Saturday, February 13, 2016

Christian Action Project – Notes and asides - #2 – The Hope

Christian Action Project – Notes and asides - #2 – The Hope
This Note #2 is a sequel to #1. You might want to read it before you tackle this one, as we get more specific on the reasons we have a major theological dichotomy within the Christian community. It is without question, at least in my mind, the major reason the Christian influence in this country has become so ineffective.
Just as a reminder, please allow yourself to go through these CAP studies at your own pace. 
I am also introducing another resource for your reference. It is one of the most influential books I have read on dominion theology - “Paradise Restored”, written by David Chilton. It was the most helpful for me because it taught me how to use the Bible to explain the Bible, specifically in how the New Testament writers used Old Testament language and images to convey their message. After all, the only existing scripture at that time was the Old Testament. This is especially true for the Apostle John’s letter that we call the Book of Revelation.
Another helpful explanation was to look at the Bible narrative as literature – inspired – but still literature, so that we would be able to appreciate its language and poetic style, in order to understand its deeper meanings, as it was written at a particular time in history.
Also, the book further confirmed for me that the entire Bible, from beginning to end, is a narrative of God’s dominion assignment to mankind. It is not a hodgepodge of disconnected Biblical ‘truth scriptures’ that we have to memorize and assemble as a giant picture puzzle. It tells a story of God reconciling the world to Himself, just as Dr. Marshall Foster commented in his DVD series “From Terror to Triumph”.
The DVD series is available from various sellers now. The “Paradise Restored” book is still available in hard copy from American Vision.
I also strongly suggest that you invite others to join your ‘journey of discovery’. There is good reason for this, as I have learned from my own experience. The three references mentioned so far were first introduced to me 10 years ago. I read or viewed them, but did not really get involved in discussing them in a group interactive format. It isn’t until we actually get involved in processing the ideas and opinions of other people in connection with the basic premise of the Bible, before we start making progress in our effectiveness as Christians. Effectiveness is paramount, as Jesus Himself taught over and over again. Expect some pushback from some of your friends, but understand that we all like to cling to our preconceived opinions and learning. There is no better format to sort all this out than an interactive study. Again, always ask: Is this true and provable from scripture?
(The following is from “Paradise Restored”. It focuses on two important areas of Christian understanding (or misunderstanding) – spirituality and eschatology. The definitions are part of the explanation narrative. When the church was fully engaged in advancing the Kingdom of God and the Christian commission, it established the basic structure of Western civilization, including the entire culture and civil government. What changed in the last 150 years?)
This is a book about hope. For too long, Christians have been characterized by despair, defeat, and retreat. For too long, Christians have heeded the false doctrine which teaches that we are doomed to failure, that Christians cannot win—the notion that, until Jesus returns, Christians will steadily lose ground to the enemy. The future of the Church, we were told, is to be a steady slide into apostasy. Some of our leaders sadly informed us that we are living in a "Laodicean age" of the Church (a reference to the "lukewarm" church of Laodicea, spoken of in Rev. 3:14-22). Any new outbreak of war, any rise in crime statistics, any new evidence of the breakdown of the family, was often oddly viewed as progress, a step forward toward the expected goal of the total collapse of civilization, a sign that Jesus might come to rescue us at any moment. Social action projects were looked on with skepticism: it was often assumed that anyone who actually tried to improve the world must not really believe the Bible, because the Bible taught that such efforts were bound to be futile; as one famous preacher put it, "You don’t polish brass on a sinking ship." That slogan was based on two assumptions: first, that the world is nothing more than a "sinking ship"; second, that any organized program of Christian reconstruction would be nothing more than "polishing brass." Evangelism was an invitation to join the losing side.
This was rooted in two problems. One was a fake view of Spirituality. The unbiblical idea of "spirituality" is that the truly "spiritual" man is the person who is sort of "non-physical: who doesn’t get involved in "earthly" things, who doesn’t work very much or think very hard, and who spends most of his time meditating about how he’d rather be in heaven. As long as he’s on earth, though, he has one main duty in life: Get stepped on for Jesus. The "spiritual" man, in this view, is a wimp. A Loser. But at least he’s a Good Loser.
The teaching of the Bible is very different. When the Bible uses the term Spiritual, it is generally speaking of the Holy Spirit (which is why I use a capital S). To be Spiritual is to be guided and motivated by the Holy Spirit. It means obeying His commands as recorded in the Scriptures. The Spiritual man is not someone who floats in midair and hears eerie voices. The Spiritual man is the man who does what the Bible says (Rom. 8:4-8). This means, therefore, that we are supposed to get involved in life. God wants us to apply Christian standards everywhere, in every area. Spirituality does not mean retreat and withdrawal from life; it means dominion. The basic Christian confession of faith is that Jesus is Lord (Rom. 10:9-10)—Lord of all things, in heaven and on earth. As Lord, He is to be glorified in every area (Rom. 11:36). In terms of Christian Spirituality, in terms of God’s requirements for Christian action in every area of life, there is no reason for retreat.
The second obstacle to Christian action has been an eschatology of defeat. Our eschatology is our "doctrine of last things," our expectation of the future. And there is no question about the recent expectations of many Christians: we have looked forward to failure. The world, as we noted earlier, was regarded as a sinking ship.
Of course, no Christian believes in ultimate defeat. All Christians know that God will be victorious over the devil at the end of history. As a young Christian, I remember my Bible teachers informing me that they had "peeked at the last chapter (of the Bible), and the Christians win!" But that is just my point: according to certain popular brands of eschatology, victory takes place only in "the last chapter." In time, in history, on earth, the Christians lose. The world is getting worse and worse. Antichrist is coming. The devil is running the world, and getting more and more powerful all the time. Your work for God in this world will have no lasting effect, except to save a few individuals from hell. But you’d better do it quickly, before the Tribulation hits, so that you can escape in time. Ironically, the unintentional message of this gospel is: Antichrist is coming! There is something terribly lopsided about that.
What I am saying is this. The eschatology of defeat is wrong. It is no more Biblical than its twin sister, the false view of Spirituality. Instead of a message of defeat, the Bible gives us Hope, both in this world and the next. The Bible gives us an eschatology of dominion, an eschatology of victory. This is not some blind, "everything-will-work-out-somehow" kind of optimism. It is a solid, confident, Bible-based assurance that, before the Second Coming of Christ, the gospel will be victorious through-out the entire world.
For many, that will seem incredible. It goes against the whole spirit of the modern age; for years, Christians have been taught to expect defeat. Certainly, it’s a good idea to be careful about "new" doctrines. Everything must be checked by the Scriptures. One thing to consider, however, is that the idea of dominion is not new. In fact, until fairly recently, most Christians held an eschatology of dominion. Most Christians throughout the history of the Church regarded the eschatology of defeat as a doctrine of crackpots.
The Hope of worldwide conquest for Christianity has been the traditional faith of the Church through the ages. This fact can easily be demonstrated again and again. We can see it in the words of St. Athanasius, the great Church Father of the fourth century whose classic book On the Incarnation of the Word of God reveals his strong eschatology of dominion. He summarized its thesis:
Since the Saviour came to dwell in our midst, not only does idolatry no longer increase, but it is getting less and gradually ceasing to be. Similarly, not only does the wisdom of the Greeks no longer make any progress, but that which used to be is disappearing. And daemons, so far from continuing to impose on people by their deceits and oracle-givings and sorceries, are routed by the sign of the cross if they so much as try. On the other hand, while idolatry and everything else that opposes the faith of Christ is daily dwindling and weakening and falling, the Saviour’s teaching is increasing everywhere! Worship, then, the Saviour "Who is above all" and mighty, even God the Word, and condemn those who are being defeated and made to disappear by Him. When the sun has come, darkness prevails no longer; any of it that may be left anywhere is driven away. So also, now that the Divine epiphany of the Word of God has taken place, the darkness of idols prevails no more, and all parts of the world in every direction are enlightened by His teaching.
You must not suppose that Athanasius was just a positive-thinking optimist, relaxing in quiet, peaceful surroundings. On the contrary: he lived through one of the most severe persecutions the world had ever seen, the Emperor Diocletian’s all-out attempt to stamp out the Christian faith. Later, Athanasius had to stand practically alone for 40 years in his defense of the doctrine of the Trinity against rampant heresy, being exiled by the government on five occasions and sometimes in peril for his life. In fact, his story gave birth to a proverb: Atharzasius contra mundum (Athanasius against the world). Yet he never lost sight of the basic fact of world history, that the Word had become flesh, conquering the devil, redeeming mankind, flooding the world with Light which the darkness could not overcome.
The Church’s eschatology of dominion radically shaped the history of Western civilization. For example, think about the great cathedrals of Europe, and compare them to the church buildings of today. Those old cathedrals, magnificent works of art constructed over decades and sometimes generations, were built to last for centuries—and they have. But modern evangelical churches are usually built to last a generation at most. We don’t expect to be around long enough to get much use out of them, and we certainly don’t expect our great-grandchildren to worship in them. We don’t even expect to have great- grandchildren. It is safe to say that the thought of descendants living five hundred years from now has never even entered the minds of most evangelical today. Yet, for many Christians of previous generations, the idea of future generations benefiting from their labors was not strange in the slightest degree. They built for the ages.
Let’s look at a very different field: exploration. Not one historian in a hundred knows what motivated Christopher Columbus to seek a western route to the Indies. Trade? Yes, that was part of the reason. More than this, however, it was unfulfilled prophecy. Before he began his expeditions, Columbus crammed his journals with quotations from Isaiah and other Biblical writers, in which he detailed the numerous prophecies that the Great Commission to disciple all nations of the world would be successful (see, for example, Isa. 2:2-5; 9:2-7; 11:1-10; 32:15-17; 40:4-11; 42:1-12; 49:1-26; 56:3-8; 60:1-22; 61:1-11; 62:1-12; 65:1-25; 66:1-24). He figured that if the Indies were to be converted, a sea route would be a much more efficient way to bring them the gospel; and he credited his discoveries not to the use of mathematics or maps, but rather to the Holy Spirit, who was bringing to pass what Isaiah had foretold. We must remember that America had been discovered numerous times, by other cultures; yet successful colonization and development took place only in the age of exploration begun by Columbus. Why? Because these explorers were bearers of the gospel, and their goal was to conquer the world for the kingdom of God. They came expecting that the New World would be Christianized. They were certain of victory, and assumed that any obstacles they met had been placed there for the express purpose of being overcome. They knew that Christians are destined for dominion.
Examples could be multiplied, in every field. The whole rise of Western Civilization—science and technology, medicine, the arts, constitutionalism, the jury system, free enterprise, literacy, increasing productivity, a rising standard of living, the high status of women—is attributable to one major fact: the West has been transformed by Christianity. True, the transformation is not yet complete. There are many battles ahead. But the point is that, even in what is still largely an early Christian civilization, God has showered us with blessings.
Many Christians do not realize it, but the Hope is the basis for many of the great old hymns of the faith, written before the modern era of evangelical despair and pessimism. Think about that the next time you sing Martin Luther’s "A mighty Fortress is our God," Isaac Watts’s "Jesus shall reign where’er the sun cloth his successive journeys run," or George Duffield’s "Stand up, stand up for Jesus." Do you really believe that Jesus is now leading us "from victory unto victory…till every foe is vanquished, and Christ is Lord indeed"? That is what the Church has historically believed. That is what they sang in their hymns. This can be seen most clearly in the traditional Christmas carols, which, like Athanasius’s reflections on the Incarnation, are unabashed expectations of Christ’s triumph over the world through the gospel. Carols such as "Come, thou long-expected Jesus," "O come, O come, Emmanuel," "Hark! the herald angels sing," "God rest you merry, gentlemen," and many others are written from the same basic perspective as the present book. The conviction that—as a result of His first advent—Christ is now reigning from heaven and conquering the earth underlies the message of "Joy to the world!":
No more let sins and sorrows grow, Nor thorns infest the ground; He comes to make his blessings flow Far as the curse is found.
He rules the world with truth and grace, And makes the nations prove The glories of his righteousness And wonders of his love.
The same is true of that great victory-oriented carol, "It came upon the midnight clear":
For lo, the days are hast’ning on, By prophet bards foretold, When with the ever-circling years Comes round the age of gold; When peace shall over all the earth Its ancient splendors fling, And the whole world give back the song Which now the angels sing.

(Study 4 will follow in a few days.)