Lyrical Eschatology: Andrew Peterson’s Songful Seminar on Eschatology

hillsWhile every year new books on prophecy, eschatology, and end times are written, most of them—if not all of them—suffer from the same deficiency: they only focus on the facts and figures of end time predictions. With lots of biblical citations, they spend considerable time debating about the millennium, literal hermeneutics, and how to read Revelation. Of course, these are all important truths to consider, yet, in almost every case, these theology texts fail to convey the beauty, goodness, and truth of biblical eschatology.

In Scripture eschatology is almost always lyrical. In the Prophets, the place where eschatology rises like the Rockies, we do not find naked propositions and bland predictions. Rather, we find naked men foretelling the coming judgment of God (Isaiah 20), baskets full of good and bad fruit (Jeremiah 24), and hills overflowing with wine to describe the future restoration (Amos 9). Indeed, in the Bible eschatology is poetic, not prose. It is meant to captivate hearts, even as it illumines minds.

Yet, except for a few biblical scholars, this feature is almost entirely lost. Daniel is treated like Nostradamus (converted), and Ezekiel’s prophecies are read as an architect manual for some future building project. Yet, this is not first and foremost what the Spirit of Christ was leading these men to see and say. Their authoritative words are given not to a supply us a chronological forecast of future events. Rather, these servants of God are commissioned by God to call us to trust in the covenant Lord who declared the end from the beginning.  In other words, eschatology is centered  on the last man (1 Corinthians 15:45), not just last things!

Even more, in Scripture the medium employed by the Prophets was poetry, visually stimulating words intended to produce faith and hope. Accordingly, any book on eschatology that turns poetry into prophecy charts suffers the same fate: it gives facts without fire, hope without the Prophet’s heart, predictions without poetry. Indeed, it may communicate much truth, but it is truth denuded of spiritual life and eschatological hope.

Therefore, we who love the Lord and believe every jot and tittle of the Bible, need eschatology that sings. We need more than “textbooks.” We need lyrical eschatology. And thankfully, we find it in places like the stories of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, as well as the music of Andrew Peterson.ap

For years I have said evangelicals need to put down Left Behind saga and pick up the richer, more biblical, lyrical eschatology of Andrew Peterson. Why? Because the heart of eschatology is not the details surrounding the Rapture. The heart of the eschatology is the resurrection and the hope of a new creation in Christ. This is what Andrew Peterson captures in his music. And thus I have put together the unauthorized Andrew Peterson’s (Songful) Seminar on Eschatology. (Yes, I’m an admitted fanboy).

As an adjunct professor of theology, these songs will now be part of my syllabus on eschatology. If you have never heard them before or considered the way biblical eschatology is lyrical and centered on the new creation (not the timing of the tribulation), I urge you to listen. While I believe every album of Andrew Peterson has eschatological themes, these are the top twelve songs (plus one by Ben Shive), divided between Eschatology Proper (i.e., that which focuses directly on last things—resurrection, the coming of Christ, etc.) and Eschatology Presently Effected (i.e., the effects that the resurrection of Christ currently has on life).

Again, take time to listen to Andrew Peterson’s songs. Maybe you can listen to them as you make space on your eschatology shelf for his books on eschatology (The Wingfeather Saga) or other lyrical eschatology like that of The Gray Havens, another singer-songwriter impelled with the same Narnian vision. In whatever manner you listen, let us all consider how Scripture impels us to do more than fight over for our eschatology; it requires us to sing our eschatology. And for that I’ve found no one more helpful than Andrew Peterson.  Continue reading

Life After Death (1 Corinthians 15:35–49)

sermon photoLife After Death (Sermon Audio)

Few passages are more exhilarating than 1 Corinthians 15 and its promise of resurrection life. For those who trust in Christ, Paul says what is buried in the dust will be raised in glory. Taking up a variety of images, he describes the indescribable in verses 35–49— namely the way in which children of Adam formed from the dust of earth are raised to life in Christ to share his heavenly glory.

In Sunday’s message I took time to explain how Paul makes his argument to skeptics in Corinth. Looking to creation, to the way in which seeds come to life, and to the way dust becomes glory, I tried to follow and flesh out Paul’s argument. You can listen to the sermon online or read the sermon notes. Discussion questions and further resources—including Andrew Peterson’s lyrical eschatology—are listed below. Continue reading

On the Transgender Movement in Public Schools: Video and Written Resources

malefemaleThe Prince William County School Board is set to vote again on Proposal 060, the measure postponed last fall. This policy change would add sexual orientation and gender identity language to the non-discrimination policy of the public schools. Since last fall churches in our county have sought to speak with grace and truth in the public square.

Such speaking is not often easy, because it is often perceived that opposition to transgender policies is unloving towards those struggling with gender dysphoria. Yet, the most unloving thing we can do is permit falsehood to reign and children to be deceived by the messaging of the transgender movement. (See there agenda here).

In what follows, you can find a number of video resources about the transgender movement. Below that are written resources that can also be read and disseminated. Continue reading

Kingdom and Covenant: The Main Entrance to the Cathedral of Scripture

In recent years, Kingdom and Covenant have received ample attention in the field of biblical theology. This is due in large part to a book co-written by two professors at Southern Seminary, Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum. Most recently, the latter articulated their position at the Regional ETS meeting held on the campus of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. If you haven’t seen the video (above), I would encourage you to take an hour an listen.

This post is not about that presentation or that book, however. Instead it concerns another book with a similar theme, The Drama of Scripture. While many covenant and dispensational theologians have pushed back against Kingdom through Covenant, there are others who have found the twin themes of kingdom and covenant as persuasive and most basic for putting the Bible together. One example of this is Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen.

Writing independent from (and prior to) Gentry and Wellum, they produce a strikingly similar  conclusion about the place of kingdom and covenant in Scripture. Using a cathedral as an illustration for reading the Bible, the argue for covenant and kingdom as the “main entrance” into the Bible. They write,

In our opinion, ‘covenant’ (in the Old Testament) and ‘the kingdom of God’  (in the New Testament) present a strong claim to be the main door through which we can being to enter the Bible and to see it as one whole and vast structure. Continue reading

Baptism and the Resurrection: Looking Again at 1 Corinthians 15:29 and ‘Baptism for the Dead’

baptismOtherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead?
If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf?
— 1 Corinthians 15:29 —

Few passages in Scripture are more confusing than 15:29, with its language of “baptism for the dead” (βαπτιζόμενοι ὑπὲρ τῶν νεκρῶν). What is Paul trying to say? Is he addressing, or condemning, or condoning some strange practice in Corinth? Is he speaking of the traditional ordinance of water baptism, but using strange language? Should we read 1 Corinthians 15:29 with everything else Paul said about baptism? Or should we delimit this verse to the cultural context of Corinth?

For starters, we can clearly assert that Scripture in no way supports “proxy” or “vicarious baptism.” In the context itself, Paul is not giving instruction for baptism; he is using it as a rhetorical illustration: if many line up for baptism, which depends on the resurrection, why do you accept baptism but not resurrection. Again the focus of 1 Corinthians 15 is resurrection; “baptism on behalf of the dead” is in reference to that larger issue. Paul is not giving us any instructions for the ordinance itself

Rightly, the orthodox church has always understood Paul this way. Throughout church history, this passage was only used by heretical groups to implement such a practice; it has never found a place among true believers.[1] Among Mormons, there is a false doctrine built on this verse, that a Mormon priest must baptize someone for them to be born again—hence some are baptized today on behalf of earlier, unbaptized souls.[2] But among evangelicals there is no such practice.

What is present among biblical Christians is a wide variety of interpretations. In what follows I will attempt to list these interpretations and conclude with something of an approximation of what I believe Paul is saying. I say approximation, because this is one of those passages that we must hold with open hands. In other words, while we can confidently stress what this passage does not teach, we are in a more difficult position to lock down a precise definition of what Paul does mean. The context, the grammar, and the meaning are all difficult to us. Still, we should labor to understand his words, especially in the context of the book. But first, a list of possible interpretations. Continue reading

Raised with Christ (pt. 2): The Unfolding Reign of Christ’s Resurrection

obc-1 corinthiansRaised with Christ (part 2): The Unfolding Reign of Christ’s Resurrection

First Corinthians 15 is one giant meditation on Christ’s glorious resurrection. Verses 1–11 speak of the resurrection’s centrality in the gospel; verses 12–19 explain the necessity of the resurrection; and now in verses 20–34 we find how the resurrection of Christ applies to us.

In what follows you can find discussion questions about Sunday’s sermon and a few resources that may help you better understand the beauty and goodness of being raised to life with Christ. Sermon notes can be found here. Continue reading

Seeing and Savoring the Drama of Scripture

pexels-photo-256560For the first few years of my Christian life Our Daily Bread served as a vital part of my personal devotions. Each month or two, I’d pick up the short devotional in the church foyer, and each day I’d read it with accompanying Scripture references. About the same time, I began memorizing Bible verses. Behind my desk today is an index box full of the Scriptures I sought to memorize from that period.

Scripture tells us that the way a man keeps his way pure is to hide the word of God in our heart (Psalm 119:9). Truly, the practice of Scripture memory and devotional reading is life-giving for the Christian. At the same time, such Bible memory and devotional nuggets can be lost on the Christian if they are not tied to the larger storyline of the Bible. Indeed, remembering the work of God in history is foundational for any abiding faith in Christ. And without it, we risk adding knowledge without heart change. 

Recalling the Story of the Bible

Throughout the Old Testament Israel rehearses its history. In Deuteronomy, Moses begins by recounting God’s covenant faithfulness to Israel (ch. 1–4). In Psalms 78, 104–106, and 136, the Psalter retells the events of redemptive history, so that future generations might trust God to work on their behalf. Likewise, the Prophets regularly pick up God’s work in Exodus in order to say: The God who split the Red Sea to save his people can do it again (see Isaiah 41:8–20; 43:1–21). Even Nehemiah, when leading the people of Israel to restore covenant with God, starts not with their profession or recommitment, but with Yahweh’s history of covenant faithfulness (9:6–34). And the same is true in the New Testament, as the sermons of Acts all follow the history of God’s work in Israel now culminating in Christ (see Acts 2, 3, 7, 13). Continue reading

Drinking Deeply from the Fountain of Biblical Theology

biblical theology[I wrote the following article for the online journal Theology for Life, a publication of Servants of Grace. A PDF of the whole journal on Hermeneutics: The Art and Science of Biblical Interpretation can be found here].

When Jesus approached his two disciples departing Jerusalem on the day of his resurrection, he asked, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” (Luke 24:17). Deftly, he quizzed them about the events of his own death, burial, and resurrection. To this inquiry, these disciples report the somber facts,

Jesus of Nazareth . . . was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people . . . our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” (vv. 19–24)

What follows is one of the most exhilarating moments in all Scripture, where “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he [Jesus] interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (v. 27). For the two hours it took to walk to Emmaus, Jesus explained how the Hebrew Scriptures foretold of his coming—only the disciples did not know it was Jesus speaking. Indeed, through this guided tour of the Bible, Jesus illumined their minds before opening their eyes to reveal his identity (“And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him,” v. 31). Following this epiphany, the two disciples observe, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened the Scriptures?” (v. 32).

This, I contend, is biblical theology. Continue reading

Raised with Christ (pt. 1): The Unfolding Effects of Christ’s Resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:20–28)

sermon photoRaised with Christ (pt. 1):  The Unfolding Effects of Christ’s Resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:20–28)

Nothing is more central to the Christian faith than Christ’s resurrection. Yet, how exactly does his resurrection secure ours? In what way is his resurrection applied to our lives? Is the promise of our resurrection just divine fiat, or is there something more that unites us to Christ? And is the resurrection only a future reality or is there something present to it?

All these questions are addressed in 1 Corinthians 15:20–28. After showing the necessity of the resurrection for the gospel (vv. 1–11) and salvation (vv. 12–19), Paul explains the (theo)logic of the resurrection in verses 20–28. Picking up concepts (firstfruits and covenant headship) and cross-references from the Psalms (110:1 and 8:6), Paul explains the way in which Christ’s death raises us to life.

This Sunday we started to unpack these verses, next week we will finish this section. You can listen to the sermon online or read the sermon notes. Discussion questions and resources for further study are below. Continue reading

Martin Luther on Christ’s Resurrection and Ours

harvestBut in fact Christ has been raised from the dead,
the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. . . . 
But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits,
then at his coming those who belong to Christ.
— 1 Corinthians 15:20, 23 —

First Corinthians 15:20 is a glorious passage, full of insight into Christ’s resurrection and ours. As the “firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep,” Jesus is the firstborn from the dead. He is the proof that resurrection is possible, permanent, and secure. Unlike Lazarus and the saints raised to life by Elijah and Elisha, Jesus resurrection was of a different order—it literally began a new creation.

Accordingly, Paul speaks of Christ’s resurrection in harvest terms because it both inaugurates God’s long, foretold eschatological resurrection (Ezekiel 37; Daniel 12:1–2), and it promises that the rest of the harvest—an eruption of redeemed saints from the earth—is forthcoming (1 Corinthians 15:35–38). Just as the festival of firstfruits celebrated the beginning of the harvest, portending to a bounty to come, so Christ’s resurrection promises bodily resurrection for all those who fall asleep in Christ.

This reality stands at the center of the Christians future hope, but it also promises resurrection life today. Indeed, multiple places in Scripture besides speak of the resurrection as a present reality (see John 5:26–29; Ephesians 2:5; Colossians 3:1–4). This does not deny the need for or anticipation of a future bodily resurrection; it only reiterates the ruling power of Christ in heaven and the work of his Spirit on the earth.

To this point Martin Luther once commented on the present effects of Christ’s resurrection. His words are worth quoting in full. Let his always-colorful language stir your heart to worship as you remember the glorious working of Christ’s resurrection—both a future hope and present power.

And what is more than that, by calling Christ “the Firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” Paul wishes to signify that the resurrection is to be viewed and understood as having already begun in Christ, indeed, as being more than half finished, and that this remnant of death is to be regarded as no more than a deep sleep, and that the future resurrection of our body will not differ from suddenly awaking from such a sleep. For the main and best part of this has already come to pass, namely, that Christ, our Head, has arisen. But now that the Head is seated on high and lives, there is no longer any reason for concern. We who cling to Him must also follow after Him as His body and His members. For where the head goes and abides, there the body with all the members must necessarily follow and abide. As in the birth of man and of all animals, the head naturally appears first, and after this is born, the whole body follows easily. Now since Christ has passed over and reigns above in heaven over sin, death, devil, and everything, and since He did this for our sake to draw us after Him, we need no longer worry about our resurrection and life, though we depart and rot in the ground. For now this is no more than a sleep. And for Christ it is but a night before He rouses us from the sleep.

Now if I know this and believe it, my heart or conscience and soul have already passed through death and grave and are in heaven with Christ, dwell there and rejoice over it. And in that way we have the two best parts, much more than half, of the resurrection behind us. And because Christ animates and renews the heart by faith, He will also surely drag the decomposed rascal after Him and clothe him again, so that we can behold Him and live with Him. For that is His Word and work on which we are baptized and live and die. Therefore this will surely not fail us, as little as it failed Him. No matter when or how God ordains that we die, whether in bed or in the fire, in the water, by rope or by sword, the devil, death’s master and butcher, will surely see to killing us and carrying out his trade, so that we will not be able to choose or select a mode of death. But no matter how he executes us, it shall not harm us. He may give us a bitter potion, such as is administered to put people to sleep and make them insensitive, but we will wake up again and come forth on that Day, when the trumpet will sound. That the devil shall not prevent, because even now we are more than halfway out of death in Christ, and he will not be able to hold back this poor belly and bag of maggots either. (“Commentary on 1 Corinthians 15,” in Luther’s Works, 28:110–11)

Come what may of our earthly tents, whatever the devil aims to do to destroy us, the resurrection of Christ is already at work in the world and at work in his saints (2 Corinthians 4:1–11). Let us take heart in that, and with the power of Christ’s resurrection, put to death the deeds in the body by means of the Spirit which seals our own future resurrection (cf. Romans 8:11–13).

Soli Deo Gloria, ds