Category Archives: Theology Thoughts

Baptists Are Not Protestants

Did these get your attention? Well, it got mine as I was browsing the church history forums on The Puritan Board. The thread was started after a forum member read a similarly titled paper posted on the “Bibel Baptisten Gemeinde” (Bible Baptist Church) website in Darmstadt, Germany. It is from this German paper that I quote – not from the forum. (just so ya’ll know my sources…) Smile

The main argument against placing the Baptists among the Protestant movement is a historical one:

Protestants date from the sixteenth century. They are the Lutherans, the Reformed and others who were once Roman Catholics and left the Roman Catholic faith to start denominations of their own. The Baptists never left the Roman Catholic Church as did Luther, Calvin and Zwingli. They never left because they were never in. They did not begin their existence at the time of the Reformation but hundreds of years prior to the Reformation.

As you can tell, the author of this paper is defining the term “Protestants” as churches that came from the Roman Catholics during the Reformation. Under that definition, I would have to agree that the majority of the Baptist churches are not “Protestants” as they did not protest anything. [@more@]

This also brings up a good point that tends to get forgotten – mainly that there were other churches around besides the Roman Catholic Church. There was the Eastern Orthodox Church, which most folks remember, as well as the:

  • Coptic Church of Egypt
  • Armenia Church of Armenia
  • Georgian Church of Georgia
  • Church in Persia (Christianity reached India and China within the first two centuries)
  • African church (north-central Africa was home to a huge Christian population for several hundred years before tribal wars and drought destroyed the nations that housed the church)

Note: these churches trace their roots back the first century – some of which where started by members of the 12 Apostles.

In addition, there were several smaller churches that held as similar views as the Baptist (as listed in the German article):

  • Montanists (150 A.D.)
  • Novatians (240 A.D.)
  • Donatists (305 A.D.)
  • Paulicians (650 A.D.)
  • Albigenses (1022 A.D.)
  • Waldensians (1170 A.D.)

The article goes on to state that while Baptists share some common theological grounds with Protestants, there are six big differences:

  1. Baptists believe with all their hearts that God´s Word alone is sufficient for faith and practice. Various Protestant denomination have creeds, catechisms and assorted doctrinal standards. Baptists hold to the Bible alone.
    • [Ardell: I believe the author is talking about high churches as I know soem of them have creeds, catechisms and such. Honestly, I think some of them are good and should be used in the low churches – not has a means to salvation, but as a means to understand the work of the Lord through out the centuries. It is to our disgrace that we have thrown away the traditions and history of Christianity.]

  2. Baptists believe that Christ and only Christ is the head of the Church… There is no man who has the oversight of Baptist Churches. Baptists have no denomination in the sense of an organization that controls local congregations. Each local church is autonomous and accountable only to Christ, who is its Head.
    • [Ardell: Granted this is changing a bit among the lower churches since the beginning of the 1900’s – mostly notably among churches that came out of the Pentecostal, Charismatic and Jesus People movements.]


  3. Baptists believe in their hearts in a free church in a free state… Baptists are vigoriously opposed to union of state and church and believe that a state controlled church is a wretched excuse for Christianity and a plain departure from Scripture. All of the Protestant Reformers fastened state churches upon their followers!
    • [Ardell: The author does have a point… in fact, there are still parts of Europe that hold to state back Protestant churches. Ie. Germany – Lutheran; England – Anglican; Scotland – Presbyterian]


  4. Baptists believe strongly in the individual accountability to God… A priest cannot answer for you, a church cannot answer for you to God. God-parents cannot answer for you…No one is saved because of his identification with any religion….Protestants generally do not hold this Scriptural doctrine.
    • [Ardell: Again I believe the author is thinking mostly of the high churches. Most low churches tend to hold to this view of individual salvation.]


  5. Baptist people furthermore have always held to believer´s baptism. None of the Protestant Reformers held this Bible teaching…This obviously means that there is no infant baptism. since infants are incapable of repenting. No unbelievers are to be baptized. The Reformers followed Rome in their teaching of baptism.
    • [Ardell: It is interesting that most “Protestant” churches today hold to adult baptism….I guess the Anabaptist had a huge impact on the churches in the USA.]


  6. Baptists on the basis of Scripture have always held to a regenerate church membership, that is a membership that is made up only of people who give a credible profession of faith in Christ. In the Apostolic church only those who became believers, those who received the Word of God and who had repented of their sins, were baptized and received as church members (Acts 2:41). There was no automatic or formalistic membership in apostolic churches nor in Baptist churches today.
    • [Ardell: Vote with your feet. That was the moto of the 1960’s movement as folks rejected the stuffy membership based system in many high churches. This would be why most independent churches and/or movements that came out of the Jesus Movement don’t have formal memberships. Granted that is beginning to change a bit as those pastors find it hard to shepherd an unknown flock…]

All this makes you rethink your definition of Protestant doesn’t it?  Shoot – I used to define it as simply as churches who believed in salvation via faith not works. Yet, it looks like the formal definition is a lot different. Undecided

As such, I checked a few sources to see how they defined the term “Protestant”:

  • Wikipedia – encompasses the forms of Christian faith and practice that originated with the doctrines of the Reformation.
  • Dictionary.com – any Western Christian who is not an adherent of a Catholic, Anglican, or Eastern Church; an adherent of any of those Christian bodies that separated from the Church of Rome during the Reformation, or of any group descended from them; (originally) any of the German princes who protested against the decision of the Diet of Speyer in 1529, which had denounced the Reformation.
  • About.com – The term Protestant is used to refer to any Christian group which developed from the Reformation.

It looks like everyone agrees that a true “Protestant” is one that developed out of the Reformation or from churches that developed then. Interesting… I’m going to have to rethink some of the ways I use that word. Shoot, I’m going to have to rethink the terms I use to describe myself!!  Tongue out

By the way, in writing this post, I discovered a thread on the Baptist Board discussing this same question (Are Baptist Protestants or not?). It seems that there is a disagreement about the Baptist as to their roots…  Undecided

Some folks on the forum hold to the view that they are not Protestants; others say they are; and still others say they are a mixture of Protestant and non-Protestant (ie. the Baptist church has mixed roots).

So, what’s your thoughts? Are Baptist Protestants?

How about your church? Is it Protestant or does it have roots from before the Reformation?

Tarshish or Caesarea?

Last night I gave my second sermon at the Sweet Vineyard church. This time we had quite the crowd – around 40 or so people. (and none of them walked out during the sermon!!!!)

The Pastor had asked me to talk a bit about world missions while giving the church an update on our upcoming trip to South America. As I prayed about the message, God gave me an interesting Biblical world mission’s connection that I normally don’t talk about… (normally when I talk about world missions, I do the whole “top line, bottom line” deal from Genesis to Revelation) Undecided

This time, I went straight for Jonah.

Note: the last “real” sermon before this one was about Acts 10 where Peter visits Cornelius’ home. It is interesting that both Peter and Jonah went to Joppa before going to the Gentiles…

Yelp – that little bitty book between Obadiah and Micah. I posted most of my sermon’s outline below just because. It’s missing some pieces as it is only there to “jog” my memory (and keep me on track).

West or North? When God comes calling we have two choices:

  1. Head West towards Tarshish and away from God
  2. Go North to Caesarea following the direction He gave you.

The choice is your. But know that if you go to Tarshish, there may be a storm or two in your path to force you back on track.

As far as the sermon it self, it went really good. I did get off track a time or two – the really interesting thing was that the sermon turned into quite the ‘turn or burn’ message as that’s what Jonah told the Ninevites. Undecided[@more@]

If you’re not a believer, you too have two choices:

  1. Repent and follow Him
  2. Keep doing what your doing

Neither one is easy. But if you follow Him, He will be there with you to ends of the world. He delights in setting free the captive, comforting those who morn, healing those who are hurt, and loving the unlovable – and you get to hand with Him for a long time!

Ok – maybe not a “real” ‘turn or burn’ message as I didn’t thump my Bible or jump up and down yelling. But I did give a clear gospel presentation and told the folks they had a choice. It fit – even though it wasn’t in my notes – it fix perfectly. Go God!! Laughing


Tarshish or Caesarea?

  1. Peter and Cornelius: revisited

1. Acts 10

1. Cornelius receives a vision from God and sends some servants to find Peter at Joppa

2. At the same time, God gives Petter a vision

3. When Cornelius’ servants showed up, Peter had a choice

1. Reject God’s word and go back home to Jerusalem

2. Accept God’s word and go to Caesarea

4. We know that Peter went to Caesarea and God moved

2. Acts 11

1. Peter had to explain his actions to the believers in Jerusalem

2. He told them that the Holy Spirit came and there was nothing he could do

  1. World Missions

1. These two passages are recognized as the beginning of Christianities movement from a mostly Jewish sect to a faith full of all types and kinds of people

1. ie. the Gentiles

2. Another familiar “missions” passage is Matthew 28:18-20

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[a] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

3. For lot of folks, these are the only two ‘world missions’ passages in the Bible

1. or at least main ones…

  1. Jonah

1. Let me tell you a story about another man of God who went to Joppa

2. We don’t know a lot about Jonah except that he lived around 800 BC

3. What we do know is told in the book of Jonah

1. it’s a small book between Obadiah and Micah

2. Only 4 chapters long

4. Let me give you a quick overview of the book

1. Jonah hears God

2. Runs to Joppa and catches a ship to Tarshish

1. Tarshish was the furthest know city in the Mediterranean Sea at that time

3. Along the way, a storm comes up

1. They are almost drowned

2. The sailors throw Jonah overboard

4. God sends a big fish to shallow him

5. Jonah repents

6. The fish spits him up on the beach

7. Jonah goes to Nineveh

1. A several day journey inland

2. He had plenty of time to think about what he was doing…

8. Jonah tells the people of Nineveh to repent

9. They do and God forgives them

5. Ok – now that we have an overview, lets look a little closer

  1. Why going to Nineveh was dumb:

1. Nineveh was the most feared country at the time (the city walls were covered with human skin)

1. You will be killed!

2. There where no temples or synagogues in Nineveh

1. In fact, there were no Jews in the city

3. According to the Mosaic convent, you had to

1. be Jewish or a convert thereof

2. be circumcised

3. bring a sacrifice to The Temple

1. There was only one, and it was in Jerusalem

  1. According to all the rules and thoughts of the time, no one in Nineveh could be saved

1. Jonah even thought God would destroy the city

2. Jonah 4

  1. Why going to Caesarea was dumb?

1. Cornelius was a gentile

2. According to the Mosaic convent, you had to

1. be Jewish or a convert thereof

2. be circumcised

3. bring a sacrifice to The Temple

1. There was only one, and it was in Jerusalem

  1. Sound familiar?

1. God likes to break our pre-connived notions about what Him can or cannot do

2. He forgave the people of Nineveh because they turned to Him and repented

1. It was a heart change

2. Just like Abraham

3. Both Jonah and Peter went to Joppa

1. the difference is that one of them ran west towards Tarshish

2. The other obeyed God and went North towards Caesarea

3. Both heard words from God that sounded dumb and stupid

1. The question is not if we will hear similar words

2. The questions is what we will do when we hear them?

  1. Modern Missions

1. Why going to Paraguay is dumb?

1. Cost too much

1. $10K to send four people for 3 weeks?

2. You could support a local pastor for years on that amount!!!

2. Can’t do anything in three weeks

3. language barrier

4. Your sucking the Paraguaian church dry!

1. They have to spend all their time on you instead of ministry

5. No long term change

2. Why we should go?

1. God said too

1. This is not a ‘cop-out’

2. Both Jonah and Peter knew they heard from God – they had no doubts..

2. Jonah

1. He changed a nation in three days!

2. The change lasted for years

3. Brother Andrew

1. He smuggled Bibles behind the Iron Curtain

2. Said: the biggest gift I gave the people was not the Bibles I carried, but the simply fact that I, a brother in Christ, carried enough to come and visit them.

3. Just showing up

  1. Vineyard Missions

1. Local Church Based Missions (LCBM)

2. Partnerships as a Key Strategy

3. Establishment of Church Planting Movements

4. Development and Release of National Leadership

5. Contextualization of Vineyard Values in Each Culture

  1. The Sweet Vineyard

1. Part of the Paraguay Partnership

2. We are joining with

1. the Vineyard Boise

2. Chilean churches

3. to support and encourage the pastor in Paraguay

30-40% of Churches Die per Year?

I just finished the third part of a three part sermon series from the Duluth Vineyard entitled The Three Marks of the Vineyard Church. I listened to it as part of my personal plan to branch out and hear more about what is happening around the country, especially with the Vineyard Movement.

Why the Vineyard Movement? Mainly because that is the movement God has placed me in at the moment and so I figured I should learn as much about them as possible. While I have been apart of a Vineyard church here in Idaho, it has been really cool to hear some of the other pastors and folks teach. Smile

So far I have been able to listen to sermons from South Africa; Duluth, MN; Wales, UK, Yorba Linda, CA; and Seattle, WA. I've downloaded some other from Canada and other states across the Union. (You got to love the internet!!)

Anyway, back to the topic at hand. [@more@]

During the Brenda Gatlin's third sermon, she mentioned that churches are dieing in the US at a rate of 30 to 40% a year!! That is huge!

While I was unable to find any reports online to back that up, I would lean towards that being a correct number. I know from past studies that most church plants fail within 3 years; pastors usually quite within 8 years and most churches have under a 100 attendees…

Seems like a doom and gloom paragraph… Undecided

All this makes me wonder if there is a better way to do "church" beyond the standard Sunday morning deal…

Of course, maybe it's because the Church as forgotten that it's suppose to be taking care of the poor, healing the sick, free the captives, giving hope to the hopeless, preaching the Kingdom of God and basically loving everyone – especially those who don't look or act like you do.

Praise the Lord for those churches who are doing the stuff. May they continue.

Review: Idaho Green Expo

Downtown Boise was a mess this weekend!!  Not only was the Idaho Green Expo going on, but next door (literally) Beth Moore was hosting an event.  Not to be left out, the area between the two events was hosting it's own function – ie. a farmers market.

This led to a shortage of parking spaces, tons of exhaust flumes and a multitude of people. The later was welcome while the former items were despised…

Overall, this was the BEST conference or expo we've ever attended! News reports have stated that over 15,000 people went through the Expo – many of whom we got to talk too.  In fact, I believe we talked to more people and sold more items then ever before!  Shoot, we had to print more Re:From brochures Sunday morning as we ran out!

Here are few stories from the Expo:[@more@]

1) The Love Justice & LTTG combo worked great! I talked to one presenter who kinda understood the environment side of our ministry, but could understand how the human injustice part fit in. This opened the door for me to share the heart of God. It was a God moment!

2) The t-shirts were a great conversation starter – one guy even chased down M and asked him where he got the shirt. That led into a wonderful opportunity for M to share a bit about about God and what the church is doing.

3) We had a lot of people come up to the booth who had heard of the Vineyard, but didn't know anything about it. As such, we were able to answer their questions about the church and put them at ease about visiting. Lord knows how many coffee cards we gave out!!! Laughing

Coffee cards = small brochures about the Vineyard Boise with a free espresso coupon. Yeah – we have an espresso bar in the church. It is the Northwest after all! Laughing

The Kingdom of Heaven was advanced this weekend! 

Thanks for all your prayers!!!

The Kingdom of God

In a previous post I mentioned that God has been taking me on a journey concerning the Kingdom of God. While I’m not quite ready to write down everything I’m learning (ie. I’m still sorting things out), I did want to highlight an amazing five part lecture series by Derek Morphew about the Kingdom of God

  1. The Prophetic Promise of the Kingdom (Part 1 & 2 combined)
  2. New Testament Coming of the Kingdom
  3. Sons of The Kingdom
  4. Bringing in The Kingdom

Morphew, as you may remember, is the author of the book Breakthrough as well as a theologian and director of the Vineyard Bible Institute in South Africa. In these lectures, he lays out the basics for Kingdom Theology in a very simple but in depth way.

I STRONGY recommend all five of these lectures
– you can download them now and listen to them later if you want. In fact, you can also download the Morphew’s Power Point presentation for each of the lectures.

Idaho Green Expo

If you read this and have time, please drop some prayers upwards with me and the LTTG/Love Justice team as we share our heart with folks at the Idaho Green Expo. While we will be advertizing the Vineyard Boise's 2008 Re:Form Conference, I'm praying for some God encoutners. Let His Kingdom Come!! =D

Oh – Please be praying for the ladies as they attend the Beth Moore conference this weekend. 

God bless

Christianity without Christ

Sound crazy right? But not to Canadian pastor Gretta Vosper. She part of a "Christ-less Christian theology" movement:

Vosper’s Christianity…[is] a sort of next step (the final step?) in a progression to build up a church without “a god,” Jesus, any traditions or catechism or moral absolutes. It’s already common among American youth; 61 percent of respondents to this 2007 LifeWay Research survey said the God of the Bible is “no different from the gods or spiritual beings” of other world religions. [worldontheweb.com]

This is just one more step into folks trying to turn the "church" into a social gathering. It is because of this that the true church (ie. those who have made a personal decision to follow JC; those with a relationship and not a 'religion') needs to step up and be the Bride of Christ. [@more@]

For too long we (the greater church) have sat back in our little "Christian" houses, read our "Christian" books, listened to our "Christian" music, watched our "Christian" TV and films, and did our "Christian" duty – all without doing crap!!

Let's stop throwing rocks over the wall and start living our faith. Jesus only gave us seven commandments – let's do them!!

  1. Love God with all of our being
  2. Love others
  3. Heal the sick
  4. Cleanse leapers
  5. Raise the dead
  6. Cast out demons
  7. Proclaim the Kingdom of God

Yeah – there's only seven. It's not that hard. Let us do what the Father does.

John Wimber: Kingdom of God

As some of you know, I have been involved in a personal in-depth study into of the Kingdom of God and what that really means. God has been radically changing the way I look at the Bible, life and this world. I’ve been given a new pair of glasses.

The deeper I get into the study of the Kingdom of God, the more the name of John Wimber keeps popping up. To be sure, I’ve heard of John Wimber before – after all he was the founder of the Vineyard Movement, which I’m a part of – but it was usually connected to a quote or phrase such as “the meats in the street” or “doin’ the stuff”.

In an effort to learn more about the Kingdom of God and John Wimber I picked up a book of Wimber’s teachings as well as a seven part CD series by Wimber about the Kingdom of God. Both of these items are amazing – yet that’s not why I’m writing today.

I was browsing online this week trying to locate some additional material about the Kingdom of God from different sources. During this hunt, I discovered two sites that had personal testimonies about the writer’s first meeting with John Wimber. The fact that these testimonies were online wasn’t that odd as both sites where affiliated with the Vineyard in some way. The thing that struck me was WHAT Wimber was doing when they meet him.[@more@]

Let me show you.

The first article I found was on the South Africa Association of Vineyard Churches (AVC) website. It is an excerpt from the book, “Doing Church”, written by Alexander Venter (Area Pastoral Coordinator for the South Africa AVC). This is how he meets Wimber:

I will never forget the first meeting I was in with John Wimber. It was the first morning of the Pastor’s Conference in Johannesburg. When it was time to begin, John strolled up to the piano, sat down, and gently began to play and sing ‘J-e-es-u-s what a wonder you are, you are so gentle, so pure and so kind …’ Slowly we all joined in, but I quickly found myself overcome by the simplicity of the words, the warmth, gentleness and intimacy of the experience, and I began to feel all tender and tearful….Then John stood up and casually opened his Bible and began to talk to the pastors about the Kingdom of God. Again, there was no preacher’s tone or loud voice, no religious jargon or sermonising; just an honesty, openness and clarity that was completely disarming.

The second testimony is vaguely similar – just on a different continent.

This article was written by Don Williams who was a Presbyterian pastor at the time. He is now a member of the Vineyard movement as a theologian, author and former-pastor. He recalls his first introduction to Wimber as such:

As I entered the parking lot of Canyon High School for the evening service, people were literally running toward the gym. Clearly they weren’t drifting in for church as usual. Once inside, I was greeted by an auditorium filled with about 2,000 people, informally dressed. I slipped into the bleachers. A group of musicians mounted the platform at one end of the basketball court and began to play simple songs….After worship, the large man at the keyboards, who I identified as John Wimber, got his Bible and began to speak. From my days in the “Jesus Movement” of the ‘60’s, I expected a pop sermon from Revelation on the end of the world. I got a thoughtful sermon on the kingdom of God, come and coming and our place in it “between the times.”

Did you catch the similarities? There were two of them. The first was the simple worship that started each meeting. The second was that John Wimber talked to each group about the Kingdom of God. It is the second similarity that really hit me…

Pause there for a minute.

A few years ago I butchered a sermon in Chile (granted I had five minutes to prepare), afterwards my mentor told me to prepare my heart message so that I would and could be ready to preach at any time. Honestly – I had a tough time coming up with such a message – in fact, I couldn’t... I mean, most of my heart was caught up with the “missions bug” and the missional heart of God – yet somehow that didn’t seem right….

Enter the Kingdom of God.

This was THE central message of Jesus Christ as well as John the Baptist, the Apostles, Isaiah, Moses, Paul and a pretty much everyone else (granted they all didn’t use those words). Now I find that it was also the central message of John Wimber – a man whom God used to change the course of the church. I say that not just because I’m a member of the Vineyard Movement – but because the influence of John Wimber transcended denominations.

What does this have to do with me?
I’m not sure right now. But God is taking me on an incredible journey into His word. I’m just hanging on and yelling like a mad man on a roller coaster.

Come Lord, Come.

Partisanship Splits Americans' Views on the Environment

Hmm.. Yeah?! Did you really need a poll to tell you that?

Apparently they did as YouGov/Polimetrix just finished a nationally representative survey for the Economist. I thought some of the graphs where interesting, so I copied them for your viewing pleasure (or displeasure). Wink

What do you think is the most important environmental problem facing the world today?

Partisanship Splits Americans' Views on the Environment graphs

[@more@]

The partisan split was again clear in the perceived seriousness of global warming. How serious a problem do you think global warming is?

Partisanship Splits Americans' Views on the Environment graphs

My thoughts:

I think it's a shame to see such a partisans divide when it comes to the environment. It's almost like the political parties are dictating science to the people. Frown

Some times to be Biblical consistent, you have to be political inconsistent.

Resurrection and Creation Care

Rarely do I post fully articles as they tend to be long and have that nasty copyright issue attached… However, today I have decided to post an article or, one might say, essay about Easter and Creation Care.

While I know that some of you will not agree with Brandon Rhodes views on creation care, he does provide a good view of how some of the ideas of Gnosticism and Platonic Dualism (to be defined in the essay) have sipped into modern Christianity. Hopefully each reader will be able to walk away from this post knowing a little more about how these early heresies are making a comeback.


Resurrection and Creation Care
How Plato Has Hoodwinked Hope and Eviscerated Easter
By Brandon Rhodes
 
Originally Published by Restoring Eden

Easter is about unbridled hope. But I never really got the holiday, about what Easter had to do with the future. Like many Christians, I grew up very confused about hope, and so also about Easter.

Best as I ever heard, the Christian hopes that he or she will go to heaven after they die, and they can do this because of Jesus’ death on the cross. Heaven is really where it’s at, where our home is. This world’s not our home, after all – or so I heard in Sunday School. “I’m just travelin’ through this world, in this life,” I’d hear many say. And at a funeral, death was sanitized as the departed “going home”. This life was just training ground, went the conventional wisdom, for heaven. What happened on Earth, or to the Earth, was of only marginal consequence.

But there was another aspect to this hope – that one day Jesus would come again and judge everyone. We’d all be resurrected, and he’d take us to heaven. It’s the very stuff of that much-loved hymn, “I’ll fly away, oh glory, I’ll fly away.” Death is talked about as a welcomed doorway to escape the jail of this world and flesh, and arrive home on God’s celestial shore.[@more@]

What was lost to me in all this was quite why Jesus would come again, only to take us away. And what would become of the rest of creation? Do our souls get vacuumed out of it and into heaven just as God crumbles it up and throws it into the trash bin? I couldn’t figure out, either, where to put that talk in scripture of “new heavens and new earth” – is this just fancy talk of heaven, or something more? And why would Jesus teach us to pray for heaven to come to earth, if we were only going to heaven in the end anyway? Jesus must have been terribly confused!

Moreover, I couldn’t square this “creation-as-prison” hope with the dozens of clear biblical teachings that creation is good, is to be tended, and will in the end be healed. The gap between this escapist hope and the command of creation care has felt wide indeed.

This is the conventional hope of millions of Christians. But it’s not the hope of the Bible.

This view of escaping creation, of what author Paul Metzger calls “rapture and retreat”, is often pinned on to dispensational theology. It’s the theology popularized in the Left Behind books, and supports the end-times fervor latent in many American evangelicals, whether they’ve heard of dispensationalism or not. I regularly see it blamed for the “it’s all gonna burn anyway” excuse so often used in Christianity to escape ecological responsibility. And indeed, some blame may be appropriate here.

But I won’t settle for the usual lambaste against one school of theology, of smugly poking fun at all those end-timers and letting that be that. We’ve been reading escapism into the Bible for far longer than dispensationalism has been around. The roots of our ambiguous hope go much, much deeper.

It is time for a court summons for these villainous roots, and a presentation of the true Christian hope, that we may again celebrate Easter for all it’s worth. These deep roots have strangled our task as God’s stewards, and have made Easter into a magic trick in the shadow of the cross, rather than God’s emphatic ‘Yes!’ to His good world.

Our culprits now dragged into the courtroom are Platonic Dualism, and its pseudo-Christian partner, Gnosticism. As Westerners, we instinctively read the Bible through the first, and subsequently, for all our creedal vehemence against it, functionally fall into the deceitful morass of the second. Let’s get some brief definitions on the table.

Platonic Dualism is the view that this world is fundamentally bad, and that spiritual things are good. Our bodies are cages, prisons that keep us from the bright light of a disembodied bliss with the divine. Various branches of this physical/nonphysical dualism emphasize different things. To some, it means that the philosophical or contemplative life is best. To others, what we do in the body is of minimal moral importance. And to most dualists, death is a welcome doorway to heaven, God, freedom, nirvana, or whatever. The dead will never rise, and why in the world should we hope for that anyhow, if the spiritual world we’re freed to is home?

We see creeping tendrils of this all over Christianity, as stated above. Heaven is our afterlife, to the dualistic Christian, and creation is something we’ll never have to return to, thank goodness. To borrow from a popular movie, death becomes the welcome liberator which frees our minds and souls from the Matrix of this putrid place. The gospel becomes about only going to heaven after we die, instead of receiving and sharing the life of heaven on earth before we die, much less still anticipating a God-healed world. Judgment isn’t God’s loving setting-things-aright, but a wrathful destruction. And the future is God’s final dissolution of Earth. Trees and caribou, salmon and wild places, weather patterns and springtime blossoms – none of these have a stake in the dualist’s hope. And why, then, should the dualistic Christian want to care for any of it?

Gnosticism was the explicit celebration of this dualistic theology to its uttermost extremes. It was an early heresy soon stamped out by the early church fathers. I grew up hearing that Gnosticism’s great sin was its denial of Christ’s full humanity, which then shredded the meaning of the atonement. While true, Gnosticism’s root sin goes deeper: it denies the goodness of the creation, and so denies the goodness of the Creator God. They believed that the world was made by a bad god, and so was also bad, a prison for our immortal souls; the good god revealed in their vision of Jesus taught us the gnosis, the mysterious way of inward contemplation and emancipation from creation. This led to moral laxness, a ‘prayer closet’ spirituality of inward-bent mysticism, and acquiescence to the Roman Empire’s cruelties. Easter was spiritualized, bodily resurrection denied. Escape was the new hope.

Most pastors and theologians today would veheme
ntly deny and combat any latter-day Gnostic movement. Indeed they have: apologetics against the DaVinci Code and the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas and Gospel of Judas attest to the biblical Christian’s continuing rigor against this ancient heresy.

Yet its dualistic impulses continue to throb in various parts of the American church, as if we’ve denied Gnosticism in name only. Its dualism can continue unchecked in our lives and theologies, so long as it goes by any other name.

“God only cares about your heart” is but one of many oft-said evidences of Gnosticism’s continued creep into Christianity. Embedded within that saying is the assumption that the inside is better than the outside, that the spiritual and the physical do not go hand-in-hand, but can be neatly severed and excluded from one another. What we do with our hands, the semi-Gnostic logic of this goes, is irrelevant so long as our hearts are warm. This can lead to moral collapse regarding sexuality, war, economics, and of course creation care. While God cares deeply about the heart, it should be understood as the lotus of His solution to rescuing all of creation. God’s loving renewal of our hearts is an outworking of the power that raised Jesus from the dead, on the one hand, and so is a microcosm of what God will one day likewise do for the whole world, on the other. God cares so much about our hearts precisely because its renewal enables us to get on with being his new humanity in His new creation, His kingdom agents, firstfruits not of the Pie-In-The-Sky By-And-By, but of God’s good creation at last healed of its bondage to sin, decay, and death.

But I have gotten ahead of myself. Pardon that intrusion of the future.

We turn now to the hope of the New Testament, the Easter hope we will celebrate this Sunday: God’s bodily raising Jesus from the dead. If you want to know what the future will be like, scripture insists, look to the risen Lord. He is the shape of our hope. What God did to Jesus, He will also one day do to all people. But the hope doesn’t stop there, only for humans – all of creation will similarly experience its own resurrection! Romans 8 says that all of creation is groaning for this to happen – it’s bristling with anticipation of the day when its redemption and ours will come in full. It’s not waiting for the dualist’s hope, to itself be discarded as our spirits are uploaded to heaven. That’s no hope at all!

Consider the final picture in Revelation. It is one of heaven and earth coming together, the New Jerusalem coming down to Earth and both being mutually renewed. The angel cries “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Rev. 21:3-4) This is a rapture in reverse: God peels away the grit of pollution and sin, and fills all of creation with His glory. Eden is restored, globally!

And the life of that age is what we find in the risen Jesus. Here is one who is fully physical, made of the same substance that was exhausted on Calvary, but which seems freed of decay and curse. Recognizable yet hard to recognize, radiant yet plain: the risen Jesus defied how we understand creation at all! Expert theologian on this topic N.T. Wright says that the first apostles were struggling to even create language to describe what they met in Him. Here was the presence of the future in the flesh of the risen Lord – a startling, exciting, hope-inciting snapshot of God’s intentions for the world.

Like the ancient frost of curse melting across C.S. Lewis’ Narnia as its false ruler is cast down, so also on Easter we see the long winter of sin and death crackling under Christ’s warmth – the springtime is here, assuring us that the summer of new heavens and new earth are on the way. The climate has indeed changed, and God’s own global warming is on the loose, melting our sins and idols constantly. Just as the dualist finds himself freed from creation and now in heaven, Easter shows heaven healingly burst upon an aching Earth! Better than life after death, in Wright’s word, is life after life after death: resurrection in a restored creation.

An Easter-shaped hope is not God’s throwing creation into the rubbish bin, nor the recycling bin (tempting as that metaphor may be)! No: on this Sunday we celebrate that God’s creation is indeed good, and His mission to heal it has been launched. Creation has been held captive by mutinous powers and humans for a long time, but God’s rescue operation to make it His home was decisively won on Good Friday and launched on Easter. This world is our home, and God’s too, if we are to take Revelation’s curtain-call seriously.

On Good Friday, may we meditate on Jesus taking on the pains of the world, of our sin and creation’s failed bearing of it. And Jesus bears what all creation cannot. He ached for extinct species, for clear-cut forests, for polluted rivers and smog-poisoned children. And it killed him: our exhaust, in effect, exhausting itself on him.

Easter, then, is God’s victory over it all. Where once were sad memories of extinct critters, God invites us to imagine new possibilities of animal care. The old world of oceanic dead zones are replaced with restored zones of life. The reality of the risen Lord Jesus lights up the world with God’s glorious Yes! May we this Easter give thanks to God that in Jesus we may join all of creation in this sure and steadfast hope.

Further Reading: Surprised by Hope, by N.T. Wright, 2008.