The Politics of Life and Death

Nietzsche said God is dead, but notice how quickly that has become “death is god.”

The legislation and ethos of our day are nothing short of a death cult. We are obsessed with the politics of fruitlessness. In the wake of Neitzsche, we have seen the acceptance of no-fault divorce; the proliferation of any and all forms of birth control and a declining birth rate; the acceptance and celebration of so-called same-sex marriage (which is, by definition, a fruitless union); the acceptance and romanticization of assisted suicide; and now we distribute abortion around the globe as the glad tidings of the false gospel around which we worship.

But the gospel of Jesus is that he has overcome the grave. Jesus beat death. In his death, death has died. The more this truth is worked out in our lives, marriages, homes, and legal systems, the more we will know the joy of worshipping the God who is alive, the God who grants birth and new, spiritual birth; and then we will ultimately taste eternal life in him whose presence is the path of life…fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore (Ps 16:11).


Old Testament Shape Revisited

A day off, chillin’ contentedly in a clothing store as my wife tries on some clothes, with One Direction “Drag me Down” on the radio (great song) and my mind turns to the Old Testament…like it does so often these days…

One of my particular interests is to consider the original arrangement of the Old Testament and tease out any implications of that arrangement when it comes to “putting your Bible together” as they say. The standard order of books in basically every Christian Bible starts with the Pentateuch (Genesis-Deuteronomy) and then moves into the Histories from Joshua to Esther with books like Ruth and Chronicles spliced in chronologically.

However, there is really good evidence, actually overwhelming evidence, that the Old Testament the early church inherited was arranged like this:

  1. Pentateuch
  2. (Former Prophets) Joshua, Judges, 1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings and then (Latter Peophets) Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the Twelve minor prophets.
  3. Then the collection finished with the Writings, which was something of a catch-all: Psalms, Proverbs, Ruth, Somg of Solomon, Ecclesiastes, Job, Daniel, Esther, Ezra-Nehemiah, and 1-2 Chronicles.

The Hebrew collection (also called the Tanakh) was threefold – Law, Prophets, and Writings – and it was arranged with less of a strict chronology compared to our English order, which follows an order found in Septuagintal codices (compilations of Greek manuscripts). For example, in the Hebrew Bible, Ruth was lumped in with Psalms and Proverbs likely due to its connection to David (Boaz was David’s great grandpa) rather than after the Judges, even though it recounts events in the time period of the Judges. 

The books that made up the Writings probably were written on individual scrolls housed in a chest and so it’s best not to make too much of their specific arrangement within the third section. That said, these books do seem, by and large, to be organized thematically around King David and his son Solomon.

So what?

The first thing to say is that the books themselves are inspired, not their order in the collection. So any considerations of order and arrangement are questions of secondary importance. These matters have some consequence for how we put our Bibles together and how we do biblical theology, but they do not affect significant doctrines of the faith.

With that caveat, the significance of the threefold structure of the collection is that the Pentateuch is the primary foundation of the entire Bible – it is God’s foundational disclosure of himself and his will; the Prophets are an extended commentary on the Law, meant to drive home the implications of that Law in the society and the governance of the nation; finally, the third section – the Writings aka “Hagiographa” – are all an extended meditation about the Messiah and “the good life” – the life of wisdom lived under the Law. This third collection is meant to show us what it means to have a heart that is governed by the good and gracious rule of God.

That is why this arrangement is such a beautiful thing. Sometimes a chronological preoccupation can obscure a rich thematic arrangement. The Law is primary and then it gets driven into politics and then driven into the heart.

Your thoughts? Comment below.

“Nobody nobody – with your love nobody’s gonna drag me down.”

Bible Interpretation: Apocalyptic 101

To “get” Daniel 7-12 read it in light of Daniel 1-6; similarly, to “get” Revelation 4-22 read it in light of the letters to the churches in Rev 1-3. How would the churches in Asia Minor have understood this imagery? How would Daniel’s contemporaries have understood the imagery?

Apocalyptic imagery is fantastic for sure, but it’s always historically tethered and the history provides the window to gaze into the heavenlies. Both of these texts contain history. So consider reading Revelation 1-3 in between every other chapter of the book. Blend the history with the heavenly to get the important points for today – and there are many.

By the way, the essential message in both cases is to faithfully trust in God, who rules history, rather than getting seduced by the world that seeks to assimilate the faithful into it’s perversion and judgment. It’s all, at it’s core, a contrast between two cities – Babylon and Jerusalem – and then an invitation to decide which city you want to live in. Babyolon, the pleasurable, but doomed one? Or Jerusalem, the difficult and often painful, but ultimately blessed one?

Why does this matter so much? It matters because there are so many wackos and wing-nuts out there saying ridiculous and foolish things today about this imagery. (For example, the “mark of the beast” isn’t a micro chip inserted into your hand. The mark of the beast is a life lived in selfishness, pride, lust, and revelry – a life lived in allegiance to Satan.)

The outcome is that they mute the relevance of these texts and rob them from sweet and level-headed Christians who should be reading them rather than dismissing them (in troubled times when they need to hear from their God).

For those taking an interest in this. This is the only place to start

N.T. Wright – A Helpful Illustration

“Five people are describing the same event. One says ‘I was aware of a blur of colour and a sudden loud noise.’ The next says ‘I saw and heard a vehicle driving noisily down the road.’ The next says ‘I saw an ambulance on its way to the hospital.’ The fourth says ‘I have just witnessed a tragedy.’ The fifth says ‘This is the end of the world for me.’ The same event gives rise to five true statements, with each successive one having more ‘meaning’ than the one before.” (The New Testament and the People of God, 282-83).

Right there, my friends, is why the Old Testament and the New Testament are speaking about exactly the same thing; namely, the death and resurrection of Jesus with all its implications. Jeremiah and Peter had different vantage points on the same event.

Failure to get this has led, outside the church, to endless writing on the “contradictions” in Scripture; inside the church, it led to old-school dispensationalism. Oh bother.

A Second TULIP

(It should be noted at the outset that this article does not necessarily represent exactly the Fellowship Baptist Statement of Faith, a movement of which I am both a member and an employee. However, I might add, it certainly is not in conflict with it.)

Calvinism is a system of theological beliefs about the way salvation happens; specifically, it is the belief that God predestines some to salvation and others to judgment. God, not man, has the ultimate say in who “gets saved.” I am a card-carrying Calvinist. A “Five-Point” Calvinist. No, actually I am a seven point Calvinist. I like my Calvinism the same way I like my coffee – bold, black, and even a little bitter. I love it all. Even the parts that are hard to swallow. John Calvin was a great man who deserves to be read widely.

But with all that said, the last thing I am interested in is the Calvinist club. I hate the Calvinist club. Jesus alone is the sole basis of Christian unity. We always need to remember that. In fact, some of the dearest people in my family – and the most admired by me – are strong Christians but are certainly not card-carrying Calvinists.

To the point…

The classic summary of Calvinistic thought regarding salvation (“soteriology”) is called the TULIP. The mnemonic stands for Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints. Check it out: TULIP. Those are the “five points.”

Today I want to propose that all Calvinists adopt a second TULIP to go along with the first. A bouquet…because sadly there is far too much arrogance, club-mentality, and coldness among Calvinists. The stereotypes are often true.

1. Total Humility

The doctrine of Total Depravity  teaches that sin affects every part of us. It’s NOT that we are utterly and completely sinful – it’s that sin has gotten into every part of us, tainting and polluting every aspect of our nature. That means we have nothing to offer God – we are totally resting on his mercy alone to justify and save us. And if we really believe this it should produce total humility. If we are all severely affected by sin, even at the very core of our will such that we won’t choose God, then salvation is totally a gift and that means there is no room for arrogance or bragging. Take the logic one step further: if we are justified totally by grace, then the theological system of Calvinism is even a grace then that we are ill-deserving of. So we musty treat even our calvinistic soteriology as a gift and stop clobbering others.

2. Unconditional Gospel Proclamation

The belief in Unconditional Election is that before the foundation of the earth God chose believers to be saved, not on the basis of anything in us but solely on the basis of his immense love (Ephesians 1:4). This doctrine should motivate us to herald the gospel and the reason is because God has already gone before us to determine who will respond to our message. This was the belief that motivated the father of modern mission, William Carey. Indeed, God told Paul to go to Corinth for “I have many in this city who are my people.” (Acts 18:10). Some people really mess this one up and think that unconditional election teaches that God plays favorites and chooses the best of the people – actually that’s the consistent conclusion of Arminianism (God looks down the tunnel of time and chooses those who were ______ enough to chose him of their own free will). No. Unconditional election teaches that God chose us on no other basis than his sheer grace and his great love and that is a cause to share the gospel freely with all because we can rest assured that God will sort out how people respond to our message. Real Calvinism is not fatalism – it preaches and offers grace to all unreservedly.

3. Limited Snarkiness 

The doctrine of Limited Atonement, which is poorly named, teaches that when Jesus died his death was intended particularly for those who will become Christians – so the atonement that Jesus affected at Calvary was a real accomplishment, in and of itself, and not something we get to apply to ourselves by our own choosing. Instead of “limited atonement” it should be called “decisive atonement” or “intentional atonement” or perhaps an older term, “particular atonement.” Even a few Sundays ago I was struck by a verse in Luke which says that the cross was an “accomplishment” (Luke 9:31). Particular atonement contains the idea that Jesus intentionally laid down his life, not for everyone indiscriminately, but for his bride – his sheep – his elect. As it has often been said, Arminianism limits the extent of the atonement (since not all are saved) and Calvinism limits the intent of the atonement. Another way of saying all this is that salvation is Trinitarian – the Father elects, Jesus atones, and the Spirit applies. Limited atonement is the very centre of Calvinistic thinking. God chose you. Jesus intended to die for you. When we come to terms with just how much we are loved, the glorious wonder of that truth should remove the kind of snarky, critical, bitter, holier-than-thou attitude of so much of the Calvinist club. Jesus loved you that much – so spread that kind of love to others. If God has loved you that much, why do you get such a bang out of being an internet troll?

4. Irresistible Humor

The fourth point of the TULIP is Irresistible Grace. The doctrine teaches that God’s grace is eventually going to affect every part of you – whether you want it to or not! God’s grace is greater and more powerful than your sin and it will go to work everywhere. This is a wonderful doctrine and I believe that for a Calvinist to really appropriate it means growing in joy, happiness, and humor. If God’s grace gets everywhere and into everything that it also better get into your sense of humor! So learn some jokes. Have a laugh. Be creative. Dance with your wife. God has predestined you to have some fun

5. Perseverance in the Fear of God 

The final point of the TULIP is well known – the Perseverance of the Saints. It’s the doctrine that God will ultimately save all of those who were truly converted to begin with. You can’t lose your salvation. Those whom God predestines, he also calls, justifies, and glorifies – there is a straight line from your predestination before the earth was made to your glorification when you are on the new earth (Rom 8:28). But the sad fact is for many this amazing doctrine becomes an excuse to sit back with a relaxed posture of “once saved, always saved.” No! Those who truly love the Lord also fear the Lord. As Scripture says,
it’s a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb 10:31). And “without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Heb 12:14). The problem with much of Calvinism is that it intellectualizes away a real, vibrant fear of God by abstracting God to the world of ideas. We need to reject this. And the place to start involves some trembling.

At any rate, I love Calvinism. To quote Doug Wilson, “I get up in the morning and thing, yay Calvinism!” The more I read Scripture the more I see it all over the place. I also believe Calvinism is the moderating position. Arminianism (“free-will” thinking) teaches that if man chooses, then God must not be choosing; on the other hand hyper-calvinism (“fatalism”) teaches that if God chooses, then man must not be choosing. Both make the mistake in thinking that the choice of one must necessarily displace the choice of the other. But properly understood, Calvinism embraces a greater, more mysterious understanding of the interaction between our will and God’s will – God chooses some for salvation and His this choice is greater than ours and it even encompasses man’s response as he also, in turn, chooses God. So, God is the great author of the human story. Who destroyed the one ring to rule them all? Frodo? Or Tolkien? Both of course.

Well….and Gollum.

Go dance with your wife.

Ezekiel’s Temple Vision: The Most Puzzling Part of the Bible

Given what I wrote on Bible interpretation in my earlier post this week, I figured I would follow it up and write something on the vision Ezekiel has at the end of the book. Who knows? Some desperate soul might google “Ezekiel Temple” and find something that is actually helpful instead of the endlessly unsatisfying, enormous barrage of dispensational weirdness that is out there on this challenging, but fascinating topic. In any case, by writing this I hope to put to rest some of the pestering thoughts in my head on this topic. So now you also can enjoy some pestering thoughts…

There is no passage is Scripture that makes me scratch my head more that the end of Ezekiel.

Ezekiel closes his prophecy with nine chapters that give a detailed, elaborate vision of a temple. Ezekiel lives in Babylon and he is transported by a heavenly guide who reveals to him a magnificent temple with all the temple rituals going on inside. The temple is beautiful. There is a stream flowing from it. The vision contains detailed description of the animal sacrifices and the priesthood and operations in the temple. The vision tells us about “the prince” and it tells how the land will be divided up between the tribes of Israel. It is also details the measurements of the walls, gates, and courts, which, interestingly, are of different proportions than Solomon’s temple, which we read about in the history books.

The head-scratching part is that this temple has never been built. It wasn’t Solomon’s temple for that was already destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar. Furthermore, when the Jews came back from exile under Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah the temple they built utterly paled in comparison to Ezekiel’s vision.

Some have suggested that the temple was only ever hypothetical and conditional – it was a reality that would only happen if Israel had obeyed Yahweh. I want to reject that notion. It is an easy solution but it is simply not how prophecy works in the Old Testament. When God gives a vision, promising to do something, he always does it.

When you take this all together it makes us ask some hard questions: will this temple be built in the future? Is this temple some kind of symbolic portrayal of the church in Jesus?

There are actually two dominant views on the topic: many think that this temple will be built one day in the millennial reign of Jesus on earth. But that view has some big problems: why would animal sacrifice for atonement return under Jesus, especially since Hebrews says that it is done (Ezek 45:18; Heb 10:1-18)? Moreover, why, if the New Testament tells us we are the temple of God, do we need another temple for God’s presence will dwell – does he not already dwell in us by his Spirit (Rom 8)?

The other view is that this is simply a spiritual description of the Church, or the Church age, which is elsewhere called “the temple” of God (1 Cor 3:16; 1 Pet 2:5ff.). But if that is the case then why is there so much elaborate detail on animal sacrifices and priestly rituals and careful measurements? What do those symbols point to?

The first thing to say is that the challenges in this topic that are thousands of years old. In fact, around the time of Christ, there were Jewish Rabbis who had a very hard time dealing with this prophecy since Herod’s temple was being sacked. In a sense, this problem is pre-Christian. And that is reason to go slow on it. In fact, John Calvin, one of my heroes, never addressed this in his commentary because he died before getting to it…

With all that said, I want to propose that what Ezekiel is describing, in symbolic terms, is nothing other than the New Creation – the restoration of all things through Christ – the New Heavens and the New Earth.

Note that Ezekiel opened his prophecy with a vision of God’s presence on wheels, travelling to and fro around the earth (ch. 1-2). The point of that prophecy was to show the exiled people of God that God’s temple – his presence – is not anchored to one location, especially for a people soon to be living in Babylon. But now at the end of his prophecy we see that the temple – the dwelling presence of God – has come off it’s wheels and come to rest on the entire creation – a wasteland now turned into a tropical paradise. Context. Context. Context. The book points in this direction.

On top of that, the twin themes in Scripture of creation and temple (God’s blessing presence) are intertwined all through the Old Testament. The Garden of Eden, where God walked in the cool of the day, was a sort of temple that housed the presence of God. Furthermore, the temple contained all sorts of trees in it’s art and gold work – it harkened back to Eden. Moreover, the temple was where God sit enthroned between the cherubim – his shekinah glory radiated there. It is no coincidence that God places a cherib outside the temple…er…the Garden, after Adam’s sin.

Now some would object that this view simply does not do justice to the meticulous description of the temple in Ezekeil – if this is really portraying the New Creation than isn’t it deceitful to describe it in terms of a temple? Here are two supporting reasons based on the way God’s revelation works:

  • When God speaks he accommodates himself to the context, the culture, and the language of the people to whom he speaks. It makes sense for God to portray glorious New Covenant realities in Old Covenant terms like sacrifice, priest, and prince. To many this seems like a cop-out. But it isn’t. When God told Eve that her offspring would crush the head of the snake he wasn’t lying. But the snake is actually a dragon and the offspring is actually God himself. God accommodated his promise to language Eve would understand and trust in.
  • The vision itself is prophetic and apocalyptic, not legal or historical. One reason I believe that people get confused on this vision is that we are used to reading temple instructions and measurements in the Pentateuch or in Kings and so we switch into thinking that this apocalyptic vision is actually a legal code. But it isn’t. Apocalyptic imagery always has a degree of fluidity to it when you apply it to future or past events. For example, in Daniel the statue of iron, clay, bronze, silver, and gold is not a literal statue. The symbols represent reality of course – they represent empires – but the vision is not to be taken literally. And neither is Ezekiel’s vision.

Finally, this view rests on a symbolic understanding of the vision in Ezekiel and here are two final, supporting reasons for understanding this vision symbolically:

  • The vision has symbolic, or non-literal, aspects already. The stream flows and gives life to the land. That, I believe, is the key to grasping the meaning of this thing. The temple emits a stream that leads to the healing of the nations, the return of prosperity, plants, and animals, and ultimately to the portioning up of the land among God’s people (Ezek 47). When you contrast this language with the way Isaiah speaks it becomes evident pretty fast that this is highly eschatological language and it is highly new-creational language (See Isaiah 25 and 66).
  • The detailed measurements given to describe the temple have a clear purpose. The detail in Ezekiel’s temple vision is meant to do at least two things: it is meant to teach us something about the meticulous way God’s grace affects everything in the New Creation. Interestingly, we also have detailed measurements in the book of Revelation about the temple and that temple is in fact the “bride” of God that is inhabited by the glorious presence of God himself (Revelation 21). In this way, there is good precedent for taking the measurements of Ezekiel as pointers towards symbolic realities. They speak to the totality of God’s redemption and to his meticulous grace. Furthermore, these details are also meant to heighten the anticipation of Israel at the time of Ezekiel who are looking forward in hope for what God has in store – the details bolster their hope, just as the book of Revelation, with all it’s amazing detail, was given to Christians in the midst of intense persecution to bolster their anticipation.


So what I think Ezekiel foresees at the end of his book is nothing short of the New Creation, the Restoration of all things. This is glorious.


Putting Your Bible Together with More Than a Hammer


If today’s Bible readers are like home builders, there are many who frame the house well but forget the drywall, the light fixtures, and the flooring. They have the skills to pound nails – important skills – but there is more to building a house than that. What I am talking about is a certain approach to Old Testament prophecy that looks at every prophecy as having an exact, literalistic fulfillment in the future. Everything has a one-to-one fulfillment or no fulfillment at all. It’s almost mathematical.

Now of course, that sort of exact, literal fulfillment happens all the time in the Bible. Let me give an example: when the Old Testament prophet Zechariah says, in chapter 9 verse 9, that Jerusalem’s king will come in “lowly and riding on a donkey” there is an exact fulfillment, a one-to-one correspondence, between that passage and Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on a donkey (Matt 21). Jesus fulfilled that prophecy literally. His literal fulfillment of this prophecy, and dozens of others, validates his ministry as the Messiah, the Saviour-King of Israel. So this approach is fundamentally good, useful, valid, necessary, and needed.

Every house needs a frame – and all you need is a hammer and a strong arm to get going – but we must not end there. We need to rediscover a couple more tools in this area:

Tool 1: Corporate prophecy funnelling into individual fulfillment   

One of the key points in the opening of Matthew’s Gospel is that Jesus fulfills the identity of the people of Israel. That is to say, the corporate entity that is Israel (and Judah) is taken up, summarized, and recapitulated by Jesus the individual. This is no literal, wooden fulfillment. Matthew’s point is that the story of Israel is the story of Jesus. He fulfills every part of it. Jesus is the great sequel – the finale to what happened in Act One. Let me show you what Matthew says in 2:13-18:

“…an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to look for the child to kill him.” Then he got up, took the child and his mother during the night, and went to Egypt. He stayed there until Herod died. In this way what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet was fulfilled: “I called my Son out of Egypt.”

When Herod saw that he had been tricked… [h]e sent men to kill all the children in Bethlehem and throughout the surrounding region from the age of two and under, according to the time he had learned from the wise men. Then what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled:

A voice was heard in Ramah,
weeping and loud wailing,
Rachel weeping for her children,
and she did not want to be comforted, because they were gone” (NET).


Herod was a maniac and a loose-canon, but God orchestrated his lunacy to fulfill, in Jesus, the promises he gave to Israel. In the first text, Matthew says that when Jesus’ parents took him to Egypt in hiding, their return fulfilled Israel’s exodus – the great, miraculous event when Israel, God’s “firstborn son,” was delivered from Egypt through the sea (Ex. 4:22). Likewise, when Herod the despot slaughtered all the little children, Matthew says that was, for Jesus, really a second exile – the text quoted (“weeping in Ramah”) is from Jeremiah 31:15 and is all about the exile when God’s people are taken captive to Babylon. Jesus fulfills that too.

So there you have it – Jesus fulfills the identity of Israel. This is no literal, mathematical fulfillment – it is the corporate identity and the story of the nation of Israel funnelled into the identity and life events of Jesus.

This is exactly the thing Paul is saying in Galatians 3:16 where he writes: “The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say ‘and to seeds,’ meaning many people, but ‘and to your seed,’ meaning one person, who is Christ” (NIV). Elsewhere Paul writes that “all the promises of God find their Yes in him” that is, in Christ (2 Cor 1:20). The point is exactly the same as in Matthew – Jesus individually fulfills all the promises spoken to Abraham. Jesus is the great recapitulater. This approach to Bible interpretation has many implications for us as we seek to put our Bibles together, so to speak.

And there is another tool to use:

Tool 2: Typology

Typology is a fancy word that simply means Old Testament people, images, or events point to, or foreshadow, New Testament people or images or events. In many ways this sort of pattern-fulfillment “typology” was the linchpin that held the Old Testament and the New Testament together in the minds of the New Testament authors. For example, in Romans 5:14 Paul says that Adam was “a type” (Greek: typos) of the one to come (Jesus). Adam brought death to all; Jesus, the second Adam, bring life to all. The idea is that Adam is a foreshadow of Jesus – Adam’s “anti-type.” David also fits this category. David is an anointed king. Jesus is an anointed King. God has layered history with pictures of Jesus before he even came on the scene. This sort of thing is all over the place – Paul says that when Israel drank from a rock that rock was Christ (1 Cor 10:4). Jesus himself says that when he is lifted up on the cross he will save his people just like when Moses lifted up the bronze serpent in the wilderness so that whoever looked on it would be saved (John 3:14-15).

The entire Bible points to Jesus. He is the anti-type – the fulfillment – of hundreds of Old Testament types:

  • Adam fell to temptation in a garden. Jesus resisted temptation, to the point of sweating blood, in a garden.
  • The Israelites spent forty years in the wilderness testing God. Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness refusing to put him to the test.
  • David defeated a giant. Jesus defeated the giant.
  • Jonah spent three nights in a whale. Jesus spent three nights in the grave.

I could go on…

The idea is that the second thing we need to see is that the entire Old Testament story line is a magnificent, multi-faceted narrative that culminates in Jesus. The entire layering of Old Testament history is a straight line to Jesus.

So yes, there are many instances where Scripture shows Jesus fulfilling prophecy in an exact, literal way. But that is only one approach that the New Testament takes to the Old Testament. Without these other approaches it’s like we are building a house without drywall. We need to employ not merely a literalistic approach to Old Testament prophecy-fulfillment but also the great multi-faceted, narratival, and thoroughly Jesus-centered approach that the New Testament authors also used.