Friday, December 19, 2014

The rapture, unmanned cars, and absurd scenarios

I am reading through Craig Blomberg's commentary on Matthew, with varying degrees of enjoyment and profit.

Commenting on Matthew 24:40-41, he said this:
Some have seen a “secret rapture” in view here (in which believers mysteriously disappear from earth, leaving everyone else to wonder what happened), which often leads to absurd scenarios (e.g., the modern-day notion of cars suddenly without drivers). But the only coming of the Son of Man described so far has been the climactic universal return of Christ in v. 27. The imagery of vv. 38–41 does not suggest anything different.
[Craig Blomberg, Matthew, vol. 22, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 366.]
When the scare-quotes are used for "secret rapture," you know you're reading a detractor of the doctrine.

But what really catches my eye is his snorting at "absurd scenarios," like "cars suddenly without drivers." I pair that with brothers I hear sneering that they "don't believe in the rapture."

You don't? Then you're almost assuredly not a Christian.

Note: I did not say pre-tribulation rapture, or mid-tribulation rapture, or any other particular position on the timing of the rapture. Yet that's what I hear, again and again: "I don't believe in the rapture."

But if you're a Christian, you do believe in the rapture.

What is "the rapture"? It's the resurrection of believers, which involves raising the dead and glorifying those who are alive at that time (see 1 Cor 15:51-57; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). Non-pretrib theologian Wayne Grudem defines it thus:
rapture: The “taking up” or snatching up (from Latin rapio, “seize, snatch, carry away”) of believers to be with Christ when he returns to the earth.
[Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House, 2004), 1253.]
All Christians believe in this. This is not a point of division.

When does this happen, in relation to the Tribulation? Ah, that is where we part company.

But back to sneering Dr. Blomberg. If in conversation, I'd ask him: when Jesus comes and living believers are caught up to meet Him in the air... do cars exist? And, if they do, is it possible that some Christians will be driving cars? And if they are, and the Lord catches them away to meet him in the air...?

Well, if Dr. Blomberg thinks that an unmanned car is an "absurd scenario," then one can only assume that he thinks some sort of notice will be given in advance. Perhaps something like, "The rapture will occur in five minutes. Will genuine regenerate Christians please pull over to the side, park, and get out of their cars?"

Tell me: which one is the absurd scenario, again?

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Gurnall on how Satan induces paralyzing guilt

In a wonderful section which I'll only partly reproduce, Gurnall talks about how Satan troubles the Christian by trying to sound like the Holy Spirit, and pointing the Christian to the greatness of his sin. "He vexeth the Christian by laying his brats at the saint’s door, and charging him with that which is his own creature," Gurnall says — in other words, Satan both fathers, and accuses the believer for, these sins (William Gurnall and John Campbell, The Christian in Complete Armour (London: Thomas Tegg: 1845, 57). He also makes a great big fuss about the terrible nature of the saint's sins, though "not," Gurnall notes, "that he hates the sin, but the saint."

So he will focus us on what a wretched job we do of walking with God, how half-hearted we are, how poor our obedience, how half-baked our works. I'll quote at length two of Gurnall's proposed remedies in pointing to the fallacies of Satan's arguments, because they're pretty wonderful:
First, He will persuade thee that thy duty and thyself are hypocritical, proud, formal, &c., because something of these sins are to be found in thy duty. Now, Christian, learn to distinguish between pride in a duty, and a proud duty; hypocrisy in a person, and a hypocrite; wine in a man, and a man in wine. The best of saints have the stirrings of such corruptions in them, and in their services; these birds will light on an Abraham’s sacrifice; but comfort thyself with this, that if thou findest a party within thy bosom pleading for God, and entering its protest against these, thou and thy services are evangelically perfect. God beholds these as the weaknesses of thy sickly state here below, and pities thee, as thou wouldest do thy lame child. How odious is he to us that mocks one for natural defects, a blear eye or a stammering tongue? Such are these in thy new nature. Observable is that in Christ’s prayer against Satan, Zech. 3:3, ‘The Lord said unto Satan, The Lord rebuke thee; is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?’ As if Christ had said, Lord, wilt thou suffer this envious spirit to twit thy poor child with, and charge him for, those infirmities that cleave to his imperfect state? he is but new plucked out of the fire, no wonder there are some sparks unquenched, some corruptions unmortified, some disorders unreformed in his place and calling. And what Christ did for Joshua, he doth incessantly for all his saints, apologising for their infirmities with his Father.
Secondly, His other fallacy is in arguing from the sin that is in our duties to the non-acceptance of them. Will God, saith he, thinkest thou, take such broken groats at thy hand? Is he not a holy God? Now here, Christian, learn to distinguish and answer Satan. There is a double acceptance. There is an acceptance of a thing by way of payment of debt, and there is an acceptance of a thing offered as a token of love and a testimony of gratitude. He that will not accept of broken money, or half the sum for payment of a debt; the same man, if his friend sends him, though but a bent sixpence, in token of his love, will take it kindly. It is true, Christian, the debt thou owest to God must be paid in good and lawful money; but, for thy comfort, here Christ is thy paymaster; send Satan to him, bid him bring his charge against Christ, who is ready at God’s right hand to clear his accounts, and shew his discharge for the whole debt. But now thy performances and obedience come under another notion, as tokens of thy love and thankfulness to God; and such is the gracious disposition of thy heavenly Father, that he accepts thy mite: love refuseth nothing that love sends. It is not the weight or worth of the gift, but ‘the desire of a man is his kindness,’ Prov. 19:22.
[William Gurnall and John Campbell, The Christian in Complete Armour (London: Thomas Tegg, 1845), 59–60. Bolding added]
Love this book. Also available in a paperback set.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Monday Music - Victor Wooten's Christmas jam from 2009

As with classic Chicago, each musician in Bela Fleck and the Flecktones is amazingly talented. Not one whit less than Bela himself, Victor Wooten is an absolutely amazing bass player.

Sorry this is an audience recording, with all the rude and inconsiderate chatter, but hear Wooten's Christmas jam from 2009:

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Briefly? We're never safe

Gurnall expounds another time — or a pair of times — which Satan finds advantageous for the attack:
Fifthly, After great manifestations of God’s love, then the tempter comes. Such is the weak constitution of grace, that it can neither well bear smiles nor frowns from God without a snare; as one said of our English nation, Totam nec pati potest libertatem nec servitutem; it cannot well bear liberty nor bondage in the height: so neither can the soul; if God smile and open himself a little familiarly to us, then we are prone to grow high and wanton; if he frown, then we sink as much in our faith; thus the one, like fair weather and warm gleams, brings up the weeds of corruption; and the other, like sharp frosts, nips and even kills the flowers of grace. The Christian is in danger on both hands, therefore Satan takes this advantage, when the Christian is flush of comfort, even as a cheater, who strikes in with some young heir, when he hath newly received his rents, and never leaves till he hath eased him of his money; thus Satan lies upon the catch, then to inveigle a saint into one sin or other, which he knows will soon leak out his joy. Had ever any a larger testimony from heaven than Peter, Matt. 16:17; where Christ pronounceth him blessed, and puts a singular honour upon him, making him the representative for all his saints? No doubt this favour to Peter stirred up the envious spirit sooner to fall upon him. If Joseph’s party-coloured coat made the patriarchs to plot against him, their brother, no wonder malice should prompt Satan to show his spite, where Christ had set such a mark of love and honour; and therefore we find him soon at Peter’s elbow, making him his instrument to tempt his Master, who soon espied his cloven foot, and rebukes Peter with a ‘Get thee behind me, Satan.’ He that seemed a rock even now, through Satan’s policy, is laid a stone of offence for Christ to stumble at. So David, when he had received such wonderful mercies, settled in his throne with the ruin of his enemies, yea, pardoned for his bloody sin, now ready to lay down his head with peace in the dust; Satan steps in to cloud his clear evening, and tempts him to number the people; so ambitious is Satan, then chiefly, to throw the saint into the mire of sin, when his coat is cleanest.
[William Gurnall and John Campbell, The Christian in Complete Armour (London: Thomas Tegg, 1845), 48.]
So to the question "When may I safely lay down my guard and take off my armor?", the answer would be, "Never in this life."

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Christmas tracts

In short: does anyone know any really good ones — readable, pointed, Christ-centered, from the perspective of the doctrines of grace, affirming God's sovereignty in salvation?

Share, and (this is the part people forget) explain why you like the tract. Anecdotes are especially welcome.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Love, the master-affection in God and man

I am reading through Gurnall, and was struck by this passage:
The dear love he beareth to his saints engageth his power. He that hath God’s heart cannot want his arm. Love in the creature commands all the other affections, sets all the powers of the whole man on work; thus in God, love sets all his other attributes on work; when God once pitched his thoughts on doing good to lost man, then wisdom fell on projecting the way; almighty power, that undertook to raise the fabric according to wisdom’s model. All are ready to effect what God saith he likes. Now the believing soul is an object of God’s choicest love, even the same with which he loves his Son, John 17:26.
[William Gurnall and John Campbell, The Christian in Complete Armour (London: Thomas Tegg, 1845), 15.]
Then, being Gurnall, he goes on to develop this in three sub-points:
  1. God loves the believer as the birth of his everlasting counsel
  2. God loves his saints as the purchase of his Son’s blood
  3. God loves the saints for their likeness to himself
It's all worth reading, as is the book (also available in a paperback set).

Thursday, September 04, 2014

"The Identical" — movie review

Movie: The Identical
Length: 107 min
Rated: PG
Starring: Amanda Crew, Ashley Judd, Seth Green, Ray Liotta, Joe Pantoliano, Blake Rayne
Director: Dustin Marcellino

I was offered screening tickets on this movie, which will be released tomorrow, September 5, 2014. The trailer looked iffy, to a jaded and oft-blackened eye. Was this going to be yet another by-the-numbers parody of fundamentalist Christians, written by people who neither personally know nor like any actual Christians? Would the son be all deep and conflicted and "I just gotta follow my dream, Daddy!", and would the father be all "Then roast in Hell, demon-child, with that Hellish rock and roll of yours!"? The trailer sure looked like it could be.

Boy, I'm glad we didn't see that movie.  Oh, sorry — should have said "spoiler alert."

At any rate, despite the trailer, "The Identical" had possibilities, and it had "Date Night" written all over it, so the missus and I escaped to the showing. We were both braced but, as usual, set ourselves to maintain open minds.

The opening scenes were a very strong frame-setter, taking us back to the Great Depression in black and white footage. We are introduced to a couple (the Hemsleys) trying to make a living in a jobless economy, and eventually dealing with the birth of twin boys. Enter pastor Reece Wade (Ray Liotta) and his wife Louise (Ashey Judd), conducting a "revival" in the area. Father attends, and is struck by an idea by inspiration.

Now, here is a typical juncture that touches on my slightly conflicted feelings about the movie. The first words from this southern preacher are very clearly about God's love for people of all races. Whew, one obvious and well-traveled stereotype dodged. Then the preacher slides aside to share personally about his and his wife's disappointment in a recent miscarriage, frustrating their desire to have a child. They're both in tears, and he asks all there to pray for them.

You see? It's a sweet moment, in itself: human, personal. Pastor and wife are treated like multi-dimensional human beings, and likable ones at that. That's very much in the "plus"-column, and at variance from the usual "all-Fundamentalists-are-shallow-hypocritical-hateful-cartoonish-racists" script.

And yet, there's not the least preaching of the Gospel per se, despite the "revival" setting. Not a whiff.

More on that later.

Regardless, this plants an idea with the twins' dad, which eventually is accepted by their mom: give one of the twins to pastor and wife to raise. The Wades are reluctant at first, and they actually try to give money to the destitute Hemsleys to help them (— another welcome step aside from the stereotypical portrayal of all pastors as greedy takers). In the end, the Wades accept the boy, and the Hemsleys conduct a fake funeral to explain the twin's absence.

This becomes the frame for a sort of "What if Elvis Presley's stillborn identical twin had lived, and had been raised by different parents?" story. Drexel, the boy raised by his birth parents, becomes a famously successful rock singer, whose style and look and trajectory is very like Presley — down to concerts, TV spots and corny movies.

And what of the other twin, Ryan? There are pleasantly authentic scenes of Pastor Wade trying to get little Ryan to memorize his Bible (only singing the verses works for him), and attend church. Again, the parents are sympathetic and likable, but no specific Gospel is preached. One never really finds out what Ryan believes. (In fact, one never finds out a great deal of what the preacher-father believes.) Ryan tries Bible school, but he doesn't feel "the call." What Ryan does feel is love for rock and roll. He goes to a "speakeasy," sings, and eventually (post-military-stint) finds a career doing concerts, playing unknown twin brother Drexel's music. Ryan looks and sounds so much like Drexel that, in fact, that he is billed as... wait for it... "The Identical."

Both twins are played by newcomer Blake Rayne. He's adequate and plenty likable, and one isn't surprised to learn that he won an Elvis impersonator competition.

So, what'd we think of the movie?

We liked it, basically. And we recommend it. It really is a "family-friendly" movie. There isn't a bad word or salacious syllable or image in it. We chuckled a number of times.

While we never really learn what Ryan thinks about Jesus or the Gospel, he does love and appreciate his parents who raised him, and they love him. To the end, Liotta and wife are sympathetic characters, and virtually every stereotype is dodged. The only truly odd thing about them is that Liotta's character ages dramatically — but his wife stays pretty much the same.

Yet, as characters, they are easy to sympathize with. Usually it is obvious that the screenwriters viscerally hate what they think Christians are in general, and what they think clergy are in particular. In this case, none of that could be found here.

The Identical won't make the starry annals of all-time great moviemaking, but it is fun and pleasant. There are a number of genuine laughs. Loved the presence of Seth Green and Joe Pantoliano, both of whom are a lot of fun and clearly had a good time with their roles.

The survey I was given after the screening asked questions along the lines of whether I'd recommend taking church groups or in other ways making the movie a church activity. My answer was no. I was astonished to learn that pastors have developed some sort of teaching to parallel the movie. I don't see it as having any very particular Gospel or Biblical tie-in whatever.

That said, it would make for a pleasant family watch, with a very 50s feel. After that, you could discuss what was missing (HEL-LO! THE GOSPEL), and the fact that for all his obvious love for his son, Dad seemed a lot more concerned that Ryan feel "the call," and a lot less concerned that he have saving faith in Christ.

Final word: worst possible reading. This has been a charitable review. However, the advertising really stresses the follow your dreams theme, and injects the notion that if God is in your dreams, nothing can stand against them. This, thankfully, is not as heavy-handedly preached in the movie. I don't even recall Ryan making that connection once... and that's a good thing.

While non-Christians apparently love that message, I think the promoters are unwise to stress it insofar as they want to reach out to Christians. Because that idea is in fact peddled today as a substitute for the Gospel, and it bears no resemblance. The Gospel is about my ruin in sin, my alienation from God, and the truly amazing work of God in Jesus Christ to reconcile sinners to Himself. None of that is in the movie. That the Christians are likable, real people is a refreshing change in a movie, and that's worth something.

But it isn't the Gospel.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Here's how it works in the aftermath of a sad but not-entirely-surprising fall

I'm here to help you.
  1. If a man becomes a celebrity-pastor too hastily; and if he publicly and doggedly displays and defends traits that, if unaddressed, will (A) ruin him and (B) harm those he should be serving and (C) set a horrible example for those emulating him, it's wrong to say anything about any of that equally publicly.
  2. If men who should know better promote this celebrity pastor and his ministry, thus effectively giving cover to his besetting sins, it's wrong to warn of possible dire consequences, let alone express concern for the ministries of the worthy men who enable him.
  3. If the man does indeed crash and burn, it is wrong to say anything about it other than what a tragedy it is and how you hope he feels better soon. Specifically, it is wrong to mention that it was completely predictable, wrong to note that it could have been prevented, wrong to lament that those who had the man's ear evidently did not effectively issue corrective warnings — and really, really wrong even to hint that you yourself had tried to say something in a timely manner, and that it might have helped if those now dabbing their eyes with tissues had joined in when it might have counted for something, and express the hope that they might reassess how they approach such things.
Because if those people admitted their error and really did reform, things like this might not happen so often, ministries might be saved and saints protected, and fundamental needed systemic change might occur... which, come to think of it, would be a really great thing...

But anyway:

You're welcome.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Why didn't the amillennialist cross the road?

I recently had the pleasure of a chat with good brothers Carl Trueman and Todd Pruitt, and esteemed sister Aimee Byrd.

The latter favored me with a list of reasons why the dispensationalist would not cross the road. I thought it would be unkind not to offer her the same filial gesture, and so... ten reasons why the amillennialist would not cross the road:
  1. The road is Jesus. Why would I want to cross Jesus?
  2. This road is not mentioned in the Three Forms of Unity.
  3. So many have already crossed it before me. Who am I to cross it for myself?
  4. "Road" sounds so literal...which means it's carnal, which means no.
  5. 2000 years ago roadcrossing was inaugurated, so I'm already living in the Age of The Other Side of the Road.
  6. Nobody said anything about this road before 1800.
  7. Hal Lindsey crossed a road once. You'll never catch me doing it.
  8. Crossing the road might be taken to mean two ways of salvation.
  9. Pretty sure Calvin, Knox, Owen, Berkhof and Van Til never crossed this road, and they're my heroes.
  10. Most people who cross roads are not Calvinists.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Monday Music - Eric Clapton, Johnny Cash, and Carl Perkins

Nothing about this isn't fun — particularly how clearly tickled a guitarist as great as Clapton is to be playing with his elder counterparts.

(Thanks to Jeremiah Halstead for the recommendation)

Friday, June 20, 2014

On the other hand: when literal is misleading

In today's post at Pyro I make the point that sometimes less-literal translations can mislead and/or obscure the original author's point. Here I observe that the reverse can also be true.

In Tremper Longman's commentary on Proverbs, he translates Prov. 9:4b this way: "she says to those who lack heart." The bolded phrase is a rendering of  חֲסַר־לֵב (chasar-lēb). It is very literal, and literally accurate — could be "lacking heart" or "short on heart."

You'll see that all versions get a little dynamic here, ranging from "him who lacks sense" (so essentially ESV, CSB, NIV, RSV, NRSV, etc.), to "him who lacks understanding" (so essentially NAS, NET, ASV, KJV, NKJV), to "those who lack good judgment" (NLT).

So what does "heart" mean? Here's what I said in God's Wisdom in Proverbs:
Contrary to years of Christian traditional definition, the heart is not primarily the seat of the emotions, but rather of intellect, volition, and evaluation. It is used specifically of memory in various places, including Deuteronomy 4:39 and Proverbs 4:21.
Wouldn’t “brain” be the better modern term for this idea? Why is the heart used for the mind, rather than “brain”? As a matter of fact, the word “brain,” as a part of the body, is never mentioned in the OT. The word simply was not in use in the Hebrew working vocabulary as it is in modern English. The question is not, “Why didn’t the Hebrews use our word,” but rather, “What Hebrew word (if any) has a meaning equivalent to ‘brain’?”—and usage shows that the answer is, “Heart.”

[Phillips, D. (2011). God’s Wisdom in Proverbs: Hearing God’s Voice in Scripture (p. 115). Woodlands, TX: Kress Biblical Resources.]
So why not translate it literally, as Longman does? Because "lacking heart" is a familiar English expression with an established meaning. When we say someone "lacks heart," we aren't saying that he is deficient when it comes to God-fearing wisdom, as Solomon means. We mean that he lacks courage, he lacks fortitude, he lacks spirit — none of which is Solomon's sense.

So there we have to opt either for something a bit dynamic, as above, or do what I do: "short on brains," with a footnote like "Literally 'lacking of heart.'"

Because in this case, the literally literal is literally misleading.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

"The glory of Yahweh"

In my reading today I came across a particularly great statement from Gerhard von Rad on the glory of man and of Yahweh. I salted it through a dozen or so verse-notes in my BibleWorks, and share it with you:
If in relation to man כָּבוֹד [glory] denotes that which makes him impressive and demands recognition, whether in terms of material possessions or striking gravitas, in relation to God it implies that which makes God impressive to man, the force of His self-manifestation. As everywhere attested in the OT, God is intrinsically invisible. Nevertheless, when He reveals Himself, or declares Himself, e.g., in meteorological phenomena, one may rightly speak of the כְּבוֹד יְהוָֹה [glory of Yahweh], of a manifestation which makes on man a highly significant impression. The more seriously religious reflexion took the idea of Yahweh’s invisibility and transcendence, the more this expression for the impressive element in God became an important technical term in OT theology. [Gerhard von Rad, art. δόξα (glory), in Kittel, G., Bromiley, G. W., & Friedrich, G. (Eds.). (1964–). Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.]