Seeing Christ Aright

TF Torrance comments on John’s vision of Jesus:

We might have expected, surely, from John such a description as comes from an intimate disciple bearing the familiar traits of a beloved Master and Friend, and yet when he sees Jesus, Jesus of Nazareth, John says “When I saw Him I fell at His feet as one dead.” Surely something must have happened for John to talk like that. . . it was the resurrection and ascension. Though humbled for a season, here was Christ glorified with the glory which he had with the Father before the world was. he was so transfigured that when John saw Him he could hardly find words to describe Him, and he fell at His feet quite stunned.

That is how Jesus appears to the man who has seen Him in the power of His resurrection. That is what Jesus becomes for the man whom He has forgiven and redeemed. . . until we have seen Jesus like that, we have not seen Him in His full reality. We have seen Him only in the reality of His fleshly garments and have not seen Jesus who is the Christ, the Son of the living God. (The Apocalypse Today, 15-16 [1960])

Christianity: The True Fairy Story – Bourne Again

Mike Metzger explains in his article Bourne Again explains,

The Bourne Identity asks the existential question (“Who am I?”) according to film critic Manohla Dargis (formerly at the Los Angeles Times). He says the second film, The Bourne Supremacy was moral – “What did I do wrong?” The third installment, The Bourne Ultimatum, is redemptive according to David Denby of The New Yorker. It addresses “How can I escape what I am?” …

…Jason Bourne may seem larger than life, but his story actually reflects an even bigger story. “The Bible tells a story that is the story, the story of which our human life is a part,” wrote Lesslie Newbigin. “It is not that stories are part of human life, but that human life is part of a story.”2 When we see these patterns in cinema reflected in Scripture, the seeming gap between “the world” and the Word of God shrinks.

Go check out the full article, and share your thoughts here.

Matthew 24

For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. ~Matthew 24:37-42

Who is taken?

Many commentators explain that those who are taken are the righteous, particularly taken via rapture.

I am not convinced.

Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”

And he said to the disciples, “The days are coming when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. And they will say to you, ‘Look, there!’ or ‘Look, here!’ Do not go out or follow them. For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day. But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation. Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man. They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot—they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all—so will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed. On that day, let the one who is on the housetop, with his goods in the house, not come down to take them away, and likewise let the one who is in the field not turn back. Remember Lot’s wife. Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it. I tell you, in that night there will be two in one bed. One will be taken and the other left. There will be two women grinding together. One will be taken and the other left.” And they said to him, “Where, Lord?” He said to them, “Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.” ~Luke 17:20-37

The parallel passage in Luke 17 sheds light on our view of Matthew 24. We find in Luke 17 that the people who were eating and drinking and being given in marriage: the wicked are the ones swept away / taken.

Luke 17 shares significant evidence contrary to popular belief about Matthew 24

Matthew 13 establishes a similar idea.

Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’” ~Matthew 13:30

Who are the ones gathered first? The weeds, not the wheat. What’s more, when they are gathered (taken away), they are taken to be burned.

Further, Luke 17 states, “And they said to him, “Where, Lord?” He said to them, “Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.” ~Luke 17:37. In other words, they are taken away where death reigns.

Contrary to popular belief, we want to be left behind.

Christianity: The True Fairy-Story Part Two

The king gazed fondly over his kingdom at the sunrise stretching over the horizon and peaking over the mountains. Longing for the illusive sleep he could not have, anxious thoughts crowded his mind. A loud knock on the door startled him out of his daze of thought. After a moment or two, he collected his wits and shuffled to the door.

Another knock shook the door.

The king cracked the door open slightly and grunted at the unknown person.

“Sire, there is an issue in the courtyard of which you should be aware immediately. Some of the peasants are creating a stir.”

The king grunted in recognition of the issue then shut the door. He slipped on his kingly garb and walked out onto the courtyard balcony.

A sea of people overflowing the courtyard erupted into a frenzy no sooner than the king appeared.

“Hail! King Niekru! Long live King Niekru!” one person shouted with what seemed like thousands repeating his proclamation.

The amazed king smiled in his realization that today… today marks his thirtieth year of reign. The fog he lived in was lifted for a time. He smiled and waved to his people. The cheers of the people roared on and grew in volume.

Then the unthinkable happened.

A cloaked individual released his fury from a tower on the other side of the courtyard. Two arrows pierced the king’s chest interposing into his heart. A collective gasp rummaged throughout the crowd as the king slumped over the waist-level wall and soon collapsed to the ground.

The cloaked one leapt over the side of the tower as if to fly and disappeared from sight. The king lay on the ground gasping for breath after painful breath while soldiers scurried about, sounding the trumpet alarm. His eyes seemed to scream for help until help was no long needed; his body finally resting, motionless.

The gala gathering turned to mourning as the sun rose into the sky.

A loud knock on the door startled him out of his deep slumber. After a moment or two, he collected his wits, rolled out of his bed, and shuffled to the door.

Another knock shook the door.

The king cracked the door open slightly…

*Excerpt from The Legend of Noddegamra

Stories, good stories, always borrow from the Christian worldview- always

Good stories revolve around a variation on a theme- A good and pleasant life is disrupted by some devastating circumstance that seems nigh to impossible to overcome. Evil plays its most horrific hand, yet, when all is said and done, Good overcomes Evil by direct confrontation. The heart of Evil is pierced and Evil’s deathblow itself dies.

Flannery O’Conner claimed that every Novelist “has to create a world and a believable one. … The virtues of art,” said he, “like the virtues of faith are such that they reach beyond the limitations of the intellect, beyond any mere theory that a writer may entertain.” However, recognizing a good story is nothing short of seeing it reflect reality. It is not so much that we are reading the Christian worldview into the story as much as it is recognizing the story is pointing to the reality of the Christian worldview.

Themes like self-sacrifice, love, loyalty, good overcoming evil, redemption, forgiveness among others are essentially Christian. The Christian worldview is that which brings hope in relation to these themes because, in some form or fashion, these themes in story form are, at the very least, that which the (unbelieving) writer wishes to be true, and that which the (believing) writer proclaims. If Christianity is not true, these themes are meaningless.

However, since Christianity is true, these themes are full of meaning

Slightly expanding John Granger’s statement, he explains books which possess “themes, imagery, and engaging stories that echo the Great Story we are wired to receive and respond to” (Read Romans 1 & Romans 2:15).

These themes are objective; universal; and we are wired to receive and respond to them.

Understanding life within this framework of Christianity’s universal objectivity do we truly connect with stories which promote such themes. It is within this framework in which a story can be translated into other languages (hence, cultures) and understood and have meaning. And it is within this framework in which life is comprehensible.

What were your thoughts as you read the part of the story after “Then the unthinkable happened.” ? Thoughts of horror? disgust? Did your heart sink?

What were you thinking when you read the rest of the story after “The gala gathering turned to mourning as the sun rose into the sky.” ? thoughts of joy? Did you let out your breath in relief?

Why do we react in such ways as we read stories? To reword, could it be that these “themes, imagery, and engaging stories that echo the Great Story are what we are wired to receive and respond to” ? It is only because Redemption’s Story is true that we find value in “eucatastroph-ic” themes because all stories are but a shadow and a thought which point to the Great Story of Redemption. And any story that is to be a good story, must always borrow from the Christian Story.

Not every good story is Christian; but every good story reflects the Christian worldview.

Christianity: The True Fairy-Story

Stories, good stories, always borrow from the Christian worldview- always- a variation on a theme- A good and pleasant life is disrupted by some devastating circumstance that seems nigh to impossible to overcome. Evil plays its most horrific hand, yet, when all is said and done, Good overcomes Evil by direct confrontation. The heart of Evil is pierced and Evil’s deathblow itself dies.

To simply say that seeing Christian themes in any story is “reading into things” is a misunderstanding of stories in general and the Christian story in particular. JRR Tolkien described the fairy-story as “one of the highest forms of literature” (Letters 220), and “a tribute to the infinity of His potential variety, one of the ways in which indeed it is exhibited” (Letters 188). This act of “sub-creation” was an opportunity for Tolkien to forge entire worlds which may not possess their own life, but would still honor the real creation of God. Joseph Pearce explains, “We have come from God, … and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God.” Tolkien himself explains, “…The peculiar quality of the “joy” in successful Fantasy can thus be explained as a sudden glimpse of the underlying reality or truth. …It is not difficult to imagine the peculiar excitement and joy that one would feel, if any specially beautiful fairy-story were found to be “primarily” true, its narrative to be history.”

“This implies the unreal fantasy world can be just as real as everyday reality, or even more so. If that is so, then the primary world must be less than real, i.e., it too must be a sub-creation, a secondary world. Reality is revealed to be just another fantasy” (George Aichele – Tolkien’s Faerie Stories).

Fantasy scholar Jack Zipes explicitly states, “…The fantastic projection of religious hope in the Bible lays the foundation … for the formation of secular hope that demands a reverence for the utterly different as good and sets ethical and moral markers to lead us to our final destination of home.”

…the fantasy of Jewish and Christian messianism, by way of its chief biblical instigators, Moses and Jesus, opens the way to paradise on earth, the promised land or
kingdom of God. Fantasy projects hope, and hope leads us home. This “solves” Tolkien’s apparently paradoxical inversion of real and unreal by asserting that the presently unreal (the no-place of utopia) will become real in the future, at which time our present realities will have become unreal” (George Aichele – Tolkien’s Faerie Stories).

The Christian story is the real mythic story- true reality. It is first the original with all other stories a copy and shadow.

I believe Dietrich Bonhoeffer said it best,

There are not two realities, but only one reality, and that is the reality of God, which has become manifest in Christ in the reality of the world.

Stories, good stories, always borrow from this Christian worldview- always. A good and pleasant life is disrupted by some devastating circumstance that seems nigh to impossible to overcome. Evil plays its most horrific hand, yet, when all is said and done, Good overcomes Evil by direct confrontation. The heart of Evil is pierced and Evil’s deathblow itself dies. This, in effect, is the Gospel.

Living in the Gospel in an age of self-help

There is a big difference between the philosophy of self-help and living in the Gospel. Compare the following:

In her “sermon”, The Battle of Attitudes, Taffi L. Dollar explains, “Your attitude is a determining factor in achieving success in life. Releasing your faith and staying in a state of expectation before God are the keys to seeing God move on your behalf. The greatest desire of the Father is for His children to be blessed. Part of being blessed is understanding the role you play in receiving that blessing. You must maintain a positive attitude.”

Mark Lauterbach of Gospel-Driven Life explains in his article Living in the Gospel in an Age of Self-Help,

Any accommodation of the Gospel to self-help is a denial of the Gospel. The Gospel is humbling because it treats us as helpless and no one likes that (What do you think I am, an invalid? I can handle it without your help.’) And when I tell people I am teaching them Christianity and all I am doing is putting Jesus name on some self-help schemes, I am preaching another Gospel.

So, what about all the practical? You do have to DO something, don’t you?

Well, yes, but there is a world of difference between dependent, humble application of the Gospel to life and self-sufficient, self-exalting self-help. If people leave my preaching confident in the rules and principles I have given them, I have preached a false Gospel. If they leave the room confident in the faithful grace and power of the Savior to work in them as they seek to obey — I have preached the Gospel.

May the Gospel dwell in us richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

The Gospel: Such GOOD News!

What makes Christianity different than Islam? Buddhism? Judaism? Mormonism? Scientology? Aren’t all religions the same? Aren’t all religions different paths which lead to the same destination? Are Christians, like Scientologists, seeking to convert people from their current beliefs to a different belief? Are we merely looking to win an argument?

The overwhelming answer to all of these questions, “NO!” Christianity is different than any other religion, in that, while there are things for us to do (and not do), the calling of Christianity is not to the doing but to the Person Who has finished what we are to do. The Gospel penetrates further into our very being than mere intellectual arguments will ever reach. The Gospel is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

The Gospel says, “you are more completely depraved, wicked, and sinful than you ever dared imagine, yet you are holistically loved and accepted by God than you ever dared dream.” It is because of Jesus Who died in our place, in that, through faith in Him, we are holistically loved and accepted by the Father.

Yes, Christianity demands that we do (and not do) things. However, the doing is done in the Gospel by the Spirit which is the Father’s will for our lives. This means that our doing is the result of the Gospel dispensing its life-giving, life-transforming, life-reconciling power in our lives. Those in whom the Gospel has begun to work, will be changed and will demonstrate Gospel-Change via good works.

Jared Wilson points out that “The full Gospel is not Christ atoning for us and then us doing good works; the full Gospel is Christ atoning for us and then reconciling us with each other.” Jared goes on to explain:

This may sound like a distinction without a difference, but it really is different. It is the difference between seeing the Sermon on the Mount as merely “stuff to do” and seeing it as “stuff to be.” The Sermon on the Mount is good news not so far as it is giving us a new law, but in so far as it announces that under this new law the poor in spirit are blessed, the meek will inherit the earth, those who hunger for righteousness will be satisfied, etc.

This is why the Gospel is news, not advice.

(HT: Transforming Sermons – Milton Stanley)

This is what sets Christianity apart from every other religion.

The Gospel and Eschatology

As of today, I have read well over 100 extensive articles/books relating to Eschatology, also referred to as the doctrine of last things, doctrine of the last days, or doctrine of end times. I have read through the three main views from various and sundry writers regarding Pre-Millennialism, A-Millennialism, and Post-Millennialism. As best I could, I pushed aside my preconceived notions about each major position in order to truly understand each position. I have striven to be balanced, to be biblically based, and to uncover true arguments for each position and against each position. I have narrowed my criteria down to 5 elements (in no particular order except for number 1):

1) Biblical Exegesis
2) Arguments presented by each author
3) Pros of each position
4) Cons of each position
5) Arguments against the other positions

My aim is not to reveal my final conclusions, but to address how each author addressed their topic and the arguments used against the other positions.

Conservatively speaking, sixty percent of the arguments from many of the authors I have read were straw men. In other words, the arguments were based upon perceived notions of another position and knocking it down rather than addressing the real argument that position holds. For instance, one of the straw man arguments against A-Millennialism is “those who hold to the A-Mil position allegorize and do not take Scripture literally or seriously,” or some variation thereof. To be honest, this straw man argumentation makes me want to reject the position(s) of those who were setting up the straw man arguments, however, sadly, I found at least one proponent of each position who engaged in straw man attacks.

Much of the time, proponents of each position showed outright disregard for his opponents in the eschatological discussion, even to the point that, if I did not know they were true believers, you would think they were decrying heretics of the most evil and dubious sort. As defenders of the Gospel and not necessarily of our brand of eschatology, there must be more Grace-Filled discussion. Each position of eschatology is not denying the Second Advent of our Lord but merely has varying details of His return. Further, proponents of each position are striving to be biblically based and trying to allow Scripture speak for itself rather than adding concepts that are not there.

But not all positions can be correct at the same time, right?

One Pre-Mil proponent was surprisingly refreshing when his whole argument was based on what the A-Mil position truly believes and addressed the argument itself without bashing those who hold to the A-Mil position. This was most pleasing in that he demonstrated Gospel-Grace in the heat of arguing for his position.

One drum that was continually beat by the Pre-Mil proponents was that the A-Mil position did not believe in a literal 1000 year reign of Christ. From my reading, this is a straw man argument. The A-Mil position does in fact believe in a 1000 year reign of Christ. However, through a lengthy and highly nuanced study, they believe the 1000 years is symbolic, or better stated, more representative of “fullness of time” or the “complete time God intends”. They further believe the millennial reign is concurrent with the Church Age, inaugurated by Christ’s First Advent and will be consummated at His Second Coming- the “here and not yet”.

Conversely, the Pre-Mil position claims there will indeed be a 1000 year earthly reign of Christ. They base this position, in part, on the fact that 1000 is mentioned six times in six verses (Revelation 20:1-6). This leads us to the point that based on your view of Revelation 20:1-6 determines into which eschatological camp you fall. But more importantly, your lack of truly understanding the other positions determines the degree to which you will use straw man arguments which are no arguments at all. And this is where the defense of the Gospel takes precedence.

The Gospel demands that we esteem others better than ourselves. The Gospel demands we speak (write) with words that are seasoned with salt, meaning we use the choicest of words in order to preserve biblical and Gospel unity rather than demeaning our brothers because they differ in a secondary (read: the details of the Second Coming) issues. Let me clarify by saying, the Second Coming is a Primary issue, but the details are secondary, and I will leave it at that.

This should remind us that our unity is around the Gospel; not the details of our understanding of Eschatology.

Let it be known that Christ’s Second Coming is imminent. He will return just as He was received up into the clouds before His disciples. He will come to judge the righteous and wicked. Death will be defeated and all of His enemies will be under His feet. This is our hope! This is our joy! This is the Gospel!

Note: This article was originally posted in 2007.

The Gospel Hermeneutic

The Gospel is the hermeneutical key to all of Scripture. Our knowledge of God should revolve and possess its basis upon the Gospel. T.F. Torrance says it this way:

This does not mean that all our knowledge of God can be reduced to Christology, but that, as there is only one Mediator between God and man, who is himself both God and Man, and only one revelation of God in which he himself is its actual content, all authentic knowledge of God is derived and understood in accordance with the incarnate reality of God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ, and is formulated in doctrinal coherence with Christology. That is to say, doctrinal statements about God are possible and true only when Christologically grounded” (The Christian Doctrine of God, p. 17).