February 2010

Seeking God

Many of you know that as Jeff and I left the Philippines we were not sure of what we were going to do next. Since August we have prayed, candidated at churches, and had medical tests. It has been difficult waiting on God to let us know what direction we were to go. So many of you have prayed along side of us as we sought God’s will. Thank-you.

We believe The Lord has answered. In mid November we learned that New Zealand pastor David Burge had Leukemia. We have been requested by the New Zealand conference to come and help them during this time that David, a key leader, will be limited in his work due to treatments. They have asked us to serve as “pastors-at large,” assisting several churches and the Advent Christian conference New Zealand. We see this not only as an opportunity to help out a friend in need, but also as a chance to return the favor for all of those New Zealand believers who have helped us in our ministry in the Philippines over the years.

A Wedding!

In December, we rejoiced with our daughter, Connie, at her marriage to Stephen Shaw. Connie and Stephen are living in Lenox, Mass., and attend Hope Church.

Ain’t Life Grand

We welcomed another grandchild into our family on February 1st, Elena Sophia Hamilton made her appearance.
We have had the joy of staying with Dad (Nathan), Mom (Elizabeth) and big brother (Jeffrey) for a few days to help them adjust to the challenges of a larger family.

The McAlpin Miracle
Our home church, The McAlpin Advent Christian Church of McAlpin, Florida has experienced a great deal of growth recently under the leadership of Rev. Paul Bertolino. It is great to know that the same Holy Spirit who has helped us to minister successfully overseas is just as hard at work on the home front. We have enjoyed meeting all the new families the Lord has blessed our fellowship with.

Daughter #3

Our youngest daughter, Naomi, continues to pursue a degree in Inter-cultural Studies at Columbia Bible College, in South Carolina.

Praises
For the Lord’s direction as he has led us to a new ministry.
For allowing the New Zealand government to view us favorably, granting us work visas.
For safety as we have traveled a great deal in the past few months.
For helping our daughters adjust to life in the States.
For a great and awesome God!

Prayer Needs
For David Burge’s healing
For a safe trip to New Zealand
For clear direction from the Lord as we take up ministry positions there.
For many more years of success in the Lord’s service.
For provision of our needs, and support for Naomi at college.
For help in adjusting to another culture

Name the Newsletter Contest:

“News from the Vanns” is accurate, but not very interesting sounding and “From 8 degrees North” is inaccurate. Please send us suggestions for the title of our newsletter.

Contact Information

The best way to reach Jeff and Penny is by e-mail, which works anywhere on the planet:

jeffvann@acgc.us

pennyvann@acgc.us

We can be reached by (snail) mail for the present at:

Jeff and Penny Vann
c/o Jim and Glenise Burge
27 Fairview Avenue
Opaheke, Papakura 2113
AUCKLAND, New Zealand

ACST 9. The Tool

The absolute confidence Advent Christians have historically held concerning the Bible has always been two-fold: a confidence in what the Bible is (the word of God), and also in what the Bible does. Advent Christians realize that the Bible was never intended merely to inform them of God’s existence and standards, but it was designed to do more. It was designed as a tool to transform them into the people God wanted them to be. Many Advent Christians came out of other movements which stressed the role of the Holy Spirit in personal sanctification.

Human nature is not what it should be. The entrance of sin into the mix has corrupted our DNA and our minds and hearts as well. The human race in general – and every person in particular – is off kilter. We may not be as bad as we could be, but nobody is as good as we were supposed to be. We need help.

God has a wonderful plan for your life, but you do not qualify for it, and neither do I. Something is wrong inside – and that something has disqualified us all for the destiny God has in store. Christ’s death on the cross applied by faith removed the penalty of sin which restores our relationship with God, but it did not immediately transform us into the kind of people who are fit for eternity. God has provided his word to begin that process.

We need to apply the words and message of the Bible to our lives. This allows God’s word to transform us into who we were intended to be. The apostle Paul explained the mechanics of this process when encouraging Timothy to stay true to the faith and not follow the deceptions of apostates (2 Tim. 3). He explained that the apostates who would come would soon be shown to be fools (vs. 9), but that Timothy would be vindicated because…

“…from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim. 3:15-17).

Paul called the difference that protected Timothy from apostasy wisdom. The source of that wisdom was the sacred writings, a term that Paul used to refer to the Hebrew scriptures. Now that the New Testament has been written, the term all scripture includes those writings as well.
Notice the elements of the process that Paul describes. Each element is crucial for transformation, and in each element the Holy Spirit actively uses the word of God to affect change.

Element #1: The light of “wisdom that leads to salvation.”

This is the foundational element. No one can be sanctified if they have not come to the cross and accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Savior. One of the reasons for this prerequisite is that this event (conversion) is when the Holy Spirit comes inside the believer. He comes to us when we are saved, and he comes in order to sanctify. Skeptics often wonder why Christians make so much of the Bible when it does not appear to have much effect. But the transformation which Christians enjoy only comes after they have professed faith in Christ, not before.

The Bible does contain a great deal of wisdom which anyone can profit from. For this reason, a great many unbelievers who have obeyed scripture because it has been incorporated into the human laws of their state have profited from that obedience – gaining peace and perhaps even a measure of prosperity they otherwise would not have enjoyed. Much of the Old Testament Wisdom Literature (e.g. Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Job) offer that kind of wisdom.

But Paul says the Bible also offers a different kind of wisdom. It is “the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” It is the ability to see beyond the mundane problems of the day and to recognize an ultimate problem: sin, and its resulting estrangement from God. The wisdom of which Paul speaks addresses that ultimate, eternal issue. It is an answer to a problem which is more important than those the secular world can address.

One of my wife’s relatives is a very talented artist. He painted a scene in which a young family is sitting at the table in their home, and are obviously in distress. The child has tipped over his glass of milk, and both parents are in tears. Yet, also in the painting is a window, and through the window observers of the painting can see what that young family does not. A giant funnel cloud from a tornado has formed, and is heading straight for the home. The family is so preoccupied with the spilled milk that they are oblivious to the real danger which is imminent.

That painting is a parable which describes the plight of so many people in this world. It is so easy to get carried away in search of answers to problems which appear to be important, but that pale in comparison to the issue of one’s eternal destiny. The only way to explain such ignorance is to admit that deception has occurred. The world has been deceived into believing that there is no eternal destiny. Therefore its population runs screaming from one spilled milk crisis to another.
Paul explains that Timothy is different because he has allowed the sacred scriptures to give him a different kind of wisdom – rather than a worldly wisdom he has been given a next-worldly wisdom.

The apologist Cornelius Van Til compared the scriptures to “the sun in the light of which all things are seen and without the light of which nothing is seen for what it is.”1 It sheds light on that ultimate reality, enabling believers to understand why Jesus had to die on the cross as a sacrifice for the world’s sin. But that light is not just a spotlight, focusing myopically on the crucifixion itself. The light is like a sun, which illuminates the whole world. So, for the believer, accepting Christ is the essential starting point of a new life, now ordered by the new realities revealed in God’s word.

Element #2: “Teaching:” The Light that Reveals True Doctrine.

After the Holy Spirit changes the heart through conversion – He gets to work immediately on informing the mind through teaching. He does not have to invent a new teaching for each new convert. Instead, he utilizes “whatever was written in former days,2” (i.e. The Bible) because the old truths revealed there remain true, and they are just as powerful as they always have been.
The difference between texts of scripture (which always carry God’s authority because they are God’s word) and human doctrines (which are our human attempts at answering our own questions)3 must be maintained. However, it is those texts of scripture which lead us to those doctrines, and that is God’s intention. He wants us to understand the world we live in, and the way we are supposed to live in it. He wants us to be aware of where our problems will probably come from, and what resources are available for us to deal with those problems.

Within the body of Christ (the Church), The Holy Spirit provides certain ministries who exist to help the believer grow in maturity.4 One of the roles of these equipping ministries is to help the believer to tell the difference between a teaching which has been cleverly devised to distract him, and a teaching which was intended by God to mature him. Each of these equipping ministries had a teaching component.5 Each of them drew heavily upon the word of God as the basis for their authority and ministry.

Legitimate Bible teaching ministries encourage people to follow Christ – not themselves. They submit to the ministries of other Christians rather that dominate through the pulpit or lectern. They can also tell the difference between essential truths (where Christians tend to be unified) and distinctive doctrines (where Christians tend to manifest diversity). Their emphasis is on the essentials, while not neglecting the issues that form the distinctives.

Element #3: “Reproof:” The Light that Exposes False Doctrine.

The same light that reveals true doctrine also exposes false doctrine. This appears to be the idea behind the word reproof.6 Part of the maturing process is submitting to the word of God, and allowing it to expose areas in ones understanding that have been tainted by deception or ignorance. Conversion to Christ involves a changing of one’s mind, but does not guarantee that false understandings and perceptions will be immediately eliminated.

The true disciple loves God with all her mind (Mark 12:30), and seeks to have her life transformed by the renewing of her mind (Romans 12:2). She will “not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). She will “not despise prophecies, but (will) test everything; (and) hold fast what is good” (1 Thess. 5:20-21). She will allow the the light of the word of God to reprove her for false doctrines she has held in the past.

Element #4: “Correction:” The Light that Exposes Improper Behavior.

God teaches us how to live by giving us commands in the Bible. He has also provided the Bible as a kind of mirror, by which we can evaluate our behavior to see if it measures up to God’s intention. This is what James implies:

For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless (James 1:23-26).

The mirror simile is a reminder that believers need to change their deeds as well as their doctrines. The Bible provides a means for both.

An Old Testament story illustrates this mirror role of the Bible: the story of king Josiah in 2 Chron. 34:1-21. While refurbishing the temple, one of the king’s officials found a copy of the Book of the Law of the House of the LORD, and brought it to Josiah. When Josiah realized that the priests and people had been disobeying God’s law, he tore his clothes as a sign of remorse. He realized that Israel had incurred God’s wrath for being disobedient. Josiah showed discernment in stark contrast to most of the Israelites of his day. A children’s book author has compared C. S. Lewis’ Prince Caspian to king Josiah because he “was considered a boy- king who rejected the wickedness of his ancestors and worked to restore his nation.”7 He realized that ignorance of the word of God had led to sin, and God was bound by his own nature to punish that sin.

Element #5: “Training in Righteousness:” The Light that Produces Proper Behavior.

The psalmist alluded to this role of God’s word in the longest psalm, 119:
“Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way. Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. I have sworn an oath and confirmed it, to keep your righteous rules” (Psalm 119:104-106). The Bible serves as a training manual, giving believers understanding that keeps them on the right path. The believer determines to keep God’s righteous rules. Just carrying around a copy of the Bible will do nothing.

In this New Testament passage (2 Tim. 3) Paul identifies the Bible as a means by which Christ trains believers in righteousness. In a previous letter he had encouraged Timothy to “train (himself) for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:7-8). He defined godliness in his letter to Titus, as “to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:12).

The Bible trains believers in righteousness in a number of ways: 1) by condemning improper behavior, 2) by defining and promoting proper behavior, 3) by illustrating each with biographical examples in both testaments, 4) by encouraging us to draw on the power available through the Holy Spirit for godly living, 5) by steering believers to congregate and have fellowship, which fosters spiritual growth toward Christ-likeness.

There is a sixth, more subtle effect on the believer as well. As she spends quality time every day in God’s word, thinking God’s thoughts, reliving God’s reactions, she cannot help but pick up more of God’s character. The exposure itself changes her, somewhat like a missionary is changed by living in another culture. The proverb GIGO (garbage in, garbage out) works the other way as well. Sustained exposure to the words and principles of the Bible is bound to affect the words that the believer says, and her thoughts and actions.

The Bible, then, is a tool that the Holy Spirit can use to change us. Like any tool, its usefulness increases the more it is used, because the user becomes more adept at its operation. This generation has a multitude of Bibles and Bible versions available. Only time will tell if they have been utilized properly.

ACST 8. The Standard

As the first century was coming to an end, the Christian message was beginning to be challenged by various cults and false teachers. Responding to this reality, the Apostle John wrote “We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error” (1 John 4:6). He implied that there is a test to determine whether someone is walking in truth or not: are they listening to (and heeding) the message of the apostles.

This was the attitude of the prophets of Old Testament times as well. Samuel, for example, said to Saul, “Tell the servant to pass on before us, and when he has passed on, stop here yourself for a while, that I may make known to you the word of God” (1 Sam. 9:27). When Moses spoke to Pharaoh, he did not speak on his own authority, but prefaced his words with “thus says the LORD” (Exodus 4:22; 5:1; 10:3; 11:4). Other prophets followed the same pattern (Josh. 24:2; Judges 6:8; 2 Sam. 12:7; 1 Kings 11:31; 17:14; 2 Kings 19:20). They had the audacity to assume that their messages were God’s word, and carried God’s authority – and they were right.

The writings of the prophets carried the same authority. This is evidenced by the recurrence of the phrase “the word of the LORD came” (Isaiah 38:4; Jer. 1:2, 4, 11; Ezek. 1:3; 3:16; Hosea 1:1; Joel 1:1; Jonah 1:1; 3:1). It was clear that it was not the prophets themselves – through their own ingenuity or wisdom – who came up with these words. The words were a supernatural gift from God himself. It was truly revelation. It was not “inspiration” in the modern sense of the word – which implies some kind of boosting of an artistic genius that already exists. Instead, God was revealing himself and his thoughts and words to those who wrote the original manuscripts of the Bible.

God continues to reveal himself personally to those who seek him, but he no longer needs to communicate to us the same way that he has in the Bible. Those sixty-six books remain the standard by which we can judge whether we are listening to God’s voice or someone else’s. The Bible is the standard in two senses of the word. It serves as a basis of comparison for all the words and ideas that bombard us. It also serves as the rallying flag (or standard) where all those truly seeking and speaking God’s truth will congregate.

Willingness to accept the teachings of the Bible is evidence that one has had a real experience with God. It is a choice that everyone who encounters the Bible must make, and it has consequences. Since God’s word is his standard, those who reject it, or belittle it, or only choose to heed it partly, will find themselves caught up in a spirit of error. They might be partly aware of the realities of which the Bible speaks, but will fail to understand their implications. For example, many unbelievers know about, and even celebrate Christmas and Easter. But the deeper implications of the events celebrated (like the incarnation and the resurrection) find no place in their world-view. Those deeply deceived might even understand some of these theological ideas, but will not feel the necessity of applying them to their own lives by a true conversion. By refusing to put their faith in Christ (as revealed in the Bible), they have aligned themselves with Satan by default.

The Manuscripts

The Bible did not come to humanity as one complete document. The messages of Moses, the Prophets, and the other Old Testament sages were revered by Jews in their separate forms for centuries. But the tendency was to combine them into groups even then. The earliest grouping was the five books of Moses, which the Jews call the Torah, or Law. By the time of Christ, all Jews accepted the Torah as God’s inspired word, while some Jews (like the Saducees) did not view any other books in that category. For most Jews, however, it was hard to resist the appeal of the Writings (which contain some historical books and some poetic works) and the Prophets. The Hebrew Bible was already complete by that time, and consisted of all the documents that we now call the 39 books of the Old Testament. While there were many other books known by Jews at that time (in several languages) only these books were regarded as canonical, that is, inspired scripture.

The Gospels had the same appeal for Christians as the Torah did for Jews, since they recorded the events associated with Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, and were conveyed by either apostles themselves (like Matthew and John) or people who were closely associated with them (like Mark and Luke). Thus the Gospels became the standard for measuring God’s will as revealed by Jesus for new covenant believers just as the Torah had been the standard as revealed by Moses for old covenant believers.

The writings of the apostles continued in letters to the churches founded in the first century. These letters were called epistles, and reflected the new reality of the Christian church, and concentrated on defining and protecting it. The writings of John (including Revelation) completed this group of documents. Like the Old Testament books, these books began as individual manuscripts, and were later copiously copied and compiled into groups. Recognition of the inspired nature of these books was practically immediate, but it was not until a heresy developed that questioned the canonicity of the Old Testament (Marcionism), that the Church felt the need to officially set the Canon.

The Versions

As the Church sought to convey the message of the whole Bible to the predominately Greek speaking world of the first century, they were helped by the Greek New Testament, and a version of the Old Testament which had been translated from its original Hebrew and Aramaic, into Greek. This Greek Old Testament, called the Septuagint, was the first in a long line of what we call versions of the Bible. The versions seek to bridge the cultural, linguistic, and temporal distance between the original manuscripts and modern audiences.

No one version of the Bible will ever be perfect, because 1) the needs of modern audiences are always changing, 2) our understanding of the texts of the original manuscripts is constantly being tweaked, and 3) our understanding of the culture of biblical audiences and writers is being updated through historical, archaeological, and philological research. It is OK to have a preference for a particular version (as long as one does not get too dogmatic about it), but it is better to use several versions, comparing the renderings on certain texts – for the sake of clarity, and to avoid the biases of individual scholarly teams.

Is Diversity a Liability?

The existence of multiple versions and manuscripts may lead some to question whether God’s authority can be asserted. But the same kind of diversity exists in creation itself. While the skies declare the glory of God, they don’t always do it in the same way. They are sometimes cloudy skies, sometimes clear. They are sometimes rainy, sometimes dry. They are sometimes stormy, sometimes calm. The diversity in creation testifies to the brilliant creativity of our Creator, and leaves us not knowing what he’s going to come up with next.

Since God expects us to come to him by faith, he seems to have eliminated the certainty factor from the Bible in order to encourage people to put their faith in him, rather than to trust in their own understanding of his revelation. On the other hand, one might argue that the multiplicity of manuscripts and versions can help humans gain even more clarity, in the same way that several witnesses to a crime insure that the whole truth about it comes out at the trial.

Today’s Problem

Bultema asserts that “in the ancient church (canonicity) happened to be the greatest problem. While they all believed in the infallible inspiration of the Scriptures, they were not settled as to the question of which books should be included into or excluded from the sacred volume.”1 The modern church seems to have settled the issue of canonicity, but now struggles more and more with the fundamental question of authority, and the extent to which they can trust the Bible as God’s exclusive voice. Advent Christians have historically asserted absolute confidence in the Bible. The next few chapters will show that the confidence is not misplaced.

1 Harry Bultema, Miracle of Inspiration. (Grand Rapids: Grace Publications, 1990), 9.

ACST 7 The Source

The author of Hebrews began his epistle with the words “at many times and in many ways, God spoke…” (Heb. 1:1), reminding his readers that supernatural revelation is not a rare commodity. Jewish Christians in the first century are not the only ones who need to be reminded that such revelation exists. Twenty-first century humanity is very adept at convincing itself that it is impossible to know if God is real. The evidence that God has revealed himself is abundant, but contemporary humanity has stupidly mislabeled the boxes where all the evidence is placed.

The First Box

God revealed his existence and character through the universe he created. David speaks of the cosmos as a constant light and picture show displaying how glorious God is (Psalm 19:1-6). Paul asserts that unbelievers are not excused for rejecting God since “his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made” (Rom. 1:20). This is the first box of evidence, which should properly be labeled CREATION, but is often labeled EVOLUTION, a term that suggests no need for an explanation beyond what is to explain what is.
Looking closely at the evidence in this box you will find a universe that has an origin that cannot be explained adequately through the powers and processes that currently exist. Secular science has suggested some “big bang” happened billions of years ago to account for the present universe. But secular science also predicts that the current universe will eventually be destroyed because there is no power available within it to preserve it. However, many scientists acknowledge an anthropocentric aspect to reality. That is, the universe seems to be designed for a purpose, and humanity seems to be central to that purpose. The universe also seems to contain sources of power that are not always apparent. The religious are quick to point out that one of those sources of power (indeed the ultimate source of all power) is God himself. Therefore the future of the universe is not as bleak as secular science suggests.

God is a Puzzle Maker

Providing one dares to assume that creation is displaying evidence of its creator, one can draw conclusions about the nature of the creator from a reasoned look at creation. For example, the universe can be categorized as a combination of systems, each of which has a definite structure. There are star systems in space, climate, geological and ecological systems on the planet, and circulatory, pulmonary and digestive systems among creatures. The existence of these systems suggest an intelligent designer who enjoys artistically producing unity from diverse objects. It is almost as if every system is a puzzle, and God is encouraging humans to search for the patterns so that we can understand the systems as a whole. Science is our attempt at putting together the pieces of the puzzles. If there were no order to the systems – that is, if everything was random chaos – the universe would be impossible to figure out, and that would lead to an altogether different view of God.

God has a Purpose for Everything

The unity that God builds into all these interlocking systems is a unity of purpose. The systems work together to foster and sustain life, reveal God’s craftsmanship in the master design, and promote more unity-in-diversity.
As children, one of the first lessons we learned is that everything has a purpose. We make mistakes when we use things for the wrong purpose. Children of God learn this lesson as well. We learn that everything that happens to us is allowed by God to benefit us in some way. So Joseph told his brothers who had sold him into slavery ion Egypt: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Gen. 50:20). Paul told the Romans that “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). Seeing God at work in the difficulties we face is not always easy. That is why David encouraged his soul not to forget all of God’s benefits (Psalm 103:2). Each of these texts points to the fact that God is at work in the universe all around us orchestrating it for his own purpose.

The Second Box

The second box of evidence for God’s existence is a number of kinds of direct revelation (like miracles, theophanies, angelic visions, etc.), that eventually became encapsulated in his written word, the sixty six books of the Holy Bible. God revealed his standards, his desires and his plan through the scriptures (Psalm 19:7-11). God is our father. As a father, he wants us to do more than just acknowledge his existence. He wants us to follow his commands. That is why deism, theism, or unitarianism will never please God. It is not enough to admit that he does (or might) exist. He is our father, and we must acknowledge that relationship through obedience. The Bible is God’s way of showing us what he wants – how we can obey him and please him.

Union University president David Dockery said “it is not enough to affirm that the Bible is a human witness to divine revelation because the Bible is also God’s witness to himself.”1 This truth serves as a foundation for all talk about revelation. Biblical theology assumes that the author of Hebrews is right – that God has revealed himself. Thus the task of defining revelation does not have to be inductive. One does not have to begin where an unbeliever does. Instead, a biblical theologian starts with affirming what the Bible says about itself, and then invites unbelievers, skeptics and atheists to evaluate the truthfulness of the statements.

Professor Herbert Byrne defines “the properties of scripture (as) authority (Isaiah 1:2; sufficiency (2 Tim. 3:15); clarity (Psalm 119:105); and cannot be broken (John 10:35).”2 It stands to reason that each of these qualities would describe scripture because each faithfully describes the source of scripture: God himself. He is the ultimate authority, having no superior from which his authority could derive. He is entirely self-sufficient, having no need for any other for fulfillment. His words and thoughts are completely clear to himself (in spite of the difficulty humans often have understanding them). His words cannot be broken because the truth they reveal does not change, or go out of style. He is dependable. Therefore the best thing anyone can say about scripture is not a negative statement (like “inerrant,” or “infallible,” ) but a positive one. Scripture is from God.3
Scripture records the incidents when “God showed himself. He let himself be heard. He disclosed his presence. He revealed who he is. He made known his name.”4 Today’s reader may wonder why God chose to do so thousands of years ago to the fathers and prophets and apostles. She may question the wisdom of embedding the most important truth the world has ever heard in a collection of ancient Jewish stories. But she cannot deny that the revelation has happened. Even if she sets aside the internal evidence presented in the scriptures themselves, she is overwhelmed by the impact that these Jewish stories have had on the planet.

Paul on Revelation

When the apostle Paul commented on the fact of revelation (the fact that God has revealed himself in scripture) he usually emphasized three results of that revelation. These results are 1) transforming grace (God’s revelation changes those who believe it), 2) present task (God’s revelation commands a change in behavior and mission), and 3) eternal destiny (God’s revelation points us to a life beyond this life, so redirects the lives of those who believe it).
Consider Col. 1:24-28; 2:1-3. Here Paul speaks of his ministry as a stewardship of a mystery that has now been revealed to believers. Believers now have this knowledge that they did not have before the gospel was proclaimed to them. One of the results of this revelation is that Christ is in them (Col. 1:27). He is not just with them or for them. This is the result of transforming grace.

A second result of this revelation is that believers are more likely to suffer and struggle as they seek to do God’s will, and pass on his message. The believer’s orientation gets redirected away from self, and towards Christ’s body, the church. Thus the believer is willing to put up with difficulties and challenges in order to meet the needs and fulfill the lives of fellow believers. Paul called this “filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body” (Col. 1:24). He was not referring to penal suffering (the ordeal Jesus endured for the salvation of the lost). That was something that only Christ himself could do, and no one else can add to it. Instead, Paul was referring to somatic suffering (the ordeals believers face as representatives of Christ in order to win others to Christ and minister to them). This somatic suffering is evidence that God has revealed himself to believers, and has motivated them to alter their present task.

A third result of this revelation is Christians can now change their temporal focus from past failures, or present difficulties, to their future destiny. Paul referred to this focus as “the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27). Remember, he was not using the word hope as a verb, thereby emphasizing that Christians can wish for pie in the sky by and by. No, he used the term hope as a noun. When the word hope is used as a noun, it refers to the believer’s eternal destiny. In fact, the phrase “the hope of glory” can be translated “the glorious eternal destiny.” Because God has revealed himself to believers, they are free to forget the failures of yesteryear (and yesterday), overcome the obstacles of today, and press on toward their future destiny (Phil. 3:12-14). This is why it is appropriate to use the adjective Advent to describe a Christian.

The Third Box

God has overwhelmed his creation with evidence of his existence – first by placing trademarks in creation itself that point to his character and power, then by getting specific through the special revelation which has become encapsulated in the Bible. Through these means anyone in creation can recognize that he exists, and have a clear understanding of what he wants. Sadly, humanity has mislabeled these evidence boxes, and have developed world-views that enable them to either ignore the God of the Bible, or replace him with a substitute that they can be more comfortable with. But occasionally God intervenes in this mass stupidity and his Holy Spirit produces a believer. A third box, which might be labeled REGENERATION opens an unbeliever’s eyes, and suddenly she can see a universe that reflects its creator, and a Bible that reveals his will.

The result of this miracle is a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. The miracle itself is a third means of God’s self-revelation. David was speaking of this kind of revelation in the final words of Psalm 19:

Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults.
Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me! Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer (Psalm 19:12-14).


The focus of this section of Psalm 19 shifts to the personal level, as can be seen the use of the first person (me, my). The focus also shifts from instruction though the law to redemption from sins. This amazing psalm shows that God wants to do more than just get us to acknowledge his existence, or accept his word. He wants to cleanse us from our personal sins so that we can be reconciled with him, and redeemed for the purpose of an eternal relationship with him.

A Dangerous World-view

Of all the philosophies propagated today, the one most responsible for the mislabeling of these boxes is relativism. This world-view holds “that conceptions of truth and moral values are not absolute but are relative to the persons or groups holding them.”5 As a result of this philosophy, someone staring into a microscope or gazing at space through a telescope will see all the evidence for God’s existence that others have seen, but will never come to an absolute truth (such as the existence of God) because he has been taught that no such absolute truths are obtainable.

Ironically, that is an absolute statement, thus is not relativistic itself. Relativism as a philosophy has helped society recognize that everyone addresses issues with inherent biases – that no one is totally objective. Unfortunately, die-hard relativists tend to approach religious affirmations with an anti-God bias, but often fail to acknowledge that. Thus the philosophy breeds subjectivity and agnosticism.

Creation makes it clear that there is a creator. The Bible shows what he wants of his creatures. Redemption allows us to have personal relationships with him. After all that revelation, relativism as a mind-set just does not make sense. It fails to take into account all the evidence. It rejects the Source of truth, thus denies the possibility of truth. The source of truth behind all theological constructs is God himself. Although he has chosen to communicate those truths in radically different ways, they can still be understood without paradox or contradiction because they originate within the unity of God. In this age of relativism, Christians need to stand firm behind the truths that God has revealed in loyalty to him.
God’s revelation in scripture is the ground for a belief in absolute truth. When God reveals something in scripture, there is no room for debate. The only discussion is what God revealed, not whether he has done so. Once the task of exegesis has discovered what the scripture says, the Christian is compelled to believe, live and defend it. The reason is not that the Christian has a high view of scripture. The reason is that the Christian is loyal to the source of scripture, God himself.

ACST 6. The Task

All human responsibility can be summarized by three universal commands, and each of these commands have to do with relationship. The command to love God wholeheartedly (Deut. 6:5; Matt. 22:37-38; Luke 10:27) summarizes the responsibility that all humans have toward their creator. It is the greatest commandment because it stems from the greatest of all relationships. It is also very difficult to obey this commandment, since the sinful human nature limits one’s capacity to love God as he should, and tends to redirect genuine love towards self or other lesser beings. Becoming a true Christian involves reestablishing this vertical relationship with God, and nurturing it for the rest of one’s life. The ultimate outcome of this reestablished relationship is what Christians call worship.
The second greatest commandment is that which results in reciprocal love among all human beings (Lev. 19:18; Matt. 19:19; 22:39; 1 John 4:21). The scope of this command is just as universal as the first. No human being has the right to segregate his love by choosing to love himself more than others, or to isolate a segment of humanity to whom he will manifest love, and ignore or hate the rest. Human nature also makes it difficult to obey this command, since it is motivated by self-interest, and tends to foster chauvinism and prejudice. Becoming a Christian involves a radical adjustment of those kinds of attitudes towards others, and results in reconciliation and unity on the horizontal level.

Defining Discipling: A look at the Great Commission

The third greatest commandment is in some respects just as universal as the others,
but in other respects it is limited or particular. Jesus’ Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20) was only given to believers whose repentance had already restored the two relationships indicated by the first two commandments. In other words, by restoring their devotion to God and their love to humanity they had already become true disciples of Christ. But Jesus required that these disciples reproduce themselves, and that is where the commandment becomes universal. The scope of the command to make disciples is all nations (Matt. 28:19; Luke 24:47), the whole creation (Mark 16:15), or the world (John 17:18). Thus a true Christian cannot be a universalist. He must see a clear distinction between disciples and non-disciples, and be committed to infesting the planet with others like himself.
Rick Warren indicates that “The Great Commission is your commission, and doing your part is the secret to living a life of significance.”1 Discipling is one of the God-given purposes that drive Christians. But not all Christians understand what making disciples entails. Many are frustrated because their church attendance and involvement do not seem to make the kind of impact on the world Jesus’ Great Commission suggests they should.
A careful look at the Great Commission text shows that the frustration is appropriate. Jesus was very specific in his commandment as to what the result would be, and as to how his disciples should go about the task. Unless she is accomplishing the task Jesus commanded, using the means he implied she should use, the Church has no right to claim obedience to the Great Commission.

After You Go
MAKE DISCIPLES
By Baptizing
By Teaching

There is only one command in the text: Jesus commands his disciples (and the Church that would follow them) to reproduce themselves by continuing the discipling process that Jesus himself began. Although most translations take the word “go” as a command as well, it is best taken as an adverbial participle that simply explains the fact that the disciples are presently in Galilee (cf. Matt. 28:16), and would need to go to Jerusalem and await the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 1:8) before they began their mission to the nations. When functioning as a time marker, an adverbial participle in the aorist tense refers to action taken one step before that of the main verb. Thus, I translate the term “after you go.”
The other two adverbial participles in the text are best understood as marking the means whereby the command will be carried out. This is actually very helpful, as it provides the church with a way of determining if discipling is actually being done. Discipling involves both baptizing and teaching. If these two terms are interpreted in a minimalist fashion, it would seem to imply that almost every church is fulfilling the Great Commission.
A more accurate understanding of these two terms (baptizing and teaching) comes from reviewing how they are used in the Gospels. The quintessential baptizer was John the Baptist. He established himself as a prophet, proclaiming the message of the coming Messiah to the people of Israel, and leading them to repentance and commitment to the Messiah’s coming kingdom (Matt.3:1-12; Mark 1:2-8; Luke 3:1-18; John 1:6-8, 19-28). The quintessential teacher in the Gospels was Jesus himself. In fact, the term was used as a title for his ministry (Matt. 23:8,10; Mark 10:38; Luke 7:40; John 13:13,14). Before his atoning death, most of his ministry was focused on the nurture and development of his twelve disciples.
The task of the Church, then, is to testify the gospel of Christ’s kingdom in a variety of ways until it leads people to acceptance of the gospel, and commitment to the kingdom, as demonstrated by the public act of believer’s baptism. But that is only one-half of the equation. The outcome of this baptizing (what we usually refer to as evangelism) is the convert. The church must teach these converts to assure that they are nurtured in their faith, and trained in their works, so that all of Christ’s commands are obeyed, and an accurate witness to his person is reflected. The outcome of this teaching (what we often call discipling) is a reproducing Christian. Since both of these activities are mentioned by Jesus as comprising the means by which discipling is done, both must be incorporated into the work of every church. When one of these means is overemphasized to the exclusion of the other, the result is inadequate discipling.
Inadequate Discipling: Communicating Alone
For example, if a church feels it can fulfill the Great Commission by merely “getting the gospel out” and new means of doing this emerge historically, the church might be tempted to discard its old tried and true methods, like cross-cultural missions:

“With the new information technology (of the twentieth century), however, Christians did not have to leave home to fulfill the Great Commission; they could send a telegram, set up a radio station, gain access to television air time, develop satellite telecommunications networks, or establish a ‘home page’ in cyberspace”2

Such thinking leads to inadequate discipling precisely because it confuses merely one aspect of discipling with the whole process. While it is true that the mass communication methods of the 20th and 21st centuries will enable the church to do many things more efficiently, they can never replace “leaving home” and the incarnational work that implies. Discipling requires the exchange of lives, not merely the exchange of information.
Inadequate Discipling: Evangelism Alone

Neither has the church accomplished the whole task when she has merely converted a significant portion of the world’s population to Christ. There are some that are convinced that the church has made a major dent in the task because there are now a number of confessed Christians in most of the non-Western people groups around the globe:

“The ‘Great Commission’ found in Matthew 28 has shaped our evangelical movement as much as any passage of Scripture. … Whereas in 1500, only 19 percent of the world’s population was Christian and more than 83 percent of the world’s Christians lived in Europe, by the year 2000 more than 32 percent of the world’s population was Christian and most Christians were non-Western people of color.”3

McGavran has pointed out that “discipling was to be followed by perfecting, that is, by the whole complex process of growth in grace…”4 What McGavran calls perfecting is that second means of discipling that Jesus referred to in the Great Commission text. In the church growth movement which McGavran represents, “discipling dealt mainly with conversion and was viewed as the primary responsibility of the church, while perfecting, or the maturing of believers, was relegated to secondary status.”5 As a result, much energy was spent getting churches to make converts, but little in making the converts mature enough to sustain the growth.

Inadequate Discipling: Perfecting Alone

Others have emphasized the nurture and development of those who are already Christians in such a way as to define that as discipling:
“One of the most biblical and valuable uses of your time as a pastor will be to cultivate personal discipling relationships in which you are regularly meeting with a few people one-on-one to do them good spiritually.”6

These “personal discipling relationships” are not the whole task of fulfilling the Great Commission either. The church must intentionally do both. Each individual Christian and each congregation must assess their Great Commission productivity by asking 1) am I winning people to Christ?, and 2) am I nurturing and developing the faith of those within the church. Since both are part of the task, both must be part of the assessment.
The Role of Theology
Theology plays an important role in both parts of the discipling task. First, a good biblical theology makes the believer confident and competent as an apologist. With a good grasp of theology, the Christian feels she can answer the kind of questions that the seeker or the skeptic might ask. Having asked those important questions herself, and having found God’s answers to those questions in his word, she is much more likely to connect with her peers who are still struggling with the issues. She is also more likely to challenge those who are hiding behind current philosophical fads (Acts 17:18; Col. 2:8).
Secondly, a good biblical theology empowers the believer to mature and persevere in his Christian walk. Theology does not ruin true discipleship. It enables the believer to engage his mind in response to God’s revelation. Thus it improves the relationship with God because it enables the Christian to love God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:30). Theology is not an enemy of faith; it supplements it (2 Pet. 1:5). This supplemented faith keeps Christians “from being ineffective or unfruitful” in their Christian walk (2 Pet. 1:8). This means that more unbelievers are likely to seek Christ, because they recognize the Christ-likeness in the thoroughly trained disciple.
On the other hand, when theology is dry, outdated (that is, unresponsive to the questions asked by society today), or heretical, it hinders both evangelism and nurture. Such theology will hinder discipleship because it is incapable of doing for the church what good theology alone can do. Therefore, the discipling mandate of the Great Commission becomes our primary reason for doing theology, and our primary motivation for seeking to get it right.

___________________
1 Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 304.

2 David Chidester, Christianity: A Global History. (New York: HarperCollins, 2000), 540-541.

3 3 Douglas A. Sweeney, “Introduction,” in Martin I. Klauber, et.al., The Great Commission. (Nashville: B&H Publishing
Group, 2007), 1.

4 Donald Anderson McGavran, C. Peter Wagner, (Grand Rapids:Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1990), 123.

5 Elmer L. Towns, Gary McIntosh, Paul E. Engle, Howard Snyder, Evaluating the Church Growth Movement: 5 Views (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 82.

6 Mark Dever and Paul Alexander, The Deliberate Church: Building Your Ministry on the Gospel. (Wheaton: Good News Publishers, 2005), 37.

ACST 5 The Balance

 

Theology is an academic discipline, and no academic discipline is totally free from ethical standards. As in athletics, the rules determine whether someone has succeeded. Breaking the rules can disqualify even the fastest runner. Good theology places equal weight on the accuracy of the message and the integrity of the messengers. Paul makes this clear in Ephesians 4:15, where he encourages Christians to speak the truth in love.

Keeping the message accurate.

The discipline of hermeneutics helps theologians stay true to the message originally intended by God and the Bible’s human authors. It incorporates the tasks of exegesis (drawing out what the text says) and contextualization (communicating that meaning accurately to today’s audience). These are the same tasks that keep the preacher of the gospel on target, and the theologian has the same goal.

Some Hermeneutics Questions

Background Questions

What do I need to know about the culture that the original authors and audiences shared?

What do I need to know about the history that the original authors and audiences knew?

What are the differences between the background of the text and that of myself and my readers/students?

Word Study Questions

Does the text of my translation match the meaning of the words in the original language?

How is this term used by this particular author? Do other biblical authors use the same word differently?

Has the text of my translation added or subtracted words compared with the original? Why?

Theological Questions

What major loci are affected by the text?

What issues are being addressed, and questions answered?

How does this text compare with others on the same topic?

How does this text compare with others by the same author?

Application Questions

What changes (or commitments not to change) does the author suggest should be made by his audience?

What changes (or commitments not to change) should I make as a result of applying this text?

What changes (or commitments not to change) should my readers/students/church make?

Jesus commended John the Baptist for preaching the truth (John 5:33). For Jesus, it was not important that John’s ministry was popular and influential; what mattered was John’s message. It did not need to be new. It had to be true. The temptation to come up with some new teaching is very real for the theologian, and must be guarded against. God has provided the Bible as the source and standard for our theological teaching. It should be the source for every idea we proclaim, and the standard by which we measure every idea we hear.

Keeping the messengers authentic.

The other side of the balance that must be maintained for good theology is maintaining the integrity of those who teach and preach the message. While it is true that “given no other evidence, we should be able to tell by the rhetoric of the preacher whether he or she is legitimate”[1] people have a right to hear God’s word from messengers who reflect his character. This principle is reflected in other scriptures as well. “Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the LORD, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel. (Ezra 7:10 emphasis mine). Jesus said that “whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:19 emphasis mine).[2] Paul told Titus to “Let everything (he does) reflect the integrity and seriousness of (his) teaching (Titus 2:7 NLT).” By doing so, Titus would draw attention to his teaching, and authenticate it. If he were to live an ungodly life, he would have turned people off to his words.

Jesus had warned against apostasy and false teachers who would emerge from within the established church, and lead many astray (Matthew 24:10-11). The way believers can tell the difference and avoid being deceived is that those truly abiding in Christ will produce fruit (John 15:5). Fruit is results: the results that Jesus produced were to be the results his disciples would produce.

The Fruit of Jesus’ Ministry

Power

People

Answered Prayer

Changed Lives

41 “So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” (John 11:41-42 ESV)

13 Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. (Acts 4:13 ESV)

The world did not have to wait long for this apostasy to appear. Already by the time the epistles were being written it was beginning to happen among those New Testament churches. Peter explained their strategy: they lure people to their teachings by 1) appealing to their natural desires, 2) promising a freedom from sin that they themselves do not possess, and 3) entangling them in worldliness while distancing them from the gospel of righteousness through knowing Christ (2 Peter 2:17-22). He warned his readers to “take care that (they were) not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose (their) own stability (2 Peter 3:17).” It was obvious from his letters that false teaching would go hand in hand with an immoral lifestyle so that his readers would be able to identify the theological errors by observing the ethical ones.

The author of Hebrews also linked these two aspects of apostasy. He warned against “an evil, unbelieving heart, leading (his readers) to fall away from the living God (Hebrews 3:12). He reminded these Jewish Christians of their ancestors “whose bodies fell in the wilderness” because of their disobedience (Hebrews 3:17-18). To claim to follow the God of Abraham, yet fail to obey his instructions manifests a dangerous imbalance.

Paul warned Timothy of an apostasy yet to come in history (2 Timothy 4:1-3), but he commanded Timothy to apply this truth by keeping a close watch on himself and his teaching (2 Timothy 4:16). By staying true and maintaining a godly witness he would preserve that balance that qualifies believers as representatives of Christ and his kingdom.


[1] David M. Brown, Transformational Preaching. (College Station, TX: Virtualbookworm Publishing, 2003), 243.

[2] Andrew Knowles, The Bible Guide. (Minneapolis: Augsburg Books, 2002), 650.

ACST 4 The Necessity

 

Developing a good theology is not a waste of time. In fact, it is not too drastic to say that theologizing is the necessary first step in pleasing God. The author of Hebrews implies this when he says “without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (11:6 NIV). Notice that this verse states twice that faith is a necessity for those who would please God. First, it states that without faith pleasing God is impossible. Then it restates that fact by saying that anyone who approaches God must believe.

The author of Hebrews then defines that faith by positing two propositional truths that make up its basic content: 1) The God of the Bible exists, 2) He responds to those who seek fellowship with him. The heroes of faith mentioned in Hebrews 11 all began with those two propositional truths, and lived their lives according to what those truths implied. While it was their faithfulness to God that made them examples for others to follow, it was their faith in God that made that faithfulness possible. The use of the subordinating conjunction hoti with the infinitive pisteusai specifically defines the nature of the faith being discussed, eliminating the possibility that saving faith can be reduced to mere dependence or trust in a person. That faith was not merely an ambiguous feeling of dependence, it was affirmation of two specific doctrines – two propositional truths.

Those two truths serve as foundations for all the propositional statements made in systematic theology, because they lead to questions that are only answered in God’s word, and those questions are broad enough to cover the entire theological grid.

exists

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some theologians, however, are not content with this view of how God reveals himself. The Catholic Cardinal Avery Dulles suggests that God has ultimately revealed himself not through words or doctrines, but through symbols that contain more meaning than the words could ever convey. These symbols (like the cross, the Eucharist, baptism) are needed to supplement the doctrines because God continues to speak through the symbols, apart from what he has revealed in scripture.[1] The problem with this view is that the symbols tend to take on content of their own, aside from what is revealed in scripture. That content can even be (and usually is) contradictory to God’s word, and the devotee is forced to reject the direct teachings of scripture in order to embrace the “deeper meaning” of the symbol.

Evangelicals are not immune to problems in this area either. Sometimes the desire to affirm others who hold different doctrines leads the person in the pew to think that it does not matter what one believes as long as he believes something. Such thinking tends to downplay the role of propositional truths, and dilute faith into mere opinion. Faith that is mere opinion cannot address the relativism and pluralism of modern culture, because it is a part of it.

For example, biblical faith does not just believe in God the creator, it understands that God created (Hebrews 11:3). The difference between these two statements is that one can be a mere label, while the other is a proposition related to historical fact. While it may sound religious to affirm that one believes in God the creator, it makes no specific affirmation as to who that God is, nor how he created. It is a safe kind of statement to make in a pluralistic society because it leaves room for the hearers to interpret it, adding any details they like, affirming the statement. Such a statement may be politically correct, but it is theologically deficient.

Theologizing can be compared to translating. When translating a speech or document, the translator has to serve the interests of both the originator of the words and the audience who is to hear/read the translation. She (the translator) has to first understand the ideas communicated by the original, and then she must convey those same ideas in the language of the target audience. She has done her job when the originator is satisfied that his ideas have been expressed, without adding to or taking from them. But she must also use words which can be understood by the target audience. Only when both of these goals are achieved has she translated well. So it is with theologizing. Only when we have communicated God’s thoughts in the words of our contemporaries have we successfully completed the work.

Every modern translation of the Bible has to maintain a balance between verbal accuracy, and contemporary relevance/readability . The groups who work on these translations develop philosophies of translation to govern their approach to the work, and to maintain consistency. For example, the makers of the NET Bible wanted to “capture the best of several words: readable and accurate and elegant all at the same time.”[2] The makers of the New American Standard Bible aimed for verbal accuracy, but in their 1995 revision “when it was felt that word-for-word literalness was unacceptable to the modern reader, a change was made in the direction of a more current English idiom.”[3] The makers of Today’s New International Version likewise sought the same balance. On the one hand, “the first concern of the translators has continued to be the accuracy of the translation and its faithfulness to the intended meaning of the biblical writers.”[4] On the other hand, they felt that contextualizing the Bible’s message in the modern gender-sensitive era required the “elimination of most instances of the generic use of masculine nouns and pronouns.”[5]

Conscientious theologians are seeking to maintain the same balance, so change is to be expected. As theologians learn more about the content of the Bible through background and linguistic research, doctrines should change to reflect that accuracy. As theologians keep their fingers on the pulse of modern society, doctrines should change to reflect that relevance. The struggle of maintain relevance in the modern context while being true to the original ancient message explains why systematic theology is an ongoing task.

It also explains why believers should not be satisfied with simply following and defending their denominational traditions. Such traditions are helpful if they steer people toward the Bible as God’s message to humanity. They can be harmful if they simply take the place of the Bible. Jesus criticized the religious leaders of his day because “for the sake of (their) tradition (they) have made void the word of God” (Matthew 15:6 ESV). Part of what that meant is that over time the theologians of Christ’s day had so narrowly defined how to obey God that the intended message of the scriptures had been lost. Modern theologians are in danger of the same mistake if they do not carefully examine their own presuppositions.

The reason theologizing can be done at all is that when our doctrines reflect that intended message of the Bible, they prove to be consistent with what the whole Bible affirms. Preachers who carefully exegete their texts discover this all the time. They find, for example, that what the prophet Joel told the inhabitants of Judah in the 9th century B.C. explains what God would be doing in the next centuries, and is consistent with what the Bible reveals about God’s plan.

 

Prediction

Fulfillment

“I will remove the northerner far from you”(2:20).

The Babylonians who invaded and exiled Judah were displaced by the Medes and Persians.

I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten” (2:25).

The Jews were allowed to resettle Palestine and rebuild it.

“I will show wonders… and everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved”(2:30,32).

Jesus came to the Jews, demonstrated God’s power and gave his life to bring spiritual deliverance to them.

I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh. (2:28)

The Jewish believers at Pentecost were empowered to spread the gospel to the nations.

Therefore, when theologians read the fifth “I will” statement, promising a time when God gathers all the nations in judgment (3:2) they rightly conclude that God is not finished fulfilling his promises he made through this Old Testament prophet. God’s track record of keeping his promises, together with the similar language used in Joel 3 and Revelation 16 and 19,[6] leads theologians and preachers to assume that God will fulfill this last promise of Joel at what the New Testament calls Armageddon.

True theologians dare to get into the details of texts like this because their faith understands that God is who he says he is, and he will do what he says he will do. Their task is to properly interpret what God has said in his word, and pass on that knowledge to their contemporaries. When someone forsakes that message, and instead promotes some other means of knowing God (like a symbol or an esoteric experience) that person has ceased to be a true theologian, and has skipped the vital Hebrews 11:6 step in pleasing God.


[1] Avery Dulles, Models of Revelation. (NY: Orbis, 2001). “The doctrinal approach, though sound within certain limits, needs to be supplemented by the symbolic…” 205.

[2] NET Bible: New English Translation. (Biblical Studies Press, 2003), vii.

[3] New American Standard Bible. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), ix. The English Standard Version (ESV). (Wheaton: Good News Publishers, 2001) has a similar philosophy of translation.

[4] TNIV: Today’s New International Version. (Colorado Springs: International Bible Society, 2005), iv.

[5] TNIV, vi.

[6] Notice, for example, the motifs of warfare (Joel 3:9-10; Rev. 16:14;), gathering of the nations (Joel 3:11-12; Rev. 16:14,16; 19:17,19), the sickle/sword (Joel 3:13; Rev. 19:15), and the winepress (Joel 3:13; Rev. 19:15).