Bible, Church, Eschatology

James White, Postmillennialist

Dr. James White is a Reformed Baptist theologian and apologist and founder and director of Alpha Omega Ministries who, formerly premillennial and amillennial, recently shifted his eschatology to postmillennialism. I decided to explore that shift a little more deeply with him.

PAS: James, what leading factors contributed to your move from amillennialism to postmillennialism?

JW: I should first make it clear that I have truly sought to avoid the eschatological debate realm for many years. I was raised dispensational pre-millennial, and I still have the books and charts to prove it. I remember so well when Thief in the Night came out, and we watched it at our church on New Year’s Eve before midnight. I am still freaked out by the sight of an unattended, running lawn mower.

Likewise, I remember clearly, sometime in my junior year in high school, around 1978 or so, using the glow from my cool Tritium digital watch to read the text from Matthew 24 to my friends in the dark at a lock-in at the mega Southern Baptist Church I was a member of, explaining the budding of the fig tree, how long a generation was, and how Israel had become a nation in 1948.  A few years later, as a dual Bible/Biology major in college (minor in Greek), I and some fellow Bible students plotted to buy Dr. Martin, our amillennial professor, a bunch of helium filled balloons and have them delivered to class with the note, “In case of rapture, hold on tight!”  We didn’t do it only because we were Bible college students and could not afford it.

But shortly thereafter I became convinced that the hermeneutical method I was using for my premillennial views was inconsistent, and hence I had to abandon that view.  However, not knowing about any other views to any depth, I became agnostic about the topic, calling myself a “panmillennialist,” as in, “it will all pan out in the end.”  I knew one had to have an eschatology proper, relating to judgment, the coming of Christ, resurrection, the final state, etc., but I had come to the conclusion that these debates produced far more heat than they did light, and I lost all interest.

Years after graduating from seminary I listened to a series of lectures from an amillennial lecturer on “this age and the age to come,” thought, “Hey, that makes sense, and is nice and simple,” and adopted the view.  I read a few more works on the topic, and adopted it mainly because I knew I could not speak and write on systematic theology while maintaining eschatological agnosticism.  But I still did not find the field compelling or interesting.  I had not yet seen how it is necessarily related to how one decides key issues about the church’s purpose and future.

When I moved to Apologia Church a few years ago I found myself more directly and openly surrounded by postmillennialists.  My fellow Pastor Jeff Durbin was preaching through Matthew, and hit Matthew 24 right as I became a member.  It was not long until I entered the eldership, and so the issue was more clearly a part of my thinking. I was asked to read Dr. Joseph Boot’s The Mission of God, as Apologia basically refers to it as a manifesto of sorts for the church. This led to further reading in other authors as well.

But the biggest factor was 2020, the year when it became clear that a global, purposeful movement headed straight into secular technocratic totalitarianism was on the fast march. The pandemic panic, combined with a CCP-style totalitarian mindset, was causing a rapid slide directly into a dark abyss, and I began thinking very seriously about what this meant to the faith, and, especially now as I have grandchildren, the oldest of which is heading into her teen years, how we can communicate the faith to the generations yet to come.

PAS: What specific biblical texts or theological constructions most contributed to your change?

JW: In my “coming out” sermon, I focused upon what had truly pressed me to take a stand on the topic.  Postmillennialism is a top-down theology.  It begins with over-arching themes that flow naturally and beautifully from Reformed theology. Instead of starting down at the bottom and trying to build up a system based upon interpreting symbols and apocryphal texts, postmillennialism starts with the over-arching purpose of God in Christ.  As I studied Psalm 110, Psalm 2, Isaiah 42, and saw how these texts are central to the Apostolic understanding of the church, time, and the future, I was forced to deal with the divine promise that Christ will triumph, not just in a spiritual sense, which all positions take as a given. The phrase in Psalm 110:2, “rule in the midst of Your enemies” struck me.  This is a command, an imperative, and it is not about ruling in heaven while Christ’s enemies hold full sway upon earth. Jesus did not say all authority in heaven alone had been given to Him.  And surely the promise of Psalm 2:8 must be fulfilled. Could Jesus fail to ask for the nations, and would the Father fail to sovereignly comply?  These, together with the key text in 1 Corinthians 15:20ff, came together to provide the over-arching intertextual themes and fulfillment that I had not found in any other understanding.

PAS: Has this shift altered your existential outlook on the church and society in any way?

JW: That shift was taking place due to my discussions with my fellow elders at Apologia, but certainly once I saw the incredible consistency of the biblical testimony at the highest level of the fulfillment of the purposes of the Father and the Son, seen prophetically in the Hebrew Scriptures and fulfilled in the New Testament, I could not avoid making my decision.

The postmillennialism I am espousing recognizes God is fulfilling His purposes in time, and that includes judging nations and empires.  There have been very dark times since the resurrection.  As one who has taught church history for decades, I well knew there was no simple, straight line of “improvement” in the world from the first century until now.  And as we face a possible period of deep and prolonged darkness, I now look at the situation not in an escapist mindset, but in an endurantist mindset. What if secularism with all its related falsehoods amounts to the greatest challenge to Christ’s lordship ever seen?  And what if it is His intention to destroy these falsehoods with such power that they will never again afflict the minds of the human family?  And what if that means allowing them to hold sway for decades, even centuries, so that their full depth of emptiness can be known for all time?  Will we give up our hope even in such situations?  We cannot, and I now have a context in which to remain faithfully joyous and hopeful even in the darkest situation, for the same one who promised His holy One would not see decay (and hence brought about the resurrection itself) likewise promised ultimate victory to the One who must reign until every enemy has been put under His feet.

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Church, Culture

Ghost Churches

Introduction

A new term in ecclesial nomenclature is “ghosting.” It denotes church members’ dropping out of their congregations without informing their church leadership, simply disappearing. In our age that increasingly disdains commitment to institutions, ghosting has been increasing for the last decade, and it has accelerated during the Covid drama. The dramatically altered social ambiance has given “ghosts” an ecclesial hall pass they never seem to intend to return.

It occurred to me that it would be a mistake to limit ecclesial ghosting to members. What about churches? Can churches become ghosts?

Tragically they can — and have. Let me list three ways.

Covid Ghosting

First, consider the churches that have in effect ceased to exist. I say, “in effect,” because churches that refuse to meet for protracted periods have simply closed shop. Why? Because the very meaning of church is “assembly” or “congregation.” Amid 2020 Covid culture you might have heard, “Be the church wherever you are,” or “The virtual church is still the church.” But there is nothing virtual about the church. A church that is not tactile is not the church. It is a ghost church.

This is not to suggest that churches that temporarily suspend meetings due to pervasive illness or the presence of a majority of the elderly, who are most vulnerable to Covid. It is, however, to declare that cancelation of Sunday worship until the state governor lifts lockdown prohibitions = cancelation of the church itself. In “cancel culture,” the most heartbreaking event is the church’s self-cancelation.

Doctrinal Ghosting

Second, ponder churches that have abandoned sound doctrine. It’s remarkable how many conservative churches that formally oppose liberalism don’t understand that liberalism began with the idea that the church doesn’t have access to revealed truth. The father of 19th century liberalism, Friedrich Schleiermacher, wrote: “Dogmatic theology is the science which systematizes the doctrine prevalent in a Christian church at a given time.”[1] No orthodox theologian anywhere would have dared offer that definition. Dogmatic theology is the application of the Bible, properly interpreted, to the church and world.[2]  Theology doesn’t include only what we call “systematic theology.” It also involves biblical devotion, comfort, law — how to live day to day in God’s world. This biblical truth far outstrips the most advanced psychological insights peddled in today’s churches. 

More and more churches major on self-help, therapy, addiction recovery, life coaching, and marriage seminars that, while not inherently wrong, are not the central ministry of the church, which actually is faithfully teaching and preaching the Word of God. Churches that substitute social programs and religious entertainment and commoditized “community” in an atomistic age for the simple, faithful ministry of the Word are ghost churches.

There is nothing virtual about the church. A church that is not tactile is not the church. It is a ghost church

More and more churches major on self-help, therapy, addiction recovery, life coaching, and marriage seminars that, while not inherently wrong, are not the central ministry of the church, which actually is faithfully teaching and preaching the Word of God. Churches that substitute social programs and religious entertainment and commoditized “community” in an atomistic age for the simple, faithful ministry of the Word are ghost churches.

Cultural Ghosting

Finally, think about the majority of churches in the West that see no calling to Christianize culture. They are committed to edifying themselves, as they should (Eph. 4:7–16), but seem to have missed the charge to bring all nations (not just individuals) under Christ’s authority (Mt. 28:18–20) and to press his reign in all areas of life (Eph. 1:15–23; cf. 2:4–7). Christians are called to glorify God in matters as seemingly trivial as eating or drinking (1 Cor. 10:31). To glorify God in all things means to act in obedience in every area of culture. Since the earth and its fullness are the Lord’s (1 Cor. 10:26, 28), to act as Christians in his world is to bring him glory everywhere. This necessitates Christianizing the world. The successful Great Commission to evangelize the world creates an increasing number of believers who glorify him in all things everywhere. Therefore, to speak of world evangelization while opposing world Christianization is to talk at cross purposes.

One role of the church is to prepare the saints to vanquish the world, the flesh, and the devil by donning the whole armor of God (Eph. 6:10–20). The church is not merely a haven of protection from earthly evil. It is also tasked to counter and crush that evil as God’s armory in equipping the saints for earthly victory.

But much of today’s church in the West is committed to a distorted view of “separation of church and state” and a soft-core dualism that sees the material world and this life as necessary evils to be avoided as much a possible while living for escape to an ethereal heaven rather than a resurrected and renovated earth in which God dwells (Rev. 21:1–5). The church can longer be social light and salt because it has hidden its illumination within the four walls of the church and has lost its saltiness and is therefore being trampled underfoot by secularists and neo-pagans.

This is a tragic but fit consequence for a ghost church, which prefers ethereal marginalization to robust engagement.

Conclusion

Ghost churches litter the landscape of the West.  It is impossible to imagine the patent de-Christianization of the West apart from the ghosting of the church. It is possible for a church to be vibrant within a hostile society, but this condition can never be permanent: either the church will gradually remold society in a Christian image. Or the godless society will infect and emasculate the church. Ghost churches have paved the way for godless culture, and reversing the ghosting is a necessary precondition of a godly society.


[1] Friedrich Schleiermacher, The Christian Faith (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1928, 1976), 88.

[2] John M. Frame, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P & R Publishing, 1987), 76–88.

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Church, Culture, Theology

Christmas: Excarnation Versus Incarnation

This Advent and Christmas season we celebrate the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. Incarnation literally denotes enfleshment. The eternal Son of God assumed humanity as a babe in Bethlehem in order to grow to adulthood and die for the sins of the world. This death and subsequent resurrection, the source of our salvation, presuppose incarnation. Without incarnation, there can be no salvation.

Excarnation

The opposite of incarnation is excarnation, a word coined by Charles Taylor[1] to describe the modern inclination to limit all the significant issues of reality to the mind. The body and material world are simply vehicles for reason and imagination. Excarnation is indebted to ancient Gnosticism, the first and most dangerous Christian heresy that afflicts the church and culture down to this very day.[2] While the Bible located the world’s ills in human sin, Gnosticism blamed them on creation itself. An ignorant, malign deity (the Demiurge) broke from the true God and created matter, including the human body, contrary to God’s desire. The true God tried to foil the Demiurge by covertly inserting sparks of divinity into the human bodies. To the Gnostics, the Fall is not from righteousness into sin, but from spirit into matter; and salvation is escape from the body and reversion to pure spirit. This means the human body and the material world are a prison from which the enlightened must escape. Jesus came not to save from sin, but to deliver from ignorance and impart knowledge (gnosis), by which the illuminated learn of their true, excarnated destiny. For Christians, man is rescued by God’s Son becoming man in assuming (and dying and rising in) a human body. For Gnostics, man is rescued by escaping from his body, after which the divine spark is released to return to the heavenlies. Man becomes God. Excarnation is the process of man’s salvation. This heresy the antithesis of biblical orthodoxy.

Excarnation in Culture

Excarnation is increasingly a guiding tenet of Western elites. There’s nothing Christian about it. The Bible teaches that God’s norms are interwoven in the cosmos. These include gravity and thermodynamics. They include economic laws of scarce resources. Moreover, they include his norms for human sexuality. Today’s elites don’t simply wish the rebel against these laws. They want to circumvent and then abolish them. They have figured out the only way to do this is to bypass reality itself. Their vision of the Good Society is one in which all people are equal in condition, and the “marginalized” are resituated as the apex of culture. If this means redefining reality, so be it. If the human body as biologically male or female is an impediment to human imagination, sex-“reassignment” surgery is an option. If some humans are smarter, better looking, stronger, or cleverer than others, laws must be imposed that penalize their giftedness and reduce them to the level of their inferiors. Eventually, this means that their gifts must be eliminated to create true equality. If women are naturally superior nurturers and men naturally superior soldiers, men must nurture babies and women must serve in combat. TV and movies must depict lithe 120-pound women as martial arts devotees vanquishing muscular 200-pound male warriors. The ridiculousness of the idea is irrelevant; it’s the reality-bending social vision that matters. The body forbids the exercise of the rebellious imagination, so the body must be circumvented and, if necessary, abandoned. Reality doesn’t conform to the elite vision of society, so reality is irrelevant. The excarnation paradigm sees the body simply as a vehicle for the person, the “authentic self.” The person, the real you and I, is inside the body, the “ghost in the machine.” The body is like an automobile that carts us around. There’s a radical disjunction between the authentic, self-aware person, and his body. The body is simply a tool, like a screwdriver or a fork, though a highly complex one. This anthropology (view of man) has momentous implications. For one thing, it means that if the self is not fully developed, the body is unimportant. This means that there should be no barrier to abortion and euthanasia and mercy killing. After all, it’s the self that’s important, not the body. If there is no authentic self (or person on the inside), the body is disposable. Remember: the body is only there as a vehicle for the person. [3] This is the grim price we pay as a society for implementing the excarnation vision.

Excarnation in the Church

The Bible does not exalt spirit over matter; Jesus is Lord of the invisible and visible world (Col. 1:15–17). Yet ever since pagan Greek ideas of the inferiority of the material world infected Christianity, the church has battled with excarnation. Even as the church prays, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Mt. 6:10), many Christians view the world outside the church — economics, politics, entertainment, education, and architecture — as inescapably “carnal” (fleshly) and unfit for Christian influence. So the church retreats to an excarnated spirituality. Prayer, interior dialogue, and contemplation of heaven are considered spiritual, while working to re-criminalize abortion, de-legitimize same-sex “marriage,” combat pornography, and reduce government theft programs in the form of confiscatory taxation are relatively unimportant and, in fact, a diversion from the church’s real, excarnated tasks. Escape from evil within the created order rather than confrontation with and victory over it is the excarnational agenda. Christianity is reduced to a “personal devotional hobby.”[4] But Advent stares us unflinchingly in the face with the truth that the present world, immaterial and material, is cursed by sin and is to be redeemed by the death and resurrection of our Lord. The most evil being in the universe is pure spirit, but Jesus was born and lived and died and rose from the dead and lives forever in a body. He is profoundly interested in the world, including the material world. He came healing the sick and exorcising demons from tortured bodies. To trust in the Messiah for salvation is to surrender oneself mind, soul, body — our entire self — to him (Rom. 12:1–2).  

TV and movies depict lithe 120-pound women as martial arts devotees vanquishing muscular 200-pound male warriors. The ridiculousness of the idea is irrelevant; it’s the reality-bending social vision that matters.

  He is as interested in purging sin from gansta rap and abortion clinics and fraudulent bond-rating agencies and Bauhaus architecture as he is from Christian hearts and families and churches. The cleansing power of the Gospel does not simply take souls to heaven; it transforms everything it touches.

Conclusion

This Advent season, relish the incarnational life and dismiss the excarnational vision. The body and the material world are not designed for our escape but for joy and victory. Jesus is Lord of all, and a God unashamed to be born into a barn amid farm animals is unashamed to care for and redeem every area of creation and culture presently under the dominion of sin. Christmas is a celebration of incarnation that made possible atoning bodily death and victorious bodily resurrection. Our future hope is not excarnation in a false medieval vision of angel babes and halos and harps in heaven but of the new heaven descended to a new earth purged from sin, where God will dwell eternally with us his people — on a profoundly material, but sinless, earth (Rev. 21:1–4).  


[1] Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, England: Belknap, 2007), 288.
[2] Benjamin Walker, Gnosticism, Its History and influence (Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, England: Aquarian Press, 1983, 1989).
[3] Robert P. George, “Gnostic Liberalism,” First Things, December 2016, 33–38.
[4] Stephen C. Perks, The Great Decommission (Taunton, England: Kuyper Foundation, 2011), 20.
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Christology, Church

The Un-Toned-Down Gospel

First-century apostate Judaism and the ancient Roman Empire did not feel threatened by a theological interpretation of the death of Jesus Christ, vital though it is to the health of the church.

Rather, they were harrowed and haunted by the message that the Jewish rabbi that had been cruelly crucified had risen bodily from the dead and ascended into the heavens, and was ruling with all authority over the entire universe.

The present regal authority of the crucified and risen Lord is a threat and affront to all autonomous humanity everywhere.

This truth is at the core of Christianity, it may never be toned down, and it must be proclaimed without reservation everywhere, at all costs.

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Bible, Church, Holy Spirit, Sanctification, Soteriology, Theology, Uncategorized

Our Promissory God

Several decades ago a Canadian schoolteacher Everett Storms read the Bible through 27 times specifically counting God’s promises. The number he came up with is 7,487. We might dis‐ pute that number, but of this there must be no doubt: you can find thousands of God’s promises in the Bible. If you read nothing but divine promises in the Bible, you would be occupied for a very long time. If you removed the promises from the Bible, you would no longer have a Bible.

Listen here.

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Bible, Church, Sanctification

The Diabolical Disappearance of Answered Prayer

In 2020, it’s difficult to imagine a Christian college president anywhere writing such a bold, faith-drenched book. Such simple, fearless faith poses an embarrassment to the minds of many modern well-educated Christians deeply vested in Enlightenment rationalism and soft-core Christian deism, which sees God as so transcendent and aloof as not to be actively, eagerly, and continuously involved in his creation. Since God has given us his word by which to order our lives, and since he’s in complete control of the world, why pray with persevering, expectant zeal that he will change the status quo?

Read the rest here.

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Church, politics

John MacArthur on the Abiding Authority of Biblical Law for Modern Nations

In what must be the boldest, most fearless, most biblically drenched sermon by a megachurch pastor in 2020, John MacArthur today declared that: (1) nations must recognize the true God; (2) political rulers must operate according to “biblical law”; (3) biblical law is designed for all nations, not just the Jews; (4) there are no truly secular governments (all are religious, whether good or evil); (5) our culture has transitioned from postmodernism to paganism; (6) “research justice” (the new notion that all research by white heterosexual males is worthless) is a return to jungle tribalism; (7) that unless Gov. Gavin Newsome repents, God will rain down His wrath on him; and (8) God will judge nations that turn from Him and biblical law.

This is John MacArthur, 2020.

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Church, Culture, Philosophy, Theological Method

Boisterous Irrelevance

 

A famous quote attributed to Martin Luther is: “If I profess, with the loudest voice and the clearest exposition, every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christianity. Where the battle rages the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle-field besides is mere flight and disgrace to him if he flinches at that one point.”

Actually, the quote is by Elizabeth Rundle Charles appearing in her The Chronicles of the Schoenberg Cotta Family, and about Luther. It does, however, reflect Luther’s oft-repeated sentiment.

In the great battles for the souls of men and the world, a certain species of Christian leader specializes in taking a bold, boisterous, public stand on issues that aren’t under attack. These leaders exit the actual battlefield to create sandbox battles, sometimes convincing the naïve, and perhaps even themselves, that they’re faithful warriors. They’re not. They’re irrelevant.

Since March 2020, the “point[s] which the world and the devil are at [this] moment attacking” are political liberty in the culture, and gospel truth in the church. The draconian and suffocating executive political edicts issued in response to COVID-19, notably in the form of “shelter at home” (euphemism for virtual house arrest), antisocial distancing, and mandatory masking haven’t only ravaged jobs and livelihoods and wrecked the economy. They’ve gutted public Christian worship and transformed many churches into non-churches — what were once churches are now religious Zoom collectives. It is statist ideology adapted to the institution-formerly-known-as-church.

Following quickly in its wake were the protests and terrorism and monument toppling, allegedly in response to the unconscionable killing of George Floyd. In actuality, this tragic event permitted Cultural Marxists, mostly in the form of Black Lives Matter, to invent a rationale for an assault on the United States and Christian culture.

What Communism couldn’t accomplish in a century, “white guilt” pulled off in three months.

Likely more troubling than this social anarchy has been the capitulation of thousands of conservative churches to “wokeness,” supporting the new racism in the church: white Christians bowing and kneeling (idolatrously?) before black Christians in confession for other people’s sins, actual or imaginary, and shifting the conservative church into social Leftism. What Communism couldn’t accomplish in a century, “white guilt” pulled off in three months.   

While all this was going on, some of the great bastions of orthodoxy were manning the bulwarks of the covenant of works, two-kingdom theology, and the rise of the latest iteration of the Middle East Antichrist. While not unimportant, error on these topics is far from posing the danger to both society and church that ideological statism and Cultural Marxism do. Fixating on the former doctrines while the latter poison the commonwealth as well as Christ’s body exhibits a battle-avoiding irrelevance that might deceive the naïve but that disgusts the perceptive.    

Theological Hyper-specificity

A chief culprit in this irrelevance is theological hyper-specificity. We’ve all heard of the proverbial medieval scholastic debates over how many angels can dance on a pin’s head, but debates today can be no less trivial. Debates over the sign gifts (tongues and healing), water baptism, church government, the sacraments or ordinances, Bible translations, and election and predestination are occasionally worth having, but they don’t touch on the heart of the once-and-definitively-delivered Faith one way or another.

Truly trivial, however, are the silly arguments over infralapsarianism, supralapsarianism, or sublapsarianism; the ordo salutis; and the immediate or mediate imputation of Original Sin (if you don’t know what these are, you don’t need to know).

While many truths revealed in the Bible are implicit and need to be drawn out by careful prayer, study, and reasoning (like the orthodox Trinity), some theological arguments catapulted to top-agenda items are simply speculative. Somebody once asked an older theologian friend of mine his view on the lapsarianism controversy (infra-, supra-, or sub- ?).

He responded, “Why should I have a view when God doesn’t?” If the Bible doesn’t address certain topics that might interest us, it might be because we don’t need to spend a lot of time thinking about them. And thinking about them when we should be thinking about topics burningly relevant to church and culture is positively dangerous.

Theology Without Christian Worldview

Finally, many Christians assume theology will suffice to equip one for life in this world. But it won’t. It’s necessary, but not sufficient. Theology needs to be incorporated into a Christian world-and-life view. This is an entire outlook generated by a heart for God, a life immersed in the Bible, and a mind cultivated in Christian philosophy — a God-oriented knowledge in all things, not just theology.

About three decades ago a great push emerged for a recovery of the early ecumenical creeds and especially the Reformation confessions during that time of doctrinal flimsiness. This was a timely call, and many churches and ministries correctly reoriented themselves to these powerful doctrinal statements. I myself was a part of this movement, and I make no apology for it.

But we’ve now learned that the historic confessions won’t save us. This is evidenced in that a surprising number of these “confessional” churches have capitulated to “wokeness,” Leftist “social justice,” Black Lives Matter, socialist economics, feminist ideology, and routinized same-sex “attraction.”

While they formally affirm confessionalism, what they lack is a comprehensive Christian world-and-life view. This, and not merely a reaffirmation of confessionalism, is the desperate need of the hour.

Theology – Christian worldview = cultural irrelevance.   

Conclusion

Theological hyper-specificity and theology without Christian worldview are two hazards leading to irrelevance during the great battles of the time. Our calling is to fight where the “battle rages,” where “the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all the battle-field.”


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Church

What About Mask-Wearing as Christian Charity?

My CultureChange e-newsletter “Mandatory Masks, “Shelter at Home,” and (Anti-) Social Distancing: A Christian worldview analysis and a brief theology of the state” raised several valid questions. One of them is whether wearing a mask during COVID-19 as a Christian fulfills our obligation to love our brothers and sisters. We should not insist on our rights, so goes the argument, even if we are correct, but surrender our rights for the sake of fellow believers.

As a rule we as Christians should be willing to engage in any charitable act. The question is how is charity best expressed in particular historical situations?

The implicit Christian demand for mask-wearing in the present climate on the basis of charity would seem to fall into what Paul refers to as sentiment of a weaker brother (Rom. 14). In other words, it is: “I’ll show my love to you by wearing a mask.” Or, “Please show you love me by wearing a mask.” Those who make abstemious requirements not outlined in the Bible and whose consciences are wounded by other Christians who violate those non-biblical requirements are what Paul would designate weaker Christians.

Note carefully that I am making no pronouncement on the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of masks, nor arguing whether church leaders should or should not obey all political directives, a topic I addressed in the article linked above. Here I am solely addressing the issue of the expression of Christian charity as it relates to masks.

I infer Paul’s meaning that in individual cases, one should forego his God-granted liberty (e.g., wear a mask to avoid offending an individual person). But allowing the weaker brothers and sisters to re-orient the entire church because of their scruples is something Paul makes very clear should not happen (v. 1). The issue pressed by the weaker Christian must not be permitted to divide the church, nor may church leaders demand the church adjust its entire practice down to the level of weaker Christians.

Practically this means that if I’m invited to the home of a fellow Christian who urges me to wear a mask during my visit, I must do this. But that same Christian cannot demand his entire congregation to capitulate to his personal scruples, nor may church leaders demand this burden on his behalf.

And then, of course, there is the reverse scenario: those who believe that compulsory mask-wearing is a capitulation to statism. Should we show them charity by not wearing a mask, if it means making us more vulnerable?

Each should be fully persuaded in his own mind (v. 5).

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Church

Church Bulletin Insert, December 2020

All of us recall the tumult of the coronavirus last winter. After much prayer, church leadership has decided in a preemptive move to cancel all public worship and other ordinary meetings for January – April 2021. This is flu season (which could very well include another Coronavirus-like contagion), and we’d rather not take the risk of an outbreak in our congregation due to public worship. Loving your neighbor means not risking exposing him or her to coronavirus, and all of us agree this is more important than meeting in a church building. We will reevaluate this decision for flu season 2022.

Depending on how this new policy goes, we’re also considering canceling public worship during the summer months when so many of our families are away on vacation.

We were encouraged last winter by how many of our congregants preferred this more convenient way to worship on Sunday, especially families with small children, and we believe we can attract many more “virtual” members to our church with this new policy.

This would mean that, moving forward, we would meet for worship in May and in September – December. This will make traditional in-person Sunday worship very special when we do have it. 

Like last winter, we’ll live-stream Sunday worship, and musicians will separately stream our sacred music for the day. Please transmit your tithe and offerings online.

During this time, we encourage small groups, but no more than three people, please.

Please contact the church office about baptism, which will resume in May. Feel free to celebrate your own Lord’s Supper in your home.

Let’s always remember that we can worship just as well alone as we can in a group, and that the church isn’t a building or a meeting, but God’s people wherever they are.

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Church, Theology

J. I. Packer on De-Mystifying God

62260

By “mystification” I mean the idea [often held in traditional views of God] that some biblical statements about God mislead as they stand, and ought to be explained away….

[S]ometimes [in the Bible] God is said to change his mind and to make new decisions as he reacts to human beings. Orthodox theists have insisted that God does not really change his mind since God is impassible and never a “victim” of his creation. As writes Louis Berkhof, representative of this view, “the change is not in God, but in man and man’s relations to God.”

But to say that is to say that some things that Scripture affirms about God do not mean what they seem to mean, and do mean what they do not seem to mean. This provokes the question: How can these statements be part of the revelation of God when they actually misrepresent and so conceal God? In other words, how may we explain these statements about God’s grief and repentance without seeming to explain them away?

[A]t every point in his self-disclosure God reveals what he essentially is, with no gestures that mystify. And surely we must reject as intolerable any suggestion that God in reality is different at any point from what Scripture makes him appear to be. Scripture was not written to mystify and therefore we need to ask how we can dispel the contrary impression that the time-honored, orthodox line of explanation leaves.

J. I. Packer, “What Do You Mean When You Say God?” Christianity Today, September 19, 1986, 30, emphases in original.

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Apostasy, Church, Family, Uncategorized

Our Political Supply-and-Demand Problem

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Barack Obama was re-elected. He’s basically a soft-core Marxist. His radical views didn’t sneak up on and outwit an unsuspecting populace; unlike in 2008, they knew what they were voting for. They knew he’d bulldozed his nationalized (= socialist) health care plan into law without a single Republican vote.  (So much for bipartisanship.) He didn’t win in a landslide, but he did garner a lion’s share of votes. Mitt Romney (despite his obvious weaknesses) didn’t run a bad campaign. A slight majority of voters simply prefer Obama.  This means, among other things, that we have a cultural problem, not so much a political problem. Obama is a political Santa Claus, and we now have an entire generation of chimney-riveted voters who blithely support social engineering by confiscatory wealth redistribution (i.e., stiff taxes), yearlong Christmas gifts from the wealthy few to the avaricious many.

There is no quick solution to this problem.

One reason for the depth of the problem is that ours is an obvious case of supply-and-demand politics: as long as there is a demand for political Santa Clauses, candidates like Barack Obama will be keep traveling down the national chimney. This is why excoriating — and replacing — Obama (understandable though this tack may be) is insufficient: there are plenty where he came from. Winning the war on socialism is analogous to winning the “war on drugs”: it’s a demand problem, not a supply problem.

Political change is one effect (not the only one) of cultural change. Somebody recently told me that presidential elections are quadrennial snapshots of the culture’s continuously rolling video film. Elections are quick cultural verdicts at a specific point in time.  It’s a great miscalculation to assume that elections produce long-term cultural changes; it’s cultures that produce long-term political changes.  Cultural change occurs when people’s lives and worldview are changed, and the institutions they populate — families, schools, jobs, voting booths — are gradually changed. Cultural change is much harder and takes much longer than political change — which is why most people opt for political change.  Fervent prayer is harder than precinct marching. Rearing children is harder than contributing to a political campaign.  Attending church is harder than voting. Reading and obeying the Bible is harder than reading and discussing National Review.

There’s the cultural way and there’s the political way.

The hard way is the right way.  And the ultimately most successful way.

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