The thought of spending $12.50 on a movie frightens me. I am perfectly content watching my favorite latest series on Netflix. The thought of going to a movie theater no longer appeals to me as it did ten years ago. So what would compel me to visit the theater this time? I confess, I was intrigued. I have been following Kirk Cameron for some time now. Kirk’s rise to stardom occurred in the late 80’s with Growing Pains. Since then, Cameron has come to Jesus and turned his career toward the Christian movie industry. His official entrance into the evangelical scene came in the 2000 movie, Left Behind. In those days, Cameron had drunk deeply of Tim Lahaye’s best sellers. The Left Behind series became a sensation. The 16-part novels emphasized the rapture, a popular evangelical doctrine of the end-times. The “Rapture” occurs when Jesus calls His Church home. The vision of falling airplanes, tightly folded clothes, and millions of people disappearing has become more than fiction; to many, it is Christianity in its purest form. And Cameron’s movies became the face of it.
Fast forward several years. Cameron’s involvement in broad apologetic and evangelistic work with Ray Comfort has given him some notoriety. He has spoken courageously on a host of moral issues and has received the type of media persecution expected from those who are antagonistic to the exclusivity of Jesus.
Cameron’s personal journey led him to some interesting theological figures. His youthful appeal can be deceiving. Kirk has actually become a fine thinker. And the greatest proof of his ability to engage the world of the Bible intelligently is his latest movie entitled “Unstoppable.” Originally presented to an audience of 10,000 people at Liberty University, Cameron explores the traditional question of theodicy: “If God is sovereign, why does He allow bad things to happen to good people?” a
A Case for Christian Activism
The theme song summarizes the basic thrust of the movie. There is a time to speak and that time is now. Cameron’s investigation provides an apologetic for Christian activism. The former Growing Pains star is now calling Christians everywhere to grow up. Speak for Christ. Defend Christ. The whole world has become a platform for the Christian vision.
This journey seeks to offer some answers to the broad questions of good and evil. Instead of entering into the philosophical arena, Kirk enters into the narrative of redemptive history. The drama of life is being enacted in this great stage. Unstoppable presents a narrative theology that is often unheard of in the evangelical pulpit. This narrative is both compelling and rich. It is a story that starts in the beginning.
Through very rich imagery, Cameron takes us through the formation of man. Man is created with authority and that is most clearly seen in his ability to name animals. In doing so, Adam mimics His Creator. God gives man a mission to heavenize earth. The heavenification project began in the Garden. Adam then is put to sleep and, from his side, God forms woman, who is flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone. This beautiful, poetic, creative act, now puts man and woman at the center of God’s great plans for history.
Man was to have dominion over all things. And the first great test they faced came in the form of a beast. Adam should have smelt it a mile away. He should have crushed it. But the compelling drama goes from the safety of the garden into the danger of the forbidden fruit. Adam’s sin plunges humanity into chaos. But in the middle of this cosmic betrayal, God does not betray His creation. He makes a promise (Gen. 3:15). Even after Adam and Eve leave the garden He continues to provide for them.
But the narrative continues in bloody fashion. Humanity experiences its first death: the death of a son, the death of a brother. God then places on Cain the first true mark of the beast.
At this point, Kirk Cameron explores the persuasiveness of this narrative. This is a narrative, he argues, that would not sell. In Genesis, the Creator of the world destroys His own creation when He sent a great deluge to drown humanity in their sin. Why would the Protagonist do this? It is here when Cameron shines in his narration. He argues that God packs the whole world in a wooden box and then re-opens the box (the ark) to a new and better world. The new world is born through tragedy. The story is persuasive because it does not hide the consequences of sin.
The Theology of Unstoppable
Unstoppable is a short commentary on Genesis, which is consequently a commentary on the whole Bible. The great rainbow (bow) serves as an instrument of war. God took that instrument and directed it to His only begotten Son at the cross. At the cross, Christ was brutally murdered by His own creation. But it is precisely at the cross, argues Cameron, that “Jesus flips death on its head by dying for His enemies.” After death came life. Life burst from the grave. In fact, every graveyard is a garden. And one day, “each seed will burst into a new world.”
It is in this resurrection theme that Cameron transforms the question of evil into a case for the God who redeems humanity and will bring humanity from the dust of the earth into a new creation. Cameron takes the death of his young friend and uses it as an example for how grieving is not the end of the story. God’s purposes are unstoppable.
This is not your typical Bible story telling. Cameron weaved into his narrative a robust view of creation. Creation is not something to be despised or rejected. Creation was not left behind by its God. Creation is being redeemed by its Maker. Redeemed humanity united to the Final Adam, Jesus Christ, is now commissioned to disciple the nations and make the glory of God known.
Evangelicals will be deeply shocked by its overwhelming optimism. Cameron does not end in lament, but in triumph. The Christian vision is not an escapist one. It is a mission grounded in resurrection joy. And because of this, evil does not have the final word. God cannot be stopped. His purposes will be accomplished in history. His glory will be known from sea to sea.
JANUARY 28, 2014
CHURCH SHOWINGS BEGIN NOVEMBER 15!
- Inherent in the question, is “How can He allow bad things to happen to Christians? (back)
I hope to write in the next 18 months a short booklet on eschatology. I have written some papers in the past, but have not been able to provide a general outline, specifically of the postmillennial hope, and its contrast with other millennial positions.
Obviously, there are many wonderful works out there. From John Jefferson Davis to Keith Mathison, and the multitude of theonomic works from the 70’s and 80’s, namely, many of David Chilton’s work (especially his Revelation commentary).
At the same time, there still seems to be a dearth of introductory works at a more layman level. The typical parishioner who has sat under postmillennial preaching for years still finds himself confused by all the labels used. If he has not been immersed in a reformational vocabulary, he is bound to confuse categories and chronology. Naturally, they find themselves incapable of articulating why this optimistic vision contains a progression beginning in Genesis and flowing throughout the New Covenant writings.
Panel Discussion on Eschatology
I listened recently to a panel discussion on eschatology at ETS held some years ago. The postmil advocate (a conspicuous minority in that room) offered a helpful treatment of the chronology of I Corinthians 15:22-26. While helpful, that type of assessment needs to be incorporated into the broader corpus of the Scriptures. For instance, I find it unfathomable to begin a conversation on eschatology without considering the promise of Genesis 3:15 and the motif that is unfolded throughout the other books, namely Judges with its five-fold illustrations of head-crushing.
Poythress, a noble advocate of the Amillennial view, sees the postmil vision more adequately than most, but still does not see why the vision of the Puritans, for example, is a vision of a christianized society. He argues, in this panel discussion, that if postmil advocates were to focus more on the Second Coming then he would have more in common with them. Well, there is no doubt we focus on the Second Coming, the final parousia, but history is a progression. We look to the coming of Christ at the end of history while not discounting the purposes of Christ throughout history and in history.
The famous Hallelujah chorus grasped this already-ness of the kingdom:
The kingdom of this world
Is become the kingdom of our Lord,
And of His Christ, and of His Christ;
And He shall reign for ever and ever,
For ever and ever, forever and ever,
King of kings, and Lord of lords,
King of kings, and Lord of lords,
And Lord of lords,
And He shall reign,
And He shall reign forever and ever,
King of kings, forever and ever,
And Lord of lords,
We are in full agreement concerning the restoration of the world. And to quote Poythress, we are not waiting for the dissolving of the cosmos, but its restoration, while at the same time we need to believe and trust that the enthronement of King Jesus means the de-thronement of Christ’s enemies. If it is true that he must reign until all his enemies are under his feet, then this reign is quantitative, not just merely spiritualized.
The Gospel promises a discipled world (Mat. 20:18-20) and discipleship and baptism imply a qualitative and quantitative narrative of history. This tangibility of the Gospel vision is the hope of the consistent eschatology of the Scriptures.
Since I have been deeply involved in the eschatology debate for over ten years, had some of my works published in other eschatology websites, interviewed postmillennial authors, and have been in the healthy business of proselytizing premils to the postmil position for just as long, I have noticed a few trends. My own transition from pre to postmil was not neat. I wondered in the other premillennial categories and in the “Amillennial parking lot” for a short while.
I confess a deep appreciation for my amillennial brothers. Men like Vos, Horton, and Beale continue to offer fresh insights into the biblical text and to expand the biblical theological vocabulary in some desirable directions. Beale’s work on a theology of worship is a gift to the church.
But while appreciating their labors I also see a trend in the use of language that can be harmful to the postmillennial cause. I refer specifically to the use of the language “already, and not yet.” “This theological concept of “already” and “not yet” was proposed by Princeton theologian Gerhardus Vos early in the 20th century, who believed that we live in the present age, the ‘now’, and await the ‘age to come.” The premillennialist George Eldon Ladd had used similar language when arguing that we taste a little now of the age to come, but not the fullness of it.
Vos and Ladd share similar viewpoints, though they would have differed on their interpretation of I Corinthians 15:24-26. That essentially is the only difference between a historic premil and an amillennialist; a few chronological issues, but a firm agreement on the continuation of the decline of civilization. Some amil scholars still argue among themselves on the identity of a future anti-christ. Other amil thinkers embrace the “optimistic” label to balance out the “amil” label, though this is a more recent phenomenon.
Already, and not yet
This language can be helpful at times, and it has turned into a unified slogan among many in the Reformed camp to combat pre-tribulational theology. Let us assume for the moment that the pre-trib. position is unsustainable and not even worth debating. If this is the case, how is the language of “already, and not yet” been helpful to elaborating the victorious promise of the gospel declared by postmil advocates in the Reformed camp? I venture to say it has not been helpful at all in the postmil eschatological proposal. When the amil advocate uses the language–and the language was coined by amillennial advocates–he means that though we taste a bit of the world to come now, we ought not to expect any type of cosmic manifestation in power and might of the gospel until the Second Coming.
This embodies a largely pessimistic vision of the work of the gospel in the end of history. Again, this is not a debate on the post-resurrection world. There is no debate on that issue. We all affirm the Gospel victory then. The question is: “What will the world look like before Jesus returns at the end of history?” Kenneth Gentry offers a helpful definition of postmillennialism:
“Postmillennialism is the view that Christ will return to the earth after the Spirit-blessed Gospel has had overwhelming success in bringing the world to the adoption of Christianity.”
Assuming this definition, we are affirming that not only will we receive a taste of the world to come in this era of human history, but we will also see with our eyes and touch with our hands the very progress of the Spirit-blessed Gospel in the world.
If not “already, and not yet,” then what?
So what am I suggesting? I am suggesting we no longer use that language, except in very specific cases. This language may be helpful in communicating ideas with someone re-thinking the dispensational position, but even then I recommend caution, since they may be prone to research this language and be led to amillennial writers.
We are not suggesting a utopian society. We believe sin will always be with us until Jesus returns, but we are also affirming that human sin will lose the war against the gospel when it comes to the conversion of the nations. I agree with my mentor, James Jordan, that as the gospel brings people and nations to submit to King Jesus and as the Gospel becomes more prevalent in the national discourse we will also see a greater battle against our own sin since people will become more aware of their struggles. This, however, does not negate the imperative that the nations will come to Zion and worship (Is. 2, 11), but it emphasizes that confession and repentance will always be part of the Christian experience in this world.
Instead of the “already, and not yet” language we may choose to refer to our hope as the “already, already, but not yet,” emphasizing that we will not just taste of the world to come, but also experience the world to come in this world. Obviously this is a long-term strategy. Postmillennialists are not naive to suggest that this Spirit-blessed Gospel will cause world-wide transformation over night, rather this is a long-possibly millennial- project. A double “already” emphasizes the reality of this Gospel vision in history. Further, it emphasizes that we are not simply tasting of the world to come individually, but corporately as a people.
This world is indeed our home, and we long for a renewed world. We do not despise this creation, we long for its restoration.
What other language can we use?
If the “already, already, but not yet” seems like a theological technicality, then I suggest a few other phrases. We are living in the age of “glory to greater glory,” “fulfillment to greater fulfillment,” present, but not fully present,” “joy to greater joy,” blessing to greater blessing.” These are all categories that define the glory of the transformative gospel before the Second Coming.
You may even provide a better and more accurate picture of this truth in words if time allows, but in the meanwhile be cautious with the “already, and not yet” language. History matters to God. And describing that history in certain words can communicate something we do not wish to communicate.
I had the opportunity to meet Dave Hunt on a couple of occasions. I sat attentively in one of his talks where he opposed Calvinism. If my memory serves me right, he said something like this:
I was amazed at what I discovered when I deeply researched Roman Catholicism. I came to the conclusion that it is not a Christian Church. I could not believe how much falsehood they affirmed. But I was even more deeply amazed when I began researching Calvinism. It is a web a lies. It causes people to trust in the philosophies of men rather than in the Word of God.
In those days I had been reading through Norman Geisler’s Chosen, but Free. I thought it was a good response to the Calvinist claims. I even taught a Sunday School class in a Baptist Church following that paradigm. I now see Geisler’s treatise as the blending of a schizophrenic philosophy with a high dose of mis-characterized Calvinism.
A few years later Dave Hunt came to town (Tampa Bay) to lecture on this supposed highly problematic doctrine. This was before the publishing of What Love is This? Even then, I had already imbibed of a good dose of Tulip Theology thanks to Michael Horton’s Putting Amazing Back Into Grace. Hunt’s lecture was filled with silly analogies, and my zealous Calvinism saw it for what it was.
Years earlier I had read some of Hunt’s prophetic literature and found it compelling, especially when he combined the false teachings of cults with the coming anti-Christ. He portrayed the world and its future in such dark categories that it was easy to adopt a pessimistic eschatology. In his latter years, Hunt continued his eschatology talks, but focused his attention on his crusade against Calvinism, or as one endorsement referred to it as the “abuses of Calvinism.”His talks and radio show, and the endorsement of almost the entirety of the well-known Calvary Chapel movement made him an anti-Calvinist rock star.
The reason for this short piece is that Dave Hunt died yesterday. It is common courtesy to extend sympathy to memory of those who have died in Christ. I especially wish peace on his wife Ruth and other family members. Hunt offered some very helpful apologetic material early on. He lived a fruitful professional life. Unfortunately to those of us in the Reformed community, Hunt offered some very unwise counsel. His dispensational prophetic interests created–in my estimation–a distorted expectation in the Christian Church. Many have bought into a misguided eschatology and have as a result offered a poor apologetic for the role of the Church in the culture, and the clear biblical vision of bringing all things in submission to King Jesus.
So as one more important piece of dispensational history departs to the presence of our blessed Lord–and Dave Hunt, in my limited knowledge of him loved His Lord Jesus Christ–let us move history into better theological pastures. Let’s raise a generation of optimistic thinkers who battle cults, but then offer a strong apologetic–a Trinitarian one–to fight it. And as we do so, let us not use our cult apologetic to justify or validate our doomsday theology.
And on the Calvinism front, may God raise gentle Calvinists who will argue for grace from the foundation of grace. When we do so, let us also represent our Arminian brothers with utmost respect.
Rest in Peace, David Hunt.
I began my day reading through Jim Jordan’s magnum opus, Through New Eyes. Jim is a dear friend and we have worked together for three years (09-11). I have literally read and listened to hundreds of articles, sermons, & lessons. If Jim publishes, my eyes will seek to scan it. In many ways, he has taught me to love the Bible in a deeper way than before.
My seminary days were wonderful days. I had the privilege of sitting under some of the most renown Reformed theologians alive. It was filled with excitement and theological epiphanies. But none of these men came near to the theological revivals that James Jordan caused in my own thinking. Jordan enabled me to appreciate the Bible for its own merit. He caused me to love the Bible for its own structure, poetry, cadence, rhythm, and music. Yes, the Bible is a beautiful song sung by Yahweh Himself in Genesis 1 and closing with the eternal song of eternity in Revelation 22.
In TNE, Jordan observes:
…the universe and everything in it reveals the character of its Creator. God designed the universe to reveal Himself and to instruct us. The problem we have is that sin has made us deaf and blind. We need new eyes and ears, and the Scriptures can help us get them (13).
These new eyes and ears are only re-shaped and re-designed as we allow the Scriptures to do so. The Bible shapes us as a people. The Word of the Lord re-orients our minds to see God’s instruction in everything. The world, and in particular, Scriptures, communicate to us through vast symbols. The revelation of Yahweh contains a specific language that we need to master. And the only way of mastering it is by seeking its guidance day and night.
Hear the Bible
One strong emphasis James Jordan has made over the years is that reading the Bible is not enough. Listening to it is equally important. The ancients did not manuscript copies available as we do, but yet their minds were saturated by the language of Scriptures. Their minds delved deeply into the rich types and symbols of the Old Covenant Scriptures. They heard it read and began to make connections. They did not only accept explicit types and symbols, but they saw that the entire Bible was one story pictured in symbols and types, and since this is the case, therefore every narrative is connected to the one previous and the one after.
Hearing the Bible especially in a community setting takes us away from our natural tendency to isolate ourselves. The isolation of evangelicalism is due to hermeneutical isolation. Individuals are perfectly satisfied to pietize the Bible. And as they do so, they turn their individualism into a standard for others. But when we hear the Bible, when we listen to one another in our communities, and when we allow the Church to speak–as she should–we become part of a greater hermeneutical project.
Hear the Bible, but don’t hear it alone. Hear it, and then contextualize it in this grand story of redemption. And when this is done, sin’s hermeneutical effects began to fade away and our eyes and ears will be able to do those things they were created to do.
Collin Hansen wrote an article for the Gospel Coalition entitled Should You Cancel Good Friday? which has brought to the attention of many a conversation they have never had before. What is Lent? Why celebrate it?
As a committed Protestant, I am committed to the Church Calendar, not because I want to be a slave to it, but because I am aware of its inevitability. We all follow some calendar. The question is which calendar? I ask that question because Protestantism is grounded in a Trinitarian view of the world. In its best expression it does not isolate ideas; it brings ideas together to form a coherent system.
I suggest that Lent is highly Trinitarian. As the Trinity is a communion of love, so Lent provides a means to express that love to one another in the community. Where sins are confronted and battled, there you find a vigorous Trinitarian community and vision. Lent is service to the community by giving us a season of determined battle against sin for the sake of our neighbors.
It offers a vision of history that undergirds the biblical history and that reflects the normal routines, liturgies, and rituals of human beings. Lent is a form of restructuring our lives. All Christians need a re-structuring of order in their own lives. All Christians need to re-balance and re-form areas where there is disproportionate indifference. We all undergo a Psalmic journey of lamentation and feasting. Lent draws us into this journey.
In essence, Lent reveals the God who suffers in the Person of Jesus Christ. God’s image-bearers are formed from the dust of a fallen Adam to the glorification of the risen Final Adam. To disconnect Lent from the Church Calendar is to disparage history.
It is true we live in the age of an ascended Lord, but this same Lord guides a Church that is still broken, suffering, and healing from brokenness and suffering again and again. The removal of Lent is to proclaim an over-realized eschatology.
It is true that Lent can be abused, and history teaches us that it has. But it is also true, as Luther so memorably stated, “the abuse of something is not an argument against its proper use.” So if Lent can be proven to be profitable, then is there a legitimate way to benefit from it without falling into some its former abuses. Protestant Christians are not bound by Romish structures of food or rituals. We use wisdom in forming healthy habits for a Church and individuals while not binding the Church or the individual to a particular habit.
Lent and Wilderness
Lent teaches us that Satan’s gifts are easy to master. They come with first grade instruction manuals. They are made to be mastered quickly and enjoyed rapidly (fornication, drugs, alcohol; various temptations). God’s gifts are a little harder to master. They require self-control and patience. They anticipate spiritual growth; they demand a kingly attitude to grasp kingly wisdom. God’s instructions mean you have to seek others in the community to understand them properly. You have to exercise and express a theology of patience built into a theology of blessings.
In the wilderness, a garden stripped of colors, fruit, and water, Jesus faced the devil again in a re-match. He knew well that temptation had a triumphant history of subtly winning arguments. Jesus wasted no time and rebuked temptation. just like He would do with the demons and the demonic-like religious teachers of the day.
We are not to sit in temptation’s classroom. God already said we are to flee it; to rebuke it with the only source of authority that is permanent and stamped with divine truth.
The Church finds herself in a wilderness scenario. She is stripped of her former glory. But she is destined to journey from glory to glory like her Lord and Master. As in Luke four, we need to sit in Yahweh’s school house. We need to be instructed by the two-edged sword that muzzles the Tempter and tells him to not come back again. He is not welcome and neither are his offers.
Lent offers us a 40 day class on temptations and the glories and rewards of resisting it.
But Why 40 Days?
Lent follows the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness. His fasting for 40 days speaks to the evil and the hardness of heart of the Israelites who succumbed to the Serpent’s whispers. So as the Church walks with Jesus from wilderness to Golgotha she re-lives the messianic journey. The 40 days are symbolic for that wilderness testing, and as a result it is chronologically set before the Great Paschal Feast, commonly referred to as Easter.
Should Lent be Observed?
Ligon Duncan and others in the Southern Presbyterian tradition argue that Lent has a history based on merit. Lent was a way to earn something. The Reformation fixed this soteriological error, and therefore Lent is no longer to be observed.
Duncan and others also go on to say that celebrating Easter and Christmas offer no such harm (he also believes that a National Holiday like Thanksgiving is also a uniquely American holiday to be celebrated). There is no doubt Easter and Christmas, and even Thanksgiving–to a lesser degree–offer wonderful benefits. But the question and the opening presupposition is that Lent is not biblical therefore it should not be practiced in the Church. If that is the case, then the question is not whether one day (or Season) is more beneficial than the other, but rather is it explicitly stated in the Bible or not? If the “explicit reference” argument is used, then Duncan will have to conclude that this is faulty reasoning.
I concur with Vance Freeman that “each of his (Duncan’s) reasons for not observing Lent are undercut by the observance of Christmas and Easter.” Mr. Freeman also concludes:
The biggest threat to Christianity today is not the church in Rome, or that Americans are prone to elevate traditional Christian rituals, like Lent, over discipleship. The biggest threat to the church is that our rituals are increasingly only secular ones. We are Americans before we are Christians. Super Bowl Sunday not only competes with the Lord’s Day, it dominants it. And when we relegate the Christian life to a mere facet of our American lives we fall into Moral Therapeutic Deism.
The formation of godly habits is the issue at hand. In other words, is there an adequate time of the year where the Church should have an explicit focus on the cross of Jesus and how that cross must shape our understanding of sin? Is there room for setting aside a season for a cruciform hermeneutic? I believe there is.
As Peter Leithart so ably summarizes:
Lent is a season for taking stock and cleaning house, a time of self-examination, confession and repentance. But we need to remind ourselves constantly what true repentance looks like. “Giving up” something for Lent is fine, but you keep Lent best by making war on all the evil habits and sinful desires that prevent you from running the race with patience.
If this is true, then Lent serves an enormously important role in the life of the Christian. Naturally, to quote Luther’s first thesis, “the Christian life is a life of daily repentance.” A faithful understanding of the Lord’s Service provides that for us weekly. However, an extended period where our sins are deeply brought to our attention by the preaching of the Word and prayer (and fasting) are regularly considered, practiced and meditated upon can provide great benefits for all Christians on each Lord’s Day and throughout the week.
The legalism concern is legitimate. We are all tempted to fall into this trap, but it does not have to be so. If we view Lent as a time to additionally focus our attention on mortifying our sins and killing those habits that so easily entangle us, we can then consider the cross in light of the resurrection, not apart from it. If we do so, Lent will become legalism’s greatest enemy and repentance’s best friend.
People of God, this is the Fourth Sunday of Resurrection! We are still immersed in this season of joy and celebration. And we have chosen I Corinthians 15 as the background theme to this feast. Why? Because the resurrection is God’s response to death and Caesar. God does not make false promises. He fulfills His creation purpose: to renew all things and to make the Light the center of His universe. Namely, that Light is Jesus. The Light is so powerful that the darkness of the tomb cannot contain it.
The great Princeton Seminary professor, B.B. Warfield, enjoyed saying to his students: “Gentlemen, I like the supernatural.” We are believers in a supernatural God who made an unknown tomb to be the center of a supernatural faith.
Out of this empty tomb God is making something new. We call it the New Creation . This New Creation was not the invention of man; it was the entrance of God’s kingdom into this world. It was not the Church that created a story to keep their dying faith alive, it was the resurrection of Christ that created and sustained the Church. As F.F. Bruce wrote:
“The early Christians did not believe in the resurrection because they could not find his dead body. They believed because they did find a living Christ.”
The tomb is empty because the threats of death are empty. And this is the apostolic goal in this chapter: to re-affirm and to revel in the resurrection of the Messiah. Continue reading Fourth Sunday of Easter: The Empty Threat of Death, Part III, I Corinthians 15:20-28
I have been editing our old interviews on blogtalkradio.com. The latest one is an interview Jarrod and I did with Joel McDurmon of American Vision on eschatology. Here it is.