Learning to Pray with the Apostles

I am in the middle of teaching a small class on prayer. I recalled recently a series I did a few years ago on prayer, and thought I would share it again.

Additionally, I am teaching a class on prayer right now. The class is streamed live every Friday night at 6:30pm PST. Both the link for the live stream as well as the archives of the videos and notes can be found here: Friday Night School of Prayer

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The Constantinian Shift

The “Constantinian Shift” is a term used by some groups to describe the changes in the theology of the Christian church in the 4th century. It is generally agreed that the dramatic changes in Roman political stances towards Christianity were the primary catalyst for this period of self-redefinition.

In short, it appears to have happened something like this: Over 200 years of marginalization and persecution by the Roman Empire were easy to explain. Jesus told them this would happen. The Apostles echoed it. Both Jesus and the Apostles explained that these things would precede His return, the establishment of the Kingdom of God, and the resurrection of the dead. The threat of death by the Empire had an answer – resurrection and eternal life!

In the early 4th century, Constantine I not only ended a long period of Roman persecution of Christians but made Christianity the official cult of Rome. The change in status and privilege in the Empire was a confusing time for Christians. No longer could they easily locate themselves in these familiar exhortations to endure persecution and marginalization. Soon, the Blessed Hope taught by the Apostles lost the centrality it once held in the life of the early church. The return of Jesus and the resurrection from the dead became practically irrelevant and were soon the focus only of a few religious creeds.

Lastly, the church became concerned (if not obsessed) with retaining and fortifying its privileged status within the Empire. The Blessed Hope gave way to the present hope of ensuring safety and influence for Christians. “It is for the good of the world that the Church prospers”, they said. This sentiment solidified the shift and would create a centuries-long rift between much of the church and the lives and teachings its first Apostles.

This shift in theology and its effects are still felt strongly in our modern Western context. May God grant us the “Maranatha!” cry again.

Israel’s God and the Future

If you read the Bible like a story, the God of Israel stands out as unique to the gods of the nations in numerous ways. We often think of His sovereignty – the fact that He created and upholds everything – as the primary, if not the sole distinctive. One of the most overlooked of these divine characteristics, however, is the fact that Israel’s God knows the future. Isaiah records God’s taunt to the foreign gods and those who want to worship them: 23Declare the things that are going to come afterward, that we may know that you are gods… (Is 41:23)

When they cannot… “Behold, you are of no account…he who chooses you is detestable.” (Is 41:24)  In other words, Israel’s God is functionally unique to the other gods of the nations. He knows what is going to happen in the future. Even more, He insists that He has already told the nation of Israel what is to come. Beginning with the Torah (e.g. Dt. 4:30, 31:29), and later in the prophets (e.g. Da.10:14, Mic. 4:1) the God of Israel told them what would happen in the ‘latter days’. The man who truly relied upon God would believe this testimony and wait for it – even amidst delay. (See Hab. 2:3-4)

Later, Peter warned that some would lose heart and forsake this simple faith that God would do what he said.
3 Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, 4 and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.” (2 Pe 3:3–4)

May God grant all of us to keep trusting in what is to come. Though it delay, God’s Word is sure. What He has declared from the beginning will come.

Tradition and Heresy: New Ideas and Apostolic Teaching

What has Athens to do with Jerusalem,” a second-century church father famously prodded. And by this, he explains, “Our instruction comes from the Porch of Solomon.[1] Those familiar with this passage from Tertullian will recall that his crosshairs are not fixed on pagan ideas, but rather on the trend of interpreting Biblical/Christian ideas in pagan ways.

Tertullian’s world saw the increasing threat of the Bible and teachings of Jesus being viewed through pagan glasses. Notice, the alternative to the pagan tradition by which some were interpreting the Scriptures was not contemporary insight, majority consensus, or even his own teachings – it was the Apostolic witness. The ‘Porch of Solomon’ references the preaching of Peter and John in Acts 3. Tertullian clarifies a few sentences earlier,

“In the Lord’s apostles we possess our authority; for even they did not of themselves choose to introduce anything, but faithfully delivered to the nations (of mankind) the doctrine which they had received from Christ.”[2]

Apostolic Tradition

Strangely, even the word ‘tradition’ (if not the concept entirely!) has become a catchword to reference a host of negative ideas related to the insincere or self-righteous practice of ‘religion without relationship’ within the Western church. Tertullian, like the rest of the early church fathers, associated it with safety.

The word behind the English word tradition in the NT is the Greek word paradosis. While the Gospel writers portray Jesus with a somewhat (though not entirely) negative view of the ‘tradition of the elders (Pharisees)’ (Mt 15:3, Mk 7:13), the Apostolic teachings were viewed as traditions which were reliable, and which led to everlasting life. Paul was encouraged and thus commended the Corinthians that they had ‘maintained the traditions’ (I Co 11:2) just as he handed them down to them. The Thessalonians were to, ‘stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us.’ (II Th 2:15), and to keep away from others who were not living, ‘according to the tradition which they received from us.’ (II Th 3:6)

‘The Teaching’

Closely related to this idea in the Apostolic writings is ‘the didache’, ‘the teaching’. John’s second epistle exhorts,

9 Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son. (2 Jn 9)

Please note that none of John’s audience listening to the passage above relates the ‘teachings of Christ’ with the red letters from their daily reading of the New Testament that morning. Living prior to wide circulation of any of the written Gospel accounts, the earliest disciples of Jesus depended on the Apostles to tell them about Jesus’ teachings.

41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. 42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. (Ac 2:41–42)

Once for All Handed Down

Tertullian’s view of the apostolic tradition is merited because if the death and resurrection of Jesus, as true historical events, have informed how we must live before God, then faithful eyewitnesses of the events are essential to the message. Their faithful testimony is essential because eternal life does not lie merely in the belief that these events took place in history, but in interpreting these things correctly. Tertullian’s concern wasn’t with those who were indifferent or disbelieving about the death and resurrection of Jesus, but with those who interpreted those events in a foreign way. Tertullian’s opponents also called themselves ‘Christians’.

The teaching that was ‘once for all handed down to the saints’ (Jd 3) came to us via the Apostles. They seemed to have understood their unique apostleship in this way. In nominating a replacement for Judas, Peter,

21 Therefore, it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, 22 beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.” (Ac 1:21–22)

The impartation of ‘the mystery’ of the Gospel clearly has its beginning in the teaching ministry of Jesus. However, it also appears to culminate in the days prior to his ascension. Luke concludes his first volume with an explanation of what the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets have said.

27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself…45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. (Lk 24:27, 45)

Luke’s second volume commences with what is likely the same event. It appears this is a validation in Luke’s mind for the Apostolic mission. These forty days of instruction about the Kingdom of God were the headwaters from which the Apostolic tradition grew.

3 After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. (Ac 1:3)

Tradition and Heresy

In contrast to the tradition of the Apostles were the different heresies which arose in the various local assemblies. Often, incorrectly, used as an insult or to express the height of one’s disagreement with a religious idea, ‘heresy’ simply means a divergent tradition (or group) for interpreting the truth. The English word comes from a Greek word, most often translated ‘sect’ in our English translations of the New Testament. The Pharisees were a sect (lit. ‘heresy’) ‘the sect of the Pharisees’ (Ac 15:5). The Sadducees were also a sect or heresy (Ac 5:17). The early followers of Jesus were known as a Jewish sect or heresy (Ac 24:5, 14). These were ‘sects’ or ‘heresies’ in that they each presented a different tradition for interpreting the Law and the Prophets. (As we saw in the reference to Luke 24 above, this was exactly what Jesus handed down to Apostles – a tradition for interpreting the Law and the Prophets.)

Heresies were also teachings or traditions which separated the listener from the teaching or tradition of the Apostles. Schisms developed in Corinth (I Co 11:18) as a result of these alternate traditions or heresies (I Co 11:19). ‘False teachers’, warned Peter, would come in the future in order to ‘introduce destructive heresies’ (II Pe 2:1).

The Continuation of the Tradition

It is unfortunate that the Gospel has become muddled to the point that the Apostolic testimony has been reduced to the common denominator of belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus. In contrast to this, we have the pattern of growth and eldership of the early church. The post-apostolic leaders were appointed exclusively due to their acceptance of the apostolic testimony (II Tim 1:13), their ability to repeat it (Tit 1:9), and the conformity of their lives to it (I Co 4:16-17).

Paul’s priority in appointing the first generation of leaders is seen clearly in the sending of Timothy to Corinth.

16 Therefore I exhort you, be imitators of me. 17 For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, and he will remind you of my ways which are in Christ, just as I teach everywhere in every church. (1 Co 4:16–17)

Timothy was not only faithful himself, but able to impart the ‘ways which are in Christ’. Paul appeared to envision this as a perpetual leadership pattern. His words to Timothy, who was in Ephesus at the time,

1 You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. 2 The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. (2 Ti 2:1–2)

Similarly, to Titus in Crete,

7 Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. 8 Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. 9 He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. (Tt 1:7–9)

New Ideas about the Gospel

The fact that the phrase above – NEW Ideas about the Gospel – is of little concern to most modern readers is very alarming. The fact that no historically discernable connection can be made between what the Apostles taught and the way that they lived, and many of the most popular teachings in the Western church right now merits a response like Tertullian’s, “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?

Here are a few modern ways in which these new ideas are communicated. Again, ‘new’ to you is not necessarily of concern. ‘New’ to Paul and Peter, on the other hand, is by definition a heresy.

  1. The Kingdom Now/Dominionist movement: Let’s start with an easy one. Not only do we have an alien teaching, but the New Testament records no such agenda being received from Jesus. The Apostles clearly did not see a takeover – whether militarily or merely by influence – of Roman territories as being connected to the mission which they received from Jesus.
  2. The Cessationist movement: An unfortunate example of attempting to correct modern error with a man-made tradition that has no connection to the Apostles of Jesus. A handful of passages from I Corinthians obscurely applied to the close of the season of the gifts of the Holy Spirit with the canonization of NT texts is one of the most widely accepted ‘new’ doctrines out there. No one in the early church viewed these passages this way – most notably, the author.
  3. The Prosperity Gospel: This one is far too easy to pick on, so I’ll say little on it. This one is not only novel chronologically, but also geographically restricted. If the message still can’t work in the region where the Gospel was first preached…well, you know the saying, ‘If it looks like a duck…’ This is a heresy folks.

Some of the teachers within these novel streams actually propose that novel theology is a good thing. Others have proposed that their insights into the real nature of the Gospel were too much for the primitive Apostles. It often takes many words and special insights to present yourself as a follower of Jesus in the way Paul and Peter were if you don’t teach the same things or live in the same way. Don’t fall for it. Friends, what makes the Gospel message relevant to this generation is the same thing that made it relevant to Peter’s and John’s. The Gospel is the power of God for salvation, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. That is enough.

I hope this has brought some clarity both on the Gospel message, but also how we approach the holy subject of the Gospel of God. Grace to you all.

[1] Tertullian, Prescription Against Heretics, Ch. 7

[2] Tertullian, Prescription Against Heretics, Ch. 6

Richard Hays’ 7 Reasons Why the Church Needs Eschatology


I have been silent on the interwebs lately. I have been doing lots of prep for an upcoming course. I recently found this and wanted to share it. It is a summary of an article that I read recently. The summary is from a post by Michael F. Bird. The original article is by Richard B. Hays, the former dean of Duke Divinity School.

This portion of the article argues that the loss of apocalyptic preaching has damaged the church in many areas. I agree with Hays on this point and found the article to be very edifying. I pray this is a blessing to you all as well.

  1. The church needs apocalyptic eschatology to carry Israel’s story forward. Without a future oriented hope one cannot affirm God’s faithfulness to Israel and God’s covenantal promises become unintelligible. Or even worse, a faithless God means we have fickle deity whom we cannot be sure abut. God intends to vindicate his peple (Deut 32:36) at the appointed time when the Redeemer comes to Zion (Isa 59:20). These promises find their proleptic fulfillment in Jesus Christ in the church as a prefiguration of the eschatological people of God, which is a sign in itself of the full divine embracing (proslēmpsis) of eschatological Israel.
  2. The church needs apocalyptic eschatology for interpreting the cross as a saving event for the world. If we are to grasp the centrality of the cross, then we must see it as more than a propiatory sacrifice for the forgivnesss of the sins of individuals. The cross should be interpreted as an atoning even within a larger apocalyptic narrative where God destroys the powers of the old order and inaugurates the new creation (Gal 6:14-16).
  3. The church needs apocalyptic eschatology for the gospel’s political critique of pagan culture. The biting edge to Christian eschatology is that Jesus is the Lord to whom every leader and government will one day bow (Phil 2:9-11). Christian apocalypticism reminds us that Caesar’s power (in whatever form it takes) might claim to be totalitarian, but in fact it is transient. Christian loyalty to the Lord means resistance to the power, politics, and pleasures of the world around us. If we train our eyes on the ultimate reversal of fortunes then we will never become accommodated or complacent with the status quo in an injust world.
  4. The church needs apocalyptic eschatology to resist ecclesial complacency and triumphalism. The looming reality of a final judgment – a judgment that begins with the church – strikes a chord because it prevents the church from having grandiose concepts of its own importance (see 2 Cor 5:11–6:2). The church is a provisional servant of God, a life boat between shipwreck and salvage, and so must avoid becoming fat, sleepy, or abusive.
  5. The church needs apocalyptic eschatology in order to affirm the body. Apocalyptic eschatology is in one sense dualistic between certain temporal and spatial entities (e.g., heaven vs. earth, future vs. present, etc.). However, that dualism is never annunciated as a radical rejection of the material world in toto. For apocalyptic eschatology looks forward the the Creator’s redemption and renewal of the created order and his refusal to abandon it to decay. God redeemes what he creates. That is why Christians look forward to the resurrection of the flesh and not to the immortality of the soul (1 Cor 15:35-58).
  6. The church needs apocalyptic eschatology to ground its mission. The resurrection and ascension of Jesus was a sign that Israel’s restoration was indeed at hand (Acts 1:11). Yet it was also a call to engage in witness to the expanding kingdom. That witnessing inevitably brings the witnesses into conflict with a world hostile to the message of the lordship of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit empowers the church and forms the community as a missional organism that works out God’s purposes for redemption and judgment. Without this endtime perspective the content and urgency of the Christian mission is greatly retarded.
  7. The church needs apocalyptic eschatology to speak with integrity about suffering and death. Those armed with an apocalyptic eschatology need not live in denial of the sufferings of this age and the groaning that accompany it. Cynicism nor despair takes over Christians because they know that their telos is the resurrection of their body assured by the resurrection of Jesus’ body. Christians therefore know how to grieve with hope in the face of the horror of death knowing that every tear will one day be wiped away their eyes in the new creation.

Expert from Michael Bird’s post on article by Richard Hays. His post can be found here: http://euangelizomai.blogspot.com/2011/03/richard-hays-on-why-we-need-eschatology.html

Original article: Richard B. Hays, “‘Why Do You Stand Looking Up Toward Heaven?’ New Testament Eschatology at the Turn of the Millennium,” inTheology at the Turn of the Millennium, eds. L.G. Jones and J.J. Buckley (Oxford: Blackwell, 2001), 113-33.

The Gospel Foundations Course Live Videos

 

These are the sessions for the Gospel Foundations Course that I thought this past January. They were originally streamed live, and these are the archived videos. I pray that the course is edifying to you.

 

(1/11/16) Notes: GFC Session 1 – The Testimony of God

(1/18/16) Notes: GFC Session 2 – The Hope of the Gospel

(1/25/16) Notes: GFC Session 3 – The Covenantal Framework of the Scriptures

(2/1/16) Notes: GFC Session 4 – Repentance and Faith

(2/8/16) Notes: GFC Session 5 – The Witness of the Gospel

The Kingdom Question – Enjoy, Enforce, or Endure?

For a good portion of the past 2,000 years, one’s belief regarding the millennium determined much of the way they interpreted the Scriptures.[1] However, the past 50 years have seen a substantial change in the way the reign of Christ is generally perceived. Following a long period of dialog within Christian academic circles which explored Jesus as a historical person within an actual historical setting, a ‘middle ground’ reading of Jesus’ view of the Kingdom of God developed.

In the true spirit of academia this ‘sensible middle ground’ was to reject both a consistent eschatology[2], which viewed Jesus’ teachings as consistent with the apocalyptic prophets of Israel, as well as the realized eschatology[3] which held that Jesus’ teachings affirmed a realizing (spiritualization) of all of the things spoken by the Jewish prophets. Rather, they[4] concluded that the things that the prophets have said are both consistent (maintaining their same sense, and thus future) and realized (they have ‘in some sense’ been spiritualized, and are thus past/present) – thus, the familiar term ‘already, but not yet’. This differs from the sole discussion of Revelation 20 in that it encompasses the entire body of oracles given to Israel in the Old Testament more directly. What of the last things promised to Israel?

Obviously, this consensus has come to define the way that the Bible is read. From the academic’s scrutiny down to grandma’s daily Bible devotional, the ‘already, but not yet’ kingdom has become the subconscious decoder ring (picture Ralphie in front of the radio about to discover Little Orphan Annie’s secret message) for the Bible. It has become pre-supposed when we approach the Bible that the mystery of the NT was inaugurated (started, but not yet consummated) eschatology.

Perhaps the both/and kingdom’s popularity is due partly to its versatility in overcoming objections to the Johnny-come lately teachings that have come to define popular Western Christian movements. An inaugurated eschatology, after all, is not explicitly defined in the Scripture – and so it is likewise free from constraints. Many criticize the so-called ‘Manifest Sons of God’ doctrines which have made inroads into most of the larger Charismatic movements in the West. But on some level we must ask, ‘Why not?’ ‘Who says?’ After all, Jewish apocalyptic expectation is filled with descriptors of the glory which will rest on the saints in the age to come. If their eschatological hope has been inaugurated ‘in some way’, then who is to say that it has not been inaugurated ‘in this way’? I think we rely much more upon the sensibleness of Christian teachers than the authors of the Bible. ‘Its true there are not clearly defined parameters, but please don’t trespass them.

This framework is largely responsible for the obsolete use of the millennium as a hermeneutical anchor. The inaugurate framework affords Amillennialism the ability to generally affirm the hope of the prophets while somehow realizing/spiritualizing them all now with the exception of the resurrection of the body (and sometimes a new earth).[5] Likewise, Historical Pre-millennialism[6] (Ladd’s framework for inaugurated eschatology) views the Kingdom of God as preceded by the second coming of Jesus…except when it isn’t, because sometimes it is just such a bother! See for example how effortlessly George Ladd, the godfather of inaugurated eschatology and the Historical Premillennial framework, explains away some of the constraints of an actual Premillennialism.

The Old Testament must be interpreted by the New Testament. In principle it is quite possible that the prophecies addressed originally to literal Israel describing physical blessings have their fulfillment exclusively in the spiritual blessings enjoyed by the church. It is also possible that the Old Testament expectation of a kingdom on earth could be reinterpreted by the New Testament altogether of blessings in the spiritual realm..[7]

You see what he did there? This is Ladd’s PRE-millennialism. Scholarship at its finest…

What then does this actually boil down to? If it isn’t a millennium issue, what is the pertinent issue now? I suggest that it is the same issue that it has always been – enduring faith. After removing the fog of millennial allegiance what distinctions actually separate one reading of the Scriptures from another? The way I see it, there are only three options for the way that we can relate to the promises made by God. When considering the promises made by God to the Patriarchs and through the prophets either we will enjoy, enforce, or endure.

If they have already been spiritually realized, then we should enjoy this present age to the fullest. After all, if all that actually awaits us in the future is heaven – which was never spoken of by the prophets of Israel – then we should anticipate our best life now and our best life then. This is typified now in the Preterist/partial Preterist view. The only task at hand for the Christian is the task of realizing what has already happened, and reality the way it truly is. (Hello Gnosticism!)

If, on the other hand, they have only been partially realized – and even more, their realization relies upon human effort – then we must live to enforce those things spoken by the prophets. This always ends up being the end game for the inaugurated eschatology group. Some reject the aggressive language of ‘dominion’ and ‘takeover’ while some openly acknowledge dominion and enforcing the divine promises as their ministry agenda.[8] However, the language – as we have seen – matters little when it comes to how we interact with the promises of God these days. This view typically drives most of the larger Kingdom Now movements.

The final option can be seen, in my opinion, in the most straightforward reading of the Apostolic writings. The present age and the age to come were both logically and experientially distinct. The framework of ‘this (present) age’ vs. ‘the age to come’ is carried over from the OT to the NT (cf. Mt. 12.32-36, Lk. 14:14-15, Lk. 20:34-36, Tt. 2:11-13). Thus, the present age can be defined by enduring/waiting until the eschatological/apocalyptic arrival of all the prophets have spoken of. This seems it is the only possible explanation of Peter’s exhortation to ‘fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ’ (I Pet. 1:13).

The present age has its ups and downs, to be sure. However, to interpret these as the coming and going of the promises from the OT undermines a straightforward reading of the all of the Scriptures from where I sit. The very things (no redefined terms here) hoped for by the Pharisees were also the substance of Paul’s hope. (cf. Acts 24:14f) As a result, Paul takes for granted that his ‘present sufferings’ (Rom. 8:18) are not worth comparing to the glory that ‘will be revealed’ in him. Lest we think he awaits an inaugurated ‘glory’ in the present age, the deliverance for which he ‘waits eagerly’ (Rom. 8:23) is the ‘redemption of his body’ in the resurrection. Likewise, the ‘momentary, light afflictions’ which he and the Apostles were experiencing in the present age were contrasted with the ‘eternal weight of glory’. (2 Cor. 4:16f)

The Apostles also seemed to view the lives of the OT saints as exemplary since they ‘gained approval for their faith’ while not receiving ‘what was promised.’ (Heb. 11:39) This assumes a waiting/enduring relationship with what was promised. These, then became a ‘cloud’ (or a throng/crowd) bearing witness to us. (Heb. 12:1) This framework would also assume that they believed that things promised were guaranteed eschatologically to those who ‘endured until the end‘ (cf. Mt. 10:22; Mt. 24:13; Jm. 1:12; Re. 2:7, 10, 17, 26) in their faith.

The life of Jesus was also commonly communicated along prototypical terms, but never aimlessly. Rather His example is always communicated in terms of the way that he endured pain, suffering, and mistreatment while he entrusted His life to God, assured that He would do what He had promised. (cf. I Pe. 2:21ff, 4:1ff, 4:12ff)

So, when faced with the more pressing question regarding the Jewish apocalyptic hope, it seems that both the enjoyment view and the enforcing view lack support. Furthermore, all of the explicit language of the NT maintains the view of the OT that God’s Arm alone will bring redemption. Human effort to bring about the promises of God is condemned repeatedly both by Jesus (cf. Lk. 17:22-24) and by Paul (cf. Rom. 4:20-22). The work of bringing the Kingdom is exclusively God’s. No effort, whether apart from God nor in synergy with God, is able to bring about what God has foretold (Is. 63:5). While it is clear that a significant portion of redemption was the ‘dealing with sin’ by means of a divine atonement (Heb. 9:28), it is equally clear that the things for which the forgiveness of sin qualifies us were viewed as future by NT authors. In my view, this especially disqualifies the enforcing view of the Kingdom of God.

In conclusion, in dealing with the body of Jewish oracles following the death and resurrection of the Messiah three views have emerged in the last century. Either those oracles have been realized/spiritualized and we are now enjoying them, they have been inaugurated and should then be enforced to bring them about more fully, or they maintain their consistent meaning and we should endure until their guaranteed arrival at the return of Jesus. In my reading of the NT, its authors seem to unanimously confirm the latter.

[1] Although the terms associated with millennial belief (i.e. ‘amillennial’, ‘premillennial’, etc…) are relatively new, as early as the 2nd and 3rd centuries teachers used disbelief in an earthy, spatial Kingdom in order to introduce new frameworks for understanding the Scriptures as a whole. See Clement of Alexandria, Origen.

[2] See Albert Schweitzer, Quest of the Historical Jesus; Johannes Weiss, Jesus’ Proclamation of the Kingdom of God.

[3] See C.H. Dodd, Parables of the Kingdom

[4] Oscar Cullman is usually credited with first laying out this framework, but George Ladd is best known for popularizing it.

[5] See N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope

[6] See G.E. Ladd, The Presence of the Future

[7] G.E. Ladd, “Revelation 20 and the Millennium,” Review and Expositor 57, 1960

[8] See Peter Wagner, Dominion!

Paris, Islam, and the Threat of Things to Come

This is a rare post on a hot topic. My heart is heavy with much of the world as I read about the events in France and Beirut. I think that we all intuit that, while the death toll is horrific, it signifies something even more ominous for the rest of the world – certainly for the Middle East and the Western world. Many defenders of Islam will most certainly be confronted with the obvious question once again – is this a valid expression of the doctrines of Islam or a radicalized form of an otherwise peaceful philosophy? At the same time, many followers of Jesus will have their own questions to wrestle through. I hope to shed some light on these questions.

In the early part of the 7th century a young man, born and raised in a city known as a regional center of idol worship, was alone in a cave on the Arabian Peninsula when he began to receive ‘revelations’ from a voice – the voice of a demon. This young man was, of course, Mohammed – the prophet of Islam. The influence of this man or of these revelations on the earth since then is difficult to measure since the bloodstained inauguration of his new religion.

For the better part of the past 1,400 years nearly every man, woman, and child in the Middle Eastern region have been born and raised into this way of life and philosophy with little or no other options to consider. In the ancient world no one paused during their upbringing or formative years to consider what they would do with their lives. They would do what their fathers did. If their father was a farmer, then they would be farmers; if a slave, then they would be slaves; if a trader, then they would be traders. Likewise, young people don’t wake up in the Middle East to consider what religious system they will follow – even within the various streams of Islam – they will do what their fathers do.

While idolatry in all of its forms bears the same guilt and ultimately the same punishment before God, this unique collection of demonic doctrines have systematically shielded nearly a quarter of the population of the earth with the threat of suffering and death from virtually any witness of the Gospel. I think that this is what we all feel – the doctrines of violence, Jihad, invasion, subjugation, and terror. They feel closer now. We feel even more vulnerable now. And rightfully so – we are more vulnerable.

The reason for my blog is that the two differing views I have heard voiced by fellow believers on the internet (although my contact with social forums is very limited) are both short-sighted in my opinion. On the one hand, Christian non-violence is a foolish doctrine which attempts to apply the teachings of Jesus to politics by universalizing and Spiritualizing the Biblical teachings of the Kingdom of God. An example of this would be the attempted application of the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount (spoken to individuals on how they use their money, time, mistreatment, etc…) to the economic and foreign policies of your particular nation. (The foolishness of these ideas perhaps merits another blog, but for now it doesn’t serve my purpose to speak in detail about it.)

I think that this view sounds appealing to some because of the hateful stench of the contrary view. This second view primarily uses logic to nulify the misapplied passages of Scripture, and in the name of pragmatism and reason misapplies other passages (if they are quoted at all) to justify the great common goal which unites the atheist and the evangelical alike – preserving our own blood from being shed at all cost. I am not commenting on the wisdom or necessity of America or France to respond militarily to ISIS. I am questioning, what do the followers of Jesus of Nazareth have to do with the choices of these men or their consequences? We are destined to live forever in the glory of our Father.

What then of the Arab man or woman who was born without options? Has God made a way for this seemingly impenetrable barrier around Islam to be breached with the hope of eternal life? He has, but it is costly.

My accountability before God to follow Jesus has nothing to do with the political stances of the nation within which I live. It does, however, have everything to do with what I do when faced with the threat of my blood (or the blood of my family) being shed by evil men.

ISIS-Christians1

23 Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. (Jn 12:23–26 NIV)

The Son of Man had an hour that was approaching – the hour to be glorified. His glorification will produce many seeds after His own kind. Assuming his disciples would be among these, he instructs that if they choose to love their own lives when their hour would come then they would lose them. If they hated their life in this world/age, however, they would keep it for eternal life. If anyone wants to serve Jesus they must follow Him. Where he is (context indicates the cross), his servant will be there too – suffering for the sake of wicked and violent men inheriting everlasting life.

Brothers, the world knows nothing of this. Just like the young Arab, we are all born into a system which assumes the goal of life is to have your best life now. The Bible is a large book with many words. You can find any manner of word combinations in its text which appear to justify our sacred human right of self-love and self-preservation. However, you won’t find a crucified Messiah justifying anyone who lived with this aim on the Last Day.

When the threat of these violent men comes to our doorstep (and don’t think that God will save us from it because of the greatness or virtue of America) will this commitment to ourselves lead us to be ‘ashamed of Him’ (His conduct when confronted with the violent and unjust threat to His own life) and ‘His words’ (the proclamation of the Gospel to evil and violent men)? He will be ashamed of such men before His Father. (Lk. 9:26)

Or do we imagine that we will fight off the threat of violence and persecutions until one day, perchance, a random threat slips through the government’s watchful eye and we must take the bullet to the head while affirming belief in Jesus? Jesus’ response:

27 “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. (Jn 12:27 NIV)

What will we say when our hour comes? The answer is this – what do we do now when the threat of our hour looms? What do we do as we are faced once again with the fact that believers in other parts of the world actually have to follow Jesus, His words, and His example, while for us it is optional – an option that we seldom choose. Even more, if you want the admiration of your peers and Twitter followers, some special insight which excuses our refusal to follow Jesus to the cross will most certainly do the trick. Do we pity the pastor in Iraq or do we covet his place? Who is to be pitied here? My words are sharp, because once again the American church is confronted with the great and ultimate question – Is following Jesus the first choice, or is it the last resort?

I fear that we all know the answer to this question. Oh, that God would grant us to have no more options. I pray that being joined to Jesus in His suffering wouldn’t be viewed as a dreaded punishment, but the gracious gift given by God that we might share in the glory of His resurrection. (Phil. 3:10-11) That it would be granted to usnot only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake,’ (Php 1:29), and that we would be willing take up our own place in ‘filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions’ (Col. 1:24)…all for sake of Jesus’ name being proclaimed to wicked and violent men.

The threat of radical Islam is real. The risk of American blood being shed on American soil in your lifetime is legitimate. Choose wisely how you set the aim of your heart in light of the far off danger – it is how you will respond when the hour comes. Will you say, ‘Father, save us from this hour?’ Or do you believe, like the Lord Jesus did that, ‘for this very purpose you have come to this hour’. And so pray, ‘Father! Glorify your name’ (Jn. 12:27-28) in the American church!

The Prophetic Tradition and the Giving of the Spirit

The Spirit and the Prophets

Within early Jewish tradition the Holy Spirit had an unambiguous role. The Holy Spirit was the agent given by God by which He would direct the assembly. The Spirit rested upon Moses (Num. 11:17), upon the judges of Israel (Jdg. 3:10), and later upon David (Ps. 51:11). It could also be said that the Spirit was given to the prophets to do the work of a prophet. The link between the Holy Spirit and the prophet was so concrete in the Jewish mind that early Jewish literature uses ‘Holy Spirit’ and ‘Spirit of prophecy’ synonymously.

The Spirit was given both to instruct the prophets and to strengthen them to proclaim the message from God. Strength from God was vital to the prophetic calling since the message of the prophets was not only contrary to that of the more popular counselors and false prophets, but because the message also highlighted the guilt of the nation before God and called them to repentance.

Moreover, there is no other setting in which the stories of the prophets are communicated to us. The prophets appear exclusively amidst the backdrop of rampant idolatry and injustice with each scene concluding in a similar manner – the marginalization, persecution, and often martyrdom of the prophet. That such a response was anticipated is evident by the reluctance of the prophets when commissioned by God to deliver His message.

Jesus and the Prophetic Tradition

The life of Jesus is presented within the same tradition and is communicated along these same lines. His ministry began with a public receiving of the Holy Spirit, which would have been understood in no uncertain terms by those in attendance at his baptism – he was a prophet from God. He appears in the same setting as the prophets before him, has a message of cultural confrontation, calls the nation back to God, is rejected, and ultimately killed.

Jesus also encouraged his disciples to view themselves within this same prophetic tradition. A life of difficulty and rejection awaited them, just as it had the prophets before them.

10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Mt 5:10–12 NIV)

18 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. 20 Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.’ (Jn 15:18–20 NIV)

Also drawing from the prophetic traditions of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, they were to understand that there would be false prophets (Matt. 24:10f). False prophets appeared as sheep, but were inwardly ravenous wolves (Matt. 7:15). This was the implicit setting for their own calling. They were sent as sheep – like the prophets before them – amidst a culture of wolves – the false prophets. (Matt. 10:15)

Yet, their role as true messengers from God did not rely merely upon their association with him. They too, after being sent as apostles (Luke 6:12) were warned by him (Luke 6:20 ‘And turning his gaze towards his disciples , He began to say…’) to purge their own witness of those outward signs which were the distinguishing mark of the false prophets.

26 Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets. (Lk 6:26 NIV)

Their own calling, like the prophets before them, would assume rejection and suffering.

22 Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. 23 “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets. (Lk 6:22–23 NIV)

Thus, this pattern of life, marked by disagreement, marginalization, persecution, and martyrdom came to define the lives of John the Baptist, Jesus, Stephen, Paul, and the other Apostles. It was the apostolic ‘way of life’ (I Cor. 4:17) – not merely because it was the way in which the apostles lived, but because it was the way of life taught by the apostles.

Paul urges and warns the Corinthians against a foreign pattern of life. The things which marked Paul as a prophet/apostle sent by God were not merely marks of apostleship, but rather a way of life to be imitated.

9 For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings. 10 We are fools for Christ… We are weak… we are dishonored! 11 To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. 12 We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; 13 when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment. 14 I am writing this not to shame you but to warn you as my dear children. 15 Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. 16 Therefore I urge you to imitate me. (1 Co 4:9–16 NIV)

Paul, likewise, reassured the suffering assembly in Thessalonica that they were ‘destined for those things’ (I Thes. 3:3f) as faithful stewards of the testimony of God (I Thes. 1:8f). Peter also assured the assembly of the diaspora that they should not view suffering and trials as a strange thing (I Pet. 4:12).

The author of Hebrews highlights the same pattern of life which defined the lives of the prophets and patriarchs as a ‘cloud of witnesses’. (Note that a Biblical ‘witness’ is not one who observes, but one who testifies about something – namely the Gospel. Thus, they are bearing witness to us, not observing us.) The lives of the men who were ‘stoned’, ‘sawn in two’, ‘put to death’, etc… have become to us a cloud or assembly of witnesses to the path of eternal life.

Suffering Before Glory

No one endures such things because of their inherent virtue, but because they have a hope in God that is proven unshakable through many trials. Such is the path of all of the prophets, and of all who will inherit eternal life – suffering before glory. The sufferings of the present age are not worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed (Rom 8:18) in us at the resurrection from the dead (Rom. 8:23). The assurance that eternal life awaits those who are conformed to Christ in his death (Phil. 3:10f) is the work that the Spirit works in us.

Like the prophets before us, bearing witness to the truth establishes us in a pattern of life that proves and tests our hope in God. To shrink back from the testimony of God is to follow in the tradition of the false prophets – loving this present age, pursuing a life of comfort, surrounded by the admiration of men. Let us press on to better things. A very good friend has reminded,

‘”You only live once”, they say. They are dead wrong. We will live again.’

 

Learning to Pray with the Apostles Video Series

Dore Prayer

Hi everyone. I have made a new video series aimed at strengthening disciples in a life of devotion to God through prayer. It presents a brief overview of the way that the Apostles would have learned about prayer, and the manner in which they appear to have taught Gentiles who put their faith in the God of Israel to pray. It is a six-part series, and I will be posting a different video every Monday for 6 weeks. I hope that the series is a blessing.

**Note: Please forgive the ads at the bottom of the page. WordPress puts those up, and I’m not sure how to remove them.

Part 1: Introduction – Why learn from the Apostles?

Part 2: The Apostolic Theology of Prayer

Part 3: The Lord’s Prayer

Part 4: Wisdom and Revelation

Part 5: Prayer and the Need for Perseverance

Part 6: Courage to Proclaim the Gospel & Final Conclusions

Notes and Audio for the Gospel Foundations Course

Here are the notes and audio for a short course I taught this past Fall. As alway, feel free to write with any questions or comments. I pray this is a blessing to you.

1. Biblical Worldview – Notes

Session 1A: MP3     Session 1B: MP3

2. The Hope of the Gospel – Notes

Session 2A: MP3     Session 2B: MP3

3. Covenantal Framework of the Scriptures – Notes

Session 3A: MP3     Session 3B: MP3

4. Repentance and Faith – Notes

Session 4A: MP3     Session 4B: MP3

5. The Witness of the Gospel – Notes

Session 5A: MP3     Session 5B: MP3

Hope the course is a blessing. Let me know if you have any questions.

The Witness and the Spirit

This January I am going to be teaching a short course called the Gospel Foundations Course. In prepping for the class these last couple of months, a couple things kept standing out to me as I read through the NT.

  1. Bearing witness to the Gospel is NOT OPTIONAL if we are to continue in the faith.
  2. Being filled with the power of the Spirit is NOT OPTIONAL if we are to bear witness to the Gospel.

Thus, being filled with the Spirit and with power is NOT OPTIONAL for the believer since it is assumed that the believer has accepted the call to be a witness of the Gospel.

8 but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” (Act 1:8 NASB)

It is interesting to note that the disciples had already healed the sick, cast out demons, raised the dead, etc… (cf. Mt. 10:8, Lk. 10:17, Mk. 16:18) at this point in the story. What did the disciples think that they needed the Spirit for?

Immediately, those who heard Jesus command to tarry for the outpouring of the Spirit gave themselves to prayer (cf. Acts 1:14) as the means of waiting for the power of the Spirit. Following Peter and John’s arrest (Acts 3) they again pray to God for the Spirit’s power. This time it seems more clear what they viewed as the primary reason why the Spirit’s power was NOT OPTIONAL.

29 “And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence, 30 while You extend Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy servant Jesus.” 31 And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness. (Act 4:29-31 NASB)

It takes the Spirit’s power to be a witness according to the example that we have in ‘Jesus Christ, the faithful witness’ (Rev 1:5). Also, ‘Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city’ (Rev 2:13)

The Spirit’s power is NOT OPTIONAL because it takes the power of God to faithfully proclaim the Gospel in the face of opposition. It is absolutely intentional that the message of Christ crucified is ‘a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles’ (I Cr. 1:23) The offense of the cross produces the only environment for a true witness of the cross. Jesus could not be a faithful witness without a cross, neither could Antipas, neither can we.

We all feel the pain of reading these words. However, if we don’t look at them long and hard then we won’t be convinced of our desperate need for the Spirit’s power like these men were.

An early elder in the church in Jerusalem was ‘Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 6:5). When confronted with the threat of death he did not shrink back, but gave the faithful witness while being stoned. He cried, ‘Father, do not hold this sin against them.’ This is the only faithful witness of the mercy and patience of God, and it requires the power of the Spirit.

Biblical Worldview Class

This is a class that I taught in early 2012. I am presently reworking it to be a bit more comprehensive. However, several people have asked about some material to help them work through some of the difficulties in keeping the same Gospel as the Apostles.

That said, I also know that going through this all on your own can be a challenge. I would be glad to connect with anyone (if you are male of course) who wants to go through the course on a regular or semi-regular basis to help disciple you through it. If you’d like to connect over the class or anything else, shoot me an email: billscofield@thewatchredding.org

 Class Audio and Notes:

* To save files to your hard drive, right click on the link and select ‘save link as’.

Notes:

Diagrams:

Audio:

The Book of Acts and Mission of God

Why is the book of Acts in the Bible? I think a simple answer to this question can help us in a number of ways. First, it will help us tremendously when reading the book of Acts and the rest of the Apostolic writings to understand them in the way that they were originally understood. Second, and more importantly, it helps give us clarity on the mission that was given to the first believers – and thus to US!

There are two mistaken views of the NT which are very common in our day. The first is the liberal agenda of higher criticism, which attempts to discredit it and it’s claims. The second, while conservative, is somewhat superstitious in regards to the NT. This second view sometimes presents the NT as special by minimizing the role of human experience in writing it. Almost like the commandments handed down to Moses, things like the book of Romans are sometimes viewed as if they were handed to Paul on stone tablets.

God’s inspiration of the Scripture can rightly be seen both in His influence on the writers, as well as His influence on those men who chose to collect certain writings into a NT cannon. So, this is how we understand why the books of the NT were placed together, and why the book of Acts was included in it.

The motivation to include the book of Acts in this group of writings that would make up the NT cannon was very simple. During the first coming of the Messiah He choose a small group of men, gave them understanding of the OT Scriptures (Luke 24:45), and then sent them out to proclaim the Gospel in light of His Sacrifice and promised return. After several generations of believers, much like a massive communal game of ‘telephone’, the message began to loose some of its clarity. The message of the Gospel and nature of the commission grew somewhat ambiguous, and were subject to various explanations.

So, God inspired an idea of putting a book written by Luke, one of Paul’s companions, in the group of documents. The book is basically the story of the men (mainly focused on Paul) who lived with Jesus before and after His resurrection, and who heard directly from the Master’s lips what the Gospel was. When the Messiah Himself decided to wait to ascend to the Father for 40 days so that He can explain the nature of the Gospel and the Kingdom in great detail to these men, I REALLY want to know what they heard!

This is why I find the book so valuable! We still have so many voices inside of the church claiming to have radically differing gospels and radically differing missions. When I hear them, my question is simple. Is the message and mission that they are preaching clearly found in the book of Acts? If so, listen, learn, and go! If not, I cannot take the message seriously. A different mission usually means a different message, and a different message doesn’t lead to life.

Wrestling with the Ultimate

Growing up in Central America during my formative years resulted in a pretty intense culture shock when I moved back to the US at age 21. After 15 years of living here I think that one of the most defining characteristics of Western culture – including the Church – is an almost complete inability to reckon with the Ultimate. This is to be expected from a naturalistic secular society like the US. However, the near paralysis of the Western Church to wrestle with what is ultimate has been very defining in the life of the Church in America.

The Scripture is not overly complex in regards to what is Ultimate. It is, simply and singularly, the day when we give an account of our lives to our Maker. Paul references this constant awareness as the ‘fear of the Lord’ that keeps him and the other Apostles compelling men to be saved. (cf. 2Cor. 5:10-11)

The prophet Isaiah spoke about this coming Day:

12 For the LORD of hosts has a day against all that is proud and lofty, against all that is lifted up–and it shall be brought low; …the haughtiness of man shall be humbled, and the lofty pride of men shall be brought low, and the LORD alone will be exalted in that day. (Isa 2:12, 17 ESV)

So, being made by God for His own glory, men have lived for their own glory. God is merciful and patient with men because He loves his creation very much! He has delayed the coming of this Day of His in order to proclaim to all men that they should repent and be saved from this Day. ‘God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness’ (Act 17:30-31)

Paul said that constant awareness of this coming Day is what drove his life and ministry.(cf. 2Cor. 5:10-11) My observation is that any group I have ever been around – whether a church, a family, an organization, etc… – which has lost the centrality of this Ultimate moment is predictably characterized by two things:

The first – to be preoccupied with the glorification, success, pleasure, and exaltation of man. The most haunting words from the passage in Isaiah 2 is that ‘The Lord ALONE will be exalted in that Day.’ Nothing will remain in that Day that was for it’s own glory and exaltation. Everything that did not live for the glory of God ALONE will be brought low. This will be evident on that coming ultimate Day when these things are brought to light, and the glory of man is humbled.

The second – which is more of a symptom of the first – is  to be focused on completely trivial issues. The people who are not conscious of the Ultimate will be conscious instead of that which is absolutely inconsequential. My observation is that 95% of the quarreling in the church is a result of believers being zealous for things that don’t matter.

This is not only tragic considering the fact that we’ve been entrusted with the glorious Gospel, and essentially makes us a people of the Ultimate. It is also devastating to the true witness of the Church since our devotion to the trivialities which are common to the world (money, technology, diet, and COUNTLESS other things that are of no ULTIMATE consequence) is evidence to the unbeliever that our message is only as substantial as our life is long.

The Ultimate is simple and it is singular. The Ultimate is A DAY. The natural response to what is ultimate is also very simple. ‘that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf. ‘ (2Cr 5:15 NASB)

Parenting and Faith Pt. 2: Discipling Unto Faith

This is Part 2 of the Parenting and Faith series. Part 1 can be found here.

In the last part we addressed how absolutely essential it is to have a Biblical vision for your children. It is essential to Biblical parenting that we have a vision that is congruent with God’s plan and desired end for them. However, the very nature of discipleship and parenting assumes that we don’t just give information about the end, but we must impart understanding and wisdom about how to get there. What makes the Gospel “good news” is not only the fact of the coming Messianic Kingdom, but the fact that there is a way for us to be a part of it! The existence of the waterpark never made any of my children excited except they had hope that they might be able to go there someday.

Within the context of the Gospel the way to get there is faith. So, all of our parenting effort – while framed within the context of the age to come – must be directed to instruct them on how to have the kind of faith that leads to life. Biblical faith is going to be the subject matter this article, and I hope it will become the anchor strategy of your parenting from today onward.

Faith is a strange concept since it is so saturated with centuries of tradition, fighting, and conviction that have been handed down to us. What exactly is it that our children need in order to be counted righteous and worthy of the coming Kingdom? What is it that WE need?

What we mean by ‘faith’ is that gift from God (cf. Eph 2:8) to the heart of man by which we can be counted righteous before Him. This kind of faith was illustrated in Israel’s sacrificial system. Offerings were brought because of the sin and depravity (cf. Lev. 1-7) of the offerer, they confessed their sin upon the animal, and it was killed in their place. It was really straightforward and to the point. They were guilty before God (and thus completely disqualified from the promised Kingdom and resurrection), and were completely incapable of making up for their condition. Thus, a sacrifice was made on their behalf.

Here’s the kicker where I will loose most of you. The atonement only applied to cover their sin if they acknowledged their depravity (i.e. condition of being inclined to sin) and asked for mercy. This is the same exact condition for the new covenant, since the whole sacrificial system was a tutor to point them to the way faith in Christ (cf. Rom. 10:4) would work. The sacrifice has been made once and for all and no other sacrifice is needed , but our role of keeping faith in that sacrifice is a life-long venture.

22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation– 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant. (Col 1:22-23 NIV)

This is hard enough to accept for an individual; accepting this about your child is another matter. Little Tommy will stand before Jesus one day, and be counted righteous ONLY because he acknowledged his depravity before God and put his trust in the atonement of Jesus AS A WAY OF LIFE. This, in my opinion, is the greatest challenge to Biblical parenting/discipleship in the West. Little Tommy will need to know how to deal with this deceitfully wicked heart (cf. Jer. 17:9), but that is not going to happen unless you (parents) first believe it is true.

I know, I know! I’ve lost most of you. This is probably one of the most offensive blogs you’ve ever read. I want to assure you though, it is only as offensive as the Gospel itself. Here are two great pitfalls when parenting a depraved (i.e. human) heart:

First, to disacknowledge it by telling them it is not true. This idea, although it is the most widely accepted, will keep a person in bondage their whole life. I cannot say this strongly enough. If you don’t believe that you are depraved, then every time your actions and attitudes reveal something disastrously different than those of Jesus you will dismiss them as being a fruit of your circumstances. For example, you only yelled at your children/wife/brother because you didn’t get enough sleep/food/attention. You won’t admit, like Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, that you only yelled because you have a spirit of murder in your heart and you need the mercy of God to forgive you for partnering with that spirit. This philosophy to life will keep our children – or any of us – in bondage to building ideal situations/relationships/possessions where the true condition of the heart may be more easily ignored.

Second, tell them that it is all in the past. Tell them that after they said the sinners prayer, they ceased to have a heart that craves to serve itself at the expense of others. Often, what is communicated in parenting this way is, “You are better than that!” “I can’t believe you would do something like this!” or the best one of all “I expected better from you!” While I place clear expectations on my children to walk in righteousness, it must be done in a way that prepares them to deal with their own hearts. This philosophy will almost always (except an intervention by the grace of God) produce children who are always striving to live up to other’s (and God’s!) expectations and unspoken standards.

Most Christian children that I know right now have absolutely no tools for dealing with their depravity. Simple correction is often perceived as either an enormous insult or a devastating accusation. Like it or not, they are just like us. They will either assume everyone else is great and has it together and that they are the lone broken ones, or they will live in denial of their condition.  The conclusions to which these point, if not addressed, are often crippling.

Giving your child tools to deal with their depravity is essential to them having a life which God will define as a life of faith. Personally, I have found one of the most effective tools is the simple one that God left to the children of Israel. The simplicity of the sacrificial system, the casting of sin upon the sacrifice while acknowledging that we sinned because – as Jesus taught us in the Sermon on the Mount – we have a heart full of wickedness, has been very effective in helping my own children deal with this.

In my house, you get mercy when depravity is acknowledged. You receive no mercy when it is because ‘he hit me first’, ‘I’m having a rough  day’, or ‘the devil made me’. The simple acknowledging of ultimate guilt and the pleading for mercy on the basis of the sacrifice of Jesus is the mechanism that leads to life. Of course, there is also a commitment required to forsake my alliance with wickedness and to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. However, if you don’t get the first part right, then this part will be a fruitless pursuit of acceptance and approval based on my works.

My experience is that when I understand that God isn’t disappointed/shocked/surprised with me when I blow it, then I feel so encouraged to approach Him for mercy. If He loved me even though He knew this was true of me, then He is trustworthy. My children have proven this to be true. The steady acknowledgement of their depravity as the source for all of their failings, and the consistent mercy that is offered them when they acknowledge that they need it, have helped my older children mature tremendously both before the Lord and emotionally.

If you feel the Holy Spirit has been convicting you on this issue, then I know he has sufficient grace for you and your family. He alone is able to keep us from stumbling (cf. Jude 1:24). Father, I ask you to have mercy on all of these parents reading this article. We all need your grace, God. I ask you to give them clarity and wisdom in their parenting. We ask you to visit their children with the power of the Holy Spirit, and that from a young age they would cast their sin upon cross and find forgiveness and mercy. Thank you, Father. You are our only faithful example as parents, and we love You for it. You are a kind, kind Father. Amen!

Until next time, grace and peace to all of you broken but sincere parents…like me.

The Common Hope of the Early Church

The early church was very diverse. Many were Orthodox Jews who believed in Jesus, while others were polytheist pagans who had never even heard of the God of Israel prior to receiving the Gospel. While this fact alone sets the rapid advance of the Gospel in the 1st century apart as the most significant grass-roots movement in all of history, something even more extraordinary occurred within this context. The unique backgrounds, worldviews, and values from which they all came were all subjected to one common hope. 

“The early Christians hold firmly to a two-step belief about the future: first, death and whatever lies immediately beyond; second, a new bodily existence in a newly remade world… within early Christianity there is virtually no spectrum of belief about life beyond death… whereas the early Christians were drawn from many strands of Judaism and from widely differing backgrounds within paganism, and hence from circles that must have held very different beliefs about life beyond death, they all modified that belief to focus on one point on the spectrum… We have plenty of evidence of debates about all sorts of things, and the virtual unanimity on resurrection stands out. Only in the late second century, a good 150 years after the time of Jesus, do we find people using the word resurrection to mean something quite different from what is meant in Judaism and early Christianity, namely, a spiritual experience in the present leading to a disembodied hope in the future.  For almost all of the first two centuries, resurrection in the traditional sense holds not just center stage but the whole stage.”  N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (New York: HarperOne, 2008), 41-42

The reason why this took place (and why it DOESN’T happen today) is very simple – the Apostles from whom they received the Gospel had a common hope. The hope in the resurrection of the body at the coming of Jesus took, as Wright puts it, “the whole stage” within the early Church because this was the Gospel preached to them by the Apostles.  Take the Apostle Paul for example:

11 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope–the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, (Tts 2:11-13 NIV)

20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (Rom 8:20-23 NIV)

The reason that Paul could say “THE Blessed Hope” (the presence of the definite article ‘τὴν’ in Greek before ‘hope’ indicates that he is speaking of ‘the one hope’. Not one hope among many.) referring to the coming of Jesus and the resurrection of the body in another passage is because they were understood as one event.  

16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. (1Th 4:16-17 NASB)  

20 For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; 21 who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself. (Phl 3:20-21 NASB)  

20 But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. … 23 But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming, (1Cr 15:20, 23 NASB)

Likewise, Peter affirmed the singularity of the hope throughout his writings.

13 Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1Pe 1:13 NIV)

19 Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, 20 and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you–even Jesus. 21 He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets. (Act 3:19-21 NIV)

Beloved, we need shepherds like this. The message which anchors the hope of our faith in the age to come will never win a popularity contest here in America. It probably won’t even win a popularity contest amongst those who believe it! However, the persistence of so many leaders of the church in America to place the hope of men in this perverted age is not without consequence. Paul encountered it, and wrote Timothy about it.  

16 But avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness, 17 and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, 18 men who have gone astray from the truth saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and they upset the faith of some. (2Ti 2:16-18 NASB)What may have seemed an innocent error of spiritualizing the resurrection was disturbing the faith of believers there. Why? Because their hope was in the resurrection to come!  Paul, recognizing the appeal of the message, says that it will spread like gangrene amongst the believers there.  

 Brothers, my desire is for you all to remain steadfast in your faith through the times that are coming. There are many unknowns ahead of us, but we must have clarity on the main things. Right now, your ‘thing’ or ‘passion’ is not important to me. Set your hope on this age (whether in riches, influence, transformation, etc…) and you will be disappointed.  Teach others to set their hope in this age and you will suffer loss along with them.  

9 For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. 10 According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. 11 For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13 each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire (‘fire’ is a common description for the coming tribulation), and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. 14 If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. 15 If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. (1Cr 3:9-15 NASB)

  If you are looking at this for the first time, then I know it might seem pretty different. You may have defined hope differently. However, anything less than the absolute assurance of the coming of Jesus, the resurrection of the righteous, and everlasting life, is a fading and fleeting hope. Everything else will disappoint simply because nothing else is guaranteed.  The fact is that as long as humans die there will be longing in the human heart for deliverance. The human body was made to live forever, but there is only ONE MEANS by which creation will be restored – the ONE MAN that God has appointed judge of the living and the dead. This is our ONE AND ONLY TRUE HOPE.

Do Not Love The World

   “Do not love the world nor the things in the world…The world and it’s desires are passing away.” I Jn 2:15-17
John, the last living apostle, towards the end of the 1st century wrote this to encourage early believers to stand strong in the face of Gnostic teachings invading the church. Ironically, the very words that he wrote were later (even up to this present time) interpreted within these same Gnostic [1]assumptions. This passage, and dozens more like it, became interpreted as a call to holiness in light of the fact that God was going to destroy His creation.
The ‘world’ (‘cosmos’ in Gk.) is a word which simply means an order of things. Although, in theory, the cosmos could refer to the material structure of something – like the earth – the NT references to the world are almost always a reference to “the present order of how this world functions”. So, John’s encouragement, in context to the rest of his letter, would have been understood like this, “Don’t get attached to the present order of things or the result of such things, brothers. All of this is going to pass away!
Likewise, Paul encourages the Roman believers to “not be conformed to this world” (cf. Rom 12:2). This is a consistent message from all of those men sent to us by the Lord Jesus. Do not partake in the present order of things, since it (i.e. the order of the world, not the world itself) will be overthrown and crushed at the coming of Jesus.
That which is despised by Jesus – in contrast to the Gnostic teachers – is not the creation itself, but the fundamental order of it now. Man’s lust for wealth, power, comfort, and fame is what perverts the earth. Greed and self-preservation (vs. the love, and self-sacrifice which will define the Messiah’s government) are the primary motivators for every society on the earth presently. The dawn of the democratic society has more than proven this to be true, since every election is won or lost based on each candidate’s reliability to provide protection for me and my money.
It should not go unnoticed that John and Paul were both writing to believers within the church. Friendship with the world and implementation of its elementary principles are not simply problems with the modern church, they are fundamental weaknesses in the heart of man.
The great challenge facing the modern church is to regain its sojourning identity. Most church leaders would view a statement like John’s in an email from an overseer as out of touch and lacking vision. Our friendship with the world runs deep, and it’s elementary principles keep our ministries afloat financially.
The Apostles knew the troubles and persecutions which awaited the early church, and wrote these things in that context. The sojourning identity of the church is a great safeguard during these times. Believers who esteem this age and what it has to offer will either find themselves crushed by such events – or worse – outside of the faith entirely.
Thanks to God, our Father, for sending such men with the message of the Gospel originally. We have a great need for more elders like this. The hour is late, and we cannot afford to continue in this delusion of our making. Our love for the world and its ways are not hidden from God. The Christian language and rhetoric used when presenting our agenda does not deceive God about the motive of the heart. As pilgrims and sojourners let us follow His example so that we might say with Him, “the prince of this world is coming, but he has nothing in me!”


[1]Gnosticism, like it’s doctrinal ancestor Platonism, esteemed spiritual matters and despised physical things due to their belief in a fundamental perversion of materiality.

Parenting and Faith Pt. 1: An Overview of Biblical Parenting

   I have thought for a while now about writing a series on parenting. Not, by any means, because I consider myself an expert on the topic. I simply want to establish a Biblical worldview and framework within which Godly parenting makes sense. So, I’ve decided to make the first one a simple overview. I hope it is helpful. 

Like any other area of life – your worldview establishes your vision and values. Charles Kraft defines a worldview as “the culturally structured assumptions, values, and commitments/allegiances underlying a people’s perception of reality and their responses to those perceptions.1 

So, within this definition of a worldview, you have culturally structured assumptions, values, and allegiances which define your view of parenting. These assumptions may be inspired from the Bible, family tradition, secular culture, etc… The worldview of the western church has proven for decades to be more closely associated with that of the secular West. Primary evidence for this lies in the nearly identical vision which Christian parents and non-believing parents have for their children. 

Generally speaking, the western worldview is a naturalistic worldview (somewhat of a Neo-Aristotelian view). Naturalism is a worldview in which man defines his own reality based on his own perception. The logical outcome is to arrange life as if my present perception of reality were all that exists. Technically, the church in the West is mostly opposed to ‘naturalism’ since it undermines the authority of the Scriptures. However, the pie in the sky view of heaven and the age to come has mostly made them irrelevant in the playing out of our lives. Thus, while giving verbal affirmation to the supremacy of the age to come, our lives reflect a belief in the preeminence of this present age. 

So, what is the logical outcome of parents who live as if this age were the priority? They will eventually have children, and prioritize their lives to have a more excellent place in this age. Add to the equation the dynamic of the western church to separate the parents and their children on Sunday morning, and you simply have this worldview reaffirmed through arbitrary Bible stories. Stories like David slaying the giant and Peter walking on water become object lessons of how ‘little guys can do big things’. If church is done right, then we should expect well-adjusted, integrous, and successful contributors to society. 

My point in this isn’t to say that these things aren’t important for development, but to illustrate that if these things are made the AIM of raising children then we will raise children far short of the Biblical vision at best – apostate children at worst. 

In an abrupt contrast to this we find the Biblical aim for parenting. The Bible presents God as the One who is training, instructing, disciplining, correcting, encouraging, and suiting us for the age to come. Being uncreated, God is not as impressed with these 70 years as we are. He views them rather as a vapor, and something to be sacrificed for honor in the age to come. 

13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” 14 Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. (Jam 4:13-14 NASB) 

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; … 24 “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.  (Mat 6:19-20, 24 NASB)  

8 More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, … 10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; 11 in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.  (Phl 3:8, 10-11 NASB)

The logic of sowing 70 years of a temporal life with a weak body in order to reap unending years of everlasting life with a glorified body should be preschool economics. However, since this simplicity has escaped several generations of believers in the West, we need to look again at the example of Scripture. Whether I am praying with my kids, playing sports, wrestling, or preaching the Gospel to others with them – this is the ultimate aim of all of my energy with them. 

As believers in the Bible we only have one example from which to draw our plan for discipling our children. If our heavenly Father is concerned with suiting us for the age to come at the expense of this one and calling us to keep from being conformed to the desires, goals, and lusts of this age, what do we imagine our role as steward/parents should be? If this is the way in which our Father defines love for us, should we define it differently? 

13 Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, – (1Pe 1:13-14 NASB) 

15 Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. 17 The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever. – (1Jo 2:15-17 NASB)

I realize that this leaves many questions to be answered, and I hope to touch on many of the practicals in the coming months. But for now I simply want to leave you with a framework and worldview from which to view parenting. I think that other aspects of Biblical parenting are much more simple to understand within a simple Biblical framework. Practicals will come later. For now I exhort you to look at your vision for your children. Does it reflect a vision for the age to come and the resurrection like God’s vision for them? Or does it reflect a naturalistic view which assumes this ‘evil age’ (cf. Gal. 1:4) to be the apex of existence?

Tough questions, I know. But there is one area in which I consider myself an expert – thoroughly sucking in many areas, and watching the grace of God work and strengthen me. Ask for wisdom, and don’t be conformed to the elementary principles of this age. 

Until next time, Grace and peace to all of you broken but sincere parents…like me.   



Charles Kraft, Anthropology for Christian Witness (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1996), 52

The Gospel Timeline – Hope Simplified

  Before I was married I tried my hand at painting.  I had a couple of room mates at the time who were very talented painters.  Since I had little experience and no training in painting I asked for pointers often.

  One thing that both of my friends told me was that it was important to start with the big picture, and then take time to add the details.  They both assured me that this was the best way to accurately paint something that would be understood in the way that you wanted it to be.  After my first few paintings I found this simple advice to be extremely helpful!  It was helpful to me as the painter to systematically portray everything I wanted to portray, but it was ultimately very helpful for others observing the painting.

   One thing I have found in studying the Scripture is that God does things this way.  As mentioned before, God is a masterful story teller.  Not only is He masterful at telling the story, but since He is the Creator He can actually tell the story in history through the creation of events and story lines.

  When God began to lay out the story line of the Scriptures He started with a really basic timeline – the details were filled in later.  The basic framework established in the Bible is a chronological framework of this age followed by the age to come.  This age became characterized by the curse upon creation because of the sin and pride of man.  The age to come is characterized by the universal (not gradual) removal of the curse, and the absolute dealing with the sin and pride of man.  




  Pretty simple, right?  Well, the authors of the Bible thought so.  This simple timeline was not just the framework by which they processed new information, but it was the foundation of their hope.  How do we explain evil on the earth?  Paul affirms several decades after the resurrection of Jesus that we are still in the ‘present evil age’ (cf Gal. 1:4).  This wasn’t a 5-point sermon proving to anyone that this was not the age to come.  The Gospel message itself makes pretty clear when this age, and when the age to come are.  (cf. Mt. 12:32; Mk. 10:30; Lk. 18:30; 20:34; Rom. 8:18; 1 Cor. 1:20;2:6ff; 3:18; 2 Cor. 4:4; Gal. 1:4; Eph. 1:21; 1 Tim. 6:17; Tit. 2:12; Heb. 6:5)

  Is providing for your family hard?  Oh, then it is not the age to come.  Do you know someone whose body is sick?  Anyone who has died recently?  Anyone who is oppressed by someone else?  Or has anyone seen the promised Messiah physically reigning on Mt. Zion? Or perhaps all of those lost loved ones who have died in Christ, have they come out of the grave yet?  

  Well then, what about healing?  What about prophecy?  Raising the dead?  These are all, by simple definition a part of this age.  Who needs to be healed if they have a glorified body?  Who needs an impression from the Spirit on your heart when we will all know Him from the least to the greatest?  

  How then do we understand why the power of the Spirit is given, and what purpose it serves?  Hebrews 6:5 calls the power of the Holy Spirit the ‘powers of the age to come‘.  This simple phrase helps us understand a lot.  First, we know that they are to be understood within the simple timeline.  They are native to the age to come, but they are given now in a down payment form (cf. Eph. 1:13, 2 Cor. 1:22, 2 Cor. 5:5) in order to bear witness to the age to come.  

  So, as the Spirit’s power (the Lord knows how desperate I am for the Spirit’s power) is given in our midst it is to bring us back to the simple timeline of the Gospel.  We are in this present evil age, but the age to come is certainly coming.  We are assured all the more as we see the powers of that age being demonstrated now by the very ones who have been qualified to participate in the age to come by the blood of Jesus.  

  My encouragement to you is to not be lead astray from the simplicity of the Gospel.  All of the cunning and inspiring language – however sincere – should not distract us from the simple expectation that kept the Apostles in eager hope for the age to come when wickedness, tyranny, death, and sin will be abolished.  Until then, bear witness of that age by the Holy Spirit’s power and by your conduct.  It truly will come.  It is our blessed and only hope.

13 Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1Pe 1:13 NASB)
11 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope–the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, (Tts 2:11-13 NIV)

  Grace and peace to you all as we continue to meet together, encouraging one another to steadfastness even more as we see the day drawing near.