Archive | January, 2012

The End Times in a Nutshell

Considering how the issues of prophecy continue to be one of the most popular and interest-gaining subjects in theology (not to mention this being the year 2012!), I thought it well worth my time to write a primer on how to look at eschatological schemes. Eschatology refers to the “doctrine of the end times.” To be sure, there is no one “Christian” eschatology. In fact, there is not even one “Evangelical” eschatology. The history of the church has seen and allowed for much diversity concerning these issues due, in my opinion, to the relative obscurity of Scripture on the subject. The central issues, agreed upon by all orthodox Christians over the last 2000 years, are that in the last days Christ will come, there will be a resurrection of the dead, and a judgment will follow. Please keep that in mind.

There are a lot of fancy words used to describe how one might label themselves with regard to end-times issues. Pre-Millennial, Post-Tribulational, historicist, Chiliastic, Preterist, historic premillenialist (which seems to be the most popular these days), and are just some of these labels. My only goal here is to try to clear the cobwebs and help people construct a basic structure of the spectrum of eschatology in a nutshell.

There are two categories that I am going to introduce. Then I will follow by showing how these categories relate to the various positions held. These two categories are “Approach” and “Event.” As you will see there is an approach taken to each event. The events describe broad categories that are separated because of the nature, timing, and interpretation of the events they represent.

Category #1: Approaches to Eschatology

Preterist: Belief that the event(s) (such as the tribulation) happened in the past.

Historicist: Belief that the event(s) happen throughout history.

Idealist: Belief that the event(s) are symbolic or parabolic and are always present.

Futurist: Belief that the event(s) are yet future.

Category #2: Events of Eschatology

Event #1: Tribulation: This describes many apocalyptic happenings described primarily in Matt. 24 and Revelation 4-19. Included in this category is the anti-Christ, bowls of wrath, 144,000 witnesses, the Mark of the Beast, and the like.

Event #2: Millennium: This describes the reign of Christ on the present earth (i.e., before the new creation).

Event #3: The Second Coming and The New Creation: This describes the judgment and the creation of the new heaven and the new earth.

(Please note, I have not included issues of “personal eschatology” due to their lack of relevance to one’s eschatological scheme. Issues of personal eschatology include hell, the state of the soul between death and resurrection, etc.) Continue Reading →

The Doctrine of the Trinity in a Nutshell

The doctrine of the Trinity is a foundational cardinal truth in Christianity. All three major Christian traditions – Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox – throughout the history of the Church, have been united on this doctrine. A denial of it constitutes a serious departure from the Christian faith and a rejection of the biblical witness to God as he has introduced himself to us. Sadly, many go  astray from the faith due to their refusal to accept these truths. It is my purpose to give a brief overview of the doctrine.

Basic Definition: Christians worship one God who eternally exists in three persons, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, all of whom are fully God, all of whom are equal.

Now let’s break each of these down.

One God:

Christians are monotheists. This doesn’t merely mean we worship only one God, but that we believe there exists only one God. This is a basic teaching throughout the Bible (Deut. 6:4; Isa. 44:6; Isa. 45:5; Mark 12:29; 1Tim. 2:5; 1Cor. 8:4).

While this finds support in the Bible, the very definition of God demands that there only be one. In other words, “God” is not just a being to whom you pray or ascribe great worth and value, but the transcendent creator of all things (Heb. 11:3). Romans 1:18-20 informs us that natural theology and rational thinking necessarily demand there be a singular source for all things. Polytheism (which is the belief in many gods) must redefine the term “god” to mean simply “really powerful beings,” since there cannot be many ultimate creators of all things. There can be only one Uncaused Cause, only one Unmoved Mover, and only one Uncreated Creator. God is the only non-contingent (not dependent) being in the universe. Therefore, his essence is necessarily one.

Eternally exists as three persons:

Christians do not believe in contradictions or logical fallacies. Rational thinking and harmony of truth are found in the essence of God’s being; therefore, God cannot exist as a contradiction. Christians do not believe in three Gods for the reasons listed above. However, we do believe Scripture has revealed that God, while one in essence, is three in person. We often talk about this as “one what, three whos.” While this is a great mystery in the Christian faith, there are many mysteries that we are compelled to believe due to necessity and what has been revealed in Scripture. For example, we believe that God created all things out of nothing (Heb. 11:3; doctrine of creation ex nihilo). We believe that God is the sovereign first cause of all things, yet man is morally responsible for his actions. We believe that while Christ was complete in his humanity, he also remained complete in his deity (often called the “hypostatic union”). We believe that the Bible is the product of humans and the product of God. None of these, including the doctrine of the Trinity, are contradictions, but they are great mysteries.

While the Bible does not use the word “Trinity,” we believe that it is an accurate description of what the Bible teaches concerning God. After all, the Bible does not use the word “Bible,” but we can legitimately use the word to describe a collection of books we believe to be inspired. The Bible does not use the word “aseity,” yet we believe that it accurately represents a Biblical attribute of God. God is “of himself,” in no way dependent upon humans for his livelihood (Ps. 50:7-12).

While there are many passages in the Bible which necessitate a Trinitarian understanding of God, there are a few that stand out more than others:

John 1:1

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was fully God.” (NET) Continue Reading →

T.D. Jakes Not Modalist? An Update from the Elephant Room

My friend Trevin Wax is helping us out as he “Live Blogs” through the Elephant Room. Beyond controversy (at least in the small circles I run in) is how I would describe the invitation of T.D. Jakes to the Elephant Room to discuss spirituality, truth, and theology. He has traditionally been defined as a Modalist theologically. Essentially what this means is that he denies the traditional definition of the Trinity by describing God as one God who shows himself in three different ways. The orthodox definition of the Trinity is that there is one God who eternally exists in three different persons: One what, three whos. Modalism, sometimes described as “Jesus Only” and sometimes Oneness, to say the least, undermines our understanding of God as he has revealed himself and rapes the Trinity of the eternal relationship upon which so much of our theology is built, understood, and practically lived out.

So, is T.D. Jakes a Modalist? I don’t know. Maybe not (or at least not anymore). Here is some of the stuff that he said that caught my ear:

Jakes: I believe the latter one is where I stand today. One God – Three Persons. I am not crazy about the word persons though. You describe “manifestations” as modalist, but I describe it as Pauline. For God was manifest in the flesh. Paul is not a modalist, but he doesn’t think it’s robbery to say manifest in the flesh. Maybe it’s semantics, but Paul says this. Now, when we start talking about that sort of thing, I think it’s important to realize there are distinctives between the work of the Father and the work of the Son. I’m with you. I have been with you. There are many people within and outside denominations labeled Oneness that would be okay with this. We are taught in society that when we disagree with someone in a movement, we leave. But I still have associations with people in Onenness movements. We need to humble both sides and say, “We are trying to describe a God we love.” Why should I fall out and hate and throw names at you when it’s through a glass darkly? None of our books on the Godhead will be on sale in heaven.

Disclaimer: I have never read any of Jakes’ books. I barely even know his voice as I have not heard him speak much (I think he screams a lot?). I think he sweats almost as much as I do. And I think he wrote a book about losing weight. Oh, and I have heard that he is a modalist. I have even told others this. For this, I am saddened as I might have been spreading misinformation. (Theology teaching 101: if you don’t know for sure, keep your mouth shut.)

If this paragraph were put together by someone else that I have a tradition of following and know is orthodox, it is not too bad. It even has a “tweetable moment” or two in it! Let me deal with a few things though.

“I am not crazy about the word person”: You know what? Neither am I. It is sufficient, yet in no way exhausting. Anyone who has studied the history of this word “person” in a trinitarian context understands that it never, even in the Latin or Greek (persona, hypostasis, prosopa), conveyed everything it could. It often creates misunderstandings since the English “person” carries some connotations that we would not apply to God. Nevertheless, we work with what we got. Barth did not like the word “person”. I agree with Calvin who said this about our articulations with respect to the Trinity: Continue Reading →

17 Pure Speculation and/or Fringe Questions About Theology – Help Me Out

Here is a list of seventeen questions that either qualify as pure speculation (i.e., there is no way to know) or fringe (i.e., questions that are odd and hardly ever asked). I came up with 17 of them. Please add to the list in the comments. I may start a blog series dealing with each one in the near future.

1. Had Christ not been killed, would he have died?

2. How long were Adam and Eve in Eden until they fell?

3. How did Peter recognize Elijah and Moses on the mount of transfiguration?

4. Why did God put the Tree of Good and Evil in Eden?

5. Did Adam and Eve have belly buttons?

6. What was God doing before creation?

7. Could Christ have died another way and secured redemption (e.g., stoning)?

8. Why did Christ say, “It is finished” before he died? Was his physical death not required for the atonement, or did he mean, “It is just about finished”?

9. Did Christ ever get sick?

10. Had Adam and Eve not been booted out of Eden, would they have lived forever, even after the Fall?

11. Why did God put an angel to guard the tree of life? Why not just destroy it?

12. Is there a hierarchy among demons like in the animal world, and do they experience the noetic effects of sin?  Does the left hand in the demon world always know what the right hand is doing?

13. Can a believer be demon-possessed?

14. Will there be sex in heaven?

15. How did Peter recognize Elijah and Moses? (I just like that one so I put it twice)

16. How did Satan show Christ all the nations of the world from the top of a mountain? (Luke 4:5)

17. Does Satan actually think he might win?


When God Does Not Show Up

There have been so many times in my life when God has not shown up. So many times when I am at my wits end, when it is forth and long, ninth inning, I put up a last hope three pointer and the ball hits the tape and falls gently on my side of the court. My mixing of sports metaphors is not an accident. It represents the confusion I often experience as I mêlée through the options of rescue God could use. After all, he must win the game in one of the metaphors. But not only do I lose the tennis match, but the football, baseball, and basketball game as well. I just can’t seem to sync up my game with his. You know . . . the ones where victory is claimed (not just proclaimed).

Half the time is seems that things simply function just the way one would expect if God was in heaven playing darts. Our lives are filled with so many things that go from bad to worse. The hardest part about it for me is that the things we request are very often good things. On our best days, we seek God’s renovation. We long for it. We lay down at night and dream about it. Our eyes sting due to tearful begging for it. Who could argue that someone praying for a better marriage, obedient children, a quenched addiction, a calm spirit, an obedient heart, or a bill responsibly paid are outside of God’s will? Who could argue that praying for the ability to gird up our will and make serious changes in overcoming sin in our lives is wrong? I know that there are “those” stories out there. You know, the one’s where a person becomes a Christian, then all of the sudden everything has changed (for good!). I have a love-hate relationship with those stories. I love them as I love an epic movie where the hero has saved the world. I love to know it is out there. But those are just stories. I have very few (if any) of those stories. Most of mine involve a seemingly never-ending pattern: stumble, fall, dirt in mouth, think about staying down, renewing hope, getting back up, trying again, stumble, fall, dirt in mouth . . . ad infinitum. In fact, I am still in many of these stories. 

At this point a mob forms in my subconscious rallying to find a way to express my anger and frustration with God. Yet no form of this finds a definite incarnation either in my words or deeds. “Why do you put up with this guy?” the mob yells. “Yeah, let’s take him to court. We can win!” Win what? A settlement with God? What would that look like anyway? I don’t have any grounds. There were no guarantees that he has failed to accomplish. The hope that I grope for was never here. Continue Reading →

Quarles Reviews Licona on the Resurrection

Charles L. Quarles of Louisiana College has a lengthy review of Michael R. Licona’s book The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2010) in the newest issue, which I just received in yesterday’s mail, of the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 54, 4 (Dec. 2011): 839-44. Although the book represents a major advance in evangelical scholarship on the historicity of the Resurrection, discussions about the book have focused largely on Licona’s controversial  suggestion that the pericope of the saints raised from the dead (Matt. 27:52-53) may be viewed as apocalyptic imagery rather than as a literal historical occurrence. In 2011 evangelical philosopher Norman Geisler publicly denounced Licona’s interpretation as a denial of biblical inerrancy, leading to Licona’s departure from the Southern Baptists’ North American Mission Board (NAMB) at the end of the year and to his being ostracized at several other evangelical institutions. (Full disclosure: Licona and I worked together in the same department at NAMB for two years, 2006-2008, and we are good friends.)

Not surprisingly, Quarles devotes about half of his review to a discussion of Licona’s handling of this one passage. Quarles offers what appears to me to be a very thoughtful and well considered critique of the apocalyptic interpretation of the pericope, which I will only summarize briefly here. He objects that the text of Matthew gives no clear indication of a shift in genre from historical narrative to apocalyptic. He posits that Licona’s arguments for the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection would also support the historicity of Matthew 27:52-53 (a point Quarles unfortunately does not develop, no doubt due to space constraints). He critiques the claim that the pericope is non-historical because it may be poetic. Quarles emphasizes that it is especially difficult to exclude historical and even evidential intent from Matthew’s statement “they appeared to many.” Finally, Quarles takes exception to Licona’s appeals to pagan parallels. His arguments here are worthy of reading and careful reflection.

Quarles mentions the controversy itself only very briefly at the end of the review:

“Recently, Licona’s position on these two verses has stirred considerable controversy, necessitating a more extensive treatment of his discussion of Matt 27:52-53 than a typical review would warrant. My hope, however, is that a treatment of two verses that amounts to only 6 pages out of the 641 pages of text in the book will not prevent conservative evangelicals from carefully reading and digesting the author’s many fine arguments for the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection” (843-44).

Amen to that.

Quarles offers no further comment on the Licona controversy, not even mentioning Norman Geisler, and says nothing about the claim that Licona’s view of the Matthean pericope is a denial of biblical inerrancy. This is rather ironic, given that JETS is the journal of a society founded on the issue of biblical inerrancy. To his credit, though, and as is appropriate in a book review, Quarles keeps the attention focused where it should be, on the relevant exegetical and hermeneutical issues and not on personalities or red-flag accusations.