Archive for the ‘Eschatology’ Category

Keith Mathison and I have a fair amount of shared history.  We were at RTS Orlando together.  We spent lots of time talking books and theology together while we worked in the bookstore.  We worked together at Ligonier Ministries for a few years too, at one point sharing an office (sorry Keith).  He remains at Ligonier, and continues to write in his spare time.

While we were in seminary, he worked on his first book, Dispensationalism: Rightly Dividing the People of God? which is the fruit of his journey from dispensationalism to covenant theology.  I was one of the people who gave him some feedback on the early drafts.  Some smarter and well-respected people looked at it too.

His book Given for You,  on the Lord’s Table is a very good study of Calvin’s view and its development within Reformed Theology.  I own, but have failed to read Post-Millennialism: an Eschatology of Hope.  It is one of the areas in which we disagree, but I should get to it eventually.

His latest book, From Age to Age: the Unfolding of Biblical Eschatology looks to be very interesting.  And probably more accessible than Vos’ Pauline Eschatology.  Just a hunch. Keith most likely put together another well-researched, meaningful book.  I only have one question: where is my review copy?

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I began reading Martyn Lloyd-Jones on John 2 this afternoon.  He begins by discussing who Jesus is, and the function of miracles.  Since there can often be lots of misunderstanding, I thought I’d put down some of what the Doctor said, while I listen to the Doctor on-line.

First, the word John uses is “sign”.  “Our Lord changes the water into wine as a sign of his glory.”  Later, Lloyd-Jones reasserts that “miracles are attestations of his person and of his Godhead.”  This indicates the purpose of the sign, to reveal who Jesus is and showing that He speaks as God’s spokesman.  This is why the Apostles were able to perform miracles.  Jesus continued His ministry (Acts 1:1) from His seat at the right hand of the Father (Acts 1:2) through the Apostles empowered by the Spirit (Acts 1:8).

Second, he defines a miracle as “a supernatural action.  It is an action which is above nature.  It does not break the laws of nature but acts in a realm above.”  It is common to think of miracles as “violating the laws of nature.”  Here Lloyd-Jones disagrees.  God is not breaking laws, even laws He created.  It is an act above (super) nature.

What does Lloyd-Jones mean by this?  He gives what I think are 2 slightly different answers.  1. “What is a miracle?  Well, it is when everything happens more quickly; it is the whole process speeded up.”   He immediately continues that thought what something that sounds different to my feeble mind.  2. “God, who has normally been acting through the laws of which he has put into nature, suddenly acts independently of them and works directly instead of indirectly.”  Furthermore, “He normally chooses to act in an ordinary, orderly manner, but when it pleases him, he may give some manifestation of his glory and power in an unusual and exceptional manner.”

The first seems more to do with an acceleration of the normal processes.  The second has to do with God working immediately, or directly, rather than through the normal means he has established.  A miracle is God working apart from ordinary means to manifest his glory and for the good of his people.  “Wait a minute!” you say.  “Where did you get that last bit?”  Oh, the context of this miracle of turning water into wine and every other miracle we find in Scripture.  God is revealing some of his glory and bestowing good to his people.

Yesterday I was reading The Reason for God by Keller (who often refers to the Doctor) and came across something I’d heard him say in a sermon and wanted to go back to.

“Miracles are hard to believe in, and they should be.”  Miracles defy us precisely because they are supernatural and our sinful hearts are so resistent to faith.  Keller points to their purpose: “They lead not simply to cognitive belief, but to worship, to awe and wonder.  Jesus’ miracles in particular were never magic tricks, designed only to impress and coerce.”  He brings the aspect of glory back into the picture, in order that we might fall to our knees in worship.  The goal is that we would receive the messenger, and the message which would cause us to worship.

Back to Keller: “You never see him say something like: ‘See that tree over there?  Watch me make it burst into flames!’  Instead, he used miraculous power to heal the sick, feed the hungry, and raise the dead.  Why?  We modern people think of miralces as the suspension of the natural order, but Jesus meant them to be the restoration of the natural order.  … Jesus has come to redeem what is wrong and heal the world where it is broken.  His miracles are not just proofs that he has power but also wonderful foretastes of what he is going to do with that power.  Jesus’ miracles are not just a challenge to our minds, but a promise to our hearts, that the world we all want is coming.”

Keller puts miracles into a redemptive-historical context.  They are foretastes of the restored creation that benefit us NOW.  They are an intrusion of the eschaton into the present.  Jesus produces worship in people through these appetizers of glory and restoration.  An over-realized eschatology expects miracles at every moment, forgetting that the fulness of the restoration is Not Yet- to be received and experienced at the end of time.  The prosperity gospel is part over-realized eschatology and part enculturation to consumerism & materialism (being seduced by the harlot of Babylon).  An under-realized eschatology would say that God does not give any such glimpses of the ultimate restoration of creation.  Most Christians live somewhere in between these positions.  Some of us are fairly skeptical, and some of us demand that God intervene directly in our affairs as we wish.

But as Lloyd-Jones continued in John 2, he reminds us that Jesus gently rebuked Mary.  He was not at her beck & call to perform tricks.  Rather, Jesus was sent by God the Father to do his will.  Jesus will perform miracles when it is appropriate to reveal his glory and do good to his people.  We are to trust him to do what is good and right, rather than trying to manipulate him into accomplishing our will.

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Lately, I’ve seen this mini van driving around time with this on the back:  Time has an end- 2011.  I usually saw it in traffic, but today it was in the parking lot of Wal-Mart.  So I was able to get the web address.  Through Family Radio I was able to link to the Time Has An End site, which promotes Harold Campings new book on eschatology which asserts that time will end in 2011.

Not content with the fact that only the Father knows the established end, and thinking he can out-Whisenant Edgar Whisenant (he of the 88 Reasons the Rapture will be in 1988, followed by 89 Reasons the Rapture will be in 1989 both of which were obviously WRONG).  Actually, Camping has done this sort of thing before.  In 1992 he predicted the rapture would take place on September 27, 1994.  That qualifies him as…. a false prophet according to Scripture.  Can we stop doing this, please?!

Just for fun, the Rapture Index is currently at 159 (the record high is 182).

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Salvation Belongs to the Lord: An Introduction to Systematic Theology by John Frame lies somewhere between Packer’s Concise Theology or Sproul’s Essential Truths of the Christian Faith and the more thorough texts like Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology or Charles Hodge’s 3 volume Systematic Theology

John Frame’s volume can be technical at times.  But it is fairly thorough.  He is usually fair concerning those views with which he disagrees.  This book is not about polemics, but is an expression of humble orthodoxy.  He does propose particular doctrinal views (Reformed, Presbyterian and Covenantal) but doesn’t attack brothers who hold differing views.

The strength of the book for me was the consistent outworking of triperspectivalism.  What is that, you may ask.  It is the consideration of 3 connected perspectives when we seek to understand well, anything.  These perspectives are related to the Lordship attributes that Frame laid out in The Doctrine of God, and summarizes here when discussing God and the Trinity.  Those Lordship attributes are authority (normative), control (situational) and presence (existential).  The normative perspective is objective, and focuses on what God says in His Word about all things.  The situational perspective regards our circumstances.  The existential perspective regards our person.  We cannot truly understand either the situational or existential apart from the normative.  In other words, we see and understand our sinfulness or weakness and the falleness of our circumstances in light of God’s Word.  That Word reveals how we must change personally, or how we should act to change our world.  Truth is never to be understood in an abstract way, but addressing particular people and places.  I hope that makes sense.

But this is the theological method Frame is using.  He holds this loosely, thinking it a good pedogological tool.  He does not judge those who don’t utilize it.   His final chapter concerns ethics, and uses the triperspectival understanding to make sense of counseling and life change.  I find this approach most helpful for my ministry (when I remember to utilize it).  I’ve got numerous triangles written throughout the book to understand how things fit in the triperspectival model.

Some interesting or important things in the book:

“Theology is the application of Scripture to all areas of life.”  The focus is on application, not abstract ideas.  Theology matters to how we live, and we need to remember that it is supposed to.

He considers the Order of Decrees (infralapsarianism vs. supralapsarianism) as unbiblical speculation.  I have seen that discussion to be fruitless and harmful to people. 

“Adoption, belonging to God’s family, is the height of our privilege as God’s people and the beginning of our heavenly reward.”  Couldn’t have said it better.  I think I may have preached a sermon on adoption as the heights of the gospel :-). 

Although he believes the “Presbyterian system offers the best balance of authority and freedom”, “the well-being of the church has more to do with the work of the Spirit than with the form of government.” 

In his discussion of baptism he rightfully de-emphasizes mode.  The word baptism does not always mean immerse.  He does make a mistake in referring to Luke 11:38 as proof of this.  The Greek text does refer to their hands.  In washing their hands, they could have immersed them in a bowl.  Or they could have poured water on them like we do.  That text is not clear.

Salvation Belongs to the Lord is a good book to use if there is some variety of belief in a group of leaders or disciples.  It can help them work through some theological issues together, exhibiting for them charity in the process.  The reader is left to answer those thoughts that are contrary to their own position.  I would recommend it highly as an intermediate introduction to systematic theology.

His discussion of eschatalogical options is charitable.  He aligns most closely with postmillenialism, but is not dogmatic because he thinks this issue is not as clear cut as we tend to make it.  BTW: amillenialism is technically a form of postmillenialism.  Frame makes much use of the already-not yet framework popularized by G.E. Ladd.

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This the end of Velvet Elvis.  The final chapter is called Good.  And the point is the church should be doing good in society.  Rob Bell wants nothing to do with Christians who retreat from society, focusing on getting to heaven and “saving souls.”  In some ways, Rob provides a good critique of much dispensational thinking.  As usual, Rob seems to provide an over-correction.

Rob does a great job of laying the groundwork for the fact that Jesus will be restoring creation (Romans 8).  Our personal salvation is a part of this cosmic renewal Jesus has begun, which will be completed when He returns.

What Rob neglects is that while we await His return, those who die in Christ are in heaven with Him.  And they shall return with Him to renew the heavens and earth, which shall be our dwelling place with God forever (Revelation 21-22).  He lays this out as the expectation of the prophets in the Old Testament.  Paul’s eschatology is not a departure from OT eschatology (2 peoples => 2 destinies).  Rather, we join true Israel (not replace) in receiving the promises.

There are some “interesting” statements made.  Things that would make the Scriptures unclear to most Christians, and lead some in unhealthy directions.

“Jewish writers like John did things like this all the time in their writings.  They record what seem to be random details, yet in these details we find all sorts of multiple layers of meaning.  There are even methods to help decipher all the hidden meanings in a text.”

Hidden meanings…. dangerous stuff in my mind.  His footnote brings us to Matthew’s genealogy.  There he develops this numerology deal with David’s name in Hebrew (the numbers add to 14, which is how many people make up each section of the genealogy which is supposed to shout “King, King, King” to us.  Most people will go “Cool, I didn’t see that.”

It is not hidden.  Matthew’s Gospel starts with saying Jesus is the son of Abraham and the son of David.  He is the fulfilment of the promises given to these 2 great men of faith.  He is the long awaited Seed who will be for the blessing of the nations, and the King to sit on David’s throne.  It is right there in plain sight, for all to see.  And those themes (expansion to the Gentiles and Jesus as King) run all the way through Matthew’s Gospel.  No secret knowledge necessary to understand some hidden meaning.

It is this promise to Abraham that is important in understanding some of the implications of election.  Problem is, Rob ignores the issue of election for salvation (which is the context of most of the statements concerning our election).  He majors on the minor theme of how we are to be for the blessing of the nations.  Christians need to hear that message too, so we don’t run and hide from society.  We seem to forget that the early church entered a very corrupt society and transformed it with the gospel.  The early Christians took care of the poor and abandoned (as Julian the Apostate noted and applauded).  They saw this as a function and picture of the Gospel.  They did not separate this from the Gospel of salvation.

Sadly, Rob would appear to do this (as the Social Gospel did years ago taking Sheldon’s In His Steps too far).

“And this is because the most powerful things happen when the church surrenders its desire to convert people and convince them to join.  It is when the church gives itself away in radical acts of service and compassion, expecting nothing in return, that the way of Jesus is most vividly put on display.  To do this, the church must stop thinking about everybody primarily in categories of in or out, saved or not, believer or nonbeliever.  … To treat people differently based on who believes what is to fail to respect the image of God in everyone.”

We are to love all- even our enemies.  But family ties being greater responsibilities.  We see this in Paul.  A person who calls themselves a Christian must provide for their family (1 Timothy 5:4-8).  We are to do good, especially to those in the family of believers (Galatians 6:10).  This is a function of our adoption into God’s family.  We should treat all people well, and our family in Christ better.  All people are made in the image of God, but some participate with us in the blessings of salvation.  This is the kind of neglect of God’s whole counsel that irritates me.  By flattening it out, Rob can mislead people just as much as those he is reacting against.  This is what I mean by over-correction.  If your plane is off course, you correct it so it arrives at the proper destination.  You don’t just yank the steering column hard in the other direction and pray for the best.  That is dangerous, not just for you but all those following you.

So ends a book that says some great things, and some really bad things.  Discerning people can identify both and benefit from the good things.  But Rob’s intended audience would appear to be people who don’t have the ability to discern those things.  And they will suffer for it.  And that is sad.

Repainting Mission from the Great Commission => Creation Mandate (reversing the progression of revelation)

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I’m just being playful there.  Discussions of eschatology often bring out the worst in Christians (strawmen, attacks on the man, inflammatory comments).  Sometimes you wish this could be settled by sending a champion from each side into the steel cage to settle this like ancient, ungodly men.   John MacArthur’s comments have opened some communication as he desired.  Some of that has been good.  And some not as good. 

Justin Taylor has done us two good services.  First, he provided links to Samuel Storms’ explanations of the amillenial position.  I did not realize that both Justin and Samuel are amil-brothers.  Sometimes you get the feeling that only Presbyterians and Dutch Calvinists are amillennial these days.  I’m sure Sam Storms does a better job than I could in explaining the position.  (I do have a large chapter in yet another unpublished book on Matthew 24- 3 books and counting!.  Maybe one day I’ll put that, and some evalutations of the history, doctrine and critique of dispensationalism on the blog.) 

Monergism has a short response to John MacArthur’s assertions.

Additionally, since some people were having problems with the links he provided, Justin got permission to post Sam’s list of “problems” necessarily found in both varieties of pre-millennialism.

His first post on the topic, with all the links, has some great discussion on the matter.  People are disagreeing graciously, so we are able to put away the steel-cage.  But, if some of you get unruly…. we’ll have to toss you back in.

I don’t want to spend lots of time on this issue- as if this were a eschatology blog (like a self-respecting Calvinist I’m focusing on all of providence, not just the tail end 🙂  ).  I’ve seen too many people be obsessed with this stuff, particularly in a way that makes them unproductive for the kingdom now.  So go out there and solve global warming by eating your veggies, biking to work and buying those indulgences- ah, offsets.  I booked a flight Monday, for business, on Expedia and had the opportunity to purchase offsets.  I thought it was pretty funny.  But really, as a Christian & Calvinist I love creation- viewing it as neither the object of exploitation nor worship.  Stewardship- filling the earth to subdue it and bring it under God’s rule because we are made in His image.  Yeah!

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In keeping with the latest issue of CT, these are in no particular order.  This goes beyond the good book moniker to those that shaped, and reshaped my mind and heart.  (Links will take you to the Westminster Theological Seminary Bookstore.)

Dan Allender (often with Tremper Longman): Bold Love, The Healing Path & Intimate Allies.

Jerry Bridges: Transforming Grace & The Joy of Fearing God.

J.I. Packer: Knowing God, Keep in Step with the Spirit, Rediscovering Holiness.

John Piper: Desiring God, God is the GospelThe Purifying Power of Faith in Future Grace, & Let the Nations Be Glad.

John Owen: The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, On Sin & Temptation.

Jonathan Edwards: The Works of Jonathan Edwards Vol. 1, Charity and Its Fruit.

Thomas Boston: Human Nature in its Four-Fold State.

Jeremiah Burroughs: A Treatise of Earthly-Mindedness, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment.

Mark Strom: The Symphony of Scripture

Randy Booth: Children of Promise (finally someone explained it so this credo baptist in reaction to his Roman upbringing could get infant baptism)

A.A. Hodge: The Atonement

Mark Driscoll: Radical Reformission (I’ve just started Confessions of a Reformission Rev.)


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Restoring Broken Things is the latest collaboration between Steven Curtis Chapman and his pastor, Scotty Smith.  The subtitle is: What Happens When We Catch a Vision of the New World Jesus is Creating.  I would best describe it as an introduction to Reformed Eschatology.  It does not get hung up on questions of the millennium and such, but focuses primarily on the vision of the renewed heavens and earth.  It seeks to understand that vision, and talk about how that vision pulls us into the future.  What we experience now is not disconnected with that vision.

What is distinctively Reformed about the book is the focus on the reality of the two kingdoms, and the reality of the already/not yet.  This book is not about the abandonment of culture.  It is about the brokenness of culture, and Jesus’ commitment to renew culture.  He is already renewing culture through us.  But that renewal is not yet complete or immutable.  When He returns, He will free creation from its subjection to the curse (Romans 8 ) and consummate the kingdom that was, is and is yet to be.  (Or as Richard Pratt used to say Inaugurated, Continuing and Consummated).

This is a very winsome book.  The purpose is not to bash other people’s viewpoint, but to redirect them.  It begins with the truth that creation (including humanity) is Broken Beyond Repair.  Creation can’t fix itself, and we cannot fix it.  We need someone from outside creation to come and fix it- the Restorer of Broken Things, namely Jesus who is God in flesh.  It goes into a little bit of narrative theology when talking about the importance of story, particularly the story of redemption.  Individual chapters are devoted to Restoring God’s Broken Creation, Broken Lives, Broken Relationships, Broken Worship, Broken Worshipers, God’s Broken Church and Broken Culture.

The chapters are filled with excerpts for Steven’s songs (and songs by others), Scotty’s sermons and personal stories that illustrate the topic at hand.  This is a book that is easy to read, but not mindless.  There is much to mull over if you take the time.  It is a very good book, and I recommend it to anyone thinking about what on earth God wants them to be doing. 

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