The Eschatological Zenith and Paradigm

Everything within theology has eschatology as its nexus,1 zenith,2 and crux.3 With such a statement as that, I suppose each of those three need to be explained out a bit. Firstly, let us deal with the issue before those three words. Eschatology is the study of the end times, coming from the Greek word εσχατον. Why would the study of the end times be the very fulcrum of theology? And what does it mean that theology hinges in all ways upon eschatology?

When you go into the Bible, you find that there are very few passages that do not deal with the end times – especially when you see the overview of the Scriptures. Taking seriously the words of the prophets and apostles leads you to understand that even the things that happened at the beginning are mere reflections of what shall happen at the end. It’s all one giant cycle where we have patterns that happen over and over again throughout the Scripture, and every time the cycle repeats, it gets closer to the ultimate finale and consummation. Take for example the exodus story. You first have a righteous lineage from Seth through Noah, that is separate from the children of Cain. After Noah comes the tower of Babel, in which you have the great call unto Abram to “come out”, or “leave” the system and nation he is in, in order to be established as God’s nation. After Abram comes the generation of Moses, which “comes out” from Egypt, out of nations to be established as God’s nation. Hosea recounts this deliverance, and says that “out of Egypt I called my son”, and Matthew then applies that to Jesus, to show that just as Israel has gone through this, so too does messiah. And yet, it doesn’t stop there, for the prophets declare a “new exodus” at the end of the age, where Israel is again brought into the wilderness to meet with God. And, of course, there is the “come out from her my people” of Revelation 18:4. It is after the exodus of the end times that God then establishes again the nation of God forever – according to the prophets as well as the book of Revelation.

Within these patterns we see something emerge. It isn’t just that the Scripture all revolves around a final conclusion of the age. It isn’t just that all things are leading unto that epoch that includes the return of the Son of God. What we find emerge is that there is a theological foundation to all of the various dogmas, or doctrines, which begins in Genesis, and branches out unto the very last chapters of Revelation. When we discuss soteriology, we’re discussing an end time salvation. When we discuss anthropology, we’re not only discussing the nature of man from the Garden, and after the fall, but we’re also discussing humanity in the bodily resurrection. God’s perspective and view is ever and always upon that eschaton. For our view to consistently be upon the here and now, wanting to expound the depths of the Scripture and theology according to current experience falls short of the glory of God.

Therefore, theology has eschatology as its nexus. Everything links and comes together when the key of eschatology has been put into place. That isn’t to say we cannot understand without first going to eschatology, but to say that if we have been negligent to understanding God’s paradigm and cosmic, apocalyptic, and eternal purposes, then we have been even more negligent within every other branch of theology. The very culmination and aggregation of the great dogmas is rooted and grounded, even the foundation being laid, within the eternal purposes of God. What is the Church, and what is the Church’s purpose if it does not have an end time orientation? What is salvation, and what is the purpose of salvation, if it does not have an end time conclusion?

Eschatology, though it seem to be a study of the end time events, is much more than that. If we are trying to graph and chart things out, imparting a knowledge of how things will take place, but we have not yet seen the pertinence upon daily life, and the constrains that the eschaton brings into practice, then we have not truly studied, nor understood, nor desired to understand, the end of the age. It is not the heart of God that we are looking for, but rather a pristine theology, and sound doctrine. To ask the question of the end is to ask the question of God Himself. What we claim to believe about God is put to the test in what we believe about the end. Nothing shows forth the grace, mercy, severity, love, and anger of God like the end of the age, the conclusion of all things.

Therefore the eschaton is the zenith of theology. To do theology apart from an apocalyptic expectancy, and a blessed hope in which Messiah shall come, and raise a banner for the nations, that all might see His glory, and Israel might be joined under her brethren, and we might enter Zion together with an eternal inheritance, with everlasting joy upon our heads, and tears being wiped away, the Spirit of grace and supplication being poured out on the House of David, and the Spirit being poured out on all flesh – that kind of theology that refuses to consider this eternal bliss in all things is a prime example of ministerial malpractice. It doesn’t prepare the congregation for the glory that is coming, if they shall truly be found faithful unto that glorious appearing. Rather, it teaches a dullness, and a malaise, in which every Sunday is like the other, new messages with the same message, and all of the hearers are lulled into thinking that what we have is all we’ll ever have in this life.

Such a theology does not know God, nor the power of God. God Himself has made this one statement at the end of the age, the epochal drama and saga of Israel and the saints, to be the very testimony and witness of a King who rules forever. Where eschatology has classically been the end cap of theology, and almost an addendum of interesting discussion, I would persist that it is actually the foremost consideration in God’s heart. This isn’t one doctrine among many, in which we can come to whatever conclusions we want, because it doesn’t really matter. What you say of the end of the age will result in the life or death of countless masses. Martin Luther must have rolled in his grave to behold Nazi Germany willingly using his material to woo the anemic church into antisemitism and violence. And this is modern history, after the enlightenment, when Germany was the motherland of theology, and the place of immaculate culture. We aren’t dealing with primitives, nor with uneducated or uncultured Middle Eastern Muslims. The atrocities of Auschwitz and Birkinau were performed by a nation of civilized and cultured jewels, who willingly forfeited their humanity to become automatons under the coercion of the principalities and powers of darkness, who have only too gladly held their place of honor and rule over the German people from before the Reformation, and even through the Reformation with the giddy condemnation and slaughter of the anabaptists.

Would such a mass murder and condemnation of the reformers been allotted if the so-called church held to a view that God would kill all the sinners of His people? Would it have been conceivable for Martin Luther to call the anabaptists demon possessed, simply because of their exemplary holiness and godly living, if he took seriously that the Church is to be a demonstration of the manifest wisdom of God unto the principalities and powers of the air – a demonstration that is quite obviously of unity, not just between brethren, but even an impossible humility to accepting that we as Gentiles have been brought into the commonwealth of Israel? And how does that demonstration manifest? Is it not explained in Ephesians as well? Is it not that in the dispensation of the fullness of time that God would bring together under in one all things in Christ? When is that dispensation? At the formation of the church in Acts 2? Never for a minute consider that Paul had such a thought, for he continues in pointing out that we have obtained an inheritance, “εις απολυτρωσιν της περιποιησεως”.4 Here it is mentioned “to the praise of His glory”, which goes back to verse 12, in which Paul speaks of “we who first trusted”, which is not the Gentiles addressed in verse 13, but the Jewish believers that are a part of that “purchased possession”.

If we are willing to hear God’s heart, I think we would be flabbergasted. All of us would be on our faces to consider the things that He has spoken, but we have not been willing to heart it. Our thoughts are too high, and our ways are too high – far higher than the meek and lowly road that God has endured. The proud won’t understand, because God hides Himself from them. The meek, however, who shall inherit the earth, stand in God’s counsel, willingly hearing the hard things, and willingly embracing even the statements of an Israel that God still loves, who are currently “not my people”, but shall in that day be called “my people”. The Bride of Christ is Israel, the congregation (εκκλεσια) is Israel, the election is Israel, and even the promises, covenants, prophecies, blessings, and inheritance are all for Israel. Any part that you or I have, if we are not a Jew by birth, is not because we are somehow a superstructure in Christ called “the church”, but because we have been grafted in, and are now a part of the commonwealth of Israel.

A theology that does not embrace the things that God has declared about the end of the age, and has made light of His very heart and vexation, is an arrogant theology. That arrogance is not something to take lightly, considering that Ezekiel 28 tells us that Satan himself corrupted his wisdom, and his heart boasted over – exalted itself – because of his beauty. The arrogance of Romans 11:18 is not about high mindedness, which is found in verse 20, but rather an exaltation and “boasting over of”. Do not boast against the branches, being arrogant, exalting yourself like the ancient serpent, and corrupting your wisdom in the process. Rather, remain pure, lay down your life as a living sacrifice, be not conformed to the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, and all these statements come after the explanation that we as Gentiles have been grafted in so that they might be driven to jealousy – a statement straight out of Deuteronomy 32 for the end of the age.

The arrogant theology parades as God’s view, exalting itself against and above the branches, not believing that the root supports it. Any branch that is grafted in that does not take dies, and is good for nothing but firewood. To not take seriously the eschaton, and to expect that you don’t need to see the mystery that Paul emphatically declares in Ephesians 3, is to willingly, and arrogantly, believe that there are more important things than the eternal purposes of God. Such a slap in the face desecrates all of the teachings of Jesus, and it certainly doesn’t take seriously the call that Paul lays forth for “the Church”. Whatever he was expressing as this mystery, which will demonstrate the manifest wisdom of God unto the powers of darkness, is the very thing that brings the conclusion, “αθτω η δοξα εν τη εκκλεσια”.5 That glory is not a seasonal glory, but “εις πασας τας γενεας του αεωνος των αεωνων”.6

1 A connection or series of connections linking two or more things.

2 The time at which something is most powerful or successful.

3 The decisive or most important point at issue.

4 To the redemption of the obtained, or acquired, or purchased possession

5 To him be glory in the church…

6 To all generations forever and ever.

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Chatechetic Vs Developmental Theology

The question has been raised: “Has theology developed over time?” The answer is obvious: yes-no, and no-yes. In theology, we assume that there is, at least slightly, a degree to which our understanding has been obtained through “handed down” traditions. Catechetic theology is theology “passed down” from generations, already having been proven and understood. We should intend on looking back to the greats of the Christian faith through the ages, examining the teachings of the saints throughout the last 2000 years. We could also call this historic theology. With developmental theology, what is being pressed is the issue of further deepening of thought, and not that our understanding goes beyond what is taught in Scripture.

It is true that there is not any new revelation, at least when revelation is defined as the opening up of new understanding beyond the canon. Jesus revealed something beyond the comprehension of the learned in His own day, and the apostles then also taught of something “hidden in former ages”, but now being “revealed through the holy apostles and prophets”. This kind of revelation is not something that is adding to the biblical text, especially when you consider that Paul used the Old Testament to express those revelations. There are ‘static doctrines’. What was hidden was the outworking of those static doctrines – specifically the manifestation of the revelation being revealed.

No longer is the eschaton something being looked forward to by the Old Testament prophets. It has now broken in, and the apostles are explaining the phenomenon by the Old Testament prophecies. It isn’t something altogether outside and apart of the testimony already given. Rather, it was something spoken of, but not actualized. Therefore, even within the first century we see a “development” of theology in a very broad sort of sense.

You would be hard pressed to say that theology doesn’t develop. The very reformation itself demands a progression in theological understanding. But the question behind the question isn’t of understanding, but of doctrine itself. Does our understanding of messiah come from Jesus and the New Testament, or can we arrive at the exact same conclusions through the Old Testament exclusively? Is there a “progressive revelation”, in which all of our doctrines are not fully brought to life until they are unveiled? If so, then where is the demand that the close of the canon is the end of doctrinal revelation? We believe in a bodily resurrection at the return of Jesus bodily. That in itself demands a more full understanding and progression of revelation – even something beyond what the Scripture itself testifies.

What I want to posit is that the faith itself is once and for all. These things that might have further expression with the consummation of the age are not thing without revelation and warrant from the Old Testament. Indeed, even the “church age”, as it is so called, was prophesied in the Old Testament in passages like Micah 5:1-3. The casting aside of Israel for a time, which is the content of Romans 11, is exactingly spoken of in Micah 5:3, and even the return of Israel unto “the rest of his brethren” is declared.

Our theology should be from the illumination of the Holy Spirit, and not a result of cultural and societal quibble. When the apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit, something had happened. There is a root that is Hebraic in nature that goes back to the Garden of Eden. For the apostles to be filled with the Spirit, it was much like a year of Jubilee. They regained their inheritance. That which went all the way back to the ancient of ancients in God was brought to life. The heritage that these men had been given, but had not been expressed through the last multiple centuries, was awakened in their inner being. Somehow these men were Hebrew, and yet didn’t even realize the Hebrew roots of their own Tanakh. Somehow everything had been robbed – they went from being Hebrew to Babylonians, and from Babylonians to being Greek. Their understanding had been infiltrated by the culture of the world, even from the generation after Joshua.

This ancient root has ever and always been the root from which the people of God drink. For the apostles, this was the nourishment necessary to bring them in utter conflict with the rest of they who gathered at Jerusalem. For the rest of the Church, it was enough to experience the culture of heaven, and therefore to reveal that the societies of men stem from the devil. The faith is once and for all given, which is to say that it has ever and always been fixed. Any “development” in theology should not be a progression toward something, but rather a restoration of something. We are to restore that which has been handed down by the people of God through all the ages – specifically that which has been handed down by the prophets and apostles. They are the true foundation, and any other building upon any other foundation will result in something that we call “Christian”, but lacks the actuality of that term.

What annihilates the question of development versus catechetic theology is the fact that our theology is not a slew of dogmas. We aren’t worshiping creeds. The Gospel is not a doctrinal stance. All of these things are of a Person, One who has revealed Himself, and in that revealed the Father as well. Theology has as God as its subject, and not biblical insight or interpretation. The Gospel is not a formula for salvation, nor an envoy of doctrinal points that we subscribe to. The Gospel is of a Kingdom, one in which a certain King rules over, from a certain place that He has chosen, by a certain Name in which He has desired to be called forever, over a certain people that He has elected from before the beginning, and unto the ends of the earth eternally. Any Gospel that begins with Genesis chapter 3, and the fall of man, and the introduction of sin, to then end at the cross and/or resurrection of Jesus, and therefore the means of salvation, is a defunct gospel. It is certainly not the Gospel that Paul declared.

Our inheritance depends upon this. To debate whether the faith is catechistic or developed is to miss the point entirely. It is both, because we progress to that one faith that is the centerpiece of all Christendom. With the help of those who have gone on before us, and the brothers and sisters who are with us at this moment, we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but with God Himself to be made holy as He is holy. It is through that interaction with God through the Holy Spirit that we attain unto “all truth”. It is the job of the Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth, and that is not merely a statement given to the apostles. The Spirit directed them into all truth because they did not wrestle in isolated sects, but rather with all the saints. More took place at Pentecost than we want to admit, and we like it that way. It is through the Spirit of God that we come unto understanding, and that understanding is only found in quaffing from Jacob’s Well – the very Hebrew roots of the faith.

Theologia Crusis

Theologia crusis is the theology of the cross. For centuries theologians have seen the cross as the locus and center of all theology. Everything must be filtered through it. In this, the crucifixion of Jesus has become the centerpiece of Christianity, and often has been the heralded message in every setting. For most, the cross is the Gospel itself. Therefore the Old Testament saints might have been able to “look forward” to the works of Jesus on the cross, and therefore have relationship with God, but they weren’t the beneficiaries of the same outpouring that we have, because that work was not complete.

Jesus’ crucifixion is quite possibly the one point of Christian theology that has been made into an idol. In such, it has not only warped our views of the way we read Scripture, it has warped our views of God, and it has effected the way we view the rest of humanity. Religiosity cannot take one to fullness. The result of religiosity is always idolatry. We’ve heralded a crucified Christ, having technically the correct words as far as that goes, but lacking the deep reality of this event. The cross is not about salvation, or the Gospel, or the whole of the Bible. When we caricature the Scriptures to only pointing to Jesus, and more specifically only pointing to one event in the life of Jesus, we rob God of His eternal glory.

To put it plainly, we shouldn’t be about the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Instead, we need to recognize that Jesus is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. The simple statement is more profound than originally considered. What I’m positing is not an evasion of the cross, nor a neglect of it, but rather that it be put in its proper context. There is 4000 years of history in the Bible before Jesus walks the earth. There are prophecies that say nothing of Jesus, and speak nothing of a crucified messiah. When we pick up the books of Obadiah, Zephaniah, or even Habakkuk, what message can we draw from this? There might be select passages or verses to glean from, but do these books actually have a whole lot to say to the crucified messiah? Do they actually speak deeply about Jesus?

For this reason I’ve read opinions that question why they’re even in the Scripture. Because they don’t talk enough about Jesus, and they don’t seem to give us enough description about things that pertain to “theologia crusis”, maybe they really don’t have anything to say at all. They were great for their day and age, but now that their prophecies have been “fulfilled” there is nothing left to gain. We’ve made merchandise of the holy words, and in this we’ve made an idol that reflects too much of our own ambition and desire. Why the fascination with the cross? Does it stem from an honest reflecting upon God and His goodness, or is it because we are the beneficiaries?

Revelation 13:8 calls Jesus Αρνιου του εσφαγμενου απο καταβολης κοσμου. Notice the Greek words. Καταβολης, which isn’t just “the foundation”, or “the creation”. It is from before, from everlasting. It carries connotation of something beyond from the first day, but even before the first day. This is the very character of the Lamb. This is the very expression of the Αρνιον. This “being slain” was not something that is being spoken of during a select time in history. Our author is expressing something much beyond that. From before the creation, when there was not even an “in the beginning”, this Lamb was slain. Any saint of the Old Testament that ate from the table of God, represented in the altar, feasting upon this eternal Lamb, received salvation and cleansing from sin that you and I also receive. This Lamb, this eternal slain Lamb, the one we call our Messiah and LORD, has ever and always shown Himself as the crucified God.

To limit it then to one point in history that all of Scripture must look forward to or backward to simply reveals that the one making the statement doesn’t know “Him who is from the beginning”. The statement of fathers, εγνωκατε τον απ αρχης, is a statement of knowledge deeper than what the Bible tells us. Micah 5:2 begins with statement of messiah, one who shall come and shepherd Israel, and yet claims that this one to rule shall be “from everlasting”. The Hebrew there is “motzaotaw miqqedem mime olam”. His “going forth” is from of old, the same kind of ancient ascribed to God Himself. He is the “ancient of days” “from of old”. Habakkuk 1:2 even asks, “Halow attah miqqedem Yaweh Elohay Qadoshi?” Are you not from of old Yahweh my God my Holy One? And parallel to “from of old” is olam – everlasting. This is another one of those words given to God. When we’re talking about someone “from of old” and “from everlasting”, we’re alluding to something very much with and alongside of God – if not God Himself.

This Jesus, the Shepherd of Israel, the one of old and of everlasting, the Lamb slain, has completed His word from the very beginning. The theology of the cross is not something to demand that all things converge there at that center, but rather should be about a God who has revealed Himself from heaven as the one who suffers on behalf of His creation. God has always been the one who suffers for the benefit of the creature. It is from the very beginning, for did not the Spirit hover over the waters? And does not that Hebrew word have connotation of intense relaxation – coming from the verb RKhF? This movement, or hovering, or vibrating (as some have pointed out), is one of relaxation. The movement comes from rest, and not the other way around. The difference between this rest and the Shabbat is that our sabbath day is an eternal moment, a “Today” that we can enter, according to the author of Hebrews.

God separated the light and darkness, He hovered over the waters, and He even bore the anguish of a creation that would be “formless and empty”. Indeed from the first couple verses we find that God has not been lax in revelation. He is indeed the Lamb slain from before the creation of the cosmos. Because of that we have a few hinges upon which we can base our understanding. Jesus’ death on the cross is one of those hinges, and is indubitably a pinnacle of the Bible. I’m not suggesting that Jesus’ crucifixion is somehow null or insignificant, but revealing that its significance is determined upon the God who has shown Himself as this quintessence.

For the rest of theology our question is not to be pinned against the cross of Jesus, but rather against the character of God. God has revealed Himself in a very specific manner, and we must keep that revelation intact. To suggest a theological conception that speaks against the very essence of God is altogether anathema. For myself, that has been the ground and foundation, the true “theologia crusis”.

You Are the Sons of the Living God

 

I recently had a friend visit from Colorado, and we decided to attempt to go through Hosea while she stayed here. These are the sessions… the Hosea files.

The Controversy of Faith in Theology

Within the task of theology, it is admitted and must be upheld that faith plays a massive role in theology. It is true that we can indeed read the Bible millions of times, and yet never come to understand it, simply because we don’t hear from the Holy Spirit. In all of the reading, what benefit does it actually bring? Similarly, we can study theology itself, reading many various opinions, and yet never come to a place where we understand what is being debated. We might fully understand the debate, we might know the Scriptures that weigh in on the subject, and we might even have our own opinions, but that does not then demand that we understand the subject. In theology, we’re dealing with real things. These aren’t fanciful subjects we conjure up via philosophy or some other intellectual exercise.

Theology, and especially considering that theology is the study of God, cannot be comprehended upon the basis of study or books. Faith is the only means of understanding. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge”, and “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” What is the fear of the Lord apart from faith? Indeed, “without faith it is impossible to please God.” This is not an issue of elitism, or arrogance, but rather an issue of servanthood. Servanthood implies a humility that listens only for the words of the master. It believes that what it is writing about is an actual and tangible thing, and that it has experienced this actual and tangible thing. Servanthood requires that we have faith beyond the pages of a book. We believe, not because we’ve been convinced, but because we’ve experienced. We aren’t the masters of our own comprehension, that through meticulous study and virtuous reason we’ve come through with conclusions. Theologians are to speak and write, “Thus says God.”

Theologically speaking, faith has two qualities to it. There is distinction between fides qua creditur, which means “the faith that is believing”, and the fides quae creditur, which is “the faith which is believed”. The first statement is the belief itself, but then the question is asked what good that is if we don’t know what we believe in? It is precisely here that I have disagreement. Can you believe without knowing in what you believe? Don’t the two go hand in hand? And, if we’re talking about the more nuanced or subtle aspects that aren’t known from the first, is that truly a different thing altogether? You can believe that the Bible is inspired, and have a general understanding of what that means, but then as you learn and consider more deeply, your own belief and definition become more refined and enriched.

Where this really matters is in the consideration of heresy. Heresy is a belief that is so heinous in the eyes of biblical truth that you could not possibly be saved and also believe this. An example would be to deny the resurrection. If we say that Jesus died, but did not bodily rise from the grave, we have moved beyond the realm of error and into heresy. Faith demands that you cannot move into heresy. The moment you’ve moved past the bounds of error and into denying the faith itself is the moment you’ve made it obvious that you have no faith at all. While unbelief is dangerous in itself, and the atheist or skeptic we welcome to make their own remarks, heresy is all the more dangerous in that it claims to have faith, and claims to be an equally viable option, all the while rejecting any true faith.

Paul tells us that no one by the Spirit says, “Cursed be Jesus”, and that no one can say, “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit. In the same way, no one by faith writes a theological framework that denies the major tenets of Christianity. And, I would add, no one can write out these tenets in a meaningful and honest way, except by the Spirit itself. Can you truly write that Jesus came from the Father as the incarnate God, and discuss the implications of this belief with the rest of theology and lifestyle, if you yourself don’t even believe it is true? Certainly such considerations can be made, but doubt will be manifest in absolute denial somewhere.

Therefore, I don’t see it as an issue between “faith” and “faith”. It isn’t about believing and knowing in what we believe. Both are present, or neither are present. We see doctrine as a corpus doctrinae, where it is all fit together. We don’t study “doctrines”, but rather “doctrine”. It is one doctrine, rooted and centered in the triune God. Errors might come through various writings, but the question is whether that error is detrimental, or if it is simply a wrong understanding. Saying that there is no trinity is as living of a theology as a headless man. Yet, whether certain sacraments are necessary, or how we’re to understand them, might not be as important. You can still be alive while missing a finger, or having a withered hand. While it is not the desire, missing the mark on what God declares about the doctrine of reciprocity is not fatal to the believer.

We believe – fides qua creditur – therefore, we believe in – fides quae creditur. Faith and reason complement one another, not oppose. Christian faith is concerned with the illumination of reason. Our desire is to expound the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; human reason shall only take us to the place of a ‘supreme being’ towering over creation. That ‘supreme being’, the greatest conceivable being, has nothing to do with God. When we go from simple belief, which could easily result in this ‘supreme being’ being acknowledged, and come unto fides quae creditur, man becomes capable to know God, empowered, and free. Any knowledge of God before this point is not true knowledge. We might have the mental capacity to conceive of a deity, even one dimly resembling Yeshua HaMessiah, but this dubbed ‘Jesus’ has nothing to do with the true Jesus. Our perception of reality and ‘goodness’ is simply too tarnished to comprehend the purity and magnanimity of God.

There is nothing in man to be able to know God unless it be revealed, imparted, and quickened by God. God works with man, this is true, but never in the strength of man. It is in the Divine partnership; man and God being one instead of two. This is the incarnation principle.1 It is where the Scripture is fully God’s word, but written by men. It is where the prophets speak, but somehow the words are not their own. It is where God works with His Church in the earth, and the deeds are somehow theirs and God’s at the same time. Incarnation is something that is explicit to the Son of God, and yet as a principle we find it throughout Scripture that God is somehow unified with His people in a way that when you see Moses, you see God.

It is this sapientia, this practical knowledge, that is the truth, and not simply truth. Pilate asked Jesus, “What is truth?” while staring in the face the very man who just said, “I am the truth.”2 That knowledge, that revelation of Christ, and not merely Christ as a person, nor as Son of God, but Christ before me, Christ in me, Christ through me, etcetera, is the prima veritas (primary truth), which is inevitably the ultima veritas (ultimate truth). To be “in Christ” is more than a statement of location or salvation. It is the deepest recognition that through the Word, the logos, God created all things, and you and I are in Him. Whether one knows it or not, they are in Christ. This is the ultimate meaning and purpose to life. No longer can one with this knowledge ask, “What is God’s will for my life?” for this one revelation encapsulates that answer in full. You are not worthless; you are in Christ, and therefore the most important treasure that can be found.

This is the truth that sets free, for all truth is rooted in it. The truth sets free, and any revelation that is truly revelation (revealed truth) must essentially set free. But why must it set free? To acknowledge even the basic concept there must be a designer will not inevitably lead to an embrace of salvation through Jesus Christ. Our fides qua creditur, simple belief, that there is a designer of the universe demands and implies a further understanding, a fides quae creditur, a belief in that designer. For the Intelligent Design advocate to stop short of that belief in is to rob themselves of all reality. This is the controversy of faith.

1 I’m not sure if I’ve coined this or not

2 John 14:6

Theology As Science

In almost all of the modern textbooks as well as available courses regarding theology, they call theology a science. Charles Hodge makes claim that we grapple with the Scriptures as a scientist would grapple with facts. While this sounds good, and it does lead to the implication that the Scriptures are facts, I disagree. Is theology a science at all? What do we mean by science? And what do we mean by theology? If theology is a study of God and His relationships, then the question is begged, if not fully pleaded, “What can science say in regard to God and His relationships?”

It is very true that we have our own “textbook” of sorts, which is of course the Bible. Yet, should we reduce the Bible itself down to being labeled as a “textbook”? And should we reduce the study of God Himself down to a mere analysis of a certain book, no matter how significant that book might be? Can one study God and His relationships from simply studying the Scripture, or must this person also have relationship with God?

Notice here that I’m attempting to point out that science itself is not a proper medium for theology. When we think of science, we think of the scientific method. It is a method, or a “system”, by which we can study and understand the world around us. Theology simply cannot have that same method of study and interpretation. Even Hodge proclaims, “Facts… do not constitute science. Nor does the mere orderly arrangement of facts amount to science… In every department the man of science is assumed to understand the laws by which the facts of experience are determined; so that he not only knows the past, but can predict the future… If, therefore, theology be a science, it must include something more than a mere knowledge of facts. It must embrace an exhibition of the internal relation of those facts, one to another, and each to all. It must be able to show that if one be admitted, others cannot be denied.”1

I do wonder, are these facts something that relate only to one another, and not also to the one studying them? Even in science the scientist knows these observations effect him as much as the “test subjects”. Can we have a theology that is somehow outside of our own experience so that we might have an unbiased opinion? Or, maybe that is precisely the point. It is God Himself that is the theologian, and we are merely the pens. Study of the Bible will not give us any correct conclusions. It is not from persistent penmanship that we author revolutionary oracles. Nor is it from the labor of devoted hours that we read the Scriptures as well as other authors in order to comprehend a subject. The comprehension of biblical subject matter stems solely from the apprehension of that subject matter. We must not be the ‘apprehendors’, but the apprehended.

Unlike science, theology cannot be concocted at a desk with a concordance and a lexicon. It is to be fashioned on your knees, praying with diligence to hear the voice and heart of the Father, and then to be lived out in real life. We herald our message as men from heaven, because we have experienced it in the presence of God. With that kind of relationship to God, to know Him, and to walk with Him, there must be evidence of that relationship in the life of the theologian. They will be an embodiment of the message they speak, and their life will tell whether the words they proclaim are true.

Our evidence is not a demonstration of miraculous power and healings, as if we can somehow make merchandise of the Holy Spirit. We don’t have repeatable and demonstrable observations to exercise, as if we’re somehow scientists in the lab just waiting for our opportunity to show all of our findings. No, for the theologian, our demonstration of what we speak is our own lives, and the lives of our students. As Paul would say, “You are our epistle”.2 Paul preached the Gospel “εν πειθοις σοψιας λογοις, αλλ εν αποδειξει πνεθματος και δθναμεως” – not in persuasive wisdom, but in the demonstration of Spirit and of power.3

Theology, as such, is an enquiry. It is a longing. It is a method of lifestyle, and not of study. I don’t fall into the realm of believing that theology is a science, simply because I don’t believe that theology is a pursuit of knowledge. We aren’t looking for knowledge or wisdom in theology, but rather for God Himself. While scientific endeavors might be made to speak on biblical subjects, it has little to do with theology, and even less to do with God revealed. Theology used to be heralded as the mother of all sciences, that all other scientific acquisition must bow the knee to theology. Such is not the case any longer. Our science doesn’t bow the knee to theology, and our theology certainly doesn’t bow the knee to science.

Science is loosely known as a systematic body of knowledge on a certain field of study or enquiry. More commonly, science is the study of the physical and natural plane. Even if we went with that first definition, theology separates itself simply because theology itself is not a systematic body of knowledge. While many have systematized it, and therefore made it a bit more accessible, the truth is written in the pages of Scripture. God did not leave for us a systematic theology. He left for us stories, prayers, prophecies, songs, and letters. He left for us salvations as well as judgments, history as well as predictions, tears of joy and tears of grief. Theology can be comprehended on no other basis. Until it is living in our lives with the same veracity that those saints of olde had known, our theological enquiry is nothing more than dead words on a dead page to dead men with dead intellects. The great Theologian of us all still asks, “Can these dry bones live, O son of man?”

1 Hodge, Charles “Systematic Theology” Volume I pg 2

2 2 Corinthians 3:2

3 1 Corinthians 2:4

Difficulties in Defining Theology

If you ever read a systematic theology textbook, one of the first things you will encounter is a definition of theology. In some ways this is to be expected. Many even go through the Greek to explaining where we get our definitions from. However, what I’ve found is that a hard stance on theology being the study of God is shunned. How do we insert subjects like ecclesiology and eschatology into such a definition? The truth of the matter is that our working definition of theology should not succumb to our fanciful ideas of what theology encompasses. Rather, our understanding of God needs to be something that encompasses all that theology discusses. To put it more plainly, if when we talk about God we don’t also have discussion of the creation, of humanity, of angels and demons, of the end times, of sin and salvation, and of God’s foretold work through all of time, then we aren’t truly talking about God.

God has expressed Himself through these things over and over again. He puts His name upon certain people, peoples, historic events, and even prophecies. To take God away from those things is to ruin our concept of God as well as those things. The difficulty in defining theology is often a philosophical difficulty. The secular theologian, even one who claims to believe, is found debating the details in an unhealthy manner. For the fear of debate, or the even worse confrontation, I have found that many do indeed settle the issue of definition at the statement of what all theology encompasses.

While there is sometimes reason for this, even stating what we don’t mean to imply, I simply reject the notion that we as Christians should operate by the concern of opposition. The wisdom of God, and therefore all of theology, is in stark contrast to the wisdom of this evil age. They who believe in the world system, and all of its so-called genius, have ever and always been the despisers of all things true. Prolegomena is about the searching internally to find the answers that are often unwanted. It is about finding and rooting out motives. If we define theology as anything other than the study of God, and then use a term like “Theology Proper” as the designated aspect of theology that talks about God, then I have to assume that our understanding does not come from God at all.

Apostolic and prophetic theology is rooted and grounded in an intense zeal for the glory of God forever. It is always “of Him, through Him, and to Him”. Theology that is truly theology is grappled with on your knees in prayer, wrestling with the God who has revealed Himself, and not merely with the throes of church history or doctrinal history. To subjugate this is a denial of the very faith itself. Theology is patterned after Jacob, who walked with a limp after meeting God face-to-face. How are we to be any less intense about our own pursuit for truth? Can we honestly say that reading or studying various opinions, and settling the issue in our own mind to agree with one and not another, is actually studying theology? And can argumentation truly be sufficient in conviction? What I find more often is that what one can convince a man concerning, another can unconvince him. Conviction comes from sublime encounter, and anything less than tangible experience is ipso facto not theology.

Introduction to Theology

To answer the first question first, when we discuss theology, we are discussing God Himself, and the way He relates to all things. “B’reshit bara Elohim…” In the beginning, God created. This is the absolute foundation to all theology. Here we have it: God and creation. What else is there within theology to examine? Theos istself means God, and any study of God will lead us directly to the study of the creation as well. The wisdom of God is itself relationships. He relates to Himself, to creation, to His people, and even to the heavenly beings. To seek God in His relationships is to seek God, just as much as to seek Him directly through our relationship unto Him.

We find here that our primary task is to study God. In fact, if we take seriously this definition, in all of our studying we are studying God. Dogmatics, or as some would rather call it, “systematic theology”, has as the zenith a view of God. Θεος is the very first word present within “theology”, the second being λογος. I have decided to title these volumes Christian Theology, because I personally don’t enjoy the term “systematic theology”. If we’re studying God, who is personal and indeed a living Being, there can be very little “systematic” about it. The older term is dogmatics, which also bears with it the idea of dogma – a conviction of a principle or set of principles as undeniably true.

The idea is that theology can be studied in various compartments, called systems. We can divide the subject matter of theology into various smaller subjects. Christian theology, as such, is specifically the study of Christian theology. In no manner am I going to explore apologetics, at least not in a means to defend the faith against other religions or “non-religions”. Theology comes from the Greek θεολογεω (discourse on the gods and cosmology), θεολογια (the science of things divine), and θεολογος (one who discourses of the gods). What all of these words have in common is the prefix theos – God – and the some derivative of logos – word, or speech.

I find it intriguing that God created from His speaking, and here we call the study of God “God-speech” (of course this isn’t the exact definition by any means). Theology is itself tied together with “In the beginning…” Our concepts of God and dogmatic can form from no other plane. In one sense, theology exists simply because God and His creation exist. In another sense, theology is specifically the human response to God revealing Himself by searching Him out and understanding that which He has revealed. In revelation, there are of course the personal and experienced revelations and the revealing of God through Scripture. Both of these are personal, and both of these are experiential, but one of them demands the scrutiny of others. Our interpretation of the Bible is not something we alone can come to, but must come alongside of others and seek with them.

Our personal experience, even down to the day that Christ was shed abroad in the heart, is something that others cannot comment on to diminish, nor to magnify. It is entirely personal, and outside perspective only goes so far. Scripture is not this way. While it is personal and experienced, that does not negate that others have equally as much ability to comment and correct. Thus, the study of Scripture must be something that is done communally. Through the wrestling together of many counselors, wisdom is established, and through the instructing of the wise, wisdom is enacted.

With our delving into theology, we dive headlong into a plethora of subjects: angels and demons, humanity, sin and death, freedom and salvation, etc. God has a certain mindset, and certain way of thinking. I call this a “wisdom”. The wisdom of God is relationship, and for that reason the study of God touches all of these other subjects. When we study the various “systems” of theology, we root our understanding first and foremost in the character of God, and then secondarily in our reason and logical deduction from Scripture.

For systematic theology, the Bible is the most critical text and source that we use, but it is not the sole agent of understanding. As opposed to other various types of theology, systematic theology should be the culmination of all other theological efforts. Biblical theology is related to our exegesis of Scripture, where we seek to understand the original intention of each passage in relation to the whole of the book, the theology of the author, and the context of the rest of Scripture. Practical theology is sometimes called “pastoral” theology, because it seeks to give theology in a manner that it expresses how we ought to live. Denominational theology, sometimes called dogmatic theology, is a study of various denominational bends. Apologetics is the defending of the faith. Philosophical theology would be to seek to understand God through the grid of philosophy. It is arguably not theology to consider the history of doctrine, which some call historic theology. Similarly, natural theology doesn’t seem to fall into a true “theological enquiry”. Again, polemic theology is the study of differing opinions, which doesn’t seem to actually be a study of God at all.1

In studying systematic theology, we desire to come to each subject as its own piece in a very large puzzle.2 All aspects of theology fit together, and we desire to understand the harmony of all aspects.3 Thus, we take each subject and pursue to understand it via the verses and passages that speak to such a subject. In this, we “systematize” our view and understanding. Each subject is a system, and within each system would be a series of smaller subjects and pieces of Scripture that come together to express a full understanding. Biblical theology does not work with systems in this manner. Biblical theology seeks to understand the Bible via the author, the audience, the context, etc.

Systematic theology cannot speak to the individual verses as precisely as biblical theology. When we’re struggling to understand the meaning of, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” we turn to biblical theology. The reason for this is simple. This is an isolated verse, and when brought into the context of the rest of the passage, we already see the obvious interpretation. However, biblical theology wouldn’t stop there. Biblical theology would look at the context of the whole of Romans, and then seek to understand the point of Romans chapter 3 in the context of the whole, and then shrink down more and more until we come unto that specific verse. Systematic theology just doesn’t work this way.

A good systematic theology should take into account biblical theology, and from the foundation of biblical theology build up its systems. Often, though, theologians use “proof texts” instead of truly diving into each verse and each passage to understand the context, whether it does or does not speak to the issue being expressed. None of the biblical authors did this. Every time that a certain verse or passage is quoted in the New Testament, the context is being thought of and not simply the one verse. The authors want you to either know the context or look it up to better understand what they’re saying. For the sake of following their pattern, and for the sake of “good scholarship”, I have attempted in all quotations to follow suit.

It is necessary to note that the Bible does not speak systematically. Over two thirds is written in narrative. Because we are sifting through stories for the majority of the Bible, and another large portion consists of prayers, letters, and poems of the saints, our systematic theology is an extrapolation from the context, and is not to be taken as commentary to the Scripture. We are forming together pieces that are scattered throughout the text into one topic and/or subject at a time, and not the expositing of these passages.

While it is true that our systematic theology will help us to understand the passages of the Bible, we should understand that our systematic theology comes after the foundation of proper exegesis, and not the other way around. Proper understanding of the texts of Scripture should come first, and systematizing the Scripture second. With certain aspects that are more difficult, we can first examine what we do know, whether in the realm of biblical theology or systematic theology, and from there seek to build a more intimate understanding and awareness of the rare baffling nuances and verses. So, with this I conclude our first discussion. Let us now begin to explore the depths of theology and how it relates to us.

1 For a much more concise and thorough examination of these various fields in theology, I highly recommend Christian Theology Volume I by H. Orton Wiley, pages 20-32.

2 These “pieces” are the “systems” from which we get the term “systematic theology”.

3D. A. Carson has said that our theology is like a puzzle. He implied that this puzzle has 9000 pieces, and yet we only have 5000 of those pieces. We know the pieces fit together, but we’ll never come to a completion of the puzzle to see the whole picture. I don’t agree. I believe it is much more like building a house. You first put down the foundation; this would be the doctrines that Scripture gives us much information regarding. From there you build the less solid, but still dependable, walls and roof. We continue to put on the siding, the shingles, the plaster, the drywall, any brick or stone, and finally coming to the more minute details of adding in the counters, the type of flooring, the type of sink, the bathtub or shower, etc. The more intimate the details are, the less Scripture we have to build from. It is also like ice on a pond. There is much Scripture to base the existence of angels on, and so we build their existence upon the “thick ice”. But, when it comes to the intimate details, like when or how angels were created, we are building upon “thinner ice”. You don’t put too much weight, or interpretation, upon the thin ice. Our understanding comes from the thick ice, and the smaller details are then worked out via what we already know.

 

From a first draft of my Christian Theology Vol I

Prophets and Seers

I assume that if you clicked on this it is because you’re interested in the subject. You’ve probably read or heard the Scripture, “he who is called a prophet now was formerly called a seer.” It is located in 1 Samuel 9, and this is specifically verse 9. The verse itself doesn’t give a whole lot of clue as to what or why. There is practically no explanation.

For myself, I haven’t begun to understand what the hubbub is. It seems obvious. There aren’t two “classes” of prophets, as if one sees visions and the other hears words. It isn’t like God is telling us that seers are somehow based around physical or spiritual sight, but prophets are a broader term. It isn’t like the prophet is one who can “read your mail”, and tell you all about your life and the things that God says to you. These are all false understanding, even though somewhat popular and mainstream within Charismatic circles.

The text simply means what it says. The term “seer” was given as description of the “prophet” originally. Most likely, this was in reverence for “the prophet” who would come after Moses. Because of the caliber of that man, whom God gave the Law through, it’s difficult to label others under the same title. Sight in the prophetic books is emphasized consistently. Sight, defined by the prophet, is more than what you “see”. It encompasses the spiritual dimension and temporal field together.

I don’t have a good word for it. “Seeing” doesn’t cut it. It’s more than “seeing”. It is a perception, an intuition, a cosmic view of the faith, an eternal witnessing. The largeness of this word escapes me. It is a concrete concept, and yet for they who have not experienced such a view have nothing else to compare it with. This “seeing” involves both spiritual and physical aspects, seeing past them to that which is eternal and does not fade away.

We read in Haggai 2:21, “I am going to shake the heavens and the earth.” Hebrews then expands this to saying that with this shaking is the removal of what can be shaken so that the unshakable would remain. What is it that is the shakable things? We’ve been naive to suggest it is the physical or the temporary. The author tells us it is the created things. And what is not created? The whole book of Hebrews is telling us what is not created.

Why is Jesus greater than the angels? What is this eternal name that the angels don’t get to inherit? What is this rest that we enter, yet the Hebrews inheriting under Joshua did not enter? What is this Melchizedek priesthood? What is this sacrifice upon the heavenly altar? What is the Holy of Holies that we’re beckoned to enter by the blood of Jesus? What is the faith expressed through all of the saints – Hebrews 11 using specifically the Old Testament saints before Jesus? What is this “Zion” that we’ve come unto? What is this altar that we have a right to eat from, but they who eat from the altar at the Temple have no right to eat from? What is this City whose builder and maker is God, which is outside of the camp, and we’re called to leave the camp and join Jesus outside?

The “whats” here are all interlocked with both spiritual and physical things. It isn’t the “spiritual” that makes it unshakable, nor the “physical” that makes it shakable. Rather, God has chosen Zion, which is not a statement of heavenly abode solely, but is still indefinitely tied together with the land of Israel itself. There is a prophetic view, which is also the apostolic view, that can see the eternal covenant, stemming from before the creation of the world, all the way unto the age to come. That eternal covenant, taking into sight all things eternal and everlasting, is the very “sight” of the prophet.

It is the beholding of Him who sits upon the throne and is lifted up. It is the beholding of Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. It is the beholding of angels crying, “Holy, holy, holy”. It is the seeing of the throne room, and the great multitude that sits round about. It is coming unto Zion, the New Jerusalem, to the general assembly and ekklesia of the firstborn who are registered in heaven. It is perceiving God, the Judge of all. It heralds the faith once and for all given, the faith of just men made perfect. It witnesses the Messiah Jesus, the Mediator of the new covenant, and the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.

The prophets used to be called seers because of their larger perspective. They could comprehend that there was more to the story, and more at play in flesh and blood life. When the prophets would witness the destruction of Israel, the captivity or overcoming of the people of God, the destruction of Jerusalem, or even just the oppression by Israel’s enemies, they saw that this isn’t just a moment in history. This is God’s Kingdom and Name being overcome. This is the principalities and powers ruling over God’s people, and it isn’t because they don’t have the power or authority to be free. Rather, in their own lives and choices they have collectively and individually chosen to give themselves unto the wisdom of the world, which is the wisdom of demons, and thus their decision was made manifest by their oppression, devastation, and exile.

When we claim to eat of the table of the Lord, and yet then indulge in the table of demons, maybe not even physically, but through our practices and choices, we will reap the judgment of it. God will not be mocked; you reap what you sow. To belittle your brethren, betray, ignore or even oppress the poor, the widows, the orphans, and they who have no voice, to seek advancement by whatever means necessary, and/or to even seek the things of this world and the pleasures of “life” that is not truly life is to reject the wisdom and calling of God.

For a people who are to be a prophetic people, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, it is an absolute shame and even blaspheme that we would follow the same pattern that has been given us from the Old Testament. After being told multiple times in the New Testament that these things were written as patterns and signs for us, that we might comprehend that we should not go the same way, we have all too well gone the same exact path of apostasy. This year we’re celebrating 500 years of the protestant reformation. Yet, no one even asks whether the reformation actually went far enough. We’re 500 years into this, and even now we act more Catholic than we’re willing to consider. And with all of the so-called prophets running around, why is there no one who is speaking this, condemning the institutionalized religion that has called itself God? Many can’t understand the interchange between prophets and seers, simply because the prophets they listen to are false to the uttermost.