You’re Not Moses, But Israel

Who do we most resemble in the Biblical text? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

For those wondering where I have been, last week I had a massive toothache. The antibiotic is starting to work now, but I wanted to take a break. Things should be back to normal entirely relatively soon, although future work is going to be needed.

I have a habit in Bible reading. I read in the morning, but before I go to bed at night, I read a short little bit. Normally, just a couple of verses. I think about those and examine them and keep in mind the best I can the verses I read earlier and see how it all fits. A couple of nights or so ago I was going through Hebrews and read this in Hebrews 3:15-16.

15 Remember what it says:

“Today when you hear his voice,
    don’t harden your hearts
    as Israel did when they rebelled.”

16 And who was it who rebelled against God, even though they heard his voice? Wasn’t it the people Moses led out of Egypt?

So who was Israel? Israel was a nation that had gone down to Egypt and originally been treated with favor. Now they were not. They were enslaved by a Pharaoh who did not care about the history of these people. They were people of a strange religion in a strange land. They were people in covenant with YHWH.

They were like us in many ways. We are the covenant people of YHWH as well since we are in Christ. We have a strange belief system to the people around us.

These people cry out to God for deliverance. They’re really asking Him if He’s going to honor the covenant. This is something common you see in the Old Testament. Many of the Psalms are not talking about reminding the people of their covenant, but God of His.

Then these people are delivered by Moses and what do they do after all the miraculous signs they themselves personally saw? They rebel. When they get to the Promised Land, they declare that God is against them and refuse to obey them. God tells Moses those people will never enter His rest and the people wander for 40 years until that generation dies off and a new one comes up.

Today in the church, it’s quite common to see ourselves in the same position as the heroes of the Bible. Now to be sure, we are to emulate them when they do right and live like them, but they are also exceptions. Many people expect to hear God speak to them because Moses did. They forget the numerous Israelites at the base of the mountain who realized how frightening a prospect that was. Hebrews even reminds us that Moses was trembling with fear at the presence of God.

In reality, we are not like Moses most often. We are more like Israel. We are often the people in rebellion against God and who do not think He will do what He said and that we have to handle things our own way. Every time we do that, we are in essence doing what Israel did. We are hardening our hearts.

It’s nothing we really want to hear. I certainly didn’t want to come to such a conclusion that would implicate myself as well, but I don’t see much other way around it. We can say it’s worse for us as well. We have the promise of the resurrection. Many of us could have a more sophisticated theology than the average Israelite in the wilderness back then. Those of us especially who are apologists are to be held to a higher standard since we specialize so much in the truth of what God says. We had better live it!

So why don’t we trust God more? That is something I am still pondering on more and more. Each of us will have to answer that on our own. We can keep in mind even Moses didn’t do all the trust right so if we struggle, we’re in good company.

We should also be more humble when we read the Bible. All the good promises are there, but they’re not there because we’re so special and earned them, but because God is so gracious and gave them. Many of us would like to be the heroes, and there’s nothing wrong again with wanting to emulate them, but too many times we’re like the failures and even the enemies in the Bible. Let’s all watch ourselves to make sure we’re living more and more like Christ.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Journeys of Faith

What do I think of Robert Plummer’s book published by Zondervan? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Journeys of Faith is about prominent Christians going to a different faith tradition within the Christian community. Each one tells their story and then there is someone who gives a rejoinder followed by a response from the original writer. The four views presented are Orthodoxy, Catholicism, Evangelicalism, and Anglicanism.

In terms of debate style, I thought the most convincing essays were done by Francis Beckwith for Catholicism and Chris Castaldo for evangelicalism. I thought Wilbur Ellsworth glossed over many of the doctrines of Orthodoxy that I have a problem with. Lyle Dorsett for Anglicanism did give a great piece about it, but I just found it odd that Anglicanism was included and there wasn’t really much to argue with. Still, when talking about transformative stories, his is probably the most incredible.

As for responses, those often weren’t as good. I thought Gregg Allison responding to Catholicism and Brad S. Gregory responding to evangelicalism were both weak responses. Allison seemed to have a prepared statement for Catholicism. While I thought the information was good, it did not interact with Beckwith’s points well. I don’t think Allison even mentioned Beckwith by name once.

In Castaldo’s piece, he had talked about how a problem he had with Catholicism was shown by Peter Kreeft. Kreeft talked about students who come to Boston College. He asks them why they should get to go to Heaven someday. Most of them say something about how they are doing their best and trying to be a good person. He said nine out of ten of them don’t mention Jesus Christ at all. The lack of hearing the gospel is something Castaldo is concerned about.

Yet you get to Gregory’s reply and Castaldo is only mentioned once by name from what I recall. A point like this was not interacted with. If you are a Catholic writing a response to an evangelical, you want to hit at the areas of concern for evangelicals. Hearing the gospel is a big concern for evangelicals.

Instead, Gregory gave what seemed also like a prepared statement and went on about how you need an infallible interpreter. I find this an incredibly weak position since it treats the Scriptures like a postmodern document that no one can understand. Second, there is not given any reason why it has to be the Roman magisterium that is this interpreter. Why not Orthodoxy or Mormonism or the Watchtower? All of them claim to have the word from God on the Scriptures.

Fortunately, all the participants in the discussion did get along. There was no claiming that XYZ was a heretic or anything like that. This is a true discussion in ecumenicism. It is the way it should be done. We need to be able to come together and discuss our differences.

A format like this is also incredibly helpful because if you get a book on Catholicism or Orthodoxy or Evangelicalism or any other position, well, of course, it could sound convincing! It’s always convincing if you only get one side of the argument. A work like this gives you both sides of the argument. This is the kind of approach that is needed.

I encourage those looking into these questions to read material like this.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Orthodox Way

What do I think of Bishop Kallistos Ware’s book published by St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

My wife has been looking into the Eastern Orthodox Church. While at the church once, I asked the priest if he had any book in the church library he would recommend to help me understand Eastern Orthodoxy. He recommended I get The Orthodox Way by Kallistos Ware.

So I went and got it. I came home and went through it over the next few days. I have to say in many ways I was….disappointed. I was expecting to find a lot that set apart the Orthodox as unique in comparison to Protestants and Catholics. I really didn’t. I found a whole lot of theology, but it was theology I could say for the most part I agreed with.

Something that I think honestly happens with many people, not all but many, is they move from a Protestantism that is shallow and find an Orthodoxy that is deeper, without realizing that much of the theology is still a theology that is common to all traditions. It is rooted in Scripture and in natural theology. For me, at a book study with men of the Orthodox Church Wednesday night, I found myself talking about how with most people, I will keep my talk simple about God, but when I’m with my theological friends, I will talk about simplicity, impassibility, and the hypostatic union. I don’t think many there knew what I was talking about either. One said so explicitly and no one disagreed. Could it be the problem is more how deep someone is willing to go and this is a problem in all traditions? If we acknowledge it’s the same God in all traditions, no one can really lay claim to a deeper theology.

I had hoped to find more on history and how the Orthodox came to be, but that was lacking. Like I said, most of the theology I found no problem with. Some things I would have phrased differently. Ware does rely on the Fathers a lot more than I would as well.

I would have also liked to have seen more on some of my bigger contentions. I have a problem with the way that I see Mary and the saints treated in most non-Protestant traditions. I’m convinced the best way to honor the saints is not to pray to them, but to learn from their lives and seek to live like them as they live like Christ. I honestly think Mary would be aghast at the way she’s treated today. She would say that she’s just a servant and doesn’t deserve this kind of attention.

I also would like if we talk about the traditions to see the historical basis for them. When did they first show up? On what Scripture are they based? If I refuse to accept hadiths about Muhammad that come from 200 years later and even have names behind them, am I not inconsistent if I treat Christian traditions different?

Yet there were some points I did disagree with. On p. 46, Ware says that we as Christians affirm panentheism. He says God is in all things yet above and beyond all things. I understand what Ware is trying to say, but I would not say panentheism because that’s a different animal where often the world is seen as God’s body and God needs the world in some sense. God is in all things in the sense that He’s the sustaining cause of all things and all things are held together by His power (See passages like Hebrews 1:3 for example.), but He is not dependent on the world in any sense. I realize Ware would likely not disagree with that, but I think his phrasing here is quite bad.

On p. 110 he speaks about the Bible. He says that the Orthodox appreciate all the research and study into the Bible, such as redaction criticism and things of that sort, but we cannot accept it wholesale. Who does? Especially since scholars of all persuasions disagree.

Ware here deals with the idea of just a private reading of the Bible. To an extent, we would all discourage this. Even the Reformers wanted Scriptural interpretation to stay within the rule of faith. Sola Scriptura is often confused with Solo Scriptura. The Reformers did not oppose tradition as tradition. Tradition is not a bad thing, but tradition needs to be checked by Scripture.

An example can be the authorship of the Gospels. Some Catholics I have seen say that the names aren’t on the Gospels so you have to get that from tradition which means Sola Scriptura isn’t true. Let’s grant the premise for the sake of argument that the originals didn’t have names on them, although some scholars have questioned this. The difference is we do have these Gospels and we know someone or some people wrote them. We can freely accept the opinions of the church fathers and compare it with internal evidence for authorship. In other words, we have something that already needs to be explained. We didn’t make up the Gospels out of thin air.

Ware then goes on to say that the final criterion for Biblical interpretation is the mind of the church. Here, we run into a problem. I could just ask “By what criteria is the mind of the church the authority?” After all, Catholics would say you need the magisterium. Both groups claim you need someone or something outside of the Bible like that to help you understand the Bible, but upon what grounds is that someone or something chosen that is not question-begging? Both of them claim apostolic succession after all.

As a Protestant, I respond that the Bible is written in a way that much of it can be readily understood. Some is difficult and requires work, but to say that you can’t interpret it strikes me as incredibly postmodern, as if the words themselves don’t contain meaning that we can understand. Much of what I know about Biblical interpretation did not originate with these groups either, such as ideas about Genesis from John Walton or the honor-shame perspective of the Context Group of scholarship.

This is not to say I have a problem with going to the Fathers to understand the Bible. I don’t. Their words are important, but they are not infallible. For instance, I have at my house A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs. Recently, I had a discussion with someone asking if abortion was known in the ancient world. I said it was pointing to the Hippocratic Oath. I then decided to see what the church fathers said about sexuality and in the book looked up the section. The church fathers seemed to speak consistently that sex was seen as practically a necessary evil and to be used only for the purpose of procreation.

I find it unlikely that most devout Orthodox and Catholics would agree with this. Even Catholics have Natural Family Planning for families that want to avoid contraception, but want to avoid having children for whatever reason and still enjoy the gift of sex. I have also been told that the Fathers are premillennial as well, yet I am not that at all with an Orthodox Preterist interpretation.

I have no problem with saying that our reading should seek to get us to Christ and this is a danger of historical study at times that one can get to that position of proving something happened without showing why it happened. C.S. Lewis said years ago that some theologians work so hard to show that God exists that it would seem like He has nothing better to do than to exist.

In the end, I was wondering what about this was so much the Orthodox Way. Much of it could have just been called the Christian Way since much of the theology as I said I have no problem with. I have a problem with shallow thinking no matter what the tradition is. I think a lot of people can find a new tradition and think they’ve found something totally new lacking in their original tradition, without pausing to see if such a thing exists in their tradition. I have no problem with things like liturgy and such. I do have a problem when I see doctrines that I can’t find in Scripture and I have no way of verifying a tradition.

My research continues hoping to find more historical. I encourage people in whatever tradition they are in to go deeper. We met with a Catholic priest once on this journey who told my wife she will find what she is seeking if she just goes deeper in Jesus. With that, I think all three traditions of Christianity would agree. All of us need to go deeper in Jesus.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Theology

Are we staying in the shallow end? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

My wife has been looking into Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy lately. This was really an area I never wanted to get involved in, but now I am. I want to know what claims she’s hearing and if I think they’re accurate or not. As it stands, I still remain a convinced Protestant, but I am noticing something.

While I think we Protestants have excelled at Bible Study, we’ve often neglected theology. We don’t really know much about what to do with our doctrine of God. We seem to treat the Trinity as this nice little doctrine that we keep around and we get out when we need to address Jehovah’s Witnesses.

My blog has been called Deeper Waters from the beginning because I think we have too often gone shallow. This has largely been due to a lack of discipleship on our part. We place a big emphasis on conversions. I really don’t like that term at all.

Imagine if we said we wanted to see more marriages. We worked to get people to the altar and to say their “I do” statements and then did nothing with them. Hypothetically, those people went back to live with their parents and never interacted at all.

We often do the same kind of thing with conversion. The goal is to get someone to walk down the aisle and say a prayer and make Jesus their savior. There is no investing in them. There is no training in them. There is no discipleship.

This isn’t an across the board condemnation. Of course, there are some churches that do this. There are far too many who do not. This is especially needed in an age where Christianity is being questioned left and right and most people don’t know how to make a basic defense of what they believe let alone know the basics of what they believe.

We often go to churches and sing songs about how Jesus is so important to us. Apparently, He’s so important that we don’t study anything about Him, learn about Him, read the Scripture that tells about Him, or think about Him much at all, except, you know, those times when we need something. Our Christianity is all about what Jesus does in our lives instead of what we do in His.

This is so even with our salvation. Many times, the goal of Christianity has been to get people to go to Heaven. While there, you will live forever and get to see your loved ones again. Oh yeah. God is there too, if that interests you and all. There is nothing about building up the Kingdom of God here. There is nothing about the difference salvation makes in this life. Paul said that if it is only for this life we have hope, we are above all men to be pitied. Paul knew we have hope for this life. Today could it be that Paul would write “If it is only for the next life we have hope….”?

What’s the solution?

It’s a really easy one. Return to deeper theology and study. This isn’t the area of only other traditions. Protestants in the past have done this. I suspect most of it is that here in the West, we have grown more individualistic and all about us. We spend so much time “listening for the voice of God” that we don’t really consider who it is we’re “listening” to.

At the Orthodox church, the priest told me to borrow if I wanted to learn from the library a book called The Orthodox Way. I have been going through it and wondering “Aside from a few secondary details, what about this is specifically Orthodox? I have no problem believing this about God as a Protestant.” I wonder how many people see this and don’t realize that other traditions can have the same views of God as well.

Our Christianity is supposed to be the central defining feature of our lives. Let’s make it that way. Let’s not drop our intellectual weapons. We can better know the God we say we love and serve by studying Him. A good spouse seeks to understand the other spouse so they can better love them. Should we not treat God even better?

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Protestants and Catholics

What do I think of Peter Toon’s book published by Servant Books? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Discussions about Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and Protestantism was never something I really wanted to get into. I have been a subscriber of Mere Christianity for several years and been one wanting to look at defending the essentials. What changed is when my wife started asking questions and I realized if she’s doing this, I need to start looking into this. I asked a friend fluent on the issues for a good book on the topic and was recommended Peter Toon’s book.

Toon writes from a Protestant perspective, but his writing is friendly and he shows problems each side has with the other and ways that both could handle things better. There is no hint of anything that says that Catholics are an apostate church or anything like that. There is nothing saying that Protestantism is where the action is and we have it all together on our end. He points to statements made by both Protestants and Catholics that are good and that are problematic He points to honest concerns that both have about the other.

He covers the main issues as well. Not everything, but some of them. Authority is a big one. When I encounter Catholics, many of them say that it’s not really possible to understand the text of Scripture without the magisterium. Protestants reply that the meaning is in the text. Catholics say they gave the canon of Scripture. Protestants say canonicity lies in the books and the church discovered that rather than created it.

Authority I think could be the biggest issue. Where does the authority lie? This is the issue that leads to Sola Scriptura. Protestants say that the tradition cannot be known to be accurate, but we can study the Scripture and know that this is what the apostles said. Catholics see the tradition as being based in apostolic succession and thus reliable.

Other issues come up too such as justification. This is likely also before the understanding of the New Perspective on Paul so that isn’t a big debate in the book, but it was a major issue. Fortunately, I do think Protestants and Catholics are starting to come together to discuss these issues more.

Sacraments are also an issue. Protestants tend to only recognize baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Catholics recognize more. There are also differences on how the Lord’s Supper is to be seen. Is it transubstantiation or real presence or is it something else?

Mary is one of the last topics covered. Catholics often see themselves as defending the mother of God and upholding her honor and such. Protestants look more and say that it seems to border on idolatry to them. Unfortunately, Protestants then go and don’t seem to pay any attention to Mary. While we can think Catholics give too much honor, let us not be guilty of giving too little.

One nice appendix also in the book is a letter John Wesley wrote to a Roman Catholic. It is a letter seeking reconciliation and focusing on what is agreed on. Many of us do hope that one day there can be reconciliation. I am not sure how it is possible, but I can hope.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

What You Believe About God Matters

Does it matter what you believe about God? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Everyone has a worldview. Many of us are not aware of it. A worldview is your answer to the biggest questions in life. When you receive information, it is filtered through your worldview. It is possible to change the answers to the big questions, but depending on how central they are to your worldview, it will take that much more to change them.

The late Christian philosopher Ron Nash gave a list of five questions for a worldview. These are all excellent questions I think to summarize what we believe.

God is first. Does He exist? How many gods are there if they exist? Is God reality or something else? What is the nature of this God or gods that are believed in?

What is the nature of the cosmos? Is it eternal? Is it something made by a greater power? Is it real?

What is the nature of morality? Are there true objective statements of morality? Is morality up to the individual? How is morality known?

What is the nature of man? Does man have a soul? Is he an accident? Is he in the image of God? Is he God?

What is the nature of the afterlife? What happens when we die? We cease to exist? We become gods or angels? Heaven or Hell? Nirvana? Reincarnation?

These are all good questions and volumes have been written on each. I’d like to dabble a little bit at the first question. What does it matter what you believe about God?

Let’s start with the simple question of existence. Do you believe that something exists, something a group like AA would call a higher power? If so, how important is this power to you? How do you know? Picture that you are presented with undeniable proof that this higher power does not exist. How much does that change your worldview? The degree to which it changes shows how much place is given to your higher power.

For instance, if you just lose emotional comfort and personal help, well that’s all God is to you. He’s an emotional comfort and personal helper. If you lose a ground of all being and an explanation for all that is, then God is that much central to you. This is a good time to ask yourself this question. “What do I really believe about God and how central is He to what I believe?”

Something amazing about our time is that we don’t really think about God. We know so much about our favorite sports team, a video game, a TV show, a movie, but how much do we think about God? Does God not merit more attention than our favorite hobbies?

Much of Christian suffering today I think can come from bad thinking about God. One pictures God as a tyrant perhaps demanding perfection and being willing to strike us down for our sins. One pictures God as an emotional band-aid which is helpful when you’re hurting, but what happens when He doesn’t come through one time? Does God suddenly not care?

Does it matter that in much of Christian thinking God doesn’t change? You bet it does. If God loves us and is love, then He eternally loves us. We can rest assured in Him.

Speaking of love, what do we mean if we say that God is love? Is God warm sentiment? Is this love romantic love like one has for a spouse or other significant other? Does He love us for who He is or for who we are?

What about classical attributes of God? Is He omnipotent or omniscient or omnipresent or omnibenevolent? Are those terms you’re not used to? What do they mean? Is it not worth considering?

If you were to marry someone, you would want to know something about who they are first. After all, this is the person you’re going to be hopping into bed with. You are going to be sharing your own body with them and your very life with them. Should you not know who they are?

I encourage Christians to really think about God and do so with more than just your experience. Inform yourself with Scripture, but also with those who have gone before and great minds today. J.I. Packer’s Knowing God is an excellent place to go to for instance.

Good theology is extremely important for Christians to have. God is a person (Or rather tri-personal) and needs to be known for who He is. A deficit in our knowledge of God can only hurt us and we will replace truths of God with falsehoods that our own minds come up with. Naturally, we all believe some wrong things about God, but it is important that we try to eliminate those beliefs that are false.

Naturally, Christians have one other area. How has God revealed Himself? Our best answer is that the greatest revelation is in Jesus Christ. What does Jesus tell us about God? What does it mean that Jesus is fully God and fully man? What does it matter that He died and rose again bodily? Is it just a free trip to Heaven or a proof that Christianity is true?

I really encourage Christians to think about these questions. I have not attempted to really answer them here. It’s more important at this point to know that they’re there and they need to be taken seriously. If you have time to learn about your favorite hobbies but not about God, you really need to get your priorities straight.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Should We Use Gender-Inclusive Language For God?

Would it be wrong to describe God as feminine? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I recently got into a discussion on Facebook on if we should use gender-inclusive language for God. Would it really be a problem if we used more feminine language to describe God? Could it help men and women to better relate to God?

The motive is good I am sure, but that does not mean that the action itself is. We know there are many ideas that are tried today that have excellent intentions, but they do not produce excellent results. What we would need to know is if there is any data that would help.

Fortunately, there is. This is in a book I am currently going through (Though I have paused to read Bart Ehrman’s newest that came out today) called Why Men Hate Going To Church. It is by David Murrow and I have found it to be incredibly eye-opening. For my own part, I can relate to much of what he says.

Murrow says that there are many men who believe in God and hold orthodox beliefs, but they just don’t care for church. I can say there are many times I can be sitting in a service and my mind is more on a game I’d like to play when I get home. Why? Because in much of church there is nothing challenging and you often hear the same kinds of messages over and over which is pure application. There is little wrestling with the text, serious exegesis, going back to the historicity of the accounts, etc.

One exception to this was a church we attended in Knoxville called The Point. I remember still texting a friend of mine into apologetics during the service and saying “I can’t believe I’m hearing a sermon on the Conquest in the Old Testament.” Some of you might be aghast at texting during church. Don’t be. ours encouraged it. They wanted us to let people know what we were doing and also to text in our questions which the preacher would answer afterward and if it was a lengthy response, he would put up a video message of it during the week.

Murrow says that we have in many ways feminized the church. This is not to say that women are unimportant, but when women dominate a church, the church doesn’t often get the benefits that men often bring, which is greater risk-taking and such. We become internally focused about the family of God instead of externally about the kingdom of God.

Murrow has no thoughts of changing the Gospel. Absolutely not. Instead, remove the feminine focus. Some sayings that guys have a hard time with that he gives as examples are intimacy with God and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Intimacy in the Bible refers to sex. Men don’t want to think about sex with God. We love to think about sex and to have it, but not that way. We also don’t talk about personal relationships. If I called a male friend or they called me and one of us said we wanted to talk about our personal relationship, we would be asking if the other was gay.

Jesus does do many things that are not seen as masculine today, such as weeping openly, and no doubt some of our ideas about being a man are wrong, but not all. Jesus is not just the Lamb of God. He is the Lion of Judah. We have often turned Him into Mr. Rogers.

Years ago I read Five Views on the Historical Jesus. One view presented was John Dominic Crossan’s. He talked about how John the Baptist preached a fiery message and got arrested for it and put in jail and executed. Jesus saw this and decided to tone His down to a much greater message of love. Big problem with this theory. This Jesus is a mamby-pamby weakling. This Jesus is not a threat to anyone. This Jesus would never be crucified.

Unfortunately, the data is in and men do not really like going to church when church seems too feminine. The solution again is not to change the Gospel, but to make it a place where men feel they belong. They need to be in a place where they’re not ashamed to tell their fellow men where they are. Men need a place where they think masculinity is accepted and welcomed.

How is this going to be helped by speaking of God as feminine? Men look to other men to be leaders and having God described as a woman won’t help. Yes, I know there are some passages of Scripture that speak of God in some feminine terminology, but these are the exception. Most of it is masculine and needs to be emphasized.

We can also be assured that when men start going to church, women will go more too. Women will go more because wives and children often follow the husbands. Not always, but generally if you want to win a family to Jesus, you start with the father. Women will also go if single to find a good and godly man as well at a church where real men are gathered.

While I can understand the desire to help people feel more comfortable at church, I can’t support the idea of changing language for God. If God has described Himself in terminology that’s largely male, maybe we should leave it at that and consider that God can describe Himself better than we can. A little idea can have disastrous results down the line.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

What Are Our Churches Teaching?

Are we really being equipped in our churches? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Recently on my show, I interviewed Clinton Wilcox, a pro-life speaker. He spoke about how if the church got really serious, we could end abortion. This was in the middle of a discussion about why this kind of topic is not normally talked about in churches. I realize there are some that do teach on such serious topics, but the majority I am afraid do not, at least in America.

You see, I can easily predict what you’re hearing in churches most often. Here’s how you deal with guilt. Here’s how you get along with your neighbor. Here’s how you become a better spouse. Nothing wrong with these messages to an extent, but they’re also nothing really unusual to the church. You can get a lot of these from self-help books.

What you can’t get from those is the Gospel. I mean more than just the forgiveness of sins, as great as that is, but also what difference does Christianity make and why is it true? These are questions that are asked every day in our culture. All we are doing often is presenting Christianity as if God is a means to be a better person or a means to get to Heaven.

Let’s talk about some examples. There’s a saying that one in three men in the church struggle with pornography. If you’re a man and you look to the right at church and see a man and he’s okay and to the left and see another man and he’s okay, you could be in trouble. A number of pastors even struggle with pornography. Question. When was the last time you heard a sermon on the sin of pornography and overcoming it?

Along those lines, we live in a culture where more and more young people are living together before they get married. Even older people getting divorced now are doing that. Question. When was the last time you heard a sermon on a Christian view on sex and marriage and why it matters and how you know it’s true?

Go even further and you have issues of homosexuality and transgenderism. This is being spoken of on the news most every day. So what of it? When was the last time you heard a sermon that tackled these issues?

Some could say that with abortion, some pastors could be scared because some women in the congregation have had abortions. Sure. You teach it anyway. Of course, how you teach it matters. A good pastor when teaching will indeed preach on the wickedness and evil of sin and won’t sugarcoat abortion. Yet at the same time, he will teach the awesomeness and greatness of grace and that healing and forgiveness are available for all.

What about other belief systems. It used to be that most people would never encounter an atheist. Now most all of us encounter them and if we don’t, we certainly see them in the media. Are you being told why you should believe that God exists? What difference does it make that He does? Are you being told about the historicity of the New Testament?

What about other belief systems. Now this could depend on your area to be fair. If you are a pastor in Utah, you had better be informed and preaching on Mormonism. It might not be the same in the suburbs of Detroit, but you do find whatever your congregation is most likely to encounter and speak on it.

All of this is simply discipleship. It’s helping us learn not just what we are to do but why we believe we do what we do. Do we do good just to do good? Is Christianity just about being a good person?

We live in an age where and more of our youth are going to college and falling away and more and more people are encountering objections they can’t answer. The church meanwhile is just becoming a social club. You go on Sundays because, well, that’s just what you do. It’s more of a tradition than an actual commitment to Christ.

Yet what if what Clinton said is true. What if we could end abortion if all the churches in America got serious? Is it worth it? Is it worth you getting serious? It’s great to have goals you want your church to accomplish, but what do you want to do yourself even if the church doesn’t go along?

Maybe you should do that.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

What Is Orthodox Preterism?

What is the position I hold on end times? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Lately, I’ve found myself in some discussions about end times matters. This is a topic I generally do enjoy discussing. I find myself increasingly concerned with what I call the rapture brigade, the people who read end times into every event out there and everything is a sign that Jesus is coming. There is never any repentance on the part of the people who do this and they are still heralded as prophecy experts no matter how many times they’re wrong.

My view is known as orthodox Preterism. So what is it? A lot of people don’t really know what it is and end up going after a number of straw men. I find in defending my view I have to spend more time answering false misconceptions of it. So let’s answer some common questions.

Question – Do you believe everything was fulfilled in 70 A.D.?

Absolutely not! That is a position that is often known as full Preterism or true Preterism or often the people who hold it just refer to it as simply Preterism. My position by contrast to them is known as partial Preterism. I do not accept that label for reasons I will give soon.

I consider this view heretical actually. Why? Because if our resurrection is only spiritual and our resurrection is to be like Jesus’s, then Jesus must have a spiritual resurrection, which denies the bodily resurrection. I prefer to call this position Neohymenaeanism.

Question – Why call yourself an orthodox Preterist then?

Orthodox has nothing to do with the Eastern Orthodox church or any other branch of the Orthodox Church. I do not know what position they hold in eschatology. (Study of end times.) It is orthodox because it holds to all the essentials of the Christian faith. I do not go by the term partial Preterist because that would be like saying I am a partial heretic.

Question – What remains to be fulfilled?

I anticipate the Gospel will spread like the mustard seed or the yeast in the dough as Jesus prophesied in Matthew 13. That will end with the bodily return of Christ and the bodily resurrection from the dead. We will then have the judgment followed by the marriage of Heaven and Earth where God will dwell with His people.

Question – So what about Jesus’s coming?

Jesus’s coming and His return are often confused. In Matthew 24 and the parallel passages, it refers not to the resurrection, which is NOWHERE mentioned in any of these passages, but refers to His coming to His throne. The sign that He is on the throne will be His enemies are judged. His enemies then were His contemporaries. They were not some far off distant generation. A number of times in Matthew’s Gospel, Matthew uses the term “this generation.” Every other time it means Jesus’s own contemporaries. So it is with the final usage. It’s the ultimate one.

Question – What about the third temple?

It’s not happening. Every time in the New Testament when a prophecy is made concerning the temple, there’s no reason to think that it refers to a future third temple. It would be the temple that the audience at the time knew of. Where the temple would be is where the Dome of the Rock is now. Good luck with that project.

Question – What about Israel?

I support Israel not because of theology, but because they’re our allies against Islam. If Israel is a righteous nation, then we are fine. If they are not, then we are not.

Question – What about the Antichrist?

Four passages in the New Testament speak about the antichrist. All of them are in the Johannine epistles.

1 John 2:18 Little children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, by which we know that it is the last hour.

1 John 2:22 Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist who denies the Father and the Son.

1 John 4:3 and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.

2 John 1:7 For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist.

Now somehow from these four verses, a lot is extrapolated about some major end-times figure who will be a political and military mastermind and everything else out there.

Question – But what about figures like the Beast and the Man of Lawlessness?

It is often thought that these must be the antichrist, but an argument must be made for this and not an assumption. Someone needs to demonstrate how it is they arrive at this conclusion. Let’s also suppose for now that I was uncertain about the identity of these two. (I am much more sure about the Beast than I am the Man of Lawlessness.) It does not follow that that means either one is the antichrist. You must make your own position for that.

Question – But aren’t you avoiding a literal interpretation?

It is amazing to me how hung up American Christians are at the idea of literalism, which always means literal to a modern Western American audience. Where does this rule come from? The Bible is a rich work of literature that includes metaphor, hyperbole, simile, allegory, symbolism, etc. It is not a wooden text meant to be read always in a straightforward matter. Does this require work to know how to read it properly? Yes.

Question – Do you think Israel has replaced the church?

I find it odd to say that I am a replacement theologian. How could I be? God has one covenant that He honors and one people. With Israel in the Old Testament, there was always a remnant there that was true Israel. These are the same ones that recognized Jesus as the Messiah. With ministry in Acts, Israel is expanded to include Gentiles. There is still one olive tree. God did not chop down the tree of Israel and plant a new tree of Gentiles.

On the other hand, if you do hold that God is dealing with the church in this age and will return to Israel in the end, well gues what. Right now, the church has replaced Israel as God’s focus. That is the real replacement theology. I don’t hold to it. I hold to an expansion theology. God has expanded His grace ever more to include Jews and Gentiles both in one tree together.

Question – What about people making predictions today?

We should hold them accountable. If you make a statement about when the Bible says Jesus is returning and you get it wrong, you need to repent. It is a shame that even pastors are doing this, being consistently wrong, and still allowed to stay in the pulpit. (I’m thinking especially about someone like John Hagee.) We would want a pastor removed who had an affair. How about one who mishandles Scripture in a way that embarrasses the church?

Question – What about the rapture?

I don’t hold to it. I hold to the resurrection. I see no way to fit it into the text and be consistent. It’s a very very late reading of Scripture.

Question – What about the millennium?

It’s amazing that we have three verses of Scripture in Revelation that receive all the attention. I’m somewhere between a post and an amillenialist. I think we’re in it right now as Jesus is reigning on His throne now and the more the Gospel spreads, we will get closer and closer to His bodily return.

Question – Do you have a problem with futurists?

Absolutely not! I’m married to one! I love my futurist friends. Instead, I have a big problem with the whole system. I don’t think that it holds to a consistent hermeneutic of Scripture.

Question – Where can I learn more?

Gary Demar at American Vision has some good material on this including his book Last Days Madness. J.P. Holding has a great section at Tektonics.org. Brian Godawa has some great material at Godawa.com on end times as well. The late R.C. Sproul held to this view and Hank Hanegraaff of the Christian Research Institute does as well.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: Leadership Directions from Moses

What do I think of Olu Brown’s book published by Abingdon Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I want to thank Olu Brown for sending me a copy of this to see what I think. It’s also quite unusual sadly for a minister of a church to be sending a book and sending a book to an apologist at that. Normally, I get the impression that since we are the people who have to deal with false teachings and such, sending a book to us can be a great source of fear and it can be nervous to a pastor at a church.

This book is centered largely around Numbers 32. It is about how Moses had to deal with Reuben and Gad in wanting to stay on the other side of the Jordan since the land there was good. The other half-tribe of Manasseh also wanted to stay, but that part is not mentioned. The way Moses handled this is something that helps us with leadership today.

Certainly, this is something worth talking about. If we are many times to emulate biblical heroes, though certainly not in everything, then we should see how they did what they did. What kind of leader was Moses? Obviously, since he was forbidden from entering the land due to his striking the rock a second time, then not everything is an example, unless you want to say it is a negative example, but Moses did get the Israelites from A to as close to B as he could. He also had to deal with some of the most unruly people of all.

It’s also interesting to take a biblical story and try to shed greater light on it. What did it exactly mean? We can read the account and think that it’s a good story and move on. It’s only a chapter in the Bible after all. Many of these chapters have long-lasting impact that isn’t immediately seen in the text. The Israelites made a great mistake in Exodus 32 with the sin of the golden calf, but years later even in the time of Second Temple Judaism, that incident was being talked about.

Brown seeks to answer questions like how one handles challenges, what if people see things differently, how do you deal with confrontation and letting people go their own way at times? It’s also not just him. Brown has got in touch with pastors at other churches to write messages about what they have learned on leadership to finish each chapter. Chapters also have questions at the end to facilitate better learning.

If there was anything that concerned me, it is that too often when we seek to fill in the gaps in biblical stories, we too often read our own culture into it. Those who read my blog know I’m very skeptical of the idea of people hearing from God today on a regular basis and I don’t think Moses had a lot of introspection and such going on. It would have been interesting I think to state the case in the language of honor and shame that Moses would have been familiar with.

Still, this is a good and quick read. It’s less than 100 pages of content which can be gone through easily. It’s always interesting to me to get to see a story in the Bible in a new light and consider the deeper impact of what was going on. Perhaps we should all read Numbers 32 a bit more and consider it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters