A great theological short. A short quick response to an issue on the afterlife. See my post on this subject of “evil” here:
- James E. Taylor, Introducing Apologetics: Cultivating Christian Commitment (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006), 257-259.
Hinduism may be the most metaphysically diverse of all religious traditions, since its practitioners have been polytheists, monotheists, pantheists, panentheists, atheists, and agnostics. This metaphysical diversity is grounded in the widespread Hindu conviction that the truth about ultimate reality is inexpressible and unknowable.
The Hindu name for ultimate reality is Brahman. In spite of the general skepticism just mentioned, many Hindu scholars have studied the Vedic texts (especially the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Brahma-sutra) to articulate an understanding of Brahman and Brahman’s relationship to the universe. The philosophical/theological systems formulated are called Vedanta. The three most influential vedantic thinkers are Sankara (788-820), Ramanuja (1017-1137), and Madhya (thirteenth century AD).
Sankara’s view is called Advaita (non-duality) Vedanta. According to this worldview, reality is one, and the one is Brahman. It follows that the only absolute reality is Brahman, and therefore everything that exists is Brahman. Thus, each individual atman (soul) is identical with Atman (the world soul), and Atman is the same thing as Brahman. Though Brahman may seem to be a personal lord with a variety of divine attributes who is worthy of worship, Brahman is really impersonal (and so not appropriately worshiped) and completely without different and distinct qualities (except for being, consciousness, and bliss). This is clearly a version of pantheism, which accounts for polytheism at the popular level: The allegedly many gods are just manifestations of Brahman. Sankara says that the assumption that there are many real things (human beings, animals, plants, inorganic things, different qualities of things, etc.) is due to ignorance and that this ignorance is caused by maya (illusion). According to his view, salvation comes through eliminating maya and the ignorance based on it by becoming enlightened. Enlightenment involves grasping that everything (including oneself, of course) is really (distinctionless and impersonal) Brahman.
Sankara’s interpretation of the Vedas is philosophically problematic, and because of this, it does not provide a plausible challenge to Christian exclusivism. The main problem with his view is that it says, on the one hand, that there is only one thing and thus no distinctions between different kinds of things, and, on the other hand, that there is a distinction between maya and ultimate reality, ignorance and enlightenment, bondage to samsara and liberation from it, and so on. In short, Sankara’s Hindu theology is self-contradictory. Moreover, it does not help to distinguish, as Sankara does, between absolute reality (Brahman) and conventional reality (maya). This too is a distinction between two different things, and if Brahman is all, then there cannot be two different things. An additional problem is that Sankara’s view is inconsistent with the wisdom of collective human sensory experience, which reveals a world of many real things. An appeal to mystical experience does not save his position. There is no good reason to trust such an experience, since insofar as it supports Sankara’s view, it contradicts both reason and sense perception.
Ramanuja is a later Hindu thinker who tried to improve on Sankara’s theology by attempting to be faithful to the theme of unity between Atman and Brahman in the Vedas while avoiding contradiction. His theology is a qualified nondualism. According to his view, the universe is Brahman’s body, which emerges or emanates eternally out of Brahman and through which Brahman expresses itself. As such, the universe is coeternal with and dependent on Brahman, but it is not the same thing as Brahman. Therefore, the universe can consist in many different things, including souls, which are not identical with Brahman. If we take this to mean that the universe is part of Brahman, then Ramanuja’s theology is a version of panentheism. If instead Brahman’s body is not a part of Brahman, then Ramanuja’s view is a version of contingency monotheism. Either way, Ramanuja avoids Sankara’s pantheism. Moreover, whereas Sankara conceives of Brahman as impersonal, Ramanuja believes Brahman is a personal God who has become incarnate in many forms (such as Rama and Krishna)2 and who gives grace to save human beings who love him and are devoted to him (but this salvation does not involve atonement).i
Though Ramanuja’s picture of reality avoids the contradictory antirealism of Sankara’s approach, and though it includes some Christian themes, it faces a problem of evil that is more serious than the one afflicting the Abrahamic faiths. In the first place, if his view is panentheistic, so that the universe is part of God and the universe contains evil, then a part of God is evil. But Ramanuja says that God is perfect. Therefore, the universe does not contain evil, or God is not perfect, or the universe is not a part of God. Since it seems best to affirm the last of these alternatives, it seems best to reject the panentheistic interpretation of Ramanuja’s theology. Second, since Ramanuja affirms the eternality of souls (a consequence of his denial of creation ex nihilo), then those souls that have not yet been liberated from the cycle of death and rebirth have already suffered eternally. But this is an experience equivalent to eternal suffering in hell—at least with respect to length of time. Therefore, all of us still caught in the cycle of death and rebirth have no freedom of choice in this life to avoid eternal suffering. We have already endured it! According to the Christian view, all human beings suffer only a finite amount during the one earthly existence they are granted, and they are given an opportunity to choose freely whether to suffer eternally apart from God. Moreover, there is consequently a much greater amount of pain and suffering for which Ramanuja needs to account than there is in the Christian view.
The third Hindu theologian is Madhya. According to his view, the universe is eternal and completely independent of God. His theology is a member of the cosmological dualism family. Thus, he avoids the problems facing Sankara’s pantheism and the panentheist interpretation of Ramanuja. Moreover, he says God is the designer of the universe but not the creator. Therefore, his theology does not have to explain why God either created or eternally generates a universe that contains evil, pain, and suffering. Like Ramanuja, he also affirms that God is personal, has become incarnate in different forms, and offers salvation by grace.
But Madhva’s account of God and the world has two serious problems. First, from the standpoint of Hinduism, it does not affirm the close relationship between God and the universe that is taught by the Vedas. Second, it can provide no satisfying philosophical explanation of the existence of the universe. Since Madhva’s position is that the universe is both eternal and independent, the universe’s existence is a brute fact. But the Abrahamic faiths and the other versions of Hinduism can all explain the existence of the universe as identical with God (Sankara), a part of or dependent on God (Ramanuja), or created by God out of nothing (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam). Therefore, these other theologies are superior to Madhva’s theology in this respect.
2. In Hinduism, an incarnation of God is called an avatar.
i. RPT’s note. Ramanuja seems close to some theistic beliefs, but one should be aware that he lived around 1017–1137 AD, and so borrowed from Christianity to try and “fix” the glaring problems in Hinduism.
There are three notable perspectives:
- Christ spent his three days suffering the wrath of God.
- Christ spent his three days proclaiming his victory over the Satanic kingdom.
- Christ spent his three days preaching the Gospel to the Old Testament believers who dwelt in a separated portion of the netherworld.
Here is a look at the non-Biblical version of this view that Jesus descended into hell:
- I pray he went to the bottom of Hell, because if he didn’t, you’d have to go. You better hope he took on every sickness and disease. You better hope he suffered every pain that could ever be felt because whatever he didn’t take on you and I would have to take on. But I thank God that he took it all upon his self. (Joyce Meyers also said Jesus went to hell showing her affiliation with this heresy). – Creflo Dollar
- Satan conquered Jesus on the Cross…. It wasn’t a physical death on the cross that paid the price for sin…anybody can do that…. He [Jesus] allowed the devil to drag Him into the depths of hell….He allowed Himself to come under Satan’s control…every demon in hell came down on Him to annihilate Him….They tortured Him beyond anything anybody had ever conceived. For three days He suffered everything there is to suffer. – Kenneth Copeland
The main issue with this false doctrine is that it renders the work on the cross null… here is a good clip of Mark Driscoll explaining the issue well. (This was a clip from Mark’s sermon, “Suffering to Learn – 1 Peter 3:17-22“):
Here as well is a quick confrontation by WATCHMAN explaining the core of the deviation,
…Another is the distortion of what Jesus meant on the cross when He said, “It is finished” (John 19:30).
The teachers of this movement emphasize the “spiritual” death of Christ almost to the exclusion of His “physical” death. The problem with this is simply that it is unbiblical. The Bible’s emphasis is on the physical death of Christ, not the spiritual. The teaching of scripture is: “Without shedding of blood (physical) is no remission” (Hebrews 9:22, parenthesis mine).
As regarding Christ’s words, “It is finished”, the word in the Greek is tetelistai and is rendered “to bring to an end” or “paid for in full” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary). What Christ was saying was that the work of redemption (paying for sin and securing salvation) was complete. If Christ did anything else beyond “It is finished,” in order to pay for sin, something is added to His completed work. This is what the Word-Faith teachers have done when they teach that salvation was completed in hell, after Christ died on the cross!…
For a dealing with Joel Osteen’s view, see a post entitled, “Joel Osteen’s False Teaching That Jesus went to Hell, by Lori Eldridge.” The implications of this false view of “It Is Finished” is noted by Matt Slick of CARM:
IMPLICATIONS OF TETELESTAI
The implications of Jesus’ words on the cross are eternally positive for those who repent and receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior–by the grace of God alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. However, the implications of Jesus’ words on the cross are eternally negative for any organization or individual who seeks to add to, detract from, or replace not only Jesus’ words on the cross, but also the work He accomplished to the glory of God the Father.
Every man-made religion and each of their faithful adherents stand, right now, in the cross-hairs of God’s wrath. “For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:34-36).
- Roman Catholicism denies the efficacy of Jesus’ finished work on the cross through the practice and observance of the mass. During the mass, through the unbiblically magical art of transubstantiation (Jesus literally becoming the bread and the wine), Jesus must sacrifice Himself again and again for sin.
- Jehovah’s Witnesses deny the efficacy of Jesus’ finished work on the cross by denying Christ died on the cross and by insisting one must be a member of the Watchtower Society and obey the Law of God to receive their demonic brand of salvation.
- Mormonism denies the efficacy of Jesus’ finished work on the cross by adding their perceived righteousness and works to their ungodly salvation process. According to 2 Nephi 25:23, in the Book of Mormon, salvation is by grace, plus works. “For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.”
- Islam denies the efficacy of Jesus’ finished work on the cross by seeing Jesus as nothing more than a prophet, second to their false prophet Muhammad. They also believe it was Judas (a treacherous false convert), not Jesus, who died on the cross.
But the implications of Jesus’ words on the cross extend beyond false religions and into American Evangelicalism.
Some churches deny the efficacy of Jesus’ finished work on the cross by spending time and resources wooing the unsaved to the “Christian Club” instead of calling them to repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Oh, how many times I have heard the testimonies of professing Christians–testimonies that culminate with happy membership at a church and not with the bending of the knee, in repentance and by faith, at the foot of the cross.
Some churches deny the efficacy of Jesus’ finished work on the cross, diminishing the gospel as the power of God for salvation, by insisting Jesus and the gospel need the help of man’s innovation and perceived ability to make the gospel more palatable. This is demonstrated through gimmicks, sales pitches, bait and switch tactics, and playing to the primal desires of health, wealth, prosperity, ease, comfort, and happiness without accountability.
Some churches deny the efficacy of Jesus’ finished work on the cross by teaching unbiblical mantras such as:
- “Christians have to earn the right to share the gospel with someone.”
- “Unbelievers need to see Jesus in you before they will hear what you have to say.”
- “People need to hear more than ‘Jesus can forgive your sins and give you eternal life.’ They need help with the real problems they’re facing today.”
Some churches deny the efficacy of Jesus’ finished work on the cross by failing to distinguish service, helps, and hospitality from evangelism, which is the actual and literal presentation of the gospel of Jesus Christ to those who are lost and bound for Hell.
And the list goes on…
A person on my YouTube pointed something out…. and it is this: that there are orthodox views about this “visit” to hell. Period. Here is his comment:
- The bible says in 1 peter 3:19 that he went to hell to proclaim his victory, not to suffer. the false doctrine isn’t that he went to hell, it is that it had anything to do with atonement.
HANK HANEGRAAFF reigns is the idea to allow for Biblical views rather than just one narrow view:
Lee Strobel and Hank Hanegraaff speaks on Christ’s Date of Birth. While Hanegraaff makes it clear that Jesus was not born on December 25th, that doesn’t mean we cannot celebrate Jesus’ birthday.
A fellow bibliophile passes (updated tribute).
….Because Dallas wrote on spiritual formation and taught philosophy at the University of Southern California, one might think he came from a background associated with richness of education and culture and resources. In fact, he grew up in very poor circumstances in rural Missouri. His mother died when he was two; her last words to her husband were: “Keep eternity before the children.”
Because of impoverished conditions, Dallas grew up in a circle of different families; electricity did not come until he was mostly grown up.
He read a book by Jack London once that contained a passage describing the world from an atheistic point of view. Dallas said that he’d never known books could contain such thoughts and ideas, and his mind was never quite the same after that awakening. He was nine years old at the time.
He became an insatiable reader. He attended Tennessee Temple and did graduate work at Baylor before receiving his Ph D in philosophy from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and then teaching for nearly 50 years at USC, where for a time he was director of the philosophy department. His particular area of study was the philosophy of mind and logic, and he is regarded as a leading translator and authority on the work of the German phenomenologist Edmund Husserl. He was, along with scholars like William Alston and Alvin Plantinga, a significant influence in a renaissance of evangelical thinkers in contemporary academic philosophy.
His home, like his mind, was furnished mostly with books. He had a secondary library that occupied a second house; a tertiary library that filled his office at USC. After his diagnosis, a group of us packed up well over 100 boxes of books that only made it to his quaternary library in a nearby garage, books in multiple languages stretching from Homer to the present….
Take note that while a solid believing Christian can glean some practical wisdom and life organizing skills from Dallas Willard… this same Christian should be wary of Dallas’ theological bent. Dallas was off in his theology…he was a UNIVERSALIST in the mold of other Emergent theologians:
Dallas Willard and popular author John Ortberg have teamed together to create a new product being launched right now called Monvee. What is Monvee? Monvee, which bills itself as “the future of spiritual formation,” is an online assessment tool that is used to “handcraft” a personalized plan for spiritual development for its participants. That sounds great, except that there’s a problem. And that problem, one of them anyway, is Dallas Willard.
Dallas Willard, for those who don’t know him, has been a darling of the evangelical world for years. He has been a prolific writer in Christendom, churning out very popular books such as The Divine Conspiracy (Christianity Today‘s Book of the Year in 1998), The Spirit of the Disciplines, Hearing God, Renovation of the Heart, and, most recently, The Great Omission. But Dallas Willard, though he is identified as an evangelical, is anything but orthodox in his views. In a recent interview, Willard made these shocking statements:
“Now, I believe that everyone who deserves to be saved will be saved no matter where they are or what they do.”
“(God) is open and in touch with everyone in the world, and for all who seek them with all of their heart—and that is defined in terms of coming to love Him, and not just have the right beliefs about Him—but coming to love Him, and loving their neighbor as themselves.”
And then on Dallas Willard’s own website, he makes this universalist statement:
“I am not going to stand in the way of anyone whom God wants to save. I am not going to say ‘he can’t save them.’ I am happy for God to save anyone he wants in any way he can. It is possible for someone who does not know Jesus to be saved.”
In these statements, Dallas Willard – a professing Christian, might I remind you – is making the classic argument put forward by all skeptics who don’t want to believe Jesus when Jesus said these words: “I am the way, the truth and the life, no-one comes to the Father but by me.” And that argument is this: what about the “good Buddhist” or the “good atheist?” I know that it feels good and more loving to think that God will save people, who to our eyes anyway, appear to be good, decent, moral people. Our error comes when we view this problem with human eyes, and not with God’s eyes. More importantly, we use our own standards for “good” to gauge a person’s “goodness” or “worthiness” rather than God’s holy standard.
So my final question is, if Dallas Willard is a Universalist, as it appears to me, where does that leave John Ortberg, his partner and co-creator of Monvee? And what does that make Monvee…..a good thing or a bad thing? We’ll look at that in more detail in an upcoming post.
The following [long] audios comes by way of Chris Rosbrough from PIRATE CHRISTIAN RADIO. They are — again — long, and allow the astute listener some insights into where the late Dr. Willard may have been missing the Gospel target.
But Dallas Willard is not the only person promoting some bad theology via New Age authors and books (like the below) and authors:
Dr. J.P. Moreland, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy for Biola, tells us in his 2007 book Kingdom Triangle that “spiritual formation should be studied…and insights gained should be implemented.” Then among the four books he would “invest” himself in “absorbing” is “Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline [which] has earned the title of a contemporary classic” (157).
Reformed theologian J.I. Packer says in the foreword of Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, by Donald Whitney, said: “Ever since Richard Foster rang the bell with his Celebration of Discipline (1978), discussing the various disciplines has become a staple element of conservative Christian in-talk in North America. This is a happy thing” (9, emphasis mine).
I will explain why anyone recommending this work is either ignorant of it’s contents, or theologically soft on cults and the occult. Celebration of Discipline is a New Age book, here are some scans of a couple worrisome parts (click to enlarge). Here are pages 27 through 28 from Richard Foster’s book:
And page 170 from the 1st printing (this was changed in later printings):
PRO: Wayne Grudem
CON: John Mark Reynolds
(See my POST on the issue)
Theologian Wayne Grudem deals with the moral objections to not voting for Trump (the entire article is actually MORE than just this):
It isn’t even close. I overwhelmingly support Trump’s policies and believe that Clinton’s policies will seriously damage the nation, perhaps forever. On the Supreme Court, abortion, religious liberty, sexual orientation regulations, taxes, economic growth, the minimum wage, school choice, Obamacare, protection from terrorists, immigration, the military, energy, and safety in our cities, I think Trump is far better than Clinton (see below for details). Again and again, Trump supports the policies I advocated in my 2010 book Politics According to the Bible.
Moral Objections To Voting For Trump
Several Christian friends tell me they still have some moral objections to voting for Trump. They say evangelicals should vote for a third-party candidate. Here is why I am not persuaded by their objections:
(1) “My conscience won’t let me vote for Trump.”
Answer: I fail to see how your conscience lets you help Hillary Clinton get elected, for that is the result of withholding your vote from Trump. Does it not trouble your conscience to help advance the terrible harm that she will bring to the nation? (See details below.)
(2) “Voting for Trump means you approve of his immoral treatment of women.”
Answer: No, it absolutely does not. In my Oct. 9 opinion piece, I proclaimed to all the world that his treatment of women was morally wrong. And so did every other evangelical leader who is supporting him.
(3) “When faced with the lesser of two evils, choose neither one.”
Answer: I agree with this principle when facing a choice between doing two evil actions. For example, when faced with a choice between stealing and telling a lie, I should choose neither one. But this is not that kind of situation. We are not talking about doing something evil. We are talking about voting.
Yes, it is morally evil to commit adultery. It is also morally wrong toapprove of committing adultery. But that does not mean it is morally evil to vote for someone who has committed adultery. In a world affected by sin, voting for morally flawed people is unavoidable. Voting for the candidate you think will be best for the country (or do the least harm to the country) is not a morally evil action, so this objection does not apply.
(4) “If you vote for Trump you’ll never have credibility in the future when you say that character matters.”
Answer: I disagree. The current chaos over Trump’s candidacy (and Clinton’s) is mostly because of character issues, and character will continue to matter in future elections, perhaps even more so because of this election.
On the other hand, if you refuse to vote for Trump, how can you ever have credibility in the future when you say that the policy differences between candidates and between political parties matter?
I have read the Republican platform and the Democratic platform for this year. In my opinion, the Republican platform is more consistent with biblical moral principles than any platform I have ever read. And the Democratic platform is more antithetical to Christian principles than any platform I have read. This is important, because most elected officials vote consistently with their party’s platform most of the time. Policy differences do ultimately determine the future of the nation.
(5) “We have to send the Republican party a message that a candidate like Trump is unacceptable.”
Answer: You don’t have to. You want to, perhaps thinking that it will demonstrate moral courage and heroism. But the leadership of the Republican party already knew that Trump was the most unacceptable of all the choices we had. They fought tooth and nail against Trump in the primaries, and he won anyway.
Is it worth turning the country over to a corrupt Clinton political machine that is hostile to Christian values, just to “send a message” that the party leaders already agree with? That’s a steep price to pay.
And why not vote to help defeat Clinton and send the entire nation the message that a candidate like Clinton is even more unacceptable?
(6) “It is wrong for Christians to place their trust in a morally compromised man.”
Answer: Our ultimate trust of course should be in God alone. But the question in this election is not whether we trust Trump or God. The question is whether we trust Trump or Clinton.
When the apostle Paul was on trial before the Roman governor Festus, he saw that things were going badly, so he said, “I appeal to Caesar” (Acts 25:11). But “Caesar” was the emperor Nero, an immoral and corrupt person. This doesn’t mean that Paul was trusting in Nero instead of in God, but it means he wisely decided that he would have a better chance for a fair trial under Nero than under Festus.
Similarly, I think we have a much better chance for good government under Trump than under Clinton.
(7) “I could never tell my friends that I voted for Trump.”
Answer: Why not? Are you acting out of a misplaced fear of what your friends will think? The future of the country is at stake. Is it worth it for you to pay the price of disapproval from your friends?
(8) “We should vote for neither one and trust a sovereign God to bring about his good purposes for the nation.”
Answer: Every time I hear this objection, I think of the story of a man who climbed up to the roof of his house in a flood and prayed for God to save him. A man with a boat came along and urged him to get in, but he refused, saying, “God will save me.” Another boat came and he gave the same response. Finally, as the waters were lapping at his feet, a helicopter came and dropped a rescue harness to him. He waved it away, yelling out, “God will save me!”
Then he drowned in the flood, and when he got to heaven, he asked God, “Why didn’t you save me when I prayed to you?” God replied, “I sent two boats and a helicopter.”
The moral of the story is that God often works through human means to answer our prayers. And I think that the ballot box in this election is still the human means that God has given in answer to our prayers that he would deliver us from the increasing opposition to Christian values brought on by the Democratic Party and the Obama administration. Why not vote for the candidate whose policies are best, and also trust God for the future of the nation? Please don’t wave away the helicopter – even a faulty helicopter – and later say to God, “Why didn’t you save us?”
(9) “Are there no limits to what you will tolerate in a candidate?”
Answer: This is the question that set me back on my heels and threw me into a few days of uncertainty after the release of the Trump video.
In the end, I decided it is useless at this point to speculate about all possible future elections. The question facing us is how we should vote in this election, given what we know now. The question is whether Clinton or Trump would be a better president. My conclusion is that, because I agree with his policies, Trump is the far better choice.
(10) “My vote doesn’t really matter. I don’t even live in a battleground state.”
Answer: This election is unlike any other in our lifetimes, and it is possible that the polls are more wrong than they have ever been. Individual votes matter. George W. Bush became president because of only 537 votes in Florida in 2000.
In addition, your vote sends a signal. Every vote in every state affects the margin of victory for the winning candidate. A large nationwide victory gives a strong political mandate and a lot of political clout going forward. A small victory gives a weak mandate and less political clout going forward.
In future years, people will ask, “In 2016, did you do what you could to stop Hillary Clinton or did you vote in a way that helped and encouraged her?” If we fail to vote to stop Clinton and her support for abortion rights, government imposition of gender confusion on our children, hate speech laws used to silence Christians, and government-sanctioned exclusion of thousands of Christians from their lifelong occupations because they won’t bow to the homosexual agenda — will our failure to oppose these evils destroy our Christian witness for the future? Will our grandchildren ask us why we failed to at least vote to try to stop the imminent triumph of anti-Christian liberal tyranny when we had the ability to do so?
(11) “I can’t trust Trump to do what he promises.”
Answer: This objection carries no weight with me. It asks me to believe that Clinton will be a better president than Trump even though Clinton promises to do what I considerbad things for the country while Trump promises to do good things. This objection says I should vote third-party and help the person who promises to do bad things rather than vote for the person who promises to do good things. This is nonsense.
Of course we cannot know Trump or Clinton’s future conduct with 100% certainty, but we should decide based on the most likely results. And the most likely result is that both Trump and Clinton will do most or all of what they have promised. That’s what elected officials always do, or they lose the support of their own party and become totally ineffective. Their policy differences matter a lot.
Yes, Trump has changed his mind, but notice how he has changed his mind. His policy statements continue to move in a more conservative direction, and he has chosen a very conservative vice president and list of judicial appointments. His transition team includes many solid conservatives, and they will determine many of his appointments and much of what his administration will do. Just as he succeeded in business by listening to the best experts to solve each problem, I suspect that he has been learning from the best experts in conservative political thought and has increasingly found that conservative solutions really work. We should applaud these changes.
His choice of Indiana governor Mike Pence as his vice presidential running mate is an especially significant indication that he will govern as a conservative. Pence was outstanding when he debated Tim Kaine in the vice presidential debate. Trump could have picked a moderate but instead picked a lifelong solid conservative who is a thoughtful, gracious policy wizard. Pence is a lawyer and former talk radio host who served 12 years in Congress and had significant congressional leadership positions, so he will be immensely helpful in working with Congress. He is a committed evangelical Christian. He is a former board member of the Indiana Family Institute, a conservative Christian lobbying group in Indiana.
(12) Conclusion on moral objections
Trump has a morally tainted past. I will be voting for him, not with joy but reluctantly because of his deplorable past mistreatment of women. I wish the Republican candidate were someone with a spotless moral reputation (such as Mike Pence). But because anything I do will help elect either Trump or Clinton, these moral objections raised against voting for Trump are not finally persuasive to me. Most of them become even stronger arguments for voting to stop Clinton.
The main reason for this upload is similar to my post on Augustine… that is, people’s views mature and change over a lifetime. Similarly, at the beginning of Kierkegaard’s works he was very existential. But as he and his faith matured he mentioned and placed his trust in Jesus fully. A great example of how he and all of us mature in our faith. For more clear thinking like this, visit Premier Christianity’s show, “Unbelievable?“
Here is an interesting interview with Clifford Williams, teacher of philosophy at Trinity College in Deerfield, IL. He is an author of Existential Reasons for Belief in God: A Defense of Desires & Emotions for Faith. He talks about his background and how he got into philosophy, the role of philosophy in theology and apologetics, the meaning of “existential” and the existential argument for belief in God, needs and desires and their role in the existential argument, various objections to the argument, the role of the argument in a cumulative case for God, practical application for apologetics.
Keep in mind in our very “rational” | “scientific” Western mind, often the softer side of life, faith, and what it means to be an emotional being is often times neglected.
This is the first of a couple posts/Excerpts that will highlight “Just War Theory,” Pacifism, and the like. By far this is one of the best resources that I will start this series of excerpts [and later some thoughts] with. It should sit on every serious Christians shelf. Enjoy:
- Wayne Grudem, Politics According to the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), 36-44, 388-394.
C. ALL GOVERNMENT IS EVIL AND DEMONIC
According to this third view, all use of government power is deeply infected by evil, demonic forces. The realm of government power is the realm of Satan and his forces, and therefore all governmental use of “power over” someone is “worldly” and is not the way of life that Jesus taught.
Those who hold this view also usually favor military pacifism. They argue that since Jesus told us to turn the other cheek (Matt. 5:39), the best way to resolve disputes—even among nations—is never to use military force, but always to negotiate and build friendships and act in a Christlike way, showing love to other nations.
1. Support from Luke 4:6
This viewpoint has been strongly promoted by Minnesota pastor Greg Boyd in his influential book The Myth of a Christian Nation (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005). Boyd’s views in this book have had a large impact in the United States, especially on younger evangelical voters.
Boyd says that all civil government is “demonic” (p. 21). Boyd’s primary evidence is Satan’s statement to Jesus in Luke 4:
And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours” (Luke 4:5-7).
Boyd emphasizes Satan’s claim that all the authority of all the kingdoms of the world “has been delivered to me” and then says that Jesus “doesn’t dispute the Devil’s claim [p.37>] to own them. Apparently, the authority of all the kingdoms of the world has been given to Satan.”29
Boyd goes on to say, “Functionally, Satan is the acting CEO of all earthly governments.”30 This is indeed a thoroughgoing claim!
2. The mistake of depending on Luke 4:6
Greg Boyd is clearly wrong at this point. Jesus tells us how to evaluate Satan’s claims, for he says that Satan “has nothing to do with the truth” because
“there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44).
Jesus didn’t need to respond to every false word Satan said, for his purpose was to resist the temptation itself, and this he did with the decisive words, “It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve ‘” (Luke 4:8).
In evaluating Boyd’s claim that “the authority of all the kingdoms of the world has been given to Satan,” we have a choice: Do we believe Satan’s words that he has the authority of all earthly kingdoms, or do we believe Jesus’ words that Satan is a liar and the father of lies? The answer is easy: Satan wanted Jesus to believe a lie, and he wants us to believe that same lie, that he is the ruler of earthly governments.31
By contrast, there are some very specific verses in the Bible that tell us how we should think of civil governments. These verses do not agree with Satan’s claim in Luke 4:6 or with Boyd’s claim about Satan’s authority over all earthly governments. Rather, these verses where God (not Satan) is speaking portray civil government as a gift from God, something that is subject to God’s rule (not Satan) and used by God for his purposes. Here are some of those passages:
“The Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will and sets over it the lowliest of men” (Dan. 4:17).
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are the ministers of God, attending to this very thing (Rom. 13:1-6).
[p.38>] Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good (1 Peter 2:13-14).
At this point it is interesting that both Paul (in Romans) and Peter see civil government as doing the opposite of what Satan does: civil governments are established by God “to punish those who do evil,” but Satan encourages those who do evil! Civil governments are established by God “to praise those who do good,” but Satan discourages and attacks those who do good. In addition, it would not make sense for Peter to say, “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every institution in which Satan is the CEO.” Peter would not want Christian citizens to be subject to Satan’s control and direction.
The point is that Satan wants us to believe that all civil government is under his control, but that is not taught anywhere in the Bible. (Of course, Satan can influence some individuals in government, but he is not in control.) The only verse in the whole Bible that says Satan has authority over all governments is spoken by the father of lies, and we should not believe it. Greg Boyd is simply wrong in his defense of the view that “all government is demonic.”
3. But where did Jesus ever teach us to use force?
In supporting his position, Boyd often appeals to the teachings of Jesus rather than the teachings of the whole Bible. For example, “Jesus didn’t come to give us the Christian answer to the world’s many socio-political quandaries”32 Boyd also says that the “just war” theory is “something that Christ never taught or hinted at”33 (quoting George Zabelka with approval).
But this form of argument fails to recognize that the whole Bible was given to us by God. We have no right to restrict our views to the teachings of Jesus in the four Gospels. If the main teaching on civil government in the Bible is found in Genesis 9:5-6, and in the historical narratives and laws in Exodus to Deuteronomy and Judges to 2 Chronicles, and in Romans 13, and in 1 Peter 2:13-14, then getting Christians to neglect those passages gets them to misunderstand what the Bible says about civil government. That is exactly what-Boyd is doing when he asks, “Where did Jesus ever act or talk like this?”34 The answer is that the whole Bible comes with the authority of God and the authority of Jesus Christ, and our position on government should be based on the teaching of the whole Bible. (Also, Jesus did seem to authorize the use of a sword for self-defense and protection against robbers in Luke 22:36-38; see discussion below on pp. 201-3.)
4. Support from Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey
One other argument used by Boyd depends on the Greek writer Homer in his epic poems Iliad and Odyssey. Boyd says that
[p.39>] in Homer “the gods” are always involved in the affairs of humans…. For Homer, the inevitability of war is not just the result of conflicting passions—it has a supernatural dimension. And all the while, Zeus sits on Mount Olympus, amused by the sport of it all.35
Boyd says that if we understand these Greek “gods” to be demonic forces, then
Homer was also right about the gods…. Our tribal, territorial, and ideological passions have a demonic dimension to them…. From a scriptural perspective, these fallen gods are behind and involved in the conflict that occurs between nations. And all the while, Satan, the ultimate single “power over” god of this age, watches the bloodshed with a demonic sense of amusement.36
5. This view leads to a “moral equivalence” between good and evil governments
There are two problems with Boyd’s analysis here: (1) Homer is not the Bible, nor did he write (in the eighth century BC) from a biblical worldview, and we should be suspicious of any worldview that is derived from ancient Greek mythology rather than from the Bible. (2) In Homer (as interpreted by Boyd) the motivating factors of the governments on the two different sides in a war are both demonic.
This leads Boyd to adopt a “moral equivalence” view of various conflicts between nations: both sides are following Satan. (Although Boyd does not explicitly say it, this view would imply that Adolf Hitler was following Satan, for example, and England and the United States were also following Satan in sending armies to defeat Hitler!) Boyd does apply his “moral equivalence” view to the modern conflict between American forces and terrorists in Iraq, and specifically the terrorists’ beheading of an American civilian, Nicholas Berg. Boyd says this to his American readers:
Your yearning for justice is, of course, natural. But this rage is exactly what led the terrorists to cut off Mr. Berg’s head in the first place. You probably passionately believe that our cause is just, and theirs is evil, but the terrorists passionately believe that their cause is just and ours is evil. Your passion for American justice is mirrored by their passion for Islamic justice.37
How could Boyd come to the point where he sees Islamic beheading of innocent civilians as morally equivalent to America defending itself against terrorist attacks? How could he believe that a nation that never intentionally targets innocent civilians is morally the same as a terrorist movement that makes it a conscious policy to target, torture, and kill innocent civilians?
Boyd reaches this conclusion because he follows this wrongful “all government is demonic” view. Boyd sees committing horrible terrorist acts and defending against [p.40>] terrorists as morally equivalent because he believes Satan’s lie in Luke 4:6 that all the authority in the earth’s kingdoms has been given to him, and he believes Homer’s false Greek mythology that the “gods” (which Boyd sees as demons) motivate both sides in human conflicts. Boyd believes these errors from Satan and Homer rather than fully believing the Bible when it says that the civil government “is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (Rom. 13:4).
Thus Boyd’s “all government is demonic” view makes him unable to see the truth, namely, that terrorists who attack innocent civilians (as at 9/11) are evil, and the American military, when it pursues and kills terrorists who are attacking innocent civilians, is working as “God’s servant for your good” and “is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (Rom. 13:4). Boyd simply fails to realize that carrying out terrorist murders of innocent civilians is evil and defending a nation against such terrorists is good. But his position is the logical consequence of the “all government is demonic” view.
6. Boyd’s rejection of all governmental “power over” as “worldly”
There is yet a deeper reason behind Boyd’s “all government is demonic” view. The deeper reason is that Boyd rejects what he calls governmental “power over” others as worldly and not part of the kingdom of God. Boyd says,
Wherever a person or group exercises power over others … there is a version of the kingdom of the world. While it comes in many forms, the kingdom of the world is in essence a “power over” kingdom…. There have been democratic, socialist, communist, fascist, and totalitarian versions of the kingdom of the world, but they all share this distinctive characteristic: they exercise “power over” people.38
Boyd explains that this power over people is sometimes called “the power of the sword.” He says, “The power of the sword is the ability to coerce behavior by threats and to make good on those threats when necessary: if a law is broken, you will be punished.”39 While Boyd admits that this exercise of “power over” others is “not altogether bad,”40 because Romans 13 explains that God uses this power of government “to keep law and order in the world,”41 he immediately returns to his main emphasis on Satan’s authority over all the kingdoms of the world42 and concludes that “even the best political ideology lies under the influence of a ‘power over’ cosmic ruler who is working at cross-purposes to God.”43
By contrast, Boyd thinks people should recognize the contrast “between the ‘power over’ kingdom of the world and the ‘power under’ kingdom of God,” which is the same as “Lion power” versus “Lamb power.44 He says, “The kingdom God advances by people lovingly placing themselves under others, in service to others, at cost to themselves.”45
[p.41>] Boyd says that “coming under others has a power to do what laws and bullets and bombs can never do—namely, bring about transformation in an enemy’s heart.”46 He then says,
Obviously, when hearts and motives are transformed, behavior is eventually transformed as well—but without “power over” threats. Similarly, where the rule of God is established, law and order are established—but without “power over” force…. Do you trust “power over” or “power under”? Do you trust the power of the sword, the power of external force, or do you trust the influential but non-coercive power of Calvary-like love?47
7. Boyd says Christians should not even fight to defend their wives and children or their country
This rejection of governmental “power over” other people leads Boyd to say that a person totally conformed to the image of Jesus Christ should not even use physical violence to defend against an attacker who “threatened to kill you, your wife, or your children?”48 Plus, the rejection of the “power over” kingdom also leads him to say that Christians should never serve in combat situations in the military:
I find it impossible to reconcile Jesus’ teaching (and the teaching of the whole New Testament) concerning our call to love our enemies and never return evil with evil with the choice to serve (or not resist being drafted) in the armed forces in a capacity that might require killing someone.49
He also says, “I honestly see no way to condone a Christian’s decision to kill on behalf of any country—or for any other reason.”50
So at the heart of Boyd’s teaching is a fundamental opposition to the use of superior force to restrain evil, even an evil criminal who attacks one’s wife and children. Boyd’s “all government is demonic” view leads him to advocate an absolute, total pacifism for those who wish to follow Christ.
8. God has established both evangelism and the power of government to restrain evil
The problem with Boyd’s view here is that he fails to distinguish the task of evangelism from the task of civil government. Of course God has not told us to spread the Gospel of Christ by using the “power of the sword” or the power of government. We spread the Gospel by the proclamation of the Word of God (see Rom. 10:17). But God has told us that we should restrain evil by the power of the sword and by the power of civil government (as in the teaching of Romans 13:1-6, quoted above, p. 37).
[p.42>] If the power of government (such as a policeman) is not present in an emergency, when great harm is being done to another person, then my love for the victim should lead me to use physical force to prevent any further harm from occurring. If I found a criminal attacking my wife or children, I would use all my physical strength and all the physical force at my disposal against him, not to persuade him to trust in Christ as his Savior, but to immediately stop him from harming my wife and children! I would follow the command of Nehemiah, who told the men of Israel, “Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes” (Neh. 4:14; see also Genesis 14:14-16, where Abraham rescued his kinsman Lot who had been taken captive by a raiding army).
Boyd has wrongly taken one of the ways that God restrains evil in this world (changing hearts through the Gospel of Christ) and decided that it is the only way that God restrains evil (thus neglecting the valuable role of civil government). Both means are from God, both are good, and both should be used by Christians.
This is why Boyd misunderstands Jesus’ statement, “If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matt. 5:39). When this verse is rightly understood (see below, p. 82), we see that Jesus is telling individuals not to take revenge fora personal insult or a humiliating slap on the cheek.51 But this command for individual kindness is not the same as the instructions that the Bible gives to governments, who are to “bear the sword” and be a “terror” to bad conduct and are to carry out “God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (Rom. 13:3-4). The verses must be understood rightly in their own contexts. One is talking about individual conduct and personal revenge. The other is talking about the responsibilities of government. We should not confuse the two passages.
9. Could more pacifism have stopped slavery or stopped Hitler?
Near the end of his book Boyd responds to the objection that war was necessary to end slavery in the United States (in the Civil War) and to stop Hitler’s campaign to take over the entire world (in World War II). Didn’t the use of military force bring about good in those cases?
Boyd’s response is to say that if Christians had been better pacifists, history would have been different: “Had professing Christians been remotely like Jesus in the first place, there would have been no slavery or war for us to wonder about what would have happened had Christians loved their enemies and turned the other cheek.”52 With regard to the US Civil War, Boyd says, “A kingdom person should rather wonder what might have happened had more kingdom people been willing to live out the call of the radical kingdom.”53
But this is just an elegant way of saying, “If history was different, it would prove my case.” And that is another way of saying, “If the facts were different, they would prove my case.” That is not a valid argument. It is appealing to wishful thinking rather than facts.
[p.43>] Boyd is simply saying that if the world were different, the world would be different. But that proves nothing. History is what it is, and history shows that both the evil of American slavery and the evil of Adolf Hitler were only stopped by the power of superior military force. That is the task that God has assigned to governments when they “bear the sword” (Rom. 13:4).
10. The more ominous implications of the “all government is demonic” view
I am concerned about the influence of Boyd’s position because his mistake is not simply a harmless failure to distinguish the task of evangelism from the task of government. There is a much more serious problem with his position, namely, that it tends to persuade Christians to oppose all governmental power over evil. Although we cannot discuss the biblical passages in detail until later chapters, at many places in the Bible God approves the use of governmental power over evildoers: see, for example, Genesis 9:5-6; the narratives concerning Moses and other righteous judges and kings in the Old Testament; Romans 13:1-6; and 1 Peter 2:13-14. God establishes civil government and authorizes it to use its power to restrain evil, “to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good” (1 Peter 2:14).
But what would happen if more and more Christians agreed with Greg Boyd that the use of “power over” evildoers by government is serving Satan as “CEO” and Christians should have no part in it?
On the world scene, it would mean less and less support for a strong military and more and more insistence on endless conversations with aggressive nations who would attack us and our allies. It would mean more and more of the kind of appeasement that led Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain of England to sign the Munich Agreement of 1938, giving Hitler a large section of Czechoslovakia with no objection from Britain, only in exchange for Hitler’s (empty) promise of peace. This view would today result in increasing objection to the use of military power to oppose evil aggressors anywhere in the world. And that, in turn, would result in increased aggression by Islamic terrorists as well as by countries such as Russia, North Korea, Iran, Venezuela, Cuba, and any others who realize that no act of aggression would be answered by American military force anywhere in the world.
At the local level, this rejection of all governmental “power over” evil would mean more and more opposition to the use of superior force by local police, for Boyd’s ideal way of opposing all evildoers is “by people lovingly placing themselves under others, in service to others, at cost to themselves.”54 Because Boyd’s approach neglects God’s appointed way of using governmental power to restrain evil, the result would be the unrestrained growth of violent crime in every community.
At this point, discerning Christians should be able to see a more ominous spiritual component at the heart of Boyd’s position. Who would ultimately profit from persuading Christians that all government power over evil is wrong and demonic? Who would [p.44>] ultimately want to eliminate all use of power over evil by those who are followers of Jesus Christ? It would ultimately be Satan himself, who wants no force for good to restrain his evil deeds in the world.
Therefore, at the heart of Greg Boyd’s position is an exact reversal of the role of God and Satan with regard to civil government. Boyd says that when government exercises power over evil, this itself is demonic and evil. But the Bible tells us that the ruler who exercises power to restrain and punish evil is doing “good” and is “God’s servant” (Rom. 13:4).
The “all government is demonic and evil” view is a third wrong view.
A. BIBLICAL TEACHING
1. Governments are responsible to defend their nations from attacks by other nations
As we saw in chapter 3 above (see pp. 77-82), one of the most basic responsibilities of government is to punish those who do evil. When a government does this, it defends the weak and defenseless and deters further wrongdoing. The apostle Peter says the civil government is intended “to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good” (1 Peter 2:14). Paul says that the government is authorized by God to “bear the sword” (Rom. 13:4) against evildoers so that it can be “a terror” to bad conduct (v. 3), and it also “carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (v. 4). According to Paul, when the ruler uses superior force—even deadly force—against evil, he is “God’s servant for your good” (v. 4).
Now, if a government is commanded by God to protect its citizens from the robber or thief who comes from within a country, then certainly it also has an obligation to protect its citizens against thousands of murderers or thieves who come as an army from somewhere outside of the nation. Therefore a nation has a moral obligation to defend itself against foreign attackers who would come to kill and conquer and subjugate the people in a nation.
Further evidence for this is seen in Old Testament narratives where the nation of Israel repeatedly had to defend itself against attacks by nations such as the Philistines, the Assyrians, and the Babylonians. When God blessed Israel, they defeated their enemies who were attacking them (see Judg. 2:16-18; 1 Sam. 17; 2 Sam. 5:17-25; and numerous other examples in the Old Testament narratives). But when the people disobeyed God and turned from him, he allowed other nations to defeat them as a manifestation of his judgment against them:
They abandoned the LORD and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth. So the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers, who plundered them. And he sold them into the hand of their surrounding enemies, so that they could no longer withstand their enemies. Whenever they marched out, the hand of the LORD was against them for harm, as the LORD had warned, and as the LORD had sworn to them. And they were in terrible distress (Judg. 2:13-15).
This was a fulfillment of what God had promised through Moses in Deuteronomy 28. If the people were obedient to God, he promised, “The LORD will cause your enemies who rise against you to be defeated before you. They shall come out against you one way and flee before you seven ways” (v. 7). But if they disobeyed, “The LORD will cause you to be defeated before your enemies. You shall go out one way against them and flee seven ways before them” (v. 25).
These promises were fulfilled multiple times in the history of Israel. They demonstrate that it is a good thing in God’s sight—a special blessing—when a government has enough military power to defeat the enemies who would bring armies to attack it (that [p.389>] is, it is a good thing as long as a government has not become so corrupt and evil that God would be pleased to see it conquered).
Sometimes people wonder how it can be consistent for the Ten Commandments to say, “You shall not murder” (Exod. 20:13), and then also command that soldiers and armies go forth to kill the soldiers in an attacking army. Doesn’t this mean that soldiers who kill in combat are violating one of the Ten Commandments? No, it does not, because that is not what that verse means.
The Hebrew word translated “murder” in Exodus 20:13 is rātsakh, a word used forty-nine times in the Old Testament. It is never used to refer to killing in war (other Hebrew words are used for this). Rather, the word refers to what we would call “murder” in English today (the unlawful killing of another human being) and also “causing human death through carelessness or negligence” (as the ESV marginal note says at this verse). The command is not speaking about killing in war, and the original Hebrew readers would not have understood it to apply to soldiers who kill in combat.
In fact, at various times in the Old Testament, God himself commanded the people of Israel to go to war (see Deut. 20:1), and it would be contradictory for him to command something and forbid it at the same time. In the New Testament, soldiers are not condemned for being soldiers in the Roman army, but John the Baptist tells them, “Be content with your wages” (Luke 3:14), and Cornelius, a Roman centurion in charge of one hundred soldiers, came to faith and was baptized as a believer in Jesus with no indication that there was anything morally wrong about the occupation of being a soldier (see Acts 10:1, 44-48; see also Luke 14:31). (See also the discussion on taking a life in capital punishment on pp. 186-97 above.)
B. HOW CAN WE KNOW IF A WAR IS A “JUST WAR”?
Of course, there are wrong wars such as wars merely for conquest and plunder. How can we tell if a war is right or wrong? During centuries of ethical discussions regarding the question of war, one common viewpoint that developed, with much input from Christian scholars, is the “just war” tradition. That viewpoint argues that a war is morally right (or “just”) when it meets certain criteria. It also argues that there are certain moral restrictions on the way that war can be conducted.
It seems to me that this “just war” tradition, in general, is consistent with biblical teachings about the need for nations to defend themselves against their enemies. Here is a useful recent summary of the criteria for a just war, together with biblical references that support these criteria. I think that these criteria, in general, are consistent with these biblical teachings:
Over time, the just war ethic has developed a common set of criteria that can be used to decide if going to war in a specific situation is right. These include the following: (1) just cause (is the reason for going to war a morally right cause, such as defense of a nation? cf. Rev. 19:11); (2) competent authority (has the war been declared not simply by a renegade band within a nation but by a [p.390>] recognized, competent authority within the nation? cf. Rom. 13:1); (3) comparative justice (it should be clear that the actions of the enemy are morally wrong, and the motives and actions of one’s own nation in going to war are, in comparison, morally right; cf. Rom. 13:3); (4) right intention (is the purpose of going to war to protect justice and righteousness rather than simply to rob and pillage and destroy another nation? cf. Prov. 21:2); (5) last resort (have all other reasonable means of resolving the conflict been exhausted? cf. Matt. 5:9; Rom. 12:18); (6) probability of success (is there a reasonable expectation that the war can be won? cf. Luke 14:31); (7) proportionality of projected results (will the good results that come from a victory in a war be significantly greater than the harm and loss that will inevitably come with pursuing the war? cf. Rom. 12:21 with 13:4); and (8) right spirit (is the war undertaken with great reluctance and sorrow at the harm that will come rather than simply with a “delight in war,” as in Ps. 68:30?).
In addition to these criteria for deciding whether a specific war is “just,” advocates of just war theory have also developed some moral restrictions on how a just war should be fought. These include the following: (1) proportionality in the use of force (no greater destruction should be caused than is needed to win the war; cf. Deut. 20:10-12); (2) discrimination between combatants and noncombatants (insofar as it is feasible in the successful pursuit of a war, is adequate care being taken to prevent harm to noncombatants? cf. Deut. 20:13-14, 19-20); (3) avoidance of evil means (will captured or defeated enemies be treated with justice and compassion, and are one’s own soldiers being treated justly in captivity? cf. Ps. 34:14); and (4) good faith (is there a genuine desire for restoration of peace and eventually living in harmony with the attacking nation? cf. Matt. 5:43-44; Rom. 12:18).1
Although the just war view has been the one most commonly held throughout the history of the church, a minority view has been that of military pacifism. The pacifist view holds that it is always wrong for Christians to use military force against others and thus it is wrong for Christians to participate in military combat, even to defend their own nation. A similar pacifist view holds that it is wrong for anyone to participate in military combat and that such “violence” is always morally wrong.
I have responded in some detail (in chap. 1 above, pp. 36-44) to several of the arguments for pacifism, because they are often related to the “all government is demonic” view advocated by Greg Boyd. Another recent advocate of pacifism is Jim Wallis, in his book God’s Politics.2 Similar arguments are also found in Shane Claiborne and Chris [p.391>] Haw’s Jesus for President, which advocates a pacifist perspective.3 What follows here is a shorter analysis of the key pacifist arguments as they apply to war.
The arguments commonly used to support pacifism are that (1) Jesus commanded us to turn the other cheek (in Matt. 5:39), (2) Jesus commanded us to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matt. 22:39), (3) engaging in military combat involves failure to trust God, and (4) the use of violence always begets further violence, and pacifism should be adopted to stop that vicious cycle.
In response, I would argue that (1) the pacifist viewpoint wrongly uses Jesus’ teaching about individual conduct in turning the other cheek (Matt. 5:39) to apply to civil government (see discussion above, pp. 42, 82 ,201-2), but the explicit teaching on civil governments in Romans is that it should “bear the sword” to oppose evildoers and execute God’s wrath on the wrongdoer (Rom. 13:4). In addition, in Luke 22:36 Jesus actually commanded his followers to carry a sword (which was used for self-defense and protection from robbers; see discussion above, pp. 201-3).
(2) If we truly love our neighbors (as Jesus commanded in Matt. 22:39), then we will be willing even to go to war to protect them from evil aggressors who are attacking the nation. While the pacifist might ask, “How can you love your neighbor or even love your enemy and then kill him in war,” the answer has to be that God commanded both love for one’s neighbor and going to war, for the command “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” is found in Leviticus 19:18 in the Old Testament, and Jesus quotes it from there. Therefore it must be consistent for God to command both things and the one command should not be used to nullify the other. One example of this is found in the tragic story of David sending out his army to defeat Absalom, his son, in 2 Samuel 18:1-33. David had great love for his son Absalom and yet he was responsible to protect the office of king that God had entrusted to him. Therefore, with sorrow, and while still loving Absalom, David sent the army out against him.
(3) Christians have no right to tell others to “trust in God” for things that are different from what the Bible teaches, and Romans 13:1-4 teaches that God authorizes governments to use deadly force if necessary to oppose evil. Therefore, at this point the pacifist argument is telling people to disobey what Romans 13 says about government and then to trust God to protect them anyway. This would be like telling people they should not work to earn a living, but should “trust God” to provide their food anyway! A better approach is to obey what God says in Romans 13:1-4 about the use of government power to restrain evil and then trust God to work through that government power to restrain evil, which is how he intends governments to function.
This is the problem I have with Jim Wallis when he criticizes the American reliance on military power to protect the nation from terrorists as “a foreign policy based primarily [p.392>] on fear.“4 And then he also attributes another wrong motive to Americans when he puts military responses to terrorist attacks in the category of “anger and vengeance” that leads a nation to “indiscriminately retaliate in ways that bring on even more loss of innocent life.”5 Wallis sees military action against terrorism as based on “fear” and “vengeance.”
By contrast, Romans 13 teaches that military action used to defend a nation is not a wrongful or sinful activity, nor is a desire to depend on military action (under God’s guidance) a wrongful attitude to have, because God has authorized nations to use such military power. What pacifists like Wallis fail to realize is that it is completely possible—as millions of Christians who have served in military forces have demonstrated—to trust in God that he will enable them to use the military power he has put in their hands to successfully defend their country. The solution is not pacifism, but trust in God to give success while obeying him by using the military defense that he has appointed.
This is also why pacifists such as Wallis are actually unbiblical when they say that nations like the United States should not act alone and use “unilateral action” to defend themselves, but should rather depend on a “world court to weigh facts and make judgments, with effective multi-national law enforcement.”6 Elsewhere Wallis wants us to depend on a much more powerful “international law” and “global police forces.”7 Wallis says that only such a world court with effective power “will be able to protect us.”8
There are several objections to Wallis’s argument:
(a) It is mere wishful thinking. Such an effective worldwide government over the entire earth has never occurred in the entire history of the human race. (Even the Roman Empire at its largest extent did not reach to China or India or sub-Saharan Africa or North and South America.) It is foolishness to depend on something that has never existed to save us from a terrorist threat that we are facing at this very minute.
(b) If such a powerful world government ever did exist, it would likely be dominated by the votes of numerous small nations who are largely anti-American because their governments are communist or totalitarian or devoted to expanding the Muslim religion and therefore opposed to the United States. In this way it would be like the present make-up of the United Nations with its frequent anti-American votes.
(c) Depending on such a world government to keep peace in the world would require nations to give up their individual sovereignty and would require the United States to give up a significant measure of its individual sovereignty. This would open the door to reducing the United States to a condition of servitude and domination by nations or leaders that seek its demise.
Far better than the pacifist position of trusting in a world court and world police force is trusting in the Lord to use the means he has designated, which is the use of each nation’s own military power, as I have argued above from Romans 13 and other passages.
(4) It is simply untrue to say, as pacifists do, that “violence always begets more violence.” The deadly force used by local police in restraining or killing a murderer brings [p.393>] that murderer’s violence to an end. It is the same situation when armies are used to defend nations against aggressors. In fact, the use of military power stopped Adolf Hitler from taking over all of Europe and ultimately all the world in World War II. It stopped the North Koreans from taking over South Korea in the Korean War. In the American Civil War, it stopped the Confederate armies from establishing a separate nation in which slavery would be preserved and protected.
The pacifist slogan “violence always begets more violence” is misleading, because it uses the same word, “violence,” to refer to two very different things—the morally good use of deadly force to stop evildoers and the morally wrong use of force to carry out attacks on innocent people. A better slogan is, “Just governments should use superior force to stop criminal violence against innocent people.” Or even shorter, “Superior force stops criminal violence.”
This is the shortcoming of the pacifist position of Wallis, who says that the solution to international terrorism is “the mobilization of the most extensive international and diplomatic pressure the world has ever seen against the Bin Ladens of the world and their networks of terror.”9 Consistent with that position, Wallis argues that rather than going to war against Iraq,
The international community could have united in an effective strategy to isolate, contain, disarm and ultimately undermine and remove the brutal and dangerous regime of Saddam Hussein.
Wallis adds, “The Iraqi people themselves could have been supported internationally to create civil resistance within their own country to achieve [regime change].”10
But Wallis’s pacifist solution here is very much like the wishful thinking of Greg Boyd that I discussed in chapter 1 (see pp. 42-43). He is simply saying that we “could have” overthrown Saddam and protected ourselves from international terrorists without military action against them by the United States. The phrase “could have” in pacifist arguments can justify almost any wishful thinking. We “could have” waited for some future day when a supposed international police force would come on the scene. And we “could have” waited for the day when the Iraqi people would rise up and overthrow a brutal dictator who controlled one of the most powerful armies in the world. But in fact, these things did not happen, although alternative solutions had been tried for many years. In actual fact, it was only the superior force of the United States military that overthrew Saddam. It was only the superior power of the United States military that defeated terrorists in Afghanistan. It was only the superior power of the United States military that protected us for many years following 9/11.
This kind of “history could have been different” argument is common in pacifist literature. Instead of acknowledging that military power is necessary to achieve a triumph over evil forces, it claims, “If the events of history had turned out differently, they would support my case.” But that is simply saying, “If the facts were different, they would support my case.” That is not a persuasive argument. It is merely wishful thinking.
[p.394>] The logic of pacifism leads ultimately to a total surrender to the most evil of governments, who will stop at nothing to use their power to oppress others. (See further discussion above, in chap. 1, pp. 41-44.) For all of these reasons, the pacifism of Jim Wallis and others is not a persuasive position for Christians to adopt.
29. Greg Boyd, The Myth of a Christian Nation (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 21.
30. Ibid., 22.
31. Boyd also quotes some other verses in Myth of a Christian Nation, 21-22, but none of them refer specifically to civil governments, so they do not prove his point.
32. Ibid., 59.
33. Ibid., 168.
34. Ibid., 91.
35. Ibid., 23.
36. Ibid., 24.
37. Ibid., 25.
38. Ibid., 18, italics added.
40. Ibid., 19.
42. Ibid., 21.
43. Ibid., 22.
44. Ibid., 31.
47. Ibid., 32-33.
48. Ibid., 162,166.
49. Ibid., 166-67.
50. Ibid., 173.
51. See explanation of this verse in ESV Study Bible, p.1830; see also pp. 2554-55. [I added this recommendation]
5:39 Do not resist the one who is evil. Jesus is not prohibiting the use of force by governments, police, or soldiers when combating evil (see notes on Luke 3:12-14; Rom. 13:1-4; 1 Pet. 2:13-14 Rather, Jesus’ focus here is on individual conduct, as indicated by the contrast with Matt 5:38, which shows that he is prohibiting the universal human tendency to seek personal revenge (see note on Rom. 12:19) If anyone slaps you on the right cheek pictures a backhanded slap given as an insult (a right-handed person would use the back of the hand to slap someone on the right cheek; cf. Mishnah, Baba Kamma 8.6). The word “slaps” translates Gk. rhapizō, “to slap, to strike with the open hand.” turn to him the other also One should not return an insulting slap, which would lead to escalating violence In the case of a more serious assault, Jesus’ words should not be taken to prohibit self-defense (see Luke 12:11; 22:36-38; Acts 22:1; 24:10) or fleeing from evil (see 1 Sam 19:10; Luke 4:29-30; John 8:59; 10:39; 2 Cor. 11:32-33), for often a failure to resist a violent attack leads to even more serious abuse Acting in love toward an attacker (Matt. 5:44; 22:39) will often include taking steps to prevent him from attempting further attacks. Jesus’ teaching must be applied with wisdom in the light of related Scriptures that address similar situations (cf. note on 5:42).
The just war ethic argues that warfare is sometimes necessary in order to resist or reverse specific unjust actions taken by one government or nation against another, but it also insists that war is always regrettable, is always something to avoid if possible, and is never to be used to establish some new vision of a social order.
The just war ethical tradition arises from both biblical and classical sources. In the Bible, just war principles can be found in rules revealed for engaging enemies outside the territory of the Promised Land (Deut. 20:1-20), in God’s judgment of war actions taken by the Gentile nations around Israel (Amos 1), and in the regard Jesus had for moral wisdom relating to the way kings go to war (Luke 14:31).
The NT church included many soldiers serving on active duty and saw nothing morally inconsistent with Christians serving as military professionals. The conversion of Cornelius, a Roman centurion, was confirmed by the Holy Spirit with no question of his profession compromising his faith (Acts 10). John the Baptist responded to soldiers in a way that implied they were serving in a morally legitimate profession (Luke 3:14). And when Paul was imprisoned in Rome, many in the Praetorian guard became Christians (cf. Phil. 1:13). As a result, Christians soon came to fill the Roman “fortresses,” military “camps,” and army “companies” (see evidence provided by Tertullian in Apology 37; c. A.D. 200), and the first persecutions of the church arose because of the high number of Christians serving in the Roman army. While some early Christians opposed military service (cf. Tertullian and Origen), the majority tradition of the church has never considered military service to be inconsistent with biblical standards.
Over time, the just war ethic has developed a common set of criteria that can be used to decide if going to war in a specific situation is right. These include the following: (1) just cause (is the reason for going to war a morally right cause, such as defense of a nation? cf. Rev. 19:11); (2) competent authority (has the war been declared not simply by a renegade band within a nation but by a recognized, competent authority within the nation? cf. Rom. 13:1); (3) comparative justice (it should be clear that the actions of the enemy are morally wrong, and the motives and actions of one’s own nation in going to war are, in comparison, morally right; cf. Rom. 13:3); (4) right intention (is the purpose of going to war to protect justice and righteousness rather than simply to rob and pillage and destroy another nation? cf. Prov. 21:2); (5) last resort (have all other reasonable means of resolving the conflict been exhausted? cf. Matt. 5:9; Rom. 12:18); (6) probability of success (is there a reasonable expectation that the war can be won? cf. Luke 14:31); (7) proportionality of projected results (will the good results that come from a victory in a war be significantly greater than the harm and loss that will inevitably come with pursuing the war? cf. Rom. 12:21 with 13:4); and (8) right spirit (is the war undertaken with great reluctance and sorrow at the harm that will come rather than simply with a “delight in war,” as in Ps. 68:30?).
In addition to these criteria for deciding whether a specific war is “just,” advocates of just war theory have also developed some moral restrictions on how a just war should be fought. These include the following: (1) proportionality in the use of force (no greater destruction should be caused than is needed to win the war; cf. Deut. 20:10-12); (2) discrimination between combatants and noncombatants (insofar as it is feasible in the successful pursuit of a war, is adequate care being taken to prevent harm to noncombatants? cf. Deut. 20:13-14, 19-20); (3) avoidance of evil means (will captured or defeated enemies be treated with justice and compassion, and are one’s own soldiers being treated justly in captivity? Cf. Ps. 34:14); and (4) good faith (is there a genuine desire for restoration of peace and eventally living in harmony with the attacking nation? cf. Matt. 5:43-44; Rom. 12:18).
If a war is just, it should not be viewed as morally wrong but still necessary, nor as morally neutral, but as something that is morally right, carried out (with sorrow and regret) in obedience to responsibilities given by God (Rom. 13:4). Those who serve in a just war should understand that such service is not sinful in God’s sight but that they do this as “God’s servant for your good– Rom. 13:4; cf. Luke 3:14; John 15:13; also Num. 32:6. 20-23: Ps. 144:1).
Most nations throughout history, and most Christians in every age, have held that fighting in combat is a responsibility that should fall only to men, and that it is contrary to the very idea of womanhood, and shameful fora radon. to have women risk their lives as combatants in a war The assumption that only men and not women will fight in battle is also a frequent pattern in the historical narratives and is affirmed by leaders and prophets in the OT (see Num. 1:2-3; Deut. 3:18-19; 20:7-8; 24:5; Josh 1.14: 23:10; Judg. 4:8-10; 9:54; 1 Sam. 4:9; Neh. 4:13-14: Jer. 50:37; Nah. 3:13).
Since the time of Tertullian and Origen (2nd-3rd centuries A.D.), some Christians have advocated pacifism, the idea that participating in war is always wrong, or is always wrong at least for Christians. Arguments used to support pacifism are: (1) Jesus taught us to turn the other cheek (Matt. 5:39); (2) Jesus taught us that “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:39); (3) Jesus refused to use the power of the sword to advance his kingdom (Matt. 26:52-53); (4) the use of military force shows lack of trust in God; and (5) violence always begets more violence and does not really solve the underlying problems.
Those who differ with pacifism respond to each of those arguments as follows: (1) Jesus’ teaching on turning the other cheek was intended as a guide for individual conduct, not for the conduct of governments or soldiers or police in the service of governments (see note on Matt. 5:39). (2) The command to love one’s neighbor is consistent with going to war to protect one’s neighbor from an aggressor, as is evident from the fact that the OT commanded love for one’s neighbor (Lev. 19:18) as well as directions for the conduct of war (Deuteronomy 20). It is also evident from the example of David, who loved his son Absalom but sent the army against him when Absalom sought to usurp the throne (2 Sam. 18:1-33). (3) It is never right to use military force to advance the gospel message, or compel adherence to Christianity, but that is different from the responsibility of government to protect its citizens. (4) The believer’s trust in God must be defined by what Scripture says, including its teachings on God’s appointment of civil government to use force to protect its citizens. Therefore, one should trust God to work through the power of the sword exercised by government. (5) It is simply not true that wars never solve problems: war was necessary to defeat slavery in the nineteenth century in the United States and to defeat Hitler in World War II. as well as to defeat other tyrants throughout history. In addition, non-pacifist Christians also note (6) that although Jesus stopped Peter from using a sword to resist arrest on his way to the cross (Matt. 26:52), he did not consider it inconsistent with directions given hours earlier that same evening when he instructed his disciples to carry weapons for self-defense (Luke 22:35-36. see note); and if using deadly force is justified as required under individual circumstances, there can be no objection to using deadly force as required under civil community circumstances.
1. “War,” in ESV Study Bible, p. 2555. [See footnote #55, above]
2. Jim Wallis, God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2005), especially 87-205.
3. Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw, Jesus for President: Politics for Ordinary Radicals (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), especially 199-224 and 338-47 but also at various other places in the book, most of which is structured as a loosely connected set of narratives rather than an organized, sequential, logical argument. Claiborne and Haw also list at least two widely used pacifist books in their recommended bibliography: Greg Boyd, The Myth of a Christian Nation (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007), and John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994).
4. Wallis, God’s Politic, 88, emphasis added.
5. Ibid., 92; see also 94.
6. Ibid., 106.
7. Ibid., 164.
8. Ibid., 106.
9. Ibid., 163.
For the full conversation with the SDA can be found HERE.
Hoekema was born in the Netherlands but immigrated to the United States in 1923. He attended Calvin College (A.B.), the University of Michigan (M.A.), Calvin Theological Seminary (Th.B.) and Princeton Theological Seminary (Th.D., 1953). After pastoring several Christian Reformed churches (1944-56), he became Associate Professor of Bible at Calvin College (1956-58). From 1958 to 1979, when he retired, he was Professor of Systematic Theology at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
(BTW, Hoekema was an Amillennialist. I do not personally hold this position. Likewise, this position has very little impact on the whole of these “traits” of aberrant beliefs… if any. A good 9-minute challenge to a main portion of his “Kingdom” view is HERE.)
- Anthony A. Hoekema, The Four Major Cults: Christian Science, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormonism, Seventh-Day Adventism (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1963), 377-388.
[p.377>] THE DISTINCTIVE TRAITS OF THE CULT
In setting forth what I believe to be the distinctive traits of the cult, I do not wish to give the impression that not the slightest trace of these characteristics is to be found in the churches. If we are honest with ourselves, we shall find vestiges of these characteristics in the churches too. I venture to affirm, however, that [p.378>] the traits which will now be described are so uniquely characteristic of the cult that any group in which they play a leading role can no longer be recognized as belonging to the true church of Jesus Christ.
(1) An Extra-Scriptural Source of Authority. As the first of these distinctive traits of the cult, I instance the presence of an extra-Scriptural source of authority. Hutten aptly calls this trait “a Bible in the left hand.” Recalling the ordination of a Sweden-borgian minister, who held a Bible in his right hand and one of Swedenborg’s books in his left, Hutten observes that every cult has such a “Bible in the left hand,” which actually supersedes the Bible in the right hand. It should be added here that the cults face a kind of dilemma with respect to the question of authority. Since, in distinction from non-Christian religions, they claim to be Christian groups, they must somehow appeal to the authority of the Bible. Yet in order to justify their peculiar doctrines they must either correct Scripture, reinterpret Scripture, or add other sources of authority to Scripture. Their attitude toward Scripture is therefore always an ambivalent one: a mixture of apparent subjection to its authority and of arbitrary manipulation of its teachings.
That this matter of ultimate authority is of determinative importance in evaluating the cults has already been implied by the inclusion of a section on “Source of Authority” in the discussion of each of the cults treated in this volume. It was found that every cult discussed did, indeed, find its ultimate ground of authority in some extra-Scriptural source. Mormons, it was seen, consider the Bible to be full of errors and in dire need of supplementary material; hence their ultimate source of authority is found not in the Bible, but in the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and The Pearl of Great Price. If there should be a contradiction between what is taught in the Bible and what is taught in these. supplementary sacred books, it is the teachings of the latter which are determinative for Latter-day Saints (see above, pp. 18-30), For Christian Scientists, the final source of authority is Mrs. Eddy’s Science and Health, with Key to the Scriptures; although the Bible is read at their Sunday services, it is Science and Health which determines how the Bible is to be understood (see above, pp. 182-86). Though Jehovah’s Witnesses claim that the only basis for their teachings is the Bible, it has been seen that their New World Translation is a biased rendering of the Scriptures [p.379>] into which they have smuggled many of their own heretical teachings, that their method of using Scripture is to find passages which seem to support their view and to ignore passages which fail to provide such support, and that they insist that the Bible may only be understood as it is interpreted by the leaders of the Watchtower Society (see above, pp. 237-48).
The reader is reminded of the discussion found on pages 30-33, above, where it was pointed out that the Bible itself condemns the attempt to supplement it with any additional source of authority. These “Bibles in the left hand” are never innocent appendages to Scripture; they always overmaster and overshadow the truth of Scripture. Whenever a cult raises a book or a set of books to the level of Scripture, it does violence to the Word of God. God is no longer allowed to speak as He does in the Bible; He may now speak only as the sect deems proper. Thus the Word of God is brought under the yoke of man.
The claim of the cults to have a source of revelation beyond the Scriptures – for that is what these “Bibles in the left hand” really amount to — is a claim which places them outside the pale of Christian churches. It may be added, by way of warning, that whenever a denomination of Christendom gives so much veneration to a human teacher or group of teachers that he or they are thought to be virtually infallible, it is in this respect manifesting a trait of the cult! People in the Corinthian Church who said that they belonged to Paul, Apollos, or Cephas were rebuked by Paul as being carnally minded; they were told, instead, that Paul, Apollos, and Cephas belonged to them! (I Cor. 3:21-23). Christians today who might be tempted to say that they belong to, say, Calvin or Luther, should learn from this passage that the Biblical way of expressing our relationship to human leaders is this: they (the human leaders) belong to us, but we belong to Christ. If these leaders belong to us, their writings may never be considered superior in authority to the Word of God. Sola Scriptura must remain the motto of every truly Protestant Church!
(2) The Denial of Justification by Grace Alone. A second distinctive trait of the cult is the denial of the doctrine of justification by grace alone. Grace is no longer considered the free gift of God to the unworthy sinner, but a reward which has been earned by the faithful keeping of various conditions and requirements. Hutten, in fact, calls this trait the most basic character- [p.380>] istic of the cult. The Reformation, he contends, asserted the principle of solo gratia: man is saved by grace alone. Salvation, the Reformers taught, does not depend on any human or ecclesiastical co-operation with God. The concept gratia implies that salvation is given freely by God apart from any conditions which man may fulfill or which the church may make available. Even those responses to the Gospel which take place in man through the working of God’s Spirit — his faith, his conversion, his works, and his walk — are not meritorious, since they are all the fruits of God’s grace. Precisely because salvation is all of grace, it can never be a ground for Pharisaic pride but must always move us to deep humility and gratitude.
This demand for humility, however, goes against the grain of human nature. Man wants to be his own lord and master. This is especially so in the matter of his salvation. He shrinks from taking the leap of faith — a leap in which he must trust wholly in God for his salvation. He prefers to take his future destiny into his own hands; he does not wish to surrender this destiny to a strange, unknown power. This fundamental human drive, Hutten continues, is the real root of the cult’s protest against the church. The basic antithesis of the cult to the church is therefore the cult’s antipathy toward the central message of the Reformation: the message of justification by grace alone and by faith alone (.cola gratia, solo fide). Though there are variations in the degree to which the different cults reject this doctrine, they all do reject it. As a matter of fact, Hutten adds, the church must always be on its guard against slipping into this cultic manner of thinking about the way of salvation. Only when the church has completely conquered this cultic tendency within its own borders, will it have the strength to oppose the cult on this point.
It will not be difficult to show that the trait described above is found in the cults we have studied. Mormons, as has been seen, reject the doctrine of justification by faith as a pernicious doctrine which has exercised an influence for evil in the church. They further teach that individual salvation (entrance into one of the three Mormon heavens) is to be merited by man through his own acts, and that one can only become eligible for the highest degree of salvation by keeping the commandments of the Lord in all things (see above, pp. 59-62). Christian Scientists decisively reject justification by grace alone; for them, salvation from sin is accomplished when one ceases to sin, or when one stops believing that there is such a thing as sin — on either interpretation salva‑ [p.381>] tion is achieved by human works and not by the grace of God (see above, p. 212, and compare pp. 209-12). Though Jehovah’s Witnesses claim that salvation is of grace and that all credit for salvation belongs to Jehovah (see above, p. 283), a careful study of their writings will reveal that they, too, reject justification by grace. In the case of the 144,000, man saves himself by exercising faith, repentance, and dedication to Christ (functions in which he is said not to be dependent on God), by showing himself worthy of being selected as a member of the anointed class, and by carrying out his dedication to Jehovah faithfully until death (see above, pp. 282-83; compare pp. 279-83). In the case of the other sheep, these, without having had their natures renewed, are able to exercise faith in Christ, to dedicate their lives to him, and to remain faithful to the end — this faithfulness to be revealed chiefly by diligent witnessing (see above, pp. 283-85). After the millennium has begun, these other sheep, whether as survivors of Armageddon or as resurrected beings, are to be judged on the basis of their obedience to Jehovah during the millennium. If they continue to obey God during Satan’s final battle, they will be “justified,” that is, given the right to perfect life on the new earth — this “justification,” however, is based not on faith, but on works. As far as others are concerned, billions of those who, though sincere in their belief, lacked an opportunity to learn of righteousness from God will be raised during the millennium, will be instructed in God’s law, and will receive everlasting life on the new earth if they now obey God’s commandments.
It is clear, therefore, that these three cults definitely and deliberately reject the doctrine of justification by grace alone. Though they may speak of the grace of God, their theologies have no room for grace in the real sense of the word. For, as the Bible says, “If it [the remnant according to the election of grace] is [saved] by grace, it is no more of works; otherwise grace is no more grace” (Rom. 11:6). Note also the severe judgment leveled by Paul against this position in Galatians 5:4, “Ye are severed from Christ, ye who would be justified by the law; ye are fallen away from grace.” Crystal clear is Titus 3:5: “Not by works done in righteousness which we did ourselves, but according to [p.382>] his mercy he saved us….” By taking the position sketched above, therefore, the cults deny one of the cardinal teachings of Scripture.
(3) The Devaluation of Christ. In the third place, all cults are guilty of a devaluation of Christ. Hutten points out that, since the cult has assumed a determinative role in the distribution of salvation, the result is bound to be a minimizing of Christ as the only Mediator. This, he adds, does not need to mean a complete denial of Christ’s mission and work; it may express itself simply in a shifting of emphasis. We shall see this tendency revealing itself in a twofold way: in a devaluation of the Person of Christ and in a depreciation of His work. The latter is particularly characteristic of the cult; since salvation for the cult is not determined by the grace of God revealed at the cross of Christ, that cross is robbed of its unique soteriological significance.
Let us see how this trait can be found in the cults we have studied. Mormons teach that Jesus Christ was the firstborn of the spirit-children of Elohim; since, however, all men are spirit-children of Elohim, it is evident that the difference between Christ and men (even, for that matter, between Christ and Satan) is one of degree but not one of kind (see above, pp. 53-54). Christ is considered by Mormons not to be equal to the Father; he shared with other pre-existent spirits like Adam and Joseph Smith the task of “creating” this earth, and his incarnation is not unique, for other gods before him were incarnated on other earths (see above, p. 54). In fact, Christ’s incarnation was only illustrative of what happens to every man who perfectly fulfills all the ordinances of the Gospel: he, too, was once a pre-existent spirit, is now incarnate, and will some day be a god (see above, pp. 54, 61-62, 72). As far as the work of Christ is concerned, Mormons affirm that the atoning death of Christ was necessary to deliver all men from death, and did provide for all the right to be raised from the dead (see above, pp. 57-58). As was just observed, however, Christ’s atonement does not provide individual salvation for man since this is to be merited by man’s own acts; thus the Mormon Christ does not save in the full sense of the word but only gives man an opportunity to save himself (see above, pp. 58-61).
According to Christian Science, Jesus was not God but only a man, whereas Christ is the name for a certain divine idea: the idea that sickness and sin can be healed through Christian Science (see above, pp. 200-202). Jesus was therefore simply a man who demonstrated a divine idea. So unimportant, in fact, is Jesus in [p.383>] Christian Science that Mrs. Eddy could say that if such a person as Jesus had never existed, it would make no difference to her! (see above, p. 203). As far as the work of Jesus is concerned, Christian Scientists deny that he atoned for our sins by shedding his blood on the cross — after all, since sin has no real existence, why does it need to be atoned for? Jesus’ work was rather that of demonstrating the truth of Christian Science and of setting us an example of the kind of life we must live. Even this example, however, is not uniquely distinguished from that of the apostles (see above, pp. 207-9).
What Jehovah’s Witnesses do with the person of Christ is well known: he was, for them, not equal to Jehovah, but the first creature of Jehovah. In his prehuman state he was a created angel; during his stay on earth he was nothing more than a man; and after his stay on earth he was again nothing higher than a created angel, though now endowed with immortality. In none of these three stages, therefore, was or is Christ equal to Jehovah (see above, pp. 270-76). As regards the work of Christ, the Witnesses teach that Christ did lay down his human life for his people as a ransom. By means of this ransom Christ redeemed man from inherited sin and from the prospect of eternal death as a result of that sin (see above, pp. 276-77); his ransom provides a resurrection from the dead for all except certain classes of people (see above, p. 317). Christ did not, however, earn the right to everlasting life in heaven for the 144,000 since he earned only a perfect human life with its rights and earthly prospects; the 144,000 must themselves earn the right to heavenly life by sacrificing their earthly prospects (see above, p. 283). As for those who will spend eternity on the new earth, they, as we saw, will receive this blessing only if they have obeyed Jehovah’s commandments during the millennium. Neither the 144,000 nor those who will inhabit the new earth, therefore, are really saved by the work of Christ; Christ’s ransom has only served the purpose of enabling them to earn their future blessedness, either in heaven or on earth, by their own achievements.
It is quite clear, therefore, that the cults leave us with a Christ who is not the Christ. Neither in his person nor in his work is the Christ of the cult the Christ of the Bible. For the cultist, it is not really Christ who saves but man who must save himself. This position, however, cuts the very heart out of the Bible: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16). The words of Paul to the Galatians, directed against those who in that day taught that one was saved partly [p.384>] through faith in Christ and partly through performing certain works of the law, are equally applicable to the cults of our day: “But though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach unto you any gospel other than that which we preached unto you, let him be anathema” (Gal. 1:8).
(4) The Group as the Exclusive Community of the Saved. A fourth distinctive trait of the cult is that it absolutizes itself as the exclusive community of the saved. Hutten points out that the anti-ecclesiastical polemic which is so characteristic of the cult is but the converse side of its own self-justification. Since the cult is convinced that it is the only true community of God’s people, it must try to show that the church is either an apostate organization or an actual instrument of the devil. There is among the cults no appreciation for the Biblical doctrine of the “one holy catholic Church” — that is, of the universal church of Christ, composed of Christ’s true people of all the ages and from all the nations. Every cult says, “We alone are the people of God.” The cult, so to speak, takes God by the arm, insisting that His evaluation of people must agree with its own.
Let us see how this trait is found in the cults we have studied. Mormons contend that the church of Jesus Christ was in a state of apostasy until God revealed Himself to Joseph Smith in 1820; when Smith and Oliver Cowdery received the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods from heavenly messengers in 1829 and 1830, the Restoration of the Church took place. The Mormon Church is therefore the only true church — because it alone has the Priesthood of the Almighty, and it alone since the time of Christ has received and may still receive divine revelation. One of the early apostles of the Mormon Church claimed that non-Mormon churches have no right to call themselves Christian since Christ has nothing to do with them, and a recent Mormon writer has said that there is no salvation outside the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (see above, pp. 62-64). It may be noted that the possibility of salvation for those who died in ignorance of Mormon teaching only confirms the point under discussion since such people can be saved only if Mormons have been baptized for them (see above, pp. 64-66).
Christian Science also claims to be the only true church. Since Mrs. Eddy is said to have received the final revelation of the divine principle of scientific mental healing, and since Science and Health is said to be the voice of truth uncontaminated by [p.385>] human hypotheses, it follows that, according to them, no group outside of Christian Science has or knows the truth (see above, pp. 183, 212-13). Though individual Christian Scientists may express appreciation for other Christian groups, it is clear from the statements just alluded to that the views of all other churches about the Bible and the way of salvation must officially be considered basically erroneous while Christian Science is held to be unerring and divine (see above, p. 184).
In Jehovah-Witness ecclesiology we reach the ultimate in bigotry. It is said by them that Jehovah’s Witnesses alone are God’s true people and that all others, without exception, are followers of the devil. The Watchtower Society is now the only instrument or channel whereby Jehovah teaches His people on earth (see above, p. 247). The “great whore” of Revelation 17 is organized religion, Christian as well as heathen. The visible part of the devil’s organization on earth includes all of Christendom, Protestant as well as Roman Catholic. The religious clergy are, in fact, the direct link between mankind and the demons (see above, pp. 285-86). At Armageddon all of earth’s inhabitants except Jehovah’s Witnesses will be wiped out of existence (see above, p. 311). Only Jehovah’s Witnesses, therefore, will survive Armageddon; during the millennium non-Witnesses who are raised from the dead will be given an opportunity to save themselves in response to the preaching and teaching of the princes, prominent among whom will be those who occupied leading positions with the New World Society on earth (see above, pp. 318-21).
Whenever a group takes the position that it is the only community of the saved, however, it violates an important aspect of Scripture teaching. Christ Himself warned against this type of bigotry when his disciples said to Him, “Master, we saw one casting out demons in thy name, and we forbade him, because he followeth not with us.” Jesus replied, “Forbid him not; for he that is not against you is for you” (Lk. 9:49, 50). We should therefore remember that whenever a denomination slips into a kind of thinking similar to that described above, it reveals a tendency toward cultic behavior.
(5) The Group’s Central Role in Eschatology. The last distinctive trait of the cult I would like to mention is this: the cult plays a central role in the eschatological climax of history. The cult is convinced that it has been called into existence by God for the purpose of filling in some gap in the truth which has been neglected by the ordinary churches. The birth of the cult thus marks the final climax of sacred history, the beginning of the [p.386>] latter days. Eschatology thus plays a determinative role in the
theology of the cult: it becomes the arena in which the glorification of the cult will complete itself. The cult is therefore the messenger and way-preparer for the imminent return of Christ; it is God’s partner in the drama of the end-time; it is the ark of safety for the coming flood; it is the instrument of divine judgment on unbelievers; it shall finally triumph in the sight of all the world as the group particularly favored by God.
This type of procedure Hutten calls a cultic perversion of Biblical eschatology. Whenever the cult has developed an eschatology, he continues, it places itself in the very center of it. The drama of the last things thus becomes the means whereby the cult is glorified and all its enemies are overwhelmingly defeated. Though the cult may now be small and insignificant, when the final climax of history arrives, it will receive from God the place of honor it deserves as a reward for its faithfulness to His commandments. The antithesis between God and Satan which has run through history will in the last days reach its climax as an antithesis between the cult and the rest of mankind, particularly the church.
As we attempt now to see how this trait is revealed in the cults we have studied, we must first make an important exception. Because of the absence of a real historical dimension in Christian Science, the latter has no general eschatology; hence it cannot be precisely fitted into the category just described. Christian Science denies that there will be a literal Second Coming of Christ, a general resurrection, a final judgment, and a new earth (see above, pp. 219-21). Though there is a kind of individual eschatology in this system, there is no general eschatology in the sense of a final, dramatic climax of history. Yet Christian Scientists do manifest a trace of the characteristic in question, since Mrs. Eddy contended more than once that what the Bible calls the Second Coming of Jesus Christ actually coincided with the rise of Christian Science (see above, p. 219). By statements such as these Mrs. Eddy did, in a sense, place Christian Science in the center of eschatology.
[p.387>] It will not be difficult to show the presence of the trait under discussion in the other two cults being considered. Mormons very definitely place themselves in the center of the eschatological drama, giving themselves a position of special privilege in it. The Mormons, God’s “Latter-day Saints,” consider themselves the bearers of the Restored Gospel – the Gospel which must now be proclaimed by them to all the world as God’s last word to mankind (see above, pp. 62-64). Before Christ returns, there will be a series of gatherings. Ephraim or the Ephraimites must be gathered first to prepare the way for the rest of the tribes of Israel when the time comes for them to be gathered to Zion. Since most Mormons today are said to be Ephraimites, it is obvious that the gathering of Ephraim is going on at the present time. Ephraim is being gathered to Zion, the gathering-place on the
North American continent. The “lost ten tribes” will later be gathered to Zion, where they will receive “crowning blessings” from Ephraim – that is, from the Mormons. During the millennium Christ will rule over the Mormon Zion as well as over Jerusalem in Palestine (see above, pp. 67-69). At this time Mormons on earth will be joined by a heavenly group, the City of Enoch (see above, p. 69). Also during the millennium Mormons will preach to non-Mormons who are still alive, and will be baptized for the dead who have lived from the beginning of time (see above, p. 70). In the final state Mormons who have fully kept the commandments of the Gospel will enjoy the highest grade of blessedness in the celestial kingdom; non-Mormons can enter the celestial kingdom only if Mormons have been baptized for them (see above, pp. 66, 72-73). Most non-Mormons, however, will spend eternity in one of the two lower kingdoms, the terrestrial or the telestial (see above, pp. 73-74).
Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that the kingdom of God was not established until A.D. 1914, that this kingdom is now the ruling part of God’s universal organization, and that this kingdom is comprised of Jesus Christ and those members of the 144,000 who are now in heaven (see above, pp. 295-97). These heavenly members of the anointed class (who were, for the most part, Jehovah’s Witnesses on earth) not only rule with Christ now, but are actually changed from human beings to divine beings (see above, p. 304). Between 1918 and the Battle of Armageddon, a judgment of the nations is taking place, in which all those who do not accept the Jehovah-Witness message and who show no kindness to its bearers are doomed to destruction at Armageddon [p.388>] – a destruction from which there will be no reawakening (see above, pp. 306-7). The Battle of Armageddon will therefore be a stupendous victory for Jehovah’s Witnesses, who will be the only survivors of this worldwide catastrophe (see above, p. 311). Armageddon survivors will have a favored position on the renewed earth during the millennium; many of them will be made princes (see above, pp. 311, 314, 318). Jehovah’s Witnesses who have died before Armageddon will have the privilege of being raised from the dead before the rest of earth’s inhabitants. Those who were active in the New World Society before the millennium will take a leading part in instructing newly-resurrected people in the laws of Jehovah (see above, pp. 318-19). For Jehovah’s Witnesses, therefore, the climactic antithesis of history will be that between God’s true people, the Witnesses, and all others, including the churches of Christendom.
Whenever a religious group places itself in the center of the eschatological drama, it makes itself guilty of spiritual pride. Overlooking its own shortcomings and sins, it magnifies the sins of others. It blandly assumes that because of its own superior worthiness it has become God’s special favorite. When Christ came across a similar kind of pride among the Jewish leaders of His day, He rebuked it in no uncertain terms: “I say unto you, that many shall come from the east and the west, and shall sit down with Abraham and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven; but the sons of the kingdom shall be cast forth into the outer darkness. . .” (Mt. 8:11, 12).
I love Propaganda’s above presentation. It hits all the point in the below video. You see, a life lived without the Gospel Message infused into your walk makes a truly lost soul where in the end nothing you do amounts to anything important. It mirrors naturalism in that all your actions… and humanities collective achievements, are all for nothing. Except, unlike naturalism, you live with this consequence in some form — eternally.
Josh McDowell put it best on why there has to be judgment for our sins, let me paraphrase him with this story of a judge and his daughter.
There was a district court judge who had been on the bench for thirty years, he was a just judge. He has never taken a bribe, always handed out judgment and leniency in a fair and balanced way, only within the parameters of what the law allowed. In other words, a just, righteous member of the legal system as well as the community. One day while in session, his only child, a daughter, was brought before him with a traffic violation. She had broke the law and was arrested for her excessive speeding. What was he to do? He loved his daughter immensely, so he could fine her only one dollar and no jail time. But this would mean he would be an unjust judge, not worthy of the position he holds.
So instead, he fines her 500 hundred dollars and three days in jail. He is heart broken, but that is what the law requires. Just as soon as his gavel hits the bench, he rises from his chair, removes his robe of authority, steps down from the raised platform to come around to the front of the bench. He, with a tear in his eye, throws an arm around his daughter, whom he loves dearly, and with the other hand pays the fine and puts himself in her place in the three day sentence. This is TRUE love, and TRUE justice.
In the same way, the just God of the Bible is our judge. He would be un-worthy of our worship and honor if he acted any other way. He has pronounced death as the judgment of our rebellion and sin [Death and hell are merely eternal separation from him, and because of that, there will be gnashing of teeth]. As our heavenly Father, who knew us before we were in the womb, he loved us so much (His creation) that he stepped down from his heavenly throne to the earth and paid the price for our infractions against the “court.” No other god in history in any other religious belief cared so much as to offer the only acceptable (free of sin) gift, Himself. This is the beauty of the Christian faith.
Remember, the Gospel STARTS with a terrifying truth, that is, “God Is Good… and we are not“
God doesn’t put people he loves in “hell”, those people choose that place as a replacement for God’s already done work on the cross. I firmly believe that if you were able to go to hell and ask someone there if they would like to change their mind and accept Jesus, they would respond in the negative! Why? Because they would rather have eternal pain and “hell fire” than to acknowledge Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
Even Stephen Hawkings gets this distinction (from an old debate):
One of the most intriguing aspects mentioned by Ravi Zacharias of a lecture he attended entitled “Determinism – Is Man a Slave or the Master of His Fate,” given by Stephen Hawking, who is the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge, Isaac Newton’s chair, was this admission by Dr. Hawking’s, was Hawking’s admission that if “we are the random products of chance, and hence, not free, or whether God had designed these laws within which we are free.” In other words, do we have the ability to make moral life choices, or do we simply follow a chemical reaction induced by millions of mutational collisions of free atoms? Michael Polyni mentions that this “reduction of the world to its atomic elements acting blindly in terms of equilibrations of forces,” a belief that has prevailed “since the birth of modern science, has made any sort of teleological view of the cosmos seem unscientific…. [to] the contemporary mind.”
Mortimer J. Adler points out in his book Ten Philosophical Mistakes that without true choice, free will, nature disallowes any talk of moral categories. He says “What merit would attach to moral virtue if the acts that form such habitual tendencies and dispositions were not acts of free choice on the part of the individual who was in the process of acquiring moral virtue? Persons of vicious moral character would have their characters formed in a manner no different from the way in which the character of a morally virtuous person was formed—by acts entirely determined, and that could not have been otherwise by freedom of choice.”
Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s maxim rings just as true today as it did in his day, “If there is no God, all things are permissible.” Without an absolute ethical norm, morality is reduced to mere preference and the world is a jungle where might makes right. This same strain of thought caused Mussolini to comment, “Everything I have said and done in these last years is relativism by intuition…. If relativism signifies contempt for fixed categories and men who claim to be bearers of an objective, immortal truth… then there is nothing more relativistic than fascistic attitudes and activity…. From the fact that all ideologies are of equal value, that all ideologies are mere fictions, the modern relativist infers that everybody has the right to create for himself his own ideology and to attempt to enforce it with all the energy of which he is capable.”
Notice that Mussolini agrees that might makes right. There was another bad boy on the block in those days, his name was Hitler, who agreed when he said, “I freed Germany from the stupid and degrading fallacies of conscience and morality… we will train young people before whom the world will tremble. I want young people capable of violence – imperious, relentless and cruel.” Again, the rejection of moral absolutes creates what? Young people who will scare the bejesus out of the world. (Take note of the rise in youth violence in our school system.)
But what is this “absolute” that Mussolini referred to as “the immortal truth?” What is the “stupid and degrading fallacies of conscience and morality” that Hitler removed in order to created a nation of hate mongers? Heidegger, In Being and Time, discussed the problems facing men living in a post-Enlightenment secular world which he called“the dark night of the world.” A world in which the light of God had been eclipsed and in which men were left to grope around as best they could, searching in the darkness for any scraps of meaning that might be found. Is it any wonder then that Heidegger backed the National Socialists (Nazis) for most of the 1930’s. society – a world without God in other words. Heidegger called this situation
Apologist, lawyer and theologian John Warwick Montgomery references this choice in a quick blurb about the existence of evil and a good God:
Opponents of theism have perennially argued that the natural and moral evils in the universe make the idea of an omnipotent and perfectly good God irrational. But if subjectivity (and its correlative, freewill) must be presupposed on the level of human action, and if God’s character as fully transcendent divine Subject serves to make human volition meaningful, then the existence of freewill in itself provides a legitimate explanation of evil. To create personalities without genuine freewill would not have been to create persons at all; and freewill means the genuine possibility of wrong decision, i.e., the creation of evil by God’s creatures (whether wide ranging natural and moral evil by fallen angels or limited chaos on earth by fallen mankind).
As for the argument that a good God should have created only those beings he would foresee as choosing the right – or that he could certainly eliminate the effects of his creatures’ evil decisions, the obvious answer is (as Plantinga develops it with great logical rigor in his God and Other Minds) that this would be tantamount to not giving freewill at all. To create only those who “must” (in any sense) choose good is to create automata; and to whisk away evil effects as they are produced is to whisk away evil itself, for an act and its consequences are bound together. C. S. Lewis has noted that God’s love enters into this issue as well, since the Biblical God created man out of love, and genuine freewill – without the free possibility of accepting love or rejecting it. Just as a boy who offers himself and his love to a girl must count on the real possibility of rejection, so when God originated a creative work that made genuine love possible, it by definition entailed the concomitant possibility of the evil rejection of his love by his creatures.
The choice is yours. All your answers will not be magically swept away, but you will be on a road of deeper understanding and a spiritual journey that includes love in it. No other world religion has this type of love story in it. Here is a witnessing situation that includes the above thinking, it is instructive to show how wide the divide is between us and our Lord:
This may seem simple, but the Roman’s road brings you to the sinners prayer. God has so wired you and this cosmos that He responds to this simple prayer
In a presentation that I gave in a Sunday class at church (and added media to here), I end with this wonderful video that encapsulated the Gospel message the most effectively — in my minds eye: