This sermon was preached on December 10, 2017, at Church on the Rock in West Houston/Katy, TX. This is the first message in a three-part series on the wonder and majesty of Christmas.
This sermon was preached on December 10, 2017, at Church on the Rock in West Houston/Katy, TX. This is the first message in a three-part series on the wonder and majesty of Christmas.
I’m excited to preach the next 3 Sundays leading up to Christmas. If you’re in the Houston area and looking for a place to celebrate the birth of Christ, come out and join us! We will also be broadcasting on Facebook Live, and I will make those videos available here, on TruthByGrace.org for those unable to attend. Please share this video to invite others to Church this Christmas season as well! God bless you, and Merry Christmas!!!
In 1955, atheologian J. L. Mackie argued the logical problem of evil renders belief in God “positively irrational.”  Mackie claimed the omnipotence, omniscience, and omnibenevolence of the God of traditional theism are inconsistent with the existence of evil in the world. Rebutting this claim, Alvin Plantinga proffered the response known as the free will defense. Articulated in his 1977 work God, Freedom, and Evil, the free will defense is the most effective defense the theist has against the logical problem of evil. Upon reviewing the defense, Mackie conceded the following in 1982: “Since [the free will defense] is formally [that is, logically] possible, and its principle involves no real abandonment of our ordinary view of the opposition between good and evil, we can concede that the problem of evil does not after all show that the central doctrines of theism are logically inconsistent with one another.”  Thirty-five years later, opponents of theism still fail to sufficiently respond to the free will defense.
While Plantinga’s work delivered a heavy blow to atheologians, his conception of human freedom also troubled reformed theologians. The metaphysical libertarian conception of human freedom, on which the defense relies, is often conflated with Arminian theology. Believing the defense to require the adoption of an Arminian theology, many reformed theologians consider the free will defense inconsistent with Calvinism.
Accepting the importance of the free will defense as the only conclusive rebuttal of the logical problem of evil, and acknowledging Calvinist’s concerns for the defense’s employment of libertarian freedom, ample evidence suggests a thoroughgoing Calvinist has grounds upon which to embrace the free will defense. Further, it can be said that many historical Calvinists have held the very conception of freedom necessary to coherently adopt the free will defense into reformed theology.
Plantinga contends that for any moral good to exist, it is required that a creature has the ability for meaningful choice in at least one morally significant decision. Removing the creature’s ability to choose evil simultaneously eliminates any ability the creature has for choosing good, and thus, ethical choice both good and bad are consequently lost. 
This type of meaningful choice requires a conception of freedom that grants human agents the ability for contrary choice, also referred to as libertarian freedom. This means that in at least some actions an agent performs he could have instead refrained from performing the chosen action. Stated another way, in at least some choices an agent could legitimately perform either A or not-A. Therefore, to embrace the free will defense, a person holding a reformed soteriology must embrace a view of human freedom that grants agents the ability for contrary choice. Many modern Calvinists will argue the adoption of this understanding of freedom is not possible for the reformed theologian. This position is, however, misinformed.
The historic Reformed tradition honors the simultaneously affirmed biblical truths of God’s meticulous sovereignty and human responsibility. This is what J. I. Packer calls the “antinomy” of Scripture. Packer writes, “God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility are taught to us side by side in the same Bible; sometimes, indeed, in the same text. Both are thus guaranteed us by the same divine authority; both, therefore, are true.”  As Charles Spurgeon articulates, “The system of truth is not one straight line, but two. . . These two truths, I do not believe, can ever be welded into one upon any human anvil . . . but they will meet somewhere in eternity, close to the throne of God.” 
While convincing a Calvinist to accept the predestination of God is rarely an issue, there is considerable debate regarding the manner as to how Calvinists define human freedom and subsequent moral responsibility. Most adherents of modern Calvinism are committed to a view of freedom called compatibilism, most notably championed by Jonathan Edwards. Put simply, compatibilists state that “we are free when we choose to do what we want. But it stands to reason that if we choose to do what we want, then at the moment of that choice, we are not ‘free’ to do otherwise.”  Compatibilists explicitly deny this human ability for contrary choice.
However, Calvinist historian Richard Muller points out, that unlike Edwards, Calvinists historically saw human responsibility as requiring the same contrary choice adopted by Plantinga in the free will defense. Muller writes, “[Historically] the Reformed deny chance . . . but affirm contingency as something that could be otherwise given that its causality is contingent and, in the cause of human choices, defined as contingency by potencies of will to more than one effect.”  This ability to “will to more than one effect” is contrary choice.  According to Muller, the Reformed position of the 16th and 17th centuries, whether one looks to Calvin or to Turretin or to the Westminster standards, involves a conception of human will that can choose between A or not-A.  The potency of the will to multiple effects, and freedom of contrariety appears throughout reformed writings until Jonathan Edwards associates this language strictly with Arminianism in Freedom of the Will.  “This shift in language and understanding between the older Reformed orthodoxy and the teachings of Edwards was identified by both proponents and opponents of his views.” 
Working from Turretin’s Institutio Theologiae Elenticae, Muller shows that at least one prominent Genevan professor held a freedom of “simultaneity of potencies,” such that the “otherwise” does exist as a pure potency not actualized in this world, but pushed back into the divine mind and resident in a possible world that God does not will to actualize. For Turretin, this yields contingency defined by a multiplicity of potencies.  In his own words Turretin insists, “The will of itself is so prepared that it can either elicit or suspend the act (which is the liberty of contrariety and of specification).”  Turretin was not alone in Geneva. Samuel Maresius, who studied at Geneva at the time of the Synod of Dort, agreed that indifference persists “as long as the intellect remains doubtful and uncertain where to turn itself.”  Both Turretin and Maresius affirm alternativity and place free choice in the last determinate judgement of the practical intellect. Hence, these men of the 17th century Academy of Geneva, conceived of reformed theology as including contrary choice.
Upon its founding, Princeton University adopted Francis Turretin’s Institutes of Elenctic Theology as the primary textbook for systematic theology. Turretin’s text remained Princeton’s staple until it was replaced by the systematic theology of 19th century reformed heavyweight Charles Hodge in the 1870s. In his Systematic Theology, Hodge follows Turretin’s lead by affirming the freedom of self-determination. Hodge writes, “Concursus . . . contradicts the consciousness of men. . . To act freely implies that we originate our own acts.”  This evidences that the two primary theological texts of orthodox Princeton both affirm, and were written by theologians who affirmed, human self-determination in contrary choice.
Further, regarding the determination of choice, many of the earliest reformed theologians build out the landscape of the earliest reformed notions of freedom. Girolamo Zanchi (16th century Italian Calvinist) and Lucas Treclatius (16th century Dutch Calvinist) placed alternativity in both the will and the intellect and identified freedom as the free agreement of the will with the judgment of the intellect.  Gulielmus Bucanus (16th century Swiss-French Calvinist) argued the will as a rational faculty and possessor of alternativity that can will, or not will the object presented to the intellect.  John Wemyss (early 17th century Scottish Calvinist) advocated for an “initial act of will that induces [the] intellect to deliberate, followed by the act of freely accepting the determinate judgment.”  17th century Dutch theologian Petrus van Mastricht wrote that “choice occurs according to an inward counsel that is neither intrinsically determined nor determined extrinsically by compulsion.”  Dugald Stewart, Sir William Hamilton, Franco Burgersdijk, Robert Baron, Adriaan Heereboord, and Gijsbert Voetius were also members of that older Reformed tradition  that, according to Philip Doddridge, consisted of contrary choice, and when explicitly implicated, distanced itself from compatibilistic definitions of the will. 
Evidenced by their theological works, many historical Calvinists divided the activity of free choice into (1) an adjudication of intellect between multiple potentialities, and (2) a free willing upon the choice the intellect has chosen. Like Aquinas’ account of intellect and will, the willing is free because it is a matter of rational willingness or spontaneity in following the determination of the intellect.  Such assertions of intellective power of choice, two volitional liberties, and contradiction and contrariety seem to very closely resemble the self-determining power and power of choosing differently that Edwards, and compatibilists by extension, vehemently deny. There is no shortage of early Reformed theologians who affirm a genuine inward alternativity grounded in an interchange of intellect and will. Thus, for early Reformation theologians, in the case of judgments of the intellect it is possible that a person willing A could have likewise willed not-A. Further, these men explain the choice in selecting A or not-A as itself belonging to the adjudication of the intellect which provides the last judgment upon which the will follows. Muller suggests that Edwards’ predecessors have “an interaction of intellect and will that begins in an actus primus indeterminacy and yields a determination, which is also concurrently willed by God from eternity as an aspect of the possible world that he has decreed to actualize.” 
19th century theologian John Lafayette Girardeau (Southern Presbyterian author of The Will in its Theological Relations – a 485 page rebuttal to Edwards’ Freedom of the Will) was a confessionally Reformed theologian who insisted that elements of human willing must include the determinate choice of action, whether for one thing or another.  Girardeau was a vehement opponent of Jonathan Edwards’ dismissal of contrary choice, and argued the case for mutability of will from Calvin’s Institutes and the Reformed confessions. He records that Edwards’ thesis that God’s causal determinism is compatible with human free will, “was attended by singular and apparently contradictory results.” 
Girardeau used the prelapsarian couple as his model in arguing that the historical church universally believed the couple had the ability of deliberate election. He references the fourth chapter of the Westminster confession which says, “[God] created man . . . with reasonable and immortal souls . . . having the law of God written in their hearts, and power to fulfill it . . . being left to liberty of their own will,” as well as the ninth chapter which states that “Man, in his state of innocency, had freedom, and power to will . . . mutably.” Girardeau finds agreement in his interpretation of the Westminster Confession from William Cunningham. Considered by many as the ablest defender of Calvinism in the first half of the 19th century, Cunningham mediated a balance between libertarians and compatibilists. He asserted that while “nothing precludes men from holding the doctrine of philosophical necessity . . . there is nothing in the Calvinistic system of theology, or in the Westminster Confession, which requires men to hold the doctrine of philosophical necessity.”  Stepping into Cunningham’s opening, Oliver Crisp points out that a reading of the Westminster Confession (chapter 10 most specifically), through the lens of contrary choice, highlights that “the Confession does not say that God determines all things in the strictest sense. . . God certainly knows all future conditionals,” but “this does not mean God determines all things in the strictest sense. . . What is more, the Confession does not deny that humans have libertarian free will in [non-salvific] choices. It denies only that humans can freely choose salvation absent prevenient divine grace.”
John Girardeau made the further claim that Calvin had in mind a libertarian conception of freedom. Calvin himself wrote, “We allow that man has choice that is self-determined, so that if he does anything evil, it should be imputed to him and to his own voluntary choosing. We do away with coercion and force, because this contradicts the nature of will and cannot coexist with it.”  This alone does not conclusively demonstrate that Calvin affirmed contrary choice, but that man has “self-determination,” agent causation in morally significant acts. In the Institutes, however, Calvin says, “We admit that man’s condition while he still remained upright was such that he could incline to either side” (2.3.10), and “Adam could have stood if he wished . . . his will was capable of being bent to one side or the other” (2.15.8). This seems to indicate that Calvin considered Adam capable, in the power of his own determination, of choosing A or not-A prior to the fall. If this is correct then Calvin allows for a libertarian free will for prelapsarian man – an allowance Edwards and compatibilists deny. Further, Unitarian priest Joseph Priestley elsewhere states that in the time before Edwards, “none of the Calvinists had ever concluded that, prior to the fall, Adam had been under any necessity of sinning.” 
These examples find themselves in agreement with the thinking of Martin Luther as well. Timothy George suggests that Luther “never denied that the free will retains its power in matters that do not concern salvation. . . Understood as the God-given capacity to make ordinary decisions, to carry out one’s responsibilities in the world, free will remains intact. What it cannot do is effect its own salvation.”  Luther wrote, “Free choice is allowed to man only with respect to what is beneath him. . . In relation to God, or in matters pertaining to salvation or damnation, a man has no free choice, but is a captive.”  Like his Reformed successors, Luther believed that it is only when the will has been acted upon by grace that “the power of decision really become[s] free, in all events in respect to salvation.”  Regarding ordinary decisions “below” or not “pertaining to salvation,” however, Luther held that man has “free choice.”
It should be evident from the historical survey that it was well within the breadth of the historic reformed tradition to honor both the meticulous sovereignty of God and the contrary choice of man. Therefore, a Calvinist should feel he has full warrant to embrace the contrary choice necessary to adopt the free will defense. The appropriation of the free will defense need not require the abandonment of Calvinism, but merely the abandonment of compatibilism and the determinism on which it depends. In so doing, the Calvinist finds himself in good standing with the rich tradition of reformed thinkers. In abandoning compatibilism, Calvinists lose the theologico-philosophical reconciliation between God’s sovereignty and human freedom that a system of philosophical necessity provides, but is instead allowed the embrace of the greatest defense against the argument that evil disproves God’s existence. This exchange requires a value judgment that weighs the importance of reconciling determinism with human freedom against defending God’s existence and thwarting arguments that depict Him as unknowing, unloving, and powerless in the face of (or causally responsible for) evil. Whether one chooses to adopt contrary choice or the free will defense, it should be clear that those Calvinists who do are well within the confines of the historic reformed tradition.
Chad W. Hussey is an average Jesus loving iconoclastic non-conformist neighborhood hope dealer from Houston Texas – a husband, father, church deacon, and Master of Divinity student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
J. L. Mackie, “Evil and Omnipotence” in Mind, New Series, vol. 64, no. 254 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, April 1955), 200-212.
J. L. Mackie, The Miracle of Theism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982), 154.
Alvin Plantinga, God, Freedom, and Evil (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1977).
J. I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1961), 23-27.
C. H. Spurgeon, “Sovereign Grace and Man’s Responsibility” (sermon 207, Royal Surrey Gardens, August 1, 1858), www.spurgeon.org/sermons/0207.htm.
Bruce A. Ware, God’s Greater Glory: The Exalted God of Scripture and the Christian Faith (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2004), 80.
Richard A. Muller, “Jonathan Edwards and Francis Turretin on Necessity, Contingency, and Freedom of Will. In Response to Paul Helm,” in Jonathan Edwards Studies, vol. 4/3, (2014), 272.
For this study, it is important to note that libertarian freedom is not a term uniformly used by historic theologians. Prior to recent discussion there was no uniform terminology used by theologians to refer to libertarian freedom and contrary choice. The terms contrariety, alternativity, freedom of deliberation, simultaneity of potencies, multiplicity of potencies, contingent causality, self-determination, and determinate choice are all variations used to refer in some capacity to a freedom that involves contrary choice in at least some decisions.
Richard A. Muller, “Jonathan Edwards and the Absence of Free Choice: A Parting of Ways in the Reformed Tradition,” in Jonathan Edwards Studies: vol. 1/1 (2011), 3-22.
Richard A. Muller, “Jonathan Edwards and the Absence of Free Choice,” 21.
Richard A. Muller, “Jonathan Edwards and Francis Turretin,” 276.
Francis Turretin, Institutio Theologiae Elenticae (Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing, 2009), X.iii.4.
Francis Turretin, Institutio Theologiae Elenticae, X.iii.4; with Samuel Maresius, Theologiae Elenchticae Nova Synopsis, Sive Index Controversiarum Fidei ex S. Scripturis, vol. 2 (Groningen: Joannes Nicolaus, 1646-1647), 12.
Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology vol. 1 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publisher, 1981), 604.
Girolamo Zanchi, De Operibus Dei Intra Spatium Sex Dierum Creatis, in Operum Theologicorum D. Hieronymi Zanchi (Heidelberg: Stephanus Gamonetus, 1605), III.iii, col. 706; with Lucas Treclatius, Jr., Scholastica et Methodica Locorum Communium s. Theologiae Institutio Didactice & Elentice in Epitome Explicata: in Qua, Veritas Locorum Communium, Definitionis Cuiusque, Loci per causas suas Analysi Asseritur: Contraria Vero Argumenta, Imprimis Bellarmini, Generalium Solutionum Appendice Refutantur (London: John Bill, 1604), 208, dist. 3.
Gulielmus Bucanus, Institutiones Theologicaue, Seu Locorum Communium Christianae Religionis, ex Dei verbo, et Praestantissimorum Theologorum Orthodoxo Consensu Expositorum (Bern: Iohannes &Isaias Le Preux, 1605), Xi.2, 109.
John Weemse (Wemyss), The Portraiture of the Image of God in Man, in His Creation, Restauration, and Glorification, in The Workes of Mr. John Weemse of Lathocker vol. 1 (London: T. Cotes, 1637), 98.
Petrus van Mastricht, Theoretico-practica Theologia, IV.iv.10 (Sumptibus Societatis, 1715), XVII.4.
Richard A. Muller, “Jonathan Edwards and the Absence of Free Choice,” 12, 20.
Philip Doddridge, A Course of Lectures on the Principal Subjects in Pneumatology, Ethics, and Divinity; with References to the Most Considerable Authors on Each Subject vol. 1 (London, 1794), 50-59.
Eleonore Stump, “Aquinas’s Account of Freedom: Intellect and Will,” in The Monist 80/4 (1997), 576-597.
Richard A. Muller, “Jonathan Edwards and Francis Turretin,” 285.
John L. Girardeau, The Will in Its Theological Relations (Columbia, SC: W. J. Duffie and New York: The Baker and Taylor Co., 1891), 43-44.
John L. Girardeau, The Will in Its Theological Relations, 18.
William Cunningham, “Calvinism and the Doctrine of Philosophical Necessity,” in The Reformers and the Theology of the Reformation (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1989), 483.
Oliver D. Crisp, Deviant Calvinism: Broadening Reformed Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2014), 94-95.
John Calvin, The Bondage and Liberation of the Will: A Defense of the Orthodox Doctrine of Human Choice Against Pighius (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker 1996), 69.
Joseph Priestley, The Doctrine of Philosophical Necessity Illustrated; Being an Appendix to the Disquisitous Relating to Matter and Spirit (London, 1977), 157.
Timothy George, Theology of the Reformers (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2013), 76.
Martin Luther and Desiderius Erasmus, Luther and Erasmus: Free Will and Salvation (London: Westminster, 1969), 111.
Wilhelm Pauck, Luther: Lectures on Romans (Philadelphia: WJK, 1961), 252.
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Part 1 of the Application of Jeremiah’s ‘Letter to the Exiles’ to Christian Living and Approaching Culture Today. Download PDF Version
Part 1: An Exposition of Jeremiah 29:4-14
In The City of God, Augustine teaches that in creation there are basically two cities: the city of God, and the city of man. The city of God is the kingdom of believers—the church, and the city of man is the world—symbolized throughout the Bible by the city of Babylon. In the book of Jeremiah, the nation of Judah is taken captive and exiled to Babylon. In Jeremiah 29:4-14, God gives specific instructions for how he desires His exiled people to engage the city of man. From a canonical biblical theology of ‘continuing exile’ , Christians can be seen as a dispersion, free from captivity, but sojourning in the world and not yet home. God’s people today are still dwelling throughout the world in the city of man. Through this lens, God’s instructions to the exiles in Babylon, in Jeremiah 29, have specific application not only to His Judean exiles, but also to His ‘elect exiles in the dispersion’ today (1 Pet 1:11). As Jeremiah’s letter calls the Judean exiles to glorify God by giving their lives to the shalom of their gentile captor; Christians should glorify God by loving their non-believing neighbors (Mark 12:31) in seeking the welfare and flourishing of the cities to which God has called them. Like the Judean exiles in Babylon, in desiring the welfare of their cities, Christians too will find shalom. The commands expressed in Jeremiah verses four through fourteen have strong and profound implications for modeling the posture of Christ’s sojourning disciples and their engagement in the present culture surrounding them.
“The Messenger Formula, ‘Thus says the Lord,’ is used more often [in Jeremiah 29] than in any other chapter of Jeremiah.” These statements are significant indicators mapping the outline of the text. To validate the application of Jeremiah 29:4-14 to the New Testament church, a verse-by-verse exposition will be performed by breaking the passage into the three sections marked by the statements, “Thus says the Lord.” First there will be a brief examination of the historicity, provenance, destination, and transmission of Jeremiah’s letter. Then the three sections will be examined under their key summarizing directives: 1) to commit, 2) to deny, and 3) to behold (in wonder and trust). These directives are applied to the three sections respectively. Within this framework there will be an expounding of God’s desired activity for the exiles in Babylon specifically. Following the exposition of the passage there will be an explanation of the biblical theology of ‘continuing exile.’ In this explanation it will be exegetically demonstrated that Jeremiah 29 is the first major pivot point for the redefinition of the geo-political identity of God’s people, and God’s first step toward expanding Israel’s spiritual borders in preparation for His salvation plan for the gentile nations. This section will further demonstrate that God’s people remain sojourners living in exile to this day. Provided the exilic continuity between the Judean exiles and the sojourning church, in tandem with the continuity of the directives of Jeremiah’s letter and the New Testament teachings of Christ; special attention will be called to the typological significance of the exiles and Babylon, and their typological fulfillment in Christ and the world. The conclusion will then follow the outline of Jeremiah’s letter again to provide application for the imitators of Christ sojourning in the world today.
Background, Verses 1-3
Immediately in verse 1 Jeremiah tells the reader that what follows is a letter written by Jeremiah, sent to the exiles in Babylon, regarding God’s directions and comfort for the people Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, had taken out of Jerusalem. Further, the letter issues a warning to those Judeans resisting compliance with Yahweh’s will for their surrender to the Babylonians. To the exiles God says, “Endure!”, and to those remaining in Jerusalem God says, “Repent and link with your exiled brothers!” For decades Jeremiah had been prophesying the coming judgment of God upon His people, and this judgment has arrived in the form of Babylonian troops, here, in the year 597 B. C.
Babylon, earlier known as Babel (Gen 11), is the typification of the city of man, the city of the secular spirit, and great tempter of men (Gen 11:4, Rev 18:3). Babylon is the worldly, wicked, godless, and assimilated city that strives after self and against God. Jeremiah then writes this letter shortly after the first exile of Judeans to give them guidance in making their way in the new land. “The design of the Prophet was at the same time twofold; for he not only intended to mitigate by comfort the sorrow of the exiles, but designed also to break down the obstinacy of his own nation.” The Jews “had set their minds on an unreasonable deliverance [wishing to] immediately break through and extricate themselves from the yoke laid on them.” Hence it made sense that the Jews should not remain amongst the dregs in Jerusalem, longing for a return to former glory, but should move forward in joining with the new calling of God upon His people. In this new work in Babylon, verse seven says the people of God will find their welfare; but in verse seventeen Jeremiah instructs that those who cling to the past, resisting to go to Babylon and work for the welfare of the wicked captors, will be destroyed. Those who felt fortunate to have remained in Jerusalem, believing the comforts of home were a benefit to them, were warned they would face a far worse fate.
At this time, Zedekiah became the fifth king to sit on the throne of Judah in a thirty year span, and the result was an incredibly unstable time for Judah politically. As is typically the case in calamity and grieving, there are two groups present amongst the Jews: those who over-react in fear and desperation, and those who cling to false hopes for a return to prior conditions. Among this group hoping for simple resolution are tribal-minded agitators and diviners who seek to stir resistance to the new order. Jeremiah’s Letter to the Exiles is an open letter that Zedekiah has approved and has commissioned the king’s ambassadors, Elasah and Gemariah, to hand-deliver to Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar allowed its delivery, not out of benevolence, but because the pro-Babylonian message served Nebuchadnezzar’s wishes in encouraging the Israelite assimilation in Babylon. The letter further served to discourage unrest among those who desired either segregation or an uprising.
Section 1 – “Thus says the Lord” – Commit
The first section marked by the phrase “Thus says the Lord,” verses four through seven, contains a list of positive “do this” commands that Yahweh gave to the Judeans in exile. The key take-away within this section is that God is calling for His people to commit. Yahweh desires the exiles to stop straddling the fence between settling in Babylon and holding out for an alternate reality. God says, “This is your reality. Commit yourselves to do these things.”
In verse five, the Lord instructs the Israelites to commit to Babylon. Yahweh commands this saying, “Build houses.” More important to Yahweh than the Israelites having adequate shelter is their adoption of a settled state in Babylon. Yahweh’s desire is that the exiles will make the city their home. In the verses that follow, Yahweh will give the Israelites several tasks of service that cannot be fulfilled by a people who are resisting involvement, remaining disengaged from their surroundings. Further to this end God says, “Plant a garden.” This instruction does not immediately translate to the present, but the concept holds. In Judah, gardens were not recreational. A large majority of the population were either farmers by trade or were dependent on personal gardens for their family’s food supply. Building houses and planting gardens are no small amount of work. Gardens require work to prepare, cultivate, and sow. Gardens require a season to bear a harvest. It takes several seasons of tilling and harvesting for the soil to develop the eco-system required for reaping good produce. Thus, the building of homes, and the keeping of gardens are not small undertakings. They require much personal expenditure and investment. Building houses and planting gardens means planting roots. This means commitment. God is saying, “Plant roots here. Invest yourselves here. Make this place home.” The Israelites should expect to be in this place for an extended time, and should abandon any vain notions they have about returning home. This is a call to stop the split-minded half-heartedness. Yahweh is telling them to, “Cease straddling the two limbs of My will and your desire. Desire My will.” Yahweh is calling for their full commitment to His chosen location for them, and their full commitment to His work and plans in the city.
Israel’s relationship to God as status-quo in Israel was not working. Yahweh desired to break the Israelites from their settled state. God’s people have grown hard and forgotten how to mourn their sin (Matt 5:4). In Judah, the Hebrews had become sunbaked, hardened ground, producing no harvest. God desired to churn the soil of the Jewish national soul for the cultivating of fruit. The Hebrew word for exile, Galah (גּוֹלָה), literally means: to uncover, expose, reveal, lay bare, or unearth. This is exactly the activity Yahweh performs in the exile. He churns the spiritual soil of the Israelite people. A. W. Tozer speaks this way about the fallow field:
The fallow [or the unplanted] field is smug, contented, protected from the shock of the plow and the agitation of the harrow [or being broken up]. Such a field as it lies year after year, becomes a familiar landmark to the crow and the blue jay. [. . .] Safe and undisturbed, it sprawls lazily in the sunshine, the picture of sleepy contentment. But it is paying a terrible price for its tranquility; never does it see the miracle of growth; never does it feel the motions of mounting life nor see the wonders of bursting seed nor the beauty of ripening grain. Fruit it can never know because it is afraid of the plow and the harrow. In direct opposite to this, the cultivated field has yielded itself to the adventure of living. The protecting fence has opened to admit the plow, and the plow has come as plows always come, practical, cruel, business-like and in a hurry. Peace has been shattered by the shouting farmer and the rattle of machinery. The field has felt the travail of change; it has been upset, turned over, bruised and broken, but its rewards come hard upon its labors. The seed shoots up into the daylight its miracle of life, curious, exploring the new world above it. All over the field the hand of God is at work in the age-old and ever renewed service of creation. New things are born, to grow, mature, and consummate the grand prophecy latent in the seed when it entered the ground.
Tozer casts light on the glory afforded the sinner by Yahweh’s miraculous hand concluding: “Nature’s wonders follow the plow.”
The exile is God’s hand upon the plow. What lay dormant is being awakened. What formerly lay under the surface, now is exposed and confessed. God’s people will soon be prepared to receive the Seed and bear a harvest. If what can be known about God is plainly revealed in nature (Rom 1:19-20), then there is much to be learned, and committed to heart, in planting a garden. For the exiles, the gardens Yahweh has commanded they plant will be to them a daily reminder of the work Yahweh is performing in their hearts. This too will be a reminder of their small promise of Eden—their own shalom, promised them in their work of seeking the shalom of the city (Jer 29:7). Both the toil, and the fruit of the toil, are gifts from God (Eccl 3:12-13).
In verse six God instructs the Israelites to commit to His plan for family. The instruction to bear generations is a further call to commit to His chosen duration for their stay in Babylon. Here, Yahweh reaffirms that the Jews should not put off their normal way of life until they are able to return to Jerusalem, but should multiply in Babylon, treating the city as their home. The command to settle in for generations was to show by their commitment and “patience that they were really penitent, and that they also expected [their salvation to come] in no other way than through God’s favor alone.”
The message here is one that instructs the Jews that they should neither segregate, in a fortification mentality, nor should they assimilate to the Babylonian culture. It was not God’s purpose for the Jews to set their hearts on Chaldea, or on the Chaldeans. On the contrary, they were to keep their return in mind, knowing they live for another kingdom, and as in the land of Israel restrict marriages to those of the same religious identity.
In Ezra and Nehemiah, after the Jews return to Jerusalem, the issue of intermarriage between Israelites and Babylonians is addressed, and those Israelites who have intermarried with Babylonians are called to separate from them. “The guilty are males who are presumably attempting to ‘marry up’ to exchange their low status of ‘exiles’ for participation in aristocratic society.” This is both a selling out of their faith for worldly pursuits, and a threat to the maintenance of their minority witness in the presence of the larger Babylonian culture. “The increased consciousness of identity in a minority subculture thrown into extensive contact with other cultures [is] in such a social context, ‘purity’ [which] becomes the language of nonconformity.” Thus it is vitally important that the Hebrews maintain their ethno-religious identity. As a caveat, the story of Ruth and Boaz indicates that the foreigner who denounces her country’s idols to faithfully seek Yahweh, and the Israelite who benevolently receives the repentant foreigner, will share a God blessed union. The underlying principle is that the Jews were to be ever mindful of God’s promises for their future. By honoring God’s plan for family–fruitfully multiplying in the midst of the gentiles–the Israelites would demonstrate the better way of life. The people of God would demonstrate to their hedonistic neighbors that healthy families are the foundation of healthy society.
A key focal point in Jeremiah’s letter, verse seven calls the Israelites to commit to God’s will by giving their lives for the welfare of the city. Yahweh says, “Seek the shalom of the city to which I have sent you, and in the city’s shalom, you will find your shalom.” This calls for a paradigm shift in Judah’s view toward the gentiles. This verse “reflects the political realism, urging the exiles to accommodate their imperial overlord. [. . .] The well-being (shalom) of Judah is dependent upon and derivative that of Babylon. [. . .] The imperative bestows upon this vulnerable, small community a large missional responsibility.” Here, Yahweh extends the Israelites His grace if only they will be willing to faithfully follow His direction in faith, and not reject the means by which He has instructed that they will find prosperity. This will require the Israelites to do justly, to seek justice, and to see God’s image in gentile humanity. Seeing God’s image in humanity, Yahweh desires that Israel will serve humanity, rather than attempt to establish dominion over humanity as if the gentiles are the subhuman beasts of the earth. Israel, by their relationship with Yahweh has an inherent sense of elitism. To love Babylon they will have to learn to genuinely love their neighbor. “Such a horizon prevents the exilic community from withdrawing into its own safe, sectarian existence, and gives it work to do and responsibility for the larger community.” In verse seven, God calls the Israelites to serve the common good, and not just the Judean good. Like instruments in a song, or as the sun and moon interact as they follow the laws of nature, God has called the Israelites to play their role in the harmony of His greater working of all things. Like the sun and moon, if the Israelites could obey their calling, God would use them to bring life to the world.
Section 2 – “Thus says the Lord”- Deny
The second section, cued by the statement “Thus says the Lord,” verses eight and nine contain a list of negative “deny this” commands that Yahweh gave the exiles for adherence to His will. The key take-away from this section is that God is calling His people to deny their fleshly desires, and to deny the false prophets who would tickle their ears with divinations about such hopes. Yahweh is calling His people to die to their wants, and align their hearts with His will. God says, “Do not listen to the prophets who prophesy your self-serving hopes and dreams. Deny them. I did not send them.”
Verses eight and nine are the direct response of Yahweh to the false prophets who were plotting to convince the Israelites to remain segregated from the Babylonians. Specifically mentioned in Jeremiah 28:3-4 is Hannaniah who was prophesying a return from exile in only two years. The desire of the false prophets and the religious leaders was that the Israelites would remain disengaged from the Babylonian culture, maintaining a strong tribalism as they held out for their return to Jerusalem. As many religious people do today, these diviners condemned the city’s culture and tried to find ways to encourage the Israelites to draw a hard line of segregation between themselves and their non-believing neighbors. The problem of the false prophets is seen earlier in chapters 23, 27, and 28 of Jeremiah. As Walter Brueggemann points out, the concern is that the Israelites, desiring an alternate outcome, are prone to chase flights of religious fancy. “The threat to the Jews is that they will be talked out of the reality of exile. [. . .] The warning of verses eight and nine is against an emotional, imaginative departure from that place. Prophetic faith is hard-nosed realism that is resistant to romantic, ideological escapism.”
Yahweh denounces the separatist stance, and the religious fortification mentality, and eliminates any false hopes for this generation’s return to their former way of life. Yahweh calls the Israelites to deny such hopes for a return to former comfort, and to deny any search for an alternative plan for prosperity. This is a call to deny false prosperity teachings. God denounces the people’s idolatry, and the people’s religion. The city lacks for neither idolatry nor religion , but demands people who adhere to the commands of Yahweh in verses four through seven. “The counsel to settle in exile (vv. 5-9) is against the popular notion that the Exile is short and temporary. The counsel to look beyond exile (vv. 10-14) is against the temptation to despair. Both affirmations from [Jeremiah] are in fact counter to prevailing opinion.” Where verse seven calls the Israelites to give themselves entirely to the will of God, verse eight calls them to deny their own self-serving wants. Yahweh calls His people to come not as fallen man comes, seeking only for themselves the fleshly good and avoiding the fleshly undesirable; but to come as Christ came, only desiring to take away the bad, and to freely give for the common good.
Section 3 – “Thus says the Lord”- Behold
Verses 10 and 11
The third and final section, cued by the statement “Thus says the Lord,” includes verses ten through fourteen, and contains God’s promises for the Jewish exiles who embrace God’s will and remain faithful through the exile. The removal of the Hebrews from Jerusalem bears no minor resemblance to Adam being excused from Eden, and such is the existence of all who live in rebellion, and have been excused from the presence of God. What follows in verses ten through fourteen is, “an assertion of the gospel: God is available in the midst of despair and will override both despair and the circumstances which generate it.” The juxtaposition present between sections 4-9 and 10-14 demonstrate how the judgment and purpose of Yahweh are held in tension. Present here are indications for a future hope through judgment. In an ancient world where a nation’s gods were judged by military might, the Israelites would need a new understanding for why Yahweh would allow the conquering of His people. Through the prophets the Israelites would come to understand that while “it was no small trial when the Jews were deprived of the land that was God’s dwelling place”, and seemingly “all hope had been cut off”, they were being led– “being chastened by God’s hand.” Beginning at Jeremiah 29:10, and expounded upon in the chapters that follow, are “some of the most wonderful promises in all of Scripture.”
After twenty-eight chapters of doom and gloom, Jeremiah came bearing tidings of grace and glory. [. . .] He would love them ‘with an everlasting love’ (31:3) and ‘turn their mourning into gladness’ (31:13). He would make a new covenant with them (31:31) and give them ‘singleness of heart and action’ (33:29). God would even ‘cleanse them from all the sin they have committed’ (33:8). Jeremiah summarized all these blessings in one wonderful promise: ‘For I know the plans I have for you’ declares the Lord, (29:11) ‘plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’
In verses ten through fourteen God invites His people to behold the wonder of His goodness if they will only trust Him and live in light of His promises. “He will give them, not the expectations of their fears, nor the expectations of their fancies, but the expectations of their faith.” In faith they should seek shalom for the city, and in faith they should seek Yahweh. In faithful execution they will find both.
Knowledge, service, and hospitality become wisdom, love, stewardship, and ministry when they flow from a constant acknowledgment of God’s grace. Life becomes not just a temporal striving, a chasing after wind, and a preoccupation with the here and now; but a journey of service culminating in eternal shalom, when lived in communion with God. In verse 12, when the Lord’s work in Babylon is complete, the Israelites will come to understand this, and understand that operating outside of a dependence on God’s grace will always leave them short of where they desire to be. Then they will call on no one else, and they will depend on God alone. This desire of Yahweh is not merely for the sake of Yahweh, but also for the flourishing of mankind. In this God is glorified.
In verse thirteen God calls the Israelites to trust Him with their whole hearts, and their whole lives. “Yahweh had seemed to the exiles to be hidden, absent, and unavailable. Judah must reorient its life in exile. [. . .] Judah must only decide to seek its future exclusively from Yahweh.” They are to seek shalom even in the chaos and disorientation of displacement. No matter where they find themselves they will come to know their highest joy is found in obedience to God. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Pros 1:7). When the Israelites finally settle, and when they finally stop striving after all things other than God, they will still their weary hearts, and behold the wonder of God. Then they will have hearts fully devoted to God. Then they will seek God, and they will obey Him. Then they will know fortune, and prosperity, and shalom.
It is evident from Jeremiah’s letter that, in his pro-Babylonian posture, he has addressed the letter to the people whom God intends to carry forth His plans for the future. “Those who remained in Jerusalem after the deportation of  continued to believe they were favored by God and regarded themselves as the blessed carriers of Judaism.” What is impressed upon the exiles by the promises of Jeremiah’s letter, however, is that the Judeans, defeated and humiliated by the exile, are the true people of God—the carriers of Judah’s future. It is just like Yahweh, that through the humbling of men and women, He is at work, shaping, chastening, developing, and bringing forth new life. John Bunyan put it well when he said, God’s people “in the fire of persecution [are] like Esther in the perfuming chamber”—being made “fit for the presence of the king.” “As exile is Israel’s most devastating judgment, so homecoming and restoration to the land are Israel’s deepest yearning and God’s best gift.” Just as the exile from Eden is the greatest judgment against mankind, the return of mankind to the kingdom of heaven is God’s greatest gift. Inherent in the judgment and promises of Jeremiah’s Letter to the Exiles is a helpful doctrine for every age. “God in a wonderful way gathers his church when scattered, to make it into one body, even though for a time he may obliterate its name and even its very appearance. Thus we see that this prophecy has not just been fulfilled once. God has often manifested the grace that is here set forth, and he still manifests it in gathering his church.”
* References are cited in the print format available for download above.
Chad W. Hussey is an average Jesus loving iconoclastic non-conformist neighborhood hope dealer – a husband, father, urban missionary, community group leader, Master of Divinity student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Community Life Intern at Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, KY.
***SPOILER ALERT – This is a film analysis examining the spiritual implications of events in the movie and will give away the conclusion.***
The fourth motion picture release in a franchise known for tapping into the savior motif, director George Miller says Max’s prior “international acceptance had drawn aside the veil of reality and revealed a collective unconscious.”  Channeling this universal unconscious acknowledgement that existential brokenness demands a redeemer, Mad Max: Fury Road is a post-apocalyptic (post-lapsarian) narrative packed with theological themes that pits savior figures in a good versus evil battle to free captives and redeem the suffering through a race across the desert to a land of hope. Reading the last page first, the writers’ motives are easily discerned.
“Where must we go . . . we who wander this wasteland in search of our better selves?” – The First History Man
Drawing clear ties to broken humanity’s mere existence (as opposed to flourishing) in this fallen world, living under the shadow of the sin of history’s first man, Adam, the closing quote appears to be an esoteric conception of writer/director George Miller that likely points to the work of Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man and its treatment of the democratic peace theory first popularized by Immanuel Kant. Clearly evident, beyond Fury Road’s ten time Academy Award nominated production, lies a script bold in political commentary. While expressing a measured restraint, the dialogue remains robust in the incorporation of concepts that find their roots in the Bible and Western Christian literature. The Road unfolds in four distinct phases, fall, exodus, sojourn, and redemption, which mirror the biblical metanarrative.
As the movie opens the main character recounts the events which brought about the present condition. “My world is fire and blood. . . . As the world fell, each of us in our own way was broken.” Random voices relay that, “Mankind has gone rogue, terrorizing itself . . . the earth is sour . . . our bones are poisoned . . . we have become half-life.” The setting and character development communicate that the world of Mad Max exists in the shadow of a great fall. A post-apocalyptic war for guzzoline, aqua cola, produce, mother’s milk, and bullets rages. The surviving human population is spiritually and intellectually barren. Max is one of the few free residents in this wasteland where precious resources are monopolized by the tyrant, Immortan Joe. Max was once a cop, an upholder of justice, and a person with a righteous cause. Now Max cannot discern whether he is less crazy than anyone else. He is haunted by visions of innocents who cry out to him for salvation. The freedom Max possesses is rare, and a sign of the elevated stature granted him by his physical and intellectual gifts. Like Moses, who said, “I am slow of speech and tongue . . . please send someone else” (Exod. 4:10, 13), Max is a reluctant hero of few words. He repeatedly attempts to flee the call to save others, distancing himself from society for the sake of self-preservation. The villain emperor, Immortan Joe, is introduced when Max is taken captive by a cohort and brought to the citadel. In the citadel the Immortan governs a caste system that drives the oppressed population’s dependence on their overlord. Like many historical tyrants the Immortan has used the depressed social dynamic to exalt himself as deity. Max, in a nod to the Jewish hero type he represents, is enslaved in a dungeon and receives a systematic tattooing like the holocaust victims at Auschwitz. Max is labeled a type O-negative “blood bag,” and likened to something subhuman as he is chained and fitted with an iron muzzle.
Those privileged to be crusading warrior pawns worship in the “cult of the V8,” an automobile worshipping religion of “chrome” seekers. This false religion drives them to “karmakrazee” sacrifice for the conquest of their Immortan. As the war boys martyr themselves on Fury Road, they cry out, “Witness me!” This statement finds its etymology in the Koine Greek (the language of the New Testament) word “martyr” which means witness. The war boys cry out for recognition of their witness to “the one who grabbed the sun.” They believe, as one war boy exclaims, “I live; I die; I live again!” This beckons images of wicked religious extremists who see war, murder, and death as crucial expressions of spirituality. These young warriors believe they “will be lifted up” by the hand of the Immortan as they are “awaited in Valhalla” for dying “historic on Fury Road.” The Immortan, calling himself the “redeemer” and claiming that “by his hand the people will rise from the ashes of this world,” promises his “half-life war-boys” a future glory where they “ride with [him] eternal.” This bears striking resemblance to the manipulating practices of historic evil dictators, as well as Satan, the deceiver and author of evil himself. False religion serves as the tool by which young boys who seek glory become an “old man’s battle fodder.”
Furiosa, the Immortan’s imperator, comes from “the clan of many mothers.” Like Max, Furiosa is also a person of elevated status. She is an imperator who (also like Moses) abandons her privilege to free the captives. Furiosa, also resembling Eve, wears the results of the fall physically with a missing arm as a memento of the brokenness, imperfection, and fragility resulting from her having been stolen from the “green land.” Where Max is physically superior and self-centered, Furiosa is virtuous but physically impaired. The two collaborate to represent the Exodus savior type while each of the characters and scenes bears the marks of the fallen existence.
The Immortan first becomes aware that an Exodus is under way when Furiosa’s tanker truck veers off route and makes a break across the desert. The rig secretly houses the Immortan’s harem who refuse to bear future warlords, and are forsaking their former lives and risking all in search of “hope.” Furiosa on the other hand is in pursuit of “redemption.” The wives of Immortan Joe, the most exalted of all the women under his reign, are treated as mere chattel in a world of men’s wars. Furiosa represents not merely the savior of this random band of people, but the savior of femininity. Furiosa is a savior who values the “mother of all the living,” knows the equality of women in the created order, and seeks to bring about new life through love, hope, and redemption.
Infuriated by the exodus, Immortan Joe rallies the troops in full pursuit of the runaway tanker. Like the Pharaoh of Egypt he leads his war boys in a furious chase, racing their hot rods across the desert like post-apocalyptic battle chariots. Strapped to the grill of the war boys’ hot-rod, Max, the type O negative “blood bag,” is intravenously imparting blood to the “half-life.” A “universal donor,” Max has blood capable of providing life for all.
In a scene resembling the parting of the Red Sea, Furiosa and the fleeing unit pass through a wavelike desert sandstorm that topples the V8 war chariots allowing Furiosa and the “breeders” to escape. The muzzled blood bag arrives on the other side of the storm still chained to the war boy Nux. Max and Nux are introduced to the female group for the first time as they find them cleansing themselves with water in an unwitting baptism. The women, clothed in white and clean of the desert sand and grease, contrast their fallen surroundings as an image of purity, innocence, and freedom. Max requests the water, and splashing it on Nux and himself, the group becomes consecrated together in this unwitting baptism. Furiosa provides Max with a file he uses to free himself from his muzzle. Having been set free from bondage, Max is increasingly compelled to help the group escape their pursuer and find their promised land.
As “The People Eater” approaches, the wives comment that he is “coming to count the cost.” An accountant, he keeps a ledger and is seeking compensation for the debts accrued by the rebels. It is the wives, however, who will soon come to learn it is they who will be counting the cost of renouncing their former existence. Having put their hand to the plow, there will be no turning back. The cost for the heart-hardened Immortan will also be high. When Immortan Joe and his cohorts catch up to the rig and threaten to put an end to the wives’ exodus, the violence throws one of the pregnant wives from the rig and beneath the wheels of Immortan Joe’s vehicle. In a moment drawing parallels to Pharaoh, the heart-hardened emperor suffers the loss of a son by the consequence of his own stubborn pride.
Like the biblical Exodus, the Fury Road journey transitions from the fleeing of captivity to a prolonged Sojourn towards a new land of hope and flourishing. The Sojourn quickly becomes a desert wandering wrought with struggle, doubt, and murmuring. One of the wives, disenfranchised with the new existence far from home, desires to return to the comforts of her former captivity. She says, “The stupid green place. We don’t even know where to find it.” Another wife similarly wishes to return to her former captivity saying, “We were protected. He gave us the high life. What’s wrong with that?” This wife is told, “Wring your hands!” This is perhaps a reference to Isaiah 8:9 (MSG) which says, “Listen all of you, far and near. Prepare for the worst and wring your hands. Yes, prepare for the worst and wring your hands! Plan and plot all you want – nothing will come of it. All your talk is mere talk, empty words, because when all is said and done, the last word is Immanuel – God-With-Us.” This suggests that this wife should not turn back in the face of trial. Difficult as the pursuit of promised hope may be, recommitment to faithfully following the savior to the promised green land is the better way. Again playing into the role of the Moses figure, Furiosa instructs the grumbling followers, “Out here everything hurts,” but if “you want to get through this then do what I say.” Furiosa’s call to “follow me” will bring the company salvation through obedient faith in the savior figure’s commands.
The plot twists when the group meets the “tribe of many mothers.” These former inhabitants of the green land have been relegated to an existence as desert nomads. The mothers inform the seekers that the green land has been laid waste, and is now an uninhabitable land of desolation. In this time of “already but not yet,” the group finds themselves free, the recipients of new life, but wandering from a home.
Redemption and Life through Sacrifice
The travelling band soon comes to find that the land of their future promise is actually the land from which they fled. The former locus of their suffering will become their land of hope fulfilled. Found hiding on the rig is the war boy, Nux, who after failing in his aspirations for “shine” through “karmakrazee” mission, has experienced a real disenfranchisement with his former calling. Nux says he should be “McFeasting with the Immorta,” which sounds more like a drive-thru value meal than a holy communion. This McFeasting reflects the cheapness of the empty promises of false religion. One of the wives, in a moment of rare compassion in a brutalized wasteland, replies to Nux’s disappointment over his failure to enter the gates of Valhalla, saying, “I’d say it was your manifest destiny not to.” It is the compassion and mercy of this wife that brings the softening of Nux’s heart. What is seen is that this warrior is not beyond the reach of conversion, but merely a lost soul who has never experienced real love. The wife, in an act counterintuitive to Fury Road, does not return evil with evil, but instead overcomes evil with love.
In an overtly philosophical moment, while taking inventory of the weaponry, the women discuss the guns in an oddly sexual way. In contrast to the love and life associated with righteous sex, they refer to the guns in a phallic sense in which they shoot “antiseed.” Juxtaposed to the organ that shoots a seed of life, the gun is an organ that shoots seeds of death. “Plant one and watch the thing die,” one wife says. Later, while residing amongst the clan of mothers, this theme is revisited and the message is clarified. One of the mothers shows her collection of plant seeds from the green land. The mother explains that she plants the seeds when she finds soil that might be capable of supporting life. When people become seed planters, there becomes no need to kill because the harvest becomes abundant. Where the wives had an earlier discussion about bullets being seeds of death, here a message is communicated that scattering seeds of life brings healing and chokes out evil. Christ likewise taught that the sword brings death, but the gospel of the Kingdom is the seed of life. In the gospel of Matthew, the sower scatters seed such that a harvest of life would be abundant. This harvest is plentiful but the laborers are unfortunately few. With these two scenes director George Miller clearly argues that violence is not the way to flourishing, but that he who lives by the sword dies by the sword. Prosperity is instead found in planting seeds of life. When a person seeks the prosperity of those around her, amidst their prosperity she too shall prosper.
The road back to the citadel is fraught with strife, but even as the crew begins to suffer losses at the hands of the enemy their joy grows. The more each gives to the group mission of redemption, the more they truly begin to live. As they lose their lives they begin to find life. Progressively each loses the identifying marks of the past (the muzzle, engine grease, pasty grey skin tone), and each begins to show more outward signs of their inner glow. Their hardened expressions become warm smiles and their skin tones warm. By the end of the movie even the pasty grey war boy is beginning to look like a full-life.
In a high-throttled fury road battle chase back to the citadel, many of the crew lose their lives. Most notably, Nux stays behind to drive the rig as the others climb aboard the lead car. In the climax scene, Nux lovingly sacrifices his own life for the life of his friends, flipping the rig to effectively jam the pass and disallow the pursuing enemy to give chase. As he does this, the war boy locks eyes with the red-headed wife whose compassion overcame his evil, and he mouths the words, “Witness me.” In this moment, the fruit of his conversion blooms. His desire to die furiously for the false and murderous cause of Immortan Joe, is now transformed into a perfect peace in selfless sacrifice for the life of his friends. Having been severely wounded, Furiosa simultaneously lies lifeless, losing massive amounts of blood. In an impromptu blood transfusion, Max literally saves her by his blood. The sacrifice of Nux, and the universal blood bag’s transfusion, crudely combine to reflect the work of Jesus Christ. Jesus gave His life on the cross, and poured out His blood for many to provide salvation from enslavement to sin and eternal life in Him.
Arriving back at the citadel, in a moment reminiscent of Colossians 2:14, Max declares victory over evil and death, parading the dead body of Immortan Joe on the hood of his own truck. The rulers and authorities are disarmed and put to shame. The triumphant heroes are hoisted on a lift, ascended to the throne above, and the water stores are cut loose giving life back to the people. His work complete, Max returns to the place from whence he came.
At the conclusion of Mad Max, the captor, oppressor, and ambassador of death is defeated. The water of life rains down from above. The poor and oppressed are blessed, and the captives are set free. The ruling class is destroyed and put to shame. A new existence is established in which the dividing walls of the social caste system are pulverized. The resources are abundant and freely distributed, and humanity is restored to fullness of life by the affirmation of equal dignity for all.
Present in the midst of this high-throttle, heavy metal, shoot ‘em up is an unassuming post-fall redemption narrative laden with theological themes that portray collaborating savior types leading a chosen group in a good versus evil sojourn to redeem humanity by freeing the oppressed and bringing about a new world of flourishing. Some of these connections may seem less than obvious. The film’s director, however, affirms that his writing samples liberally from ancient “mythologies” and religious themes, and this suffices to say that these themes are worthy of investigation. While eschewing the inclusion of a director’s commentary, and having yet to be completely forthcoming with details about the film’s intended message, George Miller instructs, “The audience tell[s] you what your film is.”  The themes of false worship, idolatry, salvation, desert wandering, promised-land, salvation by blood, and pouring forth life-giving waters are uniformly prominent in the Bible. Given the director’s freedom to interpret the film’s meaning, I contend that Mad Max: Fury Road is a story of fall, exodus, sojourn, and redemption in a post-apocalyptic wasteland.
James Douglas, “For Mad Max’s George Miller, All Roads Lead to Myth and Music.” The Dissolve. May 15, 2015. Accessed April 1, 2016. https://thedissolve.com/features/exposition/1026-for-mad-maxs-george-miller-all-roads-lead-to-myth-/.
“‘Mad Max’ Director George Miller: The Audience Tells You ‘What Your Film Is'” NPR. February 8, 2016. Accessed April 01, 2016. http://www.npr.org/2016/02/08/465989808/mad-max-director-george-miller-the-audience-tells-you-what-your-film-is.
**I would like to add that this post is not an endorsement of the graphic content or unrighteous themes of the movie, Mad Max: Fury Road, nor is it an endorsement of the movie as a theological guide. Rather, this post is an attempt to shine the light of Biblical Truth amongst movie fans that might otherwise not hear the gospel and choose to remain in darkness, continuing to view this movie as a mere blood-fueled demolition derby across the desert.***
Chad W. Hussey is an average Jesus loving iconoclastic non-conformist neighborhood hope dealer – a husband, father, urban missionary, community group leader, Master of Divinity student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Community Life Intern at Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, KY.
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The Thousand Years
Revelation 20 Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit[a] and a great chain. 2 And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, 3 and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while.
4 Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. 5 The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.
Referring to the wildly speculative interpretations commentators have offered for the book of Revelation, G. K. Chesterton quipped, “Though St. John the Evangelist saw many strange monsters in his vision, he saw no creatures so wild as one of his commentators.”  Adding to Chesterton’s observations, “James Orr, lecturing at the end of the nineteenth century, observed that various areas of Christian doctrine had received special attention and development at different periods in the history of the church,” but suggested “the one remaining undeveloped topic of theology” which is the “peculiar interest of the modern age is eschatology.”  It appears that at no point in history has the church been more theologically enamored with eschatology (the study of the “last things”) than in recent years.
In recognition of the growing fascination of the day, this post will enter the eschatological discussion by focusing on the narrow topic of the millennial reign of Christ introduced in Revelation chapter 20. One of the most hotly debated topics in eschatology, several systems have been developed for interpreting the historical placement and theological significance of the millennium. This post will assess the four major views for interpreting Revelation 20:1-6 (dispensational premillennialism, historical premillennialism, postmillennialism, and amillennialism).
Underlying the divergent views of the millennium are the differing hermeneutical principles employed by the interpreters. Commentators primarily disagree on the approach to reading the book of Revelation in three main ways. The first point of difference occurs when determining how to read prophetic Scripture in light of history. Differing views of Scripture in light of history see prophecy as applying specifically to the past (predominantly prior to 70 A. D.), as applying to history through the ages, as applying specifically to the future, or as eclectically applying to general recurring patterns of all history past, present, and future. Interpreters further differ when deciding whether apocalyptic literature is to be read literally or symbolically. The symbolic approach sees Revelation as communicating information at three levels: a visionary level (what John actually saw), a symbolic level (what the items in John’s visions connote biblically beyond the specific historical reference), and a historical level (the particular historical identification).  Juxtaposed to this hermeneutical approach are those from the dispensational tradition, who, in an attempt to maintain a conservative orthodox reading of Scripture, demand that interpretations be strictly literal. This has led commentators to further disagree as to whether John’s visions are to be read literally, in a linear chronological sequence (as an “ordered and progressive unfolding”),  or as multiple related recapitulations that symbolically offer kaleidoscopic depictions of the same set of events.  The outcomes of the application of these underlying hermeneutical principles will be shown in the examinations of each system below.
Developed in England by John Nelson Darby, dispensational theology was popularized around the turn of the nineteenth century, and is arguably an instigating factor in the modern infatuation with eschatology. The first tenet of dispensationalism is the belief the Bible must be interpreted literally.  As a clear proponent of dispensational premillennialism, Herman A. Hoyt claims, “The literal method of approach to the teaching of the pre-millennial, dispensational doctrine of the kingdom is absolutely basic.”  John F. Walvoord says, “The pre-millennial interpretation offers the only literal fulfillment for the hundreds of verses of prophetic testimony.”  Taking seriously the concept of progressive revelation, dispensationalists see God as revealing more truth as time progresses, and therefore see the majority of the prophesies of Revelation as taking place in the future. This literal futuristic interpretation of Revelation 20 manifests as the millennium being “more than merely a thousand-year reign of Christ on the earth.” The dispensational millennium is “the restoration of national Israel to its favored place in God’s program and the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel.”  Being that dispensationalists (unlike non-dispensationalists) hold a strong distinction between God’s promises to ethnic Israel and to the church, in dispensationalism the millennium is the time when unfulfilled prophecies are clearly fulfilled and national Israel returns to prominence. Saucy explains,
The unity of the historical kingdom program, however, must be interpreted in such a way as to allow for the natural understanding of all the biblical prophecies. These promises portray a restoration of the nation of Israel to the promised land and a central position for that nation in the final period of the mediatorial kingdom. Contrary to non-dispensationalism, the term Israel is not finally applied to all God’s people irrespective of nationality.
Understanding this view depends on an appreciation of classical dispensationalism’s affirmation of “two coexisting eternal realms of salvation, one heavenly and one earthly.” Early dispensationalists drew on a “spiritual vision model of heaven as the final destiny for Christian believers . . . by postulating two coexisting forms of ultimate salvation – one eternal in heaven for the church and one everlasting on the new earth for Israel.” 
Chronologically, dispensational premillennialists see Revelation 20 occurring immediately after the seven year tribulation. Unmistakably inaugurated by Christ’s second coming, the millennium will be a literal one thousand year period in which Satan is bound (Rev 20:2-3) and Christ establishes His earthly reign from the throne of David. Dispensationalists interpret both resurrections in Revelation 20:4-6 as physical in nature. The first resurrection in verse four is limited to believers who will reign on earth with Christ during the millennium, and the second resurrection in verse 6 encompasses all non-believers who are resurrected after the millennium to face final judgment. Dispensationalism has the positive aspects of being thoroughly biblical, conservative, and consistent.
Like dispensational premillennialism, historical premillennialism sees Revelation chapter 20 as chronologically following chapter 19. In the premillennial view, following the great tribulation (which is not necessarily seven literal years), Christ ushers in the millennium by inaugurating a period of absolute peace and justice in which Satan will be bound and Christ will reign bodily on earth among men. The historical view sees the two resurrections of Revelation 20:4-6 similarly to dispensationalism. In the first resurrection believers will be physically resurrected to reign with Christ in the millennium, while non-believers will not be resurrected until final judgment – after the second resurrection at the end of the millennium. While sharing these similarities with dispensationalists, the historical premillennialists take a less literal approach to apocalyptic Scripture, seeing the literal hermeneutic as misunderstanding the deeper meaning of the texts. Historical premillennialism’s most notable modern proponent, George Eldon Ladd, exerted considerable effort in arguing against the dispensational reading saying, “The literal hermeneutic does not work. . . . Old Testament prophecies must be interpreted in the light of the New Testament to find their deeper meaning. . . . I do not see how it is possible to avoid the conclusion that the New Testament applies Old Testament prophecies to the New Testament church and in so doing identifies the church as spiritual Israel.”  Along with amillennialism and postmillennialism, historical premillennialism rejects the dispensational separation of Israel and the New Testament Church on the grounds that numerous passages such as Ephesians 2 and Galatians 3 make clear that Paul saw the Church comprised of Jew and Gentile as God’s new covenant people and heir to the promises made to national Israel. Ladd clarifies, “The fact is that the New Testament frequently interprets Old Testament prophecies in a way not suggested by the Old Testament context.”  Historical premillennialists therefore do not necessarily assert that the millennium is a literal one thousand years, nor do they interpret the millennium to be the fulfillment of a literal restoration of national Israel. Where dispensationalism “follows the futurist method of interpretation almost exclusively, historical premillennialism . . . combines the futurist and preterist views, holding that the book necessarily had a message for John’s own age and that it represents the consummation of redemptive history.”  Historical premillennialism has the benefit of the being the most natural and straightforward reading of the Bible, and aligns well with the collective New Testament mentions of resurrection, which seem to consistently refer to bodily resurrection.
Having fallen out of popularity following the great world wars of the twentieth century, postmillennialism (while not widely held today) has had significant influence at different times in the history of the church, and even “has at times been the dominant position.”  While postmillennialism shares many commonalities with the other positions, in the postmillennial view “the doctrine of the millennium is based not upon Revelation 20 but upon other portions of Scripture.”  For the postmillennialist, the millennium is symbolic in nature, and is qualitative rather than quantitative.  The most distinctive characteristics of postmillennialism are the view that the new creation began after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A. D., the kingdom of God is now being extended in the new earth by the preaching of the gospel, and the world is now being increasingly Christianized in anticipation of the return of Christ. Unique to postmillennialism is the optimistic outlook regarding the conditions leading up to Christ’s return. Where the other positions agree that conditions will worsen as the age draws to a close, postmillennialists believe that the world is becoming more Christianized, and therefore features of the kingdom of God (such as peace and justice) are increasing as Christ’s return draws closer. Unlike the premillennialist’s view of Christ’s future earthly kingdom, the postmillennial view sees the kingdom of God primarily existing as a present reality in the hearts of believers. The kingdom is not something to be introduced cataclysmically at a future time, but is already progressively under way.  “Postmillennialism expects the vast majority of the world’s population to convert to Christ as a consequence of the Spirit-blessed proclamation of the gospel. . . . Thus, the postmillennialist’s hope-filled expectation is rooted in creational reality.”  Further, as more people submit themselves to the Lord’s will, postmillennialism expects a long period of earthly peace termed the millennium.  This millennium is a golden age of spiritual prosperity during the present church age, which is not a literal one thousand years, and has no clear point of beginning but arrives by degrees.  At the end of the millennium there will occur an apostasy and an increase in evil, the millennium will end with the bodily return of Christ, at which point large numbers of Jews will be converted and enter the church, and Christ’s return will be immediately followed by the resurrection and judgment of all.  Postmillennialism, while not commonly affirmed today, does well to keep the Spirit of optimism and drive to carry out the Great Commission at its core.
While amillennialism agrees with postmillennialism that the millennium is not a literal thousand-year earthly reign following Christ’s return, amillennialism holds important distinctions from the postmillennial view. Anthony Hoekema helpfully clarifies that ‘amillennial’ is an unfortunate name for the position because the amillennialist does not assert that there is no millennium, but rather that the millennium described in Revelation 20:1-6 is a realized millennium.  Summarily communicating the essence of the amillennial position, Greg Beale states, “The millennium is inaugurated during the church age by God’s curtailment of Satan’s ability to deceive the nations and to annihilate the church and by the resurrection of believer’s souls to heaven to reign there with Christ.”  Unlike other positions, amillennialists interpret Revelation 20:4 “as describing the present reign of the souls of deceased believers with Christ in heaven,” and understand verses 1-3 as the binding of Satan “during the entire period between the first and second comings of Christ.”  Unlike the postmillennial position, amillennialism views the great tribulation, apostasy, and the Antichrist as future events, meaning that the amillennialist does not share the postmillennialist’s optimistic certainty of “a worldwide growth of righteousness that will extend to every area of society.”  Additionally, amillennialism agrees with the non-dispensational views that the millennium does not necessarily include the restoration of political Israel.
In agreement with other non-dispensationalists, amillennial scholar Greg Beale says, “Literal interpreters . . . too often neglect the visionary and symbolic levels of communication by collapsing them into the referential historical level.”  Expounding further the amillennial hermeneutic, Beale says the only hope for obtaining clarity is to interpret Revelation 20 “in the light of its immediate context, then in the light of the closest parallels elsewhere in the book, and finally in the light of other parallels in the NT and OT.”  Amillennial interpreters arrive at their understanding of the millennium by recognizing that Revelation is written in seven sections of parallel recapitulations, each symbolically offering nuanced kaleidoscopic views of the “church and the world from the time of Christ’s first coming to the time of his second.”  This system of interpretation is known as recapitulation theory or progressive parallelism.  Reading Revelation in such a way reveals that 20:7-10, 19:17-21, and 16:12-16 all recount the same battle. This insight, among others, reveals that “the events of 20:1-6 (the millennium) refer to events prior in time to the last battle (Armageddon) of 19:11-21, thus indicating that the millennium itself is to be identified with the church age.”  The premillennial position views 20:1-6 as immediately following 19:11-21 (in historical sequence) on the basis of the Greek word ‘kai’ (located at the beginning of 20:1) being taken to mean ‘and’ in the chronological sense. The ESV has taken the interpretive initiative to render the ‘kai’ in Revelation 20:1 as ‘then.’ Beale, however, argues that “often in Revelation ‘kai’ functions as a transitional word simply indicating another vision and not necessarily chronological sequence. . . . Only three out of thirty-five occurrences of ‘kai’ in 19:11-21 clearly indicate sequence in historical time,while the remainder serve as visionary linking devices.” 
Further helpful for recognizing the relation of the millennium to the present church age is to note that in Revelation 20:2-3 Satan is said to be seized and bound for a thousand years so that he might not deceive the ‘ethne’ until the thousand years are ended. ‘Ethne,’ in Revelation 20, is typically translated as ‘nations,’ but ‘ethne’ is more often translated as ‘gentiles’ throughout the New Testament. The amillennial understanding of Revelation 20 becomes clear if ‘ethne’ is rendered as ‘gentiles’ rather than ‘nations.’ Such a translation then reads that Satan is bound in the church age so that the gentiles (all of the non-Israeli inhabitants of earth) will no longer be deceived by Satan. Hoekema explains, ”In the Old Testament, . . . the people of Israel were the recipients of God’s special revelation, so that they knew God’s truth about themselves . . . and salvation,” but “the other nations of the world, did not know that truth. . . . These nations were deceived by Satan.”  This picture becomes clearer when Revelation 20:2-3 is held alongside the Great Commission (Matt 28:19) in which Christ commands His disciples to “Go therefore and make disciples of all the ‘ethne.’ Again, in this passage ‘ethne’ is typically translated as ‘nations,’ but again the reference is more specifically to ‘gentiles’ (all non-Israeli inhabitants of the earth). It is significant that Revelation 20:2 speaks to the binding of Satan because Jesus made a similar remark in Matthew 12:29. While speaking of His coming to save those held captive by Satan, Christ asked, “How can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods unless he first binds the strong man?” The same word – ‘deo’ – is used in both Revelation 20:2 and Matthew 12:29 to describe the binding of Satan. Hoekema again provides insight positing that “this does not imply that Satan can do no harm whatever while he is bound. It means only what John says here: While Satan is bound he cannot deceive the nations in such a way to keep them from learning the truth of God,” and “he cannot prevent the spread of the gospel. . . . It is precisely because the kingdom of God has come that the gospel can now be preached to all the gentiles (see Matt 13:24-30, 47-50).”  In similar fashion, Paul makes reference to the restraint of Satan’s attempts to deceive the world when he writes, “And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time” (2 Thess 2:6). In Revelation 20:3, John says the angel cast (‘ebalen’) Satan into the abyss. Similar to the binding of Satan in 20:2, Jesus speaks to the casting out of Satan in John 12:31-32 saying, “Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be cast out. But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to myself.” In this case, the verb translated ‘cast out’ is ‘ekballo,’ and is derived from the same root as the word ‘ebalen’ used to describe the casting out of Satan in Revelation 20:3.  It stands to reason that what is being communicated is that the work of Christ (in the inauguration of the kingdom of heaven on earth) has dealt Satan a heavy blow, binding and casting him out of the way, so that the gospel call of Jesus Christ can be made known to unbelieving gentiles the world over.
The Amillennial interpretation attempts to do more faithful exegesis of the New Testament (being more cognizant of the original Greek and less dependent on interpretations derived from modern English Bible translations). Amillennialism is canonically coherent, and can be seen to offer great encouragement to believers both to take the gospel to the non-believing nations, and to be confident that the kingdom will move forward even in the face of persecution.
When weighing the four views (and the hermeneutical principles employed by each against a canonical biblical theology) it appears that the two views that best align with the biblical metanarrative are historical premillennialism and amillennialism. Based on the exegesis of Revelation 20 (and its corresponding cross references) the amillennial view seems to provide the most satisfactory explanation of the available evidence. It remains, however, that eschatology is an open-handed issue which can be debated and disagreed upon, and should never be the basis for division of fellowship. It should be readily acknowledged that Scripture underdetermines the issue of the millennium, and it cannot be expected that all people will arrive at identical conclusions. The Christian is called to be charitable, and the millennium “is a [topic] where equally evangelical scholars who accept the Bible as the inspired Word of God should be able to disagree without the accusation ‘liberal,’  or heretic. The end of the matter is that we must always remember that all Scripture is given with the intent that Christ would be exalted; that non-believers would be brought to know Him; that believers would be encouraged to endure for the sake of being made like Him; and that, regardless of differing views of the millennium, believers would foremost remember that “the end is not an event but a person.” 
G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (New York: John Lane Co., 1908), 29.
Millard J. Erickson, A Basic Guide to Eschatology: Making Sense of the Millennium (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998), 11.
G. K. Beale with David H. Campbell, Revelation: A Shorter Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2015), 421.
Herman A. Hoyt, “Dispensational Premillennialism” in Robert G. Clouse (ed.) The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1977), 63.
G. B. Caird, The Revelation of St. John the Divine, Harper’s New Testament Commentaries (New York and Evanston: Harper & Row, 1966), 13.
Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today (Chicago: Moody Press, 1965), 86-89.
Hoyt, “Dispensational Premillennialism,” 67.
John F. Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom (Findlay, Ohio: Dunham, 1959), 114.
Erickson, A Basic Guide to Eschatology, 119.
Robert L. Saucy, The Case for Progressive Dispensationalism: The Interface Between Dispensational & Non-Dispensational Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 1993), 28-29.
Craig A. Blaising, “Premillennialism” in Stanley N. Gundry and Darrell L. Bock (ed.) Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 1999), 182-183.
George Eldon Ladd, “Historic Premillennialism” in Robert G. Clouse (ed.) The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1977), 23.
Loraine Boettner, The Millennium (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 1991), 28.
James H. Snowden, The Coming of the Lord: Will it be Premillennial? (New York: MacMillan, 1919), 64-66.
Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., “Postmillennialism” in Stanley N. Gundry and Darrell L. Bock (ed.) Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 1999), 22-23.
Snowden, The Coming of the Lord, 257-63.
Boettner, The Millennium, 14.
Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology (New York: Scribner, Armstrong, & Co., 1873), 3:792-800, 832.
J. E. Adams, The Time is at Hand, (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1970), 7-11.
 Beale, Revelation, 420.
Anthony Hoekema, The Bible and the Future (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1979), 174.
W. J. Grier, “Christian Hope and the Millennium” (Christianity Today: October 13, 1958), 19.
Beale, Revelation, 421.
Anthony A. Hoekema, “Amillennialism” in Robert G. Clouse (ed.) The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1977), 156-157.
William Hendriksen, More than Conquerors (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1939), 11-64.
Beale, Revelation, 422-423.
Hoekema, “Amillennialism,” 161.
Ladd, “Historic Premillennialism,” 20.
G. B. Caird, The Revelation of St. John the Divine, Harper’s New Testament Commentaries (New York and Evanston: Harper & Row, 1966), 13.
*Embedded eschatological timelines are not original works of my own, but have been selected based on their being the best available representations of the points this paper stresses.
Chad W. Hussey is an average Jesus loving iconoclastic non-conformist neighborhood hope dealer – a husband, father, urban missionary, community group leader, Master of Divinity student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Community Life Intern at Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, KY.
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This is the first post in a series of discussions on what I perceive to be the the most confusing passages in Scripture. I will post an abridged version of the passage. Then l will link an example of an interpretation I believe to be misguided, and then offer my interpretation in response in an attempt to accurately unpack the Scripture’s intent.
A Levite and His Concubine
In those days, when there was no king in Israel, a certain Levite was sojourning in the remote parts of the hill country of Ephraim, who took to himself a concubine from Bethlehem in Judah. 2 And his concubine was unfaithful to him, and she went away from him to her father’s house at Bethlehem in Judah, and was there some four months. 3 Then her husband arose and went after her, to speak kindly to her and bring her back. . . . when the girl’s father saw him, he came with joy to meet him. 4 And his father-in-law, the girl’s father, made him stay . . . 10 He rose up and departed and arrived opposite [Jerusalem]. . . . [He said,] “We will not turn aside into the city of foreigners, who do not belong to the people of Israel, but we will pass on to Gibeah.” . . .15 And he went in and sat down in the open square of the city, for no one took them into his house to spend the night.
16 And behold, an old man . . .was sojourning in Gibeah. . . . 17 And he lifted up his eyes and saw the traveler in the open square of the city. And the old man said, “Where are you going? And where do you come from?”18 And he said to him, “We are passing from Bethlehem in Judah to the remote parts of the hill country of Ephraim, from which I come. I went to Bethlehem in Judah, and I am going to the house of the Lord, but no one has taken me into his house. . . . 20 And the old man said, “Peace be to you; I will care for all your wants. Only, do not spend the night in the square.” . . .22 As they were making their hearts merry, behold, the men of the city, worthless fellows, surrounded the house, beating on the door. And they said to the old man, the master of the house, “Bring out the man who came into your house, that we may know him.” 23 And the man, the master of the house, went out to them and said to them, “No, my brothers, do not act so wickedly; since this man has come into my house, do not do this vile thing. . . . 25 But the men would not listen to him. So the man seized his concubine and made her go out to them. And they knew her and abused her all night until the morning. And as the dawn began to break, they let her go. 26 And as morning appeared, the woman came and fell down at the door of the man’s house where her master was, until it was light.
27 And her master rose up in the morning, and when he opened the doors of the house and went out to go on his way, behold, there was his concubine lying at the door of the house, . . .28 and the man rose up and went away to his home. 29 And when he entered his house, he took a knife, and taking hold of his concubine he divided her, limb by limb, into twelve pieces, and sent her throughout all the territory of Israel. 30 And all who saw it said, “Such a thing has never happened or been seen from the day that the people of Israel came up out of the land of Egypt until this day;consider it, take counsel, and speak.”
Here is a link to a self-proclaimed feminist interpretation whose thesis is “conflict between males is solved by the sacrifice of females,” which I believe misrepresents the significance of the events. Here is another, whose thesis is “when men are wicked, women suffer” that doesn’t truly get to the heart of the text. (***NOTE: I am not insensitive to the concerns of these authors, but I find their interpretations fall short of pointing all glory to Christ, and extending the greater hope and healing that is found only in Him.***)
In the days of the Judges great wickedness persisted because moral relativism (“everyone did what was right in their own eyes”) prevailed, and “the people had no king to lead them.” Unlike the interpretation linked above, in the story of the Levite and his concubine, it becomes evident that the Levite is not the evil antagonist, but a righteous man. The Levite shows himself merciful and patient toward his unfaithful covenant partner. The author of Judges communicates that the Levite is long-suffering and slow to anger in waiting 4 months for the woman to return. When she does not return he sets out to allure her home. Under Torah Law the punishment for the concubine’s unfaithfulness is death, but in love and mercy the Levite sets out to speak lovingly to her and implore her to return. Further, the Levite is proven noble in that he is looked upon, not with disdain but with respect, by the woman’s father. In ancient Israelite society, a concubine was not necessarily a sex slave, but a woman from a lower social class who enters into a covenant relationship for the promise of provision and a better life. While concubines did not have the same status as wives, they were to be well treated (Exodus 21:7-10), provided for as family, and this particular Levite is specifically designated as this concubine’s “husband” (Judges 19:3, 20:4). This woman’s father is referred to as the man’s “father-in-law” (Judges 19:9).
The concubine is not the protagonist of the story, but the perpetrator of offense who’s unfaithfulness has led the Levite into this dilemma. Having been convinced to return home with the Levite, the concubine and her partner begin traveling back to their home in Ephraim. However, because the woman’s father has delayed them they are forced to lodge in Gibeah. Gibeah is a city of fellow Israelites, and the Levite shows himself further righteous by rejecting the easier option of stopping short of Gibeah, but instead chooses to honor the Law’s command that he not take the company of the Gentiles. The couple instead presses on to a city of fellow Israelites who, as God’s people, are expected to take care of them. Rather than graciously host the Levite and his concubine, these Israelites of Gilbeah demand to have sex with the Levite, and ultimately take the concubine and rape and kill her. It is the concubine’s rebellion against her covenant caretaker (and distant venturing from the couple’s home) that has landed the two of them in this wicked place. It is by the concubine’s sin that she finds herself in the horrific circumstances in which she pays the horrible consequence of her unfaithfulness. While the Levite is a righteous man, he will not go out to endure the consequence of the unfaithful concubine’s action. It is not for the faithful Levite to suffer in the place of the unfaithful concubine. The Levite is not to be her Savior. In this case, the righteous does not die in the place of the unrighteous.
In anguish and disgust with the wickedness of the men of Gilbeah, the Levite divides the dead concubine into twelve pieces and sends them to the twelve tribes of Israel so that his anger, grief, and disgust will be known throughout the entire land. The author’s intent is to communicate the vileness and lawlessness of the Israelites in this time, and their desperate need for the direction of a king. Further, like the Levite’s rebellious partner, all men (you and I) have been unfaithful to our Covenant Creator in heaven. While rape is horrific and condemnable, and everyone should be disturbed and angered by the horrible fate of the concubine,the story is not recorded to detail the mistreatment of women in patriarchal societies, or to detail the brokenness of the Levite. The events are recorded to depict the atrocious depth of the consequences of breaking a covenant, and to demonstrate that no ordinary man can die in the place of the covenant breaker. Genesis 15:10 and 17 demonstrate the ancient practice of making covenants by dividing an animal. Then both parties passed between the severed carcass. This symbolized the seriousness of their intentions in that the divided carcasses represented what would happen to them if they were not faithful to their oath. This is symbolized in the fate of the concubine.
Fortunately as Christ followers, we are not a people without a king; we have a King and his name is Jesus. He has shown us the Way, and has shown us what is right. We have not been left to fend for ourselves, each doing whatever is right in our own eyes. Jesus, like the Levite, has sought out His bride (the Church), implored us to return, and forgiven us. Where the Levite failed to die for his unfaithful partner, Jesus did step outside the camp to brutally suffer in our place. Christ, the fully righteous Son of God, stepped out in our stead to take the punishment that we deserved; to suffer once, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring us back to God. This concubine does not represent women who suffer at the hands of men, but she represents all mankind rebelling against God in a fallen world. We are the concubine (the covenant partner of poor estate and lower standing), welcomed into the provision of God, loved as family, but rebelling against our Covenant Creator, and running back to our former life. We must cease the unfaithfulness and rebellion and return home to our righteous and loving Caretaker. He is merciful and faithful to forgive, and He is calling us to turn from our folly, to leave the land of the wicked (which places us in peril and holds our destruction), and to return home with Him. He has already died at the hands of vile lawless men so that (if we will stand under His protection) we will not have to suffer the fate of the covenant breaker.
If you enjoyed this discussion of difficult Scripture, you might also enjoy my other post about the Top 5 Most Misquoted, Misused, and Misunderstood Bible Verses.
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***SPOILER ALERT – This is a film analysis examining the spiritual implications of events in the movie and will give away the conclusion.***
Bernie, a 2011 black comedy crime drama, is a spin on documentary reenactment that centers on a middle-aged town hero (Jack Black), and his relationship with his popularly loathed companion, the widowed senior Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine). A vast divergence from his typical performances, Black earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best Leading Actor for his portrayal of Bernie Tiede, after whom the film is named. Bernie strikes a shockingly brilliant balance between director Richard Linklater’s consistent socio-philosophical depth and Black’s humorous musical whimsy. The opening lines of the movie, which read, “What you’re fixin’ to see is real,”  are as ironic as humorous in their overt tip of the cap to the story’s East Texas setting. The movie is indeed based on a true story, a screenplay adaptation from a 1999 Texas Monthly article titled “Midnight in the Garden of East Texas” by Skip Hollandsworth.  The story’s subject matter, however, is so odd that it demands investigation to be believed. The film is edited in such a way that documentary style interviews (given by nearly sixty authentic townspeople) are woven between scripted elements, allowing the story to unfold to the narration of a Greek chorus of town gossips. This narration, by the authentic witnesses of the real-life events, allows the audience to watch the story unfold from the unique perspective of those who were intimately involved in the events that took place in Carthage, Texas in 1996.
The film’s main character is an assistant funeral director who exudes Christian virtue in generosity, love, and kindness for others. He pours himself out in his neighbors’ service not merely in their lifetimes, but takes extraordinary care of them, and their families, even after their passing. The audience is told that Bernie was a “very charismatic man, a loving person, and he had the ability to make the world seem kind.” Bernie “just made you feel real good about yourself.” Scenes are shown in which Bernie comforts the surviving as they mourn the loss of loved ones, and he is shown leading worship as the music director of the local congregation. Bernie is a man who leads hymns, preaches, takes the Little League team for ice cream, and assists friends in filing their income taxes. All knowledge the audience gains of Bernie is constructed by authentic accounts of his public image, and Bernie’s private actions and thought-life are left unexamined in respect for the real Bernie Tiede. This effectively places the audience behind the eyes of the citizens of Carthage. By all public accounts Bernie seems to carry himself as a man who (in love for Christ and genuine care for others) gives himself away sacrificially. An interviewee asserts, “He was about the most popular man in Carthage,” and another says that “if the people of Carthage were to make a list of those people that they thought would get to heaven . . . Bernie would be right at the top of the list.”
In stark contrast, the film introduces Bernie’s counterpart and companion, the recently widowed senior wife of a Texas oil tycoon, Mrs. Marjorie Nugent. She is said to have been “a mean, old, hateful [expletive].” By every account she is portrayed as contemptible, despised not merely by the collective townspeople, but also by her own family. One woman summarizes the town’s dismissive disdain of Mrs. Nugent saying, “There are people in town . . . that would have shot her for five dollars.” Mrs. Nugent first becomes a focus of Bernie’s attention when he begins visiting her (as he did many other widows) to comfort her after the loss of her husband. Bernie quickly becomes Mrs. Nugent’s only friend, bringing her back into fellowship at the church and travelling the world with her, and their budding friendship grows into an inseparable and toxically co-dependent pairing. The question of romance is dismissed by the town’s majority perception that Bernie is a celibate homosexual. With Bernie’s jovial influence Mrs. Nugent’s demeanor and attitude begin improving, and the two appear to be flourishing together. During this same time, Mrs. Nugent adds Bernie to her bank accounts, makes him sole heir of her will, and grants him power of attorney over her estate. These events set in motion a crescendo that builds into the “event of the season in Carthage.”
*The following video contains obscene language not suitable for all viewers.
Cut ahead two years, and the honeymoon phase of the relationship has clearly passed. The dynamic of Bernie Tiede and Marjorie Nugent’s relationship has shifted drastically. Marjorie is now depicted as having taken ownership of Bernie, manipulating him into a glorified servant. Mrs. Nugent has returned to her former contemptibility, and Bernie has become a personal whipping boy. Bernie waits on Mrs. Nugent hand and foot while enduring her constant denigration and possible psychological abuse. “She was demanding, condescending, or even conniving; and she had intentionally put him in a dependent position. She was jealous of his time, envious of his community status, and overly generous to him so as to make him stick around.” This unhealthy relationship dynamic climaxes in a scene in which Mrs. Nugent throws a temper tantrum likened to that of a three year-old child, during which she locks the electronic driveway gate so that Bernie cannot leave the property in his car. As the bars close, the visual depiction of Bernie’s imprisonment tangibly illustrates his fully grown despair. “Basically it was like Bernie had become her property.”
*The following video contains obscene language not suitable for all viewers.
In Mrs. Nugent’s final denial of Bernie’s dignity, she very unsympathetically declines to attend an important dress rehearsal for a play in which he is cast. This becomes the last straw for Bernie, who seems to have come to the end of his psychological rope. Thus, the stage is set for the town hero to become the story’s very unusual antihero.
In the next scene, Bernie shoots the 81 year-old woman four times in the back with a .22 caliber armadillo rifle. He then proceeds to store Mrs. Nugent’s body in her deep freeze to preserve it for “a proper burial.” The next time Bernie appears he is cast in an eerie celebration of his new found freedom. Bernie is shown, head thrown back, legs kicking up and down as he sings and dances a musical number for the local play. Here, in one of the director’s only veiled attempts to cast questions on Bernie’s motives, Linklater shows Bernie performing “Seventy-Six Trombones” as Harold Hill in the Music Man. This is more than slightly significant, as Music Man’s main character is a gifted con-man who rolls in from out of town, and through much false presentation, charm, and manipulation comes to compel the personal investment of the town’s people. When he is exposed as a fraud, Hill is saved only by the towns’ markedly skewed perception of the hope and transformation he has brought to the town. It is necessary at this point to question just how much similarity Bernie Tiede holds to Harold Hill.
For the next nine months, the disappearance of Marjorie Nugent draws little concern as Bernie tells those concerned that she has moved into a nursing home. “The only person looking for her was her stockbroker.” During those nine months Bernie went on to disperse Mrs. Nugent’s wealth throughout the town, sewing into everything form local businesses, students’ tuition, children’s playground equipment, and the church building campaign. While Bernie had given a ridiculous amount of Mrs. Nugent’s fortune away, the film gives no indication that he had spent it on himself. Whether these were purely acts of generosity, attempts at penance, or efforts to buy the peoples’ favor, Bernie’s motives are left to the viewers’ interpretation. Eventually, Mrs. Nugent’s stockbroker, who was not getting his regular commissions on her trades, stirs up the family and local authorities and a search ensues. Upon the discovery of Marjorie Nugent’s body, Bernie makes a full confession.
The town of Carthage’s unexpected response is where the plot gets interesting. “From the day that deep freeze was opened, you haven’t been able to find anyone in town saying, ‘Poor Mrs. Nugent,’” said city councilman Olin Joffrion, a respected Carthage insurance agent. People here are saying, ‘Poor Bernie.’”  In a reaction too bizarre for fiction, the people of the town unanimously side with the killer. Some could not believe he had it in him to kill a person. Others flatly refused to believe, even given the evidence. Summarizing the way in which the town processed the news, one man says, “I don’t claim to know what Bernie did or did not do. I figure that’s between him and God Almighty. And the way I figure it, that’s where it should stay.” In the weeks following, it becomes abundantly evident that, despite his confession, there is not a potential juror in town willing to convict Bernie of his crime. By the movie’s account, this was a first. “Trials are generally moved when the defendant can’t get a fair trial locally,” Bernie’s defendant says. “Now that’s usually because the crime is so egregious, and so well known, that everybody in the community has already convicted the . . . accused. But in all the years I’ve been doing this for a living I have never heard of the state seeking a change of venue because the defendant was so well liked that they couldn’t get a conviction.”
Enter District Attorney Danny Buck (Matthew McConaughey). Knowing he cannot get a conviction in Carthage, Buck convinces the state to move the trial 47.7 miles down the road from Carthage to San Augustine County, the “Squirrel hunting capital of the world.” A Carthage resident explains that the jury would now be comprised of a bunch of “cousin counting rednecks,” with “more tattoos than teeth . . . without a brain in the whole dozen of them.” Buck, the multiple term District Attorney, upholder of justice, and defender of order, becomes the town villain.
At the trial of Bernie Tiede, Linklater’s audience now becomes unquestionably aware that Bernie is recapitulating a crime story riddled with philosophical questions and social implications. To this point Bernie has been portrayed (through the eyewitness accounts of Carthaginians) in a unified positive light. Playing on the emotions of the “cousin counting rednecks,” Danny Buck brings before the San Augustine jury the deep freeze, pictures of the dead Mrs. Nugent, and her crying relatives. Buck proceeds to forge an image of Bernie as a first-class-flying, uppity snob, who used Mrs. Nugent as the means to fund his expensive tastes. Bernie was a Ritz Carlton living, Les Miserables watching, fancy word using, white wine drinking lover of extravagance. Bernie was “a liar, a coward, and a back shooter,” who shot a little old lady in the back . . . four times. Buck depicts Bernie as an inhuman, evil, con artist . . . a monster. Danny Buck had created two different worlds and painted Bernie as being of a world to which members of the jury could not relate. Bernie becomes dehumanized. Given this perspective, the jury unanimously convicts Bernie of capital murder, and sentences him to life with parole in 50 years (a conviction and sentencing typically reserved for premeditated and other more egregious acts than that which Bernie committed).
Where in Carthage, “Bernie became the town’s Robin Hood” (a character in a historic story that holds its own set of debatable ethical implications), Danny Buck convinced the people of San Augustine that Bernie was not an angel, but instead an “angel of death.” What the film captures is one group of people, with a specific set of influences, who cannot bring themselves to the exercise of reasonable justice. Another group of people, given a different set of influences, issues a sentence that unjustly exceeds the circumstances of the case. Where the truth of the matter, and appropriate justice, likely falls somewhere between the two positions, both groups exhibit grossly perverted judgments (which are heavily influenced by their specific experiences) and show themselves incapable of mustering objective responses. The reality is that there is an objective truth to be known. Relative “truth” is a crime in itself, and this crime has victims of its own. Many people suffer from the inability of others to see truth, and likewise when others take as dogma that which is false.
In the end, Bernie is a film that poses more questions than it answers. “If anything it is a film about the selective application of moral judgement based on personal prejudices. Even as the film ends it is difficult to say if it’s a story about an entire community that was deceived or if it is a story about a remarkable individual who paid dearly for his kindness through one deadly, momentary lapse in reason.”  What is more broadly evident, however, is that Bernie is a microcosmic demonstration of the way in which societies’ worldviews drastically shape their interpretations, ethics, judgments, and their subsequent outcomes. Bernie raises questions about the way in which social context, personal relationships, and emotions impact the way in which people rightly or wrongly interpret reality. This movie is a commentary on life hermeneutics, the method (or unconscious lack thereof) by which people interpret the events of the piece of history in which they live. Further, people without a firm grasp on truth and morality are prepared to excuse blatant wrongdoing, or to condemn right-doing, based on grounds that lack any coherence with truth. This film illustrates that without objectivity, the “truth” becomes whatever people say it is. This translates into people being what others say they are, and justice being what the collective says it is. Like Bernie, the truth is silenced, sentenced, and ruled upon; branded anew by perverted perspectives.
This inability to escape the influence of circumstances has innumerable applications. A person cannot interpret anything apart from accessing his worldview in order to formulate his construct of reality, and his worldview is formed by the influences and circumstances of his life experience. Beyond the failure of justice demonstrated in the case of Bernie Tiede, this issue has direct application to the way in which people make moral decisions. A person’s individual bias and conditioning has a very significant impact on the way in which he interprets the Bible as well as other literature. In some way, these biases inform the way in which people interact with every thought. The ultimate question becomes, “Is it possible to set aside bias in order to interpret information in such a way as to essentially get to the truth, despite bias always remaining technically present? Or are people always inevitably predisposed to perverted interpretations?” Will there be no ability to attain perfect truth or perfect justice this side of eternity? For the Christian, perfect truth is found in Christ and His Word, and the Christian’s desire is to have his mind transformed by the Word’s renewing power. The Christian’s hope is in Christ’s promise that “if you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” The Christian’s hope is for the renewing of our minds that we might be able to see more clearly what is right and good. The only answer that Bernie offers is that knowing what is right and good certainly won’t be the case for those who make interpretations and judgments according to the status quo. An uninformed foundation, uncritical analysis, and lack of diligence in the pursuit of truth results in real victims and drastic consequences.
All quotes are taken from the film unless otherwise noted.
Skip Hollandsworth. “Midnight in the Garden of East Texas,” Texas Monthly (January 1998).
Brody, Richard. “Bernie in the Heart of Texas,” The New Yorker (April 26, 2012).
***I would like to add that this post is not an endorsement of the obscene language or unrighteous themes of the movie, Bernie, nor is it an endorsement of the movie as a moral guide. Rather, this post is an attempt to shine the light of Biblical Truth among movie fans that might otherwise not hear the hope and truth of the Christian worldview.***
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Just as the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil (1 Tim 6:10), the tongue is a world of evil capable of enflaming a forest (Jas 3:6), and over-eating is a sin that calls for a slashing of one’s throat (Pros 23:2); alcohol consumption can also be grievous sin. Held in the context of the canon, however, none of the aforementioned infers that Christians are to abstain from earning money, speaking, eating, or even drinking alcohol. In some circles in the modern American church the concern over alcohol consumption has been elevated to a level of dogma, going so far as to become a denominational distinctive by which certain groups are identified. This article will make an investigation of the following questions: What does the Bible say about drinking alcohol? What is the church’s historical view toward alcohol? How did we get to this point? And, How should we move forward? By thoroughly laying out the views of prominent historical Christian leaders, this article will seek to offer a thoughtful assessment of the historical theological positions the church has demonstrated towards the consumption of alcohol. To support this endeavor, this article will examine the views of the biblical authors, the early church fathers, the medieval Catholic Church, the Reformers, early American Christians, nineteenth and twentieth century Protestants, and the views present among church leaders today.
In making a thorough perusal of the biblical authors’ mentions of alcohol it is clear there is neither an unbridled exhortation to indulge, nor is there an express condemnation of the simple act of drinking alcohol as sin. The biblical authors offer a balanced view towards alcohol calling it both a “gift,” and a “mocker.” On one hand, King David, a man after God’s own heart, extols praise for God’s providence in causing “the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man” (Psalms 104:14). Conversely David’s son, Solomon, a man of incredible wisdom, writes, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise” (Prov 20:1). In the New Testament, the Apostle John tells readers of Jesus’ first miracle, an event coming at a wedding reception in Cana, in which the party had run dry and left the hosts in need of wine. John makes clear that the guests of the wedding party had already been consuming wine when he clarifies that when the wine was gone Jesus’ mother expressed concern for the dignity of the hosts (John 2:3). Jesus’ response to the hosts’ need was as follows:
Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now (John 2:6-10).
John here demonstrated that Jesus, without sinning and without being a stumbling in encouraging the sin of others, offered the providence of between 120 and 180 gallons of wine for the purposes of preserving the dignity of the wedding hosts and extending the duration of the celebration. Responding to the Pharisees specific concerns regarding His interaction with alcohol Jesus said the following, “John the Baptist has come [. . .] drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man has come [. . .] drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A [. . .] drunkard, a friend of [. . .] sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by all her children” (Luke 7:33-35). Later, the Apostle Paul exhorts the early church, “Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery (Ephesians 5:18),” but later exhorts his ailing young cohort, the church leader Timothy, “No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments” (1 Tim 5:23). In addressing the views of the early church toward wine, I. W. Raymond offers the following insightful summation:
[The] favorable view [of wine in the Bible] is balanced by an unfavorable estimate. The reason for the presence of these two conflicting opinions on the nature of wine [is that the] consequences of wine drinking follow its use and not its nature. Happy results ensue when it is drunk in its proper measure and evil results when it is drunk to excess. The nature of wine is indifferent. 
The nature of the biblical authors’ amoral view towards alcohol itself, consideration of alcohol as both a blessing and a potential danger, and their explicit condemnation of drunkenness have left room for much debate in later generations as to the wisdom of alcohol’s consumption.
In the early years of the church, during the time of the Apostolic Fathers, there is little information offered regarding views toward the proper treatment of alcohol in the Christian life. In the oldest surviving written Christian catechism, The Didache, there is a brief mention that anyone partaking in wine should offer the first fruits to the prophets among them (Didache 13:6).
In his writing, The Instructor, in a chapter titled “On Drinking,” the church father Clement of Alexandria stated that “the soul is wisest and best when dry.” Clement goes on to state that taking a little wine for enjoyment after the day’s work is complete is considered acceptable so long as a person is not tempted by drunkenness. Clement exhorts Christians, to “be not eager to burst by draining [drink] down with gaping throat,” but drink with proper “decorum, by taking the beverage in small portions, in an orderly way.” Still Clement insists caution, “for wine has overcome many.”  While the church historian Eusebius indicates that the popular early church father Origen did not personally imbibe, there are no specific writings to indicate he forbade drinking among the laity. 
By the late fourth century AD there begins to arise a more clear recording of the direction given by church fathers’ views toward engagement with wine and the folly of drunkenness. Augustine, who had been reformed from a life wrought with indulgences, championed the cardinal virtue of temperance. Within this movement of virtue, drunkenness was viewed as a form of gluttony, and self-denial and temperance was instructed. Augustine clarifies his overall view toward the drinking of alcohol when he states, “The drunkard is not always drunk, and a man may be drunk one occasion without being a drunkard. However, in the case of a righteous man, we require to account for even one instance of drunkenness.”  It stands to reason that Augustine’s concern was primarily with over indulgence, but said over indulgence must never transpire. At the same time, John Chrysostom was teaching that those who would say wine should be prohibited were immature Christians bordering on heresy. John Chrysostom pleaded with believers that they not be drunk for, “wine is the work of God, but drunkenness is the work of the devil.” Chrysostom argued, “Wine makes not drunkenness; but intemperance produces it. Do not accuse that which is the workmanship of God, but accuse the madness of a fellow mortal.” 
The middle ages witnessed a great transition in the history of alcohol production and consumption from wine to beer. This change was heavily influenced by the church. As early as the eighth and ninth century A. D. the lack of potable water and generally unsanitary conditions in the post Roman world led homes to produce ale for common consumption. Unlike wine, which could only be produced when grapes were in season, ale was brewed year round and proved a suitable remedy for the needs of the time. Monasteries in this time discovered they could perform a public service by mastering the brewing of beer, and using the proceeds to fund church works and charity. As monks developed the palate for beer, the drink became common place amongst clergy, and monks began receiving a daily allotment of beer for the use of nourishment during times of fasting. 
In the thirteenth century AD the Dominican friar Thomas Aquinas, in his Summa Theologica, expresses his beliefs toward Christians’ engagement with alcohol:
A man may have wisdom in two ways. First, in a general way, according as it is sufficient for salvation: and in this way is required, in order to have wisdom, not that man abstain altogether from wine, but that he abstain from its immoderate use. Secondly, a man may have wisdom in some degree of perfection: and in this way, in order to receive wisdom perfectly, it is requisite for certain persons that they abstain altogether from wine, and this depends on circumstances of certain persons and places. 
Thomas Aquinas was not the only medieval theologian to speak in regards to alcohol, however, and not all orders of monks saw fit to follow in the practice of producing ale. Giovanni Ptolomei founded a movement of aggressively ascetic monks called the Olivetans. The Olivetans were bent on monastic reform and engaged in extreme ascetic practices such as severe public corporal mortification. The Olivetans rejected any concessions of wine, uprooted their vineyards, and destroyed their wine presses. The radical practices of the Olivetans were however short-lived, and the group soon softened its stance toward total abstinence from alcohol, and drew closer to the general view of the day. 
The Protestant Reformers, beginning with Martin Luther, were universally tolerant of the drinking of alcohol. Erasmus of Rotterdam, who was external to the Protestant Reformation, attested to the general truth of the Protestant churches’ affinity for alcohol when, being rebuked for drinking on a day of Catholic fasting – on which Catholics would temporarily abstain – Erasmus said, “My heart is Catholic, but my stomach is Protestant.”  The traditional view of alcohol among the Protestant Reformers was fairly favorable. Martin Luther said he, “drank freely to spite the devil.”  The great Reformed theologian John Calvin, shared Martin Luther’s sentiments. Calvin wrote in his famous Institutes of the Christian Religion that, “It is permissible to use wine not only for necessity, but to make us merry,” and that, “in making merry,” those who enjoy wine “feel a livelier gratitude to God.”  Calvin further taught that, “By wine the hearts of men are gladdened, their strength recruited, and the whole man strengthened, so by the blood of our Lord the same benefits are received by our souls.”  Uniquely, Luther was so insistent that real wine be used in the Lord’s Supper that he wrote, “If a person cannot tolerate wine, omit [the sacrament] altogether in order that no innovation may be made or introduced.” 
The favorable view of alcohol among reformation theologians was not exclusive to Calvin and Luther, but was also shared by reformation heavy-weights John Knox and Ulrich Zwingli. Knox spoke of drinking wine as a daily occurrence, akin to eating bread, and beholding the sun.  Zwingli so strongly favored his wine that he used the aversion to “good wine” as a parabolic depiction of ones inability to enjoy the Bible. 
When the earliest Christians made their way to the shores of North America, they recorded that they themselves had not made their travels empty handed. The Puritan Reverend Francis Higginson recorded that upon making the voyage across the Atlantic in 1629, for the purposes of acclimatizing himself as comfortably as possible to his new surroundings, he imported cargo of five tuns (1200 gallons) of beer and 20 gallons of brandy.  For all their rigidity and proper reverence, the Puritans were similarly quite comfortable in enjoying alcohol. Puritan Minister Cotton Mather, speaking to the operator of an ale house, wrote, “It is an honest and a lawful … employment that you have undertaken: you may glorify God in your employment, if you will, and benefit the town considerably.”  While the Puritans are famed for their strict piety, abstinence from alcohol did not prevail among their practices.
“In the mid-19th [sic] century, some Protestant Christians moved from [the] historic position of allowing moderate use of alcohol (sometimes called moderationism) to either deciding that not imbibing was wisest in the present circumstances (abstentionism) or prohibiting all ordinary consumption of alcohol because it was believed to be a sin (prohibitionism).”  Quite interestingly, the turn from a favorable view of alcohol began among the Methodist movement, and there was not complete agreement even among the founding members of Methodism: the Wesley brothers. Famed hymn writer Charles Wesley was known to drink ale.  His legendary brother, the evangelist John Wesley, however, preached strongly against even the slightest temptation to partake in any alcohol. John Wesley said, “You see the wine when it sparkles in the cup, and are going to drink of it. I tell you there is poison in it! And, therefore, I beg you to throw it away.” Wesley went on to command that his followers should “taste no spirituous liquor . . . unless prescribed by a physician.”  In 1780, at a Methodist Conference in Baltimore, the Methodists denominationally vowed to oppose the production of liquor, thus setting into motion the beginnings of an American temperance movement. As a general sense of prohibitionism arose, nearly every Protestant leader in the United States came to a position that the wisest choice under modern circumstances was for the Christian to willingly practice total abstinence from alcohol. As the abstinence movement grew, alcohol of any kind began to become demonized, and thus it became seen as improper to administer wine even in the Lord’s Supper. In 1869, ordained Methodist minister Thomas Bramwell Welch, developed a process for pasteurizing grape juice, preventing the fermentation of the juice, and thus, Welch’s Grape Juice was born. Welch’s Grape Juice became for many, the appropriate symbol of the blood of Christ.
So impactful was the temperance movement that the Women’s Christian Temperance Union was formed, and by 1919 succeeded in bringing about the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution which formally prohibited alcohol in America. While the Eighteenth Amendment was repealed only fourteen years later, the Protestant-American view of abstention from alcohol remained.
The views toward alcohol among the church today are a matter of heated debate and division. Among Evangelicals there exists three main views toward alcohol: prohibitionism, abstentionism, and moderationism. The moderationist view argues that it is within the Christian’s biblical freedom to enjoy alcohol responsibly as a good gift of God. Moderation holds that while drunkenness is unquestionably sin, moderate drinking is not. Moderationists believe self-control and not abstinence is the biblical mandate. Among evangelicals, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Reformed churches, and members of the Young, Restless, and Reformed movement are adherents to moderationism. Evangelical leaders holding the moderationist position are notably: Reformation Bible College President, Dr. R. C. Sproul; famed theologian J. I. Packer; and Acts 29 President Matt Chandler.
Both prohibitionists and abstentionists are teetotalers. A teetotaler is one who does not partake in the consumption of alcohol under any circumstances. The main distinction that can be drawn between the prohibitionist and the abstentionist is that the prohibitionist does not imbibe by constraint of law. Either by their interpretation of God’s views toward alcohol, obligation of conscience, or legal obligation, the prohibitionist feels bound by law to avoid drinking. The abstentionist, on the other hand, believes he is within his biblical right, and allowed by Christian freedom, but in wisdom he willfully chooses to abstain. Abstentionism is the common practice among Southern Baptists, Methodists, and Pentecostals. Evangelical leaders adhering to abstention are: Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President, Dr. Albert Mohler; Masters Seminary President, John MacArthur; and famed pastor John Piper.
Due to the ramifications of prohibition in the early twentieth century, it is not popular in the present era to openly profess prohibitionism. The line between prohibitionism and abstentionism, however, is more easily applied in theory than in practice, and can be blurred. When each person is allowed the freedom to determine for himself what the Spirit and Scripture has bound upon his conscience, the prohibitionist and abstentionist views remain clearly distinct. It is frequently the case, however, that a person who is a teetotaler by way of personal abstention further intends to impose his choice on other brothers and sisters. C. S. Lewis was outspoken in saying that, “One of the marks of a certain type of bad man is that he cannot give up a thing himself without wanting every one else to give it up. That is not the Christian way.”  When this person is in a position of authority and seeks to impose a position of willful abstention upon his congregation, those congregants – whose consciences are not equally bound by the Spirit to the choice of abstention – are then held under the mandate of their shepherd. The abstentionist leader’s will becomes an external legal mandate that forces his congregants into a prohibitionist response rather than allowing for the same personal choice that the abstentionist afforded himself. Alternately, a person who intends to exercise his Christian freedom by engaging moderately in alcohol can also become an offense, or a stumbling to his brother or sister who is not afforded the same sense of Christian liberty. Held in tension between these two positions is the area to which the Apostle Paul has called the church in Romans 14. The one who abstains must not judge the one who partakes, and the one who partakes must not despise the one who abstains. Instead the two must endeavor to love one another, and find grounds for unity. “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. [. . .] So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding” (Rom 14:17, 19).
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version Bible, copyright 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
I. W. Raymond, The Teaching of the Early Church on the Use of Wine and Strong Drink (New York: Columbia University Press, 1927), 25.
Saint Clement (of Alexandria), The Writing of Clement of Alexandria: Exhortation to the Heathen (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1884), 208.
Eusebius Pamphilius, Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History: Complete and Unabridged (Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers, 1998), 121.
Philip Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, series 2, vol. 4 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1994), 495.
John Chrysostom, First Homily on the Statutes (Accessed November 19, 2014 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/190101.htm), 11.
Jim West, Drinking with Calvin and Luther! A History of Alcohol in the Church (Lincoln, CA: Oakdown, 2003), 22.
Saint Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica (Raleigh, NC: Hayes Barton Press, 1952.), 3269.
J. C. Almond, “Olivetans,” The Catholic Encyclopedia (Accessed November 19, 2014 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11244c.htm).
Raymond, The Teaching of the Early Church, 86.
West, Drinking with Calvin and Luther!, 33.
Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., God Gave Wine: What the Bible Says About Alcohol (Lincoln, CA: Oakdown, 2001), 3.
 West, Drinking with Calvin and Luther!, 102.
 John Wesley, “Sermon 140.”
 C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1952), 78.
Is God in all of us? Are all of us in God? Is there a universal spiritual or quantum force that binds all of existence? Are we all one with each other in the universe? These are the questions that quantum spirituality and Eastern mysticism have introduced to the Western worldview. Popularized by movies like Star Wars and Avatar, and brought into the church by authors like Leonard Sweet, some Christians – consciously or not – mingle these ideas with the teachings of Scripture. The question is, “Do these views align with the Bible’s revelation of God and the cosmos?”
God is omnipresent within creation, but metaphysically beyond His creation. Simply stated, God is a being separate in substance from the universe. Created entities are not forged from the substance of God, nor is God Himself comprised of creation. That said, transcendence for the purpose of this article, should not be understood as meaning God is not actively present in the world. Quite the contrary, “Judeo-Christian religion does not picture the universe as a spatial box with God overflowing it or standing outside it.”  Transcendence here is intended only to mean that God is substantively different from His creation, not that He is absent from creation. This article will explain and defend the position that, while immanent, God remains concurrently transcendent. While permanently pervading and sustaining the universe, God is ontologically distinct from His creation. God is not in any way dependent on the created order, neither is God the sum of all creation, nor is God present within every created entity or being. Citing modern philosophers, theologians, and Scripture this article will outline the prominent examples of, and reasons for, the diminishing of transcendence as an attribute of God. This article will address the traditions of monism, in their primary forms, where they most directly interact with the Christian faith. Using a logical, theological, and philosophical defense of the church’s orthodox position on the transcendence of God, held in balance with God’s immanence, this article will affirm the necessity of upholding the historic view of transcendence, and will outline the ramifications of pantheistic views such as those depicted in Star Wars, Avatar, What the Bleep Do We Know, Lucy, etc., which conflict with the biblical understanding of God as a transcendent being.
Philosophies that champion a God who has a diminished transcendence result in what is referred to as immanentism. Immanentism is manifest in a broad array of philosophical and religious ideologies qualifying as monism. The simple definition of monism is: any belief or philosophy that sees all things connected or unified in universal one-ness. For the purposes of this theological discussion, this paper will focus only on the two forms of monism that most commonly interact within Christianity. These more specific variants of monism are pantheism and panentheism.
Monism in its most straightforward form is pantheism. “The word pantheism derives from the Greek word pan (=’all’) and theos (=’god’). Thus, pantheism means all is God. In essence, pantheism holds that the universe as a whole is worthy of the deepest reverence … ‘nature is my god.’”  By eliminating transcendence entirely, pantheism holds that God is fully immanent and encompasses all. Pantheism holds that all people are connected to one another, to nature, and to God, whose physical body is the universe. President of the World Pantheist Movement, Paul Harrison, puts forth the following: “God is said to be the creator: overwhelmingly powerful, all-knowing, omnipresent, infinite, and eternal. Indeed [the universe] is indeed the only thing we know to possess these qualities.”  The very elements that compose our bodies are the same elements found in nature, and the universe has the ability to end our lives, at which point, those elements return to nature. This is the pantheist’s “circle of life,” which is an existence that is easily observable, congruent with science, and does not depend on any transcendent “mythical” place or being. In pantheism, life the universe, and the interactions between the two can all very clearly be perceived and experienced.
A person indoctrinated in orthodoxy might not quickly pinpoint the locus where the worlds of pantheism and Christian doctrine mingle, but the rallying point in scripture clearly falls at Acts 17:28 where the Apostle Paul proclaims, “For in Him we live and move and have our being.” Paul Tillich, a 20th century German Lutheran Theologian, managed to propose a formidable case for God being, “not a being” but “being itself.” Tillich wrote in his Systematic Theology, “The being of God cannot be understood as the existence of a being alongside others or above others. Whenever infinite or unconditional power and meaning are attributed to the highest being, it has ceased to be a being and has become being itself.”  Tillich goes on to say that entities themselves are the manifestation of God as the “power of being.” The power to resist non-being, which is inherent in everything that exists, is that being’s acknowledgement that God is the power of being within it allowing it to be. From this one can conclude that in Tillich’s philosophy, God is the “universal essence” within all things, which makes up being itself.
As quoted previously, Tillich states, “The being of God is being itself.” Tillich argued that what he referred to in saying this is not pantheism as it is understood to mean, “God is everything,” but rather that God is the “ground and unity of everything.” Tillich makes his defense of his position saying,
This idea [that God is the static divine ground of the world] was founded on the principle of identity over against the principle of detachment and depths of everything. [God] is not everything, as this much abused term “pantheism” says. Nobody has ever said that. It is absolute nonsense to say such a thing. It is better to avoid the term itself, but if it means anything at all, it means that the power of the divine is present in everything, that He is the ground and unity of everything, not that He is the sum of all particulars. I do not know any philosopher in the whole history of philosophy who has ever said that. Therefore, the word “pantheism,” which you can translate as “God is everything,” is down-right misleading. I would wish that those who accuse … [me] of using it would define the term before using it. Whenever some people hear about the principle of identity, they say this is pantheism, which supposedly holds that God is this desk. Now, of course, [Martin] Luther would say that God is nearer to everything than it is to itself. He would say this even about the desk. You cannot deny that God is the creative ground of the desk, but to say that God is the combination of all desks and in addition all pens and men—this is absolute nonsense. The principle of identity means that God is the creative ground of everything. What I dislike is the easy way in which these phrases are used: theism is so wonderful and pantheism so horrible. This makes the understanding of the whole history of theology impossible.
Regardless of whether Tillich would consider himself a proper pantheist, his detractors voiced significant concern for his intriguing argument for the essence of God in all things. Interestingly, William Paul Young, #1 New York Times Best Selling author, borrows Tillich’s exact terms to define God. In Young’s most acclaimed work, The Shack, the Jesus character, referring to the Father, explains, “God, who is the ground of all being, dwells in, around, and through all things … and any appearances that mask that reality will fall away.” 
Arriving at similar conclusions, yet coming from a different approach, is leading Emergent Church theologian (and former Rick Warren colleague) Leonard Sweet. Sweet, along with other quantum mystics, proclaims that, in a world where science and religion are increasingly at odds, quantum spirituality bridges the gap between science and God. Quantum physics is the viable scientific basis for innovations in technology such as lasers, computer chips, and nuclear power,  and many hold the view that discoveries in quantum physics “provide a mandate to reevaluate the traditional understanding of God and reality.” 
Quantum physics has taught scientists that particles at the subatomic level communicate with one another at speeds faster than light. Whatever is done to one particle has an immediate effect on another remotely located particle.  This transfer of information from one particle to another, at a speed faster than light, is seen by some as proof that all things are indeed connected. This leads to a theory that the universe is somehow one, an undivided whole.
Scripture has also been used to qualify such a thought. The Apostle Paul uses variations of the expression “in Christ” over 160 times in His epistles. The most notable scripture used to support a quantum spirituality is Colossians 1:17 which says, “In Him all things hold together.” On the basis of these unfolding discoveries in quantum theory, Leonard Sweet, speaks directly to postmodern Christian thinkers saying, “Quantum spirituality is nothing more than your ‘new account of everything old’—your part of the ‘I Am’ that we are.”  Sweet ties this quantum spirituality, also termed New Light, directly to pantheism when he says:
Quantum spirituality bonds us to all creation as well as to other members of the human family. New Light pastors are … earth ministers who can relate the realm of nature to God, who can help nurture a brother-sister relationship with the living organism called Planet Earth. This entails a radical doctrine of embodiment of God in the very substance of creation. New Light spirituality does more than settle for the created order, as many forms of New Age pantheism do. But a spirituality that is not in some way entheistic (whether pan- or trans-) that does not extend to the spirit-matter of the cosmos, is not Christian.
Another form of monism, which espouses God’s presence in all, is panentheism. This view has long been present in the literature of the monastic Catholic mystics and has increasingly found its way into Evangelical streams via the Emergent Church movement. Where pantheism defines God as the comprisal of all, panentheism asserts “the belief in a personal creator God who transcends the world, but is intimately and actively present in the world and within each [person].”  In panentheism, God interpenetrates every created entity, while also timelessly and spatially extending beyond creation. The Trappist monk, Thomas Merton, for which Thomas Merton Square in Louisville, KY is named, is famous for the story of his standing at that very corner when he came to this realization:
I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I was theirs. … Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their heart … where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. … If only we could see each other that way all the time. … I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other. At the center of our being is a point of nothingness that is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God. … This little point of nothingness and of absolute poverty is the pure glory of god in us. … It is in everybody. … The gate of heaven is everywhere.
Similarly, another Trappist monk, an architect of centering prayer, Fr. Thomas Keating said, “The second commandment of Jesus is to love our neighbor as ourselves, and it is rooted in the recognition and acceptance by faith that the Divine Presence dwells within every human being.”  The Catholic mystic movement maintains that God is present in all creation, sustaining every creature. They believe this is what Jesus referred to specifically when he prayed, “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they may also be in us” (John 17:21). Emergent Church leaders within Evangelicalism, embracing (in varying degrees) the theology of Leonard Sweet, have also been identified as teaching mystic practices and panentheistic views, similar to the Catholic mystics.
The transcendence of God is most readily evidenced in Scripture by God’s immaterial “spirit” nature, His authorship in creation, His perfect holiness, and the unique dual divine-human nature of His Son. There is no better place to launch the theological case for the transcendence of God than in the study of the words of His son, the God-Man Himself, Jesus Christ.
In the Gospel of John, in a discourse with the woman at the well, Jesus makes clear, “God is spirit” (John 4:24). Here Jesus affirms what other biblical authors say, which is that God is not finite, nor material, but “immortal” (1 Tim 1:17), “invisible” (Col 1:15), living “in unapproachable light,” and not capable of being beheld by man (1 Tim 6:16). God further warns His people that viewing or portraying Him as anything in material creation is an egregious sin, and a violation of His second commandment. In Exodus 20:4-5 God instructs that man shall not worship anything that is in heaven above, on earth, or in the waters below. Any such thing is not God, but an idol. “God forbids His people to think of His being as similar to anything else in the physical creation. The creation language of [the second] commandment … is a reminder that God’s being, His essential mode of existence, is different from everything that he has created … To picture God as existing in a form or mode of being that is like anything else in creation is to think of God in a horribly misleading and dishonoring way.” 
The Bible is also clear that God existed before all things, was the creator of all things, and brought all things into existence from nothing. Jesus Christ Himself affirms the biblical creation account by directly referencing the opening chapters of Genesis 7 times in Scripture. The most notable reference being, “Have you not read … at the beginning the Creator made them male and female?” (Matthew 19:4) If a person believes Christ is God, they must also agree with Christ’s view of Scripture and the creation. The Bible begins in Genesis 1:1 by saying, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” The statement, “God created the heavens and the earth,” makes clear that before heaven and earth existed, there was God. Hebrews 11:3 goes a step further and says, “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the Word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.” Even more directly, the faithful Jewish adherent writing in the second temple period instructed, “Look at the sky and the earth. Consider everything you see there, and realize that God made it all from nothing” (2 Maccabees 7:28). These verses identify creation as the finite work, of the infinite God, brought into existence from nothing, and certainly not from any material contained within His preexistent self.
At this point it is important to note the distinction between the Bible’s telling of God’s involvement in creation and the monistic idea. C. S. Lewis poignantly clarified this difference when he wrote the following:
Pantheists usually believe that God, so to speak, animates the universe as you animate your body: that the universe almost is God … [Christians] think God invented and made the universe-like a man making a picture or composing a tune. A painter is not a picture, and he does not die if his picture is destroyed … If you do not take the distinction between good and bad very seriously, then it is easy to say that anything you find in this world is a part of God. But, of course … some of the things we see in [the world] are contrary to [God’s] will. Confronted with a cancer or a slum the Pantheist can say, “If you could only see it from the divine point of view, you would realise that this also is God.” The Christian replies, “Don’t talk damned nonsense. 
In returning to the words of Jesus, it is made clear that God cannot be the sum of both good and evil. Being accused, by the Pharisees, of operating under the authority of evil, Jesus quips, “A Kingdom divided against itself cannot stand” (Mark 3:24). This is to say good and evil cannot successfully cohabitate. One will always overrun the other, and they will never be harmonized. Jesus also instructs His followers, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5:48). In this it is clear that the omniscient, omnipresent, immanent, and transcendent God of the Bible is a holy God. The word holy specifically means “different from the world,” “set apart,” and literally, “a cut above.” God is perfect, creation is not, and God is therefore different from the world. Conversely a monistic, materialistic, and impersonal God cannot be a holy God because this God is not different from the world. Wayne Grudem explains, “If the whole universe is God, then God has no distinct personality.” If all is God, then what is holy? If all is God, what is evil?
The Bible teaches that not only is God holy, He also calls His people to be holy (1 Peter 1:16). God has not called His elect to embrace unity with the fallen world, nor has He promised fellowship with unrepentant sinners who live outside of a consecrated relationship with Jesus Christ. Psalm 4:3 says, “The Lord has set apart the godly for Himself,” and 2 Corinthians 6:14 says, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers.” In John 15:17 Christ informs His hearers that they are to be “not of this world.” In Romans 12:2 Christians are instructed to resist conformity to the world. James 1:27 says to “keep oneself unstained from the world,” and 2 Corinthians 6:17 says, “Go out from their midst, and be separate from [unbelievers].” The Apostle John offers a clear warning to those who have not consecrated their life to Christ when he writes, “Whoever does not believe [in Christ] is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:18).
These scriptures do not suggest in any way that God desires His chosen to seek one-ness with people who have not placed their faith in Christ alone. Christ followers are instead to flee from conformity to the world because God cannot have fellowship with darkness (1 John 1:6). God is a just God of wrath toward wickedness (Isaiah 11:4, Revelation 19:5), and promises the future destruction of this fallen world (2 Peter 3:11), and eternal conscious torment for the unrighteous inhabiting it (Matt 25:46). A monistic God who embodies the fallen world and all evil contained therein cannot fulfill His eschatological promises without waging war on Himself.
Further troubling within the monistic belief systems is the difficulty in finding a proper place for the inclusion of Satan. If God is both perfectly good, and the combination of all created beings, a paradox arises when God must be made to be one with the adversary, Satan. In monism, Satan must be considered to be part of God, inhabited by God, or non-existent. A non-existence of Satan would leave God to be the author of all evil. Each of these scenarios is equally blasphemous. Unacceptably, the biblical doctrines of Satan and Hell eventually escape every monistic belief system.
The most damaging blow, however, the neglect of God’s transcendence deals Christian faith ultimately strikes at the heart of Christianity Himself, Jesus Christ. “Monism believes that the real problem [in faith] is lack of knowledge–the knowledge of ourselves as divine.”  This assertion does nothing short of rob Christ of His very essence, His unique divinity among men. Monism takes the divinity of Christ and essentially applies it to every person. If all people are in God, or the divine essence of God is in all people, Jesus’ dual nature, fully God-fully man, is in no way unique to Him, but exhibited by all. Colossians 1:15 says, “Jesus is the image of the invisible God.” God is Spirit, and Jesus is the Spirit of God born into human flesh, the tabernacle of flesh in which the Spirit of God dwelt visibly among the ungodly creation. “The Bible never speaks about God’s presence in unbelievers in a direct way. In Christ, God’s own nature is present.”  In the most exclusive verse in the Bible Jesus teaches, “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” Jesus states point-blank there is no access to God apart from faith in Him (John 3:17). This makes abundantly clear that Christianity is not a matter of finding a fully immanent God at the center of our being. Christianity is God’s saving gift of faith in the Man who lived the sinless life and died on the cross to reconcile the wicked condition of sinners before the righteous, holy, and transcendent God. The Christian’s connection to God is not found buried within the self, it is found only in the “one mediator between God and Men,” Jesus Christ (1 Tim 2:5).
In the same way immanentism sees a diminished need for a Savior, the person who disregards transcendence also fails to rightly understand the person and work of the third member of the trinity, the Holy Spirit. The pantheists, and panentheists believe the Spirit of God is inherently existent within every human being from birth. This is not the teaching of Christ. Jesus promised His followers, “I will ask the Father and He will give you another Helper (John 14:16). You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” (Acts 1:8), and the “Spirit of Truth … the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him” (John 14:17). As has been demonstrated, Monistic mystic and quantum Christians, rejecting a proper necessity for God’s transcendence, misunderstand the nature of the Holy Trinity in each of God’s three persons. This improper view of God nearly unanimously leads to engagement in interfaith practices, the borrowing of elements from other false religions, and the encouraging of members of false religions that they have access to God apart from Jesus Christ.
While it has been sufficiently demonstrated that disregarding transcendence cannot be reconciled with Christian orthodoxy, it is worth noting that science also fails to support a God who is both eternal and material. Where the Bible calls God “the King eternal” (1 Tim 1:17), the modern cosmological consensus is clear that the universe itself is not eternal. The second law of thermodynamics dictates that, while infinite in space, the universe is finite in time. A large majority of cosmologists agree that the observable data indicates that the universe has a beginning and an end.
Today, few cosmologists doubt that the universe, at least as we know it, did have an origin at a finite moment in the past. The alternative – that the universe has always existed in one form or another—runs into a rather basic paradox. The sun and stars cannot keep burning forever: sooner or later they will run out of fuel and die. The same is true of all irreversible physical processes; the stock of energy available in the universe to drive them is finite, and cannot last for eternity. This is an example of the so-called second law of thermodynamics, which, applied to the entire cosmos, predicts that it is stuck on a one-way slide of degeneration and decay towards a final state of maximum entropy, or disorder. 
God cannot be both eternal, and comprised of the natural entropic universe. “According to the second law the whole universe must eventually reach a state of maximum entropy. This supposed future state of the universe, which will also be its last state, is called the heat death of the universe.”  Thus, the second law of thermodynamics implies that the universe faces an inevitable extinction. Where monism cannot reconcile Christianity and science, interestingly the orthodox Christian view of the eternal transcendent God and His finite creation are compatible with modern cosmology. In the Bible, the earth is described as having a creation point (Genesis 1), and a final heat death (2 Peter 3:10). Therefore, a striving to use monism to reconcile Christianity and science is an unnecessary failure.
It must be stated that, while this paper refutes immanentism and champions for transcendence, a hyper emphasis on transcendence is equally dangerous to its neglect. Transcendence and immanence must not be understood or applied apart from one another. As attributes of God, transcendence and immanence must be held in proper balance. Where an over-emphasis on immanence leads to monism, the juxtaposed over emphasis on transcendence results in deism. Deism is the belief that “God … created the world, but does not interfere with it by means of providence, miracle, incarnation, or any other Christian affirmation.”  Deists believe that creation provides evidence to affirm that God created the universe, but that God limits His activity only to the maintenance of the general laws of nature. A. H. Strong, writing in 1907, states that deism reached its prominence in the 18th and 19th centuries, but has since fallen out of favor because it “regards the universe as a ‘perpetual motion,’” and “modern views of the dissipation of energy have served to discredit it.” 
Proper regard for God’s transcendence is essential to proper knowledge of God. A failure to acknowledge God’s transcendence leads to a misunderstanding of the nature of the Holy Trinity in each of God’s three persons. The inclusive one-ness of monism leaves man with no recognition of his need for reconciliation to his Creator. In monism there is ultimately no need of a Savior; no need for a Spirit induced conversion; no need for Spirit wrought sanctification; and no need for a God-Man intercessor. In monism, humans lack the autonomous agency to fear culpability for wicked actions, and have no fear of the righteous judgment from a god who is also comprised of evil. Monism leaves man with no fear of judgment for sins and eternal separation from God. Monistic beliefs exalt man as divine, and deny the unique divinity, and necessary work of Jesus Christ.
It is important that monism’s influence on the church not be underestimated. Peter Jones of Westminster Seminary states that, “In general terms, pantheism is at the root of all non-biblical religions, which worship creation rather than the Creator.” It would seem that if there is a tangible threat of a false religion that could unite the world it is monism. Romans 1 teaches that there is one place in which the entire fallen human race continually meets in unity to worship, at the throne of the idolatry of creation. Whether monists believe all people are in God, or God is in all people, what monists are really positing is a worship of self. “They exchange the truth about God for a lie, and worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator” (Romans 1:25). The monistic view of God can neither be held in tandem with Christian orthodoxy, nor can science support the notion of the temporal created order being the eternal God. Thus it must be concluded that an excessively immanent, monistic God is not consistent with the God of the Bible, and God therefore must be transcendent.
The monistic view of God has been consistent among Eastern religions for several millennia, and has ventured in and out of vogue in the West since the 5th century BC. The most recent group to propagate the monistic teaching among the Evangelical church is the 21st century Emergent Church movement. One leader of the Emergent Church recently said, “Some people say the Emerging Church is dead, other people say the Emerging Church has spread so far it’s just been absorbed into the fabric of the American church.”  While leaders of unbiblical monistic movements are consistently refuted, the hooks of their teachings often land in the hearts of undiscerning churchgoers, and have long lasting effects within the Body. By being educated in the attributes of God, and holding a proper understanding of transcendence, these false teachings can quickly be discerned and dismissed as, what Leonard Sweet appropriately coined, “nothing more than [a] new account of everything old.” 
William E. Horden, Speaking of God: The Nature and Purpose of Theological Language (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Pub, 2002), 121.
Paul Harrison, Elements of Pantheism: A Spirituality of Nature and the Universe, 2nd ed. (Coral Springs, FL: Llumina Press, 2004), 1.
Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology, vol. 1 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951), 235.
Paul Tillich and Carl E. Braaten, Perspectives on 19th & 20th Century Protestant Theology (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1967), 94-95.
William P. Young, The Shack (Newbury Park, CA: Windblown Media, 2007), 112.
William E. Brown, “Quantum Theology: Christianity and the New Physics,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 33, 4 (December 1990): 480.
Leonard Sweet, Quantum Spirituality: A Postmodern Apologetic (Dayton, OH: Whaleprints for SpiritVenture Ministries, Inc., 1991), 261
Harrison, Elements of Pantheism, 2.
Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1966), 140-142.
Thomas Keating, Fruits and Gifts of the Spirit (New York: Lantern Books, 2000), 14.
Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 187.
C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (San Francisco: HarperCollins Publishers, 2001), 36-37.
P. R. Jones, “Sexual Perversion: The Necessary Fruit of Neo-Pagan Spirituality in the Culture at Large,” in Biblical Foundations for Manhood and Womanhood, ed. Wayne Grudem (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2002), 261.
 Grudem, Systematic Theology, 176.
Paul Davies, “The Big Bang – And Before,” The Thomas Aquinas College Lecture Series (Thomas Aquinas College, Santa Paula, CA: March 2002), cited in William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics: third ed. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2008), 144.
P. J. Zwart, About Time: A Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin and Nature of Time (Amsterdam: North-Holland, 1976), 136.
G. DeMar, Pushing the Antithesis: The Apologetic Methodology of Greg L. Bahnsen (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 2007), 274.
A. H. Strong, Systematic Theology (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1907), 415.
Sarah Pulliam Bailey, “Values Voter Summit Session Claims Emergent Church, Satan, and Islam are Bringing Down America,” Huffington Post (August 28, 2013).
Sweet, Quantum Spirituality, 261.
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The church’s recognition of its identity as the continuation of Israel, and its exilic existence, provides the context for interpreting Jeremiah 29 today. The question becomes—particularly as the Western church transitions deeper into a post-Christian culture—“How do we sing our song in a strange land?” (Ps 137). As the church journeys through the already but not yet, Jeremiah’s Letter to the Exiles serves as a prescription text for living in the world, but not of the world. In The City of God, Augustine explains that the Bible provides the history of the world as a tale of two cities. The city of man and the city of God. “Babel/Babylon becomes in the Bible a symbol of self-restraint, imperialistic secularism; control without accountability to the Creator. [. . .] Isaiah saw this spirit in the imperial ambitions of Assyria and Babylon (Isa 10:7-11; 14:4-6; 47:5-7, 10).” In Revelation 18, the Apostle John speaks of Rome and the kingdoms of the world to follow as Babylon, the great seducer of nations, and Peter too refers to Rome as Babylon in 1 Peter 5:13. In Augustine’s view, the city of God is the church—the kingdom people of heaven—living in the world. Like the diaspora in Babylon, the church is a culture within the culture working for God’s glory in the midst of a great and dark secular city scape.
Minister to the City
It remains no wonder that God, in Jeremiah 29:5, tells His exiles to settle in the metropolitan center of the Babylonian Empire. A brief survey of the missional strategy of the Apostles shows that God gave them too an affinity for the largest urban areas. Historically it is evident that culture is shaped by what happens within cities. This has become increasingly relevant to the church today. According to the 1790 U. S. census, ninety-five percent of the American population lived outside of urban areas. The percentage of people living in urban areas by 1890 had grown to thirty-five percent. By 1990 approximately sixty-five percent of Americans lived in an urban setting. The nation’s urban population increased by another 12.1 percent from 2000 to 2010. The combination of the exile to Babylon, the missional strategy enacted in the book of Acts, and the rapid urbanization of America, are strong cause for a renewed focus on urban ministry. Despite the focus of much of Christian literature, poetry, paintings, and photography, the height of Christian contentment is not intended by God to be found in sprawling natural landscapes. “The center of God’s creative delight is not a garden, but a city. [. . .] Somehow the city, the embodiment of concentrated human culture, has been transformed from the site of sin and judgment to the ultimate expression of grace, a gift coming ‘down out of heaven from God’ (Rev 21:2).” If we are to honor God’s calling as exiles, the nations are to be reached, and this must begin with the city.
Exhibit Exile Posture
Jeremiah 29:5-7 is clear that exiles are to become citizens and contributors to the city. To be civil is to know how to act in the city. Aristotle said that the first type of bonding a person experiences in terms of kinship is with family. Kinship then extends to extended family, to friendship, and then the culmination of civility comes when a person learns to extend the bond of kinship to strangers. When a person can learn to love the stranger as family, they become a person of civility. Aristotle also said that a man without a city is not a man. He is either superhuman, or a beast. This is not a calling to accommodate the secular world, but a call to engage in what Richard Mouw calls, “convicted civility.” Mouw’s simple premise is that convictions and civility are not at odds. Christians require, not a change in calling, but a reevaluation of their approach to their calling. Further, Christians require a new view of their non-believing neighbors whom they are called to love. “Jeremiah’s life and prophesy is based on faithfulness and sacrificial love, which is a reflection of Jesus. God says, ‘I’m giving you over to them, put your faith and hope in me, and there will be life. This is not your home, but seek the peace and prosperity of your pagan neighbors and in it you will prosper.’”
Many theological views see the “post-exilic Hebrew history and literature as representing the period of sad decline and loss.” Daniel L. Smith-Christopher contends that “the Jewish people is deserving of attention not only in the time when it displayed its power and enjoyed its independence, but as well in the period of its weakness and oppression during which it was compelled to purchase spiritual development by constant sacrifice of self.” An exegetical view that sees the exile as more than merely a regrettable fate for Israel acknowledges that the exile forced the Israelites into the very positive formative act of learning what faithfulness to Yahweh looks like outside the borders of a theocracy. In the diaspora the exiles demonstrated that it is possible to be a faithful people outside a nation-state model, and outside a culture in which God’s people maintain political control. “For American Christians, the task will be the painful process of disengaging from the myths of the dominant ‘Christian nation’ that has so deeply corrupted a radical Christian witness in the world.”
Today, it is becoming increasingly clear that the Christian majority that has stood in the West as the socio-political order for nearly two millennia will not be the environment in which future Christians will live. Christians will draw increasingly closer to feeling the reality of exile. In an “attempted reassertion of political and social authority,” well-meaning but misguided Christians address this loss of power with a “crusading mentality,” and by “doing theology by megaphone.” The circumstance requires the consideration of a striving for a more civil virtue. Christians must learn to develop a Christ-like language that speaks with, and not at sinners. The post-exilic Scriptures hold many examples for emulation. Virtuous believers like Daniel, Mordecai, Esther, Nehemiah, Zerubbabel, and Ezra demonstrated that the proverb is true: “He who loves purity of heart, and whose speech is gracious, will have the king as his friend” (Prov 22:11). The key for the people of God is ‘purity of heart.’ In the posture of exile the Western church must do as its spiritual forefathers did before, and must submit its heart to the plow (Hos 10:12).
Exhibit Exile Action
Following the flow of Jeremiah’s prescription for the life of the exiles it can be clearly concluded in what ways God intends His people to be a blessing to the city. The first thing we understand about God is that, in the Trinity, He is communal. He pours Himself out in love and gives His life away as a gift to others—sinners, rebels, and pagans. In His image, God made man to give Himself away. In Jeremiah 29:6 it is made clear that the first step toward true civilization is family; and family starts with marriage. “When we [say] yes to marriage, we are saying yes to the life of the world. We are saying yes to the mystery ahead [. . .] new life. [. . .] Ultimately, saying yes to marriage is about living a life of offering. Marriage is a yes to your beloved, and you and your beloved saying yes to your family. Your family saying yes to the world.” Man is pointed outside himself, to his God, to his family, to his neighbor, and to his city. “Christian culture making [. . .] is a matter of community—a relatively small group of people whose common life is ordered by love. [. . .] It seems small besides the towers of Babel and Babylon. It is like a mustard seed, tiny and seemingly vulnerable. But it is the unseen truth of the universe, the key to the whole story.” Like the Jews in Babylon it remains crucial that Christians not lose their faith identity in pursuing the love of neighbor. This begins with, and is not limited to, honoring the Bible’s command to restrict Christian marriages to New Covenant believers. Christians must strive to introduce non-believers to the gift of Christ Jesus, but limit marriage vows to those of faith. Unity in faith is sacred, and that unity must begin in the home and work outward. Healthy family is the foundation of healthy society.
Jeremiah 29:7 could not be clearer that God’s purpose for His people is that they should give and not take. Most people live in the city because of the abundant amenities the city offers them. Spiritual Israel (the church), is God’s gift to the world. The world is not merely God’s gift to the church—Christ is God’s gift to the church. In the image of God, it is the nature of God’s people to give. Work cannot merely be about oneself, but must serve the needs and wants of others. The righteous person should give freely, and strive to take no more for themselves than what is needed. In God’s image people are makers and creators. Gifts are given by God to be shared and to be stewarded. A mentor transfers wisdom for the sake of unlocking potential in another. This is the stewardship of the gift of knowledge. When knowledge is shared, communities thrive. In like manner, discipleship transfers faith and pays forward the fruit of raising disciples who make disciples, advancing the kingdom of heaven. Work too is a God given gift to be stewarded. Through vocation a person discovers their callings, and in vocation a person creates the goods and services that benefit people for the greater good. The fruit of work is not merely the products, but relationships. The fruit of a Christian’s labor is ultimately fellowship, community, and relationship. More than just consumable products, business creates an economy of community and meets that community’s needs. This has been evidenced in society in the justice system, medical system, education system, welfare system, etc. All of these constructs are imperfect but faithful strivings to apply faith, wisdom, and love, for the advancement of the city’s people, for the glory of God.
A person who consistently seeks God’s will and has a concern for the things that concern God will not easily be led astray by false prosperity teachings like those in Jeremiah 29:8-9. Christians should not idolatrize ease, comfort, and material wishes in denial of the will of God for the good of their souls and the care of others. If Christians are to be about the welfare of others, they must make sacrifices and cease neglecting to love the stranger, the sojourner, the outcast, the defenseless, the poor, the orphaned, and the widowed. As a people who gives, rather than takes, Christians must make space for these people in their lives, budgets, and homes, remembering that while we were strangers, Christ died for us (Rom 5:8). Because Christ commands His followers, Christ is in His followers, and Christ is glorified by His followers. Life is not meant to be inwardly focused or to be lived for self. The life that terminates on the self is a life that truly fails to live at all because it is a life that only deeply knows one very small sampling of the many billions of beautiful creations and experiences God has made for His children’s concern and wonder.
Christ followers should live from a position of awe, beholding God’s beauty and His goodness. In Jeremiah 29:11-14 God has told the Israelites He is for their good. God makes similar promises, specifically relevant to Christ followers, in Romans 8:28-32. Living in light of God’s promises and His gifts—as kingdom heirs—God’s people will rediscover their humanity and who God has created them to be. The Christian who finds joy in the will of God will have their fortunes restored in flourishing in their own personal shalom.
What does it look like to live in the awe of God and to steward one’s life and gifts for the glory of Christ and the life of others? Gerard Manley Hopkins, who as a young man struggled with homoerotic thoughts, and suffered a lifelong affliction with what is today called bipolar disorder , paints a glorious picture. “What I do is me: for that I came. I say more, the just man justices; keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces; acts what in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is – Christ – for Christ plays in ten thousand places, lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not His; to the Father through features of men’s faces.” This is the personified and active beauty of the Christian sojourner’s work, empowered by the grace of Christ. As Shakespeare said, “To thine own self be true.” This is by no means to say, “Be selfish,” or “Follow your heart” (Jer 17:9); but it is to say that each of God’s children is endowed, nay embedded, with unique and certain gifts for stewarding back to God in service of the Father and concern for fellow man. A Christian is to recognize their gift and honor the stewardship of that gift. Hopkins gave his life and his sin to God, and in turn was led to the priesthood and to celibacy. By God’s grace he came to understand his gift was in keeping a literary treasury of the Creator’s majesty—communicating the beauty of God in an aesthetic theology he observed in all things seen, and in the awesomeness of relationship with the Unseeable. This was his gift and his calling. Using his calling he has summed up the calling of every Christian.
Every Christian should do what the Father has gifted them to do, and they should do it with all their might, for the welfare of the city of man to the glory of God. As the Body of Christ, Christians are the hands and feet of Christ in the world. Christian lives are for His service and to His glory. If Christ be in a person, their desire to actively engage the calling to steward their God-given gifts should be no less natural than breathing.
Like the Judean exiles in Jeremiah 29:11-14, “we are called to abide in God and say, ‘Let it be to His plan for our part in His divine and wondrous mystery.’ We can be assured that God’s desire for our work is a mighty collaboration, not only with our Creator, but the entire world. In this broken world we have a responsibility to bring healing and harmony to our most immediate surroundings, and work outward. By these actions we too are healed.” Let us not deny our exile, accepting this place as home. Let us not live for the now. Let us not resist the plow. Let us not allow the potential work of our gifts to go unrealized, or our lives to terminate on self. Let us follow God where He leads us, settle there, and give every ounce of our lives. Let us be like Christ, and be poured out as a gift in the city of man – for the love of our neighbor, for the welfare of the city, and for the life of the world; so that in this all the glory may be God’s; forever. Amen.
* References are cited in the print format available for download above.
The Theology of Continuing Exile
“In the exile the Hebrews become a stateless minority in the context of a massive empire, first under the Persians, then under the Hellenistic rule after Alexander, and finally under the Romans into the Common Era with Christianity.” N. T. Wright, most notably among others, has argued that the first century Jews saw their existence under the rule of the Roman Empire as a continuation of the ongoing exile. Israelites in this time believed they were still living under divine punishment as they awaited the fulfillment of the promises of Isaiah 40-66. “In the common second-temple perception of its own period of history, most Jews of this period, it seems, would have answered the question ‘where are we?’ in language which, reduced to its simplest form, meant: we are still in exile. They believed that, in all the senses which mattered, Israel’s exile was still in progress.” Daniel L. Smith-Christopher stakes a similar claim saying, “In later biblical thought, consciousness of being a ‘certain people scattered and separated among the peoples is also evident in metaphors for Israel as the ‘righteous remnant’ [. . .] that suggest a minority consciousness.” “Part of the myth of Persian benevolence is the idea of an end to the exile in 539. But all that ended was Neo-Babylonian hegemony, to be replaced by that of the Persians. Ezra would point out, in his public prayer, that the Jewish people were ‘slaves in our own land’ under the Persians (Neh 9:36).” Smith-Christopher continues, “Post-exilic Hebrew writings like Daniel, would go so far as to reinterpret Jeremiah’s predicted ’70 years’ into 490 years—effectively implying that the people were still in exile in the Persian and Hellenistic periods.” What is clear is that even after the return of the Jews from Babylon, Israel remained captive to foreigners and never regained status as an independent nation-state. While Israelites returned to Jerusalem, they remained exiles under the slavery of oppressive foreign empires.
N. T. Wright suggests that worse than foreign oppression, “Israel’s god had not returned to Zion. [. . .] Israel clung to the promises that one day the Shekinah, the glorious presence of her god, would return at last.” For four-hundred years, between the time of the building of the second temple, and the coming of John the Baptist, the Israelites did not hear an inspired word from the Lord. What is indicated is that “the exile is not yet really over. This perception of Israel’s present condition was shared by writers across the board in second-temple Judaism. The exile, then, was not concluded at the Jews return to Jerusalem, nor was it completed in the work of Ezra and Nehemiah. Rather than seeing the restoration of a national past, the enslaved Jewish people were forced to form a new sociological existence with no political stronghold, instead becoming a purely religious community with an ethno-centric identity. During the 400 years of silence, the estrangement from Yahweh was felt by the Jews, and recorded when the author of 2 Maccabees wrote, “Gather together our scattered people. [. . .] Plant your people in your holy place, as Moses promised” (2 Maccabees 1:27-29).
When Jesus came announcing the forgiveness of sin and the coming of the kingdom of God, it is evident that the Jews identified Him as their political savior from exile. But rather than restore national Israel, Christ came to begin the rescue of the exiles from their estrangement from God. Christ releases the shackles of sin, beginning God’s people’s—the “elect exiles in the dispersion” (1 Pet 1:1) —sojourn to the “city with foundations whose architect and builder is God” (Heb 11:10). In this context, the exile of the Israelites to Babylon receives its proper recognition as the first pivot point in God’s redefinition of the geopolitical identity of His people. This shift finds its fulfillment in the great commission when Christ commands His followers to “make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28: 19). There is now no difference between Jew and gentile (Gal 3:28).
New Creation is the true Promised Land
“We have a natural affection for our native country; it strangely draws our minds; [. . .] and therefore if providence remove us to some other country, we must resolve to live easy there, to bring our mind to our condition, when our condition is not in everything to our mind. If the earth be the Lord’s, then, wherever a child of God goes, he does not go off his Father’s ground.” As N. T. Wright explains, it is not as if Israelites were a national people and Christians are a non-territorial people. The strip of land in the Middle East is not God’s true Promised Land. Israel was a sign post marking God’s claim on the whole world. The children of Abraham, the seed who would inherit the land, are the people who are found in the Messiah (Gal 3:29). Creation will have its own Exodus, and in Christ, the people of God will inherit the true Promised Land—renewed creation itself. The Spirit is the down payment on that inheritance. “In the midst of the nations, Israel will be a sign that it is possible to be a nation whose key characteristic is trust in the world’s invisible Maker—to use the biblical word, a culture defined by faith.” In Romans 2:17-24 the Apostle Paul says that Israel was given for the salvation of the world, but under the Law, Israel completely failed in performing its salvific role—to be the light of the nations (Isa 49:6). Paul, referencing Isaiah 52, says, “The name of God is blasphemed among the gentiles because of [Israel].” “So God’s response to the ultimate cultural problem—a world full of mutually antagonistic nations entrenched in the self-provision and self-justification seen in Babel—is a fully cultural solution.” In Babylon, God takes Israel out from under the wicker basket and says, “Now let your light shine before men.”
As the people of God, the elitist Israelites never fully grasped their identity in this calling. Between the exile and the time of Christ the Israelites are constantly faced with the question: If God has created the world for Israel, why does Israel continue to suffer? The answer is that the world is not merely given for Israel, but that Israel was also given for the world. “In terms of the first level of covenant purpose, the call of Israel has as its fundamental objective in the rescue and restoration of the entire creation.” The exile became the first step toward Israel receiving a more realistic view of herself. Israel is not “true humanity,” ordered to establish dominion over the subhuman nations. God’s people are given a priestly calling for salvation of the nations. The exile paves the way toward Yahweh’s people’s understanding of God’s plan for the world.
Because Israel was unfaithful to her commission, keeping God’s message of salvation to themselves, God resolved to send His Son, to be born an Israelite, and faithfully fulfill the Israel vocation. In this lineage, Christians are the continuation of Spiritual Israel, qualified in Christ to carry forward the New Covenant message of salvation to the world. Christ’s work has been passed to the continuation of Israel (Spiritual Israel, the church), by Christ’s sending the Spirit of God to dwell within believers.
God’s covenant purpose, according to Wright, has first to do with “the divine intention to remake and restore whole world through Israel,” and “second, with his intention to remake and restore Israel herself.” The greatest prophecies for the return from exile strongly affirm God’s commitment to restore Israel. In Ezekiel 36, Yahweh says, “I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries, and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanness. [. . .] Then you shall live in the land I gave to your ancestors; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.” Israel understands then that sin has caused her exile, and the exile cannot be finished until her sin is forgiven. To this end, Christ entered the world. To the surprise of the Jewish people, Jesus did not free the Israelite captives from empirical oppression, but instead frees the faithful from the captivity of sin. Jesus did not end the physical exile of the Jews, but inaugurated a New Exodus. Leading followers through the waters of baptism, the Greater Moses now marches the enslaved out of captivity and into new life, inaugurating the new journey toward the new and restored kingdom of promise. The kingdom/exilic existence of spiritual Israel hinges at Jeremiah 29. The Babylonian exile results in the replacement of God’s national people with God’s faithful exiles. The Lord’s people will not again be a gathered kingdom people until the consummation of the kingdom of heaven.
* References are cited in the print format available for download above.
It’s interesting what was once considered a mansion. This photo, for me, is a reminder of the ills of the exponentially growing expectation of the American dream. What was once thought a mansion, now looks almost average, and yet depression, chemical dependence (legal and illegal), and violent crime in our nation is not improving. It’s an image of the soul decay of serving at the foot of the idol of earthly riches. NF, the first Christian rapper to be signed by a major record label, Capitol Records, released this album cover today for his début album dropping March 31. You can see the video for the single here.
Great work by NF, presenting the collision of human reality and biblical truth in an unexpected medium. I have been both of the people represented in the video, at both ends of the spectrum, and found depression at both ends. The answer only came when God opened my eyes to see that no matter what I had, or what I did, I was never going to have peace until I understood my purpose. The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. “God is most glorified in us, when we are most satisfied in Him.” He is what our souls are longing for. Until we understand that, we will continue be people who heap up possessions to fill our emptiness, or be those who are unsatisfied with life or feel insufficient because we can not keep up with the perceived success of others. Both paths lead to the same place.
Ecclesiastes 1:14 I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.
Matthew 6:19-22 Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!
Matthew 28:19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
In conversations with non-believers I have repeatedly heard the argument that Christianity is a “Western” religion that ignores the history and culture of the rest of the world. This argument is odd to me as all reports indicate that, while portions of Europe and North America are in a post-Christian decline, Christianity in other parts of the world is growing at rates not seen since Early Christianity (AD. 30 – 325). For that reason I have gathered a few statistics here to encourage my brothers and sisters as we live on mission for Jesus:
–There are more Christians in Africa today than there are PEOPLE in the USA.
–The number of African Christians increased by 3500% in the 20th century and is projected to double by 2050
–Today there are more churches in China than churches in the USA
–71 Million people in India claim Christianity, making it the 8th largest Christian nation in the world
–Protestant Christians in Vietnam have grown by approximately 600% over the last decade
–By the year 2040 China will have the highest Christian population of any country in the world
–By the year 2050, only one-fifth of the world’s Christians will be non-Hispanic whites.
Despite the rhetoric of the growing American anti-faith movement, Christians will not need to compromise their beliefs to remain in touch with the future world. It is actually new European and American post-Christian philosophy that will be minority thinking on the global level. Further, those who claim that Christianity ignores the history of other cultures also assume that Christians in these other cultures ignore their own history…or ignore factors that should keep them from reconciling Christianity to their history. It should also be noted that Christians in several of the cultures above are worshiping Christ despite great social pressure and persecution. Finally, what is most apparent is that Christianity is not merely a Western religion, but a global Church of faithful believers consecrated to Christ from all four corners of the world.
*Stats and info from CBN.com, Wikipedia, persecution.org, and Evangelist Dwight Smith, and Operation World/GMI.org
The one who seeks his own throne will yet be crushed under the weight of the very glory he attains. We were not made for the purpose of being worshipped, but fearfully and wonderfully to be worshippers.
Romans 11:36 For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To [God] be the glory forever. Amen.
God uses our suffering to pry our idolatrous hands from the things we thought were most precious, and to teach us to cling to the One who truly is.
Philippians 1:29 For unto you it is given on the behalf of Christ, not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for his sake.
You probably hear these adages all the time! But are you hearing them as they were intended? The Bible is not merely a collection of quotes, or one-liners, but is the telling of history. The Bible is a comprehensive story, from the beginning of the world to the end – not ending 2000 years ago or in the present, but at the end of the world at the return of Christ. The end is not unknown, but is already written. The Bible is a perfectly cohesive collection of 66 books by ~40 authors, and is divinely uniform. Despite the uniformity of the Bible, verses are all too often misinterpreted or quoted out of context. If I was to write, “You should never read a Bible verse,” and you were to quote that phrase by itself, you would severely misrepresent my intent if the next thing I said was, “You should always read an entire thought or even an entire chapter to properly understand a verse’s context.”
Unfortunately in our quote crazy, sound bite loving, tweet happy world, information now comes one line at a time. The reality is that chapter and verse markings were actually not added to the Bible until over 1500 years after its writing. The Bible was never intended to be read one verse at a time. Below are what seem to be the Top 5 most frequently misused “Bible verses,” that misquoted or taken apart from the context of the rest of the Bible, become tragically misunderstood.
5. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still. Exodus 14:14
This verse comes out of the Exodus narrative in which the Israelites, who are fleeing their Egyptian oppressors, become trapped between the impending doom of Pharaoh’s approaching soldiers and the Red Sea. In their fear the Israelites began to cry out to Moses that they would have been better off had they never left Egypt. In the NIV translation, Moses responds by telling them not to fear, “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” This version of the verse has been lifted and placed onto a plethora of Christian items…home decor, T-shirts, bookmarks, bumper stickers, etc. Many Christians have latched onto this verse as encouragement that as they face trials in their lives they need only to wait in their current situation and the LORD will deliver them. Oddly enough, other Bible translations like the New King James and the ESV translate the verse as “The LORD will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace,” and, “The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent,” respectively. These translations indicate the verse has nothing to do with holding your ground. The Hebrew word translated here does not have an English equivalent, but means all of the things stated in those 3 translations…to be still, peaceful, and silent. Basically, Moses was not telling the paranoid Israelites to stand firm, he was telling them to remain calm. This all becomes further troubling when you read the next verse (which is never included on the Christian merchandise).
Exodus 14:15 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on.
Move on?! In 14:14 Moses tells the Israelites they need only be still, and in 14:15 the LORD says to Moses, “move on.” And people have gone and quoted what Moses said here. Why is that? Moses says be still. God says get moving. And people have decided to take their reassurance in the words of Moses? Really? Clearly we know in the Exodus story that the Jews did not stand their ground on the shore of the Red Sea…they got moving.
When we read verses 14 and 15 together it becomes far more clear that what we are being told here is that our reaction to mounting trials should be two fold. First, we are to remain calm and remain steadfast in our hearts. Know the LORD will fight for us. But that’s only half of the message. Don’t stop there. Second, we must move in faith. Don’t stand still! God says, Get moving!!!
Still your heart. Quiet your emotions. Trust in God. Then get moving in faith. GO!
4. This too shall pass. Ecclesiastes 3:??
This is a great proverb! But…to the surprise of many…it’s not in the Bible. Historical records often attach this phrase to a fable of a powerful king who asks assembled wise men to create a ring that will give him happiness when he is sad, and keep him from taking for granted the times when he is happy. After deliberation the sages present him a simple ring bearing the words “This too shall pass.”
The great king is humbled by the simple phrase. Jewish folklore casts King Solomon as the humbled king of the fable. Still, the fact remains, this phrase does not appear in the Bible. The portion of the Bible that most closely resembles this oft quoted piece of wisdom is chapter 3 of Ecclesiastes (authored by Solomon), which says: For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die… a time to weep, and a time to laugh…
3. Money is the root of all evil. 1 Timothy 6:10
This is a misquoting of the verse: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils.” In the Bible “sin” is identified as the root of all evil. Sin is any action that transgresses the mark set by God’s Holy Law. Sin is the byproduct of want. Want is bred by either fear or lack of trust in God. Lust, desire, greed, and temptation (all forms of want) stem from a lack of trust in God’s promises and a fear that God’s provision will not provide His promised perfect fullness for our lives. In the Garden of Eden we see sin first enter the world when Adam and Eve fail to trust that God has given them a perfect existence, and wanting the knowledge of God, eat the forbidden fruit. Money in and of itself is an amoral object. In the Bible Christ calls His followers to properly steward money and other resources for the furthering of the Kingdom of God. In this case, money can be used righteously. Nowhere does the Bible say it is money that is the root of evil.
It is the love of money, a sign of want and greed, that is a root of all kinds (but not all) evil.
2. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Phillipians 4:13
The famous coffee cup verse that sends us boldly and confidently forward into our day! This verse, while extremely powerful in proper context, is typically grossly distorted from the original intent in the writing of the Apostle Paul. At the time of the writing of this letter the Apostle Paul had finally reached his desired destination of Rome, but only after being taken prisoner, shipwrecked, and placed on house arrest chained to a Roman soldier. Further he was facing potential execution, and was mentally preparing himself for the not too distant reality that He would be leaving this world. Paul is not saying here that through the strengthening of Jesus Christ we can overcome all obstacles or succeed in all things. What Paul is saying is that through the strengthening of Christ we can press forward and endure through all hardships…even death. This verse does not infer that by having faith in Christ we will achieve or prosper in all we aspire to, but rather in Christ we find the sufficient comfort and support to carry on through all adversity. The preceding verse, Phillipians 4:12 provides proper context to verse 13.
Phillipians 4:12-13 I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. 13 I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.
1. Judge not, lest ye be judged. Matthew 7:1
The mother of all Biblical misrepresentations. Let us “twist not a scripture lest we be like the devil” (Paul Washer). The most frequently misused verse in the Bible is without question, Matthew 7:1. Often misstated as “Judge not.” or “Jesus said don’t judge.” The most humorous aspect of the misuse of this verse is that it invariable occurs in such a way that the person misusing the verse, in referencing it, actually declares a judgment on the person they feel is being judgmental. Hypocrisy much? Someone will say, “You’re being judgmental. Jesus said don’t judge.” And in their pronouncing a person as judgmental, they too have judged. Additionally, If you’re perceptive enough you will notice as well that Jesus Himself is passing judgment here on those who improperly judge. Clearly this interpretation of this verse doesn’t make sense.
The verse actually reads “Judge not that ye be not judged.” This verse is often swung as a gavel to bring about an immediate cessation of discussion of another person’s behavior. The incorrect understanding of the verse is that we are completely forbidden to call to attention any areas in others’ behaviors that demand correction. This is a clear misinterpretation of Christ’s teaching. The words of Christ:
John 7:24 “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.”
Matthew 7:16 “You will recognize them by their fruits…”
Luke 17:3 “Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.”
Matthew 18:15-17 “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. 16 But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
Clearly here, Christ says we are to judge righteously, recognize and discern good from evil by peoples’ actions, and rebuke our brothers and sisters when they sin. To rebuke a brother we must first identify that they have sinned. To identify a person’s sin, we must obviously first judge their behavior. Without the authority to judge others’ behaviors there is no permissible authority by which we could uphold governing laws, discipline children, select leaders, choose teachers and childcare providers, or discern which Bible teachers are profitable to listen to. Our selections of spouses, friends, and business partners are all based on judgments of character and ethics. Christ said, “You will know them by their fruits,” meaning we are to discern between a person who bears fruit, and a person who does not.
Leviticus 19:15 You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor.
To see what Jesus is actually saying when He says, “Judge not that ye be not judged,” it is helpful to read the subsequent verses:
Matthew 7:2-5 “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the log in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a log in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
We see now that Matthew 7:1 is not a warning against the judging of any action or behavior. It is a warning against self-deception, self righteousness, and hypocrisy. If you are going to correct someone then you must expect to be held to the same standard. If you judge with harshness, you can expect to be judged harshly. If you judge with gentleness and good intent, your brothers and sisters are more likely to return the kindness. Note that a speck of sawdust and a log are both of the same essence…wood. Jesus here is referring to the hypocrisy of casting judgment on another for a sin of the same essence as a sin of which you yourself are guilty. Jesus declares here that You must first overcome this sin in your own life before you will be any help to your brother. Notice in verse 5 that Christ does not prohibit us from pointing out our brother’s sin, or from assisting him in removing it. Jesus does not command we say nothing about the speck in our brother’s eye. Jesus commands us to first address this particular issue in our own life, and then assist our brother in love.
1 Thessalonians 5:14 And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.
Galatians 6:1 Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.
**For a look at another incredibly intriguing, and perhaps unrealized, modern misquotation of the Bible, see my article on Pulp Fiction and Ezekiel 25:17
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Time and time again we hear that we should seek God’s direction for our lives. We are told that we should seek God’s guidance in making big decisions, we should pray for the answers to life’s big questions, and we are told that we should aspire to carry out all our actions in accordance with God’s plan for our lives.
We have all been guilty at times of being overly confident in our own abilities. Our egotism has at some point given each of us over to an overinflated sense of self-assurance. Having experienced some success we become apt to believe that we can function without the guidance of the LORD. In other cases, many of us start in the right way – fervently seeking the guidance of the LORD – and as He promises, He guides our steps. As we begin to develop a level of comfort that the LORD is with us, and is smiling upon our endeavors, we sometimes then begin to seek the LORD’s guidance less, and trust more in the unfounded confidence in our own hearts. It is easy for Christians to believe that we are in alignment with God’s will and we are capable of making our own decisions. After all, we have been saved by grace, we are His chosen, and we live by the aid of the Holy Spirit. We begin to believe that our own decision making is sound, and forget that it was because of God’s good providence that our decisions were blessed to begin with. In either case it is by an overgrown sense of self-righteousness that we then cease seeking God’s guidance in all our decision making. When we begin to believe we are “good” people, and believe we operate with “good” intent, we become confident that our decision making is consequently “good.” We then become dependent on ourselves for our own guidance, and unfortunately, as has been demonstrated by thousands of years of history, self-reliance ultimately leads a person far from the LORD and, the more ambitious a person is, the more catastrophic the results can be. Jesus teaches, “No one is good except God alone (Luke 18:19).” We must not begin thinking that because we have come to know Christ that we are now “good” people capable of making righteous decisions. The truth is, we are sinners, soiled by sin, making decisions with a fractured conscience and deceitful heart (Jeremiah 17:9). Though we are justified to God through Christ, it is by Christ’s righteousness alone, and not by any good of our own (Ephesians 2:8). No person does righteously apart from the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We must remember who it is that is good – He who makes us good – and seek His advisement always.
Proverbs 3:5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. Jeremiah 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? Proverbs 14:12 There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.
The Bible very clearly teaches and demonstrates that those who lean on their own understanding, rather than acknowledge the LORD in all they do, will indeed eventually falter. Man is completely and fully corrupted by sin, and there is no one righteous apart from the Lord, not even one (Romans 3:11). Even those with the best of hearts and the best of intentions are sinful, and are betrayed by their own hearts. We must depend on the LORD for our provision, and we must understand that we truly succeed when we desire our lives be more of Christ and less of ourselves (John 3:30). Wisdom comes from the negation of self, and the entire reliance upon the LORD.
What must be done to know the will of God you ask? First, have no will of your own.
When seeking direction from God we must remember that His voice may be heard in many different ways. Sometimes God’s message to us is clear as day. Sometimes God’s answers appear in black and white in the Bible. Sometimes we feel as though we are being unmistakably called to a certain action. Sometimes we receive a sign that is undeniable and rocks us to our very core. Sometimes we receive a pressing instinct that, by faith, pushes us to move. Sometimes, the unfolding circumstances around us elicit His desired reaction from us. Sometimes we have no choice, and react simply out of survival. Sometimes someone speaks a prophetic word that drives right to the heart of an issue we are dealing with. I’m sure there are countless other ways the LORD reveals himself that I am leaving out here, but I know many people who can speak of the amazing ways our LORD has revealed His will to them and changed the course of their lives. It is truly incredible when The LORD moves in these kinds of ways and manifests Himself and His will so clearly. Other times, the LORD’s will for our lives is not clear at all. Not all of God’s revelations come in an earth shaking show of fire and wind. Sometimes the LORD speaks to us in a gentle whisper. Be always prepared to hear the LORD in the event that He may speak to you in a subtle way (1 Kings19:12). Sometimes in all of our running, we fail to listen, or to be observant.
“Let us be silent that we may hear the whisper of God.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Still, Many times, even while we diligently seek God’s will in our decision making, we do not see His answer. We feel we are left to make decisions on our own – relying on our own best judgment. We ask questions like, “What does God’s will for my life look like? How do I know?” And we say things like, “If God gave me a clear answer to my prayer, I never knew it.” At this point we either take decisive action on our own, or we flounder. We all know from experience that either can sometimes be to our detriment. When we pray for guidance and we feel we receive no answer it feels as if we are calling for help and there is no one on the other end of the line. In times like these it is important to remember that God always has His hand on our lives. Nothing in this world happens outside of His provision or allowance. Where we are fervently seeking the LORD, He is there. Many have heard the song that says, “Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.” No truer words could be spoken regarding this matter. Trust that God knows the plans He has for you (Jeremiah 29:11).
Having established that we must consult the LORD in our decision making, and that the LORD determines our steps (Proverbs 16:9), how then do we know that the clear message we are receiving truly is a message from God? How can we confirm that we are not being deceived by the desires of our own hearts, but know that our decision is indeed the will of God? And, if we are not receiving a clear answer, what can we do to seek God’s will for our decisions?
1. Pray Unceasingly
Pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Do not be discouraged when you do not immediately receive answers to prayer. Jesus says, “Ask, seek, knock. (Matthew 7:7),” and instructs that we ought always continue to pray without being discouraged.
Luke 18:1-8 And (Jesus) told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. 2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. 3 And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ 4 For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” 6 And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. 7 And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? 8 I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily.
Pray with persistence. If an unrighteous judge will respond to persistent pleas, certainly our just and loving God will give His response to our continuous prayer.
2. Test Your Decision Against Scripture
Does the Bible specifically address this issue? The scripture is the infallible Word of God and is the first litmus test against which we must measure all decisions. Does your decision honor and glorify God? Does this decision further the Kingdom of God? Will this decision be helpful to your Christian brothers or sisters, or be a stumbling block to them? Is this decision being made in pursuit of godliness, or as an indulgence of worldly, temporal, material things? Will this decision bring you closer to Christ, or will it serve to distract you from your walk with the Lord? The Bible does well to define what honors God and speaks specifically to many issues we are faced with everyday.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. Proverbs 9:10 “…knowledge of the holy is understanding.”
Some people like to think of “B.I.B.L.E.” as an acronym for “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth.” Truly the word bible is simply Greek for “book.” The Bible is “The book of books.” The Bible may not be a step by step plan for living (fortunately it is more entertaining than a droning list of instructions), but it does indeed outline the principles for living righteously, coping with death, and receiving eternal salvation. The Bible’s instruction is spread across nearly 1200 chapters and over 31,000 verses so opening it up once and expecting to quickly find answers is an unrealistic expectation. It is wise to be well versed in the scripture in advance of making decisions. My best advice is to start reading your Bible now in preparation for the future. It is a certainty decisions are coming. If, however, you need answers immediately, we live in the age of Google. You can search “What does the Bible say about…,” and find verses that speak specifically to just about any topic.
Fasting is something that seems a taboo in our society of abundance and self-indulgence. We live a lifestyle that rarely, if ever, denies us any fundamental need.
Christ, when seeking to properly prepare himself at the beginning of His ministry first fasted 40 days. Christ’s stated expectation was also that you and I will fast.
Matthew 6:16 “Whenever you fast…” 17 “But when you fast…”
Christ does not say “if” you fast; He says “when” you fast. While fasting you will find that every time you are hungry, and every time you avoid a particular food, you are reminded of the reason why are you are fasting. You are making a sacrifice in your desire to become more closely aligned with God. This is very effective in keeping the LORD at the forefront of your mind, and making you more keenly aware of His presence. Most of us are much better at talking to God, than we are at listening to Him. It is very difficult to forget to listen to God when he is forced to the forefront of your mind in this way. There are few times when I have engaged the LORD so intimately and consistently, or been as acutely aware of God as while fasting.
4. Seek Counsel from Godly Advisers
What do the Godly people in your life, who have wisdom, experience, and a track record of Biblical living have to say? Even if you believe you have received your answer from the LORD it is still wise to seek the advice of the people you know who are qualified to give Biblical counsel. I am speaking mainly of your ministers and church elders here. Be discerning in whose advice you take, and don’t seek out someone that you think will give you the answer that you want to hear. Be open to receiving honest and unbiased advice from someone who knows the LORD. Ask your pastors. It is their responsibility to guide you. The LORD has blessed them with wisdom for this very task, and they will be happy to help as they have dedicated their lives to the very service of shepherding the Lord’s flock.
Psalm 1:1 How happy is the man who does not follow the advice of the wicked… Proverbs 11:14 Where there is no counsel, the people fall; But in the multitude of counselors there is safety.
5. Remain Faithfully Open to Correction
This is arguably the single most difficult thing to do. For most people it is a painstaking task to develop the humility necessary to openly receive and appreciate rebuke from others. Being that all people sin, it is very easy to respond with a “Who are you to correct me?” attitude. Many people are also quick to go directly to “Judge not lest ye be judged,” discarding any good point that could have actually been made by the person offering them reproof. Though Christ instructed that we should not judge, for we will be judged in the measure by which we judge others, the Bible does consistently instruct (across the Old and New Testaments) that we have a responsibility to teach, develop, and correct our brothers and sisters. Sometimes the one needing correcting is us. Are you open to that? Or do you really think you are perfect? Some correct out of love, and others out of contempt. The truth is, a wise man knows this does not validate or discredit the content of the criticism. Some of our Christian brothers and sisters are more graceful in lovingly rebuking us than others. Often times, graceful or not, it is hard to hear. What we must come to understand is that the intent of the person offering us correction is not important. What is important is that we receive what they have to say and examine it for truth. Are we in need of improvement in our thinking, or in our actions? Are we being honest with ourselves in our decision making, or is God speaking to us through this person? It is incredibly important that we remain faithfully open to correction. The Bible demands it.
Proverbs 12:1 Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid. Proverbs 15:32 Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence. Proverbs 27:5-6 Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.
The absolute last thing that we want to be is the King who has everything, but brings destruction upon himself because he despises the wise words of a prophet (2 Chronicles 16:10), or a Pharisee who dedicates his life to the pursuit of righteousness, only to end up crucifying the Lord because He is too prideful to receive the Lord’s correction. We must swallow pride and remain humbly aware that we ourselves are not perfect. We are far, far from it. We must seek counsel from God, from the Bible, and from our church leaders. We must be open to receiving correction from our brothers and sisters. This is how Godly decisions are made. Decisions made outside of these confines are decisions made in sinful self-reliance due to pride. Being mindful of all these things, and seeking to hear the guidance of the LORD in it’s many forms will help us find the path to righteousness. Narrow is the path that leads to righteousness (Matthew 7:14), but God assures us that if we listen to Him and follow His commands He will make us abundantly prosperous in all our endeavors (Deuteronomy 30:9).
Deuteronomy 28:1 “And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God.
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Part 1 of 4: Peace Comes From Trust in God’s Plan
6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Phillipians 4:6-7
In Romans 12 Paul exhorts us to offer ourselves as living sacrifices for Christ, and submit wholeheartedly to God’s will. When we are fully committed to that task, we should no longer find ourselves wanting. I know from experience submitting fully to Christ is easier said than done. Hopefully, I can shed some light on how trusting in God’s plan for our lives, aligning the desires of our hearts with God’s will, and having absolute faith in the LORD can bring about true peace, contentment, and rest for our souls.
If you truly believe in the God of the Bible, whose character traits are clearly and unequivocally outlined on nearly every page, then you know everything on this earth, good and bad, happens by God’s will. Everything you are receiving today is by God’s provision. We are called to give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God for us in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
From our vantage point, life doesn’t always make sense. Sometimes life doesn’t seem at all fair. However, our present home is not heaven. We are inhabitants of a fallen world that is the result of our sin. There is no promise that this life will be easy. It is certain that at times it will be hard. The only real promise resulting from sin is that all people will someday die. But, for His glory, God seeks to bring His children back to perfect fellowship with Him. To do this, God works all things together, good and bad, to achieve His ultimate plan – the redemption of His people. Our knowledge of His plan, and exposure to the details contained within, are limited. From our vantage point it sometimes appears to be a mess, but by faith we must trust in the plan of our creator.
I have heard a couple of analogies that help provide perspective…
If you look at the back of a watch you will see many parts…cogs, sprockets, springs, levers, etc. From the back of the watch it looks like a complicated jumble. It is hard to follow how these pieces work together. The watch is a relatively simple device in relation to the complexity of our universe. Countless pieces work together in perfect unison each day to allow for our existence. Does our lack of comprehension of the inner-workings of the watch indicate the watch is not working? Of course not. When you turn the watch over and look at its face, you can see there are two hands there working together in harmony, keeping perfect time.
A man was looking to buy a tapestry, and came across a massive one that appeared to him to be a complete disaster. He stood puzzled as he examined it. It was tufted and knotted, had colors that didn’t belong together, and appeared to have a pattern that seemed indiscernible. The salesman came to the man, and said, “It’s really beautiful isn’t it?” The man said, “I’m sorry. It looks like a mess to me.” The salesman chuckled and turned the tapestry around 180 degrees revealing a most beautiful image – a true work of art. The man was astonished and equally embarrassed. He had been judging the backside of this tapestry. All of the mess on the back came together perfectly on the front, and he was immediately aware of how little he knew about what was involved in the creator’s design.
You see from our vantage point, in this single isolated point in our lives, we do not see the big picture. We are on the backside of the watch, or the backside of the tapestry, judging one single piece of a very large puzzle. God’s plan becomes much clearer and much more amazing when we step back and view it from a proper perspective. Like a stained glass window, the many broken pieces of our lives may actually be coming together to reveal a beautiful image. Sometimes we just have to step back and take in the big picture.
Additionally we can see much of the glory of God’s providence by taking a 30,000 foot view of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, and holding it against World History. This is a wonderful investment of time, and changed my entire perspective on life. I find it terribly hard to imagine anyone with an open heart would not marvel at the glory of God’s majesty in the unfolding of His story throughout history. When we know God’s promises we can truly witness that everything is working just as He planned. We can see history is coming together just as He predestined it. The history of the world is unfolding just as it was prophesied, just as it was written, and we see that we can trust His Word as Truth. God is working a masterpiece for His glory. Trust in His plan. This is integral in finding the peace that surpasses all understanding.
Read Part 2 Here
“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-10)”
Sadly, I must confess, before coming to Christ I was guilty of more of these sins than I like to admit. I was guilty of quite a few of them. When you consider idolatry (the making of anything in your life a higher priority than God), that any sex outside of marriage is sexual immorality, and that divorce, biblically, is adultery, this passage has convicted a great majority of people in the Body of Christ at some point in our past. Further, according to this passage, not one of these sins is more condemnable than another. Sadly, some of us treat these sins as if one were worse than all the rest. These sins are equal according to this passage. Others of us don’t want these acts labeled as sins at all. Still the Word of God says what it says, and regardless of anyone’s heart in the issue, Christ followers are subject to the authority of the Bible. I myself have stood alongside every person guilty of any of these acts as a sinner unworthy of God’s love. I recognize that on my own I am no different. I do not hold myself in higher regard than ANYONE, and as the Apostle Paul said, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” What I want to express is that by my belief in the Bible and my love for Christ I do not hate anyone nor do I believe I have any more right to Christ, or life and liberty for that mattter, than anyone else. People who know me, know my heart in this matter, and my LGBT friends can attest to the depth of our relationships and the genuine love and compassion that we share for one another. At the end of the day, what I know most clearly is that we are all sinners and all desperately need Jesus. That is the only message I’m called to deliver.
The good news, I found, and that I want to extend to everyone, is that immediately following the passage above (1 Corinthians 6:9-10) is verse 11: “And such were some of you [members of the Corinthian church]. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
What verse 11 illustrates is that many members of the Corinthian church, were formerly idolaters, adulterers, homosexuals, thieves, drunkards, revilers, and swindlers, etc., and they were all worshiping and serving together in the church, and accepted and loved by God. They were people who were saved and sanctified by Christ. Maybe all of the sin I’ve committed makes me more compassionate. I don’t know. Christ says, “he who is forgiven little loves little.” Maybe that means “he who is forgiven much loves much.” Perhaps that’s me. But perhaps that should also be all Christians. The Bible is clear that no people, on their own merit, are worthy of God. But the Bible is also clear God’s love and saving grace are available to anyone who would take hold of them and look to the cross. Every last one of us are sinners in need of the savior Jesus Christ. Not one of us in the Church is at liberty to deny anyone access to the cross or the gift of repentance. We are not called to badger, or hate, or condemn anyone, but to be light in the world. Our calling is to be like Christ, to engage, love and embrace sinners, to encourage all people to receive the gospel, and to help every person develop a relationship with Jesus Christ. We must understand that the sanctification of individuals is not our work, but is the progressive work of God in the hearts of each person as we engage Christ in His Word. My hope is simply that we would all bear fruit in keeping with repentance. Be kind, love people, point them to Jesus, and let God work.