A Christian Understanding of the Morality of War

An examination of the Christan ethic of war and the necessity of justice for the maintenance of peace.

In a world of ever-present international conflict, questions persist regarding the moral justification of war and the level of participation Christians should have in armed conflicts.  Christians universally agree that war is a grievous atrocity.  As Arthur Holmes asserts, “To call war anything less than evil would be self-deception.  [. . .] The issue that tears the Christian conscience is not whether war is good, but whether it is in all cases entirely avoidable.” [1]  Christians further debate whether God’s people should be involved in political entanglements at all.  The church is confronted with the question, “Is a decision not to stand and defend our neighbors an act of righteousness, or a sin of omission?”  These and other questions have troubled the conscience of the church since its inception.  By examining the Scriptures relevant to the discussion, considering the underlying hermeneutical principles by which the different traditions interpret these texts, and weighing the theological, philosophical, and political entailments, this article will make an investigation of the two traditions, pacifism and just war theory, which broadly represent the church’s historical positions toward war.  This article will then defend the position that sin, by pervading every aspect of humanity, and the Bible, in offering no suggestion that peace will be attained in the present age, together dictate that in times where peace is interrupted and cannot be restored by non-violent means, Christians have a duty to honor and support their governments’ operations as God-ordained institutions for the administration of order and the protection of the innocent. For the purpose of upholding justice and the preventing of greater evil, Christians should follow the leadership of their sovereign magistrates’ by taking up arms to act as an arbiter of justice for the restoration of peace.

Pertinent Matters to Christian War Ethics

When debating the Christian ethics of war there are a few matters which should be understood to impact the Christian’s potential response.  These issues include the Scriptures applicable to the discussion, the underlying hermeneutical approaches, and the theological and political entailments resulting from the pacifist and just war positions.  These issues will be examined in the discussion of each tradition below, but before entering the discussion it should first be established that all Christian orthodoxy, in some form or fashion, affirms that mankind is depraved, and that evil is a pervasive reality for humanity.  It must second be acknowledged that the Bible teaches that in the end there will be wars and rumors of wars (Matt 24:6-8), and an idealistic perpetual peace, whether sought by virtue or imposed by duty, is not the future the Bible depicts for the entirety of mankind.   “The New Testament does not, in other words, envisage a simple triumph of good over evil in history,” [2] and the tragic character of contemporary history must persuade Christians to take the fact of human sinfulness and the reality of war seriously. [3]  “Though war remains a tragic fact of human life, the ideal we should strive for in national and international affairs is peace with justice.” [4]  Further it must be acknowledged that life in a fallen world will not allow for evil to be avoided in every circumstance.  In each generation, there will arise times of conflict in which Christians will be required to take a conscious stand on the topic of war and peace.

Engaging Pacifism

Believing deadly force is inconsistent with the ethics of Christ, the pacifist position maintains that the community of God’s covenant believers is to be a minority movement[5] called to a spiritual vocation, and a kingdom distinct from the world,[6] for the purpose of offering witness to Christ by honoring the sanctity of every human life. [7]

The first Scriptural encounter which might lead one to adopt the pacifist position is the sixth commandment, “Thou shalt not kill” (Exod 20:13).  Many pacifists consider human life to be sacrosanct, saying that each person is of infinite worth and must be treated as an end in themselves rather than as a means to an end to be sacrificed for the sake of goals. [8]  As Augsburger states, “We cannot be involved in anything, whether it is social injustice, violence, war or poverty, which interrupts a person’s opportunities for a full life.” [9]   The pacifist further bolsters their foundation in their interpretation that Christ’s Sermon on the Mount instructs that Christians are to “not resist evil, to “turn the other cheek,” and to “love [their] enemies” (Matt 5:38-48).  The pacifist sees these actions to be carried out literally as acts of obedience to Matthew 5:11-12, a Scripture in which they see Christ instructing His disciples that they are blessed in their passivity in persecution.  Additionally, pacifists will reference texts like Matthew 26:52 in which Christ says, “All who take the sword will perish by the sword,” and He instructs Peter that he should return his sword to its place.  This is clear precept for the pacifist that he should never resist evil in such a way that might result in the use of force.

Seeing the Bible as moving along a trajectory of progressive revelation, in which God reveals His will more clearly with passing time, the pacifist typically arrives at her position by an underlying hermeneutic that stresses a discontinuity between the Old and New Testaments.  This hermeneutic views the New Testament as superseding the example of the Old in such a way that justice is now superseded by a new law of love. [10]  This view of the law of love dictates that God no longer desires a geographical theocracy but a spiritual kingdom, and therefore warrants no taking of life or land by force, but desires the advance of His kingdom by the means of the gospel.

The pacifist reasons that non-violence is the appropriate response to evil because the weapons of God’s kingdom are spiritual, and not earthly. [11]  The pacifist expresses a genuine biblical desire for world peace, and hopes that whether by faithfulness, example, rationality, social contract, or non-violent resistance a greater peace might be achieved.  While it might not be the direct contention of any notable pacifist, Reinhold Niebuhr contends that pacifists imply “the Church’s failure to espouse pacifism unanimously can only be interpreted as apostasy, and must be attributed to its lack of courage or to its want of faith,” and further that pacifists see justice by means of violent intervention as rarely executed apart from sinful motives. [12]  A pacifist, Augsburger confirms the latter point by insisting that Christians typically fight wars for the purposes of nationalism, protecting property, for the achieving of Christ’s goals through force, and out of desire for power.  It is Augsburger’s contention that the Christian should take seriously Jesus’ commands to be content and to serve and sacrifice for the sake of character, for fidelity to the heavenly kingdom, and for the church’s witness to Christ, all of which are more valuable than power or material goods. [13]

The pacifist position entails that Christians must practice absolute non-resistance, and under all circumstance remain non-violent.  Christians are therefore only reasonably able to serve the government in positions in which they can perform the functions of office without compromising their pacifist ethic. [14]  For some pacifists this has meant a complete inability for any political involvement, and for others, it has excluded them from serving in positions such as police officer, mayor, judge, and any other force-executing role. [15]

In Defense of the Just War Theory

Contrary to pacifism the just war theory considers that while war is assuredly evil, it is sometimes biblically appropriate to fight for the sake of restoring peace.  Just War theory postulates that “under some circumstances the Christian should participate in war for the sake of the preservation of justice.” [16]  Rarely one to mince words, Luther was convinced that “without armaments peace cannot be kept; wars are waged not only to repel injustice but also to establish a firm peace.” [17]

A proper exegetical understanding of the sixth commandment is a helpful beginning toward understanding the Bible’s teaching that there is, in fact, a time to kill, and a time for war (Eccl 3:3, 8).  In the common historical rendering, “thou shalt not kill,” the Hebrew word ‘ratsach,’ translated in the King James as ‘kill,’ does not, in fact, share the same meaning as the English word ‘kill’ in the broad sense.  ‘Ratsach’ rightly understood is something closer to ‘manslaughter,’ personal vengeance, or personal negligence.  This becomes clearer when one considers that both the Old and New Testaments command the exercise of capital punishment by the will of God (Num 35:30, Rom 13:4).  This demonstrates that there are indeed biblical circumstances in which life is not considered so sacrosanct that it should never be taken, and there are circumstances in which it is lawful to kill.  Arthur Holmes further delineates that because Romans 13:1-7 grants that the governments use of lethal force “may be used to resist criminal and violent attacks from within a country or community, by implication it may be used to resist criminal and violent attacks from without.” [18]  Thomas Aquinas expresses his agreement with this reasoning saying of Romans 13:4, “He beareth not the sword in vain:  [. . .] it is their business to have recourse to the sword of war in defending the common weal against external enemies.  Hence it is said to those that are in authority (Psalm 81:4):  Rescue the poor:  and deliver the needy out of the hand of the sinner.” [19]  Augustine, speaking to whom should wield power to make a pronouncement of war professes, the “power to declare and counsel war should be in the hands of those who hold supreme authority.”  As Peter exhorts in 1 Peter 2:14, the just war theorist obeys God by submission to government authority, and in this case by leaving such punishment of evil to the Lord’s ordained human institutions.

Contrary to the passages referenced by the pacifist to suggest the proper Christian position is one of non-resistance, the just war theorists call upon verses like John 2:15 in which Jesus drives out the money changers by use of a whip.  Just war theorists also point out that Christ says He “came not to bring peace but a sword” (Matt 10:34), and says, “Let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one.” Responding to the pacifists interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount John Jefferson Davis asserts “The actions of Jesus Christ himself and of the great apostle to the Gentiles clearly indicate that the sayings on turning the other cheek are meant to promote an attitude of nonrevenge [sic], rather than the posture of a ‘doormat’ for abuse.” [20]

Recounting the hall of fame of the faith in Hebrews 11, the writer of the epistle asserts in verses 32 to 34 that Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets, “through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, became mighty in war, [and] put foreign armies to flight.  The epistolarian plainly calls their courageous enforcement of justice by means of war acts of faith.  Interpreting Matthew 5:9 in light of the Epistle to the Hebrews would suggest that one who brings about peace by the upholding of justice is blessed for faithful service, as Matthew 5:9 does not say blessed are the peaceful, but says blessed are those who bring about peace.

Seeing a continuity between the Old and New Testaments, and acknowledging a standard and unchanging morality for all people, “the just war theorist . . . is apt to see the law of love in the Old as well as the New, so that the New fulfills, reinforces and interprets the Old rather than superseding it.” [21]  The just war ethic sees the spirit of justice as being an integral part of the law of love and acknowledges that love requires justice for the maintenance of order and the keeping of peace.  This hermeneutic sees the teaching and example of the Old Testament as intimately relevant for Christians today, holds stronger concord with canonical biblical theology, and makes better sense of the entirety of the biblical metanarrative.

Borrowing from the prior work of Augustine, Thomas Aquinas developed an early outline by which the morality of war could be judged, positing that a just war meets three necessary demands:  proper authority, just cause, and just intent.  First, war must be waged by the sovereign governing forces whom God has granted authority.  “It is not the business of private individuals to declare war,” or “to summon together the people.”  Second, Aquinas references Augustine’s view that a just war must be one that avenges wrong or punishes a nation or state for refusing to make amends for wrongs.  Third, a just war requires a rightful intention, namely the advancement of good, the avoidance of evil, and the securing of peace. [22]  Later thinkers have made useful additions to these criteria among which is the idea that uses of force are to be employed only to the extent necessary to restore peace and no more. [23]

In direct contrast to Augsburger’s contentions about war primarily being waged for unrighteous motives, Luther contends that war is nothing other than the punishment of wrong and evil, and asks, “Why does anyone go to war, except because he desires peace and obedience?” [24]  Augustine agrees saying, “We do not seek peace in order to be at war, but we go to war that we may have peace.”  Hence it is the position of the just war theorist never to instigate conflict, but only to defend against conflict for the purpose putting an end to war.  The just war theory further reasons that if all ethical wars must be defensive wars, then universal adherence to the ethic would result in no war.  In conceding instances for defense, the just war theory, where necessary, allows for small misfortunes for the sake of preventing great ones.[25]  The just war theory, however, considers its function to be more than merely an arbiter of justice, but also an ethic by which wars are judged, regulated, and potentially prevented. [26]

Believing that the Bible’s cultural mandate instructs that it is the task of the church to make inroads into the secular world for the transformation of the corrupt and the redemption of brokenness, the just war position encourages Christians to pursue full participation in governmental functions including legislation, law enforcement, and military action. [27]  The just war hermeneutic believes that more is required biblically of the Christian than to bear witness to Christ in passivity.  Just war calls Christians to resist committing sins of omission – standing by in times of grievous evil, and to instead be prepared to defend innocent lives by seeking justice for the sake of compassion and love.  “To let violence and aggression go unchecked does not eliminate the evil, nor does it leave [the Christian] unimplicated if [they] could do something about it.” [28]  The just war theorist clearly identifies circumstances in which inaction results in significantly greater atrocity, and believes in some cases inaction is a greater evil than military action.

Conclusion

By the clear evidence of the pervasiveness of sin in society, and the Bible’s plain warning that war will persist until the end of the age, it is reasonable to deduce that the Bible implicates Christians, in circumstances where peace is interrupted and cannot be restored by non-violent means, to honor and support the government in its God-ordained role as sovereign keeper of order and protector of the people.  Further, despite just war theory being the predominant view of the historical church, it remains the responsibility of just war theorists to both protect and celebrate the lives and views of their pacifist brothers and sisters.  As the church is one in body, we are supported and edified by one another, and the witness and perspectives of those who do not think exactly as we do are helpful in keeping us from venturing too far in any direction.  The crusades stand as historic evidence of the pitfalls of a Christian mentality overly comfortable with the practice of war. The pacifists’ desire for peace and love are undeniable and should provide encouragement to the church to continually reexamine our position.  Ultimately, the Scriptural, hermeneutical, and rational evidence demand Christians to embrace a position that takes both peace and evil seriously.  While the just war theory is subject to the judgments of fallible men, and will never be a perfect practice, it remains necessary that Christians stand prepared to support the civil magistrate as the God-ordained institutor and maintainer of civil order.  A failure on the part of Christians to honor this duty for the sake of avoiding a small atrocity can ultimately lend itself to the permission of a great one.  As John Stuart Mill said, “Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends than that good men should look on and do nothing.”

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Chad W. Hussey is an average Jesus loving iconoclastic non-conformist neighborhood hope dealer from Houston Texas – a husband, father, preacher, and Master of Divinity student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

 

 

 

 

[1]Arthur F. Holmes, “The Just War” in Robert G. Clouse (ed.) War:  Four Christian Views (Winona Lake, IN:  BMH Books, 1986), 117.

[2]Reinhold Niebuhr, Christianity and Power Politics (Hamden, CT:  Archon Books, 1969), 4.

[3]Ibid, chap. 1.

[4]Arthur F. Holmes, War and Christian Ethics:  Classic and Contemporary Readings on the Morality of War (Grand Rapids, MI:  Baker Academic, 2005), 6.

[5]Myron S. Augsburger, “Christian Pacifism,” in Robert G. Clouse (ed.) War:  Four Christian Views (Winona Lake, IN:  BMH Books, 1986), 85.

[6]Menno Simons, “A Reply to False Accusations,” in L. Verduin (trans.) and J. C. Wenger (ed.) The Complete Writings of Menno Simons (Harrisonburg, VA:  Herald Press, 1956).

[7]Herman A. Hoyt, “Christian Pacifism,” in Robert G. Clouse (ed.) War:  Four Christian Views (Winona Lake, IN:  BMH Books, 1986), 43.

[8]Immanuel Kant, “Perpetual Peace,” in Lewis White Beck (ed.) On History (New York:  MacMillan Press, 1963).

[9]Augsburger, “Christian Pacifism,” 96.

[10]Arthur F. Holmes, “A Just War Response to Nonresistance,” in Robert G. Clouse (ed.) War:  Four Christian Views (Winona Lake, IN:  BMH Books, 1986), 65.

[11]Simons, “A Reply to False Accusations.”

[12] Niebuhr, Christianity and Power Politics, 3.

[13]Augsburger, “Christian Pacifism,” 87-92.

[14]Augsburger, “Christian Pacifism,” 89.

[15]Holmes, “A Just War Response,” 69.

[16]John Jefferson Davis, Evangelical Ethics:  Issues Facing the Church Today (Phillipsburg, NJ:  P & R Publishing, 2004), 246.

[17]Cited in Ewald M. Plass, compiler, What Luther Says (Saint Louis:  Concordia, 1959), 3:1428.

[18]Holmes, “A Just War Response,” 69.

[19]Thomas Aquinas, The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas (Westminster, MD:  Christian Classics, 1981), 2.2.40.

[20]Davis, Evangelical Ethics, 244.

[21]Holmes, “The Just War,” 124.

[22]Aquinas, Summa Theologica, 2.2.40.

[23]Holmes, “The Just War,” 123.

[24]Martin Luther, “Whether Solders, Too, Can Be Saved,” in C. M. Jacobs (trans.) and R. C. Shultz and H. T. Lehman (eds.), Luther’s Works Vol. 46 ‘The Christian in Society’ (Philadelphia, Fortress Press, 1967).

[25]Ibid.

[26]Holmes, War and Christian Ethics, 4.

[27]Holmes, “The Just War,” 124.

[28]Ibid, 118.

A Christian Ethic for Treating Mental Illness

Research by the U. S. Burden of Disease Collaborators indicates neuropsychiatric disorders are the leading cause of disability in the United States.[1]  Consequently, the “raging epidemic of mental illness,”[2] results in “psychotropic medications [being] among the most commonly prescribed of all pharmacological agents.”[3]  Pointing to the Church’s intersection with this issue, Christian psychiatrists Paul Meier and Frank Minirth say estimates indicate “pastors do more than half of all the counseling in the United States.”[4]  While proponents of psychiatry suggest “psychotropics have improved the lives of millions of individuals living with mental illness,”[5] many Christians still find themselves hesitant to throw their full support behind psychotropic medication.  In an article from Christianity Today, Ed Stetzer calls out Christians as having “a tendency to tiptoe around [mental illness] as if . . . on eggshells,”[6] and says Christians likely struggle more than their mainstream-society-peers in reaching positions on the topic.[7]  Further, complicating matters are psychiatric professionals who themselves acknowledge “significant controversy exists surrounding ethical best practices in the prescription of psychotropics.”[8]  Granted, mental illness remains a broad sweeping, debilitating, and sometimes dangerous affliction that can’t be ignored.

Christian best practices must be established for the safety and well-being of our communities.  This article will first consider reasons why some Christians are resistant to psychopharmacology. Then, the ontological nature of human beings will be considered before expressing reasons why Christians should support the field of psychopharmacology.  Finally, the paper will consider some further concerns Christians might have in fully embracing psychopharmacology, and will offer a response to those concerns.  Following this outline, this paper will argue a proper view of health recognizes human beings as whole persons and incorporates all God-given means, both spiritual and physical.  In understanding the treatment of mental illness, Christians must choose the narrow position between over-spiritualizing mental and emotional struggles, and conversely over-materializing the mind.  This paper will further contend this narrow position is the ethical high ground and falling into the ditch to either the left or right is done to the detriment of both the mentally ill and the community around them.

Reasons Christians Reject Psychopharmacology

In mental health, a tension exists that Christians must admit they are sometimes unsure how to navigate.  While some Christians are open to discussing mental illness as a physiological reality to be benefitted by psychiatry and pharmaceutical science, others believe granting too much weight to secular practices undermines the authority of Scripture.[9]  Within Christianity is a spectrum of viewpoints resistant to psychopharmacology.  A fringe element of Christians rejects medication out of hand in a convicted adherence to faith healing.  This group believes all healing should be sought through the supernatural activity of God alone.

More common are Christians who accept medical science as helpful to physical healing but view matters of the mind as spiritual and emotional rather than physical.  This group’s actions suggest the belief that symptoms of mental illness come as the result of sin, lack of faith, or other spiritual deficiencies.  Issues like depression and bipolar disorder are combatted with more sincere faith, repentance, prayer, and spiritual disciplines.  Referencing these Christians, Ed Stetzer recounts, “When I became a Christian, the initial reaction I heard regarding [mental health] issues was that if people would trust the Lord enough they would be healed.”[10]  Christians of this mindset say things like, “It is impossible for a Christian to be depressed or to need psychiatric counseling for an emotional problem,”[11] and ask, “Shouldn’t faith alone be enough to solve a Christian’s [emotional] problems.”[12]  It is also not uncommon for these Christians to conflate instances of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia with demon possession or the occult.[13]

The more prevalent view among Evangelicals, however, acknowledges the physical nature of some mental health issues but finds difficulty discerning which issues are primarily spiritual, behavioral, or physical.  Knowing the field of psychiatry often diverges from the Christian worldview, many Christians are hesitant to celebrate the practice of psychiatrists.  Additionally, many in the Church expect that Christians should possess an inner strength uncommon to the world.  Emotional struggles that challenge this expectation and cause Christians to fall short of behavioral expectations often lead to a feeling of personal failure.  These factors, in combination with the historical stigmatization of mental illness, leads many afflicted Christians hide mental illness out of guilt and shame.

Robert H. Albers writes, “Ignorance concerning mental illness has historically often resulted in brutal treatment of suffering persons, of their being fettered both literally and figuratively by the chains of helplessness.”[14]  For these reasons, many Christians who are potentially afflicted choose to suffer quietly in emotional isolation.  Likening this shame and isolation to that of biblical lepers, Albers points out that “the stigmatization associated with both leprosy and mental illness elicits feelings of ‘disgrace shame’ within the afflicted as well as the affected persons,” and the net result of general insensitivity toward mental illness is “a progression of evaluative judgments by others, resulting in depersonalization, dehumanization, and finally ‘demonization’ of the one afflicted.”[15]  In these cases, it is not a misunderstanding of mental illness, but the fear of judgment that leads Christians to reject medication despite the clear acknowledgment of an issue.  Stetzer laments, “At the end of the day, part of the reason it’s difficult to acknowledge these real issues is that there can be a perception that Christians are not supposed to have these issues.  Part of our belief system is that God changes everything.”  Thus, whether Christians acknowledge mental issues may be physical, shame may still render them reluctant to embrace medication.

Ontology and the ‘Whole’ Person

The first step in determining a view toward treatment of mental illness demands clarification be given to the nature of mental illness.  This requires definition be given to the ontological status of the person.  The pertinent ontological question asks, “What is the relationship between the body and the mind?”  Two erroneous answers permeate this discussion.

There exists an errant view of human ontology that understands all matters of the mind to be purely spiritual.  This view divides human ‘parts’ into a dichotomy or trichotomy – two or three distinct substances respectively.  This view draws a hard distinction between the mind/soul and physical body.  In this mind-body dualism, souls are perceived to be distinct from, but presently existing within physical bodies.  Crudely, this view reduces humans to “entrapped souls,” or “souls on sticks,” and separates mental and spiritual aspects of the person from the physical.

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A second errant view is naturalism, which views humans as purely physical beings.  This view rejects the existence of the soul and reduces all experiences of cognition to physical processes within the brain.  This view reduces humans to “meat computers,” and believes all mental and physical problems are corrected through physical means.

The Bible, however, does not depict humans as minds on sticks or meat computers.  In an elaborate word study, Anthony Hoekema summarizes the Bible’s ontological view of man with the phrase “psychosomatic unity.”  Man has “a physical side and a mental or spiritual side, but we must not separate these two.  The human person must be understood as an embodied soul,” and Scripture insists the human “must be seen in his or her totality, not as a composite of different parts.”[16]  Esteemed Christian ethicist Russell Moore agrees, “God created us as whole persons, with body and psyche together. . . . We don’t ‘have’ bodies or ‘have’ psyches.  We are psychosomatic whole persons, made in the image of God.”[17]

Minirth and Meier explain this understanding of the person implies the “separate dimensions of human nature interact so closely that ‘health’ on one level always impinges on ‘health’ on the other,” and “the state of our mental/emotional health affects our physical well-being, and vice/versa.”[18]  This points to a need for a holistic approach to healthcare.  Holistic healthcare “emphasize[s] the necessity for looking at the whole person, including physical condition, nutrition, emotional makeup, spiritual state, lifestyle values, and environment.”[19]  The holistic view suggests “mental problems should not be thought of as totally distinct from physical problems because neither type of problem is ever separate from the other. . . . The counselor ought not to think of spiritual and mental health as somehow totally separable.”[20] Thus, the Biblical view agrees with the psychiatric contention that physical factors are involved in functions of the mind while refusing the notion that human cognition is reduced to physical processes alone.

Reasons to Embrace Psychopharmacology

Crucial to embracing the necessity of psychopharmacology is understanding mental illness involves a “broken brain.”[21]  More technically, “schizophrenia is correlated with a chemical imbalance in the brain and causes varying degrees of abnormal behavior,” including “a basic loss of touch with reality.”[22]  Similarly, victims of clinical depression have brains with extremely low levels of neurotransmitters.[23] These physical issues are said to be virtually impossible to treat without medication.[24]  Prompt medical intervention, however, often alleviates faulty mental function, restores ordinary behavior, and makes full recovery possible for many people.[25]

Tragically, when “a psychotic person goes six months without medication to correct the dopamine imbalance in the brain, the psychosis nearly always becomes permanent and uncurable [sic].”[26]  People suffering from psychosis are also prone to extremely poor judgment, financial impulsivity, and action that brings peril to themselves and others.  Not every person suffering from mental illness suffers such severe symptoms, but Christians too frequently allow calamity to grow out of circumstances that could have been avoided with professional evaluation and treatment.

In cases of mental illness, “More often than not, more prayer and more faith are not the only remedy. [sic]”[27]  In cases of other physical ailments, like broken bones and malfunctioning organs, Christians rarely refuse medical care.  Likewise, Christians are not judged for suffering these ailments, and likewise do not feel guilt or shame because of them.  The Apostle Paul’s statement, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” is not a calling to Christians take a “grin-and-bear-it” approach to physical affliction when medical treatment is available – especially in the case that an affliction, left untreated, may increase in intensity until irreparable damage is done.  Additionally, it is flat out unethical to reject help for an affliction that could potentially threaten the emotional and physical well-being of others.  Christ himself said those who are sick are in need of a doctor (Matt 9:12).  Christians must acknowledge there is a serious difference between spiritual struggle and physical mental sickness.  While they can relate, they cannot be flattened into one or be considered the same.[28]  Mental illness must instead be viewed similarly to physical illness in cases of genuine mental illness.

Doctors Minirth and Meier caution, the Bible is fundamental to human wellness, but applying it as a “Band-aid” for every physical or mental disorder is more than a simplistic solution – it’s dangerous.”[29]  Additionally, it is not Christian to shame someone for having a birth defect or contracting a virus.  Therefore, it is unacceptable to blame a person for having a chemical imbalance.  Limiting treatment for physical mental afflictions to prayer and spiritual counsel is like telling a destitute brother to be well while offering him no blanket for warmth or bread to fill his stomach (James 2:16).  The Christian has an ethical responsibility to be concerned for fellow Christians’ physical well-being.

Regarding psychopharmacology, the ethical question becomes, “Will this course of action bring the afflicted person closer to physical and emotional wellness and better enable him to fulfill his purpose?”  This question is closely followed by a second question which asks, “Is this course of action the best and most appropriate means of reaching that end?”  If the answer to these questions is yes, then the onus is on the Christian to help his brother or sister in this way.  “People are crying out for help, and we cannot afford to be ignorant or afraid.”[30]  Christians must fight ignorance on these issues, conquer fear in addressing them, and eliminate the stigma and shame surrounding mental illness and psychopharmacology.

Remaining Concerns About Psychopharmacology

Despite acknowledging psychotropic medication as a helpful tool in whole-person health, there remain concerns for a wholesale embrace of psychopharmacology.  Many Christians fear that a locking of arms between the Church and psychiatry is a slippery slope which gives way to an increasingly materialistic view of humanity.  Increased materialism results in the elevation of medicine as the solution to all problems, and diminishes the value of faith.  Additionally, both Christians and non-Christians worry that the normalization of anti-depressants is redefining “normal” human emotional experience.  The normalization of psychopharmacology has also led to an increasing comfort with the unethical practice of abusing psychotropic drugs to exceed the limits of natural human ability.  Each of these issues feeds the exponential rise in the consumption of these substances and creates valid concern considering pharmaceuticals (especially those affecting the mind) are known to come with significant side-effects and inherent risks.

Psychotropics are among the most commonly prescribed of all pharmacological agents, and alter the emotional receptivity of the brain.  This creates a growing concern that Americans are losing a healthy understanding of what “normal” is, and are becoming increasingly confused between what qualifies as depression and mere circumstantial sadness.  There is growing concern that twenty-first century America has lost any appreciation for the importance of healthy and natural emotions like sadness and shame, and no longer values the formative and healing functions of suffering and mourning.  Increasingly, people are attempting to medicate away unwanted feelings due to a misguided expectation that they should be happy all the time and should not be bothered with feelings of sadness and guilt.  Russell Moore suggests that whether a person’s issue is ultimately chemical or circumstantial, it is important that they start with a realistic picture of what “normal” is.  The “normal” human life is not the one marketed by pop culture or the pharmaceutical industry, but the one the Bible clarifies as a “groaning” along with the persecuted creation.  If the expectation of normal life is a kind of all-the-time tranquility, people might be attempting to bypass a purposeful part of the human condition itself.[31]  An endorsement of psychopharmacology cannot allow that every feeling of sadness, guilt, anxiety, or confusion is abnormal, unhelpful, or needing medical attention.

Concern for the redefinition of what is normal to human cognition is not limited to the emotional realm.  The field known as cosmetic neuroenhancement has already begun responding to patient requests for medications to enhance cognitive-affective function for the purpose of intellectual and vocational achievement.[32]  Widespread swaths of otherwise healthy American teens have already made a common practice of abusing ADD (attention deficit disorder) drugs like Ritalin and Adderall for the purpose of enhancing cognitive function in academic pursuits.[33]  Acceptance of psychotropic medication could open the door for the cosmetic neuroenhancement industry to become a growing market within psychopharmacology in the twenty-first century.  These medications threaten the underlying assumption that the ethical goal of medicine is to restore afflicted individuals to normal function.

Ultimately more pressing, however, are concerns regarding the anxiousness of pharmaceutical companies to push medications without first having comprehensive knowledge of side effects.  Neuroscience expert Sarah J. Meller confesses, “In truth, we know very little of the working of the human mind.  Although we do know what some individual medications do to a specific receptor in the brain, the huge jump from molecular interaction to improvement in mood, cognition, and reality testing remains a mystery.”[34]  Further concerning is the reality that the present applications of many psychotropics were discovered by accident. Valium, chlorpromazine, tricyclic antidepressants, the MAOI family, and lithium were all originally intended to treat illnesses unrelated to the brain. Meller continues, “None of these medications were [sic] initially produced to treat the illness they are now treating. . . . No one had a clue as to why medications work as they do.”[35]  This demonstrates that the discovery of popular psychotropic drugs did not come from an advanced awareness of the chemical compositions needed to correct problems in the brain, but instead by testing these substances on patients and observing the results.  The history of psychopharmacology is a trail littered with drugs once thought promising but ultimately found to be dangerous.  The drugs include barbiturates, opium, and hundreds of potions and herbs now known to be more dangerous than helpful.  Even Sigmund Freud had an early optimistic obsession with cocaine. [36] “This illustrates a common experience with psychotropic medications, in which the beneficial effects are often embraced before the unintended side of effects are known.”[37]  Therefore, embracing psychopharmacology as a helpful tool in the holistic approach to whole-person health assumes certain ethical, pastoral, and personal risks.

Responding to Concerns About Psychopharmacology

When making a nuanced consideration of psychopharmacology one must be concerned to perform actions that best help individuals achieve their God-given purpose.  Consideration of psychopharmacology must first suspect the individual in question is inhibited from “normal” function, and second, that medical treatment offers potential for assisting in restoring “normal” function.  Christians believe that each person’s purpose is to glorify God by imitating Christ in becoming more perfectly human.  Noting concerns surrounding psychopharmacology, the questions that persist are, “Will psychopharmacological intervention help restore the afflicted individual to a state of mental fitness in which he can better fulfill his purpose of imitating Christ without moving him beyond the God-given abilities natural to man?” And secondarily, “Does this individual’s need outweigh the potential risks involved with employing medication?”  In some cases, symptoms of the afflicted make the answers clear.  Other cases are less obvious, and the complicated nature of these situations requires openness.  A general ethical position, however, should not be formulated based on ethical dilemmas.

When navigating most ethical issues the right path is the narrow path and ditches lie to the left and right.  Virtue always butts up against vice on both sides.  C. S. Lewis aptly instructed, “[The Devil] always sends errors into the world in pairs – pairs of opposites. . . He relies on your extra dislike of the one error to draw you gradually into the opposite one.  But do not let us be fooled.  We have to keep our eyes on the goal and go straight through between both errors.”[38]  In the case of psychopharmacology, one deception leads to the over-spiritualization of mental illness and fear of physical means for assisting healing.  The other deception leads to an over-materialization of health and is overly anxious to rely on medication.  Both are misguided and fail to care for the whole person.

In The Loss of Sadness, Horwitz and Wakefield contend that the “false epidemic” of psychiatric disorders has been driven by a dramatic rise in “false positive” diagnoses.[39]  While the merit of such contentions is a subject of necessary debate, this concern cannot be the primary factor in determining the value of psychopharmacology.  Improperly practicing doctors do no more to invalidate medication’s proven ability to help mental illness than misbehaving Christians do to invalidate the transformational power of God’s grace.  The value of psychopharmacological medications themselves is not determined by the behaviors of the psychiatrists who administer them.  “Most people would agree that in many ways we are an overmedicated society,” but “just because we need to be careful in how we prescribe and administer medication does not mean we should be afraid of medical intervention entirely.”[40]

Granting the value of psychopharmacology, medication is not a cure.  Many of these medications don’t fix the problem as much as they alleviate symptoms.[41]  People who believe medication will cure mental illness, or eliminate the need to work through difficult emotions, are mistaken. Treating symptoms alone is like going to the dentist and receiving nothing more than anesthesia.  Alleviating symptoms is not the same as fixing the problem.  Russell Moore advises, “God doesn’t want [the mentally ill] to be . . . ‘comfortably numb.’  He wants [them] to be whole.”[42]  Medication is a necessary and helpful tool but is not the long-term solution to underlying causes.[43]

The Scriptures, faith community, medicine, and therapy all have a place in healing the whole person.[44]  Recovering from mental illness is a long process, and there are aspects of healing that need to be addressed alongside medication.  These include a commitment to glorifying God, understanding one’s identity in Christ, spending regular time in prayer and Scripture, looking to God for primary support, avoiding sin and temptation, drawing near to loved ones, fellowshipping with Christian community, letting go of bitterness by practicing forgiveness, serving others, exercising the gifts of the Spirit, developing a life of routine and moderation, recognizing and accepting human limitations, and practicing humility in seeking help from others.

When a person belongs to a religious community, this is often their first means of support and counsel in a time of crisis.  “Schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and a host of other psychological problems are rooted in physiological problems that call for medical treatment, not simple talk therapy.”[45]  At the same time, the embrace of medication does not diminish the responsibility of the spiritual community in healing.  Returning to the parallel between the mentally ill and the leper, restoration to the faith community is as notable as the healing of the illness itself (see Matt 8:4).[46]

While the ethical position sees psychopharmacology as necessary and right in treating genuine mental illness, concerns stemming from its embrace still need to be considered.  Constant changes in the pharmaceutical industry demand Christians should continuously reevaluate and revise their views.  What is consistent, however, is the Christian calling to love one another as “whole persons” and to take ethical positions that bring healing and restoration, opposed to positions that subject God’s image bearers to suffering and to potentially injuring themselves and others.

family photo 2017 high res

Chad W. Hussey is an average Jesus loving iconoclastic non-conformist neighborhood hope dealer – Senior Pastor of Indian Hills Baptist Church in Silver City, New Mexico, former Interim Preaching Pastor of Church on the Rock Katy, Houston, TX, and a Master of Divinity graduate of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY,

 

 

 

[1]US Burden of Disease Collaborators, “The state of US health, 1990-2010: Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors” in Journal of the American Medical Association 310/6 (2013), 591-608.

[2]Marcia Angell, “The Epidemic of Mental Illness: Why?” (The New York Review of Books, June 23, 2011), Retrieved November 20, 2016. http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2011/jun/23/epidemic-mental-illness-why/.

[3]Laura Weiss Roberts and Shaili Jain, “Ethical Issues in Psychopharmacology” (Psychiatric Times, May 6, 2011), Retrieved November 20, 2016.  http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/articles/ethical-issues-psychopharmacology.

[4]Frank Minirth and Paul Meier with Kevin Kinback, Ask the Doctors:  Questions and Answers from the Minirth-Meier Clinic Broadcast (New York:  Guideposts, 1991), 188.

[5]Roberts and Jain, “Ethical Issues.”

[6]Ed Stetzer, “Mental Illness & Medication vs. Spiritual Struggles & Biblical Counseling” (Christianity Today, April 23, 2013), Retrieved November 20, 2016.  http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2013/april/mental-illness-medication-vs-spiritual-struggles.html.

[7]Stetzer, “Mental Illness.”

[8]Roberts and Jain, “Ethical Issues.”

[9]Stetzer, “Mental Illness.”

[10]Ibid.

[11]Minirth and Meier, Ask the Doctors, 183.

[12]Ibid, 44.

[13]Minirth and Meier, Ask the Doctors, 201.

[14]Robert H. Albers, “Introduction” in Ministry with Persons with Mental Illness and Their Families (Minneapolis:  Fortress Press, 2012), 2.

[15]Albers, “Introduction,” 3.

[16]Anthony A. Hoekema, Created in God’s Image (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 1986), 216.

[17]Russell Moore, “Is it Right for a Christian to Take Anti-Depressants” (Russellmoore.com, February 28, 2012), Retrieved November 20, 2016.  http://www.russellmoore.com/2012/02/28/is-it-right-for-a-christian-to-take-anti-depressants/.

[18]Minirth and Meier, Ask the Doctors, 10.

[19]“Holistic Medicine” in Encyclopedia Americana vol. 14 (Danbury, CT:  Grolier, 1983), p. 294.

[20] Hoekema, Created in God’s Image, 216.

[21]Albers, “Introduction,” 7.

[22]Minirth and Meier, Ask the Doctors, 120.

[23]Ibid, 184.

[24]Ibid, 121.

[25]Ibid, 122.

[26]Minirth and Meier, Ask the Doctors, 193.

[27]Stetzer, “Mental Illness.”

[28]Ibid.

[29]Minirth and Meier, Ask the Doctors, 182.

[30]Stetzer, “Mental Illness.”

[31]Moore, “Is it Right?”

[32]D. Larriviere, M. A. Williams, M. Rizzo and R. J. Bonnie, “Responding to Requests from Adult Patients for Neuroenhancements: Guidance of the Ethics, Law and Humanities Committee” in Neurology (2009), 73:1406-1412.

[33]M. Talbot, “Brain Gain: The Underground World of “Neuroenhancing” Drugs” in New Yorker (April 27, 2009). 32-43.

[34]Sarah J. Meller and William H. Meller, “Conclusion: Psychopharmacology” in Ministry with Persons with Mental Illness and Their Families (Minneapolis:  Fortress Press, 2012), 229.

[35]Meller and Meller, “Conclusion,” 233.

[36]Ibid, 230.

[37]Ibid.

[38]C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York:  HarperOne, 2001), 186.

[39]A. V. Horwitz, J. C. Wakefield, The Loss of Sadness (New York:  Oxford University Press, 2007).

[40]Stetzer, “Mental Illness.”

[41]Moore, “Is it Right?”

[42]Moore, “Is it Right?”

[43]Minirth and Meier, Ask the Doctors, 184.

[44]Ibid, 182-183.

[45]Stetzer, “Mental Illness.”

[46]Albers, “Introduction,” 3.

Christmas II – The Prince of Peace Who Brings Good Will To Men

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.

Christmas I – The Broken World Longs for ‘God With Us’

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.

Mad Max: A Modern Retelling of the Bible Exodus

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

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***SPOILER ALERT –  This is a film analysis examining the spiritual implications of events in the movie and will give away the conclusion.***

The fourth motion picture release in a franchise known for tapping into the savior motif, director George Miller says Max’s prior “international acceptance had drawn aside the veil of reality and revealed a collective unconscious.” [1]  Channeling this universal unconscious acknowledgement that existential brokenness demands a redeemer, Mad Max: Fury Road is a post-apocalyptic (post-lapsarian) narrative packed with theological themes that pits savior figures in a good versus evil battle to free captives and redeem the suffering through a race across the desert to a land of hope.  Reading the last page first, the writers’ motives are easily discerned.

“Where must we go . . . we who wander this wasteland in search of our better selves?” – The First History Man

Drawing clear ties to broken humanity’s mere existence (as opposed to flourishing) in this fallen world, living under the shadow of the sin of history’s first man, Adam, the closing quote appears to be an esoteric conception of writer/director George Miller that likely points to the work of Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man and its treatment of the democratic peace theory first popularized by Immanuel Kant.  Clearly evident, beyond Fury Road’s ten time Academy Award nominated production, lies a script bold in political commentary.  While expressing a measured restraint, the dialogue remains robust in the incorporation of concepts that find their roots in the Bible and Western Christian literature.  The Road unfolds in four distinct phases, fall, exodus, sojourn, and redemption, which mirror the biblical metanarrative.

The Fall

As the movie opens the main character recounts the events which brought about the present condition. “My world is fire and blood. . . . As the world fell, each of us in our own way was broken.”  Random voices relay that, “Mankind has gone rogue, terrorizing itself . . . the earth is sour . . . our bones are poisoned . . . we have become half-life.”  The setting and character development communicate that the world of Mad Max exists in the shadow of a great fall.  A post-apocalyptic war for guzzoline, aqua cola, produce, mother’s milk, and bullets rages.  The surviving human population is spiritually and intellectually barren.  Max is one of the few free residents in this wasteland where precious resources are monopolized by the tyrant, Immortan Joe.  Max was once a cop, an upholder of justice, and a person with a righteous cause.  Now Max cannot discern whether he is less crazy than anyone else.  He is haunted by visions of innocents who cry out to him for salvation.  The freedom Max possesses is rare, and a sign of the elevated stature granted him by his physical and intellectual gifts.  Like Moses, who said, “I am slow of speech and tongue . . . please send someone else” (Exod. 4:10, 13), Max is a reluctant hero of few words.  He repeatedly attempts to flee the call to save others, distancing himself from society for the sake of self-preservation.  The villain emperor, Immortan Joe, is introduced when Max is taken captive by a cohort and brought to the citadel.  In the citadel the Immortan governs a caste system that drives the oppressed population’s dependence on their overlord.  Like many historical tyrants the Immortan has used the depressed social dynamic to exalt himself as deity.  Max, in a nod to the Jewish hero type he represents, is enslaved in a dungeon and receives a systematic tattooing like the holocaust victims at Auschwitz.  Max is labeled a type O-negative “blood bag,” and likened to something subhuman as he is chained and fitted with an iron muzzle.

Those privileged to be crusading warrior pawns worship in the “cult of the V8,” an automobile worshipping religion of “chrome” seekers.  This false religion drives them to “karmakrazee” sacrifice for the conquest of their Immortan.  As the war boys martyr themselves on Fury Road, they cry out, “Witness me!”  This statement finds its etymology in the Koine Greek (the language of the New Testament) word “martyr” which means witness.  The war boys cry out for recognition of their witness to “the one who grabbed the sun.”  They believe, as one war boy exclaims, “I live; I die; I live again!”  This beckons images of wicked religious extremists who see war, murder, and death as crucial expressions of spirituality.  These young warriors believe they “will be lifted up” by the hand of the Immortan as they are “awaited in Valhalla” for dying “historic on Fury Road.”  The Immortan, calling himself the “redeemer” and claiming that “by his hand the people will rise from the ashes of this world,” promises his “half-life war-boys” a future glory where they “ride with [him] eternal.”  This bears striking resemblance to the manipulating practices of historic evil dictators, as well as Satan, the deceiver and author of evil himself.  False religion serves as the tool by which young boys who seek glory become an “old man’s battle fodder.”

Furiosa, the Immortan’s imperator, comes from “the clan of many mothers.” Like Max, Furiosa is also a person of elevated status.  She is an imperator who (also like Moses) abandons her privilege to free the captives.  Furiosa, also resembling Eve, wears the results of the fall physically with a  missing arm as a memento of the brokenness, imperfection, and fragility resulting from her having been stolen from the “green land.”  Where Max is physically superior and self-centered, Furiosa is virtuous but physically impaired.  The two collaborate to represent the Exodus savior type while each of the characters and scenes bears the marks of the fallen existence.

The Exodus

The Immortan first becomes aware that an Exodus is under way when Furiosa’s tanker truck veers off route and makes a break across the desert.  The rig secretly houses the Immortan’s harem who refuse to bear future warlords, and are forsaking their former lives and risking all in search of “hope.”  Furiosa on the other hand is in pursuit of “redemption.”  The wives of Immortan Joe, the most exalted of all the women under his reign, are treated as mere chattel in a world of men’s wars.  Furiosa represents not merely the savior of this random band of people, but the savior of femininity.  Furiosa is a savior who values the “mother of all the living,” knows the equality of women in the created order, and seeks to bring about new life through love, hope, and redemption.

Infuriated by the exodus, Immortan Joe rallies the troops in full pursuit of the runaway tanker.  Like the Pharaoh of Egypt he leads his war boys in a furious chase, racing their hot rods across the desert like post-apocalyptic battle chariots.  Strapped to the grill of the war boys’ hot-rod, Max, the type O negative “blood bag,” is intravenously imparting blood to the “half-life.”  A “universal donor,” Max has blood capable of providing life for all.

In a scene resembling the parting of the Red Sea, Furiosa and the fleeing unit pass through a wavelike desert sandstorm that topples the V8 war chariots allowing Furiosa and the “breeders” to escape.  The muzzled blood bag arrives on the other side of the storm still chained to the war boy Nux.  Max and Nux are introduced to the female group for the first time as they find them cleansing themselves with water in an unwitting baptism.  The women, clothed in white and clean of the desert sand and grease, contrast their fallen surroundings as an image of purity, innocence, and freedom.  Max requests the water, and splashing it on Nux and himself, the group becomes consecrated together in this unwitting baptism.  Furiosa provides Max with a file he uses to free himself from his muzzle.  Having been set free from bondage, Max is increasingly compelled to help the group escape their pursuer and find their promised land.

As “The People Eater” approaches, the wives comment that he is “coming to count the cost.”  An accountant, he keeps a ledger and is seeking compensation for the debts accrued by the rebels.  It is the wives, however, who will soon come to learn it is they who will be counting the cost of renouncing their former existence.  Having put their hand to the plow, there will be no turning back.  The cost for the heart-hardened Immortan will also be high.  When Immortan Joe and his cohorts catch up to the rig and threaten to put an end to the wives’ exodus, the violence throws one of the pregnant wives from the rig and beneath the wheels of Immortan Joe’s vehicle.  In a moment drawing parallels to Pharaoh, the heart-hardened emperor suffers the loss of a son by the consequence of his own stubborn pride.

Sojourn

Like the biblical Exodus, the Fury Road journey transitions from the fleeing of captivity to a prolonged Sojourn towards a new land of hope and flourishing.  The Sojourn quickly becomes a desert wandering wrought with struggle, doubt, and murmuring.  One of the wives, disenfranchised with the new existence far from home, desires to return to the comforts of her former captivity.  She says, “The stupid green place.  We don’t even know where to find it.”   Another wife similarly wishes to return to her former captivity saying, “We were protected.  He gave us the high life.  What’s wrong with that?”  This wife is told, “Wring your hands!”  This is perhaps a reference to Isaiah 8:9 (MSG) which says, “Listen all of you, far and near.  Prepare for the worst and wring your hands.  Yes, prepare for the worst and wring your hands!  Plan and plot all you want – nothing will come of it.  All your talk is mere talk, empty words, because when all is said and done, the last word is Immanuel – God-With-Us.”  This suggests that this wife should not turn back in the face of trial.  Difficult as the pursuit of promised hope may be, recommitment to faithfully following the savior to the promised green land is the better way.  Again playing into the role of the Moses figure, Furiosa instructs the grumbling followers, “Out here everything hurts,” but if “you want to get through this then do what I say.”  Furiosa’s call to “follow me” will bring the company salvation through obedient faith in the savior figure’s commands.

The plot twists when the group meets the “tribe of many mothers.”  These former inhabitants of the green land have been relegated to an existence as desert nomads.  The mothers inform the seekers that the green land has been laid waste, and is now an uninhabitable land of desolation.  In this time of “already but not yet,” the group finds themselves free, the recipients of new life, but wandering from a home.

Redemption and Life through Sacrifice

The travelling band soon comes to find that the land of their future promise is actually the land from which they fled.  The former locus of their suffering will become their land of hope fulfilled.  Found hiding on the rig is the war boy, Nux, who after failing in his aspirations for “shine” through “karmakrazee” mission, has experienced a real disenfranchisement with his former calling.  Nux says he should be “McFeasting with the Immorta,” which sounds more like a drive-thru value meal than a holy communion.  This McFeasting reflects the cheapness of the empty promises of false religion.  One of the wives, in a moment of rare compassion in a brutalized wasteland, replies to Nux’s disappointment over his failure to enter the gates of Valhalla, saying, “I’d say it was your manifest destiny not to.”  It is the compassion and mercy of this wife that brings the softening of Nux’s heart.  What is seen is that this warrior is not beyond the reach of conversion, but merely a lost soul who has never experienced real love.  The wife, in an act counterintuitive to Fury Road, does not return evil with evil, but instead overcomes evil with love.


In an overtly philosophical moment, while taking inventory of the weaponry, the women discuss the guns in an oddly sexual way.  In contrast to the love and life associated with righteous sex, they refer to the guns in a phallic sense in which they shoot “antiseed.”  Juxtaposed to the organ that shoots a seed of life, the gun is an organ that shoots seeds of death.  “Plant one and watch the thing die,” one wife says.  Later, while residing amongst the clan of mothers, this theme is revisited and the message is clarified.  One of the mothers shows her collection of plant seeds from the green land.  The mother explains that she plants the seeds when she finds soil that might be capable of supporting life.  When people become seed planters, there becomes no need to kill because the harvest becomes abundant.  Where the wives had an earlier discussion about bullets being seeds of death, here a message is communicated that scattering seeds of life brings healing and chokes out evil.  Christ likewise taught that the sword brings death, but the gospel of the Kingdom is the seed of life.  In the gospel of Matthew, the sower scatters seed such that a harvest of life would be abundant.  This harvest is plentiful but the laborers are unfortunately few.  With these two scenes director George Miller clearly argues that violence is not the way to flourishing, but that he who lives by the sword dies by the sword.  Prosperity is instead found in planting seeds of life.  When a person seeks the prosperity of those around her, amidst their prosperity she too shall prosper.

The road back to the citadel is fraught with strife, but even as the crew begins to suffer losses at the hands of the enemy their joy grows.  The more each gives to the group mission of redemption, the more they truly begin to live.  As they lose their lives they begin to find life.  Progressively each loses the identifying marks of the past (the muzzle, engine grease, pasty grey skin tone), and each begins to show more outward signs of their inner glow.  Their hardened expressions become warm smiles and their skin tones warm.  By the end of the movie even the pasty grey war boy is beginning to look like a full-life.

In a high-throttled fury road battle chase back to the citadel, many of the crew lose their lives.  Most notably, Nux stays behind to drive the rig as the others climb aboard the lead car.  In the climax scene, Nux lovingly sacrifices his own life for the life of his friends, flipping the rig to effectively jam the pass and disallow the pursuing enemy to give chase.  As he does this, the war boy locks eyes with the red-headed wife whose compassion overcame his evil, and he mouths the words, “Witness me.”  In this moment, the fruit of his conversion blooms.  His desire to die furiously for the false and murderous cause of Immortan Joe, is now transformed into a perfect peace in selfless sacrifice for the life of his friends.  Having been severely wounded, Furiosa simultaneously lies lifeless, losing massive amounts of blood.  In an impromptu blood transfusion, Max literally saves her by his blood.  The sacrifice of Nux, and the universal blood bag’s transfusion, crudely combine to reflect the work of Jesus Christ.  Jesus gave His life on the cross, and poured out His blood for many to provide salvation from enslavement to sin and eternal life in Him.

Arriving back at the citadel, in a moment reminiscent of Colossians 2:14, Max declares victory over evil and death, parading the dead body of Immortan Joe on the hood of his own truck.  The rulers and authorities are disarmed and put to shame.  The triumphant heroes are hoisted on a lift, ascended to the throne above, and the water stores are cut loose giving life back to the people.  His work complete, Max returns to the place from whence he came.

At the conclusion of Mad Max, the captor, oppressor, and ambassador of death is defeated.  The water of life rains down from above.  The poor and oppressed are blessed, and the captives are set free.  The ruling class is destroyed and put to shame.  A new existence is established in which the dividing walls of the social caste system are pulverized.  The resources are abundant and freely distributed, and humanity is restored to fullness of life by the affirmation of equal dignity for all.

Conclusion

Present in the midst of this high-throttle, heavy metal, shoot ‘em up is an unassuming post-fall redemption narrative laden with theological themes that portray collaborating savior types leading a chosen group in a good versus evil sojourn to redeem humanity by freeing the oppressed and bringing about a new world of flourishing.  Some of these connections may seem less than obvious. The film’s director, however, affirms that his writing samples liberally from ancient “mythologies” and religious themes, and this suffices to say that these themes are worthy of investigation.  While eschewing the inclusion of a director’s commentary, and having yet to be completely forthcoming with details about the film’s intended message, George Miller instructs, “The audience tell[s] you what your film is.” [2]  The themes of false worship, idolatry, salvation, desert wandering, promised-land, salvation by blood, and pouring forth life-giving waters are uniformly prominent in the Bible.  Given the director’s freedom to interpret the film’s meaning, I contend that Mad Max: Fury Road is a story of fall, exodus, sojourn, and redemption in a post-apocalyptic wasteland.

[1]James Douglas, “For Mad Max’s George Miller, All Roads Lead to Myth and Music.” The Dissolve. May 15, 2015. Accessed April 1, 2016. https://thedissolve.com/features/exposition/1026-for-mad-maxs-george-miller-all-roads-lead-to-myth-/.

[2]“‘Mad Max’ Director George Miller: The Audience Tells You ‘What Your Film Is'” NPR. February 8, 2016. Accessed April 01, 2016. http://www.npr.org/2016/02/08/465989808/mad-max-director-george-miller-the-audience-tells-you-what-your-film-is.

**I would like to add that this post is not an endorsement of the graphic content or unrighteous themes of the movie, Mad Max:  Fury Road, nor is it an endorsement of the movie as a theological guide. Rather, this post is an attempt to shine the light of Biblical Truth amongst movie fans that might otherwise not hear the gospel and choose to remain in darkness, continuing to view this movie as a mere blood-fueled demolition derby across the desert.***

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

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

Chad W. Hussey

What is the Millennium of Revelation 20?

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

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The Thousand Years

Revelation 20 Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit[a] and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while.

Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.

Referring to the wildly speculative interpretations commentators have offered for the book of Revelation, G. K. Chesterton quipped, “Though St. John the Evangelist saw many strange monsters in his vision, he saw no creatures so wild as one of his commentators.” [1]  Adding to Chesterton’s observations, “James Orr, lecturing at the end of the nineteenth century, observed that various areas of Christian doctrine had received special attention and development at different periods in the history of the church,” but suggested “the one remaining undeveloped topic of theology” which is the “peculiar interest of the modern age is eschatology.” [2]  It appears that at no point in history has the church been more theologically enamored with eschatology (the study of the “last things”) than in recent years.

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

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

In recognition of the growing fascination of the day, this post will enter the eschatological discussion by focusing on the narrow topic of the millennial reign of Christ introduced in Revelation chapter 20.  One of the most hotly debated topics in eschatology, several systems have been developed for interpreting the historical placement and theological significance of the millennium.  This post will assess the four major views for interpreting Revelation 20:1-6 (dispensational premillennialism, historical premillennialism, postmillennialism, and amillennialism).

Underlying the divergent views of the millennium are the differing hermeneutical principles employed by the interpreters.  Commentators primarily disagree on the approach to reading the book of Revelation in three main ways.  The first point of difference occurs when determining how to read prophetic Scripture in light of history.  Differing views of Scripture in light of history see prophecy as applying specifically to the past (predominantly prior to 70 A. D.), as applying to history through the ages, as applying specifically to the future, or as eclectically applying to general recurring patterns of all history past, present, and future.  Interpreters further differ when deciding whether apocalyptic literature is to be read literally or symbolically.  The symbolic approach sees Revelation as communicating information at three levels:  a visionary level (what John actually saw), a symbolic level (what the items in John’s visions connote biblically beyond the specific historical reference), and a historical level (the particular historical identification). [3]  Juxtaposed to this hermeneutical approach are those from the dispensational tradition, who, in an attempt to maintain a conservative orthodox reading of Scripture, demand that interpretations be strictly literal.   This has led commentators to further disagree as to whether John’s visions are to be read literally, in a linear chronological sequence (as an “ordered and progressive unfolding”), [4] or as multiple related recapitulations that symbolically offer kaleidoscopic depictions of the same set of events. [5]  The outcomes of the application of these underlying hermeneutical principles will be shown in the examinations of each system below.

Positions

Dispensational Premillennialism

Developed in England by John Nelson Darby, dispensational theology was popularized around the turn of the nineteenth century, and is arguably an instigating factor in the modern infatuation with eschatology.  The first tenet of dispensationalism is the belief the Bible must be interpreted literally. [6] As a clear proponent of dispensational premillennialism, Herman A. Hoyt claims, “The literal method of approach to the teaching of the pre-millennial, dispensational doctrine of the kingdom is absolutely basic.” [7]  John F. Walvoord says, “The pre-millennial interpretation offers the only literal fulfillment for the hundreds of verses of prophetic testimony.” [8]  Taking seriously the concept of progressive revelation, dispensationalists see God as revealing more truth as time progresses, and therefore see the majority of the prophesies of Revelation as taking place in the future. This literal futuristic interpretation of Revelation 20 manifests as the millennium being “more than merely a thousand-year reign of Christ on the earth.”  The dispensational millennium is “the restoration of national Israel to its favored place in God’s program and the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel.” [9]  Being that dispensationalists (unlike non-dispensationalists) hold a strong distinction between God’s promises to ethnic Israel and to the church, in dispensationalism the millennium is the time when unfulfilled prophecies are clearly fulfilled and national Israel returns to prominence.  Saucy explains,

The unity of the historical kingdom program, however, must be interpreted in such a way as to allow for the natural understanding of all the biblical prophecies.  These promises portray a restoration of the nation of Israel to the promised land and a central position for that nation in the final period of the mediatorial kingdom.  Contrary to non-dispensationalism, the term Israel is not finally applied to all God’s people irrespective of nationality.[10]

Understanding this view depends on an appreciation of classical dispensationalism’s affirmation of “two coexisting eternal realms of salvation, one heavenly and one earthly.”  Early dispensationalists drew on a “spiritual vision model of heaven as the final destiny for Christian believers . . . by postulating two coexisting forms of ultimate salvation – one eternal in heaven for the church and one everlasting on the new earth for Israel.” [11]

Chronologically, dispensational premillennialists see Revelation 20 occurring immediately after the seven year tribulation. Unmistakably inaugurated by Christ’s second coming, the millennium will be a literal one thousand year period in which Satan is bound (Rev 20:2-3) and Christ establishes His earthly reign from the throne of David.  Dispensationalists interpret both resurrections in Revelation 20:4-6 as physical in nature. The first resurrection in verse four is limited to believers who will reign on earth with Christ during the millennium, and the second resurrection in verse 6 encompasses all non-believers who are resurrected after the millennium to face final judgment.  Dispensationalism has the positive aspects of being thoroughly biblical, conservative, and consistent.

Historical Premillennialism

Like dispensational premillennialism, historical premillennialism sees Revelation chapter 20 as chronologically following chapter 19.  In the premillennial view, following the great tribulation (which is not necessarily seven literal years), Christ ushers in the millennium by inaugurating a period of absolute peace and justice in which Satan will be bound and Christ will reign bodily on earth among men.  The historical view sees the two resurrections of Revelation 20:4-6 similarly to dispensationalism.  In the first resurrection believers will be physically resurrected to reign with Christ in the millennium, while non-believers will not be resurrected until final judgment – after the second resurrection at the end of the millennium.  While sharing these similarities with dispensationalists, the historical premillennialists take a less literal approach to apocalyptic Scripture, seeing the literal hermeneutic as misunderstanding the deeper meaning of the texts.  Historical premillennialism’s most notable modern proponent, George Eldon Ladd, exerted considerable effort in arguing against the dispensational reading saying, “The literal hermeneutic does not work. . . . Old Testament prophecies must be interpreted in the light of the New Testament to find their deeper meaning. . . . I do not see how it is possible to avoid the conclusion that the New Testament applies Old Testament prophecies to the New Testament church and in so doing identifies the church as spiritual Israel.” [12]  Along with amillennialism and postmillennialism, historical premillennialism rejects the dispensational separation of Israel and the New Testament Church on the grounds that numerous passages such as Ephesians 2 and Galatians 3 make clear that Paul saw the Church comprised of Jew and Gentile as God’s new covenant people and heir to the promises made to national Israel.  Ladd clarifies, “The fact is that the New Testament frequently interprets Old Testament prophecies in a way not suggested by the Old Testament context.” [13]  Historical premillennialists therefore do not necessarily assert that the millennium is a literal one thousand years, nor do they interpret the millennium to be the fulfillment of a literal restoration of national Israel.  Where dispensationalism “follows the futurist method of interpretation almost exclusively, historical premillennialism . . . combines the futurist and preterist views, holding that the book necessarily had a message for John’s own age and that it represents the consummation of redemptive history.” [14]  Historical premillennialism has the benefit of the being the most natural and straightforward reading of the Bible, and aligns well with the collective New Testament mentions of resurrection, which seem to consistently refer to bodily resurrection.

Postmillennialism

Having fallen out of popularity following the great world wars of the twentieth century, postmillennialism (while not widely held today) has had significant influence at different times in the history of the church, and even “has at times been the dominant position.” [15]  While postmillennialism shares many commonalities with the other positions, in the postmillennial view “the doctrine of the millennium is based not upon Revelation 20 but upon other portions of Scripture.” [16] For the postmillennialist, the millennium is symbolic in nature, and is qualitative rather than quantitative. [17]  The most distinctive characteristics of postmillennialism are the view that the new creation began after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A. D., the kingdom of God is now being extended in the new earth by the preaching of the gospel, and the world is now being increasingly Christianized in anticipation of the return of Christ.  Unique to postmillennialism is the optimistic outlook regarding the conditions leading up to Christ’s return.  Where the other positions agree that conditions will worsen as the age draws to a close, postmillennialists believe that the world is becoming more Christianized, and therefore features of the kingdom of God (such as peace and justice) are increasing as Christ’s return draws closer.  Unlike the premillennialist’s view of Christ’s future earthly kingdom, the postmillennial view sees the kingdom of God primarily existing as a present reality in the hearts of believers.  The kingdom is not something to be introduced cataclysmically at a future time, but is already progressively under way. [18]   “Postmillennialism expects the vast majority of the world’s population to convert to Christ as a consequence of the Spirit-blessed proclamation of the gospel. . . . Thus, the postmillennialist’s hope-filled expectation is rooted in creational reality.” [19]  Further, as more people submit themselves to the Lord’s will, postmillennialism expects a long period of earthly peace termed the millennium. [20]   This millennium is a golden age of spiritual prosperity during the present church age, which is not a literal one thousand years, and has no clear point of beginning but arrives by degrees. [21]  At the end of the millennium there will occur an apostasy and an increase in evil, the millennium will end with the bodily return of Christ, at which point large numbers of Jews will be converted and enter the church, and Christ’s return will be immediately followed by the resurrection and judgment of all. [22]  Postmillennialism, while not commonly affirmed today, does well to keep the Spirit of optimism and drive to carry out the Great Commission at its core.

Amillennialism

endtimeschartamillennial

While amillennialism agrees with postmillennialism that the millennium is not a literal thousand-year earthly reign following Christ’s return, amillennialism holds important distinctions from the postmillennial view.  Anthony Hoekema helpfully clarifies that ‘amillennial’ is an unfortunate name for the position because the amillennialist does not assert that there is no millennium, but rather that the millennium described in Revelation 20:1-6 is a realized millennium. [23] Summarily communicating the essence of the amillennial position, Greg Beale states, “The millennium is inaugurated during the church age by God’s curtailment of Satan’s ability to deceive the nations and to annihilate the church and by the resurrection of believer’s souls to heaven to reign there with Christ.” [24]  Unlike other positions, amillennialists interpret Revelation 20:4 “as describing the present reign of the souls of deceased believers with Christ in heaven,” and understand verses 1-3 as the binding of Satan “during the entire period between the first and second comings of Christ.” [25]  Unlike the postmillennial position, amillennialism views the great tribulation, apostasy, and the Antichrist as future events, meaning that the amillennialist does not share the postmillennialist’s optimistic certainty of “a worldwide growth of righteousness that will extend to every area of society.” [26]  Additionally, amillennialism agrees with the non-dispensational views that the millennium does not necessarily include the restoration of political Israel.

In agreement with other non-dispensationalists, amillennial scholar Greg Beale says, “Literal interpreters . . . too often neglect the visionary and symbolic levels of communication by collapsing them into the referential historical level.” [27]  Expounding further the amillennial hermeneutic, Beale says the only hope for obtaining clarity is to interpret Revelation 20 “in the light of its immediate context, then in the light of the closest parallels elsewhere in the book, and finally in the light of other parallels in the NT and OT.” [28]  Amillennial interpreters arrive at their understanding of the millennium by recognizing that Revelation is written in seven sections of parallel recapitulations, each symbolically offering nuanced kaleidoscopic views of the “church and the world from the time of Christ’s first coming to the time of his second.” [29]  This system of interpretation is known as recapitulation theory or progressive parallelism. [30]  Reading Revelation in such a way reveals that 20:7-10, 19:17-21, and 16:12-16 all recount the same battle.  This insight, among others, reveals that “the events of 20:1-6 (the millennium) refer to events prior in time to the last battle (Armageddon) of 19:11-21, thus indicating that the millennium itself is to be identified with the church age.” [31]  The premillennial position views 20:1-6 as immediately following 19:11-21 (in historical sequence) on the basis of the Greek word ‘kai’ (located at the beginning of 20:1) being taken to mean ‘and’ in the chronological sense.  The ESV has taken the interpretive initiative to render the ‘kai’ in Revelation 20:1 as ‘then.’  Beale, however, argues that “often in Revelation ‘kai’ functions as a transitional word simply indicating another vision and not necessarily chronological sequence. . . . Only three out of thirty-five occurrences of ‘kai’ in 19:11-21 clearly indicate sequence in historical time,while the remainder serve as visionary linking devices.” [32]

Further helpful for recognizing the relation of the millennium to the present church age is to note that in Revelation 20:2-3 Satan is said to be seized and bound for a thousand years so that he might not deceive the ‘ethne’ until the thousand years are ended.  ‘Ethne,’ in Revelation 20, is typically translated as ‘nations,’ but ‘ethne’ is more often translated as ‘gentiles’ throughout the New Testament.  The amillennial understanding of Revelation 20 becomes clear if ‘ethne’ is rendered as ‘gentiles’ rather than ‘nations.’  Such a translation then reads that Satan is bound in the church age so that the gentiles (all of the non-Israeli inhabitants of earth) will no longer be deceived by Satan.  Hoekema explains, ”In the Old Testament, . . . the people of Israel were the recipients of God’s special revelation, so that they knew God’s truth about themselves . . . and salvation,” but “the other nations of the world, did not know that truth. . . . These nations were deceived by Satan.” [33] This picture becomes clearer when Revelation 20:2-3 is held alongside the Great Commission (Matt 28:19) in which Christ commands His disciples to “Go therefore and make disciples of all the ‘ethne.’  Again, in this passage ‘ethne’ is typically translated as ‘nations,’ but again the reference is more specifically to ‘gentiles’ (all non-Israeli inhabitants of the earth).  It is significant that Revelation 20:2 speaks to the binding of Satan because Jesus made a similar remark in Matthew 12:29.  While speaking of His coming to save those held captive by Satan, Christ asked, “How can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods unless he first binds the strong man?”  The same word – ‘deo’ – is used in both Revelation 20:2 and Matthew 12:29 to describe the binding of Satan. Hoekema again provides insight positing that “this does not imply that Satan can do no harm whatever while he is bound.  It means only what John says here:  While Satan is bound he cannot deceive the nations in such a way to keep them from learning the truth of God,” and “he cannot prevent the spread of the gospel. . . . It is precisely because the kingdom of God has come that the gospel can now be preached to all the gentiles (see Matt 13:24-30, 47-50).” [34] In similar fashion, Paul makes reference to the restraint of Satan’s attempts to deceive the world when he writes, “And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time” (2 Thess 2:6).  In Revelation 20:3, John says the angel cast (‘ebalen’) Satan into the abyss.  Similar to the binding of Satan in 20:2, Jesus speaks to the casting out of Satan in John 12:31-32 saying, “Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be cast out.  But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to myself.”  In this case, the verb translated ‘cast out’ is ‘ekballo,’ and is derived from the same root as the word ‘ebalen’ used to describe the casting out of Satan in Revelation 20:3. [35]  It stands to reason that what is being communicated is that the work of Christ (in the inauguration of the kingdom of heaven on earth) has dealt Satan a heavy blow, binding and casting him out of the way, so that the gospel call of Jesus Christ can be made known to unbelieving gentiles the world over.

The Amillennial interpretation attempts to do more faithful exegesis of the New Testament (being more cognizant of the original Greek and less dependent on interpretations derived from modern English Bible translations).  Amillennialism is canonically coherent, and can be seen to offer great encouragement to believers both to take the gospel to the non-believing nations, and to be confident that the kingdom will move forward even in the face of persecution.

Conclusion

When weighing the four views (and the hermeneutical principles employed by each against a canonical biblical theology) it appears that the two views that best align with the biblical metanarrative are historical premillennialism and amillennialism.  Based on the exegesis of Revelation 20 (and its corresponding cross references) the amillennial view seems to provide the most satisfactory explanation of the available evidence.  It remains, however, that eschatology is an open-handed issue which can be debated and disagreed upon, and should never be the basis for division of fellowship.  It should be readily acknowledged that Scripture underdetermines the issue of the millennium, and it cannot be expected that all people will arrive at identical conclusions.  The Christian is called to be charitable, and the millennium “is a [topic] where equally evangelical scholars who accept the Bible as the inspired Word of God should be able to disagree without the accusation ‘liberal,’ [36] or heretic.  The end of the matter is that we must always remember that all Scripture is given with the intent that Christ would be exalted; that non-believers would be brought to know Him; that believers would be encouraged to endure for the sake of being made like Him; and that, regardless of differing views of the millennium, believers would foremost remember that “the end is not an event but a person.” [37]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[11]Craig A. Blaising, “Premillennialism” in Stanley N. Gundry and Darrell L. Bock (ed.) Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond (Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan Publishing, 1999), 182-183.

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

[13]Ibid, 20.

[14]Ibid, 98.

[15]Ibid, 55.

[16]Ibid, 69.

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

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

[19]Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., “Postmillennialism” in Stanley N. Gundry and Darrell L. Bock (ed.) Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond (Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan Publishing, 1999), 22-23.

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

[21]Boettner, The Millennium, 14.

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

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

[24] Beale, Revelation, 420.

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

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

[27]Beale, Revelation, 421.

[28]Ibid, 420.

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

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

[31]Beale, Revelation, 422-423.

[32]Ibid, 422.

[33]Hoekema, “Amillennialism,” 161.

[34]Ibid, 162-63.

[35]Ibid, 163.

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

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

*Embedded eschatological timelines are not original works of my own, but have been selected based on their being the best available representations of the points this paper stresses.

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

Chad W. Hussey

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

This is the first post in a series of discussions on what I perceive to be the the most confusing passages in Scripture.  I will post an abridged version of the passage.  Then l will link an example of an interpretation I believe to be misguided, and then offer my interpretation in response in an attempt to accurately unpack the Scripture’s intent.

Judges 19

A Levite and His Concubine

In those days, when there was no king in Israel, a certain Levite was sojourning in the remote parts of the hill country of Ephraim, who took to himself a concubine from Bethlehem in Judah. And his concubine was unfaithful to him, and she went away from him to her father’s house at Bethlehem in Judah, and was there some four months. Then her husband arose and went after her, to speak kindly to her and bring her back. . . . when the girl’s father saw him, he came with joy to meet him. And his father-in-law, the girl’s father, made him stay . . . 10 He rose up and departed and arrived opposite [Jerusalem]. . . . [He said,] “We will not turn aside into the city of foreigners, who do not belong to the people of Israel, but we will pass on to Gibeah.” . . .15 And he went in and sat down in the open square of the city, for no one took them into his house to spend the night.

16 And behold, an old man . . .was sojourning in Gibeah. . . . 17 And he lifted up his eyes and saw the traveler in the open square of the city. And the old man said, “Where are you going? And where do you come from?”18 And he said to him, “We are passing from Bethlehem in Judah to the remote parts of the hill country of Ephraim, from which I come. I went to Bethlehem in Judah, and I am going to the house of the Lord, but no one has taken me into his house. . . . 20 And the old man said, “Peace be to you; I will care for all your wants. Only, do not spend the night in the square.” . . .22 As they were making their hearts merry, behold, the men of the city, worthless fellows, surrounded the house, beating on the door. And they said to the old man, the master of the house, “Bring out the man who came into your house, that we may know him.” 23 And the man, the master of the house, went out to them and said to them, “No, my brothers, do not act so wickedly; since this man has come into my house, do not do this vile thing. . . . 25 But the men would not listen to him. So the man seized his concubine and made her go out to them. And they knew her and abused her all night until the morning. And as the dawn began to break, they let her go. 26 And as morning appeared, the woman came and fell down at the door of the man’s house where her master was, until it was light.

27 And her master rose up in the morning, and when he opened the doors of the house and went out to go on his way, behold, there was his concubine lying at the door of the house, . . .28  and the man rose up and went away to his home. 29 And when he entered his house, he took a knife, and taking hold of his concubine he divided her, limb by limb, into twelve pieces, and sent her throughout all the territory of Israel. 30 And all who saw it said, “Such a thing has never happened or been seen from the day that the people of Israel came up out of the land of Egypt until this day;consider it, take counsel, and speak.”

Here is a link to a self-proclaimed feminist interpretation whose thesis is “conflict between males is solved by the sacrifice of females,” which I believe misrepresents the significance of the events. Here is another, whose thesis is “when men are wicked, women suffer” that doesn’t truly get to the heart of the text.  (***NOTE: I am not insensitive to the concerns of these authors, but I find their interpretations fall short of pointing all glory to Christ, and extending the greater hope and healing that is found only in Him.***)

Here is what I believe the text is actually communicating…

In the days of the Judges great wickedness persisted because moral relativism (“everyone did what was right in their own eyes”) prevailed, and “the people had no king to lead them.”  Unlike the interpretation linked above, in the story of the Levite and his concubine, it becomes evident that the Levite is not the evil antagonist, but a righteous man.  The Levite shows himself merciful and patient toward his unfaithful covenant partner.  The author of Judges communicates that the Levite is long-suffering and slow to anger in waiting 4 months for the woman to return.  When she does not return he sets out to allure her home.  Under Torah Law the punishment for the concubine’s unfaithfulness is death, but in love and mercy the Levite sets out to speak lovingly to her and implore her to return.  Further, the Levite is proven noble in that he is looked upon, not with disdain but with respect, by the woman’s father.  In ancient Israelite society, a concubine was not necessarily a sex slave, but a woman from a lower social class who enters into a covenant relationship for the promise of provision and a better life.  While concubines did not have the same status as wives, they were to be well treated (Exodus 21:7-10), provided for as family, and this particular Levite is specifically designated as this concubine’s “husband” (Judges 19:3, 20:4).  This woman’s father is referred to as the man’s “father-in-law” (Judges 19:9).

The concubine is not the protagonist of the story, but the perpetrator of offense who’s unfaithfulness has led the Levite into this dilemma.  Having been convinced to return home with the Levite, the concubine and her partner begin traveling back to their home in Ephraim.  However, because the woman’s father has delayed them they are forced to lodge in Gibeah.  Gibeah is a city of fellow Israelites, and the Levite shows himself further righteous by rejecting the easier option of stopping short of Gibeah, but instead chooses to honor the Law’s command that he not take the company of the Gentiles.  The couple instead presses on to a city of fellow Israelites who, as God’s people, are expected to take care of them.  Rather than graciously host the Levite and his concubine, these Israelites of Gilbeah demand to have sex with the Levite, and ultimately take the concubine and rape and kill her.  It is the concubine’s rebellion against her covenant caretaker (and distant venturing from the couple’s home) that has landed the two of them in this wicked place. It is by the concubine’s sin that she finds herself in the horrific circumstances in which she pays the horrible consequence of her unfaithfulness.  While the Levite is a righteous man, he will not go out to endure the consequence of the unfaithful concubine’s action.  It is not for the faithful Levite to suffer in the place of the unfaithful concubine.  The Levite is not to be her Savior. In this case, the righteous does not die in the place of the unrighteous.

In anguish and disgust with the wickedness of the men of Gilbeah, the Levite divides the dead concubine into twelve pieces and sends them to the twelve tribes of Israel so that his anger, grief, and disgust will be known throughout the entire land.  The author’s intent is to communicate the vileness and lawlessness of the Israelites in this time, and their desperate need for the direction of a king.  Further, like the Levite’s rebellious partner, all men (you and I) have been unfaithful to our Covenant Creator in heaven.  While rape is horrific and condemnable, and everyone should be disturbed and angered by the horrible fate of the concubine,the story is not recorded to detail the mistreatment of women in patriarchal societies, or to detail the brokenness of the Levite.  The events are recorded to depict the atrocious depth of the consequences of breaking a covenant, and to demonstrate that no ordinary man can die in the place of the covenant breaker.  Genesis 15:10 and 17 demonstrate the ancient practice of making covenants by dividing an animal.  Then both parties passed between the severed carcass. This symbolized the seriousness of their intentions in that the divided carcasses represented what would happen to them if they were not faithful to their oath.  This is symbolized in the fate of the concubine.

Fortunately as Christ followers, we are not a people without a king; we have a King and his name is Jesus.  He has shown us the Way, and has shown us what is right.  We have not been left to fend for ourselves, each doing whatever is right in our own eyes.  Jesus, like the Levite, has sought out His bride (the Church), implored us to return, and forgiven us.  Where the Levite failed to die for his unfaithful partner, Jesus did step outside the camp to brutally suffer in our place.  Christ, the fully righteous Son of God, stepped out in our stead to take the punishment that we deserved; to suffer once, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring us back to God.  This concubine does not represent women who suffer at the hands of men, but she represents all mankind rebelling against God in a fallen world.  We are the concubine (the covenant partner of poor estate and lower standing), welcomed into the provision of God, loved as family, but rebelling against our Covenant Creator, and running back to our former life.  We must cease the unfaithfulness and rebellion and return home to our righteous and loving Caretaker.  He is merciful and faithful to forgive, and He is calling us to turn from our folly, to leave the land of the wicked (which places us in peril and holds our destruction), and to return home with Him.  He has already died at the hands of vile lawless men so that (if we will stand under His protection) we will not have to suffer the fate of the covenant breaker.

If you enjoyed this discussion of difficult Scripture, you might also enjoy my other post about the Top 5 Most Misquoted, Misused, and Misunderstood Bible Verses.

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

Chad W. Hussey

How has the Church Historically Viewed Alcohol?

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Just as the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil (1 Tim 6:10)[1], 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.

Views of the Biblical Authors

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. [2]

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.

Views of the Early Church Fathers

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.” [3] 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. [4]

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.” [5]  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.” [6]

Views of the Medieval Church

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. [7]

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. [8]

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. [9]

Views of the Protestant Reformers

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.” [10]  The traditional view of alcohol among the Protestant Reformers was fairly favorable.  Martin Luther said he, “drank freely to spite the devil.” [11]  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.” [12]  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.” [13]  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.” [14]

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. [15]  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. [16]

Views of the Earliest American Christians

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. [17] 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.” [18]  While the Puritans are famed for their strict piety, abstinence from alcohol did not prevail among their practices.

Views of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Century American Church

“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).” [19]  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. [20]  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.” [21]  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.

Views of Evangelical Church Leaders Today

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.

Concluding Remarks

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.” [22]  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).

[1]Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version Bible, copyright 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

[2]I. W. Raymond, The Teaching of the Early Church on the Use of Wine and Strong Drink (New York:  Columbia University Press, 1927), 25.

[3]Saint Clement (of Alexandria), The Writing of Clement of Alexandria: Exhortation to the Heathen (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1884), 208.

[4]Eusebius Pamphilius, Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History:  Complete and Unabridged (Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers, 1998), 121.

[5]Philip Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, series 2, vol. 4 (Peabody, MA:  Hendrickson Publishers, 1994), 495.

[6]John Chrysostom, First Homily on the Statutes (Accessed November 19, 2014 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/190101.htm), 11.

[7]Jim West, Drinking with Calvin and Luther!  A History of Alcohol in the Church (Lincoln, CA: Oakdown, 2003), 22.

[8]Saint Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica (Raleigh, NC:  Hayes Barton Press, 1952.), 3269.

[9]J. C. Almond, “Olivetans,” The Catholic Encyclopedia (Accessed November 19, 2014 from New Advent:  http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11244c.htm).

[10]Raymond, The Teaching of the Early Church, 86.

[11]West, Drinking with Calvin and Luther!, 33.

[12]Ibid., 53.

[13]Ibid., 56.

[14]Ibid., 36.

[15]Ibid., 61.

[16]Ibid., 65.

[17]Ibid., 80.

[18]Ibid., 95.

[19]Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., God Gave Wine:  What the Bible Says About Alcohol (Lincoln, CA: Oakdown, 2001), 3.

[20] West, Drinking with Calvin and Luther!, 102.

[21] John Wesley, “Sermon 140.”

[22] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, (New York:  HarperCollins Publishers, 1952), 78.

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

Chad W. Hussey

Is the Universe Interconnected by a Supernatural Force?

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Is God in all of us? Are all of us in God? Is there a universal spiritual or quantum force that binds all of existence? Are we all one with each other in the universe? These are the questions that quantum spirituality and Eastern mysticism have introduced to the Western worldview. Popularized by movies like Star Wars and Avatar, and brought into the church by 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?”

Use the force Luke.

God is omnipresent within creation, but metaphysically beyond His creation. Simply stated, God is a being separate in substance from the universe. Created entities are not forged from the substance of God, nor is God Himself comprised of creation. That said, transcendence for the purpose of this article, should not be understood as meaning God is not actively present in the world. Quite the contrary, “Judeo-Christian religion does not picture the universe as a spatial box with God overflowing it or standing outside it.” [1] Transcendence here is intended only to mean that God is substantively different from His creation, not that He is absent from creation. This article will explain and defend the position that, while immanent, God remains concurrently transcendent. While permanently pervading and sustaining the universe, God is ontologically distinct from His creation. God is not in any way dependent on the created order, neither is God the sum of all creation, nor is God present within every created entity or being. Citing modern philosophers, theologians, and Scripture this article will outline the prominent examples of, and reasons for, the diminishing of transcendence as an attribute of God. This article will address the traditions of monism, in their primary forms, where they most directly interact with the Christian faith. Using a logical, theological, and philosophical defense of the church’s orthodox position on the transcendence of God, held in balance with God’s immanence, this article will affirm the necessity of upholding the historic view of transcendence, and will outline the ramifications of 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.

Monism

Philosophies that champion a God who has a diminished transcendence result in what is referred to as immanentism. Immanentism is manifest in a broad array of philosophical and religious ideologies qualifying as monism. The simple definition of monism is: any belief or philosophy that sees all things connected or unified in universal one-ness. For the purposes of this theological discussion, this paper will focus only on the two forms of monism that most commonly interact within Christianity. These more specific variants of monism are pantheism and panentheism.

Monism in its most straightforward form is pantheism. “The word pantheism derives from the Greek word pan (=’all’) and theos (=’god’). Thus, pantheism means all is God. In essence, pantheism holds that the universe as a whole is worthy of the deepest reverence … ‘nature is my god.’” [2] By eliminating transcendence entirely, pantheism holds that God is fully immanent and encompasses all. Pantheism holds that all people are connected to one another, to nature, and to God, whose physical body is the universe. President of the World Pantheist Movement, Paul Harrison, puts forth the following: “God is said to be the creator: overwhelmingly powerful, all-knowing, omnipresent, infinite, and eternal. Indeed [the universe] is indeed the only thing we know to possess these qualities.” [3] The very elements that compose our bodies are the same elements found in nature, and the universe has the ability to end our lives, at which point, those elements return to nature. This is the pantheist’s “circle of life,” which is an existence that is easily observable, congruent with science, and does not depend on any transcendent “mythical” place or being. In pantheism, life the universe, and the interactions between the two can all very clearly be perceived and experienced.

A person indoctrinated in orthodoxy might not quickly pinpoint the locus where the worlds of pantheism and Christian doctrine mingle, but the rallying point in scripture clearly falls at Acts 17:28 where the Apostle Paul proclaims, “For in Him we live and move and have our being.” Paul Tillich, a 20th century German Lutheran Theologian, managed to propose a formidable case for God being, “not a being” but “being itself.” Tillich wrote in his Systematic Theology, “The being of God cannot be understood as the existence of a being alongside others or above others. Whenever infinite or unconditional power and meaning are attributed to the highest being, it has ceased to be a being and has become being itself.” [4] Tillich goes on to say that entities themselves are the manifestation of God as the “power of being.” The power to resist non-being, which is inherent in everything that exists, is that being’s acknowledgement that God is the power of being within it allowing it to be. From this one can conclude that in Tillich’s philosophy, God is the “universal essence” within all things, which makes up being itself.

As quoted previously, Tillich states, “The being of God is being itself.” Tillich argued that what he referred to in saying this is not pantheism as it is understood to mean, “God is everything,” but rather that God is the “ground and unity of everything.”  Tillich makes his defense of his position saying,

Pantheism asserts that God is being itself.

This idea [that God is the static divine ground of the world] was founded on the principle of identity over against the principle of detachment and depths of everything. [God] is not everything, as this much abused term “pantheism” says. Nobody has ever said that. It is absolute nonsense to say such a thing. It is better to avoid the term itself, but if it means anything at all, it means that the power of the divine is present in everything, that He is the ground and unity of everything, not that He is the sum of all particulars. I do not know any philosopher in the whole history of philosophy who has ever said that. Therefore, the word “pantheism,” which you can translate as “God is everything,” is down-right misleading. I would wish that those who accuse … [me] of using it would define the term before using it. Whenever some people hear about the principle of identity, they say this is pantheism, which supposedly holds that God is this desk. Now, of course, [Martin] Luther would say that God is nearer to everything than it is to itself. He would say this even about the desk. You cannot deny that God is the creative ground of the desk, but to say that God is the combination of all desks and in addition all pens and men—this is absolute nonsense. The principle of identity means that God is the creative ground of everything. What I dislike is the easy way in which these phrases are used: theism is so wonderful and pantheism so horrible. This makes the understanding of the whole history of theology impossible.[5]

Regardless of whether Tillich would consider himself a proper pantheist, his detractors voiced significant concern for his intriguing argument for the essence of God in all things. Interestingly, William Paul Young, #1 New York Times Best Selling author, borrows Tillich’s exact terms to define God. In Young’s most acclaimed work, The Shack, the Jesus character, referring to the Father, explains, “God, who is the ground of all being, dwells in, around, and through all things … and any appearances that mask that reality will fall away.” [6]

Quantum Spirituality

Arriving at similar conclusions, yet coming from a different approach, is leading Emergent Church theologian (and former Rick Warren colleague) Leonard Sweet. Sweet, along with other quantum mystics, proclaims that, in a world where science and religion are increasingly at odds, quantum spirituality bridges the gap between science and God. Quantum physics is the viable scientific basis for innovations in technology such as lasers, computer chips, and nuclear power, [7] and many hold the view that discoveries in quantum physics “provide a mandate to reevaluate the traditional understanding of God and reality.” [8]

Quantum physics has taught scientists that particles at the subatomic level communicate with one another at speeds faster than light. Whatever is done to one particle has an immediate effect on another remotely located particle. [9] This transfer of information from one particle to another, at a speed faster than light, is seen by some as proof that all things are indeed connected. This leads to a theory that the universe is somehow one, an undivided whole.

Quantum physics theorizes the interconnectivity of the universe.

Scripture has also been used to qualify such a thought. The Apostle Paul uses variations of the expression “in Christ” over 160 times in His epistles. The most notable scripture used to support a quantum spirituality is Colossians 1:17 which says, “In Him all things hold together.” On the basis of these unfolding discoveries in quantum theory, Leonard Sweet, speaks directly to postmodern Christian thinkers saying, “Quantum spirituality is nothing more than your ‘new account of everything old’—your part of the ‘I Am’ that we are.[10] Sweet ties this quantum spirituality, also termed New Light, directly to pantheism when he says:

Quantum spirituality bonds us to all creation as well as to other members of the human family. New Light pastors are … earth ministers who can relate the realm of nature to God, who can help nurture a brother-sister relationship with the living organism called Planet Earth. This entails a radical doctrine of embodiment of God in the very substance of creation. New Light spirituality does more than settle for the created order, as many forms of New Age pantheism do. But a spirituality that is not in some way entheistic (whether pan- or trans-) that does not extend to the spirit-matter of the cosmos, is not Christian.[11]

Panentheism

Another form of monism, which espouses God’s presence in all, is panentheism. This view has long been present in the literature of the monastic Catholic mystics and has increasingly found its way into Evangelical streams via the Emergent Church movement. Where pantheism defines God as the comprisal of all, panentheism asserts “the belief in a personal creator God who transcends the world, but is intimately and actively present in the world and within each [person].” [12] In panentheism, God interpenetrates every created entity, while also timelessly and spatially extending beyond creation. The Trappist monk, Thomas Merton, for which Thomas Merton Square in Louisville, KY is named, is famous for the story of his standing at that very corner when he came to this realization:

I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I was theirs. … Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their heart … where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. … If only we could see each other that way all the time. … I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other. At the center of our being is a point of nothingness that is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God. … This little point of nothingness and of absolute poverty is the pure glory of god  in us. … It is in everybody. … The gate of heaven is everywhere.[13]

Similarly, another Trappist monk, an architect of centering prayer, Fr. Thomas Keating said, “The second commandment of Jesus is to love our neighbor as ourselves, and it is rooted in the recognition and acceptance by faith that the Divine Presence dwells within every human being.” [14] The Catholic mystic movement maintains that God is present in all creation, sustaining every creature. They believe this is what Jesus referred to specifically when he prayed, “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they may also be in us” (John 17:21). Emergent Church leaders within Evangelicalism, embracing (in varying degrees) the theology of Leonard Sweet, have also been identified as teaching mystic practices and panentheistic views, similar to the Catholic mystics.

Theological Support for Transcendence

The transcendence of God is most readily evidenced in Scripture by God’s immaterial “spirit” nature, His authorship in creation, His perfect holiness, and the unique dual divine-human nature of His Son. There is no better place to launch the theological case for the transcendence of God than in the study of the words of His son, the God-Man Himself, Jesus Christ.

Jesus is the mediator between God and man.

In the Gospel of John, in a discourse with the woman at the well, Jesus makes clear, “God is spirit” (John 4:24). Here Jesus affirms what other biblical authors say, which is that God is not finite, nor material, but “immortal” (1 Tim 1:17), “invisible” (Col 1:15), living “in unapproachable light,” and not capable of being beheld by man (1 Tim 6:16). God further warns His people that viewing or portraying Him as anything in material creation is an egregious sin, and a violation of His second commandment. In Exodus 20:4-5 God instructs that man shall not worship anything that is in heaven above, on earth, or in the waters below. Any such thing is not God, but an idol. “God forbids His people to think of His being as similar to anything else in the physical creation. The creation language of [the second] commandment … is a reminder that God’s being, His essential mode of existence, is different from everything that he has created … To picture God as existing in a form or mode of being that is like anything else in creation is to think of God in a horribly misleading and dishonoring way.” [15]

The Bible is also clear that God existed before all things, was the creator of all things, and brought all things into existence from nothing. Jesus Christ Himself affirms the biblical creation account by directly referencing the opening chapters of Genesis 7 times in Scripture. The most notable reference being, “Have you not read … at the beginning the Creator made them male and female?” (Matthew 19:4) If a person believes Christ is God, they must also agree with Christ’s view of Scripture and the creation. The Bible begins in Genesis 1:1 by saying, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” The statement, “God created the heavens and the earth,” makes clear that before heaven and earth existed, there was God. Hebrews 11:3 goes a step further and says, “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the Word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.” Even more directly, the faithful Jewish adherent writing in the second temple period instructed, “Look at the sky and the earth. Consider everything you see there, and realize that God made it all from nothing” (2 Maccabees 7:28). These verses identify creation as the finite work, of the infinite God, brought into existence from nothing, and certainly not from any material contained within His preexistent self.

At this point it is important to note the distinction between the Bible’s telling of God’s involvement in creation and the monistic idea. C. S. Lewis poignantly clarified this difference when he wrote the following:

Pantheists usually believe that God, so to speak, animates the universe as you animate your body: that the universe almost is God … [Christians] think God invented and made the universe-like a man making a picture or composing a tune. A painter is not a picture, and he does not die if his picture is destroyed … If you do not take the distinction between good and bad very seriously, then it is easy to say that anything you find in this world is a part of God. But, of course … some of the things we see in [the world] are contrary to [God’s] will. Confronted with a cancer or a slum the Pantheist can say, “If you could only see it from the divine point of view, you would realise that this also is God.” The Christian replies, “Don’t talk damned nonsense. [16]

 

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

In returning to the words of Jesus, it is made clear that God cannot be the sum of both good and evil. Being accused, by the Pharisees, of operating under the authority of evil, Jesus quips, “A Kingdom divided against itself cannot stand” (Mark 3:24). This is to say good and evil cannot successfully cohabitate. One will always overrun the other, and they will never be harmonized. Jesus also instructs His followers, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5:48). In this it is clear that the omniscient, omnipresent, immanent, and transcendent God of the Bible is a holy God. The word holy specifically means “different from the world,” “set apart,” and literally, “a cut above.” God is perfect, creation is not, and God is therefore different from the world. Conversely a monistic, materialistic, and impersonal God cannot be a holy God because this God is not different from the world. Wayne Grudem explains, “If the whole universe is God, then God has no distinct personality.” If all is God, then what is holy? If all is God, what is evil?

The Bible teaches that not only is God holy, He also calls His people to be holy (1 Peter 1:16). God has not called His elect to embrace unity with the fallen world, nor has He promised fellowship with unrepentant sinners who live outside of a consecrated relationship with Jesus Christ. Psalm 4:3 says, “The Lord has set apart the godly for Himself,” and 2 Corinthians 6:14 says, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers.” In John 15:17 Christ informs His hearers that they are to be “not of this world.” In Romans 12:2 Christians are instructed to resist conformity to the world. James 1:27 says to “keep oneself unstained from the world,” and 2 Corinthians 6:17 says, “Go out from their midst, and be separate from [unbelievers].” The Apostle John offers a clear warning to those who have not consecrated their life to Christ when he writes, “Whoever does not believe [in Christ] is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:18).

These scriptures do not suggest in any way that God desires His chosen to seek one-ness with people who have not placed their faith in Christ alone. Christ followers are instead to flee from conformity to the world because God cannot have fellowship with darkness (1 John 1:6). God is a just God of wrath toward wickedness (Isaiah 11:4, Revelation 19:5), and promises the future destruction of this fallen world (2 Peter 3:11), and eternal conscious torment for the unrighteous inhabiting it (Matt 25:46). A monistic God who embodies the fallen world and all evil contained therein cannot fulfill His eschatological promises without waging war on Himself.

Further troubling within the monistic belief systems is the difficulty in finding a proper place for the inclusion of Satan. If God is both perfectly good, and the combination of all created beings, a paradox arises when God must be made to be one with the adversary, Satan. In monism, Satan must be considered to be part of God, inhabited by God, or non-existent. A non-existence of Satan would leave God to be the author of all evil. Each of these scenarios is equally blasphemous. Unacceptably, the biblical doctrines of Satan and Hell eventually escape every monistic belief system.

In Monism Good and Evil interplay as one.

The most damaging blow, however, the neglect of God’s transcendence deals Christian faith ultimately strikes at the heart of Christianity Himself, Jesus Christ. “Monism believes that the real problem [in faith] is lack of knowledge–the knowledge of ourselves as divine.” [17] This assertion does nothing short of rob Christ of His very essence, His unique divinity among men. Monism takes the divinity of Christ and essentially applies it to every person. If all people are in God, or the divine essence of God is in all people, Jesus’ dual nature, fully God-fully man, is in no way unique to Him, but exhibited by all. Colossians 1:15 says, “Jesus is the image of the invisible God.” God is Spirit, and Jesus is the Spirit of God born into human flesh, the tabernacle of flesh in which the Spirit of God dwelt visibly among the ungodly creation. “The Bible never speaks about God’s presence in unbelievers in a direct way. In Christ, God’s own nature is present.” [18] In the most exclusive verse in the Bible Jesus teaches, “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” Jesus states point-blank there is no access to God apart from faith in Him (John 3:17). This makes abundantly clear that Christianity is not a matter of finding a fully immanent God at the center of our being. Christianity is God’s saving gift of faith in the Man who lived the sinless life and died on the cross to reconcile the wicked condition of sinners before the righteous, holy, and transcendent God. The Christian’s connection to God is not found buried within the self, it is found only in the “one mediator between God and Men,” Jesus Christ (1 Tim 2:5).

In the same way immanentism sees a diminished need for a Savior, the person who disregards transcendence also fails to rightly understand the person and work of the third member of the trinity, the Holy Spirit. The pantheists, and panentheists believe the Spirit of God is inherently existent within every human being from birth. This is not the teaching of Christ. Jesus promised His followers, “I will ask the Father and He will give you another Helper (John 14:16). You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” (Acts 1:8), and the “Spirit of Truth … the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him” (John 14:17).  As has been demonstrated, Monistic mystic and quantum Christians, rejecting a proper necessity for God’s transcendence, misunderstand the nature of the Holy Trinity in each of God’s three persons. This improper view of God nearly unanimously leads to engagement in interfaith practices, the borrowing of elements from other false religions, and the encouraging of members of false religions that they have access to God apart from Jesus Christ.

Scientific Support for Transcendence

While it has been sufficiently demonstrated that disregarding transcendence cannot be reconciled with Christian orthodoxy, it is worth noting that science also fails to support a God who is both eternal and material. Where the Bible calls God “the King eternal” (1 Tim 1:17), the modern cosmological consensus is clear that the universe itself is not eternal. The second law of thermodynamics dictates that, while infinite in space, the universe is finite in time. A large majority of cosmologists agree that the observable data indicates that the universe has a beginning and an end.

Today, few cosmologists doubt that the universe, at least as we know it, did have an origin at a finite moment in the past. The alternative – that the universe has always existed in one form or another—runs into a rather basic paradox. The sun and stars cannot keep burning forever: sooner or later they will run out of fuel and die.  The same is true of all irreversible physical processes; the stock of energy available in the universe to drive them is finite, and cannot last for eternity. This is an example of the so-called second law of thermodynamics, which, applied to the entire cosmos, predicts that it is stuck on a one-way slide of degeneration and decay towards a final state of maximum entropy, or disorder. [19]

God cannot be both eternal, and comprised of the natural entropic universe. “According to the second law the whole universe must eventually reach a state of maximum entropy. This supposed future state of the universe, which will also be its last state, is called the heat death of the universe.” [20] Thus, the second law of thermodynamics implies that the universe faces an inevitable extinction. Where monism cannot reconcile Christianity and science, interestingly the orthodox Christian view of the eternal transcendent God and His finite creation are compatible with modern cosmology. In the Bible, the earth is described as having a creation point (Genesis 1), and a final heat death (2 Peter 3:10). Therefore, a striving to use monism to reconcile Christianity and science is an unnecessary failure.

Concerns for an Over-emphasis on Transcendence

It must be stated that, while this paper refutes immanentism and champions for transcendence, a hyper emphasis on transcendence is equally dangerous to its neglect. Transcendence and immanence must not be understood or applied apart from one another. As attributes of God, transcendence and immanence must be held in proper balance. Where an over-emphasis on immanence leads to monism, the juxtaposed over emphasis on transcendence results in deism. Deism is the belief that “God … created the world, but does not interfere with it by means of providence, miracle, incarnation, or any other Christian affirmation.” [21] Deists believe that creation provides evidence to affirm that God created the universe, but that God limits His activity only to the maintenance of the general laws of nature. A. H. Strong, writing in 1907, states that deism reached its prominence in the 18th and 19th centuries, but has since fallen out of favor because it “regards the universe as a ‘perpetual motion,’” and “modern views of the dissipation of energy have served to discredit it.” [22]

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

Conclusion

Proper regard for God’s transcendence is essential to proper knowledge of God. A failure to acknowledge God’s transcendence leads to a misunderstanding of the nature of the Holy Trinity in each of God’s three persons. The inclusive one-ness of monism leaves man with no recognition of his need for reconciliation to his Creator. In monism there is ultimately no need of a Savior; no need for a Spirit induced conversion; no need for Spirit wrought sanctification; and no need for a God-Man intercessor. In monism, humans lack the autonomous agency to fear culpability for wicked actions, and have no fear of the righteous judgment from a god who is also comprised of evil. Monism leaves man with no fear of judgment for sins and eternal separation from God. Monistic beliefs exalt man as divine, and deny the unique divinity, and necessary work of Jesus Christ.

It is important that monism’s influence on the church not be underestimated. Peter Jones of Westminster Seminary states that, “In general terms, pantheism is at the root of all non-biblical religions, which worship creation rather than the Creator.” It would seem that if there is a tangible threat of a false religion that could unite the world it is monism. Romans 1 teaches that there is one place in which the entire fallen human race continually meets in unity to worship, at the throne of the idolatry of creation. Whether monists believe all people are in God, or God is in all people, what monists are really positing is a worship of self. “They exchange the truth about God for a lie, and worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator” (Romans 1:25). The monistic view of God can neither be held in tandem with Christian orthodoxy, nor can science support the notion of the temporal created order being the eternal God. Thus it must be concluded that an excessively immanent, monistic God is not consistent with the God of the Bible, and God therefore must be transcendent.

The monistic view of God has been consistent among Eastern religions for several millennia, and has ventured in and out of vogue in the West since the 5th century BC. The most recent group to propagate the monistic teaching among the Evangelical church is the 21st century Emergent Church movement. One leader of the Emergent Church recently said, “Some people say the Emerging Church is dead, other people say the Emerging Church has spread so far it’s just been absorbed into the fabric of the American church.” [23] While leaders of unbiblical monistic movements are consistently refuted, the hooks of their teachings often land in the hearts of undiscerning churchgoers, and have long lasting effects within the Body. By being educated in the attributes of God, and holding a proper understanding of transcendence, these false teachings can quickly be discerned and dismissed as, what Leonard Sweet appropriately coined, “nothing more than [a] new account of everything old.” [24]

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

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

[3]Ibid., 36.

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

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

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

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

[8]Ibid., 477.

[9]Ibid., 480.

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

[11]Ibid., 125

[12]Harrison, Elements of Pantheism, 2.

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

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

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

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

[17]P. R. Jones, “Sexual Perversion: The Necessary Fruit of Neo-Pagan Spirituality in the Culture at Large,” in Biblical Foundations for Manhood and Womanhood, ed. Wayne Grudem (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2002), 261.

[18] Grudem, Systematic Theology, 176.

[19]Paul Davies, “The Big Bang – And Before,” The Thomas Aquinas College Lecture Series (Thomas Aquinas College, Santa Paula, CA: March 2002), cited in William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics: third ed. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2008), 144.

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

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

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

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

[24]Sweet, Quantum Spirituality, 261.

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

Chad W. Hussey

Christians as God’s People in Continuing Exile

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

The Theology of Continuing Exile
“In the exile the Hebrews become a stateless minority in the context of a massive empire, first under the Persians, then under the Hellenistic rule after Alexander, and finally under the Romans into the Common Era with Christianity.” N. T. Wright, most notably among others, has argued that the first century Jews saw their existence under the rule of the Roman Empire as a continuation of the ongoing exile. Israelites in this time believed they were still living under divine punishment as they awaited the fulfillment of the promises of Isaiah 40-66. “In the common second-temple perception of its own period of history, most Jews of this period, it seems, would have answered the question ‘where are we?’ in language which, reduced to its simplest form, meant: we are still in exile. They believed that, in all the senses which mattered, Israel’s exile was still in progress.” Daniel L. Smith-Christopher stakes a similar claim saying, “In later biblical thought, consciousness of being a ‘certain people scattered and separated among the peoples is also evident in metaphors for Israel as the ‘righteous remnant’     [. . .] that suggest a minority consciousness.” “Part of the myth of Persian benevolence is the idea of an end to the exile in 539. But all that ended was Neo-Babylonian hegemony, to be replaced by that of the Persians. Ezra would point out, in his public prayer, that the Jewish people were ‘slaves in our own land’ under the Persians (Neh 9:36).” Smith-Christopher continues, “Post-exilic Hebrew writings like Daniel, would go so far as to reinterpret Jeremiah’s predicted ’70 years’ into 490 years—effectively implying that the people were still in exile in the Persian and Hellenistic periods.” What is clear is that even after the return of the Jews from Babylon, Israel remained captive to foreigners and never regained status as an independent nation-state. While Israelites returned to Jerusalem, they remained exiles under the slavery of oppressive foreign empires.

N. T. Wright suggests that worse than foreign oppression, “Israel’s god had not returned to Zion. [. . .] Israel clung to the promises that one day the Shekinah, the glorious presence of her god, would return at last.” For four-hundred years, between the time of the building of the second temple, and the coming of John the Baptist, the Israelites did not hear an inspired word from the Lord. What is indicated is that “the exile is not yet really over. This perception of Israel’s present condition was shared by writers across the board in second-temple Judaism. The exile, then, was not concluded at the Jews return to Jerusalem, nor was it completed in the work of Ezra and Nehemiah. Rather than seeing the restoration of a national past, the enslaved Jewish people were forced to form a new sociological existence with no political stronghold, instead becoming a purely religious community with an ethno-centric identity. During the 400 years of silence, the estrangement from Yahweh was felt by the Jews, and recorded when the author of 2 Maccabees wrote, “Gather together our scattered people. [. . .] Plant your people in your holy place, as Moses promised” (2 Maccabees 1:27-29).

When Jesus came announcing the forgiveness of sin and the coming of the kingdom of God, it is evident that the Jews identified Him as their political savior from exile. But rather than restore national Israel, Christ came to begin the rescue of the exiles from their estrangement from God. Christ releases the shackles of sin, beginning God’s people’s—the “elect exiles in the dispersion” (1 Pet 1:1) —sojourn to the “city with foundations whose architect and builder is God” (Heb 11:10). In this context, the exile of the Israelites to Babylon receives its proper recognition as the first pivot point in God’s redefinition of the geopolitical identity of His people. This shift finds its fulfillment in the great commission when Christ commands His followers to “make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28: 19). There is now no difference between Jew and gentile (Gal 3:28).

The Great Commission

New Creation is the true Promised Land
“We have a natural affection for our native country; it strangely draws our minds; [. . .] and therefore if providence remove us to some other country, we must resolve to live easy there, to bring our mind to our condition, when our condition is not in everything to our mind. If the earth be the Lord’s, then, wherever a child of God goes, he does not go off his Father’s ground.” As N. T. Wright explains, it is not as if Israelites were a national people and Christians are a non-territorial people. The strip of land in the Middle East is not God’s true Promised Land. Israel was a sign post marking God’s claim on the whole world. The children of Abraham, the seed who would inherit the land, are the people who are found in the Messiah (Gal 3:29). Creation will have its own Exodus, and in Christ, the people of God will inherit the true Promised Land—renewed creation itself. The Spirit is the down payment on that inheritance. “In the midst of the nations, Israel will be a sign that it is possible to be a nation whose key characteristic is trust in the world’s invisible Maker—to use the biblical word, a culture defined by faith.” In Romans 2:17-24 the Apostle Paul says that Israel was given for the salvation of the world, but under the Law, Israel completely failed in performing its salvific role—to be the light of the nations (Isa 49:6). Paul, referencing Isaiah 52, says, “The name of God is blasphemed among the gentiles because of [Israel].” “So God’s response to the ultimate cultural problem—a world full of mutually antagonistic nations entrenched in the self-provision and self-justification seen in Babel—is a fully cultural solution.” In Babylon, God takes Israel out from under the wicker basket and says, “Now let your light shine before men.”

As the people of God, the elitist Israelites never fully grasped their identity in this calling. Between the exile and the time of Christ the Israelites are constantly faced with the question: If God has created the world for Israel, why does Israel continue to suffer? The answer is that the world is not merely given for Israel, but that Israel was also given for the world. “In terms of the first level of covenant purpose, the call of Israel has as its fundamental objective in the rescue and restoration of the entire creation.” The exile became the first step toward Israel receiving a more realistic view of herself. Israel is not “true humanity,” ordered to establish dominion over the subhuman nations. God’s people are given a priestly calling for salvation of the nations. The exile paves the way toward Yahweh’s people’s understanding of God’s plan for the world.

Because Israel was unfaithful to her commission, keeping God’s message of salvation to themselves, God resolved to send His Son, to be born an Israelite, and faithfully fulfill the Israel vocation. In this lineage, Christians are the continuation of Spiritual Israel, qualified in Christ to carry forward the New Covenant message of salvation to the world. Christ’s work has been passed to the continuation of Israel (Spiritual Israel, the church), by Christ’s sending the Spirit of God to dwell within believers.

God’s covenant purpose, according to Wright, has first to do with “the divine intention to remake and restore whole world through Israel,” and “second, with his intention to remake and restore Israel herself.” The greatest prophecies for the return from exile strongly affirm God’s commitment to restore Israel. In Ezekiel 36, Yahweh says, “I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries, and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanness. [. . .] Then you shall live in the land I gave to your ancestors; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.” Israel understands then that sin has caused her exile, and the exile cannot be finished until her sin is forgiven. To this end, Christ entered the world. To the surprise of the Jewish people, Jesus did not free the Israelite captives from empirical oppression, but instead frees the faithful from the captivity of sin. Jesus did not end the physical exile of the Jews, but inaugurated a New Exodus. Leading followers through the waters of baptism, the Greater Moses now marches the enslaved out of captivity and into new life, inaugurating the new journey toward the new and restored kingdom of promise. The kingdom/exilic existence of spiritual Israel hinges at Jeremiah 29. The Babylonian exile results in the replacement of God’s national people with God’s faithful exiles. The Lord’s people will not again be a gathered kingdom people until the consummation of the kingdom of heaven.

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

 

* References are cited in the print format available for download above.

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

Chad W. Hussey

Christianity is Not a Western Religion

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

Why Do We Suffer? – Just a Thought

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.

The Peace that Surpasses all Understanding Pt. 1

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

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Phillipians 4:6-7

In Romans 12 Paul exhorts us to offer ourselves as living sacrifices for Christ, and submit wholeheartedly to God’s will. When we are fully committed to that task, we should no longer find ourselves wanting.  I know from experience submitting fully to Christ is easier said than done.  Hopefully, I can shed some light on how trusting in God’s plan for our lives, aligning the desires of our hearts with God’s will, and having absolute faith in the LORD can bring about true peace, contentment, and rest for our souls.

If you truly believe in the God of the Bible, whose character traits are clearly and unequivocally outlined on nearly every page, then you know everything on this earth, good and bad, happens by God’s will. Everything you are receiving today is by God’s provision.  We are called to give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God for us in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

From our vantage point, life doesn’t always make sense.  Sometimes life doesn’t seem at all fair.  However, our present home is not heaven.  We are inhabitants of a fallen world that is the result of our sin.  There is no promise that this life will be easy.  It is certain that at times it will be hard.  The only real promise resulting from sin is that all people will someday die.  But, for His glory, God seeks to bring His children back to perfect fellowship with Him.  To do this, God works all things together, good and bad, to achieve His ultimate plan – the redemption of His people.  Our knowledge of His plan, and exposure to the details contained within, are limited.  From our vantage point it sometimes appears to be a mess, but by faith we must trust in the plan of our creator.

I have heard a couple of analogies that help provide perspective…

If you look at the back of a watch you will see many parts…cogs, sprockets, springs, levers, etc.  From the back of the watch it looks like a complicated jumble.  It is hard to follow how these pieces work together.  The watch is a relatively simple device in relation to the complexity of our universe.  Countless pieces work together in perfect unison each day to allow for our existence.  Does our lack of comprehension of the inner-workings of the watch indicate the watch is not working?  Of course not.  When you turn the watch over and look at its face, you can see there are two hands there working together in harmony, keeping perfect time.

Tapestry backside

A man was looking to buy a tapestry, and came across a massive one that appeared to him to be a complete disaster.  He stood puzzled as he examined it.  It was tufted and knotted, had colors that didn’t belong together, and  appeared to have a pattern that seemed indiscernible.  The salesman came to the man, and said, “It’s really beautiful isn’t it?”  The man said, “I’m sorry.  It looks like a mess to me.”  The salesman chuckled and turned the tapestry around 180 degrees revealing a most beautiful image – a true work of art.  The man was astonished and equally embarrassed.  He had been judging the backside of this tapestry.   All of the mess on the back came together perfectly on the front, and he was immediately aware of how little he knew about what was involved in the creator’s design.

You see from our vantage point, in this single isolated point in our lives, we do not see the big picture.  We are on the backside of the watch, or the backside of the tapestry, judging one single piece of a very large puzzle.  God’s plan becomes much clearer and much more amazing when we step back and view it from a proper perspective.  Like a stained glass window, the many broken pieces of our lives may actually be coming together to reveal a beautiful image.  Sometimes we just have to step back and take in the big picture.

Additionally we can see much of the glory of God’s providence by taking a 30,000 foot view of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, and holding it against World History.  This is a wonderful investment of time, and changed my entire perspective on life.  I find it terribly hard to imagine anyone with an open heart would not marvel at the glory of God’s majesty in the unfolding of His story throughout history. When we know God’s promises we can truly witness that everything is working just as He planned.  We can see history is coming together just as He predestined it. The history of the world is unfolding just as it was prophesied, just as it was written, and we see that we can trust His Word as Truth.  God is working a masterpiece for His glory.  Trust in His plan. This is integral in finding the peace that surpasses all understanding.

Read Part 2 Here

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

Chad W. Hussey

1 Corinthians 6:9

“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-10)”

Sadly, I must confess, before coming to Christ I was guilty of more of these sins than I like to admit. I was guilty of quite a few of them. When you consider idolatry (the making of anything in your life a higher priority than God), that any sex outside of marriage is sexual immorality, and that divorce, biblically, is adultery, this passage has convicted a great majority of people in the Body of Christ at some point in our past. Further, according to this passage, not one of these sins is more condemnable than another. Sadly, some of us treat these sins as if one were worse than all the rest. These sins are equal according to this passage. Others of us don’t want these acts labeled as sins at all. Still the Word of God says what it says, and regardless of anyone’s heart in the issue, Christ followers are subject to the authority of the Bible. I myself have stood alongside every person guilty of any of these acts as a sinner unworthy of God’s love. I recognize that on my own I am no different. I do not hold myself in higher regard than ANYONE, and as the Apostle Paul said, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” What I want to express is that by my belief in the Bible and my love for Christ I do not hate anyone nor do I believe I have any more right to Christ, or life and liberty for that mattter, than anyone else. People who know me, know my heart in this matter, and my LGBT friends can attest to the depth of our relationships and the genuine love and compassion that we share for one another. At the end of the day, what I know most clearly is that we are all sinners and all desperately need Jesus. That is the only message I’m called to deliver.

The good news, I found, and that I want to extend to everyone, is that immediately following the passage above (1 Corinthians 6:9-10) is verse 11: “And such were some of you [members of the Corinthian church]. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

What verse 11 illustrates is that many members of the Corinthian church, were formerly idolaters, adulterers, homosexuals, thieves, drunkards, revilers, and swindlers, etc., and they were all worshiping and serving together in the church, and accepted and loved by God. They were people who were saved and sanctified by Christ. Maybe all of the sin I’ve committed makes me more compassionate. I don’t know. Christ says, “he who is forgiven little loves little.” Maybe that means “he who is forgiven much loves much.” Perhaps that’s me. But perhaps that should also be all Christians. The Bible is clear that no people, on their own merit, are worthy of God. But the Bible is also clear God’s love and saving grace are available to anyone who would take hold of them and look to the cross. Every last one of us are sinners in need of the savior Jesus Christ. Not one of us in the Church is at liberty to deny anyone access to the cross or the gift of repentance. We are not called to badger, or hate, or condemn anyone, but to be light in the world. Our calling is to be like Christ, to engage, love and embrace sinners, to encourage all people to receive the gospel, and to help every person develop a relationship with Jesus Christ. We must understand that the sanctification of individuals is not our work, but is the progressive work of God in the hearts of each person as we engage Christ in His Word. My hope is simply that we would all bear fruit in keeping with repentance. Be kind, love people, point them to Jesus, and let God work.

Sacrifice for Tomorrow

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

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

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

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

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

This post was inspired by the teaching of John Piper…

And the Lecrae song, “Sacrifice”

After the Tribulation Movie

Despite 1800 years of Post Tribulation teaching, many Christians of the last two centuries have been led to optimistically believe in a rapture that will not see believers tested by the great tribulation.  Unfortunately, this belief, held against scripture, may be nothing more than wishful thinking.

29 “Immediately after the tribulation (…) 30they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds (…) 31 and he will send out his angels (…) and they will gather his elect(…). – An abridgement of Matthew 24:29-31

After the Tribulation powers through an in depth Bible exposition addressing, verse by verse, nearly every piece of scripture relating to the rapture.  This, not-for-profit video has been distributed free to all, via the internet, simply for the sake of educating all members of the Body of Christ that they may be prepared for possible challenges to come.

After the Tribulation does an outstanding job of demonstrating that Christ’s own words tell of a rapture that will follow the great tribulation.  Some however will still hold firm to the belief that the rapture will come before the tribulation.  My personal feeling, beyond the belief in a post-tribulation rapture (based on the scripture), is that there are far less consequences for preparing your heart and mind to face great challenges.  If the rapture comes before the tribulation, Christ’s believers will be taken from this earth and we will have nothing to be concerned with.  But, if the rapture IS to come after the tribulation, those who are caught off guard will find themselves completely unprepared for the challenges to come – challenges not only to our physical well-being, but severe challenges to our faith in Christ and to our eternal salvation.  Biblical prophecies warn of an end time mass apostacy, and many who profess to be Christians, when faced with staunch adversity (political, social, or spiritual) will denounce Christ.  I believe that in preparing our souls for great tests, we will be able to persevere and overcoming the great challenges that may come.   After the Tribulation, the full movie may be viewed here, and I highly advise everyone to watch it:

This movie, as well as a 5 disc DVD commentary of Revelation, by the same producers (set to release 8/1/2013),  can be ordered here:  http://afterthetribulation.bigcartel.com/  I am definitely excited to watch this when it comes out!

Fearing the Lord?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isaiah’s guilt is forgiven by the seraphim.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Chad W. Hussey

The Peace that Surpasses all Understanding Pt. 4

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

The Peace that Surpasses all Understanding Pt. 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Part 4 Here

The Peace that Surpasses all Understanding Pt. 2

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.

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