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Posts Tagged ‘Eschatology’


In 1973 R.C. Sproul’s first book, The Symbol, was published. It was an appropriate title, but not one that grabs attention. This book is now in its 4th edition, and has its 4th title. In 1982 it was released as Basic Training. And in 1998 it was released as Renewing Your Mind. It has been recently updated and released as What We Believe. This is probably the best title this volume has had because it goes straight to the point. The book is about the Apostles’ Creed and therefore basic theology for Christians.

While I have not read previous editions, which is surprising to me actually, this is not the same book. It is updated and interacts with some newer challenges and has contemporary illustrations. This book is very much what you expect from R.C. Sproul. He presents theology and philosophy (his undergraduate degree is in philosophy) in an understandable and interesting way. His purpose is revealed at the end of the first chapter:

“The following chapters offer a contemporary explanation of its teaching- not to give a historical exposition of each point, but to apply its basic tenets to contemporary faith-issues.”

This means it is not an exhaustive book. It does not get into all the historical controversies that it addresses. This is an introductory book. This is not Herman Witsius’ 2 volume work (my copy seems to be missing) or even Michael Horton’s book We Believe. It isn’t like Rooted by Cannata and Reitano with its missional focus either. This really is basic training. While I would be interested in many of the historical controversies the Creed addresses, not everyone is.

In basic training, a drill sergeant will deconstruct you before building you into a soldier. This book, in some ways, seeks to deconstruct elements of a non-Christian world view to build up a Christian one.

He begins with the words “I believe” to talk about what faith is. He talks about content, assent and faith. Faith is rational, not a leap into the existential dark. Saving faith looks to and delights in Christ. Faith is not superstition either, this is seen most clearly in suffering. Faith complicates life because it brings an ethical system with it. True faith will produce a changed life; an increasingly holy life.

“To say that faith is reasonable is not to confuse faith with rationalism. Rationalism emphasizes the mind’s ability to understand all reality without help.”

This is why R.C. says “Faith involves confessing more than professing; in the final analysis, it is a platform of commitment to the will of God.” The content of our biblical faith should fill our minds and find a happy home in our hearts so we become more like Jesus.

Faith is not faith in faith, but in God. Here Sproul stresses the need for content. He notes a rally by Louis Farrakhan where he was surrounded and applauded by a number of “Christian” pastors. The god Farrakhan believes in is incredibly different from the one “we” do. There is also existentialism’s impact on Christian theology that drove it to liberalism and the Jesus Seminar nonsense that robbed theology of its content.

From there he moves into how we can speak of God, and can’t. He discusses the hidden God who is also the God revealed. In the midst of this he brings out Moby Dick, one of his favorite novels and the subject of his dissertation.

“Our talk of him is legitimate because he has entered into the arena of human activity. We confess not only that there is a God, but that God can be known and that our knowledge of him can be meaningfully communicated.”

One of the challenges that comes up is creation. While he isn’t pushing a 6 24-hour day creation, he focuses on our dignity as a result of creation. The other option is chaos, the loss of dignity and of values. God is both above creation (transcendent) and actively involved in creation (immanent) thus ruling out panentheism and deism respectively.

He then moves into Jesus as the conclusive revelation of God. He briefly interacts with the contemporary attempts to remove Jesus from history or separate a historical Jesus from the church’s theology of Jesus. He focuses on many of the names of Christ to reveal who He is.

His chapter on the virgin birth addresses the challenges presented by the attack on miracles. He also defends the historic Christian view from the common rabbinic (and liberal) view that “alma” in Isaiah doesn’t necessitate a virgin birth. The New Testament, however, clearly does teach that Mary was. “alma” doesn’t exclude virginity, and Matthew’s account clarifies it.

One of the weak links in the book is the chapter on eschatology. He sticks closely to the Creed, but doesn’t really address any of the evangelical views that in competition with one another. Perhaps this reflects his earlier lack of commitment to a millennial position. There are a few other places where I wish he would offer greater clarity.

This is really a book for those who are new to their faith, or the Apostles’ Creed. While not necessarily simplistic, Sproul is introducing concepts to people. More advanced readers will not be challenged enough. But it is one to keep on hand to help those younger in the faith.

[I received a complimentary copy of the book for the purposes of review.)

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I have an odd “relationship” with Richard Gaffin. While in seminary, he came to teach a one week course Studies in New Testament Eschatology. I sat in for a few, but missed at least half of them.

At some point I bought his book Resurrection and Redemption: A Study in Paul’s Soteriology. Based on the ink used to underline in it, I have been reading it at 3 different points in my pastoral ministry. Often, I suspect, just prior to Resurrection Day. I would inevitably get bogged down or distracted by some other book I needed to read.

That being said, this is a difficult book to review now that I have finally finished it. I suspect that much of what was in that class is found in this book. For Gaffin, as it was for Vos, soteriology is eschatology!

In the forward, Sinclair Ferguson notes:

“In particular, Resurrection and Redemption raises important critical questions for the traditional formulations of the ordo salutis in Reformed theology. … One of our more serious malfunctions in some contemporary evangelical teaching has been the tendency to offer the benefits of the gospel virtually separated from Jesus Christ as the Benefactor. Consequently salvation is severed from the lordship of Christ.”

This points to a few of the important threads of this book. First, taking a redemptive-historical approach Gaffin does indeed challenge the traditional views of the ordo salutis since it neglects our union with Christ in which we receive all the benefits of salvation. The absence of this union with Christ is what lies behind many of the then contemporary issues regarding the lordship of Christ.

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The second section of The Explicit Gospel by Matt Chandler with Jared Wilsom addresses the “gospel in the air”. If the gospel on the ground is the still photo of justification, the gospel on the ground is the movie that provides the context for the gospel. It addresses the meta-narrative of the Bible. What this meta-narrative does is help us see our personal salvation in a larger context of God’s glory and plan for the universe.

This is not a new idea. He quotes Martyn Lloyd-Jones as stressing the need for both the personal and cosmic sides of the gospel. We are to live in the tension instead of focusing exclusively on one. Fundamentalists live in the personal while liberals tend to live in the cosmic. Both are true. Both are in Scripture. So we must hold one in each hand. Chandler does a great job of balancing the two instead of affirming one at the expense of the other. This is something Greg Gilbert struggled to do in What is the Gospel?.

As a result, they display a good theological method. The chapters run thru Creation-Fall- Reconciliation- Consummation. They spend a lot of time in Romans 8 and Revelation 21-22.

“The bottom line is that science is in a constant state of subjectivity and do-overs.”

In the chapter on Creation, Chandler lays some cards on the table. He’s a scientific agnostic. I like the phrase and found this section interesting as he criticizes those who want to place science above Scripture and embrace theistic evolution. He is critical of BioLogos. He looks at some articles about the scientific process as well as how the 1st and 2nd laws of thermodynamics are incompatible with (macro) evolutionary theory.

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It has been quite some time since I’ve done anything concerning Global Warming.  While looking for books available for review, the title The Global-Warming Deception caught my eye.  I neglected to notice the author’s name.

Grant Jeffery is a Dispensational author prone to write books about the coming global government and similar conspiracies.  The premise of his book is that man-made global warming is a hoax perpetrated by “elites” of various kinds to open the way for a global government which will oppress people.  He has two main elements to his proposition.

The first main element he addresses is his Dispensational pre-tribulational and premillenniel understanding of the end of the world.  He asserts this in the first few chapters, and pretty much assumes his readers are on board with him.  I’m not on board with him in this matter (I used to be).  What few passages he uses to assert his position are largely taken out of context.  Those passages deal with THE Roman Empire, not a Revived Roman Empire.  On this point, he fails.

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We pick up my dialogue with Keith Mathison about his book Postmillennialism: An Eschatology of Hope.

Cavman: I guess this is where my defensiveness arises, to a degree.  I see spiritual change as real change.  If someone is really regenerate then they are being sanctified and having a positive influence in their family and community.  As the church in a region or nation grows, there are material benefits that overflow into the region and nation.  Many of these things may be common grace benefits, but are still an outflowing of the work of Christ.
For instance, where Christianity has become the dominant religion, there is usually an increase in material prosperity, health care, technological development and moral standards.  There also seems to be a decrease in things like political corruption.  As I ponder the influence of Islam on cultures, I see very advanced cultures being suffocated, increases in poverty etc.  It was Christians, for instance that put an end to slavery in the Western world.  Hopefully Christians will put an end to it in other parts of the world.

I don’t see this as making me postmillennialist.  Like Gary DeMarr, I suspect we think things are worse now because we know more about other parts of the world.  Worse things happened before, but people didn’t know about them and most things didn’t make the history books.

I get the impression that there is a similarity in the hermeneutics of premillennialism and postmillennialism toward literalism.  Many of the prophecies are in poetic sections of the prophets.  I don’t think I’m trying to spiritualize the texts away, but understand them properly rather then think they must be fulfilled in a particular way like the Pharisees did, thereby missing Messiah, and some premillennialists do.  “All the nations” for instance.  I believe all nations will be represented among the elect (thinking temporally), but I don’t think this means there has to be a worldwide revival so that all the nations are coming at the same time.  I’d love to see a worldwide revival, and the conversion of most Jews- but I don’t see Scripture necessitating that.

I’d better think of a question, huh?  Sorry about the digressions.  You mentioned theonomy.  Perhaps some are uncomfortable with postmillennialism due to its connection with theonomy.  Not all postmillennialists are theonomists, but all theonomists are postmillennialists.  You’ve spent more time studying this than me, and have more relationships with theonomists than I do.  What is the bridge from your understanding of postmillennialism and yours?

KM: I don’t think there’s any need for defensiveness since I’m not arguing against what seems to be your main point here.  I heartily agree that spiritual change is real change.  The contrast I am drawing is not between spiritual and real.  That’s a false contrast that assumes or implies that the spiritual is not real.  Instead, I’m drawing a contrast between visible and invisible.  As I mentioned in the previous response: “What I object to is the idea that the growth of Christ’s kingdom is entirely invisible and confined to the spiritual dimension of existence and will have no visible manifestations in history.”  The words “entirely” and “confined” and “no” are key.  There are aspects to the growth of Christ’s kingdom that are invisible, that occur in the spiritual dimension of existence.  These are very real.  Regeneration is invisible but very real.  My point is that the effects of the growth of Christ’s kingdom should not be confined to only the invisible spiritual dimension of reality.  The effects of sin, of Satan’s kingdom, are not thus confined, and neither are the effects of redemption and the growth of Christ’s kingdom.

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Books on postmillennialism are rare these days, because postmillennialists are relatively rare (though the number is growing).  200 years ago, a very large number of Christians were postmillennial.  I have friends who are postmillennialists, one of whom wrote a book.  I’ve finally read that book.  Keith Mathison wrote Postmillennialism: An Eschatology of Hope because many people misunderstand this view, and he wants to persuade more Christians that this is the biblical eschatology.

Disclaimer: I probably should get my eschatalogical journey out on the table since this can often color how we view this subject.  As a young Christian, I read lots of books by Dispensationalists on eschatology (because, sadly, they seem to be the ones inundating the market with books).  So, from 1986-1990 or so I was a dispensational premillennialist. But I was finding that Scripture was disabusing me of this view.  By the time I went to seminary in 1991, I was an historic premillennialist without realizing what my view was called.  I was initially suspicious of amillennialism and postmillennialism.  By the time I left seminary I was an amillennialist, and have remained so for 15 years.

Hermeneutical Considerations This is where Keith starts, and for good reason.  He lays out some Presuppositions and Definitions.  He lays out his presuppositions about the existance of God, His willingness to communicate, the authority of His Word, our being made as image bearers and ability to receive that Word before hitting interpretive considerations.  He concisely lays out the necessity of faith, the need to let Scripture interpret Scripture, the role of community and tradition in intrepreting Scripture.  It is only after this that Keith defines the 4 most common eschatalogical views (quiz, I’ve named them all already- what are they?).

“The thesis of this book is simple: Postmillennialism is the system of eschatology that is most consistent with the relevant texts of Scripture, a covenantal approach to Scripture, and the nondisputed doctrines of Reformation theology.”

He just dropped a term he hadn’t mentioned: Covenant Theology.  In the second chapter he distinguishes between Covenant and Dispensational Theology.  He was a student at Dallas Theological Seminary before he went off the theological reservation and I met him at Reformed Theological Seminary.  This is a SHORT chapter, but he concisely defines & critiques Dispensational Theology and then explains Covenant Theology since most American Christians are essentially unfamiliar with Covenent Theology.

Historical Considerations What the church has believed on this issue is important.  It is not definitive or authoritative.  It is also a mixed bag as various theologies came into being and were clarified over time.  The last of these to come into being is Dispensational Premillennialism (though there have been premillennialists for quite some time).  He shows that the historical claims some have made for their positions just don’t hold water.  Postmillennialism was the main position during the time of the Puritans and into the early 20th century, however.

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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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