A Plan of Action for an American Renaissance

No, That’s Not Christianity, Part 0

“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other,” wrote our second president of the United States, John Adams.

If we read this in the context of his 1798 letter to the Massachusetts Militia, we can find there a prescient description of our current age: a time when our people “assume the language of justice and moderation while practicing iniquity and extravagance … while it is rioting in rapine and insolence.”

“This Country will be the most miserable habitation in the world,” he warned, “because we have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion.”

For a people without the collective religious conscience and the virtue that goes with it to govern ourselves, our vices and baser passions “would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net,” Adams foretold. 

Today – collectively, as a nation – we are no longer a moral and religious people.

Because of this, our Constitution – as profound, beautiful and inspired as it is – cannot save us. It is, sadly, little more than a museum piece from a bygone age. As our founding father said, it just wasn’t made for us. It was made for a moral and religious people with the requisite virtue for self-governance, which we, as a nation, no longer possess.

Our country – our entire civilization, no less – is in mortal danger because of this.

If we continue along this path, the United States of America – our shining City Upon a Hill that gives light to the world – will be no more.

We all know it. Anyone with a television or an internet connection and a basic awareness of history and human nature can see that.

And if we don’t get it back – that religious virtue Adams understood to characterize that first generation of Americans, we stand at the threshold of another dark age, a true dark age, far more terrible than the last. There has always been, and always will be, a superpower at the center of the world of men, but never one as great and as noble as the United States of America. If we lose beyond recovery either our worldwide hegemony or our collective nobility, or both, whatever takes our place will be an imperialistic horror by comparison. And, there will be nowhere else to flee for people who yearn for freedom and opportunity.

As another great American president once said, “We’ll preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on earth, or we will sentence them to take the first step into a thousand years of darkness.”

Averting the Coming Dark Age

Christianity has lost its influence on our culture and our nation, and that is the ultimate reason for all of our current political, social and cultural troubles.

“Politics is downstream from culture,” one commentator famously said. This is certainly true, but incomplete: Culture is downstream from religion. Our politics have been corrupted by a culture that has been uprooted from and turned hostile against the Christianity that once informed and nourished it. 

We can recover that influence, though. All is not lost. As Christians, we have every reason to believe absolutely that we can; and not only that we can, but that it is a moral imperative – our divinely-commanded mission – to do so. If we don’t think that falls under the Great Commission, then we don’t know what the Great Commission is. To know we’re in the situation we’re in and to not expend every possible effort to rectify it is to betray our purpose and mission as the Church. It is a betrayal of Jesus Christ, to say nothing of future generations who – should we fail to set this right – will inherit only the smoldering ruins of our once great civilization. No one who is a Christian can deny this objective and truly remain a Christian. “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin.”

And at the end of the day, it wouldn’t even actually be that difficult. Not really. 

But to achieve this, we need to come to a clear understanding of why we had that influence in the first place, and how we lost it. Only then will we be in any position to recover it.

The Keys to the Kingdoms of the World

There are two key elements of civilization we need to consider and understand: the role of language in defining our humanity and driving advancement, and the role of storytelling.  

I struggled to decide how much attention to devote to this, because it’s a lot like explaining to fish that they’re wet: it’s such a basic observation that making it at all feels like belaboring the obvious, but it is precisely because it’s so familiar that, well … fish don’t know they’re wet. Likewise, language and storytelling are such basic aspects of our existence that we are rarely consciously observant of how they’re being used and how we’re being shaped by them.

So, if this is too elementary to be worth your attention, feel free to skip ahead to the section entitled, “A Shattered Monopoly.” I happen to think this information is vital for understanding the root nature of the problem, as well as the Church’s role in both causing and potentially saving us from it. This is a complex, civilization-wide sickness, and if we want to rightly diagnose and address it, we need to break it down to its most fundamental level.  

All human advancement, since the very moment we became “human,” has been tied to our ability to communicate. As I touched upon briefly in my article on the Trinity (the section entitled “In His Image”), our ability of language is the defining attribute that makes us human. Or, to be more accurate, it aggregates and manifests all of the defining attributes of our humanity.

When behaviorally-modern humans first appeared about 50,000 years ago, we were able to develop tools and form small communities and pass these innovations to successive generations through language, but that’s as far as humans could advance until about 5,000 years ago, when our ancestors figured out writing.

And, this blew the lid off of everything. The development of writing roughly corresponded with and made possible the leap from nomadic hunter-gatherer communities to settled communities tied to specific geographic regions. This is because the invention of writing meant that information could be accumulated and recorded and passed on with much greater stability, depth, breadth and complexity than mere oral transmission allowed, which enabled the development of agriculture, property ownership, technological innovation and organization of large groups of people.

Human advancement continued at a steady, gradual pace for the next few thousand years, as we graduated from clay and wax tablets to scrolls of parchment and papyri, then to the codex, the proliferation of paper, until the next “great leap forward” only a few short centuries ago in the form of the invention of the printing press, which enabled the Protestant Reformation and the Enlightenment, along with all of the political and scientific and industrial advancements that ensued as a result. This, of course, led to still greater advancements in our ability to communicate: the telegraph, then the radio and then television and other mass media, and now, the internet, and soon (we are promised/threatened), the metaverse and neuralink.

These technological “great leaps forward” that have enabled us to communicate with greater and greater speed and complexity are happening with increasing frequency, and each time it happens, human civilization is transformed suddenly and dramatically and in ways that were unfathomable to previous generations. The earlier advancements were separated by millennia and humans had centuries to adjust and adapt their ways of life. The more recent advancements have been separated by mere decades, though, many of them happening within a single lifetime. And we have not yet adapted, and it remains to be seen if we ever will, and even now, along with the undeniable spectacular benefits, the internet is proving also to have unintended negative consequences for human development, individually and societally, the true extent of which we haven’t even begun to understand.

And that’s the impact of the internet, which is brand spanking new.

The Church has still yet to adapt to the development of radio, television or movie theaters, though. We don’t generally realize it, because most of these inventions were commonplace years before most of us were born, along with the fact that the relevance of these inventions to the Church and to Christianity are not immediately apparent to us, so we’re inclined to take all of these for granted and to regard them as somewhat static features of modern life. But, their effects upon the Church have been profound, and are only now finally beginning to catch up to us.

To reiterate, communication is the fundamental feature of all of these advancements. These advancements relate to the speed and reach and scope of our delivery, but the content itself is still just language, which is fundamentally identical to what it was thousands of years ago before the advent of writing – it’s still all just people talking to each other. We generally don’t see it in such reductive terms, because the effect of such communication – ancient or modern – is to erase the perceived distinction between direct experience and second-hand information.  

Phonetics – individual sounds and syllables – are the fundamental building blocks of language, which are expressed in letters, which form words, which are arranged into sentences, then paragraphs, etc.

These are the building blocks, but the superstructures – language in its highest and most complex construction – are narratives, stories.

And that’s the magic – real life, literal magic – of how we can, as a sort of telepathy, transport our thoughts and experiences from mind to mind and share in a collective consciousness: You hear a story set in a place you’ve never been about events you’ve never witnessed, but you feel like you were there, and you’re shaped by the experience almost as if you were.

We tend to think of them as frivolous entertainment and mere escapism, and nothing more: “It’s just a movie,” is a common rebuke if ever someone takes their pop culture too seriously.

But, there is no such thing as “just a story.”

As touched upon in the previous installment, stories are the souls of civilizations.

We tend to think civilizations are made out of physical infrastructure – like the walls of an ancient city-state or the borders around a country – or upon government systems and laws. And that isn’t entirely wrong, but these are not civilizations at their most fundamental and foundational level. Laws distill the underlying values of a civilization and governments enforce and embody them, but the values themselves come from the stories.

Ancient Greek civilization had Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey at its heart. Likewise, Augustus Caesar commissioned Virgil to write the Aeneid to serve as the Roman national epic, which was the sequel to Homer’s epics in the same way that the Romans saw themselves as the successors to Greek civilization. The Israelites/Jews, of course, had the Hebrew Bible as their national epic. Medieval Britain had the Matter of Britain, with King Arthur as its central figure, which incorporated both the Judeo-Christian and Greco-Roman narratives. India has the Mahabharata and the Ramayana.

Examples are endless, but where there is a great civilization, there is always a deep, rich, sprawling national epic at its heart, and the greatness, longevity and reach of historical influence of the civilization tends to be directly proportionate to the greatness of its national epic (China is the exception that proves the rule).

Communities and cultural identities have always been rooted in stories, and so having a shared story is what makes a collection of individuals into a community, be it a tribe, a nation or a military unit or any other closely-knit group of people with a shared identity. The protagonists of our stories model virtue and heroism and teach us how to be good members of the community, while the villains are cautionary tales to warn us against emulating their shameful behavior. The values we see modeled in our stories are inevitably and unavoidably the values we will serve and seek to embody in real life, and humans learn how to live in community with each other through our stories. And, when that story encompasses existential topics like the origin and destiny of humanity and the people’s place within the universe and relationship to God or the gods, that story is the basis for a religion. And, typically, religious narratives and national epics are either one and the same, or they overlap so much that the distinction is meaningless.

This is why storytelling has typically been a religious function: the shamans, seers, prophets, priests and preachers have always been the custodians of the community’s stories, and the community is forged and maintained and perpetuated by the regular activity of gathering together to hear The Story. This function wasn’t strictly reserved for religion and religious functionaries – they had bards and playwrights and theater, all the way back in ancient Greece. But even these drew from the sacred stories, through quotation or thematic allusion, at the very least, because that was the basic operating system of their audiences.

Storytelling is our central occupation as humans and underlies all other pursuits, because language is our defining attribute as humans, and stories are the most highly-developed construction of language. Humans are most human when we’re telling or receiving stories, and stories are how we discover and define and communicate our humanity.  

And – seemingly paradoxically – we also use stories to train and condition and control each other like animals.

A Shattered Monopoly

In Western civilization for the past 1,600 years, churches and clergy have been the custodians and purveyors of our sacred stories, and so Christianity was the source of our collective values and worldview. Even if a person didn’t believe, it was nonetheless Christian values that informed their moral outlook, whether they were conscious of it or not.

And, this happened by default. Towns were typically situated around churches, which often functioned as the local community center or town hall. Communities gathered weekly to hear the stories, and if a person opted out, it was noticed and commented upon. The seasons of the year were punctuated by Christian holy days, when the community would gather to hear the most important stories to frame their celebrations.

All of that changed, virtually overnight, in the 20th century. Automobiles encouraged people to spread out. People don’t even know their neighbors anymore, much less are we bound by geography to any church-centered local communities.

But the real change is due, not to our ease of travel (as earth-shattering as that is), but to our communication advances: We are constantly bombarded with media and deluged with stories.

Even among devout, active, churchgoing Christians, the Church’s historical monopoly on storytelling is not only broken, but shattered – pulverized to dust and scattered in a million different directions. We don’t even think of “church” in terms related to that function anymore.

Not only that, but the Church’s enemies have caught on to the fact that ultimate power – I wouldn’t say “power over society,” but “power under society” – lies in controlling the stories. As in, they cannot quite exercise top-down, dictatorial power over society, just yet. But by controlling the stories, they can exert a more subtle, long-term and lasting influence by controlling the values.

Politics is downstream from culture.

This is why our civilization is so balkanized and set against itself. It used to be that we were all more-or-less united as a civilization by a single general narrative; even if there were competing factions within our civilization, they at least competed within the framework of that shared narrative. Now, college graduates barely know anything about that narrative, and there are interests who are actively working to discredit it and impose their own in its place, even as a thousand different stories compete for our attention through movies and television and video games and books.

All Warfare is Spiritual Warfare

Again, we tend to think of these stories as nothing more than frivolous entertainment, and so we trivialize their influence and importance.

It is simply impossible to overstate how profoundly foolish this is.

One story among a deluge might be trivial (unless it’s ‘Star Wars’ or ‘Harry Potter’ or the like). But, the deluge itself is far from trivial, especially when many of the stories advance a common agenda, or when they crowd out the foundational story through sheer volume.

Imagine casually popping what we think are tic tacs into our mouths all day, not realizing that they are in actuality powerful psychotropic drugs that bend our thoughts and perceptions and make us subject us to hypnosis and mind-control.  

That is the effect the stories we consume have on our minds, and the less conscious we are of that fact, the more effective they are in controlling us.

I know it’s a bit trite and clichéd when Christians say this, but the fact remains that we are, right now, in this very moment, at war.

And while I do ultimately mean a “spiritual war,” do not take that to mean that we’re at war only in some abstract, figurative sense. No, we are literally at war, in the most concrete and objective possible sense, absolutely no different than if bullets were zipping overhead and mortars exploding nearby as you read this. It is a war that will determine the future state of the world and how institutions are structured, power is exercised and resources are distributed, no different than if we were uniformed soldiers fighting with rifles and bayonets.

Yes, physical violence is the most conspicuous and visceral manifestation of warfare, but it’s not the only form of warfare, and it’s not even the predominant form of warfare practiced in the world today between nations and governments.

In the Bible, we read about spiritual warfare, and how it played out in human affairs: the corrupt gods of the Divine Council moved against one another through their human counterparts, taking territory through literal battles, redrawing literal borders of human empires.

As long as human civilizations were strictly defined by borders and centralized around top-down, autocratic governments, that was the most common form of warfare.

But, in the age of liberal democracies and mass communication, where voters’ opinions determine policy, that is no longer the case. The United States, as just one example, has shown a consistent pattern over the past century of surrendering wars we’ve already won because we lack the political will to follow through. If the Roman Empire conquered a region, they would set up a permanent garrison to maintain control and establish a local system of incentives for compliance and assimilation, and this would ensure that the subjugated populace would be less motivated or capable to regroup and revolt, so they wouldn’t have to fight the same war again. The United States, on the other hand, will establish military control over a region, and then eventually abandon it as soon as the political winds at home shift in another direction, and the region will revert back to the same state as before. Afghanistan today is virtually indistinguishable from Afghanistan in 2001, despite nearly two decades of American occupation.

I don’t say any of that in the interest of arguing for or against any given military action. I only say it to point out that controlling the beliefs and attitudes of the voting public has far more strategic impact over time than controlling any given stretch of land through military force in the moment. Military action follows public attitude, and so for any given military objective to succeed in the long term – or to happen at all, the battle must be won on the field of public opinion first and foremost. So, a bit of propaganda worked into a popular Netflix show or a cleverly devised internet meme that goes viral can have far more strategic impact than battlefield tactics. All of the battlefield superiority in the world doesn’t matter if the enemy has won the psyops war: A world leader can order an invasion or airstrike, and it can succeed in its immediate objective, but if it causes his own population to riot and remove him from power, he is defeated by his own military strength.

This is why a free press with integrity and credibility is so vital to the freedom and moral health of a nation, and it’s why foreign powers have flooded the internet with bots and why the Chinese government prizes apps like Tiktok and WhatsApp, and why a million other operations and tactics that we’ll never even know about are playing out in cyberspace this very moment – all because the ultimate prize is always the hearts and minds of the people, as the key to all else.

Actual, literal wars are being fought, right this moment, not over borders and territory, but over image and ideology, to control the thoughts and attitudes of the public. The war is over the story, the narrative, because that’s how populations are controlled. As anyone who’s been paying attention knows, the Cold War never really ended; the enemy just regrouped and retooled its tactics, and instead of fighting over territory and borders, the fight is over institutions and voting blocs.

Again, we read about spiritual warfare in the Bible, and Paul tells us that “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.”

When the people of God were limited to a visible nation living among other nations, and those spiritual forces of evil were territorial gods ruling over their own nations, that struggle played out through flesh-and-blood armies warring over territory and vying for regional dominance: Joshua’s conquest of the Promised Land was both a “war” in the sense conventionally understood, as well as a “spiritual war,” and there was no distinction between the two in the minds of any of the people at the time.

By Paul’s time, with the Law of Moses fulfilled and consummated through the death and resurrection and ascension of the Son of Man to rule over all nations, that spiritual war did not abate – it continued apace, but on different terms, with different objectives. With Judaism “packaged for export,” so to speak, that war was no longer about a single nation of God’s people controlling a specific stretch of territory, but liberating all nations everywhere from the gods of this world by turning them to the one true God.

It wasn’t a war fought through physical violence to forcefully subjugate the enemy by controlling their territory – doing so would negate the very objective for which the war was being fought. If people could be redeemed and made right with God simply by having the right set of laws imposed upon them, God wouldn’t have sent His Son to die for our sins on a Roman cross. He would have just had David and Solomon and their descendants continue their conquests, expanding the borders of Israel to encompass the world.

In other words, we wouldn’t have Christianity at all, but Islam.

Instead of a war of physical violence, it was a war of arguments with the objective of reasoned persuasion. It was a war of philosophy and faith, fought through language to change their very natures by imparting the life of God into them, thereby freeing them from evil itself – the evil of their own natures. Instead of taking territory through force from the top down, now the war was about winning territory from the bottom up – one person, family, community at a time – through reasoned persuasion and voluntary commitment to self-discipline and love.

Which is why, Paul said, “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

But, make no mistake, that doesn’t mean it was only “war” in some figurative, abstract sense. It was a war no less literal and with stakes no less crucial than the war fought by Joshua.

And, even today, we see a similar kind of war being literally fought between governments. Historically, we have always made a distinction between “literal, actual” war and “spiritual war,” but that’s a false distinction, and as we can see today, even the illusion of that distinction has disappeared.

When we qualify a war as “spiritual,” this speaks only to the ultimate objectives, not the methods. The conquest of Canaan was no less a “spiritual war” for the fact that Joshua and the armies of Israel shed blood on the battlefield, and today’s wars of ideology and psyops are no less literal, actual warfare for the fact that they do not. The objective is the collective spirit of the people.

The Blessing in Disguise of Our Lost Influence

It could be said that we’re losing the war right now, but that would imply that we’re actually fighting it. It isn’t as if we were advancing in victory, and then the Church was outmaneuvered by the advent of mass communication and then we lost our advantage.

No, the Church abandoned the war centuries ago and was only coasting on the fact that it was the default center of the culture. The loss of our default cultural monopoly didn’t defeat us. It just exposed the fact of our longstanding tacit surrender.

It was a tacit surrender because the Church settled for an apparent victory, which the enemy was all too happy to concede, because it was no real victory at all.

Notice again how Paul stressed that “the weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world.”

He wasn’t just talking about non-violence.

Stories are also the weapons of the world. Every culture has them. Every civilization runs on them. It wasn’t just Israel and early Christianity.

Did you think that because the Christian story became the dominant one, that meant victory?

No, that was no more a victory, in any final and meaningful sense, than it would have been if the apostles had raised an army and simply conquered the Roman Empire by force. Sure, that would pass as “victory,” but only on the world’s superficial and ultimately meaningless terms. It wouldn’t have achieved the actual objectives of the spiritual war for which the Church was founded.

Sure, winning the cultural victory went deeper beneath the surface than a military one, but only by a matter of degree. It didn’t accomplish the true victory.

It’s certainly true that the biblical narrative is a story, and true victory includes getting people to accept it, but that alone achieves very little.  

Humans tell stories, and it’s part of what makes us human.

But the gospel is about transcending our mere human nature and becoming a newer, higher order of humanity.

The Bible is a story, and stories are indispensable for communicating values and truth. But they’re also used to tell lies. Stories are the human operating system, and they can be hacked in the same way computers can. Or, if you prefer – stories are magic. They can be used to empower and give life, or they can be used for evil to destroy and manipulate. Call it “black magic,” call it “human computer-hacking” – either is accurate. The point is, as long as we’re running on stories alone, we can be manipulated and controlled and corrupted by the very forces of evil we are meant to conquer, and this is precisely what is happening in our civilization just now.

Just as the gospel is supposed to impart the divine life into us so that we can master and transcend our animal lusts and base passions, it should also make us “unhackable,” immune to black magic – no longer subject to the manipulations and mind-control of storytelling.

That’s why Paul and the other apostles didn’t rely on mere storytelling to spread the gospel. Their methods went deeper by connecting people to the very ground of reality and building an immutable foundation from that deepest possible level.

“When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power,” Paul wrote to the believers in Corinth.

This passage is often misconstrued to mean that Paul bypassed reason and relied instead on mysticism in his preaching, but that isn’t the report Luke gives: Paul used rational argument to convince them. His remarks above are the other side of the same point he made elsewhere to the Corinthians about “destroying arguments and strongholds.”

His point about not using “wise and persuasive words” didn’t mean he didn’t persuade people through wisdom and reason. It meant that he didn’t rely on sophistry and rhetorical tricks and theatrics to manipulate their emotions. He testified to what he had seen of the Spirit’s power in his encounter with the risen Jesus. As discussed more comprehensively in Part 2 of this series, he and the other apostles relied on reason and logical argumentation and evidence about factual events to spread the gospel.

Paul’s point was that he didn’t want them to believe the gospel because of any skill in speaking or presentation that he brought to it. He wanted them to believe it solely on its own merits. In other words, his point was the opposite of what people often claim it was.

They didn’t want people to accept and believe the gospel because it was a good story – because it tugged at their heartstrings and made for a compelling drama. They wanted people to accept it because it was true, and for no other reason, and so they relied on logic, reason and evidence to convince them.

This is how Christianity spread so far, so fast, in its early centuries. Gentile converts abandoned the stories that had been in place for millennia, on which their civilizations and cultures were based, in order to embrace this new Story. They did so because Christian evangelists employed evidence and logic to persuade them of its objective truth.

And then, something happened along the way, and it happened at the worst possible moment for the life of the Church.

Right on the heels of the most brutal and far-reaching empire-wide, systematic persecution in history … they “won.” After centuries of being hated and hunted by one emperor after another, suddenly, the head of the Roman Empire became a Christian himself. Very soon afterward, his successors made Christianity not only the favored religion of the realm, but compulsory.

Professing Christians now ran the world. They held the sword and controlled the territory, the laws, the culture and the stories. Whether or not a person actually believed Christianity to be true was beside the point now – you don’t have to convince people to believe it if they don’t have a choice. The truth or falsehood of it was now entirely incidental.

So, the Church’s advance in the true war halted, because Christians enjoyed an apparent victory, and so stopped fighting.

Historians often characterize this turn of events as the final stage of the “Christianization of the Roman Empire,” but it was the opposite. It was the Romanization of Christianity. It had the outward forms and terminology and the apparent story of Christianity, but it was Roman in spirit and operation. Christianity was reduced to just another human story – a piece of cultural furniture on which to seat the civilization, and a banner under which to conquer.

It was not the victory of Christianity. In truth, it was Christianity’s defeat. It was the Church finally bending the knee and giving in to the same temptation Jesus rejected when the Devil offered “all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor.” He gave them what he offered, and then a Romanized Christianity ruled over a thousand years of darkness.

It wasn’t a final defeat, of course. It was a stalemate, and the forces of darkness were happy to let the Church enjoy what progress it had made, because as long as the advance was halted, their final defeat was indefinitely postponed. Their doom is inevitable, so their only objective is to buy time, so the Devil loves a stable status quo.

Christians have been coasting on that phony “victory” ever since. Sure, there have been various movements and struggles and reforms, and I’m not saying those weren’t improvements or that no Christian has been sincere or genuinely regenerated in the time since. We’re living under the benefits of that stalemate, even now, and they are considerable.

But, there was a price to pay for it, and that bill is coming due.

Also, it might have been possible to launch something like a “great awakening” 300 years ago with a well-preached sermon at the right time to the right audience, but that’s never going to happen again – not when most of the audience is likely to head straight home and have that sermon crowded out by whatever they binge on Netflix.

All of this might sound quite pessimistic and dour, but the fact that the advantage won by that stalemate has begun to expire is actually a very good thing.

When Christianity still enjoyed that default cultural dominance, it was easy to mistake defeat for victory. Now we know better.

Our loss of cultural influence just burns away the straw and stubble to reveal the truth of our condition, which makes our next steps all the more clear and obvious.

The Plan

Don’t get me wrong – the prognosis isn’t good for us. Christianity is dying in the West. We stand in grave danger of “losing our lampstand.” We need to reckon with that.

But if we do understand the gravity of our situation, that makes our choice easy.

We have to mobilize for war. We have to embark upon a true and meaningful and lasting reformation of the Church. The only other option is to accept the annihilation of Christianity in the West and the ruination of our civilization, and the world along with it.

And that’s no choice at all.

By now, though, you might be catching on that the headline and opening paragraphs were something of a bait-and-switch. But not entirely, and certainly not in a bad way.

Will this plan bring about an American renaissance? You bet. But we’re setting our sights far too low if that’s all we want.

This will end the War.

A faithful and functional Church is automatically a victorious one. We will have the infinite power of God Himself at our disposal, and the forces of darkness cannot resist us, if we just fight.

Can we achieve an American renaissance? Sure. And then some.

But, before that … we’ve got a fight on our hands, and it’s going to get bloody.

If you’ve read this far, it probably means you agree with me to at least some extent, and so hopefully you’re on board for that fight.

That fight begins within the Church itself. The Church itself is our mission field.

The first installment to this series, “The Promised Land … of Confusion,” addresses the ugly but undeniable fact that what passes for “Christianity” in the world simply is not. It’s not what the Bible teaches and has nothing to do with the actual biblical narrative, and the fact that so many people are so wildly mistaken about it proves that people just don’t read the Bible and don’t really care what it teaches – clergy and laypeople alike.  

That’s a problem.

We need to call attention to it. We need to shout it from the rooftops and confront as many people with it as we possibly can, as often as we can.

Simply getting people to read the Bible to find out what it actually teaches will go a long way toward fixing many of these problems. But also, confronting them with just how far off they are and how completely the Church has failed them will shake them out of complacency and make them at least receptive to the need for comprehensive, sweeping changes throughout the Church.

One such fundamental change would be to our collective epistemology – our understanding of knowledge and the nature of belief. The second part of this series, “We Are the Church Negated – We Are the Anti-Church,” explains how we have mutilated the concept of faith and belief as it is taught in the Bible. The Church has turned Christianity into a brain-eating cancer by construing faith as the antithesis of reason and evidence, thereby turning anti-intellectualism, ignorance and credulity into supposed virtues, and inverting the nature of salvation itself.

If the Church successfully repented of its epistemological backwardness and instituted a collective embrace of a true, biblical epistemology as described in Part 2, it would (ironically, given that it was written as an anti-Christian polemic) resemble something like the Vulcan logic revolution from “Star Trek.” It wouldn’t be the purging of emotion in order to embrace pure logic – having more of one doesn’t equate to having less of the other. But, emotion that precedes or is divorced from logic is disordered; logic should be the basis for true thought and beliefs, and emotion should follow, not lead.

It’s the Church’s job to teach us the logical, evidentiary case for the truth of Christianity, and in so doing, it not only immunizes us from the emotional manipulation and fallacious logic of our culture and its mind-warping stories, but equips us to make that case to others. The fact that Christianity is in retreat in our culture instead of advancing is testament to the Church’s failure to meet this basic responsibility.

But, more damaging even than that — collectively, we do not see the new, transformed nature that is supposed to characterize the Church. Christians, by and large, do not live any differently than our “lost” neighbors. The reasons for that are addressed in the third installment of this series, “Recapturing Our Stolen Inheritance.”

In part 1 of that installment (I know – I should have planned this better before I started numbering the installments), we discuss the true narrative of the Bible that we’ve missed by, not only not reading it for ourselves, but by believing so many falsehoods about it. Namely, we learned about our War against the spiritual forces of darkness, and how we are destined to replace them as the gods of this world, and how our legends and heroic fantasies and superhero stories offer us glimpses of what God has promised to us.

In the conclusion of the third installment, we discuss how it is the Church’s job to teach us about that inheritance and to train us in our participation in the Divine Nature, and why it continually fails to do so, as well as how to restore the Church to faithfulness and functionality, and what that should look like in practical, functional terms.

These are discussions we need to have in our churches.

Again, since you’re reading this right now, I have to assume you agree with me, at least to some extent.

If so, it’s in your hands.

The next steps to take in the restoration of the Church and the salvation of our civilization and our world … are yours to take.

Don’t just read this and then do nothing.

Take action. Do something about it.  

Raise these issues with your fellow Christians in church. Bring them up to your pastor. Start conversations in your Bible studies, in your Sunday school classes, over lunch after church service. Confront them with the failures of the Church and call them to repentance. Or, if nothing else, call them to discuss these issues at greater length. Refer them to my blog so they can see what you’ve seen.

Be respectful and kind and gentle, but be firm and insistent.

I’m not very good at sloganizing, but maybe you are, and you can come up with some quippy, pithy distillations of some of the points raised here, in order to spark these conversations and to get others talking about these issues as well.

Or, maybe you don’t necessarily agree with me about all of this, or any of it, but you still recognize that the Church needs reform and our civilization is in decline, and a resurgent Christianity is our only hope.

Just the same, point people to my blog. Whether they agree or disagree or like what they read is less important, for the time being, than just having these conversations.

But, pay close attention to their responses.

Do they agree? If so, what are they willing to do about it?

Do they disagree? If so, why? Do they give good reasons for it? Do they offer good alternatives to the arguments I’ve made here?

I don’t expect people to accept all of this without question or challenge or struggle, and I would find it unsettling if they did. I understand how difficult much of this is to accept and to implement.

Whatever response any of this elicits, we cannot afford to continue as we are and do nothing. We can see where this path leads. If the leaders of our churches can only offer more of the same and want to pretend we’re on the right path, we are lying to ourselves if we continue to follow them.  

I have offered a plan. If it’s the wrong plan, I’m happy to hear about it and to entertain proposals for a better one. But the status quo is, simply put — satanic. It is a surrender to self-destruction.

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Recapturing Our Stolen Inheritance (2/2)


No, That’s Not Christianity: Part 3

If the entire biblical narrative had to be summed up in one scene, one concept, one tidy parable that boiled everything down to its purest, most vital essence, it would be the picture of Billy Batson shouting the name “Shazam!” to summon that bolt of mystical lightning to transform the orphaned child into a perfected, indestructible man with the powers of the gods, anointed to go forth and crush the forces of evil that are menacing the world.

Or, we could swap that out for any of a number of other identically-patterned stories, like the crippled Dr. Donald Blake who, upon striking his Mjolnir-in-disguise walking cane to the earth, is likewise engulfed in mystical lightning that transfigures him into the mighty god of thunder (this was the original, 1962 version of Marvel Comics’ Thor, to which the movie gave only a subtle nod). Or it could be Aang the last airbender summoning the power of the Avatar State in his moment of greatest need, to vanquish the evil empire subjugating the world. There’s even some “Transformers” lore that fits this pattern.

And, yes – I know how this looks. If you haven’t been turned off by the apparent silliness of my seemingly juvenile premise, you might be rolling your eyes just the same, wondering where this is going and if you should bother reading on. I hope you’ll bear in mind, though, that it is the stone the builders rejected that becomes the chief cornerstone, and give me the benefit of the doubt.  

That said, it should be noted that these are parables, not, say, documentaries – these are not here presented as literal depictions of the gospel, but as long as we account for the nature of parables as such and translate accordingly, this motif is a dead-on accurate representation of genuine Christianity.

And, we need such a parable.

Stories are the souls of civilizations – the vehicles by which societies and communities collectively understand and communicate their shared values and cultural identities, and to pass these on to the next generation. If you control the stories, you control the civilization, which is why, for all of human history until about five minutes ago, it was the shamans, seers, priests, prophets and other religious functionaries who filled the role of “storyteller” in any given society.

Theoretically, as Christians, we have such a story, and it is a true story. Our very reason for existence as the Church is to live within that story, to live it out, and to remake ourselves and the world around us according to it.

But we don’t understand it. We’ve lost the plot.

We think we know it, and that assumed familiarity has bred a general contempt for Christianity within our broader culture. Even Christians collectively treat it with a casual boredom and routine disregard when we claim to believe it, and even when we believe that we believe it. Consequently, the Church has no real sense of itself and its own purpose and mission, and so it is crippled with a pervasive indolence, vapidity and vacuousness as it lapses into deeper and deeper depths of irrelevance and negated influence upon our culture, while others control the stories and steer our civilization into depravity and darkness.

Our apathy and impotence do not change the fact, however, that we are at war. It just means we’re losing, as anyone with a television or an internet connection can plainly see.

Meanwhile, the so-called “secular” culture is teeming with echoes and iterations and multimillion-dollar franchises modeled after our story, full of messiahs and heroes clothed with power from on high. And, our ideological adversaries have used stories to great effect – also appropriating elements of our story for their perverse ends. Atheists, acolytes of Critical Race Theory, LGBT ideology and other so-called “Progressives” often frame their “coming out” and “deconversion” experiences and the like in terms of “spiritual rebirth” and “awakening,” offering within their movements the kinds of rites of passage and initiatory rituals that are typically the domain of religion. And, indeed, these are rival religions to Christianity, and they are in ascendancy while our influence and numbers dwindle.

It’s not because they’re so effective in their use of stories and appropriation of religious concepts – although they are quite effective. It’s because of the vacuum left by the Church. If the Church would awaken and rise up and retake our rightful position of centrality and influence within Western civilization, they wouldn’t have the power that they do in our culture, and there wouldn’t be such a widespread unmet hunger for meaning and purpose that people would be drawn in by them.

The Church is not failing, however, because we haven’t made effective use of our story … although, we haven’t.

It’s because we have the wrong story.

The Bible simply does not teach what is commonly offered as “Christianity,” which is why Part 1 of this article was an overview of the true narrative, albeit immensely abbreviated. We have a collection of doctrines that we hold out as the nuts and bolts of the gospel, but we teach those doctrines within the framework of a narrative that is nowhere to be found in the Bible.

The Divine Council worldview is greatly helpful to a correct understanding of those doctrines, but the real obstacle is the aforementioned false familiarity and the institutional baggage that comes with it. We think we understand these concepts, and so we are inoculated against learning about them. Even when we accept corrections on particular points of doctrine, those changes rarely impact our overall perspective.

We need an overhaul. We need to read and understand the Bible anew, through a new paradigm – which is really just the old paradigm restored. And, my hope is that by seeing how wildly different the actual biblical narrative is from the familiar, comfortable, boring and false version we all know, we’ll be shaken out of our complacency and reevaluate our beliefs.

The Lightning of Rebirth

In the 1st century, just after the death and resurrection and ascension of Jesus, the Church was born of virtually the same kind of miraculous transformation pictured in those stories when the first believers, by invoking the sacred name of the risen Messiah, were suddenly enveloped in a violent wind and fire from heaven fell upon them, imbuing them with power from on high as they were regenerated by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, who was a seed, a deposit/down-payment, guaranteeing an eventual physical transformation more spectacular, even, than anything seen in our wildest heroic fantasies.

Their “speaking in tongues” was the antithesis and reversal of the Tower of Babel incident, in which the confusion of language was reversed so that God could reclaim the nations He previously disinherited. Likewise, this transformation through divine power was the antithesis of the sin of the Watchers: just as humanity was once corrupted by the mixing of human and divine natures, this was the beginning of humanity’s redemption through the union of human and Divine Nature.

As individual believers today, we don’t typically undergo quite the same “lightning bolt” experience as they did, but we are the recipients of the same reality. In the previous installment in this series, we discussed the epistemological basis for belief in Christ and Christianity: we don’t believe the resurrection because we have faith. We have faith because we believe the resurrection, on the basis of evidence and reason. With that foundation for a genuine, rational faith, we are initiated into that same transformational fire from on high – “grafted into the olive tree,” so to speak – through baptism, which is a vicarious enactment of the death and resurrection of Jesus, on the basis of which we receive the divine nature. Baptism gives us an immersive, tactile, sensory analogue to being lowered in death and raised to life again, as he was, and having undergone that vicarious reenactment, we carry the experience of it as a sort of internal monument, an experiential touchstone, and thereby know, on His promise, that we are transformed.

And we should think of it in the same terms as those aforementioned heroic metamorphoses: we are impotent and mortal in ourselves, but we invoke the name of the risen Messiah, who died for our sins and rose again, and so God answers by sending us the Power from on high, and so we are reborn through the Spirit of God, who fills and transforms us and bestows all of the nature and – yes – power of Christ himself, and now God is our Father and we are His children, bearing His likeness and nature.

As it turns out, the “lighting of transformation” parable is much closer to being literal than not. There’s no actual lightning (although, there was on Pentecost), nor visible or outward metamorphosis (yet), and we can’t actually bench-press mountains (besides figuratively) or fly (just yet), but beneath the superficial and ultimately useless cosmetic differences, the reality is the same, yet … infinitely greater. We don’t get the powers of the gods. We get something better – something for which the gods themselves are bitterly jealous: the very nature of God Himself. The parable, as it turns out, is a shoddier, albeit superficially flashier knock-off of the greater reality. If the parable was literally true, it would be an inconceivably inferior downgrade from what we actually get.

Of course, none of this is so shockingly different from what is already basically familiar to regular churchgoers, so maybe this feels like a let-down after all that preparation to be shaken from our complacency.

So, here is the exciting twist: there is one feature that these parables get right and that the mainstream, market-standard version of Christianity always and unfailingly gets wrong, and it’s crucial to the whole thing.

Just like in those stories, not just anybody can invoke the Name and summon the lightning. It is conditional, and if you don’t meet the all-important condition, you will not be answered. God simply will not listen to you.   

You have to be worthy.

And we – collectively, as the Church – are unworthy.

Abandon the Wide Path

Of course, I can hear the howls of outrage and apoplectic bellows of “Heresy!” and “False gospel!” even as I type this.

This, of course, is not what you’ve been told, and all Christians everywhere are conditioned to respond to what I’ve just said with immediate offense and swift condemnation. It is constantly drummed into us from the pulpit that our favor with God has absolutely nothing to do with our personal merit or worthiness.

But just think of everything you’ve been told that, as it turns out, is spectacularly wrong.

You weren’t told about the Divine Council. Instead, you were taught to deny the existence of such beings as a matter of doctrinal fidelity and loyalty to God.

You were told that it’s all about going to heaven as a disembodied spirit when you die. There isn’t a single word in the Bible about that, though. Instead, it’s all about heaven coming here, to earth, where we are physically raised from the dead.

It is commonly taught that regeneration precedes faith. But, once again, the Bible teaches the precise opposite: faith always precedes and is the condition of regeneration.

Those are just the tip of the iceberg of popular teachings that seem to have the ring of truth to them because they make use of recognizable biblical terminology, but reverse the order or redefine terms, and so wind up negating the true biblical teaching.

We read in Scripture that our faith in God on the basis of our belief in the resurrection effects the transformation we’ve been talking about. Typically, we understand this to work because Jesus’ resurrection is the proof and promise of our own – it is the foundation and catalyst for our faith.

That is absolutely certainly true, but that’s just the beginning, and it goes far, far beyond that.

But, we gloss over it because the conditioned presuppositions we bring to the Bible make us directly antagonistic to much of its actual teachings. All of those reversals, negations and redefinitions of biblical terms and concepts create blind spots and barriers that keep us from what would otherwise be clear and straightforward instruction. 

It almost seems as if we’re in a vicious and brutal war with spiritual forces of darkness bent upon blinding us and denying us what God has promised to us, for fear that if we access the full power that is rightfully ours, their power will be broken and their dominion will end.

For some of what follows, its relevance to the resurrection and our transformation might not be immediately clear, but it will be. And if we can reach the summit of the mountain before us, suddenly, and before we know it, we’ll find ourselves enveloped in that lightning, filled with the Gift that was promised, because we’ll see it all laid out clearly before us, without the scales in our eyes.

The Knowledge of Good and Evil

Our metamorphosis from spiritually-dead objects of wrath into sons and daughters of the living God will be consummated at Christ’s return when we are resurrected from the dead. Here, now, in our mortal bodies, we have only the seed of what we will be, but that doesn’t mean the transformation has not begun – or, at least, that it should not have already begun.

That transformation is arrested and thwarted, however, by the aforementioned popular falsehoods, and among the most significant and crippling of which is our common misunderstanding of the nature of morality.

Humanity fell from grace by eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and the result was shame.

Consequently, shame now dominates our moral thinking. If we have any self-awareness at all to be cognizant of our sin, we are – quite rightly – ashamed of ourselves, ashamed of our desires, ashamed of our failure to deny them, ashamed of our shortcomings and moral “nakedness.” We know our sinful proclivities to be fundamental features of the self, and we seek to deny them. Or, we give in to those desires, and are ashamed of having done so, and so we attempt to compensate by parading our sin as supposed “pride” and seek out others defined by the same sins to assure us that it’s Ok, because it’s “natural” and “normal.” We’re sensitive about our sin and feel vulnerable because of it, so we hide the true self while presenting the most sanitized version of ourselves to others. Because of our shame, “morality” is both an offensive weapon and a defensive wall.  

That shame is appropriate, to a degree, but it has also thoroughly warped our collective moral understanding.

The Jedi were terrible at moral philosophy.

Specifically, we commonly define “evil” as synonymous with “selfishness.” And, that’s somewhat natural and intuitive, given that the self is the source of evil, and so to deny evil, we deny the self. So that is the line we commonly draw between Good and Evil: the wicked are “selfish” while the heroic and righteous are “selfless.”

While this is almost universally intuitively agreed upon, it’s not what the Bible teaches, nor what is revealed by clear and objective reason.

In his essay “The Weight of Glory,” C.S. Lewis wrote:  

“If you asked twenty good men to-day what they thought the highest of the virtues, nineteen of them would reply, Unselfishness. But if you asked almost any of the great Christians of old he would have replied, Love. You see what has happened? A negative term has been substituted for a positive, and this is of more than philological importance. The negative ideal of Unselfishness carries with it the suggestion not primarily of securing good things for others, but of going without them ourselves, as if our abstinence and not their happiness was the important point. I do not think this is the Christian virtue of Love. The New Testament has lots to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself. We are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ; and nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to desire.”

Lewis understates the point.  

It isn’t merely that Unselfishness is “not the highest virtue.”

It is that Self-interest is at the very heart of virtue.

Love is the highest virtue. Absolutely. But the foundation of virtue itself is Self-interest. You cannot reach the pinnacle that is Love without first building upon the foundation that is Self-interest. We so often fail to reach the height because we haven’t built up from the proper foundation.

This idea is distasteful, if not repugnant to most people and, I have found, to Christians especially, but it is undeniable from the Scriptures. That is their shame coloring their outlook, not their reason and not the Bible.

As Lewis noted, every invitation Jesus ever made to follow him was predicated on an appeal to self-interest. At no point did Jesus ever say anything like, “Anyone who comes after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me, and in so doing, be killed, then rejected by God and cast into hell … but you should still do it, because it’s the right thing to do – because it’s unselfish.”

No, he warned of suffering and death, but always on the promise that in the end, the rewards will infinitely outweigh the costs: “For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory, and he will reward each person according to what they have done.”

He typically characterized following him as a matter of wise, self-interested investment:

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.” (Matthew 13:44-46)

So, it could hardly be said that the person who followed him was “unselfish” or “selfless,” and followed him for that supposedly “noble” reason, while the person who rejected him was “selfish” and did so for that reason. It was because the person who followed him understood that his ultimate self-interest would best be served by doing so, while the others – such as the rich young man – sought theirs elsewhere.

Consider two hypothetical college dormmates: one is what we would all regard as a “good kid” because he studies, trains hard at his sport, gets good grades, performs well on the field and in the classroom; while the other is a “bad kid” because he squanders his tuition on booze and other self-indulgences, doesn’t apply himself to anything beyond chasing girls and gratifying his appetites, stays up all night partying and skips class the next day, and so eventually flunks out of school and gets cut-off by his parents for wasting their money. The good kid goes on to a high-paying career in the field of his choice, gets married, raises children, loves them and spends quality time with them and teaches them the value of hard work and integrity, and lives a happy and fulfilled life and eventually dies surrounded by his loving family. The bad kid, on the other hand, goes on to work menial jobs for low pay, sells drugs on the side and has a string of short-term girlfriends, many of whom he impregnates and abandons, leaving them to either abort or raise their child on their own, while he drifts from town to town, getting arrested for one petty crime after another before he eventually dies in jail, alone and unmourned.

The difference between them is not that one is “selfless” while the other is “selfish.” The good man pursued his own perceived self-interest absolutely no less than the bad man did. The difference is in where they believed their self-interest to be. The good man had a longer-term understanding of where he could find the greatest rewards in life and sacrificed his immediate gratification in favor of those rewards, while the highest reward of which the bad man could conceive was in his next drunken binge, drug score or sexual encounter.

The difference that made one man good and the other evil is in what they valued.

Every person who has ever lived has been “selfish” in that they acted in service to their own values, whatever those might be. Jesus was absolutely no exception. It was “for the joy set before him” that he endured the cross, we read. He sacrificed himself, but he did it because he believed he was getting something in return, and it was something he valued more than what he lost. That doesn’t make his sacrifice any less heroic. That is precisely the reason it was heroic: it was because he so loved the world that he gave his life. The man who willingly dies for his country or his family does so because he values these more than he does his life: he does it in service to what he values. A coward isn’t contemptible because he values his life. Everyone values their life. Jesus did too. No, it’s because the coward thinks just living, just going on existing, in avoidance of pain and risk – but without virtue or self-respect or the bonds of love and faithfulness to other people or any higher principle or cause – is of greater value than what he could serve by endangering himself.

The difference that makes one person good and the other evil is not that one is “selfish” and the other isn’t. The difference is in what they believe brings the highest benefit to themselves – what they value, where they believe the greatest reward is to be found. Is it in loving other people and investing yourself in them, and potentially sacrificing yourself for them? Or is it in preying upon people in service to your appetites? Or is it just existing comfortably, without virtue or conviction or principles?

The difference between Good and Evil is simply this: Where you place your faith.

That’s what “faith” means: where you believe your self-interest lies. On what are you betting? Where do you place your hope? How are you investing your time, your money, your intentions, your affections?

These are all just different ways of describing faith.

“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,” Jesus said.

Consider the Garden of Eden and how the Serpent tempted them. He asked, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

He portrayed God as more restrictive, withholding more from them than He really was: in truth, they could eat from every tree in the garden, except for just the one.

When Eve corrected him, the Serpent responded, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

In other words, “God is lying to you because He’s holding out on you. This thing that will benefit and enlighten you, He is denying to you, because He doesn’t love you and have your best interests at heart.”

The Serpent’s objective was to undermine their faith in God and get them to invest it elsewhere. The Devil always promises the same rewards God offers and wants us to have, but on terms that degrade and defile the very thing he promises.

God Himself placed the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden, but not because He wanted them to sin. By definition and nature, God hates sin. He never wants anyone to sin. Yet it was He who placed the Tree there and commanded them not to eat from it, thereby creating the potential for sin.

But why?

Because He wanted them to have the very thing the Serpent claimed He withheld – He wanted their eyes to be opened so they could become like Him, knowing good and evil. There was nothing intrinsic about the fruit or the Tree that made it “the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.” It was simply in the fact that He commanded them not to eat from it that gave it that quality and function, because in so doing, God created the possibility of choice between good and evil, obedience and disobedience, life and death.

This is consistent with the pattern of Genesis so far. In very Taoist/yin and yang-fashion, God created and ordered the universe by the division of opposites: He created time – the variation between day and night – by separating light and darkness; He created space by separating the waters above from the waters below; He created earth by separating the water from the dry land. He created humanity by separating male and female.

Then, the same pattern plays out when God placed Man in the Garden of Eden, as it was characterized by the same duality of opposites: in the middle of the Garden were the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, eating the fruit of which would bring death. In other words, these were the trees of Life and Death.  

To become fully like God, Man had to be able to negotiate that duality. To be a free moral agent, that is, he had to exercise the power of choice. He had to obtain wisdom by learning the knowledge of good and evil. God wanted Man to obtain that wisdom by doing good – by trusting and obeying the One who made him. Instead, it was by doing evil.

Their evil was not in being “selfish” for wanting to obtain wisdom. Their evil was in misplacing their faith with regard to how to obtain it. Having sought it by choosing the “Tree of Death,” they were thereby denied access to the Tree of Life.

Indeed, all sin — sin itself — is in essence either a failure of faith or a matter of misplaced faith.

The Rise of Man

Our first parents’ faithlessness brought about the Fall of Man.

Now, the Rise of Man is offered by way of the same kind of faith that our first parents failed to exhibit.

God calls us to faith in Him on the basis of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. But, it isn’t faith solely with regard to Christ’s resurrection. That is the basis for our faith, while our own resurrection is the object of it: we trust God’s promise of our own resurrection because He has proven His faithfulness to do so through Christ’s resurrection.

That doesn’t mean merely holding a particular doctrine about it, though. We aren’t supposed to just believe about it. That’s not what faith is. We must believe in it. We must invest in it – we must believe that our ultimate good lies in claiming and pursuing what God has promised us.

That’s how the original Christians thought of it. The Fall of Man led to the moral degradation of humanity. The Rise of Man is the inverse and opposite: it is – at root – a moral transformation, of which our eventual resurrection to eternal life is only the consummation, the final maturation and completion of it.

And it is our belief in that resurrection which effects this transformation, beginning at the moment we first believe. The continuation of that transformation is in making the values of God and of Christ our own – we learn to love what He loves and to hate what He hates, and in so doing, we participate in His nature, and our motivation for doing so is our belief that this is where our ultimate good lies.  

As the apostle wrote:

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.” (1 John 3:1-3)

Consider that last sentence carefully. It is the hope of being made like the risen Christ that purifies us – makes us pure, just as Christ himself is pure. This hope is the mechanism by which Christ’s moral purity becomes our moral purity.

But, again – because this cannot be overstated – this “hope” is not mere doctrinal assent.

The apostles thought this hope – if it is genuine – entailed doing something about it:

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus …  He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.” (Philippians 3:10-21)

Clearly, Paul understood his own resurrection as something to be attained. It was something to strive for, and he didn’t consider himself to have yet attained it.

“The Prize” to which Paul directed his lifelong striving was not a given. It was not automatic. Yes, it was that for which Christ had taken hold of Paul, but Paul himself didn’t thereby regard it as inevitable, or as something that would just fall into his lap by default. He had to strive after it.

Elsewhere, in the passage in which Paul most famously defends and defines the promise of the general resurrection, he concluded with this: “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”

As in – the resurrection is that for which they labored. It was not in vain, Paul said, because Christ’s resurrection was the proof and promise of their own.

But it is a conditional promise – there is labor expected. Not just for Paul, but for all Christians.

“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed – not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence – continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” he wrote.

So what does this mean? What is this “labor” to which we are called, in light of our hope of resurrection? How do we “work out our salvation”?

As we find instruction about this in the New Testament, we could categorize it as “internal labor” and “external labor.”

The internal would refer to our personal spiritual growth into Christ-likeness.

As a lead-up to a description of that “internal labor,” the apostle Peter gives a concise description of salvation itself:

“His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence; through these He has given us His very great and precious promises, so that through them, you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by appetites.” (2 Peter 1:3-4)

It is participation in the divine nature that is the objective, the goal of all else – that is “salvation” and “eternal life,” and to participate in the divine nature is to escape the corruption of the world caused by fallen human appetites and lusts.

This is accomplished, the apostle wrote, through the promises of God: because He has promised our resurrection, and He has promised us that, if we believe, we have His very Spirit and Nature within us, therefore we can “participate” in His nature.

He continues with a step-by-step, systematic explanation of what this means:

“For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith excellence; and to excellence, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-mastery; and to self-mastery, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly affection; and to brotherly affection, love.”

Each of these seven terms, in the original Greek, carried connotations within the biblical worldview or were familiar technical terms within Greek philosophical thought, and so conveyed meaning to the original audience that mere translation cannot do justice, and so each would be worth a sermon-length word study that is beyond the scope of our purposes here.

Suffice to say, each is an attribute of the divine nature we inherit as heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, and they are arranged here in successive hierarchical order, culminating with the highest attribute: Love. Or, in the Greek, “Agape,” which is the highest of the four Greek terms for “love” and is the term used by another apostle to describe the essential nature of God Himself.

In other words – these are divine qualities that exist within us, but in seed form, as potentialities. We must cultivate them. It doesn’t happen automatically. Like the namesake of this blog – the divine nature is like a third helix added to our double-stranded human DNA. We have the “raw materials” within our own nature, but our inherited godhood can only be brought to fruition through intention and discipline. That is why the apostle exhorted his readers to “make every effort” to add these qualities to their faith.

And, notice that he didn’t write, “make every effort to add to your faith love.” No, he started with “excellence” or “virtue” (Greek “arete”), with each successive quality built upon the last. You have to build up to Agape.

But it starts with faith – with wise, self-interested investment by claiming God’s promises.

And, it continues on the same principle, because love itself is definitionally self-interested. “Love your neighbor as yourself” presupposes self-love – you cannot give what you do not have. But, the shame of our fallen nature cripples us from being able to love ourselves, and makes us hostile toward God and our neighbor. That is why we need a new nature. “We love because He first loved us,” another apostle wrote. And because God loves us, we are not only permitted, but commanded to love ourselves, and only then is it possible to love our neighbors as ourselves.

We have to grow into that, and if we truly believe His promises and have our faith rightly placed, we make every effort to do so.

“For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ,” Peter continued.

This speaks to the external aspect of that labor. As we grow in the divine nature, we become more and more like Christ in this world, and so cannot help but to do as he would do, which is to lift up and edify our fellow believers, exhorting them to likewise make every effort to add to their own faith those qualities.

This, in fact, is what the Church is for.

“The Church” is an assembly drawn together by our common faith in these promises and our shared purpose of cultivating the divine nature within ourselves, and so help each other to “make every effort” to do so.

When Paul echoed a similar “make every effort” exhortation and spoke of the spiritual gifts and offices within the Church apportioned by Christ, the purpose of it, he wrote, was “to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ (i.e., the Church) may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”

This is the purpose for which Christ supernaturally empowered believers with miraculous gifts in the 1st century. This is how the Church is supposed to function, and how it grows, how it saves the world and takes back the nations from the gods of this world.

In such a functional, biblically-faithful church, you shouldn’t be able to just walk in on Sunday morning and immediately be able to tell who the pastor is. To be a member of such a church should entail being paired with a mentor and taught how to pursue these divine qualities, and in so doing, discovering and learning how to implement your own spiritual gifts. That means it’s not a one-man show on Sunday morning. Every single member contributes and is actively involved – on Sunday, and the rest of the week, in various forms of ministry. As the leader of the local church, it should not be the pastor’s job to preach a sermon every Sunday morning, but to lead the church. He is the “shepherd.” It should be his job to coordinate discipleship and to recruit members to whom to delegate responsibilities for the general operation of the church. Maybe he’ll preach a sermon of his own once in a while, but if he’s not grooming other capable members of his congregation to be able to do that and other ministerial tasks, he simply isn’t doing his job as the pastor, and he isn’t leading an actual church.  

In other words, the Church should look more like the Jedi Order than what we commonly think of as “church” today (sans their abysmal moral philosophy).

What we have today instead is the performance of “church,” an impersonation – not genuine, functional churches.

Has God Really Said …?

It is quite obvious why this is the case: virtually every single idea, value and belief that is commonly taught in Church today cultivates a general attitude of pious-sounding hostility against everything I’ve described here.

Most glaringly, our concept of “worthiness,” and our lack thereof, is openly antagonistic to the promises of God.

Christians absolutely love to parade their unworthiness and declare what great sinners they are. It’s one of our most common shibboleths to convey our identity as churchgoing Christians, and it’s not uncommon, even, for it to be used as a show of status or dominance within a group of Christians – the person who is most conspicuously contrite over their great and terrible sin is the most “spiritual” person in the room.

And, memes like these are common fare in Christian corners of social media, because they reflect our common thinking:

But, why would a Christian – a genuine, sincere, born-again Christian who truly believes and is imbued with the divine nature – be unworthy?

To teach that is nothing less than a denial of the gospel.

If we put our faith in Him, we are justified. According to Paul, this is no different than if we had kept every single requirement of the Law perfectly.

That doesn’t mean we earned it. That doesn’t mean that God owes us anything because of our worthiness, obviously, because it’s a worthiness He gifted to us.

But it does mean we are worthy.

What’s more, we have the very nature of Christ himself – of God Himself – within us, if we believe.

So when we declare ourselves unworthy, what could that possibly mean, but that, either, we don’t have Christ’s nature within us – which means we’re not actually Christians, or it means that having his nature within us isn’t sufficient to make us worthy – which would imply that Christ himself is unworthy.

Neither of these is an acceptable position for a Christian.

Whoever created this meme, as well as the millions of Christians who liked and shared and commented “Amen!”, simply do not understand the gospel. What it should have read is that “the Lord checked for the blood on the doorposts … and by that He knew those inside were worthy.”

Of course, Christians will quote to me all the passages that speak of our sinful nature, especially 1 Timothy 1:15-16:

“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.”

The argument is that, because Paul described himself as “the worst” in the present tense, this means he still regarded himself as “the worst of sinners,” post-salvation.

That’s quite obviously wrong. His grammar was present tense, but he’s still speaking of the past. Paul is – in the present tense – an example of someone who was the worst of sinners.

Elsewhere, he wrote:

“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.”

Paul clearly didn’t expect Christians to remain in the state of depravity in which they previously existed, and so he could not have meant that about himself.  

Another favorite proof-text is Romans 7, in which Paul made such statements as, “I am sold as a slave to sin,” and “For I know that good itself does not dwell in me …” and “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?”

But, Romans 7 is the “‘before’ picture.” That was not Paul describing his life as a Christian. That was his state of existence prior to salvation, trying to be justified under the Law.

This is plain from Romans 8, in which he wrote, “For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering.” (verse 3)

Romans 8 is the “‘after’ picture,” in which Paul describes the life of the Christian, in contrast to the “before” of Romans 7: “Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you.

The point is, Christians are not supposed to wallow in our sin and unworthiness anymore. Yes, we still have a sinful nature. Yes, we still sin. I’m not arguing for sinless perfection as our standard.  

But it’s clear from Romans 8 that Paul thought the Christian’s life should not be characterized by sin any longer. He contrasted and defined those “before” and “after” pictures, respectively: “Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.”

It is the flesh that is still dominated by the shame of our sinful nature and fixates upon it.

Living in the Spirit, though, means keeping our minds intent on “the Prize,” pursuing the qualities of the divine nature, the virtues of Christ, which define our new natures.

In other words – we cannot escape the sinful nature by fixating upon it, but by pursuing virtue and the divine qualities, committing ourselves to the process described in the previous section.

The common refrain among Christians is to reject any idea of a “process” at all and to condemn it as “works-based salvation.”

They’ll deal with passages like those I cited by trying to lawyer them – finding whatever loopholes and wiggle-room and sophistry they can to make them say something other than what they do.

For instance, when Paul instructed the Philippians to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” Christians commonly find recourse in the next verse: “ … for it is God who works in you, to will and to act according to His good purpose.”

“See?” they’ll argue. “It is God who works in you. You don’t do anything at all. It’s all God, not you.”

They have a ready-made interpretation like that for every possible passage that could be cited in which the biblical writers exhort Christians to “make every effort,” to strive, to discipline themselves, to act, to take any initiative, to do anything. It’s always, “Yes, the passage says that, but …” as they follow up with something to blunt the urgency, to lower the stakes, to get themselves off the hook. The common pattern is that where the biblical writers exhorted Christians to exert effort and take active initiative and responsibility, the modern churchgoer lawyers it to justify passivity, taking no responsibility, rejecting any demands that might be placed on them as Christians, and they do so in a way that makes it sound very pious and devout, as if these are all virtues to be cultivated instead of the vice and cowardice that they actually are.

Christians like to parade their unworthiness because it gives them an excuse to fail. It normalizes sin within the Church and establishes a lack of spiritual progress as the expectation for all Christians.

We want that license to fail because we don’t really believe what we read in the Bible.

Read that again and let it sink in. And, consider the hollow, flimsy excuse of what passes for “faith” and evangelism (as discussed in Part 2), in light of that widespread demand for this license to fail.

We are promised that we have His nature within us. If we truly love and worship Jesus Christ for who he is, for his virtues and character and holiness, and we are told that we also have these qualities within ourselves, if we would but cultivate them, if we truly believed that, we wouldn’t see these exhortations in Scripture as burdensome chores to reluctantly undertake as a condition of salvation, and so try to explain them away and excuse ourselves from them. We would see them for what they are – these “chores” are salvation itself, and we would be thrilled to take them up. To be like Jesus Christ? To have his nature within us, right now? To know that we can be like him? What could possibly be better? Why wouldn’t we happily throw off every encumbrance and distraction and pursue this Prize with our whole being, with every possible moment of our attention?

If we find these promises in Scripture, yet declare that we are powerless, wretched and unworthy … well, we truly are unworthy.

We’re letting the shame of our fallen nature veto the glory to which God calls us, which is rightfully ours if we would but listen to Him and trust Him. We’re putting our faith in the leadings of the Serpent who tells us, “You’re not worthy. You can’t do it. You don’t really have His nature in you. God hasn’t really promised any of this …”

And that is why the lightning never comes, and why we remain mortal and unworthy and defeated.

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Recapturing Our Stolen Inheritance (1/2)

No, That’s Not Christianity: Part 3

It’s a recurring theme in heroic fantasy, and in comic books in particular: he is an unassuming nobody, apt to be dismissed and ignored, as there is nothing appealing about him, no great talent or charisma or attractiveness to set him apart as deserving of any attention, much less as someone on whom to place any great hope or faith. But, unbeknownst to his peers, his family, the girl he loves unrequitedly, and everyone else predisposed to overlook or reject him – including, no less, himself – he alone is worthy to draw the sword from the stone, to sit in the Siege Perilous, to lift the enchanted hammer, to hold aloft the mystical talisman and to utter the sacred words that will summon the lightning – the power from on high by which the lowly and marginalized Everyman is reborn, empowered and glorified as the Hero.

Billy Batson of DC Comics’ “Shazam!/Captain Marvel”-fame is among the most conspicuous examples of this template, along with his imitators in Marvel Comics’ “Thor” and Adam/He-Man from “Masters of the Universe,” but there are repetitions and echoes of it in various other iterations. The basic pattern is of a frail mortal transfigured into godhood due to some hidden, previously undiscovered virtue – typically, but not necessarily always, in sudden, dramatic fashion by means of lightning or some other display of blazing light and fireworks to signify a dispensation of awesome supernatural power. And, often, it is at the moment of greatest need – to effect, perhaps, a resurrection from the dead, figurative or literal.

The aforementioned are some of the more mainstream commercial examples of the trope, but they are recapitulations of an ancient pattern, and it’s one that has echoed throughout our fantasies and heroic narratives for millennia. It’s something we fantasize about, something that continues to resonate within us, tapping into our deepest yearnings, and so we keep returning to it in our stories in one variation after another.

Despite its ubiquity, and just like the unaware supporting characters who ignore the pre-transformation everyman in those stories, we are inclined to dismiss this motif as nothing but the stuff of puerile escapism, since we find it predominantly in children’s cartoons and superhero comics. But, for us no less than them, that is a mistake born of misplaced values and faulty assumptions.   

I couldn’t say whether these stories are the “good dreams” mentioned by C.S. Lewis by which God gives glimpses of divine truths to humanity, or if they are deliberate or unconscious imitations, or some mixture thereof.

What I can say is this:

That lightning of rebirth that transforms the mortal and mundane into a god … ?

For those of us who declare with our mouths that “Jesus is Lord” and believe in our hearts that God raised him from the dead, that is our inheritance. It is God’s promise to us. That is the hope Jesus came to deliver to us, which he purchased for us with his blood and pledged to us by his resurrection.

Most of us don’t recognize it, though. It’s too foreign to our common paradigm of what Christianity is. It is a concept that has been stolen from us, buried and hidden behind walls of confusion, distracting dogma and centuries’ worth of institutionalized error.

As discussed in the first installment to this series, we have a concept of what the Bible teaches that would be unrecognizable to the biblical writers themselves, because we don’t actually read the Bible, much less teach and implement it in our churches. Consequently, we don’t easily recognize God’s promises as they are, and we often gloss them over when we do find them in Scripture. And, as discussed in the second installment, collectively, we have an epistemology that undermines our understanding, confidence and commitment to what we do apprehend, which turns us from the genuine gospel to the “broad path” and “wide gate” of popular religion (and, this installment won’t penetrate quite like it should if you haven’t read those two first, which is why they’re conveniently linked above).   

As we read and understand the Bible on its own terms, and actually believe it, we find that it presents a concept of relating to God that is every bit as dramatic, powerful and transformative as any wish-fulfillment fantasy or superhero origin story we find in fiction.

But accessing it requires, first, an understanding that is withheld by our popular conception of Christianity, as well as a level of commitment and motivation denied by the same, which includes a level of collective cooperation that is antithetical to our common understanding of what “church” is for.  

Reframing the Narrative

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that “resurrection” is the short explanation, but it isn’t widely understood what all is meant by that term, and there is widespread, deeply entrenched confusion about what it does mean.

Contrary to popular misconception, it does not mean, merely, “life after death.” It includes that, yes, but that doesn’t begin to cover it. And, it absolutely does not mean “life after death” in the sense commonly understood – that of “getting into heaven” as a disembodied spirit or soul. 

No, by that term, we are promised nothing less than immortality and godhood itself, on this very earth.

This will, of course, scandalize many churchgoers, who will immediately dismiss this out of hand as “pagan” and therefore beyond the pale of orthodox Christian belief: there is only one God, and glory belongs to Him alone, and any deviation or differentiation from this central truth must be immediately rejected and anathematized before it can be given any hearing whatsoever, according to common institutional Christian thinking.

Those observations are, of course, basically correct, but the applications are not, because, as we have discussed, they arise from a misguided narrative that is entirely foreign to the Bible.

A brief overview of the actual biblical narrative is in order.

Some of this – much of it, actually – might strain credulity at first, since it’s so foreign to the belief systems and philosophical outlooks most of us take for granted, even as Christians. But, I propose that we set questions of “true” or “false” aside for the time being and concentrate solely on what the Bible actually and positively teaches, and then we can decide if it explains the world we live in better or worse than the positions we now hold.  

In the Old Testament, we find repeated mention of these divine beings who are referred to variously as “the sons of God” or “the gods” (in Hebrew, the “bene Elohim” and “elohim,” respectively) among other terms and descriptions.

Their first mention is in Genesis 6, where they are described as lusting after mortal women and by them fathering a race of demigods and titans, the Nephilim. This episode is expanded upon in 1 Enoch (chapters 1-36, specifically), according to which (and corroborated by various passages of Scripture), the sons of God were set over humanity as “watchers,” but about 200 of them rebelled when they descended upon Mount Hermon and swore a pact to trade forbidden knowledge with mankind in exchange for sexual access to their daughters, and thereby became a source of deepening corruption to fallen humanity, precipitating the Flood. According to the New Testament writers, they were condemned and imprisoned in darkness until the Day of Judgment for having “left their proper station.” But, their legacy of corruption and the curse of their offspring, the demonic “Rephaim,” are recurring elements throughout the biblical narrative.

Set against the backdrop of other literature from the ancient Near East, such as the Enuma Elish and the Epic of Gilgamesh, this is understood by scholars to be a polemic against the Babylonians, according to whom, divine beings known as “apkallus” gave the secrets of magic, warfare, seduction and other esoteric knowledge to humans, and it was to this advantage that the historical Babylonians attributed their ascendancy as an empire during the period of the Jews’ captivity. (This is all explained in the paper, “On the Origin of Watchers: A Comparative Study of the Antediluvian Wisdom in Mesopotamian and Jewish Traditions,” by Amar Annus, among other literature.)

(On a related note – whether you believe the Bible on any level or not – the Great Flood was a real event, by – quite literally – all accounts, including modern geology.)

In other words, what the Babylonians celebrated as the basis for their successful conquest and subjugation of the known world, the biblical writers condemned as a corrupting influence upon mankind.

As the biblical narrative continued, sometime after the Flood, humanity collectively defied God’s reiterated command to “be fruitful and increase in number, multiply on the earth and increase upon it” by gathering to settle in one place, where they attempted to build a tower to heaven. If we likewise consider the Tower of Babel episode within the cultural and historic context of the ancient Near East, their objective was not, as is commonly supposed by modern lay readers, to create a way for humans to get into heaven, but the opposite: to create a sacred space to receive visitors from heaven. The Tower is acknowledged by modern scholars to have been a ziggurat, which was a sort of man-made sacred mountain meant to serve as a meeting point between heaven and earth, upon which the gods were believed to descend. The name “Babylon” means “Gate of the Gods,” and it was called that because the city, in its various iterations over the centuries, was always centered upon a ziggurat. The city was conceived of as an embassy of sorts for the gods to come to earth. 

The implication appears to be that Nimrod and his followers, in building the Tower, were attempting to repeat (pre)history: they wanted the Watchers/apkallus to return. The very same corruption that moved God to grieve over the wickedness of humanity, and for which He wiped out human civilization, they wanted to reinstate.

To sum up human history so far: in the Garden of Eden and in the time just before the Flood, humanity was corrupted at the enticement of these supernatural beings, first by the Serpent, then by the Watchers. In this third rebellion at Babylon, humans ran headlong into it, initiating the corruption themselves by inviting the Watchers to return.

God’s response was to disinherit humanity, giving them over to the rule of those lesser gods whose favor they sought. As Dr. Michael Heiser explains, this was a definitive example of the pattern described by Paul in Romans 1, according to which, because of our rejection and rebellion against Him, God gave humanity over to our sinful desires and shameful lusts. Understood in the context of what came before, because they rejected God in order to seek the favor of the Watchers, God gave humanity over to their dominion. It was both a punishment as well as an acquiescence to their own misguided desires (which is what God’s punishments typically amount to throughout the Bible: simply reaping what is sown, including the final punishment of the wicked in what is commonly referred to as “Hell.”).

The “sons of God” who rule over humanity are referred to throughout the Bible as “the Assembly of the Gods” and “the Divine Council,” over which God Himself presides.

All of this – the narrative of Genesis 1-11 – is the prologue that set the stage for the birth of God’s chosen nation of Israel, which began with God’s call of Abraham in Genesis 12, through whom “all peoples of the earth will be blessed.”

This is summarized in Deuteronomy 32:7-9, which, in its earliest version, reads:

“Remember the days of old; consider the generations long past.

Ask your father and he will tell you; your elders, and they will explain to you.

When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance, when He divided all mankind,

He set up boundaries for the peoples according to the number of the sons of God.

For the Lord’s portion is His people, Jacob His allotted inheritance.”

So, the gods – the sons of God – were appointed by God to rule over the nations of the world, under His supervision, while God called out Abraham to be the progenitor of a special nation whom God set apart for Himself and through whom He planned to ultimately reconcile the rest of the nations of the world to Himself.

At some unspecified point, though, the Divine Council went the way of the antediluvian Watchers and became corrupt, according to Psalm 82. The psalmist narrates God addressing the Divine Council, affirming them as “gods” and “sons of God,” but condemning them to die like mortals for their unjust rule and their neglect to protect the vulnerable and uphold the needy against oppression and evil, and the psalmist concludes by asserting God’s ultimate sovereignty over the nations.

This is known as the “Divine Council worldview,” and it has been popularized in recent years by the aforementioned Dr. Heiser, predominantly through his books “The Unseen Realm” and “Reversing Hermon,” as well as his Naked Bible podcast and various other publications and lectures, all of which I cannot recommend highly enough.

The Biblical View of the Human Condition

This is the state of affairs that defines the status quo of the biblical worldview and sets up the conflicts to be resolved through the course of the rest of the biblical narrative: humanity at-large is ruled over by “the gods” and is subject to their wicked rule, which compounds the suffering of humans and the conflicts between nations, and it redefines false religion and idolatry as worse even than sins committed by humans, but also as the chains that keep humanity enslaved to these dark forces, and to our own base natures.

And, once you’re aware of this as a dominant plot feature of the prologue of Genesis, the rest of the biblical narrative just explodes with deeper and richer meaning, because this subtext is woven throughout, and without that background, we tend to gloss over major features of what we read and wind up confused and denominationally divided over much of it.

Some of the more conspicuous among innumerable examples of this subtext would be passages like Luke 4:5-7, Isaiah 14, Ezekiel 28 and Daniel 10, which make reference to supernatural beings, i.e. the Watchers, as the powers behind nations, with titles like “the Prince of Persia” and “the Prince of Greece” who are engaged in ongoing cosmic warfare against those who are still loyal to God, such as Israel’s “prince,” the archangel Michael, over the fate of humanity, with significant, real-world stakes for the nations and peoples under their dominion.

The obvious question this raises, of course, is: Why would God allow this state of affairs to continue? He is sovereign and all-powerful, and He has already decreed the death sentence against the Divine Council and could smite them into oblivion with an effortless shrug.

So why doesn’t He? Why didn’t He do that thousands of years ago, before any of this was written down in the first place?

He doesn’t do that because He loves mankind, and – along with being infinitely powerful – He is also absolute in His justice, as well as His resolve.

His resolve in creating humans in His own image and likeness includes us being free moral agents. That means we have free will, and that God honors and holds us to our choices, with all of the consequences thereof. He gives us the freedom to sow as we choose, and whatever grows from it is rightfully and deservedly ours.

Humans, collectively, chose to go after other gods, and so we are rightfully under their dominion. And, even if we don’t take Genesis 1-11 as literal, factual history (and I’m not saying we shouldn’t or should, I’m just addressing those who reject it as such), even if it isn’t attributable to that single incident in that particular time and place, the outcome is the same: regardless of whether we’re talking about ancient Mesopotamians, Greeks or Norsemen or early settlers of the Indus Valley or pre-Columbus Americans, humanity has indeed collectively given the loyalty and devotion that rightfully belongs to the one true God to other gods, worshiping created beings, personified forces of nature and man-made images.

Indeed, Mesoamerican pyramids are basically identical to ancient Near Eastern ziggurats, in both function and general architecture, which demonstrates – at the very least – that the sinful proclivities seen in Genesis 1-11 are common to humanity, and could even suggest that the Watchers’ transgressions were not limited to the ancient Near East.

And, prior to that, however we take the Garden of Eden story – literally, metaphorically, archetypally, psychologically, hyperbolically, mythologically, proto-historically or whatever – we chose to rebel against Him by eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, whatever it is that means or represents (something we’ll explore more thoroughly in Part 2). The outcome is likewise the same: our default internal disposition is hostile and estranged from our true Creator, and we are thereby cut off from Ultimate Reality and enslaved to our appetites and instincts.

As previously mentioned, God has pronounced a sentence of death upon these supernatural rulers, but humanity is under the same sentence. So, God cannot justly apply that sentence to the gods without also applying it to mortals.

This is why humanity had to be ransomed.

Having paid the ransom with his own blood, Jesus has taken back authority over the nations. As the Son of Man whose dominion will never end, he is the One who will carry out the sentence of death against the gods.

But, it is still an authority that has been delegated through the gods, under whose dominion humanity remains, for now. Christ has authority over them, but they still have authority over us. To carry out the sentence against them would justly include applying that sentence to all who remain under their dominion. Humanity – individually, nationally, collectively – must choose the dominion of Christ in order to come out from under the authority of the gods, and to receive forgiveness of sins and be spared the ultimate penalty.

This is why Jesus sent the apostles to “make disciples of all nations” and to “turn them from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to God.”

When all of humanity has been given the choice and the full number of people have come in, then the sentence will be carried out.

Until that time, though, we are at war with the gods, and we are in enemy-occupied territory. These are “the rulers, the authorities, the spiritual forces of darkness in the heavenly realms” mentioned by Paul. We typically think of the Devil and his angels as being in hell, but no – they still rule over us from heaven. This is their world – hence Jesus calling the Devil “the prince of this world” and Paul calling him “the god of this age.”  

Their objective is not, as some might suppose, to try to ultimately dethrone God or anything like that to achieve some kind of final victory in which they avert their fate or secure their dominion over humanity. No, their objective is to hold off their fate as long as possible by maintaining the status quo, which they do by making war upon God’s instrument for winning back the nations – that is, the Church – by keeping us distracted and indolent and impotent as best they can (more on this to follow). And, as long as they do that, they are winning. But, they know that their sentence is inevitable and ultimately unavoidable.

The Promise

That is what the death and resurrection of Jesus saves us from.

Yes, we all (or most of us) still die, but it is promised that we will come through the other side.

But, the sentence of death is not merely reversed by our eventual resurrection.

As we read the New Testament and consider what it is Jesus has saved us to, there are hints and allusions, but ultimately, we are told, mere language is inadequate to communicate it: “No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love Him.”

We find Paul repeatedly speaking of the destiny of believers as something that defies description, and so can only be truly apprehended spiritually, supernaturally, by revelation from God: “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe,” he wrote.

Our ultimate destiny defies easy description, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t concrete parameters that should give us some idea – and it is most definitely not an afterlife as disembodied spirits in some other world.

We know, first and foremost, that we will be raised, as Jesus was. His resurrection is the proof and promise of our own.

After his own resurrection, along with being immortal, Jesus could appear and disappear at will – he could appear suddenly inside a locked room, and leave just as he came. This was not because he was immaterial – because he lacked physical substance, like a phantom, and so passed through walls. It was because he was beyond mere physical substance – he wasn’t less than flesh and blood, but more than flesh and blood. He didn’t lack physicality; he was at least physical. His existence transcended the three spatial dimensions of our present existence, so that appearing in a locked room was as simple for him as it would be for us, as three-dimensional beings, to get from point A to point B in Flatland without traversing the territory in between. We often fantasize about being able to fly, but to Jesus, flying would have been as pedestrian as crawling on all fours would be to Superman.

And, we are told in Scripture that, in being raised as he was, we will be like him.

Also, we are repeatedly told that we are “heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.” As in, we will inherit what Christ inherits.

What’s more, the Scripture reads that “the creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.”

There it is again – “the sons of God,” but in the New Testament.

In the Old Testament, the “sons of God” were the gods, the Watchers who ruled – and still rule – over fallen humanity.

But in the New Testament, the “sons of God” refers to us, to believers, to redeemed human beings.

As heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, we read, we will “reign with him.”

When Paul rebuked the believers in Corinth for bringing lawsuits against each other instead of settling their disputes internally, he said, “Do you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world? … Do you not know that we will judge angels?”

Humanity is presently ruled over by “the gods,” but we will one day rule over them. We will be exalted to greater status than beings who are repeatedly referred to in Scripture – without qualification, exaggeration or irony – as “gods.”

We will become the new gods.

These are beings of immense, unfathomable power. Whenever benevolent angels appeared to humans, typically, their first words were, “Do not be afraid …” The prophet Daniel described the messenger he encountered as a figure blazing in glory and so awesome to behold that he was reduced to a catatonic state in his presence, while others fled in abject terror.

Consider the vision John of Patmos had of one such being:

“Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven. He was robed in a cloud, with a rainbow above his head; his face was like the sun, and his legs were like fiery pillars … He planted his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land, and he gave a loud shout like the roar of a lion. When he shouted, the voices of the seven thunders spoke.”

Reasonable people can disagree and debate over whether this description was intended as literal or figurative, but “For what is it figurative?” is the question that should interest us here.

If that is the measure of the power and glory of one of these divine beings, and we will replace them as the gods of this world, what will the new “sons of God” become when we are revealed?

So, when we are promised “resurrection” as our inheritance, that is what is meant: we will become gods.

And, the straightforward teaching of the Bible is that we will rule on this earth. There isn’t a single word in all of Scripture about leaving this earth and residing in heaven:

And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time.

“I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.”

This is consistent with the overall and unwavering teaching in the Old Testament about the rule of the Messiah on earth, in this world, which was the central hope and focus of the original Church.

That is the promise, the endpoint, the destiny to which all genuine Christians are called, which can only be rightly understood within the narrative of what the Bible actually teaches: nothing less than godhood itself, on this earth.

Just knowing and accepting the narrative isn’t enough, though. It is a promise Jesus Christ holds out to all of humanity, and it has practical application here, now, in this age of history.

But, it is a promise with conditions, and we are not meeting them, which we’ll discuss in Part 2.

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‘The Batman’: A Slow, Plodding Trojan Horse of Wokeism

At long last, the new Batman movie is out.

And it sucks.

Of course, all my friends are rolling their eyes right now, because I’m known to be pretty hard on movies – particularly, big cultural-event movies, like massively hyped superhero or franchise movies such as this one.

I don’t universally hate big franchise movies just for being big franchise movies, mind you. I loved most Marvel movies prior to “Avengers: End Game,” including “End Game,” and I even kind of liked “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” despite the fact that it bombed with most “Star Wars” fans, and just had no reason to exist.

I’m a lifelong DC Comics fan (I happen to own more “Batman” shirts than I do pairs of socks, and even more “Superman” shirts), so I wanted to love “Man of Steel” and “BvS” and the rest, but … they just didn’t merit it (except for “Shazam!,” which was highly flawed, but still great).

All of that is to say that – contrary to my reputation – I don’t automatically hate big franchise movies, as a rule, so the eye-rolling is unjustified. I have reasons for loving and hating movies, and they are not arbitrary nor the result of unfair bias, nor even political partisanship.

So, I felt the need to justify it this time, and it’s hard to imagine how any objective observer could reasonably disagree.

Be warned: This will be full of spoilers (in many different senses of the word), so if you haven’t seen in it and plan to, etcetera, etcetera … you know the drill.

Good Plan, Failed Execution

The best thing I can say about “The Batman” is that it has a really cool mood, tone and look to it. From the costume, the casting, the red-themed marketing, the music and the style, “The Batman” looks like it should be exactly the kind of Batman movie I’d want to see and should be my favorite. It looks like a Batman movie made by people who get Batman the way I’ve always gotten him since I was a kid reading Frank Miller comics in the ‘80s.

But, it is long and boring and tedious and suffocating, and that mood wears very thin very soon, and so it fails to sustain what feels like the 183-hour run time of “The Batman.” That mood and tone and music made for a great set of trailers, but unfortunately, if you’ve seen the trailers, you’ve already seen everything good about this movie.

The music and style do a really good job of conveying the kind of movie director Matt Reeves was supposedly going for: in stark contrast to the Zack Snyder-style “smashing action figures together and pretending something meaningful is happening”-fare of recent memory, “The Batman” is offered as a psychological suspense thriller/crime drama in the same vein as “Se7en” or “Zodiac” or “Silence of the Lambs,” which is a great fit for Batman as a character. In the comic books, he is the reputed “World’s Greatest Detective,” which is an aspect rarely explored in the movies. Batman is a genius-level investigator, a modern-day Sherlock Holmes, who relies on his superior intellect to defeat his enemies as much as he does his athleticism and martial arts. Just like the protagonists in the aforementioned suspense thriller movies, he is often pitted against enemies whose intellectual powers rival his own, doing mental combat through high-stakes chess matches of clues and deductive puzzles, eventually outwitting the killers before their sinister machinations can play out.

Like I said, Matt Reeves does a tremendous job of conveying the kind of movie, and the kind of Batman, he’s going for (or wants us to think he’s going for).

Except, “The Batman” has none of the substance, internal logic or connective tissue of that kind of movie. It has all of the external packaging of that kind of movie, but inside, it’s a jumbled mess of pretensions, genre tropes and failed executions.

Batman never outsmarts the Riddler. He only finds the clues the Riddler specifically spoon-feeds to him, but then spends half the movie chasing down bogus leads resulting from his misreading of one of those clues, until the Riddler deliberately surrenders. Instead of the expected cat-and-mouse, “hero tracks down the killer”-progression of these kinds of movies, Batman is more of a mouse being led through a maze by the Riddler, despite all of the musical and narrative cues that tell us Batman is winning.

Batman never outsmarts the Riddler, because there’s nothing really there to outsmart. The audience is meant to think there’s something meaningful going on behind all the breadcrumb trails of clues, but there is no internal logic or broader meaning to any of it. It wasn’t like “Se7en,” for instance, where the underlying themes of his crimes gave them insight into the killer’s psychology, indicating clues to his identity and a puzzle to solve. Rather, the “clues” are nothing but empty plot devices meant to move the narrative along and get Batman into position for the next action sequence or car chase. It’s a story about a puzzle – in which the characters are shown exerting tremendous effort over each of the individual pieces – but there is no actual puzzle. There is nothing for the pieces to fit into. We are just told by the narrative that they are puzzle pieces, as the villain promises a grandiose and magnificently shocking revelation when that puzzle is finally assembled … but there is no puzzle to assemble, and so no big payoff in the form of that shocking revelation, apart from what we already knew when the movie started: Gotham City is full of corruption. Likewise, the narrative itself promises a John Doe/Hannibal Lecter/Zodiac Killer-level villain in the form of the Riddler, but instead, we get a cardboard cutout of such a villain. The Riddler is a bundle of tropes meant to be evocative of such a villain, but there is no substance inside.   

So, instead of smashing action figures together and pretending something meaningful is happening, Matt Reeves just walks those action figures slowly through a scene with evocative mood music, and pretends something meaningful is happening. He tells us that “The Batman” is an intense and cerebral suspense thriller, and we have to take his word for that, because it’s never demonstrated.

Bruce Wayne? More like Bruce Woke! Amiright?

That isn’t to say that there was nothing meaningful going on.

Walking out of the theater, I remarked to my friend, “That wasn’t nearly as Woke as I thought it was going to be.”

The Wokeness to which I referred came from a couple of lines delivered by Zoe Kravitz’s Selina Kyle about Bruce Wayne’s “privilege” of being a rich white orphan, who got to grieve his parents’ murders from the luxury of a mansion, surrounded by wealth. It was such a callous and incongruous thing to say that I half-suspected in the moment that it might have been intended as a subtle repudiation of Woke ideology, considering the irony that she said it to Batman, who, of course, is Bruce Wayne sacrificing that very privilege and security on a nightly basis for the betterment of the city. If it wasn’t meant as a repudiation, it had the feel of having been inserted into the movie at the urging of some studio executive in the interest of checking off a box for virtue-signaling points, so I just shrugged it off as the obligatory Leftist pandering we’ve all come to expect from any movie in Current Year.

Upon reflection, though, “The Batman” was way more Woke than I thought it was going to be.

To put it in Woke terminology: taken as a whole, “The Batman” is about a privileged white man “doing the work,” so to speak, by coming to terms with his privilege and culpability for society’s problems by adopting a “kinder, gentler,” more Left-leaning approach to the “systems of corruption” in Gotham City.

It should be obvious to longtime fans of the character, if not to casual moviegoers, that there is virtually zero chance of ever seeing a faithful depiction of Batman on film in our current era, in which Hollywood views movies as little more than vehicles for reprogramming the unwashed masses with Leftist dogma.

The character of Batman, in his classic iteration, is the consummate conservative hero and the embodiment of everything the Left hates, so of course “The Batman” would have no purpose but to destroy and replace that classic iteration.

When Leftists speak in terms of “white privilege” and “wealth inequality” and the like, someone like Bruce Wayne is whom they have in mind. He’s a white man born into fantastic wealth who uses his power to fight crime, i.e., “underprivileged minorities.”

Yet, at the same time (paradoxically, unless you follow his backstory), he would fit perfectly as a hero in an Ayn Rand novel, because he is the consummate self-made individualist. He rises to heroic stature on his own terms, by his own merits, by serving his own values. Yes, he inherited his wealth, but he expands it and puts it to effective use only by disciplined application of his mind, as an inventor and an innovator, both in the Wayne Industries corporate headquarters and in the Batcave.

But he also crusades on behalf of the family values he learned from his parents. The loss of his family is the defining tragedy of his life, and he’s out to stop that from happening to anyone else. He is, in that regard, a champion of the nuclear family.

And, of course, he’s a cop, of sorts. He’s an ally of the police. He sets himself against corrupt authorities, but his crusade is to purify and preserve the system of policing itself, and he is himself a sort of “super cop,” which is signified by his classic black/blue-and-yellow coloring.

In other words, he embodies everything Woke ideology is out to destroy.

And, destroy him they do, in “The Batman.”

A Batman of Straw

Of course, they couldn’t depict Bruce Wayne/Batman as he is in the comics. They had to make subtle changes to justify the character arc they set forth for him.

There is a scene early in the film in which Alfred tells him that some accountants are coming to go over his finances. We don’t see that meeting with the accountants nor are we told what is amiss with Bruce’s finances – suffice to say that they are in disarray, because, apparently, Bruce has just been coasting on his inheritance.

And, nothing ever comes of this. Nothing about the current state of Bruce’s finances is mentioned again in the movie. It has no bearing on his pursuit of the Riddler or his exploits as the Batman. And, it has no further relevance to his life as Bruce Wayne, because in this movie, he has no life as Bruce Wayne, because there is virtually no separate identity. Andy Serkis’ Alfred makes a remark about “keeping up appearances,” but there is no indication that, apart from this off-screen appointment with some accountants, there is any actual public appearance to maintain. He comes up from the Batcave for air and the occasional change of clothes, but his only existence, as far as we can see in this movie, is as the Batman. Even in those rare instances in which he goes out in public in civilian clothes, he behaves no differently as Bruce Wayne than he does as Batman.

So why include this brief bit of dialogue about his finances?

This is, of course, to establish the fact that he has earned none of his wealth. He is nothing but the unwitting beneficiary of inherited privilege and the unjust “system of wealth inequality.”

This is reinforced later on when he encounters the soon-to-be-elected mayor, Bella Reál, who complains that he doesn’t return her calls and remarks that, while his parents were known for their philanthropy, as far as she can tell, he “isn’t doing anything” with his wealth to help the city, and this is something she would see corrected, “if I’m elected,” she says.

Of course, the audience knows that, as Batman, he is doing something with his wealth to help the city (at least, as far as he is concerned), but her point is otherwise treated as valid: we, as the audience, are meant to simply accept as perfectly evident that she has every right and obligation to call him to account for what he does with his wealth. It isn’t seen as intrusive or presumptuous or grasping in the least for her to chase him down to impose demands upon him for the proper use of his wealth, especially if she is elected mayor … for some reason that is never explained, but is simply taken for granted.

Her character is set in sharp distinction against the outgoing mayor and the network of other corrupt old white men who run Gotham and make it the cesspool of crime and graft that it is. Even Thomas Wayne, Bruce’s father, was established as a corrupt politician prior to his death, so that Bruce – at least by association – could be folded into and made a beneficiary of the general fabric of political corruption that characterized Gotham City.

Reál’s election is then treated as a turning point in the political history of Gotham – her moral authority is treated as genuine and deserved. It is never explained, exactly, why she is different than any of the corrupt politicians who preceded and surround her. No backstory is ever given, nor any explanation of where she came from or what makes her any better or any different. She just is.

Of course, the fact that she’s black has nothing to do with it. At least, not as far as the movie overtly indicates.

But now that I mention it, it just so happens that James Gordon – the one police officer Batman trusts, who hasn’t been corrupted – is also black. Jeffrey Wright is a great actor and he brings a gravitas and intensity that makes him perfect for the role, so I have no problem with this casting, on principle. I thought it was a pretty cool casting choice when it was announced.

Naturally, there is nothing overtly said in the movie about the comparative virtues of one race against the other, but once the distinction is noticed, it’s hard not to register the fact that all of the morally upright characters – the characters who offer the voices of conscience throughout the movie, happen to be black, while the rest of the characters – characters who are predominantly outright evil or at least tainted by corruption, to some degree, are white.

Of course, we’re not supposed to notice that, and we are absolutely not supposed to notice it out loud. It would be “racist” to notice and comment upon it.

But, I’m sure the filmmakers wouldn’t object if we just so happened to unconsciously internalize the idea that white people in power are corrupt and dangerous, while black people coming into power is a relief, and an automatic victory for goodness and virtue.

The character arc of this movie’s Bruce Wayne points toward his abdication of power and privilege, and most of all, policing. No, we don’t see him explicitly give up his wealth or property (I’ll place some bets on that for the sequel), but we do see him give up his crusade, at least in its standard form.

Throughout the movie, Bruce Wayne is set in parallel to the Riddler, both with their crazed journal-writing and operating out of some kind of cave, both depicted as recluses or “Incels,” both on a mission to confront and root-out the corruption of Gotham. Both were orphaned as children by violence. Both are driven by vengeance, and say so often.

The difference between them is that Bruce was “privileged,” and the Riddler was not, and Bruce’s character development is in recognizing this — the suggestion being that, but for the comforts of his privilege, Bruce would have turned out the same, and so he cannot rightly condemn the criminality of others who didn’t have his advantages.

In the end, we see Bruce make a gesture of self-sacrifice in order to lead the new mayor and her retinue to safety, and then he narrates about the wrongfulness of his form of policing: he shouldn’t be punishing the criminal underclass of Gotham, but actively helping the vulnerable instead.

Of course, this lesson would be moot for the character in his classic iteration, because he does both, and he has almost always done both, for virtually the entire history of the character since long before there was any discussion in the broader culture about “white privilege” or “wealth inequality.” But, to make their point about the evils of “white privilege” and “wealth inequality” and the like, they had to change the character in order to create a dichotomy where there previously was none. They had to recast Bruce Wayne into the role of their stereotypical “privileged white man” so that he could model what they demand of “privileged white people” in general, which is to “do the work” and abdicate our supposed institutional power.

In conclusion, “The Batman” was a bait-and-switch: it was made to resemble a psychological suspense thriller, but its actual substance was a subliminal parable of Leftist dogma.

I don’t automatically hate movies for being Woke … despite my principled hatred of Wokism itself. There are plenty of Woke movies and TV shows that I love, despite being Woke. I happen to love “Star Trek: Discovery,” and it’s the Wokest thing on TV – there was a storyline, for instance, in which they literally saved the universe through the power of gayness (not an exaggeration). But, “Discovery” is also extremely well-written, and I could watch Sonequa Martin-Green in anything.

So, I don’t automatically hate shows or movies if they’re Woke. I understand that art will always unavoidably reflect the values of the artists, whether they mean for it to or not, and it isn’t realistic or fair to expect them to keep their values out of their art (even if their values are misguided and repugnant). And, engaging with art is how we participate in the ongoing cultural conversation, and disengaging from the conversation isn’t an option for anyone who wants to influence the culture, or, at the very least, be aware of what’s happening in the culture.

But, there is a difference between art and outright propaganda, and “The Batman” leans more heavily toward the latter.

That’s not even the worst thing about it, though. Its primary transgression is just being so insufferably long and boring.

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We Are the Church, Negated – We Are the Anti-Church.

No, That’s Not Christianity: Part 2

My last article was about how Christians just don’t follow, nor even actually read the Bible. We think we do, but we don’t. We’re indoctrinated into a certain set of assumptions about what it teaches, but we don’t know what it’s really about, what God’s purposes are for the Church or what the overall narrative is. We have a collective idea about what the Bible teaches – about the afterlife, as just one glaring example – but it is demonstrably wrong.

But it’s not just our ideas about the afterlife that are wrong. As bad as that might sound, this is far from the worst aspect of our failure as the Church.

There is a more subtle and insidious, and immensely more destructive and far-reaching symptom of our collective, functional apostasy.

To explain, some background is in order.


The Engine of Rebirth

When the Church first began on the Day of Pentecost in the year 30 AD, their central, defining mission was to bear witness to the risen Jesus:

“‘God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it … Therefore let all Israel know with certainty that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.’

When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’

Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call.’ With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’” (Acts 2:32-40)

Soon after, when Peter and John drew a crowd at the temple by healing a beggar, they quickly brought it back to that central point: “You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this.” (Acts 3:14-15)

The apostles proclaimed the resurrected Jesus – and not just that Jesus had risen from the dead, but that they were witnesses to it, to him, and that this historical event to which they bore witness validated the overall biblical narrative. As Peter explained in that inaugural sermon, it was that belief in Christ’s resurrection that was the catalyst for faith in God, which was the condition of receiving the Holy Spirit, who transformed their inner natures; and it was on the basis of that shared nature, identity and cause in Christ that they formed that community we call “the Church,” which was “the Body of Christ” – the new temple through which God dwelled on Earth.

And, this sequence of salvific conditions is reiterated throughout the New Testament:

“You also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit,” wrote Paul (Ephesians 1:13).

“I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard?” Paul also wrote (Galatians 3:2).

As the apostle Peter wrote later, “Through (Christ) you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, and so your faith and hope are in God.” (1 Peter 1:21)

People put their faith in God because of the resurrection, and, we read, they were justified before God on the basis of that faith; being justified, God gave them His own Spirit to transform their inner natures to regenerate them into the likeness of Christ, making them immortal – destined to be resurrected as he was.

As Peter continued, “You have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.”

A Subtle Inversion

All of this might sound quite basic and possibly even tediously familiar to regular churchgoers, but there is a crucial component to that formula that we typically get terribly wrong.

Did you catch it?

Note again how Peter wrote that, “It is through Christ that you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.”

Many Christians today, if you asked them why they believe in Christ, why they believe he rose from the dead, why they believe the Bible is the word of God and Christianity is true, will tell you something like, “It’s because I have faith.”

It is entirely common to hear remarks like, “No, we don’t know that he rose from the dead …”  or “ … we don’t know that God exists and that Christianity is true. That’s where faith comes in.”

(The Daily Wire’s Andrew Klavan, whom I respect and admire and watch every week, and who is a professing devout, born-again Christian, made virtually this exact remark not too long ago on his show at the start of an interview with Jordan Peterson.)

But notice how Peter didn’t say, “We believe the resurrection … because we have faith.”

No, he said, “We have faith because we believe the resurrection.”

That distinction might at first seem subtle, and therefore inconsequential. But there is nothing trivial about the difference. The enormity and impact of the difference cannot be overstated.

The resurrection is not true for us because of any faith that we bring to the question – not according to the founders of Christianity. No, it is by learning that the resurrection really and truly happened that we understand God’s nature and character at a visceral and fundamental level – realizing that He is the living God, who exists and is absolute Master over death and life and has intervened powerfully in actual time and space and history and empirical human experience – and so we put our trust in Him. That is what “faith” means – not an alternative to reason or to knowing, nor a suspension of disbelief nor “blind faith” nor superstition, but a personal trust. Faith is a relationship orientation, not an epistemology nor a side-stepping of our rational faculties. Faith is beyond logic or intellect, but it doesn’t bypass logic and intellect – it stands on their shoulders. Faith is a response to what is apprehended by logic and intellect, not an alternative to our use of logic and intellect.

Clearly, if we tell a friend or loved one, “I have faith in you,” it doesn’t mean, “I can’t really be certain of anything about you, or even your existence …”

No, it means, “I trust you – on the evidence of the pattern of your past behavior, I believe the best about you: you’ll do what you promise and you won’t betray me or break your word, and you’ll do what you set out to do.”

In several places in the Bible, Abraham is presented as the prototype for the faith that justifies us to salvation: “Abram believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” If we look at that episode in context, “faith” quite obviously doesn’t mean the blind belief or superstition or suspension of disbelief that we too often mean when we use that word. Abram was in the midst of a face-to-face, in-person encounter with God, and God had already physically manifested to Abram multiple times in his life by that point. So, God’s mere existence was not the object of Abram’s faith, nor any given doctrine about God. These were matters of established, empirical fact already. It was the assurance of God’s promises to him that Abram believed – his trust in God’s character and faithfulness – by which he was justified.

That is the faith that justifies us before God: we believe He will do what He has promised, and the resurrection is our reason for believing that.

Paul, in his sermon to the Athenians on Mars Hill, said that the resurrection is itself the proof of the truth of Christianity: “God has set a day when He will judge the world with justice by the Man He has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:31)

Also, returning to that inaugural sermon, the point that Peter drove home was that, on the basis of his resurrection from the dead, Israel should “know with certainty that God has made this Jesus both Lord and Messiah.” (Acts 2:32-36)

The resurrection is our basis for faith, not the object of it. Our faith doesn’t authenticate the resurrection – the resurrection is the catalyst and justification for our faith.

And — contrary to popular Calvinist teaching — faith is the condition of regeneration, not the other way around. Regeneration occurs on the condition of faith, and faith is a response to rational belief in the resurrection, according to the consistent teaching of the New Testament writers.

Rebirth Rooted in Reason

So, persuading people that it was actually – literally and objectively – true, through reasoned argument and appeals to empirical and verifiable evidence, was their primary occupation as apostles:

“We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty,” wrote the apostle (2 Peter 1:16).

“The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard,” wrote another (1 John 1:2-3).

When Paul stood before King Agrippa and told him of Christ’s resurrection and Festus the proconsul accused him of being out of his mind, he answered: 

“‘I am not insane, most excellent Festus. What I am saying is true and reasonable. The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.’

Then Agrippa said to Paul, ‘Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?’

Paul replied, ‘Short time or long – I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am … ‘“ (Acts 26:25-29)

They cited recent history and empirical evidence for their claims of Christ’s resurrection. Paul appealed to their knowledge of public events to support his case, with the goal of reasoned persuasion, which was essentially Paul’s full-time job as an apostle working to initiate people into the Christian religion: 

“Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Messiah.” (Acts 9:22)

“As his custom was, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with themexplaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead.” (Acts 17:2, 3)

“So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there.” (Acts 17:17)

“Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.” (Acts 18:4)

“(Paul) went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews.” (Acts 18:19)

“He vigorously refuted the Jews in public debate … “ (Acts 18:28)

“Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God.” (Acts 19:8)

They devoted their efforts so fully to persuading them of the truth of the resurrection because that was how they imparted faith in God, and it is only by faith in God that anyone could receive the Holy Spirit for regeneration/rebirth to eternal life. Apprehending the literal, factual truth of the resurrection was not a matter of faith, but of fact, and it was how they initiated people into everything else for which the term “Christianity” is shorthand: faith, repentance, baptism, discipleship, obedience to God, fellowship, the sacraments, theosis/eternal life, the world to come, etc.

Without the truth of the resurrection, Paul said, all of that was a tragic and deceptive exercise in futility, but with it, immortality and the world itself were their inheritance.

A Trifling Truth

Now, compare that picture of the early Church and its outlook, objectives and methods – particularly with regard to the central Fact underpinning the gospel – with what we call “church” today.

If you’re there in church on Sunday morning, sitting in a pew and taking part in the proceedings, typically, the people running the show presuppose that you are a “believer,” in some sense, but very little if any meaningful effort is made to ensure that this is the case. The actual truth or falsehood of Christianity is rarely if ever raised for consideration or concern, much less addressed with any earnest and vigorous presentation of evidence and arguments with an intent to persuade, nor to equip members of the congregation to persuade outsiders, nor even to defend themselves against the inevitable and unrelenting challenges with which they are constantly confronted outside the church walls.

Whether or not the resurrection actually happened is entirely beside the point for most people in church, by all appearances – including the leaders.

If it is being addressed, it’s an afterthought and it’s done off to the side in what we call an “apologetics” ministry, while the main activity of the church is more preoccupied with life-coaching and mining the Bible for “relevance,” or support for whatever pet topic the preacher has in mind that week, or any number of other worldly concerns (again, see my last article if my point here isn’t clear).  

All too often, the resurrection is affirmed as true only in an implied “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus”-kind of sense. As in, the actual literal, factual truth of it isn’t seen as important. What’s important is that it is “true” to the extent that we affirm whatever abstract sentimentality it is believed to represent. Preachers might make impassioned emotional appeals to believe the resurrection, but no one is likely to leave that service with any greater rational understanding of the historical case for it: they’ll just be exhorted to “have faith,” and possibly made to feel guilty about it if they don’t, and so passively pressured to pretend that they do in order to fit in as a “good Christian.”

A (Supposedly) Biblical License for Negligence

Of course, there is a wide gamut of pious-sounding slogans and cliches for why God supposedly wants it that way.

As already discussed, their mis-definition of “faith” is among the most frequent.

You can’t argue people into heaven,” is another favorite, which I believe has also been thoroughly refuted by now.

It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to make people believe, not ours,” is an equally frequent objection.

This just isn’t taught anywhere in the Bible, though, and it betrays a profound ignorance of what the Bible does teach.

One of the most oft-cited passages for this position is Ephesians 2:8, which reads, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and this not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.”

“See? Faith comes from God, not us,” they argue.

If that’s true, though, it’s only true in the aforementioned sense that God has given us an evidentiary basis for faith in the form of the resurrection of Christ, as Peter wrote and as Paul told the Athenians. And, of course, it’s true in the sense that it is God in Whom we are placing our faith, which can only be because He merits it, so in that sense, “faith comes from God,” just as our faith in anybody is rooted in who they are as a person, and so originates from them. It does not follow, however, that God bypasses our rational processes to bestow faith by way of the Holy Spirit.

As has already been established, faith precedes and is the condition of regeneration. Claiming that the Holy Spirit gives us faith puts the cart before the horse — regeneration does not precede or provide the causal basis for faith. That is a distortion, reversal and negation of the gospel taught in the Bible.

Besides all that, it is grammatically impossible that Paul wrote this passage to convey the idea for which it is so often invoked. Words in Greek always have gender: masculine, feminine or neuter. Relative pronouns, such as “this” or “that” or “these” always agree in gender with the noun to which they refer. The word for “faith” in that verse, “pisteos,” is feminine, while the word for “this” in that verse, “touto,” is neuter. It doesn’t agree in gender with the other two nouns in that verse either, which means the “this” doesn’t refer to any of the terms individually, but to the whole clause. Paul is saying, “This is God’s plan.” He isn’t speaking to God as the supplier of any particular component of the plan, but to the plan as a whole: it is the gift of God that we are saved by grace through faith. It isn’t our plan, but His. But, it is abundantly clear from innumerable other passages throughout the Bible that there are conditions to that plan that we are required to meet – namely, faith. 

Another favorite proof-text for this idea is from 1 Corinthians 2:

“The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.” (v. 10-14)

According to this, they explain, Christian belief comes from the Spirit of God, because it is only by the Spirit of God that a person can accept the things of God. And that seems like a reasonable interpretation of this passage, at first, until you pay attention to what he’s actually saying.

If you read it in context, it simply cannot mean that. Paul clearly wasn’t speaking to the question of how people come into faith – he isn’t talking about how unbelievers become believers. The portion cited above, Paul said, was “a message of wisdom among the mature” (v. 6). He’s not speaking to or about unbelievers or yet-to-be believers. He’s speaking to the already initiated.

There is nothing in this passage about how one receives the Spirit, but you obviously have to first have the Spirit in order to be able to listen to the Spirit speaking to you from within, and we’ve already seen from numerous other passages that faith is a prerequisite of and therefore precedes the receiving of the Spirit.

He credits the Spirit with empowering him to preach, but he says nothing about the Spirit empowering belief – except, perhaps, by implication, as the Spirit spoke through Paul. Paul is hardly citing the Spirit here as some disembodied mystical force that bypassed their faculties of reason to bestow belief. Quite the opposite. The Spirit is present in the world only through the Church – through believers. In fact, there is no example anywhere in Scripture of the Spirit of God acting in the world on His own. He only ever acts in the world through believers, through human agents. In order to act in the world, the Spirit of God must be embodied, and He is embodied – by definition – through the Church. That is what the Church is: the dwelling place in which God lives on Earth by His Spirit.

As Paul wrote elsewhere:

“If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved … for, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

How, then, can they call on the One they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the One of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent?” (Romans 10:9-15)

Without people through whom to act, the Spirit of God does nothing. The Church is how the Spirit of God manifests in the world. That’s what the Church is for. That’s what it means for us to be “the body of Christ.”

So, anyone who argues, “Such and such isn’t our job – it’s the job of the Holy Spirit,” betrays a fundamental ignorance of their own role as Christians, as members of the Church. It is, in effect, an abdication of our calling as Christ’s followers. If it is the job of the Holy Spirit, it’s our job, because we are the vessel through whom He acts.

Toward the Abolition of ‘Apologetics’

When I have this conversation in person, by this point many people will have responded, “Oh, OK – you just want more apologetics in church …”

While that’s not precisely wrong and, really, any attention to apologetics would be an improvement on what happens in most churches today, that also completely misses the point.

No, ideally, we would abolish entirely any concept of “apologetics” from our thinking.

“Apologetics” is the term for that category of Christian study concerned with proving the truth of Christianity. It comes from the Greek word “apologia,” meaning “defense,” and Christians have historically based this on passages like the aforementioned episode in which Paul presented his legal defense, and 1 Peter 3:15: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”

By now, though, it should be apparent that the apostles themselves would be utterly dumbfounded at our concept of apologetics. While we can find tenuous support for it in their writings, “apologetics” — as a distinct concept — is nowhere to be found in the Bible.

Obviously, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t provide a rational justification for Christianity. It means that arguing the case for the truth of Christianity was so essential and central to everything they did that “apologetics,” as such, would have been nonsensical as a distinct endeavor.

As we think of “apologetics” – and if we give it any attention at all – it’s an option to Christianity, an add-on. And, it’s done passively, defensively: in the event that some outsider takes the initiative to “ask about our faith,” that’s where “apologetics” comes in.

If we could go back in time to speak with that first generation of Christians and describe our concept of “apologetics,” they would be horrified at our apostasy.

Yes, you read that correctly – apostasy.

“You call that ‘apologetics’?!,” they would ask with outrage and disdain. “We call that ‘doing church.’” The idea that we would have that as a distinct category of ministry or study would elicit the question, “So what is it that you actually do in church, then?”

The Church is described in Scripture as “the pillar and foundation of the truth.” Proclaiming and arguing for the truth of our claims should hardly be optional to our mission – it is the very essence of our mission.

As we’ve seen, what we call “apologetics” is how all Christians (besides rare exceptions like Paul, who had the benefit of a direct epiphany) were initiated into the faith to begin with, and their maturation as followers of Christ was significantly, albeit not exclusively, concerned with learning how to initiate others in the same manner, which is how the Church grew so rapidly from a peculiar, localized sect of Judaism to an international world religion in only one generation.

So-called “apologetics,” then, should not be a subset of Christian ministry. It should be the other way around: all of Christian ministry should be subordinated under what we call “apologetics.”

Apostles Outranked Prophets

That isn’t to say that every single individual believer must become what we would regard as an expert “apologist” (for lack of a better term). There was a variety of different roles within the Church.

But, the structure of authority within the Church was one and the same as the epistemological hierarchy within orthodox Christian thought at the time. And, if that sounds like an unintelligible word salad at first, please read on and it will become clear.

For those unfamiliar, “epistemology” is the study of how we obtain knowledge — how we know things, and the hierarchy of authority within the original generation of Christians directly mirrored – and should inform today – the epistemological foundation of Christianity itself:

“So Christ himself gave some to be apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ,” wrote Paul (Ephesians 4:11-14).

This paralleled another passage he wrote to another community of believers:

“Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing?” (1 Corinthians 12:27-30)

There are different roles, different areas of ministry within the Church, so not everyone is expected to excel in the same areas. But, the purpose of all of these roles was the collective building up, equipping and maturing of the Church, and twice Paul listed them by order of authority and importance: Apostles and prophets outranked all other offices within the Church, while apostles outranked prophets.

A “prophet” is defined in Deuteronomy 18:14-22 as a person who speaks directly for God.

An “apostle,” on the other hand, is defined in Acts 1:21-22 and 1 Corinthians 9 as an historical eyewitness to the risen Jesus, primarily, and to his earthly ministry and teachings more generally.

Apostles outranked prophets.

Think about that.

It would be reasonable to assume that prophets would outrank all others, apostles included, since God Himself speaks through them. And, that typically is the paradigm we assume when we read the New Testament and the rest of the Bible: it is the divinely-inspired “word of God” first and foremost, and everything else about it is a corollary to that – we believe it because it is the word of God, and so if it reports an event of history, for instance, we can be certain that the event happened exactly as it is recorded in Scripture, because it’s the word of God.

That was not the epistemology of the early Church, though.

Apostles outranked prophets.

An apostle’s defining task was to provide eyewitness testimony about the risen Jesus and other firsthand historical information about the Messiah, and so their writings and instruction were valued primarily for that reason – as we can see from the repeated emphasis on the value of eyewitnesses and direct testimony throughout the New Testament. This is a value that survived into the period of the Apostolic Fathers and beyond, as we can see from the writings of the early Church Fathers (particularly in the writings of Papias of Hierapolis, for instance, who sought out and interviewed any firsthand witnesses to Jesus he could). This was in keeping with the historiographical best practices of the ancient world, established by the likes of Herodotus, Thucydides and others, which continues to this day to be the gold standard of historiography: the writer of history (and the modern journalist) should either be a firsthand witness to the events he reports, or should interview those who were.

And, this was the repeated basis for the New Testament writers’ reports about Jesus. They did not preface their accounts with “The word of the Lord came to me … “ or “Thus saith the Lord” or anything else to indicate direct supernatural revelation as the source of their information.

Rather, they wrote:

“He who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you may believe … This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true.” (John 19:35; 21:24)

“Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.” (Luke 1:1-4)

These were supernatural events they witnessed, but they offered their reports about them on the same terms as any other events of history – on the basis of eyewitness testimony – and so they were meant to be evaluated accordingly, on the same terms as any other historical writings.

Yes, Really – Apostles Outranked Prophets

When Peter wrote about having personally witnessed the glorification of Jesus – reiterating that these were not “cleverly devised stories,” but events he personally witnessed and experienced – he went on to write, “So we have the word of the prophets confirmed, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”

This is a perfect representation of the overall pattern we’ve seen in the New Testament, according to which, in the minds of early Christians and the New Testament writers themselves, the historical validated the supernatural and prophetic: Jesus’ death and resurrection proved him to be the Messiah and thereby confirmed the writings of the prophets who foretold him, thereby validating the overall biblical narrative, and so the same prophets who foretold the Messiah in the first place should be believed when they also promised his return.

But, popular thinking within the Church today is militantly hostile to this idea, and nowhere is that more clearly on display than in the controversy surrounding this particular passage.

In his MacArthur Study Bible commentary on the NKJV’s rendering of 2 Peter 1:19, John MacArthur wrote:

“This translation could indicate that the eyewitness account of Christ’s majesty at the Transfiguration confirmed the Scriptures. However, the Gr. word order is crucial in that it does not say that. It says, ‘And we have more sure the prophetic word.’ That original arrangement of the sentence supports the interpretation that Peter is ranking Scripture over experience. The prophetic word (Scripture) is more complete, more permanent, and more authoritative than the experience of anyone. More specifically, the Word of God is a more reliable verification of the teachings about the person, atonement, and second coming of Christ than even the genuine first hand (sic) experiences of the apostles themselves.”

I realize, of course, that John MacArthur is a giant in the eyes of Western Christians today and has more credibility in the Church than I am likely to ever have. That is precisely why it’s so important to address this. If we can look past his towering stature and influence within the Church and evaluate his commentary objectively, we’ll see that his thinking is not only dead wrong, but is emblematic of the thesis of this article, which is that today’s Church catastrophically sabotages its own mission by working in direct opposition to the actual teachings of the Bible.

To put it bluntly, his reading of 2 Peter 1:19 is preposterous on its face.

First off, let’s step back and take stock of what he’s actually claiming: MacArthur thinks Peter was saying that the Scripture was “even more sure” than his personal experience of seeing Christ glorified before his very eyes and hearing the voice of God endorse him with his own ears. But why in the world would that be? He had a tradition that claimed the Scripture to have ultimately come from God, sure. But how did he know that tradition was correct, and why would it be more reliable than his direct experience, from which he knew for a fact that God had endorsed Jesus? Well, he tells us exactly why the tradition is correct: because he saw the prophecies fulfilled in his own experience. His experience confirmed the tradition. Prophets are intermediaries through whom God speaks, while Peter got the truth directly from the Source — from God Himself and from Jesus himself — but MacArthur would have us believe that Peter is instructing us to put greater stock in the intermediaries.

Secondly, I will freely grant that my self-taught smatterings of Greek don’t approach what I assume MacArthur’s expertise to be, but they don’t really need to for the weakness of his argument to be evident. He tells us that the Greek word order is “crucial,” but we don’t come away from his commentary with any greater knowledge of the original Greek – merely his word that it “supports the interpretation that Peter is ranking Scripture over experience.”

In other words, there is nothing explicit in the Greek that demands that reading. If there was, we can be sure MacArthur would have said so instead of relying on weak inferences.

There is nothing about the Greek word order that makes it say what MacArthur claims. He merely asserts that because Peter’s affirmation of Scripture follows after his discussion of his own experience, he must be comparing them to each other, but nothing in the text itself supports this. MacArthur is just fitting it to his own preconceived epistemology.

The Greek reads, “and (kai) we have (echomen) confirmed/more sure (bebaioteron) the (ton) prophetic (prophetikon) word (logon).”

The Greek word translated “confirmed” or “more sure” is “bebaioteron,” and it comes from the root “bebaios,” which is the same word translated “confirm” or “sure” a few lines earlier in verse 10, where Peter wrote, “Therefore, brothers, be all the more eager to confirm/make sure your call and election … ”

Combined with the suffix -teron, the word indeed becomes comparative, meaning “made more sure,” but there is nothing about the text itself to indicate that the comparison is between the word of the prophets and Peter’s experience. No, the comparison is between the word of the prophets before Peter’s experience, and the word of the prophets after, with the latter being more reliable and assured precisely because of Peter’s experience. He was an apostle referencing the prophets, and we know from elsewhere that apostles outranked prophets.

Not only is this in keeping with the pattern we’ve already seen in the New Testament, but it’s also consistent with the explicit teachings of the Old Testament:

“You may say to yourselves, ‘How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the Lord?’ If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously, so do not be alarmed,” said Moses in the aforementioned definition of the role of a prophet. 

“When all this comes true – and it surely will – then they will know that a prophet has been among them,” wrote Ezekiel (33:33).

This phrase or something like it is repeated more than 50 times throughout the book of Ezekiel, because prophecy is validated by its fulfillment in history, and Peter was just appealing to this basic, elementary idea that all students of the Scripture understood. 

MacArthur’s interpretation is representative of a different and decidedly anti-biblical mentality that is characteristic of the modern Church, which comes from a warped, absolutist idea of Sola Scriptura. This slogan, meaning “by the Scripture alone,” comes out of the Protestant Reformation to express the idea that it is the Bible in which final authority resides, as opposed to the Roman Catholic Church. As in, the Church should be held to the standards and practices found in the Bible, rather than fitting the Bible to the traditions and dictates of the Church.

On those terms, Sola Scriptura is reasonable and good and indispensable to genuine Christianity.

Those are not the terms on which MacArthur and much of the rest of the modern Church apply Sola Scriptura, though.

They apply it as an absolute – it isn’t just “Scripture versus man-made tradition and dogma.” To them, Scripture trumps logic, reason, evidence and everything else. To them, Scripture is a substitute for the basic rational processes by which a person arrives at a set of beliefs. To them, the authority of Scripture is what philosophers call a “properly basic belief”: it is axiomatic, foundational to all else. They regard the Scripture as “self-authenticating,” and so side-step basic questions like, “Why the Bible instead of the Quran or the Bhagavad-Gita or the Book of Mormon?”

This pays lip-service to the authority of Scripture while actively undermining its actual teachings.

Applied absolutely – even in its original, correct sense of “Scripture versus Church” – Sola Scriptura presents a false dichotomy. The Scripture is authoritative precisely because it is the product of and connects us back to that original community of believers, and to the Jewish people of whom they were an outgrowth. The proper comparison is not “Scripture versus Church,” but “original Church versus the Church in all other times and places.” The Scriptures are authoritative because they came from the Church, represent the Church and tell us how to be the Church. The Scriptures are the monument left by the original Church that enables us to connect with them across history.

Also, as we have seen, the Scripture doesn’t offer itself on those terms. It is an epistemological error to start out insisting that the Bible is the Word of God and go from there. It puts the cart before the horse. You should end up there, but you can’t start there. The biblical writers did not teach, “this is true because it says so and the Scripture is the word of God.” No, they taught, “these things actually happened in history, fulfilling the prophets, therefore, this is the word of God.”

As in, we are not supposed to believe these things happened “because the word of God says so.” Rather, we believe the Bible is the word of God because these things happened, which we can and should verify by the same standards we would any other events of history.

What’s more, if we are truly following the Scripture and heeding the teachings we find there, we find that, according to the Bible, there are truths that are more basic and fundamental than the Bible.

Paul wrote, “What may be known about God is plain … because God has made it plain … For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made.”

He also said, “Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.”

As in, the Bible itself tells us that the arguments of “natural theology” or “general revelation,” i.e., classical apologetics – arguments like the Cosmological, Teleological and Moral arguments – are more foundational and fundamental than the Bible.

So, if the Bible is indeed true, we should be able to start (epistemologically speaking), not with the Bible, but with observation of nature and deductive reasoning to arrive at God’s existence and attributes, and then evaluate the Bible on historiographical terms, and then, by these objective and verifiable means, discover that the Bible is true, rather than presupposing it on the basis of tribal loyalty and cultural indoctrination.

A Church that Works for the Devil

The original Church and the generations of Christians who immediately succeeded them made new Christians and advanced God’s kingdom on Earth by rationally persuading people of the objective truth about the literal, bodily resurrection of Jesus. This was the catalyst for their faith in God, and so God gave them His Spirit to regenerate them into the likeness of His Son as well as to empower them to continue the work of advancing His kingdom.

When we consider the modern Church in comparison, is it any wonder that Christianity is dying in the West, our lampstand is nearly extinguished and our civilization is plunging ever more deeply into depravity and darkness?

Our apostasy is not merely in the fact that we fail to make new Christians by teaching the historical fact of the resurrection, though.

That would be bad enough on its own, but we’re also actively doing the Enemy’s work for him. Not only do we fail to preach the gospel, but we actively work against the gospel.

When we speak of “faith” as if it’s beyond the reach of rational apprehension, we effectively turn it into a sort of gnostic mystery religion reserved only for the special people so chosen for it. “If you don’t have faith, you just don’t have faith,” we effectively convey, as we abdicate our responsibility to persuade people. From an epistemological standpoint, we shut the door to Christian belief by presenting it as something unverifiable and unknowable apart from the intervention of disembodied mystical forces beyond our control or comprehension.

As if that’s not bad enough, the situation is even worse still.

When we say things like, “I believe the resurrection …” or “I believe the Bible …” or “I believe Christianity is true … because I have faith,” again, we are establishing “faith” as subjective, personal, private and self-defined. “It’s true because I believe it,” we effectively convey. 

We make ourselves – our own subjective feelings and perceptions – the foundation of our belief system.

The appeal of this kind of “faith” is obvious enough: a “faith” rooted in subjective feelings and other-than-rational bases is unfalsifiable. It can never be disproven or challenged, because it is beyond the reach of argumentation or reason.

Also, and most appealingly to the vast and diverse tastes and prejudices that make up the marketplace of religious consumers, it is endlessly malleable, because feelings are endlessly manipulable. You can attach them to whatever, to whomever, you want.

And if so-called “Christian” belief is validated by this supposedly ineffable internal disposition we call “faith,” then so is everything else: Islam, Hinduism, Mormonism, Wicca, New Age, occultism … their practitioners’ beliefs are just as sincere and heartfelt as ours, and so on the terms on which Christianity is popularly offered, they are just as valid.

And, this epistemological relativism isn’t limited just to religion. It means all of reality is socially-constructed. Are you a teenage girl who thinks she’s a boy trapped in a girl’s body? Well, that’s “your truth,” and it’s just as valid as anyone else’s “truth.” Men who think themselves women are to be regarded as such, and vice-versa, and we are just now reordering our entire civilization on this foundation of shifting sand.

Most sincere Christians recognize that we are presently steeped in a high-stakes spiritual war over the soul of our civilization, and the most conspicuous lines of conflict are between the political Right and the Left, between so-called “progressive churches” and “conservative churches.”

But that’s not where the real war is happening.

Speaking to my fellow conservative, Bible-believing Christians – ground zero for this war is right in our own churches and seminaries. We are the ones – not the Lefists or “progressives” or so-called “liberal churches” – who have given the Enemy all the weapons and ammunition he needs to conquer us. It is our own practices and stated premises that are being used against us, because – not only have we departed from what the Bible actually teaches about the mission and methods of the True Church – but we have negated the very concepts of “faith” and “belief,” and so inverted reality itself. We have become the antithesis of what the Church is supposed to be, and so we fight the Evil One’s war on his behalf, effectively handing him the keys both to our churches and our civilization.

It’s long past time we took them back.

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Setting the Record Straight on Eternal Life

Basic instructions before leaving Earth” is a popular way to characterize the Bible among Christians.

It’s cute and clever, but it’s also ironic and misleading for several reasons.

The particular reason concerning us here is that, for a collection of works that supposedly provides instruction for how to get to the right place when we die, there is conspicuously little said about the afterlife. This idea of “dying and going to heaven” that is so essential to so many people’s conception of Christianity is actually nowhere to be found in all of Scripture.

(Note: If you just want to read this to see your particular objection(s) answered instead of reading the argument in its entirety, I don’t recommend that, but if you insist, scroll down farther and you’ll find the following Frequently Raised Objections answered:

-I Go To Prepare a Place for You

-Today, You Will Be With Me in Paradise

-The Rich Man and Lazarus

-Away From the Body, At Home with the Lord

The Souls of the Martyrs in Heaven )

In the first five books, collectively known as “the Torah” and regarded as the foundational narrative on which the rest of the Bible is based, there is no explicit mention to be found anywhere about the afterlife.

Tacitly, it teaches that humans were never supposed to die in the first place, but it wasn’t an intrinsic immortality, but was predicated upon access to the Tree of Life, and humans were made mortal by denial to it.

When the reality of death is first introduced, there is no hint of anything that might come after: man was formed from the dust of the earth and brought to life by the Spirit of God, and when he dies, he returns to his former state, “for dust you are, and to dust you shall return.” So, being dead, according to this, is no different than the state of existence prior to conception and birth — you just don’t exist anymore. You return to what you were before you were alive: inanimate dust.

The only concept of immortality that shows up in the Torah is the prospect of living on through descendants. When God promised to Abram his “very great reward,” Abram responded, “Lord YHWH, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus? You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”

God’s answer was to assure him that his descendants would number like the stars of heaven, and that they would take possession of the land; nothing was said about anybody going to heaven, though. He made no promise to Abram of personal immortality, neither in the body, nor as a disembodied soul or spirit. He only promised an enduring lineage that would inherit a portion of this earth.

A provisional (not intrinsic) personal immortality was implied, according to Jesus, by God’s later declaration to Moses: “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” He didn’t say, “I was the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,” but “I am … ”, indicating that the patriarchs still existed in some sense, so He was still their God.

But, to take that to mean that they still exist in heaven, as disembodied spirits, is to both ignore the context of Jesus’ remark and to impose a foreign meaning upon the text, because it nowhere mentions anyone dwelling with God in heaven as bodiless souls or spirits, and Jesus was speaking specifically to the question put to him by the Sadducees about bodily resurrection from the dead.

What Dies Is Dead

For the vast majority of the biblical narrative between the time of Abraham and the time of Jesus, the only explicit discussion of the nature of death indicated only that it was the end: the body dies and reverts back to dust, and the person’s experiences are over.

“And the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it,” reads Ecclesiastes 12:7.

Someone might object, “Ah-ha! It says right there that the spirit returns to God! That proves immortality in heaven!”

But, reading it in context – both in the context of that chapter of Ecclesiastes and in the context of the Bible as a whole – it cannot mean that.

The chapter opens with, “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come …”, and continues by listing a series of diminishing pleasures in life, culminating in death. The point is: remember God while you have opportunity, because those opportunities are finite. If death itself is meant to be understood by the writer as an opportunity in itself to know God, the meaning of the chapter unravels and is rendered nonsensical.

In ancient Hebrew thinking, “spirit,” or “ruach,” just means “breath.” It was the animating principle of the body. It is anachronistic projection to suppose that breath, after it has left the body, retains any individual personality or goes on to have experiences.

That certainly was not the thinking of the biblical writers, because they wrote in several places that there is no knowledge of God in death.   

“For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even their name is forgotten,” reads Ecclesiastes 9:5.

“Among the dead no one proclaims your name. Who praises you from the grave?” wrote the Psalmist (Psalm 6:5).

“I call to you, Lord, every day; I spread out my hands to you. Do you show your wonders to the dead? Do their spirits rise up and praise you? Is your love declared in the grave, your faithfulness in Destruction? Are your wonders known in the place of darkness, or your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion?” (Psalm 88:9-12)

The Final Enemy

Of course, that wasn’t the final word on death. The Bible is a progressive revelation through which God gradually revealed more and more of His plan for humanity.

In the earlier stages of revelation, while death was defined as the end of the person, there were glimmers of hope that it wasn’t final.

First, the idea of God’s judgment is found throughout the Bible, and it is a judgment that goes beyond the narrow confines of mortal life:

“And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each human being, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being. ‘Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind.’” (Genesis 9:5-6)

In the immediate sense, this is understood to be a general prohibition against murder and the requirement that humans form governments and courts to impose capital punishment for the crime. But, it reads that God Himself will hold each and every individual person – and animal – to account for the lives of humans, which goes beyond mere legal consequences from human authorities. This implies an existence that transcends what is visible to us within the span of our mortal lives, since we see plenty of people escape or denied justice in this life.

As time went on and the biblical narrative progressed, death was still seen as an evil to be shunned and avoided, but there was nonetheless a general expectation of hope with regard to the death of the righteous – not that death was in any way good, but it was an enemy from which God would deliver them, in some undefined way: “You will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your faithful one see decay. You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand,” wrote David (Psalm 16:10-11).

As the revelation progressed still further, God’s promises for the future state of human existence grew more and more clearly defined. The eventual renewal of the Earth was hinted more and more, until the prophets foretold that God’s hiddenness would come to an end, there would be peace between all nations under the leadership of Israel and her King, all evil will be judged and destroyed, and nature itself would be transformed to remove all suffering and violence.

Included in these prophecies was the promise of the final defeat of death itself – eternal life through physical, bodily resurrection from the dead: “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.” (Daniel 12:3-4)

The Gospel Jesus Taught

When Jesus arrived on the scene, this was the common understanding of what God had in store for Israel when the Messiah arrived.

Modern readers typically think that, when Jesus said, “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”, he was talking about how people could get into heaven when they died.

That wasn’t at all what he taught. When they heard, “the kingdom of God has come near,” they understood it to mean – and Jesus fully intended it to mean – all that the prophets foretold about God’s plans for Israel in this world, on this earth. He was talking about the rule of God on earth; he was talking about heaven coming here.

Many Christians acknowledge that this was the understanding they had at the time, but think that Jesus came to correct that notion – that the prophecies were only figurative and that it really is all about dying and going to heaven after all.

But, the apostles were still laboring under the former notion when they asked Jesus, just before his ascension, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

And, he didn’t correct them on the ultimate objective, only the timing: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth,” he answered them.

As in, God’s rule over the earth – Jesus’ rule as the Messiah – would extend into the world through them.

Indeed, the content of their testimony to the nations was that Jesus’ resurrection from the dead constitutes the validation of God’s promise to renew the earth. His resurrection means our resurrection, explained Paul (1 Corinthians 15:12-24). The renewal and perfection of his destroyed body is the initial step toward the renewal and perfection of the entire death-infected world, the apostles taught.

This idea we teach about how, if you “accept Jesus into your heart as your personal Lord and Savior,” you’ll “be with Jesus in heaven when you die” couldn’t be further from what they taught.

Note how Paul comforted the Thessalonian believers about their members who had died. He did not say, “They’re in a better place now.” He did not say, “They’re with Jesus now.”

No, he reminded them of Jesus’ resurrection, and that the dead in Christ will also be resurrected at his return to Earth, followed by the transformation and glorification of all believers who hadn’t died.

Also – and not a little ironically – one of the verses so often wrenched out of context to prop up this “dying and going to heaven”-paradigm of salvation is 1 Corinthians 15:19: “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”

And, this seems like a slam-dunk, if we start out already “knowing” that Paul is talking about an afterlife in heaven as a disembodied spirit. What else could he be talking about by contrasting our hope in Christ with “this life”?

Well, the whole point of the broader passage is an emphatic rebuke to those who claim there is no resurrection from the dead:

“If it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.” (v. 13-17)

According to Paul, the entire Christian faith is utterly useless, futile and a tragic waste of life and effort, if Christ was not raised from the dead. If Christ wasn’t raised, none of them would be, either. “If the dead are not raised, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die,’” he said.

So, not only is this verse not about dying and going to heaven as a disembodied spirit, but it precludes any consideration of that. As in, not only is Paul talking about bodily resurrection rather than spiritual relocation to heaven, he’s talking about resurrection to the exclusion of that spiritual relocation to heaven.

Paul’s remarks here don’t leave any room for any idea of an “intermediary state” in which dead believers enjoy a period of bliss in the presence of God while we await the resurrection. Our “hope in Christ” is not “going to heaven and then resurrection,” according to this.

Paul does not write, “If we’re not raised from the dead, at least we have an afterlife in heaven to look forward to.”

No, physical, bodily resurrection is our only hope. There is no hope apart from that. If there were, and we were meant to fix any hope in that, Paul hardly would written what he did. It is resurrection, or nothing.

What Difference Does It Make?

“Does it matter what we believe about the afterlife? Won’t God just do what God is going to do, regardless? What harm is there in believing we go to heaven as spirits, as long as we believe in Jesus now?”

A comprehensive answer to this question is beyond the scope of my purposes of the moment, but I’m glad you asked.

The short answer is – It most certainly does matter. We can hardly claim that we “believe in Jesus” if we reject the entire narrative within which he taught and replace it with a totally different one. That’s the reason Christians, by and large, rightly reject Mormonism and regard it as a heretical cult: they “believe in Jesus,” but they redefine his identity and mission by inserting him into an entirely different worldview and scheme of salvation than what we find in the Bible.

Which, sadly, is exactly what mainstream Christians also do. Our phony, unbiblical narrative isn’t any better than their phony, unbiblical narrative, just because it’s older and more widely mistaken as the “correct” phony narrative.

There are also practical ramifications to what we believe. What we believe about the Church, the world and our role within it – these are profoundly affected by what we believe the end result and ultimate purposes are.

But, those are ramifications we can explore another time.

My purposes of the moment are just to establish that there is, in fact, a tremendous error in mainstream, collective Christian thought.

As I mentioned in my previous installment, despite the narrative of the Bible quite explicitly teaching something different than the traditional “dying and going to heaven” paradigm of market-standard Christianity, there is still no shortage of passages that would seem, at first glance, to support that paradigm, if we’ve already made up our minds that it’s there, and I’d like to address some of the major examples.

I Go To Prepare a Place for You

Whenever I have this conversation in person, John 14 is almost always the first passage cited as an objection, which reads:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many dwelling places. If it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.”

It’s understandable – inevitable, really – to read this as being about “going to heaven,” if you’ve already got that idea in mind that that’s what the Bible is about.

But, what precedent is there in the Bible that should make us think this is what it’s about? Given that there is none, what is the likelihood that Jesus would introduce it for the first time here, on the eve of his execution, at the end of his ministry?

If we read John 14 without that presupposition and place this passage in its proper context within that particular dialogue, within John’s Gospel as a whole, and within the entire Bible, it becomes increasingly clear that Jesus is talking about something entirely different than this idea of going to heaven as disembodied spirits when we die. He’s talking about the Trinity, and the indwelling of the Spirit of God, not a literal place to which they would go in the afterlife.

First off – and again (because this cannot be overstated) – this would be the first mention of people going to heaven, if that’s what this passage is about.

But, it wouldn’t be his first mention of his “Father’s house.”

His “Father’s house” – that being God’s house – is how Jesus described the temple on more than one occasion. Indeed, in a Jewish context, “God’s house” would never be a reference to heaven or to some spiritual afterlife, but to the temple on Mt. Zion in Jerusalem, because throughout the Bible, without exception, whenever mention is made of “God’s house,” that is the only meaning that phrase ever has. See Psalm 84, 2 Samuel 7, Ecclesiastes 5, Isaiah 2 and an endless slew of other passages besides these: “God’s house” only ever refers to the temple. (Genesis 28:10-22 would be an exception, but only in the strictest, technical sense, because it actually strengthens my overall point, because the place Jacob called “Bethel” was a place on earth that functioned as a temple.)

Also, within the temple, the innermost chamber, known as the “Holy of Holies” or “the Most Holy Place,” where the Ark of the Covenant was kept, was the place where the very Presence of God was understood to dwell.

So, when Jesus said, “In my Father’s house are many dwelling places,” they wouldn’t have initially understood that to mean dwelling places for them, but dwelling places for God, and they would have been puzzled at the notion of there being many dwelling places for God, and even more puzzled when Jesus followed that up with, “I go there to prepare a place for you.”

It is only because of our presuppositions that we read that as so “obviously” being about Jesus going to prepare a place for them in heaven. His meaning was not at all initially apparent to them, because the immediate connotation would have been about there being many places for God to dwell in the temple, and God’s dwelling place within the temple was not a place where humans were permitted to occupy. The high priest was allowed into the Most Holy Place only once during the entire year, on the Day of Atonement, and that only after extensive ritual cleansing and blood sacrifice, first for his own sins and then for the sins of the nation, and if any part of the ritual was incomplete or the sacrifice unacceptable for any reason, he would be struck dead by God upon approach.

Jesus continued with, “You know the way to the place where I am going” in verse 4.

Thomas, still thinking that he was talking about the literal place of the temple and knowing that the temple, as they knew it, did not fit Jesus’ description, responded, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

To which Jesus answered, “I am the way … no one comes to the Father except through me.”

So, the “place” that he’s talking about is the Father Himself, and he himself is the way to that “place.”

After that, he then went on to explain how he is “in” the Father and the Father is “in” himself, which led to his explanation that both he and the Father would be “in” them through the Holy Spirit: “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” (verse 23)

The word “home” in that verse is from the Greek moné, which literally just means “dwelling place.” Its appearance here in v. 23 is one of only two uses of the word in the entire New Testament, the other being in v. 2, from which “rooms” or “mansions” or “dwelling places” is translated.

So, yes – Jesus said, “In my Father’s house are many ‘mansions’ … I go there to prepare a place for you,” but he also, in that very same passage, spoke of the Father and himself making their home with the disciples. Each will dwell in the other: they will dwell within God and God will dwell within them, through Christ and the Holy Spirit.

This accords with the themes that we find throughout John’s Gospel.

This idea of “residence” and “remaining” in said residence begins in the prologue.

In 1:14, it reads, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”

The Greek word for “made his dwelling” is skénoó, which literally means “to tabernacle” or “to pitch one’s tent.”

Of course, we know it’s not saying that Jesus literally pitched a tent and dwelled among them as a nomadic wanderer. It evokes the time when God dwelled among the Israelites within the tabernacle that housed the Ark of the Covenant, which was the prototype for the temple planned by David and built by Solomon. He’s likening Jesus’ incarnation to God dwelling among them in the wilderness: the Word is comparable to the Glory Cloud of God’s Presence and Jesus’ human form is likened to the tabernacle in which the Presence of God takes residence. The implication is that Jesus is himself the “new tabernacle,” the “new Ark of the Covenant” by which God’s presence dwells in the midst of His people: in the national history of Israel, God first dwelled on earth through the tabernacle, then through the temple, and now through the person of Jesus.

This idea is reiterated in chapter 2, when Jesus cleansed the temple. When the religious leaders confronted him, he said, “Destroy this temple and I will raise it again in three days,” not meaning, of course, the literal temple building, but his own body – he was the temple, the place where God dwelled on earth.

This theme of “Jesus as the temple” is taken up again in chapter 4, when Jesus meets with the Samaritan woman at the well.

“Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem,” she said (verse 20).

At the time, and for centuries going back to when Israel and Judah split nearly a thousand years earlier, there was a rival place of worship at Mt. Gerizim in Samaria. According to the Law of Moses, there could be only one true place of worship, where the Presence of God dwelled on earth, and so only one legitimate temple. The Jews claimed Mt. Zion in Jerusalem as that place, while the Samaritans claimed it to be Mt. Gerizim.

There was, of course, a correct side to the controversy raised by the Samaritan woman, and she was on the wrong side of it, but that was soon to be moot, according to Jesus.

“Woman, believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth,” Jesus answered her (vs. 21-24).

At that moment, “my Father’s house” referred to a literal house in a literal place, and genuine, acceptable worship was tied to that place and to that building. But, that was all soon to change. Worship would no longer be tied to any one location, because Jesus himself was the new temple, and his presence – God’s Presence in Jesus – would soon no longer be bound to one location, nor even one person.

That’s why the curtain in the temple was torn in two at the moment of Jesus’ death: the Holy of Holies was no longer the exclusive place where God’s Presence resided, because the sin that kept man alienated from God had been atoned for.

With the barrier of sin done away with, God’s Presence could now dwell in us, in the followers of Jesus Christ. Now we are the temple of God where His Spirit dwells. Just as God dwelled on earth through the tabernacle, and then the temple, and then through Jesus, now He dwells on earth through the Church.

We are the “house of God,” but not in the sense of being a building, but in the sense that we are God’s household, His family.

This is all building toward that state of existence we find described at the end of the book of Revelation:

“See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.’ And the One who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’” (21:3-5)

This is the reversal of the curse of Genesis 3, prior to which God dwelled with man on earth in the Garden of Eden.

Paul alluded to the same idea when he wrote, “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:6-7)

Notice how Paul wrote that in the past tense. In Paul’s view, this is something that has already happened. We are already dwelling in those “many rooms” in the Father’s house that Jesus went to prepare.

He, as well as Jesus in John 14:1-3, was referring, not to us “going to heaven” when we die, but to Jesus’ ascension back to the Father after his resurrection. With Jesus at the right hand of the Father, humanity dwells representatively within the Godhead. And, with the descent of the Holy Spirit to dwell within the Church on the Day of Pentecost, the fullness of the Godhead now dwells within us. We are in God and God is in us.

As in, the Church is the beginning of that renewal of creation pictured in Revelation 21, which will be consummated when Jesus returns and we are resurrected from the dead as he was.

Today, You Will Be With Me in Paradise

Another frequent objection is from the conversation Jesus had with the condemned criminal on the cross next to him in Luke 23.

“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom,” the man said, to which Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

This is typically understood to mean that the man would be with Jesus in heaven that very day after they both died.

And, if that’s what that means, it would certainly present a problem for my position.

But, it would also create problems for a lot of existing Christian tradition, including the biblical accounts themselves, while my position would actually resolve all of those problems.

There is a tradition, “the Harrowing of Hell,” which interprets 1 Peter 3:18-22 to mean that, between his death and resurrection, Jesus descended into hell in spirit to preach the gospel to imprisoned spirits.

I don’t think it means that at all. I think it’s saying that Jesus, through the Holy Spirit in Noah, preached to spirits now in prison (i.e., death), while they were alive on earth during the time of Noah. The idea that he did so in spirit during the time between his death and resurrection just doesn’t make sense, since the point of the passage is that Christ died in the flesh, but was made alive – i.e., resurrected – by the Spirit, and so it defies the essential premise of the passage to take it as describing something he did as a disembodied human spirit before the Spirit resurrected him. Rather, the point of the passage is that the Spirit of God who spoke through prophets and holy men like Noah through the ages is the very Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead.

But, there is nonetheless an enduring tradition that understands this passage to mean that Jesus descended into hell, in spirit, before he rose from the dead, which cannot be the case if he was also with the crucified man in heaven during that time.

However, besides all that, Jesus himself said he wasn’t in heaven that day after his death.

When he appeared to Mary Magdalene outside his tomb after his resurrection, he said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

If he hadn’t yet ascended to heaven, then he wasn’t in heaven that day after he died.

So, what does Luke 23:43 mean? What did, “Today, you will be with me in paradise” mean, if Jesus himself wasn’t in paradise that day?

Well, let’s say, just for the sake of argument, that Jesus was talking about the man going to heaven in spirit or soul-form while his body was dead on the cross or buried.

What is a “spirit” or a “soul”?

Well, “spirit,” in Hebrew, is “ruach,” and in Greek is “pneuma.” They both literally just mean “breath” or “wind.” As I mentioned before, they speak of the animating principle of the body.

“Soul” is “nephesh” in Hebrew and “psyche” in Greek, both meaning “life” or “self” or “mind.”

There is nothing about any of these terms and their usage in Scripture to indicate that they are intended to convey the survival of consciousness apart from the body. The Bible simply does not teach any concept of the immortality of the soul or spirit. Maybe an argument could be made that the Bible leaves room for that (I don’t think it does), but it certainly doesn’t explicitly teach this.

The word “nephesh” is used in Genesis 2:7, which reads, “Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being (Hebrew: a chay nephesh).”

So, we don’t have “souls.” We are “souls.”

It’s the same word used in Genesis 1:21 for “every living thing that moves” (which should come to mind every time someone says something like, “Animals don’t have souls”).

What’s more, there are verses in which a corpse is referred to as a dead “nephesh.”

Since a “nephesh” can mean an animal, a person, even a dead body, it should be clear by now that the Bible simply does not teach this common idea that there is such a thing as a “soul” that goes on living after the death of the body.

But, just for the sake of argument, let’s say that it does.

Again – what is a “soul” or a “spirit,” even by our common, popular view of them/it (since the terms are used interchangeably)?

Of those who claim that they are immortal and can survive the death of the body, I’ve never met anyone who could tell me what they actually are. Those terms are just placeholders for “consciousness existing independently of the body.”

We do know what they are not, however.

They are not physical, by definition. They are not made up of matter/material. The body is physical. The soul and spirit are not (according to the popular view, that is).  

Not being physical, they have no form, no mass, no weight. These are physical properties, which souls or spirits, by definition, do not have.

These are also the properties needed to exist in space: in order to have location, something must exist within space, and so must have mass, form and weight, which souls/spirits do not have.

Modern physics understands space and time to be the same fundamental physical property of the universe, referred to as “space-time.”

That means that if something doesn’t exist within space, it doesn’t exist within time, either.

Also, again, we do not have souls. If “soul” means “consciousness that survives the death of the body” (or “consciousness” on any terms), we do not have souls, we are souls.

As souls, we experience the passage of time only through sensory input delivered to our brains by our sense organs. That’s why, when we’re in a deep sleep, we have no idea how much time passes outside of our own minds. Between the time we fall asleep and wake up, it seems to us as if no time passes at all.

All of this adds up to mean that, regardless of whether there is any such thing as a “soul” or “spirit” that can survive the death of the body, questions like, “Where was Jesus’ spirit between his death and resurrection?” are meaningless. His spirit wasn’t anywhere, because it has no form, mass or weight, and so it has no location in space.

The same goes for the thief on the cross, and for everybody else.

When we die, we don’t experience anything, because our eyes, ears and other sense organs are dead, as is the brain that would receive that information. So, it’s just like it was before we were born or conceived – nothing.

We don’t know that it’s nothing, though. It’s just like when we sleep. We don’t experience any passage of time. We close our eyes in death, and then less than a moment later, we open our eyes at our resurrection to meet Jesus at his return.

So when Jesus told the crucified criminal, “Today you will be with me in paradise,” he was, of course, telling the truth. But it wasn’t “today” for Jesus. Jesus has returned to the Father, but he has not yet entered the paradise he promised to the man on the cross, because that hasn’t happened yet. That “paradise” will be here, on earth, when Jesus returns to renew creation and raise humanity from the dead. But, for that crucified criminal beside him, his “today” has yet to finish. When we awake at the resurrection, we’ll have been conscious of the past 2,000 years since Jesus’ crucifixion. For that man on the cross next to him, though, his last conscious thoughts before his death will have been only moments before.

The Rich Man and Lazarus

Jesus’ parable in Luke 16:19-31 is another frequent objection, in which he tells of a beggar named Lazarus dying and being taken by the angels to a place called “Abraham’s bosom,” from where he could see a self-indulgent rich man in agony in the fires of Hades, begging for relief, to no avail.

First off, it’s worth pointing out that this was a parable. You can no more take this as Jesus’ description of a literal afterlife than you can take the Prodigal Son as a real historical person, or the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares to be about a real field. His purpose was not to teach about inheritance rights or economics or agriculture. This was just imagery brought into service to make a larger point.

I’ll acknowledge that it does appear that, at face-value, Jesus does indeed appear to be affirming the reality of the afterlife he’s describing. But, once again – that’s only because we’re reading it with that expectation. If we read it without presupposing that view of the afterlife, but in its proper historical and cultural context, it seems more likely to be a repudiation of this view of the afterlife than an affirmation of it. 

(And, really, the view of the afterlife in this parable only dimly resembles the common Christian view anyway, since we don’t typically think of heaven and hell being in such close proximity to each other that the righteous dead can look on from paradise to see the damned writhing in agony in the fires of hell.)

The point of Jesus’ parable about Lazarus and the Rich Man was not to teach us about the afterlife, but to drive home, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”

And, if there was anything literal intended by this, it wasn’t about any characters from the parable rising from the dead. It was a double entendre teasing his own resurrection.

That isn’t to say that there weren’t people who held that idea as a literal belief about the afterlife. But why would they hold that view?

Did they get it from the Bible? If so, where else does the idea of “Abraham’s bosom” appear in the Bible?

Since it doesn’t appear anywhere in the Bible, they must have come up with the idea from some other source.

We know it’s not in the Bible, but we do know that it bears conspicuous similarities to the beliefs of the Greeks and Romans, and that the Jews were strongly culturally influenced by them in the time between the last prophet of the Old Testament and births of John and Jesus.

The text reads that the rich man was in “Hades,” which is a pagan, Greco-Roman concept merely adopted by Hellenized Jews. The idea of “Hades” was no more native to Jewish culture than the gods of Olympus were. The Hebrew Scriptures had the concept of Sheol, which was translated into Greek as “Hades,” but “Sheol” only came to be seen as the equivalent of Hades after their long exposure to Greco-Roman ideas.

But, even if we did take Second Temple-period ideas about Sheol as the positive teaching of the Bible – again, this is such vast departure from the traditional Christian idea of the afterlife that it hardly works as a rebuttal to my position. It creates problems for my position, for sure, but not nearly as many problems as it creates for the traditional idea of “heaven.” “Sheol” – whatever it is, is most certainly not a paradise enjoyed in the presence of God. It might not be so bad as the Hell of our traditional conception, but it’s still a place of separation from God.

And, the fact that Lazarus is in a place described as “Abraham’s bosom” suggests a sort of agnosticism about it by the Jews who held this view. Notice that they didn’t call it “God’s bosom” or “the angels’ bosom,” and it certainly wasn’t called “heaven.” It’s called “Abraham’s side,” and that’s not even a formal name – it’s just a description that means, essentially, “wherever Abraham is.”

The Jews, in encountering Greco-Roman ideas about “Hades” and the idea about the spirits of the dead having this otherworldly place to inhabit – this planted the idea in their head, so they wondered, “What happens to the spirits of our dead who aren’t punished in Hades?”, and the answer they came up with was, “Well, they’re with Abraham, wherever he is.”

Notice that there is nothing about any of that to suggest that they believed they were with God in heaven. The Scriptures spoke of God and heaven, but they said nothing about dead humans going there as ghosts, so in coming up with their own answer to the Greco-Roman idea of “Elysium” or “Hades,” that’s what they came up with: “Wherever Abraham is.”

And that’s the best they could do, since the Old Testament doesn’t say one word about any of this, so they were left to their own imaginations.

And, an argument could be made that Jesus’ parable, in making use of these concepts, was hardly an endorsement of that idea of the afterlife, but a rebuke.

Again, you can scour the Old Testament, and you won’t find a single word about “Abraham’s bosom.” So, when Jesus tells a parable that makes use of these concepts, what is the point of the parable?

“If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”

This could be understood as a rebuke to those who drew their ideas about God and the afterlife from outside of the Scriptures: “Listen to Moses and the Prophets, not Gentile myths.”

And, while I realize this won’t be a popular argument among mainstream Christians, I am hardly the first or only person to make it.

‘Away from the Body, At Home with the Lord’

Originally, I had no intention of addressing this objection, since the only refutation it really needs is, “Just go back and read it again in context, and you’ll see that it reinforces rather than refutes my point.”

But, it comes up so often that I finally broke down and decided to address it.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “As long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord … I would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.”

And, taken in isolation and with the usual confirmation bias about “dying and going to heaven,” it appears to be a problem for my position.  

I almost hate to even take the time to answer this, because doing so unavoidably exposes the lack of attention of the person who makes this argument, and they too easily take it as a personal attack, because the text itself clearly doesn’t teach what they claim, and it requires no great wisdom or scholarly insight to discern this – just basic reading comprehension and a commitment to objective exegesis rather than agenda-driven eisegesis:

“For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

“Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”

Clearly, Paul isn’t talking about going from this body to no body, and being “at home with the Lord” as disembodied spirits in heaven. He’s talking about going from the flimsy, temporary “tent” of this mortal body to the permanent and secure “building” of the immortal resurrection body. He’s not talking about an existence that is less than physical and embodied, but an existence that is more than physical – embodied as something that is more substantial than flesh and blood, not mere flesh and blood. Just as it was with Jesus, in which the body that was buried was the very body that was also raised, but as the seed of what he became, rather than a mere shell that he abandoned.

When Paul refers to the resurrection body as our “heavenly dwelling,” he does not mean – as is commonly but erroneously supposed – that this means we go to heaven to dwell there, but that Jesus brings it with him to earth when he returns from heaven.

The Souls of the Martyrs in Heaven

Another frequent objection comes from Revelation 6:9-11:

“When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, ‘How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?’ Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brethren, were killed just as they had been.”

The objection is that, because the souls of dead Christians are pictured in heaven in this passage, this proves the commonly held idea of the afterlife.

This is the fifth of seven seals on a scroll opened by the Messiah to carry out God’s judgments on the world as precursors to its eventual renewal and restoration.

The first four seals were horsemen on white, red, black and pale horses signifying, respectively, conquest, war, famine and death on the earth.

The fifth seal evokes the imagery of sacrifice offered in the temple: an animal would be slain and its blood poured out at the base or splashed against the side of the altar. The martyred saints are pictured here as sacrifices whose blood has been poured out at the altar.  

The point is that God has accepted and honors their lives as sacrifices.

Also, it evokes the same idiom found in Genesis 4, when God confronted Cain over the murder of Abel: “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.” (v. 10) Likewise, the blood of the martyrs is crying out to God from under the altar of sacrifice.

Unless we’re supposed to believe that martyred saints are literally trapped under a literal altar in heaven, this is clearly not intended to be taken literally, any more than the four previous seals are meant to be understood as literal horsemen. No, they are symbolic, and the text itself tells us exactly what the symbols mean.

But if we do take it literally, this doesn’t present a very hopeful picture of heaven. It certainly doesn’t correspond with the commonly held idea of “heaven” as a blissful afterlife. The slain saints are not happy to be there. They’re not resting in peace in an otherworldly paradise in the presence of God. They are not looking down on earth placidly, glad to have been killed and sent to enjoy their eternal reward among the angels. No, they are clearly in distress, and crying out for vengeance, and are unsettled until justice is done for them. Having been killed – robbed of their lives through violence – is a tragedy over which they are aggrieved and looking to God to set right.

And, the more we consider the implications of what this would mean if it’s supposed to be taken literally, the more problems arise. If the martyred saints are literal sacrifices under a literal altar, from whom does God accept them as sacrifices? Sacrifices don’t offer themselves. Does this mean God honors their persecutors and murderers? That’s what accepting their sacrifices would mean, if we’re meant to take this literally.

No, clearly this is only intended as figurative language to convey that God honors and accepts the lives of martyrs as sacrifices – from the martyrs themselves – and will ultimately avenge them. There’s no actual, literal altar to which martyrs are confined until the Second Coming. If we take anything else from this – like viewing this as a literal description of what existence is like for departed Christians in heaven – it creates at least as many problems for the popular view of “dying and going to heaven” as it would for my position.

And, the only possible reason to take it literally would be to fit it into a preconceived notion of the afterlife that isn’t justified by any other passage in the Bible.  

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The Promised Land … of Confusion

No, That’s Not Christianity: Part 1

The word “heaven” shows up roughly 700-800 times in the Bible, depending on the translation.

Incidentally, the reason for that wide variance is that the two words from which the word “heaven” is translated – “shamayim” in Hebrew and “ouranous” in Greek – can refer to any of three distinct but related concepts that are not always best translated “heaven.” They can refer to:

1) the sky, as in Genesis 1:8; or to

2) the sun, moon and stars, collectively referred to as “the heavens,” as in Genesis 1:1; or it can refer to

3) the dwelling place of God and the angels.

(In truth, these were all essentially the same concept to ancient readers, while our modern understanding of cosmology and astronomy creates a distinction, but that’s of secondary importance here.)

Not so incidentally, in absolutely none of those hundreds of examples of the term “heaven” — in any translation of the Bible — is there a single mention of anyone going there as a disembodied “soul” or “spirit” after they die. It is never described as happening; no one ever asks for it, prays for it, hopes for it or even raises it as a possibility or a concept, and God never promises nor even hints at it.

The sole, rule-proving exception would be when Jesus said, “No one has ever gone into heaven except the One who came from heaven – that is, the Son of Man.” (John 3:13)

“Going to heaven” – as a concept of the afterlife (and this distinction is important) – is entirely foreign to the narrative of the Bible. You can scour the Bible from beginning to end and you will find it nowhere in all of Scripture. Not one verse, passage, chapter or book of the Bible ever makes any mention whatsoever of an afterlife in heaven.

That’s an idea native to Greek philosophy and Gnosticism, with its strict distinction between spirit and matter, and to Greco-Roman mythology: pick up the Iliad and the Odyssey and the Aeneid and other writings about the gods of Olympus and their dealings with mortals and you’ll find plenty there about Hades and Elysium and the disembodied spirits or “shades” who dwell there, or of the spirits of heroes ascending in death for apotheosis on Mount Olympus.

But that idea is totally alien to the Bible. The Bible knows nothing of disembodied souls or spirits leaving this world in death to go to some other world to dwell among angels and departed loved ones. It’s just not in there, because that’s not what the Bible is about.

The Bible speaks instead about the eventual renewal of creation, and our physical, bodily resurrection to eternal life upon this earth, in this world, restored to paradise. Contrary to the aforementioned gnostic dualism of pagan thought, the biblical narrative insists that the material world is intrinsically “very good” (Genesis 1:31) and that its corruption by human sin and rebellion against God is a problem from which it is to be redeemed (Matthew 19:28; Acts 3:19-21; Revelation 21), not escaped and abandoned in favor of some other world. The overall narrative of the Bible is about heaven coming here, to earth, not dead humans going to heaven in ghost form. It’s right there in the Lord’s Prayer: “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven … ”

And, if I’m straining your patience as a reader by reiterating this claim to the point of redundancy, it’s not because I take your time or attention for granted. I want to make sure my argument is eminently falsifiable, with no room for qualification. That way, if I’m wrong, it should be surpassingly easy to prove me wrong: just produce one passage of the Bible that explicitly teaches this idea of “dying and going to heaven.” It can’t be done, though, because there is no such passage.

Sola Scriptura, Huh?

There is, however, no shortage of passages that would seem – at first glance – to accomplish this. But they only seem to do that, and that’s only because we bring that idea to the Bible. We would never get that idea from the Bible if we didn’t already import it from elsewhere before we ever picked up the Bible. If we read those passages in their historical and literary context and take the Bible on its own terms without imposing external expectations upon it, not only would that idea never occur to us, but we’d see plainly that those passages are talking about something else entirely – typically, they’re either talking about the indwelling of the Spirit of God in the here-and-now and our representative dwelling within the Godhead through Christ, or they’re talking about our eventual physical, bodily resurrection from the dead at Christ’s return.

None of these are true “black swans,” in other words – they’re white swans that have been convincingly painted black, but the paint washes off.

I realize, of course, that winning this argument would be a hard-fought battle demanding far more than the few paragraphs I’ve written here so far, since this “dying and going to heaven”-paradigm is synonymous with Christianity itself for most people, and long-held religious beliefs die hard. It would require, at the very least, painstakingly going through the Bible, passage-by-misunderstood passage, and meticulously deconstructing longstanding and deeply-entrenched interpretations of those passages. That’s an exercise I quite enjoy for its own sake, actually, but it’s beyond the scope of my purposes here, so I’ve added that content as a follow-up to this. If you absolutely must be convinced of the error of our popular ideas about the afterlife before you can proceed, I explain that more comprehensively at the article linked above, but there is a more important point I’m trying to make here.

No, my purpose here is not just to convince people of this particular error of the market-standard version of Christianity. That error is toxic in itself, but it’s still only an emblematic symptom of a deeper, more fundamental problem within the Church. The present state of market-standard Christianity is bad enough and worth addressing, but it is the forces that have twisted it into that shape that are the real problem. We could try to hammer it into a more biblically-consistent shape today, but it will only bounce right back tomorrow if we don’t address those underlying problems first.

The biggest problem is that we just don’t follow the Bible.

We think we do, but that’s only an illusion brought about by groupthink and confirmation bias and culturally-inculcated presuppositions.

We use the Bible as a talisman, or a tribal totem. We swear oaths on it and we swear by it for our doctrines and dogmas. We quote-mine it for proof texts and maybe memorize the portions from which we derive personal comfort and inspiration. And we take what others say about it as a shibboleth for orthodoxy within whatever tradition to which we belong.

So, we make great use of the Bible, as a symbol and a tribal banner, a security blanket, and sometimes a weapon/cudgel, or even an idol.

But … actually reading it, from beginning to end, to find out what it’s all about? And to find out what God’s plan and purposes are, and how we fit into them and carry them out?

No, generally speaking and collectively – we most emphatically do not do that.

That’s not to say that no Christian ever reads the Bible from start to finish in its entirety. Most don’t, according to several polls and studies that have been done in recent years, but some do. But, most (if not all) people who do – myself included – were told by others what it teaches long before we were in a position to read it for ourselves. We get its supposed meaning primarily from sermons and Sunday school and only read it ourselves as a follow-up, if at all. If you were raised in church, this probably started happening before you even learned how to read. By the time a person does pick up the Bible to read it for himself, he is largely just projecting his already-formed beliefs upon the text and feeding them back to himself – reading within a broader narrative framework that has been presupposed, never noticing along the way that this framework is never justified by the text itself.

We get our religious beliefs from cultural conditioning first, and only then, after the fact, do we consult the Bible.

Our god Is Our Stomach

Our teachings are “biblical” in the same way the Devil’s temptation of Jesus in the wilderness was “biblical”: he quoted Scripture, but out of context and on an ad hoc basis to dissemble and obfuscate its true meaning, not to illuminate it. His purpose was to justify the sins to which he tempted Jesus, attempting to make them appear to align with the teachings and values taught in the Scripture, when in reality, they were antithetical to them.

Which is exactly what we collectively do, and our collective misconception about the afterlife is just one glaring example of this.

It’s an ever-present aspect of fallen human behavior. It is our default tendency if we don’t intentionally act against it. This is what it means to have a “sinful nature,” which we must fight in ourselves by deliberately “living by the Spirit.” Otherwise, our sinful natures win out.

A prime illustration is when Jesus fed the 5,000, and because of this, they determined that he was “the Prophet who was to come into the world,” and so tried to “make him king by force.” (John 6:14-15)

On a certain level, their response was undeniably “biblical.” If that happened today, no preacher, teacher or seminary professor on earth could definitively refute them, from a scriptural standpoint, if they were even inclined to try. Most churchgoers would probably join in and condemn as heretics and traitors anyone who opposed them – Jesus was, in fact, the Prophet who was to come into the world. He is and was the rightful king. There is no arguing with that.

Yet, when they caught up with Jesus on the other side of the Sea of Galilee, he rebuked them: “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.” (John 6:26)

They wanted him as king, but not because they saw God’s purposes at work in him and wanted to join him in those purposes. Their interest was in how he fit into their purposes – how he could gratify their appetites. And, many people – not just from the crowds, but from among his own disciples – deserted him when they realized that he wouldn’t be of any use to them.

And that’s the approach we tend to bring to the Bible as a whole. We don’t approach religion or the Bible with a mindset of seeking God’s purposes and plan and fitting ourselves into it. We fit God into our lives. Jesus Christ is an accessory to our lives, not the center. He’s not really our Lord and King; he’s our mascot – the imagined spokesman for all of our own ideas and cultural values and political preferences. If we don’t like the depiction of Jesus we find in our church, we shop around until we find a “Jesus” and a church better suited to us, who reinforces all the positions, expectations and wishful thinking we would already hold anyway.

Most people just want to live their lives and pursue the things that interest them in this world. Christianity is largely just an add-on to what we’d be doing anyway if we weren’t Christians.

Consider the typical sermons preached today.

How often is the substance of a sermon about “how to be a better spouse” or “how to be a better parent” or “how to find God’s purpose for your life” (i.e., career advice), or even “how to vote,” or any number of other varieties of loosely “biblical” life-coaching, while the gospel itself is treated as an afterthought, if its mentioned at all?

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be a better spouse or with finding the best fit for a career. But, we didn’t need a Messiah for any of that, and trying to fit him into our purposes is a tacit rejection of his — we want him as our servant, not as our Lord.

And we don’t just do that in the moment, sermon by sermon. We’ve done that with the whole narrative – the whole religion.

We don’t have in mind the things of God, but the things of man. And our “Christianity” shows it.

The Ouija Board of the Religious Marketplace

And, we don’t do this, necessarily, as individuals, but collectively – as a marketplace of religious consumers.

As a marketplace of consumers, we don’t actually care about God’s purposes and plan. We care about our own. And, we all know we’re going to die, and we’re worried about it. How can Christianity help?

Of course, the true biblical narrative answers that with the promise of resurrection at the end of history, at the renewal of the earth.

But that’s a long way off. We don’t want to wait that long, and death is scary now, we want our answers and our gratification now, and so we want assurances that grandma “is in a better place” now. So, the marketplace meets that demand by supplying a supposedly biblical narrative with a solution — a gospel of immediate gratification.

And, to reiterate – I am not saying we do this as individuals.

The marketplace of religion is a lot like a Ouija board: theoretically, no single person is moving the planchette to land it in a particular place. The collective pressure from all the people touching it is what moves it, regardless of where any individual person wants it to go. But, the perceived effect is that the planchette moved on its own and was placed by otherworldly forces to supernaturally spell out a message from beyond. But, no – it was just the completely natural, collective subconscious will of humans expressed through the ideomotor effect.

(I am not at all saying that demons or otherworldly spirits are never the explanation, but they are not necessarily. The default explanation for anything is the natural one, unless it legitimately fails to explain the data, which is not typically the case with Ouija boards. Nor, as it turns out, with Church.)

The exact same phenomenon occurs, but on a much larger scale, to create market-standard Christianity: we collectively shape the message and direction of the Church, but we attribute it to God and so we submit to it as beyond our right to question or oppose. But, no. It’s just us — not “us” as a collection of individuals, but “us” as the herd.

I don’t believe most preachers are necessarily deliberately crafting their sermons to get the maximum number of butts in seats. Some do, and I think it’s pretty obvious who they are, but the majority of preachers who sincerely teach what people most want to hear – and the seminaries that train such preachers – are those who are most rewarded by the marketplace of religious consumers, and so they enjoy the greater market share, and so their brand of Christianity becomes the market-standard version to which all others are compared, and the outliers are regarded as weird and heretical.

And, while Jesus often deliberately drove off large crowds so that only the most fully devoted disciples remained, most preachers and churchgoers today, in contrast, take large or growing congregations as a sign of God’s approval, endorsement and anointing, with total disregard for Jesus’ warnings against wide paths and broad gates.

The result is what we might call “Lowest Common Denominator Religion”: a religion that masquerades as Christianity and proliferates by appealing to the highest number of people by meeting the most widespread set of demands, which is for a religion that requires nothing of them and promises everything they want, with no conditions.

A Gospel Without Power, A Church Without Life

Among other golden calves, the Church continues to teach this error about “dying and going to heaven” and presents it as the very essence of the gospel. The Church is teaching falsehood as “the word of God.”

We read in Scripture that the word of God is powerful, living and active, and that the gospel is “the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.”

Is it any wonder, then, that the Church is dying in the West – that our influence is fading and our light is dimming in the world, as our culture races ever deeper into darkness and depravity and corruption?

It is because we bear a “word of God” that has no power, no truth. It is a “gospel” of our own making, with no power to save.

Consequently, God is not with us and does not bless our efforts as the Church, the Spirit of God does not empower us, and the life of Christ is not in us, because we do not operate under His authority, bearing His message and advancing His cause. Until we do, our church services are an empty farce and all we’re doing is playing “Christian.”

That’s the bad news.

The good news is … life is nonetheless set before us. The infinite power of God Himself – to effect miracles and bring life and enlightenment to ourselves, our neighbors, our families and our civilization – is ours for the taking.

All we have to do is read the Bible, teach what it teaches, and do what it says.

That’s easier said than done, I realize. But it can be done. It must be done.

And, it isn’t, at the end of the day, that difficult. There are more steps to follow, but step one is to just read the Bible, and read it with what wise men call “The Beginner’s Mind” (google it if you need to).

Stay tuned.

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The Trinity: A Necessity to Monotheism

Depending on whom you ask, the concept of the Trinity is either the absolute worst offense that can exist in the sight of God, or it’s God’s all-important self-revelation upon which all existence and life and salvation depend.

There’s a lot of misunderstanding about it, to say the least – among Christians, especially, no less – and that confusion adds a lot of fuel to the historically persistent controversy around it.

So, here’s my own humble attempt at resolving some of the confusion.

Monotheists who aren’t Christian (i.e., Jews and Muslims) see the doctrine of the Trinity as a denial of monotheism, the belief that there is only one God. The premise of this piece is that it not only is not a denial of monotheism, but it’s a necessary logical outworking of monotheism. In other words, if monotheism is true, then God must be a Trinity; if God is not a Trinity, then the “God” in view by monotheists isn’t really God at all.

Before I get into that, some background information is in order. If you’re already up to speed on the basics, though, feel free to skip ahead to the section with the subheading “In His Image.

And if you want a really quick, to-the-point, argument- and background-free explanation of why I think the Trinity is necessary to monotheism, without me “showing my work,” so to speak, skip down to the section with the heading, “God, the Word of God and the Sevenfold Spirit” (but if you do skip ahead and then find my argument inadequate or unpersuasive, I ask you to consider that I “showed my work” in the previous section for a reason, and you have formed your conclusion on the basis of incomplete information).

The Doctrine

The term “Trinity” is shorthand for the Christian doctrine that God is Three-in-One: three distinct Persons who are singular in Being – “the Father, the Son and the Holy 2000px-Shield-Trinity-Scutum-Fidei-English.svgSpirit.” Each Person of the Trinity is distinct from the Others and is equally and fully “God,” yet there is only one God, not a triumvirate of separate “Gods.”

And, according to Trinitarian theology, the Second Person of the Godhead, God the Son, or the Son of God, became human in the historical person of Jesus of Nazareth and died for the sins of the world, rose again from the dead and then ascended back to his place at “the right hand of the Father” so that humanity could dwell representatively within the Godhead and, in turn, the Third Person, the Holy Spirit, could descend to dwell within humanity.

This arrangement is the essence of the Christian concept of salvation, hence the all-important, non-negotiable importance of Trinitarian doctrine to Christian orthodoxy. Much more on that later, though.

Historical Objections to the Trinity

As touched upon in the introduction, the other two monotheistic religions have something of a problem with this.

Muslims regard it as shirk – idolatry – which they hold to be the gravest offense anyone could commit before Allah, like ever. According to the Qur’an, Allah is super pissed off about this, hence the repeated emphasis on the “Oneness” of God throughout its pages.

“They have certainly disbelieved who say, ‘Allah is the third of three.’ And there is no god except one God. And if they do not desist from what they are saying, there will surely afflict the disbelievers among them a painful punishment,” reads Surah 5:73 of the Qur’an.

“And they say, ‘The Most Merciful has taken a son.’ You have done an atrocious thing. Would that the heavens be rent thereat and the earth split open and the mountains fall into the sea that they attribute to the Most Merciful a son. And it is not appropriate for the Most Merciful that He should take a son. There is no one in the heavens and earth but that he comes to the Most Merciful as a servant.” (Surah 19:88-93)

So Muslims see the doctrine of the Trinity as an outrage and an unpardonable blasphemy against Allah, hence the characteristic Islamic disdain for western religion and culture.

Although, it’s worth noting that the “Trinity” at which they take such umbrage isn’t exactly the Trinity of historic Christian theology. Based on Surah 5:116 of the Qur’an, Muhammed appeared to have been laboring under the impression that the Trinity consists of the three persons of Allah, Mary and Jesus, as a sort of “family of God”:

“And (beware the Day) when Allah will say, ‘O Jesus, Son of Mary, did you say to the people, “Take me and my mother as deities besides Allah ?”’ He will say, ‘Exalted are You! It was not for me to say that to which I have no right. If I had said it, You would have known it. You know what is within myself, and I do not know what is within Yourself. Indeed, it is You who is Knower of the unseen.’”

As in, rather than “tri-unity” as an internal and eternal characteristic of the Godhead, as historic Christian doctrine holds, it is instead the adding-on of external, created beings to the Godhead, which would be heretical and idolatrous by the Christian and Islamic understandings of monotheism alike.

(Based on Surah 3:33-47, Muhammed also seemed to be laboring under the notion that Mary the mother of Jesus was the same Mary/Miriam mentioned in the Torah, who was the sister of Moses and Aaron and the daughter of Amram and Jochebed, who lived about 1,500 years earlier. But, that’s a discussion for another time. Suffice to say, the Qur’an’s author is a dubious authority on God and on biblical persons and events.)

*   *   *

Jews also hold the Trinity to be a denial of monotheism, but they’re not laboring under such a blatant misrepresentation of it like we see in Islam. Jews tend to think the doctrine of the Trinity is just a failed attempt by post-apostolic theologians to justify, within a monotheistic framework, the New Testament and its teachings about the deity of Christ. “Failed attempt” because they see it as a fundamental denial of the Shema, “Hear, O Israel: YHWH our God, YHWH is one.” (Deuteronomy 6:4), as well as a denial of the commandment, “You shall have no other gods before/besides Me.”

“If God is One, He can’t be three,” they insist, so the Trinity adds “gods” beside Him, thereby violating the commandment.

Except, the Hebrew word used for “one” is “echad,” which indicates “a united oneness,” as opposed to “yachid,” which indicates “a solitary oneness.”

An example of a “united oneness” would be in Genesis 2:24, where it reads about Adam and Eve that “the two became one (‘echad’) flesh.”

And there’s plenty more within the Hebrew Scriptures that – while not necessarily proving the doctrine of the Trinity in so many words – nonetheless speak to an internal plurality within the Godhead, rendering Jewish objections to the Trinity moot.

There are the “Us”-passages in Genesis (1:26; 3:22), and the specific mention of the “Spirit of God” in Genesis 1:2 as apparently distinct from “God” in the primary sense. And, there are numerous instances in which the Angel of YHWH/the Lord is referred to by God in the third-Person, and the Angel speaks of God in the third-Person, and then the Angel is afforded all of the worship and authority of God Himself (Exodus 23:20-22; Joshua 5:13-15; Zechariah 3, etc.).

024.Jacob_Wrestles_with_the_Angel

Jacob wrestling with the Angel of YHWH

So, while the unity of God is certainly insisted upon in the Hebrew Scriptures, there’s also plainly a plurality within that unity, so “unity” doesn’t necessarily mean a strict singularity.

In fact, before the advent of Christianity, the notion of “Two Powers in Heaven” was, if not universally accepted orthodoxy within Judaism, at least was not regarded as heretical, due to passages like these. The Jews’ reasons for rejecting the Trinity are not actually theological or scriptural, as some might claim, but tribal and cultural, owing to their rejection of Christianity.

As in, contrary to popular misconception, they do not reject Christianity because they reject doctrines like the Trinity. It’s the other way around. They reject today much of what their pre-Christian ancestors took for granted within Judaism, because of its Christian associations. Just consider their position on the Septuagint today, compared to 2,000 years ago, as just one emblematic example.

A History of Heresies

There are quite a few popular attempts at explanations of the Trinity among Christians, some of which are more helpful than others at conveying the concept.

There’s the Water/States of Matter Analogy: Just as water can be liquid, solid or gas, but remains the same substance, so is God the three Persons of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, while remaining the same Being, according to this analogy.

Except, this is really just another form of the heresy known as “Modalism,” which is erroneous because it denies the separate Personhood of each member of the Trinity. As in, Father, Son and Holy Spirit are actually the same Person, but fulfilling a different role – wearing a different hat, so to speak – according to Modalism. It posits that “the Son” is just Who God is when He’s not being the Father or the Holy Spirit, which doesn’t fit with the Scriptures, since they depict the Father, Son and Spirit relating and referring to one another as distinct Persons (John 17; Romans 8:16 and 34).

Then there’s the Egg Analogy: an egg comprises the three components of a yolk, the white and the shell. This is an expression of yet another heresy – that of Partialism. None of the components of the egg can rightly be understood to be the egg in its fullness, as each Person of the Trinity is fully “God” (Colossians 2:9, 10).

The illustration attributed to St. Patrick – the shamrock, or three-leaf clover, is another version of the same heresy.

Then there’s the Sun Analogy: God the Father is like the Sun, God the Son is like the rays of light that emanate from the Sun, and the Holy Spirit is like the heat created on Earth from the Sun. This is the Arian heresy, which had it that the Son is a created being only similar to God the Father in substance, but not identical (homoiousion instead of homoousion, which is what the Council of Nicaea boiled down to), and not “God” in the full sense.

Trinityfull

Also not an orthodox and approved representation of the Trinity.

These have been condemned by various church councils, but some Christians would argue that they’re still useful, at the very least, as “elevator pitches” – quick, concise explanations you could make during the span of an elevator ride, just to get your foot in the door and get someone at least open to the possibility that God could be a Trinity.

I don’t know that I accept that. If they’re heretical versions of the Trinity, it isn’t actually the Trinity you’re getting them to entertain as a possibility, so I don’t know that they’re truly constructive to that end, except maybe to trick someone into considering it, which I don’t think is an advisable tactic.

*   *   *

A possible exception, though – and my own personal favorite quick illustration of the Trinity – is the Cube Analogy used by C.S. Lewis.

Imagine trying to describe a cube to beings who exist in only two dimensions. They’re familiar with flat shapes like squares and circles and triangles, but since they’ve never experienced reality beyond their two-dimensional frame of reference, they cannot conceive of cubes, spheres, cylinders or pyramids. Try to explain what a cube is, and they’ll only be able to imagine it in terms of six separate squares grouped together somehow, but not as a single, indivisible object.

Likewise, that’s sort of what explaining the tri-unity of the single God is like to beings who live only in three-dimensional time and space, in which every being is only a solitary person.

Now, the Cube Analogy suffers for being another variation on Partialism… if we take it as an illustration of the Trinity, that is. But, I think it’s less an illustration of the Trinity than it is an illustration of the limits of our perception as three-dimensional beings. According to String Theory, there are possibly 10 or 11 spatial dimensions to the universe, while we perceive of only three, and possibly more than the single temporal dimension we experience. And God, by definition, created the universe, so He exists beyond all of the spatial and temporal dimensions that constitute the space-time continuum itself, to say nothing of His transcendence of the limited corner of space-time of which we can perceive.

So, if we can see that two-dimensional beings’ inability to conceive of a cube doesn’t render the concept of a cube impossible or logically nonsensical, so our inability to conceive of three Persons who are one in Being doesn’t render the Trinity impossible.

So, that’s the elevator pitch I prefer, because the heretical aspects of the illustration aren’t the relevant aspects.

That’s just to get my foot in the door, though.

My ultimate goal isn’t just to convey that the Trinity is possible, but that it’s a necessary logical consequence of monotheism itself.

In His Image

In my view, the most compelling piece of evidence for the Trinity is human consciousness.

Or, I should say, the nature of Consciousness itself is our clue, of which human consciousness is our only firsthand example. According to Scripture, though, God modeled human consciousness after His own: “God created mankind in His own image, in the image of God He created them…” (Genesis 1:27)

Whatever else that means (and it means a great deal), self-awareness is included in our being made in the image of God.

Being “made in the image of God” is what it means to be human and distinct from the animals, according to the book of Genesis.

According to evolutionary anthropologists, the defining characteristic that makes us human is our capacity for abstract, symbolic thought and communication, i.e., language. Anthropologists tell us that anatomically modern humans first appeared about 200,000 years ago, but it wasn’t until about 40-50,000 years ago that we became fully human – “behavioral modernity” is the term for it. The transition from bestial Anatomically Modern Humans to fully evolved Behaviorally Modern Humans happened through what they call the “Great Leap Forward,” by which humans suddenly (relatively speaking) developed the ability for complex language – Man could think in terms of abstract symbols and communicate those symbols through the use of sound.

Ancient Jewish mystics picked up on this long before the advent of modern anthropology, though, just by reading and contemplating the Bible.

“Abracadabra” is an Aramaic phrase believed by some to have been coined by ancient Kabbalists. It means, “As I speak, I create,” and it’s meant to convey the relationship seen in the book of Genesis between speech and creation, as first shown in God’s act of speaking the universe into existence, and second, in His image-bearer’s act in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:19-20): Adam participated in God’s work of creation by naming the animals. He didn’t create ex nihilo as God did, but by naming the animals, he brought another dimension of order to creation – he created the first system of taxonomy, just as we create institutions, art, paradigms of thought and systems of law and science and classification — often, through story and narrative– through our speech and language today. Things like the economy, governments, religions, ideologies, societies and social classes are real things, but they exist entirely as constructs of language and communication – they exist only because we speak them into existence. Our speech is the underlying basis for our ability to build civilizations and technology, which sets us apart as fundamentally different from the animal world.

You Can’t See Your Own Head

Speech is also the underlying basis for self-awareness.

It’s our ability to create by way of abstract symbolic thought that enables us to communicate with others, as well as to communicate and create internally. Just by virtue of being conscious, we create a symbolic concept of the self, and we see the self as a subject in the world, as well as a subject within our own mind. As in, we’re not just aware of the world around us – the sights and sounds and sensations reported to our brain by our sense organs; we’re aware of ourselves as subjects within the world.

Hopefully I won’t scandalize too many Christians (or other monotheists) by this, but the relevance of consciousness to the doctrine of the Trinity first occurred to me a few years ago while I was reading the Hindu Upanishads, a central topic of which is the internal makeup of the human psyche and what Consciousness actually is. The applications to monotheism don’t depend on acceptance of any Hindu-specific belief, though. It just so happens that it was Hindu mystics who were among the first to contemplate the interior dimensions of human consciousness a few millennia ago (or, at least, the first to preserve those contemplations for posterity), and our acknowledgment of the truth of those observations doesn’t depend on acceptance of the overarching belief system.

The Hindu mystics who wrote the Upanishads recognized that our concept of the self is not identical with the actual self, though, and much of their contemplation was devoted to probing the mysteries raised by the disparity.

The Self, or Atman, to put it in Hindu terms, is the Thinker/Speaker. But the thoughts and words that originate with the Thinker are not the Thinker him/herself. So, while the Self is capable of thinking and speaking of the Self, the thoughts the Self has about the Self are not the actual Self, but the Ego, or Jiva, to again put it in Hindu terms

At issue is the ability of the Self to actually think about the Self in true and accurate terms.

“You can’t see your own head,” as summed up by Dr. Ed Wood, my Intro. to World Religion professor in college.

As in, the Self can no more directly perceive the Self than you can see your own head. You can see a reflection of your head in a mirror, or a photograph, but you can’t actually see your own head any more than you can turn your eye back in on itself to look at your own eye. Likewise, the Self can only make inferences about the Self, based on reflection – how the external world relates to the Self as another object in the world, and that’s how the Self becomes a subject in its own world.

This raises questions about what the Ego/Jiva actually represents. Does it truly represent the Self? Because if you try to speak about the Self in any concrete terms, what can you really say about your Self that’s actually about your Self?

And by “Self,” I mean your actual Self.

Your “actual Self” isn’t your body. The “Ship of Theseus” paradox shows that you can’t reduce the Self to your body, since none of the cells that constitute your physical form today existed a matter of years ago, and all the cells you have in this moment will be dust in a matter of years while you live on in your body. Yet, your Self existed then, now and will years from now when the constituent parts of your body are entirely replaced with new cells and new materials. So, you can’t point to the body or even your brain and say, “That is the Self.”

250px-Atman

This guy is trying to see his Atman, but it’s not happening.

And, you can’t point to the pattern in which those cells are arranged and say “That is the Self,” because identical twins have the same genetic pattern, but are distinct Selves.

And anything else you could say about the Self isn’t really about the Self, either. You could talk about where you’ve been, what you’ve done, whom you’ve met and interacted with, work you’ve accomplished, experiences you’ve had, but none of that information is actually about the internal Self – only the external experiences of the Self. All it does is skirt the outer limits of the Self, creating an outline of negative space in which the Self invisibly resides, but we still haven’t said anything about the Self.

And, even if the Self were capable of perceiving of the Self, in order for the Ego to be a true representation of the Self, the Self would have to recreate itself in thought, like a computer simulating a complete model of its own hardware and programming. For that model to be an accurate and complete representation rather than just a comparatively crude, abbreviated symbol of the computer, it would have to include all of that computer’s functionality, which would exceed its computational capacity – a thermodynamic impossibility.

Then, when you add on the Judeo-Christian element of sin and its attending shame, the Self would recoil in horror at its own shortcomings and excesses – its “nakedness” (Genesis 3:7), and the Ego it would create would be an inflated, idealized version of itself shaped by wishful thinking and insecurity.

So, as a necessary corollary to the fact of our consciousness, humans are self-aware, but only just, because our Ego-self is only an indirect caricature and distorted echo of our True-self, inflated by imagined virtues and glossed-over faults.

Which brings us to the subject at hand.

God, the Word of God and the Sevenfold Spirit

According to monotheism, there is an infinite and eternal Supreme Consciousness who is omniscient, omnipotent and perfectly holy who created the universe and all life within it: He knows all, is infinitely powerful and is without moral defect and is the Source of our own existence, life and consciousness.

All monotheists – Jews, Christians and Muslims alike – agree on that definition.

And, God is at least as conscious and Self-aware as we are.

I don’t think any Jew or Muslim anywhere would try to argue that God lacks the faculty of self-awareness that defines our own existence as humans. I would expect they would insist upon that point as zealously as anyone – God is alive and conscious and Personal, and to say otherwise would be blasphemy, within both Judaism and Islam.

So if God is Self-aware, as we are, that means He has/is a Self, and He also has an “Ego” – an awareness of Himself as a Self.

And if God is all-knowing, then His omniscience would extend even to Himself. And if God is all-powerful, then His omnipotence would include the ability to perfectly perceive and to think comprehensively and accurately of Himself.

Which means – with none of the aforementioned limitations attending man’s self-awareness – God’s “Ego” would be a perfect and complete representation of God’s Self, lacking no attribute that God Himself possesses: His omniscience, omnipotence, holiness, His infinity and eternity. God’s “Ego” would not be a crude, abstract symbolic representation of God’s Self, as is a human ego, but an absolutely perfect representation of all that God is.

In other words, God’s “Ego” would be God in His own right. Yet, He would be distinct from God, as the Ego is distinct from the Self.

He would not be a creation of God – a creation is external and unnecessary to God, while self-awareness is a necessary fact of God’s existence. For God, to exist is to be self-aware, so – while God’s Self-awareness is contingent on God, He is not a creation of God, but is necessary and eternal to God’s own existence. Rather than God’s creation, He is God’s Son, who is like the Father in every regard, but has His existence from the Father.

Just as man’s ego is conjoined to our faculty of language and speech, so is God’s Self-awareness to His. His Self-perception, then, would be better described, not as His “Ego,” but as His Word. And just as man creates by his speech, so is the Word of God the Agent through Whom God creates.

*   *   *

Because the Word of God lacks no attribute of the Father, the Word is also Self-aware – He has an “Ego,” a Self-image, just as the Father has a Self-image in the Word.

The Self-image of the Word, however, includes – not just His understanding of Himself but His understanding of Himself in relation to the Father, as well as the Father’s understanding of Himself in relation to the Word.

The Self-image of the Word is the Embodiment in Consciousness of the mutual relationship between the Father and the Word. He is the Living Spirit of the fellowship between the Father and the Word, and He also is God in His own right, lacking no attribute of the Father and the Son.

And, of course, being an absolutely perfect and complete representation of everything that God the Father and God the Word are, the Third Person of the Godhead is also Self-aware, and aware of Himself as a Person in relation to the Father and the Son.

You can see where this is going, right?

The Third Person’s Self-awareness is also Self-aware and lacking nothing that is God, Who is also Self-Aware and lacking nothing, Who is also Self-aware and lacking nothing, etc.

There is an infinite progressive proliferation of Divine Persons proceeding from the First and Second Persons of the Godhead. The Father and Son are like two mirrors of Consciousness facing each Other, creating (well, “creating”) an endless repetition of reflections of each Other, and of each Other in relation to the Other. Except, because God is omniscient, omnipotent and infinite, nothing is diminished as the reflections repeat, because these are not, as in the analogy, mere light waves reflecting off a surface and diminishing in energy and focus with each iteration, but God’s Own Mind in His awareness of Himself. Light waves are finite quanta of energy that diminish and diffuse, making each successive reflection a lesser copy of the previous reflection. But, the Supreme Consciousness that is God is infinite and all-powerful. So, every single “reflection” is God in His own right. The two “mirrors” are God the Father and God the Son, and the infinite progression of Divine “reflections” are the Holy Spirit. Except, lacking nothing that is God, the “reflections” are also “mirrors” in their own right.

God is not a singular, solitary Spirit, but a unified infinity of Spirit(s).

We might be inclined to reject this idea as too absurd to entertain, because it seems counter-intuitive. It runs opposite to everything we know by observation about the universe, as it is governed by such restrictions as the laws of conservation and entropy and the like.

The laws of the universe apply only to the universe and all within it, though. God, by definition, transcends the universe, and so is not subject to its laws. They are subject to Him. The very notion of creatio ex nihilo, which is so basic and essential to monotheism itself, also runs contrary to those very laws. How much more should we expect God Himself to as well?

And, is this not exactly what monotheism and the scriptures of every monotheistic religion teach, if only by implication? Is not God, by definition, infinite? And what does it mean – that “God is infinite” – if not what I have described?

This is consistent with the book of Revelation, which speaks of “the Seven Spirits of God,” or “the Sevenfold Spirit of God.” (Revelation 1:4; 3:1; 4:5; 5:6)

Clearly, from those verses, the Holy Spirit is not a singular, solitary spirit, but a plurality of Spirit(s).

And, any student of ancient Hebrew culture can tell you that when the number seven is used, it doesn’t always literally mean “seven” – one less than eight and one more than six. The number seven in Judaism is a divine symbol, hence the seven-branched menorah which symbolizes this monotheistic religion, as well as all the other groupings of seven throughout the Torah and the rest of the Old Testament, like the seven days of creation, the seven weeks between Passover and Pentecost, Yom Kippur in the seventh month of the year, the Jubilee year occurring after seven sabbatical years, etc.

The number seven speaks of perfection and completion, but it can also mean “without measure,” like when God warned of avenging Cain “seven times over” (Genesis 4:15), and then Lamech exaggerated it to “seventy-seven” times over (v. 24). Or when God warned of punishing Israel’s sins “seven times over” (Leviticus 26:18, 21, 24, 28), and when He said Israel’s enemies would “flee in seven directions” (Deuteronomy 28:25). You see this idiom repeated in the New Testament, when Peter asked Jesus how often he should forgive, and Jesus told him, not merely seven times, but 77 times (Matthew 18:21, 22). Clearly, he didn’t mean to cut off forgiveness on that 78th offense, but that there was no limit. And, that was to reiterate that “forgive seven times” didn’t mean the eighth time was the last straw, but that there was no last straw.

Likewise, the seven letters to the seven churches (Revelation 1:18-3:22) weren’t intended just for those specific seven churches situated in Asia Minor, but were intended for the Church as a whole, for all of history and in all places, of which those particular seven were representative.

In the same way, the phrase “Sevenfold Spirit of God” is representative of the plurality of God’s Spirit in all of His completeness and limitlessness, Who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who are all coequally God.

So, if monotheism is true, then God is, primarily, a Trinity, but the Trinity is, in actuality, an Infinity (or a “Trinfinity”?).

The Word Made Flesh

It’s important to note that this isn’t just a theological abstraction– a philosophical exercise done for merely academic purposes, or to win arguments with Muslims and Jews. The doctrine of the Trinity has profound, life-changing application for every single human being.

While it is important for Christians to be able to answer Muslims and Jews when they object to the Trinity, it’s even more important that we understand the Trinity ourselves and grasp its centrality to our salvation and to our understanding of ourselves as Christians, and as members of the human race.

Christianity has it that the Word of God, the Second Person of the Godhead, entered into history in human form in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.

The prologue of the Gospel of John explains:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind…

“The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:1-4; 11-14)

Let’s consider what that means – that this man, Jesus of Nazareth, is the eternal Word of God incarnate in human form.

It’s often taught that, as the Word made flesh, Jesus represents God before humanity (Hebrews 1:1-3), and as “high priest in the order of Melchizadek,” he represents humanity before God (Hebrews 5-9).

And, of course, I agree with all that (who am I to disagree?), but that’s not the extent of it.

As the Word of God, Jesus doesn’t merely represent God to humanity, but he represents God to Himself. Again, He is God the Father’s Self-image – His “Ego-Self.” As God the Father thinks of God the Father, God the Son is what He thinks.
God the Son took on human form in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.

Having died for the sins of the world and being raised to life by the Spirit of God, after giving instructions to his disciples to “Go and make disciples of all nations” and thereby finalize and spread the Christian religion, Jesus ascended back to the “right hand of the Father” to resume his eternal place within the Godhead.dali-last-supper

God is eternal. He created time and space and exists without beginning or end beyond space-time. The distant past when the universe began in the first moments of the Big Bang and the far future when (or “if”?) the universe ends are equally “present” to Him – as present to Him as this very moment. He sees it all at once, as if it’s all happening now, because to Him, it is. With Him “a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like a day.” (2 Peter 3:8; Psalm 90:4)

If Jesus ascended to “the right hand of the Father,” that means there never was a time when there wasn’t a human man born of a mortal human woman in 1st-century Roman-occupied Judea with nail-scarred hands and feet residing within the Godhead.

And, if he is God the Father’s Self-image, that means God has always and eternally identified as a human being.

I am not saying, “God is a man.”

I am saying, “A man is God.”

As in, humanity is not a necessary, intrinsic property of the Divine Nature. Yet, humanity is a property God has taken upon Himself through the Incarnation and Ascension of the Son of God.

So, while humanity is not a necessary aspect of the Divine Nature, God’s Self-identification with humanity can certainly be seen in His creation of the universe.

And, as a layman who dabbles in popular scientific literature about physics and cosmology from time to time, I find it exhilarating to see even non-believing physicists flirt with this as they try to make sense of the apparent fine-tuning of the universe through the Anthropic Principle and its various iterations, such as the Participatory Anthropic Principle and the Final Anthropic Principle. It’s like they can almost see tGW375H271he face of God staring back at them as they probe the mysteries and origins of the universe, and they can see His intense concern for humanity spelled out in natural law.

But, I digress.

God personally identifies with humanity, because humanity is represented within the Godhead.

“And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,” wrote Paul (Ephesians 2:6).

This has profound implications for the dignity and inherent value of every human being who has ever lived. God identifies with humanity, as a human being, and so He is intensely, personally jealous for every single one of us, not just because He made us, but because He is one of us.

*   *   *

Just as humanity was raised up to the Godhead in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, so also, God in turn descended to dwell within humanity in the Third Person of the Godhead – “the Sevenfold Spirit of God sent forth into all the earth.” (Revelation 5:6)

Every person who belongs to Jesus Christ has no less than God Himself dwelling within us: “For in Christ all the fullness of the Godhead lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ,” wrote Paul (Colossians 2:9-10).

As in, we also participate in the Godhead.

That is not to say that we are members of the Godhead, but we participate, because we have the fullness of God Himself – the Third Person of the Godhead who embodies the fellowship between the Father and the Son – dwelling within us, renewing and transforming us into the likeness of the Son of God.

Of course, this isn’t immediately or always apparent to us – the Spirit of God dwells within the Self, and the Self cannot directly perceive of the Self. “You can’t see your own head,” after all. So, the human Ego-self doesn’t always represent the true reality of the Self, bad or Good.holy-spirit-best-best

But, if we trust in Christ and have committed ourselves to him, we participate in the Godhead and are thereby adopted as God’s own offspring.

“The Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by Him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory,” wrote Paul (Romans 8:15-17).

And, this is the entire point of God the Son taking on human form: to transform fallen mortals into gods.

We’ve moved pretty far away from this understanding within popular western Christianity, but this was how the Church fathers understood the gospel in the early centuries of Christianity.

They didn’t teach merely “Jesus died so we could be forgiven our sins and not go to hell.”

Yes, he did, but it hardly ends there.

As several of the early Church fathers wrote, from Irenaeus in the 2nd century to Athanasius in the 4th, “The Word became man that men might become gods.

Indeed, this was the entire purpose for which God created the universe.

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The Prime Radiant: A Simple Argument for the Resurrection

Contrary to popular misconception, Christianity is eminently and easily provable by simple logic and straightforward reference to a few basic, minimal and uncontroversial facts of history and reality.

I call this argument the “Prime Radiant,” after the central equation of psychohistory from Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation” series, because it’s the centermost tenet from which all else in the system of study radiates, and everything else is a consequence and corollary to this primary truth. If the Prime Radiant is valid, the larger body of thought is thereby generally true, even if all of the extremities don’t hold up equally well. If the Prime Radiant can be falsified, then all else falls with it, regardless of how useful or seemingly true the extremities appear.

And, it also has in common with Asimov’s concept that it is the central organizing principle by which all of human history can be understood.

The Prime Radiant is as follows:

Christianity exists because the disciples publicly proclaimed, “Jesus has risen from the dead and appeared to us.”

And they didn’t claim, “We hope he rose from the dead,” “We feel he rose from the dead,” or “We heard he rose from the dead.” Theirs was a claim to empirical experience (CEE), which is falsifiable, as opposed to a claim to subjective experience, which is not.

And apart from that CEE, there would be no Christianity today of which to speak, because every shred of information we have about Christianity’s origin tells us it came into existence as a consequence of the disciples of Jesus traveling throughout the Roman Empire, building communities around their CEE of having encountered Jesus alive again after his public execution and burial. That thesis and the circumstances resulting from it are corroborated by Roman and Jewish sources, along with the historical evidence within the New Testament itself for an early, formalized creedal statement about the resurrection as a CEE by the apostles.

Further, there is not a single ancient source even dimly suggesting any alternative explanation for Christianity’s origin.

This information, as a historical fact, is as well attested and certain as any fact of history. As such, it is barely even controversial.

In and of itself, it’s not controversial at all among historians and scholars. Controversy only sets in when its inevitable implications come into the discussion.

It absolutely necessarily logically follows that one of these three scenarios must be true of any CEE:        

                    1) The claimant is lying.

                    2) The claimant honestly believes it happened, but is mistaken somehow.

                    3) The claimant is telling the truth about something that actually happened.

Only one of these scenarios can be true, and one of them absolutely must be true. So if you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however unlikely, must be true.

These implications apply universally, any time anyone anywhere makes any CEE, no matter how extraordinary or unlikely or seemingly impossible that claim is – be it an experience of miracles, aliens, ghosts, garden gnomes, encounters with Bigfoot or what – one of these implications must unavoidably logically follow.

Regarding the resurrection, there is every possible evidence one could ask for that the original Christians sincerely believed what they claimed. They were not lying.

The more acquainted a person is with the evidence – that is, the more familiar one is with the writings of the apostles and their immediate disciples collected in the New Testament and in the works of the Apostolic Fathers, and the more familiar one is with what Roman writers said about the original and early Christians – the more impossible it is to genuinely think they had anything but the most sincere confidence in the truth of what they proclaimed.

Also, if they were lying, they would have had to have conspired beforehand and come to unanimous agreement, not just about the story they would tell, but about what they wanted to get out of it – about their collective motivations and expectations in carrying out their hoax. When they had every reason to expect that the same fate that befell Jesus would come upon them as well, it is inconceivable that they all agreed on a plan to publicly lie about having encountered him risen from the dead, because there is simply nothing they could have gained by this that couldn’t be much more easily obtained by other, less costly, risky, difficult and painful means.

In the past 2,000 years, no plausible scenario has ever been proposed to explain how the original Christians thought they experienced the risen Jesus, but didn’t.

That’s not to say no scenarios have been proposed, but the more you consider them, the less tenable they become: the Mass Hallucination Hypothesis, the Swoon Theory, the Twin Theory, etc.

For someone well enough acquainted with the evidence to eliminate Scenario i., but still inclined to reject the resurrection, any of these might seem plausible at first glance, but they collapse under scrutiny because they defy everything we know from medical science and from straightforward logic: there’s no such thing as “mass hallucination,” there are too many reasons to list for why the Swoon Theory fails, and the Twin Theory is outright laughable, and of all the different scenarios proposed over the millennia, these three are the best skeptics have been able to come up with.

By process of elimination, Scenario iii emerges as the best explanation, and there is no reason to reject it, other than a philosophical predisposition against the existence of God and the supernatural.

….

To summarize the Prime Radiant:

Christianity exists because the disciples publicly taught, as a claim to objective personal experience (CEE), “Jesus has risen from the dead and appeared to us.”

It necessarily logically follows from any CEE that 1.) the claimant is lying, 2) the claimant is honestly mistaken, or 3) the claimant is telling the truth. One of these must be true, but only one of them can be, so if options can be eliminated, the truth is in whatever remains.

The weight of evidence is that the original Christians believed what they claimed, eliminating the first option.

No plausible scenario has ever been proposed to explain how they could have been mistaken, eliminating the second option.

Other than a philosophical predisposition against the existence of God and the supernatural (i.e., atheistic materialism), there is no evidence by which to eliminate the third option.

Therefore, the resurrection happened and Christianity is true.

Common Objections

Obviously, there are nuances to this far beyond what I’ve addressed here, though.

If you know the evidence, this is a compelling argument, but most people don’t know the evidence (which is why it’s imperative that learning the evidence become standard operating procedure in discipleship and evangelism).

Some will try to argue that the apostles didn’t intend for their claim about the resurrection to be taken literally.

Again, learning the evidence is the best vaccination against that idea, but for efficiency’s sake, it’s worth noting that the very same people who reject Christianity because of the supposed ignorance and primitive thinking of its founders will turn around and attribute “progressive” 20th/21st-century Postmodernist religious thinking to the original Christians when it suits their argument – which is essentially what the “non-literal resurrection” notion would have been. And there’s a lot you have to ignore to try to claim that the apostles weren’t being literal when they taught about the resurrection. The deaths they risked and suffered were pretty literal, because they expected literal resurrections. Also, “resurrection” as a concept was well established within 1st-century Jewish thought, and that concept was a literal, bodily resurrection.

…..

More often, though – particularly since the rise of the New Atheism movement – the difficulty comes from there just not being a lot of knowledge of history or of what’s written in the New Testament, much less in the works of the Apostolic Fathers.

Someone always naively argues that they lied “so they’d have something to believe in,” or because “they needed to validate Jesus’ message.”

As Jews, they didn’t have any religious vacuum that needed filling, and they already had a pretty well-established tradition of martyred prophets within Judaism, so they didn’t need Jesus to be resurrected or to be the Messiah for his message to be validated.

It might have taken some massaging to work a crucified prophet into that tradition, given the shame and stigma attached to crucifixion at the time, but it would have taken far less massaging than their message of a crucified and risen Messiah.

…..

The far-and-away most common objection I’ve encountered is simply, “I don’t find that convincing,” or “That’s not very strong evidence.”

Which is, essentially, a shrug and a “nuh-uh.” It’s not a refutation; it’s a lazy dismissal.

This is typical of the New Atheist “Flying Spaghetti Monster”-paradigm, which insists that the entire burden of evidence is on theists, since we’re making a positive claim.

While I agree that theists – and Christians especially – bear a certain burden of evidence for our claims, the atheist still has his or her own burden to meet. “Atheism” isn’t simply “a lack of belief about God or gods.” In the absence of a theistic belief, atheists are still holding out a positive belief about Ultimate Reality – about How the Universe/Reality Really Is. They’re claiming that the universe is a closed system and that absolutely nothing transcends nature and the material universe, which is in no way known with any certainty or presupposed with any rational justification. It’s a philosophical presumption no different than any other philosophical presumption. Insisting that theirs is the default position is just as faith-based and circularly-reasoned as they accuse Christians of being.

As it pertains to the Prime Radiant, a shrug and a blithe dismissal as “not enough evidence” exposes their bluff: when they say things like, “There’s no evidence for God or Christianity,” and then refuse to engage the points raised through the Prime Radiant, it just shows that they’ve never looked for evidence and don’t actually want any evidence. Their position is essentially, “Don’t bother me with the evidence, my mind is made up that there’s no evidence … I like being an atheist, and I don’t want to lose my justification.”

If they reject the resurrection, I turn it around with, “Well, what do you believe?”

Because if they reject the conclusion of the Prime Radiant – unless they’re being willfully ignorant and intellectually dishonest – they must hold some other belief about where its premises lead.

To that, I let them know that the burden is on them to provide an alternative, evidence-supported explanation for all those churches dotting the land, if they don’t accept the initial premise that the apostles claimed to have encountered Jesus alive again after his public execution.

Whatever attempts are made at overturning this point are usually short-lived, unless they veer off into the upside-down land of conspiracy theories like the Jesus Myth Hypothesis (which is easy enough to refute, but that’s a different discussion, and one that’s already been capably explored elsewhere), so I move on to ask how they meet the burden of arguing for options 1 or 2.

They’ll usually pick one of them, or keep their options for both, so I challenge them to make a case for either – not based on their assumptions, imagination or ignorance, but on the actual evidence.

If you can get them to commit to doing that, then you’ve won – nothing you can say, and no amount of knowledge you produce on your own will compare with what they’ll see on their own as they investigate for themselves what happened 2,000 years ago to give rise to Christianity. The more acquainted they become with the evidence, the more obvious and inescapable it is that Jesus, literally and truly, rose from the dead.

There simply is no other conclusion logically possible from the evidence.

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Our Delinquent Messiah (Part II)

By now, the enormous contrast between what we read about the Church in the New Testament and in the early centuries of Christian history and what we see and experience of it in the 21st century should be shockingly conspicuous.

(By the way, if you haven’t read Part I, you might want to do that first, as none of this will be of any use to you otherwise. And, if you haven’t read the two previous entries about Fideism and the false gospel of Doctrinal Correctness, Part I won’t be of much use to you, either.)

Do we think of ourselves as “the Messiah”?

We have a doctrine we affirm with regard to the Church, and we use the expression “the Body of Christ” to refer to it/ourselves, but is that what we actually experience? Is that what we have in mind on Sunday mornings when we carry out this weekly exercise known as “going to church”?

The Church is indistinguishable from and identical to the Messiah if it is functional as the Church, but is it functional today?

And I want to emphasize that “functionality” is the operative concept here – I’m not talking about a perfect Church full of perfect people. I’m only talking about a Church that’s functional according to the New Testament. The churches in Corinth and Ephesus had some serious problems, but they were still true to the purpose for which they were founded, which was to actively train their members toward Christ-likeness – in their participation in the divine nature.

Does anyone think the Church today is doing that?

I don’t know many people who would seriously or honestly argue that it is, but for the rare few who would, there is plenty of statistical evidence accessible through a five-minute Internet search to conclusively demonstrate that, apart from our sheep’s clothing, we don’t actually live any differently than the wolves. We aren’t known for the agape we show one another or the world, nor for living lives any holier or better than our “lost” neighbors.

Subverted Definitions

We have a doctrine we affirm about what the Church is supposed to be, but as we discussed in my two previous entries, our popular definitions of the terms and concepts we find in the Bible leave much to be desired.

Instead of a trust based on the evidence of God’s past faithfulness, our concept of “faith,” as it relates to how we know things (epistemology), more often than not means blind faith.

Instead of a faith that leads to obedience and total investment in God’s promises and purposes, as it relates to how we’re saved (soteriology), “faith” typically amounts to mere doctrinal correctness, which is set in opposition to works, good deeds and action of any kind.

All of this adds up to a so-called “gospel” that tells us to believe for no reason and to do nothing about it in order to be “saved.”

And by “saved,” we typically mean “going to heaven as a disembodied ‘soul’ when we die instead of hell” – an idea we don’t actually find in the Bible. That’s something that crept into Christianity from Gnosticism and Greco-Roman mythology. If we already have the idea that “going to heaven when we die” is what Christianity is all about, there are plenty of passages that seem to reinforce it, if we don’t look too closely. But we would never get that idea from the Bible itself if we didn’t first import it from elsewhere.

When Paul wrote to the Thessalonians so they wouldn’t “grieve like the rest of men who have no hope” over those who had died, he didn’t assure them that their dead were “in a better place now.” No, the hope was resurrection – those who were “asleep” would awaken to life when Christ returns and raises them bodily, as he had been raised. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)

It wasn’t about “dying and going to heaven” – it was about heaven coming here to earth. It’s right there in the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your Name, Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven…”

That’s what the Church is: the advance force of God’s invasion.

Our job is to transform this world into heaven, and it begins with ourselves individually and collectively as the Church, but continues by transforming society from within – not by taking control of the government and imposing so-called “Christian” laws or by electing “Christian leaders,” but by educating and persuading the world about the rightness of God’s ways and Christ’s teachings, largely by modeling it first in ourselves. The transformation happens from the bottom up, not from the top down.

It isn’t about passively waiting to die so we can go to heaven; it’s about resurrection, and according to Paul (Philippians 3:10-14), resurrection is something to strive for by working out our salvation with fear and trembling through our participation in the divine nature.

In order to participate in the world to come, we have to believe in itnow, which means investing in it. And it’s not a burden to invest in it: if we genuinely believe God raised Jesus from the dead in glory and immortality and promises the same to us, investing in it – investing in him – should be our highest joy… if we genuinely believe that.

So, why is there such an enormous contrast between the original Church and what we experience of it today? Why is it that – despite reading exhortation after exhortation in the New Testament urging us to action, warning us against complacency, instructing us to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” and to spare no effort in striving toward the goal to which Christ has called us heavenward…

Why is it that we’re constantly hearing the opposite message from the pulpit?

There was an energy and urgency toward that effort that characterized the original Church, which leaps forcibly off the pages of the New Testament, yet all of our modern systematic theologies and Sunday-morning sermons seem to be geared to blunting and reversing that energy.

Passages like those I just referenced are acknowledged, except never without a “but…” attached. They’re always mentioned with various caveats and qualifiers that collectively say, “Well, sure – if you really, really believe, you’ll respond with good deeds… but you don’t have to. None of that is necessary to salvation. As long as the feelings are sincere, effort is optional.”

The Perennial Question of Fallen Man

So how did we get here?

The answer can be found in human psychology, basic economics and the Protestant Reformation Deformation, along with other instructive periods of history … (And no — before anyone asks in the comments, I’m not Catholic.)

People tend to follow the path of least resistance, and they tend to want the most value for the least cost: if we can get two of something for the price of one, or a bigger house for the price of a smaller one, a full-time salary for the effort of part-time work, etc., we will. That only makes sense and we’d be foolish to do otherwise when the opportunity arises.

It makes plenty of sense when we’re talking about commerce and economics, but it’s a deplorable way to conduct ourselves in interpersonal relationships.

If you love someone, you want to give the best of yourself, and you’ll want the same from them. A man who does the least expected to love and honor his wife – who does no more than snatch a rose from the neighbors’ garden as a token gesture on their anniversary so he can go back to fishing or watching football, satisfied he’s done his duty – isn’t a very good husband, to say the least. A friend who only sees you when they need something or who’s only around when the weather’s fair and nothing better comes up, is no friend at all.

When a “good enough for government work”-mentality characterizes a marriage or friendship, divorce and estrangement are inevitable, because giving the least you can for someone’s loyalty and affection isn’t love or friendship – it’s exploitation.

It’s not a religion, it’s a relationship” is a common refrain among churchgoers, yet this mentality is precisely the attitude we bring to our religion:

What’s the least I have to do to placate God – to get Him off my back, so I can get to the stuff I’m really interested in without having to worry about what’s going to happen to me when I die?

That’s the underlying question behind much of our popular approach to religion.

That was the real question the rich young man had in mind when he asked Jesus, “Rabbi, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16)

He wasn’t really interested in God or in what Jesus really had to offer – he just wanted to be able to enjoy the pleasures of this world afforded him by his wealth, free of concern about the next, which is why he went away grieving when Jesus told him to give all that up.

That was the mentality behind the religious leaders’ question about justification for divorce (Matthew 19:3). They weren’t interested in pursuing God’s original, perfect intention for marriage or His wisdom for Jewish family life – they wanted to know what they could get away with without being disqualified from the favored status they believed they had with God.

That was the mentality at work within the Reformation Deformation-era Catholic Church. Salvation (or the empty promise of it, at least) was literally sold: a certain quantity of money could get you released from purgatory, supposedly, and the price fluctuated according to the Church’s cash-flow needs at any given time, and it had absolutely nothing to do with getting anybody any closer to God.

Of course, it wasn’t packaged in such crass terms. Exploitation rarely is. No, giving “alms” (as they euphemistically called it) was a sign of deep contrition over sin, they said, for which the Church, in its great mercy and generosity toward weak sinners, granted the indulgence of early release from punishment in the afterlife. Packaged in such lofty, pious rhetoric, it sounded perfectly reasonable and appropriate, especially when it came from such trusted exemplars of virtue and godliness as the Roman Catholic priesthood. And it sold, because giving money is a less resistant path than repentance and personal growth.

Maxims of Modern Minimalist McChristianity

Sadly, this pattern hasn’t changed in 500 years, and the religious free market has met the ever-present demand for cut-rate fire insurance.

The Protestant Reformation was about rescuing Christianity from the legalism, empty ritual and priestcraft that characterized the Roman Catholic Church, and Reformed theologians developed what are known as the “Five Solae” as correctives against those abuses:

Sola Fide (Faith Alone)

Sola Gratia (Grace Alone)

Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone)

Sola Christus (Christ alone)

Sola Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)

The Five Solae made a lot of sense within the context of the religious battles of 500 years ago. They make less sense now – at least, in the sense that we commonly understand and teach them.

When they’re used to answer that perennial question of fallen man, “What’s the least I have to do to get into heaven?” they become no different and no better than the “salvation-for-sale” extortion racket they were devised to correct.

We’ve already discussed Sola Fide at length, and how it’s been perverted by our erroneous definition of “faith.” We are justified by faith alone, but not by what passes for faith today.

We’ve likewise corrupted Sola Gratia.

We didn’t do anything to earn our salvation, so there’s nothing we can do to add to it” is a common refrain. Our concept of “grace” has it that if anything whatsoever is required on our part, then “it isn’t really grace at all,” but heretical “works-based salvation.”

Of course, this defies common sense, common decency, and the Scriptures.

In the Parable of the Wedding Banquet, it was by grace alone that the king brought in all the wedding guests, but they still had to abide by his terms in being there, lest they be thrown out.

It was by God’s grace alone that the rains came in season to water their crops, enabling them to feed themselves and their livestock (Acts 14:17). It wasn’t dismissed as “not grace at all” because they were required to sow and harvest and tend to their livestock in order to benefit from it. That they had the strength to work in the first place was also considered “by grace alone” (Deuteronomy 8:17-18).

Sola Gratia is true in that it is only by God’s grace that we can be saved. But the New Testament writers clearly didn’t think that because Christ’s work was “by grace alone,” nothing else would be required of them, and they would have been appalled at our reasoning today.

Contrasted against the papacy and the Catholic notion of the pope speaking ex cathedra, the maxim of Sola Scriptura was a necessary corrective, declaring that it is the Scriptures, rather than the Roman Catholic Church, where divine authority and instruction reside.

It’s ironic, then, that if you ask your typical American evangelical Protestant why it is that they accept the Bible as authoritative, rather than the pope or the Qur’an or the Bhagavad-Gita or the Sutras, he is very likely to tell you that it’s because it’s what he’s been told in church all his life (see the previous entry on Fideism for a more comprehensive discussion of this, though)…

But, the notion of Sola Scriptura (at least, as it’s commonly understood today) represents a false dichotomy.

There is no material difference between Church and Scripture – the New Testament is canonical precisely because its constituent writings were produced by and represent the thoughts, teachings and example of the original Church.

Much of the New Testament was written by the apostle Paul, but even as he gave us some of its most important components in the form of his letters, those writings were only a consolation in lieu of a personal visit. He thought being there in person would have been of more value than sending a letter, but since circumstances prevented that, he offered the next best thing (Romans 1:8-15 and 1 Thessalonians 2:17-19).

Contrary to what many within the Church today suppose, Paul was not a means to an end – the “end” being the production of holy writ. It’s the other way around: the holy writ is a means to get us nearer to the person of Paul, who is himself an avenue to getting us closer to the One who handpicked Paul as his personal representative.

The point is that the Scriptures must be embodied in us, because they represent the ideas and example embodied in the writers, in order to be of value. Otherwise, they’re just ink on paper – of no more significance or importance than a phonebook.

The dichotomy set up by Sola Scriptura is the equivalent of comparing the importance of blueprints against the building itself. Obviously, the blueprints are only important insofar as they’re used to construct and maintain the building, and without the building, blueprints only offer the idea of a building, with none of the shelter and function of an actual structure.

Likewise, separating Scripture from Church gives us only an abstract concept of Christianity, with no concrete reality.

Which brings us to the next Sola

Considering the sacerdotalism of 16th-century Roman Catholicism – the idea of a class of professional Christians known as “priests” who intervene with God on behalf of the larger body of believers, with the so-called “Vicar (substitute) of Christ” (the pope) as their head – it needed to be reasserted that Jesus Christ is the only mediator between God and man, hence the maxim of Sola Christus.

Yet, it should be glaringly obvious by now that there remains a great deal still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his Body, the Church, and that Sola Christus is a tragic error if it’s taken to divorce the Church and the individual believer from the work of Christ in the world.

And, in fact, it has. Christ is the only mediator, but as the Church, we are Christ. If we don’t mediate between God and the world, it will not be done.

Lastly, after centuries of appropriating pagan deities and rebranding them as “saints” as a marketing tactic (read about the origins of Santa Claus, for example, if you don’t know what I’m talking about), the Roman Catholic Church bore more resemblance to the polytheistic religions of ancient Rome than to the Church founded by the apostles, so Sola Deo Gloria was a necessary corrective to restore essential monotheism – to bring the focus back to God and His glory.

Yet, the Reformers Deformers might have overcorrected – or we overcorrected in our understanding of Sola Deo Gloria – and ignored one of the central promises of God.

The word “glory” (Greek doxa) shows up 125 times in the New Testament. Most often, as expected, it refers to the glory of God and of Christ. But in more than one-in-five instances, it refers to the “glory” that will come to us, Christ’s followers – his brothers and sisters who, as heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, will share in his glory.

We’ve largely ignored that promise, though, and in so doing, we’ve neglected a central, essential aspect of God’s promise of salvation and His plan for the Church, “which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

In summary, our popular understanding of the Five Solae excludes much of what constitutes biblical ecclesiology, because it’s our common tendency to interpret everything through the filter of what I’ve called “the perennial question of fallen man.”

By identifying five elements and drawing a box around them, saying, “This and only this,” and declaring anything more as heretical, and then defining each element in the most restrictive, reductive manner possible, we’ve created a minimalist, fast-food version of Christianity – one shaped by market forces to demand as little as possible from the religious consumer.

In our popular understanding, Sola Fide and Sola Gratia mean all we have to do is believe and God does the rest. What we believe is determined – and with no rational justification whatsoever – by Sola Scriptura, and Sola Christus and Sola Deo Gloria mean we take no part, take no credit, and therefore, take no responsibility.

In other words, we relegate human beings to mere passive objects in God’s supposed plan of salvation.

Gepetto, or the Blue Fairy?

And this doesn’t present a particularly glorifying depiction of God.

As passive objects, we’re just puppets controlled by strings. Except, the God we see in the Bible isn’t like Gepetto at all. God creates life – not a crude facsimile of it. He created humans in His own image, to be active agents of history and of His plan.

The pattern we see in Scripture is that God never acts in history without doing so through human agency.

He created Adam to participate with Him in the work of creation, in a fashion, by naming the animals, and by filling the earth and subduing it.

It was certainly within God’s power to preserve animal life through the flood, yet He delegated that role to Noah.

It was within His power to reintroduce monotheism among the nations – He could have done it by way of angels, through signs, through a loud, booming voice from the sky. Yet, He anointed Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to be the bearers of that message.

Likewise, He could have simply appeared outside of Egypt as a pillar of fire and announced the exodus of the Israelites directly and prevented Pharaoh from interfering. But He sent Moses to act on His behalf. Then Joshua, the Judges, the Kings, the Prophets, and finally, when His plan called for work impossible for any fallen mortal, He actually became a human being Himself, and then put His Nature into people to act on His behalf, giving us power on Earth and in Heaven.

Man severed the relationship with God. Unless God compromises His justice and becomes less than holy, it must therefore be man who restores the relationship and repairs the damage. Man corrupted the earth; it must be man who renews and restores it. And if we don’t do it, it won’t be done.

Of course, this runs directly contrary to accepted orthodoxy, which teaches that God does it all, and we do nothing, because we’re helpless – too sinful and fallen and corrupt for our works to amount to anything.

Yes, Paul said as much – because of the sin living in us, the good we want to do we cannot do, but the evil we don’t want to do we keep on doing.

Clearly, though, that’s not all he said. No one should ever read – and especially shouldn’t quote – Romans 7 without also including Romans 8: “For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man,” he continued.

“You, however, are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you… And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of His Spirit who lives in you,” Paul also said.

Prior to salvation, we are helpless. We’re nothing but puppets moved by the strings of animal instinct and appetite.

After salvation, we’re sons and daughters of God – we are immortal, all-powerful, bearing the very Nature of God within us, which means we’re to do the things God Himself would do in our place, loving what He loves, hating what He hates,

That means we are the Messiah.

Rehabilitating Our Delinquent Messiah

Of course, all of this sounds impossible. But if we’re only doing what’s possible, aren’t we just faking our faith? If you’re not attempting the impossible, you don’t really have faith in the all-powerful, living God who raises the dead.

It was such faith that prompted Jesus to tell Peter, “On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it.”

Gates, of course, were common features of walled cities back then. The illustration was of hell as a fortress, and the church breaking down its gates to conquer the city within.

In other words, we are meant to wage an aggressive war against the forces of darkness in this world.

That’s supposed to be the Church’s role: we exist to oppose the evil in the world and undo its damage.

We see a lot of that damage in the various social ills besetting our civilization, but the real problems are from human nature – not knowing right from wrong and not having the moral character to apply that knowledge in the first place.

“My people perish from lack of knowledge,” said the prophet (Hosea 4:6).

And as we look to our own country, leftists typically blame social evils like crime on external factors like poverty, and then blame poverty on rich people, thinking the answer is for the government to confiscate and redistribute wealth.

There are myriad erroneous assumptions about economics and about the proper role of government behind that mentality, but what concerns us is here is the erroneous assumption about human nature – that it’s basically good, and if we just had the right people in charge, the right system in place, and the right laws and government programs in effect, all would be well.

In reality, though, our increasing poverty, and all of the resultant social ills that come with it, come from increasing sin – sexual sin in particular.

An unpopular but glaringly obvious fact is that there is a clear link between out-of-wedlock births and poverty, and where the former increases, so does the latter.

And, out-of-wedlock births are on the rise, and will soon be the majority of births in many places in the western world. And that means poverty is on the rise and our way of life is going to decline… unless we do something about it.

And it falls to the Church to do that something, because no amount of government intervention can (or should) change people’s sexual behavior.

The Church’s role is not just to teach Christian sexual morality, though. It’s already doing that, and it’s not working, even (especially, actually) among self-identified Christians.

No, its role is to give people the New Life that enables them to live by that morality.

The symptoms of poverty have to be treated now, but ultimately, government handouts won’t help, nor, even, will Christian charitable efforts. What people need is to “escape the corruption of the world” caused by theirs and others’ appetites by participating in the divine nature.

Similarly, gun control laws will not stop or even curb violence and school shootings – at least, not without paying for it in other forms of violence. A transformation of human nature will.

Every single social problem we have can be traced back to our fallen nature and the Church’s failure to address it, and these problems threaten to overwhelm us.

If the Church were functional, though, not only could we save ourselves from the corruption threatening to overtake us, but we – the community of believers within the richest, most prosperous and powerful nation the world has ever seen – could pool our considerable resources and completely eliminate poverty in this country and beyond.

The engine for all of that is discipleship – mentoring people in their participation in the divine nature.

But discipleship – in the true, New Testament sense – requires absolute, unreserved commitment. And it’s a tough sell – impossible, really—getting people to make that level of commitment. At least, it’s impossible without some compelling, powerful reason.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is a compelling, powerful reason, except … the Church doesn’t actually teach people why it’s true. They’re asked to suspend disbelief about it as a token of admission into church membership, in order to get their social needs met, and then told that as long as they’ve rendered that token, nothing else will ever be required of them to be “saved.”

Instead of “salvation by grace through faith, not by the works of the law,” so-called “faith” is reduced to just another kind of law – a law of doctrinal orthodoxy.

So, we don’t grow into Christ-likeness. We don’t know how. There are untold treasures of knowledge left to us by those who have gone before – Anthony the Great, the Desert Fathers, John of the Cross and countless other teachers in the ways of kenosis and theosis and of arête and agape. But, American evangelicals tend to dismiss this priceless body of knowledge as nothing but pre-Reformation Deformation “works’-based heresy,” because we don’t even understand why we need it, because we’re content to merely play “Christian,” complacent in our supposed doctrinal orthodoxy as long as we’re getting our social needs met at church. Our minds are set, not on the things of God, but on the things of man, because our god is our stomach and our attentions are on earthly things.

…..

Unless… we’re not content.

And, in fact, I don’t think we are, and that’s why people are leaving the Church in droves, many of whom are, unfortunately, turning aside to New Atheism with a vengeance.

For those who are still going to church, but feel the same sickening sense I felt for so many long years that Something Is Terribly Wrong, something is off, something just doesn’t smell right – pay close attention the next time you go to church.

Listen to the sermon and ask yourself, “Is this really the word of God? Is this conducive to the true purpose of the Church? Is this pertinent to the things of God, or merely the things of man? Is this to help me participate in the divine nature, or just my appetites?”

Ask yourself, and pray about it.

If you don’t like the answer, what will you do about it?

Will you keep living a lie?

Or will you risk not getting your social needs met by leaving the broad path for the narrow?

Will you try to “save your life” and thereby lose it? Or will you lose your life for his sake, and thereby find it?

If enough of us decide we’re finished tolerating a dead church, a phony Christianity and a false messiah – if we decide we won’t play “Christian” anymore – we can turn it all around. We have that power within us.

I know that Christ longs for his Bride to turn back to him – he’s pining for us to be faithful to him, so that we can be “one flesh,” one Body again.

What’s more, consider how in the 1st century, the vast network of Roman roads and the travel protections afforded by the Roman military provided the perfect circumstances for the rapid spread of Christianity throughout the western world. Now, consider what we could accomplish today, through the World Wide Web, if we turn back to him.

And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”

If we turn back to him, we can remake the world. We can have God’s Kingdom on Earth, within our lifetimes.

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