Category Archives: Theology

Brief History of Rapture (Left Behind) Theology

The Left Behind reboot with Nicolas Cage has Christians talking about all things rapture. Oh, joy.

I suspect that the continued cinematic production of such a ridiculous and counter-biblical narrative will only serve to wake folks up to the undeniable truth that rapture theology is nothing more than a baptized escapism–sort of a neo-Gnosticism. And it has only been around since the early 19th century.

Dr. Ben Witherington III, evangelical professor of NT for doctoral studies at Asbury and St. Andrews, has recently completed a video for Seedbed entitled “Where Did Rapture Theology Come From?” (10-8-14).

This brief history of rapture theology is worth watching.

For those interested, I’ve posted the following on rapture theology:

You might also enjoy reading a few blog posts from my friends:

D.D. Flowers, 2014.


Dark Matter vs Dark Energy: War in the Heavens!

Have you ever heard of dark matter and dark energy? If you hold to the Warfare Worldview—that sometime in the primordial cosmos there was an angelic rebellion against God—you might find this interesting.

Dark matter was first postulated due to the gravitational force of galaxies (or lack thereof) which couldn’t be explained by the visible mass of objects in any system. Therefore, it became clear that there is an invisible, ordering force holding space together. Hence, the term “dark” matter.

On the other hand, dark energy is an unseen force that works against the ordering power of dark matter. No, this isn’t science fiction. It’s happening.

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Paul, Ephesians 6:12 NIV

Astronomers and theoretical physicists state that both dark matter and dark energy once worked together, from the moment of the Big Bang to be precise, but dark energy began accelerating expansion and working against the ordering forces of dark matter around 5 billion years ago.

“…the expansion rate of the cosmos began speeding up about 5 billion to 6 billion years ago, like a roller coaster zooming down a track. That is when astronomers believe that dark energy’s repulsive force overtook gravity’s attractive grip.” Adam Riess, prof of physics & astronomy at Johns Hopkins University

In other words, dark energy is working to rip space apart and repel the unifying “gravitational” forces of dark matter. These are the scientific facts. And this blog post is my theological interpretation of those facts.

So, what I find most fascinating is how close this event—a war in the heavens—is to the formation of planet Earth, some 4.6 billion years ago.

Could this war between dark matter and dark energy be evidence of the spiritual war that eventually caused tohu wa bohu (chaos and destruction) upon the earth, impacting the evolution of life as we know it?

The early church father Athenagoras (ca.130-190AD) said that Satan was originally, “the spirit which is about matter who was created by God, just as the other angels were… and entrusted with the control of matter and the forms of matter” (see Greg Boyd’s Satan & the Problem of Evil, pg. 46-47).

This idea that Satan is the “spirit of matter” is most likely rooted in the NT teaching that the devil is “the ruler of the cosmos” (archon tou kosmou), having power over the physical and material world (Jn 12:31; 14:30; 16:11; Eph 2:2; 2 Cor 4:4)—a challenging worldview to a post-enlightenment audience.

Just as diabolos is from the root “to scatter and cast apart”… so it is with this “dark energy” that would currently appear to be, or is at least feared to be, the eventual demise of the cosmos.

“The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.”
1 John 3:8b

We need only to embrace Christus Victor for a hopeful future where, in light of the resurrection, cosmic renewal is promised, therefore, inevitable.

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.” Paul, Romans 8:18-21 NIV

I suppose that in the future (possibly after you and I are long gone!), scientists will observe dark energy losing its power, or turned in on itself in a way that can’t be fully explained, certainly not with the rhetoric of the rationalist.

Of course, this “dark” power is already losing its grip on the earth through a Kingdom revolution inaugurated by Christ. It’s no mystery to his church.

May the generation of Kingdom revolutionaries that are around to witness dark matter’s victory over the diabolical forces of dark energy be the first to say…

“We told you so.”

Yes. Come, Lord Jesus. Come.

Viva La Revolution!

D.D. Flowers, 2014.


Is Marriage a Covenant? Part I

Paul Rhodes Eddy is Professor of Biblical & Theological Studies at Bethel University (St. Paul). He holds a B.A. in Biblical & Theological Studies (Bethel University), a M.A. in Theological Studies (Bethel Theological Seminary), and a PhD in Theology (Marquette University).

Paul also serves as Teaching Pastor at Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, MN. He resides in White Bear Township, MN with his wife, Kelly, and their two sons.

His primary research interests include methodological issues in historical Jesus studies, John Hick and religious pluralism, and Christology and the Atonement. He has coedited several successful multi-view volumes and is the author or editor of a number of other books, including The Jesus Legend.

Among other projects, Paul is currently working on a book entitled Kingdom Sex: Toward a Covenant-Centered Theology of Human Sexuality. The book will be a further development of an extended working paper that is currently available online at Central Plains Mennonite Conference.

After reading Paul’s current manuscript, I asked if he would be willing to share with you some of his biblical and historical research on marriage as a sacred covenant between one man and one woman for life, as set forth in Genesis 2:18-24; Matthew 19:1-11; and Ephesians 5:25-31.

I’m thankful that Paul was willing to take time out of his busy schedule to present us with some of the material from his upcoming book, Kingdom Sex.     I believe his insights are already helping to bring some much-needed clarity to God’s divine intentions for conjugal marriage.

Notice that I’ve divided Paul’s article into two parts.

The first part proves that marriage has been understood as a one-flesh covenant throughout all of church history. The second part will address common arguments that the Bible isn’t clear on marriage being a covenant relationship. On the contrary, Paul argues that marriage is portrayed as a sacred covenant throughout the entire biblical corpus.

Your feedback is welcome. Feel free to address Paul in your comments. He would be happy to respond to any thoughts or questions you might have.

Is Marriage a Covenant? Part I

Is marriage a covenant? For many people today, especially evangelical Christians in the U.S., the answer to this question will seem absurdly obvious. Of course marriage is (or at least is suppose to be) a covenant.

If it’s not – then what in the world is?

But things aren’t quite that simple. More than a few voices have questioned whether marriage – at least in certain historical contexts, including biblical times – is, in fact, properly to be construed as a covenant.1

These voices force the question upon us today: Should we understand the divine intention for marriage as covenantal? Are there good biblical and church historical grounds for seeing covenant relationship as the norm by which Kingdom people should shape their theology and practice of marriage?

I propose that the answer to these questions is an unequivocal ‘Yes.’ Let’s look at the some of the challenges to the claim that marriage is best understood as a covenant relationship and see how they stand up to analysis.

Some suggest that the idea of marriage as a covenant is a late-comer within church history. In fact, some claim that this idea was unknown within the Christian tradition until John Calvin originated it in the 16th century.2

This claim is simply historically incorrect.

It is certainly true that in Calvin’s mature thought, his theology of marriage is anchored in the concept of covenant (prior to which he had based it upon Luther’s ‘two kingdoms’ notion), and that he is the first Christian theologian to flesh out marriage as covenant in anything like a thorough fashion. However, he is hardly the first in church history to equate marriage and covenant.

For example, the fourth-century Arnobius writes of “conjugal covenants” (Latin = coniugalia foedera; see his Adversus Gentes, 4.20). Interestingly, in the ninth century, Pope Nicholas I uses the term covenant (foedus) of both marriages and betrothals (Responda ad Consulta Bulgarorum, III). And both the Gelasian and Gregorian Sacramentaries allude to marriage as a covenant.

In fact, Augustine himself unambiguously refers to marriage as a “covenant” (foedus) and a “bond of covenant” (viniculum foederis).3 It is important to remember the context here. The Roman concept of marriage (with its conviction of the necessity of not merely initial but continuous consent) allowed for relatively easy divorce.4

Taking their cue from Jesus and the NT authors, the early Christians on the other hand viewed marriage as a solemn and permanent relational bond. They sought to find language (Greek, Latin, etc.) that captured this counter-cultural reality. Latin terms such as pactio, pactum, confoederatio, societas – and yes, foedus (covenant) – were among those chosen to describe the marriage bond.

So why then did the church refrain from developing a robust theology of marriage as covenant until Calvin? The reason seems fairly clear.

While the Bible does provide solid evidence that marriage was designed by God to function as a covenant relationship (on which see below), the New Testament does not explicitly link the Greek terms for covenant (diatheke, syntheke) with marriage, but rather uses other images and terms to express this relationship.

One predominant instance is Paul’s description of marriage as a “mysterion” (mystery) in Ephesians 5:32. A key moment came when Tertullian translated the Greek term mysterion into the Latin term sacramentum. Jerome followed Tertullian’s move in his Latin Vulgate translation of the New Testament, and the rest is history.

From the fifth century onward, increasingly marriage was known primarily as a “sacrament” (sacramentum) in the Latin-speaking Western church, a tradition which continues to this day within Roman Catholicism.

In other words, it was originally due to the historical contingencies of textual translation that “sacrament” became the favored term in marital theology for much of the church’s history. Once Calvin made the decision to frame his “Protestant” theology of marriage in terms of covenant, the counter-Reformational Catholic Church had virtually no choice but to reject it.

Now, on both sides, it was not simply about a theology of marriage – it was about ecclesiastical boundary-marking and theological polemics. It took several hundred years, a growing spirit of ecumenism, and the Second Vatican Council for the Catholic Church to officially (re-)embrace the language of covenant within the theology of marriage in the 1960s (e.g., Gaudium et Spes, 48).

Suffice to say that the idea of marriage as a covenant was not missing in the early church, and that today both Roman Catholicism and Protestantism are quite comfortable with this ancient equation.

But we must return to Tertullian for a moment – the original fount of “sacrament” language. Once again, Tertullian was simply translating the NT’s Greek mysterion with Latin’s sacramentum. An important question arises: What was involved in the idea of sacramentum in Tertullian’s world?

Within the Roman context, the concept of sacramentum had a double connotation: (1) the taking of an oath, and (2) a monetary guarantee.

What they had in common was that both attached to the notion of self-obligation, and both were quite likely to involve the divine (i.e., oaths/promises frequently appealed to the gods). And with this, we are in the same conceptual/semantic realm as covenant relationship.

Thus, we see that the sacramental – when understood in its original context – is a close cousin of the covenantal.

So if church history is quite favorable to the concept of marriage as a covenant, what about the Bible? Some have questioned whether we can legitimately ground the notion of marriage as a covenant in the Bible. Next, we will consider several of the most common arguments that have led to this conclusion.

Paul Rhodes Eddy

Stay tuned for Is Marriage a Covenant? Part II.

D.D. Flowers, 2014.

____________________
1 See e.g., Abel Isaksson, Marriage and Ministry in the New Temple, trans. Neil TomKinson (Lund: Gleerup, 1965), 27-34; Moshe Greenberg, Ezekiel 1-20 (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1983), 278; Michael G. Lawler, “Marriage as Covenant in the Catholic Tradition,” in Covenant Marriage in Comparative Perspective, eds. John Witte and Eliza Ellison (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 70-91; Jacob Milgrom, Cult and Conscience: The Asham and the Priestly Doctrine of Repentance (Leiden: Brill, 1976), 129-37; Tyler M. Tully, “Stutzman, Sex, and Secular Marriage” (February 17, 2014), http://thejesusevent.com/2014/02/17/stutzman-sex-and-secular-marriage/.
2 E.g., Tully, “Stutzman, Sex, and Secular Marriage.”
3 Augustine, On Marriage and Concupiscence, 1.11; idem, On the Good of Marriage, 6, 7, 15, 17, 32; idem, On Adulterous Marriages, 1.12; 2.9-11.
4 On which, see Philip Lyndon Reynolds, Marriage in the Western Church: The Christianization of Marriage During the Patristic and Early Medieval Periods (Boston: Brill, 2001), 22-38.


Thoughts on Privilege & Equal Rights

It simply can’t be denied that a great deal of our society, including the church, suffers from an ignorance of history and an inability to utilize logic when discerning truth from error, on all fronts. Just turn on the news (any network) or check your Facebook newsfeed. There is much to cloud our thinking today.

With all of the voices in our head and the messages bombarding us in our world (many of them cynical and angry), it seems that we’re no longer taught to think about things rationally (or from a faith perspective), but strictly from our gut and fickle human emotions.

Even the rationalists aren’t so rational anymore.

British comedian and actor, Ricky Gervais, tweeted this last February:

“Same sex marriage isn’t gay privilege, it’s equal rights. Privilege would be something like gay people not paying taxes, like churches don’t.”

Well, there you go. What’s unfortunate, and should be recognized, is that humor often has the power to slip misinformation by you, perpetuate nonsense, and get you laughing at the comedic rants of an atheist activist on an issue that is emotionally charged, without even stopping to consider if it’s a fair and reasonable assessment.

And notice that the church (the body of Christ) becomes the target.

It’s one thing to disagree and have an opposing opinion. It’s quite another thing to create bogus comparisons in order to get a laugh to stroke your own ego and gain followers to your cause. It’s not OK for any of us to do it.

I can’t help but notice the hyper-sensitivity to all things “privilege” in what is being passed off as a concern for social justice. I’m not denying that certain people or groups are (or have been) unfairly given an advantage over others.

I’m also not denying that some concerns about the so-called privileged are legitimate. I too feel a righteous indignation when a person is being treated unjustly because of race, gender, economic status, or creed.

What I want to challenge is the spirit of pervasive (albeit cryptic) individualism that turns every issue into one of privilege. Like the man who only saw nails to be pounded because all he had in his tool-belt was a hammer, so has become our society, even those “progressive” Christians who are upset about their fundamentalist upbringing and want to make a difference.

Those of us who were formerly conservative fundies, are in danger of becoming progressive fundies, which I’ve noticed is just a Liberal (in the theological sense) with a make-over. We can do better than that.

But still I see scores of Christians, many of whom I know personally and deeply love, leaving fundamentalism for what they believe to be a more authentic Christianity, but it’s really nothing more than ego-centric spirituality.

These folks struggle to envision a revitalized church that still maintains orthodox Christian teaching, so they take cues from the culture and join ranks with the growing mass of individualists who are becoming more self-centered and agenda-driven, even as I type up this blog post.

And in some cases… many have just left the Republican party and joined the Democratic party in their thinking. Hardly the Kingdom revolution that is needed in our personal lives and for a counter-cultural church practice.

So what is so wrong with Ricky Gervais’ comment?

I think Gervais is a funny guy, but I do wonder if Ricky knows anything about the historical reasons for privileging male-female marriage, and then why the church doesn’t pay taxes according to US law. After all, he is British.

It has nothing to do with “privilege” in the popular and polemical sense of the word, as it has been used to demonize those who affirm conjugal marriage.

The real reason is, like the historical institution of marriage, stretching back and affirmed by the ancient Greeks (i.e. Socrates, Plato & Aristotle), who were well aware of same-sex relationships, the church in America was given tax exemption status because it was recognized and affirmed as a private institution that served the public good of a democratic nation.

Therefore, there are historically certain “privileges” that have been afforded male-female marriage and the church because they are (or at least were) thought to be socially advantageous to society (e.g. procreation, broad domestic sharing, holistic human formation, moral & ethical stability, etc.).

That is the historical reasoning behind it, particularly the motivation behind US constitutional law. That’s not my opinion. That’s the fact of the matter. It has nothing to do with bigotry or deprivation of rights.

As far as Western civilization has been concerned in ages past, same-sex “marriage” infringes upon the moral and civic fabric of society and has nothing to do with “equal rights” for individuals (or same-sex attracted couples, threesomes, polygamists, etc.) but instead it’s about the good of the whole society, which means far more than one individual’s idea of personal freedoms and rights. This flies in the face of our self-absorbed culture that wants to believe we’re on the cusp of a great gay liberation, totally oblivious to history.

The ancient world understood this much better than we do today. And the church of the New Testament operated out of this collectivist mindset—putting the interest of the whole before individual “rights” to personal fulfillment.

This is what has been lost in the church discussion, as individualism and an obsession with personal freedoms, especially when it comes to sexual expression, has trumped the greater good. As the apostle Paul said, “I’m free to do anything, but not everything is beneficial” (1 Cor 6:12) for himself or for the whole of any group, especially those who belong to Christ.

In this case, and cases like it, I submit that “privilege” and “privileges” are not the same thing. Western society and culture has largely lost the ability to discern the difference between the two, as it has championed individual “rights” over and against the good of the collective whole.

It is my observation that this pervasive individualism, and the “personal freedoms” mentality, is currently the greatest threat and obstacle to churches in America maintaining New Testament Christianity. It is a battle between the Bill of Rights and the Christ of the Gospels—America vs. the Kingdom.

In the end we know who wins. So the question is… what side are you on?

Are we for Christ or against him? For the Kingdom or culture? I know… I know. That sort of language isn’t always right or helpful. But that’s now where we’re at in our churches. Let’s not forget that it’s the rhetoric of Jesus (Lk 11:23).

There is a growing segment of society that is deaf to this logic and moral reasoning. Nevertheless, we need to know that this goes far beyond the teachings of Christ and the beauty of the Christian faith.

I highly recommend reading What is Marriage?: Man & Woman: A Defense by Sherif Girgis, Ryan Anderson, and Robert George.

The book was first published in the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy. It is a formidable defense of traditional marriage that is based purely on reason, offering a philosophical and historical case for conjugal marriage.

The follower of Christ ought to be aware of Scripture—from Moses, Jesus, to Paul (e.g. Gen 2:18-24; Matt 19:1-11; Eph 5:25-31)—and the historic Christian tradition on marriage, but it’s also helpful to hear what reason and experience have to say—including the experiences of those who haven’t embraced the gay identity in order to remain faithful to their belief in Christ and the Scriptures. Those voices have been drowned out by the noise of LGBT activists.

As Paul said, walk as the wise in this dark world, not as the unwise (Eph 5:15-17). Brothers and sisters, rise above the culture and its use of words like “privilege” and “equal rights” to distort the truth. Instead, speak the language of Christ and the Kingdom and join a different movement that doesn’t shift the blame, point fingers, and use shame to get its way in the world.

We’ve not been appointed as moral guardians of society, but we are called to be moral guides by way of our example.

May the world look to our local congregations and see the difference, and hear real liberating language as we bless the poor of all races, the outcasts of every group, and those who demean us, even persecuting us for our faith.

D.D. Flowers, 2014.


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