"AS I SEE IT"
Volume 1, Number 3, March, 1998
In September, 1981, I heard a Baptist itinerant preacher (a.k.a. an evangelist) in Springfield, Missouri make the sure- fire claim that he had determined from Bible study that Christ absolutely HAD to come back between October, 1981 and September, 1982. I don't recall what his "reasons" were, only the certainty of his claim and his convenient ignoring of Jesus' plain declaration in Matthew 24:36. And mercifully, I have also forgotten his name, preserving me from the not inconsiderable temptation to hold him up to derision and ridicule.
And many will recall the great fanfare, bold assurance, and sense of certainty that accompanied the promotion in the late 1980s of a book "88 Reasons Why Jesus Will Come Back in 1988." When these reasons proved to be so much hooey--as they inevitably always do--was the author embarrassed into profuse apologies and offers of full refunds to the gullible who were suckered by his theological "snake oil" sales pitch? Did the author humbly re-examine his whole "prophecy"-oriented "ministry" to discover if it were not just a colossal fraud, and he himself vastly deceived? No, not as far as I ever heard.
These two incidents are symptomatic of what I call "the scourge of the prophecy mongers." And unfortunately, their tribe is a rather prolific one. It is one thing to preach and teach Biblical prophecy in a Biblically proportionate manner. But to fashion an entire ministry on finding the "latest" prophetic fulfillment or the newest "sign of the times" is another matter altogether.
It is a fact that a great deal of the Bible's teaching was prophetic of future events at the time of its first utterance. The very first warning God gave to Adam--"In the day thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die"--was as certainly a Divine foretelling of future events as it was a warning about the consequences of sin. And it is a fact that a considerable amount of Bible prophecy yet awaits fulfillment. And it is also a fact that many new believers (myself included) and not a few unbelievers first became interested in studying the Bible because of its prophesies of future events. Such a fascination with the future must be inherent in human nature.
However, to never advance beyond a pre-occupation with prophecy is to my mind a sure evidence (and self-feeding cause) of base carnality, not substantially different from that of people who consult palm readers or dabble in astrology. Those ministries whose very lifeblood is discovering the latest prophetic fulfillment in the morning newspaper account of Middle Eastern events inevitably become warped. A spiritual diet of prophecy, prophecy, and yet more prophecy is guaranteed to leave the listener spiritually flabby and gravely malnourished. It is tithing mint and anise and cummin and omitting the weightier matters of the Law.
It is no accident that many cults and cultish groups have begun and "flourished" (after a sort) with a central, almost all-engrossing focus on prophecy, especially the Second Coming of Christ and the Book of Revelation. The Seventh- day Adventists, the Jehovah's Witnesses, the Armstrongs, David Koresh and the Branch Davidians, and innumerable others have begun--and continued--with a myopic focus on unravelling the mysteries of the Apocalypse. This strongly suggests to me that such a focus is inherently spiritually dangerous. (In truth, the most important parts of Revelation are the scenes of events in heaven, not upon earth, but who preaches much on them?). On the other hand, I never heard of a cult that focused on the great facts of the Gospel: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day, according to the Scriptures.
Not a few ministries that began well have been turned aside by an obsessive bent toward prophecy. I will mention as one example Jack Van Impe. In the 1970s, Van Impe's ministry was singularly used by God in numerous crusades in various cities. At least two members of my immediate family were converted in his Wichita crusade. As a youth pastor in Indiana, I took our young people to his South Bend crusade, and several were saved as a result. As a seminary student of very restricted financial means, I was a weekly contributor to his ministry. But in those days, his focus was the Gospel, sin, and salvation by faith, with only a night or two in the week directed at prophetic themes. In a word--it was balanced.
But what has he become 20 years later? His television broadcasts (which I can scarcely endure for more than a few minutes) are virtually nothing but the newest sign of the times, and latest "fulfillment" of a contorted misinterpretation and mangling of some Biblical text, presented by a man who seems to be all hyped-up and scarcely more sincere than a used car salesman. It is to me a very sad sight. A progressively more restricted pre-occupation with prophecy is unmistakably the cause. It is spiritually low octane stuff.
Spurgeon had strong disdain for the prophecy passion of John Darby and his followers the Plymouth Brethren. His criticisms of them are all-too-applicable to some in our day. In his 1862 volume of sermons, we read, "I do not find many souls have been converted to God by exquisite dissertations about the battle of Armageddon, and all those other fine things; I have no doubt prophesyings are very profitable, but I rather question whether they are so profitable to the hearers, as they may be to the preachers and publishers. I conceive that among religious people of a certain sort, the abortive explanations of prophecy issued by certain doctors gratify a craving which in irreligious people finds its food in novels and romances. People have a panting to know the future; and certain divines pander to this depraved taste, by prophesying for them, and letting them know what is coming bye-and-bye" (p. 599)
In the 1885 sermon volume, he addressed this theme again: "The desire to know the times and the seasons is a craze with many poor bodies whose insanity runs in that particular groove. Every occurrence is a 'sign of the times' : a sign, I may add, which they do not understand. An earthquake is a special favourite with them. 'Now,' they cry, 'the Lord is coming' ; as if there had not been earthquakes of the sort we have heard of lately hundreds of times since our Lord went up into heaven. When the prophetic earthquakes occur in divers places, we shall know of it without the warnings of these brethren. What a number of persons have been infatuated by the number of the beast, and have been ready to leap for joy because they have found the number 666 in some great one's name. Why, everybody's name will yield that number if you treat it judiciously, and use the numerals of Greece, Rome, Egypt, China, or Timbuctoo. I feel weary with the silly way in which some people make toys out of Scripture, and play with texts as with a pack of cards. Whenever you meet with a man who sets up to be a prophet, keep out of his way in the future; and when you hear of signs and wonders, turn to your Lord, and in patience possess your souls. 'The just shall live by faith.' There is no other way of living among wild enthusiasts" (p.20).
If some were as faithful to preach "the whole counsel of God" as they are clever to find daily fulfillments of imagined prophecies, the souls of men would be better fed and the cause of Christ's kingdom would advance far more efficiently. People are not saved by what they believe about the Second Coming, but whether they believe aright about the First Coming. Paul summarized his message: "We preach Christ crucified," not, "we unravel the mysteries of the seven seals."
I am not interested in recieving [sic] your "controversial" information. I find you and your opinions as hateful as Brother Ruckman. While many of us are honestly trying to serve Jesus Christ, we don't have time for your "opinions." I know what I believe and whom I believe...what you think or Brother Ruckman thinks, is of no concern to me.
Pastor J-- L---
Dear Mr. L---:
At your request, I am removing you from my mailing list. I would ask that you do me the favor of telling me exactly what it is that I wrote which you take such strong objection to. My editorial about Clinton? Or (more likely) the quote from Spurgeon? (if so, then of course your objection is to Spurgeon's opinions, not mine). Or do you have a general dislike for me (though I don't recall that we have ever met, unless it was in Oklahoma City last Fall), gotten perhaps second-hand from the opinions of others? So, do me a favor, and tell me exactly what it was that incensed you so.
Incidentally, you are the first to ever compare me in any way to Mr. (I do not say "Brother") Ruckman. Those actually familiar with my writings and perspective would never think to make such a comparison.
Thanks for AISI 1:2. I enjoyed it, particularly the information regarding rabbinic literature and the KJV issue.
Wishing you well from Jerusalem.
Thanks for the recent AISI magazine. The information in it is valuable. I wanted to ask you about something at the end of the magazine. Is that research paper you put together able to be sent through e-mail? If so, I would love to have it that way.
"Thanks a bunch for "As I See It". I have appreciated both
editions, especially the book reviews. It is refreshing to find
material that is BOTH spiritually warming and academically
challenging. Thanks and keep up the good work!
Just got your publication. Saw where it was from and deleted it. Do the same with my address on your mail list. There is no fellowship between us mate. I have no time to waste with unsolicited material on my computer. Thank you. R--- I-----
One book (or really set of books) which I wish I had made acqaintance with much earlier than I did is An Introduction to the Critical Study and Knowledge of the Holy Scriptures by Thomas Hartwell Horne (1780-1862). This work was first published in 1819 and ultimately went through at least 10 editions. My set is the eighth edition (original date, 1839; Baker reprint 1970), and consists of 4 volumes in 5 parts. The work was conceived and executed by the author--a vast amount of unremitting toil--for the expressed purpose of defending the divine origin, inspiration and authority of the Bible. It covers general introduction (revelation, inspiration, preservation, manuscripts and printed editions, and translations, both ancient and modern), particular introduction (summaries and analyses of all the books of the Bible), Bible geography, Jewish and Biblical customs, lists of all Old Testament passages quoted in the New Testament, and vast amounts more. It contains, for example, the most extensive listing of Bible translations into "modern" languages I have found anywhere, including seven North American Indian language translations (all of which I think are now extinct).
He gives very extensive lists and evaluations of commentaries on the whole Bible or parts of the Bible, and books on all aspects of Bible knowledge with full bibliographical notation, information that simply cannot be found anywhere else today. He provides, selecting one example, a bibliography of the literature on the disputed text, I John 5:7, that runs to 51 items (vol. 2, part 2, pp. 180- 185), and his own discussion of the evidence and arguments in the dispute is most excellent (vol. 4, pp. 448- 471), and must not be neglected by anyone truly interested in the facts in the case (the 1839 date of course makes the evidence somewhat--but only marginally--incomplete; the arguments presented are still valid). Search until you find this set--if I had to limit myself to 100 titles for my library, this would certainly be on the list, and near the top.
The learned and orthodox Mr Horne addresses himself to a controversy which has re-appeared in our day (though in a modified form), that is the question of the degree of authority to be assigned to Bible translations--
"In applying antient versions, as an auxiliary, to the interpretation of Scripture, it is material to observe, that, since no version can be absolutely free from error, we ought not to rely implicitly on any one translation:....From inattention to this obvious caution, many eminent men have at different times ascribed to particular versions a degree of authority to which they were by no means entitled. Thus, by many of the fathers, the Alexandrian interpreters [that is, the translators of the Greek version of the Old Testament, the Septuagint] were accounted to be divinely inspired, and consequently free from the possibility of mistake; a similar opinion was held by various eminent modern critics, particularly by Isaac Vossius, who asserted the Septuagint to be preferable to the Hebrew text, and to be absolutely free from error! The Church of Rome has fallen into the like mistake with respect to the Vulgate or Latin Version, which the Council of Trent declared to be the only authentic translation." (vol. 2, part 1, p. 387).
The perceptive reader will immediately recognize the relevance of these remarks to the current unfortunate English Bible translation controversy in which similar extravagant claims are made for a particular English translation.
I count as absolutely wasted every minute spent on this volume, both by the author and by any unfortunate readers; certainly the hours I squandered on it were wholly devoid of benefit. I read it as part of a required course reading assignment. Had I any choice in the matter, I would not have read past the introduction, and would not have even completed that. Why this is a required text at a fundamentalist seminary is something I am at an absolute loss to explain. Would the examination of 10 or 50 or 100 pictures of people who were not George Washington give us any better idea of what Washington did in fact look like? Then why on earth would the examination of these 20 or so supposed "pictures" of Christ which are not Christ give us any better idea of what Jesus is like? In almost 28 years of studying Christ, I have not yet mastered what the Bible does say about Him, nor have I exhausted the excellent conservative literature on the subject. I doubt that my experience is much different from that of my readers. Why, then, spend time studying the false, when we have not yet mastered the true? And when the true is know, the false will be readily apparent.
The volume is a survey of the so-called "Christology" or doctrine regarding Christ as presented (read: distorted) by a gaggle of apostate scholars and theolgians of the mid to late 20th century. By design, all theological conservatives are excluded from consideration. In a condescending, belittling remark, the author writes: "Very important is their [i.e., the theologians evaluated] engagement with the world of serious, critical biblical study. For this reason, conservative evangelical writers who insist on a literal reading of scripture are not considered" (p. 9). In short, the starting point of every writer considered is a rejection of the authority of Scripture and a denial of the Person of Christ as presented in the Bible. The result is a variety of portraits of Christ, fabricated in the darkened depths of their own imaginations and bearing no more resemblance to the real Jesus than a man's reflection in a fun-house mirror is a good likeness. With no settled authority, all is subjective. And with no authority, they grope for the walls like the blind, and they grope as if they had no eyes. They stumble at noon-day as in the night. Professing themselves to be wise, they have become fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image made in the likeness of corrupt man. They have rejected the Word of the LORD, and what wisdom could they possibly have? These men have no Christ to believe in themselves, and have none to offer to the empty souls of mankind. There is absolutely nothing of spiritual value in what they have written.
Unbelief has many faces. Error presents itself in numerous forms (the writers came from Catholic, Anglican, Presbyterian, Methodist and Lutheran heritages though none of them believes in a Jesus like that historically believed in by those groups), but it is all still error, and error of such proportion that it presents a false Jesus, with a false Gospel, for which they are accursed (anathema).
Phillip Johnson is a graduate of Harvard (where he was an agnostic skeptic) and the University of Chicago. For more than thirty years, he has been professor of law at the University of California at Berkeley. This is his third book relating to the issue of evolution vs. creation.
In 1991, Johnson published DARWIN ON TRIAL. He examined the claims and alleged evidences of Darwinism according to the laws of evidence used in a court of law, and--no surprise-- discovered that Darwinism is very long on claims and very short on sustainable proof. Indeed, it is in reality a matter of faith rather than facts. To affirm is not to prove. Darwinism has no clothes.
This was followed in 1995 by REASON IN THE BALANCE, which addressed the attempted (and largely successful) exclusion of God from the classroom at all levels, from law, and from public life in general. This presumption of pure naturalism (or, by another name, anti-supernaturalism, that is, practical atheism) is itself placed under scrutiny and is exposed as devoid of a sound basis either logically or philosophically. It assumes as certain that which it has not and cannot prove--namely that God is non-existent or at the least wholly irrelevant to reality--and which is indeed an assumption with strong arguments opposing it.
Johnson's third volume has the self-descriptive title DEFEATING DARWINISM BY OPENING MINDS. It maps out a 'battle plan" for undermining evolutionary naturalism. First, Christians must understand what evolutionists really mean by evolution: the rise and development of all the order in the universe, including especially all life forms solely by the operation of purely natural laws and forces inherent in matter without any involvement of any "god" or any other supernatural or extranatural force. In short we exist and God was not in any way whatsoever involved or necessary. This is, of course, atheistic materialism. Evolutionism and creationism are inherently and forever irreconcilably in direct conflict. Such middle grounds as "theistic evolution" are houses built on sand.
Second, Christians must not let evolutionists shape the debate. Johnson does a masterful job of analyzing the movie "Inherit the Wind," Hollywood's heavily-fictionalized version of the 1925 Scope's trial. The script writers present the evolutionist teacher as the victim, the valiant soul willing to stand for truth and progress against the entrenched and powerful obscurantist, bigoted and intolerant creationists. By so shaping the statement of the case, the evolutionist wins the debate in the court of public opinion before the "trial" begins. In our day, if we allow the evolutionists to caricaturize us as religious dogmatists who wish to impede the process of education and who wish to impose our own intolerant view on everyone else, the debate is lost before the first word is uttered. Of course, in reality, evolutionism, which is the official, government-mandated view of origins is the most intolerant of systems, demanding exclusive access to classrooms and the minds of students, refusing all attempts to challenge its supremacy and being absolutely intolerant of any other explanation of the universe. Evolutionists in truth are the intolerant religious bigots who demand the exclusive right to impose their own worldview on everyone else and deny anyone the smallest right to even challenge their philosophical/religious system. It is "Inherit the Wind" in reverse.
Johnson demonstrates repeatedly the astonishing inability of evolutionary professors to reason clearly and logically, or to see the wholly fallacious nature of many of their own arguments. Such sloppy thinking is characteristic of much of the evolutionary apologetic literature and of evolutionists who meet Johnson in formal debates.
Johnson argues with great persuasiveness that the very existence of "information" in living cells (in the form of DNA) compels the conclusion that something other than, greater than, and prior to matter must exist in the universe. Incidentally, each cell of the human body contains more information than the entire Encyclopedia Britannica.
The dogma of evolution, with its a priori presuppositions, must be challenged. Only by challenging it can its stranglehold on education and on society be weakened and ultimately dethroned. Johnson's books are beyond praise in preparing us to challenge evolution. By all means, get and read and re-read them all.
Most Spurgeon biographies follow a largely topical arrangement in presenting the great preacher's life. In 64 one- to two-page "chapters," Eric Hayden (one of Spurgeon's successors at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, and probably the greatest living expert on Spurgeon) presents the events in Spurgeon's life year-by- year, from 1855 (after a one page summary of the first 20 years) through 1892 (the year of his death), followed by an additional 25 chapters dealing with various aspects of the life and ministry of "the Prince of Preachers." The reason for the annual arrangement and the 25 supplementary chapters of such brief length is due to the original purpose of these annual sketches: to adorn the back of the dust jackets of the Pilgrim Publication reprints of the 63-volume set of Spurgeon's sermons in the New Park Street Pulpit and the Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit.
Among the numerous details of Spurgeon's life recorded are that during his early years in London, he preached on average 10 times per week, by age 21 had preached 1,000 times, and by age 35 more than 7,800 times. By 1869 (scarcely a decade after its founding), Spurgeon's pastors' school had graduated 285 students, and by the end of Spurgeon's life, "Spurgeon's men" had started hundreds of churches, were serving on all six inhabited continents and had baptized tens of thousands of converts. The founding and progress of the other Spurgeonic institutions is chronicled as well. This and much more, along with dozens of pictures, are here ready to hand. For a ready introduction to Spurgeon's life and ministry, or a quick refresher course, this volume is ideal.