Paganism, or Not Paganism

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From Peter Jones book, The Other Worldview: Exposing Christianity’s Greatest Threat. Bellingham, WA: Kirkdale Press, 2015:

Our Worldview Alternatives: Oneism and Twoism

I claim, with the Bible, that there are only two worldviews—one based on the ultimacy of the creation, and the other based on the ultimate, prior, and all-determining existence of the Creator. Creation and Creator are the only alternatives as divine objects of worship—the only possible explanations of the world we know. The conflict is between two mutually exclusive, antithetical belief systems. Our choice will affect the answers we give to those two important questions: Is there something rather than nothing? And if there is something, what is that something like?
For the sake of simplicity, I call these two alternatives Oneism and Twoism.1 They are not mere variations on a general spiritual theme, but the only two timeless, mutually contradictory ways to think about the world. In these two terms (Oneism and Twoism), there is a universe of difference. These are the only two destinations on the tracks we can travel; let’s map them out in more detail now.

Oneism

Oneism sees the world as self-creating (or perpetually existing) and self-explanatory. Everything is made up of the same stuff, whether matter, spirit, or a mixture. There’s one kind of existence, which, in one way or another, we worship as divine (or of ultimate importance), even if that means worshiping ourselves. Though there is apparent differentiation and even hierarchy, all distinctions are, in principle, eliminated, and everything has the same worth. This is a “homocosmology,” a worldview based on sameness. The classic term for this is “paganism,” worship of nature.

Twoism

The only other option is a world that is the free work of a personal, transcendent God, who creates ex nihilo (from nothing). In creating, God was not constrained by or dependent on any preexisting conditions. There is nothing exactly like this in our human experience of creating; our creative acts are analogous to God’s. There is God, and there is everything that is not-God—everything created and sustained by the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This worldview celebrates otherness, distinctiveness. We only worship as divine the distinct, personal, triune Creator, who placed essential distinctions within the creation. This is a “heterocosmology,” a worldview based on otherness and difference. This is often called “theism.”2
Both of these worldviews, whether implicitly assumed or explicitly embraced, require the same fundamental certainty. In other words, if one is ultimately true, the other must be false. In the moral universe of the Bible, knowledge is never neutral. That’s why Paul calls these worldviews “the truth” and “the lie” (Rom 1:25).

Endnotes:

1 I am not inventing anything other than a simplified terminology. Other descriptions of the two options include biblical faith or paganism, monism or theism, or the Creator/creature distinction.

2 If this is the biblical worldview, how does one relate it to Rabbinic Judaism and Islam, whose followers also claim to respect the Bible (though in very different ways)? There is only one pure Oneist—Satan—and one pure Twoist—Jesus Christ. Judaism and Islam have a defective view of biblical Twoism. Their denial of the Trinity leaves them with a transcendent yet impersonal God (an attempt at Twoism), who ultimately depends upon his relationship with human beings in order to constitute his personhood (which ends up in Oneism by a circuitous route). Rabbinic scholar Abraham Heschel (1907–1972) rightly critiqued Islam for seeing God as “unqualified Omnipotence,” who can never be “the Father of mankind,” and thus is radically impersonal. See Heschel, The Prophets (New York: Harper, 1962), 292, 311. Yet postbiblical Judaism cannot escape Heschel’s critique entirely. The medieval rabbi Maimonides, for example, also confessed an “absolutely transcendent God who is independent of humanity.” See Reuven Kimelman, “The Theology of Abraham Joshua Heschel,” First Things (Dec 2009). On the other hand, Kimelman notes that Heschel commits the opposite error to that of Maimonides (and Islam), namely that of making God dependent on man in a covenantal relationship that both God and man need in order to be who they are. Heschel adopts the rabbinical concept that it is human witness that in some sense makes God real (Kimelman, “The Theology of Abraham Joshua Heschel”). Once more, God is dependent upon humanity. This is the classic dilemma of a monotheism without the Trinity. Because Heschel does not believe God to be triune, God depends on man to be personal and therefore cannot be “Wholly Other” in relation to creation.
Peter Jones, The Other Worldview: Exposing Christianity’s Greatest Threat (Bellingham, WA: Kirkdale Press, 2015), 12–13.

Christ is King

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What was Adam’s task in the garden (see Genesis 1:26-28; 2:15-17)? Adam’s purpose was not only to stay away from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Man’s purpose was (and is) to have dominion over creation.

By sin, Adam failed in that task, but the dominion mandate has not been rescinded. With the “sweat of his brow,” man must exercise dominion (notice the parallel between Genesis 2:15 and 3:17-19. The work remains, but it is with much difficulty). The covenant peoples, the Israelites first, and now, in this age, those in Christ, have been great culture-builders. Taking the command to heart, great civilizations have arisen from within Israel and Christendom. Seeing what great accomplishments of dominion has brought while under sin, it is an even more amazing to contemplate what may have been accomplished had sin not entered.

But praise be to God, what the first Adam failed to do, the Second Adam does. Christ, the Second Adam, completely fulfills what was lacking in the first; Christ is the king that Adam refused to be.

25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” 1 Corinthians 15:25 (ESV)

“Must reign” is present tense, active mood, indicating not a future reign only, but a present and active reign. It isn’t spiritual only, or only “in our hearts.” Christ is king today, and always has been. Every human government and ruler is subject and answerable to Him. Because of the resurrection, Christ reigns now. When those who are “in Christ” build cultures, they do their work as co-regents with Christ (2 Timothy 2:12, Revelation 20:4).

The resurrection provides the logic for the kingship of Jesus: Jesus is the first-fruit of those risen from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:20). Verses 21 and 22 indicates that Jesus, the Second Adam brings life where Adam brought death. Jesus completes Adam’s mission, the dominion (cultural) mandate. This is the meaning of His reign–to do what Adam did not do.

Every king and ruler, every government, faces death. History proves that every ruler is someday a footnote to history; and this holds true of empires as well. Mortality swallows them all. Now the greatest threat any government can use against its enemies and its people, is the same weapon that will destroy themselves: death. Beyond physical death, man can do nothing (Matthew 10:28). By destroying the power of death, both physical and eternal (1 Corinthians 15:54-57), Jesus is firmly established as the “King of kings, and Lord of lords” (Revelation 17:14). There is nothing that the rulers of this world, or kings of the earth, can hold against a Christ.

So where does this leave the Christian, the one who is “in Christ?” Where He reigns, we reign.[i]

“The gates of hell” [Matthew 16:18] cannot prevail against an advancing church. Satan is in retreat, not the people of God. Rather than giving up cultural ground to the enemy, which has been the refrain among Christians at least since Darby and Scofield, the church is to take cultural ground, creating and defining it. The much-maligned (by Christians and pagans alike) Christendom, when Christian thought and God’s Law prevailed, was the church’s greatest era.

[i] Consider the passages which speak of being “in Christ” or “in Him” (referring to Christ):

Jn 1:4; 6:56; 15:5; Ac 10:43; Ro 3:24; 6:11, 23; 8:2, 39; 12:5; 16:3, 7; 1 Co 1:2, 5, 30; 15:22; 2 Co 1:19, 20; 2:14; 5:17, 19, 21; 13:4; Ga 1:22; 2:4, 17; 3:14, 26, 28; 5:6; Eph 1:3, 4, 7, 9, 10, 11, 13, 20; 2:6, 7, 10, 13, 22; 3:6, 11, 12, 21; 4:21, 32; Php 1:1; 2:1, 5; 3:3, 9, 14; 4:7, 19; Col 1:2, 17, 19, 24; 2:6, 7, 9, 10, 11, 15; 1 Th 4:16; 2 Th 1:12; 2 Ti 1:1, 9; 2:10; 3:12; Phm 8; Heb 3:14; 1 Pe 3:16; 5:10, 14; 1 Jn 2:5, 6, 27, 28; 3:6, 17, 24; 4:13, 15, 16; 5:20

 

On Gaining a Market Share of People Hungry for the Word of God

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The question of Biblical literacy came up in a recent Facebook conversation, and it is a concern for many of us here. I wonder if we are not a victim of our own success, in a way. In the earlier years of the RM, and in the first half of the last century, many Americans were well-read in the Scriptures. Theological liberalism began to attack the Bible, but many Christians doubled-down on the Bible during that time, and Bible teaching demonstrated to be very important, by its frequency: Sunday School, Biblical preaching, Sunday night, Wednesday night, etc.

The RM took the Bible seriously. That is why I am no longer a Lutheran. I was raised in the liberal LCA synod, was confirmed, but was introduced to the Bible by other high school students from First Christian Church in Council Bluffs. These students told me what the Bible said about being saved, and how. That’s something I never heard in the Lutheran church.

I became a Christian there, and without knowing it, a member of the RM (Restoration Movement). I might add that it was High School students, and their college friends, who recruited me to attend Manhattan Christian College.

What impressed me, at age 15, was that the Bible was so important, and this church took it seriously. I wonder if that is so much the case today. We have taken the Bible seriously for so long, that we assume we are still doing it, without remembering that each new generation must be taught to have that same concern.

Don Carson, in speaking of the Gospel, says that though a generation or two take the Gospel very seriously, later generations begin to ASSUME the Gospel. So the Gospel is less proclaimed, but assumed, as other things are done: arts, music, counselling, social work, other ministries, etc., etc.

So I wonder if we, sometime in the 70s or 80s, began to do “other things,” and tacitly set aside the Bible. In the 1800s, philosophy is said to have taken “a hermeneutical turn” which has changed the course of philosophy from that time to the present.

In evangelical churches, not only the RM, I think we have taken a “relationship turn,” in our approach to all things, including Deity and Man. This is marked by a move away from propositional Revelation to feeling, from Word to deed, from foundations to structure. Relationships became the main thing–and it was around that time that we heard that “Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship.” Interestingly, my liberal Lutheran church national youth group was called “Lutheran Youth Encounter.”

Some call it Neo-orthodoxy, a move to separate “fact” from “truth,” but I’ll stop digressing.

In the rush to keep people coming back to church, there has been a subtle change to treat disciples of Christ as the customers of Christ, so that people who profess Christ as Lord must be constantly wooed back to Him. We want them to like us. My take on the entertainment-as-worship phenomena is that is not so much that non-Christians won’t come if they’re not entertained, but it takes a circus to keep people, who are supposedly Christians, coming back. A man or woman who understands the seriousness of their lost-ness will be put off by levity, not drawn to it. How can a person who truly understands their guilt before God, be beholden to silliness in preaching? Is it the Word of God and His Spirit that draws a man to Christ or the band?

It takes a special kind of immaturity to be captive to entertainment, and that especially so when the consequences of falling short are eternal.

Staying with this consumer motif for a moment, we can see then that churches simply aren’t selling what people are buying. If there are faithful, Bible-preaching empty churches on Sunday nights and Wednesday nights, it could mean that there is an oversupply of Bible. That overstock is not  fault of the church. There is, indeed, a famine for the Word of God, but no felt hunger among the starving (Amos 8:11). People need the Bible, but aren’t aware of that need. Replacing what is needed, the Word of God, with other business will save no one.

If we are trying to gather a shrinking market share of people who want Bible, and entertainment works, then that will be what is done; I think that this has been the trend for over 30 years now. If “Christianity lite” edges out the gravitas of the Faith, Sunday after Sunday, there will be few left who really do hunger for the Bible.

When I say “doing other things,” I’d like to offer some examples, and ask some questions:

  1. How often does preaching get set aside for other things on Sunday mornings? Special services, reports from missionaries (which do need the time, but need a longer time), skits from the youth group, all are used to replace preaching.
  1. I have seen advertised, from all sorts of churches, “An Evening of Praise” or “An Evening of Worship.” Are you aware of the success of anything like, “An evening of preaching” or “A night of teaching,” with back-to-back Scriptural exposition? Why would this not gather as large a group of people as would something involving music and drama?
  1. Has our preaching shifted from Scripture to needs based subjects? I firmly believe in the need to address needs, but from what I can tell, much preaching is no longer exegeting the Bible and applying it to life as the text brings them up, but first looking at problems faced by many and then finding texts to address those problems. This, though, tends to fragment our understand of Scripture, and makes the Bible more of a go-to book of advice.
  1. If you preach, in sermon planning do you start with Scripture, or your audience? Why?
  1. I assume that if you are reading this that you are a preacher or an elder. How many times have you read the Bible through in your life? Have you done so?
  1. Are students graduating from our colleges and seminaries Biblically literate? Have they read the Bible through? In what things are they literate?
  1. How soon after becoming a Christian did you read the Bible?
  1. If you were to start publically reading the Bible each Sunday (1 Timothy 4:13), and assuming you followed a plan or lectionary so you don’t just cycle through favourite texts, would your church push-back, and say that’s too much Scripture, or that it takes too much time?
  1. Can you imagine a worship service with no preaching, but just worship, offering, music and the Lord’s Supper? Can you imagine a worship service with only the Lord’s supper, offering, and preaching, but with no music? Which of these two are harder to accept?

I can think of others, but the few I listed above give some hint as to the kind of trouble we have in our churches now.

I do believe that the average preacher,  elder, deacon, and church member knows much less of the Bible, is reading it less, and comprehends much less of the Biblical worldview than even 30 or 40 years ago.

Speaking now to the older preachers: Do you remember in the 70s, the Baker Book House catalogue that came out two or three times annually? Almost all the books sold in that catalogue were reference works about the Bible or theology. Even the early Christian Book Distributors catalogues leaned heavily upon doctrine, theology, Biblical studies, commentaries and Biblical languages. Now consider the top-selling books today: Christian fiction, relationship repair, and Bible study guides that state the painfully obvious that could be gleaned by a simple reading of the Bible (Lucado and Warren come to mind). Among Christian bestsellers are few books that actually enable one to understand Scripture better. We are awash in books, but know the Bible less.

If the pool of people who really respond to the preaching of the Bible is small, and shrinking, it is our duty to cultivate and grow that pool.

I think that elders and preachers need to encourage the reading of Scripture, in their entirety, more. This means that Christians ought to expect to read the Bible through, repeatedly, for the rest of their lives. Preachers and teachers must be reading more than what is necessary for the next lesson or sermon.

I also think that preachers and elders ought to model, and encourage, the “plucking out the eye” and “cutting off the hand” of much of popular culture. It simply is not that important to be up on every song, movie, play, novel, trend or sporting event. We only have so many hours in our lives, and we need to get past the entitlement mentality when it comes to our entertainment.

So, are we doing other things, or doing what matters?

The Cure for Legalism is not Antinomianism.

I respond to a tweet from Richard Rohr, OFM, whose take on the Law fails to maintain its proper use. His full article here.

I appreciate the sentiments in this article, and I agree that legalism is a problem for many. To be a legalist, though, is not to affirm the moral truth of the Law. Legalism is not the careful keeping of God’s Law. What legalism is, is to rely upon the Law a means to salvation. The problem with this article is that Rohr treats the Law as the problem, rather than sin (breaking the Law) as the problem. His concern over legalism leads him to deny the proper place of the Law. Rohr says that the Law is only “. . . to get you seriously engaged with the need for grace and mercy; they were never an end in themselves (read Romans 7:7ff).” This is missing the point of the Law.

First off, Rohr creates a straw man argument in saying that “they (the Law’s rules and regulations) were never an end in themselves.” The Bible never says the Law is an end to itself  (Psalm 19:7; 37:31; 40:8 and many other places); rather, one important purpose of the Law is to reflect the holiness of God, and how His people may please Him.

Secondly, Rohr seems to want to cut off any use of the Law as a way to know the character of God. He seems to limit the purpose of the Law to “getting us seriously engaged,” and not as a means to keeping us seriously engaged. But the moral character of God did not change at the cross, and the cross does not take away the moral requirements of the Law. The Law cannot  (because of our weakness) save; but the saved seek to grow in sanctification, which is at the least, to keep His Law.

Rohr’s first two Bible passages do not at all say what he says they do:

Rohr says that Paul said this: “ ‘Cursed be the law,’ Paul even says (Galatians 3:13)”

But Paul really said this:

13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’”— Galatians 3:13 (ESV)

Failure to keep and obey the Law brings a curse, but that curse is not the Law itself. Paul never uses this language to describe the Law. Rather, reliance upon the Law brings a curse. This is an important distinction, because Rohr’s approach denies the Law its rightful place as a rule of life for the Christian, and sure and true guidance for the Christian who desires to please God (John 14:15, 21, 15:10).

The curse comes not because of anything at fault wi-th the Law, but with us. That is why Christ became a curse for us. That’s grace.

Rohr: “But it seems Christianity has paid little heed to Paul’s revolutionary message, or even to Jesus who says six times in a row, ‘The law says, but I say!’(Matthew 5:21-45).”

What Jesus said: “You have heard” (Matthew 5, verses 21, 27, 33, 38, 43) and “it was also said” (Matthew 5:31). Jesus was NOT saying what Rohr is claiming. Jesus is not doing away with the Law, nor is He saying that He is somehow setting it aside; actually, quite the opposite (see Matthew 5:17 and below)

Jesus is not quoting the Law in these sayings. Jesus is quoting the Rabbinical interpretation of the Law. This is evident because, when Jesus quotes Scripture, He says, “It is written . . .” (Matthew 4:4, 6, & 10). Here He does not. He says, “You have heard.” This is a reference to the oral tradition of the Rabbis. That this is a Rabbinical interpretation is also evident from the last “you have heard,” in  Matthew 5:43:

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’”

This is not a statement of Old Testament Law. It is a Rabbinical commentary.

Furthermore, Jesus makes it clear that the Law is not abolished, by saying,  “17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Matthew 5:17 (ESV)

Fulfilment and abolishment are two entirely different things. What Jesus says is that the Law will not pass away until it is kept perfectly, that is, fulfilled, and it was done so in Christ. In fact, Christ’s “you have heard” statements reaffirm the deep and spiritual nature of the Law, not merely the outward appearance.

Legalism is a real problem, and it lays at the theological foundations of Islam, Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Roman Catholicism, and every man-made religion. It is man striving to reach God.

But the cure for legalism is not antinomianism (lawlessness), but Grace. Grace is what God applies to us when we are brought to the end of our abilities by the Law. It must be kept in mind that the Law was good when I could not keep it; now, in Christ, who kept it for me, the Law is still good.

I personally believe that legalism among professed Christians is much less a problem than antinomianism, because there appears to be so little difference between Christians and non-Christians morally in our present age. If the Law, properly used as a means to show our need for Grace, but also as a perfect rule of life lived with the power of the Holy Spirit, was better taught today, the distinction between believer and unbeliever would be clearer.

Intellect

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The true and proper stimulant for the intellect is truth. There is no sin in being excited by truth. There is no mental injury in such excitement. The more thoroughly the intellect is roused and kindled by a living verity, the more intensely it is affected and energized by it, the better is it for the intellect, and the man.

William G. T. Shedd, Homiletics and Pastoral Theology (New York: Scribner, Armstrong & Co., 1872), 129.

Taking Up the Cause of Satan

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We are most likely familiar with the Devil’s temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. The third temptation I understand as a sort of peace treaty offer from Satan. It is if he is saying, “Look, Jesus, you are here to claim ownership over the all the kingdoms of the world, and I’m willing to put an offer on the table. Jesus could rule the world with the Devil’s blessing. There could have been a truce between Jesus and the Devil on earth. But under such a truce, every human being must subsequently die in their sins and go to hell.

It is here that Jesus says, “Scram, Satan!” (ὕπαγε, σατανᾶ, hypage satana). The ESV has it right, “Be gone!” It is a strong command to “Go away!” (Matthew 4:10).

Notice though, that Jesus has to say the same thing to a disciple, a disciple who had just had something great revealed to him: that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matthew 16:16). Jesus blesses Peter by affirming that this revelation was directly from the Father in heaven, and that upon that same confession the church will be built (in the four gospels, only Matthew speaks of “the church”).

This disciple, recipient of divine-direct revelation, immediately begins to reject the mission of Jesus:
Matthew 16:21–22 From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.”

Notice Jesus’ reply:

Matthew 16:23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

The phrase I underlined, ὕπαγε ὀπίσω μου, σατανᾶ· (hypage Go! opiso Behind! mou, satana) has the same strong command, but with an important difference: while the Devil, as Satan was told to “go away” in Matthew 4:10, Peter, addressed as Satan, is told to “go behind.” Same stern command, but to a very different location. Peter is told to get behind Jesus.

Jesus chose Peter, but Peter was thinking as a man, and his thoughts were not on the things of God, even though he had received divine revelation as to the identity of Jesus as the Christ. Indeed, knowing that Jesus was the Christ, made it all the more urgent, in Peter’s understanding, to save His life. He was certain that he could save the Saviour.

Unlike Satan, Peter was not cast out, nor told to go away, but to get behind Jesus. Peter could only think like a man; he needed to put his thoughts behind God’s thoughts. He needed to let Jesus do the thinking. We must understand that our understanding of the will of God, our comprehension of what God is doing, must always be placed behind Jesus.
The importance of this can be driven home by comparing the motivations both of the Devil and of Peter. Satan’s motivation and Peter’s were very different. Satan sought to divert Jesus from His mission, to gain Christ’s allegiance and end His mission before the cross. Peter sought to save Jesus from the cross out of his ignorance, his imperfect and uninformed love for Him.
But regardless of motivation, the result is the same: if the will of the Devil or of Peter had prevailed, Christ would never have met the cross, and no human being could survive the wrath of God.