Paul's Passing Thoughts

Holy Schmoly…Who Needs Holiness When You Have Authority?

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Young, PPT contributing editor on January 5, 2018

afshin-ziafat

Originally published January 5, 2017

Afshin Ziafat holds the title of “lead” pastor and “elder” of Providence Church in Frisco, TX. He was part of a panel discussion along with Conrad Mbewe, John Folmar, and moderated by Kevin DeYoung at the 2016 Cross Conference in Indianapolis, IN. The clip below is an excerpt from that discussion. It happens pretty early on. There are several examples I could have used, but this particular exchange really caught my attention.

Here is a transcript of the above video clip.

KEVIN DEYOUNG: So let’s talk about some of these terms that are often given to describe church. This is sort of Ecclesiology, the study of Church 101. So sometimes there is a reference made to the four attributes of the church. One, holy, catholic, apostolic church. So just jump in who wants to just, 30 seconds, what does it mean, “one church”?

JOHN FOLMAR: Unified in the gospel. United to Christ by the power of the Spirit, and thus united to one another.

DEYOUNG: Okay. So Ephesians 4, there is one spirit, one body, one Lord, one baptism. What about “holy”? Afshin?

AFSHIN ZIAFAT: Um, I’m not sure exactly what you’re wanting from that.

STOP RIGHT THERE! HUH?

I’m not the smartest person in the world, and granted, as I go back and read the transcript, DeYoung doesn’t do a very good job at articulating what he’s asking, but even I understand the question. DeYoung wants to know what it means when we say the church is holy.

Yet here is a man who is supposed to have an academic and theological pedigree which supposedly qualifies him to sit on this panel of “experts”.  Here is a man who is supposedly responsible for the “sheperding” of hundreds if not thousands of people every week.  Here is a man to whom a room full of young people are looking for guidance and direction, a man whom people are supposed to submit to his “authority”.  And yet Ziafat says he’s not sure what DeYoung is wanting?  Does he mean he does not know what it means to say the church is “holy”, or does he not even know the definition of holy?  I am beyond incredulous!

Like I said, I am not the smartest person in the world- I didn’t go to seminary, and I am not the pastor of a church of thousands. I did however give a session on the definition of holiness back at the 2014 TANC conference. Perhaps Mr. Ziafat might find it useful. Here are the links to those sessions.

TANC 2014 – Andy Young, Session 1
TANC 2014 – Andy Young, Session 2
TANC 2014 – Andy Young, Session 3

Now let’s look at the remainder of the transcript:

(ZIAFAT CONTINUING) But I would say just, you know, the fact that, if I may couple with what [FOLMAR] just said, the need for you to be in the church to be shepherded, because, as I see, you know, one catholic church, but yet there’s a need for the local church that you are involved in actually being cared for. Because from the very beginning God is known as a shepherd and His people the sheep of His pasture and Jesus taught His disciples how to shepherd and Peter tells fellow elders that you are to shepherd the flock of God among you. So all that to say, I would tell [the audience] that if they are not in a local church, that’s God’s setup for how He as the shepherd is gonna shepherd them through under-shepherds. And so I think that they need to be in that local church.

Ziafat never answers the question with respect to holiness. Instead he does what politicians do when there is a question they don’t want to answer. They try to distract you by rambling on and on over talking points that you would want to hear, hoping to impress you with their verbosity, all the while saying nothing of any substance (something at which politicians are very adept).

But notice what he does choose to talk about: the authority of the church in the lives of Christians. “…the need for you to be in the church to be shepherded…”, “…need for…actually being cared for…”, a local church is how God is “gonna shepherd them through under-shepherds…”, “…they need to be in that local church.” Authority, authority, authority.

I am not the only one who notices that Ziafat doesn’t answer the question. DeYoung realized it too. But rather than put him on the spot, he bails him out by actually answering the question for him. I mean, these guys have to stick together, right?

DEYOUNG: Right, for the accountability, for, you know, if the leaders of the church are accountable before God for their people you need to have some kind of membership, or to whom or for whom are they accountable, and that holy aspect is called out ones out from the world into this fellowship, shepherded, guided…

This is just one example of how these guys perceive themselves and you. You need to be shepherded for your own good. I am reminded once again of what John Immel said at the 2012 TANC conference regarding the metaphysical assumptions of reformed theology – man is fundamentally incompetent to be able to comprehend truth and know good; he therefore needs have good dictated to him; that dictated good is accomplished by the institutional church through divine mediators who presume to stand in God’s stead. And this is all done under the pretense of being done for your own good, since you poor schlubs don’t know any better.

This was the tenor of this entire panel discussion, that we should just be so thankful that we have these “godly” men to guide us poor incompetent masses though our ignorance, and we should just listen to them so that we don’t screw up our lives. I find such arrogance and condescension appalling, especially since these men are such intellectual pinheads who couldn’t come up with an original thought among the four of them to save their lives. They are simply regurgitating what they themselves have been taught. That much is obvious from this example.

~ Andy

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The Philosophy of the Reformation and Its Historical Impact, by John Immel – Part 1

Posted in John Immel, TANC 2012 by Andy Young, PPT contributing editor on December 14, 2017

Taken from John Immel’s first session at the 2012 Conference on Gospel Discernment and Spiritual Tyranny
Published with permission
~ Edited by Andy Young

Click here to read Part 2
Click here to read Part 3
Click here to read Part 4

I was listening to the radio and a song by one of our modern philosophers came on.

Steven Tyler

Steven Tyler, lead singer, Aerosmith

“There’s something wrong with the world today.
I don’t know what it is.
Something is wrong with our eyes.
We’re seeing things in a different way.
And God knows it ain’t His.
It sure ain’t no surprise.”

This is from a song by Aerosmith, “Living on the Edge.” The song’s refrain says over and over that we can’t help from falling.

It is true: there is something world with the world today. But I contend that it is not inevitable that we fall.

Throughout my life I have been involved in various flavors of Christianity, and I continually found myself running up against the same interaction over and over and over. And, of course, for the longest time the easy criticism was, “It’s you. You’re the problem.” There are a lot of doctrines within Christianity that affirm that – yeah, it’s probably you. If there is a problem, you are probably the problem.

But then I began to realize that the same problem exists whether I’m involved in the social dynamic or not.

How is that possible? How is it possible that I can go from denomination to denomination to denomination – from Word of Faith to Charismatic to Baptist to Methodist – and it didn’t matter?

After much thinking I arrived at what I believe is the root of all failed human actions.

The Gospel According to John Immel, chapter 3:1-3

  1. All people act logically from their assumptions.
  2. It does not matter how inconsistent the ideas or insane the rationale. They will act until that logic is fulfilled.
  3. Therefore, when you see masses of people taking the same destructive actions, if you find the assumptions, you will find the cause.

The words “logic” or “logically” in this context refers to the consistent progression of a given set of ideas. That does not mean the ideas are logical in the sense that it is accurate thinking. I am talking about how Idea “A” through Idea “Z” go together to create an entire perspective. What I realized was that when the same people take the same action, they will produce the same outcome.

Let me break this down by section.

Verse 1 says: assumptions + logic = action.
Verse 2 says: faulty logic or erroneous rationalizations = ideas that flow from one to the next to the next.
Verse 3 concludes: mass action + destructive outcomes = common premise.

Something is wrong with the world today, but I submit that the error is imbedded in common faulty root assumptions. When I surveyed history and I saw men taking the exact same steps, coming to the exact same conclusions generation after generation, millennia after millennia, I realized they all held similar root assumption about man and about life.

Typically, when I start talking like this is people say something like: “Well, people just need Jesus.” What they mean to say is that ideas are irrelevant unless the mystical solution of “Jesus” is applied to the problem. But that can’t be right because other people might say: “Well, people just need Buddha,” and still others might say, “Well, if Islam ruled the world, all the problems would go away.”

And here is why “people just need Jesus,” is no answer to the world’s problems: bromides are not solutions. Bromides never address the forces driving the problem.

The problem with faith is people tend to take their own faith very personally and very seriously . . . and very uncritically. They tend to assume that faith equals a license to subjectivity; that they are entitled to believe whatever they happen to believe just because they believe it.

So the challenge that I have forever run up against is that when I start talking about digging into the roots of our assumptions, the reaction is, “You know what? That’s complicated. That requires me to think. And I don’t really care to do that too terribly much.”

I am sympathetic on many levels to that frustration. We would like to say to ourselves, “The declaration of God’s love is so simple. Why on earth does this have to be complicated?” I understand that frustration. It seems that if something is so simple, the process of believing should be left to that simplicity. But here is the challenge – I contend that theological bumper stickers are not simple because thinking is at no point simple.

Let us use the following metaphor to try to illustrate this complexity. Throwing a ball seems like a very rudimentary process. You let it go. It goes from point “A” to point “B”. Yet no matter how many times you throw a ball from point A to point B, it consistently drops to the earth. Now consider the question, why does the ball always hit the ground? Some very smart people put together the physics of throwing a ball.

D = (Vo ˟ sinθ ˟ t) + (½A ˟ t2) + h

where:
D = distance
Vo = initial velocity
θ = initial arc angle
t = time
A = acceleration
h = initial height

Since I am no math wizard, I could not begin to explain to you the details of this equation. But that’s okay. I don’t have to. What I want you to understand is that a child throwing a football on the beach is engaging in the above formula. This formula details the level of complexity that is involved in throwing a ball from point “A” to point “B” even though a child can perform the action.

Now back to the issue at hand: thinking about what we believe and why.

Thinking is hard because thinking is also complex. It is just as complex as, if not more so, than throwing a ball because thinking is the mechanics of human action. This is where we get our energy to act in life. From the time when we are old enough to recognize our own consciousness to start motivating ourselves through life, the thing that dominates us every waking moment of our lives are the thoughts that we specifically put into action.

Here is the beauty of my metaphor – ideas are just as calculable as the mechanics in throwing the ball.

People want simplicity but it is in the details that we find the root problems. You may read articles on discernment blogs discussing the issue of “New Calvinism” or a resurgence of Calvinism and Reformed theology. Most people will conclude that denouncing the doctrines of those movements is grand conspiracy. The real solution is if a few “misled” souls would just get on the right path then all will be well with the church.

But the reality is conspiracy as an explanation does not satisfy the discussion of New Calvinism any more than liberation theology describes why America is treading down the path of Marxism, or why Marxism has dominated the whole of the western world, or why Islam is on the rise throughout the globe.

boris-badenovPeople prefer conspiracies. “Christians” would rather hear people say it is the Illuminati or the Bilderbergers or some dastardly mastermind twirling his mustache in a hideaway, spending lots of money to compel people to do things and take mass action. People prefer conspiracy and world masterminds because that is easy. Conspiracies are easy. Thinking is hard.

I contend that the issue driving the world towards the edge is ideas, and ideas are hard. Ideas demand that individuals invest a stunning amount of personal discipline. You must bring your “A” game every minute of every day to be about ideas.

Consider once again the metaphor of throwing a ball. There is a specific problem with that metaphor. It is the issue of gravity. When you throw a ball, of course, the ball at the end of its trajectory hits the ground. It is the existence of gravity within that equation which leads people to believe that the ball must hit the ground every time it is thrown. Because of that gravity, my metaphor tends to break down because in the grand scheme of ideas, I am overtly saying that we can control what we think. If we can understand the progression and the mechanics of our thinking, then we can arrive at a different outcome. But historically, the inevitability of the “gravity” of human action is the observation that man tends down the path of his own self-destruction over and over and over. It is this very observation which has been used as a case in point to say that man is in effect “depraved.”

So how do I remedy the weakness of my metaphor? How do I integrate the immutability of “gravity” with the power of choice and the ability of man to set his own course?

The answer is, change the beginning assumption.

The formula for throwing a ball assumes that you are in an environment affected by gravity. The formula for throwing a ball assumes that your desired outcome is to propel the ball from point “A” to point “B.” Yet with the right amount of velocity, acceleration, and arc, it would be possible to put a ball into orbit or escape gravity altogether. Therein lies the consistency with the metaphor.

I contend that when you challenge the assumptions that have dominated the whole of the western world, you can arrive at a new set of assumptions, and those assumptions can defy the “gravity” that has driven men down to self-destruction.

puritan-whippingSo now let’s discuss Calvinism, New Calvinism, and Reformation theology. The question is: why within this emergent movement do we see such consistent actions, such consistent outcomes, such consistent stories of oppression and domination and coercion? Why, from one congregation to the next, do you see the exact same outcomes?

To answer these questions, we must first find the assumptions, and that means we are going to have to take on ideas. It takes enormous effort to fully evaluate the content of ideas. This is the process of education and expertise. One must be specifically aware of one’s own thoughts. This is intentional consciousness. From the time, you are old enough to say, “I want a cookie,” to the day you read, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son,” and every day after and in between, when you crack open a book and you read an equation and you determine to understand what the variables within that equation mean . . . all of these are examples of intentional consciousness.

It takes enormous discipline to order one’s thinking, to evaluate the progression from “A” to “Z.” It takes enormous effort to arrive at real logic, or non-contradictory thinking. Real reason is the determination to understand the over-arching mechanics of your own individual consciousness. By order I mean non-contradictory logic. It is what happens when you can follow the progression of thought from “A” to “B” to “C” to “D,” and you do not find any inconsistencies in that progression. Such a process takes enormous self-definition, that is, an absolute trust in one’s own rational faculties. And this requires self-esteem.

Bookmark the concept self-esteem.

My root assumption is that man is rationally competent. This assumption defies almost all historic Christian doctrine. Now the term “self-esteem” in American culture has been so utterly corrupted that I hesitate to use it, but it still captures what I’m after; an identification of the effectiveness of self. But you cannot get to self-esteem by someone holding your hand, patting you on the back, and telling you that you are okay. You can only get to self-esteem by doing the work, overcoming challenges, and succeeding.

The definition of human consciousness and self-esteem comes from the ability to successfully prevail over challenges. By contrast “New Calvinism” or Reformed theology is designed to undermine this ability at the root. It is designed to undermine man at his most fundamental level. It is designed to eradicate his specific ethical egoistic self. Most people don’t understand that every argument you encounter in Calvinist doctrinal debate, whether it is the distinction between sanctification and justification, or whether it is your moral right to keep the substance of what you have, are all moral arguments designed to de-legitimize your self-esteem. The doctrines fueling the argument are designed to condemn you at your root: to prevent you from having the right to your own self and your moral responsibility for the sum and substance of your own life.

What I am describing is the study of philosophy. In the western world since Immanuel Kant, philosophy has been utterly corrupted, and thus most people have a negative impression of philosophy. And Christians are particularly fond of flipping the page over to Paul’s consternation with what he called “vain philosophies” in order to de-legitimize discussing ideas. But regardless of how you feel, since philosophies exist, you need figure out how to deal with “vain philosophies.” So despite Paul’s anxiety over “vain” philosophies, it follows that understanding good philosophies is important.

Here’s the reality: the ideas we encounter are no accident, and the outcomes are not happenstance. The source of all world evil can be found in evil ideas, or evil philosophies. The outcomes of those ideas have been displayed over and over and over, so we know they are evil. Christians are then confronted with this reality: if the world remains evil then the solutions we have been offering do not work. So one more sermon, one more frothing-at-the-mouth preacher, one more guy pounding his ESV will not fix the problem.

Instead we must have the courage to think, or maybe better said: rethink. Unless people are willing to turn on their minds and challenge their deepest-held beliefs, finding the solution is impossible. Nothing will change. It won’t matter how much we dissect sanctification and justification or the centrality of the cross. It won’t matter how many scriptures we stack up in service to pet doctrines. It won’t matter how much we rail against misplaced church government (Is it presbytery? Is it democracy? Is it papacy? et al). That has already been done over and over and over, council after council, synod after synod, inter-Nicene fight after inter-Nicene fight. For the first time in history, men must rethink the historical fight from its roots.

05f15a210000044d-3418861-misery_scenes_after_the_liberation_of_belsen_in_april_1945_the_p-a-34_1453911882121Mystic despots have always ruled over the masses with portents and disasters for those who dared to live life beyond the mediocre. Tyrants can only succeed when men refuse to think. Autocrats rely on being able to compel outcomes because no one opposes their arguments. This is the challenge that I have as a man who is passionate about thinking: to inspire people to engage in understanding and scrutinizing the complex ideas that drive tyranny.

So here’s my challenge: do not be seduced into believing that righteousness is retreat from the world. Do not be seduced into believing that spirituality is defined by weakness and that timid caution for fear of committing potential error is a reason to be quiet. Do not be intimidated by vague, hazy threats of failure. Do not let yourself believe that faith is a license to irrationality. Do not mistake the simple nature of God’s love as a justification for simple-mindedness. Do not deceive yourself with the polite notion that you are above the fray, that your right to believe is sufficient to the cause of righteousness. There is no more stunning conceit. Do not pretend that your unwillingness to argue is the validation of truth.

Know this: virtue in a vacuum is like the proverbial sound in the forest – irrelevant without a witness. Character is no private deed. To retreat is nothing more than a man closing his eyes and shutting his mouth to injustice. Virtues are not estimates to be wafted gently against evil. Virtues are not to be withheld from view in the name of grace. Virtues are not to be politely swallowed in humble realization that we are all just sinners anyway. Love is not a moral blank check against the endless tide of indulgent action. Love is not blind to the cause and effect of reality. Love is not indifference to plunder and injustice and servitude.

The time is now, you men of private virtue, to emerge from your fortress of solitude and demonstrate that you are worthy of a life that bears your name. The time is now, you men of private virtue, to answer Steven Tyler of Aerosmith and all the nihilists that insist we are living on the edge and we cannot help but fall.   It is time for you men of private virtue to take up the cause of human existence and think.

~ John Immel


Click here to read Part 2
Click here to read Part 3
Click here to read Part 4

Pagan Thinkers Inspiration Found In Augustinian Aesthetics

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Young, PPT contributing editor on November 23, 2017

As John Immel so successfully detailed for us in past TANC conferences, Augustinian orthodoxy (and ultimately authentic reformation Protestantism)  is a fusion of Christianity and ancient pagan philosophy. The theological pedigree can be traced from men like Thales and Pythagoras to Plato to Plotinus. So then it should come as no surprise that medeival cathedral builders paid homage to these pagan thinkers in the construction of their cathedrals since they were so influential in shaping the orthodoxy.

God’s Acknowledgment of “Self” and the Full Circle of the Ten Commandments.

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Young, PPT contributing editor on November 12, 2017

Originally Published May 25, 2016

“And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.” ~ Exodus 3:14

When Jehovah (I Am) identified Himself to Moses at the burning bush, He did more than just tell Moses His name. God made a philosophical statement about reality. God acknowledged His own existence, and in so doing He declared His intrinsic rights because of that existence. Furthermore, by acknowledging His own existence, God also recognized man’s existence. I believe this is at the heart of what the Bible means when it says that man was made in God’s image. We have a right to “self” because God has a right to “self”.   And for us to acknowledge our own right to “self” demands that we by extension must acknowledge others’ right to “self”, just as God acknowledges ours.

Do not misunderstand what I mean by “right to self”. I do not mean “self-ishness”, which the Bible clearly decries. “Selfishness” means to love oneself MORE than another. On the other hand, the Bible never teaches us to love others more than ourselves. Said another way, the Bible doesn’t teach that we should love ourselves LESS than others. It says we are to love others AS MUCH AS we love ourselves. Herein is the way in which we acknowledge another’s right to “self”, we treat others as WE would want to be treated. We see our own value as an individual and in so doing recognize that others have that same value. That value includes one’s right to existence and the means necessary to sustain that existence. The United States’ Declaration of Independence embodied that idea in this way:

“…We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…”

“That all men are created equal” is to recognize that all men have the same basic right to “self” and to existence, and that equality of individualism is preserved in the rights to seek those things which would secure that existence. No one ever has the right to violate another’s right to “self”, EVEN GOD!

In a conversation with a close friend the other day, I posed the question, “why is stealing wrong?” My friend replied that stealing is wrong because God said so; it’s in the Ten Commandments. Stealing is wrong because God said, “Thou shalt not steal.” I then followed up with the next question, “Why did God say stealing is wrong?” For this my friend had no answer. All he could say was, “I don’t know, I never thought about it before.”

You see for my friend, as it is with most people (particularly Christians), that God “said it” was enough for him. It was nothing more than an appeal to authority. An authority says this or that, so we must do it or not do it. This is the same reasoning that led to the slaughter of 6 million Jews while millions of others gave their tacit approval. People’s behaviors are the product of their assumptions, to paraphrase John Immel. No matter how irrational the behavior may seem, if you find the assumption you will find the reason for the action.

So why DID God say that stealing is wrong? It is a simple question, and once challenged to think, my friend finally did ask it of me. Stealing is wrong because it is a violation of “self”, of the individual. Our possessions are the products of our labors which are an investment of ourselves. Your labor is an exchange of value. You enter into that exchange with an employer who trades you wages for your investment of yourself. Those wages then in turn are exchanged for those things that are necessary to further your existence – food, clothing, shelter, etc. – and if there is any surplus, luxuries – car, mobile phone, flat screen TV, etc. So in reality, everything you produce – labor, wages, food, clothing, car, TV, etc. – is a product of you as an individual. For someone to steal those things from you is to violate “you” (self) because those things represent what the individual produced as a function of “self”. You have a right to them because you produced them because you have a right to “self”.

Contrary to what people/Christians are taught, the Bible is not a theological book. It is a philosophical book. And the Ten Commandments in particular are not simply an authoritative codification of do’s and don’ts. It is a philosophical statement from God to man about the value of the individual. It is a statement about how God values Himself, and it is a statement about how God values man. Conversely it is a statement of how man is to value God and how man is to value man. God’s very first statement to man is an appeal to God’s own sense of “self” and value. God as an individual. “I am God. I exist. I have value.” Therefore, the way we show God that we value Him is to have no other gods before Him! We do not make vain attempts to conceptualize God’s sense of “self” by making an image to represent that. We do not mock God’s name because His name is intrinsically tied to who He is. To violate God’s name is to violate who He is.

Man, too, has value as “self”. Therefore, we honor our parents, we don’t murder, we don’t commit adultery, we don’t steal, we don’t lie, and we don’t covet, not because God said so, but because we acknowledge that this would violate another person’s right to “self”. This is the basis for morality. It can be said then that the definition of morality is anything that does not violate God or man as “self”.

God’s command to not covet seems all-encompassing. The last commandment perfectly reduces everything down to the root motivation for all violations of “self”. And that is self-ISHNESS. A desire to usurp for oneself that which rightfully belongs to another. And as we have said before, that is a desire caused by Sin. The Bible describes Sin as an entity that seeks to control others. It seeks to master and enslave. It seeks to violate another for it’s own benefit, to wield control over another.

The New Testament offers another perspective on covetousness.

“For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.” ~ Ephesians 5:5

“Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry:” ~ Colossians 3:5

The apostle Paul had a unique insight among the other apostles in that he was a certified expert on Jewish law. This perspective gave him an ability to draw parallels between Old Testament and New Testament concepts that the others did not. Peter even declared that many of the things which Paul taught were hard to understand (2 Peter 3:16).   In these two passages in particular, Paul sees covetousness as being nothing more than idolatry. I’m not exactly sure how he gets there since he doesn’t elaborate on it.

Still, it is an interesting piece to the puzzle. Consider that one of the Ten Commandments speaks to idolatry. When one thinks of graven images, one usually thinks of idolatry. But Paul seems to suggest that idolatry involves more than just “idol worship”. It is a violation of God as “self”. Covetousness is a violation of man as “self”. What Paul has done here is to show the intrinsic relationship between the two. To violate man is to violate God, and to violate God is to violate man. Do not misunderstand, I am in no way suggesting that man IS God. But I do want to point out that there is a mutual recognition between God and man with respect to existence.

So to violate the tenth commandment is to violate the first, and thus we have come full circle. The Ten Commandments then are not statutes in and of themselves. It is not a means for God to show us “filthy rotten sinners” just how “holy He is” and how “sinful we are.”  It is a full-orbed treatise on morality and existence. It is not a law for authority’s sake. It is God instructing us on reality. What we see in the Bible is that LOVE is the motivating factor in all of this. To love someone is to ascribe value to them. Perhaps this is the relationship between idolatry and covetousness. To idolize something is to objectify it, to assign value based on its desirableness to oneself instead of an individual’s intrinsic value as another individual.

Whatever the case may be, when we show love to God and others, we have thus fulfilled the whole law because in this way we demonstrate a like view of both man and God, and we see reality the way God sees it.

Andy

Rapture Fever – Guest Writer, John Immel

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Young, PPT contributing editor on August 24, 2017

I was 17, (I think) at Fishnet, a Christian Woodstock, when I had my first serious conversation about end-time theology. I had that conversation with Hal Lindsey, a preacher who has made his living packaging and repackaging all things Second Coming. If memory serves I disagreed with his reading of a passage in Daniel. He was less than amused; he was the authority and I . . . wasn’t. My peon public objection was a threat to his livelihood. Preachers can never tolerate such things.

Back then I was under the delusion that preachers wanted to talk about the truth, about the ideas that shaped doctrine. It took me a long time to figure out preachers never have that motive. Certainly, had I understood this truth, Hal’s reaction to my question wouldn’t have surprised me.

Since I’m a hard-headed soul the interaction at Fishnet wasn’t the last unwelcome doctrinal conversation I would have with preachers and certainly not the last discussion about “biblical” eschatology.

(Eschatology, for those of you who don’t know, is the formal term for the Rapture, or End Time things.)

Anyway, the next notable time I entered this Rapture fray was during college: 1988 to be exact. A guy by the name of Edgar C. Whisenant, published a book titled: 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988.

The book was garbage but it still took the country by storm. (If Wikipedia is to be believed, it sold 4.5 million copies.) True story. I visited a friend of mine from college in Virginia and when her mother (we’ll, call her Mrs. H) heard me reject Whisenant’s book she cried for two days. Mrs. H. started praying and fasting to save my soul and read from 88 Reasons Why . . . every couple of hours to persuade me. When that didn’t work Mrs. H. gave me a Pre-Millennial systematic theology book by Dwight L. Pentecost. I pulled out of the driveway with Mr. H begging me to recant lest I be left behind.

So, you can imagine that if the country at large had this kind of emotional investment, the veritable belt buckle of the Bible Belt in Tulsa Oklahoma at ORU, my university of choice, was sweat soaked infestation: Rapture Fever burned across the quad in South Tulsa, like Pentecostal wild fire.

As a budding Theology student, and as an eager member of the ORU School of Theology, I joined the general academic outcry against the madness. A great college friend Bret Nicolson, now a pastor in Evansville Indiana, and I spent HOURS, in our ORU dorm rooms, arguing the merits and doctrines of the Rapture madness. Those many musings eventually culminated in me doing my Senior thesis on the subject. I titled the paper: “Are We Getting Out of This Place or Not.” Dr. Autry was not amused. The upside was, the Dwight L. Pentecost book was a primary source for my rebuttal. Mrs. H. if you are reading this, thanks. And oh, . . . told you so.

>snicker<

Anyway, in 1988 the furor over the Rapture was new to me, but now I’m older and a LOT wiser. Rapture Fever infects the masses about every decade or so. Resurfacing again in my life time in 1995 when the world was treated to the Tim LaHay, Left Behind series. Just for the record, the only thing that got left behind in the books and movies was any respectable biblical exegesis and acting. But hey, he sold a LOT of books: 65 Million copies.

(Evidently the Rapture is a growth business.)

And the next one that comes to mind was Herold Camping who said that May 24th 2011 was the day that big J was gonna whisk everyone away.

(Do you like how I did all that alliteration. That was kinda fun)

And then in 2017 there was an eclipse and Jesus is supposed to be coming back . . . again.

And of course, He didn’t. He hasn’t and he’s not this year, not next, or the one after that or the one after that. (Mark my words. If not I’ll be glad to say I told you so). But that won’t stop LOTS of people from making really, really bad life choices even in the face of insurmountable evidence that whomever is making the prediction the day or hour or year will be WRONG.

So how can this be? How can ostensibly, intelligent, 21st century people, with a full grasp of reality in 95% of their life get so screwed up in the other 5%.

Where does this Rapture Fever come from? And why does it cycle with such consistency?

I’ll tell you but, like Hal Lindsey and Mrs. H. and a host of other people I’ve encountered when talking about this subject, you won’t like the answer.

Spoiler alert. I’m gonna rip off the band aid.

The rise of Rapture doctrine is inversely proportional to social/political chaos.

Or said another way, the more people feel uncertain about the future the more helpless they feel in dealing with reality, the more they abandon reality and look for a way to escape.

Or said another way, the feebler people feel, the more they yearn for someone to erase reality.

Or said another way, the Rapture, the longing for the return of Jesus, is an existential punt.

I told you, you wouldn’t like it.

And we have seen this existential punt, drawn through history like a standing wave, cycling above and below the line as cultures and nations ebb and flow through civil stability and unrest.

And do you want to hear the real punchline to the joke: The cycle is exacerbated by historic Christian doctrines. The roots of Christian doctrine come from St. Augustine merging 2nd century Christianity with 3rd century Platonism. 90% of what you hear in church today, in the 21st century, is Augustine, which really means you’re listening to Plato.

Hey, don’t shoot the messenger. You can find this stuff out yourself in about 2 hours with that cool answer box called Google. Just think, I spent a LOT of money 20 years ago, to learn this stuff. You can get it for free.

Anyway, Augustinian dogmas turned the world into an insurmountably evil place, inhabited by a metaphysical aberration called Man and dubbed the cosmos malevolent.  The height of this worldview is in the Dark Ages: the Dark Ages were dark in principle because people during that time took Augustine seriously and the result was a nightmare come to life. Thankfully, the world was pulled out of the madness by Thomas Aquinas: he reintroduced Aristotle to the world, and within 400 years the Enlightenment sparked the Age of Reason, that culminated in the American Constitution. Political freedom released the human mind to thrive and soon the world was filled with light: the cosmos was intelligible, knowable and benevolent. And for a while, it seemed that Augustinian doctrines would slide into the primordial ooze like so many disastrous ideologies that came before.

“John, you are crazy! Your great learning is driving you insane! I don’t listen to Augustine, I listen to my preacher and he reads the BIBLE! He’s always telling me about the good that God does.”

Hold on there, Festus. I get it. I’m Dorothy pulling the curtain back revealing the man pulling the very real, very tangible levers. I’m that punk in 4th grade who told you that Santa Clause wasn’t real and it was mom and dad that put the presents under the tree. You might not like it but that doesn’t change the truth.

The intellectual pedigree goes like this (assuming you are a Protestant) Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Reformed Theology—a bunch of 17th century thinkers—the 20th century resurgence of Calvinism, your pastor. There isn’t any preacher in America that hasn’t been affected by the resurgence of these doctrines. And I’d bet money that for every time that preacher tells you about the “good” he hedges and fudges with three times the reiteration of your sin, and depravity and guilt, and weakness.

And so here we are in the 21st century, being fed a steady diet of metaphysical gloom and doom and the name of Christian righteousness. The more Augustinian doctrines of self-doubt and human impotence overtake a cultural mind the more people pine for a world that is not this world.

So, there you have it. Go to church on Sunday and hear how wretched you are, how bad the world is, how evil life is. Watch the news. Watch America—the single most amazing political achievement in human history—tearing itself apart; watch people do evil and call it good, do crazy things and call it sane. It is enough to make grown people turn to alcohol or religion. Any religion. Any mysticism that can show them how to get away from reality.

You think I’m being cynical?

Nope. Just making an observation.

The problem is that the very doctrines people turn to for comfort and hope are the same doctrines that affirm reality is an evil chaotic place that no man can tame or grasp.

Now you can follow the progression to Rapture Fever:

  • As the cycle of social unrest increases social instability, the more people go to mystical sources to find “answers.”
  • Preachers tell everyone that this world is evil and everyone is sinfully incompetent.
  • Psychological impotence grows in its own echo chamber of despair.
  • Eventually people accept the premise and punt.

Alakazam Poof! The Edgar C. Whisenant’s and the Tim LaHay’s and the Harold Camping’s of the world seem like the clarion call of sanity. Their voices affirm people’s greatest fears and satisfy their greatest hopes. Men will sell their souls for a glimpse of stability so if someone claims a special ability to reveal a new reality, they will lobotomize themselves to wipe out what they feel they have no power to master.

My greatest objection to Rapture doctrine has little to do with when it will or won’t happen. My objection has always been against the underlying attitude: the wholesale abdication of civil responsibility. It is much easier to breathe portents of divine retribution and pretend you will be somewhere else when the bad #$%@ happens.

It sounds Churchy for preachers to thump their Plexiglass podiums while reading the book of the Revelation and ranting about God pouring out Fire and Fury against whomever violates their moral sensibilities. But in the end it is all posturing. People infected with Rapture Fever have no intention of taking any action, responsibility, or initiative. “I’m getting out of here so I don’t care what happens next,” is their battle cry. They capitulate, pretending that the course of human events is beneath them. They abandon the responsibilities of self-government and flee the obligations of a representative republic without so much as a fair thee well. The result: they contribute to societal decline by sitting idly, waiting for a bus that never comes and then complain their world is turning to #$%@.

And it is for this abdication that those infested with Rapture Fever should be called to account by the doers, the able, the rational, the responsible, and the motivated.

Get in the game!

~ John Immel

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