Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Living By Every Word That Proceeds From the Mouth of God - Part 7


The Derivative Word Of God and Its Implications for Today.

(This is part two in a series that examines the view of Justice Boshoff who advocates that God’s word comes to us personally and directly from the Holy Spirit through prayer for wisdom and that the scriptures are a hindrance to hearing the word of God. You can read a transcript of two of his You-Tube videos: According to the Scriptures, You Won't Make It and Breaking Through the Bible Barrier.)

We should distinguish, on the one hand, between those words that are verbalized (whether oral or written) as a result of the oversight of God’s Spirit, and those words, on the other, in which there is no such oversight, but nevertheless convey accurately God’s thoughts. The former are a supernatural product and are intrinsically God’s words. The latter communicate the thought and meaning of the supernatural product and therefore are derivatively the word of God. The inspired words of the Bible are the very words of God by which he discloses to us his nature and purposes. The kerygmatic words (preaching) of men down through Church history are an exposition of the inscripturated words; insofar as they convey the meaning of those original words, they are in a derivative and secondary way the words of God.

The kerygmatic word of our day is not new revelation, that is, it is not the medium of a new self-disclosing word of God; nor is it the product of a supernatural overseeing of the Holy Spirit. Both the original and derived word have authority, but the difference is this: without the supernatural word there is no derivative word. Without the inspired word of the apostles and prophets, there is no source or basis on which an uninspired statement can be made with any certainty of its truthfulness or authority in its claims.

What implications may we draw for the Christian in his situation today? The apostolic word of God is beneficial not only to the first recipients of the original word, but also to others who can draw implications for their present situation from that original (1 Cor 10:6-11; 2 Tim 3:15-17). The original word addressing the original situation is the basis on which a derivative word may address a future situation.

Contrary to Mr. Boshoff’s position that the scriptures can only lead us to Christ but have no further word for us in our situation, the Bible, as the inspired word of God, serves as the basis for drawing examples, principles, and implications that are derivatively the word of God addressing us in our situation now. It is the charge of the pastor-teachers who are gifts given to the Church, Eph 4:11. The pastor-teacher must be able to teach, 1 Tim 3:2; 2 Tim 2:2, 24, “holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict,” Titus 1:9.

But Mr. Boshoff speaks disparagingly of those who are ordained elders in the church, who exercise their commission to teach sound doctrine:

“Some people say that what God wanted to say He said and it is written in the scriptures. That is a lie my friend, because God is not dead, God is alive. The churches want you to believe that God is dead because they want to tell you that God speaks through them to you. They want to keep you confined. Capture. They want to capture you. They want to tell you that they will interpret for you what God is saying. They have no knowledge of God at all. Nothing! They don't know Jesus.”
There is no such belittling of the pastor-teacher in the New Testament. He is called to teach, exposit the words of scripture and apply them to our situation because of their four-fold profitability. Through the pastor-teacher’s sound explication of scripture, he makes the sinner wise unto salvation and the man of God complete and equipped for every good work, (2 Tim 3:15-17).

With the entrance of the Incarnate Word into the world, God’s speaking in this present evil age reached its climactic expression (Heb 1:1, 2; John 1:14, 18; Jude 3), and the kerygmatic preaching of the apostolic era was its denouement. The scriptures are the permanent record of God’s word and the exposition of it is the means by which that word reaches the ears of God’s people today.

There is a dearth of sound, expository preaching in today’s church. God’s people are suffering for lack of it. To accommodate the sinner for fear of offending him, the sermon has been divested of its power by replacing the exposition of scripture with stories, humor, positive thinking, prosperity theology, and step-by-step self-help guidelines. The truth of God’s absolute holiness, man’s utter sinfulness, and the grace and mercy that comes only through Christ’s atonement and resurrection are nearly absent. The exclusivity of the cross is replaced with a false gospel that ceases to call men to repentance and faith in Christ alone; the power of the gospel to save from our sin and sinfulness is forgotten.

Expository preaching is the derivative word of God; through it, we hear God’s voice today. Without it, the church falls into false doctrine, fails to recognize sin, loses its identity as a chosen people who has been called to holiness and not to uncleanness, leaves the straight path and fails to find it again.

Through the exposition of scripture, the Spirit of God opens the eyes of our understanding so that we, as God’s people, know what is the hope of our calling, the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, and the exceeding greatness of God’s power toward us which he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead (Eph 1:17-20).

Through the meticulous explanation of scripture and its application to our present situation, the believer is renewed in the spirit of his mind so that he puts on the new man and puts off the old (Eph 4:20-24). He walks less and less as unwise, and more and more with wisdom, understanding what the will of the Lord is (Eph 5:15-17).

The people of God in every age must hear the word of God. In the time between the advents, from the apostolic era until Christ returns, that word comes to us derivatively through preaching that is a faithful, exposition of scripture (2 Tim 4:2; Tit 1:3).

Are the pews empty? Exposit the scriptures from the pulpit; let the word of God be heard. God’s people will come because they love the law of the Lord; it will refresh them, bringing continuous revival. It will convict them, bringing repentance and purity to the church. It will instruct them making them wiser than all ungodly counselors. Above all, it will glorify the One whose word is preached.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Living By Every Word That Proceeds From the Mouth of God - Part 6


The Adequacy of Human Speech as a Medium for Divine Speech.

(This is part six in a series that examines the view of Justice Boshoff who advocates that God’s word comes to us personally and directly from the Holy Spirit through prayer for wisdom and that the scriptures are a hindrance to hearing the word of God. You can read a transcript of two of his You-Tube videos: According to the Scriptures, You Won't Make It and Breaking Through the Bible Barrier.)

Can human language properly serve as a medium through which God’s speech may be heard? That is a fair question. Another way to state the question is to contend that God’s speech necessarily means divine words expressing divine thoughts, and divine thoughts are so far above human thoughts it is absurd to think human language has the capacity to suitably express those divine thoughts. May we not draw that conclusion from scripture itself?

"For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways," says the LORD. "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8, 9

It may seem a remarkable claim that human language is able to express the breathed-out language of God. But in fact, it is very suited for that purpose; the text just cited illustrates the point in two ways.

First, though the human language of Is 55:8, 9 (Hebrew) communicates the truth that God’s thoughts are incomprehensible, that does not mean that nothing can be known of God’s thoughts. Rather, incomprehensibility means that God’s thoughts cannot be fully known to us as they are to God himself. Cornelius Van Til, former professor of Westminster Theological Seminary, was fond of saying that we think God’s thoughts after him. Our thoughts are not identical to his (otherwise, we would be God) but they are analogous, similar, akin to his thoughts so that we do know something of what God thinks.

Second, we may observe that the truth itself regarding a profound difference between God’s thinking and man’s thinking is actually revealed to us from God through human speech, through the words of the text. We understand that there is a difference. How did we gain that understanding? Because God spoke through the human language of Isaiah.

All speech, in its most fundamental character, is the communication of information. By definition, it is meaningful and understandable; otherwise, there is no communication. The observation that language is meaningful may seem superfluous - everybody knows that, it’s a given. But why is it meaningful? Why are humans able to communicate verbally with one another? Why are they not like the brute beast who has no such capacity?

The short answer is that we are made in God’s image and share some of his attributes. From eternity, the intra-Trinitarian fellowship was enhanced by divine speech; the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, needing nothing outside of their being, completely satisfied and happy in their inter-personal communion, existed in a fellowship marked by verbal communication.

John 12:28-30 sheds light on intra-Trinitarian dialogue. Jesus is about to publicly reveal his coming death with the preamble that he is very troubled over it, though it is the very purpose he has come into the world. True to his desire to always honor his Father, even in the face of the cross, Jesus calls out to the Father:

“Father, glorify Your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, saying, “I have both glorified it and will glorify it again.” Therefore, the people who stood by and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to Him.” Jesus answered and said, “This voice did not come because of Me, but for your sake."
The Son speaks to the Father and the Father answers the Son. When Jesus said the ‘voice did not come because of Me, but for your sake,’ he did not mean that God was speaking to the people instead of him. He meant that the voice came audibly, for their sakes, so that they could hear with their own ears God speaking to the Son. What Jesus heard every day of his life, the voice of his Father, was made audible to the people. What they heard on that special occasion, Jesus heard daily (cf John 8:26-28). It is preposterous to think that such dialogue between the Father and the Son began only after the incarnation. John 1:1, 2 reveals that “the Word was with God” from the beginning. The Greek word for ‘with’ is better translated ‘toward’ signifying a face-to-face relationship. Such a relationship implies fellowship, which implies communication.

We may draw the same conclusion for dialogue between the Son and the Holy Spirit (John 16:13 in context of John 15:26).

God’s speech is the pattern on which all human speech is designed. The first recorded words of God are “Let there be light,” or simply, “Light be!” Genesis 1:3. It is divine speech, translated into human language, having a meaning that we humans can understand. God’s speech is translatable into and understandable in terms of human language.

Since it was God who spoke first and human language came afterwards, we may understand that human language is analogous of divine language. Human speech is patterned after God’s speech. God’s speech is the paradigm that human language follows. Grammatical rules, syntactical relationships, and meaningful vocabulary are intrinsic to human language because they are intrinsic to God’s language. That is why human language is suited as a medium for expressing God’s speech. When human language is enlisted to express God thoughts as they are in the words, “Let there be light,” those human words are God’s words using the grammar, syntax, and verbal meanings of a human language that is analogous to God’s speech.

We may take another example of human speech as the vehicle through which divine speech is expressed. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians.

For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe, 1 Thess 2:13.

The human language of Paul was directly and immediately the word of God. We understand this only to be possible in terms of the superintending work of the Holy Spirit. But unless human language in and of itself is capable of articulating divine speech, it would be unable, even through the oversight of the Holy Spirit, to express the words of God.

We insist then that the scriptures are written in a language that is analogous of divine language, and as such are particularly suited to express God’s words. Human language is not merely suitable, but by way of inspiration it becomes divine-human language, the out-breathed words of God expressed in human speech. Whenever we read a New Testament letter of Paul to a church in Ephesus, or Corinth, or Rome, or Thessalonica, or to an individual as Timothy, Titus, or Philemon, Paul’s speech is God’s speech, and his words are God’s words. As such, it is God speaking to the Church or the human recipient; it is meaningful and communicates God’s will and purpose addressing the situation.

The question then, is God’s speech that addresses a situation in a previous era pertinent to our situation today? Is there any meaning for us now in what he said to his people long ago? Succinctly, does God speak to us today through the scriptures? Part five of this series (The Relevancy of God’s Word in Every Age) would argue affirmatively emphasizing Paul’s use of Old Testament scripture and his observation that scripture has a four-fold profitability (2 Tim 3:16) for more than just the original hearers. The next article in the series will consider how the expository sermon is derivatively the word of God.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Living By Every Word That Proceeds From the Mouth of God - Part 5


The Relevancy of God’s Written Word in Every Age.

(This is part five in a series that examines the view of Justice Boshoff who advocates that God’s word comes to us personally and directly from the Holy Spirit through prayer for wisdom and that the scriptures are a hindrance to hearing the word of God. You can read a transcript of two of his You-Tube videos: According to the Scriptures, You Won't Make It and Breaking Through the Bible Barrier.)

Paul would disagree with Mr. Boshoff’s position that the inscripturated word of the past is irrelevant to those of a later generation. Paul makes special reference to the written record of the wilderness experience of Israel and reveals that they were written for the benefit of his own generation:

Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.
Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did.
Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, "The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play." We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. 
Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. 1 Cor 10:6-11 (ESV)
Paul did not refrain from applying the Old Testament Scriptures to the Church in Corinth. He did not think the wilderness situation of Israel was so unrelated to the situation of a body of believers in a thriving city several hundred years later, that it was useless to draw any application from it. Through the ordinary use of language, logic, and reason, he understood the written words of the Old Testament account of Israel’s experience in the wilderness. From that understanding he drew the conclusion that Israel’s behavior served as an example of how God’s people are not to act, and that to behave that way had severe consequences under the displeasure of God.

Paul explains to Timothy that there is a fourfold profitability in scripture: all scripture is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 2 Tim 3:16. That profitability is not only for those to whom the scriptures were written, but also for those who were to read them in later generations. Paul saw that the profitability of the Holy scriptures not only made Timothy wise unto salvation, 2 Tim 3:15, but also made the man of God (in his day) complete and thoroughly equipped for every good work, 2 Tim 3:17 [1].

In this text (2 Tim 3:16, 17) Paul provides examples of applying scripture in two ways: (1) specifically, drawing certain conclusions about a situation that occurred centuries before and deducing from them rules to be applied to a situation in his own day, (2) generally, stipulating that all of scripture was profitable for the believer in his day providing doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction. Taking the apostle's lead, we may draw the principle that the scriptures are useful for believers of all ages and that we may apply them to our situation in our day. [2]

This underscores the value of the written word. The usefulness of the written word for the preservation and transmission of the New Testament apostolic and prophetic word is evident in the many references to writing as a medium for the communication of that word (Luke 1:3; Acts 1:1, 2; 1 Cor 4:14, 14:37; 2 Cor 9:1; 13:2; Gal 1:20; Phil 3:1; 1 Thess 4:9, 5:1; 1 Tim 3:14, 15; 2 Pet 3:1; 1 John 1:4; 2:1, 7, 8, 12, 13; 2 John 1:12; 3 John 1:13; Jude 1:3; Rev 1:11; 3;1). This usefulness is clearly seen in Paul’s order for the exchange of letters between the churches in Colosse and Laodicea, Col 4:16. Such high regard for the New Testament written word indicates the intention to provide a corpus of documents which would serve in the same capacity for the New Testament era as did the Law, the Psalms, and Prophets for the Old Testament era (cf Luke 24:44).
[1] Paul may be referring not only to the writings of the Old Testament, but also to that collection of apostolic writings that were in circulation in his present day. Paul’s own writings had reached such high recognition in Peter’s estimation, 2 Pet 3:15, 16.

[2] One cannot object that the liberty to apply scripture from an Old Testament situation to a New Testament situation was exclusively Paul’s because of his apostleship. Paul’s apostleship did make the recipients of his letters take special heed to his words. But when Paul in his apostolic word pronounces all of scripture profitable, we should take special heed as well. There is nothing in Paul’s pronouncement that would lead us to conclude that that profitability is restricted to a single situation at a specific point in time. Because Paul saw all of scripture profitable for all saints of all ages, he was able to apply them specifically to the various situations of the churches under his care.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Living By Every Word That Proceeds From the Mouth of God – Part 4


The Anti-theological, Anti-hermeneutical, Anti-logical, Anti-practical Perspective on Scripture

(This is part four in a series that examines the view of Justice Boshoff who advocates that God’s word comes to us personally and directly from the Holy Spirit through prayer for wisdom and that the scriptures are a hindrance to hearing the word of God. You can read a transcript of two of his You-Tube videos: According to the Scriptures, You Won't Make It and Breaking Through the Bible Barrier.)

The inspiration and authority of scripture is misunderstood, ignored, or outright rejected by many today, including those who would claim to be Christians. If the inspiration of the scriptures is understood in terms of the classic exposition of B. B. Warfield (The Inspiration and Authority of the Scriptures ), that the words of scripture, though not devoid of the style, vocabulary, and intellectual prowess of the human author that penned them, are nonetheless the out-breathed words of God (I Tim 3:16) written under the superintending work of the Holy Spirit (2 Pet 1:19-21) and therefore the inerrant, authoritative word of God – these words are worthy of our full attention and every effort on our part to understand their meaning through the use of sound principles of interpretation.

I suspect that Mr. Boshoff does not hold such a view of the Bible; even if he should claim otherwise, his attitude toward scripture strongly suggests he does not.

If scripture is allowed to speak for itself, there is no other conclusion that we may come to but that the inspired writings of the prophets and apostles are the words of God, and as such are inerrant and authoritative in all of faith and life. The human authorship of the words of scripture does not detract from this one iota. Neither the human limitation in understanding nor the sinful disposition of the human heart prohibited the words they wrote to be the very words of God. They were borne along by the Spirit of God whose oversight of the ideas and concepts of the mind and the translation of those thoughts into words on parchment resulted in the inscripturation of divine speech.

If the origin and nature of scripture is not understood as God-breathed and therefore absolutely authoritative and inerrant, it is of little more benefit to us than the writings of the deepest or loftiest thinkers in the history of man. The Meditations (167 AD) of Marcus Aurelius, polytheist and pagan emperor of Rome, would have as much authoritative weight as any word expressed in the Bible. But if the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are taken as the written, inspired word of God, they demand that we heed them; they are the expression of God’s will for us concerning all of faith and life. And though they were written to a generation long ago, they are still binding on us today for they have never ceased to be the word of God.

There is an anti-theological bias in today’s church. Mr. Boshoff has undoubtedly been affected by it and is nurturing it when he disparages the need to apply the scriptures to our situation today.

Theology in its broad sense is the study of all things that pertain to God – his nature and being, his purposes, commands, behavior, and everything that comes under his sphere of influence – which according to the scriptures is everything there is. Nothing can be understood apart from its relation to God. If there is no relation to God there is no existence, for all things live and move and have their being in (by means of) God (Acts17:28).

How do we know this?

The particular pieces of theological knowledge are not known innately by man. Granted, through the creation he sees that God exists, and he has some sense of his power and sovereignty (Romans 1:20). But the creation does not give the details. The details come only by a self-disclosure of God. God must willfully reveal himself to us.

Redemptive history is that history that traces God’s redemptive acts (the Exodus is an example) which go hand-in-hand with revelatory acts – acts by which he has disclosed something about his nature and purposes. The acts themselves are revelatory; they tell us something about God. But God has spoken more directly, through human speech. God, in various ways and at various times has spoken to us in the past through the prophets. In these last days, he has spoken to us through his Son (Heb 1:1, 2). Of that which has been spoken, God in his providence has preserved what he deemed necessary through writing.

The self-disclosure of God, necessary for any understanding of God, is preserved for us today in the writings of the Old and New Testaments. Without them, everything we might proffer about God would be hearsay, conjecture, or tradition, none of it having any guarantee of its veracity or intelligibility. The prophetic word, the scriptures, being God-breathed and written under the superintendence of the Holy Spirit (2 Tim 3:16; 2 Pet 1:19-21) has guaranteed that God’s revelation is both true and understandable. Without the scriptures, there is no sure understanding of God, there is no sound theology.

Hence, our only source of knowledge of God (his nature, will, purposes, etc) is the scriptures. And because the scriptures are written in human language, it is understood through the use of known principles of interpretation (hermeneutics). Language, whether divine or human, is meaningful because it communicates information in accordance with grammatical rules and logical relationships. As human language communicating God’s self-revelation, the scriptures cohere logically – they make sense. The message of the revelation does not violate the rules of logic (rules that were discovered by man, not created by him).

The discernment of the message in human language requires a knowledge of the language and its interpretation according to sound rules of hermeneutics, the science of interpretation. God speaks intelligibly, not illogically or in jibberish such that his speech is unintelligible to human understanding. Because of inspiration, the scriptures are guaranteed to cohere logically – they are the only writings of human history that have such a guarantee.

Because of the source of the words of scripture (God-breathed), and because they are meaningful, the scriptures are the only source from which we may gain wisdom for our day-to-day lives; the scriptures must be applied to our situation for any guarantee that what we do in our situation is not sin. The scriptures, therefore, are invaluably necessary for our practical needs – how we must live and behave.

Mr. Boshoff's theology leads us away from the only sound source of wisdom and replaces it by a subjective internal insight. Yes, he claims that it is the Holy Spirit who speaks inwardly, but he bases that on a misunderstanding of certain passages of scripture. Mr. Boshoff ironically has applied the scriptures incorrectly and advances a method of Christian living that is wrong. We will examine Mr. Boshoff’s erring hermeneutics in a coming article.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Living By Every Word That Proceeds From the Mouth of God - Part 3

God’s Word is Non-Contradictory: Implications for God’s Word in Any Age.

(This is part three in a series that examines the view of Justice Boshoff who advocates that God’s word comes to us personally and directly from the Holy Spirit through prayer for wisdom and that the scriptures are a hindrance to hearing the word of God. You can read a transcript of two of his You-Tube videos: According to the Scriptures, You Won't Make It and Breaking Through the Bible Barrier.)

Given any two events in which God has spoken, we are confident there is no contradiction between what he said in one event as opposed to what he said in the other. If there was a contradiction, either one or both statements would not be true, and we believe that God is true and in him is no lie (John 3:33; 7:28; 8:26; Rom 3:4; Rev 6:10; 15:3).

If we assume that Mr. Boshoff’s view is true, that God speaks inwardly through the Holy Spirit, then we must also assume that what God speaks today does not contradict what he has spoken in the past. This is to say that what God has spoken to Mr. Boshoff inwardly cannot contradict what God has spoken through the scriptures. If one avers that he has received the word of God today, but that word contradicts what God said long ago in the scriptures, then what was thought to be the word of God today is, in fact, not the word of God at all. It may be the result of wishful thinking, or an acceptance of an idea or principle that is very desirable, pleasant, and seemingly logical. But it is not God’s word. God does not contradict himself, for there is no contradiction in God. If there were, he would not be God. If contradiction rose within him, he would cease to be God.

If God has spoken in the past, and we can discern the meaning and implications of that word, then it is important that what is proffered as a word from God today should be examined in the light of that past word. Is this not what the Bereans did when Paul preached to them the death and resurrection of Christ?
Then the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. When they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so. Acts 17:10, 11
They searched the scriptures because Paul used the scriptures to reason with them (Acts 17:2). Paul defended the gospel from the Old Testament scriptures and the Bereans examined those scriptures to see if Paul was telling the truth. Paul did not demand an implicit faith on the part of his listeners but appealed to the scriptures to verify his proclamation.

Jesus likewise pointed to the Old Testament scriptures as witness to himself and his work centuries after they were written:
You search the scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life. John 5:39, 40.
Do not think that I shall accuse you to the Father; there is one who accuses you --- Moses, in whom you trust. For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?" John 5:45-47.
The written word had a prominent place in the ministry of Paul and Christ. Undoubtedly, Mr. Boshoff would grant that, but he would say that the scriptures were used to lead to Christ and no more. In support of that, he could point to the post-resurrection incident on the road to Emmaus where two disciples were contemplating the recent crucifixion of Christ. They were downtrodden and full of doubt. When Jesus asked them what was wrong, they were astonished and wondered if it were possible that even a single person could not have known what had happened.

The two men must have been close to the company of disciples because they seemed to be familiar with some who had gone to see the empty tomb for themselves. The report of angels saying he was alive was apparently unconvincing for they were confused about the whereabouts of Christ’s body. They were in a quandary. How did Christ respond?
Then He said to them, "O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?" And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself. Luke 24:25-27
 Mr. Boshoff could also point to the Acts of the Apostles where time and again. Paul reasoned from the Old Testament scriptures pointing to Christ or defending the gospel (Acts 17:2, 17; 18:4, 19; 19:8, 9).

Mr. Boshoff can point to all of these as evidence that the value of scripture is only to lead to Christ but nothing more. But these arguments do not clench Mr. Boshoff’s view; rather, they point the other direction. If we see that for Paul and Peter the scriptures were so vitally important to lead us to Christ, how is it that they would not also find in them what is necessary to grow in the ‘grace and knowledge of Christ,’ as Peter writes:
As newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, 1 Peter 2:2.
We understand that the ‘milk of the word’ includes the apostolic word of Peter as well as the other apostles. But given Peter’s high esteem of scripture (2 Peter 1:19-21) it is difficult to exclude, if not give the priority to, the Old Testament scriptures as what is meant by ‘the word.’ This point is not without evidence as Peter uses an application of the scriptures to exhort to tenderheartedness, courtesy, and returning good for evil (1 Peter 3:8-12). We may say that through an insight of the scriptures Peter finds wisdom for growth.

The example of the use of scripture by Christ, Peter, and Paul underscores the truth that the scriptures are never contrary from age to age. They may be relied upon to reason and exhort because they are forever consistent.

Consistency and non-contradiction are inherent to the word of God, regardless of the form it comes in (vision, dream, oracle, law, psalm, parable, epistle, apocalyptic, etc.). A claim to have a word today from God, arising internally from the Spirit must be examined for its consistency with what has preceded.

The question then, Is Mr. Boshoff’s position in keeping with scripture, or contrary to it? Ironically, we must apply the scriptures to Mr. Boshoff in order to confirm or falsify the legitimacy of applying scripture to discern God’s will. That fact in itself exposes Mr. Boshoff’s position as irrational and contradictory.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Living By Every Word That Proceeds From the Mouth of God - Part 2

The Appeal to Scripture to Reject Scripture

(This is part two in a series that examines the view of Justice Boshoff who advocates that God’s word comes to us personally and directly from the Holy Spirit through prayer for wisdom and that the scriptures are a hindrance to hearing the word of God. You can read a transcript of two of his You-Tube videos: According to the Scriptures, You Won't Make It and Breaking Through the Bible Barrier.)

In his short videos, Mr. Boshoff, who is arguing against the application of scripture to discern God’s will, alludes to or cites at least sixteen biblical references in making his case:

John 10:1ff Jesus is the Shepherd of his sheep.
John 10:4 Christ’s sheep hear his voice.
Matt 4:4; Deut 8:3 Man shall live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.
Eph 6:17 The sword of the Spirit is the word of God
Heb 4:12 The word of God is sharper than any two-edged sword.
John 1:1; Rev 19:3 Christ is the Word of God.
Rom 7:6 We serve in the newness of the Spirit, not in the oldness of the letter.
Prov 3:5 Trust in the Lord with all our hearts and don’t lean to our own understanding.
James 1:5 If any lacks wisdom, let him ask of God.
John 15:13 When the Spirit of truth is come, he will guide into all truth.
Rev 20:11 Judgment before the great white throne.
Roman 14:10; 2 Cor 5:10 We will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.
Matt 7:23 Jesus will say, “Depart from me, I never knew you.”

Precisely what Mr. Boshoff has in mind in the term ‘will of God’ is not clear, but he seems to be talking about God’s will regarding what an individual is to do in a certain circumstance. I would say he has in mind such things as whether one should take this employment opportunity as opposed to another, or whether a certain amount of money should be given to this individual or that individual, or whether I should marry this person, or whether I should have more than one child, or whether God wants me to shop today or stay home and work on my painting. Perhaps he is referring to those things in which the right decision is not obvious and that no choice is particularly good (beneficial), or for that matter, particularly bad (detrimental). The problem is that whatever one chooses there are consequences both desirable and undesirable, and one had better be sure that the choice is what God wants. In Mr. Boshoff’s view, the only way to be sure is for God to reveal his will through the inner speaking of the Holy Spirit. Only in this way can there be obedience to the words of Jesus and assurance of not falling outside of God’s will.

Mr. Boshoff does not deny that God has spoken to others through the scriptures. The problem, as he sees it, is that what was said to them cannot be applied to our situation. God has spoken to them, but for us that speech is just “words on paper.” We must hear what God himself has to say to us, and that word comes from the Holy Spirit who guides us into all truth. To know the will of God we must hear from The Word (Jesus Christ) who speaks to us through the Holy Spirit in response to our prayer for wisdom.

If we reflect on this for a moment, we will see that there is a more fundamental question that Mr. Boshoff, wittingly or not, is addressing. That is the question, What is God’s instruction, or method, or means as to how I discern God’s will? or succinctly stated, What is God’s will as to how I discern God’s will? I would like to know how Mr. Boshoff came into this knowledge; how did he come to know God’s will regarding the means by which he is to know God’s will? It cannot be the scriptures because that would be contrary to his premise that to do so would be to lean on his own insight. If he says it came by way of an inner revelation from the Holy Spirit, how can I be sure he is not mistaken as to what he heard, or worse, that he is lying? What rule can I even use to judge the validity of his claim to receive new revelation from the Spirit, and if new revelation were being given today, how can I be sure his expression of such a revelation is not simply contrivance or wishful thinking on his part?

On his own premises, therefore, Mr. Boshoff must say that his instruction on how to know God’s will came to him as an inward word from God through the Holy Spirit; if he came to that conclusion any other way, he would be guilty of using his own insight.

Yet, Mr. Boshoff has no qualm about appealing to the scriptures to make his case. I find this very peculiar. On the one hand, Mr. Boshoff vehemently objects to the application of scripture to discern God’s will, and yet it is through an appeal to the scriptures that he argues his position. Through scripture, he has gained the insight that God speaks to us not through scripture, but directly, in prayer through the Holy Spirit. Is that not contradictory and self-refuting? Be that as it may, because he does appeal to scripture to make his case, he should not object if I were to assess his teaching in light of the scriptures, to see if they are in accord with what God has spoken through them.
Obviously, Mr. Boshoff does not reject scripture outright saying it is of no value at all; otherwise, he never would have listened to the gospel. But to him, that is all the scriptures are valuable for, only to lead us to Christ. That is one application of scripture to our situation that he would not object to.

Mr. Boshoff and I would both agree that scriptures must be applied to our situation to lead us to Christ. Our situation is one of death in trespasses and sins (Eph 2:1) and the only remedy to our situation is the atonement of Christ. It was through a careful examination of scripture that Martin Luther and subsequent reformers regained the insight of justification by grace through faith without the accompaniment of meritorious works.

But is that all the usefulness we may find in the scriptures? Is that all that God ever intended? To think that God's intention for the scriptures centuries after they were written was to lead to Christ for salvation only and not for sanctification as well is contrary not only to what one would expect, but also to what the scriptures attest (2 Tim 3:16).

Monday, December 6, 2010

Living By Every Word That Proceeds From the Mouth of God - Part 1

Introduction: The Fundamental Question - How Does God Speak to His People Today?

There is a popular theology which advocates that God’s word comes to us personally, he speaks to us directly and reveals his will in a new revelation. The individual prays to God for wisdom or direction, and God gives him the answer. We must not apply the scriptures to our situation in an effort to hear God’s word and gain wisdom, for we cannot hear God in the scriptures. To apply the scriptures to our situation is to lean on our own insight. Rather than hearing directly from God, we apply our own human skill and intellect in an attempt to make the scriptures speak to us. One such advocate of this view is Justice Boshoff whose many YouTube videos teach this. Two have been selected as exemplary of his position. These are titled, According to the Bible - You Won’t Make It and Breaking Through the Bible Barrier. I have transcribed these for reference. A perusal of Mr. Boshoff’s Facebook page reveals that many find his opinions a guide for their own Christian practice.

Mr. Boshoff is not the only advocate of God’s speaking directly to his people today. Mark Virkler has taught this for over twenty-five years in speaking engagements and seminars. His view is that prayer is a two-way communication between you and God, and that “God’s voice in our hearts sounds like a flow of spontaneous thoughts,” [DWG, p 29]. Dr. Virkler’s teaching has influenced thousands. He cites other notables who claim experience of the hearing of God’s voice: Oral Roberts, Douglas Wead (Hear His Voice, All the President’s Children), Larry Tomczak, John Patrick Grace (Hearing His Voice), Francis MacNutt, Ben Kinchlow (Christian Broadcasting Network), Glen Clark (The Soul’s Sincerest Desire), [DWG, pp 119-122].

Dr. Virkler has developed a method designed to facilitate the hearing of God’s voice within. His views are systematically formulated, whereas Mr. Boshoff speaks off the cuff. There is an important difference between Boshoff and Virkler: Boshoff allows little room for the scriptures to have any influence on the believer in hearing God’s voice whereas Virkler accepts that at times it is through the words of scripture that the Spirit speaks, and that it is necessary to test the ‘word’ in the light of scripture. I think also that Virkler fundamentally confuses the illumination and enlightenment of the Spirit with that peculiar revelatory phenomenon of a direct personal word from God that only a few in redemptive history have experienced, such as the Old Testament prophets and New Testament apostles.

Out of the Reformation came the principle of sola scriptura, that the scriptures alone are the only infallible rule of faith and practice, opposing the Roman Catholic inclusion of ecclesiastical tradition as part of that rule. The Reformation was a rediscovery of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, fostered by a study of the scriptures in their original languages. It is through the scriptures alone that one comes to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, and it is through the scriptures that the saint is sanctified. This is the legacy of the Protestant Reformation, and if Mr. Boshoff’s teaching were taken to its logical conclusion, the scriptures would be viewed as having nothing to do with our sanctification for it has no application to us in our situation today.

Whether Mr. Boshoff would acknowledge it or not, we may identify three presuppositions that underlie his assertion that it is wrong to apply the scriptures to our own situation:

(1) The scriptures were applicable only for those to whom it was written.
(2) To apply scripture to our situation is to rely on our own insight, and not on God’s word.
(3) The scriptures are not completely sufficient for our situation making new revelation necessary.

The fundamental question is Does God speak to his people today, and, if so, in what manner? Does God speak directly to the heart in a recognizable voice, bringing new revelation? Or, does he speak in a more external way, through a word that came to his people in ages past, recorded in human language, preserved over the centuries by his providential care?

I am writing a series of articles entitled, Living By Every Word That Proceeds From the Mouth of God, that will examine Boshoff’s position in terms of its own logical coherency as well as its biblical validity. Though I do not expect to convince Mr. Boshoff of the error of his position, or those who follow his teaching with implicit faith, I do hope that the discussions I present will not only help the reader to see the fallacy of Mr. Boshoff’s position (and others like it) but also become more deeply committed to the scriptures as the final written word of God to his people in this age. It is through the scriptures that we hear God’s voice today; it is a clear word that comes to us in language that we can understand and is meaningful for us now in our situation.

DWG: Dialogue With God by Mark Virkler. Published by Bridge-Logos, Orlando, Florida, 1986.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Sinless Perfection of the Saint

I thought the doctrine of sinless perfection was passé until my son told me about an individual whom he communicated with via facebook, who claimed not to sin. The claimant was a professing Christian and the idea was quite simple; since she was a saint, she doesn’t sin.

A saint is one who is holy according to the strict meaning of the NT word, ho hagios, literally, the holy (one, thing, etc.). When used to refer to the believer, it is more or less a technical term, but the basic meaning is not absent; the believer is holy. This holiness is something that he pursues now (Pursue...holiness, without which no one will see the Lord, Heb 12:14) and it is the destiny to which he is called.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, Eph 1:3,4

For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness, 1 Thess 4:7

It is difficult to see how one can claim perfection in this life in the light of what the Scripture says about the matter. One verse that might be construed to teach sinless perfection is 1 John 3:6, Whoever abides in Him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him.

“Is it not clear?” the perfectionist would argue. “The one who knows him does not sin. The implication then, if you sin, you do not know him. If you know him, you do not sin. And, if you do not sin, it can only be so because you cannot sin.”

Such an interpretation can only come by ignoring the context of what John has written elsewhere in the letter (1:8-10, which we will look at). But even the language of the verse itself prohibits such a teaching. In the first part of the verse, John writes, Whoever abides in Him does not sin. The present tense of the verb 'to sin' has inherently the idea of sin as occurring in a continuous manner; it is a way of life; the sinner here is one who habitually sins, not one who from time to time commits sin. A better translation of the verse would be, Whoever abides in Him is not sinning.

This is even more pronounced in the latter part of the verse which may be translated, Each sinning one (or, Each sinning person) has not seen him nor has he known him. The stress again is on the continued, persistent activity of sinning. One who habitually and persistently sins, whose life-style is one of constant sinning, has not seen Christ or come to know him. Such a one does not abide in Christ (harking back to the parable of the vine and the branches, John 15 - except the branch remains vitally united to the vine it will wither and die and no longer bear fruit).

The one who is in Christ does not sin as a way of life, though this does not preclude sinning occasionally. By occasion, we mean that when the life of the believer is taken as a whole, the sin is an exception, not the rule. The Christian may sin grievously, perhaps even for an extended time (such as David’s adultery and murder in which there was no repentance for possibly a year). This occasional, non-characteristic sinning is precisely what John emphasizes in 1:8, 10.

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 1:8
If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. 1:10

At first glance, one might think John is more or less repeating in verse ten what he writes in verse eight. But there is a distinct and important difference.

Verse eight uses the noun hamartian (sin) without the article, i.e., the article 'the' is absent. A general rule in Greek grammar is that when the article does accompany the noun (the word, the sky, the sin), a specific instance of the noun is in mind. If John had written, If we say that we have not the sin, he would have had a particular sin that both he and his readers were aware of. An example of how the article denotes specific sins is Hebrews 2:17.

Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.

But John does not use the article in verse eight. The absence of the article is called the anarthrous form of the noun, and this construction is often used to denote the character and nature of something, rather than a specific instance of it. In our text, it refers to the character or quality of sin (i.e., sinfulness) rather than specific acts or deeds of sin (e.g., lying, stealing, lusting, etc.). It should be taken to read, “If we say that we do not have a nature of sin...,” or perhaps, “If we say that we do not have sinfulness...” John is making the point that none of us as Christians can claim to be without a natural bent to sin. Sin, as part of our nature, is at work in us.

The conditional clause in verse ten uses the perfect indicative, If we say that we have not sinned (oukh hemartekamen). The perfect indicative means that the sin has taken place in the past and is a completed action. Whatever may have resulted from such sin continues in the present. John is referring to the past of those to whom he is writing, and we may take that to mean their past as a believer, not their past before they were a believer. A freer translation that catches the nuance of the tense and context would be, If we say that hitherto we have not sinned in our past Christian life, we are making Him a liar, and his word is not in us.

The perfectionist might say that since the sin referred to in verse ten is in the past, it is not descriptive of the present state of the individual, that is, he is no longer in a state of sinning. But the reference to our past sin in verse ten is on the heels of what the apostle says in verse nine, If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Those whom John exhorts to confess their sins are those who remain in Christ (3:6), whom the world does not know because it does not know Christ (3:1), who are born of God in which the seed of God remains in them (3:9), who have passed from death to life (3:14), who keep his commandment and do those things that are pleasing to God (3:22), who find the commandments of God not to be burdensome (5:3). Specifically, he is exhorting believers, saints, to confess their sins with the assurance they will be cleansed.

These three verses (1:8-10) taken together confirm the following truths: (a) believers have a nature to sin, 1:8, (b) believers not only have the inclination to sin, but in fact have sinned, (1:10), (c) believers are assured that if they confess their sins (a humble acknowledgment of them produced by a loathing of them and a desire to depart from them), God is just to forgive and cleanse them of their sins (through the blood of Christ).

How can the believer be construed to be without sin if he still has the nature to sin, has actually committed sin (in his past as a Christian), and is assured of forgiveness of sin (as a Christian) through confession? He cannot. Paul identifies the moment when our whole body, soul, and spirit are made perfect - the day when Christ comes again:

Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Thess 5:23.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

November CSFF Blog Tour, Day 3

The Skin Map, by Stephen R. Lawhead

Thanks to Thomas Nelson for kindly providing a copy of The Skin Map for review on the November, 2010 Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog Tour.

What is it about speculative fiction that is so attractive? I do not mean to be presumptuous; it is a matter of taste, and there are many who unfortunately (for them, that is) are not the least enticed by it. But it has to do with the imagination, I think. We imagine things every day, but they are usually mundane things. Fantasy and science fiction, by definition, are not mundane. For the Chrisitan writer, these are naturally laden with the ability to convey biblical truths. To me, fantasy is better suited for that task because of its imagery and other-worldly characters. The Skin Map, which is science fiction, has its fascination as well.

A long, long time ago, when I was a boy, I had some recurring dreams that were so powerful they ring clear even today. There was one in which I had superman’s ability to fly, cape and all. Interesting that I did not have his strength; in fact, in my dream I wasn’t concerned at all about doing feats of strength. It was the flying. I flew over cities and mountains and lakes, zoomed down and zig-zagged through housing developments. I even entered huge bodies of water several hundred feet deep, very reminiscent of Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire (the movie) in which the Triwizard Champions were required to retrieve their friends from the lake. They all had to come up with ingenious ways to breath under water. In my dream, I could breathe under water as naturally as out, an ability I had no idea superman was capable of.

Another dream was in the 1960’s, when the space program was just getting underway. John Glenn had recently completed his three orbits. I was an astronaut in a mercury capsule, sitting atop an Atlas 109-D rocket. A panoramic array of zillions of controls and lights surrounded me, and I knew exactly what they did and how to use them. The Atlas lifted off, and I rocketed toward the heavens flipping switches, pushing buttons, and reading gauges all the while. Sadly, the dream ended or I awoke before I ever entered orbit.

Flying like superman and speeding into space like John Glen.

That is quite peculiar. I don’t care for heights, in spite of the fact I made it through the US Army’s airborne school at Fort Benning Georgia.

The ability to jump from one place and time to another surpasses the world of my boyhood dreams. But a world of ley lines and time travel has its mysteries and dangers.

Let’s assume I find a ley line and am thrust back to Wittenberg Castle on October 31, 1517, just in time to catch Martin Luther leaving after posting his Ninety-Five Theses. Through several gestures and miming efforts, which amuse him immensely, he invites me to a tavern, and over a tankard I am able to convince him of the existence of ley lines and time travel. Being the choleric fellow he is, he agrees to come with me ‘for the ride.’ We find the ley line, feel the tingle, I point to the sky (Luther mimics me) and, poof, we are gone. But there’s a problem which I have overlooked. I can go forward to my future, but what can he do. My past is his future, and according to the laws of time travel, one can only travel back in his time, not forward. I end up in the middle of the Battle of Gettysburg and Luther, well, who knows. Have I destroyed him since I made him do what was impossible for him to do? Not to mention I have probably caused the Reformation to stall before it has even started.

Let’s go further back, to the first century AD. I tumble into a meadow a few yards from the Appian Way to find a small cohort of Roman Soldiers (all of whom have a good laugh at my ungraceful arrival) and an unassuming fellow who goes by the name of Paul. Could it be? It is. It is the apostle himself, on his way to Rome, under guard. I follow along and after a little over eleven stadia, I catch the eye of the apostle who gains permission for me to accompany him. Now to make this easy, I’ll say that for some extraordinary reason my Greek from seminary, and Hebrew from language school while in the Air Force (yes, I was in two branches of the military - had to go through basic training twice) come fluently to my mind and tongue, and we are able to converse. After some time I tell Paul who I really am and where I come from. Surprisingly, he believes me. I offer to break him out of jail in Rome so that we could make the jump to another land and another time - imagine what that could do for the gospel! He declines and asks me if I have ever read his second letter to the Corinthians. I am puzzled so he begins to explain...

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago -- whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows -- such a one was caught up to the third heaven. And I know such a man -- whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows -- how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.
2 Cor 12:2-4

Sheepishly, I said I understood and bade good day. As the jumble and clatter of the soldiers and horses grew dim, I thought back on his words, and the passage from 2 Corinthians. Ley lines and time travel are child’s play and their mysteries and dangers are nothing to be feared.

I thought of John’s marvelous statement,

Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. 1 John 3:2

Paul wrote in his first letter to the Corinthians,

So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. 1 Cor 15:42-44

A spiritual body - an oxymoron? Perhaps, though an oxymoron is defined as a contradiction of words, implying that a ‘spiritual body’ would be self-negating; if it’s spiritual, then its not physical, and vice versa. Yet Paul is quite clear, our resurrected body will be a physical-spiritual body. This implies that physics as we know it now will be history (literally). Our bodies will be physically spiritual and spiritually physical. We’ll be able to appear and disappear at will, just as Christ did the day he challenged Thomas not to doubt and when the eyes of the two on the Emmaus Road were opened.

Our new existence would make ley lines obsolete, if they were real, of course. The most marvelous thing about our new existence is that it will be one of sinlessness. No more inner struggle with indwelling sin. No more fits of anger and jealousy, no more thoughtless words and malicious attitudes. Only the full blossoming of the fruit of the Spirit every second of every day.

I’d be the first in line (after checking if it’s okay with my family) to be superman or an astronaut or a ley jumper; but it all pales in light of what awaits us in the new heaven and earth:

But as it is written: "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man The things which God has prepared for those who love Him." 1 Cor 2:9

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us...made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. Eph 2:4-7

Stephen R. Lawhead's Web Page
List of CSFF Blog Tour Participants
The Skin Map on Amazon

Monday, November 1, 2010

November 2010 CSFF Blog Tour, Day 2: The Skin Map

November 2010 CSFF Blog Tour, Day 2

The Skin Map, by Stephen R. Lawhead

Thanks to Thomas Nelson for kindly providing a copy of The Skin Map for review on the November, 2010 Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog Tour.

As a writer of Christian fantasy, it is my concern to write precisely that, Christian fantasy. Christian fantasy is only ‘Christian’ if it centers on and flows out of the gospel. The gospel is the good news that the Second Person of the Trinity became man and through his death and resurrection accomplished the redemption of his people who were chosen before the foundation of the world. This redemption is a salvation of the sinner from his sin and sinfulness; it is forgiveness accompanied by the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to his account on which basis God judicially declares him just; it is sanctification, a steady forward growth in holiness and separation from a sinful life-style through the work of God’s Spirit in the heart; it is glorification, the final, permanent transformation of the saint into the likeness of the glorified Christ, physically and spiritually, in which it is no longer possible to sin and in which service and love to God is without flaw. This is the gospel, and a fantasy that is proffered as Christian fantasy is not faithful to its namesake if it does not clearly convey these truths.

This does not mean that a Christian writer is bound to write his fiction or fantasy in this way in order to be a faithful and God-glorifying writer. However, whether writing for mere entertainment in which the salient truths of the gospel are absent, or whether writing to reveal those magnificent truths, the Christian must always work under the dictum that he is to glorify God in all that he does. He does this by consciously writing as an image-bearer in which he crafts a world and story that does not violate God’s holy commandments; he does not write a story that panders to and glorifies sinful philosophy and behavior; rather, just the opposite.

Is it necessary that the whole spectrum of gospel truth be included to earn the classification of Christian? I would say no for two reasons: (1) There is enough in any one of these articles of truth to occupy a single novel, perhaps even a series. Granted, it would be difficult to focus on only one truth without implying at least one or more of the others. But even if that were possible, so long as the singular truth that is present is clear and undiluted, it makes the story distinctively Christian. (2) There is so much in the collective set of these articles, it would be difficult to have them all presented exhaustively except in a series of such epic proportions, it would take the lifetime of the author to complete.

Where does The Skin Map fit? It is entertaining, to be sure. However, the gospel is absent and as such, disqualifies it as ‘Christian.’ I say this because there is no mention of the bad news that must become painfully obvious before the good news will make any sense - and that bad news is the sinfulness of man, which merits God’s wrath. This does not ignore the characterization of Lord Burleigh as very evil. Pagans and Christians alike assess Lord Burleigh’s actions as wrong because each has a non-relative standard of right and wrong in mind, though only the Christian can articulate that standard with any degree of accuracy and authority. Lord Burleigh does represent the evil in the Good-versus-Evil dilemma of human experience, a dilemma which cannot help but enter in and become a regulative factor of any fiction. But Lord Burleigh’s behavior is not explained as the inevitable result of a man who, like all of us, is dead in trespasses and sins, has a heart in rebellion against God, and would destroy God if he could.

The character of Lord Burleigh does have its value. It reminds the reader that there is evil and that it is a problem. On the other hand, it runs the danger of the reader superficially observing, “That fiend, how could he be so despicable!” The truth is, and only the Christian knows this, we all could be so despicable, and merely characterizing that evil does not articulate the truth that “there is none good, no, not one.” Hence, for such reasons as this, The Skin Map is not Christian fiction.

I want to be fair, however. The Skin Map is book one in the Bright Empires series. The series as a whole may prove to be very Christian even though one or more of the books in the series would not be classified as such.

The Skin Map does have its characters who make statements that have profound theological implications. The reader encounters this first when Kit and his great grandfather Cosimo come into the lecture hall where Lord Henry is in the final stages of an address. The lecture reveals much about the storyline itself, and it contains a pronouncement that makes us wonder what the theological foundations of Lord Henry are. I am going to quote at some length to provide ample context (and mood which though less important is written so well, I don’t want to leave it out; it may even encourage you to buy the book):

    Kit glanced up to see that they had come to stand before a large and imposing grey stone building with a wide flight of steps leading up to a set of brassbound doors; two oily black torches fluttered on either side of the entrance. They ascended the stone steps and entered a grand vestibule with a sweeping, carved oak staircase leading to a balustraded balcony. Doors opened off the vestibule in three directions; Cosimo chose the one in the centre and, laying a finger to his lips as a caution for Kit to keep silent, quietly opened the door and slipped in.
    Kit followed and found himself at the back of a handsome and very old-fashioned lecture theatre filled row upon row with bewhiskered men formally attired in sober black gowns and plain white neck bands. The room was lit by the lambent glow of innumerable candles in sconces and massive brass chandeliers suspended from the ceiling. By Kit’s rough estimate there must have been upwards of two hundred men in the audience, and their attention was wholly directed to the platform at the front, where a very tall, lean man in a long black gown and black silk skullcap was speaking. Below a trim, spade-shaped red beard erupted a veritable fountain of intricate lace. The great silver buckles on his high-topped black shoes glimmered in the light from the row of candles along the front of the stage; his pristine white stockings were perfectly tight and straight, and he was holding forth in a dramatic, stentorian voice.
    “What language is he speaking?” whispered Kit after listening a few moments and failing to make heads or tails of what the energetic fellow was saying. “German?”
    “English,” hissed Cosimo. “Just let it wash over you.” He raised his finger to his lips once more and slipped into an empty chair, pulling Kit down beside him. The room was warm and hazy with the fug of candle smoke and body heat.
    Kit listened to the flow of the speech and, with a considerable amount of concentration, began to pick out, first, individual words, then separate phrases. A little more effort and he was able to piece together whole sentences. The fellow seemed to be banging on about some sort of new theory of energy, or something - but in the most convoluted and stilted manner possible.
    “You will appreciate, my lords and gentlemen all, that there remain many unanswered queries in the diverse, but nevertheless intimately related, fields of natural mechanics and animal magnetism. The subtle energies of our earthly home are even now beginning to surrender secrets long held and jealously guarded. We in our present generation stand on the cusp of a new and glorious dawn when mastery of these energies lies fully within our grasp as secret yields to inquiry, which yields to experimentation, which leads to verification and duplication, which, in the final course, leads to knowledge.”
    He paused to allow a polite smattering of applause to ripple through the auditorium.
    “In conclusion, I beg the indulgence of this body in allowing me to reiterate the central premise of my lecture this evening, to wit: that an expedition shall be made to undertake the experiment outlined in your hearing this evening. The experiment will commence as soon as an expeditionary force numbering not fewer than five, nor more than eight, Royal Members in good standing has been selected and proper arrangements can be made for travel, lodging, and matters attending. Therefore, it is with the greatest anticipation that I look forward to addressing this august assembly once again in the near future to divulge the results of the aforementioned experiment.”
    There were shouts of “Hear! Hear!”
    The lecturer took a few steps toward the other side of the stage and resumed. “My friends, esteemed colleagues, noble patrons, and honored guests, I leave you with this: when next you turn your eyes to the vast reaches of heaven, gentlemen, you would be well advised to remember that not only is it far more magnificent than the human mind can fathom, it is far more subtle. All the universe is permeated, upheld, knit together, conjoined, encompassed, and contained by the Elemental Ether, which we recognise as an all-pervading, responsive intelligent field of energy, eternal and inexhaustible, which is nothing less than the ground of our being, and the wellspring of our existence - that which in ages past and present men have been pleased to call God.” (pp. 53-56)
Is Sir Henry a panentheist? Is he a believer in the Force? Whatever he is, this statement does not place him in the category of a biblical theist. I do not know what Lawhead has in mind here; what kind of God is the One in whom his characters live, and move, and have their being? Is this a tenet that is foundational to all that will take place in the Bright Empires series? If so, though it is entertaining, it is based on a non-biblical theism.

The question then is, can a Christian write this way in good conscience? What are the factors that would make a story ethically wrong to publish and propagate?

I think so long as a story’s purpose is not to promote a non-Christian epistemological and ontological philosophy, though it may be heavily laced with such philosophy, it is not wrong. Though a fiction or fantasy takes place in a world that is non-biblical, that does not mean that it is by definition wrong. So long as it is clear that the intent of the story is not to promote such a world-view, it is not a dishonor to God. Such tales whose sole purpose is to entertain likewise reflect the creativity of man as image-bearer of God, and the entertainment itself may be viewed as a gift from God for his people to enjoy.

That’s how I take The Skin Map, a gift for our enjoyment produced through the exceptional imagination, creativity, and excellent writing of Stephen R. Lawhead.

Stephen R. Lawhead's Web Page
List of CSFF Blog Tour Participants
The Skin Map on Amazon

Sunday, October 31, 2010

November CSFF Blog Tour, Day 1: The Skin Map

The Skin Map, by Stephen R. Lawhead

Day 1 of the November 2010 CSFF Blog Tour
Thanks to Thomas Nelson for kindly providing a copy of The Skin Map for review on the November, 2010 Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog Tour.

On the first read, The Skin Map comes across as a puzzlingly convoluted tale. But further reflection and perusal of the book alleviates such a notion. A better description would be that it is disjointed. I do not mean that in a bad way at all. Given the nature of the underlying premise of the story, the existence of so-called ley lines and their ability to whisk one away to another time and place (always in the past as the future has not occurred yet), the seemingly disconnected parts are natural. Of course, they are not truly disconnected; it is only that their inter-relatedness is developed slowly, which adds to the intrigue.

The story has two key protagonists, Kit (Cosimo) Livingston and his girlfriend, Wilhelmina Klug. Kit’s life is aptly summed in the words of his great-grandfather,

“...my dear boy, you are a lonely twenty-seven-year-old bachelor with a worthless education, a boring no-hope job, a stalled love-life, and very few prospects for the improvement of your sad lot.” p. 11.

The fact that those words were spoken directly to Kit by a relative who should be at least 125 years old alerts one to the extraordinary possibilities in this world of ley lines and time travel.

Wilhelmina, as portrayed by Lawhead, is a drab, monotonous, and colorless character who is a baker (key to her role in the story) at Giovanni’s Rustic Italian Bakery, requiring a 4:00 AM start every weekday leaving her exhausted by six in the evening and sound asleep by eight:

“As Kit watched her slouch back to her big blue sofa, which was her habitual nest, he was once more impressed with the idea that he simply had to get a better girlfriend at first opportunity. Dressed in black slacks and a black turtleneck with the horrible, ratty, hand-knitted purple scarf she wore everywhere, with her feet stuffed into flat-heeled, sheepskin boots, she was a dead ringer for the undertaker’s anemic daughter. Why, he wondered, did she have to look so austere? Whatever happened to sugar and spice? When enumerating the qualities he desired in a mate, vim and vigour, a zest for life, and a keenness of mind and intellect came quite near the top of the list. Wilhelmina’s idea of excitement was an extra scoop of sultanas in the cinnamon buns. Her intellect might have been keen enough- if anyone could ever catch her awake long enough to stimulate her into meaningful conversation.” p. 29

Such are the leading characters, not an unusual scenario for any story, but a particularly familiar situation for speculative fiction. For reasons that involved ley travel and a meeting with his great grandfather in another time and place, Kit is late for a promised day of shopping with Mina (diminutive of Wilhelmina), and in order to appease the unbelieving Wilhelmina’s cynicism, he convinces her to go with him and see what happened for herself. In the doing of that, the two are catapulted into a different time and place, but not together.

Wilhelmina lands in medieval Germanic territories (her German is poor but she manages) and makes her way into Prague accompanied by a likeable character named Englebert. The time period is during the reign of Emperor Rudolf. I’m assuming this is Rudolf II who reigned from 1576-1612. According to Wikipedia, Rudolf II lived in Prague Castle, was eccentric, depressed, and held bizarre courts of astrologers, magicians, and other strange figures. The Rudolf of The Skin Map is much like this, and among those strange figures are alchemists who are pertinent to the story.

Meanwhile, Kit lands somewhere, meets up again with his great grandfather (also named Cosimo); the two are almost overpowered by ‘Burly men’ (henchmen of Lord Burleigh, the arch villain of the story), and finally escape via another ley jump to the London of 1666.

The quest is a search for the ‘skin map’ whose acquisition, both for Lord Burleigh (a particularly distinguished fiend) and Kit (along with Cosimo and another, Lord Henry Fayth), is eminently vital. The skin map is a collection of hieroglyphs that have been tattooed, in piecemeal fashion, onto the chest and abdomen of an important character who uses them as a guide to safe and accurate time travel; their indelibility in his skin ensures the map never departs from him (although at one point it almost does by flaying at the hands of the despicable Lord Burleigh).

The quest for the skin map is certainly a prelude to something big and marvelous, which the story hints of involving a place called the Well of Souls. The accuracy of that assessment will be revealed in subsequent volumes of The Bright Empires Series; the next is due to arrive in September 2011, The Bone House.

I enjoyed the story. Lawhead is a good writer, crafting his sentences and paragraphs well, and masterful in his depiction of the life and times of medieval people. The story is intriguing, albeit not easy to follow (I attribute some of that to the abbreviated time in which the book had to be read). The characters are many, distinctive, and attractive, another indication of Lawhead’s excellent writing prowess.

There is little of the writing, if anything, to be negative; but if something negative were to be said, it might be the dialogue which, for me at times, came across as a bit too artificial. The effort to have those of another era speak in a manner fitting to that time does not always have a genuine mood and sometimes feels overdramatic. But the story is good, the writing great, the characters interesting, and this little issue of dialogue is only a speck of a problem.

Stephen R. Lawhead's Web Page
List of CSFF Blog Tour Participants
The Skin Map on Amazon

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Gospel and "I Will" Messages

The gospel is the good news that Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, died on the cross and made an atonement that completely satisfies the justice of God for sinners who repent and believe in Christ to save them from their sins through that atonement. The ramifications of the gospel are many and whole systematic theologies have been written which explore and expound those ramifications.

The central thought in salvation is that it is salvation from sin. This does not mean merely that we are forgiven of our sins, though that is true. More fundamentally, it means we are saved from our sins and sinfulness. We are sinners at heart, which is to say we are born sinners so that as we grow from infancy to childhood to adulthood we sin continually. Our natural inclination is not to seek God and obey him. It is the opposite - to rebel against him and despise his holy commandments. (Romans 3:10-18; Psalms 14 & 53)

An aspect of our sinful state is that not only do we not do good, but we are utterly unable to do good. Much is said (pro and con) about the total depravity of man, but little about the total inability.
"For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God." Romans 8:7, 8.
It is not a lack of proper motivation, good counsel, intellectual insight, or sheer will that the sinner does not do good. It is because he is incapable of doing good. He has no motivation, insight or will to do good. All such counsel to do what is good is foolishness and looked upon as strange (1 Peter 4:4).

Granted, even the worst of sinners do things that are outwardly commendable (Hitler had a heart for children), and that is because the law of God is written on the heart convicting and excusing men (Romans 2:14, 15). But the unbelieving sinner’s doing the commendable thing does not come out of an attitude like David’s:

“Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You,”
“Against You, You only, have I sinned, And done this evil in Your sight,”
“I said, 'LORD, be merciful to me; Heal my soul, for I have sinned against You.'" (Psalms 119:11; 51:4; 41:4 respectively).
David kept God’s law because he loved God and his commandments (Psalm 119:97; see also I John 5:3), and he grieved when he disobeyed them. The unbelieving sinner does the “right thing” out of an innate (God-given) sense of right and wrong, which he agrees with, but not out of a love for God and his holy will.

The gospel, the good news of salvation from our sins and sinfulness, should be at the core of all preaching, not only to the unbeliever, but also to the believer. The repentant sinner begins in humility by renouncing anything he can do or offer God, and turning to Christ by faith for everything he needs: forgiveness, justification, sanctification. The mature believer must do the same. He has no power in and of himself by which he follows and serves Christ. He had no innate ability to do that when he first came to Christ for salvation, and he has none after. Constantly aware of his tendency toward sin, the believer must always look to the cross and Christ for grace to persevere and overcome his sin.

Recently I listened, with my son, to some messages delivered by a local youth pastor to a group of young people in his congregation. The series of messages were advertised as the “I Will” messages. The overwhelming emphasis was that the hearer must choose to follow and serve Christ. An occasional reference to repentance, the sin nature, and sin itself was made, but it was mentioned in passing, as though it were of secondary importance. Now, I hope that the mention of these in such a peripheral way does not mean that the youth pastor thinks of them as secondary. I doubt very much that he thinks that way. But the point is that regardless of his personal estimation of those things, or even more broadly, the official doctrinal position of the local church he serves in, the 'I Will' messages do not lay a proper emphasis on our sin and sinfulness.

The youth were constantly pressed to make a choice to follow Christ because God gave (offered) them that choice. In fact, they were told that they should be glad that God gave them that choice, the implication being (I suspect) that God does not make us choose one way or the other; he has given us the free will to choose and will not force his will upon us. We are not automatons.

If the messages were based on a free will theology (the choice to believe or serve is completely in the hands of the sinner and saint), I can see why the references to sin, sinfulness, and repentance were on the periphery. If the choice is ultimately contingent on our innate ability to choose, then why not emphasize it? If in spite of our sinful hearts we have the power to choose to follow and serve, then that is what our message must focus on.

But that is not the gospel way. The gospel way is to point sinner and saint alike to Christ in his death and resurrection. Christ suffered the penalty of sin and rose in power over it. The condemned sinner is led to Christ and the cross to be saved and turned from his sins. The believer is led to Christ to acknowledge humbly that without the work of God in his heart (won by the victory of Christ over sin through the cross and resurrection), there is no serving, no choosing.
"We are his workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them," Ephesians 2:10.
By sanctification, purchased for us through the cross, and imparted to us by the risen Saviour through his Spirit, do we humbly obey the Lord Jesus Christ. It is not a mustering of our natural ability to chose to serve. We have no such ability. We are sinners at heart and must always look to the grace of God in Christ and his cross to overcome our rebellious will.

This was the way of Paul who predicated the imperative on the indicative. When he urged, beseeched, or commanded obedience, he did so always looking back to the finished work of the cross and resurrection as our deliverance from our sin.

Paul exhorts the Romans to yield their bodily members as instruments of righteousness [imperative] (Romans 6:12, 13) because they are in union with Christ who was raised in newness of life; as sin no longer had dominion over Christ, neither did it any longer have dominion over them, they are no longer slaves to it, they have been freed from the power of sin through their union with Christ in his death and resurrection [indicative] (Romans 6:2-11, 14):

He urged the Philippians to work out their salvation [imperative] because it was God who was at work in them both to will and do his good pleasure [indicative]. This work of God in them was predicated on God's exaltation of the Saviour by resurrection, ascension, and session at his right hand with the ultimate effect of his universal lordship acknowledged by all (every knee shall bow), (Philippians 2:9-13).

He beseeched the Ephesians to walk worthy of their calling [imperative] (Ephesians 4:1) because God’s Spirit strengthens his people in the inner man, and God is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think because of the power (i.e., the power of his Spirit) that works in us, the same power he worked when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand [indicative] (Ephesians1:19, 20; 3:20).

Left to ourselves, we Christians would go astray and leave our God. Unless he works in us by his Spirit to be strengthened to resist and overcome the sinfulness of our hearts, we would leave him. For that reason, we must always look to Christ and his work (death and resurrection) to defeat our sin - its penalty, power, and someday its presence.

To the degree that a message or sermon ignores our sinfulness (even as Christians) and the need to rely upon the Spirit of God for the power to follow Christ, to that degree the message is based on a false gospel. The false gospel is this, that spiritual blessing and the ability to serve Christ comes through the power of our choice and not the power of the cross of Christ and his Spirit. To press upon one to choose to follow Christ on the basis that he has the innate ability to choose and serve Christ, is pressing that one to perform a self-generated work whose goal is to obtain a sanctification that can only be produced by a God-generated work, through the Spirit, who strengthens us to keep us from going astray.

Our message to our youth and adults should not be to declare brazenly, 'I will chose to serve,' but to humble ourselves like David who sang:

Direct my steps by your word! Do not let any sin dominate me!
(Psalm 119:133)

Create for me a pure heart, O God! Renew a resolute spirit within me!
Do not reject me! Do not take your Holy Spirit away from me!
Let me again experience the joy of your deliverance! Sustain me by giving me the desire to obey!
Then I will teach rebels your merciful ways, and sinners will turn to you.
(Psalm 51:10-13)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Thomas Talbott's Universalist View of the Meaning of Christ Victorious

Thomas Talbott, Professor, Department of Philosophy, Willamette University (Salem, Oregon), is a ‘Christian Universalist’ who writes:

“Universalists believe that the same God who commands us to love our enemies loves his own enemies as well. But God does not love sin or death or anything that separates us from him, and Paul also referred to these enemies [1 Cor 15:25-28]. So here we must distinguish carefully between the sense in which such personified evils as Sin and Death and various cosmic forces are enemies and the sense in which real people under the power of such evils are enemies. Christ destroys enemies of the first kind (non-persons) by obliterating them, that is, by eliminating them from creation entirely. When he does destroy sin and death and various cosmic forces, he likewise destroys enemies of the second kind (sinful persons) in the only way possible short of annihilating them: by redeeming them while they are yet enemies. For only enemies of the second kind (persons) are possible objects of God’s redemptive love.” (page 27, Christ Victorious, an essay in Universal Salvation? The Current Debate, edited by Robin A. Parry and Christian H. Partridge, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company).
A ‘Christian Universalist’ believes that salvation is through faith in Christ as does the evangelical; but the universalist contends that all men without exception will believe, either in this life, or postmortem, after a time of suffering in hell where they will eventually come to repentance and faith. In this way, according to Talbott, Christ is truly victorious, for there will no longer be anyone who remains a sinner in hell.

The assumption is that if a sinner remains forever in his sin (in hell), then that sinner, an enemy of God, remains undestroyed. But Talbott insists this cannot be, for Paul declares that Christ will put all enemies under his feet, and that the last enemy to be destroyed is death (1 Cor 15:25, 26). Therefore the sinner, who is an enemy of God, must either be annihilated or redeemed. Either the individual is destroyed (annihilation) or the dispostion of the individual is destroyed (transformtion from sinner to saint – redemption).

This position is untenable for the following reasons:

(1) God’s final victory over all his enemies does not require or even imply that all sinners will repent.

1 Cor 15:24, 25 defines the victory of God as the putting to an end of all authority and power by placing it under Christ’s feet. What is the nature of the authority and power that is conquered by Christ? The references to enemies and enemy (‘For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet’ and ‘the last enemy that will be destroyed is death’) in the immediate context can leave no question that the authority and power in mind is characterized by rebellious opposition. Christ will reign until all such rebellion is subjugated. A change of heart on the part of the enemy is not requisite for final and absolute victory (authority) over that enemy. Victory is the confinement of the enemy and the dismantling of his sphere of operation so that he no longer is free or able to rebel. Indeed, the punishment of the enemy for his rebellion during his confinement is not out of order.

A universalist might object that the rebellion continues in the heart, even during the confinement and punishment. Unless the rebellion is eradicated from the heart, namely, unless the sinner in hell repents and believes and thereby transforms, the rebellion continues. Christ is not victorious, there is still an enemy to be defeated.

But this notion is not supported by the scriptures. 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10, when speaking of the Second Advent, assures us that Christ will take vengeance upon his and our enemies, punishing them and banishing them from his presence, an extreme form of confinement:

...since it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe...
The word ‘everlasting’ (aionion) may be literally translated age-like, and there is much ado over this word among universalists. No wonder. If it is translated eternal, everlasting, unending, their doctrine of universalism is doomed forever.

Some universalists would translate the word age-long as

"Any space of time whether longer or shorter, past, present or future, to be determined by the persons or things spoken of, and the scope of the subjects; the life or age of man. Aiónios, a definite and long period of time, that is, a long enduring, but still definite period of time," cited by Rev. John Wesley Hanson in his study of the words aion and aionios in 1875.

But let us assume that aionion has retained a fundamental meaning of age-like or age-long in the New Testament and the inherent meaning is of a duration whose extent is determined by the person or things spoken of. This does not at all favor the universalist. The Second Advent is the pivotal event that separates this age and the age to come. From the perspective of Christ’s second coming everything that precedes is the present evil age, and everything that follows is the age to come. From the vantage point of the Second Advent and its teleological significance, when one looks forward into the age to come, he sees only an age that is endless. Indeed, the experiences of that age will be manifold, but one thing is certain - those experiences will coincide with the endlessness of the age itself. Unless the universalist is willing to place a limit on the duration of that post-Advent age to come, how can he deny that age-like life and age-like destruction, whose nature is contoured by the never-ending duration of that Age par excellence, can be anything less than everlasting.

Granted, there are places in the New Testament where the future is referred to in terms of ages (plural), and one might be tempted to construe that, even in the age to come, there is a division of ages.

For example:

But God who is rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places, that in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his kindness toward us who believe, Eph 2:4-7 (but Paul, in the same letter, refers to the exaltation of Christ and his authority over all as not only taking place in this age, but also, in the age to come (singular), Eph 1:20, 21)

Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today, and forever (lit. unto the ages), Heb 13:8.
For me, it is appropriate to think that the intended use of the plural in such texts is for emphasis or intensity. Regardless, from the perspective of the central event of Christ’s Second Coming, there is the making of two ages, and only two, by the consumation of the present evil age (which is how we may understand our text with regard to the words, ‘then the end’), and the commencement of the age to come. Again, the attributes of age-like life and age-like destruction must be defined in terms of the everlasting, endless character of that coming age (thus, Matt 25:41, 46).

(2) Talbott's interpretation of three stages in the resurrection is eisegesis rather than exegesis (i.e, reading into rather than taking out the meaning).

Talbott assumes that the destruction of the last enemy, death, necessarily requires that the death of the sinner in hell must be brought to an end by one of two ways, annihilation or resurrection. In support of this, Talbott contends that resurrection comes in three stages: Christ the firstfruits, those who are Christ’s at his coming, those who repent and believe afterward (in hell). In terms of our 1 Cor 15 text, this third stage is elicited from the words ‘then (comes) the end...’

15:22-24 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ's at His coming. Then comes the end...
Talbott prefers to translate the words ‘then the end’ as ‘then the remainder’ (ibid., page 26), which, if that were a viable interpretation, would seemingly refer to those who are not resurrected at the time of Christ’s second coming, but later, after a long time in hell. However, Talbott is willing not to press that point seeing that few commentators would agree with the translation.

Whether he presses such a translation or not, Talbott insists that in 1 Cor 15:22-24, there is the image of a procession taking place in three stages.

For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits [stage 1], afterward those who are Christ's at His coming [stage 2]. Then comes the end [stage 3], when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power.
But we object, for the imagery does not bear that out at all. The imagery is Old Testament wherein there are two stages– the early harvesting of the firstfruits (Feast of Harvest), then the later ingathering at the end of the year (Feast of Ingathering):

Exodus 23:14-16 Three times you shall keep a feast to Me in the year: You shall keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread...and the Feast of Harvest, the firstfruits of your labors which you have sown in the field; and the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you have gathered in the fruit of your labors from the field.
Interestingly, in 2 Thess 2:1, coincidental with the Second Advent, Paul writes of our gathering together to him (hemon episunagoges ep auton). The picture is of gathering in such a way as to bring the objects so close they may be thought of as 'upon' or 'crowding' the one who gathers.

The Greek in 1 Cor 15:23, 24 does indeed, specify a three part order using the words epeita...eita (translated afterward...then, as in Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ's at His coming. Then comes the end...) The epeita...eita construction is used for enumeration and loosely means first this; after that, this; then this. So Paul does have in mind three events that follow in a certain order: Christ’s resurrection; after that, the resurrection of those at his coming; then the end.

The question is, are all three events referring to the same theme – resurrection. The first two clearly do. Resurrection is the making alive of men, and the subjects involved in the first two events are identifiable human beings, Christ on the one hand, and those at his coming on the other. But the third event, the End, does not contain the notion of making alive. Rather, the event of the End is the point in time when Christ delivers the kingdom to the Father, when he puts an end to (rebellious) rule, authority, and power. It is an event of deliverance on the one hand, and of destroying and subjugating on the other. The resurrection of persons, so cleary delineated in the first two events, is missing in the third event, for the resurrection harvest is over. With the final ingathering at the Second Advent, the End has come. It is the closing of the present evil age when those resurrected in glory (see 15:43) are delivered to the Father, and those who are not Christ’s (and therefore not raised in glory) are destroyed, bringing their rebellious rule to an end. The timing of that third event is confirmed by other texts (such as the 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10 passage cited above) to be coterminous with the Second Advent.

In this 1 Cor 15 text, there is no tension in Paul’s thought of a truly total victory by Christ over all his enemies which does not at the same time require their ultimate salvation. It is the victory of the conquering King who rescues his people from his and their enemies whom he destroys by banishing them from his presence and glory (2 Thess 1:9).

Talbott cannot even raise the objection: If the last enemy to be destroyed is death, how can there be an eternal banishment from God, the essence of death itself? If hell were to continue forever, has not God failed to destroy death? But that is not what the apostle has in mind when he speaks of death as the last enemy to be destroyed. When Paul elucidates in the latter verses of 1 Cor 15 the nature of the resurrection (wherein he answers the question What kind of body is a resurrected body? 15:35), he is thinking of the resurrection referred to in the second event (‘afterward those who are Christ's at His coming’). There is nothing in the passage that would indicate that Paul has any other resurrection in mind. And as such, the destruction of the final enemy of death is precisely the resurrection of the saints at the Second Advent, for Paul writes (15:54, 55),

So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written:
"Death is swallowed up in victory. O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?"
One final note. Talbott and universalists like him rely heavily on the translation of ‘all’ in 1 Cor 15:22 and Rom 5:18 (these texts appear to be the loci classici of their position) to mean ‘all without exception,’ such that as on the one hand all without exception have died in Adam, so on the other, all without exception will be made alive in Christ. They insist that the grammatical parallelism leads to no other conclusion. But if our understanding of the 1 Cor 15 text is correct, that those who participate in the resurrection harvest are only those at Christ’s coming, then Paul, without explanation or apology has used the word ‘all’ differently in a parallel grammatical construction. The point is that such parallelism does not always demand an identity of scope on both sides. Context determines the scope. In some cases the context may extend beyond the immediate text and into the theology of the writer as propounded elsewhere in the New Testament.