The Significance of Eschatology in Theology and Preaching

By Cris Putnam
I believe eschatology is not only an essential element of theology and preaching it is a necessary one. I argue its necessity in light of its unfortunate marginalization by a large percentage of the nominal church. Accordingly, I contend that the answer to the Gospel’s greatest challenge is eschatological. The ancient philosopher Epicurus asked, “if there is a benevolent and sovereign God, then why is there so much evil and suffering?” The Bible has a coherent answer to the problem of evil. Scripture presents a God who knows the end from the beginning and reveals future events (Is 46:9-10). It predicts that evil will not prevail in God’s economy (Is 11:6-9, 2:2-4; Re 21:4) and a day of reckoning is coming (Is 13:9; Ob 15 ff; 1 Th 5:2; 2 Pe 3:10; Re 16:16). Rather than understanding the term apocalypse as the “end of the world,” end time prophecy is the revelation of redemption.

The great hope and significance of existence is wrapped up in God’s eschatological plan. New Testament scholar Gordon Fee writes, “The theological framework of the entire New Testament is eschatological.”[1] The Greek word for the “end” is eschaton, meaning when God brings our present age to consummation. Jesus announced the kingdom was at hand at his first coming (Mt 3:2; Mk 1:15) but later qualified that it will not be fully realized until his second coming (Mk 14:25; Rev 20:4). The kingdom is inaugurated but not realized, a paradigm called the “already-not-yet” in New Testament theology. Bock and Blaising explain that this “links the plan of God into a unified whole.”[2] Based on this, one can see that eschatology is not a fringe element of Christian theology rather the fundamental structure by which it is understood. Since this is the case, why is it marginalized?

Timothy Jones warns of two contrasting errors: 1) a slip into unjustified speculation; 2) a slip into skeptical cynicism.[3] Given the inherent tension in the “already/ not yet” both are understandable. On one hand, we long for the resolution of evil and it is only natural look to for signs. On the other hand, the last two thousand years of anticipation compounded by the constant barrage of secularism promotes skepticism. Of course, either extreme results in error. In the first case, Harold Camping’s date setting resulted in the slaughter and arrest of hundreds of Hmong Christians.[4] On the opposite end, people leave the church because they have no hope. It seems like God wants every generation to expect the Lord’s return. John uses its promise as a call to holy living (1 Jn 2:28). Paul writes “Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.” (Ro 13:11) In fact, he encourages Titus, back in the first century, to wait for the “blessed hope” (Tit 2:13). For this hope to encourage, one must believe it can actualize.

 

 



[1] Fee, Gordon D. ; Stuart, Douglas K.: How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth. 3rd ed. Grand Rapids, MI : Zondervan Publishing House, 1993, S. 145.

[2] Craig A. Blaising and Darrell L. Bock, Progressive Dispensationalism, 98 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1993).

[3] Timothy Paul Jones, Rose Guide to End-Times Prophecy, Kindle Edition, (Torrence, CA: Rose Publishing, 2012), Kindle Locations 59-63.

[4] Nicola Menzie, “Harold Camping Linked to Huge ‘Massacre’ of 100′s of Hmong Christians” The Christian Post, http://www.christianpost.com/news/harold-camping-linked-to-hmong-christians-massacre-in-vietnam-52351/ (accessed 10/25/2012).

Billy Graham’s Legacy of Political Idolatry


By Cris Putnam
It pains me to write this but I have lost all respect for Billy Graham and his organization. Just as I Am: the Autobiography of Billy Graham begins intriguingly framing Billy’s career between two US Presidents: Truman in 1950 at the dawn of the Korean War and President Bush forty two years later with the North Korean nuclear issue. From the heights of international intrigue and diplomacy, the reader is plunged to a rural dairy farm outside of Charlotte, NC where Billy grew up and experienced conversion during the altar call of Mordecai Fowler Ham.[1] After his meteoric rise, Graham had the ear of every President from Truman to Bush Jr.

Transparently, he admits he was a naïve star-struck country boy. Accordingly, Graham usually assumed the best about politicians and it is clear that they used him for political expediency. For instance, John F. Kennedy took him golfing and then unexpectedly thrust him into a press conference ill-prepared. At the time there was a lot of tension surrounding Kennedy’s Catholicism. Graham recalls, “Though Mr. Kennedy was using me for his own purposes, I didn’t mind speaking out.”[2] While the issue of a Catholic president had significance, later developments are more troubling. Graham maintained a close friendship with Lyndon B. Johnson of whom history reveals had a questionable agenda. Johnson’s premise for the Vietnam War, the Gulf of Tonkin incident, has been discredited by a NSA study declassified in 2005 revealing it was a manufactured to justify US intervention.[3] We entered that war based on a known lie from our President. How many were killed and maimed? Graham was also very close to Richard Nixon whom he defended during the Watergate investigation. Later, when the tapes went public, Graham writes he was shocked by the deviousness and foul language. Yet, Graham himself was caught as well. He writes, “I felt physically sick, and went into seclusion…”[4] Even so, Graham later encouraged Gerald Ford to pardon Nixon,[5] a decision which is still very controversial. In the end, he laments,

“If I had it to do over again, I would also avoid any semblance of involvement in partisan politics.”[6]

That statement earned my respect when I first read it and you are left with the impression he learned his lesson. Unfortunately, he did not and my respect has gone the way of The Billy Graham Evangelism Association’s integrity. It’s gone.

If anything he has stooped to a new low. Graham has not only given a tacit endorsement to a Mormon Bishop Mitt Romney, he prayed with him and did not utter a word against Mormonism. It is not at all clear to me that Romney has any genuine convictions on abortion or same sex marriage. His alleged positions seem to be nothing more than expediency given his record. Nevertheless, in light of the pluralism of our culture and the LDS propaganda which promotes the lie that they are merely a different “Christian” denomination, this is unconscionable. Now the media has uncovered that The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association has scrubbed their website of all references to Mormonism as a non-Christian cult. This is the worst kind of revisionist political expediency.

The Graham association has defended its actions saying they did not want to divert the political discussion with theological debate. Ken Barun, BGEA chief of staff, told CNN, “We removed the information from the website because we do not wish to participate in a theological debate about something that has become politicized during this campaign.”[7] In doing so, they have made their priorities clear. Unfortunately, for all intents and purposes, they have admitted that politics takes precedence over theological truth. Truly, they are no longer a ministry and their 501C status should be revoked. It seems crystal clear that political conservatism is an idol for many American evangelicals and the Billy Graham organization brazenly promotes this idolatry. It is spiritual whoredom. What happened to epiphany in Just as I Am Billy?
 
 
Also see A Wideness in God’s Mercy? for John MacArthur’s rebuke of Graham’s inclusivist soteriology.
 
In case you are wondering, my personal views are expressed very well by Judge Napolitano, I view partisan politics as the bread and circuses of the new millennium.

As of today, I am convinced that partisan politics is nothing but idolatry.



[1] Billy Graham, Just as I Am: the Autobiography of Billy Graham (NY: HarperOne, 1997) 29.

[2] Ibid, 396.

[3] Robert J. Hanyok, “Skunks, Bogies, Silent Hounds, and the Flying Fish: The Gulf of Tonkin Mystery, 2-4 August 1964″, Cryptologic Quarterly 20, 1 (Spring 2001): 175.

[4] Graham, Just, 457.

[5] Ibid, 468.

[6] Ibid, 724.

[7] http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2012/10/16/billy-grahams-group-removes-mormon-cult-reference-from-website-after-romney-meeting/comment-page-2/

Transhumanism the Theologians ( really?)

By Cris Putnam
Tom Horn alerted me that the bioethics news site Bio Edge ran an essay “Transhumanism: the theologians” posing some interesting but troubling issues. The article presents an ethical dilemma: should mankind use biotechnology to create superior beings i.e. posthumans.

Transhumanism, at least in the Journal of Medical Ethics, has a distinctly theological flavour. In recent weeks several bioethicists have been debating vigorously in its pages about whether homo sapiens will achieve salvation by transcending himself, what the responsibilities of a transcendent being would be towards homo sapiens, and whether it is moral to create a transcendent being. It is vaguely reminiscent of mediaeval disputes about the genus and species of angelic beings and inquiries into God’s motives in creating the human race. [1]

By asking “whether homo sapiens will achieve salvation by transcending himself?” he begs the question of “what is meant by salvation?” and “saved from what?” Of course, the answer from a theologian would be the wrath of God against sin (Ro 1:18) but it is not exactly clear what the author, Micheal Cook, has in mind. I have argued that transhumanism is not compatible with Christianity here here and here.

The rest of the brief article juxtaposes the views of Nicholas Agar, Thomas Douglas and Michael Hauskeller. However, our first task is to challenge the title of the article, who exactly is being called a “theologian” and what sort of theology do they represent? In truth, none of the thinkers mentioned are theologians, they are all secular philosophers and it is not clear that one of them is even a theist. Thus, the article’s title is an absurdity; this is not theological discourse rather purely secular bioethics.

Of the three secular bioethicsists, two think creating posthumans is good idea (Michael Hauskeller corrected me below, he argues “neither are there sufficient grounds to expect radically enhanced human beings to have a higher moral status than unenhanced human beings, nor would it, even if they did, be morally wrong to bring about their existence.”) Douglas also argues it is not morally wrong. Agar takes the more sober position that it would be an extremely dangerous project. Of course, I think he is right but for the wrong reasons. First, I agree with Hauskeller that posthumans would not have a higher moral status, in fact, below I argue the opposite. Agar argues, “We should look upon moral status enhancement as creating especially morally needy beings. We are subject to no obligation to create them in the first place. We avoid creating their needs by avoiding creating them.”[2] I think this is somewhat correct but the problem is not that a genetically engineered human pumped up on drugs and other forms of enhancement would just be morally needy, rather that they would likely be hyper-depraved. Often, secular philosophers cannot reach the correct answers in these sorts of questions because they start with the wrong presuppositions. I believe this is a prime example.

Let’s assess the issue based on God’s revealed truth. Humanity is fallen and sinful. While Jesus recognized people can be good (Mt 22:10), he called his own disciples evil men (Mt 7:11). Without divine grace, the mind is affected (Rom. 1:28; Eph. 4:18). This isn’t a matter of making a few mistakes rather a fundamental ontology. The heart is deceitful (Jer. 17:9), the conscience is impure (Heb. 9:14), and humanity is naturally subject to wrath (Eph. 2:3). From a biblical perspective, this aggregate depravity affects the inner being and is the root of evil actions (Mark 7:20–23). Paul employs the Old Testament to demonstrate that this condition is universal and complete:

  “as it is written:

“None is righteous, no, not one;

no one understands; no one seeks for God.

All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;

no one does good, not even one.”

“Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.”

“The venom of asps is under their lips.” “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”

“Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery,

and the way of peace they have not known.”

“There is no fear of God before their eyes.””

~Romans 3:10-18

The transhumanism project asserts that starting from this state of affairs; we should turn up the volume. That is the height of human arrogance and stupidity. We do so at our peril and it brings to mind “And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.” (Mt 24:22)

Ancient Aliens Debunked

My friend Chris White continues to refine the genre of debunkumentary and has taken his video production to a new level with the exciting new release of Ancient Aliens Debunked. Also, Chris has gone the extra mile and provided detailed transcripts and documentation on this website: http://ancientaliensdebunked.com/ I fully expect a disingenuous DMCA claim from the History Channel will come in short order and block the You Tube version, so keep in mind the video is a free download on Chris’ site.

A Nephilim Messiah in a Rabbinic Commentary?

By Cris Putnam
I was recently sent a link to this article from The Jewish Daily Forward’s website by an anonymous author, Philologos, who imagines (mystical music begins) the existence of an esoteric Rabbinic tradition for a nephilim messiah. He bases this wild conjecture on an actual rabbinic commentary. Here it is in English from a reputable source:

Amos 9:11.

Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 96b–97a.

… R. Nahum said to R. Isaac: ‘Have you heard when Bar Nafle will come?’ ‘Who is Bar Nafle?’ he asked, ‘Messiah,’ he answered, ‘Do you call Messiah Bar Nafle?’—‘Even so,’ he rejoined, ‘as it is written, In that day I will raise up [97a] the tabernacle of David ha-nofeleth [that is fallen].’ He replied, ’ Thus hath R. Johanan said: In the generation when the son of David [i.e., Messiah] will come, scholars will be few in number, and so for the rest, their eyes will fail through sorrow and grief. Multitudes of trouble and evil decrees will be promulgated anew, each new evil coming with haste before the other has ended.[i]

It is also on the web here.  Notice that in the version of the above posted in the linked article Philologos is presupposing his conclusion by adding this so-called translation: “Bar-Niflei [‘the son of the Nephilim’]” surreptitiously:

“Rabbi Nachman [a fourth-century C.E. sage] asked Rabbi Yitzchak: ‘Do you know when Bar-Niflei [‘the son of the Nephilim’] will come?’ He [Yitzchak] answered: ‘Who is Bar-Niflei?’ He [Nachman] said: ‘The Messiah.’ [Yitzchak said]: ‘You call the Messiah Bar-Niflei?’ He [Nachman] replied, ‘Yes, because it’s written [in Amos], On that day I will raise up the sukkah of David that has fallen [ha-nofelet].’”[ii]

The connection to the word “nephilim” is purely the web author’s idea, not the Rabbinic commentary’s:

There is a pun here on nofelet, “fallen,” and nefilim or (as it is more commonly spelled in English) nephilim, the legendary celestial creatures described by the book of Genesis as descending to earth in the generations before the Flood and begetting offspring with humankind.[iii]

There are two glaring problems in this assertion. First, it is not at all clear the Rabbis were making a pun between the word “fallen” and the “nephilim.” This is a real Rabbinic commentary on Amos 9:11 a passage in which the context is “the fallen booth of David” and the restoration of Israel. James associates it with Christ and the church in Acts 15:16. The Hebrew word for fallen is very common:

1392     נָפַל (nāpal) I, fall, lie, be cast down, fail.

Derivatives

1392a     נֵפֶל (nēpel) untimely birth, abortion (Job 3:16; Eccl 6:3).

1392b     מַפָּל (mappāl) refuse.

1392c     מַפָּלָה (mappālâ) a ruin (Isa 17:1).

1392d     מַפֵּלָה (mappēlâ) a ruin (Isa 23:13; 25:2),

1392e     מַפֶּלֶת (mappelet) a carcass (Jud 14:8), ruin (Ezk 31:13), overthrow (Ezk 32:10). [iv]

There is no actual connection to the nephilim in the original rabbinic source, that is an imaginative leap by the web author Philiologos based on a very superficial similarity between the Hebrew word for fallen and nephilim.

Both words come from the Hebrew verb nafal, “to fall,” and in both ancient Jewish and Christian sources, the Nephilim are sometimes depicted as fallen angels who rebelled against God and were cast down to earth from heaven.[v]

Actually, he is mistaken on both points. First, in Genesis 6 the nephilim are the offspring not the fallen angels, this is the same error made by Patrick Heron. Second, Hebrew grammarian, Michael Heiser has demonstrated convincingly that the “fallen ones” translation for the term “nephilim” is an error albeit a common one. Because of the ‘i’ vowel it really derives from an Aramaic word, “naphil ” meaning “giants” which is why the LXX and all the ancient sources rendered it “giant.”[vi] (Follow the footnote for the grammatical argument by Dr. Heiser.) Furthermore, the context of Numbers 13:33 clearly supports the “giant” rendering.  Finally, because the word fallen is a very common word as shown above,  it is a fanciful leap to connect an unrelated use of “fallen booth” in Amos 9 to the nephilim. It’s actually silly if you think about it.  Even so, Philologos writes:

This passage is intriguing and mysterious. The appellation Bar-Niflei was obviously not a common one for the Messiah, not only because it occurs nowhere else in early rabbinic literature, but also because Rabbi Yitzchak has never encountered it and is surprised, perhaps even shocked, to hear it used that way. Perceiving his reaction, Rabbi Nachman seeks to extricate himself by explaining that it is a reference to the verse in Amos — an explanation that is hardly tenable on either grammatical or contextual grounds. It is clearly a hasty improvisation on his part.[vii]

The above is rank speculation by the web author Philologos. Then he makes a leap to an imaginary esoteric tradition which has no support other than his own imagination:

The conclusion would seem to be that Rabbi Nachman was privy to an esoteric tradition about the Messiah’s descent from the Nephilim that, upon becoming aware of Rabbi Yitchak’s ignorance of it, he did not wish to share with him. But what could this tradition have been? The Nephilim are not positive figures in rabbinic lore; on the contrary, they are described there as outcasts from God’s presence who sowed corruption on earth. Is the Messiah, like Aaron Corbett, one of their latter-day descendants who, gifted with their more-than-human powers, becomes a force for good? Could there have been a connection between such a belief and the Christian doctrine of the Messiah’s divine paternity? We are left knowing no more than Rabbi Yitzchak. We don’t even know whether or not he was taken in by Rabbi Nachman’s sukkah.[viii]

This is why the term ‘nonsequitur’ was invented. It really would only vaguely “seem to be” if we accepted his connection between the very common word fallen and nephilim which is grammatically no connection at all. This whimsical stretch is just a leap by the web author. There is not a shred of evidence presented for the “esoteric tradition.” The original Rabbinic commentary is specifically referenced to Amos 9 and it is talking about the fallen booth of David. The nephilim messiah is nephilim nonsense.


Addendum: One possible explanation (bar Nafale = Son of the clouds) was offered by a biblical scholar here.


[i]Tom Huckel, The Rabbinic Messiah (Philadelphia: Hananeel House, 1998), Am 9:11.

[ii] Philologos, “Shelter From the Storm: Familiar Prayer About a Sukkah Has Little To Do With Sukkot” http://forward.com/articles/163435/shelter-from-the-storm/#ixzz284B24Zbk (accessed 10/01/2012).

[iii] Ibid.

[iv]R. Laird Harris, Robert Laird Harris, Gleason Leonard Archer and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 586.

[v] Philologos, “Shelter…”

[vi] Micheal S. Heiser, “The Meaning of the Word Nephilim: Fact vs. Fantasy,” http://www.michaelsheiser.com/nephilim.pdf (accessed 10/01/2012).

[vii] Philologos, “Shelter…”

[viii] Ibid.