I’ve been working on updating the look of my blog today. I found this clip posted on Dan Phillips’ blog and thought it would be a great way to introduce Dr Reluctant’s new look. I am a lifelong Laurel and Hardy fan, but I’m sure they had no clue they’d be dancing to the Gap Band! Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Abiding with Eternal Fact
In The Great Divorce a repentant liberal tells an stuffy and impenitent Bishop that, if he will rethink his pretensions about religion, he will take him to meet “Eternal Fact, the Father of all other facts.” The cleric disdainfully turned down the offer, preferring to remain under the delusion that “God” and “fact” do not dwell on the same plane of objectivity. It is a strange deception indeed which constructs a grand array of “facts” and suspends them over a bottomless chasm, but that is what sinners do with facts. They encounter them; they label and categorize them; but they attempt to ground them in the ether of a wholly impracticable worldview.
That is how I was before I met “Eternal Fact.” My dealings with Truth were occasional and, from my point of view, impersonal. And it was this impersonal view of Truth which gnawed away at me; for impersonal conceptions of Truth eventually depersonalize everything – even the viewer. They may seem impressive to our eyes for a while, but just as an attempt at landscape painting may please us until we set it alongside a Constable or a Monet, so truth without “the Spirit of Truth” gradually begins to look like a paltry thing. Truth (capital ‘T’); the kind that “shall make you free” (Jn. 8:32), springs forth from the “I AM” (Jn. 8:58).
It is hard for me to overestimate the importance that the concept of personal truth has played in my life since I became a Christian. From the first I understood that my life was either a grateful acceptance of Truth and the claims of its Source upon me, or a denial of both it and of Him. So I began to read the Bible over and over. At every opportunity, whether at work or in a traffic jam, I would snatch a few verses. For several years I kept up an average of about ten chapters a day in my pocket King James Version, so that after a few years I found that I knew it better than many believers who had been Christians for twenty or thirty years. I could not understand their dilatory attitude toward the Word of God. I confess I still don’t.
After my dad left home when I was 13 my world turned upside-down. I sank into a depression which lasted until I was about 30. Although there were good times, for the most part I was very miserable, lonely, and introverted. On countless occasions I cried myself to sleep at night. The world was two-dimensional. I felt disconnected from everything. When I came to Christ aged 25, my depression, which had become a part of me by then, did not desert me. But I knew the Way, the Truth and the Life. I heard His voice (Jn. 18:37), and it assured me. Although it felt like I was in a dark tunnel underground, I now knew that if I stayed beside the Truth, which included taking my focus off of my feelings, that I was going up, and that one day I would break the surface. I finally “emerged” just prior to going to Seminary. It was Truth – sometimes hard truth, and the God of all Truth, that brought me through. The Truth as it is in Christ was an anchor in the midst of troubled times, my counselor within the gloom, and my hope of something better ahead. It is to Personal Truth that I swear allegiance, however wavering I might be. Not my truth, but God’s truth. Because God’s very essence is the source of Truth, naturally He requires that we, His creatures install that truth “in the innermost being” (Psa. 51:6).
The Claims of Truth
The Lord Jesus Christ not only brought with Him grace and truth (Jn. 1:14), but He was that Truth. His presence on our planet brought light to shine upon the darkness all around. Coming to Jesus is always a coming out of darkness into light. The light is His light just as the Truth is His Truth. By this I mean to say that there is no distinction between Him and what He brings. Since Jesus is the Truth just as much as He is the Word (Jn. 1:1-2) He must bring Truth.
It is not enough to say that He personifies truth. We must insist that truth cannot exist on its own independently of Jesus, His Father and the Spirit of Truth. Truth exists because God exists, If God did not exist truth would not exist, The idea of truth “out there”; – truth to be agreed with as an impersonal standard, is impossible. Although it is seen that way within non-biblical worldviews, truth does not and cannot be attained without contact with the personal God – who is Truth.
My earlier search for an anchor of truth to bind myself to would have been an unending desperate encountering of “truths” without a foundation. In the same way as I sensed that Savonarola and not Machiavelli; Watteau and not Fragonard; Mahler and not Wagner, had embraced some truths, so I also sensed that they found it because them embraced them. Without prolonging the aesthetic argument too much further, they included these truths in their work in the same way as one decides to include a stranger in a conversation. Truth doesn’t merely fly above us like a flag on a pole, it communicates to us.
This is why someone who claims to be a searcher for the truth cannot stand aloof from the claims of truth upon them. They will never alter truth but they must be willing to allow truth to do with them whatever it wants.
So in the world of the non-Christian “truth” is always something separate from life in the world. As such we can choose either to agree with it or disagree with it; to follow after it or to ignore it; to allow it to speak to us or to alter its message so that it speaks with our voice. There is no great advantage either way. Truth as an absolute is troublesome because absolutes cause friction and friction opposes peace. Therefore to choose truth in such an outlook is not always a “good” choice. Absolute truth is a convenience item, available to people whenever the circumstances require them to be definitive. Truth must undergo personal or societal evaluation, and once done it must be made to take itself less seriously. The claims of truth percolate down to opinion – just like everything else!
On the other hand there is biblical truth. There truth exists necessarily because the Triune God exists. We feel its grip upon our arms because we were made to do so originally and the imprint of the Maker is still upon us. Jesus told Pilate “every one who is of the truth hears my voice” (Jn. 18:37). As the original Word Jesus built Truth into the fabric of the world He made (Jn. 1:2-3). As creatures ourselves, and image-bearers to boot, we ought to recognize that the claims of truth as proceeding from Him whose name is “Faithful and True” (Rev. 19:11).
A Brief Personal Testimony
Before I became a Christian at the age of 25 I had a yearning for truth. I tried to find it, of all places, at the local pub, ‘The Bull’. Not the deep truth of philosophers; just the everyday truth of belonging. Real Ale and parties and pub banter provided the backdrop for this belonging. The trouble is, it wasn’t very “real.” The conversation was aimless and repetitive: we knew it all and knew absolutely nothing.
When I reached twenty I discovered a book about Michelangelo among my mother’s books. The amazing brilliance of this artist: painter, sculptor, architect, poet, as well as his brooding persona, and his dedication to the ‘Christian’ humanist ideal, captivated me. I began to read about Art History, beginning with Vasari’s Lives and broadening out into all periods. I found the expressions of truth in Caravaggio’s mixing of serenity and menace, Brueghel’s depictions of death in the midst of pastoral beauty, the dignity of the mundane in de Hooch; Claude’s use of light, Constable’s clouds, Cezanne’s geometrical preoccupations. Men like these helped me to see that truth lay within the world around me. But for the most part, truth remained aloof.
The work of Vasari is punctuated by the presence of a man whose influence profoundly affected many of the artists Vasari wrote about. That man was a Domenican priest by the name of Girolamo Savonarola ( d.1498). Roman Catholic though he was, from the accounts of his life which I have read, it appears that Savonarola was a converted man. But putting that question aside, what impressed me about him was how his preaching in the great cathedral at Florence, brought about a real reformation in morals and a true fear of God in that Renaissance city.
Savonarola was not the only prominent man I read about. I also studied Machiavelli. The contrast between the motives of the two men; the one to make men see their answerability to God; the other to advise on the shenanigans of Cesare Borgia, started to make me see that truth was tied to motive. The martyr priest was more likely to point me to truth than the political philosopher. Notwithstanding, I did not “get religion” at that time, thinking it was a crutch and an escape. Instead I began to read authors I had run into in the history of art. I read Plato and Aristotle and Sophocles – the serious writers. After I’d had enough of them I indulged in the sarcasm of Aristophanes. From him I turned to Shakespeare, and then, for no real reason other than I liked the name, to Bertrand Russell. Again it became clear to me that even though the philosophers were brilliant and often witty, they seemed further from the truth than the poets and painters.
It was after plowing through most of Hans Kung’s Does God Exist? that I finally decided to read the Bible. My younger brother Craig had been reading the Bible for a while and now I felt I needed to do the same. I told myself that I could scarcely ignore such a book any more.
I am very glad that I hit upon reading the Gospels first. These four short “Lives” set before me the most compelling person I had ever encountered. Jesus spoke right into me. He did not “philosophize” about truth, he just spoke it; He confronted you with it! And the odd thing was, I recognized it when I read it.
I did not accept Jesus’ claims right away. There was a lot of clutter that needed to be riffled through. Besides, coming across John Drane’s doubt-filled book Jesus and the Four Gospels certainly didn’t help. But the Holy Spirit did not allow Drane’s concessions to historical criticism phase me. I was beginning to see that Truth was not a thing – a sort of home-plate to gain. Truth was not disconnected from the world; still less from people. Truth made claims upon me. Those claims I heard in Jesus’ voice and saw in His actions. Truth was personal. It was connected to Him who said “I am the truth!”
The School is still very much here, even though the website is temporarily down while being rebuilt. My associate Eric Peterman is busying away on the technical side of things while I patiently upload hundreds of lectures under many class headings. I have to say, (though you’ll have to take my word for it) it looks good!
Another thing that is happening is that we’re getting a new logo. We have a new one for the School and one also for the Umbrella Ministry which we’ll be launching. The logos bear relation to each other but with slight differences. Again, they look terrific! This blog will eventually be situated within the main Ministry website.
If all that wasn’t enough, the Lord has providentially led us to move back to California. Yes, I know, that’s where people are moving from. But we firmly believe the ministry will be able to grow far more than if we remained in “Southern Baptist Land.” We are just a week away from loading up and driving 2,000 miles to NoCal – two hours north of San Francisco. Try to stay off the roads from the 27th through the 1st as yours truly will be behind the wheel of a twenty-six footer with seventy plus boxes of books on board.
Needless to say, we would appreciate your prayers in this time of transition.
I was coaxed into writing this blog by my beautiful wife. I didn’t know what I was doing when I started it, and I’m not entirely sure what I’m doing now. I write what I want, with an eye to my ministry. I don’t give my opinion on trends or the news. I write about what I perceive to be God’s Truth. Here’s a look at what transpired here in 2012.
At the beginning of January last, after setting out what I thought I might be doing in the coming year, I finished off an examination of the Church’s connection to the Abrahamic Covenant: Galatians 3, the Land, and the Abrahamic Covenant: What Was Paul Thinking? (Pt.4), and an Addendum. The position taken was that one must tie the Abrahamic Covenant to the New Covenant in Christ to grasp Paul’s argument. As it happened, the New Covenant was to feature quite prominently at Dr Reluctant during the past year.
I followed that up with Forty Reasons For Not Reinterpreting the OT by the New. This article resulted in a debate with Steve Hays which meandered somewhat, due to (says I) his refusal to discuss texts in context and to engage my main arguments; instead preferring to isolate certain strands of my wording and reply to them using philosophical categories. Looking back on the exchange I think I benefited from Steve’s posts even if it was not in the way I had hoped – viz, in a biblical way. Anyway, the sequence started Here. I am yet to have any substantial response from anyone against these reasons.
Owing in some measure to the stimulus provided by Steve and others I felt I was ready to post what I call The Rules of Affinity. These “rules” serve a dual purpose. First, of helping the Bible student track whether the Scripture passages he or she is using actually do support the doctrine they are being used to prove. In the second place they greatly assist in identifying why poor theological formulations are the way they are. A number of people have told me how much they have been helped by the RoA, and for that I am happy. They were also featured on another website and the interactions with those who saw how the Rules of Affinity undermined their treasured formulations was most instructive. To a man they thoroughly disliked the rules exposed the high level of unaided reasoning which went into their pet doctrines. I hope to do more work in this area this year.
Next up came my observations on an article by Kevin DeYoung called “What the Bible Really Still Says About Homosexuality.” It was a fine piece. The point I made in my post was simply that someone who wants to make a point about what the Bible REALLY says had better not indulge in “now you see it, now you don’t” interpretation. What I mean is that DeYoung actually does not believe what the Bible REALLY says when it crosses his theological preferences. This is proven by an awful “interpretation” of the 144,000 Israelites in Revelation 7. Not even the accompanying picture (Michelangelo’s Last Judgment) had anything to do with the subject of the chapter. The lesson should be obvious: one can’t well defend what the Bible says about homosexuality if one refuses to believe what it says about Israel!
In May I posted my first in an ongoing series entitled “Christ at the Center: The Fulcrum of Biblical Covenantalism.” I have about three or four more posts left in the series. What I am trying to do is to show how the approach to Scripture I dub “Biblical Covenantalism” (which is kin to Dispensationalism but with stress put on the covenants of Scripture), is determinedly and unavoidably Christ-centered, involving central issues of the Biblical Worldview. This year I hope to begin a larger series on “Teleology and Eschatology” into which this study fits.
Two posts which will help readers to understand where I am going in the area of Biblical Covenantalism/Biblical Theology are Dispensationalism & “Biblical Covenantalism” – What’s in a Name? and Synopsis of Biblical Covenantalism. Another essay which deals with a thorny passage in Biblical Theology is, Does Diatheke Mean “Last Will and Testament” in Hebrews 9:16-17?
At the end of the year, along with starting a series called The Struggle of Prayer, I provided a personal list of Recommended Reading in Dispensationalism . There were plenty of other posts, but those are the ones I wanted to talk about.
I managed a number of Reviews last year, though not as many as I would have liked. First there was a Short Review: Robert Gundry’s ‘Commentary on the New Testament’
Then I reviewed Greg Forster’s spirited book The Joy of Calvinism, which I recommend to those fed up with foot-shuffling works on “the Doctrines of Grace.”
Then came a four-parter; The Future of an Allusion: G. K. Beale’s N.T. Biblical Theology. It took me a good while to read and reread Beale’s big book (which explains why other books did not get a look in!). Despite permitting myself ample room for the review, there were still one or two things I left unsaid (chiefly Beale’s material on future justification). This was without doubt due to my own native verbosity. I also managed to fit in a post on Heath Lambert & Stuart Scott’s terrific Counseling the Hard Cases.
I hope to have a better review average this year. I also hope to write more Apologetics, but we’ll see!
In closing I want to thank YOU who read this blog for stopping by (whether you agree with me or not). May our Lord richly bless you, your loved ones, and your ministries in 2013!
The link above is to David Bercot’s short Bio of the Evangelist Leonard Ravenhill. We have been reading his book Why Revival Tarries at our midweek study. Though somewhat dated and not always in line with my own theology, this work always stirs up my spiritual torpor and makes me feel uncomfortable. I need that!
Ravenhill lived in Lindale, TX in the last years of his life. Once a month I take a Bible Study in nearby Mineola, and have to pass through Lindale on the way. I often think about him when I drive through that little town, as I did this past Tuesday. Anyway, I thought I would reproduce Bercot’s list of memorable sayings of this man of God. They are as direct as they are edifying.
One of Leonard’s gifts was his ability to spontaneously create insightful spiritual maxims as he spoke. These were short, memorable observations about God, the church, and the world. I always took a notebook with me to these meetings to write down some of his observations and maxims. Here are some of Leonard’s spiritual insights from those meetings:
“A popular evangelist reaches your emotions. A true prophet reaches your conscience.”
“The last words of Jesus to the church (in Revelation) were ‘Repent!’”
“A true shepherd leads the way. He does not merely point the way.”
“You never have to advertise a fire. Everyone comes running when there’s a fire. Likewise, if your church is on fire, you will not have to advertise it. The community will already know it.”
“Your doctrine can be as straight as a gun barrel—and just as empty!”
“John the Baptist never performed any miracles. Yet, he was greater than any of the Old Testament prophets.”
“I doubt that more than two percent of professing Christians in the United States are truly born again.”
“Our God is a consuming fire. He consumes pride, lust, materialism, and other sin.”
“There are only two kinds of persons: those dead in sin and those dead to sin.”
[Concerning the darkness that has enveloped most of Christendom:] “When you’re sitting in a dark room, you can either sit and curse the darkness—or you can light a candle.”
“Children can tell you what Channel 7 says, but not what Matthew 7 says.”
“Some women will spend thirty minutes to an hour preparing for church externally (putting on special clothes and makeup, etc.). What would happen if we all spent the same amount of time preparing internally for church—with prayer and meditation?”
“Maturity comes from obedience, not necessarily from age.”
“What good does it do to speak in tongues on Sunday if you have been using your tongue during the week to curse and gossip?”
“Would we send our daughters off to have sex if it would benefit our country? Yet, we send our sons off to kill when we think it would benefit our country!”
“The only time you can really say that ‘Christ is all I need,’ is when Christ is all you have.”
“The Bible is either absolute, or it’s obsolete.”
“Why do we expect to be better treated in this world than Jesus was?”
“Today’s church wants to be raptured from responsibility.”
“Testimonies are wonderful. But, so often our lives don’t fit our testimonies.”
[Concerning one of the new “movements” in the church that was causing a stir among Christians:] “There’s also a stir when the circus comes to town.”
“My main ambition in life is to be on the Devil’s most wanted list.” Continue reading “The Maxims of Leonard Ravenhill”
G. K. Chesterton once remarked about the demise of satire. Well, this piece wouldn’t revive his expectations, but it is still good:
It all comes down to the same thing in the end: when will confessing Christians believe that the Bible means what it says?
Anyone with a rudimentary understanding of free speech and freedom of religion in America should be irate about how the mainstream media, together with certain politicians, have turned against Chick-fil-a. Tolerance for these people might be accurately understood as “if you don’t agree with us you are intolerant!” Well, here’s a thoughtful article to reflect upon:
P.S. with thanks to Jim Peet
I am a Reluctant Dispensationalist. If someone wants to know what my general outlook on the Bible is I will tell them it is Traditional or Classic Dispensational. I then feel compelled to qualify this confession by making it clear that I do not follow the Tim LaHaye’s and Hal Lindsey’s of this world. Where our theological paths cross I might find myself in agreement with them a fair bit of the time. I would not agree with their Arminianism for one thing. I’m not sure about this, but LaHaye may be closer to Limborch and Finney than to Arminius himself. In any case, I do not think it is wrong to be an Arminian of the stamp of Arminius himself (or Episcopius), and I am sure that many Calvinists who can hardly bring themselves to say the word without their lip curling have never read Arminius for themselves (or a contemporary like Thomas Oden).
But differing on such matters does not make me a Reluctant Dispensationalist. Perhaps the majority of Dispensationalists are and have been Calvinistic in their soteriology. I myself believe salvation to be a sovereign work of God for the elect even if I wouldn’t formulate it in the usual Calvinist way.
I am not a Reluctant Dispensationalist either because I differ with my teachers, Mal Couch, Thomas Ice, Arnold Fruchtenbaum, Steve Ger, Tom McCall, and Robert Lightner. I learned a great deal from these men and esteem them all. But truly I wish we could all go back to the time of Erich Sauer and Alva McClain and follow their lead. They had little to say about “dispensations” in their overall schemes.
I must also insert here that I find little use for Progressive Dispensationalism. I do think their treatment of the New Covenant is quite helpful, but their “complementary hermeneutics” looks to me like they are trying to have their cake and it eat it. Often it seems that they have come to their views independently of the text in its context.
My reason for being reluctant is the name! Yes, I know, what’s in a name? Dan Phillips this past week has, in personal correspondence, tried to reason with me about this. “Dispensationalism” is the name we’ve got and we’re stuck with it. I greatly appreciate his advice, and I believe he is probably right. So while I shall have to continue to say I am a Dispensationalist, I would like to try to explain why I have such a issue with the name, and why I shall continue to put in a word for “Biblical Covenantalism,” regardless of its obvious lack of shop-window appeal. I’ll try to do it by way of contrast. DT = Dispensationalism and BC = Biblical Covenantalism:
1. DT: is led by its very name to define itself by an aspect of its approach which is really tangential to its overall genius. This false definition then circumscribes the outlook and understanding of its adherents and places blinkers (blinders) on their theological vision. Dispensations are just not that important: the biblical covenants are. Dispensationalism is limited because of what dispensations can do.
BC: defines itself by the covenants found within the pages of Scripture. Because these covenants, correctly understood, comprehend God’s declared purposes for the creation (not just Israel, His chosen people), they expand ones theological vision. Biblical Covenantalism is expansive because of what the covenants of Scripture can do.
2. DT: although I don’t expect everyone to see this, Dispensationalism derives its hermeneutics from “without” by asserting the normal or literal sense via grammatical-historical hermeneutics. There is little attempt to derive this hermeneutics from the Bible itself.
BC: seeks to derive its hermeneutics (which correspond to traditional grammatical-historical hermeneutics) from “within” – from the Bible itself, in deference to the Biblical Worldview. This acknowledges the comprehensive relation of revelation and knowledge. Continue reading “Dispensationalism & “Biblical Covenantalism” – What’s in a Name?”