To Christian Exiles in Babylon

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

Verse 4
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.”

 Verse 5
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).

Verse 6
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.

Verse 7
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

Verse 8
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.”

Verse 9
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.

Verse 12
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.

Verse 13
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.

Verse 14
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 [597] 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.”

Part 2: Christians as God’s People in Continuing Exile

 

* 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.

Chad W. Hussey

Mad Max: A Modern Retelling of the Bible Exodus

Fall, Exodus, Sojourn, and Redemption in a Post-apocolyptic Wasteland

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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.***

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.” [1]  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.

The Fall

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 Exodus

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.

Sojourn

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.

Conclusion

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.” [2]  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.

[1]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-/.

[2]“‘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.***

If you enjoyed this film analysis, you may also enjoy my other film analyses (and the ongoing dialogue) of Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, or Richard Linklater’s Bernie starring Jack Black.

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.

Chad W. Hussey

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What is the Millennium of Revelation 20?

An examination of popular interpretations of the thousand year reign of Christ.

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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. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, 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.

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. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. 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.” [1]  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.” [2]  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.

Use over time of the word 'eschatology' per Google.

Use over time of the word ‘eschatology’ per Google.

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). [3]  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”), [4] or as multiple related recapitulations that symbolically offer kaleidoscopic depictions of the same set of events. [5]  The outcomes of the application of these underlying hermeneutical principles will be shown in the examinations of each system below.

Positions

Dispensational Premillennialism

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. [6] 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.” [7]  John F. Walvoord says, “The pre-millennial interpretation offers the only literal fulfillment for the hundreds of verses of prophetic testimony.” [8]  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.” [9]  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.[10]

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.” [11]

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.

Historical Premillennialism

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.” [12]  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.” [13]  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.” [14]  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.

Postmillennialism

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.” [15]  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.” [16] For the postmillennialist, the millennium is symbolic in nature, and is qualitative rather than quantitative. [17]  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. [18]   “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.” [19]  Further, as more people submit themselves to the Lord’s will, postmillennialism expects a long period of earthly peace termed the millennium. [20]   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. [21]  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. [22]  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.

Amillennialism

endtimeschartamillennial

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. [23] 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.” [24]  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.” [25]  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.” [26]  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.” [27]  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.” [28]  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.” [29]  This system of interpretation is known as recapitulation theory or progressive parallelism. [30]  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.” [31]  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.” [32]

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.” [33] 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).” [34] 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. [35]  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.

Conclusion

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,’ [36] 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.” [37]

[1]G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (New York:  John Lane Co., 1908), 29.

[2]Millard J. Erickson, A Basic Guide to Eschatology:  Making Sense of the Millennium (Grand Rapids, MI:  Baker Books, 1998), 11.

[3]G. K. Beale with David H. Campbell, Revelation:  A Shorter Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI:  Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2015), 421.

[4]Herman A. Hoyt, “Dispensational Premillennialism” in Robert G. Clouse (ed.) The Meaning of the Millennium:  Four Views (Downers Grove, IL:  InterVarsity Press, 1977), 63.

[5]G. B. Caird, The Revelation of St. John the Divine, Harper’s New Testament Commentaries (New York and Evanston:  Harper & Row, 1966), 13.

[6]Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today (Chicago:  Moody Press, 1965), 86-89.

[7]Hoyt, “Dispensational Premillennialism,” 67.

[8]John F. Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom (Findlay, Ohio:  Dunham, 1959), 114.

[9]Erickson, A Basic Guide to Eschatology, 119.

[10]Robert L. Saucy, The Case for Progressive Dispensationalism:  The Interface Between Dispensational & Non-Dispensational Theology (Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan Publishing, 1993), 28-29.

[11]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.

[12]George Eldon Ladd, “Historic Premillennialism” in Robert G. Clouse (ed.) The Meaning of the Millennium:  Four Views (Downers Grove, IL:  InterVarsity Press, 1977), 23.

[13]Ibid, 20.

[14]Ibid, 98.

[15]Ibid, 55.

[16]Ibid, 69.

[17]Loraine Boettner, The Millennium (Phillipsburg, NJ:  P & R Publishing, 1991), 28.

[18]James H. Snowden, The Coming of the Lord:  Will it be Premillennial? (New York:  MacMillan, 1919), 64-66.

[19]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.

[20]Snowden, The Coming of the Lord, 257-63.

[21]Boettner, The Millennium, 14.

[22]Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology (New York:  Scribner, Armstrong, & Co., 1873), 3:792-800, 832.

[23]J. E. Adams, The Time is at Hand, (Philadelphia:  Presbyterian and Reformed, 1970), 7-11.

[24] Beale, Revelation, 420.

[25]Anthony Hoekema, The Bible and the Future (Grand Rapids, MI:  Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1979), 174.

[26]W. J. Grier, “Christian Hope and the Millennium” (Christianity Today:  October 13, 1958), 19.

[27]Beale, Revelation, 421.

[28]Ibid, 420.

[29]Anthony A. Hoekema, “Amillennialism” in Robert G. Clouse (ed.) The Meaning of the Millennium:  Four Views (Downers Grove, IL:  InterVarsity Press, 1977), 156-157.

[30]William Hendriksen, More than Conquerors (Grand Rapids, MI:  Baker Book House, 1939), 11-64.

[31]Beale, Revelation, 422-423.

[32]Ibid, 422.

[33]Hoekema, “Amillennialism,” 161.

[34]Ibid, 162-63.

[35]Ibid, 163.

[36]Ladd, “Historic Premillennialism,” 20.

[37]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.

Chad W. Hussey

1,559 total views, 4 views today

The Bible’s Most Confusing Passages – Judges 19 – The Levite and His Concubine

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.

Judges 19

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. 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. 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. 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.***)

Here is what I believe the text is actually communicating…

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.

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.

Chad W. Hussey

1,414 total views, 1 views today

Is the Universe Interconnected by a Supernatural Force?

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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 books like The Shack, 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?”

Use the force Luke.

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.” [1] 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 views which nullify the transcendent nature of God.

Monism

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.’” [2] 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.” [3] 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.” [4] 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,

Pantheism asserts that God is being itself.

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.[5]

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.” [6]

Quantum Spirituality

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, [7] and many hold the view that discoveries in quantum physics “provide a mandate to reevaluate the traditional understanding of God and reality.” [8]

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. [9] 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.

Quantum physics theorizes the interconnectivity of the universe.

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.[10] 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.[11]

Panentheism

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].” [12] 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.[13]

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.” [14] 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.

Theological Support for Transcendence

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.

Jesus is the mediator between God and man.

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.” [15]

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. [16]

 

Patheism entails that cigarrette butts, cancer, and all evils are equally manifestations of God.

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.

In Monism Good and Evil interplay as one.

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.” [17] 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.” [18] 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.

Scientific Support for Transcendence

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. [19]

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.” [20] 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.

Concerns for an Over-emphasis on Transcendence

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.” [21] 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.” [22]

Deists believe that God wound up the universe like a clock, then left it to run on it’s own.

Conclusion

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.” [23] 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.” [24]

[1]William E. Horden, Speaking of God: The Nature and Purpose of Theological Language (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Pub, 2002), 121.

[2]Paul Harrison, Elements of Pantheism: A Spirituality of Nature and the Universe, 2nd ed. (Coral Springs, FL: Llumina Press, 2004), 1.

[3]Ibid., 36.

[4]Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology, vol. 1 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951), 235.

[5]Paul Tillich and Carl E. Braaten, Perspectives on 19th & 20th Century Protestant Theology (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1967), 94-95.

[6]William P. Young, The Shack (Newbury Park, CA: Windblown Media, 2007), 112.

[7]William E. Brown, “Quantum Theology: Christianity and the New Physics,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 33, 4 (December 1990): 480.

[8]Ibid., 477.

[9]Ibid., 480.

[10]Leonard Sweet, Quantum Spirituality: A Postmodern Apologetic (Dayton, OH: Whaleprints for SpiritVenture Ministries, Inc., 1991), 261

[11]Ibid., 125

[12]Harrison, Elements of Pantheism, 2.

[13]Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1966), 140-142.

[14]Thomas Keating, Fruits and Gifts of the Spirit (New York: Lantern Books, 2000), 14.

[15]Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 187.

[16]C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (San Francisco: HarperCollins Publishers, 2001), 36-37.

[17]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.

[18] Grudem, Systematic Theology, 176.

[19]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.

[20]P. J. Zwart, About Time: A Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin and Nature of Time (Amsterdam: North-Holland, 1976), 136.

[21]G. DeMar, Pushing the Antithesis: The Apologetic Methodology of Greg L. Bahnsen (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 2007), 274.

[22]A. H. Strong, Systematic Theology (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1907), 415.

[23]Sarah Pulliam Bailey, “Values Voter Summit Session Claims Emergent Church, Satan, and Islam are Bringing Down America,” Huffington Post (August 28, 2013).

[24]Sweet, Quantum Spirituality, 261.

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.

Chad W. Hussey

A More Christian Approach to Post-Christian Culture

Part 3 of a series on the Application of Jeremiah’s ‘Letter to the Exiles’ to Christian Living and Approaching Culture Today. Part 1 Here
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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.”

Breaking false American conceptions: Christianity is neither politically theocratic, nor is Christ’s kingdom of this 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.

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.

Chad W. Hussey

Christians as God’s People in Continuing Exile

Part 2 of a series on the Application of Jeremiah’s ‘Letter to the Exiles’ to Christian Living and Approaching Culture Today. Part 1 Here.
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The Arch of Titus commemorating the sacking of the Second Temple.

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).

The Great Commission

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.

Part 3: A More Christian Approach to Post-Christian Culture

 

* 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.

Chad W. Hussey

The Peace that Surpasses all Understanding Pt. 1

Part 1 of 4:  Peace Comes From Trust in God’s Plan

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. 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.

Tapestry backside

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

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.

Chad W. Hussey

1 Corinthians 6:9

“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.

Sacrifice for Tomorrow

1 Corinthians 13:12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.

1 Corinthians 2:9 That is what the Scriptures mean when they say, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.”

Hebrews 10:35 Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. 36 For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.

Hebrews 12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

A better tomorrow never comes without sacrifice today.
Do good…share what you have…sacrifice in faith.
Endure. Embrace.
This life is not the reward…but tomorrow…

This post was inspired by the teaching of John Piper…

And the Lecrae song, “Sacrifice”

The Most Common False Beliefs of Professing Christians

Is Your Christian Faith Biblical?

Many people’s faith has a number of extra-biblical influences they are unaware of.

Many Christians, who are not well versed in the Bible, combine elements of the Bible, church tradition, culture, other religions, and personal beliefs to create belief systems that don’t actually align with the teachings of the Lord they profess to follow. There is a recent trend in Christianity, a somewhat knee-jerk reaction to our post-modern culture’s proclivity to relativism and tolerance, that has led many Christians (and even Christian leaders) to shy away from clear teaching of the Bible. In some cases there are Christians who have questioned teachings of the Bible or even attempted to reconstruct long held Christian doctrines to fit within the confines of our country’s new cultural beliefs. For this reason I have constructed a quick test to help determine if our individual beliefs, and the beliefs of our churches, are truly in line with the Bible. Answer the yes or no questions, and then check them against the answers below.

1. Do you believe man evolved from something other than humans…a bacteria or another species of animal (IE. apes)?

2. Do you believe any of the following: that God and creation are one, that creation is a manifest part of God, that the universe is contained within God, or that God exists within creation?

3. Do you believe that all people are united to one another other and to the universe in mind, spirit, and body?

4. Do you believe the human mind has the potential to alter or override physical reality?

5. Do you believe people have the ability (independent of the work of God through the Holy Spirit) to heal illness by belief, with the mind, by touch, or by spoken word?

6. Do you believe that it is possible to believe desired outcomes into existence (IE. thinking positive thoughts will bring positive outcomes into existence)?

7. Do you believe that God accepts people into heaven based on the merits of the life they live, if they live a life of good, of love, or of good works?

8. Do you believe that the God of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and Bhuddism, etc. all share the same God, and the different religions are merely God’s way of reaching different people?

9. Do you believe the Bible is the inerrant Word of God and do you place yourself, your beliefs, and your actions under the authority of the Bible?

10. Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, God Himself come to earth in human flesh, and is an equal part of the Holy Trinity?

11. Do you believe Christ physically (in the body) rose from the grave and ascended into heaven?

12. Do you believe the atoning work of the blood of Christ is mandatory for the salvation of a sinner from the wrath of God (including eternal separation from God in hell), and that faith in Christ is the only way that a person can be reconciled and placed in right standing with God?

13. Do you believe the Holy Spirit of God is exclusively granted to believers in Jesus Christ as Lord?

14. Do you believe Christ’s Church is consecrated and set apart from the world?

15. Do you believe that faith is the free, unmerited gift of God, granted to His chosen by His grace, and that while we pursue righteousness, faith is not developed by works, logical reasoning, or the convincing of man?

16. Do you believe that Christ will physically return to earth at the Day of the Lord to gather His elect, and to tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty against non-believers?

Answers:

1. If you answered yes to #1, you are a believer in the scientific theory of macro-evolution. This theory is so far unproven, and in conflict with Genesis 2:7 which says, “then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” You can learn more about science’s inability to prove macro-evolution here:

2. If you answered yes to #2, you hold some variation of the heretical views of pantheism or panentheism. These beliefs contradict Genesis 1:1 which says, “God created the heavens and the earth,” and Hebrews 11:3, which teaches, God created everything from nothing (ex nihilo). Matthew 5:48 says God is perfect and Malachi 3:6 says He does not change. The idea that God would have a portion of Himself that is corrupted by sin, wicked, and destined for destruction (Revelation 20:15) is in contradiction to the very character of God which is eternal, perfect, and holy (Deuteronomy 33:27, Isaiah 6:3).

Pantheistic belief that God is in creation.

3-6. If you answered yes to any of questions 3-6, you hold beliefs from the non-Christian religion, New Age.

New Age belief that we are all one with the universe.

3. The Bible says in Psalm 4:3 that we are not all one in body and spirit, but that “the Lord has set apart the godly for Himself,” In John 15:17 Christ says we are not of this world, just as He is not of the world. In Romans 12:2 we are instructed to not conform to the world.

4&5. Christ taught in Matthew 17:20 that with enough faith Christians will be able to move mountains. The faith He speaks of however, is not a faith in ourselves and our own abilities, but faith that God will move mountains for us. Christ Himself said that the power by which He performed His miracles was not his own, but the power of the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:18). In Christianity we are not to depend on our own abilities, but to pray to God for the aid of His Holy Spirit.

New Age belief that physical objects can be controlled with the mind.

6. If you answered yes to #6, you believe in the New Age belief in the power of positive thinking. Some feel good preachers teach that by speaking power over our circumstances we can will change into existence. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 however says, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Clearly we all know that our lives will not always be perfect, and there will be times when we will all endure suffering. So often we want God to change our circumstances and we pray that He would, but we are reluctant to accept the truth that God has placed us in our circumstances to bring about change in us. This is not meant to discount the importance of prayer, as it is paramount, but rather to bring about awareness that as followers of Christ we are not called to attempt to influence God’s will, but rather, to make it the desire of our heart to live in submission to it. Our confidence lies in the greatness of our God. We can always be confident that He will provide us exactly what we need. What we need may not be exactly what we want. In Luke 22:42 Christ demonstrates that even He lived in submission to the Father’s will when he said, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” We are to trust God’s plans for our lives and seek to align our hearts with them.

7. If you answered yes to #7 you are holding to a false doctrine of works based righteousness. This belief that a person can earn their way into heaven by their good deeds is the same belief that Christ condemned the Pharisees for. The Good News of the gospel is that we are save by our faith in Christ. Ephesians 2:8 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

8. If you answered yes to #8, you hold the heresy of Universalism. This is the belief that all roads lead to God. This contradicts the words of Christ when in John 14:6 He says, “I am THE WAY, and THE TRUTH, and THE LIFE. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Christ, here, says He is the absolute Truth, and the only way to salvation. If this sounds exclusive it is because it is. Jesus was crucified by the religious leaders of the day because He was outspoken in stating that He is God, and that He is the only way. Some people say that Christ never claimed to be God, but in John 14:8 Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father; that will be enough for us.” 9 Jesus replied, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been with you all this time? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” Jesus is God. Anyone who does not know Jesus, does not know God.

Universalist belief that all beliefs have the same end.

9-16. If you answered yes to #9-16, you hold to sound Christian doctrines as expressed in the Holy Bible. These doctrines can be seen most clearly in the following places in the Bible: (9) 1 Timothy 3:16 (10) John 1:14 (11) Luke 24:39 (12) 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9 (13) Acts 2:38 (14) 2 Corinthians 6:14-18 (15) Ephesians 2:8-9, 2 Timothy 1:8-11 (16) Matthew 24:29-31, Revelation 19:20

I hope this test was helpful, and my prayer is that all of us will always continue to prayerfully and thoughtfully seek Truth and seek to grow in knowledge and relationship with our LORD. Some people fear learning more about God because they are comfortable with God in the terms by which they imagine Him, and are afraid they would uncover something that they would not like. This is understandable, but a wise man once posed the following question to me, “If you knew God better, would you love Him more, or would you love Him less?” I have found it very encouraging to ponder that question. Someday we will come face to face with God, and on that day we will see Him perfectly. Let us hope that on that day, when we know Him rightly, we will love Him more.

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.

Chad W. Hussey

Fearing the Lord?

Question:  I’m not sure exactly what “Fearing the Lord” means.  On your blog you speak a little on fearing the Lord but not in depth. What are your thoughts?

Many people in our generation believe that fear of the Lord simply means respect.  The liberal, feel good theology of the last 50 years has been heavily focused on grace and mercy, and has widely espoused the “God is love” slogan.  It is absolutely true that it is by God’s grace alone that we are saved, and it is also absolutely true that God is love.  However, an over emphasis of the “God is love” maxim fails to acknowledge that God has many characteristics of which loving, merciful, and graceful are just a few.  God is also, equally just – meaning He absolutely cannot allow sin to go unpunished, jealous – meaning He is angered by any desire of man to put other things ahead of Him, and is also wrathful (Nahum 1:2).  The combination of all of God’s traits is what makes God what He ultimately is:  above all, and in all things, God is Holy, Holy, Holy (Isaiah 6:3, Revelation 4:8).  In the Hebrew language, a word repeated 3 times is the equivalent of 3 exclamation points in English.  Read: God is HOLY!!!  The Bible never says God is love, love, love…or merciful, merciful, merciful.

God IS love.  I want to preface that this is absolutely true, and God’s love is by no means being debated.  God is actually the creator of love and the origin of true agape (Greek for unconditional covenant love).   Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love (1 John 4:8).  Just remember, God is not only love.  God also has other characteristics that should be respected, and feared, in the literal sense of the word fear.

The word fear appears in the Bible 216 times from Genesis to Revelation.  Many times the word fear appears alongside the word trembling.  The first time fear and trembling appear is in Exodus, and the last time is in Philippians.

Phillipians 2:12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed–not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence–continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.

If you believe fear means respect…I suppose if your respect takes you to the point of physical trembling…then that is the appropriate respect owed to God by the command of the verse above.  But, trembling – defined as involuntary shaking as a result of anxiety and frailty – indicates to me that proper knowledge of the LORD provokes literal fear.

Isaiah’s guilt is forgiven by the seraphim.

Look at the experience of any Biblical character who comes into the presence of God.  Every one of them, upon first realization, falls straight down on their face and/or cries out that they are sinful and unworthy.  Take for instance Isaiah, the holiest man in lsrael: (Isaiah 6:5) Isaiah said: “Woe is me! For I am undone; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!.”  He breaks down and comes completely unglued in the presence of God simply because he has a dirty mouth.  Then in the New Testament when Christ asks Simon Peter to follow Him, Peter falls down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord (Luke 5:8).”  Then, in revelation when the Spirit raises John (the one whom Jesus loved) to see the risen Christ, John says, “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead (Revelation 1:17).  These are just a few examples…there are dozens more.   The holiest of men fall to pieces at the feet of the LORD.

I once started working on a fire and brimstone sermon by Jesus.  That may sound like an oxymoron to some, and may perhaps even offend others.  I went about the task of compiling Christ’s every reference to judgment, hell, and condemnation.  My intent was to offer a demonstration that Jesus Christ did indeed preach fire and brimstone.  I am acquainted with many people who have a strong aversion to hell, fire, and brimstone preaching, however I find it to be very important (in limited application), and believe there is a necessary balance between teaching grace, wrath, and every other personality trait of God.  After spending several hours compiling many pages of condemning Jesus quotes I decided that what I was doing was a dangerous thing.  After praying on it, and seeing how condemning the collection of verses was, I came to the conclusion that perhaps pulling Jesus’ verses out of their original context could misrepresent Him.  That’s not a risk I want to take.  The point of the matter is however, that Jesus did preach extensively on judgment and wrath.  When you cut out the narrative and the softening analogies of the parables, and you merely examine the references and allusions to hell, death, and condemnation, it is exceedingly clear that, with absolute certainty, there will be harsh judgment (Matthew 25:41), the majority of people will burn in hell (Matthew 7:14), and there will be tremendous sorrow (weeping and gnashing of teeth – appears 7 times).  We must present the LORD, unvarnished, for all the things His Word declares He is…not just the traits that work for us, that make us feel good, that make us like Him more, or that don’t scare us.  It is terrible folly to attempt to fit God within parameters that we dictate.  Excluding wrath from our doctrine does not eliminate the wrath of God (“wrath” appears 215 times in the Bible) – rather it merely eliminates it from our consciousness.  Prayerfully ponder the implications and consequences of that.

Christ said, “Fear not man who has the ability to kill the body.  I shall tell you whom you should fear.  Fear Him who after the body has been killed has the authority to cast you into hell (Luke 12:5).”  The context of fear being expressed here is fear in the sense of suffering a violent death at the hands of another man.  I don’t know what earthly fear could be any more fearsome than the fear of a violent death (think of being stoned to death for preaching the gospel as Steven the martyr was – Acts 7:54).  Jesus instructs here that the only fear greater than being brutally killed should be the fear of hell.  This doesn’t sound like Jesus is talking about respect.  I don’t think He’s saying we respect death so we should respect Him.  I think our natural instinct is to be terrified of death, and Jesus is saying here:  Fear Me more!  I can cast you into a violent, torturous Hell, the likes of which you cannot even fathom.

It is also important that we not fall into depending solely on the New Testament to define who the LORD is.  Jesus Christ and the Father God are united in one essence, and Christ himself says that He is subservient to the will of the Father (John 6:38).  Christ did not come into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world (John 3:17).  However, Christ does clearly exhort that all must follow His teaching, or condemnation is coming for those who do not submit their lives to His service. If you read the Old Testament, where the Father God is the main character, you witness dozens of instances where the immutable, unchanging, LORD, annihilates all who would rebel and put anything ahead of Him.  We must remember Jesus Christ and God the Father are one and the same God in the Holy Trinity.  God does not change.  He was perfect from the beginning, and it is not possible to change or improve upon perfection.  He is not a God who is growing, learning, becoming more progressive, inclusive, or open minded.  He has not improved upon His perfection since His Old Testament days.  No.  God is unchanged.  Therefore, we must understand God is still the same sovereign God who punishes treason and administers wrath to rebels.  Non-believers, those not secure in salvation, unrepentant sinners, and those lukewarm in their subservience to Christ have much to fear.

Proverbs 9:10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

Even believers would be wise to understand the Bible has drastic promises for those who believe in Christ, but fail to repent and turn to God, to ask forgiveness, and to strive to conquer sin within our lives…

Hebrews 10:27 For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries. 28Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? 30For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.”And again, “The LORD will judge His People.”

31 It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

We cannot varnish the truth of God’s character.  A focus solely citing portions of the Bible that portray the Lord as “gentle Jesus meek and mild,” does not eliminate the mass of scripture that promises coming judgment and wrath for the non-believer, the self-righteous, and the unrepentant sinner.   I implore everyone, get to know Jesus Christ as the lamb.  He came to the world as a lamb to serve and suffer the punishment of His followers’ sin – offering forgiveness in His kindness and compassion.  When we give the LORD control He is quick to forgive.  When we reject the LORD we bring His wrath upon ourselves.

Now is the time to get right with the Lord.  He has extended the invitations.  A day will come when that invitation will no longer stand.  Christ has promised that when He returns He is not coming back as a lamb, but he is coming as a lion (Revelation 5:5).  When He returns He will not come to serve or suffer.  He will come to judge the quick and the dead (2 Timothy 4:1).

Psalm 2:11 Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. 12 Kiss the Son,  lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled.  Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

 

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.

Chad W. Hussey

The Peace that Surpasses all Understanding Pt. 3

Part 3 of 4:  Peace Comes From Understanding How Your Circumstances Glorify God

John 9:1 As he passed by, (Jesus) saw a man blind from birth. And His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. (Then), he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam.”  So he went and washed and came back seeing.

What Christ tells His disciples here is that this man was not born blind as punishment for his parent’s sin, he was not born blind because God foreknew his sins, and he was not born blind by chance, by a great cosmic fluke, or for no reason.  The man was born blind for just this certain occasion – this time when he would seek Jesus’ healing, and Christ would have the opportunity to perfom this miracle.  Then the man would run and profess Christ’s name to all, and the Lord would be glorified in this man’s testimony.

Why is it that when we suffer hardship we are so quick to question God or become angry with Him?  How do we suppose that God would be able demonstrate the greatness of His power and love if there were never any obstacles in our lives where we should need His assistance or His healing?  We must realize that we are a terribly jaded people.  It is only a small amount of time before we take anything for granted.  Stop and think…how much time do we spend appreciating the simple things like running water and electricity?  How long can we go without them before we realize just how fortunate we truly are?  How long does it take when things are going well before we start to forget how much we truly need the LORD?  Conversely, how long does it take when we fall into hardship for us to drop to our knees in prayer?  When things get hard it’s not long before we are asking our entire network for their prayers.  Even non-believers ask believers to pray for them.  Clearly there must be something to that.  At some point does it not seem that we can be too blessed – that we can have too much, or become too confident in our prosperity and begin to believe we have no need for the LORD (Proverbs 30:8)?  But…when life becomes overwhelming, we are often quick to cry out for help.

Man was given a perfect existence when Adam and Eve were created in the Garden.  Rather than embrace God, they rebelled.  They took their perfect existence for granted. They took God for granted.  In that perfect existence, Adam and Eve had no ability to comprehend life seperate from God.  Without an understanding of life separate from God, they had no appreciation of the value of life with God.

Just as God heals the sick and delivers the oppressed for His glory, he also uses our response to suffering as testimony to His glory.  The Apostle Paul understood this as well as anyone as he rejoiced in writing 2/3 of the New Testament.  The majority of his writing took place all while being ship wrecked, snake bitten, beaten continuously…nearly to death, and locked in prison multiple times.  It would seem many of us would surely get discouraged in all of this.  Paul never once did.  When you and I see a dreadful situation, like being beaten and imprisoned, ship wrecked, or ill we might see it as catastrophic. We might see it as God punishing us, or turning His back on us.  We might see it as God not listening to our prayers.  Paul saw it as an opportunity.  He saw it as a moment in which God was using Him.  He rejoiced in being chosen worthy by God to be used for His purpose.  It was an opportunity for him to overcome obstacles, preach the gospel through them, for God to deliver him from them, and for his handling of these situations to be a testimony to the glory of Jesus Christ.  Paul lived above the circumstances that surrounded him.  By keeping His eyes on God, he transcended all earthly difficulties in his heart and mind.  Nothing phased Paul.  Paul said, “For me, to live is Christ, to die is gain (Philippians 1:21), meaing that in either event, life or death, in Christ there is always victory.  His heart was so connected to God, his anchor so securely set in the clouds, the events transpiring around him did not toss him back and forth like a ship upon the waves, or blow him here and there like every gust of wind (Ephesians 4:14).  Paul rejoiced in doing God’s will and was thus a fully contented Christian super hero – fearless, unafraid, and eternally joyful.

Paul is an amazing testimony to the power of Jesus Christ.  I find it hard to believe that God could have been more glorified, or Christians more inspired, had Paul written his letters while lounging in a rocker or picnicking under a shady tree.  The truth is, the idea of anyone making it through this life without turmoil and suffering is not realistic.  It takes next to nothing of this earth to serve Christ.  Even people facing the most difficult of circumstances can seek God with all their heart, and serve God’s purpose for their lives.  It takes very little, just our daily bread and a heart for Christ, to find contentment in relationship with Him.  Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven (Luke 6:20).  The poor in spirit do not live a life wrought with distractions, and a simple life more often yields the realization of the need for God – the realization that we have needs that we are not able to fulfill on our own.  Many people believe they could become happier by having more of what we already have.  If we just had the next promotion, a little more money, a little bigger house, a little more free time, etc, etc.  Then we try like mad to acquire those things…they come…and yet there is still not contentment.  The things of this world are not sufficient to provide the contentment our souls desire.  Our souls desire relationship with our creator.

The gift of faith is not a perfect life free from struggle.  The gift of faith is not earthly prosperity.  The gift of faith is the peace that is found in relationship with Jesus Christ!  That is the reward.  This relationship is more valuable than anything this universe can afford.  You will never find perfect peace or contentment in anything else the world could offer.  It is better to have nothing, and know God, than to have everything and not know Him.  If we are missing that, we are missing the entirity of our existence.

All of these earthly things we desire are merely distractions from the one true thing that will bring about contentment and healing in our lives.  Sometimes it takes a little struggle for us to realize that.  When things get hard it becomes very clear what is truly important. God sometimes uses suffering to pry our grip from the things we have sinfully made too important.  His intent is to break our hold of these idols and to redirect our focus to what will truly bring peace to our lives – relationship with Him. Understanding why the LORD has placed us in our circumstances, and understanding the result that God desires to bring out of these circumstances is essential to finding the peace that surpasses all understanding.

Joni Eareckson Tada is an amazing testimony in rejoicing in all circumstances and suffering well.  It’s hard to say it much better than this:

Read Part 4 Here

God Appoints Political Leaders

There is a raging debate of late over whether or not it is right to pay taxes or submit to political powers that do not support Christian ideologies.  The Bible does fairly well to address this topic directly.

At the time Christ was on earth, Rome ruled the known world from England to India, and the nation of Israel was captive to Rome.  To financially support  the standing army necessary to control the Jews, taxes were 70 to 80% of the annual income of the average Jewish household.  The Jews and Romans definitely did not share the same beliefs or virtues.

The Jews expected their Messiah to be a powerful king who would militarily throw off the oppressive rule of Rome and free the nation of Israel.  But, when asked whether or not his followers should submit to Roman authority and pay taxes to this unjust government, Jesus said, “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and render unto God what is God’s.”

Why does Jesus say this?  Christians are a people not of this world.  We are people of the kingdom of God.  God’s call is a call for the submission of our hearts to Him, and the denial of the importance of the things of this world.  Christ has tasked us, as His followers, to fight a spiritual battle, through discipleship.  Our faith is not a call to rebel and fight, but a call to unite and spread His Word.  Very little is necessary for us to achieve God’s purpose for our lives (relationship with Him and spreading of His Word).  God is a God of justice and saving grace, and he is our deliverer.  He is working on a grand plan, all of which is laid out in detail from the beginning to the end in the Bible.  We can see His plan coming to fruition as prophecy is continuously fulfilled.  When we are obedient and put our dependence on God, in His time, according to His purpose, He always delivers.  Christ did not lead a Jewish rebellion against Rome, rather, He submitted to their authority and allowed them to crucify Him.  After the crucifixion of Christ, the Jewish temple in Jerusalem was destroyed and the Jews were driven out from Israel across the world.  But, because of his crucifixion, the sins of God’s elect became atoned.  And because of the wonder of the resurrection, and the dedication (to death) of Christ’s followers, the Christian faith exploded.  Today, the Roman Empire is long gone, but the Kingdom of Christ spans the globe.  Christ’s teaching is incredibly counter-intuitive to our human instincts, but is proven righteous, and God has a plan for our redemption.

Here is what the apostle Paul wrote in Romans 13:

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.
6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. 7 Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

The power ordained to all rulers of the world is by God, and is vital for His purpose in His story (the redemption of man from sin and the gathering of His children back to Him, as laid out from Genesis to Revelation).  We must have Faith in God’s plan.

If you enjoyed this post you might also appreciate my article To Christian Exiles in Babylon on the application of Jeremiah’s ‘Letter to the Exiles’ to Christian living and approaching culture today.

Chad W. Hussey is an average Jesus loving iconoclastic non-conformist neighborhood hope dealer – a husband, father, urban missionary, community group leader, and theology student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY.

Chad W. Hussey

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Prosperity Gospel Fiction and God’s True Deliverance

Unfortunately for prosperity gospel fans I have some bad news.  God does not always free the oppressed on earth.  God does not always remove every obstacle from our path, and his promise to believers certailinly isn’t earthly wealth.  Demanding God remove all obstacles or deliver us from all earthly oppression as a requirement of our faith is egregious Idolatry of the things of the world and of our earthly existence.

Christ’s offered deliverance in the Bible is eternal life.  This is central to the understanding of God’s plan for the deliverance and the glorification of our souls.  If it was God’s intention to free oppressed peoples on earth, he would not have let the greatest prophet of the Old Testament, Isaiah, be sawn in half.  He would not have left John, the Baptist, the most righteous man ever to live (prior to Christ), in prison to be beheaded.  He would not have had the holiest men left on earth after Christ, (the Apostles) put to violent deaths….executed by crucifixion and beheaded defending their beliefs to the very end.  The apostles confidence in what they had witnessed was so strong, and their belief in the resurrection so powerful, that they confidently walked into death in an expression of utmost conviction to Christ, all for the glory of God.  If His plan were an earthly prosperity, God would not have let nearly every great Protestant Reform leader and nearly every translator who attempted to make the Bible accessible to the common man, be burnt at the stake or slain at the hands of the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches.  He wouldn’t have let hundreds of thousands of Protestants be murdered by their oppressive theocratic rulers in the 16th and 17th centuries – all for trying to remove government rule from the Church.  These are God’s people…the ones most closely aligned with His plan.  Not set free from bondage, put to death.  Man’s purpose is to glorify God, and the conviction of these men – to the death, is the supreme demonstration of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  These men all recognized God’s plan is not the deliverance of His people in the earthly realm, but rather, His call is for us to put to death the earthly desires within our hearts and seek Him.  His grace is sufficient.  Deliverance comes through death to self and life in the eternal salvation of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  If you’re looking for the temporal, earthly things God can provide you, your eyes are on the wrong prize.  Set your anchor beyond the clouds (Hebrews 6:19) and you will be provided a peace that transcends all understanding (Phillipians 4:7).

By:  Chad W. Hussey By:  Chad W. Hussey

The Passion of the Christ

The Passion of the Christ is a 2004 film directed by Mel Gibson and starring Jim Caviezel as Jesus.  Arguably (easily, IMO) the most well produced and accurate Hollywood Jesus movie ever made.  It rocks!!!

One of the few subtitled movies I will watch over and over…it was originally not intended to have subtitles at all!  It’s that powerful.  Mel Gibson may have stumbled (we all do!), but he deserves major props for this inspired work.