The Life of John Knox, the Christian Long Game, and the Peril of Pessimistic Eschatology

The Life of John Knox, the Christian Long Game, and the Peril of Pessimistic Eschatology

I’m currently reading a biography of John Knox, the influential 16th century Scottish Reformer. I knew very little about his life other than that. He was born in 1514 and died in 1572 as the Reformation was beginning to make headway in Catholic Europe. What is especially fascinating about his life and time is now looking at it with my newly fitted postmillennial spectacles (that means glasses for you youngsters), I have a much different perspective than what I might have had before, thus “the Christian long game.” It’s hard to convey and for most of us to grasp just how much we’ve been influenced by dispensational premillennialism to see everything in the short term. Our eschatology, how we see “end times,” has consequences on our perspective and how we live. In other words, our eschatology determines how we see things, how we interpret them, and almost the entire Evangelical church has become pessimistic. Why is that? Why would our theological understanding of how things end make us pessimists? Keep in mind I struggled with this for the first 44(!) years of my Christian life. I say struggle because I didn’t like being a pessimist, but my theological framework left me no other option.

In one way this is understandable and secularism doesn’t help. We’re programmed by the culture to always focus on the immediate, the here, the now. For the non-Christian if this is it, eat, drink, and be merry . . . . Who cares what happens in a hundred or five hundred years. The Christian response to secularism is too often to focus on the next life, reasonably enough. The problem is that Christians have focused salvation almost solely on “going to heaven” when we die, which seems to have become the primary reason we are saved. We’re committed to personal holiness as best we can, our personal relationship to Jesus, and the church is the primary venue for our faith; I’ve heard it called churchianity. This personalization of our faith has little to do with secularism, however. The primary drivers are dispensationalism and pietism, the latter influence coming from 17th century German Lutheranism which made its way broadly into American Evangelicalism in the Second Great Awakening.

Not only do we have an overly personalized faith that has no impact on the culture, but we are also convinced as bad as things are Jesus could be coming back any day. Our dispensational eschatology even tells us the worse it gets the sooner Jesus returns! In a perverse way we are almost inclined to see failure as a sign of progress. As I heard someone put it, tribulation is our hope and societal decay is our encouragement. Evangelism becomes an invitation to join the losing team! At least on this earth, in space and time. All Christians agree our ultimate victory only comes at Jesus’ return. Yet nobody likes this losing, and we complain about it all the time, but again, our theological framework leaves us unable to conclude otherwise. Our myopic eschatology forces us to believe we are passengers on a sinking ship, and who wants to waste time rearranging the deck chairs if it’s going down. We may as well get as many into the life rafts as possible before she goes down. But is that really the biblical testimony of our life in Christ on this earth? It is not! Are we to believe the fall of Adam is more powerful than the resurrection of Christ? It is not!

Needless to say John Knox and the Reformers did not think this way. They lived before the so-called Enlightenment, secularism, and scientific advancement, plus life was harsh and very often short, so there were no illusions about living forever in this life. Yet they saw salvation as far more than going to heaven when you die. They saw Christianity not only as personal spiritual formation, but as societal transformation as well. They were committed to Christianizing their societies and cultures knowing it would never be easy or without Risk. During Bloody Mary’s short reign of five years over 300 Protestants were burned at the stake! Knox and many Protestants who refused to embrace Mary’s Catholicism left Britain and became exiles on the continent, many finding their way to Calvin’s Geneva, which became a model for them of the ideal Christian society. After Mary’s death they made their way back to Britain with the express goal of Christianizing all of England in a Protestant mold. Knox himself was instrumental in transforming Scottland from a primarily Catholic nation and culture to a Protestant and Presbyterian one, all of which in the next two hundred years had a powerful influence on the founding of America.

Because of their eschatology they were what all Christians should be, multigenerational Christians. They knew what they were doing would be a blessing to many generations yet unborn. As I argued in a recent post, the reason Jesus teaches us to pray, “Thy Kingdom come . . . .” is because He expects this coming now, on this earth, in this fallen world, and He expects us to expect it too! Most Christians prior to the rise of dispensationalism in the 19th century did as well. And they never thought the kingdom was just about “spiritual” stuff, or only applied to just Christians and the church. They believed the gospel had implications for all culture and society. And they believed Jesus was serious when he compared the kingdom to a mustard seed and leaven, a slow but relentless growing that in due course would bring the kingdom of heaven to earth (Matt. 13:31-33). They, as are all postmillennialists, were gritty realists who understand we are in a cosmic war against evil, not against flesh and blood. There will be times of suffering and setback, as is apparent from looking at history. The kingdom coming isn’t a straight line to ever increasing success, but a mountain we climb with many valleys and hills, and we only arrive at the ultimate Mt. Everest peak when Jesus returns to destroy the ultimate enemy, death.

One way I’ve come to conceptualize all this can be found in Genesis 3 when the Lord told us the seed of the woman would crush the serpent’s head and the serpent would strike his heel. I see this now as a microcosm of all redemptive history, not just what happens at Christ’s return. In this little encounter who wins? My money is on the one who crushes. The other who strikes the heel can do some damage, but according to God he has no chance—he gets crushed! Why in the world, literally, do we act as if it’s the other way round? As if the heel striker can crush? I would argue the answer is primarily dispensational eschatology. Few Christians realize how deep and widespread its influence is on our seemingly congenital pessimism about the nature of this world and the spiritual battle in which we are engaged. Christ, we think, is only the victor in eternity, in the sweet by and by, in “heaven” beyond this veil of tears. Of course He is, but He is also the victor here, now, in this life, in this fallen world. He sits at the right hand of God Almighty reigning “until he has put all his enemies under his feet” (I Cor. 15:25). In other words, here, now, in this life, he is crushing it!

Having said that, in one of my favorite sayings, God is never in a hurry. Think about it. When He promised Abram he would bless his offspring, or seed, and make them like the sand on the seashore and the stars in the sky, it took 2,000(!) years before the seed would be born Jesus of Nazareth. Another 2,000 years has passed, and as far as I can tell we can still count the number of Christians on earth. I think we have a ways to go. And all the nations per Jesus’ command in Matthew 18, the Great Commission, have yet to be made disciples, so we have a lot of work to do. As we go about the business of the Great Commission in our daily lives, all of it, we can have absolute confidence our God in Christ is crushing the serpent’s head before us as we love and serve others and proclaim the gospel. How exciting are our lives! We serve a victorious king; pessimism is not allowed.

 

Why Do We Pray, “Thy Kingdom Come . . . .”?

Why Do We Pray, “Thy Kingdom Come . . . .”?

Good question. Maybe a more important question is why Jesus would command us to pray it. I’ve been reassessing such questions over the last year as my road of learning took a very unexpected eschatological turn. I realized previously I wasn’t really sure why I was praying it or why Jesus commanded us to pray it. In my previous eschatological framework the prayer seemed more about the future, about God’s eternal kingdom which he’ll establish at the end of time. The implicit prayer, it seems, was, “Lord, hurry up and establish your kingdom!” It’s crazy, but I really had no framework for His Kingdom being established, coming, and His will being done on this earth in this fallen world, here, now. According to how I saw “end times” and the end of history, God putting all things right, it happened at the very end in one, big, ginormous cataclysmic event, what we know as Christ’s Second Coming or Second Advent. That’s not what the Bible teaches, though. There is some very symbolic language in Revelation and OT eschatological passages, but I must go back to my question. Why does Jesus command us to pray this?

First, I want to point out that the purpose of the theological discipline of eschatology, which is basically how everything ends, is not primarily about how things end. Well, it is and it isn’t. Prior to this detour, I thought eschatology was primarily about trying to figure out how the end goes down, what exactly happens at that point in history. As such I tended to view it as primarily a speculative enterprise. In a way I was agnostic about it, not really believing we could know anything with certainty, thus the necessity of speculation. And so many people disagree anyway, often very strongly, so I figured why bother spending too much time worrying about it. Then postmillennialism fell out of the sky, I think literally, a year ago this month. I was shocked because as far as I was concerned it was a completely and totally discredited position nobody should take seriously. Boy, was I wrong!

David Bahnsen captures what is truly critically important about eschatology:

The cause of an optimistic eschatology has never been one of enlightening one’s view of the future as much as informing their activity in the present.

It isn’t just postmillennialism, what he’s referring to, that informs our “activity in the present,” but whatever eschatology we hold. When I say, “activity in the present,” I’m sure your mind went where mine would have, to our personal holiness and morality, and how we love and serve others. That’s of course true, and part of the kingdom of God, but the question is much bigger and the consequences more far reaching.  

Let’s start with the definition of Kingdom. What’s the first thing a kingdom has to have? A king, of course. And what is the king’s role? Also of course, to rule or reign. So when Jesus prays the Lord’s Prayer, He is praying that His reign or rule be extended “on earth as it is in heaven.” And Paul tells us explicitly what that means in Ephesians 1. Remember, after Christ died and rose from the dead he gave his disciples what we call the Great Commission in Matthew 28 where He informed them “all authority in heaven, and on earth had been given” to Him therefore they were to go and make disciples of all nations. Not individuals, but nations. I’m just reporting what Jesus said. Then he ascended into heaven in front of their eyes to be seated at the right hand of God, the place of ultimate authority in the universe. Speaking of the resurrection power for us, His people, Paul says:

That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 

Did you get that part, that his authority to reign or rule over all these powers is for “the present age” and not just “the one to come”? I found it fascinating when I put these new, optimistic, eschatological glasses on that Paul was inclined to put the present age first and then added the “but also,” the eternal age, the one where there will be no sin, misery, suffering, and death. Why would that be? Let me suggest the Lord’s Prayer is the answer, and his command that we pray, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” He’s bringing his eternal, spiritual kingdom reign that he exercises in heaven to earth . . . . through us! Now in this life, in this fallen world to affect all of it, every square inch.

My prayer now is that God would extend Christ’s reign, advance his kingdom, and build His church. The latter is the reason for everything according to Paul:

22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

God brings his kingdom to earth through us, His people. Our sanctification and growth in the Lord is not just personal, but societal. We are light, the world is darkness. What happens when a light is turned on? Darkness flees? We belong to He who is Truth, we live in a world of lies. What happens to lies when Truth comes? They are exposed as lies. We live in a world of self-centeredness and hate, and we bring service, love, and peace. Everyone wants what we have, they just don’t know it!

Think about it. If you lived in the first century, and told your Roman neighbors Christianity is going one day topple the Roman empire through love they would have laughed at you, thought you delusional, but that’s exactly what happened. If you had said this Christian faith will one day dominate the Western world, and eventually bring peace and prosperity to the entire world they would have had you committed, but that is exactly what happened. Today we’re 2,000 years into this, and we’ve only seen a limited amount of this “kingdom come” and God’s will being done “on earth as it is in heaven.” The mustard seed has only grown into a little bush at this point, and the leaven has barely raised the dough. And we get to be part of God continuing His advance!

And yet what do most Christians do? Moan and whine about how bad things are, and say Jesus must be coming back soon because it’s so bad, and he’ll save the day. What we should be doing is get about building the kingdom, and have confidence that God is going to give us success because we’re told Jesus will reign and crush his enemies until they are a footstool for his feet. But do Christians believe and live this? No. It’s the defeatist attitude that bothers me most, as if the truth is as John MacArthur put it, “Down here we lose, up there we win.” No we don’t! Did Jesus command us to pray this because His expectation was that we would lose “down here”? Seriously? Christians believe this? Well, I used to! For most of my Christian life, like over 44 years! That makes me sad.

Just remember next time you get a little depressed at the news that at least Christian families at your church aren’t being thrown to lions by Roman emperors, or being burned alive for spectacle. And we think we have it tough? We wonder what God is doing. We don’t need to wonder because like Christians in the first century we know He is extending Christ’s reign, advancing His kingdom, and building His church. Why else would he tell us to pray, “Thy kingdom come . . .”

 

 

 

Book Review: The Rise and Fall of Dispensationalism

Book Review: The Rise and Fall of Dispensationalism

One of the most unanticipated of my many red pill experiences of the last seven or eight years was the transformation of my eschatological position, as I’ve explained here previously. When I was born-again, as we called it back then, in the late ‘70s premillennial dispensationalism was ubiquitous, as it continued to be throughout the ‘80s and into the ‘90s. Fundamentalist and Evangelical Christians (they were two somewhat distinct groups back then) were obsessed with the rapture and Jesus’ immanent return. Rampant speculation about “end times” events was everywhere, and some were so bold as to predict the exact date when Jesus would return. I recently learned about this book, and while I can’t take the time to read it, the short book review by Joel Looper was interesting because the obsession of those early couple decades of my Christian life has disappeared. I’ve often wondered why, given most Christians are still dispensational. I’ve chalked it up to one too many predictions falling short, and people just getting tired of all the speculation, but there are also scholarly and theological reasons, which you can learn about in the piece.

The reason I’m writing about it, though, is because of what this change says about the nature of Christian and human hope in general. The most exciting thing about embracing postmillennialism is that it gives us ground for optimism and hope in this world, as fallen and dysfunctional as it is. But before I get to this, I want to quote the last two paragraphs of the book review:

The Rise and Fall of Dispensationalism obliquely but powerfully gestures toward a hole often found in the gospel that post-dispensationalist evangelicals believe today. “In the wake of dispensationalism’s collapse,” he writes in the epilogue, “the eschatological sight of the American church has blurred.” That means that our hope is less fervent, thinner, colder.

Many Protestant pastors understandably are trepidatious about even alluding to eschatological matters for fear of getting sucked into controversies about numerology, new candidates for the Antichrist, and dating the second coming. Nevertheless, Hummel reminds us, “Christianity is inescapably eschatological.” That is so because faith cannot exist without hope.

Exactly, especially religious faith. All human beings live by faith, be they “religious” or not, and in one of my favorite phrases, there is no such thing as an unbeliever. The same thing, though, applies to hope. As all people live by faith, all people need hope, need something to look forward to, something to give their lives purpose and meaning. Without hope, life is death, as we witness in our hopeless secular age in which close to 50,000 people a year kill themselves.

One of the leftovers of dispensational premillennialism, shared to one degree or another by amillennialism, is a kind of skepticism about this world, that everything is inexorably going to hell in a handbasket, and Jesus will come back soon to save the day. Before embracing postmillennialism I didn’t realize how our theology of “end times” determines how we interpret everything about the times in which we live, whether negatively or positively. As I explain in the piece I linked to above, I was as negative and often depressed as the next Christian and conservative, but found Steve Bannon’s War Room, and he turned me into an optimist. The problem was that I didn’t have the theological, specifically eschatological, framework for optimism. In the book I’m currently finishing, I started it hoping to argue theologically for that optimism, but without postmillennialism it would have been a difficult argument to make. With it we realize Jesus came to earth and now sits at the right hand of God ruling to extend his reign, advance his kingdom, and build his church. I can’t make the case again here, but I will share two passages proving that Christ’s rule is now, in this world, not merely in eternity or only in our hearts. First, Psalm 110:

The Lord says to my lord:

“Sit at my right hand
until I make your enemies
a footstool for your feet.”

The Lord will extend your mighty scepter from Zion, saying,
“Rule in the midst of your enemies!”
Your troops will be willing
on your day of battle.

This Psalm is clearly Messianic and refers to Christ, and Paul knows that as he writes these words in I Cor. 15.

25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

The question on the table for all Christians is this. Does this “reign until” have real, substantive, positive affects in this fallen world, here and now? Or does Satan call the shots, and things will inevitably get worse until like a dues ex machina Jesus returns to save the day and change everything in an instant? I now believe the former is the biblical answer, not the latter, but that’s not why I’m writing this. I’m writing it because of hope, and why the former gives us incredible hope for this age, as well as the age to come, as Paul tells us of Jesus’ reign in Ephesian 1, and the latter falls short.

Ever since the Second Great Awakening in the 19th century, and the corresponding rise of secularism and dispensational premillennialism, Christian hope has moved its focus almost completely on the world to come, our eternal hope in Christ. I believe as important and powerful as this is, the hope of being saved from our sins and going to heaven one day, as the author of the book review says, makes our hope “less fervent, thinner, colder.” In this take, the only reign of Christ is in the Christian’s heart, and has effect primarily in our sanctification. It’s merely personal. But Jesus didn’t come to solely transform his people’s lives, but that their transformed lives would impact the world for righteousness and his kingdom, as he himself taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.” Jesus didn’t teach us to pray this expecting our prayer would be futile, did he?

Imagine if we really believed God in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit is working now, this very moment, to advance his kingdom through us so his rule of righteousness and peace would in some way manifest itself in the societies in which we live. The problem is we live by sight and not by faith, as if what appears as debacle and defeat is the end of the story. If you read the history of redemption in our Bibles you’ll see things are rarely as they appear on the surface to the finite human beings who haven’t a clue what God is really doing. And we must realize as I say all the time, God is never in a hurry. If in God’s providence we’re to live in a time of defeat, so be it, but we battle (Eph. 6:12) not just for our generation but for generations to come. As the Apostle Paul also says in I Corinthians, our labor in the Lord is not in vain, and thus he exhorts us to give ourselves fully to it!

Micah 4-Swords Into Plowshare, The Last Days are Our Days

Micah 4-Swords Into Plowshare, The Last Days are Our Days

The thing I love about reading the prophets is that amid all the gloom and doom rays of light and expectations of hope jump out like the sun peeking through the clouds on a very gray day. You know it may only peak through briefly, but that gives you hope of sunny days to come. This analogy is especially powerful for me since I’ve embraced postmillennial eschatology, except now the sun shines more brightly. It applies to the entire Bible, of course, given it’s all about Jesus (Luke 24), but the contrast in the prophets is startling. Micah 4 is an especially good example. I’ll quote the first part of the chapter to illustrate the point, but when I was a “pan” millennialist (it will all pan out in the end) and an amillennialist I instantly read passages like this assuming it must apply to after Jesus returns and has established the restored heavens and earth he came to save. How could it not! You read it and tell me what you think:

In the last days

the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established
    as the highest of the mountains;
it will be exalted above the hills,
    and peoples will stream to it.

Many nations will come and say,

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
    so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion,
    the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He will judge between many peoples
    and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
    and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
    nor will they train for war anymore.
Everyone will sit under his own vine
    and under his   own fig tree,
and no one will make them afraid,
    for the Lord Almighty has spoken.
All the nations may walk
    in the name of their gods,
but we will walk in the name of the Lord
    our God for ever and ever.

Previously, my knee-jerk reaction to this passage was it had to be in the new heavens and earth; I didn’t even question it. Swords into plowshares? Not in this fallen world! But I was actually wrong. If we look more carefully at this passage we’ll see what’s being talked about is life in this fallen world. If there is still a need for judging and settling disputes “for strong nations,” then sin still exists. If nations are still walking “in the name of their gods,” then sin still exists. No, this passage is very much about the here and now, and it’s obvious. As Micah says, this is “in the last days.”

We are currently living “in the last days.” There are several New Testament verses telling us these days started with the coming of Messiah. In the very first Christian sermon in Acts 2, Peter tells us quoting the Prophet Joel:

17 “‘In the last days, God says,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your young men will see visions,
    your old men will dream dreams.

That pouring out started, as we know, with Pentecost. Peter was telling Jews in Jerusalem it was Jesus of Nazareth, risen Lord, who ushered in these last days. The writer to the Hebrews tells us:

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.

In the Old Testament these days are referred to in various ways that Jews all interpreted to be Messianic. So we must conclude that Micah is referring to today, to our time, to here and now, to how life is lived as the Holy Spirit enables followers of the Savior who is now seated at the right hand of the Almighty “far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.” (Eph. 1: 21) For Paul Jesus’ current rule is taken for granted, and we have to be reminded his rule is also for the age to come. Think about that!

So, what does this look like? How does this differ from the typical doom and gloom Chicken Little Christianity of those just waiting for Jesus to come back any moment to save the day? Micah 4! And according to Micah it will look something like peace and prosperity, where justice is done and people live in safety. I know, it almost sounds prosaic, boring. That’s it? Shouldn’t it be, I don’t know, more spiritual? More miraculous like? Well, what is more miraculous than turning chaos and violence and want into justice, shalom, and plenty? Or people loving one another? Or the fruit of the Spirit! To me one way this is graphically portrayed, to see what it looks like in this world, is in the history of the war of Christianity against paganism in the first millennium of the West. The spiritual war of Ephesians 6:12 is worked out in this history of redemption from Abram being called out of Ur of the Chaldeans four thousand years ago to this very day. It looks very different now, but the battle is the same. This is graphically played out in the ninth century in King Alfred the Great’s battle saving Christian England against the heathen Viking horde from the north.

Alfred was the king of Wessex from 871-899, and he wanted to establish a Christian united England under one king. He’s the only King in English history with the appellation Great attached to his name because he started the process of uniting England under the law of God. Several years ago, my daughter told me about a Netflix series called The Last Kingdom (i.e., Wessex). I was quickly hooked, not only because it was well done, but also because, sadly, I knew absolutely nothing about the history I saw portrayed on the screen. I was amazed to learn Christian Western civilization as we know it hung by a thread during Alfred’s reign, and a thread might be overestimating the odds, from a human perspective. You’ll have to either watch the series or learn the history to know what I mean, but when Christ rose from the dead and sent the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the heathens didn’t have a chance.

One of my favorite scenes is in season 1 when Alfred and the Danish leaders Guthrum and Ubba are negotiating. They ask Alfred what the transcribers are writing, and he says, “They are writing what we speak.” He adds, “They are writing history, we are here creating history. People will read of this very meeting.” The heathens didn’t write or create history. They also ask why he seeks peace, and he says, “It is the Christian in me, the will of my God.” Ubba wants to talk of the gods, and Alfred replies firmly, “God, there is only one.” This encounter is a microcosm of two mutually exclusive forces, the two worldviews, and only one could be victorious. Christianity would bring learning and peace, the rule of law, and the advance of God’s kingdom in the world, or the pagans would bring a bloody world of arbitrary power none of us would want to live in. Tom Holland in his important book, Dominion, contends, “So profound has been the impact of Christianity on the development of Western civilization that it has come to be hidden from view.”

This impact is what we read of in Micah, swords being turned into plowshares. When Alfred defeated Guthrum, he and his leaders were required to be baptized and become Christians as the terms of peace. Guthrum was allowed to rule peacefully in East Anglia for the rest of his life, and everyone was able to sit under his own vine and under his own fig tree, and no one was able to make them afraid, for the Lord Almighty has spoken.

 

 

By Golly, Lennon Was Right, All We Really Do Need is Love!

By Golly, Lennon Was Right, All We Really Do Need is Love!

The three uses of the law is not something most Christians give much thought to, as in not at all. As Protestant Evangelical Christians, if that’s what we are, our relationship to God’s law can be ambivalent and ambiguous. I had been a Christian over five years before another Christian would give me a formal introduction to the law. He told me most Christians ignore the law because of a distorted view of the gospel, as if it set aside God’s law as no longer binding on the Christian. If we think about it for even a moment that is, of course, absurd. God’s law is a reflection of his being, a transcription of his character, and it can no more be set aside than his holiness. Here according the late great R.C. Sproul are the three uses of the law:

The first purpose of the law is to be a mirror. On the one hand, the law of God reflects and mirrors the perfect righteousness of God. The law tells us much about who God is. Perhaps more important, the law illumines human sinfulness. Augustine wrote, “The law orders, that we, after attempting to do what is ordered, and so feeling our weakness under the law, may learn to implore the help of grace.” The law highlights our weakness so that we might seek the strength found in Christ. Here the law acts as a severe schoolmaster who drives us to Christ.

A second purpose for the law is the restraint of evil. The law, in and of itself, cannot change human hearts. It can, however, serve to protect the righteous from the unjust. Calvin says this purpose is “by means of its fearful denunciations and the consequent dread of punishment, to curb those who, unless forced, have no regard for rectitude and justice.” The law allows for a limited measure of justice on this earth, until the last judgment is realized.

The third purpose of the law is to reveal what is pleasing to God. As born-again children of God, the law enlightens us as to what is pleasing to our Father, whom we seek to serve. The Christian delights in the law as God Himself delights in it. Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15). This is the highest function of the law, to serve as an instrument for the people of God to give Him honor and glory.

We get the first purpose because we know we are transgressors of God’s law, and that’s what drives us to the gospel. We also in some way get the second but don’t see it as relevant to how entire societies are governed. Since we don’t live in a “theocracy,” the Ten Commandments and the rest of God’s law is not applicable in, for example, America. How’s that working out for us? Secularism is a jealous god which exalts man’s law above God’s law. As in our personal lives so in society, it is either autonomy, self law, or theonomy, God’s law. There is no in between, but that is a topic for another post, many other posts.

 

The third use is what I want to focus on, and why the title of this post and shout out to the also late great John Lennon, and to Doug Wilson in this video for giving me the idea. If you read the reference above to John’s gospel (pure coincidence it’s also a John?), you might see where I’m going with “All you need is love.” Most of us would not equate love with law. In fact, I dare say, we might even say law and love are antithetical, which shows just how programmed we are by our secular Triumph of the Therapeutic age (in the title of Philip Rieff’s 1966 book). Modern people see love in every way but what it really is, the hard selfless often sacrificial work of seeking the benefit of others, the kind of love the Apostle Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 13, that kind of love. Most Christians are familiar with the Greek word for this kind of love, agape-ἀγάπη, or “love which centers in moral preference.” In other words, it isn’t driven by emotion, as in another Greek word for love eros, which we know as romantic love, but by choice. That’s why love is a verb.

This also brings to mind the question the Pharisees asked Jesus when he was proving a conundrum to the Sadducees, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” I imagine like so much of what Jesus did, what he said next was also completely unexpected to the Pharisees:

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Jesus is of course quoting from one of his favorite Old Testament books, Deuteronomy. He is also connecting loving God with loving neighbor from Leviticus, one of the last books in the Old Testament we might think of as loving. But God’s law is love, and the only basis for true human flourishing, made possible for Christians because of the gospel. Even non-Christians can love because they’re made in God’s image and know to some degree that love is better than self-absorption.

It is instructive to see in the Leviticus passage, right after God commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves He declares, “I am the LORD.” I am not sure why he did this, but maybe loving our neighbor has something to do with who God is. Not exactly the meanie Old Testament God the second century heretic Maricon claimed he was.

This Old Testament biblical theme of love is also perfectly consistent with the New Covenant revealed in Christ in the gospel. Love and law are connected as Paul shows us in Romans 13:

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

How many of us connect love with law, let alone think love is its fulfillment? We see law as constricting and scary, as in “the long arm of the law.” But life without law is anarchy which is destruction and the antithesis of love. This means God’s justice must be meted out when his law is transgressed and thus also a reflection of his love. The ultimate display of this being God himself in Christ paying the penalty for the sins of His people and the world. Paul also connects the law with the gospel regarding it’s second use in I Timothy 1:

We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, 10 for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine 11 that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.

It is highly unlikely John Lennon has God’s law and the gospel in mind when he sang, “All you need is love,” and he was certainly being sarcastic, but he was more right than he could have imagined (pun intended?).

Fundamentalism, The Ezra Institute, and the CBC Smear

Fundamentalism, The Ezra Institute, and the CBC Smear

The reason I wanted to bring this article to your attention, Inside the Fundamentalist Christian Movement: A Response Statement by Joe Boot, the founder of the Ezra Institute, is because of my last post about how much the secular culture despises Christians and brands us as bigots and haters. I’ll explain below, but you’ll see if you read the piece what faithful, orthodox Christians are up against, specifically those who are obedient to Christ and apply Scripture to every single area of life, including the public life of government and law. Secularists are fine with Christianity as long as those who practice it leave their faith in their private lives. They will tolerate us then, but if we claim that Jesus is Lord over all creation, including the state, including rulers and authorities, and that God’s law applies to how societies are run, then Caeser will have none of it. I make this argument extensively in my next book which I’m trying to finish, but all of reality on this earth from a biblical perspective comes down to paganism versus Christianity, and their respective followers. When the Christians in the early centuries of the church declared, “Jesus is Lord!” it was a political statement. Many paid with their lives because of it. The secular state is a jealous God and will have no other gods before it. Boot’s piece explains it well.

As for fundamentalism, when I became a Christian in the fall of 1978, I was born-again into a type of fundamentalist Christianity. The term has a specific historical meaning going back to the early twentieth century, but it’s used today as a pejorative term to one degree or another. The secularists use it to brand us as no better than Muslim Jihadists bent on domination and willing to use violence to that end. All the political violence, however, every single bit of it, comes from the secular Marxist left. When I was introduced to Reformed theology at 24, I began to see how the fundamentalist type of faith I practiced was a truncated, narrow, and privatized faith. Coming across Francis Schaeffer early in those years helped me a lot, but Reformed theology was eye-opening on many levels except at the eschatological level for most of my adult life. It wasn’t until I embraced  post-millennialism last summer that I began to learn of the different eschatological positions in the Reformed camp. I knew absolutely nothing about the post-mill position but what I thought I knew about it, and rejected it as unworthy of my attention. Oh how wrong I was!

Joe Boot has been an invaluable learning resource in this almost year-long learning process. It is amazing how over 44 years into this Christian journey how little I know and how much I have to learn. It is thrilling! And we get to do this for eternity, literally. Most Christians, understandably, complain about everything in the current state of our decaying civilization, but when it comes to doing something about it feel helpless. Most default to a defeatist eschatology seeing things are inevitably going to get worse and worse, believing that’s what the Bible predicts, and are just waiting for Jesus to return and save the day. They have no theological category for victory because premillennialism, which influences their thinking knowingly or not, predicts losing in this fallen world. The few that embrace amillennialism like I used to have a similar view that pushes out victory to only when Christ returns.

I used to mock the idea that we could somehow “change the world.” This fallen world, I thought, was unchangeable from it’s sinful dysfunction no matter what we did. We could plug holes in the dyke here and there, but to mix metaphors, Titanic hit the iceberg long ago and it was going to sink no matter what we do. It saddens me to think I ever thought such a thing, and now believe it is profoundly unbiblical. I have become convinced of the exegetical case (i.e., taken “out of” Scripture) for Christ’s victory in history in this fallen world. I’m hoping my book makes the case adequately enough so Christians will at least consider it.

The reason for this post, though, is Boot’s description of fundamentalism, which is one of the best I’ve come across. When I was introduced to Reformed theology I learned there was a word for the type of Christianity I was practicing, Pietism. The word doesn’t mean piety or pious, but historically comes out of German Lutheranism of the seventeenth  century, and means a faith that is primarily personal and focused on so-called spiritual things, like prayer, Bible reading, church, evangelism, etc. Christianity, however, is not primarily personal at all! If it was, the Christians of the early church would have never paid for their profession of Christ’s lordship with their blood. As I said above, Caesar then, and the totalitarian secular state now, will have none of it. It’s bow down and worship it and its dictates, or you will be made to pay. Notice the “Great Reversal”:

Yet Fundamentalism as a movement in the USA quickly became associated with a rejection of the social implications of evangelical faith, an abandonment of efforts at cultural transformation, and a withdrawal from distinctly Christian political engagement in terms of biblical principles. In what missiologists call ‘The Great Reversal’, evangelical fundamentalists (with notable exceptions) largely rejected the historic reformed Protestant vision for national moral reformation found in men like William Wilberforce and the optimistic eschatology of late nineteenth-century Princetonians like Benjamin Warfield and Charles Hodge, and so evacuated the public space to focus on personal piety and winning ‘souls,’ with an increased fixation on end-times prophecy within Dispensational theology. In this respect, the vision and work of the Ezra Institute and those who share our theological outlook is at odds with the once-popular notions of American ‘fundamentalism.’

He says “once-popular,” I think, because few Evangelicals today refer to themselves as fundamentalists. When I became a Christian there seemed to be a well-defined Christian cultural divide between fundamentalist and Evangelicals. The latter term has historical meaning as well, going back to the Reformation, but in the twentieth century a group led by Billy Graham and other founders of Christianity Today decided to separate themselves from the anti-cultural engagement and anti-intellectual fundamentalists. George Marsden’s Reforming Fundamentalism: Fuller Seminary and the New Evangelicalism, is a great history of exactly how this split took place. After I discovered Francis Schaeffer somewhere around 20, I never referred to myself as a fundamentalist.

I want to further comment on Boot’s conclusion, but that will have to be for another post.