Ezekiel[vi]  There are allusions to Eden throughout the prophecy (47:1-12).  The city is depicted as a perfect square and the reference to the river is obviously symbolic, since it is deep enough that it can only be crossed by swimming (47:5).

Finally, it is obvious that Revelation 21 presents Ezekiel’s vision in its consummated fulfilment.  In other words, John is given a vision of the same temple, but now from the vantage point of Christ’s death and resurrection and the dawn of the new creation–something which would have made no sense whatsoever to Ezekiel or his hearers.  As Beale points out, the new heavens and earth are now the holy of holies, as well as the new Jerusalem, and the new Eden[vii].  On the last day, all creation becomes the temple of God.  The temple has been expanded (extended) from a building, to a city, to all of creation.

This means that Ezekiel’s vision is a prophecy not of an earthly temple (although the prophet uses earthly language his readers could understand), but of an eschatological temple, depicted in its consummated form and unspeakable glory by John in Revelation 21-22[viii].

 

 


[i] For a fuller explanation read what G. K. Beale has written on this topic. Anyone who has questions about Ezekiel’s vision should get his book and read it carefully (The Temple and the Church’s Mission).

[ii] cf. Pentecost, Things to Come, 393; Walvoord, Major Bible Prophecies, 169

[iii] Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission, 335

[iv] Hoekema, The Bible and Future, 205

[v] Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission  p. 337-340

[vi]  IBID 340-345

[vii] IBID pp. 336-345

[viii] My source for this answer is Kim Riddelbarger http://kimriddlebarger.squarespace.com/answers-to-questions-3/ assessed:  04-12-2013

 
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Posted by on December 5, 2013 in Christianity, Doctrine

 

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Common Questions of Amillenialism. #Ed. 2

The is the second post in this series, to see the first click here.

Since I want to keep these posts brief and accessible I have limited how much I will answer on each question. Today I am only answering one question, as only one came up as a result of the last post. Again, most of my information comes from Kim Riddelbarger, he is my dominant source.

How would you respond to Israel returning to their land in 1948 based on the prophecies of Ezekiel and Amos?

There are a couple of things which need to be pointed out.

1). We need to be clear that whatever this means, it is not a fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant (including the land promise). In Romans 4:13, that spiritualizer Paul, universalized this promise to extend to the whole earth. In fact, throughout this entire chapter of Romans (4), Paul makes the point that God’s promise to Abraham is fulfilled through faith in Jesus Christ. The recipients of the promise includes all those Gentiles as well as Jews (cf. Galatians 3-4) who trust in Jesus as their righteousness.

2). This means that modern nation of Israel is a thoroughly secular state and not part of the Mosaic covenant, which was fulfilled by Christ.

3). Should it be God’s purpose to convert massive numbers of Jews before the end of the age (my take on Romans 11:26), Paul makes it clear that Jews will come to faith in Christ, and be re-grafted back into the righteous root (who is Christ). This was Paul’s prayer after all–”Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved” (Romans 10:1). This means that Jews will not be saved as Jews. It means that immediately before Christ returns, large numbers of Jews will come to faith in Christ, and hence, become Christians and therefore members of Christ’s church.

4). Whatever purpose God has in the formation of the modern state of Israel, this must be found in his providence (perhaps a means to facilitate the salvation of Israel) and not in fulfillment of the promises of the Abrahamic covenant, which have already been fulfilled in Christ

As for the passages in Ezekiel and Amos the promise of a land given to Israel is itself typological of a heavenly kingdom which was inconceivable in the days of the patriarchs and Moses.  But we only know this because the author of Hebrews tells us as much.  In other words, the New Testament tells us what the things promised in the Old Testament truly mean.

The true glories of what God promised cannot be seen until the coming of Christ–although when the New Testament looks back in this, we learn that Abraham “got it” because although he was promised a land in Palestine (Genesis 12:1-3), by faith he knew that the reality for the people of God (Jew or Gentile) was not found in any earthly promise, including the promised land.  “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance.  And he went out, not knowing where he was going.  By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise.  For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:8-10).

We discover in the New Testament  that the Old Covenant is obsolete, having been superseded by the New: Hebrews 8:8-12 identifies the new covenant with Israel (Jeremiah 31:33-34) with the covenant instituted by Christ with the church. Most importantly, Hebrews 8:13 declares the old covenant obsolete and passing away. This makes impossible the dispensational view of Ezekiel 40-48 as a reinstitution of temple sacrifice.

 
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Posted by on November 27, 2013 in Christianity, Doctrine

 

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Common Questions of Amillenialism. #Ed. 1

Amillenialism (Amil’s) has been roughly marginalized in the modern evangelical church. So much of Evangelicalism is influenced by America, which since the First World War has been dominated by Dispensationalism (if these labels mean nothing to you, don’t worry, keep reading, and you will pick it up).

There are different groups in Chrisendom who are trying to understand what the Bible says about the end times (Eschatology). All these groups approach this debate with their own presuppositions, which if not identified can lead to some pretty fruitless discussion. Having grown up on Dispensationalism and having changed my position almost two years ago, I want to constantly be growing and reforming.

It is with this in mind that I write this post, today dealing with the top three questions that come up in those fun chats I have with my dispensationalist brothers. (Note: Most of my work is a rehash of others who have gone before me, particularly Riddelbarger[i])

israeli_flag_1-160x100 1.   How do A-mills deal with Romans 11:26, “and so, all Israel shall be saved.”?

Allow me to just share some of the different views.  Within Reformed Christianity, there are three major views on this phrase.  Note that all agree that Paul does not speak of an earthly millennium in this important passage in which he directly addresses the future course of this age.

a).  Some argue that “all Israel” refers to the full number of the elect (Calvin, Irons, O. P. Robertson)

b).  Some argue that the phrase “all Israel” refers to the sum total of the believing remnant (Robert Strimple, O. P. Robertson’s earlier position, Anthony Hoekema)

c).  Others argue that the phrase refers to a conversion of the Jews at end of the age (Beza, Vos, Venema, Riddlebarger)

I think all views are sustainable from the text, but I lean towards the third option.

2.   Do Amill’s believe in replacement Theology?

No, Amills do not believe in Replacement Theology, in fact I have never read an Amill using that term to describe his/her position. The only people who use that phrase are Dispensationalists.

Saying that Amillenials believe in replacement theology only serves to prove that you have not understood their view (I mean that in all kindness). It would be like saying that adopted children replace the biological childen that a family already has.

Amil’s believe in fulfilment theology if anything, or perhaps expansionist theology. That is that the people of God are all those who had faith in the promise of God from Adam, to the last of the elect before Christ’s return.

3.   “If Satan is presently bound and prevented from deceiving the nations, why is it that the nations satan boundare presently deceived?” 

The scene described in Revelation 20 only makes sense in light of biblical imagery (especially that from the Old Testament). So let’s follow the course of redemptive history to grasp what John means.

Satan was active in the Fall, and as we see in the early chapters of Genesis, swiftly deceived the world. Remember Enoch’s place (cf. Genesis 4:17)? How about Babel and Ninevah? What about Babylon? Egypt? The Assyrians? The Moabites? These are nations who fell under Satan’s influence and brought together their resources against God’s people. After that, there’s the mass apostasy among the Israelites, both in both the wilderness and the promised land. The Jews never fulfilled the commission given them in Isaiah 49:6, “I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” Because of unbelief Israel was repeatedly subject to godless Gentile nations and taken into captivity. We could go on, but I think the point is clear.

Jump ahead to the New Testament. When Jesus arrived on the scene, his public ministry did not begin until he had first overcome Satan in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11). As we all know, Jesus messianic mission appeared completely destroyed on Good Friday, but by Easter Sunday, it was clear that Satan’s “victory” was actually a total defeat. Jesus now becomes the light to the nations and the true Israel. He fulfils that mission which both Adam and Israel failed at. Indeed, the gospel message “binds” the Devil and all his works. God’s people are commanded to make disciples of “all nations” (Matthew 28:19), and told that this gospel must be preached as a witness to “all nations” (Matthew 24:14). Not only will Jesus be with his people until the end of the age (Matthew 28:20), but the gates of Hell will not prevail against Christ’s church (Matthew 16:18). This is how we must understand the meaning of Satan being presently bound. It is a reference to the success of the gospel.

Therefore, the presence of evil and unbelief in the present age does not mean that Satan is not yet bound. It is the inevitable success of the missionary enterprise which is the proof. Under the present circumstances Satan cannot use empires and nations to completely stop the mission of church. He may make attempts. However how long did Hitler’s thousand year Reich last? Contemporary situations, (i.e. the People’s Republic of China which seeks do this), serve as a great illustration. Many thousands become Christians every day in China, despite the efforts of the government to stamp out Christianity! Remember, the biblical writers are not millennarians. The kingdom can grow and thrive all the while things appear to be getting worse (cf. Revelation 11 and the account of the two witnesses). Kingdom success does mean the spread of the gospel and the effectual call of all of God’s elect–a multitude so vast they cannot be counted.  In some cases, there is a corresponding effect upon the culture.  In some cases there is not.

Remember too that according to John, Satan will be released for a short time before the end, when he will be allowed to deceive the nations for one brief last period in an organized political, economic, and military sense against the church (Revelation 20:7-10). But until then, he is bound and cannot deceive the nations. The gospel will go to the ends of the earth! While Satan rages like a wounded animal, he does so because he knows his time is short (1 Peter 5:8 with Revelation 12:12).

Therefore, the answer to your conundrum is to be found in what is meant by “deceive the nations.” When viewed against the backdrop of redemptive history, it is clear that this is tied to the missionary enterprise, and the success of that mission is clearly what is in view (not the absence of all evil and unbelief).

If you have any questions you would like me to cover, leave them in the comments, and in the near future (literally) I will do a follow up post and try deal with them as best as I can.

Iron sharpens iron,
and one man sharpens another

-     Proverbs 27:17


 
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Posted by on November 21, 2013 in Christianity, Doctrine, Religion

 

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Differences Between Luther and Calvin

Luther-CalvinLuther and Calvin were two men that God used mightily in the Protestant Reformation. Both men loved the Lord, both men held to the 5 Sola’s, Christ Alone, Faith alone, Scripture Alone, Grace Alone, and everything to The Glory of God Alone. But they did have their differences. Today’s post in a just a brief survey of some of those differences.

-      Justification and Good works.

While Luther and Calvin both agreed that justification is a forensic act in which God imputes and alien righteousness to believers, they understood the outworking of this justification differently. Luther grounded good works in imputation/justification; whereas Calvin grounded good works in union with Christ.[i]

Calvin taught that good works have a positive soteric value (Melanchthon did not teach this). His understanding is that justifying faith is not a faith the merely rests on Christ alone (passive), but is an obedient faith which while it rests on Christ alone also perseveres in the pursuit of holiness.[ii]

Many in Reformed Theology actually hold the Lutheran view, that sanctification is the natural consequence of justification. However Calvin taught that as one comes into Union with Christ both justification and sanctification occur in Christ. The implication of the Lutheran view is that there is the possibility of a person being truly justified but not yet sanctified.[iii] It is important to note, it is not that Luther rejected this ‘faith that bears fruit’, but it was stressed in a more vital way by Calvin

-      Unity of the Bible

Calvin made an effort not to stress the New Testament over the Old. He emphasised the continuity of God’s revelation throughout the whole Bible. Unlike Luther, Calvin did not play with whimsical allegory. It is true that Luther brought the Bible into the fore of theology and life, however Calvin put the structure down for Biblical study and exposition. Calvin’s city of Geneva became a respected place of Biblical exposition during his time.

-      The Lord’s Supper

Calvin and Luther disagreed about the Lord’s Supper. Calvin did not believe that Christ was literally in the bread and wine (obviously, since Christ is literally, physically as the right hand of the Father).He also disagreed with others who argued that the bread and wine are merely symbolic. Calvin reasoned that when we take the bread and wine, Christ’s presence come to us. Jesus communes with us as we partake.

Calvin explained it using the analogy of the Spirit coming in the form of a dove at Jesus’ baptism; he wrote, “Our Lord, wishing to give a visible appearance to his Spirit at the baptism of Christ, presented him under the form of a dove. St. John the Baptist, narrating the fact, says, that he saw the Spirit of God descending. If we look more closely, we shall find that he saw nothing but the dove, in respect that the Holy Spirit is in his essence invisible.[iv]” In the same way, though the bread and wine are symbols, Christ really does come to us and is truly present if we partake by faith.

-      The Doctrine of Election

It has been said that Calvin taught double predestination and Luther only single predestination. Double calvin-and-lutherpredestination is that God determined by the council of His will, who would be saved, and at the same time passed over others thus predestining them to damnation. Single predestination only acknowledges the first positive kind (that God elects those he will save), but denies that God is involved in reprobation (passing over others and thus reprobating them). Interestingly it appears that Luther did indeed hold to double predestination, but it was his followers after him that denied reprobation. Thus Calvin and Luther agreed on this, but Lutherans and Calvin disagreed. For more on this issue read this helpful article.


[i] Mark Garcia in his book Life in Christ: Union with Christ and Twofold Grace in Calvin’s Theology :260.
[ii] Ibid
[iii] Mark Garcia in his book Life in Christ: Union with Christ and Twofold Grace in Calvin’s Theology :264
[iv] John Calvin, Short treatise on the Lord’s Supper – 1540
 
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Posted by on November 11, 2013 in Christianity, Doctrine, Reformation, Religion

 

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