Tag Archives: reformed theology

New “Cessationism” tab Added to “ReformingChristianity- Resources for the reforming Christian”

Dear friends and followers:

A number of years ago I stumbled across the Netvibes platform, a web-based site that allows one to collect “RSS feeds” (e.g.,  podcasts and other syndicated content) and organize them in tabs to create a pleasingly visual, convenient way to access content.  Utilizing this platform, I created the “ReformingChristianity- Resources for the reforming Christian” Netvibes universe– a collection of fantastic online resources on Reformed theology that I regularly update.

Those following the recent Strange Fire Conference of John MacArthur and friends– that takes on the widespread aberrations of theology present theology of general in the charismatic movement–may be interested in a new tab I have added to this site, titled “Cessationism”, in which I have included excellent resources on cessationism (a major theme of the conference) as well as links to the audio and video from Strange Fire. Cessationism, as most readers of this blog probably know, is a reformed theological position that believes miraculous “sign” gifts such as miracles, tongues and prophecy were given by God to the apostolic community as the Christianity was being established so as to attest that the early leaders and followers of Jesus Christ were indeed authentic messengers of God, with a true message from God.  That message– the gospel of Christ, with all its implications for life, would later come to be written down in the collected teachings of the New Testament, via a process guided and overseen by the Holy Spirit. Cessationists believe that with the revelation of God now completely captured in the New Testament writings, there is no need for further revelatory gifts such as prophecy and tongues to be given at this time.  Cessationism does not deny that miracles and revelation may be sovereignly given at any point the Lord may so choose, but believe that in these days the Lord has chosen not to give such gifts as a normative pattern, and that the Church finds all it needs for life and godliness available to it in Holy Scripture.

Note:  In response to a reader’s comment, I edited the paragraph above to be more precise.  I do believe, unfortunately, that the Strange Fire conference was correct to point out that theological aberrations characterize the popular charismatic movement worldwide, whereas as reformed continuationists such as Piper, Grudem , Storms and Carson, who in their respective writings and ministries have made immensely valuable contributions to the Church, are in the minority.  MacArthur appealed to these continuationists, whom he considers friends in ministry, to consider whether their openness to the continuation of charismatic gifts has “provided cover” or has lent false legitimacy to those in the popular movement whose theology and practice is at odds with Scripture.  

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Filed under Charismaticism, Controversy, Strange Fire

It’s Time to Get the Gospel Right (Pt 2- What is the Gospel?)

This is a follow-up to my last post.  Thanks to those who commented.   I agree with the comment by “savedbygrace” on that post– the gospel we preach defines us.  This is precisely why I think it is so important we get it right.  Of course as imperfect beings, we do not and will not have perfect theology this side of heaven.  Nevertheless we must strive to improve our understanding, and moreover, I think God expects us to preach and teach an accurate gospel in the essentials.

So, is the gospel an invitation to a “charismatic” life characterized by the super-spiritual– constantly receiving direct revelations from God on what we are to do, say and pursue; being able to “see in the Spirit”; the ability to do all the same miracles Jesus did that we may convince people to believe; prophesying that which we claim is from God (but may not be 100% accurate)?  I don’t think so.

Granted, Christianity is indeed a supernatural life and the Holy Spirit indwells us, and we are called to be filled with the Spirit today (see John 3:3; 1 Peter 1:3, 23; Eph 5:8).  But this does not require that we have all of the above sorts of manifestations.  God is free to give such things if He chooses, but I don’t think in this day He is normally giving such gifts. Rather, we have been equipped by God’s Word and by His Spirit to live the Christian life we are called to live (2 Tim 3:16-17; 1 Cor 12:4-31).  Thus I think the chief mistakes in the larger charismatic movement are: 1) to pretend that miracles are happening all the time when in fact they are not; 2) to downgrade the gift of prophecy to hit-or-miss pronouncements characterized by inaccuracy; and 3) to promise healing based on a supposed provision of the atonement that guarantees it (see my article, Sickness, Healing and the Christian, Pt 2 (Biblical Analysis).)

A reformed, and I think biblical response to the charismatic portrait of the Christian life demonstrates practical differences in the two approaches:

  1. We pray to God for all our needs (Phil 3:6) and may even ask Him to do miracles, which He may or may not do as He wills. We rejoice if and when God does miracles in our midst, but of course, do not and cannot demand them. We define miracles as that which is extra-ordinary (as in the healing a of a man born blind, for example). God’s providential care for us as He answers prayer doesn’t necessarily constitute a miracle, which by definition is a special and rare occurrence.  Moreover we argue that the miracles of Jesus’ day were signs authenticating the message of Jesus and His apostles (Matt 12:28, 2 Cor 12:12) and that that season of miracles apparently has passed.
  2. We preach and teach the Word of God as accurately as possible (2 Peter 4:1-2), knowing it alone is God’s inspired revelation to us (unlike charismatic prophecy, we don’t need to guess what percentage of the prophecy comes from God and what part is human error).  We trust therefore that God’s Word is sufficient to provide the guidance and instruction we need to properly live a Christian life and to teach and make disciples (2 Peter 1:3, 2 Tim 3:16-17). We define prophecy as Scripture does– the very words of God spoken through the mouth of people (2 Peter 1:21).  So we hold all prophecy to the high standard of Scripture in terms of its accuracy– if it does not come to pass– it’s false prophecy and the person who has spoken it is falsely speaking for God (Deut 13:1-5; Deut 18:20-22).
  3. As we obey God and live for Him we ask that He would heal the sick, and we can lay hands on the sick, as the Word prescribes (James 5: 14-18).  But we leave the answer to these prayers to God– if He heals, we rejoice in that, and if He does not heal, we trust that God knows best (2 Cor 12:8-10). We don’t claim God has healed if in fact He has not healed, and we don’t charge folks with not having enough faith if their prayer for healing is answered in the negative.  We  don’t claim to know that all sickness is caused by sin or by the devil, but trust that ultimately God in His sovereignty rules over this and all areas of our lives.

Thus far we have been addressing what the gospel is not. I have claimed it is not an invitation to a supercharged, mystical life full of continuous miraculous manifestations.  So then, what is the gospel and what is the normal Christian life?

The gospel is that Jesus Christ– Son of God and God in the flesh– came to Earth, lived among us, was crucified on a cross for sins and was raised again by the authority and power of God after three days in the grave (1 Cor 3:3-5; John 1:9-18, 34; 1 John 5:11-12, John 10:18) .  The person who puts their faith in Christ is forgiven all their sins, because God poured out His full wrath and anger at sin upon Jesus as He hung on the cross, and by raising Him from the dead, God validated Jesus’ claims to be God, in fulfillment of the many ancient prophecies that predicted a Messiah would come that would do all the things Jesus did (Romans 4:23; Romans 5:9).  The life Jesus lived– a perfect, selfless life– satisfies God’s requirement of holiness– and Jesus’ record of sinless obedience is transferred to the one who has faith in Him (2 Cor 5:21). So our sins of commission and of omission are both fully taken care of and removed by the cross and the obedience of Christ, and we are thus reconciled to God, adopted as His children, and called to a new life of fellowship with Him and with brothers and sisters who have likewise been called (Romans 5:10; Col 1:22; John 1:12; 1 John 1:3).  Much more could be said, but these are the essentials.

So what does this Christian life look like?  Well, outwardly it is a very normal life, in many respects.  The Christian doesn’t necessarily look any different than before, but inwardly, a miracle of new life has been wrought in his/her heart, one which plants a desire to love God and to be obedient to Him (Ezekiel 36:26; 2 Cor 5:17).  We are drawn to the Bible (1 Peter 2:2), which by the Spirit we recognize as the true Word of God to His children (1 Cor 2:12-13).  This new life implanted within has a supernatural quality, in that we have new desires that prod us and help us to transcend our old selfish tendencies.  But the Christian need not manifest anything outwardly spectacular.  I think that biblically the Bible doesn’t teach that Christians need special experiences like being “slain in the Spirit”, speaking in tongues, the so-called “baptism in the Spirit” that is subsequent to salvation, in order to be fruitful.  Yes, we are commanded to be filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18) but this seems to be an ongoing process that involves many non-flashy activities– reading and meditating on God’s Word, obeying God’s Word, etc.  Ultimately, people will know we are Christians, not because of our exciting supernatural manifestations, but rather, by the fruit we bear in love towards God and others (see John 13:33-35; 1 Cor 13).

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Galatians 5:22-24, ESV)

For further thought:

Providence by J. I. Packer

God’s Providence over all (PDF) by B.B. Warfield

The Sufficiency of Scripture Part 1 and Part 2 by Gary Gilley

The Gifts of Miracles & Healings Today?  by Fred Zaspel

Divine Providence, or What About Miracles? by S. Lewis Johnson

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Filed under Charismaticism, Controversy, Theology

Is Hell Reasonable? (Part 1)

In my previous article, Lady Gaga, Rob Bell and Hell, I spoke of the controversy that has surrounded Rob Bell’s recent book, “Love Wins.”  I completely agree with Denny Burk’s excellent review, when he says,  “Bell likes to make assertions that are cloaked in questions. It is a manipulative tactic that has an air of epistemological humility but which he employs with great skill to make theological arguments.”  Bell’s questions/arguments just so happen to end up proposing a totally new “story” of the Christian faith, one that denies the traditional view of hell as eternal punishment for sins committed in this life, even as he makes a strong case for a universalistic salvation scheme.

Before its release, Justin Taylor had raised the issue that Bell’s promo for Love Wins strongly implied a universalist stance. Many blasted Taylor for his pre-critique. And Bell denied being a universalist.  Yet now that the book is released, Bell’s own words seem to show he advocates a post-mortem universalism. He writes,

Given enough time, everybody will turn to God and find themselves in the joy and peace of God’s presence. The love of God will melt every hard heart, and even the most ‘depraved sinners’ will eventually give up their resistance and turn to God (Love Wins, p.107, bold text mine).

Even after making a bold statement like this that sure sounds like universalism, Bell still says he’s not a universalist, “if by universalist we mean there’s a giant cosmic arm that swoops everybody in at some point whether you want to be there or not.”

In “Love Wins”, Bell explains his position, “Will everyone be saved, or will some perish apart from God forever because of their choices? Those are questions, or more accurately, those are tensions we are free to leave fully intact. We don’t need to resolve them or fully answer them because we can’t, and so we simply respect them, creating space for the freedom that love requires (p. 115).”

Is Bell being cagey, or just inconsistent? Does love win in the end because God “gets what He wants (p.98)” and given enough time everyone is saved, or does the “freedom that love requires” mean that some will forever deny God?

Denny Burk well sums up Bell’s position,

God either will fail in His purpose to save all or He will not. Bell cannot have it both ways, but he certainly tries. This section of the book will allow Bell to say “I am not a universalist.” Even though his heart is clearly with the universalist position, he gives himself a back door to deny it. This is why Bell’s teaching is so subversive. He presents one of the most compelling cases in favor of universalism that one will ever read in a popular book while denying that he is one himself.

If “love wins” (i.e., everyone will be saved eventually, even after death), how does this impact the traditional doctrine of hell as the eternal punishment of sinners who in this life did not embrace God through the saving message of Jesus Christ? On the subject of hell, Bell is again slippery, for does not deny he believes in a real, literal hell. But Bell’s definition of hell is not the traditional view. For Bell, hell is when “God gives us what we want” (Love Wins, p. 72). He emphasizes the “hells” people experience in this life, as a consequence for resisting and rejecting all that is “good and true and beautiful and human now (p.79).” There is also a hell after death in which Bell assumes people will continue resisting and rejecting God, but it’s clear he thinks there’s still hope for such to be eventually reconciled to God.

Bell, in typical fashion, asks leading questions that imply disagreement with the traditional view of Hell,

Of all the billions of people who have ever lived, will only a select number ‘make it to a better place’ and every single other person will suffer in torment and punishment forever? Is this acceptable to God? Has God created millions of people over tens of thousands of years who are going to spend eternity in anguish? Can God do this, or even allow this, and still claim to be a loving God? Does God punish people for thousands of years with infinite, eternal torment for things they did in their few, finite years of life? This doesn’t just raise disturbing questions about God, it raises questions about the beliefs themselves… What kind of faith is that? Or more importantly: What kind of God is that?” (Love Wins, pp. 2-3).

Denny Burk writes in response,

because Bell has already labeled the traditional doctrine of hell as “misguided” and “toxic” (p. viii), it is not difficult to see that Bell already has an answer in mind to these questions. Indeed, the very way in which they are phrased shows that these questions are leading to a conclusion. Bell suggests that God’s own character would be in question if the traditional doctrine of hell is true. Thus these are assertions and not true queries. These are assertions about the reality of hell and the nature of God.

Bell then, seems to be asserting these ideas bout hell:

  1. God’s loving nature precludes Him from condemning people He created to eternal punishment.
  2. The traditional view of hell is unfair and incorrect in proposing that God punishes people infinitely and eternally for sins committed in a finite lifetime.
  3. The idea that only a few select few will be saved, while everyone else is damned, cannot be acceptable to God, nor should we find it acceptable.
  4. God would not create millions of people knowing in advance that they will end up in hell, or that He will damn them to hell.
  5. A Christian who believes in traditional propositions about hell is misguided and has a wrong view of God.

Though I believe Bell’s take on hell, as well as his universalistic scheme of salvation, are incorrect in their interpretation of the Bible, Bell does raise challenging questions that ought to be answered. The doctrine of hell is truly terrifying, and I think it is quite natural for human beings to recoil in horror from it, especially as we imagine our loved ones (or anyone, for that matter) being sent there. Thinking back to the man in the Lady Gaga video, is the traditional doctrine of hell something so harsh and misguided that it ought not to be included as part of the gospel message? If God is love, does He and can He send people to hell? Assuming one answers these two questions affirmatively, there’s still more tough questions. Why must hell be eternal? Why did God create some human beings that He knew would be in hell?

If we can wrestle with such profound questions and come out on the other side with a surer, biblical grasp of God’s purpose in creating hell, understanding better how hell may bring glory to God, and emerging with greater reverence and love for God, then the current controversy serves a good purpose.

Having raised the questions, I’ll tackle them in Part 2.

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Filed under Controversy, Theology