This sermon was preached on December 17, 2017, at Church on the Rock in West Houston/Katy, TX. This is the second message in a three-part series on the wonder and majesty of Christmas.
This sermon was preached on December 17, 2017, at Church on the Rock in West Houston/Katy, TX. This is the second message in a three-part series on the wonder and majesty of Christmas.
This sermon was preached on December 10, 2017, at Church on the Rock in West Houston/Katy, TX. This is the first message in a three-part series on the wonder and majesty of Christmas.
In 1955, atheologian J. L. Mackie argued the logical problem of evil renders belief in God “positively irrational.”  Mackie claimed the omnipotence, omniscience, and omnibenevolence of the God of traditional theism are inconsistent with the existence of evil in the world. Rebutting this claim, Alvin Plantinga proffered the response known as the free will defense. Articulated in his 1977 work God, Freedom, and Evil, the free will defense is the most effective defense the theist has against the logical problem of evil. Upon reviewing the defense, Mackie conceded the following in 1982: “Since [the free will defense] is formally [that is, logically] possible, and its principle involves no real abandonment of our ordinary view of the opposition between good and evil, we can concede that the problem of evil does not after all show that the central doctrines of theism are logically inconsistent with one another.”  Thirty-five years later, opponents of theism still fail to sufficiently respond to the free will defense.
While Plantinga’s work delivered a heavy blow to atheologians, his conception of human freedom also troubled reformed theologians. The metaphysical libertarian conception of human freedom, on which the defense relies, is often conflated with Arminian theology. Believing the defense to require the adoption of an Arminian theology, many reformed theologians consider the free will defense inconsistent with Calvinism.
Accepting the importance of the free will defense as the only conclusive rebuttal of the logical problem of evil, and acknowledging Calvinist’s concerns for the defense’s employment of libertarian freedom, ample evidence suggests a thoroughgoing Calvinist has grounds upon which to embrace the free will defense. Further, it can be said that many historical Calvinists have held the very conception of freedom necessary to coherently adopt the free will defense into reformed theology.
Plantinga contends that for any moral good to exist, it is required that a creature has the ability for meaningful choice in at least one morally significant decision. Removing the creature’s ability to choose evil simultaneously eliminates any ability the creature has for choosing good, and thus, ethical choice both good and bad are consequently lost. 
This type of meaningful choice requires a conception of freedom that grants human agents the ability for contrary choice, also referred to as libertarian freedom. This means that in at least some actions an agent performs he could have instead refrained from performing the chosen action. Stated another way, in at least some choices an agent could legitimately perform either A or not-A. Therefore, to embrace the free will defense, a person holding a reformed soteriology must embrace a view of human freedom that grants agents the ability for contrary choice. Many modern Calvinists will argue the adoption of this understanding of freedom is not possible for the reformed theologian. This position is, however, misinformed.
The historic Reformed tradition honors the simultaneously affirmed biblical truths of God’s meticulous sovereignty and human responsibility. This is what J. I. Packer calls the “antinomy” of Scripture. Packer writes, “God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility are taught to us side by side in the same Bible; sometimes, indeed, in the same text. Both are thus guaranteed us by the same divine authority; both, therefore, are true.”  As Charles Spurgeon articulates, “The system of truth is not one straight line, but two. . . These two truths, I do not believe, can ever be welded into one upon any human anvil . . . but they will meet somewhere in eternity, close to the throne of God.” 
While convincing a Calvinist to accept the predestination of God is rarely an issue, there is considerable debate regarding the manner as to how Calvinists define human freedom and subsequent moral responsibility. Most adherents of modern Calvinism are committed to a view of freedom called compatibilism, most notably championed by Jonathan Edwards. Put simply, compatibilists state that “we are free when we choose to do what we want. But it stands to reason that if we choose to do what we want, then at the moment of that choice, we are not ‘free’ to do otherwise.”  Compatibilists explicitly deny this human ability for contrary choice.
However, Calvinist historian Richard Muller points out, that unlike Edwards, Calvinists historically saw human responsibility as requiring the same contrary choice adopted by Plantinga in the free will defense. Muller writes, “[Historically] the Reformed deny chance . . . but affirm contingency as something that could be otherwise given that its causality is contingent and, in the cause of human choices, defined as contingency by potencies of will to more than one effect.”  This ability to “will to more than one effect” is contrary choice.  According to Muller, the Reformed position of the 16th and 17th centuries, whether one looks to Calvin or to Turretin or to the Westminster standards, involves a conception of human will that can choose between A or not-A.  The potency of the will to multiple effects, and freedom of contrariety appears throughout reformed writings until Jonathan Edwards associates this language strictly with Arminianism in Freedom of the Will.  “This shift in language and understanding between the older Reformed orthodoxy and the teachings of Edwards was identified by both proponents and opponents of his views.” 
Working from Turretin’s Institutio Theologiae Elenticae, Muller shows that at least one prominent Genevan professor held a freedom of “simultaneity of potencies,” such that the “otherwise” does exist as a pure potency not actualized in this world, but pushed back into the divine mind and resident in a possible world that God does not will to actualize. For Turretin, this yields contingency defined by a multiplicity of potencies.  In his own words Turretin insists, “The will of itself is so prepared that it can either elicit or suspend the act (which is the liberty of contrariety and of specification).”  Turretin was not alone in Geneva. Samuel Maresius, who studied at Geneva at the time of the Synod of Dort, agreed that indifference persists “as long as the intellect remains doubtful and uncertain where to turn itself.”  Both Turretin and Maresius affirm alternativity and place free choice in the last determinate judgement of the practical intellect. Hence, these men of the 17th century Academy of Geneva, conceived of reformed theology as including contrary choice.
Upon its founding, Princeton University adopted Francis Turretin’s Institutes of Elenctic Theology as the primary textbook for systematic theology. Turretin’s text remained Princeton’s staple until it was replaced by the systematic theology of 19th century reformed heavyweight Charles Hodge in the 1870s. In his Systematic Theology, Hodge follows Turretin’s lead by affirming the freedom of self-determination. Hodge writes, “Concursus . . . contradicts the consciousness of men. . . To act freely implies that we originate our own acts.”  This evidences that the two primary theological texts of orthodox Princeton both affirm, and were written by theologians who affirmed, human self-determination in contrary choice.
Further, regarding the determination of choice, many of the earliest reformed theologians build out the landscape of the earliest reformed notions of freedom. Girolamo Zanchi (16th century Italian Calvinist) and Lucas Treclatius (16th century Dutch Calvinist) placed alternativity in both the will and the intellect and identified freedom as the free agreement of the will with the judgment of the intellect.  Gulielmus Bucanus (16th century Swiss-French Calvinist) argued the will as a rational faculty and possessor of alternativity that can will, or not will the object presented to the intellect.  John Wemyss (early 17th century Scottish Calvinist) advocated for an “initial act of will that induces [the] intellect to deliberate, followed by the act of freely accepting the determinate judgment.”  17th century Dutch theologian Petrus van Mastricht wrote that “choice occurs according to an inward counsel that is neither intrinsically determined nor determined extrinsically by compulsion.”  Dugald Stewart, Sir William Hamilton, Franco Burgersdijk, Robert Baron, Adriaan Heereboord, and Gijsbert Voetius were also members of that older Reformed tradition  that, according to Philip Doddridge, consisted of contrary choice, and when explicitly implicated, distanced itself from compatibilistic definitions of the will. 
Evidenced by their theological works, many historical Calvinists divided the activity of free choice into (1) an adjudication of intellect between multiple potentialities, and (2) a free willing upon the choice the intellect has chosen. Like Aquinas’ account of intellect and will, the willing is free because it is a matter of rational willingness or spontaneity in following the determination of the intellect.  Such assertions of intellective power of choice, two volitional liberties, and contradiction and contrariety seem to very closely resemble the self-determining power and power of choosing differently that Edwards, and compatibilists by extension, vehemently deny. There is no shortage of early Reformed theologians who affirm a genuine inward alternativity grounded in an interchange of intellect and will. Thus, for early Reformation theologians, in the case of judgments of the intellect it is possible that a person willing A could have likewise willed not-A. Further, these men explain the choice in selecting A or not-A as itself belonging to the adjudication of the intellect which provides the last judgment upon which the will follows. Muller suggests that Edwards’ predecessors have “an interaction of intellect and will that begins in an actus primus indeterminacy and yields a determination, which is also concurrently willed by God from eternity as an aspect of the possible world that he has decreed to actualize.” 
19th century theologian John Lafayette Girardeau (Southern Presbyterian author of The Will in its Theological Relations – a 485 page rebuttal to Edwards’ Freedom of the Will) was a confessionally Reformed theologian who insisted that elements of human willing must include the determinate choice of action, whether for one thing or another.  Girardeau was a vehement opponent of Jonathan Edwards’ dismissal of contrary choice, and argued the case for mutability of will from Calvin’s Institutes and the Reformed confessions. He records that Edwards’ thesis that God’s causal determinism is compatible with human free will, “was attended by singular and apparently contradictory results.” 
Girardeau used the prelapsarian couple as his model in arguing that the historical church universally believed the couple had the ability of deliberate election. He references the fourth chapter of the Westminster confession which says, “[God] created man . . . with reasonable and immortal souls . . . having the law of God written in their hearts, and power to fulfill it . . . being left to liberty of their own will,” as well as the ninth chapter which states that “Man, in his state of innocency, had freedom, and power to will . . . mutably.” Girardeau finds agreement in his interpretation of the Westminster Confession from William Cunningham. Considered by many as the ablest defender of Calvinism in the first half of the 19th century, Cunningham mediated a balance between libertarians and compatibilists. He asserted that while “nothing precludes men from holding the doctrine of philosophical necessity . . . there is nothing in the Calvinistic system of theology, or in the Westminster Confession, which requires men to hold the doctrine of philosophical necessity.”  Stepping into Cunningham’s opening, Oliver Crisp points out that a reading of the Westminster Confession (chapter 10 most specifically), through the lens of contrary choice, highlights that “the Confession does not say that God determines all things in the strictest sense. . . God certainly knows all future conditionals,” but “this does not mean God determines all things in the strictest sense. . . What is more, the Confession does not deny that humans have libertarian free will in [non-salvific] choices. It denies only that humans can freely choose salvation absent prevenient divine grace.”
John Girardeau made the further claim that Calvin had in mind a libertarian conception of freedom. Calvin himself wrote, “We allow that man has choice that is self-determined, so that if he does anything evil, it should be imputed to him and to his own voluntary choosing. We do away with coercion and force, because this contradicts the nature of will and cannot coexist with it.”  This alone does not conclusively demonstrate that Calvin affirmed contrary choice, but that man has “self-determination,” agent causation in morally significant acts. In the Institutes, however, Calvin says, “We admit that man’s condition while he still remained upright was such that he could incline to either side” (2.3.10), and “Adam could have stood if he wished . . . his will was capable of being bent to one side or the other” (2.15.8). This seems to indicate that Calvin considered Adam capable, in the power of his own determination, of choosing A or not-A prior to the fall. If this is correct then Calvin allows for a libertarian free will for prelapsarian man – an allowance Edwards and compatibilists deny. Further, Unitarian priest Joseph Priestley elsewhere states that in the time before Edwards, “none of the Calvinists had ever concluded that, prior to the fall, Adam had been under any necessity of sinning.” 
These examples find themselves in agreement with the thinking of Martin Luther as well. Timothy George suggests that Luther “never denied that the free will retains its power in matters that do not concern salvation. . . Understood as the God-given capacity to make ordinary decisions, to carry out one’s responsibilities in the world, free will remains intact. What it cannot do is effect its own salvation.”  Luther wrote, “Free choice is allowed to man only with respect to what is beneath him. . . In relation to God, or in matters pertaining to salvation or damnation, a man has no free choice, but is a captive.”  Like his Reformed successors, Luther believed that it is only when the will has been acted upon by grace that “the power of decision really become[s] free, in all events in respect to salvation.”  Regarding ordinary decisions “below” or not “pertaining to salvation,” however, Luther held that man has “free choice.”
It should be evident from the historical survey that it was well within the breadth of the historic reformed tradition to honor both the meticulous sovereignty of God and the contrary choice of man. Therefore, a Calvinist should feel he has full warrant to embrace the contrary choice necessary to adopt the free will defense. The appropriation of the free will defense need not require the abandonment of Calvinism, but merely the abandonment of compatibilism and the determinism on which it depends. In so doing, the Calvinist finds himself in good standing with the rich tradition of reformed thinkers. In abandoning compatibilism, Calvinists lose the theologico-philosophical reconciliation between God’s sovereignty and human freedom that a system of philosophical necessity provides, but is instead allowed the embrace of the greatest defense against the argument that evil disproves God’s existence. This exchange requires a value judgment that weighs the importance of reconciling determinism with human freedom against defending God’s existence and thwarting arguments that depict Him as unknowing, unloving, and powerless in the face of (or causally responsible for) evil. Whether one chooses to adopt contrary choice or the free will defense, it should be clear that those Calvinists who do are well within the confines of the historic reformed tradition.
Chad W. Hussey is an average Jesus loving iconoclastic non-conformist neighborhood hope dealer from Houston Texas – a husband, father, church deacon, and Master of Divinity student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
J. L. Mackie, “Evil and Omnipotence” in Mind, New Series, vol. 64, no. 254 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, April 1955), 200-212.
J. L. Mackie, The Miracle of Theism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982), 154.
Alvin Plantinga, God, Freedom, and Evil (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1977).
J. I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1961), 23-27.
C. H. Spurgeon, “Sovereign Grace and Man’s Responsibility” (sermon 207, Royal Surrey Gardens, August 1, 1858), www.spurgeon.org/sermons/0207.htm.
Bruce A. Ware, God’s Greater Glory: The Exalted God of Scripture and the Christian Faith (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2004), 80.
Richard A. Muller, “Jonathan Edwards and Francis Turretin on Necessity, Contingency, and Freedom of Will. In Response to Paul Helm,” in Jonathan Edwards Studies, vol. 4/3, (2014), 272.
For this study, it is important to note that libertarian freedom is not a term uniformly used by historic theologians. Prior to recent discussion there was no uniform terminology used by theologians to refer to libertarian freedom and contrary choice. The terms contrariety, alternativity, freedom of deliberation, simultaneity of potencies, multiplicity of potencies, contingent causality, self-determination, and determinate choice are all variations used to refer in some capacity to a freedom that involves contrary choice in at least some decisions.
Richard A. Muller, “Jonathan Edwards and the Absence of Free Choice: A Parting of Ways in the Reformed Tradition,” in Jonathan Edwards Studies: vol. 1/1 (2011), 3-22.
Richard A. Muller, “Jonathan Edwards and the Absence of Free Choice,” 21.
Richard A. Muller, “Jonathan Edwards and Francis Turretin,” 276.
Francis Turretin, Institutio Theologiae Elenticae (Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing, 2009), X.iii.4.
Francis Turretin, Institutio Theologiae Elenticae, X.iii.4; with Samuel Maresius, Theologiae Elenchticae Nova Synopsis, Sive Index Controversiarum Fidei ex S. Scripturis, vol. 2 (Groningen: Joannes Nicolaus, 1646-1647), 12.
Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology vol. 1 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publisher, 1981), 604.
Girolamo Zanchi, De Operibus Dei Intra Spatium Sex Dierum Creatis, in Operum Theologicorum D. Hieronymi Zanchi (Heidelberg: Stephanus Gamonetus, 1605), III.iii, col. 706; with Lucas Treclatius, Jr., Scholastica et Methodica Locorum Communium s. Theologiae Institutio Didactice & Elentice in Epitome Explicata: in Qua, Veritas Locorum Communium, Definitionis Cuiusque, Loci per causas suas Analysi Asseritur: Contraria Vero Argumenta, Imprimis Bellarmini, Generalium Solutionum Appendice Refutantur (London: John Bill, 1604), 208, dist. 3.
Gulielmus Bucanus, Institutiones Theologicaue, Seu Locorum Communium Christianae Religionis, ex Dei verbo, et Praestantissimorum Theologorum Orthodoxo Consensu Expositorum (Bern: Iohannes &Isaias Le Preux, 1605), Xi.2, 109.
John Weemse (Wemyss), The Portraiture of the Image of God in Man, in His Creation, Restauration, and Glorification, in The Workes of Mr. John Weemse of Lathocker vol. 1 (London: T. Cotes, 1637), 98.
Petrus van Mastricht, Theoretico-practica Theologia, IV.iv.10 (Sumptibus Societatis, 1715), XVII.4.
Richard A. Muller, “Jonathan Edwards and the Absence of Free Choice,” 12, 20.
Philip Doddridge, A Course of Lectures on the Principal Subjects in Pneumatology, Ethics, and Divinity; with References to the Most Considerable Authors on Each Subject vol. 1 (London, 1794), 50-59.
Eleonore Stump, “Aquinas’s Account of Freedom: Intellect and Will,” in The Monist 80/4 (1997), 576-597.
Richard A. Muller, “Jonathan Edwards and Francis Turretin,” 285.
John L. Girardeau, The Will in Its Theological Relations (Columbia, SC: W. J. Duffie and New York: The Baker and Taylor Co., 1891), 43-44.
John L. Girardeau, The Will in Its Theological Relations, 18.
William Cunningham, “Calvinism and the Doctrine of Philosophical Necessity,” in The Reformers and the Theology of the Reformation (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1989), 483.
Oliver D. Crisp, Deviant Calvinism: Broadening Reformed Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2014), 94-95.
John Calvin, The Bondage and Liberation of the Will: A Defense of the Orthodox Doctrine of Human Choice Against Pighius (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker 1996), 69.
Joseph Priestley, The Doctrine of Philosophical Necessity Illustrated; Being an Appendix to the Disquisitous Relating to Matter and Spirit (London, 1977), 157.
Timothy George, Theology of the Reformers (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2013), 76.
Martin Luther and Desiderius Erasmus, Luther and Erasmus: Free Will and Salvation (London: Westminster, 1969), 111.
Wilhelm Pauck, Luther: Lectures on Romans (Philadelphia: WJK, 1961), 252.
Part 1 of the Application of Jeremiah’s ‘Letter to the Exiles’ to Christian Living and Approaching Culture Today. Download PDF Version
Part 1: An Exposition of Jeremiah 29:4-14
In The City of God, Augustine teaches that in creation there are basically two cities: the city of God, and the city of man. The city of God is the kingdom of believers—the church, and the city of man is the world—symbolized throughout the Bible by the city of Babylon. In the book of Jeremiah, the nation of Judah is taken captive and exiled to Babylon. In Jeremiah 29:4-14, God gives specific instructions for how he desires His exiled people to engage the city of man. From a canonical biblical theology of ‘continuing exile’ , Christians can be seen as a dispersion, free from captivity, but sojourning in the world and not yet home. God’s people today are still dwelling throughout the world in the city of man. Through this lens, God’s instructions to the exiles in Babylon, in Jeremiah 29, have specific application not only to His Judean exiles, but also to His ‘elect exiles in the dispersion’ today (1 Pet 1:11). As Jeremiah’s letter calls the Judean exiles to glorify God by giving their lives to the shalom of their gentile captor; Christians should glorify God by loving their non-believing neighbors (Mark 12:31) in seeking the welfare and flourishing of the cities to which God has called them. Like the Judean exiles in Babylon, in desiring the welfare of their cities, Christians too will find shalom. The commands expressed in Jeremiah verses four through fourteen have strong and profound implications for modeling the posture of Christ’s sojourning disciples and their engagement in the present culture surrounding them.
“The Messenger Formula, ‘Thus says the Lord,’ is used more often [in Jeremiah 29] than in any other chapter of Jeremiah.” These statements are significant indicators mapping the outline of the text. To validate the application of Jeremiah 29:4-14 to the New Testament church, a verse-by-verse exposition will be performed by breaking the passage into the three sections marked by the statements, “Thus says the Lord.” First there will be a brief examination of the historicity, provenance, destination, and transmission of Jeremiah’s letter. Then the three sections will be examined under their key summarizing directives: 1) to commit, 2) to deny, and 3) to behold (in wonder and trust). These directives are applied to the three sections respectively. Within this framework there will be an expounding of God’s desired activity for the exiles in Babylon specifically. Following the exposition of the passage there will be an explanation of the biblical theology of ‘continuing exile.’ In this explanation it will be exegetically demonstrated that Jeremiah 29 is the first major pivot point for the redefinition of the geo-political identity of God’s people, and God’s first step toward expanding Israel’s spiritual borders in preparation for His salvation plan for the gentile nations. This section will further demonstrate that God’s people remain sojourners living in exile to this day. Provided the exilic continuity between the Judean exiles and the sojourning church, in tandem with the continuity of the directives of Jeremiah’s letter and the New Testament teachings of Christ; special attention will be called to the typological significance of the exiles and Babylon, and their typological fulfillment in Christ and the world. The conclusion will then follow the outline of Jeremiah’s letter again to provide application for the imitators of Christ sojourning in the world today.
Background, Verses 1-3
Immediately in verse 1 Jeremiah tells the reader that what follows is a letter written by Jeremiah, sent to the exiles in Babylon, regarding God’s directions and comfort for the people Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, had taken out of Jerusalem. Further, the letter issues a warning to those Judeans resisting compliance with Yahweh’s will for their surrender to the Babylonians. To the exiles God says, “Endure!”, and to those remaining in Jerusalem God says, “Repent and link with your exiled brothers!” For decades Jeremiah had been prophesying the coming judgment of God upon His people, and this judgment has arrived in the form of Babylonian troops, here, in the year 597 B. C.
Babylon, earlier known as Babel (Gen 11), is the typification of the city of man, the city of the secular spirit, and great tempter of men (Gen 11:4, Rev 18:3). Babylon is the worldly, wicked, godless, and assimilated city that strives after self and against God. Jeremiah then writes this letter shortly after the first exile of Judeans to give them guidance in making their way in the new land. “The design of the Prophet was at the same time twofold; for he not only intended to mitigate by comfort the sorrow of the exiles, but designed also to break down the obstinacy of his own nation.” The Jews “had set their minds on an unreasonable deliverance [wishing to] immediately break through and extricate themselves from the yoke laid on them.” Hence it made sense that the Jews should not remain amongst the dregs in Jerusalem, longing for a return to former glory, but should move forward in joining with the new calling of God upon His people. In this new work in Babylon, verse seven says the people of God will find their welfare; but in verse seventeen Jeremiah instructs that those who cling to the past, resisting to go to Babylon and work for the welfare of the wicked captors, will be destroyed. Those who felt fortunate to have remained in Jerusalem, believing the comforts of home were a benefit to them, were warned they would face a far worse fate.
At this time, Zedekiah became the fifth king to sit on the throne of Judah in a thirty year span, and the result was an incredibly unstable time for Judah politically. As is typically the case in calamity and grieving, there are two groups present amongst the Jews: those who over-react in fear and desperation, and those who cling to false hopes for a return to prior conditions. Among this group hoping for simple resolution are tribal-minded agitators and diviners who seek to stir resistance to the new order. Jeremiah’s Letter to the Exiles is an open letter that Zedekiah has approved and has commissioned the king’s ambassadors, Elasah and Gemariah, to hand-deliver to Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar allowed its delivery, not out of benevolence, but because the pro-Babylonian message served Nebuchadnezzar’s wishes in encouraging the Israelite assimilation in Babylon. The letter further served to discourage unrest among those who desired either segregation or an uprising.
Section 1 – “Thus says the Lord” – Commit
The first section marked by the phrase “Thus says the Lord,” verses four through seven, contains a list of positive “do this” commands that Yahweh gave to the Judeans in exile. The key take-away within this section is that God is calling for His people to commit. Yahweh desires the exiles to stop straddling the fence between settling in Babylon and holding out for an alternate reality. God says, “This is your reality. Commit yourselves to do these things.”
In verse five, the Lord instructs the Israelites to commit to Babylon. Yahweh commands this saying, “Build houses.” More important to Yahweh than the Israelites having adequate shelter is their adoption of a settled state in Babylon. Yahweh’s desire is that the exiles will make the city their home. In the verses that follow, Yahweh will give the Israelites several tasks of service that cannot be fulfilled by a people who are resisting involvement, remaining disengaged from their surroundings. Further to this end God says, “Plant a garden.” This instruction does not immediately translate to the present, but the concept holds. In Judah, gardens were not recreational. A large majority of the population were either farmers by trade or were dependent on personal gardens for their family’s food supply. Building houses and planting gardens are no small amount of work. Gardens require work to prepare, cultivate, and sow. Gardens require a season to bear a harvest. It takes several seasons of tilling and harvesting for the soil to develop the eco-system required for reaping good produce. Thus, the building of homes, and the keeping of gardens are not small undertakings. They require much personal expenditure and investment. Building houses and planting gardens means planting roots. This means commitment. God is saying, “Plant roots here. Invest yourselves here. Make this place home.” The Israelites should expect to be in this place for an extended time, and should abandon any vain notions they have about returning home. This is a call to stop the split-minded half-heartedness. Yahweh is telling them to, “Cease straddling the two limbs of My will and your desire. Desire My will.” Yahweh is calling for their full commitment to His chosen location for them, and their full commitment to His work and plans in the city.
Israel’s relationship to God as status-quo in Israel was not working. Yahweh desired to break the Israelites from their settled state. God’s people have grown hard and forgotten how to mourn their sin (Matt 5:4). In Judah, the Hebrews had become sunbaked, hardened ground, producing no harvest. God desired to churn the soil of the Jewish national soul for the cultivating of fruit. The Hebrew word for exile, Galah (גּוֹלָה), literally means: to uncover, expose, reveal, lay bare, or unearth. This is exactly the activity Yahweh performs in the exile. He churns the spiritual soil of the Israelite people. A. W. Tozer speaks this way about the fallow field:
The fallow [or the unplanted] field is smug, contented, protected from the shock of the plow and the agitation of the harrow [or being broken up]. Such a field as it lies year after year, becomes a familiar landmark to the crow and the blue jay. [. . .] Safe and undisturbed, it sprawls lazily in the sunshine, the picture of sleepy contentment. But it is paying a terrible price for its tranquility; never does it see the miracle of growth; never does it feel the motions of mounting life nor see the wonders of bursting seed nor the beauty of ripening grain. Fruit it can never know because it is afraid of the plow and the harrow. In direct opposite to this, the cultivated field has yielded itself to the adventure of living. The protecting fence has opened to admit the plow, and the plow has come as plows always come, practical, cruel, business-like and in a hurry. Peace has been shattered by the shouting farmer and the rattle of machinery. The field has felt the travail of change; it has been upset, turned over, bruised and broken, but its rewards come hard upon its labors. The seed shoots up into the daylight its miracle of life, curious, exploring the new world above it. All over the field the hand of God is at work in the age-old and ever renewed service of creation. New things are born, to grow, mature, and consummate the grand prophecy latent in the seed when it entered the ground.
Tozer casts light on the glory afforded the sinner by Yahweh’s miraculous hand concluding: “Nature’s wonders follow the plow.”
The exile is God’s hand upon the plow. What lay dormant is being awakened. What formerly lay under the surface, now is exposed and confessed. God’s people will soon be prepared to receive the Seed and bear a harvest. If what can be known about God is plainly revealed in nature (Rom 1:19-20), then there is much to be learned, and committed to heart, in planting a garden. For the exiles, the gardens Yahweh has commanded they plant will be to them a daily reminder of the work Yahweh is performing in their hearts. This too will be a reminder of their small promise of Eden—their own shalom, promised them in their work of seeking the shalom of the city (Jer 29:7). Both the toil, and the fruit of the toil, are gifts from God (Eccl 3:12-13).
In verse six God instructs the Israelites to commit to His plan for family. The instruction to bear generations is a further call to commit to His chosen duration for their stay in Babylon. Here, Yahweh reaffirms that the Jews should not put off their normal way of life until they are able to return to Jerusalem, but should multiply in Babylon, treating the city as their home. The command to settle in for generations was to show by their commitment and “patience that they were really penitent, and that they also expected [their salvation to come] in no other way than through God’s favor alone.”
The message here is one that instructs the Jews that they should neither segregate, in a fortification mentality, nor should they assimilate to the Babylonian culture. It was not God’s purpose for the Jews to set their hearts on Chaldea, or on the Chaldeans. On the contrary, they were to keep their return in mind, knowing they live for another kingdom, and as in the land of Israel restrict marriages to those of the same religious identity.
In Ezra and Nehemiah, after the Jews return to Jerusalem, the issue of intermarriage between Israelites and Babylonians is addressed, and those Israelites who have intermarried with Babylonians are called to separate from them. “The guilty are males who are presumably attempting to ‘marry up’ to exchange their low status of ‘exiles’ for participation in aristocratic society.” This is both a selling out of their faith for worldly pursuits, and a threat to the maintenance of their minority witness in the presence of the larger Babylonian culture. “The increased consciousness of identity in a minority subculture thrown into extensive contact with other cultures [is] in such a social context, ‘purity’ [which] becomes the language of nonconformity.” Thus it is vitally important that the Hebrews maintain their ethno-religious identity. As a caveat, the story of Ruth and Boaz indicates that the foreigner who denounces her country’s idols to faithfully seek Yahweh, and the Israelite who benevolently receives the repentant foreigner, will share a God blessed union. The underlying principle is that the Jews were to be ever mindful of God’s promises for their future. By honoring God’s plan for family–fruitfully multiplying in the midst of the gentiles–the Israelites would demonstrate the better way of life. The people of God would demonstrate to their hedonistic neighbors that healthy families are the foundation of healthy society.
A key focal point in Jeremiah’s letter, verse seven calls the Israelites to commit to God’s will by giving their lives for the welfare of the city. Yahweh says, “Seek the shalom of the city to which I have sent you, and in the city’s shalom, you will find your shalom.” This calls for a paradigm shift in Judah’s view toward the gentiles. This verse “reflects the political realism, urging the exiles to accommodate their imperial overlord. [. . .] The well-being (shalom) of Judah is dependent upon and derivative that of Babylon. [. . .] The imperative bestows upon this vulnerable, small community a large missional responsibility.” Here, Yahweh extends the Israelites His grace if only they will be willing to faithfully follow His direction in faith, and not reject the means by which He has instructed that they will find prosperity. This will require the Israelites to do justly, to seek justice, and to see God’s image in gentile humanity. Seeing God’s image in humanity, Yahweh desires that Israel will serve humanity, rather than attempt to establish dominion over humanity as if the gentiles are the subhuman beasts of the earth. Israel, by their relationship with Yahweh has an inherent sense of elitism. To love Babylon they will have to learn to genuinely love their neighbor. “Such a horizon prevents the exilic community from withdrawing into its own safe, sectarian existence, and gives it work to do and responsibility for the larger community.” In verse seven, God calls the Israelites to serve the common good, and not just the Judean good. Like instruments in a song, or as the sun and moon interact as they follow the laws of nature, God has called the Israelites to play their role in the harmony of His greater working of all things. Like the sun and moon, if the Israelites could obey their calling, God would use them to bring life to the world.
Section 2 – “Thus says the Lord”- Deny
The second section, cued by the statement “Thus says the Lord,” verses eight and nine contain a list of negative “deny this” commands that Yahweh gave the exiles for adherence to His will. The key take-away from this section is that God is calling His people to deny their fleshly desires, and to deny the false prophets who would tickle their ears with divinations about such hopes. Yahweh is calling His people to die to their wants, and align their hearts with His will. God says, “Do not listen to the prophets who prophesy your self-serving hopes and dreams. Deny them. I did not send them.”
Verses eight and nine are the direct response of Yahweh to the false prophets who were plotting to convince the Israelites to remain segregated from the Babylonians. Specifically mentioned in Jeremiah 28:3-4 is Hannaniah who was prophesying a return from exile in only two years. The desire of the false prophets and the religious leaders was that the Israelites would remain disengaged from the Babylonian culture, maintaining a strong tribalism as they held out for their return to Jerusalem. As many religious people do today, these diviners condemned the city’s culture and tried to find ways to encourage the Israelites to draw a hard line of segregation between themselves and their non-believing neighbors. The problem of the false prophets is seen earlier in chapters 23, 27, and 28 of Jeremiah. As Walter Brueggemann points out, the concern is that the Israelites, desiring an alternate outcome, are prone to chase flights of religious fancy. “The threat to the Jews is that they will be talked out of the reality of exile. [. . .] The warning of verses eight and nine is against an emotional, imaginative departure from that place. Prophetic faith is hard-nosed realism that is resistant to romantic, ideological escapism.”
Yahweh denounces the separatist stance, and the religious fortification mentality, and eliminates any false hopes for this generation’s return to their former way of life. Yahweh calls the Israelites to deny such hopes for a return to former comfort, and to deny any search for an alternative plan for prosperity. This is a call to deny false prosperity teachings. God denounces the people’s idolatry, and the people’s religion. The city lacks for neither idolatry nor religion , but demands people who adhere to the commands of Yahweh in verses four through seven. “The counsel to settle in exile (vv. 5-9) is against the popular notion that the Exile is short and temporary. The counsel to look beyond exile (vv. 10-14) is against the temptation to despair. Both affirmations from [Jeremiah] are in fact counter to prevailing opinion.” Where verse seven calls the Israelites to give themselves entirely to the will of God, verse eight calls them to deny their own self-serving wants. Yahweh calls His people to come not as fallen man comes, seeking only for themselves the fleshly good and avoiding the fleshly undesirable; but to come as Christ came, only desiring to take away the bad, and to freely give for the common good.
Section 3 – “Thus says the Lord”- Behold
Verses 10 and 11
The third and final section, cued by the statement “Thus says the Lord,” includes verses ten through fourteen, and contains God’s promises for the Jewish exiles who embrace God’s will and remain faithful through the exile. The removal of the Hebrews from Jerusalem bears no minor resemblance to Adam being excused from Eden, and such is the existence of all who live in rebellion, and have been excused from the presence of God. What follows in verses ten through fourteen is, “an assertion of the gospel: God is available in the midst of despair and will override both despair and the circumstances which generate it.” The juxtaposition present between sections 4-9 and 10-14 demonstrate how the judgment and purpose of Yahweh are held in tension. Present here are indications for a future hope through judgment. In an ancient world where a nation’s gods were judged by military might, the Israelites would need a new understanding for why Yahweh would allow the conquering of His people. Through the prophets the Israelites would come to understand that while “it was no small trial when the Jews were deprived of the land that was God’s dwelling place”, and seemingly “all hope had been cut off”, they were being led– “being chastened by God’s hand.” Beginning at Jeremiah 29:10, and expounded upon in the chapters that follow, are “some of the most wonderful promises in all of Scripture.”
After twenty-eight chapters of doom and gloom, Jeremiah came bearing tidings of grace and glory. [. . .] He would love them ‘with an everlasting love’ (31:3) and ‘turn their mourning into gladness’ (31:13). He would make a new covenant with them (31:31) and give them ‘singleness of heart and action’ (33:29). God would even ‘cleanse them from all the sin they have committed’ (33:8). Jeremiah summarized all these blessings in one wonderful promise: ‘For I know the plans I have for you’ declares the Lord, (29:11) ‘plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’
In verses ten through fourteen God invites His people to behold the wonder of His goodness if they will only trust Him and live in light of His promises. “He will give them, not the expectations of their fears, nor the expectations of their fancies, but the expectations of their faith.” In faith they should seek shalom for the city, and in faith they should seek Yahweh. In faithful execution they will find both.
Knowledge, service, and hospitality become wisdom, love, stewardship, and ministry when they flow from a constant acknowledgment of God’s grace. Life becomes not just a temporal striving, a chasing after wind, and a preoccupation with the here and now; but a journey of service culminating in eternal shalom, when lived in communion with God. In verse 12, when the Lord’s work in Babylon is complete, the Israelites will come to understand this, and understand that operating outside of a dependence on God’s grace will always leave them short of where they desire to be. Then they will call on no one else, and they will depend on God alone. This desire of Yahweh is not merely for the sake of Yahweh, but also for the flourishing of mankind. In this God is glorified.
In verse thirteen God calls the Israelites to trust Him with their whole hearts, and their whole lives. “Yahweh had seemed to the exiles to be hidden, absent, and unavailable. Judah must reorient its life in exile. [. . .] Judah must only decide to seek its future exclusively from Yahweh.” They are to seek shalom even in the chaos and disorientation of displacement. No matter where they find themselves they will come to know their highest joy is found in obedience to God. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Pros 1:7). When the Israelites finally settle, and when they finally stop striving after all things other than God, they will still their weary hearts, and behold the wonder of God. Then they will have hearts fully devoted to God. Then they will seek God, and they will obey Him. Then they will know fortune, and prosperity, and shalom.
It is evident from Jeremiah’s letter that, in his pro-Babylonian posture, he has addressed the letter to the people whom God intends to carry forth His plans for the future. “Those who remained in Jerusalem after the deportation of  continued to believe they were favored by God and regarded themselves as the blessed carriers of Judaism.” What is impressed upon the exiles by the promises of Jeremiah’s letter, however, is that the Judeans, defeated and humiliated by the exile, are the true people of God—the carriers of Judah’s future. It is just like Yahweh, that through the humbling of men and women, He is at work, shaping, chastening, developing, and bringing forth new life. John Bunyan put it well when he said, God’s people “in the fire of persecution [are] like Esther in the perfuming chamber”—being made “fit for the presence of the king.” “As exile is Israel’s most devastating judgment, so homecoming and restoration to the land are Israel’s deepest yearning and God’s best gift.” Just as the exile from Eden is the greatest judgment against mankind, the return of mankind to the kingdom of heaven is God’s greatest gift. Inherent in the judgment and promises of Jeremiah’s Letter to the Exiles is a helpful doctrine for every age. “God in a wonderful way gathers his church when scattered, to make it into one body, even though for a time he may obliterate its name and even its very appearance. Thus we see that this prophecy has not just been fulfilled once. God has often manifested the grace that is here set forth, and he still manifests it in gathering his church.”
* References are cited in the print format available for download above.
Chad W. Hussey is an average Jesus loving iconoclastic non-conformist neighborhood hope dealer – a husband, father, urban missionary, community group leader, Master of Divinity student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Community Life Intern at Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, KY.
The Thousand Years
Revelation 20 Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit[a] and a great chain. 2 And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, 3 and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while.
4 Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. 5 The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.
Referring to the wildly speculative interpretations commentators have offered for the book of Revelation, G. K. Chesterton quipped, “Though St. John the Evangelist saw many strange monsters in his vision, he saw no creatures so wild as one of his commentators.”  Adding to Chesterton’s observations, “James Orr, lecturing at the end of the nineteenth century, observed that various areas of Christian doctrine had received special attention and development at different periods in the history of the church,” but suggested “the one remaining undeveloped topic of theology” which is the “peculiar interest of the modern age is eschatology.”  It appears that at no point in history has the church been more theologically enamored with eschatology (the study of the “last things”) than in recent years.
In recognition of the growing fascination of the day, this post will enter the eschatological discussion by focusing on the narrow topic of the millennial reign of Christ introduced in Revelation chapter 20. One of the most hotly debated topics in eschatology, several systems have been developed for interpreting the historical placement and theological significance of the millennium. This post will assess the four major views for interpreting Revelation 20:1-6 (dispensational premillennialism, historical premillennialism, postmillennialism, and amillennialism).
Underlying the divergent views of the millennium are the differing hermeneutical principles employed by the interpreters. Commentators primarily disagree on the approach to reading the book of Revelation in three main ways. The first point of difference occurs when determining how to read prophetic Scripture in light of history. Differing views of Scripture in light of history see prophecy as applying specifically to the past (predominantly prior to 70 A. D.), as applying to history through the ages, as applying specifically to the future, or as eclectically applying to general recurring patterns of all history past, present, and future. Interpreters further differ when deciding whether apocalyptic literature is to be read literally or symbolically. The symbolic approach sees Revelation as communicating information at three levels: a visionary level (what John actually saw), a symbolic level (what the items in John’s visions connote biblically beyond the specific historical reference), and a historical level (the particular historical identification).  Juxtaposed to this hermeneutical approach are those from the dispensational tradition, who, in an attempt to maintain a conservative orthodox reading of Scripture, demand that interpretations be strictly literal. This has led commentators to further disagree as to whether John’s visions are to be read literally, in a linear chronological sequence (as an “ordered and progressive unfolding”),  or as multiple related recapitulations that symbolically offer kaleidoscopic depictions of the same set of events.  The outcomes of the application of these underlying hermeneutical principles will be shown in the examinations of each system below.
Developed in England by John Nelson Darby, dispensational theology was popularized around the turn of the nineteenth century, and is arguably an instigating factor in the modern infatuation with eschatology. The first tenet of dispensationalism is the belief the Bible must be interpreted literally.  As a clear proponent of dispensational premillennialism, Herman A. Hoyt claims, “The literal method of approach to the teaching of the pre-millennial, dispensational doctrine of the kingdom is absolutely basic.”  John F. Walvoord says, “The pre-millennial interpretation offers the only literal fulfillment for the hundreds of verses of prophetic testimony.”  Taking seriously the concept of progressive revelation, dispensationalists see God as revealing more truth as time progresses, and therefore see the majority of the prophesies of Revelation as taking place in the future. This literal futuristic interpretation of Revelation 20 manifests as the millennium being “more than merely a thousand-year reign of Christ on the earth.” The dispensational millennium is “the restoration of national Israel to its favored place in God’s program and the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel.”  Being that dispensationalists (unlike non-dispensationalists) hold a strong distinction between God’s promises to ethnic Israel and to the church, in dispensationalism the millennium is the time when unfulfilled prophecies are clearly fulfilled and national Israel returns to prominence. Saucy explains,
The unity of the historical kingdom program, however, must be interpreted in such a way as to allow for the natural understanding of all the biblical prophecies. These promises portray a restoration of the nation of Israel to the promised land and a central position for that nation in the final period of the mediatorial kingdom. Contrary to non-dispensationalism, the term Israel is not finally applied to all God’s people irrespective of nationality.
Understanding this view depends on an appreciation of classical dispensationalism’s affirmation of “two coexisting eternal realms of salvation, one heavenly and one earthly.” Early dispensationalists drew on a “spiritual vision model of heaven as the final destiny for Christian believers . . . by postulating two coexisting forms of ultimate salvation – one eternal in heaven for the church and one everlasting on the new earth for Israel.” 
Chronologically, dispensational premillennialists see Revelation 20 occurring immediately after the seven year tribulation. Unmistakably inaugurated by Christ’s second coming, the millennium will be a literal one thousand year period in which Satan is bound (Rev 20:2-3) and Christ establishes His earthly reign from the throne of David. Dispensationalists interpret both resurrections in Revelation 20:4-6 as physical in nature. The first resurrection in verse four is limited to believers who will reign on earth with Christ during the millennium, and the second resurrection in verse 6 encompasses all non-believers who are resurrected after the millennium to face final judgment. Dispensationalism has the positive aspects of being thoroughly biblical, conservative, and consistent.
Like dispensational premillennialism, historical premillennialism sees Revelation chapter 20 as chronologically following chapter 19. In the premillennial view, following the great tribulation (which is not necessarily seven literal years), Christ ushers in the millennium by inaugurating a period of absolute peace and justice in which Satan will be bound and Christ will reign bodily on earth among men. The historical view sees the two resurrections of Revelation 20:4-6 similarly to dispensationalism. In the first resurrection believers will be physically resurrected to reign with Christ in the millennium, while non-believers will not be resurrected until final judgment – after the second resurrection at the end of the millennium. While sharing these similarities with dispensationalists, the historical premillennialists take a less literal approach to apocalyptic Scripture, seeing the literal hermeneutic as misunderstanding the deeper meaning of the texts. Historical premillennialism’s most notable modern proponent, George Eldon Ladd, exerted considerable effort in arguing against the dispensational reading saying, “The literal hermeneutic does not work. . . . Old Testament prophecies must be interpreted in the light of the New Testament to find their deeper meaning. . . . I do not see how it is possible to avoid the conclusion that the New Testament applies Old Testament prophecies to the New Testament church and in so doing identifies the church as spiritual Israel.”  Along with amillennialism and postmillennialism, historical premillennialism rejects the dispensational separation of Israel and the New Testament Church on the grounds that numerous passages such as Ephesians 2 and Galatians 3 make clear that Paul saw the Church comprised of Jew and Gentile as God’s new covenant people and heir to the promises made to national Israel. Ladd clarifies, “The fact is that the New Testament frequently interprets Old Testament prophecies in a way not suggested by the Old Testament context.”  Historical premillennialists therefore do not necessarily assert that the millennium is a literal one thousand years, nor do they interpret the millennium to be the fulfillment of a literal restoration of national Israel. Where dispensationalism “follows the futurist method of interpretation almost exclusively, historical premillennialism . . . combines the futurist and preterist views, holding that the book necessarily had a message for John’s own age and that it represents the consummation of redemptive history.”  Historical premillennialism has the benefit of the being the most natural and straightforward reading of the Bible, and aligns well with the collective New Testament mentions of resurrection, which seem to consistently refer to bodily resurrection.
Having fallen out of popularity following the great world wars of the twentieth century, postmillennialism (while not widely held today) has had significant influence at different times in the history of the church, and even “has at times been the dominant position.”  While postmillennialism shares many commonalities with the other positions, in the postmillennial view “the doctrine of the millennium is based not upon Revelation 20 but upon other portions of Scripture.”  For the postmillennialist, the millennium is symbolic in nature, and is qualitative rather than quantitative.  The most distinctive characteristics of postmillennialism are the view that the new creation began after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A. D., the kingdom of God is now being extended in the new earth by the preaching of the gospel, and the world is now being increasingly Christianized in anticipation of the return of Christ. Unique to postmillennialism is the optimistic outlook regarding the conditions leading up to Christ’s return. Where the other positions agree that conditions will worsen as the age draws to a close, postmillennialists believe that the world is becoming more Christianized, and therefore features of the kingdom of God (such as peace and justice) are increasing as Christ’s return draws closer. Unlike the premillennialist’s view of Christ’s future earthly kingdom, the postmillennial view sees the kingdom of God primarily existing as a present reality in the hearts of believers. The kingdom is not something to be introduced cataclysmically at a future time, but is already progressively under way.  “Postmillennialism expects the vast majority of the world’s population to convert to Christ as a consequence of the Spirit-blessed proclamation of the gospel. . . . Thus, the postmillennialist’s hope-filled expectation is rooted in creational reality.”  Further, as more people submit themselves to the Lord’s will, postmillennialism expects a long period of earthly peace termed the millennium.  This millennium is a golden age of spiritual prosperity during the present church age, which is not a literal one thousand years, and has no clear point of beginning but arrives by degrees.  At the end of the millennium there will occur an apostasy and an increase in evil, the millennium will end with the bodily return of Christ, at which point large numbers of Jews will be converted and enter the church, and Christ’s return will be immediately followed by the resurrection and judgment of all.  Postmillennialism, while not commonly affirmed today, does well to keep the Spirit of optimism and drive to carry out the Great Commission at its core.
While amillennialism agrees with postmillennialism that the millennium is not a literal thousand-year earthly reign following Christ’s return, amillennialism holds important distinctions from the postmillennial view. Anthony Hoekema helpfully clarifies that ‘amillennial’ is an unfortunate name for the position because the amillennialist does not assert that there is no millennium, but rather that the millennium described in Revelation 20:1-6 is a realized millennium.  Summarily communicating the essence of the amillennial position, Greg Beale states, “The millennium is inaugurated during the church age by God’s curtailment of Satan’s ability to deceive the nations and to annihilate the church and by the resurrection of believer’s souls to heaven to reign there with Christ.”  Unlike other positions, amillennialists interpret Revelation 20:4 “as describing the present reign of the souls of deceased believers with Christ in heaven,” and understand verses 1-3 as the binding of Satan “during the entire period between the first and second comings of Christ.”  Unlike the postmillennial position, amillennialism views the great tribulation, apostasy, and the Antichrist as future events, meaning that the amillennialist does not share the postmillennialist’s optimistic certainty of “a worldwide growth of righteousness that will extend to every area of society.”  Additionally, amillennialism agrees with the non-dispensational views that the millennium does not necessarily include the restoration of political Israel.
In agreement with other non-dispensationalists, amillennial scholar Greg Beale says, “Literal interpreters . . . too often neglect the visionary and symbolic levels of communication by collapsing them into the referential historical level.”  Expounding further the amillennial hermeneutic, Beale says the only hope for obtaining clarity is to interpret Revelation 20 “in the light of its immediate context, then in the light of the closest parallels elsewhere in the book, and finally in the light of other parallels in the NT and OT.”  Amillennial interpreters arrive at their understanding of the millennium by recognizing that Revelation is written in seven sections of parallel recapitulations, each symbolically offering nuanced kaleidoscopic views of the “church and the world from the time of Christ’s first coming to the time of his second.”  This system of interpretation is known as recapitulation theory or progressive parallelism.  Reading Revelation in such a way reveals that 20:7-10, 19:17-21, and 16:12-16 all recount the same battle. This insight, among others, reveals that “the events of 20:1-6 (the millennium) refer to events prior in time to the last battle (Armageddon) of 19:11-21, thus indicating that the millennium itself is to be identified with the church age.”  The premillennial position views 20:1-6 as immediately following 19:11-21 (in historical sequence) on the basis of the Greek word ‘kai’ (located at the beginning of 20:1) being taken to mean ‘and’ in the chronological sense. The ESV has taken the interpretive initiative to render the ‘kai’ in Revelation 20:1 as ‘then.’ Beale, however, argues that “often in Revelation ‘kai’ functions as a transitional word simply indicating another vision and not necessarily chronological sequence. . . . Only three out of thirty-five occurrences of ‘kai’ in 19:11-21 clearly indicate sequence in historical time,while the remainder serve as visionary linking devices.” 
Further helpful for recognizing the relation of the millennium to the present church age is to note that in Revelation 20:2-3 Satan is said to be seized and bound for a thousand years so that he might not deceive the ‘ethne’ until the thousand years are ended. ‘Ethne,’ in Revelation 20, is typically translated as ‘nations,’ but ‘ethne’ is more often translated as ‘gentiles’ throughout the New Testament. The amillennial understanding of Revelation 20 becomes clear if ‘ethne’ is rendered as ‘gentiles’ rather than ‘nations.’ Such a translation then reads that Satan is bound in the church age so that the gentiles (all of the non-Israeli inhabitants of earth) will no longer be deceived by Satan. Hoekema explains, ”In the Old Testament, . . . the people of Israel were the recipients of God’s special revelation, so that they knew God’s truth about themselves . . . and salvation,” but “the other nations of the world, did not know that truth. . . . These nations were deceived by Satan.”  This picture becomes clearer when Revelation 20:2-3 is held alongside the Great Commission (Matt 28:19) in which Christ commands His disciples to “Go therefore and make disciples of all the ‘ethne.’ Again, in this passage ‘ethne’ is typically translated as ‘nations,’ but again the reference is more specifically to ‘gentiles’ (all non-Israeli inhabitants of the earth). It is significant that Revelation 20:2 speaks to the binding of Satan because Jesus made a similar remark in Matthew 12:29. While speaking of His coming to save those held captive by Satan, Christ asked, “How can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods unless he first binds the strong man?” The same word – ‘deo’ – is used in both Revelation 20:2 and Matthew 12:29 to describe the binding of Satan. Hoekema again provides insight positing that “this does not imply that Satan can do no harm whatever while he is bound. It means only what John says here: While Satan is bound he cannot deceive the nations in such a way to keep them from learning the truth of God,” and “he cannot prevent the spread of the gospel. . . . It is precisely because the kingdom of God has come that the gospel can now be preached to all the gentiles (see Matt 13:24-30, 47-50).”  In similar fashion, Paul makes reference to the restraint of Satan’s attempts to deceive the world when he writes, “And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time” (2 Thess 2:6). In Revelation 20:3, John says the angel cast (‘ebalen’) Satan into the abyss. Similar to the binding of Satan in 20:2, Jesus speaks to the casting out of Satan in John 12:31-32 saying, “Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be cast out. But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to myself.” In this case, the verb translated ‘cast out’ is ‘ekballo,’ and is derived from the same root as the word ‘ebalen’ used to describe the casting out of Satan in Revelation 20:3.  It stands to reason that what is being communicated is that the work of Christ (in the inauguration of the kingdom of heaven on earth) has dealt Satan a heavy blow, binding and casting him out of the way, so that the gospel call of Jesus Christ can be made known to unbelieving gentiles the world over.
The Amillennial interpretation attempts to do more faithful exegesis of the New Testament (being more cognizant of the original Greek and less dependent on interpretations derived from modern English Bible translations). Amillennialism is canonically coherent, and can be seen to offer great encouragement to believers both to take the gospel to the non-believing nations, and to be confident that the kingdom will move forward even in the face of persecution.
When weighing the four views (and the hermeneutical principles employed by each against a canonical biblical theology) it appears that the two views that best align with the biblical metanarrative are historical premillennialism and amillennialism. Based on the exegesis of Revelation 20 (and its corresponding cross references) the amillennial view seems to provide the most satisfactory explanation of the available evidence. It remains, however, that eschatology is an open-handed issue which can be debated and disagreed upon, and should never be the basis for division of fellowship. It should be readily acknowledged that Scripture underdetermines the issue of the millennium, and it cannot be expected that all people will arrive at identical conclusions. The Christian is called to be charitable, and the millennium “is a [topic] where equally evangelical scholars who accept the Bible as the inspired Word of God should be able to disagree without the accusation ‘liberal,’  or heretic. The end of the matter is that we must always remember that all Scripture is given with the intent that Christ would be exalted; that non-believers would be brought to know Him; that believers would be encouraged to endure for the sake of being made like Him; and that, regardless of differing views of the millennium, believers would foremost remember that “the end is not an event but a person.” 
G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (New York: John Lane Co., 1908), 29.
Millard J. Erickson, A Basic Guide to Eschatology: Making Sense of the Millennium (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998), 11.
G. K. Beale with David H. Campbell, Revelation: A Shorter Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2015), 421.
Herman A. Hoyt, “Dispensational Premillennialism” in Robert G. Clouse (ed.) The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1977), 63.
G. B. Caird, The Revelation of St. John the Divine, Harper’s New Testament Commentaries (New York and Evanston: Harper & Row, 1966), 13.
Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today (Chicago: Moody Press, 1965), 86-89.
Hoyt, “Dispensational Premillennialism,” 67.
John F. Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom (Findlay, Ohio: Dunham, 1959), 114.
Erickson, A Basic Guide to Eschatology, 119.
Robert L. Saucy, The Case for Progressive Dispensationalism: The Interface Between Dispensational & Non-Dispensational Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 1993), 28-29.
Craig A. Blaising, “Premillennialism” in Stanley N. Gundry and Darrell L. Bock (ed.) Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 1999), 182-183.
George Eldon Ladd, “Historic Premillennialism” in Robert G. Clouse (ed.) The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1977), 23.
Loraine Boettner, The Millennium (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 1991), 28.
James H. Snowden, The Coming of the Lord: Will it be Premillennial? (New York: MacMillan, 1919), 64-66.
Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., “Postmillennialism” in Stanley N. Gundry and Darrell L. Bock (ed.) Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 1999), 22-23.
Snowden, The Coming of the Lord, 257-63.
Boettner, The Millennium, 14.
Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology (New York: Scribner, Armstrong, & Co., 1873), 3:792-800, 832.
J. E. Adams, The Time is at Hand, (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1970), 7-11.
 Beale, Revelation, 420.
Anthony Hoekema, The Bible and the Future (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1979), 174.
W. J. Grier, “Christian Hope and the Millennium” (Christianity Today: October 13, 1958), 19.
Beale, Revelation, 421.
Anthony A. Hoekema, “Amillennialism” in Robert G. Clouse (ed.) The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1977), 156-157.
William Hendriksen, More than Conquerors (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1939), 11-64.
Beale, Revelation, 422-423.
Hoekema, “Amillennialism,” 161.
Ladd, “Historic Premillennialism,” 20.
G. B. Caird, The Revelation of St. John the Divine, Harper’s New Testament Commentaries (New York and Evanston: Harper & Row, 1966), 13.
*Embedded eschatological timelines are not original works of my own, but have been selected based on their being the best available representations of the points this paper stresses.
Chad W. Hussey is an average Jesus loving iconoclastic non-conformist neighborhood hope dealer – a husband, father, urban missionary, community group leader, Master of Divinity student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Community Life Intern at Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, KY.
This is the first post in a series of discussions on what I perceive to be the the most confusing passages in Scripture. I will post an abridged version of the passage. Then l will link an example of an interpretation I believe to be misguided, and then offer my interpretation in response in an attempt to accurately unpack the Scripture’s intent.
A Levite and His Concubine
In those days, when there was no king in Israel, a certain Levite was sojourning in the remote parts of the hill country of Ephraim, who took to himself a concubine from Bethlehem in Judah. 2 And his concubine was unfaithful to him, and she went away from him to her father’s house at Bethlehem in Judah, and was there some four months. 3 Then her husband arose and went after her, to speak kindly to her and bring her back. . . . when the girl’s father saw him, he came with joy to meet him. 4 And his father-in-law, the girl’s father, made him stay . . . 10 He rose up and departed and arrived opposite [Jerusalem]. . . . [He said,] “We will not turn aside into the city of foreigners, who do not belong to the people of Israel, but we will pass on to Gibeah.” . . .15 And he went in and sat down in the open square of the city, for no one took them into his house to spend the night.
16 And behold, an old man . . .was sojourning in Gibeah. . . . 17 And he lifted up his eyes and saw the traveler in the open square of the city. And the old man said, “Where are you going? And where do you come from?”18 And he said to him, “We are passing from Bethlehem in Judah to the remote parts of the hill country of Ephraim, from which I come. I went to Bethlehem in Judah, and I am going to the house of the Lord, but no one has taken me into his house. . . . 20 And the old man said, “Peace be to you; I will care for all your wants. Only, do not spend the night in the square.” . . .22 As they were making their hearts merry, behold, the men of the city, worthless fellows, surrounded the house, beating on the door. And they said to the old man, the master of the house, “Bring out the man who came into your house, that we may know him.” 23 And the man, the master of the house, went out to them and said to them, “No, my brothers, do not act so wickedly; since this man has come into my house, do not do this vile thing. . . . 25 But the men would not listen to him. So the man seized his concubine and made her go out to them. And they knew her and abused her all night until the morning. And as the dawn began to break, they let her go. 26 And as morning appeared, the woman came and fell down at the door of the man’s house where her master was, until it was light.
27 And her master rose up in the morning, and when he opened the doors of the house and went out to go on his way, behold, there was his concubine lying at the door of the house, . . .28 and the man rose up and went away to his home. 29 And when he entered his house, he took a knife, and taking hold of his concubine he divided her, limb by limb, into twelve pieces, and sent her throughout all the territory of Israel. 30 And all who saw it said, “Such a thing has never happened or been seen from the day that the people of Israel came up out of the land of Egypt until this day;consider it, take counsel, and speak.”
Here is a link to a self-proclaimed feminist interpretation whose thesis is “conflict between males is solved by the sacrifice of females,” which I believe misrepresents the significance of the events. Here is another, whose thesis is “when men are wicked, women suffer” that doesn’t truly get to the heart of the text. (***NOTE: I am not insensitive to the concerns of these authors, but I find their interpretations fall short of pointing all glory to Christ, and extending the greater hope and healing that is found only in Him.***)
In the days of the Judges great wickedness persisted because moral relativism (“everyone did what was right in their own eyes”) prevailed, and “the people had no king to lead them.” Unlike the interpretation linked above, in the story of the Levite and his concubine, it becomes evident that the Levite is not the evil antagonist, but a righteous man. The Levite shows himself merciful and patient toward his unfaithful covenant partner. The author of Judges communicates that the Levite is long-suffering and slow to anger in waiting 4 months for the woman to return. When she does not return he sets out to allure her home. Under Torah Law the punishment for the concubine’s unfaithfulness is death, but in love and mercy the Levite sets out to speak lovingly to her and implore her to return. Further, the Levite is proven noble in that he is looked upon, not with disdain but with respect, by the woman’s father. In ancient Israelite society, a concubine was not necessarily a sex slave, but a woman from a lower social class who enters into a covenant relationship for the promise of provision and a better life. While concubines did not have the same status as wives, they were to be well treated (Exodus 21:7-10), provided for as family, and this particular Levite is specifically designated as this concubine’s “husband” (Judges 19:3, 20:4). This woman’s father is referred to as the man’s “father-in-law” (Judges 19:9).
The concubine is not the protagonist of the story, but the perpetrator of offense who’s unfaithfulness has led the Levite into this dilemma. Having been convinced to return home with the Levite, the concubine and her partner begin traveling back to their home in Ephraim. However, because the woman’s father has delayed them they are forced to lodge in Gibeah. Gibeah is a city of fellow Israelites, and the Levite shows himself further righteous by rejecting the easier option of stopping short of Gibeah, but instead chooses to honor the Law’s command that he not take the company of the Gentiles. The couple instead presses on to a city of fellow Israelites who, as God’s people, are expected to take care of them. Rather than graciously host the Levite and his concubine, these Israelites of Gilbeah demand to have sex with the Levite, and ultimately take the concubine and rape and kill her. It is the concubine’s rebellion against her covenant caretaker (and distant venturing from the couple’s home) that has landed the two of them in this wicked place. It is by the concubine’s sin that she finds herself in the horrific circumstances in which she pays the horrible consequence of her unfaithfulness. While the Levite is a righteous man, he will not go out to endure the consequence of the unfaithful concubine’s action. It is not for the faithful Levite to suffer in the place of the unfaithful concubine. The Levite is not to be her Savior. In this case, the righteous does not die in the place of the unrighteous.
In anguish and disgust with the wickedness of the men of Gilbeah, the Levite divides the dead concubine into twelve pieces and sends them to the twelve tribes of Israel so that his anger, grief, and disgust will be known throughout the entire land. The author’s intent is to communicate the vileness and lawlessness of the Israelites in this time, and their desperate need for the direction of a king. Further, like the Levite’s rebellious partner, all men (you and I) have been unfaithful to our Covenant Creator in heaven. While rape is horrific and condemnable, and everyone should be disturbed and angered by the horrible fate of the concubine,the story is not recorded to detail the mistreatment of women in patriarchal societies, or to detail the brokenness of the Levite. The events are recorded to depict the atrocious depth of the consequences of breaking a covenant, and to demonstrate that no ordinary man can die in the place of the covenant breaker. Genesis 15:10 and 17 demonstrate the ancient practice of making covenants by dividing an animal. Then both parties passed between the severed carcass. This symbolized the seriousness of their intentions in that the divided carcasses represented what would happen to them if they were not faithful to their oath. This is symbolized in the fate of the concubine.
Fortunately as Christ followers, we are not a people without a king; we have a King and his name is Jesus. He has shown us the Way, and has shown us what is right. We have not been left to fend for ourselves, each doing whatever is right in our own eyes. Jesus, like the Levite, has sought out His bride (the Church), implored us to return, and forgiven us. Where the Levite failed to die for his unfaithful partner, Jesus did step outside the camp to brutally suffer in our place. Christ, the fully righteous Son of God, stepped out in our stead to take the punishment that we deserved; to suffer once, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring us back to God. This concubine does not represent women who suffer at the hands of men, but she represents all mankind rebelling against God in a fallen world. We are the concubine (the covenant partner of poor estate and lower standing), welcomed into the provision of God, loved as family, but rebelling against our Covenant Creator, and running back to our former life. We must cease the unfaithfulness and rebellion and return home to our righteous and loving Caretaker. He is merciful and faithful to forgive, and He is calling us to turn from our folly, to leave the land of the wicked (which places us in peril and holds our destruction), and to return home with Him. He has already died at the hands of vile lawless men so that (if we will stand under His protection) we will not have to suffer the fate of the covenant breaker.
If you enjoyed this discussion of difficult Scripture, you might also enjoy my other post about the Top 5 Most Misquoted, Misused, and Misunderstood Bible Verses.
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.
Just as the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil (1 Tim 6:10), the tongue is a world of evil capable of enflaming a forest (Jas 3:6), and over-eating is a sin that calls for a slashing of one’s throat (Pros 23:2); alcohol consumption can also be grievous sin. Held in the context of the canon, however, none of the aforementioned infers that Christians are to abstain from earning money, speaking, eating, or even drinking alcohol. In some circles in the modern American church the concern over alcohol consumption has been elevated to a level of dogma, going so far as to become a denominational distinctive by which certain groups are identified. This article will make an investigation of the following questions: What does the Bible say about drinking alcohol? What is the church’s historical view toward alcohol? How did we get to this point? And, How should we move forward? By thoroughly laying out the views of prominent historical Christian leaders, this article will seek to offer a thoughtful assessment of the historical theological positions the church has demonstrated towards the consumption of alcohol. To support this endeavor, this article will examine the views of the biblical authors, the early church fathers, the medieval Catholic Church, the Reformers, early American Christians, nineteenth and twentieth century Protestants, and the views present among church leaders today.
In making a thorough perusal of the biblical authors’ mentions of alcohol it is clear there is neither an unbridled exhortation to indulge, nor is there an express condemnation of the simple act of drinking alcohol as sin. The biblical authors offer a balanced view towards alcohol calling it both a “gift,” and a “mocker.” On one hand, King David, a man after God’s own heart, extols praise for God’s providence in causing “the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man” (Psalms 104:14). Conversely David’s son, Solomon, a man of incredible wisdom, writes, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise” (Prov 20:1). In the New Testament, the Apostle John tells readers of Jesus’ first miracle, an event coming at a wedding reception in Cana, in which the party had run dry and left the hosts in need of wine. John makes clear that the guests of the wedding party had already been consuming wine when he clarifies that when the wine was gone Jesus’ mother expressed concern for the dignity of the hosts (John 2:3). Jesus’ response to the hosts’ need was as follows:
Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now (John 2:6-10).
John here demonstrated that Jesus, without sinning and without being a stumbling in encouraging the sin of others, offered the providence of between 120 and 180 gallons of wine for the purposes of preserving the dignity of the wedding hosts and extending the duration of the celebration. Responding to the Pharisees specific concerns regarding His interaction with alcohol Jesus said the following, “John the Baptist has come [. . .] drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man has come [. . .] drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A [. . .] drunkard, a friend of [. . .] sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by all her children” (Luke 7:33-35). Later, the Apostle Paul exhorts the early church, “Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery (Ephesians 5:18),” but later exhorts his ailing young cohort, the church leader Timothy, “No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments” (1 Tim 5:23). In addressing the views of the early church toward wine, I. W. Raymond offers the following insightful summation:
[The] favorable view [of wine in the Bible] is balanced by an unfavorable estimate. The reason for the presence of these two conflicting opinions on the nature of wine [is that the] consequences of wine drinking follow its use and not its nature. Happy results ensue when it is drunk in its proper measure and evil results when it is drunk to excess. The nature of wine is indifferent. 
The nature of the biblical authors’ amoral view towards alcohol itself, consideration of alcohol as both a blessing and a potential danger, and their explicit condemnation of drunkenness have left room for much debate in later generations as to the wisdom of alcohol’s consumption.
In the early years of the church, during the time of the Apostolic Fathers, there is little information offered regarding views toward the proper treatment of alcohol in the Christian life. In the oldest surviving written Christian catechism, The Didache, there is a brief mention that anyone partaking in wine should offer the first fruits to the prophets among them (Didache 13:6).
In his writing, The Instructor, in a chapter titled “On Drinking,” the church father Clement of Alexandria stated that “the soul is wisest and best when dry.” Clement goes on to state that taking a little wine for enjoyment after the day’s work is complete is considered acceptable so long as a person is not tempted by drunkenness. Clement exhorts Christians, to “be not eager to burst by draining [drink] down with gaping throat,” but drink with proper “decorum, by taking the beverage in small portions, in an orderly way.” Still Clement insists caution, “for wine has overcome many.”  While the church historian Eusebius indicates that the popular early church father Origen did not personally imbibe, there are no specific writings to indicate he forbade drinking among the laity. 
By the late fourth century AD there begins to arise a more clear recording of the direction given by church fathers’ views toward engagement with wine and the folly of drunkenness. Augustine, who had been reformed from a life wrought with indulgences, championed the cardinal virtue of temperance. Within this movement of virtue, drunkenness was viewed as a form of gluttony, and self-denial and temperance was instructed. Augustine clarifies his overall view toward the drinking of alcohol when he states, “The drunkard is not always drunk, and a man may be drunk one occasion without being a drunkard. However, in the case of a righteous man, we require to account for even one instance of drunkenness.”  It stands to reason that Augustine’s concern was primarily with over indulgence, but said over indulgence must never transpire. At the same time, John Chrysostom was teaching that those who would say wine should be prohibited were immature Christians bordering on heresy. John Chrysostom pleaded with believers that they not be drunk for, “wine is the work of God, but drunkenness is the work of the devil.” Chrysostom argued, “Wine makes not drunkenness; but intemperance produces it. Do not accuse that which is the workmanship of God, but accuse the madness of a fellow mortal.” 
The middle ages witnessed a great transition in the history of alcohol production and consumption from wine to beer. This change was heavily influenced by the church. As early as the eighth and ninth century A. D. the lack of potable water and generally unsanitary conditions in the post Roman world led homes to produce ale for common consumption. Unlike wine, which could only be produced when grapes were in season, ale was brewed year round and proved a suitable remedy for the needs of the time. Monasteries in this time discovered they could perform a public service by mastering the brewing of beer, and using the proceeds to fund church works and charity. As monks developed the palate for beer, the drink became common place amongst clergy, and monks began receiving a daily allotment of beer for the use of nourishment during times of fasting. 
In the thirteenth century AD the Dominican friar Thomas Aquinas, in his Summa Theologica, expresses his beliefs toward Christians’ engagement with alcohol:
A man may have wisdom in two ways. First, in a general way, according as it is sufficient for salvation: and in this way is required, in order to have wisdom, not that man abstain altogether from wine, but that he abstain from its immoderate use. Secondly, a man may have wisdom in some degree of perfection: and in this way, in order to receive wisdom perfectly, it is requisite for certain persons that they abstain altogether from wine, and this depends on circumstances of certain persons and places. 
Thomas Aquinas was not the only medieval theologian to speak in regards to alcohol, however, and not all orders of monks saw fit to follow in the practice of producing ale. Giovanni Ptolomei founded a movement of aggressively ascetic monks called the Olivetans. The Olivetans were bent on monastic reform and engaged in extreme ascetic practices such as severe public corporal mortification. The Olivetans rejected any concessions of wine, uprooted their vineyards, and destroyed their wine presses. The radical practices of the Olivetans were however short-lived, and the group soon softened its stance toward total abstinence from alcohol, and drew closer to the general view of the day. 
The Protestant Reformers, beginning with Martin Luther, were universally tolerant of the drinking of alcohol. Erasmus of Rotterdam, who was external to the Protestant Reformation, attested to the general truth of the Protestant churches’ affinity for alcohol when, being rebuked for drinking on a day of Catholic fasting – on which Catholics would temporarily abstain – Erasmus said, “My heart is Catholic, but my stomach is Protestant.”  The traditional view of alcohol among the Protestant Reformers was fairly favorable. Martin Luther said he, “drank freely to spite the devil.”  The great Reformed theologian John Calvin, shared Martin Luther’s sentiments. Calvin wrote in his famous Institutes of the Christian Religion that, “It is permissible to use wine not only for necessity, but to make us merry,” and that, “in making merry,” those who enjoy wine “feel a livelier gratitude to God.”  Calvin further taught that, “By wine the hearts of men are gladdened, their strength recruited, and the whole man strengthened, so by the blood of our Lord the same benefits are received by our souls.”  Uniquely, Luther was so insistent that real wine be used in the Lord’s Supper that he wrote, “If a person cannot tolerate wine, omit [the sacrament] altogether in order that no innovation may be made or introduced.” 
The favorable view of alcohol among reformation theologians was not exclusive to Calvin and Luther, but was also shared by reformation heavy-weights John Knox and Ulrich Zwingli. Knox spoke of drinking wine as a daily occurrence, akin to eating bread, and beholding the sun.  Zwingli so strongly favored his wine that he used the aversion to “good wine” as a parabolic depiction of ones inability to enjoy the Bible. 
When the earliest Christians made their way to the shores of North America, they recorded that they themselves had not made their travels empty handed. The Puritan Reverend Francis Higginson recorded that upon making the voyage across the Atlantic in 1629, for the purposes of acclimatizing himself as comfortably as possible to his new surroundings, he imported cargo of five tuns (1200 gallons) of beer and 20 gallons of brandy.  For all their rigidity and proper reverence, the Puritans were similarly quite comfortable in enjoying alcohol. Puritan Minister Cotton Mather, speaking to the operator of an ale house, wrote, “It is an honest and a lawful … employment that you have undertaken: you may glorify God in your employment, if you will, and benefit the town considerably.”  While the Puritans are famed for their strict piety, abstinence from alcohol did not prevail among their practices.
“In the mid-19th [sic] century, some Protestant Christians moved from [the] historic position of allowing moderate use of alcohol (sometimes called moderationism) to either deciding that not imbibing was wisest in the present circumstances (abstentionism) or prohibiting all ordinary consumption of alcohol because it was believed to be a sin (prohibitionism).”  Quite interestingly, the turn from a favorable view of alcohol began among the Methodist movement, and there was not complete agreement even among the founding members of Methodism: the Wesley brothers. Famed hymn writer Charles Wesley was known to drink ale.  His legendary brother, the evangelist John Wesley, however, preached strongly against even the slightest temptation to partake in any alcohol. John Wesley said, “You see the wine when it sparkles in the cup, and are going to drink of it. I tell you there is poison in it! And, therefore, I beg you to throw it away.” Wesley went on to command that his followers should “taste no spirituous liquor . . . unless prescribed by a physician.”  In 1780, at a Methodist Conference in Baltimore, the Methodists denominationally vowed to oppose the production of liquor, thus setting into motion the beginnings of an American temperance movement. As a general sense of prohibitionism arose, nearly every Protestant leader in the United States came to a position that the wisest choice under modern circumstances was for the Christian to willingly practice total abstinence from alcohol. As the abstinence movement grew, alcohol of any kind began to become demonized, and thus it became seen as improper to administer wine even in the Lord’s Supper. In 1869, ordained Methodist minister Thomas Bramwell Welch, developed a process for pasteurizing grape juice, preventing the fermentation of the juice, and thus, Welch’s Grape Juice was born. Welch’s Grape Juice became for many, the appropriate symbol of the blood of Christ.
So impactful was the temperance movement that the Women’s Christian Temperance Union was formed, and by 1919 succeeded in bringing about the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution which formally prohibited alcohol in America. While the Eighteenth Amendment was repealed only fourteen years later, the Protestant-American view of abstention from alcohol remained.
The views toward alcohol among the church today are a matter of heated debate and division. Among Evangelicals there exists three main views toward alcohol: prohibitionism, abstentionism, and moderationism. The moderationist view argues that it is within the Christian’s biblical freedom to enjoy alcohol responsibly as a good gift of God. Moderation holds that while drunkenness is unquestionably sin, moderate drinking is not. Moderationists believe self-control and not abstinence is the biblical mandate. Among evangelicals, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Reformed churches, and members of the Young, Restless, and Reformed movement are adherents to moderationism. Evangelical leaders holding the moderationist position are notably: Reformation Bible College President, Dr. R. C. Sproul; famed theologian J. I. Packer; and Acts 29 President Matt Chandler.
Both prohibitionists and abstentionists are teetotalers. A teetotaler is one who does not partake in the consumption of alcohol under any circumstances. The main distinction that can be drawn between the prohibitionist and the abstentionist is that the prohibitionist does not imbibe by constraint of law. Either by their interpretation of God’s views toward alcohol, obligation of conscience, or legal obligation, the prohibitionist feels bound by law to avoid drinking. The abstentionist, on the other hand, believes he is within his biblical right, and allowed by Christian freedom, but in wisdom he willfully chooses to abstain. Abstentionism is the common practice among Southern Baptists, Methodists, and Pentecostals. Evangelical leaders adhering to abstention are: Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President, Dr. Albert Mohler; Masters Seminary President, John MacArthur; and famed pastor John Piper.
Due to the ramifications of prohibition in the early twentieth century, it is not popular in the present era to openly profess prohibitionism. The line between prohibitionism and abstentionism, however, is more easily applied in theory than in practice, and can be blurred. When each person is allowed the freedom to determine for himself what the Spirit and Scripture has bound upon his conscience, the prohibitionist and abstentionist views remain clearly distinct. It is frequently the case, however, that a person who is a teetotaler by way of personal abstention further intends to impose his choice on other brothers and sisters. C. S. Lewis was outspoken in saying that, “One of the marks of a certain type of bad man is that he cannot give up a thing himself without wanting every one else to give it up. That is not the Christian way.”  When this person is in a position of authority and seeks to impose a position of willful abstention upon his congregation, those congregants – whose consciences are not equally bound by the Spirit to the choice of abstention – are then held under the mandate of their shepherd. The abstentionist leader’s will becomes an external legal mandate that forces his congregants into a prohibitionist response rather than allowing for the same personal choice that the abstentionist afforded himself. Alternately, a person who intends to exercise his Christian freedom by engaging moderately in alcohol can also become an offense, or a stumbling to his brother or sister who is not afforded the same sense of Christian liberty. Held in tension between these two positions is the area to which the Apostle Paul has called the church in Romans 14. The one who abstains must not judge the one who partakes, and the one who partakes must not despise the one who abstains. Instead the two must endeavor to love one another, and find grounds for unity. “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. [. . .] So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding” (Rom 14:17, 19).
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version Bible, copyright 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
I. W. Raymond, The Teaching of the Early Church on the Use of Wine and Strong Drink (New York: Columbia University Press, 1927), 25.
Saint Clement (of Alexandria), The Writing of Clement of Alexandria: Exhortation to the Heathen (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1884), 208.
Eusebius Pamphilius, Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History: Complete and Unabridged (Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers, 1998), 121.
Philip Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, series 2, vol. 4 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1994), 495.
John Chrysostom, First Homily on the Statutes (Accessed November 19, 2014 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/190101.htm), 11.
Jim West, Drinking with Calvin and Luther! A History of Alcohol in the Church (Lincoln, CA: Oakdown, 2003), 22.
Saint Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica (Raleigh, NC: Hayes Barton Press, 1952.), 3269.
J. C. Almond, “Olivetans,” The Catholic Encyclopedia (Accessed November 19, 2014 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11244c.htm).
Raymond, The Teaching of the Early Church, 86.
West, Drinking with Calvin and Luther!, 33.
Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., God Gave Wine: What the Bible Says About Alcohol (Lincoln, CA: Oakdown, 2001), 3.
 West, Drinking with Calvin and Luther!, 102.
 John Wesley, “Sermon 140.”
 C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1952), 78.
Is God in all of us? Are all of us in God? Is there a universal spiritual or quantum force that binds all of existence? Are we all one with each other in the universe? These are the questions that quantum spirituality and Eastern mysticism have introduced to the Western worldview. Popularized by movies like Star Wars and Avatar, and brought into the church by authors like Leonard Sweet, some Christians – consciously or not – mingle these ideas with the teachings of Scripture. The question is, “Do these views align with the Bible’s revelation of God and the cosmos?”
God is omnipresent within creation, but metaphysically beyond His creation. Simply stated, God is a being separate in substance from the universe. Created entities are not forged from the substance of God, nor is God Himself comprised of creation. That said, transcendence for the purpose of this article, should not be understood as meaning God is not actively present in the world. Quite the contrary, “Judeo-Christian religion does not picture the universe as a spatial box with God overflowing it or standing outside it.”  Transcendence here is intended only to mean that God is substantively different from His creation, not that He is absent from creation. This article will explain and defend the position that, while immanent, God remains concurrently transcendent. While permanently pervading and sustaining the universe, God is ontologically distinct from His creation. God is not in any way dependent on the created order, neither is God the sum of all creation, nor is God present within every created entity or being. Citing modern philosophers, theologians, and Scripture this article will outline the prominent examples of, and reasons for, the diminishing of transcendence as an attribute of God. This article will address the traditions of monism, in their primary forms, where they most directly interact with the Christian faith. Using a logical, theological, and philosophical defense of the church’s orthodox position on the transcendence of God, held in balance with God’s immanence, this article will affirm the necessity of upholding the historic view of transcendence, and will outline the ramifications of pantheistic views such as those depicted in Star Wars, Avatar, What the Bleep Do We Know, Lucy, etc., which conflict with the biblical understanding of God as a transcendent being.
Philosophies that champion a God who has a diminished transcendence result in what is referred to as immanentism. Immanentism is manifest in a broad array of philosophical and religious ideologies qualifying as monism. The simple definition of monism is: any belief or philosophy that sees all things connected or unified in universal one-ness. For the purposes of this theological discussion, this paper will focus only on the two forms of monism that most commonly interact within Christianity. These more specific variants of monism are pantheism and panentheism.
Monism in its most straightforward form is pantheism. “The word pantheism derives from the Greek word pan (=’all’) and theos (=’god’). Thus, pantheism means all is God. In essence, pantheism holds that the universe as a whole is worthy of the deepest reverence … ‘nature is my god.’”  By eliminating transcendence entirely, pantheism holds that God is fully immanent and encompasses all. Pantheism holds that all people are connected to one another, to nature, and to God, whose physical body is the universe. President of the World Pantheist Movement, Paul Harrison, puts forth the following: “God is said to be the creator: overwhelmingly powerful, all-knowing, omnipresent, infinite, and eternal. Indeed [the universe] is indeed the only thing we know to possess these qualities.”  The very elements that compose our bodies are the same elements found in nature, and the universe has the ability to end our lives, at which point, those elements return to nature. This is the pantheist’s “circle of life,” which is an existence that is easily observable, congruent with science, and does not depend on any transcendent “mythical” place or being. In pantheism, life the universe, and the interactions between the two can all very clearly be perceived and experienced.
A person indoctrinated in orthodoxy might not quickly pinpoint the locus where the worlds of pantheism and Christian doctrine mingle, but the rallying point in scripture clearly falls at Acts 17:28 where the Apostle Paul proclaims, “For in Him we live and move and have our being.” Paul Tillich, a 20th century German Lutheran Theologian, managed to propose a formidable case for God being, “not a being” but “being itself.” Tillich wrote in his Systematic Theology, “The being of God cannot be understood as the existence of a being alongside others or above others. Whenever infinite or unconditional power and meaning are attributed to the highest being, it has ceased to be a being and has become being itself.”  Tillich goes on to say that entities themselves are the manifestation of God as the “power of being.” The power to resist non-being, which is inherent in everything that exists, is that being’s acknowledgement that God is the power of being within it allowing it to be. From this one can conclude that in Tillich’s philosophy, God is the “universal essence” within all things, which makes up being itself.
As quoted previously, Tillich states, “The being of God is being itself.” Tillich argued that what he referred to in saying this is not pantheism as it is understood to mean, “God is everything,” but rather that God is the “ground and unity of everything.” Tillich makes his defense of his position saying,
This idea [that God is the static divine ground of the world] was founded on the principle of identity over against the principle of detachment and depths of everything. [God] is not everything, as this much abused term “pantheism” says. Nobody has ever said that. It is absolute nonsense to say such a thing. It is better to avoid the term itself, but if it means anything at all, it means that the power of the divine is present in everything, that He is the ground and unity of everything, not that He is the sum of all particulars. I do not know any philosopher in the whole history of philosophy who has ever said that. Therefore, the word “pantheism,” which you can translate as “God is everything,” is down-right misleading. I would wish that those who accuse … [me] of using it would define the term before using it. Whenever some people hear about the principle of identity, they say this is pantheism, which supposedly holds that God is this desk. Now, of course, [Martin] Luther would say that God is nearer to everything than it is to itself. He would say this even about the desk. You cannot deny that God is the creative ground of the desk, but to say that God is the combination of all desks and in addition all pens and men—this is absolute nonsense. The principle of identity means that God is the creative ground of everything. What I dislike is the easy way in which these phrases are used: theism is so wonderful and pantheism so horrible. This makes the understanding of the whole history of theology impossible.
Regardless of whether Tillich would consider himself a proper pantheist, his detractors voiced significant concern for his intriguing argument for the essence of God in all things. Interestingly, William Paul Young, #1 New York Times Best Selling author, borrows Tillich’s exact terms to define God. In Young’s most acclaimed work, The Shack, the Jesus character, referring to the Father, explains, “God, who is the ground of all being, dwells in, around, and through all things … and any appearances that mask that reality will fall away.” 
Arriving at similar conclusions, yet coming from a different approach, is leading Emergent Church theologian (and former Rick Warren colleague) Leonard Sweet. Sweet, along with other quantum mystics, proclaims that, in a world where science and religion are increasingly at odds, quantum spirituality bridges the gap between science and God. Quantum physics is the viable scientific basis for innovations in technology such as lasers, computer chips, and nuclear power,  and many hold the view that discoveries in quantum physics “provide a mandate to reevaluate the traditional understanding of God and reality.” 
Quantum physics has taught scientists that particles at the subatomic level communicate with one another at speeds faster than light. Whatever is done to one particle has an immediate effect on another remotely located particle.  This transfer of information from one particle to another, at a speed faster than light, is seen by some as proof that all things are indeed connected. This leads to a theory that the universe is somehow one, an undivided whole.
Scripture has also been used to qualify such a thought. The Apostle Paul uses variations of the expression “in Christ” over 160 times in His epistles. The most notable scripture used to support a quantum spirituality is Colossians 1:17 which says, “In Him all things hold together.” On the basis of these unfolding discoveries in quantum theory, Leonard Sweet, speaks directly to postmodern Christian thinkers saying, “Quantum spirituality is nothing more than your ‘new account of everything old’—your part of the ‘I Am’ that we are.”  Sweet ties this quantum spirituality, also termed New Light, directly to pantheism when he says:
Quantum spirituality bonds us to all creation as well as to other members of the human family. New Light pastors are … earth ministers who can relate the realm of nature to God, who can help nurture a brother-sister relationship with the living organism called Planet Earth. This entails a radical doctrine of embodiment of God in the very substance of creation. New Light spirituality does more than settle for the created order, as many forms of New Age pantheism do. But a spirituality that is not in some way entheistic (whether pan- or trans-) that does not extend to the spirit-matter of the cosmos, is not Christian.
Another form of monism, which espouses God’s presence in all, is panentheism. This view has long been present in the literature of the monastic Catholic mystics and has increasingly found its way into Evangelical streams via the Emergent Church movement. Where pantheism defines God as the comprisal of all, panentheism asserts “the belief in a personal creator God who transcends the world, but is intimately and actively present in the world and within each [person].”  In panentheism, God interpenetrates every created entity, while also timelessly and spatially extending beyond creation. The Trappist monk, Thomas Merton, for which Thomas Merton Square in Louisville, KY is named, is famous for the story of his standing at that very corner when he came to this realization:
I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I was theirs. … Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their heart … where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. … If only we could see each other that way all the time. … I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other. At the center of our being is a point of nothingness that is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God. … This little point of nothingness and of absolute poverty is the pure glory of god in us. … It is in everybody. … The gate of heaven is everywhere.
Similarly, another Trappist monk, an architect of centering prayer, Fr. Thomas Keating said, “The second commandment of Jesus is to love our neighbor as ourselves, and it is rooted in the recognition and acceptance by faith that the Divine Presence dwells within every human being.”  The Catholic mystic movement maintains that God is present in all creation, sustaining every creature. They believe this is what Jesus referred to specifically when he prayed, “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they may also be in us” (John 17:21). Emergent Church leaders within Evangelicalism, embracing (in varying degrees) the theology of Leonard Sweet, have also been identified as teaching mystic practices and panentheistic views, similar to the Catholic mystics.
The transcendence of God is most readily evidenced in Scripture by God’s immaterial “spirit” nature, His authorship in creation, His perfect holiness, and the unique dual divine-human nature of His Son. There is no better place to launch the theological case for the transcendence of God than in the study of the words of His son, the God-Man Himself, Jesus Christ.
In the Gospel of John, in a discourse with the woman at the well, Jesus makes clear, “God is spirit” (John 4:24). Here Jesus affirms what other biblical authors say, which is that God is not finite, nor material, but “immortal” (1 Tim 1:17), “invisible” (Col 1:15), living “in unapproachable light,” and not capable of being beheld by man (1 Tim 6:16). God further warns His people that viewing or portraying Him as anything in material creation is an egregious sin, and a violation of His second commandment. In Exodus 20:4-5 God instructs that man shall not worship anything that is in heaven above, on earth, or in the waters below. Any such thing is not God, but an idol. “God forbids His people to think of His being as similar to anything else in the physical creation. The creation language of [the second] commandment … is a reminder that God’s being, His essential mode of existence, is different from everything that he has created … To picture God as existing in a form or mode of being that is like anything else in creation is to think of God in a horribly misleading and dishonoring way.” 
The Bible is also clear that God existed before all things, was the creator of all things, and brought all things into existence from nothing. Jesus Christ Himself affirms the biblical creation account by directly referencing the opening chapters of Genesis 7 times in Scripture. The most notable reference being, “Have you not read … at the beginning the Creator made them male and female?” (Matthew 19:4) If a person believes Christ is God, they must also agree with Christ’s view of Scripture and the creation. The Bible begins in Genesis 1:1 by saying, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” The statement, “God created the heavens and the earth,” makes clear that before heaven and earth existed, there was God. Hebrews 11:3 goes a step further and says, “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the Word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.” Even more directly, the faithful Jewish adherent writing in the second temple period instructed, “Look at the sky and the earth. Consider everything you see there, and realize that God made it all from nothing” (2 Maccabees 7:28). These verses identify creation as the finite work, of the infinite God, brought into existence from nothing, and certainly not from any material contained within His preexistent self.
At this point it is important to note the distinction between the Bible’s telling of God’s involvement in creation and the monistic idea. C. S. Lewis poignantly clarified this difference when he wrote the following:
Pantheists usually believe that God, so to speak, animates the universe as you animate your body: that the universe almost is God … [Christians] think God invented and made the universe-like a man making a picture or composing a tune. A painter is not a picture, and he does not die if his picture is destroyed … If you do not take the distinction between good and bad very seriously, then it is easy to say that anything you find in this world is a part of God. But, of course … some of the things we see in [the world] are contrary to [God’s] will. Confronted with a cancer or a slum the Pantheist can say, “If you could only see it from the divine point of view, you would realise that this also is God.” The Christian replies, “Don’t talk damned nonsense. 
In returning to the words of Jesus, it is made clear that God cannot be the sum of both good and evil. Being accused, by the Pharisees, of operating under the authority of evil, Jesus quips, “A Kingdom divided against itself cannot stand” (Mark 3:24). This is to say good and evil cannot successfully cohabitate. One will always overrun the other, and they will never be harmonized. Jesus also instructs His followers, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5:48). In this it is clear that the omniscient, omnipresent, immanent, and transcendent God of the Bible is a holy God. The word holy specifically means “different from the world,” “set apart,” and literally, “a cut above.” God is perfect, creation is not, and God is therefore different from the world. Conversely a monistic, materialistic, and impersonal God cannot be a holy God because this God is not different from the world. Wayne Grudem explains, “If the whole universe is God, then God has no distinct personality.” If all is God, then what is holy? If all is God, what is evil?
The Bible teaches that not only is God holy, He also calls His people to be holy (1 Peter 1:16). God has not called His elect to embrace unity with the fallen world, nor has He promised fellowship with unrepentant sinners who live outside of a consecrated relationship with Jesus Christ. Psalm 4:3 says, “The Lord has set apart the godly for Himself,” and 2 Corinthians 6:14 says, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers.” In John 15:17 Christ informs His hearers that they are to be “not of this world.” In Romans 12:2 Christians are instructed to resist conformity to the world. James 1:27 says to “keep oneself unstained from the world,” and 2 Corinthians 6:17 says, “Go out from their midst, and be separate from [unbelievers].” The Apostle John offers a clear warning to those who have not consecrated their life to Christ when he writes, “Whoever does not believe [in Christ] is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:18).
These scriptures do not suggest in any way that God desires His chosen to seek one-ness with people who have not placed their faith in Christ alone. Christ followers are instead to flee from conformity to the world because God cannot have fellowship with darkness (1 John 1:6). God is a just God of wrath toward wickedness (Isaiah 11:4, Revelation 19:5), and promises the future destruction of this fallen world (2 Peter 3:11), and eternal conscious torment for the unrighteous inhabiting it (Matt 25:46). A monistic God who embodies the fallen world and all evil contained therein cannot fulfill His eschatological promises without waging war on Himself.
Further troubling within the monistic belief systems is the difficulty in finding a proper place for the inclusion of Satan. If God is both perfectly good, and the combination of all created beings, a paradox arises when God must be made to be one with the adversary, Satan. In monism, Satan must be considered to be part of God, inhabited by God, or non-existent. A non-existence of Satan would leave God to be the author of all evil. Each of these scenarios is equally blasphemous. Unacceptably, the biblical doctrines of Satan and Hell eventually escape every monistic belief system.
The most damaging blow, however, the neglect of God’s transcendence deals Christian faith ultimately strikes at the heart of Christianity Himself, Jesus Christ. “Monism believes that the real problem [in faith] is lack of knowledge–the knowledge of ourselves as divine.”  This assertion does nothing short of rob Christ of His very essence, His unique divinity among men. Monism takes the divinity of Christ and essentially applies it to every person. If all people are in God, or the divine essence of God is in all people, Jesus’ dual nature, fully God-fully man, is in no way unique to Him, but exhibited by all. Colossians 1:15 says, “Jesus is the image of the invisible God.” God is Spirit, and Jesus is the Spirit of God born into human flesh, the tabernacle of flesh in which the Spirit of God dwelt visibly among the ungodly creation. “The Bible never speaks about God’s presence in unbelievers in a direct way. In Christ, God’s own nature is present.”  In the most exclusive verse in the Bible Jesus teaches, “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” Jesus states point-blank there is no access to God apart from faith in Him (John 3:17). This makes abundantly clear that Christianity is not a matter of finding a fully immanent God at the center of our being. Christianity is God’s saving gift of faith in the Man who lived the sinless life and died on the cross to reconcile the wicked condition of sinners before the righteous, holy, and transcendent God. The Christian’s connection to God is not found buried within the self, it is found only in the “one mediator between God and Men,” Jesus Christ (1 Tim 2:5).
In the same way immanentism sees a diminished need for a Savior, the person who disregards transcendence also fails to rightly understand the person and work of the third member of the trinity, the Holy Spirit. The pantheists, and panentheists believe the Spirit of God is inherently existent within every human being from birth. This is not the teaching of Christ. Jesus promised His followers, “I will ask the Father and He will give you another Helper (John 14:16). You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” (Acts 1:8), and the “Spirit of Truth … the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him” (John 14:17). As has been demonstrated, Monistic mystic and quantum Christians, rejecting a proper necessity for God’s transcendence, misunderstand the nature of the Holy Trinity in each of God’s three persons. This improper view of God nearly unanimously leads to engagement in interfaith practices, the borrowing of elements from other false religions, and the encouraging of members of false religions that they have access to God apart from Jesus Christ.
While it has been sufficiently demonstrated that disregarding transcendence cannot be reconciled with Christian orthodoxy, it is worth noting that science also fails to support a God who is both eternal and material. Where the Bible calls God “the King eternal” (1 Tim 1:17), the modern cosmological consensus is clear that the universe itself is not eternal. The second law of thermodynamics dictates that, while infinite in space, the universe is finite in time. A large majority of cosmologists agree that the observable data indicates that the universe has a beginning and an end.
Today, few cosmologists doubt that the universe, at least as we know it, did have an origin at a finite moment in the past. The alternative – that the universe has always existed in one form or another—runs into a rather basic paradox. The sun and stars cannot keep burning forever: sooner or later they will run out of fuel and die. The same is true of all irreversible physical processes; the stock of energy available in the universe to drive them is finite, and cannot last for eternity. This is an example of the so-called second law of thermodynamics, which, applied to the entire cosmos, predicts that it is stuck on a one-way slide of degeneration and decay towards a final state of maximum entropy, or disorder. 
God cannot be both eternal, and comprised of the natural entropic universe. “According to the second law the whole universe must eventually reach a state of maximum entropy. This supposed future state of the universe, which will also be its last state, is called the heat death of the universe.”  Thus, the second law of thermodynamics implies that the universe faces an inevitable extinction. Where monism cannot reconcile Christianity and science, interestingly the orthodox Christian view of the eternal transcendent God and His finite creation are compatible with modern cosmology. In the Bible, the earth is described as having a creation point (Genesis 1), and a final heat death (2 Peter 3:10). Therefore, a striving to use monism to reconcile Christianity and science is an unnecessary failure.
It must be stated that, while this paper refutes immanentism and champions for transcendence, a hyper emphasis on transcendence is equally dangerous to its neglect. Transcendence and immanence must not be understood or applied apart from one another. As attributes of God, transcendence and immanence must be held in proper balance. Where an over-emphasis on immanence leads to monism, the juxtaposed over emphasis on transcendence results in deism. Deism is the belief that “God … created the world, but does not interfere with it by means of providence, miracle, incarnation, or any other Christian affirmation.”  Deists believe that creation provides evidence to affirm that God created the universe, but that God limits His activity only to the maintenance of the general laws of nature. A. H. Strong, writing in 1907, states that deism reached its prominence in the 18th and 19th centuries, but has since fallen out of favor because it “regards the universe as a ‘perpetual motion,’” and “modern views of the dissipation of energy have served to discredit it.” 
Proper regard for God’s transcendence is essential to proper knowledge of God. A failure to acknowledge God’s transcendence leads to a misunderstanding of the nature of the Holy Trinity in each of God’s three persons. The inclusive one-ness of monism leaves man with no recognition of his need for reconciliation to his Creator. In monism there is ultimately no need of a Savior; no need for a Spirit induced conversion; no need for Spirit wrought sanctification; and no need for a God-Man intercessor. In monism, humans lack the autonomous agency to fear culpability for wicked actions, and have no fear of the righteous judgment from a god who is also comprised of evil. Monism leaves man with no fear of judgment for sins and eternal separation from God. Monistic beliefs exalt man as divine, and deny the unique divinity, and necessary work of Jesus Christ.
It is important that monism’s influence on the church not be underestimated. Peter Jones of Westminster Seminary states that, “In general terms, pantheism is at the root of all non-biblical religions, which worship creation rather than the Creator.” It would seem that if there is a tangible threat of a false religion that could unite the world it is monism. Romans 1 teaches that there is one place in which the entire fallen human race continually meets in unity to worship, at the throne of the idolatry of creation. Whether monists believe all people are in God, or God is in all people, what monists are really positing is a worship of self. “They exchange the truth about God for a lie, and worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator” (Romans 1:25). The monistic view of God can neither be held in tandem with Christian orthodoxy, nor can science support the notion of the temporal created order being the eternal God. Thus it must be concluded that an excessively immanent, monistic God is not consistent with the God of the Bible, and God therefore must be transcendent.
The monistic view of God has been consistent among Eastern religions for several millennia, and has ventured in and out of vogue in the West since the 5th century BC. The most recent group to propagate the monistic teaching among the Evangelical church is the 21st century Emergent Church movement. One leader of the Emergent Church recently said, “Some people say the Emerging Church is dead, other people say the Emerging Church has spread so far it’s just been absorbed into the fabric of the American church.”  While leaders of unbiblical monistic movements are consistently refuted, the hooks of their teachings often land in the hearts of undiscerning churchgoers, and have long lasting effects within the Body. By being educated in the attributes of God, and holding a proper understanding of transcendence, these false teachings can quickly be discerned and dismissed as, what Leonard Sweet appropriately coined, “nothing more than [a] new account of everything old.” 
William E. Horden, Speaking of God: The Nature and Purpose of Theological Language (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Pub, 2002), 121.
Paul Harrison, Elements of Pantheism: A Spirituality of Nature and the Universe, 2nd ed. (Coral Springs, FL: Llumina Press, 2004), 1.
Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology, vol. 1 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951), 235.
Paul Tillich and Carl E. Braaten, Perspectives on 19th & 20th Century Protestant Theology (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1967), 94-95.
William P. Young, The Shack (Newbury Park, CA: Windblown Media, 2007), 112.
William E. Brown, “Quantum Theology: Christianity and the New Physics,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 33, 4 (December 1990): 480.
Leonard Sweet, Quantum Spirituality: A Postmodern Apologetic (Dayton, OH: Whaleprints for SpiritVenture Ministries, Inc., 1991), 261
Harrison, Elements of Pantheism, 2.
Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1966), 140-142.
Thomas Keating, Fruits and Gifts of the Spirit (New York: Lantern Books, 2000), 14.
Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 187.
C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (San Francisco: HarperCollins Publishers, 2001), 36-37.
P. R. Jones, “Sexual Perversion: The Necessary Fruit of Neo-Pagan Spirituality in the Culture at Large,” in Biblical Foundations for Manhood and Womanhood, ed. Wayne Grudem (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2002), 261.
 Grudem, Systematic Theology, 176.
Paul Davies, “The Big Bang – And Before,” The Thomas Aquinas College Lecture Series (Thomas Aquinas College, Santa Paula, CA: March 2002), cited in William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics: third ed. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2008), 144.
P. J. Zwart, About Time: A Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin and Nature of Time (Amsterdam: North-Holland, 1976), 136.
G. DeMar, Pushing the Antithesis: The Apologetic Methodology of Greg L. Bahnsen (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 2007), 274.
A. H. Strong, Systematic Theology (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1907), 415.
Sarah Pulliam Bailey, “Values Voter Summit Session Claims Emergent Church, Satan, and Islam are Bringing Down America,” Huffington Post (August 28, 2013).
Sweet, Quantum Spirituality, 261.
The church’s recognition of its identity as the continuation of Israel, and its exilic existence, provides the context for interpreting Jeremiah 29 today. The question becomes—particularly as the Western church transitions deeper into a post-Christian culture—“How do we sing our song in a strange land?” (Ps 137). As the church journeys through the already but not yet, Jeremiah’s Letter to the Exiles serves as a prescription text for living in the world, but not of the world. In The City of God, Augustine explains that the Bible provides the history of the world as a tale of two cities. The city of man and the city of God. “Babel/Babylon becomes in the Bible a symbol of self-restraint, imperialistic secularism; control without accountability to the Creator. [. . .] Isaiah saw this spirit in the imperial ambitions of Assyria and Babylon (Isa 10:7-11; 14:4-6; 47:5-7, 10).” In Revelation 18, the Apostle John speaks of Rome and the kingdoms of the world to follow as Babylon, the great seducer of nations, and Peter too refers to Rome as Babylon in 1 Peter 5:13. In Augustine’s view, the city of God is the church—the kingdom people of heaven—living in the world. Like the diaspora in Babylon, the church is a culture within the culture working for God’s glory in the midst of a great and dark secular city scape.
Minister to the City
It remains no wonder that God, in Jeremiah 29:5, tells His exiles to settle in the metropolitan center of the Babylonian Empire. A brief survey of the missional strategy of the Apostles shows that God gave them too an affinity for the largest urban areas. Historically it is evident that culture is shaped by what happens within cities. This has become increasingly relevant to the church today. According to the 1790 U. S. census, ninety-five percent of the American population lived outside of urban areas. The percentage of people living in urban areas by 1890 had grown to thirty-five percent. By 1990 approximately sixty-five percent of Americans lived in an urban setting. The nation’s urban population increased by another 12.1 percent from 2000 to 2010. The combination of the exile to Babylon, the missional strategy enacted in the book of Acts, and the rapid urbanization of America, are strong cause for a renewed focus on urban ministry. Despite the focus of much of Christian literature, poetry, paintings, and photography, the height of Christian contentment is not intended by God to be found in sprawling natural landscapes. “The center of God’s creative delight is not a garden, but a city. [. . .] Somehow the city, the embodiment of concentrated human culture, has been transformed from the site of sin and judgment to the ultimate expression of grace, a gift coming ‘down out of heaven from God’ (Rev 21:2).” If we are to honor God’s calling as exiles, the nations are to be reached, and this must begin with the city.
Exhibit Exile Posture
Jeremiah 29:5-7 is clear that exiles are to become citizens and contributors to the city. To be civil is to know how to act in the city. Aristotle said that the first type of bonding a person experiences in terms of kinship is with family. Kinship then extends to extended family, to friendship, and then the culmination of civility comes when a person learns to extend the bond of kinship to strangers. When a person can learn to love the stranger as family, they become a person of civility. Aristotle also said that a man without a city is not a man. He is either superhuman, or a beast. This is not a calling to accommodate the secular world, but a call to engage in what Richard Mouw calls, “convicted civility.” Mouw’s simple premise is that convictions and civility are not at odds. Christians require, not a change in calling, but a reevaluation of their approach to their calling. Further, Christians require a new view of their non-believing neighbors whom they are called to love. “Jeremiah’s life and prophesy is based on faithfulness and sacrificial love, which is a reflection of Jesus. God says, ‘I’m giving you over to them, put your faith and hope in me, and there will be life. This is not your home, but seek the peace and prosperity of your pagan neighbors and in it you will prosper.’”
Many theological views see the “post-exilic Hebrew history and literature as representing the period of sad decline and loss.” Daniel L. Smith-Christopher contends that “the Jewish people is deserving of attention not only in the time when it displayed its power and enjoyed its independence, but as well in the period of its weakness and oppression during which it was compelled to purchase spiritual development by constant sacrifice of self.” An exegetical view that sees the exile as more than merely a regrettable fate for Israel acknowledges that the exile forced the Israelites into the very positive formative act of learning what faithfulness to Yahweh looks like outside the borders of a theocracy. In the diaspora the exiles demonstrated that it is possible to be a faithful people outside a nation-state model, and outside a culture in which God’s people maintain political control. “For American Christians, the task will be the painful process of disengaging from the myths of the dominant ‘Christian nation’ that has so deeply corrupted a radical Christian witness in the world.”
Today, it is becoming increasingly clear that the Christian majority that has stood in the West as the socio-political order for nearly two millennia will not be the environment in which future Christians will live. Christians will draw increasingly closer to feeling the reality of exile. In an “attempted reassertion of political and social authority,” well-meaning but misguided Christians address this loss of power with a “crusading mentality,” and by “doing theology by megaphone.” The circumstance requires the consideration of a striving for a more civil virtue. Christians must learn to develop a Christ-like language that speaks with, and not at sinners. The post-exilic Scriptures hold many examples for emulation. Virtuous believers like Daniel, Mordecai, Esther, Nehemiah, Zerubbabel, and Ezra demonstrated that the proverb is true: “He who loves purity of heart, and whose speech is gracious, will have the king as his friend” (Prov 22:11). The key for the people of God is ‘purity of heart.’ In the posture of exile the Western church must do as its spiritual forefathers did before, and must submit its heart to the plow (Hos 10:12).
Exhibit Exile Action
Following the flow of Jeremiah’s prescription for the life of the exiles it can be clearly concluded in what ways God intends His people to be a blessing to the city. The first thing we understand about God is that, in the Trinity, He is communal. He pours Himself out in love and gives His life away as a gift to others—sinners, rebels, and pagans. In His image, God made man to give Himself away. In Jeremiah 29:6 it is made clear that the first step toward true civilization is family; and family starts with marriage. “When we [say] yes to marriage, we are saying yes to the life of the world. We are saying yes to the mystery ahead [. . .] new life. [. . .] Ultimately, saying yes to marriage is about living a life of offering. Marriage is a yes to your beloved, and you and your beloved saying yes to your family. Your family saying yes to the world.” Man is pointed outside himself, to his God, to his family, to his neighbor, and to his city. “Christian culture making [. . .] is a matter of community—a relatively small group of people whose common life is ordered by love. [. . .] It seems small besides the towers of Babel and Babylon. It is like a mustard seed, tiny and seemingly vulnerable. But it is the unseen truth of the universe, the key to the whole story.” Like the Jews in Babylon it remains crucial that Christians not lose their faith identity in pursuing the love of neighbor. This begins with, and is not limited to, honoring the Bible’s command to restrict Christian marriages to New Covenant believers. Christians must strive to introduce non-believers to the gift of Christ Jesus, but limit marriage vows to those of faith. Unity in faith is sacred, and that unity must begin in the home and work outward. Healthy family is the foundation of healthy society.
Jeremiah 29:7 could not be clearer that God’s purpose for His people is that they should give and not take. Most people live in the city because of the abundant amenities the city offers them. Spiritual Israel (the church), is God’s gift to the world. The world is not merely God’s gift to the church—Christ is God’s gift to the church. In the image of God, it is the nature of God’s people to give. Work cannot merely be about oneself, but must serve the needs and wants of others. The righteous person should give freely, and strive to take no more for themselves than what is needed. In God’s image people are makers and creators. Gifts are given by God to be shared and to be stewarded. A mentor transfers wisdom for the sake of unlocking potential in another. This is the stewardship of the gift of knowledge. When knowledge is shared, communities thrive. In like manner, discipleship transfers faith and pays forward the fruit of raising disciples who make disciples, advancing the kingdom of heaven. Work too is a God given gift to be stewarded. Through vocation a person discovers their callings, and in vocation a person creates the goods and services that benefit people for the greater good. The fruit of work is not merely the products, but relationships. The fruit of a Christian’s labor is ultimately fellowship, community, and relationship. More than just consumable products, business creates an economy of community and meets that community’s needs. This has been evidenced in society in the justice system, medical system, education system, welfare system, etc. All of these constructs are imperfect but faithful strivings to apply faith, wisdom, and love, for the advancement of the city’s people, for the glory of God.
A person who consistently seeks God’s will and has a concern for the things that concern God will not easily be led astray by false prosperity teachings like those in Jeremiah 29:8-9. Christians should not idolatrize ease, comfort, and material wishes in denial of the will of God for the good of their souls and the care of others. If Christians are to be about the welfare of others, they must make sacrifices and cease neglecting to love the stranger, the sojourner, the outcast, the defenseless, the poor, the orphaned, and the widowed. As a people who gives, rather than takes, Christians must make space for these people in their lives, budgets, and homes, remembering that while we were strangers, Christ died for us (Rom 5:8). Because Christ commands His followers, Christ is in His followers, and Christ is glorified by His followers. Life is not meant to be inwardly focused or to be lived for self. The life that terminates on the self is a life that truly fails to live at all because it is a life that only deeply knows one very small sampling of the many billions of beautiful creations and experiences God has made for His children’s concern and wonder.
Christ followers should live from a position of awe, beholding God’s beauty and His goodness. In Jeremiah 29:11-14 God has told the Israelites He is for their good. God makes similar promises, specifically relevant to Christ followers, in Romans 8:28-32. Living in light of God’s promises and His gifts—as kingdom heirs—God’s people will rediscover their humanity and who God has created them to be. The Christian who finds joy in the will of God will have their fortunes restored in flourishing in their own personal shalom.
What does it look like to live in the awe of God and to steward one’s life and gifts for the glory of Christ and the life of others? Gerard Manley Hopkins, who as a young man struggled with homoerotic thoughts, and suffered a lifelong affliction with what is today called bipolar disorder , paints a glorious picture. “What I do is me: for that I came. I say more, the just man justices; keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces; acts what in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is – Christ – for Christ plays in ten thousand places, lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not His; to the Father through features of men’s faces.” This is the personified and active beauty of the Christian sojourner’s work, empowered by the grace of Christ. As Shakespeare said, “To thine own self be true.” This is by no means to say, “Be selfish,” or “Follow your heart” (Jer 17:9); but it is to say that each of God’s children is endowed, nay embedded, with unique and certain gifts for stewarding back to God in service of the Father and concern for fellow man. A Christian is to recognize their gift and honor the stewardship of that gift. Hopkins gave his life and his sin to God, and in turn was led to the priesthood and to celibacy. By God’s grace he came to understand his gift was in keeping a literary treasury of the Creator’s majesty—communicating the beauty of God in an aesthetic theology he observed in all things seen, and in the awesomeness of relationship with the Unseeable. This was his gift and his calling. Using his calling he has summed up the calling of every Christian.
Every Christian should do what the Father has gifted them to do, and they should do it with all their might, for the welfare of the city of man to the glory of God. As the Body of Christ, Christians are the hands and feet of Christ in the world. Christian lives are for His service and to His glory. If Christ be in a person, their desire to actively engage the calling to steward their God-given gifts should be no less natural than breathing.
Like the Judean exiles in Jeremiah 29:11-14, “we are called to abide in God and say, ‘Let it be to His plan for our part in His divine and wondrous mystery.’ We can be assured that God’s desire for our work is a mighty collaboration, not only with our Creator, but the entire world. In this broken world we have a responsibility to bring healing and harmony to our most immediate surroundings, and work outward. By these actions we too are healed.” Let us not deny our exile, accepting this place as home. Let us not live for the now. Let us not resist the plow. Let us not allow the potential work of our gifts to go unrealized, or our lives to terminate on self. Let us follow God where He leads us, settle there, and give every ounce of our lives. Let us be like Christ, and be poured out as a gift in the city of man – for the love of our neighbor, for the welfare of the city, and for the life of the world; so that in this all the glory may be God’s; forever. Amen.
* References are cited in the print format available for download above.
The Theology of Continuing Exile
“In the exile the Hebrews become a stateless minority in the context of a massive empire, first under the Persians, then under the Hellenistic rule after Alexander, and finally under the Romans into the Common Era with Christianity.” N. T. Wright, most notably among others, has argued that the first century Jews saw their existence under the rule of the Roman Empire as a continuation of the ongoing exile. Israelites in this time believed they were still living under divine punishment as they awaited the fulfillment of the promises of Isaiah 40-66. “In the common second-temple perception of its own period of history, most Jews of this period, it seems, would have answered the question ‘where are we?’ in language which, reduced to its simplest form, meant: we are still in exile. They believed that, in all the senses which mattered, Israel’s exile was still in progress.” Daniel L. Smith-Christopher stakes a similar claim saying, “In later biblical thought, consciousness of being a ‘certain people scattered and separated among the peoples is also evident in metaphors for Israel as the ‘righteous remnant’ [. . .] that suggest a minority consciousness.” “Part of the myth of Persian benevolence is the idea of an end to the exile in 539. But all that ended was Neo-Babylonian hegemony, to be replaced by that of the Persians. Ezra would point out, in his public prayer, that the Jewish people were ‘slaves in our own land’ under the Persians (Neh 9:36).” Smith-Christopher continues, “Post-exilic Hebrew writings like Daniel, would go so far as to reinterpret Jeremiah’s predicted ’70 years’ into 490 years—effectively implying that the people were still in exile in the Persian and Hellenistic periods.” What is clear is that even after the return of the Jews from Babylon, Israel remained captive to foreigners and never regained status as an independent nation-state. While Israelites returned to Jerusalem, they remained exiles under the slavery of oppressive foreign empires.
N. T. Wright suggests that worse than foreign oppression, “Israel’s god had not returned to Zion. [. . .] Israel clung to the promises that one day the Shekinah, the glorious presence of her god, would return at last.” For four-hundred years, between the time of the building of the second temple, and the coming of John the Baptist, the Israelites did not hear an inspired word from the Lord. What is indicated is that “the exile is not yet really over. This perception of Israel’s present condition was shared by writers across the board in second-temple Judaism. The exile, then, was not concluded at the Jews return to Jerusalem, nor was it completed in the work of Ezra and Nehemiah. Rather than seeing the restoration of a national past, the enslaved Jewish people were forced to form a new sociological existence with no political stronghold, instead becoming a purely religious community with an ethno-centric identity. During the 400 years of silence, the estrangement from Yahweh was felt by the Jews, and recorded when the author of 2 Maccabees wrote, “Gather together our scattered people. [. . .] Plant your people in your holy place, as Moses promised” (2 Maccabees 1:27-29).
When Jesus came announcing the forgiveness of sin and the coming of the kingdom of God, it is evident that the Jews identified Him as their political savior from exile. But rather than restore national Israel, Christ came to begin the rescue of the exiles from their estrangement from God. Christ releases the shackles of sin, beginning God’s people’s—the “elect exiles in the dispersion” (1 Pet 1:1) —sojourn to the “city with foundations whose architect and builder is God” (Heb 11:10). In this context, the exile of the Israelites to Babylon receives its proper recognition as the first pivot point in God’s redefinition of the geopolitical identity of His people. This shift finds its fulfillment in the great commission when Christ commands His followers to “make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28: 19). There is now no difference between Jew and gentile (Gal 3:28).
New Creation is the true Promised Land
“We have a natural affection for our native country; it strangely draws our minds; [. . .] and therefore if providence remove us to some other country, we must resolve to live easy there, to bring our mind to our condition, when our condition is not in everything to our mind. If the earth be the Lord’s, then, wherever a child of God goes, he does not go off his Father’s ground.” As N. T. Wright explains, it is not as if Israelites were a national people and Christians are a non-territorial people. The strip of land in the Middle East is not God’s true Promised Land. Israel was a sign post marking God’s claim on the whole world. The children of Abraham, the seed who would inherit the land, are the people who are found in the Messiah (Gal 3:29). Creation will have its own Exodus, and in Christ, the people of God will inherit the true Promised Land—renewed creation itself. The Spirit is the down payment on that inheritance. “In the midst of the nations, Israel will be a sign that it is possible to be a nation whose key characteristic is trust in the world’s invisible Maker—to use the biblical word, a culture defined by faith.” In Romans 2:17-24 the Apostle Paul says that Israel was given for the salvation of the world, but under the Law, Israel completely failed in performing its salvific role—to be the light of the nations (Isa 49:6). Paul, referencing Isaiah 52, says, “The name of God is blasphemed among the gentiles because of [Israel].” “So God’s response to the ultimate cultural problem—a world full of mutually antagonistic nations entrenched in the self-provision and self-justification seen in Babel—is a fully cultural solution.” In Babylon, God takes Israel out from under the wicker basket and says, “Now let your light shine before men.”
As the people of God, the elitist Israelites never fully grasped their identity in this calling. Between the exile and the time of Christ the Israelites are constantly faced with the question: If God has created the world for Israel, why does Israel continue to suffer? The answer is that the world is not merely given for Israel, but that Israel was also given for the world. “In terms of the first level of covenant purpose, the call of Israel has as its fundamental objective in the rescue and restoration of the entire creation.” The exile became the first step toward Israel receiving a more realistic view of herself. Israel is not “true humanity,” ordered to establish dominion over the subhuman nations. God’s people are given a priestly calling for salvation of the nations. The exile paves the way toward Yahweh’s people’s understanding of God’s plan for the world.
Because Israel was unfaithful to her commission, keeping God’s message of salvation to themselves, God resolved to send His Son, to be born an Israelite, and faithfully fulfill the Israel vocation. In this lineage, Christians are the continuation of Spiritual Israel, qualified in Christ to carry forward the New Covenant message of salvation to the world. Christ’s work has been passed to the continuation of Israel (Spiritual Israel, the church), by Christ’s sending the Spirit of God to dwell within believers.
God’s covenant purpose, according to Wright, has first to do with “the divine intention to remake and restore whole world through Israel,” and “second, with his intention to remake and restore Israel herself.” The greatest prophecies for the return from exile strongly affirm God’s commitment to restore Israel. In Ezekiel 36, Yahweh says, “I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries, and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanness. [. . .] Then you shall live in the land I gave to your ancestors; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.” Israel understands then that sin has caused her exile, and the exile cannot be finished until her sin is forgiven. To this end, Christ entered the world. To the surprise of the Jewish people, Jesus did not free the Israelite captives from empirical oppression, but instead frees the faithful from the captivity of sin. Jesus did not end the physical exile of the Jews, but inaugurated a New Exodus. Leading followers through the waters of baptism, the Greater Moses now marches the enslaved out of captivity and into new life, inaugurating the new journey toward the new and restored kingdom of promise. The kingdom/exilic existence of spiritual Israel hinges at Jeremiah 29. The Babylonian exile results in the replacement of God’s national people with God’s faithful exiles. The Lord’s people will not again be a gathered kingdom people until the consummation of the kingdom of heaven.
* References are cited in the print format available for download above.
Matthew 28:19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
In conversations with non-believers I have repeatedly heard the argument that Christianity is a “Western” religion that ignores the history and culture of the rest of the world. This argument is odd to me as all reports indicate that, while portions of Europe and North America are in a post-Christian decline, Christianity in other parts of the world is growing at rates not seen since Early Christianity (AD. 30 – 325). For that reason I have gathered a few statistics here to encourage my brothers and sisters as we live on mission for Jesus:
–There are more Christians in Africa today than there are PEOPLE in the USA.
–The number of African Christians increased by 3500% in the 20th century and is projected to double by 2050
–Today there are more churches in China than churches in the USA
–71 Million people in India claim Christianity, making it the 8th largest Christian nation in the world
–Protestant Christians in Vietnam have grown by approximately 600% over the last decade
–By the year 2040 China will have the highest Christian population of any country in the world
–By the year 2050, only one-fifth of the world’s Christians will be non-Hispanic whites.
Despite the rhetoric of the growing American anti-faith movement, Christians will not need to compromise their beliefs to remain in touch with the future world. It is actually new European and American post-Christian philosophy that will be minority thinking on the global level. Further, those who claim that Christianity ignores the history of other cultures also assume that Christians in these other cultures ignore their own history…or ignore factors that should keep them from reconciling Christianity to their history. It should also be noted that Christians in several of the cultures above are worshiping Christ despite great social pressure and persecution. Finally, what is most apparent is that Christianity is not merely a Western religion, but a global Church of faithful believers consecrated to Christ from all four corners of the world.
*Stats and info from CBN.com, Wikipedia, persecution.org, and Evangelist Dwight Smith, and Operation World/GMI.org
God uses our suffering to pry our idolatrous hands from the things we thought were most precious, and to teach us to cling to the One who truly is.
Philippians 1:29 For unto you it is given on the behalf of Christ, not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for his sake.
Part 1 of 4: Peace Comes From Trust in God’s Plan
6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Phillipians 4:6-7
In Romans 12 Paul exhorts us to offer ourselves as living sacrifices for Christ, and submit wholeheartedly to God’s will. When we are fully committed to that task, we should no longer find ourselves wanting. I know from experience submitting fully to Christ is easier said than done. Hopefully, I can shed some light on how trusting in God’s plan for our lives, aligning the desires of our hearts with God’s will, and having absolute faith in the LORD can bring about true peace, contentment, and rest for our souls.
If you truly believe in the God of the Bible, whose character traits are clearly and unequivocally outlined on nearly every page, then you know everything on this earth, good and bad, happens by God’s will. Everything you are receiving today is by God’s provision. We are called to give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God for us in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
From our vantage point, life doesn’t always make sense. Sometimes life doesn’t seem at all fair. However, our present home is not heaven. We are inhabitants of a fallen world that is the result of our sin. There is no promise that this life will be easy. It is certain that at times it will be hard. The only real promise resulting from sin is that all people will someday die. But, for His glory, God seeks to bring His children back to perfect fellowship with Him. To do this, God works all things together, good and bad, to achieve His ultimate plan – the redemption of His people. Our knowledge of His plan, and exposure to the details contained within, are limited. From our vantage point it sometimes appears to be a mess, but by faith we must trust in the plan of our creator.
I have heard a couple of analogies that help provide perspective…
If you look at the back of a watch you will see many parts…cogs, sprockets, springs, levers, etc. From the back of the watch it looks like a complicated jumble. It is hard to follow how these pieces work together. The watch is a relatively simple device in relation to the complexity of our universe. Countless pieces work together in perfect unison each day to allow for our existence. Does our lack of comprehension of the inner-workings of the watch indicate the watch is not working? Of course not. When you turn the watch over and look at its face, you can see there are two hands there working together in harmony, keeping perfect time.
A man was looking to buy a tapestry, and came across a massive one that appeared to him to be a complete disaster. He stood puzzled as he examined it. It was tufted and knotted, had colors that didn’t belong together, and appeared to have a pattern that seemed indiscernible. The salesman came to the man, and said, “It’s really beautiful isn’t it?” The man said, “I’m sorry. It looks like a mess to me.” The salesman chuckled and turned the tapestry around 180 degrees revealing a most beautiful image – a true work of art. The man was astonished and equally embarrassed. He had been judging the backside of this tapestry. All of the mess on the back came together perfectly on the front, and he was immediately aware of how little he knew about what was involved in the creator’s design.
You see from our vantage point, in this single isolated point in our lives, we do not see the big picture. We are on the backside of the watch, or the backside of the tapestry, judging one single piece of a very large puzzle. God’s plan becomes much clearer and much more amazing when we step back and view it from a proper perspective. Like a stained glass window, the many broken pieces of our lives may actually be coming together to reveal a beautiful image. Sometimes we just have to step back and take in the big picture.
Additionally we can see much of the glory of God’s providence by taking a 30,000 foot view of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, and holding it against World History. This is a wonderful investment of time, and changed my entire perspective on life. I find it terribly hard to imagine anyone with an open heart would not marvel at the glory of God’s majesty in the unfolding of His story throughout history. When we know God’s promises we can truly witness that everything is working just as He planned. We can see history is coming together just as He predestined it. The history of the world is unfolding just as it was prophesied, just as it was written, and we see that we can trust His Word as Truth. God is working a masterpiece for His glory. Trust in His plan. This is integral in finding the peace that surpasses all understanding.
Read Part 2 Here
“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-10)”
Sadly, I must confess, before coming to Christ I was guilty of more of these sins than I like to admit. I was guilty of quite a few of them. When you consider idolatry (the making of anything in your life a higher priority than God), that any sex outside of marriage is sexual immorality, and that divorce, biblically, is adultery, this passage has convicted a great majority of people in the Body of Christ at some point in our past. Further, according to this passage, not one of these sins is more condemnable than another. Sadly, some of us treat these sins as if one were worse than all the rest. These sins are equal according to this passage. Others of us don’t want these acts labeled as sins at all. Still the Word of God says what it says, and regardless of anyone’s heart in the issue, Christ followers are subject to the authority of the Bible. I myself have stood alongside every person guilty of any of these acts as a sinner unworthy of God’s love. I recognize that on my own I am no different. I do not hold myself in higher regard than ANYONE, and as the Apostle Paul said, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” What I want to express is that by my belief in the Bible and my love for Christ I do not hate anyone nor do I believe I have any more right to Christ, or life and liberty for that mattter, than anyone else. People who know me, know my heart in this matter, and my LGBT friends can attest to the depth of our relationships and the genuine love and compassion that we share for one another. At the end of the day, what I know most clearly is that we are all sinners and all desperately need Jesus. That is the only message I’m called to deliver.
The good news, I found, and that I want to extend to everyone, is that immediately following the passage above (1 Corinthians 6:9-10) is verse 11: “And such were some of you [members of the Corinthian church]. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
What verse 11 illustrates is that many members of the Corinthian church, were formerly idolaters, adulterers, homosexuals, thieves, drunkards, revilers, and swindlers, etc., and they were all worshiping and serving together in the church, and accepted and loved by God. They were people who were saved and sanctified by Christ. Maybe all of the sin I’ve committed makes me more compassionate. I don’t know. Christ says, “he who is forgiven little loves little.” Maybe that means “he who is forgiven much loves much.” Perhaps that’s me. But perhaps that should also be all Christians. The Bible is clear that no people, on their own merit, are worthy of God. But the Bible is also clear God’s love and saving grace are available to anyone who would take hold of them and look to the cross. Every last one of us are sinners in need of the savior Jesus Christ. Not one of us in the Church is at liberty to deny anyone access to the cross or the gift of repentance. We are not called to badger, or hate, or condemn anyone, but to be light in the world. Our calling is to be like Christ, to engage, love and embrace sinners, to encourage all people to receive the gospel, and to help every person develop a relationship with Jesus Christ. We must understand that the sanctification of individuals is not our work, but is the progressive work of God in the hearts of each person as we engage Christ in His Word. My hope is simply that we would all bear fruit in keeping with repentance. Be kind, love people, point them to Jesus, and let God work.
The more I talk about Christ with others the more I’m made acutely aware that our society’s hang up with faith is not at all a failure to believe in God. Nearly all people acknowledge, or are at least open to, the existence of God. Where our culture stumbles is in believing in personal depravity. We can all recognize that we have fallen far short of perfection, that we sometimes make poor choices, and that we sometimes hurt others. But we refuse (and adamantly do not want) to believe that these imperfect and hurtful actions are sins, that they are wicked, and that place us in rebellion to God. By failing to believe that our own wicked decisions and actions have placed us at odds with our creator, we can see no need for salvation, and no necessity for a Savior.
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.
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.
Part 4 of 4: Peace Comes from true FAITH
Habakkuk 3:18 When all is lost, and all is hopeless, I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the LORD, is my strength; He makes my feet like the deer’s; He makes me tread on my high places.
The deer hops with a graceful ease along the mountaintops, with elegance, high above the toils and struggles of the earth below. So too shall we rise above the endless turmoil, navigating rocky times with graceful elegance, when we place our trust in the LORD, and rest on the hope assured by faith in Christ Jesus.
Hope comes from true faith in the promises of the LORD. Peace comes from the confidence spawned in eternal hope. If you’re reading this blog you probably already have some measure of belief in God. The question we should be asking ourselves is: when we are truly honest, do we have the kind of faith that can bring peace to our souls – the kind of peace that comes from believing beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is a God in Heaven who has us in the palm of His hand? Each post in this four part series hinges on the genuine belief that God is the real, sovereign, all powerful Heavenly keeper of the promises of the Bible. In the moments when we doubt that God is any of those things, our peace can quickly become unhinged.
“Temptation is a false promise–a promise that doesn’t deliver. The sin to be ultimately expelled is our lack of trust, our unbelief.” – Tullian Tchividjian, Senior Pastor and grandson of Billy Graham
The biggest temptation we face in this world is the temptation to doubt the LORD. Sadly, our lack of peace is the direct biproduct of this very doubt. Our salvation and protection lies with the LORD, and hope begins to wain when we start questioning wether the LORD truly directs our steps and has His hand on our lives. (Psalm 37:23). When we have doubts in the LORD, in His existence, in His promises, or in His abilities, the foundation of our reassuarance is fractured. When our trust in God is diminished, our peace also quickly fades. This is where the devil slips his foot in the door. Every person has moments of doubt, and every person has questions. The Bible does not shy away from questions, but rather invites and encourages the inquiring mind. The Bible beckons us to vigorously seek answers within its pages. “Seek and you shall find” (Matthew 7:7). The more questions we ask and the more answers we seek, the more answers we will find and the less we will doubt.
Jeremaiah 29:13 You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.
We must take an honest assessment of ourselves. Do we trust God with every ounce of our being? Are we truly searching for God with all our hearts? When we trust that God will be our defender and deliverer we find He is the rock under which we are sheltered when the storms of life come.
Matthew 8:26 And (Jesus) said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.
Four times in the gospel of Matthew Jesus says, “O ye of little faith!” In each reference He goes on to assure us that a strong faith is the remedy for all things. Jesus tells us that with a proper amount of faith we need not worry about whether we will be provided for and clothed (Matthew 6:30), we need not be fearful of our circumstances (Matthew 8:26), we need not doubt (Matthew 14:31), and we need not worry about whether we will eat (Matthew 16:8). In Matthew 17:20 Jesus tells His disciples that it is by lack of faith that they fail, but with faith as small as a mustard seed, “nothing will be impossible for you.” By faith we come to truly trust God’s plan, we align ourselves with God’s will, and we understand how God uses the circumstances of our lives for His glory. True faith is not just belief but trust. True faith brings about the peace that surpasses all understanding.
” A little faith will bring your soul to heaven, a great faith will bring heaven to your soul” – C.H. Spurgeon
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. 2 And His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. 6 (Then), he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud 7 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
Part 2 of 4: Peace Comes When We Align Ourselves With God’s Will
All things come by God’s will, in God’s time, for God’s purpose. Seek His will for your life, and you will receive what you seek 100% of the time.
So how do we know what God’s will is?
Romans 12:2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
God is diametrically opposed to the sinful nature of man. Many of our world leaders, the politicians, media outlets, scientists, doctors, and so-called experts constantly advise us as to what they believe is proper. Being that God is holy, sinless, and perfect His will remains counter-intuitive to the instruction of people who have their sight set on the things of this world. We must understand that as Christians we are not to conform to these ideas but to be transformed by the Word of God. The renewing of our minds comes from replacing the fallible knowledge of man with the truth of God. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow His precepts have good understanding. (Psalm 111:10). We know what is the will of God by holding all things against His Word.
John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
To know the Word is to know God. To know God is to know His will. The biggest problem we have as Christians today is that we don’t know the Word. We don’t read our Bibles. We are expected to be able to recall the truths contained within scripture in all circumstances, but we can’t possibly do this if we don’t even know what is in the Bible. If God is the Word, and we don’t read the Word, how then do we know God? Perhaps we don’t. Six times in the Gospel of Matthew Jesus asks,“Have you not read?” The expectation expressed here is that we should read the scripture. The expectation is not that we will depend on preachers to teach us, or that we will depend on the teaching of our worldly society. The Word of God is the measure by which we determine all that is right and good. This is how we test our actions and the actions of others. This is even how we test good preaching and good teaching. We are to hold on to preaching that is good, and discard what is not biblically sound (1 Thessalonians 5:21). The Bible says many false teachers will attempt to lead Christians astray. Do you have the peace of knowing that the teaching you’re listening to is biblically sound? Do you have the peace of knowing the God of the Word?
So what does Christ say is His will for our lives? In John 14:15 (Jesus says), “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” As believers in Christ we would be well advised to know what those commandments are. Jesus’ commandments are not the 10 Commandments that God gave to Moses…Jesus fulfilled that covenant in living a sinless life, and that covenant is finished and paid in full by the blood of the cross. The 10 commandments remain as a general principle for our behavior, but Christ, in His preaching, gave new, more pointed commands. In Matthew 22 Jesus simplifies the entire law in 2 commands:
Matthew 22:37 (Jesus said), “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law…”
Jesus uses the phrase “If you love me…” a very small number of times in the gospels. These “if…then” statements are specifically indicative of whether or not we actually love Christ, and we should take them seriously. Here are the things He said we will do if we love Him. “If you love me you will obey my teaching (John 14:23), you will keep my commandments (John 14:15), and you will feed my lambs, tend my sheep, and feed my sheep (John 21:15-17).” In other words, if you love Jesus you will know His commands, you will live by those commands in order that your life will honor Him, and you will share His word with others. Jesus is the great shepherd and the bread of life. His sheep (children) must be fed (taught). When you hold yourself against the Word of God can you say that you love Jesus Christ, and that you have submitted your life to Him? If not, then prayerfully get into the Word of God and get the Word of God in you!
Many of us fill our lives with desires that have very little to do with God’s will for our lives as outlined above. Where do these desires come from? It would seem they come from a desire to be like the world. The best way to know whether or not what you are desiring is of God is to ask yourself the question, “Does this glorify God? Does what I desire bring glory to His name and further the advancement of His Kingdom?” If what you are desiring or praying for doesn’t honor God, then it probably isn’t God’s will for your life. God’s desire is that we would serve Him and praise Him. These desires that are not of God become dangerous for our lives because they eventually overtake us, drive us far from what is good, and lead us to final destruction. God is a loving God, and being the good Father that He is, He may use hardship as discipline to teach us as His children. (Hebrews 12:7) All good fathers discipline their children, and no good parent will allow an unruly, spoiled, or lost child to go unchecked. Some children do not grow up the way a parent would prefer, but many times it is not for lack of the parent’s disciplining and guiding them. Let us make the effort to be good children of the LORD, to follow His commands, to be good stewards of our resources, and to make the concerted effort to live by His will. Why invite opportunities for His discipline? This will only become hardship in our lives. At some point most of us have felt the LORD’s discipline, and all strong Christians, while we recognize we are infinitely better for it, would prefer to avoid discipline. To use the cliché, the circumstances of our lives good and bad “have made us who we are today.”
1 Thessalonians 5:18 God’s discipline, while it seems severe, is designed to intensify our joy in that it destroys the origins of our worst sorrows.
1 Peter 1:7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith–of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire–may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
When we place ourselves in alignment with God’s will for our lives, and we understand that struggles we face are a means by which God purifies us, refines us, and strengthens us…and we trust that…we can find contentment in any situation. Everything we endure is for our good, and for our growth. God is sanctifying His believers. God desires that you will seek Him. He desires that you will honor and glorify Him by seeking His will. When he turns you from your wicked ways back towards Him, though it may be painful, he is truly saving you from destruction. We should let all circumstances of our lives point us toward the cross. When we seek God’s will for our lives, we will receive what we seek 100% of the time. In being in right step with the LORD and submitting to His will there is found peace that surpasses all understanding.
Read Part 3 Here