Friday, August 29, 2014

Ghosts of End Times Future, Part 3: Resurrection


From the July 2011 E-Block.
**
Our examination of hyperpreterist variations continues with a look at a few more arguments concerning the "death" of Adam and Eve, and then will segue into some more material on resurrection. 

Adam and Eve were told that, "In the day you eat you will die." They obviously ate the fruit in a given 24 hour period of time, so their death must also have been that same day.
 
This is a naive approach to Scripture which fails to grasp that "day" is manifestly used of periods that did not take only 24 hours. (For example, Genesis 2:4 uses “in the day” to compress 7 full days of creation.) Whether a 24 hour "day" or a "day" in a broader sense is meant must be decided by contextual considerations, and here, one must limit "death" to only one aspect of its broader concept in religious contexts (including the Bible) in order to force into the text of Genesis an event that took place in single day. 

Hyperpreterists use this argument to suggest that there is no idea of physical death indicated at all. It is amazing that one can ignore the clear message that physical death is indeed one aspect of the situation, as is indicated by the gradually declining lifespans after the fall, as well as by the many passages which speak of the weakness of the flesh. Is it really sensible, moreover, to suppose that when Paul said death would be defeated, he meant to exclude the death of the body? Isn't it rather odd that the very word used for physical death is read to exclude it? If the Jews did not think death would be defeated by physical resurrection, how do we explain their burial rites which tried so hard to keep the bones together? These are just three of many puzzles the hyperpreterist view creates, and they must inevitably create out of whole cloth a creative “Colombian drug lords did it” explanation for each such puzzle – which, as we shall see, they do not hesitate to do. 

The restoration promises made in the NT are assuredly mostly of a spiritual nature. However, these spiritual promises in no way indicate a mutual exclusivity of a physical restoration component as well. 

Jesus indicated that Abraham longed to see his day (John 8:56). Why would this be so if Jesus did not crush Satan's head and bring to realization the new heaven and earth?

This is a peculiar argument, for it implicitly assumes that nothing in Jesus' day would have been anything Abraham would have longed to see. Was there nothing at the time that Abraham would have longed to see? What about the enthronement of Jesus as Son of Man? What about the inauguration of the new covenant through his descendants (something which Abraham would have seen as accruing enormous prestige and honor to himself and his family)?

Jesus refuted the idea of physical resurrection when he answered the Sadducees' dilemma by saying that the patriarchs were in paradise, and that men would subsist in the form of angels.

The first point is a non sequitur and requires no further answer. The second is not honest; Jesus says nothing of the "form" of persons in the resurrection, but merely declares concerning the covenant of marriage. Since all will be the "bride of Christ," there can be no other marriage covenants in heaven. (I do think covenants made in this life will be somehow honored, but that is another issue.)

Paul rejected physical resurrection when he said, “And that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be.” (1 Cor. 15:37) He's saying that thee body that is buried is not the body that rises.

That is so, because the resurrection body is such a radically new thing that it is definitely not the body that was "sown". Not surprisingly, hyperpreterists use some of the same arguments as do Skeptics in this regard (links below).

Just because Paul called Jesus the “first fruits” of our resurrection does not mean our resurrection will be physical as well.

Yes, actually, it does. This is a peculiar fancy of the hyperpreterist. They agree that Jesus' resurrection was physical, but think ours will not be! But the "first fruits" language can indicate little else, for it is of a piece with the collectivist notion of Jesus as the ideal and exemplary head of the body of Christ.

The significance of Christ’s resurrection was his power over hades, not the physical grave. In Rev. 1:18, Jesus said: “I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore. Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.” Jesus did not say he has the keys of the physical grave, but of hell.

This is yet another example of forcing a mutual exclusivity where none exists. Yes, Christ's power over hell is significant; no, this does not exclude power over physical death. Physical death and decay was representative of the power of hell influencing creation, and once again, the hyperpreterist must casually ignore this as though physical death, and its attendant prior decay and sufferings, were of no moment to humans or to God.

Similarly, it may be argued that the sole purpose of Jesus' Resurrection was "evidentiary." This is again a forced mutual exclusivity: The Resurrection was indeed for the sake of evidence, but this does not exclude it also being a model for our fate. It also misses the point that the Resurrection served to restore Jesus' honor after crucifixion -- and by the same token, our own honor will not be restored if our body remains rotting in the grave.

Hyperpreterist desperation on this point is such that it will even be admitted that the saints in Matthew 27 were also raised physically -- but that this too was just for "evidentiary" purposes, and that because Matthew does specify that their bodies arose, this is a subtle indication that if this were a normal resurrection, they would not have had a bodily resurrection! Such tendentious gerrymandering of the text speaks for itself.

Hebrews refers to Jesus “in the days of his flesh." This shows that he is no longer in the flesh and thus that believers aspire to a similar spiritual form as he has now.

Really? By this same logic, we will get a physical resurrection body we will later shed. And the Mormons are right that we all started as spirit beings (since Jesus did too).

Proponents of physical resurrection argue for the resurrection of the flesh because they believe our eternal reward is in the material realm upon a new earth.

Perhaps some do, but there is no necessary cause-effect link between these two elements. One need not see Earth as our final home; there's a whole physical universe out there to revamp, and if we wish to be technical, inheriting the "kingdom of heaven" refers to an ideology, not a place (Link below.) It is also hardly necessary to see the material Earth as our sole residence at that time.

We now turn to how hyperpreterists dispense with passages that teach bodily resurrection. Mostly, they resort to contrivances such as physical resurrection being a figure for some spiritual reality, an argument we considered in a prior entry in this series. Or they may resort to exceptional strains such as this:

John 5:28-9: Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.

No physical bodies are mentioned in this text. All Jesus says is that those in the graves will come forth. They will, but they'll come forth in spirit and go to heaven.

The machinations here are simply outrageous, and too obvious to warrant more comment than this: Graves contain bodies. If bodies are not in mind here, then the reference to "graves" is superfluous, and also (too conveniently) accords with the language of physical resurrection.

So likewise: Rom. 8:11's reference to the "quickening of our mortal bodies" is explained away as "the regenerative effects of God’s spirit in man." Phil. 3:21's promise of a " change" to our "vile body" is massaged into a reference to "the collective body of Jews and Gentiles waiting for the redemption and adoption of the church." 1 Thess. 4:16 is waved off because it does not mention physical bodies. Everywhere resurrection is found, any excuse possible is contrived to avoid the interpretation that is most natural as well as most in tune with what we know of Jewish eschatology.

Next, let's have a look at passages used by hyperpreterists to negate the idea of physical resurrection. These are what few are offered apart from standard passages covered in links below.

2 Cor. 5:6-8 says, “Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord:..." If we are reunited with the body, we will be at home in the body and absent from the Lord!

This is actually typical of a number of hyperpreterist machinations which fail to perceive any difference between the body we now inhabit and the glorified resurrection body. Indeed, this interpretation is of a piece with numerous others that treat the resurrection body as equal to the "flesh" referred to in other passages as weak. In that regard, hyperpreterists ignore the connotations of "flesh" as referring to the weak, mortal human condition (see link below).

Hebrews 12:23 refers to "the spirits of just men made perfect.” Why would they need resurrection bodies if they're perfect?

Their spirits are perfect; however, to become human, they would be required to possess a body as well (in line with Semitic Totality; link below).

We will have one final installment in this series – for now – next issue.

The nature of the resurrection body -- though geared mostly to atheist objections, hyperpreterists use some of the same arguments.
The Kingdom of God
Semitic Totality

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Church's Basketball Jones



Today I hand the Ticker over to my ministry partner Nick Peters for a personal story -- which is thematically related to our last post.

***

Years ago, my wife and I were just married and getting into our rather strained financial situation. I am sure it was in 2010, because it was a Sunday, and was in fact my birthday that day, and while in town visiting my parents for the day, my wife and I went to the church that I attended when I left town.

Keep in mind we were still newlyweds then, as we would have been married just under two months at that point. I did not have a job, having been laid off from where I had been working three months before the wedding and we were struggling financially with no income whatsoever. We had some savings and some wedding gift money we were using, but that was it.

So we’re in the church service and hearing the associate pastor share about all the money that the church had raised for their mission project. How much was it? $2 million, and it took a long time. Now that the money was in, they could continue the ministry that they were doing of….

Going on mission trips to places like Peru, or going where Christians are being persecuted? Nope.

Setting up places to feed the hungry, and shelters for the homeless to stay in? Nope.

Giving aid to women who are considering abortion and setting up areas of benefit so that they will choose life? Nope.

Or dare I say it...supporting an apologetics ministry that was started by a former church member, who at the time who was in a serious financial situation? Nope.
       
The ministry was….

Basketball.

Yes. All that money was spent to focus on a basketball program.

Dare I say it, but give J.P. Holding or myself even 1% of all of that and we will go to town and start informing the masses about the faith once and for all delivered to the saints, and drive our efforts to study more and more. You see, we’re going to do the work anyway. If we were poor and destitute, we’d still be doing the work. The reality is donations to a ministry like ours help us do it more. Give us a little and we’ll use it for a lot, such as building good websites and ordering books that we need and buying computer equipment to help us reach as many people as possible.

For people like us, our lives revolve around what we do. The support of others helps us to rest easy and know that we can provide for our families. Both of us would keep going into debt if we had to because the cause of the mission is that important.

Afterwards, my wife Allie and I figured we’d try to talk to the pastor about this. Allie was more blunt than I was, mentioning that we were poor and going broke.

Which was immediately followed by a request of how they could help us out in any way. Could they send a donation to us to help sponsor us?

Well. No. It wasn’t followed with that.

Instead, it was followed with a time of prayer together where we prayed God would open the doors of Heaven and help His servants.

Well. No. It wasn’t followed with that.

Rather, it was followed with a voice of sympathy expressing sorrow for our situation and the hopes that things get better.

No. It wasn’t even that.

It was followed with….

Nothing.

Naturally, my wife and I left and we have never looked back. When we did move back to the same area, we never even considered going there.

To this day, we’re still in a strained financial situation, but we have a small number of donors that give us some sort of support. But it’s a burden to me every time, especially knowing we can’t support ourselves independently.

Note in saying this I am not saying the apologetics ministry is the only ministry. By all means, there are several ministries that need to be supported, but we need to best prioritize the finances that we’re using. Is $2 million for doing basketball really the best usage of the resources a church has been given? Especially since many kids that could be reached could go off to college and be talked out of their newfound faith very easily.

I look forward to the day that the church wakes up to the waste that they have going on. The church has not been faithful with the resources God has given it, and it will be held accountable. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Bigger Barns Syndrome



This is a story of three buildings.

The first one is on a corner lot less than a mile from my home. It’s an unfinished concrete-block structure, surrounded by weeds, and it’s been that way for a while – a year or more. 

It started out as just an empty lot, and one day a sign popped up: “GOD DID IT!” For a while we weren’t sure what it was God had done (Mowed the weeds? Fertilized them? Picked up the trash?), until another sign popped up indicating that a local church was growing an expected to expand there soon. OK, I figured, that’s nice.

The lot stayed that way for a year or more, longer. 

Then someone started doing some construction. Concrete blocks began to pile up in the shape of a building. A new sign appeared naming a pastor.

Then it all stopped. And it’s been stuck at “bare concrete block” stage for more than a year now. The sign naming the pastor disappeared. A new one naming a different pastor popped up. And that’s where it stands as of today.

The second building is one I’ve talked about here before. It’s the one associated with Celebration of Praise Church in nearby Clermont. The details are messy, but the sum of what happened is, this church decided to go deeply into debt to buy some new land and build a new facility, complete with things like a pool and spa. Then there was some kind of dustup with the congregation splitting, and the body that remained was saddled with the debt, which they couldn’t manage. They ended up selling the whole facility to the city of Clermont.

The third building is another uncompleted eyesore like the first. The local leading Christian TV station, Channel 55, had this vision of building a skyscraper right along Interstate 4, the main drag in town, up in the metropolitan county just north of Orlando. It was 18 stories high, and was to be the tallest building in that county; it was given the ostentatious title, “The Majesty Building”. Construction started in February 2001 and was planned as a sort of “pay as we go” project.

Problem is, after a little while, people stopped paying.

For a long time there was no visible progress, just a concrete skeleton. There was also a construction crane that never seemed to be doing anything. Word was that it cost so much to put the crane up that it was more cost effective to let it stand there doing nothing than to take it down. Then, finally, they put the glass walls in (for most of it, anyway), and the crane went down. But as of this day it’s still an unfinished behemoth, to say nothing of a monumental embarrassment that’s seen by tens of thousands of motorists every day.

You’ll have noticed the obvious theme by now: Christians addicted to the new and often spectacular building project. But there’s a hidden dimension that’s not so obvious, which is the needs that go unmet and the projects that go undone because we chose the new and spectacular instead.

The key question I have is, why do we ever go for the new and flashy when we haven’t finished with our prior assignments yet?

As far as I can tell, none of these projects were necessary. All three of them had buildings they were already doing just fine in. The TV station sure hasn’t gone off the air for lack of this new building. How about instead of a new building, they produce some more quality programming? Some material to disciple rather than entertain? How about they use those funds to do some community leadership – start a new ministry to feed the hungry, or help support an already established one (probably a better idea), then do some TV specials on that ministry? This obviously needs doing – we still have hungry people around here, and they can’t eat an unfinished building. Further, a documentary on how Christians feed the hungry is a far better witness than a shiny new building, even if it does get finished. Right?

Obviously, I’m not saying that all such projects end up like the Majesty Building. I’m also not saying there are not times when we need a new building (like when the old one is e.g., uninhabitable). But this building project offers us a sobering lesson:

This I will do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and goods. (Luke 12:18)

My nearby lot, Celebration of Praise, and the Majesty Building, have too much of the scent of “laying up treasure for ourselves.” Let’s finish what we start and finish what needs finishing before we start building bigger barns.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Musicians' Gambit, Part 2: Casting Crowns


From the July 2011 E-Block.
***
For this installment of the series on Christian musicians, I have purposely chosen the group Casting Crowns (CC) -- one I have been told by many listeners is perhaps the most theologically solid of the CMC groups out there. What remained to be seen is whether that was in any way significant, or if it meant simply something like, "Chuck got the highest grade in class...he got a D. Everyone else got an F." 

The good news: It doesn't mean that. CC does a fairly good job, as good as can be expected given the amount of time and the creative restrictions they have. Much of their orientation is set towards pricking the conscience of the church, as in this popular song: 

She is running
A hundred miles an hour in the wrong direction
She is trying
But the canyon's ever widening
In the depths of her cold heart
So she sets out on another misadventure just to find
She's another two years older
And she's three more steps behind

Does anybody hear her? Can anybody see?
Or does anybody even know she's going down today
Under the shadow of our steeple
With all the lost and lonely people
Searching for the hope that's tucked away in you and me
Does anybody hear her? Can anybody see? 

Although I'm somewhat nonplussed by the effort to relate the Gospel to modern neuroses of loneliness, as is done here, it remains that this is a powerful and proper indictment of the irresponsibility of the ekklesia at large to act as salt and light. Even I relate to warnings against "lofty glances from lofty people" -- for apologists, in their own way, wear a "scarlet letter" in the eyes of many modern Christians. (it's not a sin, as what the song alludes to is, but it does make the "lofty glances" all the more ironic). 

The theme of meeting modern psychological needs is repeated here as well: 

The love of her life is drifting away
They're losing the fight for another day
The life that she's known is falling apart
A fatherless home, a child's broken heart
You're holding her hand, you're straining for words
You trying to make sense of it all
She's desperate for hope, darkness clouding her view
She's looking to you
Just love her like Jesus, carry her to Him
His yoke is easy, His burden is light
You don't need the answers to all of life's questions
Just know that He loves her and stay by her side
And love her like Jesus, love her like Jesus 

First century Christians, as agonistic peoples, would probably be astounded to learn that we had turned Jesus into a personal psychologist this way. Still and all, CC does get this much right, again: The salt and light is missing and we're controlling both the shaker and the switch. And although I wouldn't recommend using Jesus in such a cavalier way, our general mission of support does fall within the parameters of comfort and counsel, even for what would be termed a modern emotional problem. 

The call to action theme can be seen yet again here:

What if the armies of the Lord
Picked up and dusted off their swords
Vowed to set the captives free
And not let Satan have one more?
What if the church, for Heaven's sake
Finally stepped up to the plate
Took a stand upon God's promise
And stormed Hell's rusted gates?
...
And what would happen if we prayed
For those raised up to lead the way?
Then maybe kids in school could pray
And unborn children see light of day
What if the life that we pursue
Came from a hunger for the truth?
What if the family turned to Jesus
Stopped asking Oprah what to do?

Ouch. Had to love that last line! I could nitpick about the dispensational tinge, of course, but other than that, these are magnificent statements of the need for us to recognize valid and proper authority -- and take action on it. The rest of the song I find a little questionable in terms of how it envisions prayer:

He said that He would hear
His promise has been made
He'd answer loud and clear, yeah
If only we would pray

But, it's not made clear what exactly is meant by an "answer," so I can't object. 
The lyrics further on do imply that an "answer" implies also action on our part, though, so there's probably no "magic wand" view of prayer here.

In contrast, here's one that takes Jesus a little too close for comfort:

Living on my own, thinking of myself
Castles in the sand, temporary wealth
Now the walls are falling down
Now the storms are closing in
And here I am again
Jesus, hold me now
I need to feel You in this place
To know You're by my side
And hear Your voice tonight

We've written before of this too-intimate language, when used by writers like Stanley and Lucado, so there's no need to discuss it further here. In contrast, here's a set of lyrics that are unusually meaty in the theology department, for CCM: 

Looking out from his throne
Father of light and of men
Chose to make himself known
And show us the way back to Him
Speaking wisdom and truth
Into the hearts of peasants and kings
He began to unveil
The word that would change the course of all things
With eyes wide open all who'd see
The word is alive
And it cuts like the sword through the darkness
With a message of life to the hopeless and the frail
Breathing life into all who believe
Simple strokes on a page
Eternities, secrets revealed
Carried on from age to age
It speaks truth to us even still

I think if John had written his prologue to music, this probably would have been something like what it would have ended up as. And then we have this from the same song, which sounds a bit like chapter 1 of Josh McDowell's Evidence That Demands a Verdict:

The Bible was inscribed over a period of 2000 years
In times of war and in days of peace
By kings, physicians, tax collectors, farmers
Fishermen, singers and shepherds
The marvel is that a library so perfectly cohesive
Could have been produced by such a diverse crowd
Over a period of time which staggers the imagination
Jesus is its grand subject, our good is designed
And the glory of God is its end

Basic though it is, it's hard not to be pleased by the effort to add a dash of historical confirmation when most groups are emphasizing nothing but feeling.

In light of CC's calls for action, it's somewhat more forgivable to see them also going the way of Mercy Me with the praise aspects in another song:

Oh God, You are my God
And earnestly I seek You
O how I long for You
In this dry and weary land
I’ve seen You in the sanctuary
And I beheld Your glory
So I can think of only one thing I can do
I lift my hands
I lift my hands and I will praise You all my days
I lift my voice
I lift my voice to You in this simple song of praise
I lift my eyes
So I will think of You through the watches of the night
Hear the voices ring as Your children sing
In the shadow of Your wings

So in the end, CC gets a B minus. Even so, that they do get a grade that high doesn't say much for the content of modern Christian music as a whole.