Journal for Biblical Ministry, Spring 2012

Page 1

Journal for Biblical Ministry Volume 4, no. 1 Spring, 2012

A journal to support and encourage those in ministry by providing studies in biblical texts with application for practical ministry Contents What Christians Need to Know about the Importance of Bible Doctrine (But May Not Be Inclined to Investigate), Hal M. Haller……………3 The Theological System of Preterism, Ron J. Bigalke……………………….40 The

Apologetic Value of Near-Death Experiences, D. Scott Henderson…………………………………………………………………………………..53

A Diminutive Deity: The Inglorious God of the Word-Faith Movement, James M. Kinnebrew…………………………………………………………………..64 Beyond the Human: Posthumanism, Transhumanism, and Christianity, Marcia Bost………………………………………………………………………………….73 It’s Still the New (Old) Age Lie, Timothy M. Skinner………………………….87 Did the Waterlander Mennonites Reject Menno Simons’ Doctrine Of the Incarnation? Marvin Jones……………………………………………………..101

Dr. James Kinnebrew, General Editor Marcia Bost, Associate Editor

Introduction from the President Greetings from Luther Rice and welcome to our Spring edition of The Journal for Biblical Ministry! In this edition, our writers focus on doctrinal issues within the church and worldview issues within the larger society. Prof. Hal Haller has a great introductory article on why these issues are important. In a day of apathy and even disdain toward doctrinal purity, Mr. Haller's sentiments surely need to be heard. One of the fastest growing and most distressing examples of doctrinal error in the present-day church is that of the eschatological view called preterism. LRSU alumnus Dr. Ron Bigalke (M.Div., 2007) of Capitol Commission introduces and critiques this unusual interpretation of prophecy from a biblical perspective in the journal's second article. You may know that some of evangelicalism's premier Christian apologists have begun to use "Near-Death Experiences" (NDE) as evidence for a theistic worldview. LRS' resident philosopher and bioethicist Dr. Scott Henderson looks at the evidential value of NDEs and discusses the validity of such an apologetic. Very interesting. You will also appreciate Dr. James Kinnebrew's article on the theological implications of the Word of Faith movement's doctrine of positive confession, and Prof. Marcia Bost's article on the current discussion taking place in regard to the future of humanity in light of our connection with technology will astound you. Is the world really heading toward a "posthuman" age? If you think the "New Age Movement" ended near the end of the last century, you will want to check Professor Timothy Skinner's article on that movement in the 21st century. Finally, for the historians among us, Dr. Marvin Jones has an interesting article about the Christological beliefs of the early Mennonites to get us thinking about what really happened when "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us." Certainly, the most important question of all time remains, "Who do you say that I am?" This historical perspective sheds light on the answer. So, open up the article that appeals to you the most--and then read them all! Luther Rice Seminary and University stands committed to you and to your biblical ministry. We hope this journal will somehow help. His Richest Blessings,

James L. Flanagan, Ph.D. President


Journal of Biblical Ministry


THE IMPORTANCE OF BIBLE DOCTRINE (But May Not Be Inclined to Investigate) Hal M. Haller Assistant Professor of Bible and Theology Introduction A decade ago the authors of Shopping for Faith: American Religion in the New Millennium (2002) had predicted that most Americans at the beginning of the 21st century would be very eclectic. They would select from a smorgasbord of religious ideas and mix them all together. God would look less and less like the one true God. More and more He would resemble the star of a do-it-yourself belief system made up of a hodgepodge of ideas, many of which would contradict themselves. People would not want to be served up anymore of that complicated doctrine stuff. They would accept the fragments of Christian teaching that scratched where they itched, but would follow the spirit of the age in everything else. Experimentation would be important so as to produce a spiritual experience that would not be restricted by denominational expectations. Critical thinking would be out; feeling good would be in. Feeling rather than reason or unwavering faith in God‘s written revelation, the Bible, would be the way personal ―truth‖ would be experienced.1 With authoritative propositional revelation in the Bible increasingly doubted or rejected, much has changed. An increasing erosion in belief in the Bible has occurred.2 Among Christians bits and pieces of Scripture may be embraced as 1

Richard Cimino and Don Lattin. Shopping for Faith: American Religion in the New Millennium. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2002. As early as 1994 David Wells observed an aversion to doctrine, ―There is in present day evangelicalism a hunger for God, but an aversion to theological definition of that experience. There is a hunger for God but a disenchantment with doctrine.‖ God in the Wasteland. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1994), 99. Around the same time Christianity Today’s cover story, ―Reaching the First Post-Christian Generation‖ described this generation as one who believed ―an emotional experience of God is more important than its theological content.‖ 2

―The last two centuries of Christian theology are the record of an attack on the role of knowledge in the Christian faith.‖ Ronald H. Nash. The Word of God and the Mind of Man: the Crisis of Revealed Truth in Contemporary Theology. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Pub. House, 1982), 11. See also David Mappes, ―The Nobility and Knowability of Truth.‖ The Journal of Ministry and Theology, 13 no. 1 & 2 (Spring 2009 and Fall 2009): 64-105, 96-117.

Spring, 2012

absolute truth, but relativism has made its mark. With the absolute authority and sufficiency of Scripture not taken seriously, new doctrines and new moralities have arisen to supplant the old. Doctrinal beliefs often resemble what is popular in accordance with the spirit of the age. They tend to mirror the latest theological fad or the latest speaker who was heard. Many, both inside and outside the Church, do not know what they believe or why they believe it. Many pastors are even opting for a ―doctrineless Christianity.‖3 The inability to understand, defend and propagate what the Bible teaches is significantly weakening the Christian Church to compete with the many secular and religious alternatives available today. The question of why anyone should study theology remains unanswered today for these people. Yet, they are, in a sense, theologians whether they know it or not.4 The real question is, ―Are they good theologians?‖ Are they correct and knowledgeable or are they capitulating to whatever theological views happen to come their way? 5 Current Indifference and Hostility to Doctrine: What is the current attitude towards doctrine in our time both outside and inside the Christian Church? Outside the Christian Community Powerful and influential cultural icons outside the Christian Church have little use for or understanding of correct biblical doctrine. Therefore, they have attacked it across the theological spectrum, particularly in the areas of the 3

R. Albert Mohler. ―Preachers Who Don‘t Believe: the Scandal of Apostate Pastors.‖ March 18, 2010. (accessed 11/16/2011) 4

R. C. Sproul. Essential Truths of the Christian Faith. (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1992), vii; Charles C. Ryrie. Basic Theology. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 9. 5

This tendency to set forth a theological agenda is exemplified in the film, What Dreams May Come. The film expresses a belief that heaven and hell are nothing more than extensions of our mortal dreams and nightmares. Individuals decide where they will spend eternity and what they‘ll find there…Consider these theological nuggets of fool‘s gold straight from the mouths of the characters in the film: ‗Good people end up in hell because they can‘t forgive themselves;‖ ―We can go back and be reborn, but only if we choose to;‖ and ―Thought is real; physical is the illusion.‖ – Plugged In. Colorado Springs, CO: Focus on the Family, Nov. 15, 1998, p. 7. Hollywood films and TV productions are full of theological and ethical teachings that entice the unwary. See Primetime Propaganda: the True Hollywood Story of How the Left Took Over Your TV by Ben Shapiro. NY: Broadside Books, 2011 and Michael Medved‘s Hollywood vs. Religion [videorecording]. Dallas, TX: Chatham Hill Foundation, 1994.


Journal of Biblical Ministry doctrine of God, the doctrine of Christ, the doctrine of the Bible, and the doctrine of salvation. A distaste for Christian truth has been manifested by both those who claim to be spiritual and those who are very secular. From a prominent New Age writer: Neal Donald Walsch, author of the series, Conversations With God, which reflects his pantheistic New Spirituality, captures what many today believe: ―The new spirituality will step away from dogma, will step away from 'We're right and you're wrong.‖6 From a prominent atheistic writer: On the secular side there are the new atheists who ridicule Christian doctrine. Atheist and popular writer, Richard Dawkins, is an example of one who cannot hide his distain for Christian doctrine: If you live in America, the chances are good that your next door neighbors believe the following: the Inventor of the laws of physics and Programmer of the DNA code decided to enter the uterus of a Jewish virgin, got himself born, then deliberately had himself tortured and executed because he couldn‘t think of a better way to forgive the theft of an apple, committed at the instigation of a talking snake.7 The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all of fiction. Jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust unforgiving controlfreak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic-cleanser; a misogynistic homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capricious, malevolent bully8 6

Neale Donald Walsch. ―Dogma‖ (accessed 11/16/2011). A brief analysis of Walsch‘s views can be found in ―Conversations with the Counterfeit‖ by Craig Branch. Watchman Fellowship, Inc., 2000. (accessed 11/16/2011) 7

Richard Dawkins quoted from a message in Free Inquiry magazine. See (accessed 11/16/2011). . 8

Richard Dawkins. The God Delusion. (Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 2006), 31. Responses to Dawkins and the new atheists are numerous and cannot be dealt with here. Some are: The Deluded Atheist: A Christian Response to Richard Dawkins’ `The God Delusion.’ by Douglas Wilson. Atlanta, GA: American Vision, 2008; The Dawkins Delusion? : Atheist Fundamentalism and the Denial of the Divine by Alister E. McGrath and Joanna Collicutt McGrath. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2007; Answering the New Atheism: Dismantling Dawkins’ Case against God by Scott Hahn and Benjamin Wiker. Steubenville, OH: Emmaus Road Pub., 2008; Is God a Moral Monster: Making Sense of the Old Testament God by Paul Copan. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 2011.

Spring, 2012

Some American atheists have been aggressive in warning people of dogma. ―The Freedom From Religion Foundation launched a national billboard campaign in late 2007, taking its religion-free messages state-by-state.‖ 9 The world at large can be expected to be indifferent or have an adverse reaction to sound doctrine, but what about those who profess to be a part of the Christian community? Within the “Christian” Community Those who identify themselves as part of the ―Christian‖ community have not done particularly well in believing, understanding, propagating and defending Christian doctrine. Very often their thinking is anti-Christian at its worst and sub-Christian at its best.

The failure to uphold sound doctrine has had a devastating effect on the Church in terms of its health and vitality.

Mainline denominations have long experienced difficulty in promoting and enforcing the teaching of their own doctrinal beliefs in their institutions.10 They have permitted theological liberalism taught by celebrity heretics to invade their own ranks rendering them impotent to deal with the problem. The failure to uphold sound doctrine has had a devastating effect on the Church in terms of its health and vitality. 11 Losing their Christian message, these denominations have continually lost members. Many in these denominations have turned to promoting left wing causes.12 Technically, theological liberalism in its most anti-doctrinal form, may be 9

“Atheist groups finance 'Beware of Dogma' billboard in Boise‖ Idaho-Press Tribune. March 11, 2009. (accessed 11/20/11). 10

Gary Dorrien. The Making of American Liberal Theology: Idealism, Realism, and Modernity. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003; James Tunstead Burtchaell. The Dying of the Light. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1998; Lefferts Loetscher. The Broadening Church. Philadelphia: University of Penn. Press, 1954. 11

Thomas C. Reeves. The Empty Church: Does Organized Religion Matter Anymore? New York: The Free Press, 1996. See also Dave Shiflet. Exodus: Why Americans are Fleeing Liberal Churches for Conservative Christianity. New York: Sentinel, 2005. 12

Jacob Laskin. ―Church of the Latter-Day Leftists.‖ January 13, 2005. (accessed 11/20/11).


Journal of Biblical Ministry questioned as having any right whatsoever to the claim to be Christian.13 Harvey Cox, who exemplifies the spirit of much of the liberal leadership in the mainline denominations, argues against creedalism and anticipates a future where ―a religion based on subscribing to mandatory beliefs is no longer viable, [which is] a perversion you do not see in Buddhism or Hinduism, where there is no equivalent of a Nicene Creed.‖14 Marcus Borg in his Reading the Bible for the First Time argues against the plausibility of miracles such as the resurrection of Jesus, the validity of biblical ethics such as its teaching on homosexuality, and basic doctrinal teachings of the Bible. To accept a more modern view of what people are capable of believing today, he advocates spiritual experience as a better authority over revealed theology.15 Like Borg, retired Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong calls for a non-miraculous Christianity that does not take the Bible literally, but seeks to be more ―honest‖ in bridging the gap between enlightened academia and the ignorant in the pew.16 A CNN review of Duke University professor, Bart Ehrman‘s book, Jesus, Interrupted, discloses that Ehrman believes ―doctrines such as the divinity of Jesus and heaven and hell are not based on anything Jesus or his earlier followers said. At least 19 of the 27 books in the New Testament are forgeries.‖17


Atheist Christopher Hitchens questions the meaningfulness of such a Christianity in his interview with Unitarian minister, Marilyn Sewell in Portland Monthly, November 21, 2011 : and J. Gresham Machen long ago denied it in his classic,Christianity and Liberalism. New York: The MacMillan Company, 1923. (accessed 11/21/11). 14

Harvey Cox. The Future of Faith. New York: HarperOne, 2009, quoted by Peter Jones. ―Something-ism.‖ TruthXChange. Sept. 11, 2011. (accessed 11/16/2011). 15

Marcus Borg. Reading the Bible Again for the First Time: Taking the Bible Seriously but Not Literally. HarperSanFrancisco, 2002. For an excellent critique of Borg see Ben Witherington. The Gospel Code: Novel Claims about Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Da Vinci. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2004), 131- 149. 16

John Shelby Spong. Re-claiming the Bible for a Non-Religious World. New York: HarperOne, 2011. See Spong‘s commentary on why he wrote this book: (accessed 11/16/2011) 17

Robert Blake. ―Former Fundamentalist `Debunks Bible.‖ CNN Living. May 15, 2009. A good critique of Ehrman is found at (accessed 11/16/2011)

Spring, 2012

An eminently popular work entitled The Shack has raised a lot of controversy.18 It conveys a belief in universalism and a belief that other religions are valid ways to God and uses questionable symbolism in representing the Trinity, among other things. At least 4 million copies are currently in print. It was a #1 New York Times bestseller and garnered well over 2,000 reviews on Its ability to describe the effects of deep suffering and loss has drawn multitudes to read it and recommend it to others. Besides doctrinal defection, biblical illiteracy is common among the American people.19 If anyone could help the drift in our culture away from familiarity with the Bible, it should be Christians, who are not rising to the occasion and do not show promise of doing that soon. Biblical ignorance and doctrinal defection among professing Christians is now proving to be a major problem among those who represent the future: Among young people in general, the Associated Baptist Press in 2005 indicated that ―a significant number of teen-agers are clueless when it comes to a working knowledge of the Bible…‖20 Among church-going Protestant teenagers there is a problem. In 2003 The Center for Bible Engagement was founded to combat the growing problem of biblical illiteracy. They have demonstrated that it is now a major problem and are 18

William P. Young. The Shack. Los Angeles, CA: Windblown Media, 2007. Cathy Lynn Grossman. ―`Shack‘ Opens Doors, but Critics Call Book, `Scripturally Incorrect.‘‖ USA Today, May 29, 2008. . (accessed 11/16/2011). One of the most disturbing comments to those concerned about doctrinal accuracy is the following: "Those who love me come from every system that exists. They were Buddhists or Mormons, Baptists or Muslims.... I have no desire to make them Christian, but I do want to join them in their transformation into sons and daughters of my Papa, into my brothers and sisters,‖ p. 182. This is nothing less than an endorsement of universalism contradicting Jesus‘ statement in John 14:6. For several reviews on The Shack see the Luther Rice Seminary/University Library Newsletter, Fall 2009, at (accessed 11/16/2011) The last entry in the newsletter has been expanded into a book: James De Young. Burning Down `the Shack,’ Washington, D.C.: WND Books, 2010. 19

See also Clayton Hardiman‘s article, ―Why is America‘s Bible Literacy Declining?‖ at (accessed 11/16/2011) and a more recent example in Laren Markoe‘s article, ―White House Flubs the Bible—Along with Everyone Else.‖ (accessed 11/16/2011) 20

Ken Camp. ―Teacher Survey: Most Teen-agers Lack Basic Knowledge of Bible.‖ Associated Baptist Press. April 25, 2005. (accessed 11/16/2011).


Journal of Biblical Ministry seeking to do something about it in the face of widespread denial of the problem by Christian leaders. Brad Waggoner, author of the The Shape of Faith to Come, writes, ―Our people do not know the Bible—even our kids coming out of our best churches. There is all kinds of research to support that fact.‖21 George Barna did a survey in which he found a shocking degree of disbelief among those who claimed to be Christians: Nearly six out of ten Christians either strongly agreed or somewhat agreed with the statement that Satan "is not a living being but is a symbol of evil," the survey found… . . . Likewise, most Christians in the United States do not believe that the Holy Spirit is a living force. Fifty-eight percent strongly or somewhat agreed with the statement that the Holy Spirit is "a symbol of God's power or presence but is not a living entity." "Most Americans, even those who say they are Christian, have doubts about the intrusion of the supernatural into the natural world" . . . Other survey findings include a significant number of self-described Christians believing that Jesus sinned when he lived on earth, contrary to the core teaching of Christianity that teaches the divinity and perfection of Jesus. More than one-fifth (22 percent) strongly agreed that Jesus Christ sinned when He lived on earth, with an additional 17 percent agreeing somewhat . . . . -22


The Center for Bible Engagement: Bible Literacy Lectures Monograph 2010. Vol. 1, No. 2. (Lincoln, NB: The Center for Bible Engagement: Back to the Bible, 2010), 49. This monograph contains detailed statistic information on biblical literacy and a plan on how to address it. 22

Jennifer Riley. “Most U. S. Christians Don't Believe Satan, Holy Spirit Exist.‖ Christian Post, 4/13/09 (accessed 11/16/2011). A previous article by the same author reveals that in Barna‘s survey only a tiny minority of young adults hold to a biblical worldview. ―Survey: Less Than 1 Percent of Young Adults Hold Biblical Worldview.‖ Christian Post, 3/10/09 (accessed 11/16/2011).

Spring, 2012

Recently, the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life released the results of a survey regarding evangelicals‘ beliefs. It was found that 47 percent of professing evangelicals said they believe "many religions can lead to eternal life." Al Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, commented, I am confident that much of this confusion can be traced to the superficiality that marks far too many evangelical pulpits. The disappearance of doctrinal understanding and evangelical demonstration can be traced directly to the decline in expository preaching and doctrinal instruction. A loss Forty-seven of evangelistic and missionary commitment can be percent of fully expected as a direct result of this confusion or professing evangelicals repudiation of the Gospel.23 believe that “many religions can lead The attitude of many Christian leaders towards the to eternal life.” value in articulating doctrine to Christians is exemplified by Joel Osteen‘s statement: "My message is not about doctrine. I don't have to get 50 references from Scripture in a sermon for it to be a good sermon. Churches that are helping people live out a Christian life are growing and flourishing."24 Joel Osteen is one of America‘s most popular preachers and pastor of America‘s largest church. He further states, "I want to be careful not to criticize anybody or be negative," he said, hesitating a bit. "But we need to change with the times.‖25 Osteen said recently that he recognizes Mormonism as just another form of Christianity.26 Among evangelical scholars there have been some departures from evangelical doctrine. Francis Beckwith, former President of the Evangelical Theological 23

R. Albert Mohler. ―Many Paths to Heaven?‖ December 18, 2008. (accessed 11/16/2011). See also Randy Alcorn‘s blog, ―Does the Word `Evangelical‘ Mean Anything Anymore?‖ Eternal Perspectives Ministries. July 15, 2011. (accessed 11/16/2011). 24

Gary Stern. ―Televangelist promises hope, positivity.‖ (accessed 11/16/2011). 25



R. Albert Mohler. ―Does Joel Osteen Not Know, or Does He Not Care?‖ Christian Post. Oct. 26 , 2011. (accessed 11/16/2011). th


Journal of Biblical Ministry Society, resigned to become a Roman Catholic.27 Bruce Waltke, professor of Old Testament, resigned under pressure from Reformed Theological Seminary because he taught that the data is overwhelming in favor of evolution. 28 Tremper Longman III was disinvited from teaching at the same seminary because he questioned whether Adam was a historical person.29 G.K. Beale addresses the problem of evangelical scholars, particularly Peter Enns, who teach that the Bible contains myth, distorts history and that Jesus and the apostles misinterpreted the Old Testament.30 Some are suggesting changes in our understanding of justification by faith (Is justification about getting saved?),31 the nature of God (Does God know the future?),32 and hell (Is hell eternal punishment?).33 Popular speaker and writer, 27

James White. ―Head of the Evangelical Theological Society Swims the Tiber‖ 5/3/07. Alpha and Omega Ministries (accessed 11/16/2011). A current evangelical treatment of Catholicism is Richard Bennett‘s Catholicism: East of Eden : Insights into Catholicism for the Twenty-First Century. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2010. See also Mike Stallard. ―Evangelical Confusion about Roman Catholicism.‖ 12:2 (Fall 2008 ), Parts 1-3 Journal of Ministry and Theology. 13:1 (Spring 2009), 13:2 (Fall 2009). An effective presentation on why many of the major tenets of Roman Catholicism are not biblical is Catholicism: Crisis of Faith [video recording]. Cupertino, CA: Lumen Productions, 1991. 28

Jeremy Weber. ―OT Scholar Bruce Waltke Resigns Following Evolution Comments‖ Christianity Today Blog. 4/9/2010. (accessed 11/16/2011). For critiques of theistic evolution see Werner Gitt. Did God Use Evolution? Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2006 and Norman C. Nevin, ed. Should Christians Embrace Evolution? Biblical and Scientific Responses. Downers Grove: IVP, 2009. 29

Charles Honey. ―Adamant on Adam.‖ Christianity Today. June 2010. (accessed 11/16/2011). See Gary Gromacki. ―Adam: Man or Myth?‖ The Journal of Ministry and Theology.15:1 (Spring 2011), 24-67 for a critique of Longman and others. 30

G. K. Beale. The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism: Responding to New Challenges to Biblical Authority. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2008. For a shorter critique see ―Peter Enns: Attacks on the Old Testament‖ by Steve Lagoon. The Discerner. 31:3 (JulySeptember, 2011), 5-9. 31

N. T. Wright. Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2009 and James D. G. Dunn. The New Perspective on Paul. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007. Critiques of Wright and Dunn on justification are to be found in John Piper. The Future of Justification: a Response to N. T. Wright. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2007 and Guy Prentiss Waters. Justification and the New Perspectives on Paul: a Review and Response. Philipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2004. 32

Jeff Robinson. ―Theological Society Retains Open Theists Pinnock, Sanders.‖ Baptist Press Nov. 20, 2003. (accessed 11/16/2011). For refutations of Open Theism see Bruce A. Ware. Their God is Too Small: Open Theism and the Undermining of Confidence in God. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2003 and

Spring, 2012

Rob Bell, in his new controversial book, Love Wins, states that the preaching of hell is ―misguided and toxic.‖34 Furthermore, he charges that the God who sends people to hell is ―terrifying, traumatizing, and unbearable.‖35 Brian McLaren has called the God who punished Jesus on the cross ―a God who is incapable of forgiving unless he kicks someone else.‖36 Many thoughtful evangelicals have become alarmed at recent trends in departing from the faith, even suggesting that we may have a final Christian generation.37 John Piper, Justin Taylor and Paul Kjoss Helseth. Beyond the Bounds: Open Theism and the Undermining of Biblical Christianity. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2003. 33


R. Albert Mohler. ―Doing Away with Hell‖ Parts 1 and 2. March 8 and March 10, 2011. and (accessed 11/16/2011). Contemporary evangelical works defending the doctrine of hell are Hell Under Fire by Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 2004 and Hell for Real? Or Does Everyone Go to Heaven? edited by Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 2011. 34

Rob Bell. Love Wins: a Book about Heaven, Hell and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. New York: HarperOne, 2011, p. viii; See ―A Review of Rob Bell‘s Book, `Love Wins.‘‖ By Tiberius Rata. (accessed 11/16/2011). Other treatments of Bell‘s views may be found in Francis Chan‘s and Preston Sprinkle‘s Erasing Hell: What God Said about Eternity and the Things We Made Up. Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2011 and Mark Galli‘s God Wins: Heaven, Hell, and Why the Good News is Better than Love Wins. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 2011. 35

Ed Stetzer. ―Love, Holiness, and Eternity: Some Reflections on Rob Bell,‖ Part 2 Christian Post April 14, 2011. (accessed 11/16/2011). 36

Brian D. McLaren. A Generous Orthodoxy: Why I Am a Missional, Evangelical, Post/Protestant, Liberal/Conservative, Mystical/Poetic, Biblical, Charismatic/Contemplative, Fundamentalist/Calvinist, Anabaptist/Anglican, Methodist, Catholic, Green, Incarnational, Depressed-yet-Hopeful, Emergent, Unfinished Christian. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 2004, 100. See also Roger Oakland‘s commentary, ―`Slaughterhouse Religion‘ Faith Undone: the Emerging Church…A New Reformation or an End-Time Delusion?‖ (accessed 11/16/2011). McLaren also teaches that the purpose of Christ‘s cross work for not to propitiate God‘s wrath. It was a non-violent example for us to follow. – Brian D. McLaren. Everything Must Change. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007, 158-59. Critiques of efforts to dismiss substitutionary atonement are found in Pierced for Our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution by Steve Jeffrey, Michael Ovey, and Andrew Sach. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2007 and ―Woody Allen and the Doctrine of Penal Substitution.‖ by Steve L. Porter in Contending with Christianity’s Critics: Answering New Atheists and Other Objectors. Nashville: B & H, 2009. 37

R. Kent Hughes and John H. Armstrong. The Coming Evangelical Crisis: Current Challenges to the Authority of Scripture and the Gospel. Chicago: Moody Press, 1996; Iain H. Murray. Evangelicalism Divided: a Record of Crucial Change in the Years 1850-2000. Banner of Truth Trust, 2000; Josh McDowell and David H. Bellis. The Last Christian Generation. Holliday,


Journal of Biblical Ministry

The Importance of Doctrine What does the Bible say about doctrine? What difference does it make? Does biblical doctrine make allowance for divergent beliefs? Is it vital to Christian life and experience or is it irrelevant? Is doctrine absolute or obsolete? Do we need to change with the times and deemphasize doctrine in favor of emphasizing Christian living? Shall we shelve creeds and simply embrace deeds as the way to influence others for Christ? Isn‘t it enough to love Jesus without getting wrapped up in all this doctrine stuff? This article will seek to answer these and other questions. If doctrine is important, there are other questions that require answers. What would you do as a Christian leader, knowing about the decay of and changes in doctrinal convictions? How would that affect your ministry? Would you shy away from confronting doctrinal issues or would you look upon the situation as an opportunity to do something? If you did assign importance to doctrine in spite of indifference to it, what strategy would you use to attract folks to doctrinal preaching and teaching? Key Definitions At least two questions are very important to consider when approaching the issue of doctrine. What is doctrine? Doctrine is the content of teaching intended to be accepted and believed as truth. ―The Greek word translated ―doctrine‖ or ―teaching‖ is didache. It comes from the verb, didasko (I teach)…In the New Testament the word did didache has a rather specific meaning. It is that body of teaching which Jesus and the apostles passed on to Christians.‖38 Of course, the word is not FL: Green Key Books, 2006; R. Albert Mohler. ―Is This Evangelicalism‘s Terminal Generation?‖ July 8, 2009; Ken Ham, C. Britt Beemer, and Todd A. Hillard. Already Gone: Why Your Kids Will Quit Church and What You Can Do to Stop It. Green Forest, AZ: Master Books, 2009; Ken Ham, Greg Hall, and C. Britt Beemer. Already Compromised: Christian Colleges Took a Test on the State of Their Faith and the Results are In. Green Forest, AZ: Master Books, 2011. 38

Wayne A. Detzler. New Testament Words in Today’s Language. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1986, p. 126. Another related term is didaskalia. Both terms are used in an active and passive sense. The predominant use of didaskalia refers to teaching (active). Didache refers to what is taught (passive). See Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words. MacLean, VA: McDonald Publishing Company, n.d., 333-34.

Spring, 2012

restricted to Jesus and the apostles in the New Testament. The Pharisees, the Nicolaitans, and others had their doctrines (Matt. 16:12; Rev. 2:15). Even demons had their doctrines! (I Tim. 4:1). Just as there was true doctrine to be embraced (Titus 1:9), so there was false doctrine to be avoided (Heb. 13:9). True doctrine is immensely beneficial (I Tim. 4:16) while false doctrine can bring great harm (2 John 9). Those who brought true doctrine were to be accepted into fellowship (Acts 2:42); those who did not were to be rejected (2 John 10). Foreign to Scripture is any suggestion that doctrine is somehow relative or that all doctrines are equally valid.39 Doctrinal formulation is inevitable. The real question is what kind of doctrine should we formulate. Doctrine which is true is to be preferred over doctrine that is false (Rom. 16:17). What is truth? It is a statement about reality that accords with the facts about that reality. Truth is ―correspondence with reality…Truth about reality is what corresponds to the way things really are…If it lacks proper correspondence, it is false.‖ 40 Truth then is telling it like it is. Truth is found in Scripture and in Christ (Jn. 17:17; Jn. 14:6). The doctrines taught by the biblical writers are true (Prov. 30:5-6; 2 Tim. 3:16). Truth is authoritative and knowable according to the Bible. To ignore or reject this is to court the consequences of error (Psalm 1:2-3 contra 1:4-5). All truth has the quality of being self-consistent with no contradictions or error, correctly understood (Isa. 8:20).41 God is a God of truth and has inspired the Word of Truth so we might make a successful adjustment to reality (II Tim. 2:15; 3:16). Truth never changes. When something is true, it is true for people at all times in all places. Truth does not change dependent on the mental state or desires of the observer. If the Bible is the Word of God, it is as true today is as it is tomorrow whether I believe it or not.


Logically, the idea that contrary ideas must be equally true cannot be. For instance, the doctrine that one God exists cannot be squared with the doctrines that many gods exist or no gods exist. To do so would violate the law of non-contradiction that specifies that mutually exclusive statements cannot be true in the same manner at the same time. 40

Norman L. Geisler. ―Truth, Nature of.‖ Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1999, p. 742. Geisler critically examines other understandings of the nature of truth and finds them wanting while defending the biblical understanding of truth as correspondence. 41

The term, systematic theology, is drawn from the fact that truth has the quality of consistency. However, ―the word, system, has become a dirty word. We are fearful or hostile to logic. The influence of antilogical, antisystem, and antirational existentialism has been pervasive.‖ – R. C. Sproul. ―The Need for Systematic Theology.‖ Tabletalk. (July 1989), p. 4.


Journal of Biblical Ministry A Key Concept: The Story of Two Kingdoms in Conflict Before embarking on a discussion of the importance of doctrine, we do well to remind ourselves of what is at stake. The Bible presents reality as being divided into two realms: a physical realm and a spiritual realm. The physical realm involves physical activities such as family, social relationships, business, and government. These activities are lived out upon the earth. The spiritual realm encompasses activities related to the fall, its effects, redemption, eternal life, and freedom. The two realms intersect, and how they intersect is important. According to Scripture, there is a cosmic battle going on between two kingdoms for the affection and loyalty of those impacted by the physical and spiritual realms. The current world is under the authority and direction of the Evil One (I Jn. 5:19), the leader of the Kingdom of darkness (Col. 1:13). God, however, is in ultimate control and will ultimately win in this cosmic battle (Rev. 19-22). In the meantime, He has launched a search and rescue operation (Acts 26:18). Jesus, Himself, was a part of this mission, announcing,―The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.‖42 When a person trusts the Lord Jesus Christ to save him, he is translated out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light (Col. 1:13). His identity is established as a son of light (I Thess. 5:1). He becomes empowered to a life of sanctification (Phil 4:13) and ultimately will receive a resurrection body that is incorruptible, completing the rescue operation (I Cor. 15:50-57). If he is faithful, there will be rewards (2 Tim. 2:12a). If not, there will be loss of rewards (2:12b), but not loss of salvation (John 10:28-29; Eph. 4:30). In view of this true and holistic concept of reality, doctrine has been identified as a means of moving people out of the Kingdom of Darkness into the Kingdom of Light and creating empowered and victorious citizens in that kingdom who will have eternity to serve the King and celebrate their victory. It is equally true that the leader of the Kingdom of Darkness will promote his doctrine to ensure the defeat of those aligned with God‘s kingdom. If this big picture is true, how biblical doctrine is viewed and applied in this grand overarching true story becomes most important! The term, ―doctrine,‖ however, has come to be used in a negative pejorative sense. Even the word, ―truth,‖ is under fire.43 The following objections have 42


The New King James Version. Nashville : Thomas Nelson, 1982, S. Lk 19:10

The reader is referred to Whatever Happened to Truth? ed. by Andreas Kostenberger. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2005. Another useful discussion particularly with reference to

Spring, 2012

been raised against doctrine. However, they really should be raised against the misuse or misunderstanding of doctrine. Some reasons that people give for this negativity. Some of those objections are as follows: 1) doctrine is divisive 2) doctrine is deadening 3) doctrine is dysfunctional 4) doctrine is irrelevant 5) doctrine is impractical 6) doctrine is confusing 7) doctrine is dangerous. 1) “Doctrine divides; love unites.” Objection Insistence on correct belief is often viewed as rude and unloving. People are offended when one presents it, particularly when contrasted with false doctrine, and write him or her off as being divisive. ―We need no creed, but Christ,‖ it is said. Then, we can have cooperation rather than conflict. The complaint regarding ecclesiastical schism is expressed in a parody of the famous hymn, Onward Christian Soldiers: Like a mighty tortoise moves the church of God Brothers, we are treading where we’ve always trod. We are much divided, many bodies we. Having different doctrines, not much charity.44 Since doctrine divides, it should not be taught. It does not matter what you believe as long as you are loving. Response The solution is not to discard doctrine, but to teach it as is commanded (I Tim. 1:3; 4:13). We need to recognize that some division is inevitable and should not be avoided. ―If division occurs when correct doctrine is taught, it is not the fault of doctrine or the teaching of doctrine. Instead, it is because people react wrongly to the positions taken by leading evangelical scholars is found in What is Truth? ed. by James Emery White. Nashville: B & H, 1994. 44 (accessed 11/16/2011).


Journal of Biblical Ministry doctrine.‖45 The Bible calls for certainty of belief and earnest efforts to contend for it (Jude 3). ―Doctrinal truth is by nature intolerant of error. Truth defines and divides. Resisting these boundaries leads to the erosion of the very foundations upon which the church is built.‖46 Conflict is inevitable in the face of the challenge of teaching that seeks to resist or undermine true doctrine (cf. Matt. 10:34). According to Scripture, it is those who teach false doctrine who are responsible for division and offenses (Rom. 16:17). It is important to note that divisiveness is not just a problem in Christianity, but other religions as well. Furthermore, where commitments run deep, passion runs high, fomenting division, sometimes in reprehensible ways. Just take a look at the current culture war and political divisions in contemporary American life. What are some principles that will minimize unnecessary conflict and maximize unity? 1. We should realistically identify and observe priorities. It is true that many times believers are the objects of friendly fire by well-meaning hobby-horse zealots, and casualties result. A segment of the church rallies around an issue that is not worth fighting and proceeds to blast other believers for not being in line with their issue. They are perceived by the world as a fortified outpost in the world of ideas. Little firing is going on towards the attacks from the outside because too much of their ammunition is being wasted on those who are on the inside. It is true. We need to stop championing inferior causes that are divisive to the body. Some, thinking themselves sincere in their concern for truth, actually add to the problem. The old adage is still pertinent: Choose your battles carefully. That, of course, assumes that there are some battles worth fighting. There are hills on which to die.47 Some doctrines are more important than others. It is important to 45

Renald Showers. The Foundations of Faith. Vol. 1. Bellmawr, NJ: Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry 2002), 10. 46

Joseph Stowell. ―Dealing with the `D‘ Word.‖ Moody Magazine (January-February

1996), 6. 47

See Paul Presslar. A Hill on Which to Die: One Southern Baptist’s Journey. Nashville: B & H, 1999 which recalls effective efforts to call the Southern Baptist Convention and its agencies back to the doctrine of the inerrancy of the Bible. The controversy over inerrancy

Spring, 2012

identify some of those important issues. But these battles have to be fought according to God‘s rules of engagement and not our own. Not all doctrinal understanding is of equal importance. Making mountains out of molehills is not what God intended (I Tim. 1:4). Where essential truth is at stake, truth cannot be compromised for the sake of unity. For instance, if we loved men more sincerely, we would zealously support the truth that saves them and be less tolerant of the error that damns them. That is why the doctrines of the eternality of hell, the exclusivity of the gospel, and faith alone in Christ alone apart from human merit are so important to proclaim in our day. It is important to establish unity around the essentials, but what about those things that are not as essential? In that which is important we are to have unity; in that which is minor we are to permit diversity, but in all things we should show love. As a saying goes from the 17th century life of the Church: ―In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.‖48 To discern that which is major as distinct from that which is minor, we must consult Scripture. Galatians 1:6-9 identifies salvation by grace through faith alone as extremely important. A curse is called down upon anyone, be they human or angelic, that dares to preach another gospel other than the gospel of grace for salvation. John 8:24 indicates that an acknowledgement of the correct identity of Christ is very important. There belief in Jesus‘ supernatural personhood is required, or one dies in his sins. These passages relate to the Person of Christ and the terms of salvation. Other doctrines might be identified as important such as the substitutionary death of Christ, His bodily resurrection, and the inspiration of Scripture. Geisler finds the essentials of Christianity in the historical creeds of the Church such as the Apostles‘ Creed, the Nicene Creed, or the Athanasian Creed, as well as logical connections to the doctrine of salvation in all of its significant aspects.49 A key question to ask of any specific involved intense conflict that deeply impacted peoples‘ lives on both sides, but it stopped the doctrinal drift in key areas of Southern Baptist life. 48

Mark Ross. ―In essentials unity; in non-essentials liberty; in all things charity.‖ Ligonier Ministries, n.d. 11/16/2011). 49

Norman L. Geisler. ―Essential Doctrines of the Christian Faith: a Historical Approach.‖ Christian Research Journal. Part 1. 28:5 (2005) and ―Essential Doctrines of the Christian Faith: The Logical Approach.‖ Part 2. 28:6 (2005) (accessed 11/16/2011).


Journal of Biblical Ministry doctrine is the question, ―So what?‖ Who benefits and how do they benefit if the doctrine is upheld? Who is harmed and how are they harmed if the doctrine is not pressed? If a doctrine is important, it will be identified as such somewhere in Scripture. 2. We are to exercise humility. Exalting oneself can be a factor in division over doctrine. 2 Timothy 2:24 warns against becoming involved in foolish controversies that breed conflict. Such emanate not from humility and a desire to see the truth succeed, but from intellectual pride. According to I Corinthians 8:1, ―Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies or builds up.‖ As verses 2 and 3 show, Paul is talking about knowledge without love. The teaching of doctrine is not an occasion to show intellectual prowess, but to connect to the vital issues of life. The one who teaches doctrine must be teachable himself. One who is easily offended in his promulgation of doctrine may have a resistant spirit to areas of truth as it relates to life. Harshness and lack of fairness will prevent unity in the body of Christ. That is why Scripture says we should speak ―the truth in love‖ (Eph. 4:15). 3. We are to use doctrine as a basis for unity. If doctrine has potential for division, it also has potential for bringing people together into a meaningful and God-honoring fellowship. This is often overlooked. Biblical doctrine as the basis for unity is found in passages such as the following: And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, For the perfecting of the saints for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, Till we all come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Eph. 4:11-13). The unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God should be the goal of teaching. What could block that goal? Any significant deviation from the faith will create disunity and strife (cf. II Tim. 2:1). God‘s purpose is to unify, not divide. When one questions doctrinal deviation, he is not necessarily a troublemaker; he may be trying to preserve the purity of the church, much as a father might wish to

Spring, 2012

protect the purity of his daughter prior to marriage (II Cor. 11:1-3). When wicked king, Ahab, who with his wife, Jezebel, had introduced idolatry into Israel, encountered Elijah the prophet, he asked, ―Is that you, O troubler of Israel?‖ (I Kings 18:17). But the prophet of God who spoke the unwelcome truth of God concerning Israel‘s drought was not the troublemaker. Ahab was! He had departed from the LORD and had led the nation to do so. Elijah was merely the faithful messenger who had pointed out that God holds such accountable. No ecumenical dialogue between Ahab and Elijah was necessary. Elijah understood the truth and faithfully proclaimed it; Ahab had no regard for truth. When serious doctrinal error intrudes into the church, it may well be time to risk controversy so that the church will remain united around the truth that is fundamental and crucial to the life of the body. Unity is a worthy goal and to be greatly desired (cf. John 17:21), but unity should not be pursued at the expense of truth. The apostle John had a lot to say about the intimate relationship that should exist between love and truth (cf. 2 Jn. 1; 3 Jn. 1). Christians need to cling to both. It is a tragedy when love and unity are divorced from doctrinal truth. 2) Doctrine is deadening to the spiritual life. What is the connection of doctrine to the spiritual life? Is it debilitating to the spiritual life or does it enable it to grow and flourish? Many think it is toxic to spirituality. Objection Sometimes doctrine is regarded as something that saps the joy, spontaneity, and energy out of the Christian‘s life. Doctrinal concern is often viewed as commitment to dead orthodoxy. The adjectives dry, dull, academic, and boring are often associated with the teaching of doctrine. The word, dead, speaks of the absence of life and vitality. The words, dull and boring, speak of the absence of that which is exciting and captivates interest. An aversion to doctrine is created when the Bible becomes a mere textbook without application to life and communicated as though it were a leftover secondhand lecture. Speakers may drone on for extended periods about some subject in a way that is designed to put the listener to sleep.


Journal of Biblical Ministry

The problem usually is a problem of failure to show connection to real life or utilizing poor communication skills (e.g. speaking above the heads of the audience in a monotone). Questions such as ―Why should I believe this?‖ or ―What difference does this make?‖ are left unanswered. Response 1. Doctrine must be communicated in a compelling and interesting manner. This writer had a seminary professor who used to say, ―It is a sin to make the Bible boring.‖ Does that mean that the teacher needs to fill up the time of instruction exclusively with application, clever or funny sayings, and illustrations? No, because doctrine must be included too. Doctrine can be imparted with interest-inducing passion and directness. 2. Doctrine must be enlivened by demonstrating its vital connection to life. Doctrine need not be deadening if it is not separated from practice. True, some people study and articulate doctrine, but rarely practice the implications of it. They are very precise, but very proud, thinking that Christianity is strictly concerned with the activities of the mind. Filling the mind with intellectual constructs while neglecting the weighty issues of love and justice not only starves the person, but those who are influenced by them. Doctrine is not suitable by itself, but most importantly, must be adorned by the behavior that flows from knowledge of that doctrine (Titus 2:1-10). The Greek term for adorn in Titus 2:10 is used in I Pet. 3:5 of female adornment. The word means here in a figurative sense means ―to put in order‖ or ―decorate.‖ It can imply as in the case of Titus 2:10 ―to make attractive‖ or ―to do credit to.‖50 Enhancement of beauty and honor are associated with this term. There is attractiveness about doctrine when it is adorned by good works. They do ―credit to the teaching in all respects.‖ 3. Doctrine must be recognized as producing spiritual health and vitality.


Walter Bauer; William F. Arndt, F. Wilbur Gingrich and Frederick W. Danker, eds. A rd Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3 ed., (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 560.

Spring, 2012

The Bible says the words of faith and good doctrine are spiritually nourishing and life giving. They are worthy of being carefully believed and acted upon. If you instruct the brethren in these things, you will be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished in the words of faith and of the good doctrine which you have carefully followed (I Tim. 4:6).

Notice that I Timothy 4:6 says doctrine is good for you. Satan’s Food and Drug Administration comes along and says it isn‘t. But who are we going to believe? Well, just take a look at his converts and see what they are eating. You will no doubt find that the answer is self-evident. The deadening influence of doctrine is certainly not seen in the Bible‘s teaching on the end times. We are tipped off in Scripture to the fact that the study of prophecy must be important since 27% of it refers to history written in advance.51 A look at the 19th and 20th century reveals that premillennialism provided much of the driving force behind the worldwide missionary movement and still continues to do so.52 …scholars such as Nancy Ammerman, Margaret Poloma and Robert Wuthnow have shown that fundamentalists lived their faith by setting up orphanages, running de-tox houses, maintaining inner-city day care centers. And they took the gospel of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth. While mainline missions dwindled to insignificance, evangelical missions, which were usually aligned with or at least sympathetic to premillennial notions, flourished with unabated vigor…Far from being demoralizing, then, the practical effect of premillennialism was a renewed determination to do the Lord‘s work before it was too late.53 Since Jesus Christ was coming soon, that anticipated event instilled a sense of urgency in the missionaries that went out. 51

J. Barton Payne. Encyclopedia of Biblical Prophecy. (New York: Harper & Row, 1972), [674]. 52

Michael Pocock. ―The Influence of Premillennial Eschatology on Evangelical Missionary Theory and Praxis from the Late Nineteenth Century to the Present.‖ International Bulletin of Missionary Research. July 2009. (accessed 11/16/2011). 53

Grant Wacker. ―Planning Ahead: the Enduring Appeal of Prophecy Belief:‖ [Review of When Time Shall Be No More: Prophecy Belief in Modern American Culture] by Paul Boyer. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press in Christian Century (January 19, 1994), 5.


Journal of Biblical Ministry

The teaching of God‘s word is not deadening; it is life-giving. ―This is my comfort in my affliction, For Your word has given me life‖ (Ps. 119:50). If doctrine is deadening, it is not doctrine‘s fault, but that of the failure of Christians to connect it to life in the way God intended. 3) Doctrine is dysfunctional to one’s life. Objection When many think of theology or doctrine, they think of the word dogma. That used to be a good term. Today dogma is considered the root of all evil, the author of intolerance, the mother of persecution, and the father of controversy. Besides, it is said; too much analysis leads to paralysis. We all know people who make an issue of doctrine that turn out a bit quirky. Doctrine is not dysfunctional, nor should it lead to dysfunctional behavior. Those who create a dysfunctional reputation for doctrine are those who typically throw truth out of balance.54 They are hobbyhorse enthusiasts. They push certain doctrines to extremes. They have a reputation for going off the deep end. They emphasize some crucial doctrines to the exclusion of others. They can come across as unreasonable, harsh, intolerant, and unteachable while immersed in such things as legalism, guilt and misery rather than abundant living. Response But doctrine is not harmful, but healthy. “But as for you, speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine.” – Tit. 2:1 The word sound is used in connection with doctrine. The Greek word means ―to be in good health, to be well, to be sound.‖ ―Titus was to teach in the congregation what is in accord with sound doctrine, or more literally, ―healthy teaching.‖ The notion of healthy teaching is common in the Pastorals (cf. 1 Tim. 1:10; 6:3; 2 Tim. 1:13; 4:3; Titus 1:9, 13; 2:2).‖55 One‘s mental and spiritual 54

Charles Caldwell Ryrie calls attemtion to this problem in his book, Balancing the Christian Life (Chicago: Moody Press, 1969) and identifies ways that doctrinal extremes can be avoided. 55

Walvoord, John F. ; Zuck, Roy B. ; Dallas Theological Seminary: The Bible Knowledge Commentary : An Exposition of the Scriptures. Wheaton, IL : Victor Books, 1983-c1985, S. 2:764

Spring, 2012

health is dependent on healthy doctrine. The inability to live well or wisely can be traced not to Christianity, but a lack of it. Those who pursue sound doctrine can expect positive results. Basing his comments on Barna‘s findings, Sean McDowell notes the following: For those who question the importance of doctrine, it may come as a surprise that Christians with a biblical worldview live radically different than the world. Forty-nine percent volunteered more than an hour to an organization serving the poor, whereas only twenty-nine percent of nonborn-again Christians have done so. They are nine times more likely than all others to avoid ―adults-only‖ material on the internet. They are twice as likely not to watch a movie specifically because it contained objectionable material and four times as likely to boycott objectionable products and companies.56 The evidence for dysfunctionality appears to have been more the province of a lack of biblical teaching. According to Josh McDowell, many studies reveal that youth who do not have a moral and biblical belief system are: 36% more likely to lie to a friend. 48% more likely to cheat on an exam. 200% more likely to steal. 200% more likely to physically hurt someone. 300% more likely to use illegal drugs. 600% more likely to commit suicide.57 If true doctrine makes for health, false doctrine is the basis for ruin and instability as the above statistics show and as the following scripture passages demonstrate: Remind them of these things, charging them before the Lord that they not strive about words to no profit, to the ruin of the hearers (II Tim. 2:14) 56

Sean McDowell ―The Doctrine Debate: Why Doctrine Matters More Than Ever.‖ Christian Research Journal. 31:01, 53. . (accessed 11/16/2011). 57

Josh McDowell & Bob Hostetler. Beyond Belief to Convictions. (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 2002), 6-7.


Journal of Biblical Ministry

That we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness by which they lie in wait to deceive (Eph. 4:14). A common charge is that doctrine is harmful because it leads to intolerance. The popular talk show host, Oprah Winfrey, has said: ―One of the biggest mistakes humans make is to believe that there is only one way. Actually, there are many diverse paths leading to what you call God.‖58 (But see Jn. 14:6.) She was raised in a Baptist home. ―I was sitting in church and heard that God is a jealous God. I asked, ―Why?‖ Come on--let‘s get over it.‖59 Then she commented that if God were jealous then He would be insecure. A proper question for one who makes such a statement would be: ―If your spouse were to be unfaithful to you, would you have any feelings of jealousy?‖ Isn‘t it natural to have feelings of possessiveness towards the person you love most intensely? Is it not normal to desire an exclusive relationship with your mate? And when fidelity is violated, is it not normal to experience the fear of being replaced and to experience anger over the situation from a sense of betrayal? One would surely not say to one‘s husband or wife, ―Oh, you‘re going to spend the night with someone else? Well, have a good time; see you tomorrow.‖ Even so, God is jealous of other gods or philosophies or religions taking first place in one‘s affections. It stems from the fear of being replaced in one‘s affections. Paul speaks of ―godly jealousy‖ he has towards the Corinthians. Such an emotion expresses the idea of protectiveness towards the one loved. The one loving (in this case, God through Paul) knows that no false teacher can match the intensity of His desire for the welfare of the one loved (i.e. the Church. See II Cor. 11:2-3). Thus, God‘s jealousy is a pure virtue in that it lacks human imperfection. It is expressed for our mutual benefit. It does little good to charge God with feelings that we ourselves would have difficulty with if faced with a 58

Sue Bohlin. ―Oprah: America‘s Beloved False Teacher.‖ Tapestry: a Christian Women‘s Collective. May 24, 2011. (accessed 11/16/2011). 59

―The Gospel According to Oprah.‖ Watchman Fellowship. n.d. (accessed 11/16/2011).

Spring, 2012

similar situation (i.e. observing adulterous advances towards another on the part of our spouse or vice-versa). If we think God is not jealous, we have a false expectation of Him. He does not need our permission to feel that way. After all, He is God! While Oprah has performed many kindnesses for people with the wealth she has accumulated, this does not mean that our admiration must be transferred to acceptance of her objections to certain biblical doctrines nor render us silent regarding them. Because a celebrity or someone for whom we have a fondness makes such statements does not qualify them for exemption from criticism. While this may seem to paint us as intolerant, we must remember again that if we loved others supremely, we would be more zealous for the truth that saves them and less tolerant of the error that damns them. That people need not accept Christ because He is viewed as optional is a dangerous doctrine and must be identified as such.60 4) Doctrine is irrelevant Objection ―In popular thought doctrine has to do with insignificant matters that are irrelevant to most people.‖61 Sometimes doctrine is viewed as something that unnecessarily complicates the Christian life and is unrelated to it. It answers questions no one is asking or do not need to be answered in our day and time. It is found in a book (i.e. the Bible) that is obsolete and outdated that does not address the needs and issues of our day. There is a need to bring the Bible up to date so that it can be relevant to the times in which we live by being selective about what is to be believed and practiced. Certainly there is no need for adherence to outmoded doctrine. Doctrine needs to be superceded by more progressive contemporary thinking.


Further analysis of Oprah‘s thought is given by Erwin L. Lutzer in Oprah, Miracles and the New Earth. Chicago: Moody Press, 2009 and ―Oprah‘s Way: Winning the World to New Spirituality‖ by Brannon S. Howse. Worldview Weekend. (accessed 11/16/2011). 61

Robert M. Bowman, Jr. Orthodoxy and Heresy: a Biblical Guide to Doctrinal Discernment. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1992, 15.


Journal of Biblical Ministry Response This objection is usually the result of chronological snobbery: ―Whatever is new is necessarily progressive and should be embraced; whatever is old is necessarily regressive and should be abandoned.‖ Because something is old does not mean it is useless. If God is attempting to communicate with all men at all places and at all times, we may expect that the Bible, though it may be couched in the language and culture of a long past generation, would be very relevant. God‘s nature does not change, nor does that of human nature. The Bible has an accurate fix on both. Doctrine is relevant to our total world and life view. It answers the fundamental questions of life. It answers the questions, ―Where did I come from?‖ (origin), ―Who am I?‖ (identity), ―Why am I here?‖ (purpose), and ―Where am I going?‖ (destiny). The doctrine of creation describes our origin. The doctrine of man created in the image of God depicts our identity and ascribes value to us. Why are we here? It is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. And what about our destiny? It depends on whether we accept the provision God has made in Jesus‘ death and resurrection. The apostle John proclaimed, ―He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God‖ (Jn. 3:18) 62 Belief or disbelief determines where one will spend eternity. After one has eternal life, faith in God and His revelation leads to obedience and patient endurance (Heb. 11). This determines whether or not one pleases God in his Christian life (v 6). Keep in mind that the doctrine of the Bible is revealed by a God who knows everything in two realms (the physical and the spiritual) to mankind who knows collectively next to nothing of what could be known. We are living in the light of His full and completed revelation to man through His Son (Heb. 1:1-3). There is no more important Being to hear from than the Person who created heaven and earth and ourselves for His purposes (cf. Rev. 4:1-11). Doctrine is pertinent to our relationship with God and others regardless of whether we believe it or not. The acceptance or rejection of doctrine is related to our perception of reality. Doctrine is not separated from reality; it is the path to apprehending it. For instance, if we come to believe that God did not create us for a purpose and that our existence is meaningless or up to us to determine, we 62

The New King James Version. Nashville : Thomas Nelson, 1982, S. Jn 3:18

Spring, 2012

introduce chaos into the equation. Psychologists often speak of mental illness as a failure to make a satisfactory adjustment to reality. The further we stray from reality, the more pitiable will be our condition. Theology defines the structure of reality to which we need to make our adjustment. If we align ourselves with God‘s truth, it will lead to greater, not lesser, fulfillment, usefulness, and satisfaction in life. Doctrine is regarded by the Bible as essential, not peripheral (Gal. 1:8-9; I Tim. 4:16). Although doctrine can be trivialized and deal with matters of little importance, very often it relates to matters of crucial importance. Some doctrines are more important than others and must be distinguished as such. As previously noted, Christians should grant liberty in non-essentials, but require unity in essentials and speak the truth in love at all times. To put it another way, we should seek unity in the important things, grant liberty in the lesser things, and practice charity in all things.63 How essential has doctrine been in the life of our own country? The first textbook in our schools in this country started out teaching the ABC‘s with, ―In Adam‘s fall, we sinned all,‖ ―Heaven to find, the Bible Mind,‖ and ―Christ crucify‘d, For sinners dy‘d.‖64 Parents made widespread use of this book to teach reading by imparting doctrine to their children. A high view of the Bible was foundational to education. One‘s perception of reality depended on sound doctrine. Then, one‘s morality was derived from one‘s doctrine. The Bible was the authority for faith and practice.


Mark Ross. Ibid.


Webster’s Blue-Backed Spelling Book & New England Primer. Oklahoma City, OK: Hearthstone Publishing, n.d. reprint of 1777 edition of the New England Primer, p. [13] . ―The New England Primer, which is estimated to have sold five million copies of its various versions from 1683 to 1830, offered the Puritan child literacy and religious training combined.‖ The Heath Anthology of American Literature, Fifth Edition. Paul Lauter, General Editor. ook.html (accessed 11/16/2011).


Journal of Biblical Ministry Over a period of time in America, we developed a new view of authority – man‘s reason. The Bible was not supreme. The Bible was flawed. It could not always be trusted. Next, men felt free to embrace new doctrines that were compatible with man‘s reason such as the denial of hell. Some intellectuals and students even at the time of our nation‘s founding became enamored with deism, a belief that discounted special revelation such as miracles or the Bible. From the Civil War onward – new doctrines developed out of Darwinism and destructive higher criticism of the Bible. When the authority of the Bible and the doctrines of the Bible were jettisoned or compromised, then a new morality developed (1960‘s).65 Now we are at the When all views are point where many believe that truth and morality cannot granted equality, there is basically no be discovered, they must be created. Indeed, they are difference between mental or social constructs always subject to change. choosing to help and Others see the futility of attempting to construct truth elderly lady cross the and morality simply out of one‘s experience and street and running her become nihilists, believing nothing at all.66 over with an automobile.

So logically, we have seen that a new view of the Bible has given way to new doctrines, which in turn have given way to a new morality, which has, given way to cynicism and apathy towards any truth claims. The slide towards a relativistic and pluralistic view of truth and ethics means that logically no claim can be considered superior to another claim (though practically that does not consistently occur, especially among the politically correct). When all views are granted equality. there is basically no difference between choosing to help an elderly lady cross the street and running her over with an automobile. One may object that the elderly woman has value because she is made in the image of God and anyone who deliberately runs her down must be judged as evil. But the objection may be raised that that is your ―truth,‖ whereas the murderer may say, ―My truth permits me to do that because she is merely an extension of the physical universe with no special value assigned by that universe to her.‖ It is clear then that doctrinal ideas can have very profound results. 65

Examples of new morality thinking are found in Joseph Fletcher‘s Situation Ethics: the New Morality. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1966 and James Pike‘s You and the New Morality: 74 Cases. New York: Harper & Row, 1967. A critique of situation ethics is found in Erwin W. Lutzer‘s The Morality Gap: an Evangelical Response to Situation Ethics. Chicago: Moody Press, 1972. 66

See Gene Edward Veith. Postmodern Times: a Christian Guide to Contemporary Thought and Culture. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1994 and Douglas R. Groothuis. Truth Decay: Defending Christianity Against the Challenges of Postmodernism. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2000.

Spring, 2012

5) Doctrine is impractical. Objection Doctrine is often viewed as an unnecessary distraction that has little practical value to the Christian life. ―It is common in our day to assert that practice is more important than theory—that orthopraxis (doing right) is more important than orthodoxy (believing right). But this assertion is itself a theory—something people think and then say, and then try to put into practice. The fact is that what we think determines what we do. Thus doctrine—something we think –affects what we do.‖67 Response We must see that doctrine in Scripture is presented as the basis for duty. What we believe has a strong bearing on how we behave. Paul was very conscious of this connection. In Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians, the doctrinal message comes first. Then he draws a practical application usually with the logical connectives therefore (Rom. 12:1; Gal. 5:1; Eph. 4:1; Phil. 2:1) or then (Col. 3:1; I Thess. 4:1). Paul, for instance, produces 11 chapters of doctrinal material in Romans. Then in chapter 12, he begins the practical section of Romans with the first two verses: 1

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.68 After an extended discussion on the reality and importance of the doctrine of the resurrection, Paul states: ―Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, inasmuch as you know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord‖ (I Cor. 15:58). Paul‘s point is that our future resurrection based on Christ‘s resurrection should motivate us to work for God because what we do counts for eternity. In fact, 67

Bowman, Ibid, p. 16.


The New King James Version. Nashville : Thomas Nelson, 1982, S. Ro 12:1-2


Journal of Biblical Ministry there are massive consequences to face if this doctrine is not true and believed as such.69 The apostle John recognizes the value of the doctrinal teaching of the second coming of Christ in having a purifying effect on the believer‘s life when he states, 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. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure. – I Jn. 3:2-3. The ability to be fully equipped for Christian service is grounded in the doctrine of inspiration: All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, That the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. – II Tim. 3:16-17. In verse 16 the profit of Scripture inspired by God is explained. It helps us understand what is right and true, helps us to know what is wrong, assists us in knowing how to get right after going wrong, and it trains us on how to stay right. Proper definitions of doctrine can be very practical in giving direction as to how to live one‘s life. In today‘s world the word, freedom, usually refers to doing what one wants. In Scripture the stress is on freedom to do what one ought. Freedom is not escape from social constraints to do one‘s own thing, but deliverance from the bondage of sin (Rom. 8:2). The doctrine of freedom comforts and gives hope to the believer who longs for victory in his struggle against sin. It is true that we have many ―ivory tower‖ theologians, but their tendency to be impractical should not keep us from recognizing the practicality of biblical doctrine. The fact that some Christians spend all their time discussing doctrine, but paying little attention to putting God‘s principles into practice should not cause us to waiver from our commitment to pursue accurate knowledge. The abuse of something good does not invalidate the value and proper use of that good. 69

Richard A. Seymour. ―Is Doctrine Important?‖ The Clarity Trumpet. n.d. The question is explored as to what difference it would make if Christ was not raised from the dead. (accessed 11/16/2011).

Spring, 2012

―Every attempt at godly living apart from sound doctrine will be defective in some point. When the apostle Paul prayed for the needs of churches, he invariably prayed for an increase in knowledge since he realized that this would produce holy living.‖70 For instance, he prayed that believers‘ ―love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment . . . being filled with the fruits of righteousness‖ (Phil. 1:9, 11). For the Colossians, Paul prayed they might ―be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding‖ that they might ―walk worthy of the Lord‖ (Col. 1:9-10).71 We must never forget that doctrine is not just about imparting information, but effecting transformation. Short of that, doctrine has not done its work! Living the truth, setting an example for others, and being balanced in one‘s faith can do much to overthrow the idea that doctrine is impractical. It is not doctrine that is impractical, but our understanding of doctrine that is impractical. It will work for us if we trust God to allow it to. The idea that whatever works in our life is the only truth we can know is simply not true. Doctrine based on God‘s word is the ultimate determiner of what ultimately works best and what does not. 6) Doctrine is difficult to discern in the face of so many different interpretations. Objection The number of interpretations of biblical doctrines has proliferated. Various views on the Person of Christ, the meaning of the atonement, the terms of salvation, theories of inspiration, eschatology, etc. fill the pages of books both ancient and modern.72 Many are bewildered by this array of differing interpretations and give up the search for correct understanding before they even begin. Yet, if the Bible is a revelation from God, the essentials of biblical doctrine are meant to be understood and applied. Response Because theologians wrestle in their understanding with the finer points of 70

Charles C. Ryrie. Is Doctrine Important? We Believe It Is. CAM International, n.d.


The New King James Version. Nashville : Thomas Nelson, 1982, S. Col 1:9-10


See H. Wayne House. Charts of Christian Theology & Doctrine Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992 for a succinct listing of major differences of interpretation concerning various doctrines.


Journal of Biblical Ministry doctrine at a higher level does not mean nothing can be known about doctrine. That should not dispirit us in our attempt to understand. Increased exposure to the biblical text will clear up many understandings. The presence of controversy or lack of agreement does not mean that the truth is undiscoverable. It may mean that interpretations are made hastily with insufficient study. This origin of differing interpretations in this case is based on man‘s finiteness resulting in his need to continue learning and reflecting. Even if we do not attain to the knowledge level of some theologians, the basics are evident enough. If we conclude before the journey begins that doctrine cannot be understood, we are like the ―nine year old excusing herself from learning the times-tables because there are some mathematical problems that puzzle even professional mathematicians.‖73 The presence of differences may mean that someone has some philosophical or ideological vested interests that they wish to protect against a contrary view. In this case differing interpretations can easily arise from man‘s sinful bias. Any person approaching the biblical text has two options if he is not willing to change: 1) deny biblical authority; 2) reinterpret the Bible so as to force it to say what he wants it to say, not what the author originally intended.74 For instance, someone who believes man is inherently good will be disturbed by the biblical teaching on the depravity of man and not wish to face it honestly. Therefore, he may attempt to reinterpret the Bible as a manual on positive thinking.75 Or, someone may wish to believe that homosexuality is a comparable lifestyle to marriage that should not be stigmatized. He looks for ways to reinterpret the Bible to establish moral equivalency. He will be disturbed by the biblical insistence on the idea of one man for one woman for one lifetime and seek to circumvent it.76 The 73

Bowman, Ibid., 21.


The first example of this is found in the book of Genesis where the serpent in approaching Eve subtly suggests that God‘s word cannot be trusted and casts doubt on the meaning of what God intended to say: ―Has God indeed said, ‗You shall not eat of every tree of the garden‘?‖ The jest of the question is ―Did God mean what you thought He said and if he did, was He not restricting you from something desirable and good?‖ The invitation to Eve to exercise her ―right‖ to academic freedom was apparent. 75

See Robert Schuller. Self-Esteem. Waco, TX: Word, 182 for an example of this kind of thinking. 76

See Erwin W. Lutzer. The Truth About Same-Sex Marriage (Chicago: Moody Press, 2004) and D. James Kennedy and Jerry Newcombe. What’s Wrong with Same-Sex Marriage? Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2004 for a refutation of this kind of thinking. For a good in-depth treatment of homosexuality and the Bible see James B. DeYoung‘s Homosexuality: Contemporary Claims Examined in Light of the Bible and Other Ancient Literature and Law. (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2000).

Spring, 2012

teaching on the sinfulness of man and heterosexual marriage is clear enough. The problem lies with the interpreter. A philosophical shift in our culture has exacerbated the problem. Relativism (truth is not true for all people at all times in all places, but only for specific people, at specific times in specific places) and postmodernism (truth is existential; things are what you want them to mean) cause words and sentences to lose their originally intended meanings. It is not what the Bible means, but what it means to me. It is not about discovering truth, but inventing it. Subjectivity is valued over objectivity. We are like Humpty Dumpty in Alice in Wonderland: ‗When I use a word,‘ Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, ‗it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.‘ 77 One politician affirmed in one of his writings that the shedding of Abel‘s blood on the ground by Cain referred to avoiding the dangers of polluting the environment. This is an example of using the Bible to forward one‘s ideological agenda in an illicit manner. The real meaning of the text is ignored and another meaning imposed upon it. 78 In spite of varying interpretations, the Bible assumes that sound doctrine can be identified and understood. The Bible says, ― These [the Bereans] were more fairminded 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.79 You will notice that the believers at Berea searched the Scriptures daily. They were involved in intense Bible study to check out whether or not Paul and Silas‘ claims were really true. Inquiring minds want to know! Some minds do not want to know or are incapable of doing so (e.g. I Cor. 2:1315). ―Generally, removable spiritual impediments –not removable intellectual 77

Lewis Carroll. Through the Looking Glass. 1871. From Chapter 6. Wiki-Quote. (accessed 11/16/2011). 78

―As it happens, the idea of social justice is inextricably linked in the Scriptures with ecology. In passage after passage, environmental degradation and social justice go hand in hand. Indeed, the first instance of ―pollution‖ in the Bible occurs when Cain slays Abel and his blood falls to the ground, rendering it fallow.‖ – Al Gore. Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 1992, p. 247. While it is clear from Genesis that sin has consequences, the specific sin is not exploiting the environment in defiance to God‘s command to exercise responsible stewardship over the earth (cf. Gen. 1:28). 79

The New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982, S. Ac 17:11


Journal of Biblical Ministry ones—prevent Christians from advancing in doctrinal understanding (Heb. 5:1114).‖80 Often, the problem of differing interpretations serves as a smokescreen by the evil one. He is content when people conclude, ―The presence of controversy means we can‘t tell with any assurance which view is correct.‖ Satan, being the author of confusion, likes us to think this. What he does not want is for us to know our Bibles well enough to see our way clearly through the confusing options. That is why the Bible clearly distinguishes between true and false doctrine. Satan would suggest that false doctrine is essentially unrecognizable and the effort to discern should not be attempted.81 God did not give His word to us to keep us perpetually in a cloud of doubt. The Bible is intended to reveal, not conceal (Deut. 30:11-13; Heb. 1:1-3). It is designed to communicate, not to confuse. If it fails to do so, the problem rests with us. Either we have a sinful bias and won‘t permit the Bible to say what Sometimes God, for it needs to say, or we are ignorant of the His own reasons, historical or literary context or some other part has chosen to be of the Word of God. Sometimes God, for His silent on certain own reasons, has chosen to be silent on things… certain things (Deut. 29:29). However, what we have from Him is sufficient. If you have difficulty with some passages, for the time being, interpret more obscure passages by clearer passages. For instance, there are approximately nine passages, which seem to indicate that we must be baptized to be saved, but there are almost 100 times in the Gospel of John alone when faith is identified as the means by which we are saved.82 But a closer examination will reveal that there are alternative explanations for each one of those nine passages. So you can say, ―For every passage you show me that proves baptism saves, I can show you an alternative plausible explanation. If we 80

Bowman, Ibid, pp. 20-21.


Lightner, Robert P. ―A Biblical Perspective on False Doctrine.‖ Bibliotheca Sacra 142, no.565 (Jan-March 1985): 16-22. 82

―Since the purpose of John‘s Gospel is to bring people to faith in Christ (20:30-31), it should be the primary source of instruction on the nature of faith. Here the verb πιστεύω [pisteuō] is used almost one hundred times in relation to salvation‖ – Charles C. Bing. Lordship Salvation. (Burleson, TX: Grace-Life Ministries, 1992), 55. (accessed 11/16/2011).

Spring, 2012

cannot agree on these nine passages, all is not lost because there are many more verses that speak of salvation being by grace through faith alone.‖83 7) We should not try to discern whether our doctrine is true and others are false, let alone try to impose our beliefs on others. Objection To test doctrine as true or false is something that we are not obliged to do as Christians. Attempting to impose our beliefs on others is a sign of arrogance, offends them unnecessarily, and leads ultimately to a dangerous intolerance of others. Response It is to be expected in Christian institutions there will be a certain amount of difference of interpretation on various theological issues. These issues can be the occasion for friendly discussion and even debate. Yet, within the evangelical community, there is also a tendency to absorb by osmosis the highly tolerant culture of our day. Doctrinal statements were adopted by these institutions to provide boundaries that would keep illegitimate interpretations from being promoted in the classroom. Still doctrinal deviance can begin in the most subtle manner. Sometimes one can agree to truth without being zealous for it. It is easy for tolerance to cross the line of virtue to vice. The feelings of others take precedence over the necessity to confront when deviance begins. The concept that God‘s truth is superior and is knowable may be out of step with friends and colleagues, but it is not out of step with heaven. The great enemy of truth (Satan) wants nothing more than to destroy it and even convince people that they cannot know objective truth at all. ―Truth‖ is only what we subjectively believe according to them, and everyone‘s truth is equally useful, if not equally valid.


See Austin Crouch. Is Baptism Essential to Salvation? (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1953). See also R. Larry Moyer. Free and Clear. (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1997), 127-144. For a more detailed treatment see H. Wayne House, ―Baptism for the Forgiveness of Sins: Sign, Seal or Means of Grace?‖ Part One. Christian Research Journal 22, 2 (1999), 26ff. and Part Two, Christian Research Journal 22, 3 (2000); 22f (accessed 11/16/2011).


Journal of Biblical Ministry But the Bible tells us to ―test all things and hold fast to that which is good‖ with regard to truth claims (I Thess. 5:20-21). Testing prophetic revelation involves examining it for genuineness and credibility. The counterfeit and false must be distinguished from the genuine. A test is ―the process of proving one‘s worth. When ascribed to God in his dealings with people, it means that God tests his peoples‘ faith and moral character84 With regard to our testing faith and moral character, John admonishes us, ―Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world (I Jn. 4:1).‖ We are under a divine mandate to be discerning in what we believe and who we believe. That mandate assumes that doctrinal truth is discernible. To abandon the search for doctrinal understanding is dangerous. ―Imagine living in a world in which you couldn‘t separate truth from error. You wouldn‘t be able to tell food from poison, or friend from foe. You couldn‘t tell good from bad, right from wrong, healthy from unhealthy, or safe from unsafe. Such a world would be a dangerous place. You wouldn‘t survive long.‖ 85 God gave us His word so that we could tell truth from error. And spiritual error has consequences in this world and in the world to come. It is our duty to be discerning so that we ourselves will not be dangerous to those around us. We must not only be discerning, but teach others to be discerning as well: ―Preach the word . . . for the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables‖ (II Tim. 4:2-4). Preaching the word is often regarded as a mark of intolerance in today‘s culture and attempting to impose our views on others. The Bible promotes tolerance in some areas, but with regard to false doctrine, the believer must be intolerant. To promote sound doctrine may not be a sign of arrogance, but of faithfulness to our Lord and His word. A negative attitude and harsh manner in which someone teaches may convey arrogance, but sound doctrine itself is not to be viewed as an expression of arrogance. 84

Elwell, Walter A. ; Comfort, Philip Wesley: Tyndale Bible Dictionary. Wheaton, Ill. : Tyndale House Publishers, 2001 (Tyndale Reference Library), S. 1248 85

Greg Koukl. Solid Ground. San Pedro, CA: Stand to Reason. (May-June 1999), 1.

Spring, 2012

Furthermore, the ―imposition‖ of doctrinal views on another suggests a pushy approach that somehow violates a person‘s right to privacy. Attempts to persuade another person on most any subject are common. No attempt can force a person to buy into what is set forth. The will cannot be coerced. As the old saying goes, ―A man convinced against his will, is of the same opinion still.‖ If the person does not wish to be persuaded after giving one‘s best reasons, it is futile to pursue the issue on that occasion. The hearer is free not to hear sound doctrinal teaching. He is not free to escape the consequences of rejecting it! Perhaps a later time will present a more teachable moment. For the time being if a person requests to be left alone, his or her wishes should be respected. Regardless of what the believer does in attempting to be tactful, someone will always be offended because of the reaction of a resistant conscience to truth. In evaluating the claim that we should not try to discern whether doctrine is true or not or whether it should be imposed on others or not, the objector should be asked, ―Are you trying to determine whether my insistance on the importance of doctrine is true or false?‘ Also, ―Are you not trying to impose your beliefs concerning doctrine on me?‖ To bring up these objections is logically self-refuting! Conclusion Instead of deficiencies, the study of doctrine has many benefits. The Bible teaches that doctrine unites, is nourishing for life, helps people to function well in life, is relevant because important, provides the basis for godly living, and is understandable and should be used to test whether something is true or not. If doctrine has engendered disdain, it is not the fault of doctrine. ―We have done to doctrine what backyard chefs often do to a good steak—ruin it in the making!‖86 We need more doctrine, not less. What the Bible teaches is not just an alternative cultural narrative. Doctrine is rooted in divine revelation assisted by, but not judged ultimately by, reason. Once mastered, it is to be considered objective and normative, not subjective and speculative. If we are to have accuracy in our thinking of the truth, receive answers to questions about the truth, regain confidence in understanding of the truth, 86

Stowell. Ibid.


Journal of Biblical Ministry maintain balance in our perspective of the truth, clarify our expression of the truth, stimulate effectiveness in the living of the truth, and to secure real unity in the truth in the body of Christ, we must study doctrine. We have noted that everyone is a theologian. Everyone has some ideas of what they believe about God and His ways. Yet, nowhere is the study of doctrine more important than among Christian leaders (cf. I Tim. 4:1-4). There is among pastors, for instance, ―the absolutely crucial need for constant and careful theological study and application.‖87 Without such activity there is no way the pastor can guard the stewardship of truth entrusted‖ to him (2 Tim. 1:14). ―It was Timothy‘s responsibility to preserve sound teaching from becoming corrupted through distortion, dilution, deletion, and addition. Heretical teaching was not only a possibility to Paul; it was a constant threat to be guarded against.‖88 Also, apart from knowledge of doctrine there was no way to to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.89 (Jude 3). Since doctrine is important, what would you do as a Christian leader, knowing about the decay of doctrinal convictions? How would that affect your preparation for and performance of ministry? Doctrinal teaching is often categorized in the area of unfelt needs rather than felt needs. What strategy would you use to attract folks to doctrinal preaching and teaching that would make a significant impact in their lives? A final example on the value of doctrine comes from Peanuts: A Peanuts cartoon pictured Lucy and Linus looking out the window at a steady downpour of rain. ―Boy,‖ said Lucy, ―look at it rain. What if it floods the whole world?‖ ―It will never do that,‖ Linus replied confidently. ―In the ninth chapter of Genesis, God promised Noah that would never happen again, and the sign of the promise is the rainbow.‖ ―You‘ve taken a great load off my mind,‖ said Lucy with a relieved smile. ―Sound theology,‖ pontificated Linus, ―has a way of doing that!‖90 87

Harold D. Foos. ―The Pastor and Theology.‖ Conservative Theological Journal. 2:4 (March 1998), 5. See also R. Albert Mohler. The Pastor as Theologian. Louisville, KY: The Southern Bapitst Theological Seminary, 2007. 88

John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck and Dallas Theological Seminary, The Bible Knowledge Commentary : An Exposition of the Scriptures (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1983-), 2 Ti 1:14. 89

The New King James Version. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Jud 3. Charles Shultz. Quoted by Bart Shaw. ―Sound Theology has a Way (What about Global Warming?)‖ (Accessed 8/31/2011). 90

Spring, 2012

The Theological System of Preterism Ron J. Bigalke MApol, MDiv, MTS, PhD, PhD(abd) Georgia State Director, Capitol Commission Author and Lecturer, Eternal Ministries Missionary, Biblical Ministries Worldwide Preterism (from the Latin praeter, which means ―past‖ with regard to time) is the view that the majority (sometimes all) of Bible prophecy has already been fulfilled. The preterist viewpoint affirms that Titus and the Roman armies already fulfilled major prophetic events, such as the Olivet Discourse and the Book of Revelation, when they destroyed Jerusalem in AD 70. The purpose for this article is to introduce the reader to the various preterist interpretative methodologies, and how the theological system of preterism relates to amillennialism and postmillennialism. As the purpose is to introduce the reader to preterism, a brief refutation (as opposed to an exhaustive response) of preterism will conclude the article. Preterist Interpretation Preterists believe they adequately interpret the historical background by relating the fulfillment of major prophetic events to the time of the original audience. For instance, the preterist viewpoint is thought to best interpret Christ‘s words in Matthew 24:34 (―Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled‖), and other references to the coming of Christ as ―quickly‖ or ―at hand‖ (Matt 4:17; 10:7; Mark 1:15; Luke 21:30-31; Rev 2:5, 16; 3:11; 22:7, 12, 20).1 Since the events of the Olivet Discourse and the Book of Revelation parallel each other, these passages are understood by preterists to refer only to events that occurred in the first century. The following chart indicates the different types of preterism.

Prophetic Timing Coming of Christ Resurrection Last Days


Mild Preterism AD 70-400 Futur e Yes Yes No Yes Yes No

Par tial Pr eterism AD 70 Futur e Yes Yes No Yes Yes No

Full Preterism AD 70 Futur e Yes No Yes No Yes No

Matthew 24:34, and the Revelation passages, are indicating ―the manner in which tribulational events will occur, and not their timing.‖ Ron J. Bigalke Jr., ―The Olivet Discourse: A Resolution of Time,‖ Chafer Theological Seminary Journal 9 (Spring 2003): 125-26.

Journal of Biblical Ministry Mild preterism interprets the Book of Revelation as fulfilled in both the first century with the fall of Jerusalem and the fifth century with the fall of Rome. The first half of Revelation refers to AD 70 when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the second half refers to the judgment upon Rome. Therefore, the majority of Bible prophecy has already been fulfilled when God brought His wrath upon Israel and Rome. Partial preterists understand the majority of Bible prophecy as fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem, but they still anticipate a future second coming and resurrection/judgment. Full preterism believes that all eschatological prophecies were fulfilled in AD 70 and that there will only be a spiritual resurrection rather than a bodily resurrection. Consequently, full preterism is heretical. The preterist view teaches the destruction of God‘s enemy, Israel, is indisputable proof for the divine establishment of Christianity. Prophetic Timing and the Millennium Failure to maintain a consistent and literal interpretation is the reason for significant disagreement among evangelicals regarding biblical eschatology, which is especially true in regards to the timing of prophetic fulfillment and the meaning of the millennium. Preterists, for instance, believe most prophetic events have already been fulfilled. Preterist understanding regarding the timing of prophetic fulfillment means there is both amillennial preterism and postmillennial preterism. Due to the particulars of preterism, one could not affirm the preterist position and still believe in a literal return of Christ to earth followed by the millennial kingdom (i.e. premillennialism is incompatible with preterism). Full preterists (John Bray, Walt Hibbard, Max King, J. Stuart Russell, and Ed Stevens) find it especially difficult to embrace premillennialism since they believe the second coming of Christ occurred in AD 70 and obviously a literal millennial reign did not occur thereafter. Of course, if advocates of preterism did believe in a literal millennial reign then the current age would be more than a thousand years postmillennially into eternity. It is possible for mild preterists (Isbon T. Beckwith) and partial preterists (R. C. Sproul, reconstructionists), theoretically at least, to be premillennial. However, because of an inconsistent hermeneutic, the preterist position is more consistent with the amillennial and postmillennial view. The majority of contemporary preterists seem to be postmillennialists. However, it could be said that these preterists are actually transmillennial since a large majority teach the

Spring, 2012

church is already in the new heavens and new earth (full preterism is completely transmillennial).2 There are many similarities between amillennialism and postmillennialism. It is for this reason that one can easily hold a preterist position and consider themselves either amillennial or postmillennial. The most popular amillennial preterist today is R. C. Sproul. The dominant arguments for postmillennial preterism are from the reconstructionists, such as Gary DeMar, Kenneth Gentry, Gary North, and Greg Bahnsen. The Theological System of Preterism Amillennialism The prefix a means no, which can give the appearance that amillennialists do not believe in a future reign of Christ even when the Old Testament clearly prophesies of a future kingdom in fulfillment of the promises of God. In fairness, amillennialists are not rejecting a literal return of Jesus Christ (only full preterists are that bold and heretical), but they do reject the belief in a literal millennial reign of Christ on earth. Amillennialists recognize this confusion, which is why some favor the term ―realized millennialism.‖3 Therefore, the current age is the kingdom of God. At the perfection of the current age, amillennialists believe the eternal state will be established without the need for a literal thousand-year reign. The kingdom of God is both a present reality in the current age and a future hope in the eternal state. Amillennialists believe the kingdom began at the birth of Christ and it will be perfected at the time of His second coming. The kingdom is now since Christ is presently ruling from heaven; it is the time from the first coming to the second coming. Christ will not reign for a literal thousandyears since the current age is ―the millennium now.‖ Hoekema explained the two views concerning the millennium. The amillennial position on the thousand years of Revelation 20 implies that Christians who are now living are enjoying the benefits of this millennium since Satan has been bound for the duration of this period [i.e. the millennium is the church on earth]. . . . Amillennials also teach that during this same thousand-year period the souls of believers who have 2

Kenneth L. Gentry Jr., ―A Preterist View of Revelation,‖ in Four Views on the Book of Revelation, gen. ed. C. Marvin Pate (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998) 87-90. 3

Jay E. Adams, The Time Is at Hand (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1970).


Journal of Biblical Ministry

Spring, 2012

died are now living and reigning with Christ in heaven while they await the resurrection of the body [i.e. the millennium is the church in heaven].4 It should be apparent why amillennialists speak of an already form of the kingdom and yet a future eschatology. The current age is thought to be the fulfillment of Revelation 20 since believers are in the millennium. The departed saints, now in heaven, are living and reigning with Christ in heaven. There will be a general resurrection of believers and unbelievers at the second coming of Christ. In terms of the future, amillennialists regard the second coming of Christ as a single event, which is in contrast to premillennialists who understand the second coming of Christ to occur in two phases. Concerning the tribulation period, amillennialists reject the idea of a specific seven-year period.5 Believers who are alive at the return of Christ will be transformed and glorified as they meet Christ in the air and return with Christ to earth. After the second coming, those who have rejected Christ will be sent into everlasting punishment at the final judgment. On the other hand, believers will enter the everlasting glory of the eternal state. At this time, both heaven and earth will be created new. Just as there are different forms of preterism, so are there different forms of amillennialism. Some amillennialists determine their view of Scripture based on a preterist perspective, as such, these amillennialists refer to the AD 70 destruction of the Jewish Temple. Other Postmillennialism: presently, in the amillennialists understand the fulfillment of biblical church age, the eschatology continuing to AD 300 (approximately) and the kingdom is being reign of Constantine. Some amillennialists classify extended in the themselves as historicists, which means biblical eschatology world through the describes events of the last two thousand years of the preaching of the Gospel. church age. Other amillennialists regard biblical eschatology as the cosmic battle between good and evil. Postmillennialism Postmillennialism is the view that the kingdom of God is the current age of the church. Presently, in the church age, the kingdom is being extended in the world through the preaching of the Gospel. Through the preaching of the Gospel and saving work of the Holy Spirit, the church will introduce a golden age wherein the church is no longer expanding the kingdom, but is actually reigning in the 4

Anthony A. Hoekema, ―Amillennialism,‖ in The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views, ed. Robert G. Clouse (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1977) 181. 5

The word tribulation is not a technical term. It can refer to general suffering (John 16:33; Acts 14:22; Rom 5:3; 12:12), to the seven years of Daniel‘s seventieth week (Jer 30:7-9; Dan 9:24-27; 12:1), or to the second half of the seventieth week, the great tribulation (Matt 24:21).

kingdom. At this time, the majority of people in the world (not necessarily all) will become ―Christian.‖ Postmillennialists believe the present church age is expanding morally and spiritually until it introduces the golden age. The millennium is not a literal thousand years; it is simply a long period of time. After the millennium, ―a long period of righteousness and peace,‖6 Christ will return. Postmillennialism, therefore, holds to three essentials: (1) the world will become Christianized through the preaching of the gospel; (2) the preaching of the gospel will introduce a long period of peace and righteousness; and, (3) the return of Christ will be after the golden age commonly called the millennium. There is disagreement among postmillennialists as to whether the term ―millennium‖ refers to the entire church age or is limited to the golden age. For instance, Kik applied the term to the expanding of the ―gospel dispensation‖ and ―the victorious reign of the saints upon earth regardless of martyrdom and suffering.‖7 Conversely, Boettner limited the millennium to ―a golden age of spiritual prosperity during this present dispensation, that is, during the Church age, and is to be brought about through forces now active in the world.‖8 A major feature of postmillennialism is its staunch optimism that the world is getting better. That a great spiritual advance has been made should be clear to all. Consider, for instance, the awful moral and spiritual conditions that existed on earth before the coming of Christ—the world at large groping helplessly in pagan darkness with slavery, polygamy, oppressed conditions of women and children, the almost complete lack of political freedom, the ignorance, poverty, and primitive medical care that was the lot of nearly all except those who belonged to the ruling classes. . . . Today the world at large is on a far higher plane.9 There may be disagreement among evangelicals regarding the nature of the millennium, but all non-postmillennialists challenge the notion that the world is getter better. Covenant premillennialist George Ladd wrote, ―The argument that the world is getting better is a two-edged sword. One can equally well argue from 6

Loraine Boettner, The Millennium, rev. ed. (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed,

1984) 4. 7

J. Marcellus Kik, An Eschatology of Victory (Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed,

1974) 49. 8

Boettner, Millennium, 14.


Loraine Boettner, ―Postmillennialism,‖ in Meaning of Millennium, 125-26.


Journal of Biblical Ministry empirical evidence that the world is getting worse.‖10 Likewise, dispensational premillennialist Herman Hoyt responded: There is a sense in which the world is getting better, as Boettner affirms. But there is a sense in which the age is growing worse. . . . All progress, including moral and spiritual progress, should be reason for hope in a coming millennium here on earth ushered in by the Lord Jesus Christ. But the spiritual decline is reason for warning of an approaching end of the age with judgment from Christ. This decline is coming in spite of the spiritual influence of the church and suggests that real hope must be vested in the personal appearance of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is not to ignore international good will, the translation and dissemination of Scriptures, the worldwide missionary movements, the increasing Christian population and the many other factors contributing to a better society. But in assessing these values, one dare not shut his eyes to the trends that point to the disintegration and demoralization of society in preparation for the end of the age.11 Amillennialist Anthony Hoekema also challenged the postmillennial belief that the world is getting better. Boettner‘s second argument is that the world is growing better (pp. 12533). Many readers will be inclined to take issue with the author on this point. To begin with, his sketch of world conditions is seriously out of date. Little or nothing is said, for example, about the war in Vietnam, the tension in the Middle East, the ecological crisis, the world food shortage or the energy crisis. . . . Besides, the author seems to pick out only the favorable aspects of world conditions while ignoring unfavorable aspects. He mentions, for example, how much progress has been made in the areas of transportation and communication. But certainly modern inventions are used for purposes which are evil as well as good!12 Postmillennialism did rise during an age of scientific and educational advances, but it virtually diminished in light of the two world wars in the twentieth century. A major fault of postmillennialism is its failure to interact with the historical facts. If taken consistently, postmillennialism could embrace any organization that is 10

George Eldon Ladd, ―An Historic Premillennial Response,‖ in Meaning of the Millennium, 143. 11

Herman A. Hoyt, ―A Dispensational Premillennial Response,‖ in Meaning of the Millennium, 146-47. 12

Anthony A. Hoekema, ―An Amillennial Response,‖ in Meaning of the Millennium, 151.

Spring, 2012

making society better as advancing the kingdom even though the same organization could be contributing to evil in the society. For instance, there were some who supported the Nazi party since they believed that Kaiser Wilhelm‘s policies were making society better. Sometimes, postmillennialism will obfuscate the distinctions between good and evil. Postmillennial teaching regards the expansion of the kingdom as eventually affecting every sphere of life (culturally, economically, politically, and socially). When the church emerges triumphant, through the preaching of the gospel, postmillennialists teach that wickedness ―will be reduced to negligible proportions, that Christian principles will be the rule, not the exception, and that Christ will return to a truly Christianized world.‖13 There is a strong relationship between preterism and postmillennialism. Advocates of such positions have deceived the church into thinking that God has rejected Israel. As a result, they believe it is necessary for the church to build the kingdom of God throughout the world. Unfortunately, today John Walvoord‘s comments with regard to postmillennialism is postmillennialism are equally applicable regarding experiencing a preterism: ―In order to find fulfillment of millennial resurgence in the promises in the present age, it is necessary for them to Christian follow an allegorical or figurative system of reconstruction interpretation in great areas of Biblical prophecy.‖14 The movement. unrelenting attempt to find the fulfillment of biblical eschatology in the rejection of Israel, as demonstrated in the destruction of Jerusalem, is the motivating factor for preterism. The church is now the means through which millennial blessings will be experienced. It is for this reason that a relationship can be made between the foundation of preterism and the postmillennial system. Unfortunately, postmillennialism today is experiencing a resurgence in the Christian reconstruction movement. Christian reconstruction, or dominion theology, argues that Christians are to exercise dominion in all spheres of life. Dominion will occur as the church preaches the gospel and institutes the law of God in the church and the world. Prominent postmillennialists who are also preterists include: David Chilton, Gary DeMar, Kenneth L. Gentry Jr., Gary North, and Douglas Wilson. 13



John F. Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom (Findlay, OH: Dunham, 1959; reprint, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995) 24.


Journal of Biblical Ministry As a postmillennial view, reconstructionism teaches that when God created man He gave to him a mandate to subdue the earth on His behalf. The result of this mandate would be that Christians would establish the kingdom of God on earth (Gen 1:28), and this mandate was never to be revoked. Both Jews and Gentiles failed to fulfill this mandate; therefore, it was in Jesus‘ first coming that He established and restored the Old Testament Law to complete fruition (Matt 5:1719). The Old Testament Law is now to be the Christian‘s rule of life in addition to society. Through the provisions of Christ‘s death, resurrection, and ascension, reconstructionists teach that Satan was defeated and also bound. Furthermore, Satan and his minions‘ stronghold on the world have been eradicated. Although satanic activity still occurs in the world, this activity is greatly restrained. Reconstructionism affirms that at the end of history every sphere of society, including all the nations, will eventually be subjugated to Christ‘s rule by the end of history. It is believed that at this point the kingdom of God will be completely established on earth, and only then will Christ return to this earth in order that He will receive His kingdom. In view of the mandate given in Genesis, reconstructionism teaches the idea that the fulfillment of the mandate will be in the present age and without the physical reign of Christ. In other words, it is not in the millennium that Christ will lead His people in the progress of fulfilling the mandate; rather the church will do this in the present age. Millennial Differences and Similarities Postmillennialists differ from amillennialists and premillennialists in the sense that they adopt an optimistic view that a golden age of victory will be realized without a cataclysmic return of Christ. It would be similar in one sense to premillennialism since both views anticipate a future millennium when the Old Testament prophecies will be fulfilled. However, it is strongly antagonistic toward dispensational premillennialism because of the strong emphasis upon the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies by Israel in the Davidic (millennial) kingdom rather than the fulfillment by the church in a golden age instituted through gospel preaching. Postmillennialism would be similar to amillennialism since there is a single coming of Christ, a general judgment and resurrection, which will be followed by the eternal state. Consequently, it is possible to be an amillennial preterist or postmillennial preterist. Since preterists believe the tribulation period has already occurred and the second coming was the AD 70 destruction of Jerusalem, it is not possible to be a premillennial preterist. Amillennial preterists teach that the church is already in the millennium, and many postmillennial preterists are now teaching the same, which would also make premillennial preterism impossible. Millard J. Erickson identified some of the differences between the postmillennial and premillennial views as follows:

Spring, 2012

Further, this earthly millennium will not come into reality through a gradual process or progressive growth or development. Rather, it will be dramatically or cataclysmically inaugurated by the second coming. While the millennium expected by postmillennialists may begin so gradually that its beginning will be virtually imperceptible, there will be no doubt about the beginning of the millennium as premillennialists envision it. The return of Christ will be similar to His departure—dramatic and external, readily observable by anyone, and consequently unmistakable.15 Interestingly, postmillennialists have identified some common ground with progressive dispensationalists.16 Chris Strevel, pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church, applauded the progressives on five points: (1) ―soteriological clarification,‖ (2) ―covenantal unity,‖ (3) ―ethical renewal,‖ (4) ―present realization,‖ and (5) ―future fulfillment.‖17 Nevertheless, Strevel noted three main differences that still exist between covenant theology and progressive dispensationalism. First, differences exist as to the nature of the present kingdom. Postmillennialists can be pleased with progressive dispensationalists with regard to an emphasis upon the earthly aspects of the kingdom impacting present life, but also find disharmony with the fact that the majority of the fulfillment will occur in the millennium. The reason for this is that postmillennialism anticipates a glorious age of the church as a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies, and this age will be brought to fulfillment through the preaching of the gospel. All nations will become Christian and will live in peace. The prophecies will be fulfilled in history and time. Once Christianity is victorious by the institution of the glorious age, then there will be the second coming of Christ. Therefore, the emphasis is that the kingdom is now wherein the church is rejoicing and the kingdom is growing through the preaching of the gospel and will climax in a ―golden age of righteousness, peace, and prosperity that will mean the salvation of the world under the reign of Messiah the Prince.‖18 15

Millard J. Erickson, Contemporary Options in Eschatology: A Study of the Millennium (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1977) 91-92. 16

To better understand progressive dispensationalism, see Ron J. Bigalke Jr., ―Dispensationalism Today,‖ Midnight Call (August 2006): 8-19. 17

Chris Strevel, ―Dispensational Theology: A Flawed Hermeneutic Produces Flawed Eschatology,‖ SCCCS Conference on Left Behind or Moving Forward (Summer 2001). 18

Chris Strevel, ―The Certainty of the World‘s Conversion‖ [article online] (The PreteristSite, 5 July 1998, accessed 30 November 2011) available from


Journal of Biblical Ministry Second, there is also disagreement with the ―substance of Christian obedience.‖ Postmillennialists are often displeased that greater emphasis is not given to the law of God in terms of daily Christian living. Thirdly, there is the disagreement of the ―place of national Israel.‖ Progressive dispensationalism teaches that the church is receiving benefit of a ―partial and glorious experience‖ of some aspects of the Davidic kingdom, which according to postmillennialism is commendable since this teaching emphasizes covenantal unity as some Old Testament prophecies find fulfillment in the church. According to progressive dispensationalists, ―The present dispensation is not the full and complete revelation of the eschatological kingdom. It is a progressive stage in the revelation of that kingdom.‖19 Postmillennialists regard progressive dispensationalism as still in need of improvement for the following reasons: (1) it does not regard Israel‘s excommunication, as does preterism; (2) it does not interact with the phrases ―it has been fulfilled‖ (e.g. passages like Acts 2:16); and, (3) it does not realize the full lifeline implications of the present kingdom in every sphere of life.20 As it is derived from Scripture through a consistent hermeneutic, traditional (biblical) dispensationalism by its very nature demands a clear distinction between Israel and the church, yet progressive dispensationalism has obfuscated those distinctions to such an extent that postmillennialism can actually commend some of the changes, which is staggering considering the manner in which postmillennialism views the future of Israel. For instance postmillennialists may cite John 12:28-32, Ephesians 1:19-23, and Revelation 1:9 to teach that the kingdom is not imminent, but it has arrived at Christ‘s first coming. According to postmillennialism, the kingdom now is comprised of every promise and blessing (cf. Luke 1:46-54; 2 Cor 1:20). Every promise and blessing is believed to have fulfillment in Jesus Christ because of His obedience. As the church is changed by the power of the gospel, follows Christ‘s example, and lives under His lordship this will result in changed institutions in every sphere of life. The kingdom now encompasses all of the enemies of Christ being conquered so that the church is somewhere between the ―session‖ and ―final victory.‖ Furthermore, it is believed that Israel has been excommunicated; therefore, preterists of both amillennial and postmillennial persuasion believe that their view is superior. In other words, the kingdom that the Jews were expecting was not the kingdom that Jesus was offering at the triumphal entry. Israel will be restored 19

Craig A. Blaising and Darrell L. Bock, Progressive Dispensationalism (Wheaton: BridgePoint, 1993) 260. 20

Strevel, ―Dispensational Theology.‖

Spring, 2012

to the olive tree of faith (cf. Rom 11), but she will not be the mediator of all salvation blessings to the world. The inheritance that the Jews will possess will be as heirs of God‘s promises in the same manner as the church today. The Biblical Teaching against Preterism The purpose for this article is not to address all the particular interpretive errors with regard to preterism. Therefore, one primary issue will be addressed only. 21 Preterists believe that the abomination of desolation prophesied in Daniel 9:27 should be equated with the events that occurred in the AD 70 destruction of Jerusalem. Daniel prophesied that after Messiah is crucified, the Romans, that is, the people of the prince who is to come, would destroy Jerusalem and the second Temple. The prince who is to come is the eschatological Antichrist. However, the destruction of Jerusalem would occur due to the national rejection of the Messiah (Matt 24:1-2; Luke 19:41-44). The prophecy does not end with the AD 70 destruction; rather, its end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined. In other words, the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus and his armies in the first century was not the final destruction of the holy city. The reference to the end extends the prophecy to the seventieth week. A time interval, the dispensation of the church, will occur between the sixty-ninth and seventieth weeks. The interval in the current dispensation of the church of the fulfillment of the messianic program for Israel is derived from the Greek verb apotelō meaning ―to complete‖ or ―to be perfected.‖ Randall Price explained, ―The apotelesmatic interpretation recognizes in Old Testament texts that present the messianic program as a single event, a near and far historical fulfillment is intended, separated by an indeterminate period of time.‖ It is this period of time that is known as an ―intercalation‖ or a ―gap;‖ however, the term ―prophetic postponement‖ is more preferable. Since the Old Testament prophets did not have the current dispensation as a great parenthesis revealed to them, God would reveal the mystery of the church in the New Testament. Postponement is an intercalation (gap) in fulfillment, concluding that the delay is only temporary, and hence prophetic since there is a purposeful and preordained work in the divine program. God implied a parenthesis in His messianic program in the Old Testament with references of Israel‘s hardening (Isa 6:9-13; Zech 7:11-12) and 21

For specific attention to preterist interpretation of prophetic texts in Matthew‘s Gospel, see Ron J. Bigalke Jr., ―Preterism and Matthean Timing of Prophetic Fulfillment,‖ Journal of Dispensational Theology 11 (August 2007): 21-48; and, Neil D. Nelson Jr., ―Three Critical Exegetical Issues in Matthew 24: A Dispensational Interpretation,‖ Journal of Dispensational Theology 11 (August 2007): 49-67.


Journal of Biblical Ministry judicial exile (Deut 4:27-30; 28:36-37, 49-50, 64-68); however, this postponement in the divine program was not fully revealed until the New Testament (John 12:37-40; Acts 28:25-28; Rom 11:25-26).22 It can be said that a false covenant, the same covenant prophesied by the prophet Isaiah (28:14-22), will be made with Israel by the Antichrist. The seventieth week is the false covenant that lasts for one week of years; 23 that is, a period of seven years commonly understood as the tribulation, or time of God‘s wrath. Scripture also teaches that the tribulation is divided by the abomination of desolation into two three and one half year periods (cf. 2 Thess 2:3-4). According to the eschatological chronology of Daniel 9 and 2 Thessalonians 2, the tribulation will follow the rapture of the church, which is yet future and will terminate the present prophetic postponement of the church age between the sixth-ninth and seventieth weeks. Shortly after the rapture, the tribulation will begin with the signing of the false covenant between Israel and the Antichrist. It is this event that will inaugurate the final events of Daniel 9:24-27. The nature of the tribulation will focus upon Israel. Jeremiah 30:7 refers to the tribulation period as a time of Jacob’s distress. During this period, God will prepare Israel for restoration and conversion (Deut 4:29-30; Jer 30:3-11; Zech 12:10). God will also judge an unbelieving world during this time for its sins against Him (Isa 13:9; 24:19-20; Rev 4—19). All nations and communities will be affected by this judgment. However, for those who trust in the Messiah there will be salvation. The time of wrath will also result in worldwide evangelization and mass conversions (Matt 24:14; Rev 7:1-17). The tribulation will end with the return of Christ to this earth. He will descend upon the Mount of Olives, cross the Kidron Valley, and enter the Eastern Gate (Zech 14:4; cf. Matt 24—25). Clearly, there is not a single event that occurred at the destruction of Jerusalem which can be said to fulfill Daniel‘s description and Christ‘s reference of Daniel in Matthew 24:15. Conclusion Both preterist amillennialism and preterist postmillennialism replace God‘s program for Israel with the church despite the fact that Scripture never claims that God has permanently rejected Israel (cf. Deut 28—30). Indeed, the Old 22

Randall Price, ―Prophetic Postponement in Daniel 9:24-27,‖ in Progressive Dispensationalism: An Analysis of the Movement and Defense of Traditional Dispensationalism, gen. ed. Ron J. Bigalke Jr. (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2005) 218-29. 23

The Hebrew word for week is sh`B|u' which means a unit of seven.

Spring, 2012

Testament clearly teaches a restoration of a future national Israel (Joel 3:1; Amos 9:11-15; Zeph 3:20; Zech 12:10). It is biblical to affirm that great blessings are yet to come for the nation of Israel in the future. Although she has been temporarily set aside as a nation in the fulfilling of the covenants, God will ultimately bring the nation to a place of prominence where she will be a blessing to all the nations of the world. God‘s covenant people, Israel, were not cast away; rather, ―judicial blindness‖ was brought on the people.24 The stumbling block to the Gentiles (which would include preterist amillennialists and preterist postmillennialists) was not that Israel should fall and be rejected permanently; rather, the temporary ―casting away‖ was to allow salvation to come to the Gentiles in order that Israel would be provoked to jealousy (Rom 11:7-11). God has principally focused on Gentiles in this present dispensation because of Israel‘s hardness of heart. However, a future blessing for the nation of Israel is to be eagerly expected. Paul wrote, ―For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall be the receiving of them be, but the life from the dead‖ (11:15).25 It is because Abraham is the root of promise and Israel is the stock of promise that the Gentiles cannot boast about being grafted into the rich root of the olive tree (11:16-18). The encouraging and humbling note to Gentiles is that God is using the failure of Israel as a way of opening doors to the Gentiles (of which the Book of Acts is a testimony). When God resumes His covenant program with Israel as a nation, her spiritual condition will be a complete contrast with what it is presently. Currently, Israel is hardened to a degree. The natural branches of the olive tree have been broken off as a consequence of her unbelief, but the hardening is not complete because God still has a remnant of faith. When ―the fulness of the Gentiles be come in,‖ God will again turn to Israel and ―all Israel shall be saved‖ (11:25-26). The ―all Israel‖ refers to a turn to God by Israel on a national scale. A mass turning to God by the Jews does seem impossible today. However, Romans 11:28-32 emphasize the certainty that the event will occur because the ―gifts and calling of God are without repentance‖ (11:29). God never retracts on His acts of grace (11:29). God has ―concluded them all in unbelief‖ for the precise purpose that He can show mercy on the Jewish nation (11:32). God‘s ways are unsearchable beyond all understanding, and the church does well when we find ourselves not teaching doctrines contrary to His eternal plans (11:33-36). 24

John Nelson Darby, The Collected Writings of J. N. Darby, 34 vols., ed. William Kelly (Sunbury, PA: Believer‘s Bookshelf, 1971) 26:109. 25

John F. Walvoord, Israel in Prophecy (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1962) 56.


The Apologetic Value of Near-Death Experiences D. Scott Henderson, Ph.D. Assistant Professor of Bioethics & Apologetics Although the term near-death experience (henceforth, NDE) may have a short etymological history, accounts of the phenomena associated with NDEs appear throughout history, even among the earliest ancient writings. To be sure, the diversity among the sources of NDE reports is as varied as the religiosity of the civilizations out of which they come. With the publication of Raymond Moody‘s Life After Life in 1976,1 came a flood of interest in the subject of NDEs that continues to be felt at both the academic and popular levels. Moody is not only credited with crafting the terminology in NDE studies but also with raising the issues surrounding NDEs to the point of catching the interest of the academy. Since the publication of Life After Life a plethora of articles and books have been published on the topic as well as the creation of a society producing a scholarly journal devoted entirely to NDE studies. Contributors range in diversity from cardiologists, neurologists, and psychologists, to parapsychologists and psychics. Within the speculative sciences there has also been a great deal of interest in exploring the implications of NDEs, especially in the area of philosophy of religion. My interest in this presentation lies in the apologetic value, or lack thereof, that NDE phenomena are capable of providing, especially for traditional, orthodox Christianity that holds the Bible as authoritative. My procedure in this analysis will be as follows: First, I will introduce the subject of NDEs by providing a summary of the common elements, which are consistently found in NDE reports. Second, I will offer a medical/evidential and theological/philosophical analysis of NDEs in an effort to assess their apologetic value. I In order to gain a perspective of NDEs, we begin by looking at an example as provided by Moody: A man is dying and, as he reaches the point of greatest physical distress, he hears himself pronounced dead by his doctor. He begins to hear an uncomfortable noise, a loud ringing or buzzing, and at the same time feels himself moving very rapidly through a long, dark tunnel. After this, he suddenly finds himself outside his own physical body, but still in the 1

Raymond Moody, Life After Life (New York: Bantam Books, 1976).

immediate physical environment, and he sees this own body from a distance, as though he is a spectator. He watches the resuscitation attempts from this unusual vantage point and is in a state of emotional upheaval. After a while, he collects himself and becomes more accustomed to his odd condition. He notices that he still has a 'body,' but one of a very different nature and with very different powers from the physical body he has left behind. Soon other things begin to happen. Others come to meet and help him. He glimpses the spirits of relatives and friends who have already died, and a loving, warm spirit of a kind he has never encountered before - a being of light - appears before him. This being asks him a question, nonverbally, to make him evaluate his life and helps him along by showing him a panoramic, instantaneous playback of the major events of his life. At some point he finds himself approaching some sort of barrier or border, apparently representing the limit between earthly life and the next life. Yet, he finds that he must go back to the earth, that the time for his death has not yet come. At this point he resists, for by now he is taken up with his experiences in the afterlife and does not want to return. He is overwhelmed by intense feelings of joy, love, and peace. Despite his attitude, though, he somehow reunites with his physical body and lives. Later he tries to tell others, but he has trouble doing so. In the first place, he can find no human words adequate to describe these unearthly episodes. He also finds that others scoff, so he stops telling other people. Still, the experience affects his life profoundly, especially his views about death and its relationship to life.2 From this baseline we are able to gather the basic building blocks of NDEs. These NDE building blocks are fifteen in number and termed the common elements. It should be noted that not all of these elements are contained in every genuine NDE. Some contain only one and others as many as fourteen. These common elements form the standard building blocks in NDE research. I will list them in abbreviated form. 1) ineffability-inability to express the experience in words; 2) hearing the news-the pronouncement of death; 3) feelings of peace and quiet; 4) noise-distinct sounds, either pleasant or harsh, at time of death; 5) darkness-being pulled through a dark tunnel or space; 6) body separation-viewing one‘s own body from above; 7) meeting othersoften other deceased ones; 8) beings of light-bright light, described 2

Moody, Life After Life,22-23.


Journal of Biblical Ministry sometimes as personal and other times as impersonal; 9) a life reviewrapid and panoramic review of one‘s life; 10) the boarder/limit-a point of no return described in various images; 11) coming back-returning to one‘s body via one‘s own choice; 12) telling others-believing the experience to be real, feeling the need to tell others; 13) changed livesoften a feeling of a deeper understanding of life; 14) new views of death-most no longer fear death and all doubts about an afterlife are gone; 15) corroboration-a select number of NDErs have reported, with some degree of accuracy, what occurred during the times they were supposedly unconscious.3 In addition to Moody‘s work is Michael Sabom‘s book, Recollections of Death.4 In this study, Sabom classifies NDEs into three categories, or types. The first type of NDE is called the autoscopic. Characteristically, during autoscopic NDEs the experiencer allegedly finds herself separated from her body and is able to view ―objects and events in the vicinity of [her] unconscious body.‖5 Moreover, autoscopic experiencers also report traveling to other earthly places, which may be in the same buildings their bodies reside, or to more distant places, like their homes. After the experience, the NDEr is able to report events and conversations that took place in the places she has traveled with amazing accuracy.6 With many NDE researchers able to corroborate the reports, some have concluded that these types of NDEs provide irrefutable evidence that autoscopic NDErs actually leave their bodies. Thus, autoscopic NDEs present the most interesting factors to be considered for this investigation. The second type of NDE Sabom classifies as the transcendental NDE. Transcendental NDEs contain ―descriptions of objects and events that ‗transcend‘ or surpass our earthly limit.‖ The person‘s soul, or ―consciousness,‖ traverses ―into a foreign region or dimension quite apart from the ‗earthly‘ surroundings of his physical body.‖7 Some NDE researchers consider these experiences the most interesting due to their ―expansive revelations‖ and 3 4

Ibid., 48-49. Michael Sabom, Recollections of Death (New York: Harper & Row, 1982.)


Richard Abanes, Journey Into the Lght Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1996).


Sabom, 27-33.


Ibid., 41.

Spring, 2012

ineffable ―alternative realities.‖8 The third type of NDE is classified by Sabom as the autoscopic/transcendental NDE. The implication of this designation denotes a blending of the two previously described NDE types. Elements from both autoscopic and transcendental NDEs, following one another respectively, form what Sabom calls ―a continuous unbroken sequence.‖9 These sequences require no fixed amount of time. The sequence may come in rapid succession, simultaneously, or one may experience a lengthier period in the first followed by a short period in the second or vice versa. Indeed, there is no fixed time limit for any type of NDE to occurr.10 Now that we have been introduced to the subject of NDEs, we will now consider the extent of their apologetic value by conducting a multi-level analysis. II Medical/Evidential Considerations. NDEers are convinced that they have died. In fact, many who have experienced a NDE often believe they are the only ones who know that they have died. This is partially based on a popular notion that one is ―dead‖ immediately at the absence of vital signs, even if their absence is temporary. Unfortunately, the popular press furthers this misconception by confusing …Death has not transpired in any clinical death—the temporary absence of clinical signs— NED cases as well as various categories of neurological death, with the death of the organism as a whole. But when we consider the actual criteria of death employed in both medical practice and law, it becomes clear that death has not transpired in any NDE cases. The accepted medical definition of death is the permanent cessation of functioning of the organism as a whole. The criteria for the death of the organism as a whole are the permanent cessation of the cardiopulmonary functions or the permanent cessation of all functions of the entire brain, including the brain stem.11 One of the key words in both the definition and criteria is ―permanent.‖ 8

Abanes, 33.


Sabom, 52.


Abanes, 34.


The Uniform Determination of Death Act (UDDA) defined death in the following way: ―either (1) irreversible cessation of circulatory and respiratory functions, or (2) irreversible cessation of all functions of the entire brain, including the brain stem, is dead. A determination of death must be made in accordance with accepted medical standards.‖ President‘s Commission


Journal of Biblical Ministry The confusion lies in the fact that many over-zealous researchers and theorists may be calling a person ―dead‖ when in fact they are in the dying process, that at least to a certain point, may be reversible. Prior to the advent of resuscitation techniques and life-sustaining technology such as the ventilator, it was quite common to view death as that event when the heart stopped beating or breathing ceased. Permanent loss of these life signs was indicated at the moment they stopped. However, now we know that their mere loss does not necessarily indicate that the loss is permanent. The import of these considerations into our analysis becomes clear at this point. Within the literature on NDEs, straightforward statements like ―X died but didn‘t stay dead,‖ are problematic. Because death is often confused in many people‘s minds as a state instead of a process leading to a state, people have a problem shifting from the noun, death, a state, to the verb, dying, a process. This is because the word dead is often taken to name a thing in the same way that ―Carnegie Hall‖ names something. It is not thought strange that since ―deadness‖ has a name, it is a thing, it has existence. But a reification of this sort is confusing at best, and, at worse, dangerous. Yet, much of our literature, art, legal language, and medical practice reflect this view of death. Whitehead referred to these kinds of usages as ―the fallacy of misplaced concreteness.‖12 To construe a lack of an abstraction, in this case, ―death,‖ as if it were a concrete ―thing,‖ is fallacious. Death is not a ―grim reaper‖ or an ―entity‖ that is concretely identifiable. Rather, death is a developing process in which cellular breakdown is occurring that culminates to a state of irreversibility. The point at which one has ―died‖ is the point of irreversibility. The problem in NDE literature is that these two concepts are often confused by both NDErs and NDE researchers. What is clear from all the reports that I have read is that they take place in the process of dying, but none do so when these people have died, at least according to the medical and legal definition of death. The other key word is ―cessation.‖ This is particularly relevant in cases of NDEs occurring when there is an absence of neurological function. Researchers and theorists who rely upon cases in which a flat electroencephalogram (EEG) for the Study of Ethical Problems in Medicine and Biomedical and Behavioral Research, Defining Death: A Report on the Medical, Legal and Ethical Issues in the Determination of Death (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1981). Stephen Vicchio, ―Near-Death Experiences: Some Logical Problems and Questions for Further Study,‖ Anabiosis-The Journal for Near-Death Studies, vol.1(1), July 1981, 67. I am relying a great deal on Vicchio‘s insights here. 12

Spring, 2012

reading is reported are on shaky grounds.13 For one thing, EEG technology is only capable of reading surface activity on the cerebrum. Deeper activity in the cortex may in fact continue and be undetectable. As a case in point, patients who suffer from the condition known as persistent vegetative state are diagnosed not on the basis of EEG readings alone, but on sustained observations over a long period of time. Only after CAT scans reveal cortex shrinkage, which can take years to observe, can the condition be updated to permanent vegetative state. For another, reports of heightened, lucid conscious experiences of patients with flat EEG readings, lack of cerebral blood flow, and no clinical life signs are suggestive of an “Almost nothing is epistemological gap in the understanding of the nature of known about how the consciousness.14 Indeed, to conclude that a certain brain produces capacity, X, is present through the observation of its awareness, and current models of corresponding activity, Y, does not entail that in the brain function don’t absence of activity Y, capacity X is no longer present. It is accord with the little therefore fallacious to infer that an individual lacks any that is known.” rational capacity on the sole basis of not having observed any rational or neural activity.15 To illustrate the problem further, a recent article in the magazine Wired reports that, despite advancements in neuroscience, ―Almost nothing is known about how the brain produces awareness, and current models of brain function don't accord with the little that is known.‖16 The article goes on to highlight five major problems that are yet to be overcome before any model can begin to be constructed for explaining consciousness.17 These problems are so acute that the prospects of constructing a coherent model of consciousness based on the classic physics governing neuroscience today seem unlikely. 13

For example, Habermas and Moreland make much of these sorts of cases. Gary R. Habermas & J.P. Moreland, Beyond Death (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1998), 165. 14

The literature in this area is vast and diverse. However, for an excellent work detailing the implications of NDEs to brain death, see: Pim van Lommel. "About the Continuity of Our Consciousness." In Brain Death and Disorders of Consciousness, ed. Calixto & D. Alan Shewmon Machado, 115-132. New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers, 2004. 15

Eberl, Jason T. "A Thomistic Understanding of Human Death." Bioethics 19, no. 1 (2005): 29-48. 16

Mark Anderson. "Never Mind the Singularity, Here's the Science." Wired Magazine2008, 17

These include: 1) No one knows how the mind is synchronized; 2) Current brain maps are of little use in explaining awareness; 3) The brain‘s computations may be a trillion times faster than previously thought; 4) Our current understanding of how anesthesia works flatly contradicts the notion that consciousness arises from firing neurons;)5 Understanding consciousness may have to wait for a new physics. See Anderson, ―Never Mind the Singularity.‖


Journal of Biblical Ministry

Moreover, medical experts have pointed out that when the brain experiences a lack of blood or oxygen, as in the case of persons experiencing NDEs, a number of possible reactions take place. First, there is hypercarbia in which too much CO2 builds up in the brain causing a number of NDE-like sensations. Second, there may be a Limbic Lobe Syndrome/Temporal Lobe Seizures. Simply put, this is the result of a lack of oxygen in the brain resulting in the susceptibility to seizure activity. Some neuropsychologists have concluded that NDE phenomena may be explained as complex hallucinations, natural highs, or sensory disconnection. Third, many, if not all, of the phenomena associated with NDEs can either be replicated or explained by chemical and/or psychological conditions. In fact, drugs such as LSD, cannabis, chloroform, and ether have been known to produce NDE-like phenomena, such as out-of-body experiences. The body (brain) often sends various chemicals (drugs) throughout the body to induce certain reactions under certain conditions, including non-cognitive mental functions. These facts strongly suggest that there are physiologic explanations capable of accounting for these phenomena that do not warrant the conclusion that a body-soul separation has occurred. Finally, NDEs are often more inconsistent than proponents will concede. What is rarely reported is just how often NDErs get it wrong. That is, when reviewing the reports for corroboration, many reports miss the mark entirely. Those that do get some things right often only do so in generalities that can be explained by preknowledge of the environment or coaxing by family and friends.18 Moreover, psychologists believe that individuals are capable of perceiving the environment around them, despite the crisis event they may be experiencing. 19 These missing facts, coupled with the ability of the limbic system of the brain to create images, may, in fact, explain much of the purported accuracy of the autoscopic experiences. Theological/Philosophical Considerations. It has been noted earlier that NDEs are not limited to any particular people group, including any single religion. Indeed, non-religious people have them as well.20 Yet prominent among NDErs 18

It should be noted that almost all of the NDE accounts in the literature were collected months or years after their occurrence. See Elizabeth Hillstrom, Testing the Spirits (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1995), 92. 19


A collection of articles on this point is presented in Abanes, 124-128.

Interestingly, renowned atheist A. J. Ayer reported an NDE during his bout with pneumonia in an article titled, ―What I Saw When I Was Dead,‖ published in Immortality, ed., Paul

Spring, 2012

is the consistent claim that the experience itself provides evidence for the particular religious worldview representative of the NDEr. In a word, every NDEr is convinced that his or her worldview is qualified through his or her NDE. As a case in point, Betty Edie in her popular level work, Embraced by the Light21, is convinced that her NDE provides ample evidence to qualify her polytheistic worldview behind Mormonism.22 In the same way, Hindus, Buddhists, and Christians are convinced that their experiences exemplify the truth of their religious worldviews. The usual way in which one attempts to qualify this is by virtue of the after-life vision one has experienced. Since Hindu NDEs include visions of the after life in Nirvana being among Hindu deities and sages, the Hindu believes his worldview is thus qualified through the experience. Likewise, since Christian NDEs include the after life in Heaven and being greeted by Jesus and the saints, this confirms the worldview in the mind of the Christian experiencer. Now the question of interest is whether such claims can be substantially qualified through the common core of NDEs. Objectivists are convinced that the common core of NDEs are universal and thus demonstrate the objectivity of all NDEs. Granting this universality, is there a way to test whether a world-view can be substantiated through nearReligious pluralists are death claims? I believe there exists just such a test. convinced that similarities in diverse But before I proceed in its explication and application, religions demonstrate let me be clear with what this test will be concerned. that religions are essentially the same.

Religious pluralists are convinced that similarities in diverse religions demonstrate that religions are essentially the same. For example, Nirvana in Hinduism and Heaven in Christianity are simply different names of the same thing. Hence, Christianity and Hinduism are just different roads to the same destination. The only way to know that this is the case is to see if there are enough similarities between them to warrant such a conclusion. Whether they are or not is not of interest to me here. What is of interest to me is the contrary character of the worldviews represented by various religions. While it may be the case that different religions have similar notions, I am primarily concerned with the fundamental core upon which a particular religion rests. This is what I call a worldview. Hindus and Buddhists may fall Edwards, (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 1997), 269-275. His case will be discussed in the Conclusion. 21

Betty Eadie, Embraced by the Light (Placerville, CA: Gold Leaf Press, 1992).

See the article, ―Best-selling Book Affirms Mormon Tenets and Teachings, ― Christian Retailing, June 18, 1994, n.p. 22


Journal of Biblical Ministry under a world-view such as Pantheism, or Panentheism, as well as many other religions, which I will not mention at this point. Christianity and Islam would fall under the worldview of Theism. Betty Eadie‘s Mormonism would fall under Polytheism. These worldviews represent the core of religious claims that I am interested in testing for possible confirmation. Thus, the question I desire to answer is this: Is it possible, based on the NDE core elements, to confirm any single worldview? In his, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, David Hume sets forth a self-cancellation argument against all religions that claim verification based on conflicting miracle claims. Hume writes: [L]et us consider, that, in matters of religion, whatever is different is contrary; and that it is impossible the religions of ancient ROME, of TURKEY, of SIAM, and of CHINA should, all of them, be established on any solid foundation. Every miracle, therefore, pretended to have been wrought in any of these religions (and all of them abound in miracles), as its direct scope is to establish the particular system to which it is attributed; so has it the same force, though more indirectly, to overthrow every other system. In destroying a rival system, it likewise destroys the credit of those miracles, on which the system was established; so that all the prodigies of different religions are to be regarded as contrary facts, and the evidences of these prodigies, whether weak or strong, as opposite to each other.23 Hume‘s argument may be stated thus: (1) No single religion can be verified by miracles if a contrary religion is also verified by miracles of the same in kind; what is different is contrary and thus self-canceling. (2) But all religions claim miracles of the same in kind for verification. (3) Therefore, no single religion can be verified by miracles. The strength of Hume‘s argument rests on the claim that miracles in all religions are the same in kind. Thus, on the surface this argument might be defeated by demonstrating that different religions use miracles different in kind for verification. But by doing this, verification would be pushed back a step further and Hume‘s argument would still prove fatal for the use of miracles. Yet, if one single religion could be shown to have miracle claims different in kind to other religions, then 23

David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, ed., Eric Steinberg (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1977), 81.

Spring, 2012

the argument could backfire. Indeed, at least one philosopher has attempted to validate a particular religion by doing just that.24 My concern now, however, is not how this argument fares in its blow against miracle claims and the religions that they support. Rather, I am concerned with how this argument might be employed with regard to NDE claims and their use for verification of any single religious worldview. It is important that one keeps in mind that by worldview I do not mean particulars that pertain to similarities. I am concerned with core belief systems (differing in kind), which give the essence and structure out of which several religions may spring. Representations for this analysis would include these top three contenders: Theism, Pantheism, and Polytheism. These three are represented by the various religions of which NDEs are thought to verify. Yet these three worldviews are essentially different (contrary). Theism holds that there is one personal God who created ex nihilo (out of nothing) and is not identical to His creation (transcendent). Pantheism, on the other hand, holds that there is one impersonal God who created ex deo (out of Himself) and is identical to His creation.25 And Polytheism holds that there are many personal gods of different qualities. In each case, there are distinct differences between them, which render them incompatible. This puts me into a position to pose Hume‘s argument in a different context. I re-state it thus: (1) No single worldview can be verified by NDEs if a contrary worldview is also verified by NDEs of the same in kind; what is different is contrary and thus self-canceling. (2) But proponents of all worldviews claim NDEs of the same in kind for verification. (3) Therefore, no single worldview can be verified by NDEs. Once again, there are two ways to go in criticizing this argument. First, one could attempt to argue that there exists a complex of NDE elements that are different in kind from all other elements, and these elements all support a single worldview. If this could be demonstrated, then perhaps a single worldview could find support through NDEs. Second, one might say that there is no essential difference in the worldviews that I delineated above. Hence, NDEs support religious worldviews in general. Either way, it would seem that the argument would be weakened. 24

See Norman L.Geisler, Miracles and the Modern Mind (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1992), 138-139. 25

Pantheists who do not believe that the physical universe is real nevertheless believe that all reality is identical with God.


Journal of Biblical Ministry However, it is far from clear that either criticism can be supported. NDE proponents insist that the common elements are universal; and if they are universal, then it is far from probable that a complex exists that would set apart a particular worldview. While Betty Edie may claim that her NDE supports her polytheistic worldview, she cannot claim at the same time that NDE elements are universal if others from contrary worldviews claim these same elements as supporting their own worldviews. Moreover, if one opts for the second criticism, one is faced with the difficult task of attempting to mold all worldviews, with their contrary claims, into one without violating the law of non-contradiction. So far as I know, no one has successfully achieved that. Finally, for the Christian, there is a theological difficulty entailed in NDEs. Generally, Christian dualists accept the words of Paul in 2 Corinthians 5.8 in which he writes, ―to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord‖ as describing what occurs with the death of the body. Simply put, when a believer‘s body dies, the soul leaves the body and enters into the presence of the Lord. I should note that a thorough anthropological analysis from a Judeo-Christian world-view of disembodied existence would be an interesting study itself. However, it would require an extended presentation of its own. My purpose here is to limit my analysis to the question of whether employing NDEs as a legitimate apologetic tool potentially compromises any fundamental theological truths. Here is one possibility. If NDEers have actually died, then a miracle has occurred, and thus, in many cases, false doctrine has been confirmed by God as true. Let me explain. If the soul leaves the body, then death has occurred (biblically speaking). But if the soul is reunited with the body, then a resurrection (improper) has taken place. Now a resurrection is a supernatural event (a miracle) that only God can cause. One of the purposes of a miracle is to confirm a messenger or message from God. Many NDEers claim to have messages from God, messages which clearly contradict the Scriptures. Therefore, God is confirming messages that contradict His own Word. It should be clear that this is unacceptable for the Christian who wishes to maintain that the Bible is the definitive source for matters of faith and practice. In conclusion, there is no doubt that NDEs are curious phenomena. On the surface they seem to offer apologetic value to the Christian faith. Yet upon closer examination several serious problems arise that call into question their apologetic value. For the Christian, great care should be taken in the effort to employ them as an apologetic tool to be used in the defense of the Faith. 26 I have intentionally limited my discussion to the apologetic value of NDEs for Christians. Whether NDEs have implications for issues in Philosophy of Mind or Neuroscience are outside the realm of my intentionally narrowed discussion, although some hints as to their reliability in these areas are hinted at throughout this paper. 26

Spring, 2012

A Diminutive Deity: The Inglorious God of the Word-Faith Movement James M. Kinnebrew, Ph.D. Professor of Theology Chairman, Biblical Studies Dept. INTRODUCTION The Word-Faith Movement—with its doctrines of covenantal prosperity, divine health, and Positive Confession—has had an impact on the evangelical world that could hardly have been predicted in 1966. That was the year the movement‘s self-proclaimed ―father,‖ Kenneth E. Hagin (1917-2003), preached his first radio sermon on KSKY radio in Dallas, TX.1 No longer an oddity confined to storefront churches in towns like Tom Bean, Talco, and Van (former Texas pastorates of Hagin), today the movement dominates religious radio, television, publishing, and internet media. The largest church in America, Lakewood Church in Houston, TX, was founded by WordFaith pastor the late John Osteen (1921-1999) and is pastored by his like-minded son Joel, who preaches to over 43,000 in-house parishioners every Sunday and multiplied millions across the airwaves. Other influential leaders include Kenneth and Gloria Copeland, Creflo Dollar, Fred Price, Mike Murdock, Eddie Long, Joyce Meyers, and a host of lesser lights. The influence of the Word-Faith movement can be seen in religious services across the theological spectrum and around the world. Sometimes it is manifested in whole-hearted agreement with the movement‘s message and sometimes in less substantial ways, but there is hardly a religious entity in the western world that has not been touched by the movement in one way or another. The Baptist theologian A. H. Strong once noted, ―scattered bricks and timbers are not a house; severed arms, legs, heads, and trunks from a dissecting room are not living men; and facts alone do not constitute science.‖2 His point was that 1

―Obituary—Rev. Kenneth E. Hagin,‖, accessed

09/26/03. 2

Augustus Hopkins Strong, Systematic Theology: A Compendium, 3 vols in 1 (Philadelphia: Judson Press, 1907), 2.

Journal of Biblical Ministry Christian theology is more than a collection of objective facts. Every doctrine in a system has an impact upon every other part and upon the unified whole. So what happens when a group picks up one doctrine from the Word-Faith movement—say the doctrine of Positive Confession that imputes a supernatural power to words spoken in faith by mortal man? This article will attempt to demonstrate how acceptance of that doctrine has negatively affected the Theology Proper (doctrine of God) of some prominent Word-Faith advocates. The citations to follow will demonstrate that the God of the Bible and the God of the Word-Faith movement, though they bear the same Name, are very different in both their nature and their works. Regarding the nature of God, the doctrine of Positive Confession raises serious questions related to God‘s transcendence, immanence, and omniscience. Regarding the works of God, the doctrine of Positive Confession demands novel reinterpretations of God‘s operations in creation, revelation, and in His sovereign rule over the universe. POSITIVE CONFESSION & THE NATURE OF GOD His Transcendence The biblical declaration is, ―I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me‖ (Isaiah 46.9). The basic premise upon which the doctrine of Positive Confession seems to be built, however, is that all men are exactly like God. The ―otherness,‖ or transcendence, of God is lost to the Word-Faith advocate. The literature of the movement includes a virtual pantheon comprised of the Creator, Adam, Satan, Jesus, and every born-again believer. Although Satan and men are ―gods with a little g,‖ they seem to be capable of the same feats and to wield the same authority as the one true God. Adam, created as ―an exact duplication‖ of God, was supposedly told by his Creator to, ―be god over the earth as I am God over the heavens.‖3 When Adam (the god of earth) obeyed Satan, ―Satan became god of the world system and perverted the things God had created.‖4 God, it is claimed, had no authority on earth after that. The planet ―didn‘t belong to Him. His man, Adam, had given it to Satan.‖5 Satan‘s authority on the earth remained unchallenged until Jesus, the last Adam, by His 3

Charles Capps, Authority in Three Worlds (Tulsa: Harrison House, 1980), 17.


Ibid., 30.


Ibid., 50.

Spring, 2012

perfect life and vicarious spiritual death, ―stripped Satan of his authority.‖ 6 Now, by virtue of Christ‘s victory, Christians have the ―delegated authority‖ of Christ and are commanded to rule once again as the rightful gods of the earth. Believers exercise dominion today via ―faith-filled words,‖ just as Adam had done in Eden.7 Foundational to the belief in man‘s ability to speak creative ―faith-filled words‖ is the assumption that God, in Whose image man was created, also speaks efficacious, faith-filled words. Charles Capps explains, ―God‘s faith was transported by words‖ and words are ―the most powerful thing in the universe.‖ 8 The ideas that God has faith and that he harnesses ―the most powerful thing in the universe‖ to do His work would seem to imply that there is someone or something greater than God; for faith is ordinarily placed in that which is greater than oneself. According to the Word-Faith movement, God works in accord with spiritual ―laws‖ that can be accessed and utilized by any believer on earth. The language is explicit: God is bound by spiritual legalities. For example, according to Capps, The God of the God has to work in a way that ―would be ruled Positive Confession is legal by the Supreme Court of the Universe.‖9 transcended; the God According to Copeland, God is not ―licensed of the Bible is transcendent. to function except within spiritual law.‖10 Such assertions cause one to wonder: Who could serve as ―Chief Justice‖ in the judgment of God or refuse Him a ―license‖ to do whatever He wants to do? The God of Positive Confession is transcended; the God of the Bible is transcendent. 6

Ibid., 145.


Ibid., 7, 240, 245. The story of reign, rebellion, restoration, and reign described in this paragraph is common to all of the Word-Faith teachers. See, for example, Gloria Copeland, God’s Will Is Prosperity (Tulsa: Harrison House, 1978), 7-22; Kenneth Copeland, Our Covenant with God (Fort Worth: Kenneth Copeland, 1976), 7-41; and Kenneth E. Hagin, The Believer’s Authority (Tulsa: Rhema Bible Church, 1984), 19-44. 8

Capps, Authority in Three Worlds, 28; and Idem, The Tongue a Creative Force (Tulsa: Harrison House, 1976), 129. 9

Capps, Authority in Three Worlds, 51.


Kenneth Copeland, ―Dominating the Law of Sin and Death,‖ Believer’s Voice of Victory, November 1985, 4.


Journal of Biblical Ministry

His Immanence One might think that, since God‘s transcendence is understated by the faith teachers, they would emphasize His immanence. This, however, is not the case. In fact, they have propagated a near deistic understanding of God‘s present relationship to man. Positive Confession works, it is said, because of the ―laws regulating and governing the world of the spirit,‖ not because a concerned and immanent God wants to meet the needs of His people.11 In the world of Positive Confession, universal, observable, repeatable law rules. This removes the mysterious and seemingly arbitrary way God sometimes deals with people and their circumstances. It makes life predictable. ―You can depend on a law to work the same way every time,‖ said Copeland; so all one needs to do is learn the formula.12 ―If you can learn the principles of faith, then it is easy to receive whatever it is you are seeking from God,‖ promised Hagin.13 The predictability of law, however, is gained at the expense of God‘s personal involvement—His immanence. Having created the laws that cause Positive Confession to work and having given the Christian authority to work those laws, God reportedly told the church, ―You have a job to do, but I must back off.‖14 Much like deism‘s ―Divine Clockmaker,‖ God keeps His distance. Meanwhile, man does his best to rule as ―god‖ of the earth. His sole hope is to learn how to make the laws work for him and not against him, for blind law rules. So immutable is the law of words that such innocent expressions as ―I‘m dying to go,‖ ―that scared me to death,‖ and ―these kids are about to kill me‖ are seen as the source of multiplied tragedy.15 As a theodicy, Positive Confession places all the blame for every evil on believers who are ignorant of or fail to use the easily accessible laws of the Spirit. The God of the faith teacher is, it would appear, rather detached from life on earth. The God of the Bible is not. 11



Kenneth Copeland, Freedom from Fear (Fort Worth: Kenneth Copeland Ministries,

1980), 1. 13

Kenneth E. Hagin, What Faith Is (Tulsa: Rhema Bible Church, 1966), 4.


Earl Paulk, ―The Hedge,‖ Thy Kingdom Come, August 1987, 6.


Jerry Savelle, If Satan Can’t Steal Your Joy . . . (Tulsa: Harrison House, 1982), 124-26.

Spring, 2012

His Omniscience According to the Word-Faith teachers, God created the world by faith; and everything that He has done since creation He has done ―by faith.‖16 Faith, however, has only to do with those things that cannot be seen. It is ―the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen‖ (Heb 11.1). Paul said, ―We walk by faith, not by sight‖ (2 Cor 5.7). If God is all-seeing, as Scripture uniformly declares, He cannot properly be said to have faith. Conversely, if He does have faith in a certain thing, He cannot be said to relate to that thing from a basis of ―seeing.‖ This is not to oppose faith to knowledge, for faith is a kind of knowledge. It is that ―cognitive act of the reason‖ that Strong defined as ―certitude with respect to matters in which verification is unattainable.‖17 To say that one can only know what is perceived through the senses is to assert that sensuous phenomena are the only objects of knowledge. Knowledge of God and true theology would, therefore, be impossible. The important point that must be made here is that faith exists when ―verification is unattainable.‖ So even the atheist has faith in such fundamental yet unverifiable realities as the past, the laws of logic, causality, the trustworthiness of his senses, and the existence of minds outside of his own—in fact, all the hard sciences depend on such faith. To say that God ―has faith‖ or that He uses ―faith-filled words‖ is to imply that there is something ultimately ―unverifiable‖ in the universe—something that even the omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent Creator cannot verify for Himself. Such a conclusion regarding the God of the Bible is inconceivable; but for the God of the Word-Faith movement, it is inescapable.

POSITIVE CONFESSION & THE WORKS OF GOD His Creation The chief end of all creation is the glory of God. His creation displays His glory (Ps 8.1; 19.1; Rom 1.20). It also prompts man to ascribe glory to Him (1 Chron 16

Kenneth Copeland, The Laws of Prosperity (Greensburg, PA: Manna Christian Outreach, 1974), 18. 17

Strong, Systematic Theology, 3.


Journal of Biblical Ministry 16.25-26; Rom 11.36; Rev 4.11). The glory thus given to God stems not only from the wondrous nature of that which He has made but also from the fact that He alone creates. ―For all the gods of the people are idols, but the LORD made the heavens‖ (1 Chron 16.25). Through Isaiah, the declaration comes, ―I am the LORD that makes all things; that stretches forth the heavens alone; that spreads abroad the earth by myself‖ (Isaiah 44.24, emphasis added). Though Scripture limits the work of creation to God Almighty, the doctrine of Positive Confession ascribes that glory to man as well. In a careless treatment of Romans 4.17, Capps and others make Abraham (not God) the one ―who calls things that are not as though they were.‖18 Positive Confession advocates exhort modern believers to create their own worlds. 19 They see in the creation account of Genesis 1 a formula for man to follow.20 The misplaced emphasis of the Word-Faith teacher is obvious: Creation did not come into existence because God SAID ―Let there be‖; creation exists because GOD said ―Let there be.‖ The difference is vast. Positive Confession teachers do more than just nullify the end of creation (the glory of God); they also reinterpret the method of creation. ―Some think that God made the earth out of nothing, but He didn‘t,‖ said Capps. ―He made it out of something. The substance God used was faith.‖21 Copeland, erroneously applying the words ―through faith‖ (Heb 11.3) to God, said ―the world and the physical forces governing it were created by the power of faith—a spiritual force. God, a Spirit, created all matter and He created it with the force of faith.‖22 Hagin agreed, ―How did He do it? God believed that what He said would come to pass. He said let there be earth and there was . . . He just said it and it was so. That‘s the God kind of faith.‖23 A materialistic view of faith and a fallacious ascribing of faith to God thus result in a denial of the orthodox doctrine of creation ex nihilo.


Charles Capps, Dynamics of Faith and Confession (Dallas: Word of Faith Publishing, 1983), 259-79. 19

Charles Capps, The Tongue: A Creative Force (Tulsa: Harrison House, 1976), 56.


Capps, Authority in Three Worlds, 24.


Capps, Authority in Three Worlds, 24.


Copeland, The Laws of Prosperity, 18.


Kenneth E. Hagin, Bible Faith Study Course (Tulsa: Rhema Bible Church, 1974), 88.

Spring, 2012

His Revelation God‘s channels of special revelation are varied—miracles, prophecy, God the Son, personal experience, and the Bible are commonly noted.24 Of these, the Bible is the clearest, fullest, and most objective avenue of revelation. The doctrine of Positive Confession, though, ascribes to the words of man an authority equal to the inspired words of God. Gloria Copeland, citing Ps 103.20, said: ―When you become the voice of God in the earth by putting His words in your mouth, you put your angels to work!‖25 The words she had in mind are not limited to biblical statements but include ―the words you want to come to pass.‖26 The believer in Positive Confession thus expands the concept of special revelation to include his/her own words. Charles Capps said, ―God‘s Word is creative power.‖ That he had in mind extra-biblical words becomes clear as he The God of the Bible continued, ―That creative power [God‘s Word] is speaks as no other. produced by the heart, formed by the tongue, and The God of Positive released out of the mouth in word form.‖27 Confession has many rhetorical equals. To Capps, Copeland, et al., ―God‘s Word‖ is found both in the Bible and in that which is ―produced by the heart‖ of man and ―released out of the mouth‖ of man. The late Earl Paulk declared, ―The hedge [of protection around the believer] is the Word of God; not just the written Word, but also the word that we speak and live, the Rhema.‖28 ―Both the Bible,‖ said he, ―and the Word of God that is spoken through human lips . . . is the gospel of the kingdom.‖29 Such a view exalts man and devalues the Bible. The irony is that it is held by those who decry humanism and laud the Scriptures. The God of the Bible speaks as no other. The God of Positive Confession has many rhetorical equals.


Henry Clarence Thiessen, Lectures in Systematic Theology, rev. ed., (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1979), 10-17. 25

Gloria Copeland, God’s Will Is Prosperity (Tulsa: Harrison House, 1978), 49.


Ibid., 96.


Capps, The Tongue: A Creative Force, 136.


Earl Paulk, A No-Miss Prosperity (Atlanta: K-Dimension Publishers, n.d.), 7.


Ibid., 8.


Journal of Biblical Ministry

Spring, 2012

His Sovereign Rule Why was the power of Positive Confession vouchsafed to men? Why is it so important that believers heed the faith message and begin to exercise their authority in Christ? The main reason given by Word-Faith teachers is that God does not exercise sovereignty over the earth. Rather, He has set the church up as sovereign of this planet; and His activity here is limited to what the church does. Jesus supposedly told Hagin, ―I can only work through the Church, for I am the Head of the Church.‖ Hagin explained, ―Your head cannot exercise any authority anywhere except through your body.‖ Just so, he said, God ―can‘t get along‖ without the church ―because the work of . . . God is carried out through the Body of Christ.‖30 According to the Word-Faith teacher, the covenant God made with Abraham was a matter of necessity more than a matter of grace. After Adam‘s fall, God found Himself ―in a peculiar position.‖31 Capps explained, ―Satan . . . gained ascendency by gaining Adam‘s authority, and God was left on the outside.‖32 The Abrahamic covenant Certainly, the ―gave God access to the earth and gave man access straitjacketed God of 33 the Faith Movement is to God.‖ God and man were mutually benefited. not the Sovereign Man found salvation, and ―God gained entrance back 34 King of the Bible. into the earth.‖ God‘s current access to earth, according to the Word-Faith movement, is only to be found in the church. If He wants anything done on earth, the church must do it. If the church fails to do it, it will not be done. The church does the work of God the same way God would do it if only He could—through the use of omnipotent words. When Christians do not exercise their authority through Positive Confession, God and His angels are bound and helpless. They cannot work on earth when the church is negative or silent.35 30



Kenneth Copeland, Our Covenant with God, 9.


Capps, Authority in Three Worlds, 51.


Kenneth Copeland, Our Covenant with God, 12.


Capps, Authority in Three Worlds, 51.


Gloria Copeland, God’s Will Is Prosperity, 94-97; Hagin, The Believer’s Authority, 27-

Kenneth E. Hagin, The Believer’s Authority, 2 ed. (Tulsa: Rhema Bible Church, 1984), 28, 32.


Certainly, the straitjacketed God of the Faith Movement is not the Sovereign King of the Bible. Of the latter, King David said, ―The earth is the LORD‘S, and the fullness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein‖ (Ps 24.1). Melchizedek revealed God to Abram as ―the Most High God, possessor of heaven and earth‖ (Gen 14.19). Moses declared, ―the LORD He is God in heaven above, and upon the earth beneath; there is none else‖ (Deut 4.39). It will be noted that all of those declarations were made after the fall, but before the redemption that was purchased on the cross. There was never a time when God did not possess and rule the entire cosmos—earth and all. The God of the Bible opens doors that no man can close and closes doors that no man can open, but in the Word-Faith movement those roles are evidently reversed—man closes doors that God can‘t open and opens doors that God can‘t close.

CONCLUSION Theological doctrines cannot exist as isolated entities. One belief affects another. One‘s entire belief system can be affected by the inclusion of an erroneous doctrine like Positive Confession. It is not claimed that all adherents to the Word-Faith movement advocate belief in the ―diminutive deity‖ described in this article. This is, however, the kind of God that is implicitly tied to the doctrine they profess. The warning should be sounded that a consistent and logical adherence to the one error of Positive Confession can and will result in many other serious theological aberrations. Kenneth Hagin once said that some of the revelations he received through visions ―completely upended‖ his theology. 36 While Hagin apparently welcomed this overturning of former theological stances, the careful disciple will be reluctant to accept new and novel doctrines until he has considered where they lead. The doctrine of Positive Confession does not lead one to the Glorious God of Scripture, but to a diminutive deity who is no god at all. 36

Kenneth E. Hagin, Hear and Be Healed (Tulsa: Rhema Bible Church, 1987), 5-6.


Beyond the Human: Posthumanism, Transhumanism, and Christianity Marcia Bost Adjunct English Instructor M. English Ed., M. Professional Writing Introduction We might be a posthuman if we have an artificial hip, an electronic pacemaker, or cornea transplants. We might be post human if we surf the Internet, use a cell phone, or even type on a computer keyboard. That‘s the contention of Katherine Hayles‘ in How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics as she analyzes our increasing absorption with our technical toys and free-floating information apart from the humans who produce it. She estimates that ten percent of Americans are already cyborgs (man/ machine) in either the technical or metaphoric sense.1 When it was published more than a decade ago, Hayles‘ book quickly became a standard on posthumanism in the field of English. It remains an entryway into the philosophy and the enactment of posthumanism. Another view of the current situation comes from Nick Bostrom, who is a member of the philosophy faculty at Oxford University.2 In his exposition of a similar term (transhumanism), he provides a parallel list of ―radical technologies‖ that are fundamentally changing what it means to be human. These include the following: ―virtual reality; preimplantation genetic diagnosis; genetic engineering; pharmaceuticals that improve memory, concentration, wakefulness, and mood; performance-enhancing drugs; cosmetic surgery; sex change operations; prosthetics; anti-aging medicine; closer human-computer interfaces‖3 This list is augmented by F.M. Esfandiary to include prostheses, plastic surgery, intensive use of telecommunications, a cosmopolitan outlook and a globetrotting lifestyle, androgyny, mediated reproduction (such as in vitro fertilization), absence of 1

Katherine Hayles, How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999), 115. 2

He is also co-founder of the World Transhuman Association and frequent advocate of the benefits of technological progress. 3

Bostrom, Nick. ―A History of Transhumanist Thought.‖ In Michael Rectenwald and Lisa Car, eds., Academic Writing Across the Disciplines (New York: Pearson Longman, 2011), 12. (accessed Nov. 15, 2011).

religious belief, and a rejection of traditional family values.‖ 4 Bostrom also points out that the additional dangers of ―existential risks‖ of nanotechnology and Artificial Intelligence might end human life as we know it.5 A similar alarm is raised by Francis Fukuyama in Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution. Although he thinks the information revolution less problematic than Hayles does, he maintains that biotech advances threaten to make us posthuman. He finds that Bostrom‘s analysis is basically utilitarian. Fukuyama points out: ―Utilitarians seldom take into account more subtle benefits and harms that cannot be easily measured, or which might accrue to the soul rather than to the body.‖6 He also suggests that the greatest fear of those who worry about scientific advances is not utilitarian: It is rather a fear that, in the end, biotechnology will cause us in some way to lose our humanity—that is, some essential quality that has always underpinned our sense of who we are and where we are going, despite all of the evident changes that have taken place in the human condition through the course of history.7 In other words, none of our previous tools have threatened to change our concept of humanness in the way that biotechnology may. While there is some overlap in the sources used by these three, each writes from a different perspective: Hayles from an intersection of science and literature; Bostrom from a philosophical stance; and Fuyukama from bioethics and politics. Each finds aspects of the posthuman paradigm problematic, even terrifying.

The greatest fear is that “…biotechnology will cause us in some way to lose our humanity.”

As Christians, our first reaction to posthumanism might also be horror and rejection, as Sørina Higgins notes in ―Posthumanism: A Christian Response.‖ She also points out that the liberal Church has let postmodernism (of which 4

Quoted in Bostrom, 14.


Bostrom, 21.


Fukuyama, Francis. Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution. (New York: Farrar, Straus and Guiroux, 2002), 100. 7

Ibid, 101.


Journal of Biblical Ministry posthumanism is one of many variations) steal the Bible from it while the fundamentalist Church has shut its doors and minds to such current trends. She suggests a fearless engagement through study of postmodern philosophers.8 Indeed, as Christians we do need to understand and engage this paradigm with the eternal truths of the Bible. To this end, I will first summarize the positions of each of these leading spokespersons, utilizing a series of questions, and then explore possible Christian responses. Definitions and Key Terms Posthumanism seems to be one of those ―post‖ philosophies that grew out of a post modern stance that doubts all metanarratives.9 Since a number of the terms used in this field are not common knowledge, an explanation follows. Post humanism---theologist Michael W. DeLashmutt defines the term in the following manner: Posthumanism can be defined as the belief that through a union of human technical ability and human will, human beings will progress towards (or be the progenitors of) the next stage of human evolution, resulting in the ―post-human.‖ In practice, posthumanism is facilitated by a desire to improve upon the human condition by implementing advanced technologies which generally fall under the category of cybernetic or information technologies.10 Cybernetics—a scientific discipline that developed after World War II, which linked man and machine, focusing on information flow and negative feedback loops . The founding document was ―Behavior, Purpose, and Teleology‖ by Arturo Rosenblueth; Norbert Wiener; Julian Bigelow. Philosophy of Science, Volume 10, Issue 1 (Jan., 1943), 11 8

Sørina Higgins ―Posthumanism: A Christian Response.‖ Curator Magazine. April 16, 2010. (accessed August 5, 2011) 9

See the 2011 issue of The Journal of Biblical Ministry for a discussion of this philosophy in ―The Art of Asking Questions.‖ 10

Michael W. DeLashmutt. ―Immanence of Transcendence: Confronting the Technotheological Eschatology of Posthuman Speculative Science‖ Golem: Journal of Religion and Monsters, 1, no. 1 Spring 2006. (accessed Dec 26, 2011), 6. 11

Hayles, 96.

Spring, 2012

Dualism—as defined by Fukuyama, the doctrine that there are two essential types of being, material and mental.12 Embodiment—as explained by Hayles, this term means that information should always be connected to a human, who produces or uses it. It is a contested term without a precise definition that is used by some feminists to mean that women‘s lives are predetermined by their biology; others use it in the sense that Kenneth Burke uses it: ―A representation of artistic purpose.‖13 As Hayles describes it: ―embodiment is contextual, enmeshed within the specifics of place, time, physiology, and culture, which together compose enactment.‖14 In other words, all information is specific to one time, place, person or culture; no universals are possible. Singularity Hypothesis—the point at which technology so changes human life that ―human affairs, as we know them, could not continue‖ attributed to John von Neumann.15 Transhuman—first used by Julian Huxley, eminent biologist and brother of Aldous. He defined the term as ―man remaining man, but transcending himself, by realizing new possibilities of and for his human nature.‖16 F.M. Esfandiary elaborated on the term: a transhumant is ―someone who by virtue of their technology usage, cultural values, and lifestyle constitutes an evolutionary link to the coming era of posthumanity.‖17 See the Transhumanist Declaration attached to Bostrom‘s article for a complete statement of the modern transhuman principles. How Did We Get Here? Hayles, Bostrom, and Fukuyama present different views of the path that led us to the dangers they perceive. Hayles‘ six-year investigation began, she writes, 12

Fukuyama, 166.


Burke, Kenneth. A Rhetoric of Motives. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969)., 89. 14

Hayles, 196.


Bostrom, 8


qtd in Bostrom, 7.


Bostrom, 13


Journal of Biblical Ministry when she was shocked to learn she lived in a posthuman world where information was considered separate from the people who created it. ―In fact, a defining characteristic of the present cultural moment is the belief that information can circulate unchanged among different material substrates,‖ she explains.18 In other words, information remains the same whether it is conveyed by print, by the internet, or by spoken word. In her explanation of how we became posthuman, Hayles presents a narrative played out both in scientific conferences and articles, where cybernetics and artificial life are theorized and enacted, and in science fiction, where the implications of those scientific discoveries are embodied and problematized. She begins with a description of the imitation game, in which a person uses two computers to interact with two unseen entities. The person must decide, based on the responses, which entity is a human using the computer and which is just a computer. Known as the Turing machine test, this game was suggested by Alan Turing in ―Computer Machinery and Intelligence,‖ published in 1950. This test, Hayles argues, began the disconnect between information and those who created it—a disconnect that she describes as ―the erasure of embodiment‖ that is characteristic of information age.19 As a result of this erasure, the cyborg has been ―created as a technological artifact and a cultural icon.‖ 20 In other words, people are just one way of conveying information and in fact may be unnecessary. From a philosophical stance, Bostrom traces the intellectual roots of what he calls ―transhumanism‖ from ancient strivings for immortality, such as found in The Epic of Gilgamesh, through the cybernetic longings of Benjamin Franklin to two seminal fictional works of the twentieth century: Aldous Huxley‘s Brave New World and George Orwell‘s 1984. Both of these fictional works depict dystopias where most people are forced into a second class status. Bostrom points out that technology is kept in check in both books because it might change the status quo. He suggests that these science fiction works have served as models for the future. ―Brave New World in particular has become an emblem of the dehumanizing potential of the use of technology to promote social conformism and shallow contentment.‖21 However, he argues that a brave new world is 18

Hayles, 1.


Ibid, xi.


Ibid, 2.


Bostrom, 6.

Spring, 2012

possible and the concept of transhumanism can serve as a bridge to a better new world, one in which many medical problems will be eliminated. In writing about the same medical advances, Fukuyama also points to these two fictional works as well. He sees the biotechnology of Brave New World as more challenging than 1984‘s information technology which enabled a totalitarian Big Brother. He reasons that the biotechnology of Brave New World seduces people with the promise of immediate satisfaction of most desires. In such a society, people have ceased to struggle and to turn to religion, and thus have ceased to be human.22 He argues that modern advances in biology open the prospect of maintaining the normal function of the body for longer periods of time—―perhaps perpetually‖ according to William Haseltine, CEO of Human Genome Science, who promoted the Human Genome Project.23 Fukuyama also points to advances in a number of areas including cognitive psychology and neuropharmacology. He is very concerned about other technological advances as well: ―All of these areas of scientific advance have potential political implications, because they enhance our knowledge of, and hence our ability to manipulate, the source of all human behavior, the brain.‖24 This opportunity to manipulate the human body will lead to the loss of human rights, he suggests. This prospect would have political consequences and should be met with increased regulation of the biotech industry, he suggests.25 Are We Really Here/There? Have we reached the singularity that divides humans as we have been for all of history from the posthumans of the brave new future? According to Hayles, we already have. In fact, we‘ve been there for some time, perhaps always. Pointing out that Burno Latour posited that ―we‘ve never been modern,‖ she builds on this idea to suggest that ―we‘ve always been posthuman.‖ 26 She outlines her stance: ―Information like humanity, cannot exist apart from the embodiment that brings it into being as a material entity in the world; and embodiment is always instantiated, local and specific.‖27 In other words, we have bodies and exist in a 22

Fukuyama, 5


Ibid, 18.


Ibid, 19.


Ibid, 10


Hayles, 291.


Ibid, 49.


Journal of Biblical Ministry material world. She also rules out any spiritual dimension to humans/posthumans. However, in arguing for this materialistic viewpoint, she is clearly in opposition to some posthumanist thought that she describes. Are we really posthuman? Bostrom writes that views vary as to the answer,28 and he seems to think we‘re are in a transitional period characterized by the transhumanism. Bostrom urges transhumanists to think about ―the ‗big-picture questions‘ without resorting to wishful thinking or mysticism,‖ and he defines these questions as being about ―our place in the world and the long-term fate of intelligent life‖ 29 He describes the potential of nanotechnology to rearrange atoms from, for example, coal to diamonds, which could lead to the potential to banish disease, reanimate the dead, and create universally lethal weapons. He also describes ―uploading‖—the transfer of the human mind to computer circuits. Whether or not the original personality of the brain that had been deconstructed will survive is a matter of philosophical speculation.30 Although he recognizes some potential problems, he is positive about the ultimate benefits of technology. On the other hand, Fukuyama thinks that we are merely close to becoming posthuman, dangerously so. He maintains that the caveman and the Internet surfer would still recognize each other as human. The emotions, which distinguish the human from animals and machines, still exist. Fukuyama argues that the idea of the universality of human dignity is based on nature that transcends any cultural variations.31 He points to the ―subjective mental states‖ known as consciousness that cannot be explained by ―reductionist materialist science.‖32 He acknowledges the research in Artificial Intelligence (AI) that has sought to construct a computer network that will achieve consciousness, but — writing in 2002—he asserts that a breakthrough is not close. Fukuyama points out, ―Subjective mental states, while produced by material biological processes, appear to be of a very different, nonmaterial order from other phenomena‖ but that the fear of dualism leads scientists to deny the existence of consciousness.33 Even if the machine in the Turing tests performs exactly as a human being to the 28

Bostrom, 9.


Ibid, 10.


Ibid, 11-12.




Ibid, 166.


Ibid, 166-167.

Spring, 2012

extent that a watcher on the other end cannot distinguish between machine and man, the machine is not aware that it is performing, according to Fukuyama. In addition to self-awareness, he suggests that the difference between humans and machines is emotion. ―It is the stuff of science fiction for an android, robot, or computer to suddenly start experiencing emotions like fear, hope, even sexual desire, but no one has come remotely close to positing how this might come about.‖34 He explains: It is common for many AI researchers to say that consciousness is an ‗emergent property‘ of a certain kind of complex computer. But this is no more than an unproven hypothesis based on an analogy with other complex systems. No one has ever seen consciousness emerge under experimental conditions, or even posited a theory as to how this might come about.35 In fact, he adds, we don‘t even know how humans came to have it. He further suggests that ―species typical human emotions are more critical to our sense of our own humanness than either our reason or our physical appearance.‖ 36 In a world without emotions, Fukuyama suggests, ―The computer geeks in AI labs who think of themselves as nothing more than complex computer programs and want to download themselves in a computer should worry, since no one would care if they were turned off for good.‖37 If emotions are lost as people become posthuman, then the dream of immortality through computers might be very dangerous indeed. Where Do We Go from Here? So what does the future hold according to these three? Since Hayles thinks that we are ―always already‖ posthuman, she suggests that the question should be ―what kind of post human will we be?‖38 She suggests we need to be humans who acknowledge their bodies, not ones whose personalities have been uploaded to a computer. Hayles argues that a human is ―first of all embodied 34

Ibid, 168.


Ibid, 171.


Ibid, 169.


Ibid, 170.


Hayles, 246.


Journal of Biblical Ministry being, and the complexities of this embodiment mean that human awareness unfolds in ways very different from those of intelligence embodied in cybernetic machines.‖39 Therein, lays both the terror and the pleasure of posthumanism, as she explains it. She offers little specifics beyond reminding us that we have bodies. On the other hand, Fukuyama suggests political action to preserve the unique combination of human consciousness, reason, and emotion that provide a basis for a natural theory of equal rights.40 While he admits there could be problems with technology, Bostrom sees positive results if it is restrained. He agrees with Fukuyama on the point of restraint. 41 What is the World View of Post/ Transhumanists? The key to understanding to how to refute and interact with any –ism is understanding the world view that underlies it.42 Hayles is open about her materialistic worldview: My dream is a version of the post human that embraces the possibilities of information technologies without being seduced by fantasies of unlimited power and disembodied immortality, that recognizes and celebrates finitude as a condition of human being, and that understands human life is embedded in a material world of great complexity, one on which we depend for our continued survival.43 She also points out that cybernetic philosophy is influenced by Buddhism and its concepts of emptiness and the not-self as it conceives of the mind as a collection of processes.‖44 She sees connections between the story of cybernetics and the Buddhist concept that one‘s identity is established and maintained by telling oneself a story.45 When one the novelists she describes has visionary 39

Ibid, 283-284.


Fukuyama, 128.


Bostrom, 25.


See James W. Sire, Naming the Elephant: Worldview as a Concept. (Downer‘s Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press Academic, 2004) for an excellent argument on this point. 43

Hayles, 5.


Ibid, 156-157.


Ibid, 211.

Spring, 2012

experiences (which he attributes to God or at least a super intelligence), she attributes these experiences to chronic hypertension.46 She remains skeptical about Christianity, writing that Christians have ―imagined a cosmos infused by divine purpose,‖ which is exposed as false by cybernetics as a philosophy. Hayles argues that cybernetics has become a philosophy which replaces ―the centuries-old debate between Newtonian causality and Christian teleology‖ with a debate about purpose and randomness. 47 Hayles is thoroughly materialistic and thus sees only two dimensions to human life: the mind and the body. While not openly opposing Christianity as Hayles does, Bostrom nevertheless goes his own way. Based on historical precedent, he argues that the problems of technology can be solved by rational discussion. In the appendix to his article, among the principles of WTA is this statement: ―We need to carefully deliberate how best to reduce risks and expedite beneficial applications. We also need forums where people can constructively discuss what should be done, and a social order where responsible decisions can be implemented. ―48 He invites There is something conservatives, specifically Fukuyama, to come mysterious in consciousness that discuss the problems in a space where he sets the 49 cannot be explained agenda. With an emphasis on human action, by biology alone… Bostrom is essentially a positive rationalist. While conceding that religious beliefs can serve as one basis for opposing biotechnical procedures such as cloning, Fukuyana bases his argument on more Aristotelian principles of right and wrong based on human nature, tracing that notion to the Founding Fathers as well. 50 Even though religion provides the clearest basis for opposing harmful technology, he spends more time developing utilitarian and rational bases for arguing against these procedures because not everyone accepts the religious premises.51 Still in arguing for the basic dignity of humans, he points to 46

Ibid, 189.


Ibid, 95


Ibid, 26.


Bostrom, 24-25.


Fukuyama, 12-13.


Ibid, 91.


Journal of Biblical Ministry something mysterious in consciousness that cannot be explained by biology alone and which does not rule out direct intervention by God in its creation. Fukuyama argues for a Factor X that is the combination and complex interaction of such human characteristics as ―moral choice, reason, and broad emotional gamut‖ which could be reduced through biotechnology.52 While Fukuyama gives Christians other ways to argue against post humanism, he does not specifically develop a Christian argument against it or suggest how Christians might engage those advocating posthumanism. What’s a Christian to Do? Michael DeLashmutt, who calls himself a ―practical theologian‖53 provides a possible Christian response. He points out that post humanism and other ―post‖ philosophies have not been able to do away with the longings for immortality. He maintains that there exists within postmodernism ―a form of secular eschatology‖ grounded in an optimistic view of technological progress. 54 He gives three examples of this eschatology: 1. Hans Moravec, a research professor at the Robotics Institute of the Carnegie Melon University, author of Mind Children: the Future of Robot and Human Intelligence 2. Frank Tipler, physicist at Tulane University, Physics of Immortality, who speculates that the human mind, preserved forever by technology, will take on all the characteristics of God and will be ―omnipresent, omniscient, omnitemporal, and omnipotent.‖ 55 3. Ray Kurweil, futurologist, author of The Spiritual Age of Machines, who looks to the ultimate merger of human and artificial intelligence in the medium of the computer, resulting in ―spiritual machines [that] will possess 52

Ibid, 170-172..


Michael W. DeLashmutt homepage. University of Aberdeen (accessed Dec. 27, 2011). He does not reveal whether his theology is conservative or liberal; this distinction is critically important in evaluating his stance. 54 55

DeLashmutt. ―Immanence of Transcendence‖ 3.

This is, of course, the old, old lie found in Genesis, as Dr. Skinner points out in his article in this same issue. See this article also for a discussion of the New Age Movement.

Spring, 2012

a true self-awareness and consciousness which he regards as being functionally equivalent to the human mind or spirit.‖ 56 DeLashmutt also points to a difference between this technological immortality, which merely continues the current state of the human mind in a different medium, and Christian eschotology, which posits a God who transforms the human mind and body through incarnation and resurrection.57 He also advocates ―a technological posthumanism‖ based on the incarnation and the resurrection which affirms both present reality and future hopes. 58 While his engagement with the culture is laudable and he quotes Scripture while explaining Christian eschotology, his views must be held in abeyance until we know his stance on other critical doctrines. The dream of immortality and C.S. Lewis might provide a way forward. The prefixes ―trans‖ and ―post‖ both carry the idea of ―beyond.‖ Even pagans such as those in the New Age Movement understand that there is ―something‖ beyond the material world and the bodies in it. While this ―something‖ has sometimes been hijacked by Satan, it can also serve as an opportunity for Christians to express our understanding of this ―something.‖ C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity seems to be pointing to that opportunity. He writes that God left fallen man We should never several indications of His presence. First, most lose sight of the people have a conscience (a sense of right and fact that we are wrong). Second, there are what Lewis calls ―good made for another dreams.‖ By this term he means the stories in other world. religions of a god who dies and comes to life.59 Lewis also points to longings that cannot be had in this world: ―If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.‖60 Lewis points out that people often mistake this desire and seek to fill it with the blessings of this earth—relationships, ideas, and places. When 56

Ibid, 9-12.


Ibid, 11, 14..


Ibid, 16-17.


C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, (New York: Simon and Schuster, Touchstone ed., 1996)


Ibid, 121.



Journal of Biblical Ministry these fail to satisfy, Lewis points out that the reaction can be either blame for the specific relationship, idea, or place, or else a thorough disillusionment. On other hand, Christians should enjoy the blessings of this world while never losing sight of the fact that they are made for another world, Lewis writes. As a beginning place for engaging post/ trans humanists, we as Christians can begin to look for those ―good dreams‖ that are contained in both Bostrom and Hayles. Perhaps the most obvious ―good dream‖ is the drive towards immortality described by both. Hayles notes that in cyberspace ―as long as the pattern endures, one has attained a kind of immortality.‖61 She also points to Marvin Minsky‘s dream that ―human memories could be imported, intact and unchanged, to computer disks,‖ effectively achieving immortality.62 Other examples of the urge toward immortality emerge in Hayles‘ descriptions of the plots of various science fiction cybernetic books.63 In explaining her title, she notes its ambiguities and the possibility that people might not be posthuman if they don‘t think they are.64 This statement leaves space to question her conclusion that we are always, already post human. In a similar way, Bostrom uses historical examples to legitimize the search for everlasting life although he attributes that desire to evolutionary transhumanism, as noted above. He does not explain how or why evolution would result in such a desire for immortality. Neither he nor Hayles explain how one might become immortal except for some yet-to-bediscovered technology for maintaining one‘s current life. With their great faith in technology, both beg the question of how people came to desire eternal life or how they might attain it. The Bible provides a more balanced look at humans as consisting of body, mind, and soul (Deut 6:5, Matt 22:37). In a sense, the Bible also articulates a vision of a time when humans will not longer be the same: all vain imaginings will be swept away by the coming of the Christ to rule the world (Rev 19:11-18). Lewis, writing before the current controversy, but in many ways anticipating it, writes, ―People often ask when the next step in evolution—the step to something beyond man— will happen. In Christ a new kind of man appeared: and a new kind of life which 61

Hayles 36.


Ibid, 13.


Ibid, 215.


Ibid, 6.

Spring, 2012

began in Him is to be put into us.‖ 65 This new life is already present within Christians. When philosophers and other advocates of post/trans humanism concentrate on the material world and the bodies in it, we Christians have the opportunity to share a third dimension—the revelation of God. We can point to the King and the coming kingdom that is truly beyond the human, or perhaps, beyond this world. 65

Lewis, 62.


It’s Still the New (Old) Age Lie Timothy M. Skinner, ThM Assistant Professor of Bible In the 1980‘s and 1990‘s, the phrase ―New Age‖ was the term given to a networking of groups and people attempting to bring about a transformation of society through personal transformation of the individual. Even at that time, the ideas and concepts of this ―new age‖ were not new, but had existed in one form or another long before it was called by that name. In fact, it has been around since the beginning of time. In actuality, it was conceived by Satan in the Garden of Eden in Genesis 3. Four lies were propagated by the serpent to destroy the relationship that Adam and Eve had with the Creator. These four lies are: 1) You will not surely die 2) Your eyes will be opened 3) You will be like God 4) Desire for gaining wisdom (Genesis 3:4-6). These lies became the basis of the New Age Movement (NAM) in the 1980‘s and 1990‘s. 1) Human beings are God/gods 2) Humanity needs a transformation 3) Knowledge of one‘s divinity brings transformation, enlightenment, and wisdom 4) There is no death, only endless reincarnations 1 The ―New Age‖ was not new in the 1980‘s and 1990‘s; it isn‘t new today. It is still the occult, Gnosticism, and humanism repackaged. What Was Then is Now According to Douglas Groothuis, an established authority on the NAM, ―new age‖ ideas and practices came to the forefront during the 1960‘s countercultural revolution in the United States and Europe. New Age ideas filled the void that was created by the 1960‘s revolution. In his book, Unmasking the New Age (1986), Groothuis wrote: ―The counterculture of the 60‘s IS bidding to become the dominant culture‖ (p.37, 40). In his book, The Universe Next Door, James Sire wrote regarding the New Age Movement then in its infancy stage: 1

Philip Lochhaas, How to Respond: The New Age Movement (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1995), 15.

―… one world view has been developing. In the first edition (1976) I wrote that ‗we are experiencing …. the birth pangs of a new world view…. [one] not completely formed.‘ Now the baby has been born and is screaming rather loudly for attention. What I called ‗the new consciousness‘ in 1976 is now known as the New Age.‖ 2 However, over twenty five years later, this counterculture HAS become the dominant culture! The elements of the 1960‘s that paved the way for the NAM include: 1) Rebellion against authority, truth, norms, right and wrong, standards, absolutes etc. (Compare this with the new doctrine of tolerance). 2) Expanding consciousness through mind-expanding drugs (now this has been replaced by yoga, meditation, and other ascetic disciplines). 3) The rise of the occult (i.e. astrology, [where the term itself comes from: The ―New Age‖ = The ―Age of Aquarius‖]; Ouija boards; spiritism) (compare this with crystals and channeling, ―Ascended Masters‖ etc.) 4) The demise of secular humanism, atheism, and materialism. (This created a void and emptiness filled by the occult, eastern mysticism etc.).

The New Age Movement has become THE dominant culture.

According to Groothuis‘ prediction, the New Age Movement DID in fact become the dominant culture, and is STILL the dominant culture today. The term ―New Age Movement‖ is no longer in vogue now, but it is now referred to by different names such as the ―new consciousness;‖ ―cosmic consciousness;‖ ―cosmic humanism;‖ ―spirituality;‖ and the ―new spirituality.‖ 3 New Agers now prefer the term ―spirituality‖ over the term ―religious‖ because the word ―religious‖ is associated with traditional Christianity.4 2

James Sire, The Universe Next Door (Downer‘s Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1988), 9-10.


See David Noebel‘s book, The Battle for Truth where he substitutes ―Cosmic Humanism‖ in the place of ―The New Age Movement‖ (Eugene: Harvest House Publishers, 2001). 4

Irving Hexam, Stephen Rost, John Morehead II, Encountering New Religious Movements (Grand Rapids: Kregal Publishing House, 2004) 17.


Journal of Biblical Ministry The New Age Movement has been used to describe a solid movement (or network) as well as a family of spiritual approaches to life involving both doctrine and religious activities (i.e. rites, ceremonies) that are taken by most analysts to lie outside the boundaries of orthodox Christianity.5 The most basic and pervasive aspect of the language of the New Age is that the person is, in essence, spiritual. To experience the SELF is to experience ―God;‖ the ―goddess;‖ the ―source;‖ the ―light;‖ ―Christ;‖ ―consciousness;‖ the ―inner spirituality;‖ the ―inner light;‖ etc.6 The spirituality of the NAM is either the product of existential experience, or the activity of the spirit world. It is a mixture of eastern religion, Native American religion, and ancient pagan religions from the past. All of these have merged under the title of religious ―pluralism.‖ 7 Even though the term ―New Age‖ itself is no longer in vogue, its beliefs and basic tenets have not changed. It is still the ―old age‖ lie of the serpent under a different name. The New Spirituality Some years ago, former Christian Missionary & Alliance pastor and author Keith M. Bailey pinpointed the concept of spirituality when he wrote, ―The spirituality of the New Age Movement is either the product of existential EXPERIENCE or the activity of the SPIRIT world.‖ Spirituality is not determined by one‘s holiness, religious beliefs, relationship to Jesus Christ etc., but by experiencing ritual (and this can apply to even witches today!). Ritual may include celebrating the seasons (witches base their seasons on the moon, called esbats - the moon showing a cycle of birth, growth, decay, death, and rebirth); lighting a candle, summoning the spirit of a deceased relative, dancing under a full moon, etc., etc. These ―spiritual‖ practices or rituals seek to bring the practitioner into better relationships with everything else around him, both physical (nature) and spiritual alike- with other spirits and even spirits who have gone on before.8 Based on this concept, spirituality is now being defined and 5

Christopher Partridge, Douglas Groothuis, A Dictionary of Contemporary Religion in the Western World (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2002), 278. 6

Ibid., 278-279.



Keith M. Bailey, Strange Gods (Camp Hill: Christian Publications Inc., 1998), 35.

Philip Johnson, Gus diZerega, Beyond the Burning Times (Oxford: Lion Hudson plc, 2008), 21-22.

Spring, 2012

determined by one‘s connection to the spirit world regardless of the nature of those spirits, whether they are evil or good as determined by God‘s Word. The New Age Movement (hence ―The New Spirituality‖) is a smorgasbord for spirituality. It is a mix and blend of the basic tenets coming from the occult and other religions. Its basic ingredients come from:  Hinduism, Buddhism, Native American religion, paganism, and witchcraft 

Spiritism (the Hyde Sisters, ―channeling‖)

 The Theosophical Society (the ―Ascended Masters‖-advanced spirit beings in the reincarnation chain, and ―Avatars‖- earth messengers- a term borrowed from Buddhism)  The mind sciences (i.e. the mind controls all- Christian Science, Scientology, ―The Secret‖ as endorsed by Oprah Winfrey) 

Ecology (earth sciences- environmentalism)

 UFOlogy (due to the rise of the UFO contactee movements- e.g. George King‘s Aetherius Society, Mormonism etc.)9 One of the best treatments of pagan spirituality 10 is by Gus diZerega.11 diZerega‘s definition of paganism is exactly how Keith Bailey defined it in his book Strange Gods, an expose of Native American Religion. Native American religion is probably the most pagan of all religions. Here are a few recent quotes from this modern Pagan: ―Spirituality is our relationship to the sacred‖ (p. 17). 9

William Alnor in his book, UFO’s in the New Age, categorizes Mormonism as one of the first ―space based‖ religions, 192. 10

Even though the New Age Movement is not equivalent to paganism, there is enough overlap and similarities between them to equate them here. The same goes for Witchcraft (i.e. Wicca). William Schnoebelen notes that almost 80% of New Age belief is lifted right out of witchcraft! (see Wicca: Satan’s Little White Lie, p.73). For the differences, see Christopher Partridge and Douglas Groothuis, A Dictionary of Contemporary Religion in the Western World, p. 322. 11

Philip Johnson, Gus diZerega, Beyond the Burning Times, pp.17-29.


Journal of Biblical Ministry ―Pagan spirituality is primarily a spirituality of practice, not belief. Witchcraft is not what people know, but what they do” (p.19)! ―Spirituality is how we relate to the context of our being: in other words, how we interact in harmony with everything around us‖ (p. 23). ―Pagan spirituality acknowledges the sacredness of all things. Everything is permeated by Spirit because no fundamental distinction exists between the world of spirit and the ordinary, mundane world‖ (p.24). "Spiritual growth is characterized by the mundane playing a diminishing role in our lives, and a growing attention to the sacred, the most encompassing context of all‖ (p.25). ―In so far as we seek more clearly and completely to embody and live values that expand our sphere of care and concern we can be said to be acting spiritually” (p. 25).

“Pagan spirituality is primarily a spirituality of practice, not belief.”

―In a sense, much of pagan spirituality consists of good manners‖ (p.28). In other words, the whole concept of pagan belief is supposedly love, care, and concern for others. The Wiccan Rede states: ―An ye harm none, do what ye will.‖ This is the closest thing to a Wiccan/pagan code of conduct or morality. Of course, would anyone actually believe that witches are so good, upstanding, moral, ethical people that they would never dream of doing anyone any harm? What about the old superstition of witches turning people into toads, bats, badgers etc.? Furthermore, if paganism is so concerned about the love and concern for others, then why have pagans throughout history practiced human sacrifice? One cannot expect pagans to love, honor, and respect others like the Bible teaches Christians to do because they reject such standards of right and wrong as advocated by a holy and righteous God as revealed in the Scriptures. If one rejects God, then one will reject God‘s standard for ethical behavior and conduct: the Bible.

Spring, 2012

Basic Tenets of the New Age/New Spirituality As stated earlier, even though the name has changed from the 1980‘s and 1990‘s, the basic beliefs have not. These are the four basic pillars of the New Age/New Spirituality:12 These same four threads are also found in pagan belief.13 Two of the basic pillars of the New Age Movement (Monism and Pantheism) form the basic hub that connects the spokes of apostate christendom, paganism, the occult, environmentalism, politics etc. as the following chart indicates (copyright Tim Skinner): 12

Philip Lochhaas lists six in his book, How to Respond: The New Age Movement, but these are the main ones, pp. 10-13. 13

See David Burnett, Dawning of the Pagan Moon (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1992), 76-80; Craig S. Hawkins, Witchcraft (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996), 29-40; Catherine Edwards Sanders, Wicca’s Charm (Colorado Springs: Waterbrook Press, 2005), 5-6; Douglas Groothuis, Unmasking the New Age (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1986), 1830; Ted Peters, The Cosmic Self (San Francisco: Harper Collins Publishers, 1991), 53-92; Peter Jones, Gospel Truth: Pagan Lies (Enumclaw: Winepress Publishing, 1999).


Journal of Biblical Ministry

Spring, 2012

It could be that the New Age Movement is what actually unites what were once thought to be contrasting worldviews and movements. The first of the pillars as indicated by the chart is the New Age/Pagan belief of monism. As noted in footnote #10, there are enough similarities between the New Age and paganism to connect them here, even though there are some differences between the two. Monism Monism means ―All is one.‖ There is a oneness and UNITY of all life and life forms. The life force/spirit (god) is immanent within all creation: rocks, creeks, trees, animals, humans etc. This life force connects all living things. The entire earth is a LIVING organism. Paganism is a religion in which reciprocal relationships between humans and ALL others with whom we share life on earth are significant. Pagans believe that you must live in perfect harmony with creation-whether it be plants, trees, animals, faeries, spirits etc.14 Notice that monism has a ―spiritual‖ element to it as evidenced by the title of Page Bryant‘s book: The Spiritual Reawakening of the Great Smoky Mountains. Here is an excerpt: Each of us must have an honest sense of desire and expectation in order to become aware of the earth‘s living energies, and the mind to think of the world as a WHOLE being that is held together by a real, LIVING, unifying energy which links us all- every place to every other place- every soul to all other souls, and ultimately, the earth and her children to the stars. One must have the desire to seek out and experience a real sense of at-one-ment with all that lives. And above all we must each have the desire to discover our TRUE and WHOLE SELF and our place and role within.15 We are all a part of an inter-connected whole: WE ARE ONE. One wonders, why is there such a push now for globalism? Why is there such a push for us to think globally and act globally? It is because of the New Age/ Pagan idea of monisminter-connectedness. A concept connected with monism = Animism (i.e. everything possesses a life force) and Panpsychism (everything possesses a soul or consciousness). The only real SIN or EVIL is that of being unbalanced, out of harmony, or estranged from oneself, others, the various life forms, and Mother Earth.16 This is why paganism is so environmentally centered. There is definitely a connection here between the occult and environmentalism and this 14

Graham Harvey, Contemporary Paganism (New York: New York University Press,

1997), viii. 15

Page Bryant, The Spiritual Reawakening of the Great Smoky Mountains (Waynesville: Mystic Mountain Center, 1994), 70. 16 Craig Hawkins, Witchcraft, 32, 35, 47.


Journal of Biblical Ministry may explain why the messages from purported UFO‘s and other channeled beings are so heavily centered on averting environmental disaster.17 Patrick Buchanan wrote in his book, The Death of the West, “Environmentalism is well on its way to being the third great wave of redemptive struggle in Western history, the first being Christianity, the second modern socialism‖ (p. 53). Pantheism Pantheism teaches that ―All is God.‖ However, it is important to note that the concept of God in New Age thinking is not the concept of the God of the Bible. The one true God of the Bible is rejected. By definition, a ―Pagan‖ is one that is a nature worshipper; one who does not believe in God. The idea of a personal God is abandoned in favor of an impersonal energy, force, or consciousness that abides in all things. Everything is an emanation from this spirit, force or god, including ourselves. Members of the New Age cult share a common view that ―all is one:‖ that is, everything that exists together comprises one essential reality or substance. This ultimate reality is identified as God, usually seen as an impersonal consciousness and power.18 In New Age/pagan belief, God is not personal, transcendent, or loving. The triune God cannot be properly described in personal terms- He is not one individual but an energy gestalt. God is seen as an impersonal energy field whose only real structure is the sum of all its parts.19 According to New Age advocates, even though we are God, and are essentially divine, we are ignorant of this fact and must come to that realization. This will be our salvation! If one never attains godhood in this life, then there are numerous lifetimes after death to arrive at it (godhood, divinity) or attain it. (This of course is known as reincarnation). This is a way of working off our bad karma in order to perfect us. Those so perfected after so many lifetimes are known as ―Ascended Masters‖ and ―Avatars‖ (messengers to help us reach that spiritual perfection and consciousness). God is a force, energy, cosmic mind, consciousness, the universal self. This universal spirit is God. This universal spirit is in all of us. We are spiritual beings. 17

For some excellent sources, see Bob Larson, UFO’s and the Alien Agenda (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1997), 71-85; John E. Mack, Passport to the Cosmos (Largo: Kunati Inc., 2008), 93-119; Christopher Evans, Cults of Unreason (Frogmore St. Albans: Panther Books, 1974), 153-167. 18

Walter Martin, The New Age Cult (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1989), 19.


Ibid., 36.

Spring, 2012

Enlightenment=Salvation Proponents of the New Age spirituality believe that humanity‘s main problem is that we are ignorant of our true nature (divine). We have forgotten that we are divine and god and we need to awaken ourselves to that reality. We need a shift in consciousness. It is an illusion that we are separated from each other, nature, and all living beings. We need salvation and this salvation comes through enlightenment. We need to attain the harmony with God (our inner self) and nature and the ―one.‖ This is what will bring about a new world order and salvation to our planet. A New Birth- a Transformation The ―goal‖ of the New Age Movement/New Spirituality is to re-discover our human potential by realizing the oneness (or our interconnectedness) with all things. The goal of New Agers is a ―change of consciousness.‖20 The key ingredient in the appeal of the NAM is the hope for personal and social transformation. The appetite for transformation may be whetted by reflecting on the state of society or by a personal experience or a combination of both. 21 PERSONAL transformation will lead to GLOBAL transformation- a new world, a new age, planetary awareness etc.22 The transformation begins with a personal mystical experience (which is essentially claimed to be ‗spiritual,’ but not religious) and this experience is transformative (the key word of the New Age Movement). Once the individual is transformed then the effort is made to transform others in society. But it begins with a personal transformation. 23 Even though the NAM is a social movement it is also an inherently religious movement. New Agers use the term religious as a spiritual experience with whatever ―spirit‖ may bring transformation! New Spirituality groups anticipate what they call ―the shift,‖ a quantum leap in planetary consciousness in 2012 that will result in a unified planet functioning in perfect harmony. Participation in this supposedly quantum leap requires all humanity to be on the same page spiritually, and the key to this alignment is the concept of ―myth.‖ If the myths of the world‘s religions can be synchronized, then all religions can merge into the one.24 The new ideological base of the New Age 20

Douglas Groothuis, Unmasking the New Age (Downer‘s Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1986), 16-20. 21

Ibid., 46.


Lochhaas, 10-13.


J. Gordon Melton, New Age Encyclopedia (Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1990), xiii.


Charles E. McCracken, ―The Quantum Shift Toward Paganism.‖ Israel My Glory, (July-August, 2010)


Journal of Biblical Ministry political agenda is a unity of all religions. A unity of all religions is absolutely necessary if the ―oneness‖ of mankind is to become a reality. 25 If ―myth‖ will unite all religions, then ―literal‖ may keep them divided. Perhaps those Christians who take the Bible literally will be the one obstacle standing in the way of this spiritual transformation! Tal Brooke, founder of the Spiritual Counterfeits Project, and himself a former New Ager wrote: The political, military, and economic pillars of this long range plan cannot fully support a world order without the fourth pillar: a global religion standing beneath the fourth corner, lest the structure collapse.‖ 26 What is haunting is Brooke‘s observation: ―When Christianity absorbs the new spiritualities, then it will be ripe for a merger.27 How to Approach the New Age/New Spirituality Since New Age Paganism is the dominant world view today, what should Christians be aware of and how should they respond? The spiritual and moral condition of America today is equivalent to the pagan world of the first century. When the apostle Paul stood on Mars Hill in Athens, Greece, and addressed a pagan audience, he told them: ―… Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects. For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‗TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.‘ What therefore you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you‖ (Acts 17:22b-23, New American Standard Version). The apostle could just have easily been standing in any city in America today, or the world for that matter. Notice that Paul stated that they were ―too religious in all respects.‖ The pagans he was addressing were very religious just as the pagans of today are very spiritual as this article implies. It is very important that Christians realize that they are living in a pre-Christian world. The New Age Movement and these alternative spiritualities have become the dominant world view today. Christians must be willing and able to defend the historic beliefs of the Christian faith. The apostle Jude wrote to the early Church: ―My dear brothers, I was doing my best to write to you about the salvation we share in common, when I felt the need of writing at once to encourage you to FIGHT ON 25

Martin, 70.


Tal Brooke, One World (Berkeley: End Run Publishing, 2000), 6.


Ibid., 7.

Spring, 2012

for the faith which once and for all God has given to his people‖ (Jude 3, Good News Bible). This translation was the only translation that captured the urgency of the times in which we live. The word usually translated ―contend for the faith‖ means to strive or fight for it. Defending the faith comes from the word ―apologia,‖ from where we get the word ―apologetics.‖ Many Bible colleges and seminaries are now incorporating an apologetics focus in the degree programs they offer just to combat the rising tide of attack upon Christian beliefs. 28 What are some steps that Christians can take in responding to New Age-Paganism? “…I felt the need of writing at once to encourage you to FIGHT ON for the faith which once and for all God has given his people.”

1. Know the Bible and what it teaches regarding:  The person of God. Know that God is a personal God. God is not an influence, idea, life force, cosmic force, self, etc. He is not = creation; He is sovereign over all of His creation. Also, it would help to know the attributes and characteristics of God which can found in any Systematic Theology book.

 The person and work of Jesus Christ. Christ is not an ―ascended master,‖ nor avatar who reached divinity over an endless cycle of reincarnations, and He did not ―become‖ God when he realized His divinity. He is the only begotten incarnate Son of God, God the Son who died for each and every sinner. He did not ―become‖ God, He WAS and IS God from the beginning (John 1:1-3)!  The sinfulness of man. The New Age belief does not teach that we are personally separated from God because of our sin. There is no personal God, and there is no sin that separates us from Him. In their view, we do not need to be saved from personal sin and rebellion against God, but we need to be saved from the ignorance (transformation and enlightenment) that keeps us from realizing our divinity (pantheism) and our essential unity with all living things (monism).


Luther Rice University added an apologetics focus to their degree programs in 2008.


Journal of Biblical Ministry 2. Stress that God is the Creator of heaven and earth. Paganism accepts the theory of evolution. Graham Harvey writes: ―Pagans agree with the scientific explanation of the origins and nature of the cosmos as the product of the laws of evolution.‖ 29 The apostle Paul confronted the pagan world of his day in Athens, Greece in Acts 17:22-34. There he affirmed the Creator God and man‘s responsibility before Him. Christians must do the same. The world and the forces in the world did not evolve by chance selection; they were created directly by a personal God. This is the starting point of apologetics today. 3. Preach the resurrection of Jesus Christ and judgment to come. Paul did to a pagan world of his day: ―Because he (God) hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead‖ (Acts 17:31, KJV). 4. Recognize the occult connection to the New Age/New Spirituality. The ―New Spirituality‖ is just another name for the occult repackaged. It encourages and promotes various forms of demonism and trafficking with evil spirits. As Bill Schnoebelen so aptly pointed out: New Age channelers make no attempt to screen or test the authenticity or validity of these entities as one would check out a doctor, lawyer, carpet layer, brick mason etc. What is sad is that people will risk their eternal destiny and never once question spirit beings that will enter their bodies to ‗guide them‘ into all truth! Spiritism and channeling lay bare the soul‘s natural defenses against evil. These practices involve the exposure of the soul to forces of dubious origin. Since almost all of them are explicitly or implicitly forbidden by God, it is a virtual guarantee that their use will open doors for Satan to come in and attack you . It is the equivalent of stripping off the skin that protects our body against germs and disease. 30 5. Don‘t be afraid to interact with New Agers and challenge their beliefs. They won‘t hurt you; you do not need to fear them. Learn their world view; take them out to dinner; dialogue with them. They can be won to Christ just like any cultist, Satanist, alcoholic, murderer etc. 6. Enroll in an Apologetics course. These five steps comprise the essence of Apologetics: the defense of the faith. 29

Graham Harvey, What Do Pagans Believe? (London: Granta Books, 2007), x. This is an excellent primer on paganism written by a professor of religious studies and a modern day Pagan. 30 William Schnoebelen, Somewhere Under the Rainbow (Issaaquah: Saints Alive, n.d.), 15.

Spring, 2012

Conclusion. The roots of the New Age Movement can be traced back to the 1960‘s with the counter-cultural revolution in the United States. However, the basic tenets of New Age belief are actually as old as the Garden of Eden, introduced by the serpent. The basic tenets of New Age belief are: 

Monism- All is one, and all things are interconnected

Pantheism- All is God; creation is God; man is god

Enlightenment and knowledge of our divinity brings salvation

 A new birth (personal transformation) will bring societal transformation and this will inaugurate a new age for mankind. These basic tenets have not changed, even though the term ―New Age Movement‖ has. It is now known as the ―New Spirituality‖ or alternative spiritualities, mostly a merger of the occult, humanism, and eastern mysticism. Spirituality is now defined as one who experiences ritual and one who lives in harmony with the spirit world, regardless of whether those spirits are good or evil. This new ―spirituality‖ is equivalent to pre-Christian paganism and has now become the dominant world view of American culture. Christians must confront this world view as a rejection of the God of the Bible, and a threat to biblical teaching as it basically denies: 

The personality of God

The deity and work of Jesus Christ

Christians must confront this world view as a rejection of the God of the Bible……

 The sinfulness of man and the alienation of man from God 

Creation by direct fiat of God

Judgment to come (The New Age basically affirms reincarnation)

Since the New Spirituality traffics in the occult, those who are involved open themselves up to demonic influence or even possession. Christians should not avoid dialogue with those deceived by the New Spirituality, but remember that they can be reached with the gospel of Jesus Christ. The New Spirituality is still the (old) age lie of the serpent.


Did the Waterlander Mennonites Reject Menno Simons’ Doctrine Of the Incarnation? Marvin Jones, DTheol Assistant Professor of Bible and Theology Mennonite Christology has been the subject of careful investigation by numerous Mennonite and Baptist theologians.1 The rationale for the inquiry concerns the precarious influence of Hoffmannite Christology upon the Waterlander Mennonites and the subsequent General Baptist Movement of John Smyth.2 In order to understand the question of influence it is necessary to define the theological content known as Hoffmannite Christology. Hoffmannite Christology is known as the celestial or heavenly flesh doctrine. The Mennonite Encyclopedia gives the definition and origination of this position. In a 1951 study devoted to this subject, H. J. Schoeps [Vom himmlischen Fleisch Christi-From the Celestial Flesh of Christ] states that Caspar Schwenckfeld was the first of the reformers to emphasize the teaching of the "heavenly flesh" of Christ and that he was directly influenced by the Greek Fathers. Schwenckfeld believed in a sinless "glorified humanity" of Christ. "If Christ had the characteristics of a sinful creation, He could not represent us in the presence of God" (28). Schoeps states that Schwenckfeld's concern in this matter was that mankind can be "glorified" or become divine only if Christ was divine. His Christology was closely related to his views regarding the Lord's Supper. "Only through Christ's heavenly body is the spiritual influence from above guaranteed, because only through the glorified humanity of the risen Christ can believers be filled and fed with the Holy Spirit" (36). "Through His spiritualized, raised, and glorified (divine) flesh, Christ, as a second Adam, draws mankind toward Himself into spirituality" (36) . . . Melchior Hoffman was the originator of this peculiar 1

I have only compiled a short list of books for documentation but there are numerous articles (which I will reference at a later point in the paper). From the Baptist position, see Jason Lee's, The Theology of John Smyth (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2003). From the Mennonite position, see J. C. Wenger, Glimpses of Mennonite History and Doctrine (Scottdale, PA: Herald, 1947).; Also see C. Henry Smith, The Story of the Mennonites (Newton, KA: Mennonite Publication Office, 1950).; Harold Bender, A Brief Biography of Menno Simons (Scottdale, PA: Herald, 1956). 2

Cornelius Krahn and Dennis D. Martin eds., The Mennonite Encyclopedia: A Comprehensive Reference Work on the Anabaptist-Mennonite Movement [ME], vol. 4 (Hillsboro, KA: Mennonite Brethren Publication House, 1959), s.v. ―Waterlander,‖ by Nanne van der Zijp. Waterlander is a branch of Dutch Mennonites, deriving their name from Waterland, a region in the province of North Holland.

teaching regarding the incarnation of Christ, as far as the early Anabaptists are concerned.3 Apparently, Schwenckfeld created this position but it was Hoffman who preached the deviant Christology in his itinerant ministry.4 Basically, Hoffman denied the earthly humanity of Christ. George Williams affirmed this denial: Hoffman was quite specific ―that the Eternal Word of God did not take our nature and flesh from the Virgin Mary but himself became flesh (John 1:14), that is, our Lord Christ has not two but only one nature.‖ In the second article, he argues that if Jesus had taken on the flesh of Mary, he would have had Adamic flesh, which neither ―save us‖ nor ―serve us as food for eternal life,‖5 The heavenly or celestial flesh position is significantly different from the orthodox definition of Chalcedon Christology. The Chalcedon Definition stated: Following the Holy fathers, we unanimously teach one and the same Son, our lord Jesus Christ, complete as to his Godhead, and complete as to his manhood; truly God, and truly man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting; consubstantial with the Father as to his Godhead, and consubstantial also with us as to his manhood; like unto us in all things, yet without sin . . .6 Schaff in his work, The Creeds of Christendom, expounded upon the key to the Chalcedon definition. He stated: This incarnation is neither a conversion or transmutation of God into man, nor a conversion of man into God, and a consequent absorption of the one, or a confusion of the two; nor, on the other hand, a mere indwelling of the one in the other, nor an outward, transitory connection of the two factors, but an actual and abiding union of the two in one personal life . . . The Logos assumed, not a human person (else we would have two 3

ME, vol. 4, s.v. "Incarnation of Christ," by Cornelius Krahn. Emphasis mine.


Sjouke Voolstra, "The Word Has Become Flesh. The Melchiorite-Mennonite Teaching on the Incarnation," Mennonite Quarterly Review 57 (1983): 156. 5

George Huntston Williams, The Radical Reformation (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1963), 330–31. 6

Philip Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Christianity, vol. 2 of History of the Christian Church (New York: Scribner & Sons, 1910; reprint, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2006), 744–45.


persons, a divine and a human), but human nature which is common to us all; and hence he redeemed, not a particular man, but all men as partakers of the same nature.7 The orthodox position is that Christ incarnated into human flesh. Thus, the Hoffmannite position of heavenly flesh is significantly different from the incarnation of God by taking on human nature. The Mennonites have downplayed the idea that the Waterlanders accepted the heavenly flesh doctrine. Keith and Mary Sprunger in their article, ―The Church in the Bakehouse: John Smyth‘s English Anabaptist Congregation at Amsterdam‖ stated, ―De Ries and the Waterlanders were themselves not very committed to this interpretation, and it was not central to the discussions.‖8 Cornelius Krahn, in his book Dutch Anabaptist, made it clear that Hoffman: . . . never became fully identified with any of the Reformation groups throughout his career as evangelist – either with the Lutheran or the cause of the Strassburg reformers, or fully with any of the Strassburg Anabaptist groups. Although circumstances under which he was baptized are not known, it must have happened without making him a full-fledge member or the groups led by Kautz or Reublin or Marbeck of Denck.9 Thus, Krahn tried to distance the Mennonites from absolute identity with Hoffman. Baptist theologian, Jason Lee in his book, The Theology of John Smyth, commenting upon Hans De Ries‘s Short Confession stated that ―he does not mention anything about Christ‘s flesh coming from heaven, but simply states that he is ‗one Person true God and man born of Mary.‘ In common with his earlier confessions, De Ries asserts that the details of the incarnation are not central to true doctrine.‖10 The significance of this statement is that Hans De Ries was the Mennonite pastor who negotiated with Smyth concerning Smyth‘s congregational application to become Mennonites. Lee‘s position implies a theological shift in 7

Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, 3 vols. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1983), 2:30.


Keith Sprunger and Mary Sprunger, "The Church in the Bakehouse: John Smyth‘s English Anabaptist Congregation at Amsterdam, 1609-1660," The Mennonite Quarterly Review 85 (2011): 237n 9

Cornelius Krahn, Dutch Anabaptism (Scottdale, PA: Herald, 1981), 112.


Jason Lee, The Theology of John Smyth, 213. One may find a copy of the Short Confession in William Lumpkins, Baptist Confessions (Valley Forge, PA: Judson, 1959).

the Mennonites theology away from Menno Simons‘ deviant Christological doctrine to a more orthodox position under De Ries‘s leadership. Regardless of the current move to downplay Hoffmannite Christology, one must admit that the Mennonites embraced this particular Christology or there would be no need to downplay the historical impact. Evidence to this is the fact that the Mennonites follow Simons, whose theology is very much akin to Hoffman. Simons stated: But the Scriptures says not that Lot‘s housewife took unto herself a pillar of salt, and that water took unto itself wine. In the same manner, the Scriptures also testify that the Word became flesh; but does not testify, that the Word took unto himself our flesh.11 Simons did agree with Hoffman concerning the flesh of Christ. The origination of the Lord‘s flesh per both men is derived in heaven and not earth. The impact of this doctrine cannot be relegated to an obscure footnote within the annals of Anabaptist/Baptist history. The deviant Mennonite Christological doctrine seems to be the very catalyst that persuaded Thomas Helwys to separate from Smyth and continue the General Baptist movement without …One must admit that the their founder.12 Mennonites embraced this particular Christology or This paper will review the historical evidence to there would be no need to determine if a theological shift occurred in the downplay the historical Mennonite Christology that allowed the impact. Waterlanders to reject the Hoffmannite teachings of Simons. This will be accomplished by reviewing the rise of Hoffmannite Christology among the Mennonites, the role of De Ries, a later leader within the Mennonite church, and then a historical review of the dialogue between Smyth and Helwys will be examined. The issue at hand revolves around De Ries: are the Sprungers correct in their assessment that he downplayed and possibly rejected Simons‘ Hoffmannite Christology? If so, was Helwys wrong in rejecting Smyth for his pending 11

Menno Simons, The Complete Works of Menno Simon (Elkhart, IN: Joe F. Funk and Brother, 1871), 162. 12

Thomas Helwys, The Life and Writings of Thomas Helwys, ed., Joe Early. (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2009), 54. In a letter composed to the United Mennonite Church, Helwys acknowledges his break with Smyth without mentioning the name John Smyth.


relationship with the Mennonites and, thus, clinging to the burgeoning Baptist movement? Alternatively, was Helwys correct in his understanding that the Mennonites and subsequently Smyth had embraced a deviant Christology as negotiated through De Ries? Doctrinal Development The Netherland Mennonite history is vague at best. John Wenger, in his book, Glimpses of Mennonite History and Doctrine, stated that the itinerate ministers Obbe and Dirk Philips ―led a small group of Biblical Anabaptist in the Netherlands, beginning in 1534.‖13 Two years later, this group included Menno Simons. ―Within a short time he was the outstanding leader of the Brethren, and as early as 1544 his followers were called ‗Mennists.‘‖14 However, James Stayer, Werner Packull, and Klaus Deppermann offered a different claim for Anabaptist beginnings in Netherlands. They claimed, ―Melchior Hoffman brought Anabaptism from Southwestern Germany to the Netherlands, where it won mass support such as it never again attained elsewhere in Europe.‖15 The historical accuracy of the movement is not evident. However, the consensus is that there were Anabaptist in the Netherlands and in Amsterdam in the late 1520s to 1530s and by summer, 1531, Hoffman was there.16 Melchior Hoffman Hoffman was banished from Emden in December 1530,17 leaving the congregation in the care of John Volkertszoon (also known as Trijpmaker). 18 However, Hoffman‘s ministry had considerable impact in the Netherlands 13

John Christian Wenger, Glimpses of Mennonite History and Doctrine (Scottdale, PA: Herald, 1947), 82. 14



James M. Stayer, Werner O. Packull, and Klaus Deppermann, "From Monogenesis to Polygenesis: The Historical Discussion of Anabaptist Origins," Mennonite Quarterly Review 49 (1975): 111. 16

Deppermann, Klaus, Melchior Hoffman, trans. Malcolm Wren (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1987), 329. Against this position is Cornelius Krahn, Dutch Anabaptism (Scottdale, PA: Herald, 1981), 101. He agreed with Wenger in that Hoffman should be credited with the founding of the Anabaptist movement in Amsterdam. 17

Ibid., 328. It is beyond the scope of this paper to present a chronological scheme of Hoffman‘s ministry. The dates that are provided will be sufficient to allow the reader to put together a ―rough sketch‖ of Hoffman‘s influential ministry. 18

Wenger, Glimpses of Mennonite History and Doctrine, 67.

because of Volkertszoon. Hoffman baptized Volkertszoon who in turn baptized John (Jan) Matthys.19 The ministry of Matthys also proved fruitful as his apostles, Bartholomew Bookbinder and Dirck Kuiper (Cooper): . . . baptized a number of converts to Melchiorism in the Friesian town of Leeuwarden. One of the converts was a barber and surgeon named Obbe Philips. A week later Peter Woodsawer, another Matthys ―apostle‖ baptized Obbe‘s brother, Dirck Philips, a former Franciscan Monk. The Philips brothers later had great significance in Dutch Mennonite history. At this point they were still under the spell of Melchiorism however. One of the interesting items of Melchiorite belief was that during the years 1532 and 1533 the Melchiorites should form circles of secret believers in Hoffman‘s brand of Anabaptism and continue outwardly as members of the state church . . .20 The ministry of Hoffman had lasting consequences both pro and con. In the pro category, many people were converted to Anabaptism.21 Krahn considered the possibility that the founding of the Anabaptist movement was due to ―both Hoffman and Jan Volkertszoon as founders of the Amsterdam MelchioriteAnabaptist fellowship.‖22 Irvin Buckwalter Horst acknowledged Hoffman‘s prolific ministry as he stated, ―[H]e was a remarkable itinerant preacher who won large numbers of adherents and gave the movement a new turn in thought.‖ 23 In the con category ―the new turn in thought‖ was that Hoffman spread his deviant Christology through his preaching, as did his followers. Horst stated: The view that Christ did not partake of Mary‘s flesh because of her sinful nature, but by the consent of the inward man of the virgin was made flesh, that is, by a work of grace, was widely held among anabaptist [sic], especially in the Netherlands and England. It was propagated by Melchior Hoffman and his followers and was thus associated with the Melchiorite 19





It is beyond the scope of this paper to debate the soteriological issue of valid faith in view of a deviant Christology. Suffice it to say that the baptisms represent conversion to the Anabaptist movement 22

Krahn, Dutch Anabaptism, 100–01.


Irvin Buckwalter Horst, The Radical Brethren (Amsterdam, The Netherlands: B. De Graff, Nieuwkoop, 1972), 171.


In the con category “the new turn in thought” was that Hoffman spread his deviant Christology through his preaching….

wing of the anabaptist movement. In Anabaptist studies it has, in fact, been a chief mark of identification and basic to the faith and practice it represented.24 Hoffman was not long in Amsterdam as his itinerant ministry kept him moving. Krahn admitted that Hoffman was always ―passing through‖ wherever he labored.25 Menno Simons

After Hoffman left Amsterdam, the leadership of the Anabaptist movement fell to Volkertszoon. Unfortunately his leadership was short lived. Soon after his departure from Amsterdam conditions became much less favorable for Anabaptism. Volkertszoon and eight other followers of Hoffman (later called Melchiorites) were beheaded in The Hague on 5 December 1531. Nevertheless the brotherhood persisted, at first, of course, very quietly. Melchior Hoffman now decided to postpone baptism for two years and confine himself to preaching and admonishing; the construction of the Old Testament temple had also suffered an interruption of two years on account of resistance by the Samaritans (Ezra 4:24).26 The significance of Volkertszoon‘s martyrdom cannot be overlooked. The impact upon Simons reveals a man who struggled with the meaning of baptism and perhaps even the gospel message. Krahn stated: Menno, who lived not far from Leeuwarden, heard the news that someone had been executed there because of a second baptism. "It sounded strange to my ears," says he, "to hear of a second baptism." This incident made a deep impression on him. Though adult or believer's baptism was not altogether a new idea to him, nevertheless this event made the issue much livelier and more real to him. After this the thought of believers baptism never left him. He knew now however where to look in case of doubt. He "searched the Scriptures diligently 24

Ibid., 188.


Krahn, Dutch Anabaptism, 100.


Christian Neff and Werner O. Packull, "Melchior Hoffman," in Mennonite Encyclopedia, [on-line]: accessed 23 October 2011; available from Internet. Hoffman‘s two year hiatus of baptism reveals the influence of his leadership at Amsterdam.

and considered the question seriously, but could find nothing about infant baptism."27 Aside from affecting the life of Menno Simons, the beheading of Volkertszoon left a void in leadership within the Anabaptist movement that was soon filled by the Philips brothers. A word concerning the dates is appropriate. Hoffman was in Amsterdam during the summer of 1531. According to Krahn, Hoffman kept moving and passed on the Anabaptists‘ leadership to Volkertszoon. Presumably, this transition took place in the fall of 1531. The duration of Volkertszoon‘s ministry lasted only two to three months based upon the fact he was martyred before Christmas on 5 December 1531. Because of Volkertszoon‘s death, the Anabaptist movement transitioned into new leadership once again with Obbe and Dirk Philips in 1533.28 Obbe was instrumental in working with his new convert Simons. John Horsch stated: Obbe Philips by whom Menno Simons was baptized was the principal leader in the denomination named after him-the Obbenites-with whom Menno Simons identified himself. They were the Netherlandish wing of the great Anabaptist party afterwards named Mennonites by their opponents. In South Germany and Switzerland the Anabaptists were known by the name of the Swiss Brethren. The Obbenites and Swiss Brethren agreed virtually in doctrine and principle although there were some differences. . . . At the time of Menno's conversion the Obbenites had existed only a short time and were few in number while the Swiss Brethren were far stronger numerically and had even then a great and interesting history. 29 27

Cornelius Krahn, "The Conversion of Menno Simons: A Quadricentennial Tribute," Mennonite Quarterly Review 10 (1936): 48–49. 28

The two year gap in events is not to discredit the ministry of Bookbinder, Kuiper, or (Jan) Matthys. It is to simply state that the Philips brothers rose to leadership rapidly as they are influential upon Simons. Also it must be noted that leadership did move through Bookbinder, Kuiper, and Matthys to the Phillips brothers. The spatial limitations, within the paper, do not allow the development of the exact historical timeline. 29

John Horsch, Menno Simons. His Life, Labors, and Teaching, (Scottdale, PA: Mennonite Publishing House, 1916): [on-line]: accessed 23 October 2011; available from; Internet.


Obbe and Dirk Philips are the ones who sought out the peaceful Simons for leadership with the movement.30 Simons became a solid leader within the Anabaptist movement for the next thirty years. His ministry was distinguished by his commitment to the gospel, pacificism, and pastor leadership so much that the Obbenites were soon called Mennonites.31 Menno Simons and the Incarnation The question about Simons‘ origin and view of the incarnation is still a problem for the Mennonites. Harold Bender offered a unique approach to the origin of Simons‘ Christology. He stated: One of the questions concerned the exact mode of the incarnation. He had apparently learned of some peculiar views of the incarnation from some of the brethren, who may have gotten them from Melchior Hoffman, and wanted to decided from himself what he should believe. This problem which disturbed him most was this: How could the sinless divine nature of Christ be incarnated in the flesh of sinful descendants of fallen Adam?32 Bender went on to state: After several months Menno felt that he had come to a satisfying conclusion on this question by adopting a theory of the incarnation which made the incarnation a new creation of the human flesh of Christ in Mary so that Christ took being in Mary but was not born of Mary‘s flesh. It was similar to Hoffman‘s view. Menno developed this theory chiefly to satisfy himself and seldom said much about it except when for to do so in public debates by his enemies . . . this theory never found its way into any authoritative creed or confession of the Mennonite Church.33 It is obvious that Bender, on the one hand, tried to distinguish Simons‘ view from Hoffman‘s view. On the other hand, there is very little difference if any at all between those views. 30

The militant Muensterite movement was rejected by the Obbenites as unsound and unbiblical. The date of that movement was 1534–1535. This is a year before Menno Simons joined the Obbenite-Anabaptist movement. 31

See page seven and footnote #14.


Harold Bender, A Brief Biography of Menno Simons (Scottdale, PA: Herald, 1956),

14. 33


Contra Bender is Henry Smith‘s position. He wrote that Simons learned his Christology from Obbe. Smith declared that Menno‘s: . . . views were not original with him, but was inherited from Obbe Philips, who in turn got it from Melchior Hoffman, so far as we know its first advocated … Once Menno accepted this teaching, he became its consistent advocate to the end. In his attempt to justify his peculiar explanation of the doctrine, Menno often ventured into biological and philosophical arguments beyond his depth.34 The reality of the situation is given more weight by the testimony of Simons: Beloved Lords, friends and brethren, when this matter of the incarnation of our beloved Lord Jesus Christ was first mentioned by the brethren, on hearing it I was terrified at heart, lest I should err in the matter and be found, before God, in pernicious unbelief. On account of this article I was often so troubled at heart, after receiving baptism, that for many days I abstained from food and drink, by the over-anxiety of my soul, beseeching and praying God in extreme necessity that the kind Father by his mercy and grace would disclose unto me, poor sinner, who, although in extreme weakness, desired to do his blessed will and pleasure, the mystery of the incarnation of his blessed Son, to the extent necessary to the glorification of his holy name and to the consolation of my afflicted conscience.35 If the reference to ―the brethren‖ (see above) is interpreted in connection with Simons‘ baptism, as Simons linked it, then the primary consideration must be given to Obbe Philips as the teacher of the deviant Christological doctrine. Therefore, the link or connection to Hoffmannite Christology comes from the conversion of Simons and the subsequent discipleship of Obbe. This simply means that the Waterlanders probably adopted this position simply because the primary leader adopted the position. There is no concrete evidence to state such a claim. It also must be admitted that this conclusion is conjecture at best. However, one must keep in mind that the circumstantial evidence points 34

Henry C. Smith, The Story of the Mennonites (Newton, KS: Mennonite Publication Office, 1950), 94–95. 35

Simons, Complete Works, 330.


in this general direction as Simons lived a productive life as pastor/theologian for nearly twenty-four years.36 Hans De Ries De Ries occupies a pivotal place in Mennonite/Baptist history. He has been called a ―second generation Anabaptist.‖37 De Ries joined the Waterlanders in 1575 or early 1576. Most likely he was ordained within a close proximity to his joining the Waterlanders.38 Van der Zijpp gives insight into the leadership that De Ries provided: The influence of Hans De Ries was profound on the Mennonites of the Netherlands, especially the Waterlander branch . . . In many areas De Ries was an outstanding leader. With great joy he watched the merger take place between the High Germans and the Frisians in 1591 on the basis of the Concept of Cologne. Throughout his life he worked for the unification of all Mennonites; he wanted to ―heal the breach‖ . . . Gradually many of the Waterlanders congregation joined the union, and in 1601 the Bevredigde Broederschap, i.e., the brotherhood that had made peace, was accomplished, and more and more Waterlander congregations joined.39 De Ries, by nature, did not seem as strict on the ban as Simons. Yet his leadership proved substantial as the Waterlanders moved forward with more unity than they had experienced under Simons.40 Theological Contributions One reason for such unity is the theological contribution that De Ries made and subsequently imparted to the Waterlander Mennonites. The Waterlander Confession of 1580 is the first document of the second generation that served to 36

This date is derived by starting his ministry at 1536 to 1560. It assumes his leadership started per his own testimony when the Philips brothers "sought him." 37

Cornelius John Dyck, "Hans De Ries: Theologian and Churchman–A Study in Second Generation Dutch Anabaptism" (Ph.D. diss., University of Chicago, 1962). The title of the dissertation was utilized in the above quote. 38

Ibid., 86.


ME, vol. 4, s.v. ―Hans De Ries,‖ by Nanne van der Zijpp.


William Lumpkin, Baptist Confessions (Valley Forge, PA: Judson, 1959), 42. Lumpkin stated that the Mennonites were splintered into four distinct groups: the Flemings, the Frisians, the High Germans, and the Waterlanders.

unify the Mennonites.41 This intent of the confession was not to be a binding document but primarily to serve as an aid the unification process of the Mennonites. H. W. Meiwerizen observed: Incidentally I mentioned that the confession of faith was of Hans De Ries and Lubbert Gerrits never was regarded as a binding statement, not even after the passing away of the beloved leaders. It was rather a means of unification, and it served its purpose well. From time to time individual persons were glad to observe that it also described their personal faith, but it could be no more than this.42 Since the rationale for the confession is unity, the section of the incarnation does not significantly differ from the teachings of Simons. Article VIII, ―The Incarnation,‖ states, ―God . . . has sent his Son . . . from heaven, who in the body of the Virgin Mary was made flesh or man.‖43 The reading of …De Ries’ ministry the phrase can be interpreted in accordance with constantly sought the Hoffmannite Christological heresy. However, unity among the Jason Lee was correct when he stated, ―De Ries Mennonites. makes a statement on the incarnation that sounds traditional but vague.‖44 In 1578, De Ries wrote The Middleburg Confession stating his reason as to why he will not use technical language in describing the incarnation: I believe and have taught that Jesus Christ is truly God and man, truly God and Son of God, born or brought forth from the Father in eternity in an inexpressible (emphasis mine) manner . . . I believe and have taught that in the fullness of time this only begotten Son became man according to the promise of God, being born of the flesh and seed of Abraham and David, through the power of the Almighty and the working of the Holy Spirit as the apostle teaches in Romans 9. Thus, through taking on the form of flesh, not through a change of his essence, He became of the 41

Lumpkin states that this Confession is assumed to be a reprint of the first Confession of 1577. See page 43 of Lumpkin‘s, Baptist Confessions. 42

H. W. Meihuizen, "Spiritualistic Tendencies and Movements Among the Dutch Mennonites of the 16th and 17th Centuries," The Mennonite Quarterly Review 27, (1953): 277. 43

Lumpkin, Baptist Confessions, 48.


Jason Lee, Theology of John Smyth, 211.


seed of woman, of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David according to the flesh as God had promised to the Fathers, and as the Scriptures fully teach. Thus I have preached Christ Jesus as true God and man, having both a human and a divine nature without intermixture, in one Person, the only Son of God.45 The language De Ries utilizes states that the incarnation is inexpressible. The idea that De Ries may have utilized in writing this confession is that the confession could be read as orthodox and yet it could appeal to the Mennonites who embraced Hoffmannite Christology. This may be by design as De Ries‘ ministry constantly sought unification among the Anabaptists. Dialogue in Process In 1610, the heavenly flesh doctrine once again took center stage in the discussion between the English Baptist and the Waterlander Mennonites. Smyth was in communication with De Ries concerning the possibility of the English Baptist Church uniting with the Waterlander Mennonites. In order to achieve unity within the two congregations, Smyth requested a confession from De Ries so that the Baptist congregation could review it for theological harmony. The Mennonites, and particularly De Ries, responded to Smyth‘s request with his Short Confession.46 This confession did address the incarnation of Christ but it was written in vague terms just as the First Waterlander Confession. As Lee demonstrated, De Ries ―still gives only one article that discusses the incarnation.‖47 It is obvious that De Ries did not highlight the celestial flesh doctrine of the Incarnation. The question of whether he adhered to the celestial flesh doctrine cannot be answered with any assurance of arriving at a concrete answer. It does not seem to be an issue for him. This may be the very reason that Sprunger, Coggins, and Lee have 45

Michiel Mierevelt, ―Confession of Faith (Hans De Ries)‖ (Scottdale, PA: Mennonite Publishing House, 1916): [on-line]: accessed 28 October 2011; available from Jesus Christ html; Internet. Historians do not know which confession was first produced. The date for Middleburg is before the Waterlander Confession, however, if the Waterlander Confession is a reprint then it seems plausible that both confessions make have been produced simultaneously but there really is no evidence for anyone particular position. 46

Cornelius J. Dyck, "A Short Confession of Faith by Hans De Ries," Mennonite Quarterly Reivew 38, (1964): 7. Dyck stated that De Ries was ―enthusiastic‖ about the possible union of the two churches. 47

Lee, Theology of John Smyth, 212.

stated that by 1610 this doctrine was not a key factor in the dialogue between the Mennonites and the Baptists. However, the problem still remains. Assuming that Sprunger, Coggins, and Lee are correct, that still does not explain if the celestial flesh doctrine was a component of the Mennonite church and confession in 1610. Neither does it explain Helwys‘ accusation that Smyth had embraced Hoffmannite Christology. The first issue is easier to conclude. The Short Confession cannot be the standard by which an answer is formulated. As stated above, the reason is that the article on the incarnation is too vague and can be interpreted from the vantage point of the reader. For example, one could argue that the Mennonites may have continued to accept the celestial flesh The discussion, that doctrine but simply did not promote the turned into a battle, concept in 1610. On the other hand, the which resulted in a fact that the doctrine was not a key issue in church split, should the negotiations between Smyth and De have a foreboding, Ries, could also be used to argue that the ominous, sign Mennonites had downplayed if not rejected concerning Baptist life to all involved—then and the celestial flesh doctrine of Simons. now! Unfortunately, there is not enough historical information to conclude with any certainty an adequate answer to the question. This leaves the student of Baptist/Mennonite history to consider the Helwys accusation and the Smyth response.48 Discussion of the First Baptist Battle The discussion, that turned into a battle, which resulted in a church split, should have been a foreboding, ominous, sign concerning Baptist life to all involved— then and now! In only a few short months of establishing a Baptist Church, Smyth wanted to dissolve the church and join the Waterlanders.49 The majority of the congregation followed Smyth but a small portion of the congregation decided to 48

A word of caution must be noted here. The written communication between Smyth and Helwys can determine their understanding of the issue but that does not necessarily mean they accurately understood the Mennonite position. The point is that Smyth and Helwys are having their own dialogue about Mennonite doctrine without the benefit of clarity from the Mennonites. 49

Leon McBeth, The Baptist Heritage: Four Centuries of Baptist Witness (Nashville: Broadman, 1987), 37.


separate from their pastor and remain as Baptist. Walter Burgess commented, ―Helwys was suspicious of any advances towards the Dutch. He felt that he and his friends had just recovered the truth, and set themselves in true Church order by assuming baptism, and that it was folly on the part of his old leader to topple the whole edifice over again.‖50 Helwys, in his work, An Advertisement or Admonition unto the Congregations, Which Men Call the New Fryelers, in the Lowe Country, depicted the rationale for rejecting the leadership of Smyth. This letter was addressed to De Ries but it reveals the mindset of the Helwys group. He stated: The first matter we will speak to you is that you have among you those that deny Christ took the flesh of Mary. Some of you hold that he brought it from heaven and some do not know where he brought it. Both of these destroy the faith of Christ. . . . And now we speak to those that do not know from where Christ received his flesh. They see it proven that it could not have been from heaven for then there could not possibly have been any infirmities in it. Will they still remain ignorant and doubting as to where Christ received his flesh?51 Helwys was convinced that the vast majority of the Mennonites had embraced Hoffmannite Christology. He was just as convinced that there were some Mennonites who do not understand the issue at hand. The focus, though, was upon the accusation of Helwys towards De Ries and the Mennonites as he made the claim that they were Hoffmannites. The response to this accusation was provided by Smyth. It is very illuminating on the Helwys charge that he embraced the Mennonite doctrine of celestial flesh. Smyth responded with two works–The Last Booke and Defense of De Ries’s Confession. Smyth stated: Another imputation of Mr. Helwys is concerning the flesh of Christ: whereto I say: that he knoweth not, that the first and second flesh of an Infant in the mothers wombe are to be distinguished, knoweth not yet the groundes of Nature and naturall reason. I affirmed concerning Christ that his second flesh, that is his nourishment he had from his mother, and that the scriptures are plain… but concerning the first matter of Christ[s] flesh whence it was I said thus much: That although I yield it to be a truth in 50

Walter H. Burgess, John Smith, The Se-Baptist and Thomas Helwys and The First Baptist Church in England (London: James Clarke, 1911), 182. 51

Thomas Helwys, Life and Writings of Thomas Helwys, 96–02.

nature that he it of his mother Mary, yet I dare not make itt such an Article of faith as that if anie man will not consent vnto it I should therefore refuse brotherhood with him . . .52 The language of this quote states that Smyth did not seem to embrace Hoffmannite Christology as Helwys accused. The quote also seems to validate the claim that Helwys made to De Ries, namely, that the Mennonites still adhered to Hoffmannite Christology. The rationale is as follows: Smyth had the opportunity to dismiss the Helwys charge but does not do so. He explains why fellowship with the Mennonites is possible but he does not contradict the Helwys accusation about their deviant Christology. Lee concurs: In Smyth‘s later statement in The Last Booke, he demonstrates that his view of the incarnation has not changed significantly since the beginning of the negotiations. However, he had followed the example of Hans De Ries and several other Mennonites and had become tolerant of other views. . . . Smyth tells Helwys that although he agrees with him concerning the first flesh of Christ, he refuses to make it a test of fellowship.53 Smyth seems to have focused upon the fellowship of and with the Mennonites in spite of the theological differences. The main point, though, is that since he did not correct Helwys‘ accusation, but somewhat affirming it via his explanation, the conclusion seems to point in the direction that in the year 1610 the Mennonites had not rejected Hoffmannite Christology. Concerning Smyth‘s Defense of De Ries’ Confession, it is written in Latin so translation is mandatory. Smyth wrote a phrase that clarifies his position. He stated, “mallem ergo in dubio relinquere quam de lana caprina contendere.54 Once again, Smyth did not deny the issue of Hoffmannite Christology. He simply considered it a minor point that should not be the focus of major attention.


John Smyth and William Thomas, The Works of John Smyth, 2 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1915). The above mentioned works are contained in this two volume set. 53

Lee, Theology of John Smyth, 224.


Smith, Works, 2:696. This student is indebted to the insights of Dr. Jason Lee for the above comments. See his work, The Theology of John Smyth, 226.


Deductive Reasoning The only question left remaining is why did Helwys actually make the accusation that Smyth had embraced Hoffmannite Christology? There really is no way of forming a solid conclusion, as the evidence is sparse. However, there does seem to be sporadic facts that can be taken into consideration that may allow an answer to emerge. The first fact is the situation in England. Anabaptists lived in London and were eventually persecuted for their faith. Their ministry and theology was widespread throughout the area. Benjamin Evans, in his work, The English Baptist, referred to the testimony of one Anabaptist in England. He was brought before the local magistrates and interrogated concerning his theology. Evans recorded: In the year 1560 one of their ministers, of the Dutch Church, Austin Friars, namely, Hamstedius, was convened before the said bishop (Grindal), judicially, for favouring some Dutch Anabaptists that desired to be received into his church, and had supplicated the bishop to be admitted. He had asserted in their behalf concerning that heresy of theirs (viz., that Christ took not his flesh of the Virgin Mary, but brought it from heaven), that the doctrine of the incarnation of Christ, and his partaking of our nature, was not a foundation (i.e., a fundamental doctrine), but a circumstance only of the foundation; and that children and distracted persons were saved without faith. But the bishop required him to renounce these and other like errors; which he refused to do, and continuing obstinate in them, was excommunicated by the bishop, and so was declared next Sunday in the Dutch Church.55 The persecution of the Anabaptists in England was well known and so was their doctrine. Helwys did not want to be identified as an Anabaptist nor did he want to be associated with their doctrine. He may have concluded, erroneously or accurately, that the Mennonites were Hoffmannites and thus did not want to associate with them. A second plausible reason for his actions is that Helwys may have genuinely believed that Smyth had led them to recover the New Testament Church. He did not want to abandon this new restored church by joining the Mennonites especially with their doctrinal errors. Helwys confirmed this in his, A Declaration of Faith of English People Remaining at Amsterdam in Holland: 55

Benjamin Evans, The English Baptist [CD-ROM] (Paris, AR: The Baptist Standard Bearer). Ch 5.

As one congregation has Christ, so do all, 2 Corinthians 10.7. And that the Word of God does not come out from any one, neither to any one congregation in particular. I Corinthians 14.36. But to every particular Church, as it does to all the world. Colossians 1.5.6. And therefore no Church should challenge any prerogative over any other.56 It is difficult to discern the motive of the Helwys accusation as evidence is circumstantial. However, the above documentation does point to the general conclusion that Helwys really did believe that the Mennonites were still clinging to Hoffmannite Christology. It also serves to reveal that he believed the Bible, as the common source of theological authority, could determine the nature of a true church. If that is correct, then even though the Mennonites were a restored church, the Waterlanders were not doctrinally correct which, in Helwys‘ mind, impeded a Baptist/Mennonite merger. Conclusion When one considers the evidence concerning the situation in Amsterdam in the year 1610, it does seem as though Sprunger, Lee, and Coggins are correct in their assessment. The Waterlanders did downplay the celestial flesh doctrine of Hoffman. Credit should be given to the Sprungers, Lee, and Coggins because the historical events do seem to suggest that the celestial flesh doctrine was losing its prominence among the Mennonites. This can only be attributed to the leadership of De Ries as he sought unification among the various Mennonites, Anabaptist, and even Baptist Churches. However, it would be wrong to conclude that the Mennonites had rejected Hoffmannite Christology in 1610. History, through the writings of De Ries, Smyth, Helwys, and the political situation in England, demonstrate that the Dutch Anabaptist embraced this deviant Christology. 56

Thomas Helyws, Life and Writings of Thomas Helwys, 71.


BIBLIOGRAPHY Bender, Harold. A Brief Biography of Menno Simons. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1956. _________. "John Smyth and the Dutch Mennonites--a Communication." Mennonite Quarterly Review 4, (1930): 306–307. Brachlow, Stephen. "Puritan Theology and General Baptist Origins." Baptist Quarterly 31, no. 4 (1985): 179–194. Burgess, Walter H. John Smith, The Se-Baptist and Thomas Helwys and The First Baptist Church in England. London: James Clarke, 1911. Burrage, Champlin. The Early English Dissenters in the Light of Recent Research (1550–1641), 2 vols. New York: Russell & Russell, 1966. Canipe, Lee. "'That Most Damnable Heresie': John Smyth, Thomas Helwys, and Baptist Ideas of Freedom." Baptist Quarterly 40, (2004): 389–411. Deppermann, Klaus. Melchior Hoffman. Translated by Malcolm Wren. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1987. Dyck, Cornelius J. "A Short Confession of Faith by Hans De Ries." Mennonite Quarterly Reivew 38, (Jan 1964): 5–19. _________. "Hans De Ries: Theologian and Churchman, A Study in Second Generation Dutch Anabaptism." PhD diss., The University of Chicago, 1962. Estep, William Roscoe. "Thomas Helwys: Bold Architect of Baptist Policy on Church-State Relations." Baptist History and Heritage 20, no. 3 (1985): 24–34. _________."Sixteenth-Century Anabaptism and the Puritan Connection: Reflections Upon Baptist Origins." In Mennonites and Baptists, 1–38. Winnipeg, Man: Kindred, 1993. Evans, Benjamin. The English Baptist. In The Baptist History Collection Version [CD-ROM], Paris, AR: The Baptist Standard Bearer, 2005. Garrett, James Leo. Baptist Theology: A Four-Century Study. 1st ed. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2009.

_________."Restitution and Dissent among Early English Baptists, 2: Representative Late Sixteenth and Early Seventeenth Century Sources." Baptist History and Heritage 13, no. 2 (1978): 11–27. Helwys, Thomas. A Declaration of Faith of English People Remaining at Amsterdam in Holland. Amsterdam: n.p., 1612. Reprint in, The Life and Writings of Thomas Helwys. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2009. _________.An Advertisement or Admonition unto the Congregations, Which Men Call the New Fryelers, in the Lowe Country. Amsterdam: n.p., 1612. Reprint in, The Life and Writings of Thomas Helwys, ed., Joe Early. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2009. _________. Letter of Thomas Helwys and Church to The Consistory of the United Mennonite Church at Amsterdam: n.p., 1612. Reprint in, The Life and Writings of Thomas Helwys, ed., Joe Early. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2009. _________. Obiections Answered. New York: Da Capo Press, 1973. _________. The Mystery of Iniquity. London: Published for the Baptist Historical Society by the Kingsgate Press, 1935. _________. The Life and Writings of Thomas Helwys, ed., Joe Early. Macon: Mercer University Press, 2009. _________.and Richard Groves. A Short Declaration of the Mystery of Iniquity (1611/1612). Classics of Religious Liberty. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1998. Horsch, John. Menno Simons. His Life, Labors, and Teaching. Scottdale, PA: Mennonite Publishing House, 1916 [on-line]. Accessed 23 October 2011. Available from; Internet. Horst, Irvin Buckwalter. The Radical Brethren. Amsterdam, The Netherlands: B. De Graff, Nieuwkoop, 1972. Kliever, Lonnie D. "General Baptist Origins: The Question of Anabaptist Influence." Mennonite Quarterly Review 36, (1962): 291–321. Krahn, Cornelius. Dutch Anabaptism. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1981.


_________."The Conversion of Menno Simons: A Quadricentennial Tribute." Mennonite Quarterly Review, 10 (1936): 46–54. Lee, Jason. The Theology of John Smyth. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2003. Lumpkin, William. Baptist Confessions. Valley Forge, PA: Judson, 1959. McBeth, Leon. The Baptist Heritage: Four Centuries of Baptist Witness. Nashville: Broadman, 1987. Meihuizen, H. W. "Spiritualistic Tendencies and Movements Among the Dutch Mennonites of the 16th and 17th Century." The Mennonite Quarterly Review 27 (1953): 259–304. Payne, Ernest Alexander. "Contacts Between Mennonites and Baptists." Foundations 4, (1961): 39–55. Pitts, William L. "Baptist Origins and Identity in 1609: The John Smyth/Richard Clifton Debate." Perspectives in Religious Studies 36, (2009): 377–390. Schaff, Philip. The Creeds of Christendom. 3 vols. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1983. _________. Nicene and Post-Nicene Christianity, vol. 2 of History of the Christian Church. New York: Scribner & Sons, 1910; reprint, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2006. Simons, Menno. The Complete Works of Menno Simon. Elkhart, IN: Joe F. Funk and Brother, 1871. Smith, Henry C. The Story of the Mennonites. Newton, KS: Mennonite Publication Office, 1950. Smyth, John, and William Thomas. The Works of John Smyth. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1915. Sprunger, Keith, and Mary Sprunger. "The Church in the Bakehouse: John Smyth‘s English Anabaptist Congregation at Amsterdam, 1609–1660." The Mennonite Quarterly Review, 85 (2011): 219–258. Stayer, James M, Werner O. Packull, and Klaus Deppermann. "From Monogenesis to Polygenesis: The Historical Discussion of Anabaptist Origins." Mennonite Quarterly Review, 49 (1975): 83–121.

Voolstra, Sjouke. "The Word Has Become Flesh. The Melchiorite-Mennonite Teaching on the Incarnation." Mennonite Quarterly Review, 57 (1983): 155–158. van der Zijpp, Nanne. "Waterlanders." In The Mennonite Encyclopedia: A Comprehensive Reference Work on the Anabaptist-Mennonite Movement Vol. 4. Edited by Cornelius J. Dyck, and Dennis D. Martin. Hillsboro, KS: Mennonite Brethren Publication House, 1959. _________. ―Hans De Ries." In The Mennonite Encyclopedia: A Comprehensive Reference Work on the Anabaptist-Mennonite Movement. Vol. 4, ed. Cornelius J. Dyck, and Dennis D. Martin. Hillsboro, KS: Mennonite Brethren Publication House, 1959. Wenger, John Christian. Glimpses of Mennonite History and Doctrine. Scottdale, PA: Herald, 1947. Williams, George Huntston. The Radical Reformation. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1963.