A Long Essay on Historic Premillennialism

Among Protestants, there have been two significant proposals for how the entire Bible is put together as one story: covenant theology and dispensationalism.  In the first proposal, God saves His elect through a covenant of grace, which has some historical connections to the biblical covenants associated with Abraham and David.  Many covenant theologians also add a covenant of works, which is often associated with Adam and Moses.  In the second proposal, God works differently with man in different time periods called dispensations.  Specifically, God worked directly with Israel during the Old Testament and will again in a future Tribulation and Millennium; but for now, He is working with the church, those who are “in Christ.”  Personally, I am not a dispensationalist per se, but I am very dispensational; and like the dispensationalists, I hold to a premillennial return of Christ, but for different reasons.  Traditionally, this middle road has been called “historic premillennialism.”  How biblical is such a position?

Ironically, both covenant theology and dispensationalism take their shape from a strong desire to keep grace and works separate.  In other words, both proposals are very Protestant in their concern over salvation by grace alone through faith alone.  I, too, am a Protestant in my beliefs about salvation, as I hope this essay will make clear; but I share with some recent scholars a concern that our traditional division of the covenants, into conditional and unconditional covenants, muddies the waters and obscures some aspects of the biblical text (e.g. see Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum, Kingdom through Covenant).  Significantly, how the biblical covenants fit together is a big part of our understanding of the historic work of Christ, of God’s faithfulness, and of personal salvation.  Given this importance, I ask you for your patience in reading this long essay on a biblical case for historic premillennialism.  Truly, may it edify your soul, whether it convinces you in the end or not!

We will first consider the relationship between Israel and the church; then we will consider how the covenanted promises of land and throne support a belief in the Millennium, when Christ reigns on earth between His second coming and the Eternal State.  The essay closes with a brief look at the book of Revelation.

The Relationship between Israel and the Church

In light of the old Protestant adage of Scripture interpreting Scripture, it is wise to let the clear Scriptures interpret the less clear Scriptures—and there are some (cf. 2 Pt. 3:16).  In general, this means that the didactic portions should interpret the narratives, poetry, and apocalyptic literature.  It also means that the New Testament (NT) should interpret the Old Testament (OT).  Therefore, the best starting point may be Paul’s lengthy discussion about the Jews and the fulfillment of prophecy in Romans 9-11.  Merely the fact that Paul devotes three chapters to this topic in his longest exposition of the gospel shows the importance of prophecy for the sake of the gospel.  It should not be ignored.  So, what does Paul say?

At least three things stand out.  First, the OT covenants and promises still belong to ethnic Jews, those who are descended from Abraham biologically, that is, “according to the flesh” (Rom. 9:3-5).  These promises include the “adoptions as sons,” which Christians receive as part of the New Covenant (Rom. 9:15, 23; cf. 2 Cor 3:6; 6:16-7:1; Gal. 4:1-6).  But if adoption, for example, belongs to the ethnic Jews and yet most of them have not received it, should we say that “the word of God has failed” (Rom. 9:6)?  Where is God’s faithfulness?  It is expressly at this point where prophecy impinges on the gospel.  In its essence, the gospel is news about a historical event.  Specifically, the gospel is the good news that God is now fulfilling His promises in the persona and work of His Son Jesus Christ (cf. Rom. 1:1-4).  If God breaks any promise, especially one given on oath, then we have no assurance that He will not break other promises, whether to the church as a whole or to us personally.  Prophecy matters for the gospel (cf. 2 Pt. 1:19).

Second, since the days of Abraham himself, God has always differentiated among the biological Jews.  Not every ethnic Jew has been regarded by God as “seed” of Abraham, but only those who are sovereignly chosen and called by God (Rom. 9:6ff).  Paul bases his argument on the God’s word to Abraham, “Through Isaac your seed shall be named,” or “called” (Gen. 21:12; cf. Rom. 12:7).  He then shows that God immediately applied this principle to unborn twins, choosing the younger Jacob and passing by the older Esau, “so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls” (Rom. 9:11).  According to Paul, such calling has persisted to the present day (Rom. 9:24).  Among the biological Jews, there were chosen Jews.  Mysteriously, this secret election always correlates perfectly with personal faith, the mark of every son of Abraham (Rom. 4:12; Gal. 3:6-7).  As a result, a non-elect ethnic Jew is still held accountable for his unbelief, especially in light of his higher privileges (cf. Lk. 12:48; Rom. 3:1-3).  Yes, he may be a Jew by blood and by circumcision, but God Himself regards him as “uncirmcumcised of heart” (Jer. 9:25-26; cf. Jer. 4:4; Rom. 2:28-29; Eph. 2:11; Ph. 3:2-3; Col. 2:11).  Therefore, the word of God has not failed because it was never promised individually to each ethnic Jew.  As John the Baptist warned, biology alone saves no Jew (Mt. 3:9; Lk. 3:8).

Third, although not every individual Jew is chosen and called, God has not rejected the Jews as a group, that is, as an ethnicity, as a “people” (Rom. 11:2).  The proof is threefold.  First, there have always been a remnant of believing Jews, both in the days of Elijah and in our day (Rom. 11:1-6).  Second, Paul’s gospel ministry among the Gentiles sought to provoke Jews to faith through jealousy (“Hey, they’re getting what rightfully belongs to my people!”), which may lead to their acceptance again as a group (Rom. 11:11-14; cf. 10:1).  Third, someday “all Israel will be saved,” whenever the “fullness of the Gentiles has come in” (Rom. 11:25-26).  If this “fullness” refers to the completion of the Great Commission among all ethnicities, an event which must occur before “the end” (Mt. 24:14; cf. 28:19-20), then the hope expressed here is for a particular ethnicity to be saved, namely, the Jews, the only special ethnicity in God’s sight.  Granted, at this moment, the majority of ethnic Jews are “from the standpoint of the gospel…enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Rom. 11:28-29; cf. Dt. 4:37; 7:7-8).  At some point in the future, Jesus will “come” and “remove ungodliness from Jacob” (Rom. 11:26).  As unbelieving Saul become believing Paul through seeing the risen Savior, so perhaps will each Jew believe, who is privileged to be alive when Jesus returns from heaven.  Through the gracious outpouring of the Spirit, those individual Jews at that moment “will look on [Him] whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son” (Zech. 12:10; cf. Rev. 1:7).  It appears that this acceptance of the Jews en masse precedes the resurrection of the dead (Rom. 11:15).

In Romans 11, Paul uses the analogy of a cultivated olive tree (Rom. 11:16-24).  There is one tree with one root, but many branches.  The branches represent individuals.  Some of the branches naturally belong to the tree.  These are the ethnic Jews.  It is their tree, but many of them have been broken off due to unbelief.  In their place, branches from a wild olive tree have been grafted into the tree.  These are the Gentile believers.  They remain on the tree through faith or they too would be broken off due to unbelief.  All of these believing branches, whether natural or wild, are partakers together of the “rich root of the olive tree” (Rom. 11:17).  This root appears to represent the OT covenants and promises that ethnically belong to the Jewish people.  Based on this analogy, I conclude that there has always been one program of God through history.  It is a Jewish program.  It started with Abraham, as a continuation of Adam through Noah, and it includes all the nations (Gen. 12:1-3; 22:15-18; 35:11).

Think of the program in this way.  If we leave the Gentiles out of the picture, we are left with a lot of continuity.  The Jews have always struggled to believe and to receive their promises.  Through an initial covenant with Abraham, God made absolute promises of land and seed; but through another covenant, the Mosaic covenant, God made the actual fulfillment of these promises dependent on the obedience of the sons of Abraham.  The first generation died in the wilderness, then Joshua (literally, “Jesus”) brought the next generation into the land.  After that “Jesus” died (and did not rise again), the Jews lapsed into Canaanite behavior and were in danger of losing their land.  God raised up David and made to him, by covenant, an absolute promise of throne and seed; but again, God made the actual fulfillment dependent on the obedience of the sons of David.  After David died (and did not rise again), the first son lapsed and subsequent sons led the Jews into Canaanite behavior and the loss of their land.  Things looked bleak indeed for the Jews.

At that point, God promised to the house of Israel and the house of Judah—not to every individual Jew, but to the people as a whole—that He would someday inaugurate a new covenant that would bring both a change of heart and a personal relationship with Him, based on a permanent forgiveness of sins (Jer. 31:31-34).  This new covenant began with Jesus (Lk. 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25), who is the obedient “son of David” and “son of Abraham” (Mt. 1:1).  His death brought permanent forgiveness through payment for transgressions committed under the old covenant (Heb. 9:15); and His life guarantees the permanent safety of all who draw near to God through Him (Heb. 7:22-25).  It is fitting to say “began” because covenant promises reach actuality in stages.  Just as the Jews at Sinai started to enjoy the privileges of the old covenant through the presence of God, although outside the land, so now the Jews who believe in Christ are starting to enjoy the privileges of the Spirit of adoption even though they have not yet enjoyed the adoption itself, the “redemption of the body” (Rom. 8:15, 23).  Someday, all these believing Jews, both from the OT era and the NT era, will inherit all the promises; and through the circumcision of the heart, they will love the Lord Jesus forever and never leave Him (cf. Dt. 30:6; Jer. 24:7; cf. Eph. 3:17; 6:24).

In other words, think of the whole program apart from the Gentiles.  Not every Jew who lived before Christ will rise to receive the land with Abraham or the throne with David; neither will every Jew today.  Each Jew must personally believe (Rom. 4:12).  The promises have always been “through the righteousness of faith” (Rom. 4:13).  However, if a Jew today believes, he is sealed with the Spirit for the day of redemption and can look forward to reigning with Christ upon His return.  This makes sense.  Instead of regarding this era as a parenthesis, in which God has set aside His program for Israel, I regard it as a delay, like the wilderness era, when a generation failed to receive the promises due to predominant unbelief.

The real mystery is not the delay in the program, but the inclusion of Gentiles among the believing Jews as fellow members of the Jewish household, with all the rights and privileges of any Jew (Eph. 2:11-14, 19; 3:6).  No longer a second-class citizen, every Gentile believer is a “partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree” (Rom. 11:17).  Consequently, which of their privileges—promises, adoption, glory—does a Gentile believer not also receive in Christ, the one obedient Jew?  Indeed, according to Paul, “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, heirs according to promise” (Gal. 3:29).  A Gentile believer is reckoned to be a Jew by grace, just as graciously as his faith is reckoned for righteousness (cf. Rom. 2:26; 4:3-12, 22-25).  No wonder, then, that Gentile believers are warned three times by Paul not to be arrogant and high-minded toward the Jews (Rom. 11:18, 20, 25)!  Both as sinners and as Gentiles, such believers are doubly undeserving.

To be clear, this interpretation does not mean that the church replaces Israel.  Yes, there are three groups of people in the world today: the church, the Jews, and the Gentiles (1 Cor. 10:32).  The latter two groups are outside the church, because they are two kinds of unbelievers.  Those inside the church are starting to enjoy the promises of the new covenant in Christ.  Some of those inside the church are “natural” branches.  They are Jewish believers.  The remainder inside the church, those are Gentiles, have been graciously grafted in.  They are reckoned as Jews, even though they are not by nature Jewish.  (Incidentally, if the church is not somehow related to the olive tree, then into what exactly are Gentiles grafted?)  Now consider the status of a Jewish believer in the church.  He is not reckoned to be a Jew.  He is aJew.  Like Nathaniel, he is “an Israelite indeed” (Jn. 1:47).  On account of these true Jews within the church today, the church can rightly be said to be Jewish.  Instead of replacing Israel, the church fulfills Israel and calls on all Jews to start enjoying by faith what actually belongs to them.  Just as a wedding does not cancel an engagement, but fulfills it, so also God has not called off the wedding to His people.  The New Covenant has begun, and some Jews are already enjoying some of its benefits.  Someday, all Jews will—those alive at Christ’s return.  In fact, this mass conversion is part of the New Covenant itself (Rom. 11:27).

Again, as Paul looks at the world, he sees two kinds of unbelievers—ethnic Jews and ethnic non-Jews (Gentiles).  He longs for the ethnic Jews to receive their own promises by faith, and one of the ways he seeks to win them is through the salvation of Gentiles provoking them to jealousy (Rom. 10:1; 11:13-14).  His primary calling is to the Gentiles, but he will “magnify” his ministry through this additional, indirect way of winning Jews.  All those Jews who come in to the church are true Jews and members of Christ, the Jew of Jews.  Therefore, according to my understanding of Scripture, the church neither interrupts Israel (dispensationalism) nor replaces Israel (covenant theology); the church is the group of true Jews and reckoned Jews that fulfills Israel in Christ.  Both the seed promises of Genesis and the olive-tree analogy of Romans support this position.  This is Paul’s gospel.

The Promises of Land and Throne

Well, how does this understanding of the gospel compare to dispensationalism?  Traditionally, dispensationalism emphasized that there are two peoples of God—the earthly people, the Jews, and the heavenly people, the church.  Although dispensationalists today would not necessarily use that terminology, it still seems that the hard-and-fast division between the church and Israel is the core doctrine of this system of theology.  Israel and the church are mutually exclusive groups.  As a result, promises made in the Old Testament must apply to one group or the other.  If a promise is given to Israel, it cannot be fulfilled in the church, lest God should prove faithless, which is impossible.  This zeal for the faithfulness of God should be commended—again, such zeal is the burden of Paul in Romans 9—but the interpretation behind it may not be correct, any more than a Dutch Reformed parent clinging to the “promise” of God being the God of their seed through the covenant of baptism.

These assertions about the essence of dispensationalism were recently confirmed in a podcast on “Reformed Dispensationalism” that featured Mike Riccardi and Peter Sammons of Grace Community Church in California.  One of them defined the sine qua non of dispensationalism as follows: “Promises made to ethnic Israel in the Old Testament, as interpreted by faithful grammatical-historical exegesis, will be fulfilled literally and truly to those to whom they were made.  They won’t be spiritually re-interpreted and applied to the church.”  In other words, “Israel gets her promises.  She gets her land.  She gets her kingdom.”  As a result of this hermeneutic, the “unavoidable tenet” of dispensationalism is the Millennium, defined as “God’s plan for geo-political Israel in a thousand-year period in an intermediate kingdom.”  There is a direct link between the dispensationalism and the Millennium.

Here is where it gets interesting.  Without the dispensational distinction between Israel and the church, why would anyone hold to a Millennium?  Many Reformed ministers today are amillennial for that exact reason.  If the church replaces Israel, as Calvin’s exegesis of Romans 11:26 asserts, then there is no need for land and throne to be given to Israel.  The eternal state, with the new heavens and the new earth, can immediately follow the return of Christ.  Nothing remains to be fulfilled.

But what if the Church fulfills Israel?  Is there still room for land and throne promises to be fulfilled on earth before the eternal state arrives?  Admittedly, prophecy is challenging, but here are some suggestions.  I remain open to correction, based on the principle of “comprehending with all the saints” the love of Christ (Eph. 3:18-19).

Regarding land, God promised Abraham the land of Canaan by covenant (Gen. 15:8-21).  Earlier, he had told him to walk throughout the land, because He would give it to him (Gen. 14:17).  Apparently, Abraham believed that he would receive it through resurrection, because he died in faith as a sojourner possessing no more than a cemetery (Gen. 23).  This cemetery, however, proved important, because Jacob insisted on being buried there (Gen. 50:1-14); and Joseph, his son, made the people swear that they would carry his bones back to the land (Gen. 50:25).  These patriarchs expressed their faith in God fulfilling His promise of the land.  Therefore, the land of Canaan is a special land, because it is the land promised by covenant to Abraham and to his seed forever.

Later in the Law, the Lord posed the possibility of an expanded territory beyond the Canaanite nations, one that would include “all the land which He promised to give to your fathers” (Dt. 19:1, 8).  Presumably, this would include all the land from Egypt to the Euphrates (cf. Gen. 15:18).  Could it be that some of this land will be obtained through empire-building, as in the days of David and Solomon, and not through personal habitation?  If so, then there is a vision for an expanding control of land that begins with an inhabited inheritance and stretches out to include a possessed dominion over other nations, thereby combining land and throne promises, even as Abraham is promised a special Seed who will “possess the gate of his enemies” (Gen. 22:17).

Personally, I think this expansive vision helps to explain why Paul, in the context of discussing Abrahamic promises, declares that Abraham will be “heir of the world” (Rom. 4:13).  Indeed, Paul says this promise is to Abraham’s Seed, which probably refers to the singular Seed, who is Christ (cf. Gal. 3:16).  As the Messiah, Jesus Christ must someday “rule from sea to sea and from the river to the ends of the earth” (Ps. 72:8).  Could it be, then, that the promise of a throne in the Davidic Covenant fulfills the promise of land in the Abrahamic Covenant?  If so, then we have some help in explaining why, according to Hebrews, Abraham’s confession of being a sojourner pertains less to the land of Canaan and more to the land as land—in other words, to the earth in contrast to a “heavenly” country (Heb. 13:13-16).  Just as David also called himself a “sojourner” in light of his short days “on the earth” (1 Chr. 29:15; cf. Ps. 39:12), so they all shared this sojourning on earth and look for “the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Heb. 11:10).  Apparently, this is “the heavenly Jerusalem” (Heb. 12:22-23), prophesied by Isaiah and said to be “our mother” (Gal. 4:26-27; cf. Isa. 54:1).

Therefore, I conclude that Abraham and all those, who by faith are included as his seed, shall rise to inherit the earth, whenever the City of God descends to earth.  The question is: Is this point the Millennium or the Eternal State?

The Millennium

Shifting from the land promises to throne promises puts us in the context of the Messianic reign of Christ.  Certainly, He is at this moment “the ruler of the kings of the earth” (Rev. 1:5).  In accordance with His Great Commission, He has been given “all authority…in heaven and on earth” (Mt. 28:18; cf. Jn. 17:2).  This vision of Christ’s authority fueled the early American revivals and the foreign missions movement.  Those evangelical preachers fully expected the Millennial reign of Christ to occur on earth before the physical return of Jesus at the end of history.  This postmillennial vision assumes that the OT promises of the kingdom can be fulfilled without Jesus physically reigning on earth.  In other words, His session at the right hand of God is sufficient to accomplish these prophecies.  While I used to believe this view, I no longer do for several reasons.

First, the fact that Christ reigns in heaven now does not mean that the church will reign on earth now—or at any time before His physical return.  There is more involved here than a time delay.  According to the gospel, there is pattern of suffering, then glory (Rom. 8:17; cf. 2 Tim. 2:11-12).  In fact, the suffering is even said to produce the glory (2 Cor. 4:17).  Moreover, the gateway between suffering and glory is resurrection.  Just as Christ suffered on earth and then entered His glory through resurrection, so also the church must suffer on earth—even being hated by all nations until the end of the age (Mt. 24:9-14)—and then enter her glory through resurrection and rapture.  Paul makes this sequence necessary and explicit: “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 15:50).  Therefore, we should not expect a realized kingdom on earth before glorification.

Granted, the postmillennial view has big faith—something I admire—but it is misplaced.  It believes that the cultures of the world will become Christian through either the preaching of the gospel (like an ongoing revival) or through education (like the “disciplining” of the nations, as some postmillennialists quote the Great Commission).   In the Bible, however, we receive a different kind of earthly victory.  The word will triumph, as the book of Acts shows (6:7; 12:24; 19:20; 28:31; cf. 2 Tim. 2:9), and disciples will be made in all nations, as the book of Revelation shows (5:9; 7:9), but the church herself will live under repeated persecution until the Lord comes.  It is a “must” (Acts 14:22).  Fittingly, this insight came to me through preaching a series of Lenten sermons on the cross (cf. Mt. 26:54).

Second, the kingdom, or reign, that Jesus has now received is a share in His Father’s throne as co-regent in heaven, but it is not yet His own throne.  Jesus told His disciples in the upper room, “Just as My Father has granted Me a kingdom, I grant you that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Lk. 22:29-30).  Jesus has received a kingdom now like the one we will receive with Him later, namely, a share in another’s reign.  Both now and later, Jesus will be reigning—there is continuity in the kingdom of God—but the throne is different.  Instead of the Son being at the Father’s right hand in heaven, as He is now (Ps. 110:1; cf. 16:11), the Father will once again be at the Son’s right hand on earth (Ps. 110:5; cf. 16:8; 109:31)—but this time, for victory over His enemies.  In the book of Revelation, Jesus promises, “He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne” (Rev. 3:21).  Do you see the two thrones?  Right now, the Son is sharing the Father’s throne.  When He returns to earth, “He will sit on His glorious throne” (Mt. 25:31).  On either throne, both the Father and the Son reign, even as the Davidic throne itself was said to be “the throne of the LORD” (1 Chr. 29:23).  Similarly, when Jesus sits on His throne, we too will reign with Him “upon the earth” (Rev. 5:10; 20:4-6; cf. 6:9-11; 1 Cor. 15:50-57).

Regarding the Millennium itself, the data in the New Testament epistles is admittedly scant, but Paul does differentiate between three moments in the historical “order” of resurrections: “Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming, then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power” (1 Cor. 15:23-24).  Here, then, are three moments in time.  The etymologically-related words in Greek for “after that” (ἔπειτα) and “then” (εἶτα) clearly refer to a sequence in time.  Therefore, the “end” is not at the same moment as the second coming of Christ, which is literally His debut or parousia.  Yes, the time gap between the resurrection of the church and the end might be quite short, as amillennialism would require, but it would seem more natural for the gap to be longer.  Such a gap could allow for a Millennium.  Between the final two moments is the destruction of Christ’s enemies: “He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet” (1 Cor. 15:26).  According to Psalm 110, this destruction begins when Christ comes to earth.  Until that point, He still rules, in gathering a people to Himself, but He is not destroying and abolishing His enemies.  According to Hebrews, He remains seated until the moment arrives for destroying His enemies (Heb. 10:12-13).  The “last enemy” to be destroyed is death (v. 27), which occurs at the end of the Millennium in Revelation 20, when all the dead are finally raised and death itself is thrown into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:14).  Therefore, the Millennium of Revelation can fit nicely into Paul’s timeframe.  According to Hebrews, this vision of a “world to come” is one that “we do not yet see” (Heb. 2:5-8; cf. Ps. 8:6; 1 Cor. 15:27).  Then, when every enemy is abolished, the end arrives, when Christ “hands over the kingdom” to God and is Himself “subjected” to the Father, who subjected all things under Him (1 Cor. 15:24, 28).  If there is no Millennial reign of Christ on His own throne, then what is He handing back to the Father that is not already in “subjection” to Him?  Admittedly, it could be merely His authority, as exercised now from heaven, but I wonder whether His session at the Father’s right hand could already be said to be in “subjection” to God or not.  At any rate, this verse seems to prohibit us from seeing the kingdom promises as somehow fulfilled in the Eternal State.  Whatever the creeds assert about the eternal kingdom of Christ, based on Luke 1:33 and in answer to Marcellus of Ancyra, there is still a change in the form of His reign that must occur at “the end” (1 Cor. 15:24).

The Millennium in the Book of Revelation

Mention has been made to the book of Revelation.  Having considered the clearer texts of Scripture, let us briefly consider the nature of apocalyptic literature: How literal should we take the Millennium in Revelation 20? 

According to the interpretive key provided in Revelation chapter seventeen, the things that John sees represent historical realities such as a king or a city.  Granted, the thing John sees is not how that reality appears in real life—indeed, the seven-horned and seven-eyed Lamb is not a snapshot of Jesus (Rev. 5:6)—but what John sees represents symbolically true aspects of these historical realities, just as the Lamb’s perfect number of horns and eyes represent Jesus’ omnipotence and omniscience in the Spirit.  Significantly, in the symbolism of Jesus, John heard that a lion had overcame, but then he sees a lamb (cf. 5:5, 6).  Both symbols have the same referent: Jesus.  Later in the book, John again hears one thing and sees something else, presumably (again) pointing to the same referent.  This time, John hears that a doubly-complete number of Israelites are sealed (namely, 144,000 = 12 x 12 x 10 x 10), but then he sees “a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Rev. 7:4-9).  Again, the symbols appear to have the same referent.  If the view presented earlier in this essay is correct about the church being Israel fulfilled, then there is little trouble in equating these two groups.  In this way, the book of Revelation traces the history of the church symbolically.  Incidentally, an interpretive guide by J. Ramsey Michaels really opened my eyes to how the symbolism worked in the book of Revelation.

Significantly, this same multitude of 144,000 appears later in the book on Mount Zion with the Lamb, but they are all male (Rev. 14:4).  Again, the symbolism points to reality, but it itself is not the historical reality.  The church is composed of males and females.  Similarly, in the sixth seal, the souls beneath the altar are all said to have been “slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained” (Rev. 6:9).  Interestingly, according to the Law, the life (literally, “soul”) is said to be in the blood, and the blood was routinely poured out at the base of the altar (Lev. 17:11; cf. 4:7).  Again, the symbol is not the reality.  Not every Christian is physically martyred, even though all Christians must take up their cross (Mark 8:34; cf. Ph. 3:10-11).  As Michaels pointed out, Revelation pictures the church as both male and martyred.  Neither is necessarily true in physical reality, but it is symbolically true.  Therefore, when we come to the Millennium, it is possible to see the resurrection of those martyred as representing the entire church (Rev. 20:4-6), even as the souls beneath the altar were told to “rest for a while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed also” (6:11).  In the vision, these resurrected souls will reign with Christ on the earth for a thousand years (20:6).  Perhaps the number “one thousand” is symbolic (1000 = 10 x 10), but it would represent a very long time.

When I translated and preached through the book of Revelation, I was struck by the coincidence of the symbolism with historical reality.  In particular, I was impressed by the repeated references to three-and-a-half years: forty-two months (11:2; 13:5), 1260 days (11:3; 12:6), and “a time and times and half a time” (12:14).  Thinking about it now, if historical geography can be represented symbolically (e.g. 17:9; cf. 17:18), why not chronology?  It is my belief that the book of Revelation presents a historical sequence of events.  It is not a mere collection of visual parables about current reality, much as an amillennial interpretation might be.  Honestly, I did not anticipate this effect; but as a result, I have come to believe firmly in a church age (Rev. 6), a short tribulation (Rev. 7-18), a physical return of Christ (Rev. 19), and a Millennium (Rev. 20).  Once I saw the same pattern in Ezekiel of a resurrection (Ezek. 37:1-14) followed by a Millennium (Ezek. 38-39), I became even more convinced.  The book of Revelation even cites the “God and Magog” of Ezekiel’s prophecy (cf. Ezek. 38:2; 39:1, 6; Rev. 20:8). 

To be sure, I am very fuzzy on what specifically happens in the Millennium.  Given that Christ is the substance that has replaced the shadow of the Law (Col. 2:17), it is hard for me to accept the dispensationalist claims of a Millennial temple and memorial sacrifices.  Why would we revert from the substance to the shadows?  Again, I see the final chapters of Ezekiel, where such claims are often based, as apocalyptic symbolism, not video footage of future reality.  At the very least, the symbolism points to a life centered on worship and flowing from worship.  Perhaps the Millennium will be an amazing time of technological advancement—the so-called “repairing the ruins” (cf. Isa. 58:12).  Just as Noah and his sons emerged from the flood with all the knowledge and skills they had learned in the previous world, so also the glorified church may supply the Millennium with a variety of skills for the glory of God.  In addition, the Millennium could be both a time of spiritual power, when the saints have spiritual bodies and judge the world and even angels (1 Cor. 6:2, 3; 15:42-49), and a time of cosmic warfare, when we witness our God singlehandedly destroy the devil and his host at the end of the Millennium, while we dwell unarmed (cf. Ezek. 38:10).  With this grand finale of cosmic firepower, the Lord will definitively demonstrate to us that we are forever safe.  And to think, we await not just one new age with Christ, but “the ages to come” (Eph. 2:7).  What if this little life now were simply the first chapter in a near-endless story of unfolding glory, in which God will continually show “the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus” (2:7)!  Truly, the prophets spoke rightly: “Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Cor. 2:9; cf. Eph. 3:20-21).

In the meantime, we should remember that, whether one holds a premillennial an amillennial view of the end, there is little difference for the mission of the church and her expectations.  Both views expect culture to become worse in the end; as a result, neither view promotes a fixation on “winning” the culture for Christ.  This evangelical impulse to win American culture is actually a carryover from the antebellum awakenings and their postmillennial visions of the future.  Yes, God could make the nations Christian in culture, but He has not chosen to do so.  He could also make our bodies live forever, but contrary to some charismatic expectations, He has not always chosen to heal us.  Still, if we have health for a little while, or find temporary healing, it is a good from His hand and we thank Him.  Similarly, there are times when God choses to improve the health of a culture, even though ultimately it will perish in the time of the Beast.  Therefore, as we have opportunity, we should still seek the good of our neighbors and the nation, even as the Jews sojourning in Babylon were told to “seek the peace of the city” (Jer. 29:7; cf. Gal. 6:10; 1 Pt. 1:1; 2:11; 3:11; 5:13).  And, of course, their ultimate good is salvation (cf. 1 Pt. 2:12).  Maranatha!  Come, Lord Jesus!

Please Note: The discussion here about the Millennium is little affected by one’s view of the rapture, whether it occurs at the end of the tribulation or before it.  According to Paul, the rapture is when all believers are instantly changed to be like Christ (1 Cor. 15:50-57; Ph. 3:20-21; 1 Th. 4:16-17; cf. 1 Jn. 3:2).

The Four Horizons of Theology

Theological training in Log College is based on four horizons, which are four historical contexts:

Old Testament (OT)
New Testament (NT)
Church History
Contemporary Culture

The trained minister should be conversant in all four contexts and be able to translate between them.  Terms in one context do not automatically mean the same thing in another context.  The semantic range may differ, such as the NT’s need to supplement “mind” in order to convey the broad meaning of the Hebrew word “heart.”[1]  Sometimes, the term has no one-to-one equivalent at all, such as the Hebrew word hesed (often translated “lovingkindness”).  In addition, OT concepts and institutions are fulfilled in Christ with a fullness that exceeds one-to-one correspondence.  The church, then, enters new cultures, which again changes the exact look of these terms, concepts, and institutions.  Various church traditions begin to use their own theological forms and language, which may not correlate with the Bible’s terminology—or with our own today—and yet their concepts may still be faithful to the inspired Text.  Finally, our own culture has its forms and terminology, which faithful preaching must learn to use, if the gospel is to make sense in our generation.  One theologian called this final translation “theological vision.”[2]  All in all, the four horizons present us with a theological task worthy of the sword of the Spirit and prayer (Eph. 6:17-18)!

To assist the minister in this large task of theological translation, Log College uses three theologies, each of which corresponds to a specific track in the three-year process to potential ordination:

        Biblical Theology – tracing themes of promise and fulfillment in Christ across the Bible’s overall metanarrative

        Historical Theology – tracing the development of doctrine across the church’s overall history

        Systematic Theology – working towards ordination with the categories of theology in a contemporary context

The Bible Track in biblical theology is based on the eight hermeneutical principles that Word Partners uses in their worldwide training: staying on the line, text over framework, genre, asking good questions, traveling instructions (“to them” but “for us”), structure, melody (the main idea and intended response), and biblical theology.[3]

The Theology Track in historical theology is based on the truth that Jesus gave us apostles and prophets, whose inspired writings provide the foundation of the church (Eph. 2:20; 3:5), as well as evangelists, pastors, and teachers, who explain that apostolic word to us (Eph. 4:11).  Both groups are gifts.  As a result, we cannot say that we have no need of teachers (cf. 1 Cor. 12:21).  We have been blessed with both a Bible and twenty centuries of teachers.  Therefore, it is our desire at Log College to let a valued teacher have a seat with us at the table for at least one week of discussion.  This discussion will be more challenging than the Bible track, because we cannot simply take a teacher’s word at face value.  Like the Bereans, we must test each teacher against the inerrant word (Acts 17:11).  In a sense, there is only one Teacher in the room—Jesus Christ—and all these others are simply smart kids who often take better notes and catch more details, and we can look over their shoulders.  No matter what tradition they come from, they all belong to us, and we belong to Christ (1 Cor. 3:21-23).  This mutuality is part of the beauty of the Evangelical Tradition, which traces its emphasis on speaking the word in the Spirit back to the book of Acts itself.

The Ordination Track in systematic theology is based on a historic creed (often the Second London Baptist Confession of 1689) supplemented with contemporary issues.  The minister in training writes his own statement under each heading and then critically discusses this document with an experienced minister.  The final step is not a diploma, but an ordination council—an oral exam before ordained peers in gospel ministry.  Because the right hand of fellowship must not be given hastily (1 Tim. 5:22), time is allowed for follow-up and possible re-examination.

Because we believe that we grow into a fuller understanding of the love of Christ as we “comprehend with all the saints” (Eph. 3:18), each of our three tracks seeks the Holy Spirit’s leading through prayerful discussion.

[1] Peter J. Gentry and Stephen J. Wellum, Kingdom through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), 366-69.

[2] For Richard Lint’s concept of “theological vision,” see the introduction to Timothy Keller, Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012), 13-25.

[3] Dig and Discover Hermeneutical Principles: The Core Principles, 3rd, ed. (Palos Heights, IL: WordPartners, 2018).  This booklet can be ordered at https://marketplace.mimeo.com/lrisamples#name=17.

Jesus Christ, the Law of Mankind

One of the interesting traits about God is that He always outgives us.  In Genesis, as Abraham’s faith rises from himself to the world, and from the realm of human possibilities to the God-alone possibilities, God continues to outpace him.  Promises are added or expanded.  New names are given to him and to his wife.  Instead of being the father of a people, he will now be the father of many peoples.  Multiplied, Abraham’s seed will become “as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the seashore” and, in particular, one Seed will “possess the gate of his enemies” (Gen. 22:17).  With such a subtle shift in pronoun, so common to Hebrew, the Spirit has pointed to the Son of Abraham, Jesus Christ (Mt. 1:1; cf. Gal. 3:16).[1]  In this way, the vision expands into “precious and magnificent promises” (2 Pt. 1:4).

This Seed reappears in David’s covenant.  Now promised an eternal throne and an everlasting Seed to sit on the throne, David enters the temple to worship.  In great humility and awed wonder at the astounding grace of God, David exclaims, “Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that You have brought me this far?” (2 Sam. 7:18).  And if only David had kept this attitude, he would not have strayed from the line of duty, stayed in Jerusalem, and betrayed his God with Bathsheba.  The greater sin was not done against the woman or her husband, but against God, who tells him, significantly, “It is I who anointed you king over Israel and it is I who delivered you from the hand of Saul.  I also gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your care, and I gave you the house of Israel and Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added to you many more things like these!” (2 Sam. 12:7-8; cf. Ps. 51:4).  In light of the great grace of God, both past and promised in the future, how foolish and unnecessary is our sin, and how insulting to God (cf. Rom. 1:21)!

In David’s first prayer and better frame of mind, he appears to have had an insight into the larger significance of the covenant.  He exclaims, “This is the law of humanity!” (2 Sam. 7:19).  In an extensive evaluation of this simple Hebrew phrase, one scholar concluded that it referred to the coming Son of David, acting as the king of Israel was always meant to act, namely, as the model citizen, embodying the Torah of the Lord (cf. Dt. 17:14-20; Ps. 40:8).[2]  In other words, the Law of God would no longer be embedded in stone but embodied in the Son.  Moreover, this embodiment of living Torah would be the standard for all of humanity, even as this Son would reign over all the world forever.  In a sense, the Law now becomes, “Learn of Me” (Mt. 11:29).

Huge implications follow from this Davidic insight.  No longer is the written Law of God the only means for giving us the knowledge of sin (Rom. 3:20).  Such knowledge can now come from a close examination of the life of Christ, as in a new mirror (cf. 2 Cor. 3:18; Jas. 1:23-25).  Apparently, such a view brought A. W. Pink to a conviction of his sin.  Moreover, Christ Himself becomes the standard for Christians.  In the old question about the third use of the Law, the debate takes a new twist—yes, the righteous requirement of the Law is still the goal (Rom. 8:4), but the means is no longer the embedded Law but the embodied Law (cf. 2 Cor. 3:6).  As we are led by the Spirit and walk in the Spirit, we are filled with the very Spirit of Christ, who is the true fullness of the Law and all that man was ever meant to be.  Surely, this adds fresh possibilities to such phrases as “the law of Christ” (1 Cor. 9:21, the law that is Christ?) and “you did not learn Christ in this way” (Eph. 4:20).

In addition to Christian living, the universal law of Christ, embodied in His life and given to us now through His Spirit, becomes the standard for education.  Instead of virtue, what the pagans considered to be the model of manhood, we now have Christ, who is set against the elements of this world as seen in philosophy and tradition (Col. 2:8).  As Christian educators, we preach Christ, both as crucified and as Lord (Col. 1:28; 1 Cor. 1:23; 2 Cor. 4:6).  In Him, we have all the fulness that we need for both salvation and righteous living.  And is He not again both the model and the motive?  Who can sin when our eyes are fixed on Him who is the outpouring of the outgiving love of God?  If God’s kindness leads us to repentance (Rom. 2:4), then where does God’s Son Himself lead?

[1] According to Jack Collins, when זֶרַע refers to “posterity”, the pronouns are always plural, but when it refers to a specific individual, the singular appears (as reported in Peter J. Gentry and Stephen J. Wellum, Kingdom through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants [Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012], 288).  It is to these authors that I owe the insight regarding our outgiving God and Abraham.  Similarly, in response to Peter’s boast of leaving all, Jesus spoke of receiving “a hundred times as much,” even in this life (Mk. 10:30).

[2] See Gentry and Wellum, Kingdom through Covenant, 399-400.

An Open Letter on Music

It was certainly not my desire to delay this long in answering your letter about music.  Please forgive me.  In setting it aside for an easily opportune time, such a time never appeared—but is that not common to all busy individuals?  It simply shows that I did not make your concerns a priority, and for that I apologize.  Perhaps the Lord will show us a gracious and good surprise in this negligent delay.  May it be so!

Regarding your categories, I would like to reduce them to two: Text and Tune.  It is my understanding that there should be “a happy marriage between text and tune,” as one British hymn-writer once said.  In general, what is right conforms to what is true, and what is true corresponds to reality; therefore, the right tune will be one that conforms to the message (and not the other way around), and the true text will be one that corresponds to reality.

In application, this means that the words must be true.  For church music that is offered to God (holy music), the Bible tells us explicitly, “Let the word of Christ richly dwell among you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16).  The content must not only be biblical, it must be gospel, that is, centered on Christ (“the word about Christ,” cf. Romans 10:17).  Moreover, the content should be rich in the message of the gospel.  Honestly, I think we strive for that at Countryside Bible Church.  Finally, this text tells us that worship music would fall under the teaching ministry of the church.  Like an echo, the songs sung in public worship often remain with us throughout the week to speak to us when we need it.  Like the water that surrounds sand, songs fill up our inner lives behind and around our thoughts; therefore, it is necessary to make them rich in the word about Christ.

Before moving to the tune, let me add that lyrical content is poetic.  It is more than words.  It has form as well, and form matters.  Of the three typical meters for hymnody, the common meter ( of “Amazing Grace” is iambic (typical of English poetry) and carries enough measures to sustain a thought without compromising it.  Short meter ( is more difficult and, as a result, is not found much in hymnals.  Long meter ( works well with more meditative themes, as does another fairly common meter ( found in (e.g.) “Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise.”  As with tunes, the meter of the poem has to fit and serve the message of the content.  The Hebrew prophets make their poetry do this, as the quick lines in Nahum 3 show, and so should we!  If the psalm wants to stress order (as in Psalm 2), then make the form orderly.  If the psalm wants to stress disorder, then break the cadence, as in Psalm 82:5.  Do you see?  We do not even know the music of the Hebrews, but we see how they crafted their poetry, and poetry has intrinsic rhythm.  And by the way, the rhythm of a poem is largely determined by the natural rhythm of a language.  When Martin Luther wanted the church service to be spoken in German rather than the Catholic Latin, he realized that new music would need to be written—not just new words.  German, I believe, is more like English, but Latin is typically dactylic, with a HARD-soft-soft cadence instead of the iambic soft-HARD.  Very different!

When it comes to poetic form, our text in Colossians encourages a variety.  That is good, because we have a wide range of themes that we would like to communicate.  The text also encourages the singing of Psalms.  Ironically, some of the Reformed churches most into the regulative principle (only offer to God what He has prescribed) still abide by the original Puritan and Presbyterian principle of singing only metricized Psalms, when the Bible explicitly commands us to also sing hymns and spiritual songs.  (I suppose they assert that these are simply other forms from the biblical Psalter.)  At any rate, I like Isaac Watts approach of not being tied to only singing Psalms, but to sing songs in imitation of David, which to me means striving to have the same breadth and quality of both themes and forms as the Psalms, yet with the same Christ-centeredness, as the Psalms are through and through Messianic.

Now, you will notice that we have not even touched modern music.  There is so much to say with hymns and it is a great place to learn because it typically involves no controversy.  For example, to learn about the happy marriage of text and tune, take the words of the following hymns (all of them are and switch the tunes: “Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise,” “My Jesus, I Love Thee,” “Away in a Manger,” and “How Firm a Foundation.”

Do you see how some of them feel ludicrous, such as singing “How Firm a Foundation” to a lullaby (either tune of “Away in a Manger”), and yet some of them feel better (e.g. “My Jesus, I Love Thee” is much more confident with the tune of “Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise”)?  You can easily do this with Common Meter hymns, because there are so many of them.  In doing so, you will gain a feel of how the tune must serve the text for it to be right.  After all, for most of our hymns, the poem was written without a tune, and then only later did the church grab a tune for it (e.g. we sing Newton’s poem “Faith’s Review and Expectation” to an American hymn and call it by its first words “Amazing Grace”).

At this point, we are ready to discuss the musical question of tune. 

First, it is my contention that there are no instruments that are inherently bad and off-limits, especially the percussion section.  The Psalms exhibit a tendency to use a variety of instruments, including loud, clashing cymbals (Psalm 150).  Now, how that instrument is played may determine whether it is right for this lyrical poem or not, but I am opposed to the de facto rejection of instruments, even pipe organs, despite their lavish and questionable expense.  (That was a big debate in Baptist circles two hundred years ago.)

Second, music itself is a language of spirit.  We know this from both David’s harp (1 Samuel 16) and the request of Elisha (2 Kings 3).  Just as some spiritual frames are dangerous to dwell in and give the devil an opportunity, such as perpetual anger (Ephesians 4:26-27) and perpetual sorrow (2 Corinthians 2:7, 11), it would not be wise to have angry or said music lodged in the back of one’s mind playing endlessly and effortlessly.  And one does not need to grab hard rock music for anger, when Beethoven may suffice at times in its overdramatic way.  Now, just as Jesus was angry in the temple and just as we are told to be angry and not sin, there may be use for angry music with a judgment theme, such as the background music in a movie, but I doubt that we would want to craft a hymn with angry music that repeats over and over again.  Does that make sense?

The Bible commands me not only to be renewed in my thoughts but in the spirit of my mind (Ephesians 4:23)—to have the right spirit with the true thoughts.  Therefore, I should select my music with that purpose in mind.  It is no accident that being filled with the Spirit leads to singing with gratitude (Ephesians 5:18-19, which is the parallel text to Colossians 3:16).  And given the psalmist’s desire to bless the Lord at all times (Psalm 34:1), it is hard for me to imagine that ideal being fulfilled by singing about what is false or by singing about what is true with a wrong spirit (i.e. the tune does not fit, serve, or conform to the text).  This ideal does not mean that we must only sing about God directly.  As we discussed, the book of Leviticus shows us three categories—holy, common/clean, and unclean.  Anything clean can be offered to God, even a meal (cf. 1 Timothy 4:1-5); therefore, it should not be rejected, but done with an eye to God’s glory in gratitude.  I can sing “Happy Birthday” to my children and a love song to my wife (after all, the Bible has one!) and do it to the glory of God, being filled with gratitude for His gift of family.

Music is a powerful force and a great indicator of the spirit of a man.  As Shakespeare once said:

        The man that hath no music in himself,

        Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds,

        Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils;

        The motions of his spirits are dull as night,

        And his affections dark as Erebus.

        Let no such man be trusted.  Mark the music.

There are a lot of red herrings in this debate, such as instruments, but there is also a lot of profound reality in how a man’s music reflects and encourages our spirit.  Like too much caffeine and junk food, I have indulged in music at times to pick me up and give me a jolt, rather than simply as an expression or encouragement of an inner worship of God.  Perhaps the choice is poor or even sinful, at the least in having a missed opportunity, but I wonder if the category of foolish would apply better than wicked to some songs that have good words and a peppy beat, but are musically flat and textually plain.  If that is all that I sing, then I am sinfully missing the richness that God wants for His saved community (Colossians 3:16).  Certainly, a church service should avoid such a musical climate.  And personally, I should strive for a better diet.  May the Lord be gracious and merciful to lead us all in His good and right ways!

Your brother in Christ,

Bob Snyder

Additional Note on Syncopation

The question of syncopation should be looked at historically.  From what I have been told, both Martin Luther’s hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” and the tune for the Doxology (the Old Hundredth from Geneva, Switzerland) were originally syncopated, although not in a modern way.  The Doxology’s music comes from a collection of French tunes that Queen Elizabeth disliked as “Genevan Jigs.”  In the later Baroque era (and possibly, then, the early Classical era), hymns like these were smoothed out and rationalized into orderly marches of rhythms.  J. S. Bach himself did this for a lot of German hymns.  Therefore, it would not surprise me if we are dealing with a false dichotomy from the Enlightenment, much like the rationalistic-versus-Romantic polarity.  As with Baconian science, the older fundamentalism may be enamored with the rationalistic form of music.

Storks and Vultures

In Florida, my binoculars had the opportunity on separate occasions to spy on two big birds perched high in the trees—one, the wood ibis, America’s only true stork; and two, the common turkey buzzard, America’s vulture.

The stork was dressed in a tuxedo, with black on the back of his wings and white everywhere else, except his head, which was as bald as the buzzard or a wild turkey.  His beak, however, was long, with a slight bend at the end.  Although bald, he looked good, with his downed front feathers all fluffed in front like the frills on the tuxedo’s shirt.

The buzzard, on the other hand, had the typical Captain Hook short beak.  And the downy feathers that ringed the entire circumference of his neck stood out radially.  Instead of a tuxedo, the buzzard appeared to be dressed in a bad turtleneck sweater.  And all black to boot!

And yet, for all their differences, such as the pair of storks on the same branch versus the pair of buzzards in different trees, though flying “together” in a way, the birds behaved remarkably alike.  Both perched and preened—and this appeared more difficult for the stork with the ten-inch bill!  The buzzard even cocked his head this way and that like a city-park pigeon!  (Perhaps he cannot move his eyes, so he must move his head instead.)  At any rate, I was struck through their behavior that a bird is a bird, instinctively (at least at their base) much the same.  Surely their Maker designed them in this way, despite their different flocking and eating habits.  God is amazing!

Thank You, Lord, for letting me see these two great birds “close up” through the binoculars.  I would not have chosen to consider these birds together, but You apparently had a lesson in store for me.  Thank You!

Educating in a Losing Battle

Yesterday, I had a very enlightening conversation with a friend that resulted in a new insight for me as a Christian educator in modern America: I am in a losing battle.

The conversation began with my recommendation of Christopher Caldwell’s excellent article, “The Roots of Our Partisan Divide” (Imprimis, February 2020).  Caldwell claims America is perhaps more divided now than at any time since the Civil War.  The two sides—Democrats and Republicans—split in the 1960s, when the Civil Rights legislation of that era created in effect a “second constitution,” with new laws and new agencies for enforcing anti-discrimination and diversity.  As soon as people realized the effectiveness of aligning with the black victims of the South, these new laws and new agencies became effective means of undercutting any opposition to the new coalition of intersectionality (a sociological term for a new cross-section of culture that cuts across the old divisions).  The Southern blacks were soon joined by all “people of color” and by women with non-traditional values and by those in the gay rights movement.  According to Caldwell, this “second constitution” has all the marks of a theocracy acting on a principle of moral reform—people are unjustly suffering, so it is acceptable to apply emergency measures that violate the Constitution of 1787 and override local governments.  This is what happened to the South during the 1960s with national approval, and this is what is institutionalized today across the country.  As a result, the country is polarized into two parties, with the Democrats associating the resistance with the bigotry of Jim Crow, and the Republicans associating the heavy-handedness of progressive legislation with fascist totalitarianism.  “The bigots versus the totalitarians,” summarizes Caldwell, “that’s our current party system.”

This depiction of the partisan divide is true, I believe, but here is Caldwell’s bold pronouncement: The Democrats have already won.  “Their party won the 1960s,” he concludes.  “They gained money, power, and prestige.  The GOP is the party of the people who lost these things.”

From reading I have done on American history, I think Caldwell’s assessment is sound.  If America has had two cultural stories that dominated the past—first, the God story during colonial New England, and then, the Nation story during the long century from the early republic to the 1960s—then the current era is marked by the sovereign Self.  So laments Columbian University professor Andrew Delbanco in his jeremiad The Real American Dream.  It was during the 1960s, Delbanco claims, that Americans quit working together for a common dream, and split into the New Left and the New Right.  While I disagree with Delbanco’s postmodernism and his claim that Americans have lost faith in “the interventionist state as a source of hope”—for if that were the case, why the fierce rancor over who holds the reins of power?—his historical periodization resonates with me.  In the 1960s, both sides began to justify a personal disengagement with the poor, with the Left leaving that responsibility to the government’s Great Society and the Right finding fault in the individuals, not the institutions.  Moreover, in the mid-60s, Martin Luther King, Jr. shifted from his earlier advocacy of a common Americanness to his later echo of Malcolm X’s call for blacks to fend for themselves.  Lost to everyone was a commonly-held American dream.

Similarly, Eric Foner, another Columbian professor in the humanities, asks of the 1960s’ surprising coalition of the white New Left with the black movement: “What persuaded large numbers of white children of affluence that they were ‘unfree’?”  Certainly, the unpopular Vietnam War contributed significantly to the unrest, a point made by both Caldwell and Foner, but even deeper, the New Left redefined “the meaning of freedom” as a radical individualism.  “To millions of young people,” concludes Foner, “personal liberation represented a spirit of creative experimentation, a search for a way of life in which friendship and pleasure eclipsed the single-minded pursuit of accumulation and consumption.”  This licentious, unintended side effect of consumerism is haunting in light of the prophet Ezekiel’s diagnosis of inhospitality as the cultural cause behind Sodom’s homosexuality (Ezekiel 16:49-50).  As Russell Kirk and other conservatives have noted, there is an inextricable link between leisure and decadence.

Although Caldwell did not venture beyond Civil Rights legislation and agencies, his conclusion finds confirmation in the recent history of the Supreme Court.  Having perhaps inadvertently prepared the way in the early 1960s for a cultural transformation through the removal of prayer and Bible reading from the public schools—our nation’s official means of cultural advancement—the Supreme Court then constitutionalized the New Left’s radically-individualistic definition of freedom through the court’s own system of precedence.  Not only did Roe v. Wade (1973) famously proclaim a constitutional right to privacy, the later confirmation of abortion in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey (1992) proclaimed: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”  This insular, highly-subjective, and privatized definition of freedom was later explicitly repeated in the anti-sodomy decision of Lawrence v. Texas (2003), which is turn prepared the way for the national legalization of same-sex “marriage” in Obergefell v. Hodges (2015).  It is this court precedence that truly substantiates Caldwell’s claim that the New Left has created a second and rival constitution.

Now, as a Christian and as an American, I view this scenario with grave concern.  Unbridled lust always brings cultural decay and death.  It is just a matter of time before “lust has conceived [and] gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death” (James 1:15; cf. 2 Peter 1:4).  Sixty million unborn babies are the tragic testimony to that truth.  Therefore, the temptation to lust must be resisted, both personally and culturally.  So, what shall we do?

At first impulse, upon rehearsing this scenario with my friend, I was consoled by my active involvement in the education of youth, especially at the high school level.  In contrast to the reactive measures of politics—measures which have value, but can only enforce one step above the culture’s standard of morality—education provides the opportunity to be proactive, to influence the culture itself through its rising generation.  How happy I am to be a teacher!  It was at this point that my friend burst my bubble.

He reminded me of this national fact.  In contrast to the Civil War, where the party lines divided geographically, today’s party lines divide generationally.  Although there is a geographic component today between the cities and what one analyst has ironically called the “out-state,” that division is not geographically concentrated enough to cause a sectional split.  However, the cities control the media and the universities, and these means largely control our young people.  In fact, the very means of education that brought me personal comfort are actually the handwriting on the wall for the conservative party.  Apart from a miracle, the complete, cultural dominance of the New Left politically is only a matter of time.  Literally.  Nothing remains for the Left now but to wait.  When the rising generation gains cultural control, the victory will be complete.  It will have won through a war of attrition.

As a Christian educator, what should I do?  Should I give way to anger, envious that the wicked have gained the ascendency of cultural power?  The opening verses of Psalm 37 oppose this angry fretting, because such anger eventually leads to more evildoing.  The meek, who wait on the Lord, will eventually inherit the earth—something reiterated by our Lord in the Beatitudes (cf. Psalm 37:9, 11; Matthew 5:5).  As a premillennialist, I recognize that this inheritance will not come about through any form of cultural transformation—not through the revivalistic vision of Jonathan Edwards or the theonomic vision of postmillennial educators.  The inheritance will come to Christians the same way it came to Christ Himself, through death and resurrection.  In fact, the Bible teaches me that the world’s culture is destined to an antichrist regime similar to Nazi Germany, and it does me no more good to rebuke this sovereign purpose of God than it did Peter to rebuke Christ about the inevitability of the cross.  Such defiance is ultimately diabolical.

Given this ultimate cultural defeat, should I give up all effort in education?  By analogy, just because a patient will someday die, should a doctor give up all means of recovery in the present?  Certainly not.  Nor should a Christian educator give up hope that God may grant a temporary improvement in cultural health.  In fact, as with Lazarus, God may grant an untimely death to a culture and then resurrect it surprisingly in the current age, long before the worldwide era of the Antichrist.  We may actually have witnessed such a revival to English culture in the days of Whitefield and Wesley, a revival that helped to keep England from the radicalism of the French Revolution, and then helped to end the slave trade and finally slavery itself in the British Empire without the necessity of a bloody Civil War.  Therefore, I educate in hope, and speak to the culture as Jesus did to Lazarus, commanding a dead man to do something.  The culture may be dead, but as Carl Henry taught me in his seminal essay of 1947, God’s word has always commanded the dead to rise (Ezekiel 37:1-14).

Still, even if God does not grant a resurrection to American culture (and we cannot plan on miracles unless there is a specific promise), there is always value in Christian education.  Just as doing our work heartily to the Lord brings pleasure to His heart and fame to His name, despite the inevitability of vanity, so also every day of Christian education is an infinitely valuable day of worship.  As Abraham lived in a tent but always built an altar, so I strive as a Christian educator to build an altar to Christ every day I teach.  He is worthy of my praise, no matter if I die with this dying culture.  And He is worthy of my students’ praise as well.  Ultimately, if simply one student is saved through the classroom—and I have witnessed this happening—there is more joy in heaven over one who repents than over a whole culture that needs no repentance (cf. Luke 15:7).  And if gaining the whole world cannot compensate for the loss of a soul, then how can I discount this one soul gained despite the loss of an entire culture to Satan (cf. Matthew 16:26)?  But even if a soul is not saved, I resist evangelistic head-counting and find joy in even the most trivial acts of service dedicated to the glory of the Infinite God.  This perspective alone brings a revolution of purpose and makes every school day significant to those who love the Lord!

Now, let me bring both strands together—namely, the persistent and imminent possibility of cultural resurrection along with the eternal value of daily worship.  The opening scenes of Luke demonstrate how God does not separate the individual prayers of His people from His larger historical purposes of redemption.  He is the God who answers the prayer of an elderly barren couple, perhaps long after they had ceased to pray for a child due to the death of a womb, and in answering their prayer, He simultaneously inaugurated a global redemption.  Could it be, just as the educator Jan Amos Comenius did not live to see the answer to his prayers in the Moravian revivals of a century later, that God in Christ will answer the prayers of current Christian educators like me a century or two from now, when not only I myself has returned to dust, but the even the present folly of rebellion has finally met the recalcitrance of reality?  And then, unexpectedly, God may grant revival, a resurrection to this barren culture.  Perhaps, He may even use as a means of revival the verbal witness left behind by Christian educators, who in essays like this or in sayings lodged in living memory plant the seeds of cultural revival, no matter the length of delay until germination begins.  Rather than pessimistic, I am filled with hope.  I am thankful for the opportunity to be a Christian educator.

May God grant such a revival of hope among those of us involved in Christian education!  We have not placed our hope in the reactive though valuable measures of politics, but in the powerful nature of His word to give life, a word that politicians may also use if they become so bold.  We have not placed our hope in a false analysis of the current culture, as if the conservatives may be winning or may yet win.  We believe the cultural battle is lost, but the true war will ultimately be won.  And even in the meantime, although the culture is dead, we believe that resurrection is always possible.  Yes, I am educating in a losing battle, but I am educating in great hope, thanks to Jesus Christ.

Sources: Christopher Caldwell, “The Roots of Our Partisan Divide,” Imprimis 49 (February 2020): 1-7; Andrew Delbanco, The Real American Dream: A Meditation on Hope (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999) 97, 110; Eric Foner, The Story of American Freedom (New York: W. W. Norton, 1998), 287-94.

Should a Church Have a School?

As you may know, Spring Branch Academy is a Christian high school sponsored by our church.  It has an ambitious curriculum and aims to prepare students for their life vocations by instilling wisdom and inspiring worship.  That is our heart!  These things you may know, but do you know why a church would have a school?

Personally, I’m hesitant to promote Christian education with negative reasons—not because these reasons aren’t true, but because they’re not enough.  Yes, the public schools have a God-less curriculum (literally!), and yes, the youth culture and its social media can be toxic, but surely we can aim for goals higher than merely protecting our kids.  After all, what is the point of protection, if we have no higher purpose to protect them for?

Ultimately, we want them to live free lives in Christ and for Christ.  To do so, we aim primarily at their personal liberation through “the sacred writings, which are able to make [them] wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15).  We love the Bible and use the Bible in class.  We teach twelve courses in Theology to show students why and how they can trust this Book and its Author in everything, including language, society, marriage, finances, parenting, history, and salvation.  We also seek to love each student and their family.  At its heart, our Christian school is an extension of our pastoral ministry to families.

Granted, but math?  Greek?  What do such things have to do with our spiritual lives?

To live free lives, we need empowerment.  Anyone of us are “free” to dunk a basketball, but few are us are empoweredto do it.  We want our students empowered to do all that Christ has called them to do in this world for His glory, and to do that, our school makes use of the liberal arts—literally, the skills (arts) necessary for free men.

Just think of our Bible.  What is necessary to understand it?  Well, in the Reformation, William Tyndale knew it needed to be translated from Greek into English in order for every plowboy in England to read it for himself.  Empowerment!  But is that it?  Martin Luther knew that the biblical languages were the sheath for housing the sword of the Spirit, and therefore, he encouraged the German princes to sponsor schools.  Extending his metaphor, we might say that knowing English well is necessary for understanding an English Bible.  One half of the liberal arts empowers students in the skills of language through training in grammar, logical argument, and rhetorical forms of speech, especially poetry.

The other half of the liberal arts empowers students to listen to God’s other “book,” the world of nature, a world formed by the same divine word and obedient to His laws (Psalm 119:89-91).  To speak this language, students must speak math, the language of science.  If it is God who teaches the farmer how to farm as part of His wondrous counsel (Isaiah 28:23-29), then true science learned and applied from the book of nature is also part of His glory.  We want students to be empowered in both books as free individuals in Christ.  All truth is God’s truth!

Do you see?  What an opportunity would be missed if we only focused on what a Christian school keeps students from, without thanking God for what a Christian school prepares students for.  God be praised!  Thank you for sponsoring a school and making it available for our families, as well as our country and this community.

Christians, Persecution, and Their Codex

“A prudent man sees evil and hides himself, the naïve proceed and pay the penalty” (Proverbs 27:12).

In discerning the times, as in discerning the weather (a comparison our Lord Himself made), percentages are used by necessity.  Not being prophets, we make educated guesses.  The future is known only the Lord, who has left us with typical patterns and the identification of factors that often lead to a particular outcome.  Therefore, at best, a prudent man “sees evil” coming with near-sighted eyes.  Precision is an illusion.

That said, let us link the past with the future on the matter of the codex.  A codex is the typical, physical form of a book: a collection of loose pages bound on one side, whether stitched or glued.  In biblical language, the word book refers only to a literary work, a collection of words, and not to its particular form of delivery.  The form may vary.  In ancient times, a book was typically found on a scroll.  Today, we often read books on a digital device.  Either way, the book is independent of the vehicle.

For Christians, the book is not open to debate.  We have one Book, the Bible, which is simply Greek for “book”!  Our book, as inspired literature, is the holy book, the Holy Bible, the only book spoken by God Himself.

The form of this Book, however, is open to debate.  From earliest times, Christians have sensed the freedom to experiment in the form of their Book.  Apparently, Christians were culturally instrumental in shifting the ancient world from the scroll to the codex.  According to textual scholar Bruce Metzger, Christians found the codex helpful in proof-texting, in binding collections such as the gospels and Paul’s letters, and in the economy of two-sided writings.  Interestingly, while scrolls also could be written on both sides (Revelation 5:1) and bind collections such as the Jewish minor prophets (“The Twelve”), quick referencing would definitely be difficult.  In contrast, a codex facilitates proof-texting and cross-referencing, a practice almost demanded of Christians by the gospel itself, as the fulfillment of divine prophecy.  For this reason alone, the codex has found a special place in the hearts of Christians.

Given this freedom in form, it would be wise for Christians today to think strategically about the form of their Book, and not just practically.  While digital Bibles have a practical advantage, the codex is strategically superior.

On a practical level, the digital revolution has brought digital Bibles, and while nostalgic preachers may miss the rustle of pages during a pause in the sermon, the advantages for quick referencing surpass even the best reference Bible.  True, we may miss the mental map of our favorite places on the page, and we may find the iPhone a lazy crutch against memorizing Scripture, but thoughtful Christians can overcome these disadvantages and should not be chided for bringing only their smartphone to church.  Portability and easy access to divine truth fits well with a gospel movement.  The very shift itself in form testifies to the practical advantage that many have found in a digital book.

Strategically, however, prudence would argue strongly for the codex.  Just as portable as an iPhone—one Bible published by the American Bible Society in 1869 measures 5 x 3 x 1.5 inches in size—the codex needs no electricity.  It sits completely off the grid.  Moreover, the codex needs no device to run it.  It will never be excluded by technology, whose developments have left cassettes and VHS tapes with little hardware for their use.  Just think, given the ease of Internet downloads, the DC and DVD will soon lack devices to play them, just as the laptop recording this article has no port for a disc.  Strategically, the unplugged Bible has a lot going for it!

Given the political and cultural environment, the codex beats the digital form hands down.  We live in a world dominated by a Kantian fact-value split.  Because truth can no longer determine what is right or wrong, values have been left to personal choice and self-identity.  This hallmark of postmodern life has now been ensconced in anti-discrimination law and backed by the Supreme Court’s individualized definition of freedom to such an extent that one recent commentator, Christopher Caldwell, labeled it a “second constitution” (Imprimus, February 2020).  Even in symbols, we find the traditional American flag increasingly replaced by a rainbow flag, whose wrongly-sequenced colors pervert a biblical symbol as much as the swastika twisted the cross.  When we view this second constitution and its Supreme Court against the backdrop of the Progressive-era administrative state with its kingly powers of khadi-type justice, we are only lacking a charismatic executive as president to instill full-scale repression of Christianity as the sole opponent of Sodom.  Should we not, as Christians, take notice of this cultural and political development and prepare ourselves?

For example, how will we educate our children and our ministers in the future?  If we convert all our means to a digital format, we have seen that the Internet powers, both Google and Amazon, strongly back the sexual revolution.  If we rely on them, we may find our digital sources censored or removed.  And even if we place our materials on USB thumb-drives, we are not the makers of the devices that place these memory sticks.  The devices themselves could be tied to the grid in such a way that certain information is prohibited.  No method, of course, is fool-proof, but the codex must be physically hunted down in order to be destroyed.  Scattered ants may be small, but they are hard to exterminate when they spread out.

Centralization leads to totalitarianism.  Right now, all the eggs are increasingly in one basket—the Internet—but the basket is increasingly in the hands of a centralized few who hate the Christ of Christianity.  Why would Christians willingly keep their eggs there?  Prudence is calling Christians to prepare alternative means of evangelism and education that do not rely on the Internet, electronics, or electricity.  Yes, we should continue to use these digitals means as long as we can for the sake of the digital audience and convenience, but we should not rely on them for our long-range planning.  Prudence for the future is calling us is to reconsider the codex of our past.

Once Saved, Always Saved?

The conversation is classic.  I’ve heard it many times.

The Baptist claims, “I know my loved one’s in heaven.  He prayed the prayer as a child to receive Christ.”

The Wesleyan responds, “But how can you be so sure?  The man did not live a godly life.  Swearing.  Avoiding church.  Not even claiming to be a Christian!”  And then, as if to end the conversation, the Wesleyan adds, “I don’t believe in once saved, always saved.”

Now, as a pastor in a Bible church, something in me hurts to hear that last denial.  The statement is precious to me, but not in the sense the Baptist or the Wesleyan means it.  Let me explain.

There are three main positions today on “once saved, always saved.”

First, the modern Baptist often teaches eternal security.  Believe in Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and you will go to heaven.  It is simple.  God has promised “eternal life” to everyone who believes (John 3:16; 5:24; 1 John 2:25) and how can it be “eternal” if you can lose it?  Therefore, the believer is eternally secure.

In response, the Wesleyans assert, “You can lose your salvation.”  Proof texts are abundant.  In addition to many “if” statements about being saved in the end (e.g. Jn. 15:6; Rom. 8:13; 1 Cor. 15:1-2; Gal. 6:7-8; Col. 1:23), there are many exhortations to “remain” in Christ and in His love (John 15:4, 9), to “keep” ourselves in the love of God (Jude 21), and to “work out” our own salvation (Ph. 2:12).  Perhaps the book of Hebrews says it best: “We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end” (3:14) and “Strive…for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (12:14).  The believer has conditions for entering heaven.  Sanctification results in eternal life (Rom. 6:22).

The historic Baptist position is the perseverance of the saints.  It stands between the other two positions and affirms both.  While the conditional statement is true, “If you persevere in the faith, then you will go to heaven” (Mt. 24:13; Rom. 5:3; 15:4-5; Jas. 1:2-4, 12), it is also true that every true believer will persevere.  When we received Christ, we received all of Christ—the whole Christ.  He became both our “righteousness and sanctification” (1 Cor. 1:30).  We have Jesus within and Jesus without (Col. 1:27; 2 Cor 5:17).  We are sealed with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:14; 4:30), who sovereignly leads us to “put to death the deeds of the body” by fighting against our lusts, so that we will not do as we please (Rom. 8:12-14; Gal. 5:16-18).  As those born of God, we have His seed remaining forever within us to love, obey, and not continue in sin (1 John 3:9-10; 3:18).  And if we sin, our Father disciplines us so that we will share in His holiness (Heb. 12:10).  As a result, we can have confidence of final salvation—not only for ourselves but for all true believers (Heb 6:9).

In short, while I do believe in “once saved, always saved,” I need to know how you understand the word “saved.”  If it means making a decision and then going to heaven no matter what you do, then no, I do not believe in that kind of condition-less security.  But if you mean receiving Christ as both outer right-standing-with-God and inner-power-for-holiness, then yes, I do believe in “once SAVED, always saved.”  Christ fulfills all the conditions!

The Forbidden Fruit of Nuclear Weapons

Lord, today was the first day that I actually considered that the making of nuclear weaponry could have been a sin.  In the past, influenced by just-war theory, which I still believe is right, I justified the making of the atomic bomb as necessary for the war effort.  And indeed, perhaps it was “necessary” on a pragmatic level.  Perhaps the use of the weapon in Japan kept the war from going on indefinitely.  Perhaps.  The firepower on Tokyo with 80,000 dead after three days of jellied gasoline three months before the A-bomb showed that the Americans already had the capacity to level cities and destroy civilians—yes, civilians, who were likely to be trained as potential soldiers defending the island all the way to their suicidal death.  In other words, America may not have needed such a weapon anyways to destroy Hiroshima or Nagasaki, even if the destruction of those cities proved to be a necessary evil in the path to restored world peace.

But today, Lord, in reading our physics textbook, I became convinced that the secular author was right to include the social questions in a science textbook, as part of scientific responsibility (thank You, Father, for appointing that inclusion), and I also became increasingly uncomfortable with the “sweet technology” cited by Robert Oppenheimer, director of Los Alamos, where the first atomic detonation of 18 kilotons occurred, which is the equivalent of 72,000 conventional bombs going off at once.  Once the possibility is in view of some technical achievement—in other words, once it reaches that sweet point—the it becomes almost irresistible not to do it.

Wow.  At first, I wondered why technology has such a sweet allure.  For myself, I could picture the temptation working on me: “Look what I can do.  Look what I know.  And even more, look what wealth I possess that enables me to build it.”  In other words, the three pride factors of Jeremiah 9:23 all show up to display human glory—power, wisdom, and wealth.

Looking at it as an allure made me think of it as a transgression, i.e. crossing a forbidden boundary.  It made me think of the Garden of Eden, where Eve saw how beneficial the fruit would be for making her wise and such, so she ate it.  Lord, do You see?  Of course, You do.  We humans justify the means by the end.  “There it is,” we say.  “Look at all the potential benefits!”  But no potential benefits justified our mother’s forbidden fruit.  And perhaps the same is true of nuclear weaponry.

In bioethics too, I have been learning: Just because we can do it does not mean we should do it.  But what does such a world look like, Lord, when such potentials are resisted?

It looks like a world of meekness and waiting on You—not forcing our way because we think this thing or that thing must happen.  (Wow, do I have that attitude in my private life!  Oh, no.)  Instead of forcing their way, the kings of Israel had been commanded not to stockpile horses and chariots (Deuteronomy 17:16).  They were not to boast in these weapons, as other nations, but to boast in “the name of the LORD our God” (Psalm 20:7).  This is how David faced Goliath—not with sword or spear, but with Your name.  Surely, we need to learn a lesson here about our sinful idolatrizing of mighty means, when You are sufficient with five loaves and two fish.

Now in response, Lord, I could imagine someone saying to me, “Stockpiling is a sin.  Mere development is not.”  And granted, You allowed the Israelites to have swords and spears.  And if You allowed (and sometimes even commanded) the use of such weapons, then the development of them initially would not necessarily have been evil.  But then, maybe we allow for simple weaponry, but not those more complex and more destructive—and yet, would this argument not lead to reductio ad absurdum?  After all, if the development of a more destructive weapon is evil, just because it is more destructive, where would we draw the line?  Would this rule not only apply to nuclear weapons, but also to all “advances” in military technology, such as the introduction of gunpowder or the machines in WWI that made the cavalry obsolete?  Again, where would the line fall between allowable and nonallowable weapons development?

Yet there was a line in Judah’s history.  According to your prophets, Lachish was “the beginning of sin” in Judah, the southern kingdom (Micah 1:13).  As a fortified city, did not that city represent military reliance?  Surely You tolerate weaponry (Judah was forbidden a stockpile, but not all weaponry), but in truth, it is only tolerance.  Your plans for the future kingdom show us that You would prefer (if history allowed) that these resources were put to productive use—and after all, we only have so much resources—in having the swords made into plowshares, and the spears into pruning hooks (Micah 4:3; cf. Isaiah 2:4).  Agricultural implements, not military weapons.  How, then, can we, as the human race, justify the exorbitant expense of 25,000 nuclear weapons made during the Cold War?  Was it not largely fear that drove us Americans to make these weapons—first, fear that the Nazis would get there first, then fear of the Soviets getting ahead of us?  And is not such fear the opposite of faith in You, a faith that would keep us from stockpiling weaponry (Psalm 20:7)?  How ironically tragic then, that in the midst of our nuclear race buildup, we changed our motto to “In God We Trust” (1950s)?  Like the Civil War that first generated that particular saying in the North, we have often had our eye more on our enemy (the South then, the communists now) than on You.  Could you not have defeated the Nazis without nuclear weapons?  And even if not, would warding off that defeat with nuclear weapons have justified their creation?

Intriguingly, I have often regarded the 1960s as the decade when the knowledge of You was officially rejected, but could it be that the 1940s was the decade when You were practically rejected?  After all, if Lachish was the beginning of Judah’s sin, could it be that the Manhattan Project was the beginning of American sin?  Certainly, this corresponds to the consciences of many of those physicists behind the project.  In the words of Oppenheimer himself, “The physicists have known sin.”

One more thing stood out today, Lord, and it is interesting that You have gripped me with this story now for over a dozen years.  There is only one natural element that can produce a nuclear weapon: Uranium.  And even though plutonium can fuel a bomb, plutonium is not natural, but is a byproduct of uranium from nuclear reactors, what uranium can look after two beta decays.  Ironically, the name uranium (though perhaps named after the planet Uranus) ultimately comes from the Greek word for “heaven” (ouranos).  The “heaven” element has the doorway to nuclear power.  And even within Uranium, only 1% is Uranium-235, the isotope needed for a nuclear reaction.  This one pathway in the whole wide world, found within a heavenly place, strongly reminds me of the one tree in the Garden that You left for developing man’s knowledge of good and evil.  This pattern, then, is so like You!  To leave one small path into the (perhaps) forbidden grounds of nuclear weapons!  Although I would regard nuclear chain reactions as a good when used to harness energy production in a reactor, this one solitary path to nuclear weaponry is interesting.

Therefore, I am back to where I began.  Just because I can do something, should I?  Oh, for the trust in You, to resist the sweet allure of technology!