The Resurrection as Hoax?

I read this book last year and really appreciated it: Jesus and the Logic of History by Paul Barnett.  Recently, as I was skimming through it again, I found the following section where Barnett helpfully talks about the resurrection of Christ and the various theories of it (e.g. the disciples stole the body, Jesus wasn’t really dead but revived in the tomb, or that they crucified the wrong person by mistake):

The view held by many contemporary scholars, that the disciples were subject to some kind of visionary experiences, is hard to accept.  Two people sharing one bed seldom have the same dream.  The proposal that between five and six hundred people on twelve or so separate occasions over forty days had the same visionary experience is extremely unlikely.

In any case ‘resurrection from the dead’, a Jewish concept, literally means, ‘standing up in the midst of corpses’ (anastasis nekron).  A resurrection which was not bodily is self-contradictory and has ben likened to a circle which is square.  The various subjective or visionary theories of the resurrection are culturally contradictory.

Here’s how Barnett ends this section:

There is only one serious alternative explanation.  It is that the disciples stole the body and proclaimed Jesus to have been raised from the dead.  In other words, it was a deception, a hoax.  A number of objections may be raised against this hypothesis.  Apart from the unlikelihood that the perpetrators would call a gospel based on deceit the ‘word of truth’ and repeatedly call for truthful behavior among believers, such a theory is difficult to reconcile with subsequent apostolic history.

Through the pages of the New Testament we are able to trace the ministries of Peter, James and Paul, the leaders of various mission groups, from the time of the resurrection to their martyr-deaths.  This is a period of about three decades.  It is implausible that all three would have maintained the deception throughout those years and then gone to their deaths without exposing a hoax.  Moreover, there was more than a little friction between these men.  Had the resurrection not been true, it is likely that one or other of these strong personalities would have broken ranks to expose the others.

Paul Barnett, Jesus and the Logic of History, p. 130-131.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

The Blind Faith of Naturalism (Colson)

Growing up, I remember overhearing Chuck Colson’s “Breakpoint” from my mom’s kitchen radio.  Sometimes I would stop and listen.  I grew to appreciate his commentary, even though I didn’t always agree with all of it.  Here’s part of a previously unpublished memo of Colson’s from around 10 or 15 years ago:

It never ceases to amaze me that people are willing to bet their lives on naturalism; not only is it self-refuting, but to believe it is an act of supreme hubris.  I say supreme hubris because naturalism is the assumption that the only thing that can be known is that which you see and can validate with one of your five senses.  So what the naturalist is really saying is, if I can’t prove it’s true, then it can’t be true.  If I can’t, by physical observation, conclude something is real, then it can’t be real.

Of course, there are all kinds of things in life that we cannot see or apprehend with our senses that are nonetheless true, love being one of the most obvious.  The principle that allows an airplane to fly, the lift created by air traveling more slowly under the wings than over the wings, is a visible principle, but you can’t see the air actually moving.  It is measurable, of course, but still a certain amount of faith is involved in knowing anything.

Later Colson notes how naturalism is self-refuting because a naturalist presupposes that everything came about by chance, by evolution.  The naturalist says that reasonable, intelligent, and rational human beings evolved by chance mutations and evolutionary principles.  How can one prove this by physically observable facts?  Here’s Colson:

…To come to that conclusion, you’re relying on a brain and a thinking process that evolved by chance.  If it has evolved by chance, you have no idea whether it’s reliable.  Attempt to prove to me that an organ that evolved by chance is going to be reliable to always give you the right answer to any particular question.  Or prove to me that this organ has the capacity of knowledge, which is distinguishing what is real from what isn’t.  The answer, of course, is that you can never get there.

The naturalist is proceeding in blind faith.  He is defying what is self-evident, both in nature and the creation and in terms of our moral inclination.  He is, as C. S. Lewis said, like a man trying to lift himself up by grabbing himself by the collar and raising his hands.  He won’t get off the ground, but he will very likely strangle himself.

The naturalist is in the position of assuming that he knows everything he needs to know, and that everything that can be known is accessible to him through his senses.  It takes an extraordinary leap of faith to arrive at that conclusion.  But once you do, you have nothing.  You are defying the evidence.

Chuck Colson, My Final Word, p. 226-227.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Definite Atonement and Christ’s Intercession (Owen)

One of the major biblical reasons why I believe and teach the doctrine of limited atonement (better: definite atonement) has to do with Jesus’ work of salvation.  Specifically, the Bible teaches that Jesus’ obedience, suffering, and death is very much connected to his resurrection, ascension, and intercession (Is. 53:12b, Rom. 8:33-34).  Those for whom Jesus obeyed, suffered, and died are the same ones for whom he rose, ascended, and intercedes.  John Owen made this argument in The Death of Death, where he says that Christ’s oblation and his intercession are intimately connected:

“…They are both alike intended for the obtaining and accomplishing the same entire and complete end proposed, that is, the effectual bringing of many sons to glory, for the praise of God’s grace.  …The object of the one is of no larger extent than the object of the other.  In other words, Christ intercedes on behalf of the ones he offered himself for, and only those, as he says himself in John 17:19.

…The sole end why Christ procured anything by his death was that it might be applied to them for whom it was so procured.  The sum is, that the oblation and intercession of Jesus Christ are one entire means for the producing of the same effect, the very end of the oblation being that all those things which are bestowed by the intercession of Christ, and without whose application it should certainly fail of the end proposed in it….”

We cannot say that Christ died for all and only intercedes for some, since Paul said that Christ who died for us also intercedes for us (Rom. 8:33-34).  Again, here’s Owen:

“That he died for all and intercedeth only for some will scarcely be squared to this text, especially considering the foundation of all this, which is (verse 32) the love of God which moved him to give up Christ do death for us all; upon which the apostle infers a kind of impossibility in not giving us all good things in him;  which how it can be reconciled with their opinion who affirm that he gave his Son for millions to whom he will give neither grace nor glory, I cannot see.

The extent of Christ’s atonement matches the extent of his intercession.  His atonement is limited to the elect, as is his intercession.  It’s not theological nitpicking; this has to do with the glorious work of Christ!  We never want to detract or subtract from Christ’s work.  Furthermore, it is a great comfort to know that Jesus definitely died for me and now definitely intercedes for me! He left nothing undone in the work of redemption.  So I can rest comfortably in his finished work.

The above quotes (edited for readability and length) are found in Owen’s The Death of Death, p. 68-70.

Shane Lems

A Dilemma of Universalism (Owen)

John Owen’s classic, The Death of Death, is not the easiest book to read, but it sure is worth the effort!  Since I’ll be preaching through the doctrines of grace later this Summer, I’m reading Owen’s book again as part of sermon preparation.  Here’s a helpful section I ran across this morning.  Owen said this is one of the dilemmas of Universalism:

God imposed his wrath due unto, and Christ underwent the pains of hell for
1) either all the sins of all men,
or
2) all the sins of some men,
or
3) some sins of all men.

If the last (3), some sins of all men, then  all men have some sins to answer for, and so shall no man be saved; for if God enter into judgment with us, though it were with all mankind for one sin, no flesh should be justified in his sight: “If the LORD should mark iniquities, who should stand?” Ps. 130:3. We might all go to cast all that we have “to the moles and to the bats, to go into the clefts of the rocks, and into the tops of the ragged rocks, for fear of the LORD, and for the glory of his majesty,” Isa. 2:20, 21.

If the second (2), that is it which we affirm, that Christ in their stead and room suffered for all the sins of all the elect in the world.

If the first (1), (all the sins of all men) why, then, are not all freed from the punishment of all their sins? You will say, “Because of their unbelief; they will not believe.” But this unbelief, is it a sin, or not? If it is not sin, why should they be punished for it? If it is sin, then either Christ underwent the punishment due to it or he did not. If he did, then why must that hinder them from partaking of the fruit of his death more than their other sins for which he died?  If he did not undergo the punishment do to the sin of unbelief, then did he not die for all their sins.

Let them choose which part they will.

NOTE: I’ve edited the above a bit to make it easier to read.  The quote can be found in John Owen, The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold, vol. 10 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, n.d.), 173–174.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Regeneration, Christian Graces, and Assurance of Salvation (Gurnall)

When God sovereignly regenerates a sinner, that person is renewed, reborn, made new.  “…If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Cor. 5:17 NASB; c.f. Gal. 6:15).  The person then walks in the newness of life (Rom. 6:4).  This doesn’t mean a regenerate person is sinless and perfect, but it does mean that his whole person is made new by God.  William Gurnall put it this way:

“As natural corruption is a universal principle of all sin that sours the whole lump of man’s nature; so sanctifying grace is a universal principle that sweetly seasons and renews the whole man at once, though not completely.  Grace indeed grows by steps, but is born at once.  The new creature has all its parts formed together, though not its degrees.  One grace may, we confess, be perceived to stir and so come to be noticed by the Christian before other graces.”

Gurnall is saying that when God renews and regenerates a person, that person is given true faith, repentance, love, fear of God, evangelical obedience, and so forth.  These things are called “graces.”  Sometimes a Christian sees one of his graces more than another, but it doesn’t mean that other graces aren’t there.  God doesn’t just give someone repentance but not godly fear or true faith.  Gurnall said that some parts of the world have been discovered before other parts of the world, but the whole world has been in existence since God created it.  So it is with Christian graces: God has given them all to all his people, even if we don’t always discover them or notice all these graces at once.

So what?  Why is this important?  Well, as Gurnall noted, knowing this fact gives relief to the Christian when he’s in doubt of his salvation.  Just because a Christian can’t immediately discern godly fear doesn’t mean he should “unsaint” himself.  If you don’t have godly fear but you do have a sincere desire to please him, be assured that God’s grace is at work in you, and in time you’ll notice godly fear.  Or if your faith is seemingly gone but you have a hearty sorrow when you sin against God, don’t despair.  Know that you are a new creation in Christ, and you will again see your faith – it is there!  Here’s Gurnall again:

“As by taking hold of one link you may draw up the rest of the chain that lies under water, so by discovering one grace, you may bring all to sight.  …This holy kindred of graces go ever together, they are knit, as members of the body, one to another.  Though you see only the face of a man, yet you do not doubt that the whole man is there.”

Here’s a good quote to end on:

“Moses would not go out of Egypt with half his company (Ex. 10).  Either all must go or none shall stir.  Neither will the Spirit of God come into a soul with half his sanctifying graces, but with all his train.”

(These slightly modernized and edited quotes are found in the beginning of “Direction Ninth” in Gurnall’s The Christian in Complete Armor.)

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

 

Divine “Hunches” and the Sufficiency of Scripture

Why are Reformed Christians not charismatic or pentecostal?  How does a Reformed view of Scripture lead away from believing in continuing revelation from God?  Why don’t Reformed preachers and teachers say things like “Last night God told me….”?  Paul Woolley answered these questions well in his 1946 essay called “The Relevancy of Scripture”:

“…Scripture contains all the information which a man needs in order to set forth the way of salvation.  Further, the Bible contains all the guidance which is needed for the continuous living of the Christian life.  It is completely sufficient at this point.  If there are absolute rules which must be followed, the Bible states them.  In the absence of such rules the Christian is at liberty to follow a course or courses which accord with the general principles presented in Scripture.”

“There is one very important consequence of this fact [of the sufficiency of Scripture].  God does not today guide people directly without using the Scriptures.  There are no divinely given ‘hunches.’  God does not give people direct mental impressions to do this or that.  People do not hear God’s voice speaking within them.  There is no immediate and direct unwritten communication between God and the individual human being.  If the Scriptures are actually sufficient, such communication is unnecessary.  On the other hand, if such communications were actually being made, every Christian would be a potential author of Scripture.  We would only need to write down accurately what God said to us, and we would legitimately be adding to the Bible, for such writings would be the Word of God.  Many people have thought they were writing new Bibles.  Many more people have thought that God spoke to them directly.  But when these supposed revelations are examined, what a strange mass of nonsense, contradiction, and trviality this so-called Word of God proves to be.  Many of my readers could construct a pot-pourri of such supposed revelations from the accounts which they have heard themselves – and what a sorry mess they would make!”

Paul Woolley, “The Relevancy of Scripture” in The Infallible Word, p. 191-192.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

 

Dispensationalism, Theonomy, and Biblical Theology (Lints)

The Fabric of Theology It is very important to remember that there is historical progression in Scripture. The Bible is a historical book that records stories from the beginning of the world to the 1st century AD (and beyond, if you think of the prophecies).  But the Bible isn’t a regular history book; it is what we call redemptive history.  That means the Bible contains the inspired history of God’s redemption of his people.  Hand in hand with this truth is the fact that there is also a progression of God’s revelation in Scripture.  As time marches on, God slowly but surely reveals more of himself to his people.  There is progression in God’s revelation from Genesis to Revelation.  These are some assumptions of biblical theology gleaned from Scripture.

Richard Lints does a nice job explaining the importance of bibilcal theology in chapter seven of The Fabric of Theology. He wrote this in 1993, so it might be a bit more nuanced today, but it is still a helpful quote:

“A theological framework that fails to capture the ‘organic unity’ in this flow of redemption and revelatory history will likely be guilty of unnecessary abstraction from the text of Scripture.  Normally one of two errors is committed by modern evangelical interpreters who take this route.  Some overstress the continuity between the epochs (a la theonomy); others overstress the discontinuity of the epocs (a la dispensationalism).  I concur with Edmund Clowney’s observation that ‘modern dispensationalism rightly recognizes that there are great divisions in the history of redemption; it errs in failing to grasp the organic relation of these successive eras, as the developing manifestations of one gracious design.'”

“The theonomic movement rightfully recognizes the underlying unity of the Old and New Testaments but fails to notice the organic progression present between the two Testaments.  While I cannot settle all of the exegetical questions that arise in this context, I do think it is important to remember that an interpretive framework built on the assumption of divine authorship in history will seek to make clear the organic relations among the divergent epochs of the Bible.  This need not result in a bland uniformity or essential contradictions of principles across epochs; rather, it should help the reader to see the overarching purpose progressively revealed through the different epochs of the Scriptures.”

Richard Lints, The Fabric of Theology, p. 278.

Shane Lems