Thursday, June 30, 2011

History and Hell: Why We Will See the Controversy Again

Rob Bell is only the latest to question the traditional evangelical understanding of hell as eternal, conscious torment.  There have been others and there will more in the future.  Robert Morey in his book Death and the Afterlife (Bethany House, 1984) provides some insightful analysis on this topic:
There is a discernible historical cycle to the Christian Church's attitude toward the doctrine of hell.  The cycle begins with a long period of time during which it is acknowledged that the Scriptures clearly teach the intermediate and eternal punishment of the wicked.  It is assumed by all that this was and always shall be the doctrinal position of historic Christianity.
After acknowledgment comes indifference.  The "negative side" of the gospel in which sinners are warned to "escape" and "flee" from "the wrath to come" (Matt. 23:23; Luke 3:7) is ignored and often downplayed, while the "positive side" of God's love in Christ is overemphasized to the exclusion of anything else.  The doctrine of hell is acknowledged to be true but rarely preached.
After indifference comes ignorance.  Because the biblical theme of God's judgment is ignored, the people in the pew do not know why they are expected to believe in hell.  There is no instruction given on the subject, and the issue is avoided because no one wants to be characterized as a "hell-fire and brimstone" preacher.
After ignorance comes doubt.  Since no one is told why he should believe that there really is a hell, doubts begin to creep into people's minds.  It becomes fashionable to speak of the doctrine of hell as being "unkind," "unloving," or "negative."
After doubt comes denial.  The cults are quick to put forth either Universalism or annihilationism as the answer to the "horrible" doctrine of hell.  Many books are published and distributed which directly attack the orthodox position.  Since orthodox teachers have not instructed their people on the subject, the Universalists and annihilationists succeed in convincing many people and generating controversy in many churches.
After denial comes irritation.  When the pressure from the Universalists and annihilationists is first felt by orthodox theologians, they respond by saying or thinking, "I don't have time to deal with this issue right now," "Wasn't this issue solved one hundred years ago?" or "If we ignore them, maybe they will go away."
After irritation comes affirmation.  When the Universalists and  annihilationists don't go away but multiply drastically, the orthodox theologians take up the defense of historic Christianity and demonstrate that the Bible does indeed teach the doctrine of eternal punishment.  God's people are once again instructed as to why they should believe that there is a hell to shun and a heaven to gain.  The subject is preached and taught with boldness.  The Universalists and annihiliationists are thoroughly discredited and refuted.
After affirmation comes acknowledgment.  The Christian church reaffirms its historic position, and it is universally acknowledged that the Scriptures do teach the intermediate and eternal, conscious torment of the wicked.  The controversy passes and the church returns to its dogmatic slumbers.
Then the cycle starts all over again!  After a long period of acknowledgement, indifference will set in and the other phases will follow.  (pp. 15-16)
We would, of course, be in error to see the above as some sort of iron-clad, cyclical view of history.  There is, however, enough truth in Morey's words to be aware of this historical dynamic.  This cycle can be played out in the larger Church, individual denominations, local churches, and even in an individual's life.  Add to this the aspect of the internet and other social media and it is possible we may see a shortening of the cycles due to the fact that error can take on new life and blaze across cyberspace very quickly.

John Stott, Rob Bell, and the Controversy on Hell

Rob Bell's Love Wins has caused a bit of controversy in the evangelical church.  There a number of unique dynamics to what has recently happened in this particular controversy.  Doug Wilson, in a video blog (here) drew attention to the fact that the evangelical community has had denials of certain aspects of hell within its ranks for a time.  He specifically mentions John Stott.  Wilson mentions that we shouldn't get all up in arms about Bell while forgetting Stott.  Because Stott is a well-known pastor and exegete it is, to use Wilson's words, "not so easy to get up a head of steam in attacking John Stott."  What Wilson says is true to some extent but I think he fails to recognize the differences.  Stott brought out his "tentative" annihilationism in 1988 with his dialogue with David Edwards in the book Evangelical Essentials: A Liberal-Evangelical Dialogue (IVP, 1988).  This was a part of the book and not the whole book's discussion.  After this disclosure from Stott there were a number of responses to him.  Many of these appeared in books dealing with doctrine of hell and they specifically dealt with Stott's presentation.  For example, the following books all intereacted with Stott's presentation and took him to task for failing to uphold the notion of eternal, conscious torment of the wicked:
Crucial Questions About Hell by Ajith Fernando (Crossway, 1991).
The Other Side of the Good News: Confronting Contemporary Challenges to Jesus' Teaching on Hell by Larry Dixon (Bridgepoint, 1992).
Let the Nations Be Glad: The Supremacy of God in Missions by John Piper (Baker, 1993).  In this book Piper interacts with Stott and even provides background between his and Stott's personal exchanges on this issue.
Hell on Trial: The Case for Eternal Punishment by Robert A. Peterson (Presbyterian and Reformed, 1995.
There were also more scholastic articles specifically addressed to Stott's arguments.  For example:
"Dr. John Stott on Hell" by Robert L. Reymond in Presbyterion 16/1 (1990), pp. 41-59.  Dr. Stott replied, briefly, in the next edition: "A Response to Professor Robert L. Reymond" 16/2 (1990), pp. 127-128. 
"A Traditionalist Response to John Stott's Arguments for Annihilationism" by Robert A. Peterson in JETS 37/4 (December 1994), pp. 553-568.
The point to all this is that the evangelical community did respond to John Stott's presentation of hell.  This was done in a manner that was consistent with Stott's original presentation.  Stott's presentation came out in a dialogue in a book that, although is was semi-popular in level, did not have a huge marketing campaign behind it.  Rob Bell, on the other hand, marketed his book to the widest possible audience possible and there was a slick marketing campaign to garner controversy and sell the book.

What is interesting to me is how social media was used to promote the book and respond to the book.  Tim Challies in a recent blog (here) speaks to this issue of social media and the promotion/response to Bell's book.  Challies argues, to a certain extent, that "we were gamed"--meaning that the avalanche of Reformed responses on blogs and other social media actually helped generate sales for the book.  Challies is not denying that some sort of response was needed.  He wonders if there could have been a better response.  Many of Challies' thoughts are appropriate as we wrestle through how to use the modern media to respond to challenges to the faith.  It is interesting that when this latest challenge to standard evangelical belief came forward from within the ranks of "evangelicalism" it was met with appropriate resistance--in the same manner that Stott was in the early 90's.  Bell sought to use the modern social media to push his views and the response to those same views came in the same arena.  The blogosphere erupted in response and, even granting Challies' concerns, this was good.  The first line of defense came from on-line bloggers with theological savvy (i.e., Kevin DeYoung).  Had the evangelical community waited to "warm-up the printing presses" more damage could have been done.  Admittedly, as Challies points out, the quick response ramped up the controversy but this may not necessarily be all bad.  Rob Bell is an influential person and people do imbibe his teaching.  They need to be warned.  Furthermore, the evangelical church needs to continued to be reminded that some things are worth fighting for and the edges of the evangelical movement can only be stretched so far before one parts company with historic evangelicalism.

Controversy and apologetics in the blogosphere will obviously continue to be needed.  Hopefully we can learn lessons from this recent skirmish and face the next controversy with the needed speed and wisdom.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Birth Pains of Hope

For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.  For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.  Romans 8.20-22
The created order suffers from a judicial decree from God that renders it a place of suffering.  God did this with a view toward "hope"--the eschatological hope that the creation will be set free from its corruption.  Paul sees the convulsing contractions of futility in the created order as birth pains leading toward a birth of a new world.  Consider theses thoughts by Ted Hamilton from his essay, "The Prototokos Paradigm":
If you are in a hospital, and you hear groaning, it makes a big difference whether you are in the burn unit or in the labor and delivery unit.  The groaning in the labor and delivery room signals a good outcome.  There will be a birth.  It will happen, one way or another.  So it is with God's creation.  It groans now--in labor, but because of the power unleashed by the death and resurrection of Jesus, the creation that is now groaning (all of it) will be liberated and brought into glory.  On Global Wizardry edited by Peter Jones (Main Entry Editions, 2010), pp. 256-257.
This image of the labor and delivery unit versus the burn unit made sense and brought hope.  Pain is not purposeless.  The waves of turmoil and pain are moving toward a goal in Christ.  There will be glory.  There will be the "summing up of all things in Christ" (Ephesians 1.10).

Monday, June 27, 2011

Carl F. H. Henry: Scattered Thoughts from a Thoughtful Theologian

Carl F. H. Henry was one of the premier evangelical theologians of the 20th century.  He entered into his rest in 2003 but his thought and words live on.  I was recently re-reading portions of Twilight of a Great Civilization: The Drift Toward Neo-Paganism (Crossway, 1988) which is a collection of essays and addresses he gave.  Here are a few gems from Henry:
[T]heologians face the ready temptation to think that the schematic system or speculative philosophy they bring to the Bible is what make the Judeo-Christian revelation and faith in God specially credible....
The theologian is imperiled as well as his theological enterprise if he thinks Biblical theism depends for its credibility and power upon speculative discoveries and disclosures peculiar to our century, or to any century this side of the apostolic age.  "The word of truth" of which Paul writes is a divine given; it is not a tentative proposal awaiting human reorientation, whether through a system made in Marburg or Claremont or, let me add, on Chestnut Hill or in Arlington, Virginia.  It is Scripture that illumines the contemporary conjectural conceptualities far more than these current speculative insights confer credibility upon the Bible.  (p. 53)
All of us, I am sure, applaud evangelical social engagement.  But had there been no apostolic proclamation while the apostles day and night, month after month performed good works, not even the most disciplined empiricist could have extracted from their behavior such conclusions as the incarnation of the Logos, the sinlessness of Jesus and His substitutionary atonement for sinners, His bodily resurrection and impending return in glory and judgment.  When contemporary theologians call for works and not words, there is reason to believe that some are less interested in a supernatural faith that works than they are in circumventing the apostolic kerygma.  (p. 54)
We theologians become a self-endangered species when we leash our message to ghettos of faith and do not unleash it into the world for which it was intended.  Christianity is good news for Planet Earth; if we confine its convictions to the churches, we will needlessly forfeit its cultural impact to naturalistic alternatives...Isolate ourselves and we suggest that our message and we the messengers are irrelevant to the world in which God has placed us.  (p. 54)
It is highly probable that in tomorrow's world Christianity will need to fend for itself either in a secularized social milieu of intellectual atheism that empties the churches or in a society where a religious sense of many coexisting gods saturates civic culture as did ancient paganism.  In the one case, Christian orthodoxy will be charged with espousing the objective existence of a supernatural reality in an age when religion is presumed to traffic only in optional myths; in the other case, Christian orthodoxy will be charged anew with intolerance and with atheism because to deny everyone's gods violates public piety and its approval of the plural gods.  (p. 180)
We must choose to cast our lot either with a society that admits only private faiths, and then simply add another idol to modernity's expanding God-shelf, or we must hoist a banner to a higher Sovereign, the Lord of lords and King of kings.  Just as the Christian witness to "one Lord, one faith, one baptism" invited unrelenting persecution by Roman authorities, so also Christianity's reiteration of a universal validity-claim still invites and will continue to invite the entrenched hostility of modern intellectual authority.  (p. 181) 

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Prayer: Reflections on the Way

Prayer is multi-faceted gem within the Christian life.  Think of all the different aspects of prayer: thanksgiving, confession, intercession, and praise--just for starters.  In light of this there are any number of issues to bring up in teaching about and engaging in prayer.  I was reflecting recently upon some of the themes that I've been praying and then tried to self-consciously engage these themes with particularized focus.  I wanted to list out some of these themes here but it needs to be stressed that this is not some idealized prayer program or legalistic list to check off.  These are biblical truths that I've felt I need to reflect on and pray.  In the hopes that this list might help others, here it is:
1.  The "big-ness" of God.  We tend to have small thoughts of God.  We can approach God and begin to think he is some small deity.  Sometimes in our quest to have a "personal relationship" with Jesus we can subtly begin to think of him as revolving his life around our own as if we are the center of the universe.  Or, conversely, we can have small thoughts in a different direction.  We may begin to think or feel that God is not big enough to handle all of life.  We watch the evening news and see the nations roiling in turmoil and we may wonder if God is involved.  Bringing to mind the biblical truths of God's utter and majestic "big-ness"(Isaiah 40)--his omnipresence, omnipotence, and omniscience--can be both faith enhancing as well as God-glorifying.  Confessing these truths in praise glorifies God and places us in a place of dependence as well as protection.
2.  The shortness of life.  It is good to remember that we are creatures and our God is the Creator.  It is good to remember that we are short-lived creatures--vapor, as the Bible says.  Paradoxically, as we focus on the shortness of our life there is a corresponding meaning that flows into each moment.  Each day--each moment--becomes profoundly important and laden with meaning.  When eternity spreads before you courage is emboldened.  What matters is most is the thought of him who reigns forever and before whom we will stand.  Jesus is eternal--the praise of men is fleeting and fickle.
3.  The depth of my sin.  We are forever tempted to under-value our sins before the face of a holy God.  We grow use to our "foibles" and refuse to see them as rebellion.  To take but one example, think of humility.  This is a virtue which God values and he hates the corresponding lack of humility--pride.  C. J. Mahaney has written on this issue in his book Humility: True Greatness (Multnomah, 2005): 
For purposes of personal confession, I began adopting this definition of pride a few years ago after I came to realize that, to some degree, I'd grown unaffected by pride in my life.  Though I was still confessing pride, I knew I wasn't sufficiently convicted of it.  So rather than just confessing to God that "I was proud in that situation" and appealing for his forgiveness, I learned to say instead, "Lord, in that moment, with that attitude and that action, I was contending for supremacy with You.  That's what it was all about.  Forgive me."   (pp. 31-32)
Pride is no small sin--it seeks to de-throne God!  How often do we refuse to see this sin in all its ugliness.  Confession flows easier when we recognize the seriousness of our sin.  We are not tempted to "sweep them under the rug" and ignore our sins.  We know we need to be rid of this toxic element of the soul. 
4.  The majesty (or fulness) of the Savior.  Here is where the preaching of the gospel to oneself comes in and takes hold.  Having recently finished a sermon series on the cross of Christ a number of scripture texts easily come to mind.  The challenge is to believe them.  Faith must lay hold of the word of God spoken to us in his Son and believe that he is for us and not against us (Romans 8.31).  I confess that I have to fight to believe that Jesus is for me; he is my Advocate with the Father (1 John 2.1).  I have to fight to believe that his blood takes away all my sin and guilt (Ephesians 1.7).  I have to fight to believe that he loves me and because of his death and resurrection I am declared "righteous" in his sight with no condemnation clinging to me (Romans 5.1-2; 8.1).  I bring to my mind specific passages and promises that serve to focus my gaze on Jesus and his completed work.  This is the fight of faith and I find time and again that his Spirit is faithful to testify to this gospel word.  This gospel word continues to bring peace, joy, and comfort. 
5.  The nearness of the Holy Spirit.  Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6.19-20) and this implies a nearness.  Jesus told us that he would not leave us as orphans but would come to us (John 14.18) and this is by the Spirit.  It is the Spirit that powerfully that allows the presence of Jesus Christ to dwell in our hearts (Ephesians 3.16-17).  Of course, we are always in the presence of God because of his majestic omnipresence (Acts 17.28) but the presence of his Spirit is something more.  It is the presence of the living God interacting with us and for us (Romans 8.15-16, 26-27).  

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Adam and the Epistemic Status of Scripture

The recent controversy over the historicity of Adam has hit the front page of the latest issue of Christianity Today (June 2011).  The tendency is to portray this as one more incidence of "faith" vs. "reason" or "the bible" vs. "science."  Such simplistic portrayals often hide deeper issues that need to be probed.  For example, underlying the debate are differing conceptions of authority that impinge upon the understandings of science, scripture, and their inter-relationships.  In the current edition of Christianity Today Bruce Waltke, an Old Testament scholar, is mentioned.
"That dismissal was overshadowed at the seminary by a related dustup over noted Old Testament scholar Bruce Waltke.  The administration abruptly accepted his offer of resignation due to a BioLogos video in which Waltke remarked that 'if the data is overwhelming in favor of evolution, to deny that reality will make us a cult.'  Waltke began teaching at Knox Theological Seminary this year.
"Though that dispute concerned theistic evolution, not the historical Adam, Waltke is open to the new thinking.  In an interview, the former president of the Evangelical Theological Society affirmed the 'inerrancy of the Bible, but not of interpretations.'  He sees Adam and Eve as historical individuals.  But if genetics produces the conclusion that 'Scripture has a collectivity represented as an individual, that doesn't bother me,' he said.  'We have to go with the scientific evidence.  I don't think we can ignore it.  I have full confidence in Scripture, but it does not represent what science represents.'"  (p. 26)
Aside from the fact that it is questionable whether an Old Testament scholar is qualified to assess whether the "data is overwhelming in favor of evolution," the bigger concern is the epistemological paradigm being promoted by Waltke in his comments.  He states: "We have to go with the scientific evidence.  I don't think we can ignore it.  I have full confidence in Scripture, but it does not represent what science represents." Implicit in his remarks is a view of of the authority of science in relationship to the authority of scripture.  Two issues are important to appreciate here.  First, there is the relationship between science and scripture.  There are several models of integration that are put forward.  J. P. Moreland in his introduction to The Creation Hypothesis (IVP, 1994) lists out six such models.
1.  Science and theology are concerned with two distinct realms of reality (natural-supernatural, spatiotemporal-eternal), and science and theology are subservient to very different objects (e.g., the material universe and God) and can be defined only in relation to them.
2.  Science and theology are noninteracting, complementary approaches to the same reality; as such, they adopt very different standpoints, ask and answer very different kinds of questions, involve different levels of description, employ very different cognitive attitudes (e.g., objectivity and logical neutrality in science, personal involvement and commitment in theology), and are constituted by very different language games.  These different, authentic perspectives are partial and incomplete and therefore must be integrated into a coherent whole.  However, each level of description is complete at its own level, with no gaps at that level for the other perspective to fill and with no possibility of direct competition and conflict.
3.  Science generates a metaphysic in terms of which theology is then formulated.
4.  Theology provides a context wherein the presuppositions of science (understood in a realistic way--i.e., with science seen as a rational, progressive intellectual activity that secures true and truer theories about the external theory-independent world) are most easily justified.
5.  Science can fill out details and help to apply theological principles, and vice versa.
6.  Science and theology are interacting approaches to the same reality that can be in conflict in various ways (e.g., mutually exclusive, or logically consistent but not mutually reinforcing) or can be in concord in various ways.  (pp. 11-12)
The reason Moreland lists these out and discusses them is to show that there are various options.  Oftentimes it is assumed that when the Bible and science conflict that it is the Bible that must give way because it is not a work that speaks to the scientific arena.  How often is it stated, "The Bible is not a text book on science!"  Well, yes, of course, that is true but the proponents usually want to imply more than a simple classification of genre.  They want to make it so that the Bible does not come into conflict with the statements of modern science so they re-evaulate the biblical data as only pertaining to the moral or "spiritual" side of life.  Therefore, from the get-go it is impossible for the Bible and science to ever conflict because they speak to different realms that do not impinge upon one another.  This seems to be the assumed view of Bruce Waltke.

Waltke's comments appear to presuppose the second model listed above--a complementary, noninteracting approach.  The idea here is that by keeping the discipline of theology separate from science there is no reason for the two to come into conflict.  The potential of conflict is defined away in that the two disciplines are not speaking of the same realms.  The cost of such separation is high and leads to the second issue, namely the epistemic status and authority of the scripture.  Does the Bible speak to matters that intersect with the world of science and history?  Does the Bible make claims about the world that have truth value?  The answer is "yes!"  But theistic evolutionists want to compartmentalize the Bible off from the "real world" of science so as to keep it safe from attack from science.  This approach has been tried again and again but it continues to be ineffective against the inroads of naturalism.  Such a compartmentalizing approach makes the Bible irrelevant as to its "facticity"--its ability to speak in a factual matter on areas that impinge on the real world of science.  J. P. Moreland, in his recent book The Kingdom Triangle (Zondervan, 2007) makes the following observation that is helpful in the current discussion:
Theistic evolution is intellectual pacifism that lulls people to sleep while the barbarians are at the gates.  In my experience, theistic evolutionists are usually trying to create a safe truce with science so Christians can be left alone to practice their privatized religion while retaining the respect of the dominant intellectual culture....While there are exceptions, many theistic evolutionists simply fail to provide a convincing response to the question of why one should adopt a theological layer of explanation for the origin and development of life in the first place.  Given scientism, theistic evolution greases the skids toward placing nonscientific claims in a privatized, make-believe realm in which their factual, cognitive status is undermined.  (p. 46)
Waltke, and other theistic evolutionists, thus, make two fundamental moves that must be questioned.  First, they opt for a model of theological/scientific integration that is flawed.  This is rarely seen because the model is assumed and not argued for in any sort of rigorous manner.  Second, their view of the scriptures does not allow them to have it speak in an authoritative manner to issues that impinge upon the natural world.  Science as a naturalistically driven method of discovery is given pride of place as authoritative and scripture must make its peace with the dictates of those who speak in the name of "science."  The words of Robert Lewis Dabney are old (1871) but apropos:
Again, the whole posture and tone of this class of physicists toward revelation is hostile and depreciatory; their postulates, with their manner of making them, imply a claim of far more authority for human science than is allowed to inspiration....But these physicists never dream of surrendering a deduction simply to the Bible contradiction of it.  Thus they betray very plainly whether they think human science more certain than revelation.  The very attempt to bring the truth of their scientific conclusions to the test of the Bible is resisted as an "infringement of the rights of science," an unjust restraint upon the freedom of their intellects.  Now these men will scarcely claim for a man a right to argue himself into the belief of demonstrated falsehoods.  The implication is, that the Scriptures really settle nothing by their own testimony; that is, that they have no true authority with these scholars. "A Caution Against Anti-Christian Science" in Discussions of Robert L. Dabney Vol. 3 (Banner of Truth, 1982) p. 155.
The quest for the historical Adam is not merely a question of genetics, population dispersion over time, fossils, etc.  It is a question about the epistemic status of Scripture.  Is it authoritative?  And, if so, to what extent is it authoritative?  Does its authority encompass science and history or is it allowed only to "speak" to those areas of human thinking regarded as the "spiritual" or "moral?"  These questions cannot be ignored for answers are presupposed no matter what one says about Adam.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Francis Schaeffer on the Historicity of Adam

With the recent controversy in evangelical circles concerning the historicity of Adam in Genesis the words of Francis Schaeffer from about 40 years ago are still relevant.  Schaeffer addressed this issue in his book Genesis in Space and Time in 1972 and he was concerned to set the importance of Genesis before evangelicals.  Here is Schaeffer's discussion on this important issue.  I put the New Testament scripture citations in bold since these are the primary texts that everyone has to deal with when addressing the issue of Adam's historicity.  The texts haven't changed and I, for one, still believe that Schaeffer's handling of the scriptural material is on target and correct.
Jesus' treatment of Genesis 1 and 2 [Matt 19.4-5; Mark 10.6-8--RJK] also brings to the fore the issue of the historicity of Adam and Eve.  It is difficult to get away from the fact that Jesus was treating Adam and Eve as truly the first human pair in space and time.  If we have any questions concerning this, surely they are resolved as we consider other New Testament passages.
Romans 5:12, for example, contains a strong testimony that Adam and Eve were in fact space-time people: "Wherefore, as by one man sin entered the world, and death by sin..."  Thus, there was a first man, one man.  Paul continues in verse 14, "Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression...."  Adam, it is obvious, is viewed as being just as historic as Moses.  If this were not the case, Paul's argument would be meaningless.  Verse 15 strengthens this: "But not as the offense, so also is the free gift.  For if through the offense of the one, the many are dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by the one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many."  Here, therefore, is a parallel between the historicity of Adam (the first man) and two others--Christ and then ourselves.  He is dealing with men in history when he deals with "the many," and so he makes a triple parallelism--the historicity of Adam, the historicity of Christ, and the historicity of me.
The point Paul makes in Romans is strengthened still further in 1 Corinthians 15:21, 22: "For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall be made alive."  The emphasis is again on the parallel between the historicity of Jesus Christ (whom you must remember Paul had seen on the Damascus road) and the historicity of the man he here called Adam.  Verse 45 continues the same thrust: "And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit."  The "so it is written" alludes to Genesis 2:7.  If one wishes to dispense with the historicity of Adam, certainly he must wonder at such a strong parallelism between Adam and Christ.
Often it is said that this parallelism is only Pauline, but the Gospel of Luke gives us exactly the same thing.  Tracing the descent of Jesus backwards, Luke lists a number of characters of history, including such people as David, Jesse, Jacob, and Abraham, and ends as follows: "Which was the son of Enos, which was the son of Seth, which was the son of Adam, which was the son of God" (3:38).  Thus we have another triple parallelism--a parallelism between the objective, historic existence of a whole group of people we know to be historic through the Old Testament and New Testament references, the objective, historic existence of Adam, and the objective existence of God Himself.  If we take away the historicity of Adam, we are left rather breathless!  If we tamper with this ordinary way of understanding what is written in the Bible, the structure of Christianity is reduced to only an existential leap.
But let us go further.  In 1 Timothy 2:13, 14 we read: "For Adam was first formed, then Eve.  And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression."  Here is something additional: Not only is Adam historic, but Eve in the midst of her rebellion is seen to be historic as well.  And 2 Corinthians 11:3 further testifies to this: "But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ."  The parallel here is between Eve and myself.  Paul appeals to those of us who are objectively real--who are in history--not to fall into a like situation.  And without embarrassment, Paul obviously expects his readers to assume with him the historicity of Eve and the historicity of the details set forth in Genesis.
Notice too how clearly this is the case in 1 Corinthians 11:8, 9: "For the man is not of the woman, but the woman of the man.  Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man."  Here the fact that Eve was created after Adam is an important part of Paul's argument.  One would also have to take into account the way in which Paul quotes the early part of Genesis in 1 Corinthians 6:16 and in Ephesians 5:31.  (And finally, in 1 John 3:12, Cain is taken as historic, and in Hebrews 11, Abel, Enoch and Noah are placed as parallel to Abraham and all that followed him in history.)
We have, therefore, a strong testimony to the unity of Genesis 1 and 2 and to the historicity of Adam and Eve.  They bear the weight of the authority of Paul and Luke as well that of Jesus.   Genesis in Space and Time in The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer: A Christian Worldview --Volume 2 (Crossway, 1982) pp. 27-29 

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Looking at the Cross: A Basic Christian Discipline

In commenting and reflecting on Romans 8.31-39 N. T. Wright states:
The greatest theme of the paragraph is the love of God.  This topic is a vast sea to put into a small bottle; far better to swim in it or to set sail upon it.  Paul speaks of God's love as the ultimate security.  Learning to look at the cross and to see there the strong evidence of how much one is loved is among the most basic and vital Christian disciplines, matched by opening one's heart and life to the tidal wave of that love, displacing all other rivals.  The mind is to learn, and the heart is to know in experience, 'the love of Christ which passes knowledge' (Eph 3:19).  If Christian ministry does nothing but help, encourage, and enable people along these paths, it will have done well.  Romans (NIB) pp. 617-618--emphasis added.
We must diligently learn to look at the cross.  This is an aggressive faith fueled by grace that brings ones gaze to dwell again and again on the cross as the focal point of God's love for us.  This is part of the process by which we become "convinced" (Rom 8.38) of the Father's unshakeable, unbreakable love for us in Christ Jesus.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Healing Abuse and the Cross

Steven Tracy has written a phenomenal book entitled Mending the Soul: Understanding and Healing Abuse (Zondervan, 2005).  I hope to do a fuller book review/notice in the future but for now I wanted to post a selection that pertains to the cross of Christ and the healing of abuse.
The most painful, vexing questions I've had to field as a spiritual shepherd have come from men and women who have been physically or emotionally broken by suffering and evil.  No human will ever have a satisfactory answer to the weeping young woman who asks why God allowed her to be molested.  Such a question simply cannot be answered to anyone's satisfaction.
God didn't choose to explain the mystery of suffering and evil to righteous Job, and he hasn't chosen to explain it to us either.  But neither has he left us fumbling alone in the dark.  The longer I study abuse and minister to victims, the more convinced I am that the fullest divine response to suffering and evil is the cross of Christ.
As abuse survivors learn to appreciate and embrace the cross, they will be drawn to a loving God.  The life of the apostle Paul provides a great example.  In spite of intense and repeated persecution throughout his ministry and physical abuse that ultimately cost his life, Paul's spiritual strength and equilibrium came from his fixation on the cross.  (p. 175) 
More and more, I'm coming to realize that the cross is the center of healing for everything.  Dr. Tracy's discussion in Mending the Soul shows us how the cross can become the point of healing for those who have been abused.  The gospel of Christ crucified and risen is indeed "good news!"

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

"Enough, and More Than Enough": Charles Spurgeon on Romans 8.34

In preparation for my sermons on Romans 8.31-39 I was able to read Spurgeon's sermon "The Believer's Challenge" in Spurgeon's Sermons vol. 6 (pp. 156-170).  Once I quit coveting his sermonic abilities I was able to bask in the depths of Christ crucified as expounded by Spurgeon.  Romans 8.34 states:
Who is the one who condemns?  Christ Jesus is he who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.
Spurgeon points out that contained in this one verse are "four marvelous pillars upon which the Christian rests his hope."
1.  Christ has died for us.
2.  Christ has been raised for us.
3.  Christ is at the Father's right hand for us.
4.  Christ intercedes for us.
Spurgeon speaks of the strength of this four-fold cord of Christ's work for us.
Any one of them were all-sufficient.  Though the sins of the whole world should press on any one of these sacred columns, it would never break nor bend.  Yet for our strong consolation, that we may never tremble or fear, God hath been pleased to give to us these four eternal rocks, these four immovable foundations, upon which our faith may rest and stand secure.
I was particularly moved by Spurgeon's comments in which he speaks as if one's conscience is raising objections.  He takes the demanding conscience and its objections to the cross.
And now, if you are I are enabled this morning to go beneath the bloody tree of Calvary and shelter ourselves there, how safe we are!  Ah! we may look around and defy all our sins to destroy us.  This shall be an all-sufficient argument to shut their clamorous mouths, "Christ hath died."  Here cometh one, and he cries, "Thou hast been a blasphemer."  Yes, but Christ died a blasphemer's death, and he died for blasphemers.  "But thou hast stained thyself with lust."  Yes, but Christ died for the lascivious.  The blood of Jesus Christ, God's own Son cleanseth us from all sin; so away, foul fiend, that also has received its due.  "But thou has long resisted grace, and long stood out against the warnings of God."  Yes, but "Jesus died;" and say what thou wilt, O conscience, remind me of what thou wilt; lo, this shall be my sure reply--"Jesus died."  Standing at the foot of the cross, and beholding the Redeemer in his expiring agony, the Christian may indeed gather courage.  When I think of my sin, it seems impossible that any atonement should ever be adequate; but when I think of Christ's death it seems impossible that any sin should ever be great enough to need such an atonement as that.  There is in the death of Christ enough, and more than enough.
What a line!  "There is in the death of Christ enough, and more than enough."  Take that thought to your prayer closet and let the foundation and motivation for prayer and praise be the cross of Christ.

Monday, June 6, 2011

"The Search for the Historical Adam"

The cover story for the June 2011 edition of Christianity Today "The Search for the Historical Adam" by Richard N. Ostling reviews the recent controversy within evangelical circles regarding the issue of the historicity of Adam.  I want to use this post to give a flavor of the article and a number of quotations from individuals cited in it.  In the near future I hope to provide analysis and critique of those who would deny the historicity of Adam as revealed in the Bible.

Ostling begins his article with Francis Collins, the former head of the genome project and the current directer of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), who is identified as an evangelical Christian.  Collins and co-author Karl Giberson (physics professor at Eastern Nazarene College) are a part of wave of "theistic evolutionists" to deny the reality of Adam as a historical person.
"In a recent pro-evolution book from InterVarsity Press, The Language of Science and Faith, Collins and co-author Karl W. Giberson escalate matters, announcing that 'unfortunately' the concepts of Adam and Eve as the literal first couple and the ancestors of all humans simply 'do not fit the evidence.'"  (p. 24)
In late 2007 Collins founded the BioLogos Foundation to promote the tenets of theistic evolution among evangelicals.  With his appointment by President Obama to be the NIH's director Collins resigned his position as president of the BioLogos Foundation.  Karl Giberson is the current vice president of the organization.  BioLogos has been the focal point for a number of scholars involved in science and theology coming forward to push a theistic evolutionary agenda.
"BioLogos not only promotes the current scientific consensus on human origins, but ways in which Scripture can be reinterpreted to accord with evolutionary theory.  Its staff biblical expert is Peter Enns, whose interpretation of the Old Testament led to suspension and eventual departure from Westminster Theological Seminary in 2008 (though the Adam-and-Eve question was not at issue in that case).  To Enns, a literal Adam as a special creation without evolutionary forebears is 'at odds with everything else we know about the past from the natural sciences and cultural remains.'  As he reads the early chapters of Genesis, he says, 'The bible itself invites a symbolic reading by using cosmic battle imagery and by drawing parallels between Adam and Israel.'  (p. 26)
Westminster is not the only evangelical institution to be effected by BioLogos Foundation related issues.
"In yet another BioLogos article, tremper Longman III of Westmont College  admits, 'I have not resolved this issue in my own mnd except to say that there is nothing that insist on a literal understanding of Adam in a pass [Gen. 1-3] so filled with obvious figurative description.'...After BioLogos promoted Longman's views in a video  last year, Reformed Theological Seminary ended Longman's role as an adjunct faculty member.
"That dismissal was overshadowed at the seminary by a related dustup over noted Old Testament scholar Bruce Waltke.  The administration abruptly accepted his offer of resignation due to a BioLogos video in which Waltke remarked that 'if the data is overwhelming in favor of evolution, to deny that reality will make us a cult.'  Waltke began teaching at Knox Theological Seminary this year.
"Though that dispute concerned theistic evolution, not the historical Adam, Waltke is open to the new thinking.  In an interview, the former president of the Evangelical Theological Society affirmed the 'inerrancy of the Bible, but not of interpretations.'  He sees Adam and Eve as historical individuals.  But if genetics produces the conclusion that 'Scripture has a collectivity represented as an individual, that doesn't bother me,' he said.  'We have to go with the scientific evidence.  I don't think we can ignore it.  I have full confidence in Scripture, but it does not represent what science represents.'"  (p. 26)
Calvin College has been no stranger to controversy in regards to issues of science and biblical interpretation.  Biblical exegete Daniel C. Harlow teaches at Calvin and due to recent comments on this issue he is now being investigated by a personnel panel at his school to see whether he has violated the doctrinal standards of the Christian Reformed Church which are required of all faculty at Calvin.  Ostling gives a sampling of Harlow's reasoning:
"Harlow proposed that understandings of the Fall may need to be 'reformulated' and the church must be willing to 'decouple original sin from the notion that all humans descended from a single pair.'  In his view, the early chapters of Genesis should probably be regarded as 'imaginative portrayals of an actual epoch.'  Whether or not Adam was historical, he asserted, is 'not central to biblical theology.'  Paul and Luke may have thought Adam was a literal man because they had no reason not to, he explained.  But 'we have many reasons' to interpret Adam as a literary figure."  (p. 26)
Ostling's article does not leave the topic solely in the hands of evangelical theistic evolutionists.  He mentions a new book by Covenant Theological Seminary's C. John Collins Did Adam and Eve Really Exist (Crossway Books).
"In his book-length conservative rejoinder to the new interpretation, John Collins warns against 'pure literalism' in reading Genesis, arguing that the book 'intends to use imaginative description to tell us of actual events.'  This is essentially what J. I. Packer contended in his 1958 classic 'Fundamentalism' and the Word of God.  But Collins comments that if Adam and Eve lacked 'an actual existence we nullify so many things in the Bible it results in a different story.'  To him, the pivotal point is that 'however God produced the bodies of the first human beings, it wasn't a purely natural process.''  (p. 27)
Well known New York city pastor, Tim Keller, recently participated in a BioLogos workshop but in his presentation he upheld a conservative stance on the historicity of Adam as understood and taught by the apostle Paul.  Ostling quotes Keller as arguing:
"[Paul] most definitely wanted to teach us that Adam and Eve were real historical figures.  When you refuse to take a biblical author literally when he clearly wants you to do so, you have moved away from the traditional understanding of the biblical authority....If Adam doesn't exist, Paul's whole argument--that both sin and grace work 'covenantally'--falls apart.  You can't say that 'Paul was a man of his time' but we can accept his basic teaching about Adam.  If you don't believe what he believes about Adam, you are denying the core of Paul's teaching."  (p. 27)
Toward the end of the article Ostling quotes pastor Richard Phillips, chair of the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology, as saying:
"Can the Bible's theology be true if the historical events on which the theology is based are false?...The hermeneutics behind theistic evolution are a Trojan horse that, once inside our gates, must cause the entire fortress of Christian belief to fall."  (p. 27) 
Ostling's article is important reading in that alerts the church to an on-going controversy that will call upon evangelicals to look at issues of authority, epistemology, science, hermeneutics, and the inter-relationships between all of these.  In future posts I hope to address a few of these areas as it relates  to the historicity of Adam and the Christian faith.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

No Condemnation and "Low-Grade Guilt"

Romans 8 is a majestic portion of God's word that has strengthened the saints of God for thousands of years.  The apostle Paul is continually bringing us to Christ so that we may know of his full and free provision from the guilt and power of sin.  Consider these well-known verses from this familiar chapter:
Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  (v. 1)
Who will bring a charge against God's elect?  God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns?  Christ Jesus is he who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.  (vv. 33-34)
As beautiful bookends to this chapter the grace given to us in Christ Jesus frees us from condemnation.  Any, yet, how many Christians live without condemnation?  C. J. Mahaney offers some powerful, grace-filled words on this theme:
 Are you allowing condemnation into your own life?  Ask yourself the following questions:
* Do you relate to God as if you were on a kind of permanent probation, suspecting that at any moment He may haul you back into the jail cell of His disfavor?
* When you come to worship do you maintain a "respectful distance" from God, as if He were a fascinating but ill-tempered celebrity known for lashing out at His fans?
* When you read Scripture, does it reveal the boundless love of the Savior or merely intensify your condemnation?
* Are you more aware of your sin than you are of God's grace, given to you through the cross?
Do you see any traces of condemnation in your life?  Don't be surprised if you do.  But don't keep carrying the burden!  Because of the gospel's power you can be completely free of all condemnation.
Not mostly free; completely free.
Don't buy the lie that cultivating condemnation and wallowing in your shame is somehow pleasing to God, or that a constant, low-grade guilt will somehow promote holiness and spiritual maturity.
It's just the opposite!  God is glorified when we believe with all our hearts that those who trust in Christ can never be condemned.  It's only when we receive His free gift of grace and live in the good of total forgiveness that we're able to turn from old, sinful ways of living and walk in grace-motivated obedience.  Living the Cross Centered Life (Multnomah, 2006) pp. 125-126.
We have a mighty Savior who has redeemed us by his blood.  He has set us free from condemnation and has set us free unto courage--the courage to enter into the throne room and approach the throne--a throne of grace!--so that we may continue to receive mercy and grace to help us in our times of need (Hebrews 4.16).  Such access has been blood-bought; it is granted in grace and received in faith--to God be the glory!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Praying the Character of God

In our men's book study we are studying J. I. Packer's Knowing God and today we were discussing God's immutability in reference to our prayer lives.  We are oftentimes tempted to pray in light of the decrees ("Is is okay to pray for healing, etc. right now or has God ordained something different?") whereas we ought to pray in accordance with the revealed character of God (Deuteronomy 29.29).  This will, of course, create tensions--especially the tension of unanswered prayers but I would rather presume upon the character of God as a healer (Exodus 15.26) and deal with the unanswered questions as they come.  With these thoughts in mind I went looking for this quotation from Charles Spurgeon which was the result of a time he was particularly in great bodily pain.  Consider how this good Calvinist prays and ask yourself, "Would I ever pray this way?"
When...I was racked with pain to an extreme degree, so that I could no longer bear it without crying out,  I asked all to go from the room and leave me alone; and then I had nothing I could say to God but this, "Thou art my Father, and I am Thy child; and Thou, as a Father, art tender and full of mercy.  I could not bear to see my child suffer as thou makest me suffer; and if I saw him tormented as I am now, I would do what I could to help him....Wilt Thou hide Thy face from me, my Father?  Wilt Thou still lay on me Thy heavy hand, and not give me a smile from Thy countenance?"  I ... pleaded His Fatherhood in real earnest.  "Like as father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him."  If He be a Father, let Him show Himself a Father--so I pleaded; and I ventured to say, when they came back who watched me, "I shall never have such agony again...for God has heard my prayer."  I bless God that ease came, and the racking pain never returned.  Faith mastered it by laying hold upon God in His own revealed character--that character in which in our darkest hour, we are best able to appreciate Him....We can still say, "Our Father," and when it is very dark, and we are very weak, our childlike appeal can go up, "Father, help me!  Father, rescue me!"  Quoted in Arnold Dallimore's Spurgeon: A New Biography (Banner of Truth, 1985) pp. 138-139--emphasis added.