These posts are based on my commentary on 1-2 Thessalonians, available from Zondervan Publishing.
Is persecution good for what ails the church? Here’s the word on the street:
Viewpoint A: Everyone knows that persecution purifies the church –
- Therefore, if revival is to come, it will be through suffering.
- Therefore, persecution is a good, a benefit.
- Therefore, the committed Christian should pray for persecution to fall on their country.
Now, I know of no verse where Christians should hope for or pray for persecution. Nor is there a passage that says, “If you pray for revival, you’d better duck, God will send you tribulation.” These viewpoints strikes me as two of these Bible interpretations which are, to use the British phrase, “too clever by half.” It’s similar to the one I’ve heard people say, that we shouldn’t pray for patience – after all, if we do, God will send trials on us! I’m stymied, how a Christian could balk at praying for a fruit of the Spirit, or imagine that God will use our sincere prayer in order to play a trick on us!
The Bible is clear, and 2000 years of history give the same message –
- Revival comes with or without persecution.
- That is, revival and persecution do not follow a strict cause and effect. Nor are they typically correlated.
- If there is correlation, it’s the question of the chicken and the egg – sometimes persecution comes because the church is growing and lively.
- Persecution does not necessarily result in purification or vitality.
- Persecution may be an impediment to church growth as much as it is a spur to growth.
- People who pray for, seek or volunteer for persecution are on thin ice.
The evidence: (more…)
Chapter Seven – I teach in seminary
I’ve now been a professor, teaching in English and then in Spanish, for 25 years.
The first seminary where I taught put us through a sort of Professor Boot Camp. Our academic dean stressed: “Your students will remember only a portion of the content you teach; they will always remember your attitudes and values.
That principle has been true as far as my memories: I can remember a few professors who came across as, well, self-satisfied, distant, or lethargic; I hope my impressions were mistaken.
Other professors seemed to be hard workers, careful students of the Word, loving individuals and encouraging. (more…)
In my first days as a Christian, they filled me in that the Soviet Union was predicted in Ezekiel 38-39 and that Russia and the Warsaw Pact countries would attack Israel at any time. Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth was the #1 bestseller; it had a chapter called “Russia is a Gog,” and said it was clear as could be that the Bible foretold a Soviet invasion more than 2500 years ago. Google Magog and Russia and you will see how many “prophecy experts” take the Lindsey/Russia view as gospel, without ever checking on the basic facts. 
Where did this idea come from? From an amateurish reading of certain Hebrew terms.
Rosh – probably not in your Bible at Ezek 38:2 (unless you read the NKJV or the NASB), but the Hebrew word that is rendered “chief” or “prince” is Rosh = head. But others said, “Hey, think about it! Rosh…uh?? Roshuh? Russia, you see?”
Meshech – why, that must be Moscow!
Magog – was a Scythian city, and the Scythians later migrated into Russia, so Magog is Russia! (they did no such thing, I later found out, but that was the rumor at the time)
Tubal – this would have to be Tobolsk which, some speculated, was the eastern capital of Russia.
Gomer was East Germany.
To cap it all off, these enemies come “from the north,” and Russia, at least its extreme western frontier, lies due north from Israel.
This meant, then, that Russia and its Warsaw Pact allies would attack Israel, immediately before or after the rapture
of the church, and that Israel’s enemies would be totally eliminated, perhaps by nuclear weapons. Imagine the chills this gave me in October 1973, when the United States and Russia very nearly intervened with A-bombs in the Yom Kippur war between Israel and Egypt. (more…)
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Last month, Zondervan published my commentary on 1-2 Thessalonians, a volume I’ve been working on since 2005 (click HERE). When I saw it on display at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, I heaved a sigh of relief, and not just because finishing a book, any book, lightens the spirit. (My 1 Corinthians commentary is available for free download HERE).
I was pleased because the whole production seemed like a gamble from the outset. I had to figure out how to write a commentary without a library. I felt like the first person to invent the flourless cake.
I teach at a Bible college and seminary located in Costa Rica. Most Americans know it as a land of natural wonders, with beaches, rafting, rainforests, volcanoes and of course, gold-standard coffee. We are located in San José, a city of a million: not exactly the “bush,” but I might as well be when I sit down to do my writing. (more…)
Please read Part I before starting Part II; click HERE
Chapter Three – My Sojourn in Pentecostalism
Until I turned 14, the only charismatic person I knew anything about was JFK. Since then I have been charismatic (one year, give or take); then post-charismatic; anti-charismatic; teacher of charismatics; bridge-builder with charismatics; regular spokesman against neo-Pentecostals and Word of Faith teaching.
If you haven’t read Part I of my testimony, it might interest you to read Chapter One – I react against false teaching. While I was working through the life-and-death question of what it takes to be saved, in tandem for some months I was figuring out what it meant to be a charismatic believer. I am the only person I’ve ever met who was a practicing Adventist and a practicing charismatic at the same time; now Wikipedia tells me that there are thousands of people who have managed to combine the two.
After supper on September 15, it was warm enough to go to the local swimming hole for a dip. When I got back, I saw that someone had lent my mother a copy of Dennis Bennett’s The Holy Spirit and You: a guide to the Spirit filled life. This was 1972, and the charismatic movement had been moving outward from the Pentecostal churches and the Assemblies of God; people in many denominations began to pursue a more direct experience with the Spirit.
Days later and the news began to circulate around the Baptist church that “Gary got baptized in the Spirit!” My pastor said that I should read 1 Cor 12-14, a passage I devoured as being relevant to my life today. A few people from our church went to a Thursday night prayer meeting in a school across town, and they offered to take me. For about an hour and a half we would have choruses, Bible readings, and at some meetings someone would speak in tongues or give a “message” to the group. I learned later that it was a group of mainline charismatics, and in fact the Rocky Hill School was an Episcopalian prep school – so, no jumping around, no shouting or confusion, just a quiet and orderly time of worship. When someone spoke in tongues, they waited for someone to interpret.
It was there that someone gave me a pocket New Testament, which was a constant companion – I wore out a couple, and still have my last copy. (more…)
This is an article on these Pauline letters for a new Spanish-language Bible dictionary. The reader should note that a dictionary article is supposed to be ”descriptive,” that is, the author is expected to describe the state of the discussion, not argue for or against a particular viewpoint.
Zondervan will be publishing my exegetical-pastoral commentary on 1-2 Thessalonians in November, 2012.
What comes before the Day of the Lord: the final “apostasy” or the “departure” of the church? [Studies in Thessalonians]
According to 2 Thessalonians, Timothy brought Paul a question from a panicky church: Has the Day of the Lord come? Paul ties together language of the return of Christ from his own oral teaching, the Matthean tradition, Daniel and 1 Thessalonians. No indeed! he says, and I can prove it. Has the Man of Lawlessness appeared? Then no, the Day of the Lord has not come (2 Thess 2:3).
The other marker is more controversial: an “apostasy” or “falling away” (apostasia, ἀποστασία). The word might denote a political rebellion. Nevertheless, “falling away” in Judeo-Christian contexts usually refers to a spiritual apostasy. In the Apocrypha, many Jews apostatized from Yahweh in 1 Macc 2:15 (NRSV) – “The king’s officers who were enforcing the apostasy came to the town of Modein to make them offer sacrifice” to Greek gods. Paul himself was accused of teaching Diaspora Jews “apostasy from Moses” (Acts 21:21). The verb form also appears in a warning against apostasy in Heb 3:12 and in the Lukan version of the Parable of the Sower to speak of those who fall away because of persecution (Luke 8:13). Paul uses the verb (aphistemi, ἀφίστημι) of the end-time falling away once in 1 Tim 4:1; he uses the noun form (apostasia, ἀποστασία) only here in 2 Thess 2:3. Most Bible versions render the term correctly: “falling away” (ASV, KJV, NKJV); rebel, rebellion (CEV, ESV, GNB, NIV, NLT, NRSV, RSV), revolt (GW, NJB), apostasy (HCSB, NASB).
But wait! A few Bible students have suggested that 2 Thess 2:3 should be translated not as the “apostasy” but as a “removal” or “departure.” That is, the church is taken away from the earth, with the rest of the population “left behind” for the tribulation.
Can this interpretation hold up? (more…)