Blood Moons and Smoke-Filled Skies: An Already and Not Yet Approach to the Day of the Lord

moon

When we read in Acts 2:19-20, “And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; the  sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood,” we who are unaccustomed to apocalyptic literature are quick to scratch our heads and ask: What does this mean?  Our doctrinal convictions keep us on the trail: Scripture is perspicuous (i.e., clear) and true, therefore, Peter must means what he says. He is surely not incorrect. But how can the moon turn to blood? Should we really expect the Sea of Tranquility to fill with blood, just like the Nile in Exodus?

When reading such language in Scripture, we do well to remember that Scripture interprets Scripture and that in this case, the apocalyptic language of Joel 2 is being cited by Peter to explain the historical events of Pentecost–the outpouring of the Spirit foretold in Joel 2:28. However, for reasons we will see, Peter also includes the more troubling language. Therefore, to understand the whole section lets consider four biblical-theological points that will help us see how the Day of the Lord is both a present and future reality—a method of interpreting the Old Testament that the Apostles often employed.

1. Historical Acts 2 quotes apocalyptic Joel 2.

Importantly, the strange language comes not from the historical narrative of Luke, but rather the prophetic literature of Joel. In this way, he is quoting an Old Testament prophecy to explain the events of recent history—i.e., the ostensible drunkenness of the disciples (Acts 2:13). Therefore, we must not read these words as portending to a literalistic interpretation—the moon is dripping blood. Rather, Luke is telling us how these strange, poetic words have come come true in the historical events of Pentecost. Continue reading

Being and Building a Better Church: Temple Language in Paul

buildingIn Jesus the Temple Wheaton professor and New Testament scholar, Nicholas Perrin, makes an important correction on the way we read “temple language” in the letters of Paul. He writes, “When we come to the apostle Paul, we find a corpus of literature permeated with temple imagery” (65). What Perrin observes is the way Paul’s Second Temple Judaism forms a vital backdrop for Paul’s choice of words. Instead of being an incidental metaphor, Perrin argues Paul is leaning heavily on his Jewish background and its temple theology.

Whereas modern Christians might use temple language in more abstract or metaphorical ways, Paul uses it in specific, concrete ways. After all, he writes in a day when Jews continued to worship in a physical building. Therefore, when he speaks of the church as a “temple” (1 Corinthians 3:16–17; Ephesians 2:21), “building” (1 Corinthians 3:9), or “household” (1 Timothy 3:15), when he speaks of the apostles as “pillars” (Galatians 2:9), or when he speaks of the body as a temple of God (1 Corinthians 6:19), his life as a sacrifice (Philippians 2:17; 2 Timothy 4:6), and ethical living as ritual purity (2 Corinthians 6:14–7:1), he is not using an accessible metaphor. He is speaking concretely about the fact that the church of God, erected from the cornerstone of Christ, is the new and living temple of God.

Perrin makes his point emphatically as he comments on 1 Corinthians 3:9–10.

Although some readers suppose that Paul’s analogy between the Corinthian community and ‘God’s building’ was more or less arbitrary, as if ‘God’s building’ could just as easily have been exchanged with, say, ‘God’s pyramid,’ with limited difference in meaning, I find this approach unconvincing. After all, had any building served Paul’s analogy, he could have quite easily omitted the qualifier ‘of God,’ but obviously chose not to do so. Second, the effortless slide from ‘God’s field’ to ‘God’s building’ in v.9 is not an abrupt mixing of metaphors, but an appeal to two lines of imagery (architectural and horticultural) that in the Jewish literature finds their convergence in the temple. Third, the very fact that vv. 16–17 of the same chapter explicitly compare the Christian believers to a divinely inhabited temple — and from the Jewish point of view there was only one of these — should further disincline us to think that Paul has anything but the temple in mind here. God’s building is not any old house belonging to God; it is God’s unique temple. (67)

In truth, a brief survey of Paul’s letters shows that “temple language” shows up in a variety of places and a variety of ways. Sometimes the language speaks directly of a temple, a building, or “parts” of the edifice (e.g., foundation, pillar, etc.). Other times the temple language is more veiled, as in the metaphorical “building up.” Such language can be read without any recognition of the temple, but that’s the problem. Such a reading misses the fuller picture.

To correct our vision, let’s consider a number of these references. (Feel free to suggest others in the comments). Continue reading

(How to) Let Love Increase: A Meditation on 1 Thessalonians 3:11–13

waterNow may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.
 – 1 Thessalonians 3:11–13 –

In his letters, Paul often inserts a prayer for the sake of his brethren. And what he typically prays for is twofold—that the church of God would increase in knowledge of God and love for one another.[1] First Thessalonians is typical in this regard. After recounting Timothy’s report of the Thessalonians faith, hope, and love, he proceeds to pray for these people whom he loves with deep affection.

In his prayer, he petitions God to increase their love for one another and for all people. In these three verses (3:11–13), we can learn four things about love for one another. Continue reading

Eschatology from the Start (Genesis 1:28)

Genesis 1:28 “And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

God created a permanent order of creation. But he also intended a development in which man would play a central role. Because Adam failed and fell into sin, Christ came as the last Adam to achieve dominion (see 1 Cor. 15:22, 45–49Eph. 1:21–22). (ESV Study Biblep. 2635).

Where does eschatology begin? Or better, when does it begin?

Typically, when we think of eschatology, our minds race towards Revelation with a stop in Daniel, Zechariah, and Matthew 24-25 along the way. Often, eschatology, “the study of last things,” is understood narrowly, as those events which will transpire at the end of the age.  Hence, eschatology is about the second coming of Christ, the rapture, the millenium, and the order of these things—sometimes with prophecy charts included.

It is true, there is a kind of narrow eschatology that focuses on what will happen at the end, but there is another variety of eschatology—a more biblical kind (I would argue)—that begins in the beginning.  In fact, this eschatology can be seen in Genesis 1, even before the fall. Continue reading

Getting to Know Friedrich Schleiermacher (4): The Church, Eschatology, and the Trinity

Yesterday, we looked at Schleiermacher’s theology of God, Sin, Redemption, and the person of Christ. Today, we will examine his views on the church, eschatology, and the Trinity.

The Church

The last section of his systematic theology is on the church.  This breaks down into three sections—the origin, existence, and perfection of the church.  On the churches origin, he speaks of election and the Holy Spirit.  Concerning election, Schleiermacher vacillates.  On one hand, from the vantage point of the decree (which he speaks about but doesn’t really fit his system) God is the causal agent of all things in the world and thus he causes the election of those in the church, but on the other, as the one who knows all things, he elects based on future knowledge. Schleiermacher seems confused on this matter, and this is one the stress points of his system.  Concerning the Holy Spirit, Schleiermacher denies any deity to the Holy Spirit; instead, the spirit is the common spirit of the church.  The shared experience and feeling of Christ unites the church, and thus there is this universal spirit.

On the existence and practice of the church, Schleiermacher lays out six aspects of practice that are organized with the three offices of Christ.  So the church focuses on the Word of God and preaching as a means of the prophetic office; the church performs baptism and the Lord’s Supper in conjunction with Christ’s priestly office; and the church is invited to pray in the Lord’s name and exercise the keys of the kingdom in conjunction with Christ’s royal office.  In all of these, Schleiermacher reformulates doctrine.  So for instance, communion is not an ordinance laid down by Jesus, it is man’s demonstration of need for grace and the expression of his Godward dependence.  Likewise, prayer for Schleiermacher is not to a God who is outside of space and time; rather, prayer is the inward longing for God and his kingdom to be exercised in the world.

Eschatology

Finally, on the perfection of the church, there is no true doctrine.  It is only an idea.  Since doctrines are those things which church communities experience and record, there has not yet been an experience of a perfect church, and thus what the historical theologians have described as eschatology are merely conjectures.  He renames these doctrines “articles” and offers very scant evidence for them.  Instead, with great agnosticism, he states that we cannot know for sure what the resurrection, intermediate state, and the final judgment will be like.  In the end, he qualifies the doctrine of heaven and hell, to insist that in some way, all men will be reconciled and perfected.  In this, his view of election and universalism are similar to Karl Barth, who is one of Schleiermacher’s greatest critics.

The Trinity: An Appendix

Finally, in an appendix, Schleiermacher relegates the doctrine of the Trinity.   Its position there shows Schleiermacher’s connection with church history—it would be impossible to be a Christian theologian and not talk about this central doctrine.  And yet, because of his Kantian presupposition, he decides that the Trinity is neither practical, nor knowable.  And thus should be mentioned but not greatly used.

While, all these features of Schleiermacher’s theology mentioned above and over the last few days require a great deal more consideration, it is a start.  Tomorrow, we will look at how we should evaluate this theological giant whose shadow still looms until today.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Heaven is a Place Like Earth

Thinking about heaven?

Blake White has posted a list of resources devoted to understanding heaven as a place like earth.  (See his New Earth Bibliography). 

In fact, from creation in Genesis to the new creation in Revelation (cf. Isaiah 66), the Bible seems to indicate that humanity’s home is earth, not heaven (Ps. 115:16; Ecc. 5:2).  Correspondingly, the believer’s eternal state adn living hope are not dwelling immaterially in heaven but on earth–with agriculture, commerce, food, relationships, and the immediate presence of the Lord as it was in the very beginning (cf. Gen. 3: 8; Rev. 11:15).  Therefore, our hope is a regenerated, recreated, glorious, and eternal new creation as Revelation 21-22 envision.  So, if you are considering the subject of heaven, the afterlife, or the believer’s eternal state, Blake’s list is a great reference. 

BTW, Blake also has a book on a related subject, The Newness of the New Creation, and is speaking on the same at the upcoming John Bunyan lectures

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

The Gospel of Genesis (Review)

Warren Austin Gage, The Gospel of Genesis: Studies in Protology and Eschatology (Winona Lake, IN: Carpenter Books, 1984). 

If you like Gregory Beale, Meredith Kline, and William Dumbrell, then you will like Warren Austin Gage.  Advocating typology, predictive prophecy, and God’s sovereign designs over history, Dr. Gage, Old Testament professor at Knox Theological Seminary, constructs a compelling case for biblical protology in his illuminating little book, The Gospel of Genesis.

Packed with biblical allusions and intertextual connections, Gage demonstrates how the first seven chapters of Genesis set a pattern that is picked up throughout the rest of the Bible.  The pattern is five-fold and corresponds with five major doctrinal loci: God, Man, Sin, Redemption (individual and corporate), and Judgment (5).  Speaking of these protological structures, he writes:

The thesis of this chapter [which goes on to outline the rest of the book] is that the chronicle of prediluvian history (Genesis 1-7) is composed of five theologically fundamental narratives, each of which finds consecutive, synthetic parallel in the history (and prophecy) of the postdiluvian world.  Consequently, by understanding the historical movement initiated in early Genesis, we may discern the relationship between the beginning and the ending of biblical history (9).

Fleshing out his thesis, Gage shows in chapters 3-7 how Moses lays out the archtypal storyline in Genesis 1-7: 

  1. YHWH’s speaks the cosmos into existence, the six days of work followed by the Sabbath rest stamps on creation a divine pattern for life on the earth (1:1-2:3);
  2. The triune God creates Adam and Eve in his image and commissions them as vice-regents over the earth (1:26-31; 2:4ff); this is followed by the their covenant-breaking, disobedient fall (3:1-14);
  3. The sovereign judge of the universe pronounces a curse on all creation, but with the redemptive promise that a serpent-crushing seed would come to save his people (3:15-19)
  4. Community and ecclesiology (i.e. the gathering of men) begins with the establishment of two lines of men–the sons of Cain and the sons of Seth– which parallel the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman (3:15; 4:1ff); and
  5. God’s retributive justice is manifested in the watery judgment of the earth and all its evil inhabitants.  Here, God’s wrath destroys all those living in flagrant unrighteousness, yet this ‘day of the Lord’ YHWH saves a remnant of people (Moses et al) from whom he will establish a new humanity (6:1ff). 

This pattern, Gage argues, sets the pattern for biblical history, and where space permits, he shows how Abraham, David, and Jesus fulfill these patterns in later history.  But making his case even stronger, Gage also shows how in the days of Noah, this five-fold cycle is reduplicated (Gen. 8-11).  Much like Irenaeus’ vision of Christ’s work of recapitulation, Gage shows how these patterns in history are not accidental, but rather intentional.  As Isaiah 46:9-10 says of YHWH, “For I am God, and there is no other’ I am God, and there is not one like Me, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying ‘My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure.”  This is what he calls “protology”–the study of first things. 

Now, if you accept this reading of Genesis 1-7, it admittedly impacts the entire way that you read Scripture.  Over against theological systems like Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology, which derive their interpretive methods from dogmatic considerations derived from later revelation (and church history), a protological/eschatological reading of the Biblical narrative is much more inductive.  It argues for a cyclical reading of God’s redemption and revelation that finds its key within the Scriptures itself.  Accordingly, this approach is helpful for ‘getting a feel’ for the big picture in redemptive history; however, like any system of interpretation, it might force the reader using this schema to misinterpret or bend biblical data for the sake of the pattern. 

Certainly, responses to Gage may very.  There will be “literalists” who would charge Gage with allegory, speculative typology, and spurious biblical connections.  For instance, his acceptance of a chiastic pattern in biblical theology makes his presentation of history very orderly and economic, perhaps too unified.  But to those who make such a case, it may be asked, “What kind of history should we expect from the maker of heaven and earth, the sovereign over history, the author of our salvation?”  Everything about God commends order, structure, symmetry, and divine intentionality.  So it would make sense that God would structure all of history according to his eternal plans of glorifying Himself by saving sinnners. 

With that said, it could be conceded that some of his interpretive moves and interconnections may not warranted, but that does not make illegitimate his overarching thesis.  These criticisms are more a matter of isolated passages, and not interpretive method.  On the whole, I think Gage’s argument stands up.  It provides a helpful rubric for reading the Bible, starting with Genesis and moving towards the climax of history in the two advents of Jesus Christ.   It commends a high view of inspiration and scriptural authority.  It moves all things to find their end in Christ, and it compels the biblical reader to see what God has been and is now doing.  In my estimation, it is a very helpful approach to understanding and applying biblical theology on a macro-scale.

For more on the subject of protology see J.V. Fesko, Last Things First; on recapitulation: Irenaeus, Against Heresies; on reading the Bible as it presents itself: Richard Lints, The Fabric of Theology; and on the connection between Genesis and Revelation: G.K. Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

Israel On Your Mind?

Sitting in Dr. Russell Moore’s Systematic III class and then again in his Eschatology class, I became convinced from the Scriptures that Israel is not just a what, but a who.  And that who is Jesus Christ. 

Today, with Israel in the headlines and  just returning from the “Promised Land” himself, Dr. Moore summarizes his thoughts on the future of Israel.  It is a snapshot of the biblical theology that was presented in those classroom lectures–a biblical theology of God and his people that unifies all things in Christ (Eph. 1:10), the True Israel of God.   Whether you are Dispensational, Covenantal, or agnostic in terms of all things eschatological, it is worth a look.

Anyone thinking through these matters–eschatology, the nature of the church, the future of Israel, and how evangelicals have debated these things over since Scofield–should consider Moore’s arguments.  Reading his book on the subject would be a great place to begin, The Kingdom of Christ.   Similarly, another great chapter on this subject of the identity of Israel is Stephen Wellum’s chapter on the covenants in Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in ChristBoth are excellent.

Thankful to be a co-heir with Christ, the True Israel, and I hope that he too is on your mind!

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

Marriage: A Theological Helpmate

Have you ever reflected on how indebted Systematic Theology is to Marriage? Have you considered how many doctrines are improved by the biblical teaching on marriage and the earthly reality of this blessed institution? Moreover, have you thought about how many doctrines would be lacking nuance and passion without the marital imagery employed by Scripture to flesh out these truths? Or finally, have you paused to think about how your own marriage has enhanced your understanding of sin, sanctification, the gospel, and eschatology, or any other biblical or theological truth? I have been thinking a lot about this lately, and here are a few doctrines inspired and improved by marriage:

The Attributes of God are impoverished without marriage–in particular, the love of God. God who is love (1 John 4:18) is most passionately displayed in the passages of Scripture that demonstrate his love for his people as the kind a lover has for his bride (Zeph. 3:17-18). Take away the Song of Songs and a gaping hole is left in the Scriptures to be able to understand the zealous love God has for his treasure–the blood bought bride of Christ. God’s love sings, but without marriage there be no such occassion for songs of love.

Ecclesiology, or the nature of the Church, is emptied without the Bridegroom and the Bride. Remove Ephesians 5:22-33, which speaks of the glories of marriage and the mystery of Christ and the church, and you lose the loftiest description of what the church is to be like. Moreover, without Ephesians 5 the picture of Christ’s faithfulness to wash his bride and make her spotless and radiant is depleted. The tenderness and power of God’s sanctification is portrayed in Christ washing his bride clean (cf. Ezek 16).

The doctrine of Justification is a public declaration of a new legal status. Marriage does the same thing, and provides a wonderful analogy to understand this doctrine. An impoverished woman, who is doted on and loved by a kind suitor, is made in an instant the heir of all his wealth, reputation, and regard. How? Through the pronouncement of vows and the recognition of witnesses. This is just like justification by faith. So it is with justification by faith. We who trust in Christ for our lives and our righteousness find ourselves unified to him as a committed wife, one absolutely dependent on his leadership, and one who gladly exchanges our old name for a new.

This marital analogy also applies to understanding the New Covenant. Surely covenants were made throughout the Bible between males and co-laborers (cf. Jacob and Laban), but all of these covenants were devoid of love. In marriage, covenant faithfulness meets sublime love and tender mercies. In this, marriage serves as a picture of the new covenant with Jesus Christ. Whereas the old covenant could be construed as a workman’s contract, the new covenant is certainly the bond of a husband and a wife.

The converse to faithful marriage–adultery and divorce–also speaks to doctrinal matters. Harmatiology, the doctrine of sin, is improved (if you can or should say such a thing) by the devastating effects that a broken marriages depict. In other words, in divorce and adultery, sin is seen in its baldest form. The wickedness of a man who forsakes the woman he loves, or loved, unveils the wretchedness of humanity, the total depravity of the human condition. Moreover, adultery which breaks the covenant to ones spouse invokes a response of jealousy and rage. This it would seem is the fire necessary to destroy the covenant breaker. In this jealousy, hell is inflamed. God will punish in hell those who have broken covenant with him, those who have run out to adulterate themselves with this world (James 4:4), and have willingly rejected God’s kind offer to renew their vows through repentance and return. Without marriage though, the ravaging effects of sin would not be as clear.

Finally, without marriage, Eschatology would be neutered. The doctrine of last things is filled with joy for so many reasons, but the crown jewel of the coming millenium and the return of Christ is the marriage feast with the lamb. Oh, how I look forward to that day! But without marriage and the joyous occassions of weddings that mark our calendars, we would be less informed about the joy and purpose of two souls joining as one. But with marriage, we understand and are enlightened to the hope of a eschatological marriage that will be forever and without end. The celebrations we experience now in this age when a man and woman join together in holy matrimony are but dim reflections of the cosmic celebration that is coming soon (Rev. 19:6-10).

These are just some of the ways marriage informs our theology. God has given marriage to all humanity for pleasure, procreation, and purity (no particular order), but it seems that he has also given it as a picture for us to see him more clearly. May we with the light of Scripture embrace our spouses and consider the biblical teaching on marriage so that we might better know our Lord.

Lord Jesus, thank you for marriage…For the wife you have given me…For the biblical portrait of marriage…And for the way you have designed it to reveal to us your glory and your goodness. Amen.

Heaven on Earth: RDM’s reflections on heaven

Today, on his weekly blog, “commentary,” Russell Moore reflects on the “earthy”-ness of heaven. Sitting under his teaching at Southern Seminary and church, the Lord has used Dr. Moore in profound ways to shape my own understanding of eschatology and how good it will be to taste and see (both corporeal activities) the Risen Christ reigning bodily on earth and to participate with him in the earth he created and redeemed.

Dr. Moore’s point, in short, is that the goal of earth is not an ethereal pilgrimmage to the heavens above, but rather the age to come is to be that of a restored Eden–a renewed earth reclaimed by Jesus, shared with his followers, and enjoyed forever by all those who are found in Christ. It is a powerful vision and one that glorifies Jesus, the King of Glory, as eternal God and the firstborn Son. Here is a sampling of Dr. Moore’s reflection.

For believers, the intermediate state is blessedness, to be sure. But in heaven there is yet eschatology. The ultimate purpose of God is not just the ongoing life of believers but that his kingdom would come, his will would be done “on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10). That awaits the end of all ends, the return of Jesus and the final overthrow of death.

What a thought to ponder that dwelling in the presence of God in heaven is a temporal thing to be improved upon. “In heaven there is yet eschatology“! At the end of the age, there will be a restored garden (Rev. 22), a universal gathering of the elect (Heb. 12), a wedding feast and a boundless celebration (Matt. 22:1-14; 25:1-3; Rev. 19:7-10; 21:1ff), and finally “the kingdom of the world men [will have become] the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ” (Rev. 11:15). What a day that will be!

Read the whole thing here.