Monday, January 26, 2015

Bucket Lists

Last week, I was a part of a gathering of highly successful men and women -- I was the slacker on the fringes of the group. One of those participating, a relatively young man, had recently had a heart attack from which he was recovering, and he spoke of developing plans for an upcoming dream vacation. He said that priorities had changed since the unexpected heart attack, and now he was working on his bucket list. Everyone nodded.

The purpose of what follows is not to oppose bucket lists. Every good thing that we have is a gift from God, and while pleasure is not an ultimate, unbounded principle, surely it is right that we should enjoy good things that God has given us. While some Christians have chosen asceticism as their approach to life, the Bible is not really a book for ascetics, particularly given that Jesus, though poor, was criticized for being a "gluttonous man and a winebibber" (Luke 7:34). He taught both how to rejoice with those rejoicing and how to weep with the weeping. While our best life is not now, certainly there is much that can be enjoyed while here.

Yet, the 2007 movie featuring Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson seems to have struck a chord with the culture, to the point that it has changed the way that many think about their mortality. This is the case in spite of the rather far-fetched plot. One wag has suggested that the grand lesson of the movie is that one who is dying should hope he winds up sharing a room with a rich guy that happens to own the hospital. Be that as it may, many people now seem smitten with the idea that one facing the issue of their mortality owes it to himself to, in a phrase from another era, "go for the gusto."

A generation ago, a person experiencing a life threatening event would have been far more likely to talk about realizing the need to prepare to meet his maker or perhaps about becoming more focused on family concerns. Indeed, the largely forgotten climax of the movie involved Nicholson's reluctant and moving reconciliation with his daughter and family. Though the climactic scene of the movie, it is the part that hardly ever gets talked about in the bucket list conversation.

Given that our culture is becoming increasingly secular, it is not surprising that it would become enamored by a view of life ("go for the gusto") that has the corollary thought that one only goes around once. However, if the materialist is wrong -- and most of those planning bucket lists would not consider themselves raw naturalists in philosophy or religious belief -- then the bucket list does not deal with the issues of death and eternity as much as it avoids them. That is to say that the bucket list serves as a distraction from the need to answer the greatest questions facing the human race.

No view of human existence that fails to account for human mortality is worth much, as it fails to account for the one fact that is certain for everyone that survives birth. Yet, modernity, by prolonging life, has made more possible the delusion that we can avoid thinking about death. Modernity has bred irreligion, not because it has made religion intellectually untenable, but because it has helped postpone the need to face questions to which religion provides answers. This also explains why modern man has tended toward inwardly focused spirituality in place of outwardly focused religious faith. Spirituality is for one who only fears not finding meaning in this life. Religion is for the one who knows that external help is required surely for this life, but also for the life that is to come.

Jesus -- the one described by many as a great teacher and held by his followers to be Savior and Lord -- taught this by means of a stark question: what shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul, or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? (Mt. 16:26). In modern terms, the question might be what value is there in checking off all of the items from the bucket list and losing your soul? What will you give in exchange for your soul.

Those are terrifying questions, because they point to the fact that what we accumulate or experience in this world won't mean anything in the world that is coming. What will help in the day of judgment when we stand before a God who is holy and just?

The Christian answer is that when we were without strength, Christ died for the ungodly (Rom. 5:6). Whosoever shall call upon Christ shall be saved (Rom. 10:13).

It has been said that those who think about death while fully alive are best equipped to think of life at the time of death. God's gifts of creation are intended to be enjoyed in their proper place. Enjoy them as they are intended to be enjoyed. However, in health or sickness, we should be prepared to meet our God.

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Church Needs Heresy Hunters

I occasionally see bloggers and other writers complain about heresy hunters in the church. Some of that criticism is valid, as some of those who pursue what they regard as false teachers do so with an uncharitable tone and a careless use of language that would seem to suggest a relish for tearing other people down. While that fact should be addressed, it should not cause us to fail to value those that seek to root out false teaching from the church, because false teaching damages souls.

I, myself, have been called a heretic on occasion, and in each circumstance in which that has occurred I have considered the person making the allegations to be not only incorrect, but also unnecessarily unkind in their condemnation. I recall having been accused of heresy for three reasons over the last few decades: over my Calvinism, my amillenialism, and my holding to an old earth view of creation. Of course, all three of those issues are matters of strong disagreement among Christians that merit vigorous debate. Bring it on. However, all of these are within the mainstream of the historic Christian faith. As such, they do not fall into the category of heresy.

Nonetheless, that point brings to the fore a key problem regarding this question: Christians are not very good at disagreeing. Indeed, many of us seem to lack even the proper vocabulary for engaging in internal debates, with the result that disagreement leads to unnecessary division and overheated rhetoric. Most Christian disagreements do not involve heresy, and any expressions of disagreement should recognize that.

One of the downsides of having taught in churches over a long period of years is the realization that one has changed his mind on the meaning of certain texts or the understanding of certain subjects over the years. Some people joke that they don't even agree with themselves half the time, and in my case it turns out nearly to be true. Being glad that I now have something right -- I hope -- comes along with it sadness over having taught it incorrectly to others in the past. The Harry Monroe who is now a Presbyterian used to be a Baptist, and in the early part of that more of a fundamentalist than he now cares to admit. Among other things, that means that my understanding of the sacraments (not a word I would have used in a positive sense in my younger days) and church government have changed. My appreciation of covenant as an organizing principle for understanding scripture has become much more robust in the last decade. As a younger man, my understanding of the distinction between law and gospel, though moving in the right direction, was less clear than it is now.

While I suppose that this growth could result in arrogance -- look at how right I am now! -- for me it mostly does the opposite: I am humbled that my understanding and teaching to others has been so deficient. I was a slow learner. Such humility ought to inform our interactions with others. I enjoy a good debate -- sometimes I like it too much for either my own good or that of others -- but discussions with those with whom we disagree ought to be charitable. Indeed, sometimes I have set out to teach someone else only to find out that I didn't know nearly so much as I had thought.

While not all of my readers have learned as slowly as I did, and thus have less cause for humility than I, it is nonetheless true that we all have gotten to the truth that we have as a result of the grace of God -- the falsity that we have is our own fault. That means that we should be charitable with others as we engage in these sorts of debates.

So, let's talk about something important. As mentioned above, and as is known and bemoaned by many of my friends, I am a Calvinist. For a quarter of a century, even during my Baptist days, I have held vigorously to the doctrines of grace. This brings me into strong conflict with Arminianism, which I think gets important issues completely wrong as regards the sovereignty of God in salvation. An Arminian would not be permitted to preach or teach in a church of the denomination of which I am a member.

So, I strongly disagree with Arminianism. While this issue is not a hobby horse about which I go around looking for fights, I argue in favor of my beliefs and against alternatives when it seems appropriate to do so. And I admit to getting especially irritated when others mischaracterize my beliefs -- that being a frequent occurrence. But, do I call Arminians "heretics?" Do I suggest that Arminians are not Christians? Of course not, with regard to both questions. While I certainly do not think that Arminianism best accounts for the scriptural data, I do recognize that classical Arminianism falls within the range of historic Christian teaching. With regard to historic Christianity, both Pelagianism and semi-pelagianism have been regarded as heretical, but both Arminianism and Calvinism are orthodox alternatives. I would say that a teaching referred to as "hyper-Calvinism," which denies the free offer of the gospel, is also outside the pale.

Now, on a variety of subjects sometimes people say things that are, strictly speaking, heretical, but the guilty party should not be treated as a heretic. A while back, a friend -- a minister of a different denomination -- posted a quick blurb on Facebook that unfortunately managed to commit two forms of heresy (Manichaeism and semi-pelagianism) within the space of a single sentence. I have known this gentleman for 20 years, and I am quite sure that his beliefs are not heretical. His thinking is just a bit sloppy at times. I made a brief comment on the post, and he immediately removed the post. This is a reminder that there are many times when a person is careless with regard to a passage of scripture or an idea that he shares. Depending on the importance of the mistake, it might be pointed out or ignored. Nonetheless, labels are probably not useful or accurate when talking to others about these kind of errors.

I should point out that with regard to these discussions, it makes a difference who we are talking to. I would rarely confront a layman in a vigorous way over an error. Many have merely been poorly taught, and many are open to better teaching. The point should be to improve biblical understanding. One does not want to treat Christians who are learning in a way that makes them afraid to talk about their faith for fear of making a mistake. On the other hand, if it is a minister who is trained and teaches others that is making a serious mistake, I am more likely to confront that.

Thus, most debates among Christians should be treated in this sort of spirit; however, there are some instances when those in error should be pointed out vigorously, as they deny essential aspects of the faith (the person and work of Christ, justification by faith alone, and other matters of central importance) and/or teach things that do serious damage to those who follow those teachings. Thus, when Harold Camping set dates for the return of Christ based on a clearly faulty reading of Scripture, he brought ridicule upon the church and serious harm on those who quit jobs and sold all that they had in order to prepare for Christ's return. When Joel Osteen openly declaims the need to teach about sin, thus eradicating the need for a Savior from sin, and replaces Christian teaching with an unbiblical prosperity gospel, he denies the faith and damages those for whom his prosperity promises do not come true. When T.D. Jakes denies the Trinity, he denies important and historic Christian teaching. When a minister in South Carolina abuses a biblical text and confuses creature and Creator, he should be corrected in the most serious of terms. When ministers claim authoritarian power for themselves in unaccountable ways, they should be opposed vigorously.

I recently came across this account written by a woman writing about the Duggars, a family featured on a reality show on television that are evidently admired for what are regarded as conservative religious values. The author at the link grew up in a similar culture, which she now, with good reason, regards as abusive. She is now an atheist. Reading several of her posts, I was struck by the thoroughness of her thought, overall congenial tone, and vigorous dislike for this form of life.

And, while reading, I was struck by the tragedy of it. None of what she describes is really historic Christianity, but her experience of it drove her away from Christ. Along her journey, she evidently did not locate a Christian alternative that would allow for faith in Christ without soul destroying baggage. This is why the church needs heresy hunters, as well as vigorous proponents of confessional faith. Prayerful, gentle, but vigilant heresy hunters, as well as charitable, vigorous proponents of historic Christianity.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Dislike Christmas

I know Christians who regard Christmas as their favorite holiday. I am not one of them. While I receive benefit from sermons about the significance of Jesus' entry into the world and enjoy listening to the music of Handel's Messiah, there is enough crassness and excess about the overall holiday to make me wish it would go away.

This opinion piece, written by someone who I gather would not describe himself as a Christian, nearly perfectly captures my own ambivalence regarding the modern celebration of the holiday. From the article:

"Okay, sure, much of the terrible Christmas music we’re now force-fed like detainees at a very festive CIA black site is sorta-kinda more secular, and so therefore ought to be more appealing to those who object to having a religious holiday crammed down their ear holes. But I’d take a profound messiah over a half-a***d shopping gimmick any day. I’d rather be exposed to two months of transcendently great religious art than a single week of noxious shopping gimmicks dressed up in Santa drag."

Read the rest here.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Who Threw God Out?

A while back a friend made comments on Facebook that were similar to sayings that most reading this have likely heard before. He lamented that the United States Supreme Court had "thrown God out of the public schools." In response, I noted that the Supreme Court decision had been by a vote of 7-2 and lamented that even with the help of two jurists from the highest Court in the land, God's omnipresence had now been compromised by the seven justices who ordered him to get out and stay out. Either God had become deplorably weak, or those justices had fearful power over him.

This friend, seeming wounded by the criticism, angrily told me that I knew what he meant. Actually, I have no idea. I would be happy to have someone turn that phrase into something that is doctrinally sound.

Someone has said that the time to find out what one's theology actually consists of would be when a person does not believe that he is talking about theology. If that is the case, and it seems at least a plausible possibility, then large segments of American Christianity think God is a bit actor in the drama of this world. The decisions and power of people -- such as the Supreme Court -- are what really count. Of course, put that way, most Christians would disagree -- "you know what I mean," they might say. However, what one says might, in fact, be closer to what they believe. If that is the case, not only are their thoughts unbiblical, but they also cut that person off from the courage and the comfort offered by the biblical understanding of God's sovereignty.

Biblically, even in those times where it seemed that the enemies of God had the upper hand, God's people found encouragement in their understanding that God remains everywhere. The Psalmist, in Psalm 139, found solace in the realization that even if he descended into Hades, God was there. In the year that King Uzziah died (the good king dying meant that his monstrous son would take power), Isaiah "saw the Lord high and lifted up." Daniel and his friends recognized God's sovereignty, even after their nation had been destroyed, their temple had been raided and its artifacts brought into the service of pagan deities, and they had been forcibly been exiled. Rather than telling their contemporaries that Nebuchadnezzar needed to let God back into the palace, they confidently asserted that God would deliver them from persecution, whether by life or by death, and that ultimately a kingdom not formed by human hands would reign eternally. The Book of Revelation, read properly, asserts the final triumph of God in the midst of a world in which death and depravity seem to have come out on top.

Of course, believers ache when evil seemed to triumph, and some of the Psalms take the tone of asking God why He is allowing the same. In the end, however, the faith of Christians is that God's purposes may remain mysterious to us, but that the kingdoms of this world will become the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever. Even when the evidence appears otherwise, God is triumphing both in this world and in the one that is coming.

That is the theology -- and the faith -- that Christians need at all times in a broken world. While some times and seasons will be more pleasant than others, ultimately our citizenship lies in another land. While we should enjoy God's blessings in the life that is here, including the exercise of the vocational gifts and pleasures that He has provided us, we look with certainty toward a nation whose builder and founder is God.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

When Rights Are Violated

Should Christians and churches in countries that acknowledge a right to the free exercise of religion diligently and lawfully resist those who would deny that right?
The question has arisen out of recent actions by the City of Houston, which issued subpoenas demanding that certain churches turn over materials related to sermons and private communications on issues involved in a lawsuit to which those churches and individuals were not even parties.
The subpoenas certainly trampled on these churches' First Amendment rights. Under heavy criticism, it appears that the City of Houston is backing down. In any event, it is almost certain that the subpoenas would not have survived a court challenge.
Even so, some well meaning Christians responded that the churches should happily turn over their materials (the focus tended to be more on the sermons than on the private communications).
However, the denial of recognized constitutional protections should not be taken lightly, and New Testament precedent would seem to suggest that Christians are within the parameters of their faith commitments in insisting upon their rights as citizens. The Apostle Paul, while affirming that he was a citizen of a kingdom not of this world, also was a citizen of Rome. As such, on multiple occasions he asserted his rights as a Roman citizen in order to escape the hands of local officials that were acting unjustly.
We should be glad when our nation acknowledges the human right of freedom of conscience, including the free exercise of religion. When those rights are violated, we would do well to exercise our rights to due process.

Wielding the Law

It should be of more than passing interest that in the New Testament the Law is never used with the intention of conforming the behavior of those outside the church (This is partly, but not entirely, due to the fact that the church had no power to require conformity by outsiders). It is used with those outside the church to show guilt in order to then point people to the good news of the gospel, whereby they receive forgiveness through Christ.
This is an important distinction. While the Law provides a guide for conforming behavior to the Word of God within the Church. It functions differently in preaching to those outside. There, it is used to draw people's attention to their need for Christ.
I am struck with the fact that many Christians use the Law in precisely the opposite way of the New Testament prescription. That is to say, they use it as an instrument to require conformity for people outside the church, and they use it as an instrument of condemnation for those inside the church.
This is a grave error. The church taught better when it recognized it had no power.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Not "Left Behind" -- Again

It behooves any Christian addressing questions related to the return of Christ and the end of the age to do so with humility. Even a cursory reading of Christian history reveals that earnest believers adhering to a high view of scripture have held to varied views on this subject, which for the most part does not rise to the level of raising questions of orthodoxy versus heterodoxy. Thus, one should be cautious about expressing certainties in terms that would suggest that anyone who believes otherwise is guilty of rejecting the Bible. Too many Christians eschew such caution.

Nonetheless, in an effort to approach this subject both transparently and humbly, I will begin by stating that at an earlier point in my life I held passionately to views that I now consider to be the worst (meaning, the least likely to be correct) of the various mainstream views -- that is, the theology expressed in the soon to be released Nicholas Cage movie based on the "Left Behind" novels by Tim LaHaye. This view, known to the theologically oriented as "premillenial dispensationalism," is arguably the most widely held position of all American Christians and almost certainly the majority view of American evangelicals. Given its widespread support, many would be surprised to learn of the short history and scant biblical support for the view.

During my teen years, I not only believed these views to be true, but I was passionate in my belief. I read everything I could get a hold of on this subject of biblical prophecy, and before I was 20 I had consumed not only Hal Lindsey's wildly popular Late Great Planet Earth, but other books elaborating on similar themes by authors such as John Walvoord, Harold Wilmington, Tim Lahaye, and Jack van Impe. Back then, my church held a week of revival meetings twice a year, and most of the time when those meetings were held, one night would be devoted to the subject of the return of Christ. I always looked forward to those as an opportunity to hear new insights on how the Bible actually predicted things taking place in the Cold War era that would soon end with the triumphant return of the Lord. And, I loved sharing my detailed knowledge of these things with my friends. As such, I knew that the 10 nations (at that time) of the European Common Market were the 10 horns in Revelation that would eventually be ruled by anti-Christ. I knew that the anti-Christ would require his mark (666) to be placed on every person. I knew that the Soviet Union was prophesied in Ezekiel 38 and 39 to launch an attack on Israel that would end in spectacular defeat. I knew that the Book of Daniel and Jesus' Olivet Discourse spoke of a temple in Jerusalem that would be rebuilt.  And, I knew that prior to all of those things, that Christians would be delivered out of the world by a secret but calamitous event referred to as the Rapture.

In short, I knew lots of things that I now think are untrue. Some would read this in shock and claim that I have turned from the Bible. To the contrary, I think that I have now rejected bad theology and embraced a more biblical understanding.

Under my old view, to say that one was reading the Bible next to his newspaper was a statement of faith, as it revealed one's belief that in the Bible God revealed things that otherwise could not have been known so far in advance. While well intentioned, I now believe that this approach dishonors the Bible. All of the Bible's contents, including the apocalyptic visions of the Book of Revelation, were written by particular authors, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to particular recipients. In some portions of the Bible, the author and recipients are not clearly identified, but in Revelation, they actually are. According to the opening three chapters, Revelation was written by the Apostle John to a group of seven churches in Asia Minor.

To take John seriously as an author of Scripture, and his addressed readers as recipients, one must attempt to read the text as John and his original readers would have understood it. Of course, Christians also believe that these writings have been preserved in our Bibles because they have ongoing relevance to the church in all ages, but that ongoing relevance is rooted in its original meaning. Another way of saying this is to say that before we can know what the Bible means for us, we must know what it meant for its original audience. God revealed himself in his word in real space and time. The Bible is not a mystical book floating in the ether, but it is grounded in real historical contexts. Understanding those contexts is part of what we do in order to understand what it means to us today.

However, the view of Scripture taken by the "Left Behind" view seeks to pull the Bible out of the ether. If Revelation were written to describe in detail modern nations, weaponry, and geopolitical events, then not only did it have no real meaning for John and his original recipients, but it was completely meaningless to readers for the next 1,700 years or more following the time when John wrote it. The Left Behind view is not just that all of those people got it wrong: it was in fact impossible that they could have understood it at all. This is bad Bible interpretation.

Proponents of the view take the position that they are interpreting the Bible literally -- primarily because they see passages in the Bible talking about the Messiah sitting on a throne in Jerusalem as awaiting literal fulfillment -- but sadly many of their views mean that all of the readers prior to the modern age could have had no understanding of much of the Bible, literal or otherwise. In addition, though they claim to be literalists, they are quite selective about what should be understood literally. Thus, in the latter part of Revelation 13, they take the mark of the beast as being literal, but the beast coming out of the sea earlier in the same chapter is figurative. Many will claim that biblically described locusts will actually be helicopters, even while they also claim that the presence of horses described at Armageddon in the final battle are literal.

Even more problematic, they hold to other positions that are nowhere found in Scripture. Most notably, on the basis of passages such as I Thessalonians 4:13-18, they describe a secret "rapture" through which living believers will be transformed and ferreted to heaven, even as the unbelievers left behind are bewildered by the sudden and mysterious disappearance of millions of people. However, that very passage describes the event of Christ's return as something that is so conspicuous that everyone will know what is going on: the Lord will descend with a mighty shout, the voice of the archangel, and God's trumpet.  This hardly seems to be a way of launching a secretive event.

Most premillenial dispensationalists argue that this event launches a seven year period of tribulation. While there is no Scripture that talks about a seven year tribulation, the reasoning that produced this view is fairly clear from those who write about it, and it is important to walk through that reasoning, as it reveals more, far reaching, mistakes that are a part of this view. The notion of a final seven years in world history comes from Daniel 9, a remarkable prophecy in which Daniel explains that the completion of several events, including the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the "cutting off" of "the anointed one," will be accomplished in a period of 70 "weeks." It is not disputed that each week is a period of seven years; however, dispensationalists believe that the completion of the first 69 weeks ended with God hitting the pause button, and that history has now been on hold now for nearly 2,000 years. That final seven years will not occur until God again starts the clock at the time of the Rapture.

Why do they think God stopped the clock?

Their view is that the Jewish rejection of Jesus as Israel's Messiah was an unexpected event. It was so unexpected that none of the Old Testament contemplates the possibility. Thus, that rejection resulted in an interruption of history -- the church age -- in which the message of Christ goes out to the Gentiles. Once this time is completed, God will return to the original plan that concludes with the establishment of a Jewish Kingdom through which Jesus, the Son of David, literally rules on earth at the seat of government in Jerusalem.

It is not surprising that this view is a novel one -- no one believed it until the mid-1800's. While it would require too much space in an already long post to refute all of this, much of it seems questionable even in the description. Biblical support for this understanding is exceptionally weak.

What are the alternatives?

Sadly, many Christians have been taught that there are no alternatives. To reject the above view is to reject the Bible. This is not supported by either theology or history. There have been three primary alternative views that have waxed and waned throughout the Christian era.  These three views are referred to as historical premillenialism, postmillenialism, and amillenialism.

The word "millenium" (the root word contained in each of those names) means "1,000 years." Revelation 20 describes a reign of Christ of that period of time. That is the only passage that mentions this time frame; however, how one understands that reign of Christ will define which of the views one holds to. Of course, there are ranges of understanding within each of those views, and the interpreter of Bible prophecy will need to look to additional Bible passages in order to arrive at his/her understanding. At a minimum, a person seeking to understand Bible prophecy will have to decide on interpretations of Revelation, the Olivet Discourse (Mt. 24), and numerous Old Testament prophecies.

Briefly, following is a quick summary of the major positions. To reiterate, all of these views find support from Christians holding to a high view of Scripture.

Historical Premillenialism. Like dispensational premillenialists described above, this view holds that Jesus will literally reign on earth for a period of 1,000 years following his return, though it doesn't carry much of the interpretive and sensationalist baggage of the dispensational view. This position, which had wide support among the early church fathers, takes literally Old Testament prophecies suggesting that the Son of David will reign from Jerusalem. While that literal understanding might seem like an advantage, it is important to note that New Testament writers sometimes obviously do not read the prophecies in this way. Christ's Kingdom finds description in the New Testament as both already here and not yet, and premillenial views fail to account adequately for that tension. In addition, the premillenial vision of a kingdom in which glorified saints live alongside the living, both converted and unconverted, in a period that will end with a revolt against Christ is problematic, at best.The rationale for a rebuilding of a temple at which sacrifices will be offered is also inconsistent with the New Testament understanding that the need for sacrifice ceased with the accomplishment of Christ, the temple which God raised after three days.

Postmillenialism. According to postmillenialists, the millenium, which is generally regarded as long period of time (not a literal 1,000 years) is a golden age of the church, which results from an eventual nearly universal acceptance of the Gospel that is accompanied by God's gifts of common grace in generally raising human living standards, for which people ascribe to God glory. Christ comes back at the end of this millenial period. It should be noted that there are many Bible passages that describe a widespread faith in God -- "the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters that cover the sea" (Hab. 2:14) -- though whether this can be pressed into service as proof of a universal redemptive reign of Christ is more questionable. In addition, it would seem that postmillenialists, sometimes in reaction to premillenialists, have an over realized eschatology in which they move into human history glories that await our eternal future. Finally, postmillenialism is generally too vague to provide an idea as to when the millenium begins.

Amillenialism.  For those keeping score at home, this is the view of this author. In one sense, this is a different variety of postmillenialism, as amillenialists also believe that Christ comes back after the millenium. However, amillenialists are much less optimistic that the Bible promises that the advance of the Gospel will lead to a golden age in human history. In fact, there is considerable evidence that both faith and unbelief will wax and wane until the very end of the age. Those who hold this view note that many Old Testament prophecies and promises are applied spiritually to events that occurred in the aftermath of the coming of Jesus, and we understand that the "millenium" is the undefined but long period of time between Christ's first and second advents. Those promises of an eternal or more blissful state should be applied to the time following Christ's return.

While some do not like what they call "spiritualizing" of the biblical text (some even, ridiculously, accuse amillenialists of being liberals because of our nonliteral reading of some passages) this overlooks the fact that it is not wrong to give a spiritual or nonliteral or metaphorical meaning to a text that is intended to be interpreted that way. When Jesus called himself the door, no one was expected to take that literally. Before one criticizes those who understand a scripture in a nonliteral sense, that critic needs to wrestle with the possibility that the intention of the text was not a literal one.

This is a long blog post, but a brief consideration of a complex topic. For those wanting more information, I would recommend this book, which contains essays and responses by writers of all four views discussed above. In the meantime, I will leave it up to readers to decide whether the Nicholas Cage flick is a thriller that will make for a fun evening at the movie. However, please don't think that it expresses the Christian view of end times.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Ordinary People

I have noted that on occasion the President of the United States will say that he is "outraged" about something that has been said or done, and whenever he says that I feel a sense of relief that he is probably dissimulating for public consumption. Of course, some people get upset when a President is being less than truthful, but in this instance it is better that what he is saying is untrue. For serious matters, the President requires sound judgment, and the notion that he is "outraged," or emotionally out of control, is a more unsettling thought than the idea that he may have exaggerated about the state of his emotions.

Yet, I have also noted that the President is hardly the only one to use over the top speech about his emotional state in order to establish the bona fides of his personal authenticity. Christian leaders -- or the consultants who advise them -- seem to like this, too. Thus, one leader seeks to impress by informing his audience that he is "obsessed" with his particular mission. Another urges his followers to join him in being "radical."

These are being held forth as worthy qualifications for leadership. When did being unbalanced become a virtue, not a vice? Why is it thought that Christians and others want leaders who talk as though their primary credential is the need for mental health treatment?

The church needs leaders who pray, know their Bibles, meet the criteria for leadership in a church -- and that are more or less normal. It would behoove the evangelical world to become less obsessive about the obsessed.