Monday, September 24, 2012

Motion 312 - Defining Personhood in Canada

Here is a sample letter that I am sending to my local MP Malcolm Allen of the NDP today in response to Motion 312.  For those of you who do not know, this is a motion put forward in the Spring by Stephen Woodsworth of Kitchener which is seeking to update the legal definition of personhood in Canada.  This motion has major implications on the abortion issue and could reoopen a national debate if it is passed later this week.  There is currently a 400 year old legal definition of personhood in Canada that is being challenged in Parliament which holds that human life begins at birth rather than at conception.  If you write a letter to your local MP (which I would urge you to do as soon as possible!), please focus your comments on the relevant issue - the definition of personhood.  Tell your MP that it is impossible to contend medically that a fetus becomes a human being by travelling through the birth canal.  Even a pro-choice advocate should concede this if he/she is being honest with the facts and not simply following the feminist agenda! The abortion debate is really a secondary concern here, so keep that in mind as you write.  Please don't copy my letter word for word, but draft your own and make it as personal as possible.  It doesn't need to be long or eloquent.   Read Exodus 1 this morning, and follow the example of the Hebrew midwives, who did not sit around passively when they had an opportunity to save lives!
Dear Malcolm Allen,

I am a resident of Welland and the associate pastor at Rosedale Baptist Church on Lincoln Ave.  First of all, I’d like to express my sincere appreciation for your service on behalf of Welland in the House of Commons.  I love our country, as I know you do, and am thankful to be able to participate fully in our democratic system of government.  You are in my personal prayers and we often pray for you here at Rosedale along with our other elected officials as the Bible instructs us to do (1 Timothy 2:1-4).  May God give you His wisdom as you serve our country and may He sustain you in that role.
I am writing you today with respect to Motion 312 which was debated last week in the House of Commons.   Supporting this motion gives us an opportunity to bring Canadian law into the twenty-first century.  It is embarrassing that we still have a legal definition in Canada that maintains that human life begins at birth.  As a father of two small children who has seen my children via ultrasound complete with fingers, toes, eyes and ears, and have felt them move inside their mother as they were developing, it is unthinkable that we could defend such an absurd and antiquated definition.   Although I have earned a degree in Biology from the University of Guelph, I can assure you that it doesn’t take university training to know that an eight inch trip through the birth canal does not turn a fetus into a human being!  To hold such a medical contention in the twenty-first century is nearly the equivalent of believing in a flat earth or a geo-centric universe.  Do we really want to keep Canada in the dark ages with definitions of life and humanity that are patently false?  Stephen Woodsworth has raised a valid point through this motion, and I think it needs to be taken seriously and acted upon by all members of the House.  I would therefore urge you to vote in favour of Motion 312 and bring Canadian law up to date.
I understand that more is at stake here than a legal definition and that support of this motion could re-open the abortion debate here in Canada.  If that is the case, so be it!  Let’s pursue honesty and face the medical facts head on rather than doing what is politically expedient.  The Bible is very clear that we have a moral obligation before God to defend the rights of the helpless and to speak out for those who cannot speak for themselves.  Part of “standing on guard” for Canada, is to defend the rights of all of her citizens (or in the case of the fetus – potential citizens!).   I appreciate very much the NDP’s compassion for all Canadian citizens, and I am asking you to extend compassion and justice to unborn persons, full of potential to change the world for the better!  I for one am willing to put my worldview on this issue into action.  My wife and I are in the process of applying to adopt, and if Canada was to change its mind on abortion, I would gladly adopt orphans and encourage others to do the same.  I believe that those like myself who advocate for a pro-life stance have a moral obligation to care for the orphan and also for their mothers!  May God bless you Mr. Allen and empower you this week to do what is right – “to act justly and to love mercy” (Micah 6:8).

John C. Bellingham   BSc., MDiv.
6 Promenade Richelieu
Welland, ON
L3B 6B2

Monday, August 20, 2012

John Owen on Natural and Moral Ability

I'm now half way through John Owen's masterful (and massive!) treatise on the Holy Spirit and have been amazed by some of his insights which were later articulated and popularized by Jonathan Edwards in his treatise on the Freedom of the Will.   The following passages taken from Book 3, Chapter 4 seems to me to be of immense importance for every Calvinist to understand if we are to preserve intact the two poles of God's Sovereignty and Man's Responsibility and avoid tripping and falling into the pit of hyper-Calvinism like some of our eighteenth-century Baptist forefathers:

"That Adam in the state of innocency, besides his natural life, whereby he was a living soul, had likewise a supernatural life with respect unto its end, whereby he lived unto God. This is called the “life of God,” Ephesians 4:18, which men now in the state of nature are alienated from; — the life which God requires, and which hath God for its object and end. And this life was in him supernatural: for although it was concreated in and with the rational soul, as a perfection due unto it, in the state wherein and with respect unto the end for which it was made, yet it did not naturally flow from the principles of the rational soul; nor were the principles, faculties, or abilities of it, inseparable from those of the soul itself, being only accidental perfections of them, inlaid in them by especial grace."

"In life spiritual the soul is unto the principle of it as the body is unto the soul in life natural; for in life natural the soul is the quickening principle, and the body is the principle quickened. When the soul departs, it leaves the body with all its own natural properties, but utterly deprived of them which it had by virtue of its union with the soul. So in life spiritual, the soul is not, in and by its essential properties, the quickening principle of it, but it is the principle that is quickened. And when the quickening principle of spiritual life departs, it leaves the soul with all its natural properties entire as to their essence, though morally corrupted; but of all the power and abilities which it had by virtue of its union with a quickening principle of spiritual life, it is deprived. And to deny such a quickening principle of spiritual life, superadded unto us by the grace of Christ, distinct and separate from the natural faculties of the soul, is, upon the matter, to renounce the whole gospel. 

Here are a few reflections on the implications of Owen's theology:

1) The Donum Superadditum for Reformed Protestants

Notice that Owen makes a distinction in this passage between the "rational soul" and the "quickening principle" which was originally "concreated" with the soul of Adam and Eve.  Although Owen affirms in good Protestant form that Adam was created in positive state of righteous (rather than a neutral state following Roman Catholics), the doctrine of the donum superadditum is certainly lurking in the background in these passages.  At the Fall Adam lost this supernatural gift and in conversion it is once again "superadded" to us.

2) Natural Ability vs. Moral Ability

Both Owen and Edwards make this distinction which is very important in understanding the doctrine of Total Depravity.  What exactly does it mean for the Apostle Paul to say that humankind is "dead in trespasses and sins"??  Does this imply (as in some crude Arminian caricatures of Calvinism) that humans have totally lost both their rational and moral abilities?  Can unregenerate humanity, dead in sin, reason successfully east of Eden now that the donum superadditum has been lost???   Owen's answer to this question is very insightful- the natural ability of the rational soul is left intact even though the "quickening" principle has been lost.   This does not mean that human reason has been untouched by Original Sin - such would be the heresy of Pelagius!!  Owen affirms in these passages that the rational soul has been "morally corrupted" but it has not by any means been totally destroyed.  Our rational faculties are still basically intact in terms of their natural abilities.   What Owen is doing here (and what Edwards also does) is to make a distinction between Natural and Moral ability in formulating a doctrine of Total Depravity.   Fallen men and women, according to both of these theologians, are naturally able to obey the commands of God because the rational soul is still functioning.  Fallen humanity, however is morally unable to obey the commands of God because the "quickening" principle has been lost!   Until that quickening principle is restored through the regeneration of the Holy Spirit, humans will never use their natural, rational abilities to do what is pleasing to God.   This distinction is brilliant because it preserves both the responsibility of humankind before God (we are naturally able and thus must answer to God for our rebellion!!) and the sovereignty of God in salvation (God must restore moral ability through regeneration according to His sovereign, electing, grace). 

3)  Christian Apologetics

The distinction between Natural and Moral ability seems to me to help focus the debate between Presuppositionalists like Van Til and Evidentialists like William Lane Craig.   In reading Van Til firsthand over the past month, it seems to me that he does not clearly make this distinction and as a result embraces a rather unrealistic doctrine of Depravity that implies that non-believers are unable to reason coherently apart from Biblical presuppositions.  In other words, Van Til seems to teach that fallen humanity is both naturally and morally unable.  This seems to me to be a view of Total Depravity that is neither demanded by the Scripture nor evidenced in the real world, since many non-theists and deists have made significant contributions to the furthering of human knowledge without giving any credence whatsoever to the Bible or Christian theism.   The distinction between Natural and Moral ability also helps me come to terms with the dialectic in Calvin's theology between his very robust doctrine of Depravity and his deep admiration of the contributions of the ancient Greek Philosophers who were clearly unregenerate.  (Zwingli went so far in his bias toward renaissance humanism as to suggest that they were regenerated apart from the gospel!!).

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

John Owen on the Loveliness of Christ

I came across this beautiful passage in my reading today of John Owen's Treatise Of Communion with God the Father, Son and Holy Ghost (1657).  This short excerpt is found in the second part of the treatise where he is talking about the believer's communion with Jesus Christ, the second Person of the Trinity:

Christ is:

Lovely in his person, — in the glorious all-sufficiency of his Deity,
gracious purity and holiness of his humanity, authority and majesty, love
and power.

Lovely in his birth and incarnation; when he was rich, for our sakes
becoming poor, — taking part of flesh and blood, because we partook of
the same; being made of a woman, that for us he might be made under the
law, even for our sakes.

Lovely in the whole course of his life, and the more than angelical holiness
and obedience which, in the depth of poverty and persecution, he exercised
therein; — doing good, receiving evil; blessing, and being cursed, reviled,
reproached, all his days.

Lovely in his death; yea, therein most lovely to sinners; — never more
glorious and desirable than when he came broken, dead, from the cross.
Then had he carried all our sins into a land of forgetfulness; then had
remade peace and reconciliation for us; then had he procured life and
immortality for us.

Lovely in his whole employment, in his great undertaking, — in his life,
death, resurrection, ascension; being a mediator between God and us, to
recover the glory of God’s justice, and to save our souls, — to bring us to
an enjoyment of God, who were set at such an infinite distance from him
by sin.

Lovely in the glory and majesty wherewith he is crowned. Now he is set
down at the right hand of the Majesty on high; where, though he be terrible
to his enemies, yet he is full of mercy, love, and compassion, towards his
beloved ones.

Lovely in all those supplies of grace and consolations, in all the
dispensations of his Holy Spirit, whereof his saints are made partakers.

Lovely in all the tender care, power, and wisdom, which he exercises in the
protection, safe-guarding, and delivery of his church and people, in the
midst of all the oppositions and persecutions whereunto they are exposed.

Lovely in all his ordinances, and the whole of that spiritually glorious
worship which he has appointed to his people, whereby they draw nigh and
have communion with him and his Father.

Lovely and glorious in the vengeance he taketh, and will finally execute,
upon the stubborn enemies of himself and his people.

Lovely in the pardon he has purchased and does dispense, — in the
reconciliation he has established, — in the grace he communicates, — in
the consolations he does administer, — in the peace and joy he gives his
saints, — in his assured preservation of them unto glory.

What shall I say? there is no end of his excellencies and desirableness; —
“He is altogether lovely. This is our beloved, and this is our friend, O
daughters of Jerusalem.”

Monday, August 13, 2012

Is There a Future for Israel in God's Redemptive Plan??

In my last post, I tackled a difficult prophecy in Daniel 9 which is the primary biblical source of Dispensationalist/ Futurist teaching regarding a future seven year Tribulation which will precede the parousia of Jesus Christ at the end of the age.  I concluded in that post, that the seventieth week of Daniel is a reference to the entire present age from the time of Christ's baptism to the time of his second coming.   Today, I'm going to continue my discussion of Christian eschatology by considering another very important, but equally controversial, passage in Paul's writing - Romans 11:25-32:

25 For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in;  
26 and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written,
The Deliverer will come from Zion,
He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.”
27 This is My covenant with them,
When I take away their sins.”
28 From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers;  
29 for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.  
30 For just as you once were disobedient to God, but now have been shown mercy because of their disobedience, 
31 so these also now have been disobedient, that because of the mercy shown to you they also may now be shown mercy.  
32 For God has shut up all in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all.

The primary difficulty in this passage which divides Evangelical interpreters is to discern the meaning of v. 26: "and so all Israel will be saved."   In this post I'm going to briefly sketch out four possible Evangelical interpretations of this phrase.

Interpretation #1:  "All Israel" = Israel as a National Entity

The view that God will one day restore the nation of Israel to her former glory, including the restoration of the land of Palestine, the rebuilding of the physical Temple in Jerusalem and the reinstitution of commemorative animal sacrifice during the Millennial Kingdom, is the interpretation that has been embraced by Dispensationists and the majority of messianic Jewish congregations.  It has probably been the most popular eschatological position among North American Evangelicals since the Fundamentalist/Modernist controversy in the 1920s when Fundamentalists embraced en masse a very pessimistic premillenial eschatology in opposition to the Liberals who adpated postmillenial optimism to the social gospel.  The rapid growth of Dispensational Premillenialism in the past century, in my opinion, was a knee jerk reaction to Liberal Protestantism.  At the heart of the Dispensationalist system of theology is the distinction between Israel and the Church into two entities.  Jesus' offer of the Kingdom to the Jewish nation was rejected by Jews living in first century Palestine (Plan A) and so He turned to the Gentiles by establishing the New Testament Church (Plan B).  For Dispensationalists, the Church, which includes both Jews and Gentiles is a 'parenthesis' in God's redemptive plan.  For the present 'dispensation', Jews are saved, added to the Church (which is a mixture of Jews and Gentiles), and will be taken up in the so called 'secret rapture', but once the Church is raptured God will resume Plan A with the Jewish nation here on earth.  Dispensationalist interpreters see Paul's teaching about the salvation of 'all Israel' in Rom 11 as further evidence of a Jewish Millenium where God will fulfill all of his promises to ethnic Jews in a very physical, literalistic way.  Dispensationalism commits the same error as the apostles did in Acts 1:6 when they interpreted the Kingdom of God almost exclusively with respect to the Jewish nation.

Interpretation #2: "All Israel" = Spiritual Israel  (Church)

Much support can be garnered for this view, popular among Amillenialists and some Historic Premillenialists which sees Paul's reference to Israel in v. 26 as a reference to the New Testament Church.  In other words, this view interprets Paul as saying that all of God's elect people, whether Jew or Gentile, will be saved and gathered into the Church before the conclusion of the present age - it is a reference to the "Israel of God" spoken of by Paul in the closing verses of Galatians.   

The support for this view comes from the way Paul and the apostles speak about the Church throughout the New Testament.  For example, Peter calls his Gentile audience a "spiritual house" and a "holy priesthood" in 1 Peter 2:4-5.  The author to the Hebrews applies the promise of the New Covenant (cf. Jer 31) to the Gentile Church (Heb 8).  Paul calls the Gentile believers in Gal 3:29 "Abraham's offspring" and "heirs according to the promise."  Paul and the other NT authors also frequently apply OT texts given in their original context to national Israel to Gentile followers of Jesus (cf. 2 Cor 6:14-18).   So, there is clear and irrefutable Biblical evidence to suggest that the Church is indeed Spiritual Israel.  This is not an anti-semetic way to intepret the NT as is sometimes alleged by Dispensationalists, nor is it 'replacement theology' (a curse word frequently used to slander and malign the reputation of Reformed theologians) - it is good, sound Biblical theology.  If  Reformed theologians are guilty of 'spiritualizing' the OT references to Israel, then the same accusation must be leveled against Paul and the apostles.   A fair assessment of the NT Scripture must acknowlege that Paul uses the term 'Israel' in different senses depending on the context.  Sometimes, Paul is speaking about the Jewish nation (ethnic Jews), sometimes he is speaking about the believing remnant within ethnic Israel and sometimes he is 'spiritualizing' the term in order to speak about the New Testament Church (Gentiles and Jews together).  In other words, Paul is not enslaved in his hermeneutics to the grammatical-historcial meaning of the text at all points - he is open to the sensus plenior (the fuller meaning) and so should we be today in our interpretation of Scripture!

In spite of my sympathy for this position, I cannot believe that Paul is speaking about Spiritual Israel here in Rom 11.  The very fact that he is consistently using the term 'Israel' in the immediate context (chapters 9-10) to refer to his Jewish 'kinsmen according to the flesh', it is almost inconceivable to conclude that he suddenly switches the meaning of this term in 11:26 to refer to the Church without giving any clear indication to his audience.  I am convinced that Paul is indeed referring to ethnic Jews in this particular passage.

Interpretation #3:  "All Israel" = Believing Remnant within National/ Ethnic Israel

This interpretation has much contextual support to commend it, and I am extremely sympathetic to those Evangelical expositors who hold this position.   I am actually torn between this position and the next one which I currently think is the better interpretation.  

This view is a good exegetical option which takes into account an extremely important distinction made by Paul in Rom 9:6 - "For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel."  Unfortunately this distinction between Israel as a nation and the elect members of the nation who were justified by faith alone in the Messiah to come, is all too frequently lost on Dispensationalist interpreters.  God has always had an elect people which was not equivalent to the nation of Israel as a whole - the Israel within Israel!  To fail to make such a distinction, and to teach that Jewish people were saved by following the Mosaic Law and sacrificing animals as a rote religious ritual of a former dispensation of law,  is to totally misunderstand the role of Israel in God's Redemptive plan.  God elected the Jewish nation for a purpose - to bring forth Messiah as a blessing to the families of the earth!  The purpose of Israel's election as a nation has been fulfilled in the flow of Redemptive history when Jesus was born, lived a perfect life and died a substitutionary death in accordance with the OT Prophecies concerning Messiah (cf.Is 52-53).   Many Israelites who sacrificed animals and took the sign of circumcision will be in hell for all of eternity right alongside the many professing Christians who go to church every week and have been baptized.  Simply going through a religious exercise, be it Jewish, Christian or otherwise never saved anyone and never will: "For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins." (Heb 10:3).  So the Dispensationalist teaching about a restored Millennial Temple in which animal sacrifice will be restored is at best a serious misunderstanding of the flow of Redemptive History, and at worst a blasphemous heresy which denies and tramples upon the once for all character of Christ's redemptive work on the cross and mistakes the 'shadows' and 'types' of the Old Coveenant for the reality in the New Covenant.   

Nevertheless, I'm not confident that this is what Paul is talking about here in Rom 11, although I may be easily persuaded.  If Paul is talking here about all of the elect Jewish people coming to faith during the entire present age I see two problems.  First of all, the word translated "until" in v. 25 seems to imply chronology.  That is to say, I think the salvation of "all Israel" here is probably a reference to a future salvation of a large number of Jews, even though Paul himself uses his own conversion as evidence that God is not finished with the Jewish people yet in 11:1-2.  Paul's conversion seems to me, to be a harbinger of a much larger revival among ethnic Jews which will occur at some point in the future - probably right before the return of the Lord.   The second problem with this view has to do with the doxology at the end of chapter 11.  To state that all of the elect Jews throughout redemptive history will come to faith before the end of the age, is to state a truism.  Of course the elect Jews will come to faith!!!  And so it is difficult to see why this would issue in such a glorious doxology from the Apostle at the end of the chapter.  It seems to me that something more is going on here.....

Interpretation #4:  "All Israel" = Large Number of Ethnic Jews who will be Converted and Added to the Church in the Future

The subtitle pretty much says it all, and this is the view which I currently think is the best understanding of Rom 11.   The conclusion that Paul is speaking of ethnic Jews is difficult to avoid if we are allowing this text to speak for itself.  For Paul to switch suddenly from a discussion of Ethnic Jews in the previous two chapters to a discussion of Spiritual Israel in 11:26, is not a natural way to understand the text.  It also seems fairly difficult to avoid the conclusion that Paul is speaking here about something that will happen in the future.  According to this text, the salvation of the Jews will not occur "until" (a key word!!) the "fullness of the Gentiles has come in."  Without jumping through fancy exegetical hoops to make the text mean what it does not appear to say - I think it is fair to say that Paul is speaking of a future event that has not yet occurred  but will occur shortly before the return of Christ - perhaps even simultaneously with his return!   

And so, I agree with Dispensationalists insofar as Paul is talking about a future conversion of Ethnic Jews, but I disagree  with them that this conversion has anything to do with national blessings or the fulfillement of Old Covenant land promises.  I expect that many Jews will be converted when Christ returns and that this will be one of the signs that precede His second coming.  I certainly don't think every single individual will be saved as some contend ('all' does not always mean every single individual in the NT!!)

On a side note, my views on the Seventieth Week of Daniel and on the future conversion of ethnic Jews alleviate two major problems with Historic Premillenialism (The eschatological position to which I currently subscribe).  First of all, the denial of a seven year tribulation in the future allows me to affirm the possibility that Christ could return at any moment.  For post-trib Historic Premillenialists like Doug Moo who take a futurist interpretation of Daniel 9, the return of Christ must be at least 7 years away!   Secondly, the conversion of the Jews before the return of Christ gives an plausible explanation to the difficult problem of the origin of evil in the Millennium.  I think that the Jewish people will be saved when they see Christ coming at his glorious return to earth.  The Church is raptured at that point and the enemies of Christ are destroyed, but these converted Jews live on into the Millenium and some of their children and grandchildren eventually rebel against the Lord as we read in Rev 20.   To be sure, there are other significant theological problems with a Premillenial view, but until I become convinced that Rev 20 does not follow Rev 19 chronologically, I must remain a Historic Premillenialist who is extremely sympathetic to Amillenialism!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Daniel's 70th Week and the 'Great Tribulation'

Over the past month I've been giving some serious thought to the subject of end-time prophecy and the Kingdom of God and I want to write today about a very challenging passage of Scripture that for many Evangelicals, has become a linchpin in understanding the chronology of eschatological events.  First, I'm going to outline the Dispensationalist or 'Futurist' interpretation of Daniel 9 which uses this text to teach a future seven year tribulation period which is unparalleled in all of human history.  I'm then going to sketch out what I've come to believe is a better interpretation of this passage.  I will attempt to show in this post that Dispensationalist/ extreme futurist expositors make an almost unthinkable error in formulating their teaching about the Great Tribulation - their interpretation of the seventieth week of Daniel 9 actually mistakes the Lord Jesus for the eschatological Anti-Christ!! 

Daniel 9 and the 'Great Tribulation'

I suspect that the majority of Christians who've read Tim LaHaye's Left Behind series and are expecting a literal seven year 'Great Tribulation' would have considerable difficulty if they were asked to validate this doctrine from the Scripture itself.  The reason for this is that a seven year 'great tribulation' is never plainly taught anywhere in the Bible!!  At best it is an inference which comes from superimposing certain theological presuppositions upon the Scripture.

The Dispensationalist expositor begins with the  presupposition that the Church and Israel are two completely different entities in God's redemptive plan. (a presupposition which I personally don't think can be substantiated when you examine how the NT authors apply OT Covenant passages to Gentile followers of Jesus!)  Because of the Jewish context of Daniel 9, these expositors insist that this prophecy is dealing exclusively with ethnic Jews and the nation of Israel.  Indeed, the concept of the 'great tribulation' is required in the traditional Dispensationalist system if we are to get the Church (Plan B) out of the way at the so-called 'secret' pre-tribulational rapture so that God can resume Plan A with ethnic Israel back here on earth.    

Chapter 9 begins with Daniel reading from the book of Jeremiah during the Babylonian exile, openly confessing the sins of Israel before the Lord and pleading His covenant mercy on behalf of the disobedient nation.  In response to his earnest prayers, the Angel Gabriel is sent by the Lord with the following words of comfort: 

24 “Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy place.  
25 So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress.  
26 Then after the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing, and the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. And its end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined.  
27 And he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate.”

The first exegetical move that Dispensationalists make is to interpret the 'seventy weeks' (or 'seventy-sevens') in terms of literal years - in total this would equals 490 years.  The passage is therefore interpreted in a strictly chronological fashion.  
Secondly, they identify the decree mentioned in v. 25 with the decree that went out during the 20th year of King Artexerxes when Nehemiah was permitted to return from exile to rebuild the fallen walls of Jerusalem, an event that occurred in 445 BC.  (Neh 2:1-8).  
Next, they calculate the fulfillment of v. 26 as occurring 483 years after the issuing of the decree (69 weeks or (7+62) x 7 = 483).  This is actually pretty amazing when you think about it because it brings us fairly close to the year of Jesus' death!  And so, the first 69 weeks bring us chronologically to the prophetic fulfillment of v. 26 when the "Messiah will be cut off and have nothing" - an event which was historically fulfilled when Jesus was crucified on a Roman cross.   
But here's where the Dispensationalist interpretation begins to get a bit far-fetched for my own comfort.  They proceed without any exegetical warrant, to postulate an indefinite gap between week 69 and week 70 which has now stretched to 2000 years and counting!!!  The clock apparently stopped after week 69, and the 70th week - a period of 7 years known as the 'great tribulation' - will not begin until the eschatological anti-Christ comes to make a covenant with "the many" (v. 27).  Notice that in the Dispensational interpretation, the one who makes the covenant in v. 27 is identified with the "prince who is to come" in v. 26 rather than with the Messiah!  This, I want to suggest is a serious misunderstanding of this text which breaks not only with their own so-called literal or 'grammatical-historical' hermeneutic (funny that Gabriel totally forgot to mention that itsy bitsy 2000 year gap!!), but also with the historic Protestant interpretation.  The Dispensationalist view, although attractive on the surface and popular in many Evangelical circles, appears on closer examination to be a novel interpretation of this passage which confuses the Messiah with anti-Christ and breaks sharply with the history of interpretation.

Daniel 9 and the Year of Jubilee

For any unprejudiced interpreter of Scripture it should be somewhat clear that the Dispensationalist interpretation of this passage rests on rather shaky exegetical soil!!   I have suggested above that the need for a seven year 'great tribulation' is artificially created by the presuppositions of the theological system itself rather than by Scripture.  Secondly, the Dispensationalist interpretation totally falls apart if the "decree" of v. 25 cannot be identified with the decree given by Artexerxes in Nehemiah 2:1-8.  Thirdly, the Dispensationalist interpretation inserts a gap between week 69 and week 70 which is not even remotely suggested or demanded by the context itself!  Fourthly, the Dispensationalist uses a dangerous hermeneutic, by interpreting the NT in light of the OT, rather than the other way around.  As Christians who affirm the progressive revelation of Scripture, we ought always to interpret the OT in light of its fulfillment in Christ!!  So here's what I personally think is a better interpretation of this passage which actually calls into question the idea of a future seven year tribulation:

First of all,  the 'decree' of v. 25 is better understood in the overall context of this passage as a reference to the decree of Cyrus (538 BC) mentioned in Ezra 1:2-3 and. 2 Chron. 36:21-23 since it was this decree, and not the decree of Artaxerxes which signaled the end of Israel's 70 year Babylonian exile.  Because Daniel was praying about the end of the Jewish exile when Gabriel visited him, it makes more sense that the 70 weeks would immediately follow the conclusion of the 70 year captivity - otherwise it is difficult to see how this prophecy is an answer to Daniel's prayer in any meaningful sense.  Of course, this throws a monkey wrench into the precise calculations of the Dispensationalist scheme, but as we will see, I don't think it really matters because the text is not really concerned with precise dates and times, but is dealing with symbolic numbers that find their ultimate fulfillment in Christ.  We're dealing here with a form of 'typology'.

I agree with the older Protestant interpreters that the seventy weeks are most likely an allusion to the Sabbatical laws and  the Year of Jubilee from Lev 25:1-4, rather than to a strict chronology that we can use to calculate precise dates and times.  The year of Jubilee occurred every forty-nine years (seven sevens), and so it is more than reasonable to assume that 490 years is a symbolic representation of 10 Jubilee periods! In other words, 490 is a symbol for the ushering in of the Messianic era of Sabbath rest which  Daniel and the Jewish people anticipated for thousands of years!

Now for the interesting part!  I am in full agreement with Dispensationalists that the cutting off of Messiah in v. 26 is a reference to the crucifixion of Christ.  The "prince that shall come" mentioned in v. 26 is most likely Titus, the Roman general that destroyed the Jewish temple in AD 70.  It was at this time that the Jewish people underwent some of the terrible persecution that Jesus himself describes in the Olivet Discourse.  In contrast to the Dispensationalist interpreters, I think that the one who confirms the covenant in v. 27 is the Messiah Himself!  This is not a reference to some future covenant that anti-Christ will with Israel during the great tribulation - it is a reference to the New Covenant ratified in Christ's blood!!  Messiah himself confirms the covenant with all of His elect people, both Jews and Gentiles who are children of Abraham by faith (Gal 3:29).  The New Covenant which was brought to full fruition by the Lord Jesus rendered all of the Temple rituals blasphemous abominations to God - and that is which is what v. 27 is talking about!   All of the Temple sacrifice which occurred between Jesus' death in AD 33 and the destruction of the Temple in AD 70 was a form of blasphemous idolatry that was totally displeasing to God. It was worshipping the 'types' and 'shadows' rather than the reality which had come in the person and work of Christ.  As the author to the Hebrews puts it, the coming of the New Covenant renders the Old Covenant obsolete and ready to pass away!

And so, I understand the 70th week of Daniel not as a future tribulation period that will last seven years, but rather as a symbolic representation of the age in which we are currently living.  We have been living in the 'last days' for the past 2000 yrs!!  The 70th week began when Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, the first 'half' of the week ended when He died on the cross, and the end of the week will not occur until He comes back again to receive the Church to Himself! 

Friday, June 29, 2012

Aristotle's Physics (Book V-VIII)

Book V

The focus of Book V is on 'change', which, according to Aristotle can occur in one of three senses:  1) Accidentally; 2) Partially (something belonging to the object changes or moves); and 3) Directly (the thing itself moves or changes).  Change is always "from something to something".  'Coming to be' (change from nothing to something) or 'perishing' (change from something to nothing) cannot be considered true instances of change according to Aristotle because that which "is not" cannot possibly be in motion.  Motion is therefore always from "subject to subject" and never from subject to non-subject (or vis versa) and can be classified in three different ways:  1) Qualitative; 2) Quantitative; 3) Local.   Qualitative motion is also called alteration from one contrary to the other.  Quantitative motion involves increase or decrease between two contraries.  Local motion is another way to say 'locomotion'.

Book VI
In this Book, Aristotle contends that everything that changes, such as magnitude, time and motion, is continuious and "divisible into divisibles that are infinitely divisible."  Within time, however, there is one thing that is indivisible:  the present.  The 'present' is a boundary or limit between the past and the future and is therefore impossible to divide.  A good chunk of this chapter is taken up with refutations of Zeno's famous paradoxes using the principles that have been developed in the Physics up to this point.  Both Aristotle and Zeno agree (contra the Atomists) that space and time are continuous and divisible, but whereas Zeno's paradoxes presuppose the existance of 'actual' infinities, Aristotle avoids the trap with his inriguing concept of 'potential' infinities.

Book VII

Book VII has some fascinating theological undertones which are later developed at greater length in the Metaphysics.  The maxim of this Book is:  "Everything that is in motion must be moved by something."  But this immediately leads us right into the vexing problem of infinite regress which necessarily leads to a number of philosophical absurdities.  The conclusion:  "there must be some first movent (mover)." 


According to Aristotle, there are two possible candidates for the first cause of all motion and change.  It could either be a self-moving mover (like an animal) or it could an unmoved mover.  In order to avoid the problem of infinite regress and a first cause that is neither eternal nor continuous, he concludes that the first cause must be an eternal, unmoved mover.  This book contains a discussion on the kind of motion that such a first cause would produce, which in Aristotle's view, must be rotational or circular locomotion since this is the only form of motion which is both eternal and continuous.  In Aristotle's scheme, it would appear that the unmoved mover causes the circular motion of the heavenly spheres, and this motion, in turn, is the cause of all other kinds of motion and change.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Lordship Salvation

The following is a very brief summary of the Lordship Salvation controversy that I prepared for our men's Bible study last week.  We were studying 2 Cor 7 which deals extensively with the doctrine of repentance and were discussing the question of whether repentance (understood as a turning away from sin) is necessary for salvation:

            The modern debate over the role of repentance in salvation began to heat up in the late 1980s between some of the theologians at Dallas Theological Seminary and John MacArthur through a very public exchange of pamphlets and published books.  Although the terms “Lordship Salvation”, “Easy-Believism”, “Free Grace Theology” etc. are fairly recent in their origin, the ideas behind these terms are not new at all.   A similar issue was hotly debated in the sixteenth-century between Martin Luther and his colleague Johannes Agricola, and again in seventeenth-century England among the Puritans during the so-called “Antinomian” controversy.  Antinomianism (meaning ‘lawlessness’) is the opposite extreme of Legalism and teaches that Christians are not in any way bound by the moral law of God (ie. Ten Commandments).  The seventeenth-century English “Antinomians” interpreted justification by faith alone (sola fide) to mean that good works were not necessarily required in order to have genuine saving faith.  In other words, you could be saved by believing in Christ without truly repenting (turning away from sin)!  But the controversy goes back even further than this.  The Apostle Paul himself anticipated that his strong emphasis on grace alone through faith alone would be misunderstood by some.  In Romans 6, Paul denounces in the strongest possible way, the ‘antinomian’ position that the Christian can continue in sin so that grace may abound.  James also vigourously attacks the Antinomian heresy which was rearing its head as early as AD 40.  Modern Day Muslims often interpret Paul’s emphasis on grace as a form of antinomianism and frequently attack Biblical Christianity on that basis.
            The so-called “Free Grace” theology which has been advocated most strongly by Charles Ryrie and Zane Hodges of DTS,[1] seems to indicate that salvation occurs in two phases.  Justification is primarily an intellectual conversion when a person ‘believes’ the gospel truths and is saved.  Later on, this person may come to a deeper understanding of the importance of Lordship and may commit themselves to the process of sanctification and begin to grow in holiness.   “Free Grace” advocates do not deny the importance of sanctification or repentance in the life of a believer, but they do not insist that it begins at the moment of justification.  It is quite possible for a person to have an intellectual conversion – even to trust in Jesus, and to remain in a perpetual state of “carnality” where the ‘Christian’ lives like a non-believer (cf. 1 Cor. 3:1). Some understand repentance to be a "change of mind" about sin (metanoia) rather than an actual turning away from sin.  Because of these convictions, these “Free Grace”  theologians do not believe that assurance of faith should be based on the presence or absence of good works in the life of a believer.  Assurance comes from assent to the truth of the gospel and is frequently associated with a prayer to receive Christ when that person moves from unbelief to belief.  Any person who truly believes and has received Christ is eternally secure.
            The so-called “Lordship” position which has been strongly advocated in recent years by John MacArthur[2] is basically identical with the emphasis of the Puritans in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.  Like Calvin and the Puritans, MacArthur teaches that justification and the lordship of Christ go hand in hand.  In other words you cannot divide Christ – you must receive Him as Saviour and Lord, or you cannot receive Him at all!  Lordship theology emphasizes the critical importance of good works in the life of the true disciple and insists that every person who follows Christ must first count the cost by turning away from sin immediately!  This is not to say that no sin remains in the life of the believer, or that a true believer cannot backslide, but rather that the Lordship commitment happens with justification, not afterward in a second stage.  Like the Puritans, MacArthur believes that assurance of salvation can be gleaned from careful self-examination.  If no evidence of regeneration is present in the life of a believer (ie. No changed affections, no love for the brethren, no good works, etc.), there are no grounds for assurance whether or not that person prayed to receive Christ.  Assurance is the result of perseverance, and the evidences of grace which the Holy Spirit produces.
            Free Grace advocates frequently accuse Lordship Theologians of teaching a form of legalistic works- righteousness that compromises the doctrine of justification by faith alone.  Lordship advocates frequently accuse Free Grace Theologians of teaching a form of antinomianism which cheapens grace and is leading thousands of “professing Christians” to hell by giving them false assurance of faith. 

[1] Ryrie, So Great Salvation
  Hodges, Absolutely Free!
[2] MacArthur, Gospel According to Jesus;  Gospel According to the Apostles