Thursday, July 24, 2014

Arab pastor on Gaza

Looking at Hinduism

On the one hand there's the abstract, textbook, sugar-coated Hinduism pedaled by academic popularizers like Michael Sudduth. On the other hand, there's the Hinduism that Christian missionaries actually encounter:

Irony alert

Moral Irony: In the ancient world, the Romans reviled Christians for rumors about orgies and killing their young. In the modern world, western Secularists revile Christians for refusing to hold orgies and for refusing to kill their young.

Stop defending police when police stop defending us

Lord and God

Literary intercalation

John's literary strategy is intercalation. He will interrupt the story of the Woman and the Dragon by intercalating a totally different story. 
One can note how the millennial reign is intercalated between binding and loosing episodes in 20:1-3 and 20:7-15. This literary construction is similar to Michael's war with the Dragon intercalated into the story of the Woman and the Dragon (12:7-12). Gerald L. Stevens, Revelation: The Past and Future of John's Apocalypse (Pickwick Publications, 2014), 424, 509. 

This analysis undermines the view that these are sequential events.

Proportional force

Critics of Israel urge Israel to exercise "restraint." To that I'd make a couple of observations:

i) In just war theory, there's the principle of proportionality. However, that doesn't mean you should use the same amount of force as the enemy. Rather, the means should be proportionate to the goal. Don't use force far in excess of what's needed to secure the strategic objective. 

But war isn't a sport, as if you should give the enemy a fair chance of beating you. 

Imagine if two men, wielding baseball bats, break into your own at night and threaten your family. Are you supposed to defend yourself with a baseball bat, or reach for a gun (assuming you have a gun)? You're hardly obligated to be "fair" to the assailants by using the same weaponry. 

ii) "Restraint" assumes your enemy is prepared to give in. If, on the other hand, you have a fanatical, implacable foe who will fight to the last drop of blood, then the enemy  doesn't allow you to exercise restraint. He's forcing your hand. 

Impending persecution

When Christian social critics warn about the impending persecution of Christians in America, there are fellow Christians who think it's insightful to remark Christian Americans have nothing to complain about. We don't know what real persecution is. Just compare what passes for "persecution" here with what Christians face in the Muslim world.

But that completely misses the point. The purpose of this warning is to take precautionary measures to forestall that very development. If you wait until it gets really bad, then it's probably too late to reverse it. Yes, no doubt things could get far worse for Christian Americans. And dismissing that concern pretty much ensures that it will happen. Some Christians can't see three feet ahead of them. They just wait for things to befall them. If you wait for the volcano to erupt before you evacuate, there's no time to escape the pyroclastic flow

Sinless shame

I left a comment on this post:

This illustrates a fundamental distinction (of which there are many) between Christianity and Islam. Islam lacks a concept of sin. Rather, it has a concept of shame. 
That's why we see this perverse logic of executing the victim. It doesn't see this as an issue of sin, or even a moral issue. 

Israel's conundrum

The modern state of Israel is in a bind. Barring divine intervention, the conumdrum seems to be insoluble. Will Israel survive? This may be an empirical test of Dispensational hermeneutics. 

i) How do you respond to an enemy that refuses to make peace? If the enemy is bent on your wholesale annihilation, how can you survive short of annihilating the enemy? If your enemy will do absolutely anything and everything to wipe you off the face of the map, how do you survive unless you wipe them off the map before they do it to you? 

Critics are branded Israel's counterattack as "genocide." Of course, that's wildly hyperbolic. But suppose the Muslims give Israel no other option? If the ultimatum is: we (Muslims) will destroy you (Jews) unless you destroy us first, isn't that a forced option? 

Short of detonating some well-placed neutron bombs in Gaza, the West Bank, maybe Syria and Iran, how does Israel defend itself? 

ii) But that brings us to another horn of the dilemma. The "international community" won't allow Israel to solve the problem. If Israel took drastic action, it would face crippling economic sanctions.

iii) Israel has two adversaries: Muslims and liberals. The liberals are the nonviolent counterpart to the Muslims. It's a variation on the same conundrum. What if you have facts and logic on your side, but your opponent doesn't care? What if you argue with your opponent on his own grounds, but he makes no effort to be consistent?

To my knowledge, Israel is a liberal democracy. Its laws reflect blue state values. Conversely, its Muslim adversaries embody everything the Left says it deplores. Yet American liberals side with Israel's enemies. When Israel's ideological soul-mates side with their ideological opponents, israel has no traction. There's nothing left to say. 

Everyone agrees on the rules going in. You win the poker match fair and square. Then your opponent responds by drawing his revolver. 

iv) Suppose the Muslims succeeded in exterminating the Jewish population in Israel. Suppose Iran nukes Israel. Of course, the nuclear fallout would be devastating to the region, but if the Mullahs had the mindset of suicide bombers, that would be their ticket to the garden of carnal delights. 

What would be the reaction? Millions of people would celebrate their demise. Dancing in the streets.

Then you'd have academics with mixed feelings about the outcome. They'd say the Muslims went too far, but the Israelis were asking for it. 

The UN would issue a condemnation. The Pope would issue a condemnation. The US president would issue a condemnation. Someone might establish a new Holocaust museum. 

But life would quickly go back to normal. Most people wouldn't miss the death of another six million dead Jews. Millions of people die every year. Most people don't notice. Never knew them in the first place. It's just an abstraction. A statistic.

Moral of the story: if you don't defend yourself, don't expect anyone else to come to your rescue. You and I don't mean that much to strangers. 

Wise and foolish virgins

“This is a crisis, and not simply a political crisis, but a moral one,” said Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. On Tuesday, Mr. Moore led a delegation of Southern Baptist officials to visit refugee children at detention centers in San Antonio and McAllen, Tex. In an interview after the visit, Mr. Moore said that “the anger directed toward vulnerable children is deplorable and disgusting” and added: “The first thing is to make sure we understand these are not issues, these are persons. These children are made in the image of God, and we ought to respond to them with compassion, not with fear.” 
America’s southern border is engulfed in a humanitarian crisis, as refugees fleeing violence in central America, many of them unaccompanied children, seek safety.  
That done, reform is to try to make a way for those here under our “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy to come out of the shadows and, where possible, make things right. 
The Samaritan has no reason to claim accountability for this terrorized neighbor. He does so because he treats him, a stranger, as though he were kin. The lawyer questioning Jesus rightly sees this as showing mercy (Lk. 10:37). And Jesus says simply, “Go and do likewise.” That’s why Christians are at the border, ministering to people. And that’s why all of us should be praying for those in harm’s way on the border, and those trembling in fear in violence-torn Central American countries, as well as those exploited by traffickers and cartels.
Several issues:

i) Moore is too nearsighted to see that amnesty is the magnet creating the crisis in the first place. The policy he champions precipitates the result he deplores; he then cites the deplorable result to expand the ruinous policy. A classic vicious cycle. 

ii) It's not a Christian virtue to be a dupe. The kids are being used as bait by La Raza and the Democrats. 

iii) Presumably, Moore doesn't think children should be separated from their parents. So where should they be reunited? It's obvious that the children are being exploited by opportunistic adults to secure a foothold for the adults. If you reward that tactic, that's an open invitation to flood the Southern border.

iv) There's such a thing as destroying the very thing you came for. If you overload the system, you destroy what you came for. Everyone loses. Like dying of starvation because you hunted game species to the point of their extinction. 

v) It isn't the responsibility of American wage-earners to provide for all the needy and oppressed people of the world. We couldn't do that even if we wanted to. 

From what I can tell, the American economic is dying, thanks to liberal policies. We can't afford another unfunded mandate or bankrupting entitlement program. 

vi) Illegal immigrants are looters. We can't afford to have waves of people plunder our goods and services. That impoverishes everyone (except the ruling class). Those who pay into the system get nothing in return because those who didn't pay into the system take it all.  

vii) The parable of the Good Samaritan is not the only parable of Jesus. Here's another parable:

Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps….8 And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9 But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves’ (Mt 25:1-2,8-9).

i) The wise virgins brought their own oil. It was theirs to keep. 

ii) Notice the theme of personal responsibility. 

iii) Because supplies were limited, there wasn't enough to go around. If they shared their oil, there wouldn't be enough for anyone. Before you can even provide for others, you must be in a position to provide for your own needs. Sometimes you have to be hard-nosed. Otherwise, no one benefits. 

Pure religion

In a recent interview, Tullian Tchividjian said:
"The core message of the Christian faith has been lost in the public sector because what we are primarily known for is our political ideology or opinion," Tchividjian told The Christian Post. 
"Specifically the reason why Evangelicals in America are unliked by non-Evangelicals is because we've branded ourselves as a political movement. It's not like Christians don't have opinions about what's going in our world and what's happening in our culture; I think that we do, I do, we all do, but when the primary message that the world hears from us is, "We need to fix the world…We need to stamp out all of the bad stuff," they don't hear the message that Jesus has entrusted in us," continued Tchividjian. 
"If people are going to stumble over what we say, it's going to be because we're called to speak the Gospel which Paul says is a stumbling block. But I can't go out there and be a jerk and align myself with a political party or a candidate and get crucified on either the right or the left and just say "I'm just a martyr for the truth." No, you're not even speaking the truth that God has called you to speak first and foremost."
So is Tully's position that Christians should stop acting in the best interests of their children? Christians should stop protecting their children from becoming wards of the state? Christians should stop protecting babies, the elderly, and the developmentally disabled from abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia? Christians should stop defending the right of children to be raised by a real mother and father? Christians should stop warning people about the consequences of self-destructive lifestyles? Christians should stop defending their Constitutional right to preach the Gospel? Should we live to be "liked." 
When James says "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world" (Jas 1:27), has he lost sight of "the core message of the Christian faith"? Is that an unnecessary stumbling block? As one commentator explains:
This verse is not meant as an exhaustive list of what pleases God; rather, it describes by practical example the behavior patterns exhibited by a person whose character is being shaped by "true religion," that is, genuine faith. Both personal holiness and social responsibility are manifestations of the character transformation that genuine faith effects. It is noteworthy that James includes both here, because it is difficult to be involved in the ills of the world without getting entangled in its idolatries, and it is difficult to cultivate holiness without cutting oneself off from the exigencies of the world. Ultimately, however, to be truly effective in dealing with the ills of the world requires personal holiness (cf. 3:17), and genuine personal holiness entails involvement in dealing with the world's ills. D. McCartney, James (Baker 2009),130. 

How Roman Catholics misuse and manipulate Scripture

God’s Living Word

God speaks, and in doing so, his very word creates and accomplishes its purposes. Roman Catholicism pays lip service to the Scriptures, but by its very dogmas, it takes away the meaning of the Scriptures.

Double trouble

Angelic warfare

The Bible contains scattered references to angelic warfare. I use that to designate two different, but related things: angels waging war on each other (or God), and angels waging war for or against humans. 

As Christians, we must take this seriously. However, the analysis often boils down to two inadequate alternatives: "Spiritual warfare" is simply a synonym for sanctification, or else spiritual warfare is depicted in Miltonian terms: humanoid angels with superpowers, like Greek gods smiting each other. Let's briefly try to improve on those alternatives. 

i) The diabolical war against God is indirect. God is invulnerable, so Satan and the demons can't attack him directly. instead, it's a kind of angelic Cold War. To take a comparison, Russia and America couldn't safely nuke each other. And because they occupy different continents, they couldn't invade each other. So they fought proxy wars through allies and satellites. 

ii) How do angels (i.e. heavenly v. fallen) fight each other? As discarnate spirits, presumably this is psychological warfare. Mind games. Telepathic espionage and counterespionage. Disinformation. 

iii) Angels are shape-shifters. According to Scripture, they can assume human form. That's an extension of psychokinesis.

Heavenly angels can use their powers to protect God's people by warding off physical adversaries (Gen 19:11; Exod 14:19-20; 2 Kgs 19:35). Conversely, demons can take possession of humans or animals. Although angels can make themselves visible or audible to humans, presumably they can shadow us as unseen guardians or adversaries. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Egotistical apostates

Recently I had occasion to comment on two apostates. The first was in response to an email correspondent. Here's my terse reply:

I skimmed it, as well as taking a quick general look at his blog. 
There's really nothing new here. It's more about rearranging stereotypical objections to the Bible. Rearranging old furniture. The only thing that's new is the arrangement, not the content. 
I'm struck by how self-important apostates are. It's not enough for them to lose their faith. They think it's terribly important to tell their story. As if everyone should be as interested as they are in themselves. 

The second was in response to an apostate on Win Corduan's Facebook page: 

Steve Hays Scott, what Bible scholars, church historians, and Christian scientists have you read?

Steve Hays I ask because you raise canned objections which conservative Bible scholars, church historians, and Christian scientists have repeatedly addressed. It's not enough for you to raise objections. You need to acknowledge the responses and detail why you think the responses are deficient.

Steve Hays Take some books defending the inerrancy and/or historicity of the Bible. For instance:

Daniel Block, Israel: Ancient Kingdom or Late Invention? (B&H 2008)

Craig Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (IVP; 2nd ed., 2007)

Steven Cowan and Terry Wilder, In Defense of the Bible: A Comprehensive Apologetic for the Authority of Scripture (B&H 2013)

James Hoffmeier & Dennis MaGary, eds., Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith? (Crossway 2012)

Kenneth Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Eerdmans 2003)

Jonathan Pennington, Reading the Gospels Wisely (Baker 2012)

Vern Poythress, Inerrancy and the Gospels (Crossway 2012)

I. Provan, V. P. Long & T. Longman, eds. A Biblical History of Israel (WJK 2003)

Robert Stein, Interpreting Puzzling Texts in the New Testament (Baker 1997)

How many of them have you read? If you've read some of them, why do you find their evidence/arguments unpersuasive?

Take some books on science. For instance:

W. Dembski & J. Wells, The Design of Life: Discovering Signs of Intelligence in Biological Systems

S. Meyer, Darwin's Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design

A. Gauger, D. Axe, C. Luskin, Science and Human Origins

Have you read them? If so, what in particular is wrong with their arguments?

Steve Hays Just to wrap things up, let's put some additional evidence on the table:

Here are some good books on the historical Jesus:

Paul Barnett, Finding the Historical Christ

_____, Gospel Truth: Answering New Atheist Attacks on the Gospels

Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony

Craig Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of John's Gospel

P. Eddy & G. Boyd, The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition

Craig. A. Evans, Jesus and His World: The Archaeological Evidence

Craig Keener, The Historical Jesus of the Gospels

And here are some good books on Messianic prophecy:

T. D. Alexander, The Servant King: The Bible's portrait of the Messiah

Alec Motyer, Look to the Rock: An Old Testament Background to Our Understanding of Christ

O. Palmer Robertson, The Christ of the Prophets

Michael Rydelnik, The Messianic Hope: Is theHebrew Bible Really Messianic?

And here's a standard reference work on theistic proofs:

The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology

That's just skimming the surface. There are so many lines of evidence.

Steve Hays BTW, your self-description reflects a standard apostate trope. The "discovery" that you were hoodwinked all those years. The sense of betrayal. As if this was all part of sneaky plot to keep the faithful in the dark.

Steve Hays You commit a common fallacy of imagining that you aren't making a claim, therefore you shoulder no burden of proof. But you've been asserting many things to be the case. Those are truth-claims on your part. So you're the one who's guilty of shifting the onus onto your opponent.

Steve Hays A claim needn't be a positive claim to be a truth-claim. A negative claim is just as much a truth-claim as a positive claim. The burden of proof is the same.

Steve Hays It's not my job to remind you of what you said. You need to keep track of your own statements. Take your confused notion that "negative claims have no burden of proof. By that logic, if I say "Chain-smoking ups the risk of lung cancer," I shoulder a burden of proof, but if I deny that chain-smoking ups the risk of cancer, I have no burden of proof. If I say there are Redwoods in CA, I shoulder a burden of proof, but if I deny there are Redwoods in CA, I have no burden of proof. Really?

Steve Hays The fact that you rely on Wikipedia is quite revealing.

Steve Hays The very article you reference even states that negative claims have their own burden of proof. You don't understand what you read.

Steve Hays Another common problem is that apostates typically fail to appreciate how much they leave behind by leaving Christian theism behind. They don't grasp the self-defeating implications of a consistently secular outlook. For instance:

Steve Hays I'm not going to go down a series of rabbit trails with you. I'm not responsible for what you do with your life. If you're serious about raising intellectual objections to Christianity, then it's your responsibility, not mine, to inform yourself of what the opposing position has written in reply to the kinds of stock objections you mention.

Steve Hays To begin with, you're not a truth-seeker. You're not asking questions for information. You're not genuinely curious about the answers. If you really wanted to know the answers, you would have done so before you abandoned ship. People who first jump ship (apostates), then ask questions, have already made up their minds. 

And when I call your bluff by directing you to excellent resources, you make it abundantly clear that you're not really interested in finding the answers. 

I'd add that it's futile to debate with someone who doesn't know his own limitations. You don't even recognize when you're making truth-claims, and you fail to grasp that even "negative claims" carry a burden of proof. Under the circumstances, you disqualify yourself from criticizing Christianity. 

i) Internet apostates are typically bright-eyed and bushy-tailed about their newfound infidelity. It's like a high school crush. They are quick to share their liberating discovery with everyone else. They retain a residual idealism, which is carryover from the Christian faith they left behind. They labor under the superficial illusion that they can jettison God, but leave everything important intact, after making some adjustments to their political views. 

This instantly reveals the fact that they fail to understand the far-reaching implications of atheism. That's in part because apostates usually read hortatory popularizers. There are some secular philosophers like Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, the Churchlands, David Benatar, and Alex Rosenberg (among others) who are fairly candid about the moral and/or intellectual costs of atheism. Some of them are consistent to the point of self-referential incoherence. 

ii) Internet apostates fail to appreciate the radical asymmetry between atheism and Christianity. If atheism is true, Christians and atheists alike have nothing to gain and everything to lose. If Christianity is true, Christians have everything to gain and atheists have everything to lose. So atheism isn't even worth discussing. Why waste time debating the merits of nihilism? 

iii) It's not enough for internet atheists to lose their faith. They feel the emotional need to announce their apostasy, then say: "Prove me wrong!" Why do they imagine it's incumbent on Christians to refute their infidelity? It's the apostate who will pay the price.

Imagine if I'm walking along the river, and I see a guy about to dive in. I warn him that it's dangerous to swim there because there's a large crocodile that frequents that river. 

He responds by challenging me to prove there's a crocodile in the river, even though I was doing him a favor by warning him. Why is it incumbent on me to prove myself to him when I was doing him a favor in the first place?

But suppose I show him some photos I took of the crocodile. Suppose he asks me how I know that's a real crocodile and not an inflatable toy. Why should I try to accommodate him at that point? 

Suppose he dives in. The crocodile surfaces and heads straight for him. He yells at me, telling me to jump in and rescue him.

Sorry, but it's not my duty to risk my hide to save his hide because he chose to disregard my repeated warnings. He has no right to put me in danger. 

There are 7 billion people in the world, most of whom never had the advantages of the apostate.

"Some Presuppositionalism Tossed Your Way..."

Peter Pike debates an atheist.

Update: Peter makes additional comments.

Gathercole reviews Wright

Mennonite Takeover?

Earthy amillennialism

i) At the risk of oversimplification, premils interpret Revelation more literally, but think the bulk of the action takes place at the tailend of church history while amils interpret Revelation more symbolically, but think the bulk of the action takes place throughout the church age.

To some extent these are irreconcilable positions. As such, the amil/premil debate will remain at an impasse. But to some extent I think it poses a false dichotomy. 

ii) I think many amils are repelled by the "materialism" or "carnality" of the premil reading. Repelled by cartoonish depictions of Armageddon in pop dispensationalism. Repelled by the suggestion that Revelation is describing real physical warfare in the future. Real bloodshed. Flesh-and-blood combatants attacking each other. 

Amils react by etherializing, privatizing, and even secularizing the text. That it's basically about the history of world missions, and sanctification (i.e. the battle between good and evil within the human heart).

That, however, generates an internal tension in amil hermeneutics. For if Revelation is, in fact, describing church history in general, then church history includes real warfare. For instance, during the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, Catholic authorities tried to exterminate the Protestant movement. That led to civil wars and armed resistance. So if, as amils, we think the descriptions in Revelation apply to church history, then some of the martial imagery could and should be taken more literally. For church history is often gritty, grisly, and gory. That's unfortunate, but that's a fact.

iii) This also goes to the nature of the symbolism. For instance, the OT contains some mythopoetic descriptions of the Exodus (e.g. Ps 74:13-15; Isa 51:9-10). Yet these correspond to an actual event. Likewise, we have a couple of back-to-back accounts of OT battles, where the first version is prosaic while the second version is poetic (Exod 14-15; Judg 4-5). 

A symbolic account doesn't imply that what the account stands for is a different kind of event. To the contrary, it can be the same kind of event. 

I don't think an angel opens a hatch in the firmament and empties a bucket of brimstone onto the earth below. And I doubt John thought that either. But the OT depicts real natural disasters, real celestial portents and prodigies. As such, there's no reason to preempt an interpretation of the Apocalypse in terms real natural disasters, astronomical phenomena, angelic apparitions, &c. There's ample precedent for that in OT history and literature. 

When, therefore, Revelation contains battle scenes, the fact that these are couched in symbolic imagery doesn't necessarily mean they stand for something other than actual battles. Although that's possible, the mere fact that the descriptors are metaphorical doesn't entail that conclusion.

iv) Revelation naturally depicts warfare in archaic terms. Yet in theory, even that could be fairly realistic. If the power grid was destroyed by cyberterrorists or EMP devices, our hitech society would revert to more primitive technology. 

I happen to think that's a clunky way to interpret futuristic prophecy. But I make that observation for the sake of argument, as a limiting case. 

v) In addition, the OT records numerous conflicts that include supernatural elements: angels, miracles, natural disasters (e.g. Gen 19:11,24; Exod 10:21-23; 14:19-20; Josh 5:13-15; 10:11-14; Jdgs 5:20-23; 2 Kgs 6:17; 19:35; 20:8-11; Isa 38:7-8; Dan 3:25,28; 6:22). Once again, there's ample precedent for the possibility that the descriptions in Revelation are more realistic than amil exegesis typically allows for. 

vi) In church history, miracles are reported in connection with Christian persecution (e.g. the Covenanters, the Camisards). If Revelation depicts recurring kinds of events in the course of church history, then the supernatural elements in the Revelation narrative may well have church historical counterparts. 

vii) In my opinion, the imagery in Revelation is flexible. Although it sometimes denotes specific events (e.g. the life of Christ, the final judgment), it more often denotes particular kinds of events rather than particular events. Kinds are repeatable. That dovetails with the cyclical action we find in Revelation. 

It's possible that if the conflict escalates towards the end of the church age, church history will more closely resemble OT history in terms of open supernaturalism. To that extent, one can agree with amils on the scope of Revelation, but agree with premils on the physicality or supernaturalism of the referents. Amils view the plot of Revelation as a spiral, combining repetition with progression. And a spiral and pick up the pace towards the end–as it narrows. 

Ironically, many premils are cessationists, which generates a degree of tension between their cessationism and their supernaturalistic reading of Revelation. Apparently, cessationism is suspended towards the end. 

My point is not to take a firm position on how to correlate Revelation with future events. My point, rather, is to expand our interpretive repertoire. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Premillennialism and Las Vegas

I appreciate Steve's recent, thoughtful millennial posts of late, reasoned analysis and insight for the millennial debate.

I am a premillennialist for several good reasons. In a few weeks in Las Vegas I will be giving a lecture on one of these reasons which I believe is airtight:

How to Give a Premillennial Airtight Argument Against Amillennialism
Did the binding of Satan mentioned in Revelation 20:1-3 occur at the first coming of Christ or will it occur at the second coming of Christ? This is the watershed question in the millennial debate. Kurschner will equip you with what he considers the best biblical argument against Amillennialism, explaining that the binding of Satan cannot happen before the second coming of Christ. You can use this argument with the best that Amillennial teachers have to offer.

For a preview of my argument, see this brief article:

Also, here is a related article that is helpful:

Maybe I can convince Steve to join me in Vegas.

I can't finish this post without a shameless plug for my new book!

Jim Crow Democrats

Why the millennium?

1) I'm an unrepentant amil. I'm admittedly hostile to classical dispensational hermeneutics. For instance, I think the commentary on Revelation by Robert Thomas is a reductio ad absurdum of that approach.

But to be fair, I think the weaknesses of classical dispensational hermeneutics represents an overreaction to the weaknesses of Augustinian amil hermeneutics. Augustine was a rampant allegorist, so that's a bad model of how to do exegesis. A mid-course correction was long overdue. 

In addition, some amils seem to be repelled by the physicality of the premil/dispensational millennium. But Scripture is very down-to-earth. And discomfort with physicality often elides into liberal theology. 

2) I think John's millennium refers to the intermediate state. But suppose, for the sake of argument, I was a premil. How would I argue for the millennium? 

Although premils aren't committed to a literal 1000-year period, let's take that literally for the sake of argument. Why a 1000-year period? 

Here's one suggestion: Is it coincidental that even though some prediluvians lived into their 900s, none of them broke the 1000 mark? The millennium is a transitional phase or compromise. Not as good as the eternal state, but better than life in a fallen world before the Parousia. 

In a way, it parallels the balmy physical conditions of the prediluvian period. That wasn't as good as life before the Fall. The expulsion from the Garden, thereby barring access to the tree of life, made immortality a lost opportunity. Yet the millennium seems to be a throwback to the silver age physical conditions of the prediluvian period. Not the golden age of Eden. Yet there's a steady decline in longevity after the flood. The patriarchs are long-lived, but nothing like the prediluvians. 

3) The stock amil objection to the millennial temple is that it's retrograde. And in a basic, indisputable sense, that's true. However:

i) One way of demonstrating that something is obsolete is to keep an example around. That way, people can directly compare and contrast old and new, before and after.

The millennial temple could be like a museum, to commemorate an important phase in redemptive history.

ii) There's nothing inherently wrong with taking an interest in the past. If we could jump in the time machine, surely many of us would like to visit Solomon's temple, as well as see many OT events for ourselves. That's not the same thing as nostalgia. That doesn't mean we think the past is necessarily better. It's just natural curiosity. Pious curiosity. 

4) Is a millennial temple redundant? 

i) In Ezk 8-11, the prophet has a vision of the Shekinah forsaking the temple. 

ii) One question is what the visions represent. Are visions like remote cameras which enable the prophet to see things offsite, at a different place (and time)? Did the Shekinah actually forsake the temple? Or is this a symbolic vision? 

iii) A related question is whether the Shekinah took up permanent residence within the inner sanctum, or did the Shekinah only enter and occupy the temple temporarily as God's way of dedicating the (Solomonic) temple? (Ditto: the tabernacle). 

iv) It's striking that even though the temple was rebuilt, at the instigation of Haggai and Zechariah, there's no record of the Shekinah returning to the Second Temple, even to dedicate it, much less take up permanent residence. In that respect, the Second Temple was a hollow shell–unlike Solomon's temple.

v) Amils argue that Jesus is the new temple. And that identification is supported by John's Gospel. John also uses Shekinah imagery for Jesus (Jn 1:14). For a full discussion, cf. G. Beale, The Temple and the Church's MIssion, 192-200. So it may well be the case that from hereon out, a physical temple is superfluous. 

vi) However, that raises the question of which person of the Trinity corresponds to the Shekinah. In the NT (e.g. Pauline pneumatology), the Shekinah is more often associated with the Spirit rather than the Son. Christians are temples in miniature. The indwelling Spirit is the NT counterpart to the Shekinah filling the sanctuary. 

As such, the first and second advents of Christ don't necessarily exhaust God's self-revelation. Although there's a soteriological sense in which Jesus takes the place of the temple, he doesn't take the place of the Holy Spirit or the Shekinah. 

So even if, during the Millennium, Ezekiel's temple (Ezk 40-48) was rebuilt, and the Holy Spirit once again manifested himself as the Shekinah within the inner sanctum, that wouldn't necessarily be redundant–for that would manifest a different person of the Godhead. Just as a Christophany is a manifestation of the Son, the presence of God in Christ doesn't preclude the descent of the Spirit as a dove at the Baptism of Christ. We can experience God in the person of the Spirit as well as the person of the Son. 

vii) Finally, it's striking that the Son and Spirit sometimes take visible manifestations whereas the Father sometimes takes audible manifestations (Mt 3:17; 17:5; Jn 12:28-29). The Father is sometimes heard, but never seen. So there are different ways in which members of the Trinity manifest themselves to human observers. These are not interchangeable. 

Although Christ is fully God, it's incorrect to say God is fully revealed in the person of Son, for the Son is not reducible to the Spirit, or vice versa. 

The seven gambit

Monday, July 21, 2014

Prophetic gaps

In Jewish and Christian tradition, Gabriel's promise has been applied rather to later events: the birth of the Messiah, Jesus' death and resurrection, the fall of Jerusalem, various subsequent historical events, and the still-future manifesting of the messiah. Exegetically such views are mistaken. The detail of vv24-27 fits the second-century BC crisis and agrees with allusions to this crisis elsewhere in Daniel. The verses do not indicate that they are looking centuries or millennia beyond the period to which chaps. 8 and 10–12 refer…The passage refers to the Antiochene crisis. J. Goldingay, Daniel (Word 1989), 267.

i) I've discussed this before, but now I'd like to approach it from a general angle. Goldingay is making a specific claim about Daniel, but the same issue crops up regarding various OT and NT prophecies. Are conservatives inserting ad hoc gaps or intervals in prophecy as a face-saving device?

ii) Liberals like Goldingay take this position because they don't believe in predictive prophecy. They think these are failed prophecies or prophecies ex eventu.

However, even if one takes that secular position, a scholar ought to ask himself how, for the sake of argument, the prophecy would be expressed any differently, if at all, if it were, in fact, a long-range prophecy. Notice Goldingay assumes that if the verses were looking far ahead, there'd be some indication to that effect. But is that the case?

iii) Let's assume God knows the future. Let's assume he sometimes reveals the future to a prophet. These sometimes refer to the near future, sometimes to the distant future. Or there might be a series of oracles that span a long stretch of time.

As a rule, would the prophet know how soon these will be fulfilled? Unless the prophecy is worded in terms that clearly refer to events within the lifetime of the prophet or his immediate audience, I don't see why. Moreover, even long-range prophecy might be worded in contemporary terms for the sake of intelligibility.

iv) To approach this from the opposite direction–as indeed we must–knowing the interval between prediction and fulfillment is usually a retrospective rather than prospective assessment. After it happens, or after a significant time has elapsed since the oracle was issued, we can say how long it took or how long it is taking. 

But that's not something a prophet can generally surmise looking forward. Rather, that's something we discern looking back. Since a prophet rarely knows in advance how long it will take, we wouldn't expect him to posit a gap or lengthy interval, even if, as it turns out, this is a long-range prophecy. From his standpoint, he can't tell if this is a short-term or long-term prophecy. He may state one thing after another, not because one thing happens right after another, but simply to indicate the relative sequence. One thing happens before or after another, without implying how much earlier or later. 

Conservative Christians aren't inserting gaps or intervals. Rather, with the passage of time, the duration becomes clearer. We know something the prophet didn't, because God didn't reveal the timing to the prophet. Our hindsight complements his foresight. And that's in the nature of long-range prophecy. Often the prophetic referent, whether short-term or long-term, only emerges with the passage of time. Only time will tell. 

Deceiving the nations

The "binding" of Satan in a way that keeps him from "deceiving the nations" (Rev 20:2-3) serves well as a description of the present age, in which the gospel is being spread to all the peoples of the world. In previous ages, the message of redemption was essentially confined to the borders of a single nation of the world. But now all nations are the privileged possessors of God's saving grace…Jesus himself referred to the binding of Satan in connection with the overthrow of his evil kingdom during his own earthly ministry (Mt 12:28-29). His disciples rejoiced in the fact that even the demons were subject to them (Lk 10:17-18). When Greeks came to him, Jesus declared that "now" the prince of this world would be cast out, and that when he was lifted up, he would draw all men to himself (Jn 12:31-32). Clearly the power to deceive the nations has been broken. O. P. Robertson, The Israel of God, 161-62. 
Satan is bound, meaning that his power to influence the nations is suppressed. Premillennialists and some postmillennialists associate this event with the advent of an extraordinary future era of peace and prosperity, contrasting with the present (1 Thess. 2:18; 1 Pet. 5:8). But amillennial interpretation, the binding of Satan has already taken place through Christ’s death and resurrection (John 12:31; cf. Col. 2:15; Rev. 12:9; Matt. 12:29). The present spread of the gospel to the nations, as initiated in Acts, is the result of a restriction on Satan’s power to deceive. Possibly this restriction on Satan’s power is closely associated with the present temporary demise of the Beast (17:8). The deceiving of the nations takes place largely through the activity of the Beast (13:14; 16:14; 19:20). As the Beast can suffer repeated defeats (17:8, 10), so Satan can suffer repeated defeats in his power over the nations. The loosing of Satan in 20:7-10 represents his final attempt, leading to his final defeat.

i) Premills remain unconvinced. For one thing, they point out that the binding and loosing of Satan involves a three-stage sequence:

Satan unbound>Satan bound>Satan unbound

In other words, the binding of Satan presumes that he was unbound prior to his binding. And that, in turn, is followed by his release. 

By contrast, the amil interpretation is gradualistic, with the progressive spread of the Gospel. That fails to do justice to the alternating pattern. 

We could raise some additional objections:

ii) Rather than interpreting this passage of Revelation in relation to Revelation itself, the amil interpretation relies on passages outside of Revelation. 

iii) Moreover, Robertson's projection is too schematic and idealistic. The history of Christian mission doesn't reflect the stately progress of the Gospel, where Satan's dominions fall one after another like dominos to the inexorable advance of the Gospel. What we actually witness is ground won and ground lost. Reversals. Countries or people-groups which had been pagan are evangelized. Yet after a few centuries, they may revert. It's not as if we win a nation or ethnic group to the Gospel, lock in our gains, then proceed to the next frontier. Formerly Christian countries or ethnicities may commit national apostasy or be conquered by militant followers of a new false prophet. 

iv) In fairness to the amil interpretation, it's not as if the premil interpretation is without internal difficulties. After the enemies are decimated in Rev 19, followed by a spiritual renaissance in 20:4-6, the enemies in vv7-10 seem to spring up out of nowhere. 

I still think an amil interpretation is defensible, but it needs to be retooled. 

i) It's precarious to press the sequence in Revelation. For one thing, this book is an anthology of visions. John saw one thing, then another, then another. His visions are collected in the book. But what this or that discrete vision refers to may be independent of the sequence in which the visions are collected and ordered. Think of other prophetic anthologies in Scripture. Eventually, a prophet's disparate oracles are combined in one book. But the editorial arrangement isn't the same thing as the historical sequence in which they were received, delivered, or denote. 

ii) In addition, John incorporates material from several sources. The reason scenes are arranged in a particular order in Rev 19-22 is because, to some degree, he is imitating Ezk 37-48. Moreover, he intercalates material from Isaiah, Zechariah, &c. So the sequence is arguably a bit arbitrary, inasmuch as he must find some place or another to wedge this material. 

iii) I think it's better to understand the binding and loosing of Satan as a discrete vision (among others), "interrupted" by vv4-6, which presents a repeatable principle in church history. In this struggle, both sides score temporary victories and setbacks. The boundaries of Satan's kingdom expand and contract throughout the course of church history. He is pushed back for a time. In retreat. Then he rallies and rebounds. There's no consistent pattern. No permanent borders. 

Thankfully, this won't go on indefinitely. 

Daniel and Jerusalem

The climax to which chap. 8 looks lies in the crisis in the second century BC…The Antiochene crisis is heralded by the death of one high priest and the wickedness of another (26)…its real focus lies on the events of the 160s. 
In Jewish and Christian tradition, Gabriel's promise has been applied rather to later events: the birth of the Messiah, Jesus' death and resurrection, the fall of Jerusalem, various subsequent historical events, and the still-future manifesting of the messiah. Exegetically such views are mistaken. The detail of vv24-27 fits the second-century BC crisis and agrees with allusions to this crisis elsewhere in Daniel. The verses do not indicate that they are looking centuries or millennia beyond the period to which chaps. 8 and 10–12 refer…The passage refers to the Antiochene crisis. J. Goldingay, Daniel (Word 1989), 266-67.

That's the standard liberal interpretation. Ironically, it backfires even on its own terms, posing a dilemma for the liberal interpretation. In particular:

And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. (Dan 9:26). 
This predicts the destruction of the Second Temple as well as the destruction of Jerusalem. Problem is, neither event took place during the Antiochean crisis. And this isn't some incidental detail, given the central importance of both in Judaism. 
If, according to the liberal reconstruction, the anonymous author of Daniel was writing "prophecy" after the fact, if he was writing history in the guise of prophecy, how could he be so inaccurate about something so important and so well-known–both to himself and his immediate audience? 
Since, moreover, as Goldingay rightly points out, we need to interpret these verses as a literary unit, if 9:26 doesn't fit the 2C BC situation, then that reorients the other passages. In retrospect, Dan 9:26 is a prediction which was actually fulfilled in the Fall of Jerusalem (70 AD) and Bar Kokhba revolt (132-36 AD).