For the Kids Nobody Wants: Why Be Fruitful and Multiply Needs a New Social Imaginary

aaron-burden-ob6O_xd67O0-unsplash

What follows is part one of a longform essay published at Christ Over All. You can read both parts here and here.

*********

Past the grove of cypress trees Walter—he had been playing king of the mountain—saw the white truck, and he knew it for what it was. He thought, That’s the abortion truck. Come to take some kid in for a postpartum down at the abortion place.

And he thought, Maybe my folks called it. For me.

He ran and hid among the blackberries, feeling the scratching of the thorns but thinking, It’s better than having the air sucked out of your lungs. That’s how they do it; they perform all the P. P.s [post-partum abortions] on all the kids there at the same time. They have a big room for it. For the kids that nobody wants.[1]

1. Philip K. Dick, “The Pre-Persons” (1974). Available in The Eye of the Sibyl and Other Classic Stories. (New York: Citadel Press, 1987), 275-296.

In 1973, the Roe v Wade decision inspired Philip K. Dick to envision a world where children were unwanted and adults were free to alleviate their unwanted burdens with the help of the “County Facility.” In his short story, “The Pre-Persons,” Dick tells the story of Walter, the twelve-year-old boy who is traumatized by the thought that his parents did not want him. All around him, he knows children by name who have been taken, kicking and screaming, by the van. Fully legal, these children have the life sucked out of them, all because the parents did not want them.

Through the use of dystopian satire, Dick shows what happens when children are unwanted.

To date, white vans are not circling cul-de-sacs looking to pick up “the kids nobody wants,” but that doesn’t mean children are any more safe. Planned Parenthood “targets minority neighborhoods” to offer up their unwanted children. Walgreens and CVS just decided to stock its pharmacies with the abortion-inducing pill, mifepristone, so that unwanted pregnancies can end by a pill in the privacy of one’s own home. The Supreme Court of South Carolina just defended abortion by ruling that abortion is protected by the right to privacy. And in 2021, Senate Democrats blocked the passage of the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, while this year 210 voted against a similar bill, which would protect children who have already been born.

Is our world much different than Walter’s for unwanted children? It doesn’t appear to be. And yet, it’s not just these direct assaults that endanger children, it is the social imaginary behind them.[2] A social imaginary is like a worldview, only with less thought and more feeling. And today, a predominant social imaginary is one that envisions a world unencumbered by children. That is to say, our culture’s images of human flourishing are those without kids. To give one example where childlessness is presented as a blessing, consider the ad campaign by Hilton’s Home 2 Suites.

2. A “social imaginary” is a term coined by Charles Taylor in his heavily-cited A Secular Age. Following Taylor, Kevin Vanhoozer, Hearers and Doers8, defines it this way: “The social imaginary is that nest of background assumptions, often implicit, that lead people to feel things as right or wrong, correct or incorrect.”
A picture containing indoor, bed

Description automatically generated

Continue reading

Imagine That: Why You Need to Cultivate a Sanctified Imagination

gray and blue sky

A few months ago, I attended a conference where the speaker shared about his counsel to those battling sexual sin. Paraphrasing, he said, “Imagine every impure action as another thrust of the spear into the side of Jesus.” Woe! What a sobering and sickening image! Can you say that? Should you think that, really?

Never before had I heard someone speak so graphically about the need for the use of imagination in our fight against temptation. However, as I have reflected on his point, I am increasingly convinced he is exactly right.

Imagination, when rightly used, is one of the most powerful tools God gives us to put off the old nature and to walk in the new. After all, Jesus himself said to those battling lust, “gouge out your eye” and “cut off your hand” (Matt 5:29–30). But it is not just for lust. In every area of life, we need to train and retool our imagination for the purpose of sanctification and greater gospel service.

Imagination in the Bible

The Bible is filled with imagery. From the Spirit brooding over the waters (Genesis 1) to John’s vision of a glorious city, dressed like a virgin bride (Revelation 21), the Bible drips with word pictures like the Matrix rains green code. Jesus regularly employs parables to capture the imagination of his disciples. The prophets of old spoke of Israel as a harlot, while Paul speaks of the church as a radiant bride.

The question is, do you see it? In a way that most fast-paced Americans don’t appreciate, Scripture begs to be pondered s . . l . . o . . w . . l . . y.

When Psalm 32:8-9 says, “Be not like a horse or a mule, . . . which must be curbed with bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you,” it moves us to stop and reflect: What is it about these animals that must be avoided? Is it the same thing for each beast? Or are these they expressing two opposite errors—e.g., the error of running ahead of God like a wild horse and the error of lagging behind God like a stubborn mule?  The imagery fires the imagination and impresses upon us the need to walk humbly with our God.

Moreover, Scripture calls us to discipline our imaginations. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 10:5 that we are to “take captive every thought to Christ.” Because Satan wages war with words of deception, Jesus’ disciples “destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God” by means of ‘thought-control.’ Only this mental exercise is not some metaphysical séance. Rather, it is meditation on the propositions and poetry of God’s Word.

To wield the Sword well—another image, I might add—takes not only a right doctrine but a sanctified imagination. Such an imagination begins with learning the gospel and God’s view of the world (Rom 12:1–2), but soon this renewed mind must and will generate new thoughts that serve the needs of those around us. While some believers may be more creative than others, imagining acts of kindness for others is not limited to creative-types. It is a universal calling for everyone purchased by God to do good works. We all must employ our minds to imagine that which is excellent and praiseworthy (Phil 4:8).

Three Places Where Imagination is Key: Sincere Sympathy, Holy Outrage, and Practical Service

Let’s get more specific. Instead of talking in the abstract about imagining concrete ways of doing gospel-empowered good, let’s consider three ways imagination serves as the link between good intentions and good works.

First, a sanctified imagination creates sincere sympathy.

Think about the last time you heard sad news. How did you feel? Chances are if you have experienced a similar pain, you were quick to empathize. But if the mourner experienced something foreign to you, you may have been slower to weep with the one who was weeping. What to do? The answer, of course, is to pray that God would comfort that person. But is that all? I don’t think so.

Using our imagination, we can conceive of what a widow goes through on the anniversary of her husband’s death, even if we’ve never been married. By means of a sanctified mind we can consider what a son misses when he grows up without a father, or what a father of four worries about when he loses his job. In short, we don’t need to have shared the same experience to minister comfort, but we do need is an imagination that makes up the difference.

Second, a sanctified imagination fuels holy outrage.

In Ephesians 4:26 Paul quotes Psalm 4:4, saying, “Be angry and do not sin.” For most of us, we need to guard against undue anger. However, in a world where moral outrage is dulled by a diet of sitcoms and emotionless news reporting, many Christians need to learn how to “be angry.” Here again, “pondering”—not visceral experience—is key (see Psalm 4:4–5).

For instance, how should we feel about sex trafficking or late term abortion? To begin with, we must let the truth of God’s word inform our thinking. But after that, what? Is it enough to have cognitive data? Can statistics alone form our moral conscience? I think not.

Before, during, and after we encounter these travesties in print or in person, we must use our minds to aid our hearts feel the effect of men stealing girls from their homes or babies being mutilated in their mother’s wombs. Of course, this kind of deliberate rumination is unpleasant and painful; some might unnecessary or even wrong-headed. But honestly, how else will we learn to hate the horrors of sex trafficking and abortion, unless we feel with the victims, and with the Lord, the heinousness of the crimes?

The same goes for any other form of brutality, abuse, or ethical injustice. Personal narratives are needed to grow our moral conscience. And when personal experiences are lacking—either because of distance or present circumstance—biblically-informed contemplation of our neighbors need is what we need to prepare our hearts for the day when we do meet those suffering from injustice.

In truth, we cannot personally tackle every moral dilemma in the world, but we can and must cultivate a moral conscience that abhors every kind of injustice. A sanctified imagination does that by creating in us a holy outrage at sin and a deepening love for Christ who alone can make all things new.

Third, a sanctified imagination quickens practical service.

The golden rule demands a sanctified imagination, for without it we would regularly bless others in the very same way we want to be blessed. In other words, when we love another, we need to think about who they are, what they need, and how they will receive our love. This requires imagining the living conditions of another and prayerfully considering what would serve this person. Husbands desperately need to think this way, but so do social workers and car manufacturers.

In the home, husbands love their wives best when they imagine new ways to serve them—according to what delights the wife, not the husband. In the workplace, engineers show love by thinking about how the products they are making will improve life for the people who buy their cars. Social workers show love by dreaming up an elaborate birthday party for the child who has never received a present.

On it goes. In every arena of life, imagination will help you be a better servant and a better lover. Indeed, without such imagination, you will grow tired in your compassion. Likewise, without a creative imagination the person who rejects your offer of the gospel will probably not hear it again from you. Yet, with a Spirit-led, gospel-driven imagination, there are countless ways to insert the gospel into the natural rhythms of life and conversation. After all, Jesus is the Maker of all things, and all things point back to him (Eph 1:10).

Creativity is for All New Creations in Christ

Of course, genuine service can happen with little creativity. Jesus said that a simple cup of cold water given in his name would be rewarded (Matt 10:42; cf. 25:35–40). Yet, in some instances the only way to deliver a cup of water involves the ingenuity of international travel and the problem-solving of purifying dirty water.

All the same, if we desire to be salt and light in the world and to share the gospel with the poor and needy, a sanctified imagination will be necessary. Especially among those people who are hard to love or hard to reach, a sanctified imagination is not optional but essential. It is part of the bridge system that moves vertical faith to horizontal love. It flows from a mind renewed by the gospel of Jesus Christ, and it has an endless array of applications.

Give it a shot this week. As you read the Scripture, pay attention to the imagery. Ask God to awaken your imagination. Instead of filling your mind with the endless images of television and YouTube, let the Word of God prompt your creativity. Begin to imagine what you can do to serve others and to share the message of Christ’s cross and resurrection, the only message that sanctifies the mind and brings peace and justice to the world.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

This article was originally posted on the ERLC Canon & Culture page.

Photo by Caio on Pexels.com

Jesus is God: Four Ways to See Jesus’s Divinity in John’s Gospel

marcos-paulo-prado-xec7srO4U5c-unsplashThis month our church returns to the Gospel of John, and specifically we have started to look at the Upper Room Discourse (John 13–17), picking up in John 14. For those familiar with John 14–16, as well as the whole book of John, you know how often trinitarian themes, doctrines, and verses emerge. As John recounts the way Jesus speaks of his Father, the promise of sending the Spirit, and the relationship between Father, Son, and Spirit, we have perhaps the richest vein in Scripture for mining trinitarian gold.

To help our church, and those reading along here, I am going to begin posting some short pieces on the doctrine of the trinity and the key ideas related our God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Today, I will begin with a note from Scott Swain, author of many works on the Trinity, including Crossway’s Short Studies in Systematic Theology volume, The Trinity: An Introduction.

In his blogpost, “How John Says Jesus is ‘God’,” he offers four ways to think about Christ’s deity in John, and he concludes with this fourfold textual proof of Jesus’s divinity from John. All told, Swain actually offers seven ways to think of Jesus as God. And what I include here is the four point, with four proofs. Take time to consider each, and then as you read John, keep your eye out for the ways that John presents Jesus as God.

1. Jesus shares the divine name(s).

According to the Fourth Gospel, Jesus shares his Father’s holy “name” (Jn 17:11; cf. 12:41). Throughout the Gospel, Jesus is not only acclaimed as “God” (Jn 1:1; 20:28), he is also identified by God’s proper name YHWH, “the linguistic token of God’s uniqueness par excellence,” along with the “corona of connotation” established by various OT ways of expounding God’s proper name (Kendall Soulen). The monogenēs is called “the one who is” in John 1:18 (echoing Exod 3:14 LXX). Jesus is called “the Lord” in John 1:23 (citing the Tetragrammaton from Isa 40:3) and John 20:28 (echoing Ps 35:23 [34:23 LXX], which calls YHWH “my Elohim and my Adonai”). Perhaps most significantly, Jesus identifies himself as the one true God by means of a series of absolute (Jn 4:26; 6:20; 8:24, 28, 58; 13:19; 18:5, 6, 8) and predicate (Jn 6:35, 41, 48; 8:12; 10:7, 9, 11, 14; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1) “I am” statements, which echo YHWH’s own self-identification in the Old Testament (Deut 32:39; Isa 41:4; 43:10, 13, 25; 46:4; 48:12; 51:12; 52:6).

2. Jesus possesses divine attributes.

He shares God’s eternal and unchangeable being, in contrast to temporal and changeable creatures (Jn 1:1-3; 8:35, 58). He manifests YHWH’s unique “glory” (Jn 12:41, alluding to Isaiah 6), abounding in “grace and truth” (Jn 1:14, which alludes to Exod 34:6). He has “life in himself,” just “as the Father has life in himself” (Jn 5:26). Jesus is a divine king (Jn 18:36) who holds all divine authority in his hands (Jn 3:35; 13:3).

3. Jesus performs divine works.

As the Word who created all things (Jn 1:3-5), Jesus also proclaims the divine name to creatures (Jn 1:14, 18; 17:6, 26). Because he holds all divine authority in his hands, he executes divine judgment, raises the dead, and grants eternal life to whomever he will (Jn 5:21-22, 25, 27; 10:18; 17:2). Jesus predicts the future, revealing that “I am he” (Jn 13:19). Whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise (Jn 5:19), completing the divine work of salvation that the Father gave him to do on the cross (Jn 13:1; 19:3). For all the aforementioned reasons and others,

4. Jesus is worthy of divine honor.

The Father “has given all judgment to the Son, that all might honor the Son, just as they honor the Father” (Jn 5:22-23). Jesus is worthy of the same faith that is due God (Jn 14:1; cf. 3:14-15; 8:24; 20:31), and also the same love (Jn 14:15). As one who shares the divine name, he is “lifted up” and “glorified” as “I am” (Jn 8:28; 12:32, 41). After Jesus’ resurrection, Thomas exclaims, “my Lord and my God” (Jn 20:28), a scriptural expression of covenant devotion (Ps 35:23). Though personally distinct from the Father as his Word and monogenēs, Jesus, according to John, is “one” God with the Father in every way (Jn 10:30).

From these four points and others, we have every reason to see that the Bible is unequivocal in calling Jesus ‘God.’ And thus, we should worship him not only as a good and great man, but as our God—Creator, Redeemer, Lord, and Second Person of the Trinity. Indeed, let us come to the Father, through the Son, by the Spirit, bringing him all the praise he deserves.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Photo by Marcos Paulo Prado on Unsplash

Engaging Tim Keller’s Politically-Subtle, Seeker Sensitive Movement

coin telescope in a viewing deck

In November, Christ Over All published a series of article on evangelicalism and its history over the last century. If you didn’t see those articles, I would encourage you to check them out. They will give you a solid introduction to the key doctrines, debate, and debaters over the last one hundred years. This month, in an encore piece, we have just published a two-part consideration of Tim Keller and his impact on evangelicalism.

In many ways, I am thankful for Keller’s ministry, his heart for evangelism, and his faithfulness to the Lord. On occasion I have cited his works on this cite, and I recommended this evergreen article on church size dynamics to some men today. At the same time, Keller’s method of ministry bears careful observation. And in these two pieces, you get a sense of how Keller’s Third Way-ism has negatively impacted evangelicals. In what follows, I offer the concluding paragraphs of Mark DeVine’s analysis. Take a look and then go back and read his full argument here and here.

A Politically-Subtle, Seeker Sensitive Movement 

Between 1994 and 2006 Reformed theologian David Wells published four volumes that track and analyze how church growth movements, despite their formal assent to orthodox, evangelical doctrinal statements, have nevertheless compromised the faith. Unfortunately, Keller’s Third Way, despite its stated determination not to do so, has often done just this, producing terrible ethical fruit.

What most distinguishes the Keller-led Reformed resurgence from the other major church growth movements among evangelicals over the last half century? Is it theology, or something else? The “seeker,” “church growth,” and “purpose-driven life” movements targeted predominantly white suburban communities. Comparatively, the Keller movement aimed to reach the more ethnically diverse blue communities located in urban centers. Each movement labored to remove as many stumbling blocks to the gospel in order the reach their respective targeted communities.

Measured in buildings, bucks, and bodies, each movement was successful, at least for a time. Yet, looking over the last twenty years, it becomes clear that Keller-movement Evangelicals built platforms, brands, and messages in order to be found winsome by the blue communities they sought to reach. As with the old-line liberalism of Friedrich Schleiermacher, exquisite sensitivity to target audiences will shape the message delivered far more than its deliverers intended. Only in this case, winsomeness has elicited complaints and thoughtful retractions from Reformed evangelicals who once flew the Keller flag. All of this suggests that once again, the gospel once has suffered distortion in the otherwise laudable quest to avoid unnecessary violation of unbelievers’ sensibilities.

Such a result of Keller’s Third Way is disheartening, but not surprising. The message of the cross is foolishness to the world, and yet it is the wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:18–25). Doctrinally sound evangelicals have too often been enticed to package the product of the gospel in cellophane for the consumer, yet wisdom, or its opposite, is proven by her children. Over the last decade, many children of Tim Keller’s Third Way have imagined that formal adherence to an orthodox confession is sufficient to protect the gospel message from distortion. But it’s not.

As the seeker-senstive and purpose-driven movements of the 1980s taught us, branding and ongoing messaging exert powerful influence on how that confession is received. And now the same is being seen with Keller’s politically-subtle, blue-community-sensitive seeker model. In each of these iterations, the fruit of these sincere efforts to advance the gospel have found themselves making friends with the world at the expense of the intrinsically offensive gospel that the world so desperately needs.

May the Lord help us to see this clearly, and to walk in his light accordingly.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Photo by Ramil Ugot on Pexels.com

Prosopological Exegesis: Four Reasons Not to Buy This Modern Approach to Scripture

books on the table

Yesterday, I explained in four points what Prosopological Exegesis (PE) was and is. Today, I offer a point-by-point examination.

This excerpt comes from the following from “Reading the Psalms with the Church: A Critical Evaluation of Prosopological Exegesis in Light of Church History” SBJT 25.3 (2021): 87–91. The larger article engages various approaches to the Psalms, and compares older modern versions of Psalm studies to the new approach found in PE. Suffice it to say, I am concerned with what PE offers. And here are four reasons why:

  1. PE’s use of Greco-Roman literary tools and dramatic practices are anachronistic, and should not be used for interpreting Scripture.
  2. PE’s rejection of Enlightenment typology misses the way Scripture employs typology; we need to go back and evaluate what true biblical typology is and is not.
  3. PE’s defense of orthodox doctrine comes at the expense of biblical unity, an interpretive practice that will ultimately undercut orthodoxy.
  4. PE’s interpretation of Hebrews is mistaken; we need to evaluate how Scripture interprets Scripture.

Here is the full text, explaining each point in detail.

Continue reading

Unmasking Prosopological Exegesis: Defining a New (and Improved?) Way to Read Scripture

rosary and face mask on top of a bible

Prosopological exegesis.

Have you heard of it? If not, that’s alright, I suspect this technique for reading Scripture will run its course in the next decade and be replaced by another interpretive fad in the 2030s. In the mean time, however, this way of (mis)reading Scripture will find its way into articles, book, commentaries, and pulpits. And for that reason, students of the Word and especially teachers who rely on the scholarship of others (read: all of us), should be( a)ware of this approach to reading the Bible Christologically. 

To those who have been stuck in hermeneutical circles that deny typology and the need to read Scripture canonically, prosopological exegesis (PE) may sound like a great gain, as the voices of God are “unmasked” in certain parts of the Old Testament. But as Peter GentryJim Hamilton, and Jim Dernell have each argued, this ostensibly Christ-centered approach to the Old Testament misreads God’s Word. Instead of following OT texts and types until they come to their full revelation in the New Testament, as God the Father, Son, and Spirit are revealed as the one God in three persons, PE takes a shortcut to the persons of the Trinity. For this reason, it is a “naughty” way to read Scripture, as Michael Carlino argues in his new piece at Christ Over All:Give Diamonds, Not Coal: Why Prosopological Exegesis is Not the Gift You Are Looking For.”

Tomorrow, I will share my own concerns with prosopological exegesis. But today, I will offer an explanation of what PE is. What follows, then, is part of my Southern Baptist Journal of Theological article, “Reading the Psalms with the Church: A Critical Evaluation of Prosopological Exegesis in Light of Church History.” You can find this SBJT article here, along with another article that gives a constructive proposal for reading the Psalms. In both articles, I show why PE is not a reliable method to reading Scripture, and what follows is the start of that argument—namely, defining what prosopological exegesis is.

Continue reading

Last Things First: Four More Ways Christ’s Birth Fulfills An End Times Prophecy

The Adoration of the MagiPicking up where I left off yesterday, I want to continue showing how the end-times prophecy of Isaiah 60 is fulfilled in the birth of Christ. From Isaiah 60:1–6, I highlighted three ways that Christ’s birth fulfilled the promises of (1) light, (2) joy, and (3) treasures brought to the temple. Today, I will pick up four more promises that are fulfilled in Christ’s birth.

4. Gentiles Have Been Received By Christ

In Isaiah 60:6 the LORD says kings will come to Zion bringing gifts. Now, in verse 7, we find the promise that those gifts “will beautify my beautiful house.” This “house” is a reference God’s holy temple, the place where God dwelt on earth. But incredibly, this house, its altar and inner sanctuary, were off limits–especially to Gentiles. And yet here, in Isaiah 60 we find the invitation for Gentile kings to “come up with acceptance on my altar.” The inclusion of “acceptance” is remarkable.

Under the old covenant, Gentiles were ritually and religiously unclean. In Ezekiel 44:6–9, Israel received the harshest condemnation because they permitted Gentiles to come near to God’s house. But now, Isaiah 60 says these foreign kings will be acceptable. How is this possible? The answer goes back to the international scope of the Servant’s work (Isa. 49:6–7).

While God chose Israel to be his covenant people in the Old Testament, the goal was always bigger. God would redeem a people from all nations, a theme that runs throughout Isaiah, and goes back to Abraham himself (see Gen. 12:1–3). In Isaiah 60, we now see the nations coming to Zion, bringing gifts (vv. 6–9), and building up the city of God. Listen to verse 10, “Foreigners shall build up your walls, and their kings shall minister to you; for in my wrath I struck you, but in my favor I have had mercy on you.”

Incredibly, when God exiled the people of Israel to Babylon and the nations, he in turn made a way for the nations to begin coming to Zion to find salvation in Israel’s king. In Zechariah 8:23, the post-exilic prophet puts it like this, “In those days ten men from the nations of every tongue shall take hold of the robe of a Jew, saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.’” Indeed, in God’s unfathomable wisdom, he would turn Israel’s exile into a pathway of salvation for the nations. And in Isaiah 60:6–16 we find the nations coming to Israel bringing gifts and finding a place to reside near God.

In the New Testament, this emigration towards Zion is seen in the way the Magi come to Jerusalem to worship the king of the Jews. Most likely, these men of the East came to Jerusalem in response to the knowledge they received from exiled Jews. Daniel is a likely candidate for this kind of knowledge, but it could be others too. For our purposes, it is clear that Isaiah 60’s vision of the nations coming to Zion anticipates the arrival of the Magi. Or to turn it around, Matthew includes their pilgrimage to Zion (to Jesus, not just Jerusalem) to show how Isaiah 60 is being fulfilled.

On this point, we can go even further. These Gentile kings did not merely come to Bethlehem, they were welcomed into the Jewish living space Joseph, Mary, and Jesus. As Matthew 2:11 begins, “And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother.” Let us not miss the significance of this moment. These unclean Gentiles are received into the presence of the Israel’s king because of their worshipful faith. This too reinforces the fact that Isaiah 60 is being fulfilled in the way Gentile kings are received the King of the Jews. Continue reading

Last Things First: Three Ways Christ’s Birth Fulfills An End Times Prophecy

close up shot of a stained glass

The sun shall be no more your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give you light;
but the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory. 
20Your sun shall no more go down, nor your moon withdraw itself;
for the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your days of mourning shall be ended.
— Isaiah 60:19–20 —

In Revelation, one of the most intriguing and incredible promises in the book is the day that will have no end, when the Lord becomes the light of the world, and night is no more. You can find this in Revelation 21:22–27, or more concisely in Revelation 22:5,

And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

This culminating vision of a full and final union between God and his people is the goal of history and the purpose for which God created the world. Indeed, many are the connections between Genesis 1–2 and Revelation 21–22. Yet, Revelation is also picking up the promises of the Prophets, showing how God will unite Christ and the Church in a glorious end-times, cosmic temple. In particular, Isaiah 60:19–20 (quoted above) is in view when John records the fact that “the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb” (Rev. 21:23).

This vision of the end times is speaking of the future and has no antecedent in history, right? Well, that’s what I want to consider. Clearly, every day still turns to night, there is much darkness in the world (both physical and moral), and the consummation of the kingdom has not come. At the same time, if we let Scripture interpret Scripture and we consider what Isaiah 60 means in its original and canonical contexts, we find that this enlightening chapter is not only fulfilled in Christ’s second coming. It is also fulfilled in his first.

Last Things First

In what follows, I want to show how Isaiah 60 is fulfilled in the birth of Christ. In other words, Isaiah 60 does not skip over the first coming of Christ in anticipation of his second, for in Isaiah’s day, there was only one coming of the messiah. Only after Christ came in humiliation to die for the sins of his people did it become apparent that there would be an inter-Advental period (i.e., a time between his first and second coming).

In theology, this “already-but-not-yet” structure to redemptive history is called “inaugurated eschatology.” It simply means that Christ has inaugurated his kingdom, but he has not consummated it. Revelation 21–22 speak of this consummation. Yet, we should not conclude that the application of Isaiah 60 to this end time event denies an earlier application or fulfillment.

In fact, as we read the birth stories of Christ, we discover at least seven ways that Isaiah 60 is fulfilled in the birth of Christ. And so, with hearts filled with joy in Christ’s birth, I want to show you how the last things promised in Isaiah 60 began when Christ first came to earth.

Three Ways the First Advent Fulfills Isaiah 60

To let the text lead, I will simply highlight a portion of Isaiah 60 and then show where it is fulfilled in the birth of Christ. Again, the goal is not to deny the later, greater fulfillment of Isaiah 60 in the new creation of Revelation 21–22, but it is to recognize the way that the new creation has already begun (cf. 2 Cor. 5:17). To that end, let’s consider three ways Isaiah 60 is fulfilled in the birth of Christ, and tomorrow I’ll add another four.

1. Light Has Come Into the World

In Isaiah 60:1–3, we find a testimony that God’s light has come into the world. Verse 1 announces, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” This is quickly followed in verse 2 by a contrast between the darkness of the world and the in-breaking light. Even more, verse 3 declares that “nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.”

These verses promise a day when God will fulfill his purposes for Israel. In the Old Testament, the light of God was placed in Israel and the nations were supposed to come to that light. By means of Israel’s law and wisdom (Deut. 4:6), the kings of the nations would come to Zion like the Queen of the South came to Solomon (1 Kings 10). And here in Isaiah, the prophet promises a new light, a new Solomon, and new flood of nations.

Indeed, this idea has already been proclaimed in Isaiah 2, as the law would go out and the nations would come into Zion. At the same time, Isaiah 9:1–2 speak of Zebulun and Naphtali as tribes positioned in darkness who have seen a great light. In that context, there is the promise of a child from David’s line who will establish a righteous a kingdom (vv. 6–7). In the fullness of time, Isaiah 9:1–7 is fulfilled in the birth of Christ, and so is Isaiah 60:1–3. Jesus is the light of the world (John 8:12), and when he was born, his star shone in the heavens and the nations came to him (Matt. 2:2; cf. Num. 24:17).

In this way, Isaiah 60 does speak of the future arrival of God, his light, and his kingdom. But importantly, this arrival came in the birth of Christ and now continues to shine in the darkness, until this same Christ comes again.

2. Joy Has Erupted in the Darkness

If light has entered the darkness, then joy follows. And this is what Isaiah 60:4–5 indicate. Speaking to Zion, the city of God, who was previously barren and empty (Isa. 49:14), Isaiah reports a flood children coming home in verse 4 just as God promised in Isaiah 49:15–23 and 54:1–8. This homecoming is the source of joy, which is described in verse 5.

Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and exult, because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you. (Isa. 60:5)

The idea of the “wealth of the nations” will be further developed in vv. 6–9, but let us not miss the value of the people themselves. Those who were in darkness, enslaved to idols, in bondage to wicked rulers, and those who were wicked themselves, these are the ones who are now coming to city of God, the place of their new birth. Because of the Servant’s sacrifice and the Spirit’s power, these children of God are coming and with them joy has come to Zion.

Such joy is repeated when we consider the joy of Christ’s first advent. Unlike Israel, we cannot say that our joy is only future. Rather, as Romans 14:17 tells us about the kingdom today, “It is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness and jpeace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Indeed, Paul can command the people of God to rejoice in the Lord (Phil. 4:4), because the Lord is here. And he has been here in the flesh and now by the Spirit since that great day when Jesus was born in Bethlehem. As Matthew 2:10 reports, “When [the wise men] saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.”

This exceeding joy is not a rhetorical flourish, it is a fulfillment of Isaiah 60. And we should not miss the connection. Jesus birth brought eschatological joy—a joy that death itself cannot steal, because the child born of Mary died and rose again to secure his people’s salvation and eternal joy.

3. Treasures Have Been Brought to the Temple

This truth is the one that launched this whole meditation—namely, the fact that wise men came bearing gifts of “gold and frankincense and myrrh” (Matt. 2:11). The first two elements are a direct connection to Isaiah 60:6. Listen to what it says.

A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall bring good news, the praises of the Lord.

The third gift of myrrh is more enigmatic. Why is that included? As a perfume associated with burial, it could be a subtle indication that this king was born to die. Indeed, his work of salvation, which would include his sacrificial death, was already presented in Matthew 1:21. So that’s possible. But it’s also possible, and more fitting with the context of Isaiah 60, that the idea of frankincense is related to the temple.

As Craig Blomberg, following Davies and Allison, observes, there is in Matthew 2:11, “a possible Jesus/Solomon typology here . . . in part because gold and frankincense were firmly associated with the temple that Solomon built (1 Kings 10:2, 25; 1 Chron. 9:29; 2 Chron. 9:24; Neh. 13:5, 9)” (CNTUOT, 5). This seems to be going in the right direction, for not only does the temple theme reinforce a sacrificial reading of the gift, but it also fits Isaiah 60. As noted, the nations are flowing to a purified Zion, a place where God now dwells with his people. Even more, Isaiah 60 mentions the way their gifts will beautify the house of God and the sanctuary of the LORD (Isa. 60:7, 13).

In the New Testament, Jesus comes as the true temple (John 1:14), and he will replace the temple by bringing destruction on Jerusalem’s stone buildings (Matthew 24), and raising up a new temple in his body (John 2:19), in which he is the cornerstone (Eph. 2:19–22; cf. Matt. 16:18).

Restricting ourselves to Matthew 2, it is fitting to see the kings of the nations bypassing Herod and his temple (vv. 1–7), in order to bring gifts to Jesus (vv. 8–12). Indeed, if gold and myrrh were gifts given to Solomon and gold and frankincense were given to Zion, then their combination shows this truth: Jesus is the true temple. And true worshipers will seek God at his feet, not at the footstool in Jerusalem.

Such worship at God’s new creation temple does not need to wait until the second advent. Instead, this is a truth for us today. When the Son of God took on humanity, he became Immanuel, the place where God dwells with man and man with God. This was true for the wise men bringing gifts to Bethlehem instead of Jerusalem. And this is true today. We do not go to or look for a new temple to be built. Instead, when we gather with the living stones of Christ, we who are the Spirit-filled temple of God, are coming to Zion (see Heb. 12:22–24).

One day this temple, which is composed of new creation stones, will fill the earth. Until that day the light and the darkness will battle, joy will rise and fall, and earthly temples (i.e., churches) will live and die. Yet, the eternal hope remains—there is coming a day when the Christ who was born in Bethlehem, will bring Zion to earth. And we know this is true, not just because we have words that promise a future glory. We have the Word of God made fresh, as we see the glory dawning now. Jesus as the Word made flesh is raising dead flesh to life, and every place where the people of God gather to worship, they are bringing their gifts to God’s temple.

For today, these three points are enough. For together, they both show us how Isaiah 60 has been and is being fulfilled. Tomorrow, I’ll come back with four more as we wrap up this meditation. But for now, let us give thanks for the God who makes promises and keeps promises. At Christmas, it is good to remember that our hope for the future has already come. Jesus Christ is that hope. And what he has begun, he will complete until the final day.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Photo by Carlos Roberto Cu00f3rdova on Pexels.com

Why Baptists Do Not Count Infant Baptisms: A Friendly Response to Joe Rigney

vishal-banik-JdMihDkP-vc-unsplashWhen it comes to pastors and theologians who stand strong on the Word, strong against the world, and strong in their wise dealings with complex issues, few compare to Joe Rigney. When it comes to contemporary theologians, therefore, I consider his writing some of the best.

When I visited Minneapolis a number of years ago, I had an enjoyable lunch with him and a few other faculty at Bethlehem College and Seminary. And when he took the reins to lead that school I rejoiced. I am thankful for Joe Rigney and will continue to read his works and point people to his writing.

Yet, for that very reason, when he writes something that not only stands against my theological convictions, but something that confuses some of the sheep in my congregation, it is necessary to reply. In what follows, I will offer a three-point engagement with Joe’s recent piece, “Do Infant Baptisms Count? Reconsidering Open Membership.” To be clear, I am not responding point by point to Joe Rigney, but offering three substantial arguments for rejecting open membership.

While Joe spells his Baptist identity with a lower case B, and I spell mine with a capital B, the point of difference between us is more than grammar. The issues raised by his article range from the local to universal church, from the nature of the new covenant to the membership of new covenant church, and how churches differing on baptism should relate to one another.

These are important matters which have spawned books, pamphlets, and shorter articles. In what follows I won’t offer a comprehensive reply to Joe’s arguments, but I will offer a substantial one. Again, I write this as a friend and admirer of Joe and his labors. But as a pastor and a seminary professor of a school that seeks to affirm the confessionalism of Presbyterians and Baptists, without muddying the waters between them, I offer this rejoinder. Continue reading