Dedicated to the devotional, exegetical and philosophical study of theological paradox in Conservative, Thoroughly Biblical, Historically Orthodox, Essentially Reformed theology . . . to the glory of God alone!

Monday, March 21, 2011

A Picture of the Cross in Joshua

When the tribes of Israel began to conquer the land of Canaan, each tribe was given a specific portion of land as an inheritance. This is true of every tribe except Levi. What was Levi's inheritance? Did Levi get the "short end of the stick"?

This question is answered with a resounding "NO!" in Joshua 13, where the inheritance of Levi is presented in two parallel statements:
Joshua 13:14 To the tribe of Levi alone Moses gave no inheritance. The offerings by fire to the LORD God of Israel are their inheritance, as he said to him. 
Joshua 13:33 But to the tribe of Levi Moses gave no inheritance; the LORD God of Israel is their inheritance, just as he said to them.

Levi had the best inheritance! 
Did you notice the similarities and the crucial differences in these two verses? Levi had only one inheritance, yet it is described in two different ways. Can you see the cross in these verses? 

In the cross, the LORD is the offering made to the LORD. He is both the sacrifice and the offerer. He is the one who offers and the one offered - as well as the One most pleased by the sacrifice. We are the beneficiaries of the propitiation thus effected. God has worked salvation with His own arm, all by Himself. As a result, we get HIM, both as our sacrifice and as our inheritance. He gives Himself for us and He gives Himself to us!

The tribe of Levi could not gain its inheritance by conquest or battle. The inheritance could only be received by faith, as a gift. The tribe would sustain itself by feeding on the sacrifices offered . . . sacrifices that prefigured the cross.

Why couldn't Moses give an inheritance to Levi?

Because "the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." (John 1:17)

Acts 20:32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Rob Bell's REAL Book Cover

Rob Bell says: "We can create all sorts of hells right now if we want to. Genocide, rape, abuse, financial schemes."

"In some ways we see people choosing hell around us all the time. We see people who in the face of the invitation to 'love your neighbor' exploit the neighbor, abuse the neighbor. So I begin with the reality of hell here and now."

I wonder why Jesus talked so much about the punishment of the wicked as a future event and in another place?

Matthew 25:46 "These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."

He must not have read Love Wins.

My advice to Rob Bell: Argue with Muslims about the nature of hell if you want to. Argue with the Roman Catholic Church about what hell is like if you must. Argue with angry Independent Fundamental Baptists about hell if you dare. But don't argue with Jesus.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

God is Good and Hell is Just

On the most basic level, all of our squawking and screeching about hell reveals a deep distrust of God. Lack of faith, unbelief, and doubt regarding His character. The Bible teaches us emphatically that God will give each and every lost person his or her justly deserved punishment. Nothing more, nothing less. Mercy was available and offered, but roundly rejected. What is the result? What is the just response to defiance, hatred and rebellious distrust of a sovereign, benevolent and all-loving Creator?

Here are some sobering passages that teach eternal torment:
Revelation 14:9-11

And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.”

Revelation 20:7-15
And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea. And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and consumed them, and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
II Thessalonians 1:7-10
For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed—for our testimony to you was believed.
It's hard to imagine how these and other Biblical descriptions of eternal judgment can be reinterpreted to accommodate universalism, post-mortem offers of salvation, or even annihilationism. Nevertheless books have been written. Exegetical word games have been played along the lines of a professional sport. Far fetched and fanciful interpretations have been proposed. Absurdities have been presented with a straight face, as if they were viable alternatives to orthodox Christian beliefs. The Word of God is treated like a ventriloquist's dummy; with enough creative manipulation, one can create the illusion that it says there is no eternal punishment for the unbelieving. 

A concordance study on the Biblical usage of the Greek terms for destruction (apollumi, apoleia, and olethros) shuts down the ventilator that artificially keeps these heterodox theories of the afterlife alive. Surveying the Biblical passages on God's wrath and judgment puts the coffin in the ground and throws dirt on it. Still, the doubters dig around in the graveyard of an untenable hermeneutic, and with the rusty old shovels of humanistic optimism they attempt to resurrect long dead speculations. And all they get from these exhumations of error is a stack of lifeless bones. But religious Americans seem to like bones as much as they dislike hell, and they are happy to buy them, so the doubters keep on digging - and writing, and publishing, and selling. The theological graveyard is full of profits.

Meanwhile, God warns us of an unquenchable and eternal fire that is going to ravage all who reject Him. It has already begun to destroy faithless humanity, rendering all condemned (John 3:18) and naming us children of wrath (Ephesians 2:1-3). We are warned that the unbelieving will be destroyed eternally. The very phrase, "eternal destruction" may sound like a paradox, but it is nonetheless a clear and certain reality and it must be taken whole. Following the historical trend repeated in many other doctrinal disturbances, the propagators of afterlife errors refuse to accept the Word as it is written and in its entirety. They want to "dig deeper" and find something less offensive than the Truth. The trouble is, what they claim to "find" in the text was imported eisegetically from their own minds. While annihilationists deny the eternal duration of the destruction, universalists deny that anything resembling destruction even occurs. The phrase "eternal destruction" precludes both of these errors. It reveals endless destruction - destruction that doesn't end. Not a temporal destruction that has a fixed point of conclusion, but eternal destruction that goes on forever.

Trying to soften this is useless. Rather than using idealistic and man-centered rationalizations to fight the fires of divine justice, Bible teachers ought to be focused on following the command of Jude:
And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.

(Jude 1:22-23)
Those who know the testimony of Scripture and still deny the reality of eternal torment are treating their fellow man in a most unmerciful, cruel and hateful way. They might not feel hatred for others, but they are plainly practicing it. Their efforts do not make true Christianity more palatable, but instead offer a sugar-coated poison to the deceived, crying "peace and safety" when the roof is about to fall in. God is more than able to soften the hearts of unbelievers as we preach His unadulterated message. It is not our job to soften the message so hearers will receive and honor us, but to proclaim the truth and watch Him accomplish the miracle of regeneration.

Questions for Those Who Question

Here are some questions for those writers, preachers and leaders who "question" the clear teaching of Scripture on this subject: are you fighting God's justice? Do you not believe that God can measure out a precisely just amount of suffering for each and every lost individual, stretched out across the span of eternity, taking all of the factors into consideration as He alone can do? Do you think you are a more competent judge of the punishment sin deserves?

If God is the most merciful and loving of all beings, and He is not as repelled by the idea of eternal suffering as you are, whose wisdom and mercy are you trusting in? Yours or His? If God in His loving wisdom consigns sinners to eternal torment, can you open your mind to the possibility that this is a good and righteous thing to do?

Does eternal suffering really appear unjust? Perhaps the doctrine of hell is not meant to answer your standard of justice, but to shape it. Maybe you should measure human sin and guilt by the intensity and the duration of the punishment it warrants. If you truly know the infinite depths of your own sinfulness, you will have no problem at all with the concept of eternal suffering. You will be shocked and amazed that you are not already there! You will repent and lay hold of the freely extended mercy of God, who bears patiently with sinners, who suffers His own wrath in the place of sinners, and who saves sinners from going to destruction. Stop trying to put out the fires of hell with humanistic theories, and simply believe and proclaim the Gospel.

You may think the Biblical picture of hell is unjust, but you will have all eternity to be convinced otherwise. The question is: where?

If there really is such a place as the lake of fire, and if it really is just for sinners to suffer there forever, don't you think it merciful of God to tell us the facts so we can flee to Him and find grace? If you deny or twist His words of warning, what can you expect to receive from Him?
Revelation 22:18-19

I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.

Matthew 10:28 is commonly used to defend the theory of annihilationism. ""Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell." The Greek term apollumi is used in various senses throughout the New Testament, including killing or death (to which it is parallel in Mt. 10:28; cf. Mt. 27:20), loss (cf. Mt. 15:24, Mk. 9:41; Lk. 15:4, 6, 8-9), ruin or spoil (cf. Lk. 5:37; Jn. 6:27); perishing spiritually (i.e. becoming lost or dead eternally, not having eternal life and salvation, cf. Jn. 3:16; the present state of the unbelieving, cf. I Cor. 1:18). It is difficult to find an instance of apollumi in which the word implies complete annihilation. Perhaps a case could be made for this meaning in Hebrews 1:11, but even that is a stretch and it is an isolated case. Since physical death is the separation of a person's material and immaterial substance, there is no reason to believe that the second death, or the ultimate spiritual death, is anything like annihilation. Rather, consistency with the idea of "death" and the normal usage of apollumi would lead us to say that the second death (or destruction of the soul) is a further and final separation from God, perhaps even the division of the soul and spirit, or the greater "ruin" of the personality. Since the wicked will be resurrected prior to judgment, it is conceivable that there is a kind of continuous physical dying as well. Similarly, the idea of "lostness" fits perfectly with the idea that a portion of humanity has irrevocably turned away from God and perished. And one might ask: if annihilation is intended in Mt. 10:28, what is there to fear? One could be more afraid of temporal suffering than of merely ceasing to exist.
2 Th. 1:9 is also used to support annihilationism. "These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power." Here the Greek word olethros is used. It means "ruin, destruction, death." It is characterized in the verse as being away from God's presence, glory and power. The term is also used in I Th. 5:3, where it is the ironic opposite of the peace and safety that were expected. Contrary to this, the unrepentant sinner who is abiding under God's righteous wrath may well find the possibility of annihilation to be the safest and most peaceful refuge imaginable. But this refuge does not exist, for the New Testament use of olethros carries no implication of ceasing to exist.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Reformed Missionaries in Japan - UPDATE

This morning I received this email from our missionary friends in Japan:
Dear praying friends and family, 
I wanted to send out a brief update to let you know that we are all okay in the midst of the 8.8 earthquake that has hit the east coast of Japan.  Our mission has been gathered since yesterday in the Nagano mountains, about 200 miles from the epicenter, for our annual retreat. 
Even as far away as we are, the earthquake was a bit scary and lasted a long time.  We were all put into one room for an hour or two while the retreat staff checked for gas leaks and other earthquake concerns.  We are fine here now, but our hearts are heavy from the news that has been coming in. 
Some of our missionary friends with us here used to live in Sendai, which is the city closest to the epicenter of the earthquake.  We've been watching video footage from Sendai, of the tsunami sweeping away huge amounts of earth, cars, houses -- it looked like leaves and dirt begin washed along a sidewalk, then you realize that you're seeing buildings and vehicles rushing across rice fields.  Unbelievable. 
God's timing is strange.  Last Saturday I attended an all-day training to help Christians in Japan be prepared to respond in case of earthquake.  On the ride home I was wondering how the Lord would want us to respond, but I really felt a desire to be part of relief efforts the next time a disaster struck. 
I had no idea the next disaster would be one week later! 
We will pray and wait to see how God may use our family, our mission, and the Church to bring much-needed relief as the days unfold.  Our prayer is that God will quickly move and unite the Church to reach out during this terrible tragedy.  The news that we are hearing is that it may be the worst earthquake in the history of Japan. 
We also believe that God has our mission gathered at this time for His purposes.  Pray that God will give us wisdom and allow us to be strategic in what will be challenging days ahead.  We do pray that the God of Psalm 46 will bring hope to those who right now are buried in tragedy. 
Thanks for your prayers and your concern.  We will continue to bring you news as we can from in-country.  It is hard to know how to pray, but we believe that the Spirit intercedes for us when words do not come.   Earlier tonight we prayed Psalm 46;  we have prayed for mercy, for miracles, for accounts of Japanese whose eyes are opened to the realities of His love even in the midst of this. 
Love in Christ,Kent

Here is some video footage of the tsunami:

Friday, March 04, 2011

Your Doctrine of the Atonement is Too Small - Part 1

I have observed, among many Calvinists, a great zeal to defend the doctrine of Limited Atonement. Since this doctrine sits at the center of the TULIP, and the TULIP seems to function (for some) as the sole essence of Calvinism, and since the TULIP's validity is said to stand or fall on the veracity of each and every point, it's not surprising that Limited Atonement is defended with such ardor. Perhaps I should have said "Your Calvinism is too small." But that's another article. 

To lay my cards on the table, I do self-identify as a 5-point Calvinist, assuming the points are rightly defined (historically and Biblically), and the 3 points of common grace are equally affirmed. I'm not against limiting the intent or effect of the atonement within Biblical boundaries. I just don't want the doctrine of the atonement to become a dart gun when God intended it to be a howitzer. The problem with over emphasizing the limited aspects is that we have a tendency to shrink the doctrine down to manageable proportions. It's not meant to be manageable, but to induce real amazement, gratitude, and wonder in our hearts. We should marvel not only that God savingly loves the elect, but also that He loves the world. To keep things Biblically balanced, I propose the following expansions to the way we explain the doctrine of limited atonement:
1. We must widen our view of the atonement's PURPOSE to include a universal revelatory purpose as well as a limited redemptive purpose (that's the focus of this article). 
2. We must affirm the atonement's POTENCY as the power and potential to cover all sins and to save all sinners (which will be the focus of part 2).
Without these expanded articulations, we are apt to try to limit the atonement in ways Scripture does not, and we are liable to commit some exegetical atrocities and philosophical fallacies in the process. I have seen otherwise brilliant and respectable exegetes twist a passage of Scripture into an origami figure trying to defend a narrow version of limited atonement which isn't Biblically warranted.

Don't get me wrong. I stand in lock step with other orthodox Calvinists in affirming Particular Redemption against the confused mistake called "Universalism." And I oppose any view of the atonement that portrays God as sacrificing His only Son in some kind of desperate attempt to get our attention, with the vague hope that we just might turn to Him someday if He pleads enough and somehow gets our consent to be saved. I very firmly renounce every whiff of the ideas that the atonement is less than substitutionary, less than vicarious, or less than successful in achieving its ends. "He will save His people from their sins." (Mt. 1:21) And the cross is how He will do it. "For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God." (I Peter 3:18)

Without any doubt, the atonement is limited in certain respects - but it is more than just that. Yes, it is God's means of saving the elect, but that is not its only purpose.

The Redemptive and Revelatory Purposes
of the Atonement

The atonement made by Christ is intended as revelation to all the world, yet also as redemption to the elect.

Christ's atoning work is rich and potent, multi-faceted and deep - and part of its power lies in the fact that it is not simply efficacious, but revelatory. It is an emphatically PUBLIC display of God's generosity and grace, His redeeming power, His propitiated wrath, His just character, His call for sinners to believe, His forbearance and His ability to justify the ungodly (Romans 3:24-26). It's all right here in the text:
  •  ... for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 
  • being justified as a gift by His grace 
  • through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus;
  • whom God displayed publicly 
  • as a propitiation in His blood 
  • through faith
  • This was to demonstrate His righteousness
  • because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 
  • for the demonstration, I say,of His righteousness at the present time, 
  • so that He would be just 
  • and the justifier 
  • of the one who has faith in Jesus.
(See also: Psalm 22:31, Galatians 3:1, Colossians 2:15)

For whom is this public display intended? For the same "all" who sinned and fell short of His glory in verse 23! Have only the elect sinned? Have only the elect fallen short of God's glory? Certainly not. Let us never become so dogmatic in emphasizing the limited effects of the atonement that we forget - or fail to communicate - the wider Biblical scope of its purposes. The cross communicates God's message to all mankind - and especially the elect.
. . . and also of judgment
Consider the revelatory purpose of the atonement. How does it speak to us about the people who will be saved? Does it speak of them definitively - as the elect - or conditionally, as those who believe?
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (Romans 1:16) 
But what does it say? "The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart" (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:8-9) 
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures . . . ( I Corinthians 15:1-4)
The Gospel addresses sinners with a conditional promise of salvation, even as it definitively demonstrates God's ability to save and reveals His desire to save. By the word of the cross God says to sinners, "I have done everything that is needed for your offenses to be covered. I have given my one and only Son for you. Come to me in faith and you will be saved. Reject me and you will perish." The elect perceive this message and by irresistible grace begin to count Christ's blood as precious. By faith they discover the redeeming, reconciling, propitiating, covenant-making, sin-demolishing power of His blood! The reprobate perceive the very same message and respond by trampling Christ's blood underfoot, spurning the offer of mercy, ignoring the warnings and going on in God-hating unbelief. There is no fear of God before their eyes.

God did not sacrifice His Son in secret, behind a thick curtain or hidden away in the heavens, but out in the open on a Roman cross for all the world to see. This does not save every sinner, but it does tell every sinner he can be saved, and that God loves him and desires to save Him. It promises every sinner he will be saved if he believes, and it warns every sinner that he will remain condemned and perish if he continues in unbelief. We live in the realm of time and the world of the potential, so God speaks to us in potential and conditional terms while reassuring His converted elect that He has a definite plan and sovereign control.

The revelatory purpose of the atonement corresponds to the universal call of the Gospel. Just as the effectual call of the Gospel exists alongside the universal call, the particular redemptive purpose of the atonement stands alongside its universal revelatory purpose.
  • God loves all but releases some to eternal judgment
  • God desires all but elects some
  • God calls all to salvation but effectually calls some
  • Christ atones for all but redeems some
In Part 2, we will examine in greater detail the wrath-averting potency of the atonement. We will find that just as the message of the cross is directed to all the world but effectual only for the elect, the power of the cross is sufficient for all the world but efficient only for the elect.