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David Bentley Hart’s, ‘The Experience of God’ (Pt.1)

A review of David Bentley Hart, The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss, Yale University Press, 2013, 376 pages, paperback. 

Among the most learned and entertaining, if not sometimes infuriating writers on the theological scene today is David Bentley Hart.  He is the author of such notable books as The Doors of the Sea, The Beauty of the Infinite, and Atheist Delusions.  Alongside this is his impressive portfolio of articles (in particular for First Things).  His ‘Christ or Nothing’, ‘Laughter of the Philosophers’, and ‘Daniel Dennett Hunts the Snark’ are classics!

The present work investigates the very real transcendental features of Being, Consciousness, and Bliss. These three aspects of the human condition are fundamental to any true exploration and comprehension of reality.  They also represent insurmountable obstacles to the naturalistic paradigm which holds sway in the minds of many within academe.  In this post I shall restrict my comments to Being and Consciousness.

It is Hart’s contention, as it has been the contention of all Theists in the classical Christian tradition, that only the living God can stand behind these facts of our existence.  To fit them within a materialist philosophy is to extinguish them altogether.  But Hart is speaking of “God’, as defined in the classical traditions as the Source and Ground of Being, or as “Pure Actuality” in Aristotelian/Thomistic terms. Not, let it be said, the larger-than-life demiurgic god which the atheists love to rattle their sabres against, but the transcendent Lord and Creator of everything else that is.

Of this god who cannot be God Hart writes,

In purely philosophical terms… it simply does not matter very much if some god named “God” might happen to exist, even if he should prove to be the unsurpassable and unique instantiation of the concept “god,” as that fact casts no real light on the enigma of existence as such.  Even if this demiurge really existed, he would still be just one more being out there whose own existence would be in need of explanation: the ultimate source of being upon which he and the world must both be dependent.  Confronted by so constrained a concept of God, the village atheist would still be well within his rights to protest that, even if the world comes from God, one must still ask where God comes from. (129-130).

Hurling flack at a deity who inhabits the same circle of existence as everyone and everything else is fair game.  But it isn’t significant as regards the God revealed in the Holy Bible (a fact which Jerry Coyne, who professes to have read the book, can’t seem to get straight).  Nor is it significant, says Hart, rather controversially, as a poniard to use against the One God of whom some Muslims and Hindus speak (something I will come back to).  Both non-believers and Christians need to be aware of the difference in speaking about the true God who is the independent Source of all other (contingent) being.  Hence, says the author, “there can be no distinction between what he is and that he is” (133).

From this position the author moves on to defend Divine Simplicity as necessary (134-142).  Simplicity (and impassibility) have suffered somewhat from friendly fire of late, but Hart reasons that these are important and necessary truths about God.  It was good to meet with  such an affirmation in the book.

Also mandatory, although rarely faced up to, is the materialistic aporia channeled to us by the New Atheists and the scientific majority if we take their ontology to heart.  There is no mind and hence no goal behind existence. There are only mechanisms, and any appearance of purpose; any appeal to final causes is illusory. Speaking of the functionality inherent in the structures within and without, Hart observes,

Nothing within the material constituents of those structures has the least innate tendency toward such order, any more than the material elements from a watch is composed have any innate tendency toward horology.  And, if complex rational order is extrinsic to what matter essentially is, how much more so must rationality itself be; for consciousness would appear to be everything that, according to the principles of mechanism… The notion that material causes could yield a result so apparently contradictory to material nature is paradoxical enough that it ought to give even the most convinced of materialists pause. (154).

Consciousness “is a uniquely ‘first person’ phenomenon” (156).  “Electrochemical events are not thoughts.” (159).  Consciousness means individuality means self-hood.  Hart makes short work of “eliminativists” (like the Churchland’s) before moving on to present big problems for naturalistic accounts of consciousness.  These include “qualia” – those subjective responses to things which are our feelings alone.  Then abstract concepts are discussed.  Again, the inability of naturalism to tackle the most fundamental questions about the reality of number and mathematics is exhibited (185-187).  Then reason, and things like “language’s triadic semiotic structure” (189); then transcendental categories, and “Intentionality”, or “the fundamental power of the mind to direct itself toward something” (191), a segment I found especially helpful (191-197).  And finally, the unity of consciousness. He almost gets presuppositional as he suggests materialists ought to think twice about their commitment to their metaphysics (204).

Hart’s wit and skill as a wordsmith are never so much in evidence as when he is creatively stating the obvious.  I particularly loved this “pearler” on the overused analogy between a computer and a mind:

Software no more “thinks” than a minute hand knows the time or the printed word ‘pelican’ knows what a pelican is.” (219).

All computation, with all of its symbols, relies upon consciousness and is a top-down operation (223), just as all engineering is.  Not that the writer is interested in buttressing Intelligent Design (41, 59, 302); although I think he might have represented their case better.

Anyway, from here he becomes more obviously theological; at least for a few pages.  The discussion basically proceeds along scholastic lines, but it is none the worse for all that, and some of the language is (to me at least), spiritually edifying:

To speak of God… as infinite consciousness, which is identical to infinite being, is to say that in him the ecstasy of mind is also the perfect satiety of achieved knowledge, of perfect wisdom. (237). 

The reader may be forced to have that run past him again, but it is deep and wonderful.  It conjures up what we ought to mean when we absent-mindedly say “God is awesome”.

The next part of the review should be up in about a fortnight. 

Part Two

Teloscompass

Trying to Get the Rapture Right (10)

Part Nine

This installment may be thought of as a digression, but I think it belongs to the overall argument.

Imagine a world where the removal of the saints from Planet Earth happened but no one had the foggiest idea of when that might be.  If the NT alluded to such a thing there would still be some hope that we just may be the ones to get called up.  The doctrine of the rapture would still be a “sure thing”, it just wouldn’t be very concrete in our minds. Well, as a matter of fact, as a starting place for considering the rapture this isn’t that bad; there are far worse ones.  A “worse” one would be the dogmatic insistence that the catching away of the Church as pretribulational is a dead-cert.  Another would be the blithe notion that the rapture occurs when Jesus returns to earth and any theories to the contrary are speculative fancies.

What we want when faced with studying the rapture is a method which casts its procedural net over all the relevant scriptures and tries to incorporate its results within the boundaries of more readily identifiable doctrines.  Taking fundamental and necessary (C1 & C2) biblical truths as a baseline, the various snippets of prophetic teaching which intersect what can be known about the rapture must be weighed and set within the most comfortable theological context: a context from which many objections can be answered, and the number of those that can’t are at least reduced.  This comes down to ones best choice among competing explanations (a C3).

In these posts I have put quite a bit of weight on Daniel’s Seventy Weeks prophecy in Daniel 9.  A full exegesis of that passage (9:24-27) is beyond the scope of this series, and what persuades me may not persuade others.  One reason for this is the amount of work I have put into studying the biblical covenants and how they connect with the Return of Christ and His kingdom.  This is an important theme of Daniel 2, 7, 9 and 12, and it connects with many other elements in the Prophets.  (Chapters 2, 7 and 12 all concern events just before or at the final culminative kingdom of Christ (on earth!), so it is more than likely that chapter 9 does too).

Before bringing this series to an end with two summary posts I ask the reader’s forbearance once more as I again make an argument from this future time period. I have also tried to show that there exists a correspondence between the 70th week, especially from its halfway (3 1/2 year) point, and what is known as the Great Tribulation.  An obvious point of contact is the “time, times and half a time” formula found in both Daniel and Revelation.  In Matthew 24:8 our Lord speaks about “the beginning of sorrows”; an expression even prewrathers like Marvin Rosenthal believe refers to the first part of the Seventieth Week, even if he does not associate it with the “Tribulation” as such (nor the “wrath of God” for that matter), which he thinks comes after.  So it is pretty much agreed upon by all except those who try to squeeze it into the first century that the 70th week lies ahead of us.  However, a major difference surfaces between the pretrib position and mid, post and prewrath views concerning what I would see as an incongruity with God dealing with Israel and the Church in the 70th week.  As I have said before, in my reading of Scripture this period is determined on Israel (with whom God is not explicitly dealing right now), not the Church.  Moreover, it centers on Jerusalem and the temple.

The “Temple” and “Abomination” in the Seventieth Week

Daniel 9:26 stipulates that Messiah will be “cut off” after 69 of the 70 weeks.  The next verse says that “He shall bring an end to sacrifice and offering”.  Some hold that this refers to the finality of the cross-work of Christ, which effectively made the sacrificial system redundant.  But this “positive spin” on the text has some problems.  For one thing the context (v.26) refers to “the people of the prince who shall come” destroying the city (Jerusalem), and the sanctuary (the Temple), which is hard to think of positively.  These two connected entities – Jerusalem and the temple – are featured heavily in the chapter (9:12, 14, 17, 18, 19, 20, 24, 25, 26, 27).  In the book Kingdom through Covenant, Peter Gentry tries to vindicate the “positive” interpretation, although he admits to difficulties.  I have the bad manners to quote myself in my review of that work:

To put it in a nutshell, the authors believe that the six items listed in Daniel 9:24 were all fulfilled in Christ at the first advent (541, 553-554 – though they admit “anoint the most holy person” is abnormal, typology again steps in to help).  “Messiah the Prince” or “Leader” of 9:25 is equated with “the prince [or leader] who shall come” of verse 26 even though it appears that he comes after “Messiah is cut off.”  From chapter 7:8, 23-25 the antichrist arises from the fourth kingdom (the Roman empire), seemingly just prior to the second coming (7:13-14 with 7:21-22).  This prepares the reader for “the people of the prince who is to come” who “shall destroy the city and the sanctuary” (9:26).  Two questions loom before us if we follow Gentry’s and Wellum’s interpretation.  The first concerns the fact that the “he” of verse 26b causes the sacrifice and offering to cease “in the middle of the [seventieth] week.”  If this refers to Jesus then it also refers to His crucifixion.  That would leave three and a half years of the seventieth week left to fulfill.  This is generally where those who don’t like a second coming context will jump thirty-five or so years into the future and see fulfillment in Titus’s armies in A.D. 70.  Gentry admits the “people” who destroy city and sanctuary do “appear to be enemy armies” (560), so he has to read two peoples into the context: the Jews who “destroyed” the city metaphorically circa A.D. 30, and the Romans who adopted a more literal method in A.D. 70!  (more…)

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Apologetics and Your Kids (5) – God, Man and the World

Part Four

Last time we looked at the importance of commending a Biblical Worldview to our children.  If we can communicate that, then we have given them a solid frame of reference from which they can comprehend the world about them and make decisions about which directions to take in it.  That is a valuable gift; and it is one that will be increasingly needed in the years ahead.

The Wisdom of the World Versus True Wisdom (1 Cor. 3:19)

I said last time that we would begin to see how the right worldview helps us do this.  Let me start by listing again those pat catch-phrases which are frequently met with in the world:

“Listen to your heart” – leaves out God and promotes utter selfishness and folly

“You have your truth and I have mine.” – An absolute statement which denies absolutes

“People who think they are right and others are wrong are just bigoted” – Mere name-calling by someone who thinks they are right

“We evolved from some prebiotic slime and are here by cosmic accident.” – Blind faith which contradicts known laws of nature, all the evidence of the rocks, and leads to the destruction of ethical principles and meaningfulness

“We decide our own fate.” – Usually said by those who would change their circumstances if they could.

I shall quickly address each saying using the Biblical Worldview.  Another way of seeing this is to ask ourselves, “how would the Lord Jesus answer this?”

1. “Listen to your heart”

The Bible: “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool…” (Pro. 28:26).  This is because of the state of our hearts. They are deceitful and corrupt (Jer. 17:9), and spout forth all manner of evil (Mk. 7:21-23).  The second half of Proverbs 28:26 tells us, “but whoever walks wisely will be delivered.”  We should infer from this that we are not to listen to our hearts, but instead we are to listen to words which will make us wise.  In the verse right before it we are told, “he who trusts in the LORD will prosper.”  God made the ear primarily so we would hear Him!  The Biblical Worldview informs us about our propensity to lie to ourselves about ourselves (and others), and to ignore God’s wisdom.

2. “You have your truth and I have mine.”

The Bible: “Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice” (Jn. 18:37).  To the religious leaders Jesus stated,  “You judge according to the flesh; I am not judging anyone.  But even if I do judge, My judgment is true; for I am not alone in it, but I and the Father who sent Me.” (Jn. 8:15-16).  So according to this, seeking our own personal “truth” aside from Jesus is judging according to the flesh.  Jesus contrasts this obviously false approach with His own.  Jesus is in agreement with God the Father who sent Him.

3. “People who think they are right and others are wrong are just bigoted”

The Bible: “… you have not known Him, but I know Him. And if I say,`I do not know Him,’ I shall be a liar like you; but I do know Him and keep His word.” (Jn.8:55).  Jesus claims that the religious leaders of the day, who were seen as great and godly, actually made fallacious claims when they said they knew God.  The Scriptures put people either in the realm of darkness or light (Jn.3:19-21; Eph. 5:8), depending on where they stand in relationship to God.  The pat saying above betrays itself as an example of the acme of bigotry, because it brands as intolerant those who disagree with its patently false claim.  If someone tells me that Jesus never existed, or that the Bible has been changed so that we don’t know what it originally said, then they are just plain wrong, and it is no sort of bigotry to gently tell them so.  What they feel about it, and whether they would like things to be different, might prompt them to slander me, but that has nothing to do with whether I’m right.

5. “We evolved from some prebiotic slime and are here by cosmic accident.”

The Bible: “But from the beginning of the creation, God`made them male and female.’” (Mk. 10:6).  If anything is clear in the Bible it is that human beings (and all things else) were created; they did not evolve from some other creature over aeons of time! (Exod. 20:11; Psa. 94:9; 139:13).  Viewing oneself (and others!) as accidents leads to a very depressing and hopeless outlook.  Any search for meaning and worth is rendered futile.  In fact, “Futility” becomes the great codeword for existence.  This world was designed and made productive and beautiful with us in mind, by a God who will redeem it even though it is now cursed (Rom. 8:18-21).

6. “We decide our own fate.”

The Bible: “The LORD nullifies the counsel of the nations; He frustrates the plans of the peoples.  The counsel of the LORD stands forever, The plans of His heart from generation to generation.” (Psa 33:10-11).  We cannot even know how long we shall be alive on this planet (Lk. 12:25), let alone contend with God (Job 40:2).  We don’t know what is around the next corner (Eccles. 8:7).  It is God who has put us on earth at this point in history: “He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings.” (Acts 17:26).

Our Existence: A Triad

I have a friend who teaches police officers interviewing and interrogation skills.  He is himself an experienced ex L.A. cop who frankly admits that he holds up his former self as the poster boy of how not to do it!  But he has learned the art of reading people and he believes that if an interview with a suspect or witness fails, it is the fault of the interviewer.  He has boiled his observations down to three main categories: God, the self, and others.  He claims that if one can understand how a person relates to each of these realities, one will have a good grasp of the person and what they value (which can be used to draw the truth out of them).

God, self, and others is a triad.  A triad is a kind of three-in-one.  Each member of the triad is connected to the other two.  This triad deals with relationships, but I told my friend that his “God, self and others” triad was pretty close to my own theological triad: God, Man, and the World.  These three things are also inseparably linked.  You cannot think about the world without thinking about yourself and vice versa.  And even atheists cannot comprehend these two without facing the question of God; even if they always try to push Him away.

Hence, we as parents should make sure our kids know what Scripture says about these three: God, Man and the World.  And they must be told what the world says about these, and guided gently through the maze of folly which always comprises unbiblical thinking.

More to come…

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Christ as the Center of Scripture – Videos 5 & 6

Parts Three and Four

Here are the fifth and sixth videos of my TELOS Conference presentations of Biblical Covenantalism. These presentations cover the pivotal role of the Lord Jesus Christ in “the Creation Project” set out in God’s Word; especially in His Covenants:

Fifth Talk: CHRIST AND THE NEW COVENANT

Sixth Talk: CHRIST AND THE CONSUMMATION OF ALL THINGS

I hope that these six presentations elucidate my approach more clearly for some visitors to this blog.

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Christ as the Center of Scripture – Videos 1 & 2

Here are the first two videos of my TELOS Conference presentations of Biblical Covenantalism. These presentations cover the topics of Hermeneutics and Creation.

First Talk: CHRIST and INTERPRETATION

Second Talk: CHRIST and CREATION

These video presentations give a detailed overview of Biblical Covenantalism and the exalted place it gives to the Lord Jesus Christ; a place which is not artificially read onto the pages of the Bible, but which comes clearly from its plain wording – especially from the words of the biblical covenants!

Parts Three and Four

 

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Trying to Get the Rapture Right (Pt.9)

Part Eight

Israel means Israel

I am a pretribulationist.  I think my main reasons for being so are theological, in particular the covenantal issues concerning the nation of Israel are a central concern to me.  But I am not pretribulational because I adopt a form of theological hermeneutics (now so fashionable in some quarters).  I have already made it clear that rapture scenarios cannot (in my opinion) rise above a “best explanation” conclusion.  That is equivalent to a C3 in my Rules of Affinity.  It will just not do to conflate Israel’s restoration promises with the future of the Church.  The Body of Christ needs no restoration.

Often in the prophetic literature we come across predictions of final restoration and comfort for Israel, presaged by a time of great upheaval.  Many times the texts involved include the phrase “In that day.”  A sampling would include: Isa. 10:20-23; Isa. 24:17-23; Isa. 35:1-10; Isa. 40:1-5; Isa. 61:1-3; Jer. 30:3-11; Ezek. 34:11-31; Ezek. 36:1-38;Dan. 12:1-3; Zech. 13:8-9; Zech. 14:1-9.

Frequently these passages come nestled within covenantal contexts, indicating the purposive current of God’s greater plan for the nation is still at work.  The point is that there is a lot of expectation built up for Israel to run into a distinctive time of affliction.  This time of woe precedes the coming again of Jesus Christ, as is shown in Matthew 24 and Mark 13.

I have already commented on the Israeli focus in tribulation texts in the Book of Revelation.  If we isolate those passages which speak about a three and a half year period (corresponding too closely to Daniel 7:25 not to be intentional), we find this pattern:

Revelation 11:1-3 – the overrunning of the temple (Matt. 24:15-20; cf. 2 Thess. 2:4), in “the holy city” and the ministry of the two prophets.

Revelation 12:1-6, 13-14 – I have given reasons for identifying the woman as Israel (Pt. 6).  Incidentally, I view pretribulationist attempts to make the “man-child” of 12:5 the raptured Church as highly unlikely.

The scene is decidedly Jewish and nationalistic.  The Church is conspicuous by its absence.  So if we tie these time references to the last part of the Seventieth Week we should not expect to find the Church there, thus avoiding an Israel/Church mixture which interferes with covenantal expectations.  And if the link between these texts and “the time of Jacob’s Trouble” in Jeremiah 30:6 is sound, one again would expect Jacob (Israel) to be the subject, not the Church.

Even a post-tribulationist like Robert Gundry sees this:

The seventy weeks have to do with the Jews.  We cannot spiritualize the phrase “your people”
(v.24) into a spiritual Israel inclusive of the Gentiles without doing violence to the plain sense of the passage.  For example, the destruction of Jerusalem, spoken of prominently in the prophecy, deals with Israel the nation.  And yet, since in the seventy weeks the goals listed in verse twenty-four were to be accomplished, the seventy weeks cannot have enturely elapsed, for the finishing of Israel’s transgression, the purging of her iniquity, and the bringing in of her everlasting righteousness have not reached completion.  Paul writes of these as still in the future for Israel (Rom. 11:25-27). – Robert H. Gundry, The Church and the Tribulation, 189

One People?

The (non PD) pretribulational position is the only one which does not confuse Israel with the Church.  Hence, it is the only position which confronts the covenantal promises to national Israel squarely as direct (C1) propositions, conceding no appreciable “propositional distance” between the covenant promises and the inferences which can be based upon them.  Posttribulationists do not have much regard for Israel/Church distinctions, since they admit a good deal of their brand of typological interpretation and supercessionist thinking to make sure the problem doesn’t arise.  Midtribulationists and PreWrathers speak of a separation of Israel from the Church, as do Progressive Dispensationalists, but they eventually collapse everything down to the concept of “the one people of God”.  This just ends up looking like a case of beating around the bush to arrive at much the same place as the posttribulationist.

But the idea of more than one people of God looks to be clear cut if all the direct statements of Scripture’s eschatological prophecies are allowed to stand unchallenged.  It is on these exegetically derived premises that the theological issues ought to be determined.  We must, at every juncture, ask, “what does it say?”  Context must speak with decisiveness.  The modern ploy of pushing out the context so that it envelops the whole Bible is palpably ridiculous to anyone familiar with and scrupulous about word meanings.  Context cannot mean non-context.  That is not how progressive revelation works.

In Part One I mentioned how Ben Witherington had explained the rapture in 1 Thessalonians 4 as the entourage going out to meet the returning Christ in line with the custom of the day.  But there is a problem.  The Church is not an entourage, it is the Bride.  One wonders why such a brilliant scholar doesn’t make the distinction.  At least a part of the answer is because he cannot conceive of more than one people of God.  I have elsewhere argued that not only does God like variety but the ‘three-in-oneness’ of “The Triadic People of God” pattern which emerges from tracing the flow of the Biblical Covenants seems completely consonant with scriptural revelation.

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Apologetics and Your Kids (4) – Inculcating the Right Worldview

Part Three

The Bible has a very specific and definitive outlook on the meaning of life.  In the parlance of modern culture such an outlook is called a “Worldview.”  There has been a lot of talk about worldview in recent years, and this is on the whole a good development.  Worldviews are very important, and appreciation of them, and of the Christian-Biblical Worldview in particular, is without doubt a great benefit.

Briefly: What a Worldview is

A worldview is basically the lens or prism through which a person “looks”, and with which they interpret most of life.  There are many definitions; some good, some not so good, but the key element of a worldview is a commitment of the heart.  I don’t say total commitment.  To be sure, no one consistently follows their worldview – and few in fact realize there is one to follow.  But we all have one, and their influence upon us is often pronounced, for good or ill.

To illustrate this just think about the kinds of messages about which tell us how to think:

“Listen to your heart”

“You have your truth and I have mine.”

“People who think they are right and others are wrong are just bigoted”

“We evolved from some prebiotic slime and are here by cosmic accident.”

“We decide our own fate.”

These are all sayings which proceed from a false worldview, but a pretty prevalent one all the same.  These sayings each are tinged with a pretended moral authority which makes them appear more imposing than they are.  And people who absorb these kinds of beliefs will always tend to have little use for the concept of Truth as we’ve discussed it; or for absolutes, or indeed God.  They will have no answers to the Big Questions of Life: the kind of questions teens often ask (a subject to which we’ll have to return).  And the more tenaciously these trite sayings are held, the less patience these folks will usually have for Christian answers.

One thing is for sure; if any of these pat opinions take hold in the hearts of our kids, Christian Truth claims will be held with less conviction – maybe they’ll settle merely temporarily at the most superficial level of a childhood habit?  We don’t want that!

Here I hope you begin to see why Apologetics; the defense of the Truth of the Christian Bible and its worldview, can be a great asset in encouraging right thinking.  And let no one persuade themselves otherwise, it is thinking!

Consider this insightful observation:

“the Christian world-view takes seriously the teaching that God lays claim to all of life, and is opposed at every point by the counterclaims of his adversary.  Ultimately, there is no spiritual neutrality in either scholarship or literature, sports or agriculture, art or journalism.  Everywhere there are forces which seek either to honour the Creator’s intent or to replace it with a substitute.” – A. M. Wolters, “World-view”, in New Dictionary of Christian Apologetics, edited by W.C. Campbell-Jack & Gavin McGrath, 761 

Parents of younger kids and teens need to be switched on to the reality of this interminable spiritual warfare that is fought in the realm of ideas.  We cannot, as Christians, believe in neutrality in any sphere.  Everything they meet with comes “worldview-loaded.”  Abstinence from the world is unscriptural, unworkable, and dangerous.  We must be able to guide ourselves and our children in right thinking about the mixed messages they’ll encounter.  To help them identify the Christian Worldview and see through false worldviews when they rear their heads (as they do every day); that is a powerful gift we can give them.

We must place our kids in the kinds of settings where they are encouraged and trained to think biblically.  We must seek to surround them (I do not say imprison them!) with influences which steer their hearts toward the claims of God upon them as his creatures.  They must be trained to recognize the messages all around them for what they are: either for Christ or against Christ!

Beginning next time, we will see how this can be done…

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Apologetics and Your Kids (3) – We Are Losing Our Kids!

Part Two

have begun this series with this three-part introduction, trying to bring attention to the matter of Truth and the authenticity of our allegiance to it as Christian parents.  My concern is that Christians nowadays do not prize Truth for what it is – an attribute of God – but rather treat it as something they can use a bit of when they think it needful.   Francis Schaeffer used to say that the Church should live out what he termed “true truth” before the world.  But the Church has forgotten the importance of Truth, and its role as the witness to the Truth in this dark and deceitful age.  Truth must come first.  Our preferences are not that important.

I realize that in putting matters this way I am not going to make many friends.  But I am not concerned with making friends so much as with telling it as it is.  And the fact is young people raised in Christian homes and attending evangelical churches are leaving those churches in droves.

According to a Barna poll 66% of these kids are deserting their Christian upbringing.  And the figure may be even higher.  A survey conducted by the SBC asserts that 88% of young people walk away from the faith never to return.  And there is no sign of any abatement.  Something is badly amiss, and Christian parents especially need to stop pretending everything’s okay so long as their kid or teenager has a good time at church.

Loyalty and Credibility

In surveys which have been done of young people who have ‘left the Faith’  the issue of deep commitment to what we Christians claim to believe crops up continually.  Young people can sense when we are believing Christianity for its usefulness or pragmatic value, and when we are believing it because we know it is true and our allegiance is to it asTruth.  The former carries no assurance because Truth is being used as a prop for our life-choices.  The second is in rather short supply in our evangelical churches.  There is a lack of integrity and sincerity about the Church today.  Sincerity is the great by-product of holding loyally to the objective Truth of God’s Word.  The term Paul used when describing the “Belt of Truth” in the Christian Armor (Eph. 6:14) demands such loyalty.  You can’t put on this “belt” if you don’t prize Truth.  You don’t prize Truth if you don’t submit to it and internalize it.

The Truth ought to have the sort of authority over us that old-fashioned Headmasters had over school children.  But too often Truth is treated like modern Headmasters are.  They have a position of authority, but there is very little they can do with it, and the kids who pay lip-service to them know this.  Insincere people tend to let the side down and don’t much care if they do.  Sincere people who have placed themselves in subordination to the Truth, whatever the cost, have the kind of integrity which our young people are looking for.

What it Takes

My big concern in this series is how to use apologetics in evangelizing and building up our children, whether they are aged eight or eighteen.  But I felt I needed to stress this issue of authenticity; the difference between using something true and committing to it because it’s true.  To do this we need to ask ourselves some hard questions about our churches.  Does our local church emphasize Bible doctrine, or is doctrine and theology never really discussed?  Does the leadership have an unequivocal stance on the six days of creation and Noah’s flood?  When was the last time the ugliness of Sin was spelled out in a sermon?  We must ask ourselves, Did we choose our fellowship primarily because of its commitment to the Truth, or did we choose it for the music or the programs?

1 Peter 3:15 tells us to,

…sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.

Here is the classic verse for Christian Apologetics.  We are to be “always ready” to defend the Christian Faith.  We are always to be able to “give a reason for our hope.”  But please do not overlook how the verse starts: “sanctify [that is, set apart] the Lord God in your hearts.”  To set God apart in our hearts demands of us that we allow His Truth to have full authority over us.  In Christian venues where Truth is not seen as primary, we must respectfully depart and seek out those that do.  No one leaves the Faith over the music.  They do and are leaving over the matter of Truth.  Let us defend the Truth, but let us be real!

Teloscompass

Trying to Get the Rapture Right (Pt. 8)

Part Seven

The Church in the Seventieth Week?

Of the several options on the timing of the rapture only the pretribulational view keeps the Body of Christ entirely out of the Seventieth Week of Daniel 9.  But that fact says little if in fact the Church is said in Scripture to go through some or all of it.  To my mind, it is no good trying to place the Body of Christ in the Seventieth Week unless there are solid reasons for doing so and appropriate excuses for diminishing the very Jewish emphasis in passages which do concern this period.

We have seen that God had in mind “Your [i.e. Daniel’s] people” in the prophecy.  It also focused in on “your holy city” – Jerusalem.  It is within this same period that the Olivet Discourse is situated.  And there, as we have seen, Jesus is talking to Jews about Israel.  We get the same story when we look at Daniel 12 or Jeremiah 30.  In the Revelation the Church is not mentioned after chapter 3 and the stress is mainly upon all things Israel (7:3-8; 9:4; 11:1-2, 7-8; 11:19; 12:1, 13-14; 14:1-4; 15:3; 16:16), which is just what one would expect from reading earlier texts.

Paul in Romans 11 uses the term “Gentiles” as a kind of eponym for the Church.  For instance, in 11:11, 12, 13, and especially 11:25 he is pointing out that God has deliberately turned to the Gentiles in this era. Israel as a nation is judicially blinded (11:7-10, 25, and 32), and although there will always be a saved remnant even in the Church (11:5), the fact remains that the Church is predominantly Gentile in complexion.  But Paul says that God will once again turn to Israel (11:24), once “the fullness of the Gentiles has come in” (11:25b).

I do realize that this does not go on to say “when the Church is removed”.  All I am concerned with is delineating the [national] Israel – Church divide which seems apparent in these passages from Revelation and Romans.  I do not see the Church in any reference to the Seventieth Week.  I do see that God is focused back on Israel as predicted in Daniel 9 (and 7 & 12).  The “fullness of the [saved] Gentiles” must mean something, for it has to be accomplished before this turning can happen.  It can either happen as some Dutch-school amillennialists predict, and God can save a bunch of Jews just prior to Jesus’ return, or it can happen with the rapture of the Church at its completion.  I reject the first option because it ignores an important point in the Apostle’s argument; namely the fact that it is national Israel that is in view (see Rom. 9:1-5, 10; 10:1, 21; 11:1-2, 7, 25-29).  All those approaches which do not recognize this are, I believe, at fault.  This includes those Progressive Dispensationalists who are okay with people becoming “Christians” in the Tribulation, and there being just one people of God.  It also ignores the specific Israeli focus of the Seventieth Week as I understand it.  Those who are fine with God dealing with the Church and the nation of Israel at the same time have not provided a clear rationale for it that I have seen.

Lastly, since the Church shall be married to Christ (2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:25, 32) before Christ comes back (Rev. 19:6-9), I think it reasonable to relate this to a pre (or mid) tribulational rapture (I reject the mid-trib. alternative here because of what I’ve said above).  I think this is grounds for rejecting post-tribulationism, as well as suspecting Pre-Wrath, which needs Christ to return to collect the Church.  This is what forces them (along with some other views), to look for the signs of Matthew 24 with regard to the Church.

Is Imminency a Biblical Teaching?

The pretribulational doctrine of the imminent return of Jesus is not a necessary component of the approach, but the strength of it as a biblical idea definitely reinforces the pretribulational claim.  This position says that the warning signs in the Olivet Discourse are intended for Israel (cf. 1 Cor. 1:22), not the Body of Christ.

1. James 5:8-9 – If Christ cannot return at any moment the coming of the Lord could never be said to be “at hand” and this passage simply makes no sense.

2. 1 Thess. 1:9-10 – The idea here is an expectant waiting for the Lord’s return.  If the “wrath to come” is that of chapter 5:3 and 9, called “the Day of the Lord” (5:2).  This is the “wrath” we have been delivered from.  If my previous argumentation holds any water then this is not wrath after the Second Coming.  If it is the Coming itself then it is hardly earth-shattering news for saints to be told they won’t get stomped on. (more…)