“Jonathan Edwards and Hell” by Chris Morgan

There is a lot of things that could go into buying a book.  Most of the time, I will see a recommendation of sorts and be compelled to purchase the book.  Sometimes, I am given the book by friends, family, or at conferences.  And sometimes, I’ll be strolling through a book store and see an intriguing book and have to buy it.  That was the case with “Jonathan Edwards and Hell” by Chris Morgan. 

Honestly, most of the purchase had to do with the cover art and thinking it was cool looking.  After that grabbed my attention, I noticed “Jonathan Edwards” and “Hell” on the cover and thought, “That sounds intriguing.”  And the purchase was made.  And is the case with most books I bought, it was placed in a large pile of books that had to wait until after Seminary was over. 

A couple of weeks ago, I decided I was going to walk to work.  Leah needed the car, I needed the exercise and didn’t have my bike at home, and I figured it would be a good chance to do some reading.  A light 2 mile walk with a good book is an hour well spent. 

Once I was well into the book, I was quickly disappointed as to the actual content of the book.  The first three chapters are all about annihilationists and their view points, followed by a chapter on the evangelical response.  That makes up Part I of the book.  Part II had to do with Edwards.  The first chapter of Part II was about annihilationism in the 18th century, followed by a chapter on Edwards response.  The closing chapter discusses how to apply Edward’s method to today’s theological climate. 

So, in 140 pages of content in a book entitled “Jonathan Edwards on Hell”, there are 16 pages specifically about Jonathan Edwards on the topic of Hell.

That isn’t to say it wasn’t an enjoyable and profitable read, but it seemed misleading to say the least.  During my time in seminary I had to read through Robert Peterson’s book “Hell on Trial”, and that covered most of what this book does.  The only thing that this book does differently, is just scratch the surface of Edward’s thoughts on the topic. 

What Morgan does is explain the views in the words of the proponents of such views, and then offers a critique of the strength of the argument.  Morgan offers good insight and has good things to say about how the debate should be discussed.  There are good things about linguistic, exegetical, philosophical, and polemic approaches to the argument, but Morgan appeals to the theological approach Edwards takes. 

The other approaches offer good input, but both sides are still left at an impass.  Here are some helpful notes taken from those sections:

  • One insight that I found interesting is the debate over the word ‘aiwvios’.  That is the word for ‘eternal’.  Some annihilationists would say that there are two senses to the word.  One is quantity, meaning everlasting.  The other is a qualitative sense, meaning a time to come in contrast to the present time.  This view is best propgated by Edward Fudge.  Instead of focusing on everlasting punishment, they focus on the eternal result of the punishment.  The main weakness, as I understand, would be the same word being used in relation to the eternal life granted to believers.
  • The other main point that I liked was how he pointed out that many Annihilationists, including John Stott, find it primarily difficult to believe because of the heinous nature of everlasting torment.  They see it as being a doctrine that does not fit with their defintion of God.  Edwards had this to say:

“It is an unreasonable and unscriptural notion of the mercy of God that He is merciful in such a sense that He cannot bear that penal justice should be executed.  That is to conceive of the mercy of God as a passion to which His nature is so subject that GOd is liable to be moved, affected, and overcome by seeing a creature in misery so that He cannot bear to see justice executed… The Scriptures everywhere represent the mercy of God as free and sovereign, and not that the exercises of it are necessary.”

Edwards saw it as an issue of questioning God’s sovereignty of His creation.  God’s sovereignty is absolute, universal, and unlimited. 

To the objection that everlasting punishment is not suitable for God, Edwards had this to say:

“Since the infinite hatred of sin is suitable to the divine character, then the expressions of that hatred are also suitable to His character… It is suitable that He should execture infinite punishment on it.”

All in all, it was a profitable read, but reader beware that the title may mislead you into thinking the book is about Jonathan Edwards and Hell.

Resolved 2008: Session 2 & 6

I’m combining the two sessions by Randy Alcorn since they were mostly the same type of message.  Alcorn was asked to come, partly because he is the author of “Heaven”, an amazing read that I recommend to everyone.  The sad thing in the church today is that far too many people are far too ignorant when it comes to the topic of Heaven.  He pointed out that many people feel overwhelmed and apprehensive when it comes to thinking about spending eternity in Heaven.  Sadly, all they think is sitting around on a cloud all day with nothing to do.

Alcorn started by saying that we, as believers, are commanded to set your mind on things above.  “When you have your happiness in Heaven, God supplies you a down payment here on earth.”  From there, he really launched into a ton of different observations about Heaven.  I didn’t really track much of a flow, so I think I’ll just provide a list of observations:

  • The present Heaven is the layover, until the resurrection.  While they are still in the presence of Christ, they are still longing for their resurrected bodies and the new heavens and new earth.
  • The future Heaven is where believers will have resurrected bodies, tasks to serve God, and life on earth as God intended it to be.
  • There is more continuity between life here and and eternity is more than we’d think.  Something he mentioned multiple times was that the new earth will very much resemble ours, but in perfection.
  • “Don’t try to be more loving than Christ and not tell people about Hell.”
  • God will be with His people and dwell with them.  The reward for believers will be God Himself, but that doesn’t mean that we won’t appreciate things that he’s created.  We can appreciate things that He’s created because whatever is good in them reflects the Creator.
  • The eternal state will be much more like the present life than we realize.

Resolved Conference 2008- Session 1

Right now, I’m in Palm Springs and it’s been averaging over 110 degrees each day.  There would have to be a pretty good reason why I would subject myself to that kind of heat.  This weekend I’ve come out to Palm Springs with students from our college group to be fed at the Resolved Conference.  It’s a college conference put on by Grace Community Church in the spirit of the resolutions of Jonathan Edwards.  I have wanted to go in the past, but never had the opportunity due to schooling.  This year, though, I resolved to go.

The speakers are John MacArthur, John Piper (my plane friend), CJ Mahaney, Steve Lawson, Randy Alcorn, and Rick Holland. The theme this year is “Heaven and Hell”.  It sort of feels like you are trying to continually take a sip from a fire hydrant.  It’s coming fast, furious, and powerfully.  All you can do is try to process a small amount and leave encouraged and fed.  I realize that there are many who read this who desire to be here, so with you in mind, I thought I would provide a summary of each message.

The first evening was kicked off by Rick Holland who spoke on the topic of death.  Obviously, that isn’t really a message that sells and attracts the right kind of attention.  Our culture does everything we can to avoid dwelling on the subject of death, from being reminded of the immanent nature of it, to being confronted with those that that find themselves on death’s threshold.  Holland traced Edwards’ own thoughts on death and his commitment to constantly remind himself of his own frailty and every possible way he could die.

The point on focusing on your own death is because if you are ready to die, you will then know how to live.  If you are at peace with where you are going, then you will know how you should act in the present.  The text that Holland chose was Hebrews 9:27-28, and he set out to point out the three most important facts of life.

The first fact is that death is unavoidable.  It comes to everyone.  Other than two men (Elijah and Enoch) every single person has died.  We are the only ones in creation who have not died, but we will soon enough join the rest of humanity.  Our time to pass is appointed.  We are passively involved in the end of our lives.  We can think that we will last 70-80 years on earth, but no one is guaranteed that.  Death exists to communicate the seriousness of sin, to convince us of the true penalty of our rebellion against God. No one can deny the reality of death.

The second most important fact of life is that judgment is certain.  All will stand before a holy, righteous, and just God who will judge.  Not only is death a reality, but so is Hell.  Hell exists for those that are condemned at the judgment that is certain.  Hell is such an unpopular subject to speak and dwell on, but it cannot be avoided.  R.C. Sproul said “If you think of Hell rightly, you’ll get saved or go mad.”

The third and final fact of life is that salvation is possible.  Were the first two points left alone, the future would seem bleak.  But the great news is that salvation is possible for those that face an eternal death apart from God.  For those that are saved, they should be characterized by eagerly awaiting and anticipating Christ’s return.  We generally fail in this world because we find our hearts longing more for the present world than the future world.  The believer is to long for the future fulfillment of salvation in such a way that it demands a life that lives for that world alone.

More sessions to come!

Thoughts and Quotes on the Millennium

This past week we’ve been covering the millennial views in my theology class. We’ve already covered most of it, so it was mainly just a quick overview. Here are a few quotes that I found of interest.

Post-Millennialism

Here are a couple quotes from Lorraine Boettner:

“The ‘thousand years’ is quite clearly not to be understood as an exact measure of time but rather as a symbolic number. Strict arithmetic has no place here. The term is a figurative expression, indicating an indefinitely long period of time, a complete, perfect number of years, probably not less than a literal one thousand years, in all probability very much longer” (Boettner, The Millennium, 64).

I don’t know what he means by “quite clearly”. And “strict arithmetic”? Seriously. I counting to a thousand “strict arithmetic”? And I love how a ‘thousand years’ could possibly mean something less than a literal thousand. How does that make any sense?

“The millennium to which the postmillennialist looks forward is thus a golden age of spiritual prosperity during this present dispensation, that is, the Church Age. This is to be brought about through forces now active in the world. . . . The changed character of individuals will be reflected in an uplifted social, economic, political and cultural life of mankind. The world at large will enjoy a state of righteousness which up until now has been seen only in relatively small and isolated groups, for example, some family circles, and some local church groups and kindred organizations. This does not mean that there will be a time on earth when every person will be a Christian or that all sin will be abolished. But . . . Christ will return to a truly Christianized world” (Boettner, Meaning of the Millennium, 117-118).

Its no wonder that this view took quite the hit between WWI and WWII. Turns out humanity isn’t ‘progressing’. So how far are we from a “Christianized World”?

Amillennialism

Here are a couple quotes from the usually solid Anthony Hoekema:

“The latter term should rather be thought of as a figurative description of the way in which Satan’s activities will be curbed during the thousand-year period. . . . This does not imply that Satan can do no harm whatever while he is bound. It means only what John says here: while Satan is bound he cannot deceive the nations in such a way as to keep them from learning about the truth of God” (The Bible and the Future, 228).

This quote attempts to deal with the problem presented in Revelation 20. Satan is released from the prison after 1,000 years. What does it mean that Satan is bound for 1,000 years. A classmate of mine said that if this interpretation is true, then God must have put him on a pretty long leash. Interpreting “bound” as Satan “not being allowed to deceive the nations in such a way as to keep them from learning about the truth of God” is just weaksauce. That’s not binding. That’s limiting power, which is exactly what God has been doing since the Fall.

“The Book of Revelation is full of symbolic numbers. It would seem rather likely, therefore, that the number “thousand” which is used in this passage ought not to be interpreted in a strictly literal sense. Since the number ten signifies completeness, and since a thousand is ten to the third power, we may think of the expression ‘a thousand years’ as standing for a complete period, a very long period of indeterminate length” (The Bible and the Future, 227).

This quote cracked me up. I actually laughed pretty loud in class, and it was quiet, so I was the only one laughing. But c’mon! “since a thousand is ten to the third power”?!?!?!?! That’s just horrendous hermeneutics! Where does that come from?! How is that AT ALL in the text?! Did I miss a point in Bible interpretation which said that we’re to divide numbers by 10? I mean SERIOUSLY! C’mon folks! How can someone seriously stand behind this!

The last quote is from Benware, and is a good commentary on these beliefs:

“One wonders how much clearer God could be if He wanted to communicate that Messiah’s kingdom was to last for a thousand years.”

That’s if God is to be interpreted literally.

How literal is literal?

This past weekend has really left me realizing the importance of having a clear and literal hermeneutic. For those who don’t know what a hermeneutic is, it is the science and art of interpreting the Bible. John MacArthur delivered a message at Shepherd’s Conference challenging people to use the same hermeneutics in Revelation as they do in Genesis. His desire was to show how Amilliennialism cannot be the conclusion one comes to while using a clear interpreation of the Bible.

This created quite the uproar. Some questioned whether MacArthur was getting old and is being influenced by others. Some have called him unkind and unloving. Others have said that he set up strawman arguments to make his side look and sound better. While his approach will be questioned and one can debate whether it was the best way to deliver such a message, I don’t think you can discount the message on acount of that.

What it has made me realize is that it is so important to clearly define what a literal hermeneutic is. There are those on both sides taht claim to use it, so I believe we must define what we mean. This is my attempt to narrow down what MacArthur would mean.

Literal could also be described as being “normal” or “plain”. Some have thought that the literal interpretation forces a wooden reading of everything in the Bible. Normal and plain mean that we approach every text as it would normally be approached in the world.

Obviously, there are metaphors and allegories in the text of the Bible, and those are to be interpreted likewise. This isn’t a call to read an allegory literally, but as an allegory. The problem comes when people begin to force an allegory interpretation on a text that isn’t an allegory.

one example of this was a conversation I had on another blog. The man had said that we should interpret 1,000 years as a literal thousand years. He said we don’t pretend to think that “666” or “144,000” are literal, after all. I responded by saying he isn’t be consistent with the text. 666 isn’t a measurment or count of everything, but an image, so that can’t be used to compare to. And to see that 144,000 means anything other than 144,000 isn’t necessary. It isn’t that it is obviously allegorical or a common number that represents something. John specifically chooses that number for a reason! And the fact that he goes into saying it is 12,000 from each tribe only further forces us to interpret that as being literal. If the main sense makes sense, seek no other sense.

The Bible uses non-literal language, and we need to read those passages that way. We need to read the Bible in the way that the original author intended it. The Bible was clear to the people that it was written to, and they were able to understand it. Some would say that you can’t understand the Old Testament without understanding the New Testament, but that would be to say that the people of the OT couldn’t understand the OT.

Language was created in order to clearly communicate an idea. God didn’t give us a language to use so that we can be overly confused by it. God communicated to man in this way because it was His desire to clearly communicate His nature and plan for man. He isn’t trying to keep the cookies on a higher shelf, making it hard to understand what He thinks.

I hope this is clear. I may write later about clear, literal heremeneutics role in prophecy, as that is really where the rubber hits the road, as seen in my example with numbers in Revelation.

Shepherd’s Conference 2007: Session 1

Thought I would take a moment here to let you know how things are going here at the Shepherd’s Conference. This isn’t intended to be anything like a liveblogging experiment or anything. You can go to Tim Challies’ website for that.

MacArthur kicked things off again, and began talking about how for awhile he had been the only speaker at Shepherd’s Conferences, but had began bringing in other speakers to make it better. Something tells me after this morning that he might have to do a few more if some speakers leave due to his first message.

BANG!
That’s how MacArthur started this week, with a message about God’s sovereign election, the status of Israel, and our eschatology. I know this might sound like a snoozefest to some of you, but it was actually quite entertaining. MacArthur basically laid out an argument about how there is no way that you can be A-Millennial and hold to a clear, grammatical-historical interpretation of the Bible.

He basically called out everyong that doesn’t believe in Pre-Millenialism. For those of you who don’t know, it may be convenient that Sproul is not here this year, but Ligon Duncan is… this could be awkward.

MacArthur set out to defend how every selfrespecting Calvinist is Premillennial. He said that A-Mil is perfect for Arminianism, so leave it to them. Leave it to the Openists, leave it to the charasmatics. He set out through the entire Bible to prove that Israel has a promise and a convenant dependent upon God alone, and God still has a plan for them. He did this by showing that there is no a-millennialism in the Old Testament, there was no a-millennialism in the beliefs of the Jews of Jesus’ day, there was no a-millennialsim in the teachings of Jesus, and there was no a-millennialism in the teachings of the apostles.

He took a moment to assure the audience that this would not be about preaching dispensationalism. he said there would be not gift of a Scofield Bible, there would be no hand out of Left Behind books. He said that Henry Kissinger is not the antichrist and Hillary Clinton is not the harlot of Babylon. That one got quite the reaction. He said, “apparently you haven’t heard that theory.”

He spent quite a bit of time in the OT, showing that Israel’s existence proves pre-millennialism. “Israel still exists today… Isn’t that interesting?” followed by a pause… “Have you ever met a Hittite?”

The basic plea was to have the same consistent hermeneutic when you approach Genesis 1-3 as you would in the book of Revelation. God intended language to be able to communicate clearly and not confuse. His purpose was not to be mysterious, but to communicate His plan. Covenant theology makes a practice of reading the NT into the OT. They see that the only way you can understand the OT is to read it through the lense of the NT.

This was somewhat of a shocker for him to start out with, but you can understand why he would do this. This has been an increasing problem in graduates of both the college and seminary, and the covenants of grace have grown in popularity. The MacArthur that preached today was the result of seeing so many people use inconsistent hermenuetics and totally misplay the interpretation of the end times.

He also traced the effect that this practice has on witnessing to Jews. You tell them that Jesus was the Messiah and they’ll ask you, ‘Where’s the kingdom?’ Response: “We’re in it!” “Why are we being killed?” “Why don’t we have the whole land?” “THIS IS THE KINGDOM?!” Finally, he wrapped with the quote: “Al Gore is not in charge of the end of the world.”

I don’t know if I liked this more than I normally would because I had just studied this in my Theology class, but I thought it was needed. I agree that we are too quick to say that we will agree to disagree on such horrible hermeneutics when it comes to end times. This will also make the rest of the week interesting, as we have speakers here who would very much disagree with what MacArthur said. Stay tuned.

One sad note, John Piper will not be able to be here, as his father passed away last night. He spent the last couple days by his father’s bed, singing some of his favorite hymns and recounting the goodness of God. In his place, C.J. Mahaney was in the neighborhood and has agreed to come and fill in. Should be interesting to hear Mahaney’s self depricating introduction about filling in for John Piper.