Towards Truth And Reconciliation: My Time At IHOP-KC

“Forgiving and being reconciled to our enemies or our loved ones are not about pretending that things are other than they are. It is not about patting one another on the back and turning a blind eye to the wrong. True reconciliation exposes the awfulness, the abuse, the hurt, the truth. It could even sometimes make things worse. It is a risky undertaking but in the end it is worthwhile, because in the end only an honest confrontation with reality can bring real healing. Superficial reconciliation can bring only superficial healing.” – Desmond Tutu, former Archbishop of Cape Town and Chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission

“Loyalty to a ministry involves humbly challenging it when needed.” – Mike Bickle, founder and director of The International House of Prayer

photoI was on staff at The International House of Prayer in Kansas City from 2003 to 2011. During my time there I lead prayer teams, sang on worship teams, lead Bible studies, managed the bookstore, organized events, and of course prayed for hours every day. Like most people, the thing that drew me to IHOP was the prayer room itself: a place where Jesus is exalted in prayer and worship constantly, day and night, 24/7. It was like a greenhouse for spiritual growth. I wouldn’t trade my time at IHOP for anything — which is why it pains me to write this post.

About six years ago, after I had been on staff at IHOP for about 7 years, one of the senior leaders called me into a private meeting to address a theological issue that had raised some concerns amongst the leadership. The issue concerned a rumor that I had said something about being “functionally amillennial”. I explained that the rumor must have misconstrued my meaning, because what I had actually said (in response to an amillennialist friend outside of IHOP on my personal blog) was that I agreed with amillennialists on the subject of inaugurated eschatology, that the kingdom is both “already” and “not yet” — something which IHOP officially affirms.

Nevertheless, the leader said that in order for him to “call off the watch dogs” I needed to delete that comment from my blog and submit to a six-month period of probation. He mentioned someone who had recently left IHOP for another ministry as an example and said, “I don’t want what happened to him to happen to you.” He also told me that, contrary to the popular notion of what it means to be a “good Berean,” what the Berean’s actually did was accept Paul’s teaching by faith and then look to Scripture to find confirmation for what they already believed (cf. Acts 17:11-12). This puzzled me for two reasons: first, because he seemed to be addressing me as someone who hadn’t been at IHOP for seven years and who hadn’t already agreed with Mike Bickle’s teachings, and, second, because of the apparent disconnect between what he was saying and Mike’s public encouragement to test everything.

I submitted to the period of probation, which included attending an IHOPU class on the book of Revelation. In one of those classes, during a discussion period, I said something about how John “alludes” to some OT passage at one point. After class the teacher pulled me aside and instructed me to never use the word “alludes” again, because scholars who use that word supposedly use it because they don’t believe in the truth of biblical prophecy. I disagreed and said that an allusion was simply an indirect quotation. At this point he got somewhat heated, said “Do you know who I am?!”, and began listing his credentials. I then responded heatedly (which I’m not proud of) and said that his credentials didn’t really matter with respect to the meaning of the word in question — although I had a hard time communicating clearly at that point because I felt like I was on trial, which caused me to shut down to some extent.

I told this story and expressed my concerns to Mike Bickle via email last January, after Kendall Beachey published his infamous follow-up to the Rolling Stone exposé Love and Death in the House of Prayer. Mike said he was sincerely sorry that I “felt penalized” for holding different views, but assured me that IHOP leaders “honor sincere questioning” and “do not penalize” staff members or students for holding different views. My negative experience was a one-off anomaly, something easily amended. The only problem is that it was not my only negative experience.

Shortly after that episode, my wife and I were in an end-times Bible study lead by another senior leader. We were discussing Isaiah 7:14 and the way Matthew quotes it in connection with the birth of Jesus (Matt 1:22-23). I mentioned the way Matthew quotes Hosea 11:1, which is not a prophecy, and says that it also was fulfilled in Jesus (Matt 2:15). I suggested that maybe Matthew meant something broader with the word “fulfill” (Greek: pleroo, to fill to the full) than a simple one-to-one realization of prophetic predictions. It seemed like a minor point to me, but the leader shut the conversation down and later called my wife and I into a private meeting with him and another leader. They told us we needed to watch what we say in public and always present a unified front with the leadership of IHOP. But we remained confused about why we were being reprimanded in the first place.

About a year or so after this, after I was no longer on staff at IHOP, I was having a discussion with another senior leader about biblical prophecy on a public forum that he moderates, which is unaffiliated with IHOP. Instead of addressing the points I raised in that thread he started addressing me personally, saying that I was “blind to my own deductive reasoning,” that I had “trapped myself in a prison of my own making,” and that I was “content to pay the Holy Spirit lip-service”. I stopped responding at that point, but several other people reacted to these disparaging remarks, so he shut the thread down. I then emailed him a couple months later seeking reconciliation, but he didn’t respond, so I sent him a private message on the forum, and he said (apologetically) that he was too busy to respond at that point. This was in early 2011.

He finally responded and asked for my forgiveness a few months ago, after I shared my story along side dozens of others in a 75 page document presented to the IHOP leadership team last April. In response to that meeting, Mike instructed many of the leaders who were implicated in that document to apologize to the people they mistreated, and they finally established a standard grievance policy for staff and students. Mike adamantly denies, however, that there is a more pervasive issue in the IHOP leadership culture that might call for deeper reform, insisting in several public statements that “some” people had been hurt by “some” statements made and attitudes held by “some” of their leaders in “some” of their messages and conversations. Mike also insists that IHOP’s vision and values are not based on prophetic words. Both of these statements strike me as being extremely dissociative, if not disingenuous. The recent steps they’ve taken are necessary and encouraging, but they are treating a symptom while denying the cause.

In order to understand my experience at IHOP, you have to understand the role that Mike’s eccentric eschatology plays in shaping the shared identity and controlling narrative of the community. As Dr. Andrew Jackson observes, Mike places a huge emphasis on the idea that this is the last generation and that God is raising up an elite end-time army to prepare the church for the soon-coming great tribulation. Like many similar movements since the late second century, IHOP’s apocalyptic framework goes back to a series of ecstatic experiences, commonly referred to as their prophetic history. In one such experience, Mike believes God spoke to him about raising up “10,000 forerunners” to proclaim an “end-time revolution” that will confront the status quo and usher in the second coming of Jesus. In Mike’s mind, one of the primary purposes of the International House of Prayer is to function as a “spiritual boot camp” to train these end-time revolutionaries. To question that emphasis at any point, therefore, is to question a central boundary-marker of the community.

But things are more complicated than this. On the one hand, Mike is just trying to be faithful to what he humbly calls his “specific ministry assignment” — a vocation which he believes was given by divine revelation and which just happens to involve training thousands of young adults to change the understanding and expression of Christianity and usher in the second coming of Jesus. On the other hand, Mike is acutely aware of the fact that this vocation, and the underlying narrative which supports it, is controversial and divisive on a number of levels; so he downplays the most controversial elements of that narrative, saying it is merely his “opinion” that Jesus will return in this generation and that he does not base his ministry on prophetic words. So, for example, while Mike places the belief that Jesus will return in this generation on the lowest tier of his recent “Varying Importance of End-Time Beliefs” document, he also spends the first three chapters of his newest book (which bears the unassuming title 7 Commitments for Spiritual Growth) explaining why he believes this is the last generation and how forerunners should prepare for the years ahead by reading the book of Revelation every week. IHOP leaders are thus faced with the ambiguous task of enforcing this narrative while navigating the disparity between Mike’s two different modes of public messaging, which breeds a culture of dysfunction and control.

I would love to think that my negative experiences were isolated cases, but I’ve heard too many similar stories over the years to not believe there is a larger, more systemic problem. My story pales in comparison with many others I’ve heard. Many of my friends have spent years in counseling to recover from the trauma of their time at IHOP. Many are now agnostic or atheist. I harbor no ill will toward the leaders who mistreated me, which is why I’m not including their names. The real problem, after all, isn’t with one or two abusive individuals. The real problem is that IHOP’s main ideological boundary-markers are defined more by their “prophetic history” than by the clear emphasis of Scripture, the creeds, or even by their own statement of faith — and as long as Mike fails to admit this, the dysfunction and control will continue as people continue to trip over those unspoken boundary-markers.

I’m sharing my story because the problem has gone unchecked for far too long. I have such a deep love for the International House of Prayer and I want to see it grow and thrive into the next generation. But the leadership has made a lot of things central and nonnegotiable that really should be more peripheral and open to discussion. IHOP is at a watershed right now. If they continue to define themselves more by the private experiences of a few individuals than by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, they will progressively lose influence and credibility in the wider church, and they will become increasingly isolated and sectarian. If the prayer movement wants to continue into the next generation of Christendom, it will have to rebuild its identity on the rock of the Christian story rather than the sand of its own special narrative.

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The Proto-Resurrection: A Fresh Investigation of Revelation 20:4-6

Introduction

Resurrection_(24)Among the many questions that have puzzled readers of John’s apocalypse over the centuries, the meaning of the “first resurrection” in 20:4-6 is probably the most bewildering. Part of the problem is that the rest of the NT, in line with mainstream Jewish eschatology, seems to envision only one all-inclusive resurrection event at the end of the age, but John speaks of two—one at the beginning and one at the end of the millennium (e.g., John 5:28-29; 1 Cor. 15:51-55). This raises the question: Has John split the one resurrection event of earlier Jewish and Christian expectation into two, or is he using the idea of resurrection non-literally to refer to some other kind of life? Is the “first resurrection” the same sort of reality as its implicit follow-up, the first in a sequential series of events of the same kind, or is it something else? Central to the answer of this question is John’s use of the adjective πρῶτος.

Defining the Term

The BDAG defines πρῶτος as “pertaining to being first in a sequence, inclusive of time, set (number), or space, first of several, but also when only two persons or things are involved.”1 The word appears over 90 times in the NT, most often in reference to time and number (e.g., “the first day of the Passover” in Mark 14:12 and pars.), occasionally in reference to rank or value (e.g., “the first will be last” in Mark 10:31 and pars.), and only once in reference to space (the “first section” of the tabernacle in Heb. 9:2, 6, 8).2

In the Hellenistic Greek of the first century, πρῶτος often carries the same sense that πρότερος carried in Classical Greek, that is, “former” in contrast with “latter”, or the first of two.3 This is the sense it carries throughout Rev. 20-21.4

Interpreting the Term

The appearance of πρῶτος in Rev. 20-21 is similar to the usage in Heb. 8-10 and 1 Cor. 15:45-47. Both of those passages employ the word in the contrasting sense of “former” or “preceding” in relation to “latter” or “new”.

In 1 Cor. 15:45-47 πρῶτος appears as the antithesis of δεύτερος (second) and ἔσχατος (last). Here Paul contrasts Christ, as the representative of the new humanity, with Adam, the representative of the old humanity. He uses this antithesis to emphasize the discontinuity between the exalted state of Christ’s resurrection body and the corruptible state of our present bodies. In this context πρῶτος carries the sense of something preliminary and inferior to what follows.

In Heb. 8-10 πρῶτος appears as the antithesis of δεύτερος (second) and καινός (new). Here the “first covenant” (8:7, 13; 9:1, 15, 18) stands in juxtaposition with the “new covenant” (8:8, 13; 9:15) or “second covenant” (8:7). In this context πρῶτος is the equivalent of old, incomplete, outdated.5 Indeed, as the mediator of the new covenant, Christ “abolishes the first in order to establish the second” (10:9).6

The Term Used in Revelation 20-21

In Rev. 21:1-5 πρῶτος is employed in juxtaposition with καινός (new). After the final judgment comes “a new heaven and a new earth” (v. 1), and a “new Jerusalem” (v. 2); indeed, it is the time when God makes “all things new” (v. 5). Similarly to Heb. 8-10, when the word “first” appears throughout this passage, it is used to speak of that which is superseded by the “new”.

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away… Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away…. See, I am making all things new.”

In this passage, to be “first” means to belong to the old order of the world that will give way to the new when God brings heaven and earth together. In this context πρῶτος does not mean merely the first in a series of like kind; rather it characterizes this world as both different and lesser in kind from the “new” world of God’s consummate redemption. It shows the present transient state of things in contrast with the new creation that will abide forever, just as Paul contrasts our present corruptible bodies with Christ’s exalted body in 1 Cor. 15.

In light of this contextual meaning of πρῶτος, M. G. Kline contends that we should not understand the “first resurrection” in Rev. 20:4-6 as denoting simply the first of the same kind in a temporal sequence of two, but rather a preliminary and inferior sort of resurrection to the ultimate bodily resurrection of the new order.7 It is a proto-resurrection, an advance coming to life of the faithful souls in heaven as they await the new life of the consummation.

This reading gains further support by observing the relationship between the first resurrection and the second death. The “second death” is not simply the loss of physical life which every person must experience, but rather a death after death, an ultimate death reserved for the wicked (20:14-15). Likewise, the “first resurrection” is not simply the return to bodily life which John envisions for all of humanity (20:12), but rather a resurrection before resurrection, a preliminary coming to life reserved for those who were faithful unto death, who are now blessed and holy because they are exempt from the power of the second death (20:6).

In other words, when John speaks of the second death and the first resurrection, he is in both cases explaining a lesser known reality (eternal punishment and the heavenly intermediate state) by the terms of a more commonly known reality (death and resurrection). In both cases the adjective modifies the noun as carrying a metaphorical meaning. In the case of the “second death” it lets the reader know that this is a more ultimate destruction beyond what we normally refer to as death. In the case of the “first resurrection” it lets the reader know that this is a preliminary stage of life which is anticipatory to what we normally refer to as resurrection.

Conclusion

Contrary to what many readers have supposed, John does not envision two separate bodily resurrections. Rather, his use of the word πρῶτος shows that he has something different and lesser than bodily resurrection in mind for the “first resurrection”. Thus a proper understanding of πρῶτος should put to rest one argument that still enjoys the support of many good scholars despite being far past its expiration date. Coming from Henry Alford’s classic work The Greek Testament, this is probably the single most quoted paragraph by modern commentators of Rev. 20:

“If, in a passage where two resurrections are mentioned, where certain ψυχαὶ ἔζησαν at the first, and the rest of the νεκροὶ ἔζησαν only at the end of a specified period after that first,—if in such a passage the first resurrection may be understood to mean spiritual rising with Christ, while the second means literal rising from the grave;—then there is an end of all significance in language, and Scripture is wiped out as a definite testimony to anything. If the first resurrection is spiritual, then so is the second, which I suppose none will be hardy enough to maintain. But if the second is literal, then so is the first, which in common with the whole primitive Church and many of the best modern expositors, I do maintain, and receive as an article of faith and hope.”8

The way Alford uses the words “literal” and “spiritual” here is unfortunate, because it confuses the way that words refer to things (literal/non-literal) with the nature of the things themselves (bodily/non-bodily).9 But given the fact that the “resurrection” of Rev. 20:4-6 is modified by the adjective πρῶτος as carrying the metaphorical sense of something preliminary and inferior to the ultimate bodily resurrection of the new order—just as the “death” of the same passage is qualified by the adjective δεύτερος as carrying the metaphorical sense of something greater and more ultimate beyond the initial loss of life—there is no more reason for following Alford’s law related to the “first resurrection” than there is for supposing that the “second death” must be the same sort of thing as the implicit first death. Unless a new generation of millennarians is willing to reduce the meaning of the second death to the strict literal sense that θάνατος by itself would normally carry, it must be conceded that ἀνάστασις does not in this case carry the normal sense of bodily resurrection.

The broader lesson here, however, is that every word of Scripture matters. At first glance the appearance of πρῶτος in Rev. 20:4-6 might seem to be of little consequence, but on closer inspection it becomes clear that this word carries considerable weight for the overall meaning of the millennium.

______________________

[1] F. W. Danker. (ed.). A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd Edition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 892.
[2] G. Friedrich and Geoffrey W. Bromily (eds.). Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. 6 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964), 866, 68.
[3] F. Blass, A. Debrunner, and Robert W. Funk. A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1961), 34.
[4] J. H. Thayer. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 4th Ed. (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1901), 555.
[5] TDNT., 866.
[6] Unless otherwise indicated, all Bible references in this article are to the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010).
[7] M. G. Kline. “The First Resurrection,” Westminster Theological Journal 37 (1974/75): 366-75. Kline has been justly criticized for collapsing the meaning of death and resurrection into one, but his excess in application does not affect his central thesis. The point is not that death equals resurrection for the Christian, but rather that these souls are seen as being alive in spite of having been killed by the Beast. Though they died, yet they live. Their fate is thereby contrasted with the fate of the Beast, who ironically went alive to the “second death”.
[8] Henry Alford. The Greek Testament, vol. 4 (Cambridge: Deighton, Bell, and Co., 1880), 732-33.
[9] G. B. Caird. The Language and Imagery of the Bible (London: Duckworth, 1980), 131-33.
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Egocentric Eschatology and a Hermeneutic of Love

“We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us! But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.” – 1 Corinthians 13:12-13, The Message

I found an interesting book at Goodwill the other day. It’s a theological companion of sorts to the hugely popular Left Behind series called Are We Living in the End Times?. If you’re familiar at all with the Left Behind series, then you can probably guess how this book answers the question posed in its title. Thankfully, unlike their spiritual godfather Hal Lindsey, Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins don’t try to set any firm dates for Christ’s return. They’re content with the much safer premise that “we have more reason than any generation before us to believe He will come in our generation” (xi).

9780842300988_p0_v1_s260x420The argument LaHaye and Jenkins make in support of their premise is pretty standard fare. It consists mostly of cherry-picking prophetic texts like Daniel 12:4, Ezekiel 47, and Matthew 24:14 and relating them directly to contemporary events like the technological revolution, the reemergence of Israel, and the advance of the gospel. Unfortunately, little attention is paid to the authorial intent or historical context of those verses. They are simply lifted from their native environment and applied confidently, imperialistically, to our generation. “Hardly anyone doubts that ours is a day when people are ‘running to and fro’ and knowledge has increased” (x).

This is nothing new, of course. Ever since the late second century charismatic teachers on the fringe of the Christian faith have gathered followers by claiming that they were living in the last (and, by implication, the most important) generation in history. Only in the last two centuries has this idea come into the mainstream, however, thanks mostly to the influence of John Nelson Darby and the Scofield Reference Bible. Given that the Left Behind series has sold 63 million copies and is now a major motion picture starring Nicolas Cage, it looks like the mass appeal of this pseudo-biblical eschatology has yet to die off.

I might take a series of posts soon to address some of the most popular reasons for thinking that this is the last generation and why that’s not actually what the biblical texts are referring to. But first I want to address a larger problem which feeds and supports this booming industry of end-times speculation. This is the problem of egocentrism.

We all know what it feels like to talk to someone who doesn’t have the patience or empathy to hear us out because they think they already know what we’re going to say before we say it. If we’re honest, we’ve probably been that person on more than one occasion. It takes tremendous effort to step outside of ourselves, to lay down our own expectations and preconceived ideas, and just listen to someone on their own terms. But that’s what we do when we love someone. In the same way, when we come to the words of God in Scripture, our first priority should not be to get something for ourselves or to find confirmation for what we think it should say, but to simply listen, without agenda, to what the text says. Far from being a dry or clinical discipline, biblical exegesis should be the natural outflow of a loving heart.

If we come to God’s word on its own terms, however, we are bound to discover two hard but ultimately liberating truths. First, the Bible wasn’t written to us. It was written to people who lived between 2,000 and 3,000 years ago in an environment very different from our own. Second, the Bible isn’t mostly about us—at least, not directly anyway. The Bible is mostly about Jesus, and it invites us to see Jesus’ story as our story, to reshape our lives around his life. Too often, though, we come to the Bible with the expectation that it should speak directly to us and about us, that it should conform to us instead of us conforming to it.

This is why there is often so much unhealthy obsession with biblical prophecy. If the last 2,000 years of failed end-time predictions tells us anything, it’s that we desperately want the Bible to be about us. As Andrew Jackson says it, “the topic of eschatology, especially when it is sensationalized and set as a backdrop to the daily news, can easily appeal to our unhealthy heart motives and ambitions, just as fortune telling, horoscopes, and even spiritual channeling attract non-Christians.” We create new “signs of the times” to fit current events and create lists of reasons why our generation is the last generation, the most important generation, the generation the Bible talks about the most. Paul defines prophecy as peering through a glass darkly, but we somehow manage to find our own face on every opaque surface.

The only way to counterbalance our fallen tendency toward a self-centered reading of Scripture is to take the context of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13 seriously. It’s no coincidence that Paul’s pastoral instruction regarding the use of prophecy is also the most extensive description of Christian love in the New Testament. What does a mature Christian love look like when applied to the art of biblical interpretation? Answer: Love does not seek its own. As N. T. Wright says it, “Love is the deepest mode of knowing because it is love that, while completely engaging with reality other than itself, affirms and celebrates that other-than-self reality” (Surprised by Hope, 73).

Behind all of this is the recognition that God didn’t speak in a vacuum; he spoke to real people in real time and space, and we hear his word by listening to their words. At its root, then, the act of reading Scripture is an act of empathy: it requires us to step outside of ourselves, outside of our own time and space and likes and dislikes, and into the time and space of others. This is hard to do, not because it requires a special kind of intelligence but because it requires a special kind of love, the kind of love that drives a man to lay down his life for his friends.

This self-giving, others-centered kind of love lies at the heart of the Christian view of everything, not least a Christian view of the future. We must replace our egocentric eschatology with a hermeneutic of love. We must write the words “love does not seek its own” on the doorway of our hearts so that every time we come to God’s word our ears will be open to the story he is telling, not the story we want to hear. Only by affirming and celebrating the “other-than-self reality” of God’s word, by counting everything as loss for the sake of knowing Christ and becoming like him in his death—only then will his story become our story.

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All Israel Will Be Saved: An Orthodox Consensus?

Israel-flag01c-300x300How do you interpret Romans 11:26?

Be careful how you answer that question, because it’s a major theological boundary marker for many evangelical churches today, an easy litmus test to decide who’s “out” and who’s “in”. Indeed, judging by the way many evangelicals talk about this subject, one might get the impression it was more important than the divinity of Jesus or justification by faith.

But like many evangelical boundary markers, I can’t help thinking that this question raises the flag of orthodoxy at entirely the wrong place. Let me explain.

There are basically five different ways of understanding Paul’s words in Romans 11:26 (these are rough generalizations, of course; there are many variations of these basic positions):

1) The dual covenant view, in which “all Israel will be saved” refers to literally every single Jew—past, present, and future—saved apart from Christ through the Abrahamic or Mosaic covenants.

2) The futurist view, in which “all Israel will be saved” refers to the mass salvation of the surviving remnant of ethnic Israel at the end of the age, either just before or just after Christ’s second coming. This view is often (though not always) combined with a dispensational scheme in which these surviving Jews become the primary recipients of all the OT promises contained in the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants, having those promises fulfilled in a thousand-year Jewish kingdom.

3) The present-continuous view, in which “all Israel will be saved” refers to the full number of Jews saved by faith throughout the present age, whatever that number might be. This is the view that I personally subscribe to and have argued for at some length.

4) The new covenant view, in which “all Israel will be saved” refers to the elect, the full number of Jews and Gentiles joined together in God’s renewed family by faith. This is often called “supercessionism” or “replacement theology” by adherents of the first two views, but that title doesn’t really fit since nobody is actually replaced in this view.

5) The (real) supercessionist view, in which “all Israel will be saved” refers to the church as a basically Gentile entity replacing the Jews as God’s chosen people.

Views 1 and 5 are the two extreme ends of the spectrum, and neither is truly Christian in my opinion, for they both distort the gospel at a crucial point. View 1 distorts the gospel by positing another way to salvation for Jews apart from Christ, while view 5 distorts the gospel by positing an alternative ethnocentrism in which Gentiles replace Jews.

But placing views 1 and 5 to the side as aberrant, it seems to me that the other three views have more in common than their adherents often suppose. That is to say, whether we take “all Israel” as referring to (2) a remnant of ethnic Israel at the end of the age, (3) Jews saved throughout the present age, or (4) the “Israel of God” comprised of both believing Jews and believing Gentiles—in any case Paul would be stating the obvious.

Of course all Israel will be saved; every tribe and tongue will be saved when it’s all said and done. The necessary qualifications that must be applied to “all” for it to be a realistic Christian statement make the phrase entirely superfluous to what Paul has been saying all along. So, regardless of who “Israel” refers to there, it isn’t a new piece of information to the message of the passage itself and therefore shouldn’t be a hill that anyone is willing to die on. However we understand Romans 11:26, the thrust of the rest of the passage is clear enough, and it should be a gathering point for unity rather than a cause for breaking fellowship.

Paul wants the Gentile believers in Rome to know that God has by no means rejected the original people whom he called, that it’s not as if the Gentiles have replaced the Jews in His plan. His call for ethnic Israel stands now as it always has, for “the gifts and callings of God are irrevocable” (vv. 28-29). He has not ditched the old and started anew (supercessionism), and yet neither has he split his covenant family into two separate groups (dual covenant theology), but rather the Gentiles have been “grafted in” to the one historic people of God (vv. 16-17). Thus they should not boast against the Jews, for it’s upon the shoulders of Jews that they stand; they have accepted a torch which was first received and for two thousand years carried almost entirely by Jews (v. 18). As Jesus said to the Samaritan woman, “salvation is of the Jews”.

The only appropriate response, therefore, is gratefulness, which is exactly what Paul appeals to as he calls for immediate support for the church in Jerusalem (15:25-27). “For if the Gentiles have been partakers of their spiritual things,” he says, “their duty is also to minister to them in material things.” This, it seems, at least according to Paul, is a key part of the church’s mandate; not to blindly support the political state of Israel in all of its endeavors, but in grateful humility to give the best of our resources—our time, money and energy—toward advancing the gospel amongst the Jews, and to support our Jewish brethren who are giving themselves to that end.

Now, according to my view, none of this is based on the Jews having a distinct calling in this age or in the age to come; rather it’s based wholly on the heart of a dynamically relational and loving God who had a friend named Abraham, and on his outrageous mercy that continues to chase that man’s rebellious children—not because he has to, as if he was bound by a contract he now regrets signing, but because he wants to, because his faithfulness remains even when we are faithless.

But this distinct qualification aside, it seems to me that the basic contours of this reading are common to all three orthodox views. Am I correct in thinking this, or am I missing something?

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Understanding Revelation: It’s always literal, except when it’s not, which is more often than we like to admit

The book of Revelation should always be interpreted literally unless it clearly indicates otherwise. It means what it says and says what it means.

Except, of course, for when it describes a wounded lamb with seven eyes and seven horns. Everyone knows that’s Jesus, so it’s an obvious exception.

Or when it describes a sea beast with seven heads and ten horns. We know that imagery from the book of Daniel, so it’s another exception.

And of course there’s the other beast that comes out of the earth, looks like lamb and talks like a dragon. That’s clearly symbolic because, well, it comes right after the first beast.

So there are three clear exceptions. But everything else is literal unless the passage itself says it’s symbolic by calling it a “sign”, like Rev. 12:1-3 does with the woman and the dragon.

Or like Rev. 15:1 does with all of the bowl judgments.

Or like Rev. 1:1 does with the whole book.

Oh, wait…

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Montanism Revisited: A New Controlling Narrative

Introduction

063_apocalypse_tapestry_in_angers_la_jerusalem_nouvelle_postcardSometime around AD165 a man named Montanus, a recent convert to Christianity from Phrygia in the mountains of Asia Minor, began announcing new prophetic revelations from the Holy Spirit about the imminent consummation to world history. Two charismatic women named Maximilla and Priscilla quickly joined his cause and the three of them began to attract a huge following. But the three prophets also attracted sharp criticism throughout the church, and around 177 the movement was condemned by an assembly of bishops as heretical.[1] Like many early heresies, most of what we know about Montanism—or the New Prophecy, as it was called by its adherents—comes from the point of view of its opponents, which makes it difficult to form an accurate and balanced view of the movement. One of the unique features of Montanism, however, is that there didn’t seem to be much consensus amongst its detractors on why it was condemned in the first place.

Many of the more outrageous charges leveled against the movement in the generations after its peak are no longer taken seriously by scholars.[2] An older generation of historians tended to fixate on one or two doctrinal issues, like their formulation of the Trinity or the ecstatic nature of their prophetic experiences.[3] The more recent trend is to seek an underlying sociological explanation—a clash of authority between the rural prophets and the urban establishment, for example.[4] Cessationists like to draw parallels between Montanism and present day Pentecostalism or charismatic movements.[5] Here it will be argued that, ultimately, the New Prophecy was condemned not because of any single doctrine or practice that was manifestly at odds with orthodoxy, or because it posed a threat to existing authority structures, but because it had substantially displaced the controlling narrative of the rest of the church with its own special narrative, enforcing a new shared identity which set it apart from the larger community of Jesus’ followers. This proposal provides a more holistic way of reading the evidence that incorporates the best elements of other theories while setting them in the context of a more persuasive overall hypothesis.

Worldviews and Stories

In his monumental work The New Testament and the People of God, N. T. Wright investigates the historical context and theology of the earliest Christians by employing the category of “worldview”. This approach, Wright argues, has the advantage of addressing historical questions in a more holistic fashion, avoiding the reductionist paradigms which have plagued scholarship.[6] Worldviews, he says, are “the basic stuff of human existence, the lens through which the world is seen, the blueprint for how one should live in it, and above all the sense of identity and place which enables human beings to be what they are.”[7]

One of the primary things worldviews consist of are stories. “Narrative is the most characteristic expression of worldview, going deeper than the isolated observation or fragmented remark.”[8] The stories we tell express our view of reality and our answers to all of life’s biggest questions, including questions related to our own identity and place in the world. These stories and the implicit answers they provide to life’s big questions are in turn expressed through our cultural symbols (festivals, architecture, art, etc.) and praxis (our particular way of living in the world).[9] Analyzing a movement like Montanism from this vantage point—i.e., not just in terms of isolated statements or practices but in terms of the larger narrative and worldview expressed by those statements and practices—should provide a much more fruitful avenue for explaining its condemnation by the wider church of the period.

The church is an international community whose shared identity is based primarily on the good news of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. That is our controlling narrative. It’s not just a set of credal affirmations to which we give mental assent. It’s our origin story, like the story of the Exodus for Israel or the story of Romulus for Rome. It tells us who we are. So the test of authenticity for any would-be Christian community is not ultimately whether they have the right “statement of faith” with the right boxes checked for this or that doctrine, but whether the story of Jesus is the primary source of their shared identity. The key question is not whether the Montanists deviated from orthodoxy on this or that point in their doctrine or practice, but whether the larger narrative which stood behind that doctrine and practice deviated from the central narrative of the rest of the church.

A New Controlling Narrative?

The underlying narrative of Montanism can perhaps be seen most clearly in one of the most well known fragments, attributed by a man named Epiphanius to Priscilla or Quintilla, about the eschatological significance of the movement’s headquarters: “Christ came to me in a bright robe and put wisdom in me, and revealed to me that this place is holy, and that it is here that Jerusalem will descend from heaven.”[10] According to Appolonius, Montanus himself had given the name “Jerusalem” to Pepuza and Tymion, wanting people to gather there from everywhere.[11] These reports are generally believed to be authentic, and corroborative archeological evidence for their accuracy has recently been advanced by the prominent Montanist scholar William Tabbernee.[12] However, several other scholars have recently disputed their authenticity on the grounds that Tertullian, who became a very vocal advocate for the Montanists, never spoke of eschatological events involving Pepuza, but only Jerusalem.[13] If they are authentic, then they provide a striking window into what surely would have been a central feature of the Montanist worldview.

Perhaps a more fruitful avenue for our inquiry, however, would be to analyze statements made by Tertullian himself in support of Montanism. This would have the twofold advantage of (a) starting on solid historical ground and (b) giving appropriate weight to the testimony of a supporter of the movement who wished to present it in the most favorable light. In Tertullian’s work On Monogamy, in which he argues for the unprecedentedly strict Montanist ethic related to marriage and sex, he seeks to rationalize the discontinuity between that ethic and the instruction of Paul in 1 Corinthians 7 by appealing to Jesus’ relationship to the Old Covenant: “If Christ abrogated what Moses commanded because from the beginning it was not so… why should not the Paraclete alter what Paul permitted?”[14] This extreme ethic, and the rationalist hermeneutic which Tertullian employs to support it, tells us something crucial about the underlying Montanist narrative.

In many ways Tertullian held a very high view of the Scriptures, but he also wasted no opportunity in declaring the superiority of the new revelations given to the leaders of Montanism through the Paraclete. For him the Spirit was a restorer rather than an innovator, and this new dispensation of revelations was even foretold by Christ in John 16:13.[15] While Tertullian clearly sought to root these revelations in continuity with the Scriptures, however, he also believed firmly in their transcendent quality:

“What, then, is the Paraclete’s administrative office but this: the direction of discipline, the revelation of the Scriptures, the reformation of the intellect, the advancement toward the ‘better things?’ Nothing is without stages of growth: all things await their season… Look how creation itself advances little by little to fructification… So, too, righteousness… advanced, through the Law and the Prophets, to infancy; from that stage it passed, through the Gospel, to the fervor of youth: now, through the Paraclete, it is settling into maturity.”[16]

Erich Nestler points out the inherent danger in this hermeneutic, that it opens the door to all kinds of new doctrines and practices that have no basis in Scripture.[17] But the more basic problem, beyond any potential danger, is that it tells a narrative in which the New Prophecy has functionally superseded the New Testament as the final authority for life and godliness.

This same implicit narrative can be observed in several fragments generally believed to be authentic sayings of Maximilla. “After me there will no longer be a prophet,” she declares, “but the end.”[18] Stewart-Sykes rightly cautions against seeing too much of a contrast between the eschatological orientation of the Montanists and that of the wider Asian church of the period, as seen, for instance, in the writings of Papias and the Epistula apostorum.[19] But the more alarming detail of this fragment, beyond the overly confident note of imminence, is the position in which it places Maximilla herself as the last prophet, the final voice from God to humanity before the consummation. The underlying story is one in which the Montanist leadership are at the center and climax of God’s great eschatological program. Like Tertullian, Maximilla tries to root her oracles in continuity with the words of Christ, giving an appearance of humility: “Hear not me, but hear Christ.”[20] And yet she presents herself as the final interpreter of Christ: “The Lord has sent me as partisan, revealer, and interpreter of this suffering, covenant, and promise.”[21]

If the statements of Tertullian and Maximilla can be taken as representative, then it appears that the Montanists developed a new interpretive framework in order to legitimate their new revelations; they rationalized the areas of discontinuity between their experiences and the New Testament by treating the New Testament in the same way that the New Testament treats the Old Testament, believing that they stood in a new and greater phase of redemptive history comparable to Jesus’ position in relation to the law and prophets. Instead of submitting their ecstatic experiences to the authority of Scripture, those experiences became the rod by which everything else was measured. In other words, it wasn’t as much the fact of ecstatic prophecy in the Montanist movement that made it heretical as it was the function which that prophecy served to create a new shared identity on a basis other than the story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. As Hippolytus observed,

“They allege that they have learned something more through these [the three main leaders of the movement] than through the law, prophets and Gospels… They attach themselves more to the speeches of Montanus than to the Gospels.”[22]

Summary and Conclusion

When the charges leveled against the Montanists are investigated each as an isolated case, they all appear somewhat forced and the condemnation of the movement looks like either an overreaction or a conspiracy. But when each charge is investigated as part of a larger whole—that is, when each is viewed as a small window into a distinct and comprehensible worldview—then a coherent picture emerges and the wisdom of history is justified. For followers of the New Prophecy, the self-aggrandizing narrative of an imminent consummation to world history—a narrative which focused on their own headquarters as the center of God’s eschatological activity, a narrative confirmed by the charismatic authority of their founding leaders and reinforced by measures of extreme asceticism—this narrative had functionally eclipsed the story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection as the primary source of their peculiar shared identity. This is what ultimately set them apart from the emerging Catholic church of the late second century. This is why they came to be identified more with the name of Montanus than the name of Christ.

The condemnation of Montanism thus stands as a cautionary tale to many would-be Christian movements throughout the world today. Prophecy is a gift to be earnestly desired, and the church desperately needs revival. But true revival is not about discovering something new and different. It’s not about moving beyond what God did in the past to something more, something fresh and unprecedented. True revival is about coming back to life. As the word implies, it assumes that the new thing God did already, once and for all through Jesus, is the great turning point of history and the lifeblood at the heart of every Spirit-breathed movement from Pentecost to the Parousia.


[1] William Tabbernee, Prophets and Gravestones: An Imaginative History of Montanists and Other Early Christians (Ada, MI: Baker Academic, 2009), 11-23.

[2] Erich Nestler, “Was Montanism a Heresy?,” Pneuma (Spring 1984): 70-71.

[3] David F. Wright, “Why Were the Montanists Condemned?,” Themelios 2.1 (1976): 16-17.

[4] Diarmaid MacCulloch, Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years (New York: Viking Penguin, 2010), 138.

[5] See, e.g., John MacArthur, Charismatic Chaos (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), 88. It should be noted that none of the early opponents of Montanism claimed a cessation of prophecy in the church, and many of the fathers explicitly affirmed its continuance. Cf., D. F. Wright, “Why Were the Montanists Condemned?,” 18.

[6] N. T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992), 122.

[7] Ibid., 124.

[8] Ibid., 123.

[9] Ibid., 123-24.

[10] Fr. 11. All Montanist fragments are cited following the numbering of The Montanist Oracles and Testimonia, ed. Ronald E. Heine (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1989).

[11] Eusebius, Church History, 5.18.2.

[12] William Tabbernee, “Portals of the Montanist New Jerusalem: The Discovery of Pepouza and Tymion,” Journal of Early Christian Studies 11 (2003): 87-93.

[13] See, e.g., D. E. Groh, “Utterance and Exegesis: Biblical Interpretation in the Montanist Crisis,” in The Living Text, ed. D. E. Groh and R. Jewett (New York: University Press of America, 1985), 80-81.

[14] Tertullian, On Monogamy, 14.

[15] Ibid., 3-4.

[16] On the Veiling of Virgins, 1

[17] Erich Nestler, “Was Montanism a Heresy,” 74.

[18] Fr. 6.

[19] Alistair Stewart-Sykes, “The Original Condemnation of Asian Montanism,” The Journal of Ecclesiastical History 50 (1999), 3.

[20] Fr. 7.

[21] Fr. 8.

[22] D. F. Wright, “Why Were the Montanists Condemned?,” 19.

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Paul’s Radical Vision for Marriage: An Alternative Reading of Ephesians 5

Introduction

ImagePaul’s instruction on marriage in Ephesians 5:22-33 forms one of the most beautiful and profound portrayals of the gospel in the New Testament, which probably accounts for its status as the most popular source material in Christian marriage vows. I often wonder, though, why traditional vows so often contain a line for both the bride and the groom about loving the other while only the bride’s vows contain a line about submission. Yes, Paul specifically instructs wives to submit to their husbands in Ephesians 5, and he doesn’t say anything about husbands submitting to their wives. But he doesn’t tell wives to love their husbands either, and yet nobody assumes this means wives don’t need to love their husbands. And Paul even introduces this whole paragraph by instructing everyone to submit to one another (v. 21).

So why is it so common to think of submission within marriage as the sole responsibility of the wife? For one significant reason. In both Ephesians 5:23 and 1 Corinthians 11:3 Paul says that the husband is the “head” of the wife. Traditionally this has been taken to mean that the husband is the “leader” or “authority” of his wife, so that Paul’s instruction to wives is based on the exclusive authority of the husband comparable to Christ’s authority over the church. This reading comes naturally in a patriarchal context where masculinity is defined mostly in terms of being tougher and more driven and femininity is defined mostly in terms of being more gentle and submissive.

Needless to say, there are some cultural assumptions that need to be teased out for us to properly understand Paul’s rationale. The traditionalist view of submission has come under intense scrutiny by recent scholarship, and many have pointed out that the dominant modern understanding of “headship” as “authority over” doesn’t accurately reflect Paul’s meaning. In fact, the Liddell-Scott-Jones Greek-English lexicon, one of the most exhaustive lexicons of ancient Greek, does not include any definition of the word that approximates “leader” or “authority”. While it’s important to keep the debate focused on Paul’s own usage, we have to be careful to avoid interpretive colonialism, reading our cultural use of a metaphor onto Paul instead of allowing Paul’s language to carry the natural resonances of his own culture.

Headship: Authority or Source?

Even in our culture, we sometimes use “head” as a metaphor for authority (like the head of a corporation) and we sometimes use it as a metaphor for source or origin (like the head of a river). The question is, in Paul’s metaphorical use of the Greek word kephale, did it carry more the connotation of “authority over” or more the connotation of “source and origin”? Of course Paul calls women to submit to their husbands “for the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church”—but is his reasoning that wives should submit to their husbands because man possesses an intrinsic authority over woman just as Christ has authority over the church, or that wives should submit to their husbands because man is the source of woman just as Christ is the source of the church?

I think it’s clearly the latter, and here’s why: Paul explains the headship of husbands here in comparison to the headship of Christ. In Colossians 1:18 Paul writes similarly that Christ “is the head of the church body of which he is the beginning, the firstborn of the dead, so that he himself may be first in everything.” Paul’s primary point throughout this passage (Col. 1:15-18) is to show that Jesus is the authority over everything because he is the creator, source, and beginning of everything—and when Paul uses the word kephale (head) in this context, it means “source and origin”.

This point is crucial. In Colossians 1:15 Paul calls Jesus the “firstborn of all creation”, and then he explains what that means in verse 16: “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.” In other words, being the “firstborn of all creation” means that Jesus is the source of all things, including all thrones, dominions, rulers, and authorities. Verse 17 elaborates that he is “before all things” and “in him all things hold together”. So verses 15-17 deal with Christ’s authority over all of creation, and Paul’s logic is that Christ holds ultimate authority over everything because he is the ultimate source of everything.

Verse 18 then homes in on the church as God’s new creation in Christ. And the logic is the same: he is the “head”, the “beginning”, the “firstborn from the dead”—and notice the causal relationship here—“so that in everything he might be preeminent”. In other words, Paul’s logic is the same with Jesus’ authority over the church as it is with his authority over all of creation, and in both cases it is a source logic: Jesus is the origin and source of all creation, and he is the origin and source of the church, in order that he might have the first place as Lord. Note also what he says in 2:16, that Christ is “the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God” (cf., Eph. 4:15-16). When Paul says that Jesus is the head, he clearly means that he is the source.

ImageSo when Paul says that husbands are the head of their wives just as Christ is the head of the church, he does not mean that they are the authority of their wives but rather that they are the source of their wives. Besides Ephesians 5:23, Paul uses the metaphor of headship for husbands in one other place, 1 Corinthians 11:3: “But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.” He explains what this means in verses 8 and 9 (after an interesting discussion about head coverings): “For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.”

Again, it’s crucial that we follow Paul’s logic. In both of the passages in which Paul speaks of a husband being the head of his wife he is thinking on the map of the creation account in Genesis 2, where Eve was made after Adam to be his “fit helper” or “strong equal”. Note that he quotes from it directly in Ephesians 5:31, and alludes to it in 1 Corinthians 11:8. So thinking on the map of Genesis 2, a husband is the source of his wife inasmuch as woman was created from man to be his helper, the joint-ruler of creation, and not vice versa. This source logic in the creation account is the foundation for a husband’s authority over his wife, just as being the “head” (the source of everything) is the foundation for Christ’s authority over everything. But in neither case does the metaphor of headship itself speak of authority.

Mutual Headship

Now, at first glance that might seem like a relatively insignificant distinction to make. But for Paul it makes all the difference in the world, because in 1 Corinthians 11:11-12, just after explaining that man is the source and origin of woman, he quickly points out that woman is now the source of man.

Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God.

This is where the analogy between Christ’s headship and a husband’s headship breaks down for Paul. Christ is before everything, the “first cause” so to speak, but man and woman are now mutually interdependent, mutually the source of one another, so that they share mutual authority over one another. So if headship means source and origin, and man is the source of woman but woman is also the source of man, then what Paul gives us here is a theological foundation for mutual headship and mutual submission. Just as man is the source of woman, so woman is now the source of man, and therefore neither sex is independent of or preeminent above the other.

Going back and reading Ephesians 5 in this light, verse 21 appears much more significant: “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Just as Paul’s instruction for husbands to love their wives doesn’t mean that wives don’t have to love their husbands, so his instruction for wives to submit to their husbands doesn’t mean that husbands don’t have to submit to their wives. Because just as man is the head of woman, so woman is also the head of man.

If you want to see how Paul fleshes out this ethic of mutual submission between husbands and wives, read 1 Corinthians 7:1-4. “For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.” Some would wish to argue, of course, that because the submission of husbands to wives in this text is focused on their sexuality, that is the only sphere in which wives have authority over their husbands. But why would a wife only have authority over her husband’s body and not over the rest of him as well? In the ancient world sex was just one more way for men to assert their dominance over women. Therefore, in saying that a wife also has authority over her husband’s body, Paul was cutting at the heart of that culture’s patriarchal values and replacing it with an ethic of mutual submission and service between husbands and wives. And thus the principle behind Paul’s instruction in 1 Corinthians 7 can and should be applied elsewhere in marriage beyond sexuality.

So yes, I am called to be the primary covering and authority over my wife, to serve her and protect her and empower her, etc. But she is called to be all of that for me as well. When we vowed to love and serve each other as God’s image bearers, that vow included a commitment to subvert the dehumanizing caricatures of masculinity and femininity within our fallen world by striving mutually to show initiative, leadership, and strength, as well as patience, gentleness, empathy, and submission.

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