B.C. Askins

The Man With the Golden Gun

Archive for the month “February, 2012”

Yes, All Things

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” -Romans 8:28

Amazing. It’s actually possible to know that God, the Creator and Sustainer
of all of life, is making everything that happens in the world work out for
your own good. We can expect that everything that happens in space and time will eventually work out for our good, if we love God… and we love God if we have been called according to His purpose. So, the obvious questions are:
Have you been called? Do you love God?

The fact is that you probably don’t love God. You probably don’t even know
Him very well. And, of course, you can’t love someone that you don’t know. If
you don’t know Him, what would there be to love about Him, right? So you
don’t know God and since you don’t know Him you can’t love Him. So where does that leave you?

Well, here’s the implication of the verse above: if there are people who know
that all things in life work together for their good, then there must be another group of people who can know just as certainly that all things in this life are working together for their “bad.” You don’t know God, you don’t love God and eventually everything happening in all of history will work out against you. Ever felt like the whole universe is against you? Well, it might be.

The statement at the top of the page assumes that God not only has the power to control all things, but that He exercises that power as well. Every minute of your life so far, where you were born, who your family would be, how you would grow up and who you are today have all worked out exactly the way God planned it. “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” (Psalm 139:16) “From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.” (Acts 17:26)

Maybe you have suffered in this life. Maybe you have been harmed, abused.
Maybe evil has been committed against you. This verse is not saying that all
things in themselves are good. Evil is still evil, and will not go unpunished.

God has promised, “I will punish the world for its evil, the wicked for their
sins. I will put an end to the arrogance of the haughty and will humble the
pride of the ruthless.” (Isaiah 13:11) Still, maybe you can’t believe that
the things you have suffered could ever “work out for good” for you. It is
repulsive to you, the idea that God controls the facts of your life. What
good could possibly come from the tragedies you have suffered? What kind of God plans suffering?

The kind of God who displays His love by suffering for us. “So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood.” (Hebrew 13:12)

But here is another implication of the facts above: you are not reading this
blog right now by mere chance. This could be the moment God has planned for the transformation of your life. “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me. When you seek me with all your heart, I will be found by you…” (Jeremiah 29:10-14)

Hear the call, come to know God in His Word, the Bible, so that you might see
that He is truly lovely and come to love Him. See that the future of this life and the next is full of hope in God, that you can know that all things are working together for your good.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29) Come to God in
Christ and find rest for your weary soul.


An Exegetical Argument for Postmillennialism (3)

It could be argued that a diachronic view of the corpus of Scripture provides a strong case for postmillennialism, from the protoevangelium (Gen 3:15) through the promises of the Abrahamic covenant (Gen 12, 15, 17) and the Messianic psalms (Ps 2, 22, 110), to the predictions of the Prophets (especially Is 9:6-7; Dan 2:31-35, 44; 7:13-27), as well as Christ’s Kingdom Parables (Matt 13:31-33), the Great Commission (Matt 28:18-20, with its allusion to Dan 7:13-14), the role of ethnic Israel (Rom 9-11), and finally the perpetually controversial millennial passage in Revelation 20. Unfortunately, such an extensive undertaking is beyond the current scope of this blog post. (For a more extensive treatment of relevant passages from a postmillennial perspective see Roderick Campbell’s Israel and the New Covenant  or Kenneth L. Gentry’s He Shall Have Dominion.)

Instead, this paper will present an exegetical defense of postmillennialism from 1 Corinthians 15:22-26. If the interpretation here is correct it should be sufficient to establish that only postmillennialism properly apprehends both the biblical chronology and character of the eschatological millennial kingdom.

For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.  But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.  Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power.  For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.  The last enemy to be destroyed is death (1 Cor 15:22-26).

The context of 1 Corinthians 15 is Paul’s response to the question of the validity of bodily resurrection (15:12). Paul provides an eschatological answer, moving from Christ’s resurrection to the τέλος (“end”). Paul, the archetypal apologist, argues his case evangelistically (15:1-2), scripturally (15:3-4), evidentially (15:5–7), experientially (15:8-11), logically (15:12-19), soteriologically (15:20-22), eschatologically (15:23-27, 51-54), via reductio ad absurdum (29-34), somatologically (15:35-49), and practically (15:58)!

Resurrection is invariably intertwined with Christ’s kingdom reign, since death is an enemy (15:26). The origin of death was sin (“as in Adam all die”) and the deliverance from death is in the Messiah (“in Christ shall all be made alive”). He then gives the eschatological sequence (τάγματι) of this deliverance: “each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.” Christ was resurrected, “then” (ἔπειτα) the resurrection “at his coming” of “those who belong to (him),” “then the end” (εἶτα τὸ τέλος).  It is clear from the adverb usage (ἔπειτα, εἶτα) that Paul is presenting a chronological sequence of eschatological events (see BDAG, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed, ed. Frederick William Danker, 295, 361.).

Paul expands on the meaning of εἶτα τὸ τέλος by teaching that the “end” (τέλος) is “when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power.” (Note that in the ESV the second ὅταν of 15:24 with the subjunctive aorist καταργήσῃ is correctly rendered “after,” in accord with BDAG p. 731 (“with the aorist subjunctive, when the action of the subordinate clause precedes that of the main clause”).)

The “end” is when the kingdom is consummated, not initiated, and Christ reigns from his resurrection “until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” This demonstrates that the kingdom is a reality before it is delivered to God the Father (contradicting the premillennial view of millennial chronology), but it is also delivered after Christ’s reign has brought about the destruction of every rule, authority and power (contradicting the amillennial view of the character of the interadvental period).

When the connection between 15:24 and 15:25 is analyzed in relation to the remainder of the pericope, the postmillennial interpretation is established. The γὰρ (“for”) of 15:25 introduces an explanation, namely, indicating that the kingdom actions of 15:24 are the result of Christ’s current but ongoing rule. The chronological key, then, is that Christ’s established reign persists “until he has put all his enemies under his feet” and “the last enemy… is death,” which is “swallowed up in victory” (15:54) at his “coming” (15:23).

(Paul’s clear allusion to Ps 110 in 15:25 is important, but time limitations prevent a further investigation into the matter. Suffice it to say that, given the pervasive use of Ps 110 by NT authors, a biblical view of the Messianic Kingdom cannot in any instance utterly divorce Ps 110’s usage in the NT from Paul’s eschatological usage here in 1 Corinthians 15. If my interpretation of 1 Cor 15 is correct then the allusion to Ps 110 gives greater support prima facie to the earlier assertion regarding diachronic biblical support for postmillennialism.)

Christ’s reign is interadvental, because the last enemy defeated before “the end” is death; and his reign is characterized by progressively putting all his enemies under his feet, through the fulfillment of the Great Commission, until he has destroyed every rule, authority and power, since this occurs before the kingdom is delivered to God the Father.

A Love Letter

Christopher Love was executed in 1651 for alleged conspiracy against Oliver Cromwell, then Lord Protector of England. Cromwell accused Christopher Love, among others, of conspiring to restore the monarchy. Love’s last letter to his wife included exhortations for her to be a godly mother and to rejoice with him in the death that will bring him to Christ.

The place of his execution was his final pulpit. He used his remaining time to preach his final sermon and to pray, even for his accusers. His last words were, “Blessed be God for Jesus Christ.”

God’s grace upheld him in his final moments as he anticipated the heavy stroke of the blade that would end his life and bring him to glory in the face of Christ.

But what of his wife and family? In a short while, he would be with Christ, but she would be widowed and left alone to care for their children. She was pregnant with her sixth child (the fourth one to survive beyond infancy) at the time of his execution. This was her last letter to her husband:

June 14, 1651

Before I write a word further, I beseech thee think not that it is thy wife but a friend now that writes to thee.  I hope thou hast freely given up thy wife and children to God, who hath said in Jeremiah 49:11, “Leave thy fatherless children, I will preserve them alive, and let thy widow trust in Me.”  Thy Maker will be my husband, and a Father to thy children.  O that the Lord would keep thee from having one troubled thought for thy relations.  I desire freely to give thee up into thy Father’s hands, and not only look upon it as a crown of glory for thee to die for Christ, but as an honor to me that I should have a husband to leave for Christ.

I dare not speak to thee, nor have a thought within my own heart of my unspeakable loss, but wholly keep my eye fixed upon thy inexpressible and inconceivable gain.  Thou leavest but a sinful, mortal wife to be everlastingly married to the Lord of glory.  Thou leavest but children, brothers, and sisters to go to the Lord Jesus, thy eldest Brother.  Thou leavest friends on earth to go to the enjoyment of saints and angels, and the spirits of just men made perfect in glory.  Thou dost but leave earth for heaven and changest a prison for a palace.  And if natural affections should begin to arise, I hope that spirit of grace that is within thee will quell them, knowing that all things here below are but dung and dross in comparison of those things that are above.  I know thou keepest thine eye fixed on the hope of glory, which makes thy feet trample on the loss of earth.

My dear, I know God hath not only prepared glory for thee, and thee for it, but I am persuaded that He will sweeten the way for thee to come to the enjoyment of it.  When thou are putting on thy clothes that morning, O think, “I am now putting on my wedding garments to go to be everlastingly married to my Redeemer.”  When the messenger of death comes to thee, let him not seem dreadful to thee, but look on him as a messenger that brings thee tidings of eternal life.  When thou goest up the scaffold, think (as thou saidst to me) that it is but thy fiery chariot to carry thee up to thy Father’s house.  And when thou layest down thy precious head to receive thy Father’s stroke, remember what thou saidst to me: Though thy head was severed from thy body, yet in a moment thy soul shall be united to thy Head, the Lord Jesus, in heaven.

And though it may seem something bitter, that by the hands of men we are parted a little sooner than otherwise we might have been, yet let us consider that it is the decree and will of our Father, and it will not be long ere we shall enjoy one another in heaven again.  Let us comfort one another with these sayings.  Be comforted, my dear heart.  It is but a little stroke and thou shalt be there where the weary shall be at rest and where the wicked shall cease from troubling.  Remember that thou mayest eat thy dinner with bitter herbs, yet thou shalt have a sweet supper with Christ that night.  My dear, by what I write unto thee, I do not hereby undertake to teach thee; for these comforts I have received from the Lord by thee.

I will write no more, nor trouble thee any further, but commit thee into the arms of God with whom ere long thee and I shall be.  Farewell, my dear.  I shall never see thy face more till we both behold the face of the Lord Jesus at that great day.

Husbands and wives, are you cultivating a home and family life that engenders this kind of faith in your spouses? Fathers and mothers, are you prayerfully raising your children to to be this faithful?

Abductive Argument Against Classical Covenant Theology

Major Premise: 1. If Covenant Theology is true (A), then its doctrines will be expressed or implied in Scripture (B).

1a. CT contains a doctrine that baptism corresponds directly with circumcision (both being given to infants as signs of the covenant), albeit with minor administrative adjustments (baptizing infant males and females, whereas circumcision was limited to males, etc.).

1b. This doctrine rests heavily on the doctrine that the Abrahamic and the New Covenant are merely different administrations of the single, eternal Covenant of Grace.

Minor Premise: 2. Even in the most conspicuous places (Acts 15, Col. 2) Scripture nowhere expresses or implies doctrines (1a) and (1b). (~B)

2a. Scripture presents a typological relationship between circumcision and baptism, where the emphasis on the material type (circumcision) is replaced by the emphasis on the spiritual substance (regeneration) (Col. 2), and baptism is linked to union with Christ (Rom. 6), which is by rebirth, not physical birth.

2b. The “one covenant – multiple administrations” supposition (1b) on which (1a) rests is also in contradiction with the plain teaching of Scripture regarding multiple covenants with their own respective administrations (Jer. 31, Heb. 8-9), each a progressively-revealed, prophetically-typological shadow of the one, eternal covenant in Christ (the New Covenant).

Conclusion: 3. Therefore (~A) CT is false (or “not true,” for the strict logicians out there) by modus tollens.

If A, then B.
Not B.
Therefore Not A.

Three Horizons of Matthew 5:17-20

Matt 5:17 Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (1)

“The theological and canonical ramifications of one’s exegetical conclusions on this pericope are so numerous that discussion becomes freighted with the intricacies of biblical theology. At stake are the relation between the testaments, the place of law in the context of the gospel, and the relation of this pericope to other NT passages that unambiguously affirm that certain parts of the law have been abrogated as obsolete.” (2)

In the opening chapters of Matthew’s gospel (1:1-4:16), the reader is barraged with a flood of Old Testament quotations and allusions which serve to establish Jesus as the Jewish Messiah, the righteous Redeemer of his people. (3) Jesus’ messianic message explicitly echoes the prophetic message of John the Baptist: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt 4:17). With Christ’s disciples as the primary audience, Matthew begins his account of Jesus’ ministry with the famous Sermon on the Mount (5:1-7:28), giving the messianic exposition of the nature of the kingdom of heaven and the character of its inhabitants. (4)

The Sermon opens with the “Beatitude” inclusio (set apart in context by the repetition of the phrase “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” in verses 3 and 10, respectively), declaring the attitudes of those in the kingdom of heaven, which are in stark contrast with the natural expectations and attitudes of sinners. The Beatitudes allude to the blessings pronounced for Mosaic covenant-keepers, (5) the wisdom literature of the Psalms and Proverbs, (6) as well as the prophetic promises of God as the redeemer of His oppressed people. (7) We see here the inauguration of an eschatological kingdom which promises future, eternal blessings as well as present, temporal suffering. These beatitudes prophetically foreshadow the absolute righteousness of Christ’s life (which led to his being persecuted to death), even as they masterfully reveal the progression of righteousness in the life of his disciples, from spiritual bankruptcy (vs. 3) to rejoicing, not merely in spite of, but because of persecution for righteousness’ sake (vs. 12).

It is important to take note of the shift in language from verse 10 to 11. The disciples are first told generally, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake”; this teaching is then amplified and personalized when Jesus tells them directly, “Blessed are you when others… persecute you… on my account.” This parallel subtly identifies “Christ” and “righteousness,” for persecution because of righteousness is persecution because of Christ. (8) This equation sets the stage for Christ’s amazing declaration in verse 17.

After implicitly identifying himself with righteousness, the Messiah announces his own position in the progress of divine revelation: he came to fulfill, not abolish, all the Law and the Prophets. With these words, Matthew opens another inclusio regarding the relationship of Christ to the Law and Prophets (which does not conclude until chapter 7:12). At the heart of this pericope is righteousness: the righteousness necessary within the kingdom of heaven.

It is important to recognize the canonical location of this teaching, because it is not always easy to discern whether Christ’s teaching is intended primarily for his immediate audience (as they live under the old covenant) or if his statements are intended to have a broader application to the New Covenant era which he was inaugurating. (9) It would seem that these verses play a significant role in the transitional period of revelation in moving from prophetic promise to messianic fulfillment.

The direct contrast in verse 17 is between the two verbs: “abolish” and “fulfill,” with the emphasis being placed on the positive aspect of fulfillment. (10) An unhelpful dualism has crept into many interpretations of this verse, reading “fulfill” as though it has two different senses, one concerning the Law and another regarding the Prophets. Christ is said to fulfill the Law by obeying its commands and to fulfill the Prophets by fulfilling their predictions. (11) However, there are two problems with this interpretation: to “obey” the Law does not contrast with “abolish,” and there is no indication here that Christ is equivocating in his use of the term “fulfill.” It is far more natural to recognize that the whole Old Testament has a prophetic element to it; even the commandments of the Law point forward to the coming Messiah’s ethical reign. Christ doesn’t merely obey the Law; he is the righteous archetype which the holy and good Law foreshadowed. This even implies that without Jesus the Law would, in some sense, be unfulfilled. (12)

Jesus then emphasizes the abiding nature of the Law in verses 18-19, saying that it will not pass away until heaven and earth pass away, that is, until the new heaven and earth are consummated at Christ’s second coming. (13) These verses have produced much controversy regarding the role of the Mosaic Law in the Christian life. One of the most time-honored traditional ways of interpreting this statement of Christ is to adopt the tripartite distinction of moral, civil and ceremonial laws in the Old Testament, arguing that Christ is referring here to the abiding force of the moral law alone, summarized in the Ten Commandments. (14) However, this distinction is not only illogical (for all laws are moral laws by definition), it also contradicts Christ’s statement affirming “not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law,” which would rather obviously include civil and ceremonial iotas and dots.

This statement of Christ is finely attuned to have direct application to both his contemporary Jewish audience and the still-being-inaugurated body of Christian disciples. By identifying himself as righteousness and emphasizing his own role as the one who fulfills the Old Testament, Christ is introducing the fact that he is “the end of the law for righteousness to all who believe” (Rom 10:4). (15) It is not merely that his teaching “intensifies” the commands of the Law while his life fulfills the prophecies of the Prophets, but it is his entire person which fulfills the entire Old Testament. He “fulfills all righteousness” (Matt 3:15). He points to himself through the Law, so that his contemporaries have no warrant for disobeying the Law, while also introducing the authoritative ethical fulfillment found in the kingdom of heaven.

As the King of the kingdom of heaven, he is the Law. Everything he does is inherently good and loving, while everything he says is incomparably prophetic and wise. His every statement and action simultaneously obeys and surpasses the law in righteousness, filling it full to overflowing.

As Priest he puts an end to sacrifices, not by abrogation through divine fiat, but by permanently fulfilling the sacrificial system in his own substitutionary death. Its principles abide still, though the practice has ceased by being gloriously surpassed.

As Prophet he is the pinnacle of revelation. General revelation and special revelation are conjoined in the person and work of Jesus Christ, such that our understanding of all of Scripture and the universe must be filtered through Christ or we will misapply it, to our own detriment. Our understanding of how Christ fulfills the law must be right if we are to be “great,” and not “least,” in the kingdom of heaven (vv. 18-19).

This righteousness is alluded to in the next statement: “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” This indicative righteousness comes into greater focus in the imperative of verse 48, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Between these two statements outlining the absolute, perfect righteousness of the kingdom of heaven are the six “antitheses.” These antitheses (“You have heard it said…, but I tell you…”) are often represented as an “intensification” of the Mosaic Law or rabbinic traditions.

Yet this interpretation misunderstands the preceding statement of Christ regarding his personal fulfillment of the Old Testament while also misrepresenting the nature of the Mosaic Law. The requirements of perfect righteousness and godliness are not something which Christ introduced in the Sermon; they were present in the old covenant as well (Deut 6:5; Lev 19:1-2, 18).

A detailed analysis of the numerous implications of Christ’s personal fulfillment of the Old Testament would go beyond the scope of this paper. However, one fulfillment theme needs to be expounded clearly if we are to properly understand the antitheses, and, more broadly, the ethical relationship between the two testaments of Scripture.

Christ’s fulfillment of the Old Testament introduces a motif of what I will call emphasis inversion between the testaments (a specific aspect of the general “lesser-to-greater” theme in the progress of biblical revelation), whereby the teaching of Christ emphasizes something which was present, but often overshadowed, in the Law. Christ’s fulfillment inverts the emphasis without abolishing the Law.

By way of example, the Law of Moses consisted of six hundred thirteen imperatives written on stone tablets, while the New Covenant Law of Christ is written on hearts of flesh by the Holy Spirit (Jer 31:33; Ezek 36:26; Heb 8). The old covenant emphasized the physical progeny of Abraham, ethnic Israel, as God’s chosen people (Deut 7:6), while the New Covenant emphasizes the spiritual seed of Abraham by faith as those who are truly God’s elect (Gal 3:7). Physical, national, historically-elect Israel typologically foreshadowed the New Covenant reality of spiritual, global, eternally-elect Israel; (16) and it is Christ who fulfills both, “For all the promises of God find their Yes in him” (2 Cor 1:20).

Often in Scripture, physical types of the Old Testament are fulfilled in spiritual antitypes in the New. The spiritual realities were present in the OT, but the emphasis is inverted in the NT, placing the physical elements in the background and bringing what is spiritual to the foreground (Heb 9:23-24). Ethically, the inversion of emphasis from the Old Testament Law to its fulfillment in Christ is a movement from imperative-based to indicative-driven ethics. The Sermon on the Mount contains fifty imperatives in one hundred sentences, but still maintains a thoroughly descriptive tone throughout, using three hundred twenty non-command verbs. (17)

Those who interpret the Sermon on the Mount as simply the moral teaching of “a new kind of rabbi” miss the fact that no one can attain the perfect righteousness required for admission to Christ’s kingdom (Rom 3:10-18). However, to interpret the Sermon as merely the intensification of Old Testament morality equally misses the point. The Sermon is not merely given to display humanity’s sinful inability to obey God’s laws; it does that, but it also simultaneously reveals the redemptive solution to this fallen condition in the perfect righteousness of Christ.

It is his absolute righteousness, as declared on this mount, which leads him inexorably to another mountain, Calvary, where the same perfect righteousness is fully and permanently displayed. It is this perfect righteousness which is imputed to all believers and Christ’s cross is the example of righteousness for all believers. In this way, the indicative of Christ’s righteous love surpasses even the imperative commands to love God and neighbor, not in the sense that the imperative is not binding (it is), but that its fulfillment displays a love greater than the letter of the command could ever convey. The indicative of Christ’s forensic justification of believers provides the necessary condition for imperative exhortations to ethical sanctification, which are often summarized in the statement “Be who you are in Christ.” Put more simply, the basis for ethical behavior is union with Christ. The Sermon reveals humanity’s complete moral inability, displays Christ’s perfect moral righteousness and implies the resolution for the chasm between the two: the Gospel, whereby we become the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5:21).

It is within this larger epochal/canonical context of fulfilled righteousness and prophetic emphasis inversion that the antitheses must be understood. The antitheses do not simply dispel an old law and create a new one; they are a call to see the world as Christ does, to live and love as he does. (18) Even the imperatival statements of the antitheses function within the larger flow of the Sermon as exhortations to righteous living rather than specific, literal commands. If read without consideration to the broader canonical themes surrounding the Sermon, it is easy to understand why so many view the antitheses as merely newer, more intense commandments. While much could be said regarding each antithesis, I will attempt to show that the motif of emphasis inversion aids in gaining a clear understanding of the way in which the antitheses introduce Christ’s fulfillment, and not abolition, of the Law. (19)

The first antithesis shows an inversion of ethical emphasis, in that the solemn act of making sacrifice for sin ought to be interrupted for the sake of immediate reconciliation with an offended brother, alluding to the fact that mercy should be desired over sacrifice (Matt 9:13; 12:7). The hyperbole of the second antithesis regarding eye-plucking and hand-cutting no less shockingly displays the inversion of emphasis from physical adultery to adultery of the heart, moving from the emphasis on external conformity to a focus on internal conviction. It is better to be maimed physically than to suffer forever spiritually. Rather than explicitly forbidding divorce in the third antithesis, Christ explains the heinous character of such an action, while also showing that what is permissible is not always righteous (1 Cor 10:23). He also authoritatively expands the Mosaic divorce laws by declaring remarriage after improper divorce to be adultery. The fourth antithesis emphasizes the absoluteness of the Creator, such that to swear by anything is to implicitly swear by God, making all oaths irreverent oaths and forthrightness the only acceptable pattern of speech. The fifth antithesis brings into view the complex, paradoxical relationship of mercy to justice in the righteousness of the kingdom of heaven (which also finds its ultimate resolution at the Cross), by exhorting disciples not to resist those who are evil and to give liberally to all whom ask. The final antithesis emphasizes the Law of Love, showing that the righteousness of the kingdom of heaven is most clearly viewed in the righteous love of the King, who even shows grace and love toward his enemies. This emphasis displays the counterintuitive nature of supernatural righteousness. Out of this love flows all good things, from sunshine to eternal life, and we are able to obediently join in that love through union with Christ.

The antitheses do not explicitly abrogate any OT commandment, and neither do they merely exposit or intensify them. “What is the dominant note, hinted at in the emphatic, ‘I say to you,’ testified to by the crowds at the conclusion of the Sermon and observed in all the antitheses, is the independent, authoritative teaching of Jesus, which is neither derived from nor explicitly related to the OT.” (20)

Our interpretation of all of Scripture must be performed with an eye to Christ the Final Prophet who fulfills the Prophets and declares the Way, Christ the Righteous King who fulfills the Law and declares the Truth, and Christ the Resurrected High Priest who brings abundant Life out of death. All of our understanding of hermeneutics and its ethical implications are refracted through the crèche, the cross and the crown of Christ who fulfills all revelation and righteousness.

1 The Holy Bible, English Standard Version (Wheaton: Good News Publishers, 2002), 810.

2 D.A. Carson, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew Chapters 1 Through 12 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995), 141.

3 G.K. Beale and D.A. Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), 1-20.

4 D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1976), 18-20.

5 William Hendriksen, Matthew (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1973), 261.

6 Ben Witherington III, Matthew (Macon: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, Inc, 2006), 118.

7 G.K. Beale and D.A. Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), 20.

8 In each case the blessed ones will be persecuted e[neken (“because of”) “righteousness” or “me” (Christ).

9 Douglas J. Moo, “The Law of Christ as the Fulfillment of the Law of Moses: A Modified Lutheran View,” in Five Views on Law and Gospel, ed. Stanley N. Gundry (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996), 323.

10 R.T. France, Matthew (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1985), 114.

11 John Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: New Testament (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 1983), 30.

12 William Hendriksen, Matthew (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1973), 288. Douglas J. Moo, The Best in Theology, Volume One, ed. J.I. Packer (Carol Stream: Christianity Today, Inc, 1987), 106.

13 D.A. Carson, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew Chapters 1 Through 12 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995), 144. Contrast this with the statement of Christ in Mt 24:35, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”

14 John Calvin, Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2005), 279-280.

15 Compare the parallel passage in Luke 16, particularly verse 16, “The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it.”

16 John Frame, The Doctrine of God (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing Company, 2002), 317-330.

17 Daniel M. Doriani, The Sermon on the Mount (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing Company, 2006), 8.

18 Daniel M. Doriani, The Sermon on the Mount (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing Company, 2006), 9.

19 For brevity’s sake, I will forego any discussion regarding whether the antitheses refer to the Mosaic Law or rabbinic traditions (or both). In any case, if my interpretation of verse seventeen is correct then there is no threat of contradiction even if Christ is referring at any point to the Mosaic Law proper.

20 Douglas J. Moo, The Best in Theology, Volume One, ed. J.I. Packer (Carol Stream: Christianity Today, Inc, 1987), 113.

The Story of the Bible in One Sentence

“Jesus slays the dragon and rescues his girl.”

How would you express the story of the Bible in one sentence?

A Case Study in Apostasy

I had planned to write a chapter-by-chapter critical review of prominent atheist John Loftus’ book, Why I Am an Atheist; however, upon reading the book I believed that such an analysis was overkill and unnecessary in refuting Loftus’ claims. Providentially, shortly after I finished reading Loftus’ three books the fellas over at Triablogue released their collaboration, The Infidel Delusion, in response to Loftus, et al. So I thought my little collection of posts might just be blogospheric white noise in the flurry of responses exchanged.

So I reworked the bit that I had written in response to Loftus as a brief case study in apostasy, viewed from an apologetic perspective. I hope that some might find it useful in recognizing and avoiding some of the pitfalls which may lead to apostasy. Some may object that doing a case study in apostasy is too critical or harsh. They would prefer to speak merely in categories or generalities about such issues. However, since he believes this chapter contains salient facts related to his cumulative case argument against Christianity, Loftus opens up his experience for critical analysis, which I will cautiously provide. Ad hominem fallacies will be consciously avoided, since the truth value of Loftus’ argumentation should be considered independently from his biographical data.

They were sad chapters to read, in many ways and for many reasons. It’s always sad to read of the failures of others. And these chapters were full of failures of many kinds.

Loftus begins the book with a challenge for Christians: “Anyway, Christian, for once in your life, you need to seriously examine your faith. By virtue of the fact that your faith is something you prefer to be true, you should subject it to critical analysis at least once in your life. If you laid aside the fact that you think Christianity is true and merely asked yourself if you prefer that it’s true, you’ll see quite plainly that you do. How do you know you don’t believe what you prefer to be true?” (12)

In the above quote, take out the words “Christian/ity” and replace it with “atheist/atheism.” It makes equal sense. This is what’s called a double-edged criticism. There’s no reason to grant presumptively that any given instance of atheism involves more examination than any given instance of Christianity; this is the author simply projecting his own experience onto his audience. If the criticism that “beliefs are based on preference” applies to Christianity, it applies equally to atheism, polytheism, and fern worship. Either Loftus’ criticism above is valid and he is an atheist because he prefers to believe atheism is true or he’s guilty of granting atheism a special status that he doesn’t grant to Christianity without providing any argumentation supporting that position. This is tendentious from the outset; however, no apologist familiar with the non-neutrality principle of covenantal apologetics should be surprised by this (for those unfamiliar read this, particularly pp. 447-448).

The problem is not that Loftus is not neutral in his statements; it’s that he thinks he is and he purports to be while he is not. This is especially worth noting since many of his readers (regardless of their varied theistic commitments) will tend to grant that neutrality is possible, even desirable at times, and that many of Loftus’ statements exemplify such neutrality. But neutrality is impossible; if Christ is Lord of all, nothing is neutral.

“…I consider part 1, “The Basis for My Control Beliefs,” to be the most significant part of my whole case… But since my skeptical control beliefs don’t tell me what to think about the specific evidence itself, I’ll also examine the biblical evidence in part 2, and then conclude with what I believe today in part 3.” (emphasis added, 12)

It seems like it should be too early in the book for the author to have made such a complete blunder. Loftus asserts that his “skeptical control beliefs don’t tell (him) what to think about the specific evidence itself,” essentially stating that his control beliefs don’t control his beliefs about evidence. Either the beliefs control or they don’t. This is flagrantly self-contradictory and demonstrates a deep lack of epistemological self-consciousness. This is further exemplified by simply citing the author’s own definition of “control beliefs” given later in the book: “Control beliefs are those beliefs that control how we view the evidence… Since how we each look at the evidence is controlled to a large degree by certain control beliefs of ours, I want to know how to justify those control beliefs themselves.” (emphasis added, 59)

This error reflects the same problem of non-neutrality mentioned above. Loftus wishes to present himself as objective and neutral regarding the biblical evidence he surveys in part 2 of the book, but this contradicts his stated recognition that control beliefs exert control over other beliefs. Skeptical control beliefs control his view of the biblical evidence; to admit this is to admit that part 2 of the book is entirely question-begging (and little worth reading, therefore). It’s either dishonest or naive to recognize the role “control beliefs” or presuppositions play in examining evidence, then to declare the opposite when it is convenient for one’s own position.

Loftus then gives us his bona fides as a Christian apologist, having (among other things) earned a Th.M. under William Lane Craig at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in ’85. “I was a Christian apologist with the equivalent of a PhD degree in the philosophy of religion, set for the express purpose of defending Christianity from intellectual attacks. I was not afraid of any idea because I was convinced that Christianity was true and could withstand all attacks.” (13)

The reader should recognize that Loftus failed in his “express purpose of defending Christianity from intellectual attacks,” and is in this very significant respect nothing like “us.” He was “convinced that Christianity was true”… until he wasn’t. He proved that, in fact, he wasn’t just like “us,” and no Christian should be tricked by such attempts at short-circuiting our critical thinking with biographical narratives.

Loftus imports many biographical tidbits into his argumentation, attempting subversive persuasion based on his superficial once-Christian credentials. How can I call a Th.M from TEDS a superficial mark of Christianity? Well, quite easily, actually, since, the most significant Christian credential is persevering faith, which Loftus never had, and his Christian readers would do well to keep that in mind. “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.” (1 Jn 2:19)

Loftus was “a problem teenager” (20), who came to Christianity through a Pentecostal ministry in Ft. Wayne, IN, where his life was “radically changed” (20). Shortly thereafter he was introduced to the evidentialism of Josh McDowell’s Evidence That Demands a Verdict, Hal Lindsey’s predictive dispensational premillennialism, the pragmatistic presuppositionalism of Francis Schaeffer, and the ubiquitous works of C.S. Lewis. Sounds like a fairly standard 20th century evangelical experience. Loftus is briefly critical of each author and footnotes various criticisms he believes conclusively demonstrate problems with each. Apart from the varied merits (or lack of merits, as would apply) of each theologian mentioned, one could be critical of each and still remain a Christian. In fact, I would recommend it. Of those mentioned, I have benefited most from Schaeffer’s work, though I do recognize the validity of Thomas V. Morris’ criticisms (as cited by Loftus). So much the worse for Schaeffer’s particular methodology and so much the better for mine.

Loftus wants to look at some key initial questions: “…what bias or presumption is the correct one when approaching the Christian faith? None of us sets out to study Christianity without some bias one way or another.” (22)

This is a valid and important question for us all, and it appears to recognize the nature of the antithesis mentioned above. Briefly, I will propose that there are only two options: one will approach Christianity either presuming its claims to be true or false. This sounds a bit outlandish at first, doesn’t it? Can’t someone approach Christianity as possibly true or false? This is a very reasonable question.

There is no third option as the result of the all-encompassing nature of the claims of Christianity. The de jure question is not independent of the de facto question. To assume that one is “objectively” judging the claims of Christianity is to assume an autonomy from Christ which contradicts Christianity; meaning that one is assuming that Christianity is false in order to conclude that it is false.

But, if this is the case, musn’t the Christian be guilty of fallacious circular reasoning in assuming the truth of Christianity? For brevity’s sake, I’ll answer this question with an argument from the lesser to the greater by analogy. Imagine you are called upon to prove the existence of space or time to someone who doubts or denies their existence. How would you do it without assuming the existence of space or time? The short answer is, you couldn’t. Even more so regarding arguing for the existence of the Creator of space and time.

Loftus mentions that a professor of his “drummed into his students the perfectly reasonable Christian idea that ‘all truth is God’s truth’ – that all truth comes from God whether considered sacred or secular.” (23) I take note of this statement because the idea that “all truth is God’s truth” is as common as it is misbegotten. While it may have meant one thing when Augustine first said it (in book two of De Doctrina Christiana, “A person who is a good and a true Christian should realize that truth belongs to his Lord, wherever it is found, gathering and acknowledging it even in pagan literature.”), it has come to be something of a wax nose today, used to justify any anti-Christian position which one desires to synthesize with biblical Christianity.

We also see in Loftus’ quoted statement above an example of inconsistent thinking which is wide-spread in contemporary evangelical worldviews. If all truth really is God’s truth then a distinction between sacred and secular makes no sense, since it would clearly follow that all truth is sacred truth. Loftus’ sacred-secular dualism was anti-biblical and a philosophical wedge in his thinking, waiting to be driven home, separating him from Christ. Where has dualism crept into your worldview?

Loftus’ stated deconversion story begins when he commits adultery with a woman, Linda, with whom he worked in ministry. Immediately, Loftus shifts the blame to Linda, stating that “she had it in for preachers, and she took out her wrath on me… There are mitigating factors here, even if I did do wrong. And I did do wrong. But until you experience something like this you will never understand.” (25) Even if he did do wrong? Why must I commit adultery and take no responsibility for it in order to understand that adultery is a sin and the fallout from sin is horrendously undesirable? It requires a hardened, irrational heart to admit guilt and provide self-justification in the same breath.

Loftus even blames God for his sin: “The biggest question of all was why God tested me by allowing her to come into my life when she did if he knew in advance I would fail the test?”(26) Loftus portrays himself as a cosmic victim. However, an even bigger question might be, since Loftus was a highly-educated Christian minister, why hadn’t he thought about such matters (God’s sovereignty over sin) before this, maybe when he had committed other (albeit less consequentially painful) sins? Finding a biblical answer to questions of this nature is one major step toward apostasy-proofing one’s self. Fleeing adultery would be another aid. “Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not be burned? Or can one walk on hot coals and his feet not be scorched? So is he who goes in to his neighbor’s wife; none who touches her will go unpunished.” (Pr 6:27-29)

It appears that after the adultery, at a time when resolving marital issues might have wisely been a top priority, Loftus chose rather to investigate the theological implications of the age of the universe, engaging in a correspondence debate with his biochemist cousin. It’s hard to imagine a subject which has less to do with repenting from adultery and restoring a gutted marriage than academically investigating the age of the universe for the first time. A word for theologians and students: repentance must always precede research. You cannot move directly from bickering with your spouse or slandering an associate to unrepentantly studying God’s word without consequences on your heart and mind.

Loftus recognized that the biblical pattern for creation “doesn’t square with astronomy,” (26) as its been most recently formulated and adopts the position that the early chapters of Genesis are myth. He then projects onto the sky various intuitions about what he would do if he created the universe, and “nearly two years later, (he) came to deny the Christian faith.” He states that “it required too much intellectual gerrymandering to believe.” (27)

For those interested in the age of the universe controversy, see Harvard PhD geologist Kurt Wise’s article here. It’s a “gerrymandering”-free article, which presents the consistent antithesis between Christianity and unbelief.

It appears that Loftus remained in the pulpit of his church and various other ministries during this period; this was an utter failure of church discipline, which is ultimately a failure of love. It’s sad to read a story of such thorough faithlessness on so many levels, involving so many people. He outlines various “he said – she said” situations of small church and broader denominational politics which led him to eventually leave the church altogether. “I often ask myself why Christians don’t seem to act any better than others when they alone claim to have the power, wisdom, and guidance of God right there within them.” (30) Intellectually, that sinners (even redeemed ones) still act like sinners is not problematic, but it can produce some of the greatest suffering in life; and sin and suffering combine well to short-circuit reason.

Loftus’ story presents a “sincere and honest” picture of apostasy. It shows clearly the irrationality of sin and the inextricable link between moral and theological failure. It is a cautionary tale for all Christians, and the Bible is not silent on matters such as these either. 1 Timothy 1 closes with these words, “This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.”

By rejecting faith and a good conscience some have made shipwreck of their faith. A characteristic of Christian ministry is waging good warfare, “fighting the good fight.” It is a struggle, a battle, a way of life; and the weapons of this good warfare are holding faith and a good conscience. Faith is never an end in itself, it doesn’t mean anything by itself. When the NT refers to “faith” it is referring to more than mere belief, because belief in itself is nothing. It is inseparable from its object: Christ. Paul is telling Timothy to hold on to Christ. A “good conscience” is not merely finding peace with one’s self by appealing to universal guilt or the specific guilt of others (as Loftus does), but results from a careful, sensitive application of the Gospel to our lives, to our sins. Christ bears our guilt and produces in us a good conscience, so that we can have hope and begin to act like who we are in Him.

Paul goes on and shows the opposite of this good warfare, those who have not kept faith and a good conscience. The rejection, the shipwreck of the faith begins with a certain carelessness or indifference in Christian living and in applying the Gospel to ourselves. It begins with a careless conscience and it ends with a “seared conscience” (1 Tim 4:2). The result of stifling one’s conscience produces a moral derailment which more and more eats away at our sensitivity to truth. Violating one’s conscience in one way or another undermines our ability to discern true from false, right from wrong, through a process of self-justification (e.g. Loftus’ blame-shifting or his sudden desire to investigate the age of the universe, etc.), rather than seeking justification in Christ.

This violation persists until it is as if the conscience were seared with a hot iron, so that one can blaspheme openly and unabashedly in a “good conscience” (e.g. Loftus’ entire book).

Moral and theological decline go together. We need to recognize there is no such thing as a purely theological controversy. And we must not underestimate the centrality of the Gospel in all of life, including our philosophy and apologetics. Moral decay breeds rational decline. “Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling.” (Ps 2:11)

The Ruling Elder: Mark Driscoll, the Trinity, and W. G. T. Shedd

Here’s a very probing analysis of the Trinity discussion at the Elephant Room 2 conference:

The Ruling Elder: Mark Driscoll, the Trinity, and W. G. T. Shedd.

Specifically, the author points out a logical reason why Mark Driscoll’s doctrine of the Trinity is inadequate to the task of examining T.D. Jakes’ view of God… and he does so by reference to one of my heroes in the faith, W.G.T. Shedd!

Here’s a quote attributed to Shedd by another hero of mine in the faith: “If you eat a live frog in the morning, nothing worse will happen to either of you for the rest of the day.”

(HT: CL Bolt and The Aquila Report)

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