A Review of “Rapture Fiction and the Evangelical Crisis” by Crawford Gribben – Chapter 4 – “Left Behind and the Gospel”

March 31, 2007

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Gribben starts off this chapter with a fresh reminder that the Gospel is of utmost importance. The Scriptures remind us of the importance of maintaining the purity of the Gospel. It is because of this that Gribben is rightly concerned about what kind of Gospel is being taught in current Rapture fiction especially the Left Behind series.

Gribben graciously reminds us of where the authors of Left Behind came from. Both Jenkins and LaHaye started off tremendous. Their ministries and writings were focused on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Even in the intention of the series the author’s focus is clearly evangelistic. So Gribben posts the question of whether since God is blessing this series, he should be judging its presentation of the Christian faith.

Gribben notes that the Left Behind series gets it right in a number of places. The morality inherent in the series is not just a reflection of evangelicalism but is derived from the Scriptures themselves. There is a genuine desire in the series as well to see a spiritual change in America. They recognize the mariginal status of true Christianity. Even though perhaps more than are warranted are taken in the rapture (on Rayford’s flight when the rapture occurs, one hundred people are missing) there is still the focus that people are born in sin and separated from God. Salvation is the gift of God and not of works.

If the series gets all of this right, where does it go wrong? Gribben note a number of issues that are reflective of the thinking of American evangelicalism at large. One thing he notes is the disappearance of all babies and pre-teenage children in the rapture. The presupposition is all those who cannot understand the Gospel will be raptured. Gribben notes there is some biblical support for the idea. Yet, Gribben is cautious here. He rightly condemns the idea of an “age of accountability”; that those under some arbitrary age are somehow automatically saved. Scripture does not say this. Gribben is correct to write, “If all children under the age of twelve are save, they are saved because God has applied to them the benefits of his Son’s death” (p. 69). This is exactly right. While we cannot fully understand the mysteries of God, from what the Scriptures teach us about original sin and salvation, the only reason babies and little children are saved is because God applied the atoning work of Christ to them as well (for a good look into this issue see Ronald H. Nash, When a Baby Dies: Answers to Comfort Grieving Parents [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999]).

Gribben also comments on the failure to explain some key concepts to the process of salvation. The series rightly reiterates the Scriptural teaching that God wants all to be saved but never explains why the sovereign God of the universe does not actually save all. Of course, this delves into issues of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility which are outside of the scope of this review, yet it is something that needed to be clarified. Is God impotent or what? Clearly, the series does not present God as being truly sovereign. He sits idly by and allows humanity to decide whether or not they will “let God bless them.” According to the series God is a careless absentee monarch who has given responsibility to govern this world to his enemy.  Gribben is right to note that this is dangerous and presents a faulty view of God.

The sinner’s prayer is another problematic issue in the Left Behind series. Gribben notes that “The meaning of spiritual death is never fully considered in the series. If ‘there is none that seeketh after God’ (Rom. 3:11), and God cannot seek after individuals, then there is no basis for their reconciliation. If individuals are ‘dead’ to God, and he is unable to press his attentions upon them, it is impossible that anyone should be saved. But, in the novels, reconciliation is possible and frequently attained through characters’ use of the ‘Sinner’s Prayer'” (p. 71).

To so-called belief that a simple prayer guarantees one’s salvation is reflective of a theologically weak evangelicalism. It is popularly employed by many evangelists. “Just pray this prayer and you will be saved.” Just because it is popular does not make it right, says Gribben (p. 72).  Gribben hits the mark dead on in this extended quote.

“Across the world, evangelical churches are filled with people who believe that they are Christians on the basis of a prayer they once prayed. But the Bible never teaches us that we are saved through a prayer. Neither do the apostles ever instruct their hearers that praying a prayer with these specified components will guarantee salvation. This emphasis on the Sinner’s Prayer is perhaps one of the most concerning aspects of the novels’ presentation of the gospel, for we are saved by faith, not the utterance of a prayer, and it is only too possible that the mechanistic idea of salvation the novels develop will encourage people without saving faith to believe they have been saved because they have recited a set form of words. The Sinner’s Prayer is a myth that has made possible the corruption of the modern evangelical church, channeling many who have never known the saving grace of God into membership of his churches” (p. 72-73).

This is a problem in all of modern evangelicalism. The prayer becomes the object of faith instead of Jesus Christ being the object of faith. The series presents salvation as being too easy; as having no commitment and necessary fruitful works.

Another issue in the series is that of free will and a second chance after the rapture. Gribben is right to note that this is an incredibly debated area of dispensational thought. In fact, in my own ministries I have heard statements that none will be saved after the rapture, or that there will be only one chance for salvation, etc. Most scholarly dispensationalists would admit that there are opportunities for salvation after the rapture just as before but that the requirement is still faith in Jesus Christ. Even stranger is how the series starts to abandon its views on free will and argues that free will disappears and that people will not be able to choose or deny Christ.

Gribben notes that even scarier is the equation of baptism with salvation. In the first installment in another series based on the Left Behind series, Apocalypse Dawn, it is argued that baptism is like resurrection. It is not symbolic of faith in Christ but is equivalent to life in Christ. This is dangerous and opposed to the teaching of Scripture.

Gribben is right. There are some things about the rapture fiction genre which are good yet there is much to be concerned over. The nature of the true Gospel is at stake here! I personally read most of the Left Behind series back when I was in high school and had never really thought about what was really being said but instead was caught up in the movement of the story. Gribben has opened my eyes to the danger of corrupting the Gospel in any way. As I continue to study the Word, theology, and culture, I am scared for the future of Christianity. May many read this call to return to a pure Gospel!


“Listening to the Past – Lessons from Andrew Fuller” 12

March 24, 2007

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My apologies to all of you in the delay of my posting on this blog. With my recent transition to Toronto and my frequent trips back to Windsor to bring my library to Toronto it has kept me from posting. My Saturday posts on Crawford Gribben’s book Rapture Fiction and my Sunday posts on thoughts from Andrew Fuller have gone neglected. I hope to remedy one of these right now.

This past Friday we had Dr. Bingham Hunter from Harvest Bible Chapel in Rolling Meadows, Illinois come and lead our Day of Prayer. Dr. Hunter is a subject specialist in the area of prayer and his messages were challenging, humbling, and encouraging. His third message was on “How Can we Tell God Know Anything when He Already Knows Everything?” In my reading of Fuller I found a fitting quote that went along with this message. It is in a letter that is found in The Armies of the Lamb: The Spirituality of Andrew Fuller, pp. 88–89.

“I used to think too, that the doctrine of election was a reason why we need not pray, and I fear there are many who split upon this rock; who think it is to no purpose to pray, as things will be as they will be. But I now see that the doctrine of election is the greatest encouragement, instead of a discouragement, to prayer. He that decreed that any one should be finally saved, decreed that it should be in the way of prayer; as much as he that has decreed what we shall possess of the things of this life, has decreed that it shall be in the way of industry; and as we never think of being idle in common business, because God has decreed what we shall possess of this world’s good; so neither should we be slothful in the business of our souls, because our final state is decreed. We may be sure of this, for the Lord hath spoken it—that the wrath of God will be poured out on the families who call not on his name; while the door of mercy will be opened to all who knock at it.”


“The Evil of Sin”

March 22, 2007

“What a dreadful evil is sin! It has introduced disorder into our world, and destruction upon God, and the most awful ruin upon man. God is dishonoured in his character and government, and man is ruined both in body and soul. It distresses the soul with the keenest anguish, and disgraces the body to the last degree. It exposes, that, to endless torment; this, to everlasting infamy: the one to worms and rottenness, and both to fire and brimstone. How miserable, then, is man! Miserable indeed, miserable beyond conception, if left in the hands of his enemies. Sin and the law, death and the grave, united their various powers to make us completely wretched: and wretched w must have been, had not grace provided, and the gospel revealed, relief. Yes, my fellow-sinners, if sovereign mercy had not interposed on our behalf, despair had been rational, and damnation certain. But, blessed be God, grace, divine grace has appeared: it shines in the gospel and reigns through Jesus Christ. It has made provision for the guilty and destitute; for all, whoever they be, that are willing to owe their salvation to its power and agency. The admirable and animating words, which are now under consideration, inform us; that there is a deliverance, to be expected by the miserable sinner; to be enjoyed, by the real saint; a glorious deliverance, from sin and the law, from death and the grave. Victory over these enemies; deliverance from these evils, a delightful truth, transporting thought!”

Abraham Booth (1734-1806)

(“Christian Triumph,” in Michael A. G. Haykin, ed., The Works of Abraham Booth [Springfield, MO: Particular Baptist Press, 2006], I:217)


Baptist Distinctives – Two Offices of the Church (Pastor and Deacon)

March 14, 2007

The first leader in the church is the pastor. He has a number of responsibilities in the local church. First, we need to explain that there is no distinction between elders, bishops, or pastors. We will look at their qualifications and responsibilities as well in the church.

 

First, in a number of religious groups there is the idea that not only are there pastors and deacons but there are bishops as well. The Roman Catholic and Anglican system especially argues for that distinction. Not only is there a “shepherd” of each church there is a “shepherd” of “shepherds” that looks out for them. The problem is that in the Scriptures, all three terms are used interchangeably as pastor, elder, and bishops. In particular, Titus 1:5–8 has Paul explaining that elder and bishop are used interchangeably (in v. 7 bishop is translated as overseer). Second, even more clear in Acts 20:17–28 Paul calls the elders of the churches in
Ephesus and later on in v. 28 calls them both bishops (overseers) and shepherds. These three individuals are all the same.

 

Some churches argue that there are two groups of elders in the church. They will say there are both teaching and ruling elders. The verse they turn to is 1 Timothy 5:17. In some translations it seems that Paul makes a distinction between those who rule well and those whose job it is to preach and teach, there should be both ruling and teaching elders. This is a poor translation. The NASB translates it correctly as, “The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.” Paul’s focus is that pastors who are doing a good job at ruling their church, and especially if they are working hard at preaching and teaching are worthy of double honour. Paul is not advocating some kind of second type of pastor who does not teach. The idea in the New Testament of a pastor always combines the idea of teacher. 

 

Now, two passages explain the qualifications of a pastor. 1 Timothy 3:1–7 and Titus 1:5–7. Essentially, the requirements are that he be above reproach, husband of one wife, a godly leader in his home, and able to learn the Word and teach and preach it. One is called as pastor by a congregational vote and is ordained by the church to perform the functions of a pastor and to carry out the gospel ministry. Pastors are to be only men. There are two major reasons for this. Whenever Paul is talking about an elder, he says they are men. For instance, he says they are to be “husband of one wife.” It does not say and “wife of one husband.” Clearly Paul felt the pastoral ministry was for men. Second, there is clear teaching in 1 Timothy 2:11–15. Paul is referring to the public worship service when he says that women are to learn in silence and not to teach or have authority over a man. This is not cultural because he roots it in the very order of creation itself. Therefore, pastors are men.

 

The responsibilities of the pastor are that he be a shepherd of the flock. He is to be the ever ready, sympathizing and helpful friend to all. He is to guide the flock into godliness and service to Christ. He is to be the preacher and teacher of God’s word. For though a pastor, he must still be a preacher, a Gospel herald to his flock. The minister is, perhaps first of all, a teacher.

 

We generally accept that the Scriptures teach a plurality of elders, or that churches can have more than one elder or pastor. Depending on the size of a church, multiple pastors may be required. We are opposed to the idea that there is a full equality amongst the pastors. Instead of all elders being equal, we look at Acts 15 and the issue of the Jerusalem council as a paradigm. There were a number of elders in the Jerusalem church but James shows he is an authority over them by reaching the decision about what to do regarding the question of Gentiles and the church.

 

Deacons are the second group of officers in the church. They originally were raised up to free the apostles and pastors of the churches for the ministry of prayer and study and preaching and teaching the Word. Acts 6 explains the original formation of the group known as deacons and 1 Timothy 3:8–13 explains their qualifications.

 

Acts 6 teaches that the apostles were getting bogged down in daily temporary affairs of the church and were neglecting the ministry that God specifically had called them to, and this was to pray and study the Word so that they could effectively preach and teach the Word to the flock. 7 men were chosen from amongst the congregation then to serve as servants of the church. They met the temporal needs of the church so that the apostles and pastors would not be taken away from their first duty. By free vote of the church then, these men were chosen to have charge of the sick and needy members and whatever temporal affairs may require attention. They are also to act as counselors and assistants to the pastor in advancing the general interests of the body, both temporal and spiritual. There is no set amount of deacons in a church. It should be dependent on how small or large a church is to determine how many men are needed to serve it.

 

1 Timothy 3:8–13 teaches the qualifications of the deacon. They are very similar to that of the elder. They are not to be divorced (husband of one wife) and manage their homes well and lead godly lives and that they should be immersed in the Word. Essentially then, these are men who serve as the custodians of the daily temporal affairs of the church. They relieve the burden of the pastor regarding these affairs.

 

What about women deacons? Many good men and many Baptists have argued that women can be deacons (or at least there should be a second class of deaconesses). There are a number of reasons to see deacons as only being men. He uses the language of servant as an office. Then when he mentions the women/wives, he does not use that term again, nor a feminized form of the term deacon either (to mean deaconesses). Some would argue though that Phoebe was called a deacon in Romans 16:1. Most though accept the quite proper translation of “servant” and not that the office of “deacon” was in view. The major problem with seeing this refer to women deacons or a separate group of deaconesses is that it is an abrupt change to all of a sudden start discussing another office. So why did Paul mention deacon’s wives? This seems to be an ad hoc list of qualities both of overseers and deacons, and Paul simply felt the need to bring up some qualities of deacon’s wives. Why does he not mention overseers wives? The duties as deacons make it all the more important for them to have godly wives to help them in their servant ministries. Since, an overseer’s duties cannot truly be partnered with their wives (teaching, preaching, authority), Paul did not need to mention them. Therefore, deacons are men.


Baptist Distinctives – Separation of Church and State

March 7, 2007

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Matthew 22:15–22 is the key passage setting forth the basic text on separation of church and state. In this passage the Pharisees and Herodians faced Jesus with a loaded question (15–17). Involved was their messianic concept which forbade payment of taxes to a pagan power. To answer categorically either way would have involved Jesus in trouble with the Romans or the Jews. Jesus did neither (18). The coin testified to the Jews’ subservience to and dependence upon the State (19–20). They also recognized their relationship toward God. Jesus pointed out their obligations to both God and the State (21).

The principle of the separation of church and state does not mean that the two have no relationship whatever. Jesus recognized the existence, rights, and functions of the State (Matt 22:15–21). The early Christians in missionary work utilized roads and sea lanes provided by the State (cf. Paul’s travels, Acts 13–16; 27). On occasion Paul accepted or called for the protection of the State (Acts 18:12ff; 21:27ff; 22:25ff; 25:10–12). At the same time Christians were exhorted to submit to the authority of the State (Rom 13:1–7; 1 Peter 2:12–17). Even when persecuted by the State they were to endure it willingly as a testimony unto the Lord (1 Peter 3:14–15). In the peaceful existence of an orderly society they were to carry on their spiritual work (1 Tim 2:1ff).

Church and state are mutually related in the normal events of life. The state provides a proper atmosphere in which the churches carry on their work (cf. fire and police protection, national security, postal service, and general stability in society). In turn the churches endeavor to produce through the gospel the type of Christian character conducive to a well-ordered society.

But church and state are also mutually exclusive. Neither shall endeavor to control the other or to use it in the discharge of its separate responsibility. The church shall not seek to achieve its spiritual goals through political power (cf. Matt 4:8–10; John 6:15). Nor shall the state commandeer the church for political ends (Acts 4:19). No religion shall be favored above another. The state shall not levy taxes upon strictly religious property, nor shall any church receive tax funds to be used in the performance of its spiritual, educational, and healing ministry (cf. 1 Cor 16:1ff). The church shall be free to determine its own form of worship, faith, government, membership, and missionary outreach. But such shall be carried on within the framework of the laws of the state.


I’ve been Accepted!

March 6, 2007

I just received my acceptance papers in the mail today! I am now a Ph.D. student in Historical Theology at the University of Wales Lampeter. I will be studying under Dr. Frances Knight, Senior Lecturer in Church History at the University of Wales, Dr. Maurice Dowling, Professor of Church History and Theology at Irish Baptist College, and Dr. Michael Haykin, Principal and Professor of Church History and Reformed Spirituality at Toronto Baptist Seminary and Bible College.

This is extremely encouraging news! University of Wales Lampeter is the third oldest institution for higher learning in England and Wales (after Oxford and Cambridge). Dr. Knight and Dr. Dowling are accomplished Church Historians with specialties in the history of Christianity in England during the period in which I am writing. Of course, Dr. Haykin is a highly esteemed Church Historian with a particular focus in 18th century Baptist History which is precisely my focus.

Again, for those who may not have heard before, my focus is on the Christological Apologetics of Andrew Fuller. My dissertation title is “The Scriptural Influence on Andrew Fuller’s (1754–1815) Views of the Person and Nature of Jesus Christ in the Midst of Christological Controversy.” I hope to focus on how Fuller understood and interpreted the Scriptures (what he called “The Oracles of God”) in his defence of the orthodox positions on the person and nature of Jesus Christ in his controversies with the Johnsonians, Paine, Priestly, and finally, Vidler.

 I am incredibly excited about this new phase of my life. Pray for me that I may devote my studies to this in such a way that it brings Glory to God and benefit to the Church of Jesus Christ.


“Listening to the Past – Lessons from Andrew Fuller” 11

March 4, 2007

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It is generally a wonderful occasion in the life of a church to have men and women turn from sin and embrace their Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. When they share their testimonies and show their allegiance to Christ through believer’s baptism, it can be an incredible motivating event in the life of the church. We had a baptism service today at my home church of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Windsor, ON. Two gentlemen and one women shared their travels from Roman Catholicism to embracing a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and His offer of free grace. I am always moved and motivated when this kind of wonderful event occurs. In light of this, I wanted to quote from one of Fuller’s circular letters regarding baptism. It is titled, “Practical Uses of Christian Baptism” and it can be found in the Works, III:343-344.

“The baptism of a number of serious Christians is an interesting and impressive spectacle! Often on such solemn occasions have we witnessed the falling tear; not only from the parties baptized, and others immediately connected with them, but from indifferent spectators. We could appeal to the consciences of many serious Christians, whether they did not receive their first convictions of the reality of religion at such opportunities. We could appeal to all of you, who have been in the habit of attending the administration of this ordinance, whether it has not frequently furnished you with the most solemn and tender reflections. Has not the sight of a number of young Christians, offering themselves willingly to the Lord, touched the secret springs of holy sensibility? Yes; you have been reminded by it of your own solemn engagements, and led to inquire in what manner they have been fulfilled. You have remembered the days of your espousals, when you first went after your Saviour as in the wilderness, and have been sweetly impelled to renew the solemn surrender. Nor have your reflections been confined to yourselves; you have considered these new accessions to the church of God as supplying the place of others that were taken away and as fulfilling the promise, ‘Instead of thy fathers, shall be thy children.’ When a number of dear friends and useful characters have, one after another, been removed by death, you have been ready to ask, Who shall fill up their place; and by whom shall Jacob arise? But when others of promising gifts and graces have come forward and yielded up themselves to the Lord in baptism, they have seemed in a manner to be ‘baptized for the dead.’ Thus, when the ranks of an army in a besieged city are thinned by repeated engagements, and the hearts of survivors are ready to faint, a reinforcement arrives: a body of new companions throw themselves in to its relief, and inspire them with new vigour.”