Monthly Archives: August 2019

Are the “End Times” About the Future…. Or Partially About the Past?

As yet another major Christian denomination, the Evangelical Free Church of America, changes it doctrinal statement, to back away from its historic commitment to premillennialism, it bears reflecting upon how much Christians are rethinking the “End Times,” in the 21st century.

Dick Woodward, the late pastor emeritus of my church, and founder of the Mini Bible College, always described himself as a “pan-millennialist,” when it came to the “End Times.” When asked, what is a “pan-millennialist?,” Dick would always say that he believed that everything would simply “pan-out” in the end.

That made for a very humorous joke, but it cut across the grain of what passed for the so-called biblically “inerrant,” premillennialist view of the “End Times,” that dominated American evangelical theology, in the latter half of the 20th century. Today, many core doctrines of the Christian faith are under attack, by the surrounding culture. Surely, Christians are compelled to defend the faith, against the onslaught of these attacks. So, is the doctrine of premillennialism, one of those core doctrines?

The main problem with asserting premillennialism as a core doctrine, is historical. Premillennialism, the belief that Jesus’ Second Coming will occur prior to establishing a 1,000 year millennial kingdom on earth, has reigned supreme in many American evangelical church circles, despite being historically a minority position, within the 2,000 year tradition of the Christian church as a whole. When pressed, my pastor, Dick Woodward, would describe himself as a progressive dispensational premillennialist, but he was never dogmatic about it. But was there any other genuine alternative, that took the Bible seriously?

When I was a young Christian, any mention of the “End Times” brought up ideas about the Rapture, a 7-year Great Tribulation, the nation of Israel, the Antichrist, and, of course, the Book of Revelation. In short, the “End Times” were all about events yet to happen in the future. But what if some of, if not most of, what we read in the Book of Revelation, is about events that have already happened in the past?

Such a question might make some Christians ill at ease. After all, many Christians still hold firmly to futuristic view of prophecy, that includes premillennialism. But a recent book I read, by Christian film maker Brian Godawa, suggests that there might be a better way to read the Bible, when it comes to biblical prophecy.

Filmwriter and author Brian Godawa encourages Christians to rethink biblical prophecy, by…. get this…. actually reading and studying the Bible.

Brian Godawa is perhaps best known from writing the screenplay for To End All Wars, a movie about life as a prisoner of war, under the Japanese during World War II. Based on a true story about Ernest Gordon, a Scottish soldier, this prisoner moved from being an agnostic to becoming a Christian, in the midst of the horrific trials he faced. After the war, Gordon became a Presbyterian chaplain at Princeton University.

But Godawa is also a book writer, and I listened to the audiobook version of End Times Bible Prophecy: It’s Not What They Told You. Godawa grew up in a Christian home, where he was taught the idea of a pre-tribulational “Rapture” of the church, followed by a 7-year Great Tribulation, to be then followed by Jesus’ Second Coming.

The problem was that Godawa was confused by all of the various speculations about the End Times, and how he was frustrated by the fact that all of the supposed prophecy predictions would continually fail.

I was reminded of the confusion that Godawa addresses by a recent statement made by Anne Graham Lotz, a daughter of the late evangelist Billy Graham, who believes that Jesus will return within her lifetime (listen at the 8:25 time mark). In keeping with Scripture, as she interprets it, Anne Graham Lots believes that her generation; that is, “this generation” will be the generation that sees the return of Jesus Christ. As she explained to the Christian Broadcasting Network, ” Israel was born in a day, May 14, 1948….Jesus said the generation that sees that take place is the generation that will be the last. And for me it’s meaningful. I was born May 21, 1948 so I believe it’s my generation.”

Now, I have always had great respect for Billy Graham, and his family. But what Anne Graham Lotz says here bothers me: Have not other Christians made the same type of predictions of Jesus’ expected return, only to be disappointed when such predictions fail to pan out? In other words, is Anne Graham Lotz’ view strictly based on firm biblical teaching, or is it simply speculation?

Anne Graham Lotz, daughter of the late evangelist Billy Graham, believes that her generation will live to see the Rapture of the Church. As her generation is entering their twilight years, is her speculation on the timing, cutting it rather close?

After doing years of research, Brian Godawa adopted what most theologians call a partial preterist view of the End Times. His view is “preterist,” in the sense that the word “preterist” means “past,” believing that many prophecies have already been fulfilled in the past, namely in the first century of the church. Yet his view is “partial,” in that Godawa believes that at least some of the End Times prophecies are still yet to happen in the future, such as the Second Coming of Jesus and the Resurrection of the Dead.

One of the top things that changed Godawa’s mind was that verse quoted by Anne Graham Lotz, in Matthew 24:34, where Jesus says to his listeners, “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” The standard futurist way of interpreting this verse is to say that “this generation” actually applies to events at least 2,000 years into the future.

Many Christians accept this interpretation as valid, but the vast majority of scholars, and many other curious non-specialists in the Bible, are not so convinced. After all, if Jesus was speaking to his contemporaries, in the 1st century, why would he refer to “this generation,” if he really was talking about Anne Graham Lotz’ generation, some 2,000 years later? I continually meet skeptics, and other critics of the Bible, who are convinced that Jesus was predicting the end of the world, within the period of the first century, and that Jesus was simply wrong.

A partial preterist view of the End Times, on the other hand, addresses the skeptics’ criticisms, while still affirming the trustworthiness of Jesus and the Scriptures, informed by evangelical biblical scholarship. In other words, Jesus, in Matthew 24, is indeed predicting something, that historically did come to pass, in the 1st century of the Christian era, thus adding confirmation to the New Testament claim, that Jesus truly was and is the Son of God. If Jesus did acccurately predict future events, that can be confirmed historically, then this would be consistent with the biblical claim that Jesus was indeed the Son of God. Brian Godwa argues that many Christians have failed to see this as being taught in the Bible, so they are unable to effectively defend the Bible, when the critics press upon the Bible-believing Christian.

Strictly futurist views of the End Times are deeply ingrained in the minds of many Christians, so Godawa goes to great lengths, even in this popular level book, to substantiate his argument. Godawa goes through the Bible, building his case that many of the biblical prophecies are actually metaphorical in nature, and that they should be not be taken in a non-metaphorical way. Concepts such as the “Day of the Lord,” “all the nations,” and cosmic catastrophes, such as “Blood Moons,” are explained within their original context, as the original biblical writer intended.

Christians who are reticent to believe that God would make heavy use of metaphorical language, to describe prophetic events, will probably be skeptical of Godawa’s book. Yet every Christian believes that there is at least some metaphorical language in the Bible; such as, Jesus’ description that you must “hate” your family, in order to be a disciple, or that the “sign of Jonah” refers to “three days and three nights,” in the belly of a great fish, as an idiomatic expression corresponding to the three days and two nights Jesus was dead, between his Crucifixion and Resurrection. Most Christians even agree that there are at least some metaphorical elements found in the Creation story in Genesis.

The key is to evaluate the contextual evidence, found within the text itself, from the perspective of the original writers of Scripture, in order to determine the correct interpretation of any particular passage of Scripture. Only in this manner can we responsibly understand what is metaphorical and what is non-metaphorical in the Bible.

What is the point of application of Godawa’s view? While we still await Jesus’ future Second Coming, looking at the original context of a great deal of biblical prophecy, including much of the Book of Revelation, the Bible was still addressing the situation of persecution, for that first generation of believers in the first century church. For Christians living in a world today, where persecution is more prevalent than ever, the example of first century Christians under stress can provide great comfort to believers undergoing current trials for their faith.

Has Brian Godawa made his case convincingly? At this point, I am not sure. The jury is still out, in my view (UPDATE: November, 2021. The more that I have studied the Scriptures, since I have read Godawa’s book, the more that I am convinced that Godawa has it right. See my post on 2 Peter).

What I am sure about is that Brian Godawa has made his case, in a very thorough manner, citing Scripture all the way through his book, and illustrating where the original context, that the biblical authors had in mind, actually makes a big difference in how biblical prophecy should be interpreted. Godawa still has a healthy measure of hermeneutical humility, acknowledging that he could be wrong in a number of the details of interpretation, that he presents. Nevertheless, he does find partial preterism to be convincing. Otherwise, he would not have written a book about it.

Many Christians have grown up, like Godawa, being taught about a pre-tribulational Rapture of the church, as an event separate from the Second Coming of Jesus, for example, with a central role for national Israel being within that divine plan. I can not categorically rule out that scenario as a possibility. Many of my dear Christian friends strongly hold to a futurist type of view. So if Anne Graham Lotz’ prediction comes true, then God will still get the glory, no matter what!

On the other side, Brian Godawa’s case for partial preterism is certainly within the range of acceptable bounds of theological orthodoxy. Is it the best and most accurate way to interpret difficult passages in the Bible? Well, the curious reader will need to pick up a copy of Brian Godawa’s book to find out.

Godawa’s book stands as a perfect complement to something like the late R.C. Sproul’s book The Last Days According to Jesus, reviewed a year ago here at Veracity. Sproul’s argument is mainly about the apologetic concerns, that partial preterism addresses forcefully, in which more futurist approaches to Bible prophecy, tend to wobble on. Godawa’s book digs more into the exegetical details, addressing particular interpretation issues found in difficult prophecy passages.

In addition to premillennial futurism and partial preterism, there are other views about the “End Times,” that Christians throughout church history have thoughtfully considered (See these prior posts at Veracity regarding amillennialism, the most well-known view taught within Christianity, promoted by the 5th. century, Saint Augustine, and historic premillenialism, defended recently by popular prophecy blogger, Joel Richardson). Christians should not be dogmatic about timing issues, concerning the Rapture or other specific End Time chronologies. Our ultimate landing point, is that Jesus is truly coming back. The other details will sort themselves out, over time.

Granted, the establishment of the modern state of Israel, is a strong point of evidence, in favor of a futurist perspective on biblical prophecy. Nevertheless, the delay of the Rapture, now some 71 years after the founding of the Middle Eastern Jewish state, leaves many people, Christian and non-Christian alike, wondering. I can not claim absolute confidence here, but if I had to pick a particular viewpoint, that is easier to defend with a non-believer, then the partial preterism view advocated by Brian Godwa carries with it the best overall argument.

Netflix Goes Conspiracy Theory With The Family

While we are talking about conspiracy theories….

Some of the buzz this past month in social media is about the docu-series by Netflix, The Family. The Family purports to tell the story of Doug Coe, who died a couple of years ago. He was the leader of a pretty amorphous group that has sponsored the National Prayer Breakfast, for decades, attended by Presidents, Congressmen, and other world leaders.

The whole objective? According to “The Family,” otherwise known as the “Fellowship Foundation,” they are about introducing “the person and principles of Jesus, which are at the core of our mission and message,” to men and women in the halls of political power, bridging the divides that separate and alienate people.

But apparently the writers behind the Netflix production see something more sinister at work. A review of the docu-series, at Vermont Public Radio, contends that “a secretive group has been grooming young, Christian men for leadership positions in American politics for decades, all the while ingratiating itself with presidents and congressmembers of both parties — and sidling up to some dictators around the world.

Say wha???

Doug Coe (credit: A. Larry Ross)

I met Doug Coe’s son, Jonathan, while I was in college, just a year or two before Jonathan died of cancer. His enthusiasm for knowing Jesus was infectious, and he and some other friends encouraged me, and some of my other college buddies, to see what they were doing in Northern Virginia.

I had nearly zero interest in politics, and in the post-Watergate era, I disliked politicians generally. But in such a divided world, where it seemed like Republicans and Democrats were at one another’s throats all of the time, in the midst of international tensions surrounding the waning years of the Cold War, perhaps some time in Washington D.C. would give me a more positive view of how Christian faith might make a difference for good, in the public sphere.

I lived at Ivanwald, a house where young Christian men live in Arlington, run by “The Family,” for about a month after college. There I attended Bible study meetings, washed dishes, pruned some shrubbery at another home that serves as an informal retreat center, and got to meet a few Congressmen. Some were Republicans. Some were Democrats. I actually was privileged to pray with them. It was encouraging to see how these political figures, who could be so acrimonious in public, were also able to find common ground in private, by discussing the leadership principles of Jesus Christ.

Quite a few of these Congressmen seemed quite sincere in their faith. Some others, I were not entirely sure about. And one or two of my fellow Ivanwald housemates knew very little about the Bible, spouting some ideas that lacked theological depth and cohesion. But the odd apples were rare. Most everyone else was great to be around.

It was all very low-key. I also played lots of volleyball. After my few weeks there, I started my new job after college, and said goodbye to many of those new friends. I have kept up with several of them, on and off over the years, drifting away somewhat as we all got involved with our families, other friends, and jobs, among other things.

Wow. I never would have thought that I had been part of some “secretive group,” doing something so insidious as praying together and playing volleyball.

Jeff Lucas, a Christian reviewer of the film, put it this way at Premier Christianity magazine, over in the U.K., and he expresses the problem with the film exactly:

So how do you attack a group for showing love and support? First of all, cue spooky music throughout the docudrama, a cheap stunt. Put a frightening stanza as a background to shots of Julie Andrews running up a hill declaring that those hills are alive, and you can easily give the impression that that singing nun might be a serial killer and a member of the illuminati. The haunting chords create a conspiratorial atmosphere, which colours everything that is said.

But then in this series, not much is said. The notion seems to be that all influence is conspiratorial, and collaboration is criminal, a laughable notion not only in DC, but in any political arena, which is all about impact and partnership. And in this gospel according to Netflix, Christian influence is especially evil.

I shake my head in disbelief. It really makes me wonder. Why even bother to put the money into making a film series like this, supposedly “exposing” how political leaders, across political divides, come together around events like the National Prayer Breakfast?

Journalist Jeff Sharlet, who wrote the two books that served as the basis for the film series, also lived at Ivanwald, though I never overlapped with him. I am not sure what really got him there to Ivanwald in the first place, and what made him so ultimately hostile to it all, but he sure has a creative imagination.

While some people like conspiracy theories regarding how scientists, government educators and agencies, and museum curators have duped the public for decades regarding science, others like conspiracy theories about spiritually-minded people trying to manipulate Congressmen to think about God more over bacon and eggs, to impose some sort of “theocracy” on an unsuspecting public.

Cue the spooky music again.

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

That kind of narrative is really ridiculous.

Alas, with every conspiracy theory there is a grain of truth to it. As any Christian can tell you, sharing your faith with another person involves some risk. You never know absolutely or completely if that person you are befriending might betray your trust, and use you for ulterior motives. Those involved with “The Family” have sought to reach out to some rather unsavory characters, just as Jesus sought to do with tax collectors and prostitutes. Furthermore, some drawn into those outreach efforts have had their faith built on shaky ground.

Some political elites can be really nasty people. Even spiritual sounding ones. As a result, Christians can be easily manipulated themselves by those who are solely motivated by the thirst and intoxicating lure of power. Christians are not immune from such temptation. As Sophie Gilbert writes in this mixed review for The Atlantic, there are people in the halls of political power who have exposed some in “The Family” to the darkest side of the political world.

NEWSFLASH: Political elites can cheat on their spouses, look for inappropriate favors, etc., just as easily as your unsuspected neighbor who hates politics can, too. Betrayal hurts people, no matter where it is.

If there is anything of value in the Netflix feature, it will hopefully serve as a wake-up call to Christians, to remind us of the seductive nature of power, particularly political power, that we might proceed with extreme caution when dealing with matters of state. In that sense, Jeff Sharlet has a valid point. The low-key nature of “The Family” has made it difficult to instill the most proper level of accountability, in those outreach efforts.

Yet what worries Jeff Sharlet, and his cohorts behind the Netflix production, is the fear that Christians have been working secretly behind the scenes to pull the levers of power, as a way of subverting American democracy. In other words, there is a conspiracy afoot, and concerned Americans need to put a stop to this. The silliest thing about this narrative is that it completely ignores the evidence, that trying to get a bunch of diversely-minded Christians together, to conspire much of anything is really difficult to do.

I see the problem very, very differently. The more insidious reality is that by trying to reach out to the political elites, the powers that seek to destroy the Kingdom of God will draw unsuspecting Christians into their sphere of influence, corrupting those Christians who seek to reach out to those political elites, and thus compromising their witness for Christ.

Surely, some viewing The Family will view all Christians with the deepest suspicion, fully consistent with conspiracy theory thinking. Likewise however, many people of various outlooks and perspectives will continue to look upon any and everyone in the political realm (and one another) with similar fear and mistrust, regardless of how spiritual faith plays into the mix.

So while The Family rightly observes how Christians can get their spiritual interests over-entangled, into the affairs of state, the whole conspiratorial flavor of the film merely reinforces they type of mistrust that continues to divide Americans from one another. The Family missed an opportunity to effectively engage in substantive issues of church-state relations, to create room for having conversations that matter, in a truly pluralistic society. Instead, it leaves the viewer anxious to demonize their ‘religious” neighbor, and shut down conversations.

This is all terribly sad.

Would it ever be possible to find a way to break down the barriers of mistrust that divides us all from one another? Is there anyone able to bridge those gaps that separate us?

Perhaps there is someone who has already done that.

I can think of one.

His name is Jesus.

When “Flat/Young” Earth Apologetics Run Off the Rails

Conspiracy theories never make for good arguments in favor of the Bible.

Here is a case in point: As I learned about a year ago, apparently, the Flat Earth movement, that is alarmingly growing in some corners of evangelical Christianity, is starting to make in-roads into the Young Earth Creationist movement. As a result, some Young Earth Creationists are treating the Flat Earth movement as though it were a conspiracy theory, but this apologetic tactic is not working very well.

Now, let me be clear. I have no problem with someone believing that God created the universe within six-24-hour days, citing the Creation as a miracle. God can create the world any way He wants. However, I DO have a problem if someone bases their argument for a Young Earth Creation on the idea that the current scientific evidence leads us to conclude that we should accept a 6,000 year old earth.

This is conspiracy thinking through-and-through. The current scientific consensus overwhelming confirms that the earth is 4.34 billion years old. Not 6,000. And such conspiracy logic only turns Bible-believing Christians into either skeptics of the Bible, or it turns people the other way, to double-down on the conspiracy, and then become something like Flat-Earthers, to reinforce their convictions. Sadly, critical thinking appears to be a commodity in short supply, in the age of social media, and endless YouTube videos, promoting the most wildest ideas possible.

Very briefly, Flat Earth believers base much of thinking on the idea expressed in the King James Version of the Bible:

And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day. (Genesis 1:6-8 KJV)

They take the word firmament, highlighted above, in a hyper-literal fashion, to mean something like a firm, metal dome, that separated the waters above, from the waters below, during the Creation week. Regardless of what one concludes as to how the ancient Hebrews understood this, biblical scholars today, including Young Earth Creationists, regard this as a metaphor. Most modern translations, like the ESV, translate the KJV word firmament as “expanse.” In other words, that blue sky you see above you is not some hardened surface, that keeps water from dripping down on your head, during a sunny day.

The so-called “logic” of Flat Earthers is severe. Flat Earthers therefore conclude that all other Christians, including other fellow Young Earth Creationists, are compromising Scripture, by not holding to a “literal” interpretation of the Bible.


Many evangelical Bible scholars accept that the ancient Hebrews viewed the world as a disk floating on the waters, supported by pillars. But does this mean that God’s Word is teaching us today to believe in a “flat earth?”…. Apparently some people think so. (credit: Logos Bible Software, the FaithLife Bible).

Ken Ham, the president of Answers in Genesis, who runs the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter, in Kentucky, has become alarmed about the growing popularity of the Flat Earth movement. But how does Answers in Genesis respond to this increasing threat to Bible-believing Christianity?

Danny Faulkner, an astronomer with Answers in Genesis, has taken up the challenge to try to beat some sense into those who might be drawn to Flat Earth thinking. The popularity of the Flat Earth, among some evangelical Christians, through a growing number of Internet websites and YouTube channels, has even led to the  making of a documentary movie, featuring Danny Faulkner, and Hebrew scholar, Stephen Boyd, featured in Is Genesis History?, to try to refute the Flat Earth. Here is the trailer:

The Flat Earthers have a 2 1/2 hour critical review of the documentary film. Danny Faulkner wrote an article, at the Answers in Genesis website, refuting the Flat Earth movement. It is actually quite a very good, informative article. The problem is that by making some minor adjustments, the adjusted article could also be used to refute Young Earth Creationism.

According to journalist Jay Johnson, at the Naturalis Historia blog, Johnson took Faulkner’s article and did a simple find-and-replace of key words in Faulkner’s article, replacing “flat” with “young,” “shape” with “age,” “a sphere” with “old,” “a globe” with “old,” and “astronomy” with “geology.” The results were startling.

Anyone with a computer, with a program having a find-and-replace feature, can do this themselves.


It is that easy.

Here is a sample of Danny Faulkner’s original article (you can read it in full at Answers in Genesis), with Jay Johnson’s find-and-replace, tweaked version of Faulkner’s article (read most of that here). To make it easier to compare, I am just quoting portions of paragraphs, with the changed words in bold:

(Faulkner)….if one becomes convinced that the earth is flat rather than being spherical, that is a major change in one’s worldview. If the earth truly is flat, then we have been lied to about the earth’s shape our entire lives. One must ask how and why this lie was created and perpetuated. Ultimately, this line of thinking leads to the conclusion that there must be a vast conspiracy about the earth’s shape that has been going on for a long time….
(Johnson)…if one becomes convinced that the earth is young rather than being old, that is a major change in one’s worldview. If the earth truly is young, then we have been lied to about the earth’s age our entire lives. One must ask how and why this lie was created and perpetuated. Ultimately, this line of thinking leads to the conclusion that there must be a vast conspiracy about the earth’s age that has been going on for a long time…

Another section, after Danny Faulkner encourages Flat-Earthers to rethink their approach, of thinking that their view is found in the Bible:

(Faulkner)….But flat-earthers typically are undeterred by such advice. They dismiss it as the mere teaching of a man. They proudly proclaim that they want to stick solely with what the Bible says. They fail to understand the importance of sound teaching taught in the very Bible they profess to uphold. God has ordained the church for several purposes, including instruction in the Scriptures. 1 Timothy 3:2 says that an overseer must be able to teach. But flat-earthers frequently dismiss instruction from Godly men, insisting that they know more about what the Bible says than men who have devoted many decades to prayerful study of the Scriptures. It never occurs to flat-earthers that they may be wrong in their understanding of the Bible. Nor does it occur to them that they have set themselves up as authorities on the meaning of the Bible, but their approach completely undermines the possibility of such an authority in the first place….Some flat-earthers also fashion themselves to be experts on science and the methodology of science. Consequently, they think of themselves as competent to dictate to scientists, both godly and ungodly, on how science ought to be conducted. But their definitions and practice of science appear to be formulated to make science as generally understood impossible.
(Johnson)…But young-earthers typically are undeterred by such advice. They dismiss it as the mere teaching of a man. They proudly proclaim that they want to stick solely with what the Bible says. They fail to understand the importance of sound teaching taught in the very Bible they profess to uphold. God has ordained the church for several purposes, including instruction in the Scriptures. 1 Timothy 3:2 says that an overseer must be able to teach. But young-earthers frequently dismiss instruction from Godly men, insisting that they know more about what the Bible says than men who have devoted many decades to prayerful study of the Scriptures. It never occurs to young-earthers that they may be wrong in their understanding of the Bible. Nor does it occur to them that they have set themselves up as authorities on the meaning of the Bible, but their approach completely undermines the possibility of such an authority in the first place. … Some young-earthers also fashion themselves to be experts on science and the methodology of science. Consequently, they think of themselves as competent to dictate to scientists, both godly and ungodly, on how science ought to be conducted. But their definitions and practice of science appear to be formulated to make science as generally understood impossible.

This really stood out to me:

(Faulkner)….It is intellectually lazy for Christians in their fear to insist on a strictly literal approach to all of Scripture. Sadly, flat-earthers who demand this hyper-literal approach to the Bible readily abandon it when it suits them. Ultimately, flat-earthers place themselves in a position of authority while simultaneously deconstructing the idea that there can’t be any authority other than Scripture. They are blind to the fact that they have equated their understanding of Scripture with what the Bible says…..
(Johnson)…It is intellectually lazy for Christians in their fear to insist on a strictly literal approach to all of Scripture. Sadly, young-earthers who demand this hyper-literal approach to the Bible readily abandon it when it suits them. Ultimately, young-earthers place themselves in a position of authority while simultaneously deconstructing the idea that there can’t be any authority other than Scripture. They are blind to the fact that they have equated their understanding of Scripture with what the Bible says.

And finally, here is Faulkner’s conclusion:

(Faulkner)….So, I continue to battle this threat to biblical Christianity. I’m not interested in debating flat-earthers. I don’t even try to convince them. Instead, my target audience is those who are true seekers, not those who think that they’ve already found truth in the falsity of flat earth, without doing the proper research. I also provide answers to those who have seen the unfortunate effects of the flat-earth movement in people that they know and love.
(Johnson)…So, I continue to battle this threat to biblical Christianity. I’m not interested in debating young-earthers. I don’t even try to convince them. Instead, my target audience is those who are true seekers, not those who think that they’ve already found truth in the falsity of young earth, without doing the proper research. I also provide answers to those who have seen the unfortunate effects of the young-earth movement in people that they know and love.

If you follow the whole line of thought, it is pretty amazing. So, after reading this, do you feel more drawn to the Flat-Earth movement, as the most faithful expression of biblical Christianity? Do you feel more drawn to the Young-Earth Creationist movement? Or are you skeptical about the whole business?

My purpose here is not to pick on Danny Faulkner. He is a legitimate astronomer, and a sincerely devout Christian man. I think he really wants to help people to have a love for the Bible, and a love for Jesus. But it becomes apparent that when you take the same type of anti-conspiracy apologetic logic, that Danny Faulkner uses against the Flat-Earth, and then apply it towards the Young-Earth, the results are quite unsettling, for those who advocate for a Young-Earth. To those who are not convinced of a Young-Earth, who hold to a more Old-Earth view, the whole thing is quite exasperating. There are better ways to approach the Flat-Earth nonsense.

If Young Earth Creationists are to make their case for their interpretation of the Bible, it would probably better serve their cause to try a different tactic. As I will report, in a future Veracity blog post, coming soon to a web browser near you, there are Young Earth Creationists who do take different approaches (the appearance of age, or a hope for a testable Young Earth model to be found in the future), and such apologists do their best to try to stay away from conspiratorial type of thinking. Whether such Young Earth Creationists succeed or not, in making their case, with a different approach, is an entirely different question. But it would better serve the entire Body of Christ for apologists to completely distance themselves from the conspiratorial quagmire, that tends to engulf Christians who do not bother to think things through more critically.

Is It OK For Christians to Doubt?

“Everybody’s” talking about it. Marty Sampson, a songwriter for Hillsong, announced on social media that he is seriously questioning his faith.

Well, if by “everybody,” you mean, those who pay attention to what is going on in the Christian music world, then sure.

Me? So, I really do not know that much about Marty Sampson’s role in Hillsong. But I get why such news can bother some people.

As someone who has helped to lead music in Christian worship settings for years, I have enjoyed Hillsong’s music. But I am also quite aware that Hillsong has its detractors, by those Christians who dismiss Hillsong as “theologically shallow.”

Either way, I am always disturbed and disappointed when I learn that an influential Christian leader has turned out to be somebody different, from who I thought that person was.

It gets even more grieving when otherwise sincere Christians inappropriately criticize doubters, like Marty, by saying some really insensitive things, like “You must not have been a true Christian,” or “You reject God because you want to justify your sin,” or “Satan has taken control of your life.”

The fact of the matter is that a lot of Christians wrestle with doubt. Not everyone, though. Like Marty, there have been a number of times in my life where I have wrestled with doubt. Some people are more prone to doubt than others. I just happen to be in that group more prone to doubt. Perhaps Marty Sampson is there, too.

Apologist Michael Licona, and his wife Debbie, who is a Christian music worship leader, put out the following video. The Licona’s do an excellent job addressing the question of doubt, for Christians, showing that it is OK to doubt, while encouraging those who doubt to explore resources, that help believers work through their doubts. Here are a few takeaways I had with the half-hour video:

  • There is a difference between intellectual doubts and emotional doubts. Discerning the difference is essential.
  • Do your research. There are competent Christian scholars addressing practically every area where doubts can trouble us (digging into the archives here on Veracity might be a good place to start!!!).
  • Evangelical churches are not doing enough to help fellow Christians deal with their doubts. Christian apologetics are sadly neglected in many churches today, and does not receive a high enough priority.

Enjoy!! There is life to be found in God’s Word!!

On Baptism: Why I Want to Worship at an Interdenominational Church

Some might think my view on baptism is quirky, but I have it for a good reason. I was baptized as an infant, and in 6th grade, I went through a confirmation process, that was, frankly, rather lame. So, when I finally came to a genuine awareness of having faith in Christ in high school, and I started attending a Baptist church, I really was not sure what to do with baptism.

My Baptist friends kept telling me, “Now that you are a believer in Jesus, you really should get baptized as an adult.” They would cite to me passages like Acts 2:38, arguing that those who came to faith in Jesus at Pentecost were told by Peter to become baptized. Heartfelt faith and water baptism go together. The practice of being baptized as a believing adult is known as credobaptism.

That made a lot of sense, when I first heard it.

But it also confused me, too, the more I thought about it. After all, I still had the certificate that my parents gave me, telling me that I was already baptized as a child.  The Bible clearly stated that “there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5). If I was already baptized as a infant, a practice known as paedobaptism, then to get “re-baptized” as an adult essentially served to de-legitimize my first baptism. There are not two baptisms for a Christian. Only one. “Re-baptism” would effectively make my infant baptism improper at best, or false, at worst, …. and that really bothered me.

After all, for most of church history, paedobaptism has been the standard practice throughout the centuries, for those raised in Christian churches. It has only been within the past few hundred years that there has been a shift towards credobaptism, among evangelical, Bible-believing people. Does this really mean that for the bulk of church history, that most Christians growing up in Christian families; that is, millions of them, received a “false” baptism? Perhaps my own baptism as an infant was “improper,” just as the disciples of Apollos in Ephesus needed to be properly baptized by Paul (Acts 19:1-7), but I could not bring myself to think of my baptism as a baby as “false.”

I went back and forth on the question for years.

Coming to Grips Personally With the Baptism Controversy, In Evangelical Christianity

When I had an opportunity to go to the Holy Land, and a really good friend, who was a Baptist pastor, was going to go with me, it seemed like this was the breakthrough I needed. So, I asked my Baptist friend if he would baptize me, as a thirty-some year old adult, in the Jordan River. He felt really honored to do that, and I felt privileged that he would participate. It would be an act of obedience, resolving to follow the teachings of the Bible, as best as I knew how. I had a peace in my heart and mind about that decision.

I remember talking with another companion on that Holy Land trip, relaying the above story to him, of my theological struggle with baptism, along with my decision to go ahead and get baptized as an adult. I told him that I was not completely sure about the validity of my infant baptism, but out of an act of obedience, though I did not understand it all, I would go forward with an adult believer’s baptism.

My companion’s response shocked me. He was quite honest to tell me that my reasons for getting baptized in the Jordan River were “rather lame.” In his view, my reasoning was theologically unsound.

Well, I have to admit that I did have some bizarre, inappropriate expectation that it would be some cool, spooky experience to be baptized in the Jordan River. After all, Jesus Himself was baptized there!

If you have been to Israel/Palestine, you will probably know the spot where most baptisms in the Jordan are performed, for American visitors to the area. It was indeed a special moment in my life. Any anxiety about not being properly baptized before was removed, at least at that moment. But it was not all that spooky. Experientially, nothing spectacular happened, as far as I could tell. The water in the Jordan River was just as wet as it is in any American baptismal pool or river.

The popular baptismal site at Yardenit, along the Jordan River, where I was baptized as an adult in 1994 (credit: Maranatha Tours)

When I got back to the States, after the trip, I got some chagrined looks on the faces of my paedobaptist friends, when I told them I got “re-baptized.” For those paedobaptists, baptism is a sign that signals identification with the New Covenant in Christ, just as circumcision has been a sign that signals identification with the Old Covenant. Just as circumcision was for infant males under the Old Covenant, so is baptism for infant male and females, under the New Covenant (Acts 2:39). Infant baptism does not automatically lead to faith, anymore than circumcision necessarily leads to the inward circumcision of a person’s heart, though that is what these outward signs point inwardly towards. I had never understood that before.

Mmmm. Had I done the right thing? I still was not completely sure. My friend’s judgment, that my decision to be baptized was “rather lame,” and theologically unsound, stuck in my head. As a result, I began to have doubts. Nevertheless, it was all water over the bridge now. At that point, the deed was done.

Sometime later, I began thinking about some of my credobaptist friends, who were baptized as older children, through a form of believer’s baptism. They later on fell away from the faith, only to come back to faith years later as older adults. Some of them wanted to get re-baptized, because now their faith really meant something. They simply had no idea what they were doing being baptized at 9-years-old. Therefore, now they wanted to get baptized… for real.

I know a few credobaptist pastors who would gladly baptize (re-baptize?) someone who was baptized as an infant. Why? Because that infant baptism was either improper or not a genuine baptism, since there was no genuine faith exercised by that infant. But I have to ask such credobaptist pastors a followup question: What would you do if a credobaptist person, baptized at age 9, were to come to you years later, perhaps at about age 20-30, saying that now they really understand what faith is about, and requesting re-baptism? Would you perform the baptism?

To make it even more complicated, what if that person had also been baptized as an infant? Would her baptism be a third baptism, or would her latest baptism cancel the previous two “improper” baptisms?

Is there some statute of limitations involved as to how many times you can get rebaptized? How do you distinguish between an improper or proper baptism, or even a false versus genuine baptism? Where is the cutoff on the age limit, if there is one, and who decides, and on what basis?

When such analysis extends down to this level, it all gets rather silly, if you ask me.

Baptism and the Conscience of the Christian

These are thorny questions that lead me to think that the question of baptism is one that is best reserved to take place between the person requesting baptism (or re-baptism), and the pastor or other person performing the baptism, or between parents, with their newborn, with their pastor. If families are already members of a particular church, that takes a definite stand on the issue, then they should naturally follow with what that church teaches.

But what if, like me, you are not so sure about all of this? Perhaps you lean a particular way, but you do not want to exclude being in fellowship with another believer who thinks differently? Perhaps you do have a strong conviction, but that you are trusting the work of the Holy Spirit that the Spirit might change the hearts and minds of your fellow believers, and that God might be calling you to be in a community of faith, as an instrument of change, where such introspective reflection is deemed permissible. In other words, while we can surely affirm that there is but one baptism, publicly signaling our initiation into Christian faith, the particular manner of one’s baptism, its mode, and its timing should be a matter of conscience.

Water baptism is the outward expression corresponding to the inward reality of a heart washed by the cleansing blood of Christ. Stressing out too much over exactly when someone really first experiences that inward reality and when you should get baptized can be counterproductive to spiritual growth. The timing of baptism with respect to when someone comes to actual faith is a matter of prayer, the study of Scripture, and having a sense of peace in your mind and heart.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of churches that take partisan approaches to baptism, that are not particularly helpful. Though I have never seen this personally, I have heard of some paedobaptist churches that look down judgmentally upon someone who was baptized as an infant, but then re-baptized as an adult. Perhaps such re-baptisms are improper, upon further reflection, but this is ultimately a matter of standing alone before God.

More often, there are credobaptist churches that will refuse membership to a person, if they only received infant baptism. Moreover, such churches might even allow a paedobaptist preacher to speak at their church, but then refuse them to become members. Even more extreme are those credobaptist churches that would refuse to serve communion to a paedobaptist. Some credobaptist churches, in some branches of the Churches of Christ tradition, even teach a kind of “baptismal regeneration” doctrine, insisting that unless you have been water baptized as an adult, you can not even be saved.

Some of this type of thinking just seems insane, if not outright wrong.

This is why I desire to worship in an interdenominational church, that takes an “agree-to-disagree” posture on the question of baptism. In a biblically-balanced, interdenominational church fellowship, the question of what constitutes genuine baptism is left as a conversation between the one with their question and their pastor, with Bibles open and hearts open with prayer.

Baptism was originally meant in the Bible to publicly signify our identification with Christ, and our profession of faith, a sign of unity of the one, true faith we have in Jesus. It is sad to see how so many churches mistreat baptism as a cause for division, instead of seeing it as a cause for rejoicing for the unity we have in Christ. Some believe that being a part of an interdenominational church, that stresses the principle of “agree to disagree” on non-essential issues of faith, is simply an excuse to avoid “taking a stand” on important issues facing the church.

I view it differently.

It is more about recognizing the complexity of how growing Christians develop in their understanding of Scripture, even changing their views over time, like I have. There is but one baptism, and one faith, not separate paedobaptist and credobaptist faiths, or baptisms, plural. Nevertheless, different Christians can approach issues, like baptism, and come to different conclusions, all under the supervision of Scripture. What matters most is the meaning of baptism, not the mode or timing.

We have come a long way from the early debates over baptism in the 16th century, among Protestant evangelicals. In those years, Protestants sought to settle these debates by actually putting to death the lives of those who held different viewpoints on baptism. I am so glad that those days are behind us. Thankfully, in our day and age, we can rely on a robust theology of conscience, to help us navigate what can be a confusing issue for at least some Christians. Thank the Lord!!

Conscience: What It Is, How To Train It, and Loving Those Who Differ, by Andy Naselli & J.D. Crowley, is a great book that I am currently reading, to work through difficult questions, like the “proper” understanding of baptism.

Addendum: Applying a Theology of Conscience to Other “Disputable Matters” 

If I had enough good sense, I would have ended this post at the previous paragraph. But in view of a lot of things that I have been thinking about, this past year, I need to tie up some loose ends.

Specifically, the inner questions of how baptism works should fit within the category of “disputable matters,” that the Apostle Paul addresses in Romans 14. As an example, I see a parallel here between the question of “women in ministry” and baptism (I could also add topics like the age of the earth, specific views of the “End Times,” the gifts of the Holy Spirit, etc., but for this discussion, I will just stick with the “women in ministry,” question that seems so utterly divisive among believers today). As I wrote about in my 20-post series on “women in ministry,” there is a sacramental character about church eldership, as well as baptism, whereby we have a physical act, that serves as a visible reminder of an invisible reality.

God has mercy towards us humans, who need physical, visible reminders of spiritual realities. With respect to “women in ministry,” the church needs to exhibit a physical, visible reminder of the invisible differences between men and women, in the corporate life in the church. Likewise, water baptism serves as a physical, visible reminder of what in means to be invisibly washed clean inwardly, by the precious blood of Jesus.

In that 20-post series, I made the case that an all-male eldership, exercising spiritual authority within a local church (as opposed to an eldership mixed with men and women), serves as that outward, sacramental reminder of the differences between male and female. Secular society today is very confused about gender; that is, we continually debate as to whether being male or female is essentially a characteristic defined at birth, or is it merely a social construct? In response, Christians who hold to an historic view of orthodox faith need to bear witness to the invisible reality that being male and female is more than just biology. Admittedly controversial or otherwise unconvincing for some, I contend that an all-male eldership, committed to listen to and serve men and women in a local church, empowering women to use of all of their God-given gifts for service in God’s Kingdom, has been a remarkably consistent expression of that spiritual reality, for 2,000 years of church history.

Why we need sacramental reminders, like all-male eldership and water baptism, is a great mystery. But God knows why we need these things. The problem is that we often get hung up, as Christians, on the physical, visible characteristics of the spiritual realities, which can dangerously obscure the precious inward meaning of those spiritual realities.

One more thing about this idea of conscience, with respect to baptism, and its connection to the “women in ministry” issue: We must be careful not to impose something that violates the sensitive conscience, of other Christians, in these matters.

Having a good conscience, for me, is essential. Compelling a person to get re-baptized (??) as an adult, when the person believes that their baptism as an infant was perfectly valid, now that they have a professing faith, seems to me to be a violation of conscience. Perhaps it might be okay, as it was for me, to not be sure about these type of things, but to proceed anyway in being baptized as an adult, trusting that God will eventually clear the way in one’s understanding. Likewise, it could be permissible to submit to the authority of a local elder body, where women are serving as elders, even if one is not completely convinced by the Scriptural legitimacy of the practice, or otherwise unsure, trusting that God will eventually clear the way in one’s understanding.

Of course, there are plenty of churches that take definite theological positions on “women in ministry,” and baptism, that further divides the Body of Christ into particular factions. If a Christian can accept such a definite theological position, with a clean conscience, then surely, they should become (or remain) members of such a church (or churches). At the same time, such a Christian should be aware that a defined theological position, in such an area, puts one at risk of being isolated from other believers, to a certain degree, in the Body of Christ.

As Gavin Ortlund argues in his marvelous book, Finding the Right Hills to Die On, living by the principle of “agreeing to disagree” can be really hard to do. We want to be generous as possible with whom we disagree, without compromising our conscience in the process. As a result, there are still some non-essential matters of faith, what Ortlund calls “second rank” issues, that might still lead someone to find a different local church body to worship in.

Could I worship in a church that takes a “hard line” on a particular stand about baptism? Well, it depends, but I would hope so. That is something that I would have to discuss with the elders of that church, if I am not personally convinced of that church’s view. Otherwise, I would have to register the view that I have, due to my conscience, that I am just not completely sure of the proper mode and/or timing of baptism, and see if the elders of that church would still find me as an acceptable candidate for membership in that church, if God were to lead me, in that direction.

In the end, issues like these come down to maintaining a posture of theological humility, in the Body of Christ. It is also this respect for the conscience of others, who do not necessarily accept my views. And this posture of theological humility, and respect for conscience, are things worth striving for.

That is why I desire to worship in an interdenominational church, if such an interdenominational church really exists.

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For more on baptism, see these other blog posts.

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