New creation and ‘Gnosticism': à Brakel once more

a brakelAside from frustrations experienced when someone advocates a pretribulational rapture, I would consider myself someone who doesn’t get riled up about eschatology very easily. Christ will return, and the dead shall rise (1 Thess. 4:13-18). Christ will judge all, and God will bring creation out of its bondage to decay so that all those whose names are written in the book of life will dwell there with God forever (Rev. 20:11-15; 21-22). These are central to our Christian hope. Yet, there are still interesting questions to be discussed in the ambit of the main concerns.

In reading through à Brakel’s The Christian’s Reasonable Service, I came across his discussion of the nature of the new creation and paused for some reflection. Will this heaven and earth be purged of sin and death and restored by God, or will God annihilate the current creation and start over completely? According to à Brakel, respectable folk can disagree on this one, but he provides some compelling reasons to hold that the ‘structural edifice’ or ‘substance’ of the current heavens and the earth will remain and simply be purged and restored to a right condition.

These reasons include: (1) Peter expects restoration (apokatastasis) in Acts 3:21. (2) Paul’s reference to the ‘whole creation’ in Romans 8:18-25 is broader than the company of Christian believers, and the ‘whole creation’ is to be delivered, not annihilated. (3) The ‘folding up’ and ‘changing’ of creation in Psalm 102 and Hebrews 1 assumes that what is changed ‘continues to exist in essence’. (4) Peter (2 Pet. 3) likens the destruction of creation to the perishing of the old world in the flood of Noah, which was not an annihilation of all things (4:353-5). Because of Revelation 21:1, à Brakel is prepared to allow that the sea may be omitted from the new creation, but even here ‘[w]hether this refers to substance or characteristics, we shall leave unanswered’ (4:355). Indeed, there’s quite a lot that à Brakel is prepared to leave ‘unanswered’: Continue reading

‘Jesus Is Lord': A Political Statement?

At the heart of the Christian confession lie a number of claims about the person of Christ, among which is the assertion that ‘Jesus is Lord’ (Acts 2:36; Rom. 10:9-10).  N. T. Wright and others in NT scholarship and Christian theology have emphasized that, ‘if Jesus is Lord, then Caesar is not,’ and that the book of Revelation, for example, is designed partially to subvert the hubris of the Roman Empire.

In the wake of the election here in the US, it’s interesting to ponder whether, or in what sense, the declaration of Christ’s lordship is indeed a political statement.  I’ll share my own (non-partisan) thoughts and would be glad to hear some others’.

Broadly speaking, it clearly can be called a political statement: the triune God reigns over all creation and is executing his purpose of the summing up of all things in Christ (Eph. 1:10), according to which all the pomp and machinations of human rulers are relativized.  This undoubtedly affords a precious solace and encouragement in the midst of the difficulties of this life, political or otherwise.

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On Doubting Ourselves (as Opposed to Holy Scripture)

I came across this comment in Bavinck as he examines the doctrine of eternal punishment and aims to bind the discussion to exegesis:

Human feeling is no foundation for anything important (RD, 4:708).

Bavinck has a deep appreciation for nature and for common grace.  For example, he affirms the reality of an implanted knowledge of God and recognizes the force of the consensus gentium (consensus of the nations) as an argument for belief in human immortality.  Yet, at the end of the day, he’s unwilling to crown fallen human intuition king in the realm of theology.

What do you make of the quote?  Is it helpful or unhelpful in relation to contemporary debates about hell and in relation to other theological loci?

Handing Over the Kingdom

I was reading an article the other day by Richard Muller entitled: “Christ in the Eschaton: Calvin and Moltmann on the Duration of the Munus Regium (the last post made me think of this). The focus of the article is on how we should understand Jesus’ handing over the kingdom to the Father, based most specifically on 1 Cor. 15:24-28. Moltmann’s worry, it seems, is that a certain interpretation of this would make the incarnation superfluous. In his The Crucified God: The Cross of Christ as the Foundation and Criticism of Christian Theology, Moltmann writes,

The eternal Son of God so to speak retreats into the Trinity, and the man Jesus enters the host of the redeemed, or conversely, the whole of redeemed existence enters into the divine relationship of the unio personalis, i.e., into immediacy with God. The manhood of Christ which was crucified for the redemption of sinners no longer has a place in existence which has been redeemed and placed in immediacy with God” (258-9, see Muller, 31).

The problem, Muller argues, is that Calvin is clear elsewhere that this passage does not conflict with passages arguing for an eternal reign of Christ. There is some kind of distinction, in other words, in the consummation of all things, where Christ’s reign shifts but does not deteriorate. Continue reading

On Pastoral Eschatology

I vividly remember the first funeral I officiated: A twenty-six year old engaged to be married whose parents were desperate to know his eternal whereabouts. “Was his childhood faith sufficient?” they asked. “Did his lifestyle in the intervening years represent a ‘falling away’ or lack of genuine faith? How do we know?”

In a recent post on Pastoral Eschatology Stephen Holmes registers several of the theological and pastoral issues that attend such questions and offers a few practical suggestions. Rather than appealing to decisions of faith, by moving the issue of eternal fate “back” into the doctrine of God, it seems to me Holmes offers a more productive and theologically secure place from which to minister to grieving families.

I am fully convinced-and became so in pastoral ministry, performing funerals-that we cannot and should not speculate about the eternal fate of any particular person. God will judge, and…when we see God’s judgement we will be astonished by the depths of His mercy, and by the heights of His justice.

…Too many Evangelical accounts of personal eschatology are simply Pelagian: I make decisions, and God responds to them. This has to be wrong. Continue reading