The Glory of Grace

Sue Bohlin explores God’s marvelous grace as the unending flow of His power, presence and favor in our lives.

I bet you recognize “grace” as a theology word. Many of us are quick to say, “Oh yeah, I know what that is. We’re saved by grace through faith.” Or we know of churches with the word “grace” in their name. But many of us don’t have a real handle on it. Often that’s because we haven’t seen it modeled in our families, our churches, or our communities. We’re too focused on trying to prove ourselves good enough, too busy trying to keep God from getting mad at us.

download-podcast But this misunderstood blessing of grace is hugely important. It’s one of the big things that sets Christianity apart from all other religions! Any other world religion involves performance-based works. Biblical Christianity says, “We’re messed-up broken people before a holy God, and there’s nothing we can do to earn His approval. But He loves us and delights in us despite the fact that we don’t deserve it.” With all other religions, the emphasis is on “do.” Because of grace, in Christianity the emphasis is on “done.”{1}

One of the most powerful elements of grace is simply acceptance. The book of Romans assures us that we are accepted by both the Father (Romans 14:3) and the Son (Romans 15:7). We can do nothing to earn Their acceptance; it’s a gift. The Father says, “I accept you just the way you are, but I love you too much to leave you that way. Come to Me: My arms and My heart are open to you because of what My Son did in His incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension. I have always loved you, My precious child. I chose you before the foundation of the world, to adopt you into My family.”{2} I love to think of God stamping our foreheads with an invisible tattoo that says, “Accepted in the Beloved” (Ephesians 1:6, KJV).

Pastor Mark Driscoll has an especially great definition of grace. Instead of the one we’ve heard for years, “God’s undeserved favor,” Mark calls it “ill-deserved” favor.{3} But my all-time favorite definition comes from John Ortberg: “Grace is the offer of God’s ceaseless presence and irrational love that cannot be stopped. It’s the flow of God’s power and presence and favor in your life from one moment to the next that enables you to do whatever it is God has for you to do.”{4} I want to focus on God’s power, presence, and favor, as well as giving some real-life examples of what grace looks like.


A little boy was playing in his sandbox one Saturday morning when he discovered a large rock in the middle of it. The boy dug around the rock, managing to dislodge it from the dirt. With a little bit of struggle, he pushed and nudged the rock across the sandbox. But then he found that he couldn’t roll it up and over the little wall. The boy shoved, pushed, and pried, but every time he thought he had made some progress, the rock tipped and then fell back into the sandbox.

All this time the boy’s father watched from his window as the drama unfolded and his son burst into tears of frustration.

As the tears fell, a large shadow fell across the boy and the sandbox. It was the boy’s father. He asked, “Son, why didn’t you use all the strength that you had available?”

The boy sobbed, “But I did, Daddy, I did! I used all the strength that I had!”

The father corrected kindly, “No, son, you didn’t use all the strength you had. You didn’t ask me.” With that, the father reached down, picked up the rock and removed it from the sandbox.

Experiencing God grace means depending on Him to provide the power for our lives, whether it’s dislodging a big ol’ rock in our sandbox or simply making it through the day.

I like to think of the power of God’s grace as electricity that is available twenty-four hours, seven days a week. God’s grace is always available to us at every moment of our life, and because of His goodness and faithfulness, we never have to fear a power shortage of God’s grace.

The key to experiencing the flow of God’s power is what Jesus called abiding, choosing to remain in a state of trustful dependence on God. Jesus said in John 15:5, “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.”

I love to illustrate this by turning on a shop light that’s plugged into an electrical outlet. When I press the switch, the light goes off, even though the power is still flowing and available. We can shut off the expression of grace, the flow of God’s power, by quenching the Spirit—by actively disobeying God, or by passively ignoring Him. But His power can shine in our lives again as soon as we open ourselves up to Him, asking for His help, intentionally depending on His power and not our own. Grace is the flow of God’s power in our lives.


One morning, as I swam laps in the health club pool, I was meditating on these three aspects of grace. I said, “Lord, what do You want me to know about Your presence?” At that very second, I “just happened” to see a large sign on the wall right in front of me: “WARNING: NO LIFEGUARD ON DUTY.” I literally laughed out loud, realizing that this was code for “You’re on your own, buddy.” God’s grace means we never have to fear that there’s no lifeguard on duty, that we’re on our own, because He has promised to never leave us or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6, Hebrews 13:5). The Lord Jesus’ last promise was, “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20).

My favorite illustration of grace as God’s presence is the building of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Dwight Edwards relates that during its initial stages of construction, “Twenty-three workers fell to their deaths. Finally, halfway through the project, a large net was put in place beneath the bridge. From then on, only ten men actually fell—all caught by the net. Plus, the workers’ productivity was raised by twenty-five percent. Assured that their safety was no longer in question, they pursued their work with far greater freedom and effectiveness than before. This is exactly what God has done for us. Stretched wide beneath us, extending from eternity past to eternity future, is God’s perfect grace, assuring every believer that we can never fall from His favor. No matter how badly we falter or fail, we can never plunge past the grace of God.”{5}

Think of grace as the hand of God ready to catch you when you fall. Because God is good and He is sovereign, that means nothing can happen that He cannot redeem. There is no such thing as an unrecoverable disaster. Even when we sin deliberately and stupidly, we cannot jump beyond the bounds of His grace. Now, His grace usually involves painful discipline, because God disciplines those He loves (Hebrews 12:6), but we cannot out-sin God’s love and grace.

Recently, a friend of mine was anguishing, “Why did God allow me to wreck my marriage and family? I wouldn’t let my children run out into the street and be hit by a car, why did He let me go that far?” As I turned to the Lord for an answer, He whispered, “I’m always protecting My children, but you don’t see the disasters I avert.” Part of God’s grace is the safety of His protecting presence.


One important element of grace is favor. One dictionary defines favor as “an attitude of approval or liking.”

Five-year-old Matt got up from his nap one day and said, “Guess what, mommy, I just had a dream about Jesus!” The mommy asked, “Well, what did Jesus say to you?” “Nothing.” “Well, what was Jesus doing?” “Nothing.” “Now Matthew, you just said you had a dream about Jesus, he MUST have said or done something!” Matt was quiet for a moment, and then with a wiggle and grin he looked up and said shyly, “He just stood there and liked me.”

When somebody likes you, their eyes light up when they see you. Did you know God’s whole face lights up when He looks at you? The Bible talks about His face shining on us.{6} God doesn’t only love us, He likes us! Experiencing God’s grace means He showers not only love but like on us, and His face reflects His heart of favor toward us.

Every child needs to receive the “3 A’s” of favor from his daddy: attention, affection, and approval. The Father poured out the 3 A’s on the Lord Jesus at His baptism when He said, “You are My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.”{7} Those words are like gold, and we can receive them into our own hearts as well.

I love the way one daddy blogger expresses grace toward his daughter. He writes,

I love you. I love the way your hair rolls into ringlets and falls into your eyes. I love the way you read yourself books, even though you can’t read. I love the way you dance and twirl around the kitchen. I love the way you wave at cars that pass on our walks. I love the way you scream “Dad” in the middle of the night. I love the way you say “do it again” when we do something fun. I even love the permanent marker custom design you put on my new Mac. But as much as I love you, Jesus loves you more. I sacrifice a lot because I love you, but Jesus sacrificed everything because he loves you. So if somewhere along the way you fail a test or love a boy who does not love you back or have a mastectomy or develop Alzheimer’s or gain some weight or lose a job, you will still hold infinite value because Jesus loves you. No matter what. You are loved exactly as you are. Always.{8}

Oh yeah. That’s the beauty of grace.

What Grace Looks Like

I want to share some examples of what grace looks like, both the way God showers grace on us, and the way people share His grace with others.

God has poured grace on me in a huge way when traveling internationally. Because of a schedule change, I found myself flying back to Dallas from Germany just in time to speak at a weekend women’s retreat. I arrived home from the airport with just enough time to repack my bags and pick up my speaking notes and props. I then drove two hours to the retreat facility, arriving while the women were still singing. I literally got out of the car with my notebook in hand, walked in the door and up to the stage to start speaking. With the time difference, my body felt like it was five o’clock in the morning and I’d been awake for twenty-two hours. But God not only kept me alert, He filled me with His energy, and the women couldn’t tell any difference.

When we’ve received God’s grace, we are able to turn around and give it to others.

Grace means responding with patience when someone forgets they already told you something, or that you told them something, and just going with the flow. Grace means lifting off the burden of needless “shoulds” that weigh people down. One grace-filled speaker invited people to respond in song at the end of her message, saying, “If you’d like to sing, great! Join us! If you need a rest, feel free to just listen.” She removed any pressure to perform. At our church, a couple of pastors managed to deliver a message on giving and stewardship without even a hint of shame, or condemnation, or pressure. That’s what grace looks like.

When my friend’s mother contracted Alzheimer’s, she told her daughter early in the progression of the disease, “If I get to the point where I don’t recognize you, don’t take it personally.” She was expressing grace in being more concerned about her daughter’s hurt than her own loss of memory.

Another friend needed eye surgery to keep her from losing her sight. Her friend Angela, who has been blind for a number of years, told our friend, “Don’t be concerned about talking about your vision to me—I am so over that!” That’s what grace looks like.

One of my favorite stories happened one night to my dear friend who was starting to realize what monsters her abusive parents were. She had always patterned herself after her mother, and suddenly realized she had even chosen the same dishes as her mother’s when they got married. Suddenly she couldn’t abide the thought of keeping them in the house a moment longer. She grabbed a plate out of the cupboard and hurled it to the floor, smashing it to pieces. Her husband heard the noise and came to see what was going on. When she explained the connection between their dishes and her mother, her husband calmly said, “Have at it. Tomorrow morning I’ll take you to get new dishes.” Not only did he clean up the mess when she was done, but all those shards damaged their kitchen floor—and he never once mentioned it. That’s grace.


1. See, for example, John 15:5; 19:30; Colossians 3:4; Ephesians 2:8-9.
2. Ephesians 1:4-5
4. This quote came from a sermon preached at Pastor Ortberg’s church, Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in Menlo Park, California, 2003. When I emailed him asking for a specific citation, his answer was, “I have no idea, Sue.”
5. Dwight Edwards, Experiencing Christ Within Workbook: Passionately Embracing God’s Provisions for Supernatural Living (Colorado Springs: Waterbrook Press, 2002), p. 105.
6. Numbers 6:25
7. Matthew 3:17

© 2012 Probe Ministries

Truth You Can Sing About – Part 3

Probe radio producer Steven Davis provides spiritual truth in five Christmas carols, backed by new music written and performed by his son Jon Clive Davis.

Coventry Carol

download-podcastSongs about Jesus’ birth have been close friends with Christmas for generations, but when’s the last time you thought about the great truth found in these Christmas hymns and carols? In this article we’re highlighting five Christmas songs, and first up is Coventry Carol.

Herod the King in his raging charged he hath this day,
His men of might in his own sight all children young to slay…

Following a star, Magi arrive in Jerusalem, and ask Herod where they can find this new born King of the Jews. Herod rouses his biblical scholars to research this, and they find in Micah (5:2):

But as for you, Bethlehem . . . too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel.
His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity.

This King was a much bigger deal than Herod ever would be. Still, Herod chooses to inform the Magi, encouraging them to return and tell him where they found this King, so that he too could “Worship Him (Matthew 2:8).”

But God knowing his heart, warns the Magi to return home another way. When Herod found out he was furious, and instructed his soldiers to kill all the baby boys two years old and younger. A second prophecy is fulfilled from Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children; and she refused to be comforted, because they were no more.” (31:15)

It was this event which stirred the writing of the hauntingly beautiful Coventry Carol. Even though this is a dark and tragic theme, we need to know and to feel the entire context surrounding the birth of Christ.

One child born, and who knows how many dozens, if not hundreds, were slaughtered.

2000 years later, few would respond to Christ as Herod did; but to even do something as “harmless” as ignore Him, places you at eternal risk. So, how do you respond to the Christ?

In the Bleak Midwinter

Enough for Him, whom Cherubim worship night and day,
a breastful of milk and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom Angels fall down before,
the ox and ass and camel which adore.

The third verse speaks to something we often forget, especially when it comes to applying it. The Christmas narratives from the Gospels, prophecies and subsequent teaching speak plainly and forcefully to the deity and humility of Christ. The Apostle Paul explains it well:

Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. (Philippians 2: 6-8 NLT)

Jesus Christ gives us the greatest example of a life of humility, first by laying aside His “divine privileges,” then humbled Himself further by dying for our sins on the cross. Going from the non-stop worship of the cherubim to mother’s milk and a bed of hay was entirely within His character. As was the stark contrast between angels falling prostrate before Him to simple barnyard beasts adoring Him.

Perhaps God’s greatest goal for your life and for mine is to make us like Jesus. Paul tells us in Romans: “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” (Romans 8:29) So do you think humility would be part of that process for us? Of course.

The author of the song Christina Rossetti wraps up her verses with an application:

Yet what I can I give Him, give my heart.

Humility is what brings us to Christ. Will you give your heart to Him this Christmas?

God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen

God rest ye merry, gentlemen, let nothing you dismay,
Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day,
To save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray.
O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy, O tidings of comfort and joy.

Even though this is one of the oldest Christmas Carols still being sung today, it offers a unique blending of historic and contemporary perspectives.

The first and last verses are for us (the contemporary perspective), while the middle verses are about shepherds, angels, the Christ Child, and His mother Mary. Let’s look at the verses which apply to you and me.

The first line tells us how we are to rest merry and are not to dismay. How can we do that? Because Christ was born to save. The angel said: “Do not be afraid” (Luke 2:10). In other words, don’t be dismayed. And, “there has been born for you a Savior” (Luke 2:11), which allows us to rest merry. We learn more from Matthew 1:21, “He will save His people from their sins.” So not just saved—but saved from our sins.

The next line talks about how “we were gone astray.” Isaiah 53 shows us how far we’ve gone astray, listing the things Christ has done for us: bore our griefs, carried our sorrows, was pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; chastised for our peace, and His wounds healed us. And after all Christ has done for us, it says: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—everyone—to his own way.” Despite this, the Lord “Laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

What typically is the last verse, with the contemporary perspective, says:

Now to the Lord sing praises, all you within this place.

That’s what you do when the Son of God has come into the world, to save you from your sins.

While Shepherds Watched

While shepherds watched their flocks by night, all seated on the ground,
An angel of the Lord came down, and glory shone around.
“Fear not,” said he for mighty dread had seized their troubled mind
“Glad tidings of great joy I bring to you and all mankind.”

Well, there’s no doubt from the title it’s all about the shepherd’s perspective of what happened the night Christ was born.

When you compare the lyrics of the carol with Luke 2, you discover that the shepherd’s perspective in this song is extremely Biblical. Examine all the main points from the Gospel narrative, and you find them in the song: the cast, the location, angelic appearance, fear, angelic announcement, new location, signs, chorus, praise.

Now a word about the cast, and their perspective. They were shepherds! But wait, wasn’t this the birth of the Son of God? King of kings and Lord of Lords? Why would God make such a stellar announcement to the working class? Two reasons:

The first reason is found in both Luke 2 and the first verse of the song. Here’s Luke’s account: “And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.’” This good news was for ALL the people.

The second reason the shepherds were the recipients of such good news was pride. Had the message been brought to the elite, the royal, the upper class, do you think they would have shared such a great message with those of us less fortunate? Probably not. We wouldn’t have access to their social circles. Why would they seek us out to share this good news?  Pride would have cut the Good News off from the rest of the world.

God did not want this message to miss anyone. Christ came humbly, and his announcement came humbly. After all, God so loved the world.

O Holy Night

O holy night! The stars are brightly shining
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth!
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till he appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

Long lay the world in sin and error pining. Although one rarely “pines” anymore, as I read this line, I feel the hopelessness and helplessness pressing in. In the seventh chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans, he said: “And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t.  I want to do what is good, but I don’t . . . I am a slave to sin.” Yeah, that’s hopeless.

Speaking of slavery, the third verse declares: Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother; and in His name all oppression shall cease. In 1847, when the lyrics were written, slavery was rampant, especially in these United States. And a century and a half later, oppression still hasn’t ceased. Why?

Well, Paul said it in the previous passage: “I am a slave to sin.” We are all slaves to sin . . . until Christ breaks those chains.

The result of Christ breaking the chains of oppression is found in the choruses:

Fall on your knees;
Behold your King! Before Him lowly bend!

Christ humbled Himself to embrace our human weaknesses, and humbled Himself even further, unto death on the cross. And our response is to fall on our knees in humility and praise. I wonder if humility has a place in breaking the chain of oppression. Seems to work for Jesus.

This program’s scripts were written by the producer of Probe Radio, Steven Davis. The music was composed and performed by his son and Mind Games Camp alumnus Jon Clive Davis. May your Christmas be filled with praise!

©2018 Probe Ministries

Will Everyone Be Saved? A Look at Universalism

Rick Wade covers some of the pros and cons in the universalism controversy. Bottom line? No.

In the spring of 2011, Pastor Rob Bell’s book Love Wins hit the book stores, but the furor over the book started even before that. The charge was heresy. Bell appeared to be teaching Universalism, the belief that everyone will be saved in the end. In fact, Bell doesn’t make a case for Universalism in the book, although his rejection of the traditional view of hell makes it seem so at first.

download-podcastThis will not be a review of Love Wins but rather a look at Universalism itself. It won’t do to simply label Universalism as heresy and be done with it. The way people responded to Bell’s book illustrates the problem.{1} It’s better to understand why this teaching has been and should be rejected.

It is important to try to represent others’ views fairly. This article, which is what aired on Probe’s radio program, is too short to do Universalism justice; there is way too much involved in it. Here I’ll confine myself to introducing some of the important issues involved. However, a longer article in PDF form is available here to fill out the issue some more.{2}

Universalism has been believed by some Christians since the early centuries of the church. What makes it attractive? For one thing, Universalists wonder how a loving God could send people to hell—a place of conscious torment—forever. Furthermore, God is a God of justice, and a punishment of eternal torment seems incommensurate with our finite sins, as bad as they may be.

Universalists find scriptural support primarily in Paul’s writings where he declares, for example, that “as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men” (Rom 5:18).

Before digging in, I need to make an important distinction. I’ll be talking about Christian Universalism, not pluralistic Universalism. Pluralistic Universalism is the belief that everyone in the world will be “saved” by some almighty being or force that the various religions understand in different ways. Christian Universalism, by contrast, is the belief that Christianity holds the truth about God, man, and salvation, and that, contrary to the traditional belief, everyone will be saved through faith in Christ, even if on the other side of the grave.

The Love and Justice in God

Universalists take the traditional view of hell as being completely out of keeping with the loving character of God.{3} Philosopher Thomas Talbott believes that, because love is basic to the nature of God, everything God does has a loving aspect. Thus, there can be no eternal judgment against a person.

Because of this, Talbott sees God’s justice primarily as remedial or restorative, not as retributive or punitive. Speaking of Israel, for example, he points out that God “did not spare the natural branches” (Romans 11:21), yet eventually God will have mercy on them. Couldn’t it be the same for the Gentiles, too? God’s grand project since the Fall has been to save people. If He doesn’t save all, hasn’t He failed?{4}

Scripture claims both that God is just and that God is love (see Deut. 32:41 and John 4:8). It’s also clear that God administers retributive justice. This is seen in Isaiah 3:11 where God says that what the wicked “have dealt out shall be done to him.” Consider, too, God’s judgment against the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites (Deut. 20:16-17). There is no mention of restoration.

For Universalists, love is supreme; justice serves love. Why not the other way around? Why shouldn’t love serve justice? N. T. Wright asks why either love or justice ought to be seen as the highest expression of God’s nature. Perhaps, he says, both are expressions of God’s holiness.{5}

The cross work of Christ is instructive here. Our hope for salvation rests on the fact that on the cross “He who knew no sin became sin on our behalf” (2 Cor. 5:21; see also Rom. 3:25; Gal. 3:13; Heb. 10:10,12,14; Isa. 53:5). What kind of judgment fell on Christ? It was punitive, not restorative, and it was properly ours.

Still, even with all this, how can we possibly regard everlasting punishment as just? It’s important to understand that judgment isn’t merely a reflection of a sin:punishment ratio. Believing in God in the biblical sense involves both our acceptance of God in all His glory and our submission to Him whatever He may command or promise. Thus, to not believe in God in this full sense is to reject God. So when people will be punished in hell, it won’t be simply a matter of paybacks for individual sins. It will be because they rejected God.

Paul and Universalism

In addition to the appeal to the love of God, Universalists often look to the letters of Paul for support. Writes Thomas Talbott, “Unlike most conservatives, I see no way to escape the conclusion that St. Paul was an obvious Universalist.”{6}

Where does he find this in Paul’s letters? Romans 5 and 11 are key passages. In Romans 5, Paul compares the first Adam with the second Adam, Christ. In verse 18 he writes, “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” In Romans 11:32 he writes, “For God has consigned all to disobedience that he may have mercy on all.” “All” is taken quite literally to mean everyone tainted by sin.{7} What can we say in response?

Paul’s main point in Romans, with respect to the issue at hand, is that salvation is not just for Jews but for all people, and it comes through faith in Jesus. In chapters 1 through 4, Paul argues that everyone knows God exists but sins anyway and is deserving of punishment. Furthermore, the Jews had no safety net because they possessed the law; they broke the law themselves. Salvation has come through faith in Christ alone. In fact, faith has always been the basis of salvation. Paul sums up in chapter 5: through Adam everyone is tainted by sin; through Christ alone is found salvation for everyone. That he doesn’t mean every single person will necessarily be saved is clear in Romans 11:22. The Jews who will be grafted back in are those who “do not continue in their unbelief.”

Second Thessalonians 1:7-10 is an important passage for understanding Paul’s teaching on eternal punishment. There Paul says that those who do not obey the gospel “will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.” Gregory MacDonald, a Universalist, acknowledges that this is an especially problematic passage for Universalists.{8}

Jesus and Universalism

It’s often been noted that Jesus makes the strongest statements on hell in Scripture. Universalists believe they have been misunderstood.

Given that Paul clearly taught Universalism, Thomas Talbott believes, passages such as Matthew 25, where Jesus spoke of separating the sheep from the goats, must be interpreted in that light. Talbott characterizes Jesus’ prophetic teachings as “hyperbole, metaphor, and riddle . . . parable and colorful stories.”{9} He says that “Had it been Jesus’ intention to address the question of universal salvation . . . in a clear and systematic way, I’m sure he was capable of doing so.”{10} Jesus is simply teaching what would have been our fate were it not for the atonement.{11}

Did Jesus make any clear statements about the finality of judgment? I’ll mention just three passages.

In Matthew chapter 7 we read the severe warning from Jesus that in the end not everyone who claims Jesus as Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven. “I declare to them,” Jesus said, “‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’” (vv. 21-23). There is no mention of a second chance later.

In the parable of the ten virgins (Matthew 25:1-13), when those who weren’t prepared knocked on the door and asked to be let in, the bridegroom refused, saying he didn’t know them. One must be prepared or be locked out. There’s no hint of a later unlocking of the door.

In Matthew 25:46, Jesus speaks of “everlasting punishment.” “Everlasting” is the English translation of the Greek word aiōnion. Universalists argue that this word refers to an age of punishment because the root word, ai­ōn, means just that—an age with a beginning and an end. But aiōnion isn’t just a form of aiōn; it is a form of the word aiōnios which means “eternal.”

According to the standard Greek lexicon of our day, aiōnios can mean, among other things, with a beginning but without an end.{12} One example is when Jesus said He was going to prepare a place for us (Jn. 14:2,3). Paul says that this new home is “eternal in the heavens” (Romans 5:1).{13}

When Jesus speaks of punishment in Matt. 25:46 as everlasting, He means just that. Everlasting life or everlasting punishment; it’s one or the other.

Postmortem Salvation

Because obviously not everyone dies in Christ, postmortem salvation is an essential component of Universalism. There must be people saved after death.

There is no direct scriptural teaching about postmortem salvation. The closest is the much disputed passage in 1 Peter 3 where Peter speaks of Jesus making proclamation to the spirits in prison (vv. 19-20). It is not at all clear that the event spoken of in 1 Peter refers to the evangelization of all the lost after death. Theologian and New Testament scholar Wayne Grudem names five possible interpretations of this passage in an article, and says that even more are possible.{14}

Gregory MacDonald believes that Rev. 21:25, which says that the gates to the New Jerusalem will never be closed, indicates that unbelievers can exercise faith after death and come in. Verse 24 speaks of the kings of the earth entering the city along with the glory and honor of the nations. MacDonald identifies these with the kings defeated earlier with the beast (19:19). They had been enemies; now they are not.

In response, we note that “kings of the earth” is a common designation in Scripture for earthly rulers.{15} It is entirely reasonable to see John, in Revelation, as talking about one group of kings who side with the beast and another group who are part of the kingdom and who enter to bring homage to the King.

The wall around the city marks a boundary between those who may enter and those outside.{16} “Outside” doesn’t necessarily mean simply outside spatially but can also mean those not included in the circle or group.{17} Those who are able to enter the city are those whose names have been written in the Lamb’s book of life (21:27). No promise is given that a person’s name can be entered after death.

There is no clear promise in Scripture that there will be an opportunity for people to be saved after death. Are we willing to risk the eternal damnation of people by presenting the supposition that there will be?{18} Universalism is conjecture built upon a basic notion of what the love of God must mean. The case built from Scripture, however, is too fragile to sustain it.

This article barely scrapes the surface of this subject. I urge you to look at the longer article, “Universalism: A Biblical and Theological Critique,” also on Probe’s web site.


1. My comments regarding the hasty reaction to Love Wins are given in a short article on Probe’s web site titled “(Ir)Responsible Critique: The Rob Bell Affair.”

2. The longer version, titled “Universalism: A Biblical and Theological Critique,” is available on Probe’s web site.

3. Gregory MacDonald, a Universalist, states that “The love of God is very important for the Universalist. Indeed, it would not be an exaggeration to say that it is a strong belief in God’s love that often drives people towards Universalism.” Gregory MacDonald, The Evangelical Universalist (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2006), 100. Note that “Gregory MacDonald” is a pen named used by Robin A. Parry. To reduce the possibility for confusion over book titles and author names, I will refer to him as MacDonald when referencing his book The Evangelical Universalist.

4. See for example John A.T. Robinson, In the End God (New York: Harper & Row: 1968), 116.

5. N. T. Wright, “Universalism and the World-Wide Community,” Churchman 89 (1975): 197-212.

6. Thomas Talbott, “A Pauline Interpretation of Divine Judgment,” in Parry and Partridge, Universal Salvation?, 48.

7. Thomas Talbott, “Christ Victorious,” in Parry and Partridge, eds., Universal Salvation?, 18-19.

8. MacDonald, The Evangelical Universalist. 151-54.

9. Talbott, “A Pauline Interpretation of Divine Judgment,” in Robin A. Parry and Christopher H. Partridge., eds., Universal Salvation? The Current Debate (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 43.

10. Talbott, “A Pauline Interpretation,” 50-51, n. 18.

11. Ibid., 45.

12. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, eds., 2nd ed. (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press,1979), s.v. “???????”.

13. Other Scriptures that refer to our future as eternal include Luke 1:33, John 4:14, John 6:51, 58; 8:51; 10:28; 11:26; and Rev. 22:5. Another reason we know eternal life extends into the future in a temporal sense is because it is the life of the Son and he has no end (1 Jn. 5:11; cf. Jn. 1:4). We will have life everlasting because Jesus, to whom we are now connected, has life everlasting.

14. Wayne A. Grudem, “Christ Preaching Through Noah: 1 Peter 3:19-20 in the Light of Dominant Themes in Jewish Literature,” Trinity Journal 7.2 (Fall, 1986): 3-31.

15. See Matt. 17:25; Acts 4:26; Rev. 6:15; 17:2, 18; 18:3, 9.

16. Brown, ed., New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, s.v. “Wall, Hedge, Palisade,” by N. Hillyer, 3:948. Hillyer takes the wall to be symbolic, but the same meaning would apply to a literal interpretation.

17. For other Scriptures on this use of “outside” see Mk. 4:11; 1 Cor. 5:12f; Col. 4:5; 1 Thess. 4:12.

18. See Jay Wesley Richards, “A Pascalian Argument Against Universalism,” in William A. Dembski and Jay Wesley Richards, Unapologetic Apologetics: Meeting the Challenges of Theological Studies (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 217-218.

© 2012 Probe Ministries

Heresy: Nothing New Under the Sun

Kerby Anderson provides an overview of some ancient Christian heresies that are still being embraced today: legalism, gnosticism, mysticism, and marcionism.

In this article we address ancient heresies that still exist in only a slightly different form today. Jesus warned us in Matthew 13:24-25 that the “kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field.” But then there is a twist in the story.

“But while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went away. But when the wheat sprouted and bore grain, then the tares became evident also.”

download-podcastLater Jesus explained the parable. The wheat is the “people of the kingdom.” The tares are the “people of the evil one.” The illustration would make sense to people living in the first century. There was even a Roman law against sowing tares in another person’s field. Some have called it a “primitive form of bioterrorism.”

Jesus is teaching that both true Christians and false Christians will live together. They both may even go to church and seem like Christians. But the false Christians believe and spread heresy within the church and into society.

Paul also warned about false teaching and heresy. In what might have been his last epistle, he warned Timothy that: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3)

Peter also gave a warning that these false teachers will come from inside the church. “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; and in their greed they will exploit you with false words.” (2 Peter 2:1)

Notice that these heresies and false teachers will arise from among you. They will secretly introduce these heresies. And they will use greed and sensuality to seduce Christians. Jude (1:4) also adds that these false teachers “have crept in unnoticed” and “turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.”

In this article we look at heresies in the past that can be found in a slightly altered form today. Just as believers in the first century were warned about false teachers and destructive heresies, so we need to warn each other today about these heresies in the 21st century.

Ecclesiastes 1:9 reminds us that there is “nothing new under the sun.” As we will see below, that is true of these ancient heresies.


Legalism is an ancient heresy going all the way back to the first century. Paul in his letter to the Colossians (2:16-17) said, “Therefore, no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath-day things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.” He warned them about those in their midst who were taking them captive through the subtle lies of legalism.

You might notice that what is listed in these verses are not instructions on purity or righteousness. Rather they are specific Old Testament practices that were given to Israel before the coming of Christ. The Passover is a foreshadowing of Christ’s sacrifice as the Lamb of God. While the deliverance of Israel is significant, consider how much more significant is Christ’s death which provides us with deliverance from the slavery of sin and separation from God. The previous feasts and festivals are no longer necessary now that we have Christ in our lives.

Jesus addressed legalism among the Pharisees and scribes. They established all sorts of rules and regulations that were binding on all Jews. Starting with the law, they set out to compile the various oral traditions and even began to develop interpretations of these laws. In the end, they even had interpretations of the interpretations that were collected in numerous volumes.

By the time of Christ, the Pharisees and the scribes were actually following the traditions of men rather than the law of God. Jesus pointedly asked them, “Why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?” (Matthew 15:3) Jesus also condemned the Pharisees by saying, “You also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:28). Jesus therefore accused them, on numerous occasions, of being hypocrites.

Legalism is our attempt to produce righteousness apart from God. We are challenged to follow additional rules and regulations that we believe will merit favor before God. But in the end, these unbiblical rules bind us and drain the joy from our lives.

When we give people an ever expanding “to-do list” that is uncoupled from God’s power, we wear people down and ultimately drive people away from the gospel. Paul warned Timothy that in the last days there would be people “having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Timothy 3:5). He counsels him to avoid such people.


Gnosticism is an ancient heresy that surfaced in the last century, partially because of the discovery of the Gnostic Gospels. The Gnostics were prevalent in the first few centuries after the time of Christ. The word gnosis means “knowledge.” The focus was on hidden knowledge that contradicted biblical revelation.

For example, the Gnostics denied the existence of sin. Instead, they proposed that the world was corrupted by the demiurge who created it and rules over it. If they believed in sin, they would say that the only sin is ignorance.

The Gnostics taught that Jesus came not to save the world but to impart special knowledge that would lead us to what they called a “divine pleroma.” If you were fortunately to find this knowledge, then you would achieve salvation.

In the first centuries, the Gnostics presented themselves as Christians and worked to popularize their ideas among the growing church of believers. They also produced their own texts (Gospel of Mary, Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Judas).

Iraenaeus was a church father who wrote a critique of Gnosticism in AD 180. He explained that the Gnostics used the Bible alongside their own texts to demonstrate their “perverse interpretations” and “deceitful expositions.” They also reinterpreted parables and allegories from the Old Testament in a fraudulent manner.

Nevertheless, Gnosticism appealed to many Christians in the first centuries because it had many elements that were very similar to Christianity. They believed in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They quoted from the Bible. They practiced some of the sacraments.

Many of these same heretical ideas appeal to Christians today. Leaders of progressive Christianity argue that they have a more mature view of God and the Bible. These leaders believe they have special knowledge that allows them to set aside the standard interpretations of biblical passages. One evangelical pastor said: “The church will continue to be even more irrelevant when it quotes letters from 2,000 years ago as their best defense.”{1}

The Gnostics and modern heretics claim sources of knowledge outside the Bible. They say we know so much more now that the early Christians. C.S. Lewis refers to this as “chronological snobbery.” They assume they know better than any believer in the past.

Today, we have people claiming to know what the Bible really means and invite you to join them as they impart their “special knowledge” to you. More than ever we should be alert to such leaders who will ultimately lead us away from the true Gospel.


Mysticism is another ancient heresy that we still see today. When Paul wrote to the Colossians (2:18-19), he warned them about false teachers who would attempt to seduce them into mystical ideas: “Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God.”

The word mysticism comes from the Greek word (mystes) for the mystery religions that existed at the time Paul was writing to these Christians. He is describing someone who is “taking his stand on visions he has seen.” In other words, this is a person who has had some vision and is mixing that vision with the revelation of Scripture.

At the time Paul was writing to a church that was a mixture of Jews and Gentiles. Many were young Christians and may have brought their pagan ideas into the church. This would include the idea that you receive spiritual revelations by entering into an ecstatic state. These Christians also lived in a culture where many claimed they were receiving visions from the gods. If these young Christians did not have discernment, they might actually believe that someone who has these visions was spiritually superior to them.

Mysticism has been a major area of cultural captivity both in church history and even in our present day. We see in Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth, that believers were confused about speaking in tongues and other spiritual manifestations. Some of the believers were essentially “babes in Christ” who could not handle the solid food of God’s word. He reminded them that when they were pagans, they had been led astray (1 Corinthians 12:1-3). Because of their previous exposure to paganism, they were vulnerable to false doctrine.

Throughout church history, certain churches and denominations have brought mystical rituals and practices into their worship experience. They may take the form of chants, icons, or prescribed practices not found in Scripture but part of a tradition that borrows heavily from mystical ideas. And many of these practices are found today not only in North American churches but in churches in other parts of the world.

Mysticism is quite prevalent outside of the church and can have a strong cultural influence on Christians. Many of the books on the best-seller lists over the last few decades dealing with spirituality are not books that promote biblical Christianity but rather books that promote an Eastern philosophy of religion or the New Age Movement.


Marcionism was taught by a theologian named Marcion in the second century. Although some of his ideas parallel Gnosticism, he made a distinction between the God of the Old Testament and the teachings of Jesus in the New Testament. He taught that the benevolent God of the gospels who sent Jesus was inconsistent with the mean, vindictive, malevolent God of the Old Testament. Hence, he concluded they were two different deities.

He also considered himself a follower of Paul, who he preached was the only true apostle of Jesus Christ. In fact, he even created his own “Scriptures” that included ten of Paul’s epistles and the Gospel of Marcion (which was a shorter version and highly edited version of the Gospel of Luke). He emphasized Paul because he felt he freed Christianity from the Jewish Scriptures.

He also rejected most of the orthodox teachings of Christianity. For example, he rejected the ideas of God’s wrath and rejected the ideas of hell and judgment. Those ideas, according to him, were tied to the God of the Old Testament, whom he called the Demiurge. That God was merely a jealous tribal deity of the Jews and represented a legalistic view of justice.

A similar idea exists even today. For example, one evangelical theologian said this: “The Bible is an ancient book and we shouldn’t be surprised to see it act like one. So seeing God portrayed as a violent, tribal warrior is not how God is but how he was understood to be by the ancient Israelites community with god in their time and place.”{2}

We might add that an increasing number of pastors and Christians no longer want to talk about God’s wrath and refuse to teach what the Bible does say about hell and judgment. Books and articles are being written denying the existence of hell. Instead, they teach universal salvation for all.

Jesus talked more about hell than he talked about heaven. In Luke 16 he describes it as a great chasm that does not allow people to cross to the other side. In Matthew 25 he predicts a future in which people will be separated into two groups. One will enter heaven. The others will be banished to “eternal fire.”

We live in a world where heresy, false teaching, and a false gospel are proliferating. That is why we need to develop biblical discernment. Paul said he was amazed that some of the early Christians adopted “a different gospel” which he said was a distorted gospel of Christ. He added, “If we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed” (Galatians 1:6-8).

These ancient heresies are being preached today. We need to return to the essential gospel and sound biblical teaching.


1. “Rob Bell Suggests Bible Not Relevant to Today’s Culture | CBN News,” accessed 2/5/2023.
2. Peter Enns, The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It (NY: Harper One, 2014).

©2023 Probe Ministries

Body and Soul in the New Testament

Dr. Michael Gleghorn draws on John Cooper’s book Body, Soul and Life Everlasting to provide an overview of what the NT teaches about the body-soul connection.

The Teaching of Jesus

What does the New Testament teach about the nature and destiny of human beings? In a previous article, I discussed what the Old Testament has to say about these issues, giving special attention to the human body and soul. In this article, we’ll consider what the New Testament has to say.

download-podcastAbout 400 years separate the end of the Old Testament from the beginning of the New. During this so-called “intertestamental” period, Jewish biblical scholars, like the Pharisees, continued to teach and write about what God had revealed in the Hebrew Scriptures. According to John Cooper, the Pharisees taught that when a person dies, the soul leaves the body to continue its existence “in an intermediate state, already enjoying or lamenting the anticipated consequences of God’s judgment.”{1} Interestingly, both Jesus and the Apostle Paul also seem to have held this view.{2}

Consider, for example, some of the last words spoken by Jesus just prior to His death on the cross. You may remember that Jesus was crucified between two criminals. While one of these men railed against Jesus, the other (aware of his guilt), asked Jesus to “remember” him when He came into His kingdom (Luke 23:39-42). Jesus responded by promising this man that he would join Him “in Paradise” that very day (v. 43). Paradise, in the Jewish thinking of the time, was understood to be a pleasant and refreshing place where the souls of the righteous continue their existence between the death and resurrection of the body.{3}

The body, in other words, may die, but the soul, or person, continues to exist apart from their body. Although this criminal had only hours left to live, his elementary confession of faith in Jesus resulted in Jesus promising him that they would be together in Paradise that very day! This ought to encourage all of us who have put our hope in Christ for salvation. Our bodies may wear out and die. But when they do, we shall go to be with Christ, awaiting the resurrection of our bodies while enjoying the presence of the Lord!

But what about the other criminal, the one who mocked and insulted Jesus? Although we’re not told what happened to him, we know from elsewhere in Scripture that the souls of the unrepentant also continue to exist after the death of the body. In the next section we’ll take a closer look at the fate of the righteous and unrighteous dead.

The Rich Man and Lazarus

What happens to us when we die? Do we continue to exist in some sense? Jesus’ story of the rich man and Lazarus appears to offer some answers to these questions (see Luke 16:19-31). The story concerns a rich man, who lacks for nothing, and a poor beggar, named Lazarus, who is laid at the rich man’s gate (v. 20). The story implies that the rich man could have helped Lazarus, but never did so.

Eventually, both men died. Lazarus is said to be “carried by the angels to Abraham’s side” (v. 22). Essentially, he is depicted as being with the Jewish patriarch Abraham in Paradise. Paradise, you’ll remember, was considered a place of rest and refreshment for the righteous dead. By contrast, the rich man, his body having been buried, finds himself in “torment” in Hades (vv. 22-23). Seeing both Abraham and Lazarus at a great distance, he pleads with them for help. Abraham, however, tells him that this just isn’t possible (vv. 24-31).

What might this story teach us about the nature and destiny of human beings? Though we should perhaps be careful about reading the story too literally, it seems to teach that we will each continue to exist (in some sense) even after the death of our body. Moreover, this existence will be experienced as either joyful or sorrowful, depending on our relationship with God. Although the story seems to depict the rich man and Lazarus as if they still have bodies of some sort, John Cooper offers several reasons for believing that the story is using figurative language to describe a time in which these men exist apart from their bodies.{4} This would be the period between the death and resurrection of the body. What are some of the reasons that Cooper offers for this view?

First, at the time Jesus tells this story, He regarded the resurrection as a still future event (see Luke 20:34-36). It is thus unlikely that the story here concerns some sort of literal bodily existence. Second, the story locates the rich man in “Hades”—and this term appears only to be used of the intermediate state, between the death and resurrection of the body.{5} The story thus appears to depict the rich man and Lazarus as consciously existing persons between the death and resurrection of their bodies. And if this is so, then we are more than just our bodies (as we’ll see more fully in the next section).

Paul’s Heavenly Vision

Do you view yourself as more than just your body? Might you also have a soul? We’ve previously considered evidence for the human soul in the teachings of Jesus. In this section, we’ll consider further evidence from the writings of the Apostle Paul. In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul recounts an extraordinary experience which he had fourteen years earlier (see 2 Corinthians 12:1-4, 7). He describes being “caught up . . . into paradise” and hearing “things that cannot be told, which man may not utter” (vv. 2-4).

For our purposes, the most important element of this experience concerns a peculiar detail mentioned twice by the apostle. According to Paul, he was unsure whether he had this experience while “in the body or out of the body” (vv. 2-3). That is, Paul was unsure whether he had been “caught up into Paradise” (v. 3) in his body, or out of it. But why is this important? Because it shows that Paul regarded the “out of body” option as a genuine possibility.{6}

You see, many scholars have argued that Paul did not believe in any sort of conscious existence apart from the body. The great New Testament scholar F. F. Bruce claimed that Paul “could not conceive” of a situation in which he might exist and have experiences apart from his body.{7} Now you might be thinking, “Well wait just a minute. Didn’t you say that Paul was unsure whether this experience had occurred while in the body or out of it? Maybe he remained in his body and the experience was just a vision of Paradise, occurring while he was in some sort of trance-like state on earth.”{8}

Yes, you’re right. That is possible (although it doesn’t seem consistent with what Paul actually says).{9} And here’s the thing: the very fact that Paul was unsure whether this experience occurred while he was in (or out of) his body, tells us that he regarded the “out of body” explanation as a genuine possibility. And if this is so, then contrary to what some scholars have said, Paul most certainly could conceive of conscious existence apart from his body. Indeed, he thought he may have had just such an experience himself.

But we can take this argument further. For as we’ll see in the next section, Paul (like the Pharisees and Jesus), seemed to think that we’ll continue to exist and have experiences between the death and resurrection of our bodies.

Our Heavenly Dwelling

When I was a child, our family would occasionally go camping. Although we usually went in a camper, with air-conditioning and beds, I’ve also spent a few nights camping out in a tent. Most of us have probably had such an experience (though whether we enjoyed it or not is another matter). A tent is basically a portable structure that provides a temporary place to stay while we’re away from our permanent home.

In 2 Corinthians 5 the Apostle Paul has a fascinating discussion that touches on some of these issues (see vv. 1-10). The discussion is challenging, but if we consider it step by step, I think we can get a handle on what the apostle is saying. He begins, “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (v. 1).

When Paul writes of “the tent that is our earthly home,” he is referring to our physical bodies here and now. If our body is “destroyed,” and we die physically, “we have,” says Paul, “a building from God . . . eternal in the heavens” awaiting us. According to John Cooper, this “building” can plausibly refer to one of two things.{10} It might refer to our future resurrection body. However, it may also refer simply to “being ‘with Christ’.” If the second option is meant, then Paul is speaking about going to be “with Christ” at the time of death, in which we are (as he later puts it), “at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8; see also Philippians 1:23).

Paul characterizes our present “earthly” state as one of groaning, “longing to put on our heavenly dwelling” that “we may not be found naked” (1 Corinthians 5:2-3). Although these verses are difficult to interpret, it is probable that “nakedness” refers to temporarily existing without a body when we die. If so, then Paul is saying that when we die, we go immediately to be “with Christ.” There we are “at home with the Lord,” awaiting that day in which we will “put on our heavenly dwelling” (v. 2). This likely refers to our resurrection body. At the time of the resurrection, our souls will be united with a glorious new body, so that we might eternally enjoy life with Christ ad fellow believers in the new heaven and new earth. We will consider these issues more fully in the next section.

The Resurrection of the Body

The Bible envisions a future time in which all who have died will be raised from the dead into some sort of physical, bodily existence. The New Testament writers refer to this as “the resurrection of the dead” and it will include both believers and unbelievers. Hence Jesus, referring to His own unique role in executing divine judgment, claims that “an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear His voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment” (John 5:28-29). Although evidence elsewhere in the New Testament suggests that different groups of people may be raised at different times, the key point here is that this event has not yet taken place. It’s still in the future.

Paul says much the same thing in several of his letters. To cite just one example, he tells the Philippians that “we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables Him even to subject all things to Himself” (Philippians 3:20-21). Elsewhere Paul tells us that our resurrection bodies will be “imperishable,” “powerful,” and glorious (1 Corinthians 15:42-43). It’s incredibly exciting to contemplate the fact that the Lord intends to give his people marvelous new bodies, patterned after his own resurrection body, so that we might enjoy eternal life with him forever. When that day dawns, our joy will truly be complete!

So how might we attempt to summarize our discussion in this article? First, both Jesus and Paul seem to have taught that human beings are (in some sense) composed of both a body and a soul. John Cooper describes the relationship of soul and body as one of “functional holism.” Our body and soul function as a thoroughly integrated whole during our present earthly lives. But when our body dies, our soul continues to exist, awaiting the resurrection of our body at some future time.{11}

On that day, our soul will be united with our resurrection body, either to enjoy eternal life with Jesus, or face eternal judgment in hell. This, it seems to me, is what the New Testament has to say about the nature and destiny of humanity. In Christ we are offered a sure and steadfast hope for both our soul—and our body!

1. John W. Cooper, Body, Soul & Life Everlasting: Biblical Anthropology and the Monism-Dualism Debate (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000), Kindle Loc. 1208.
2. J. P. Moreland, The Soul: How We Know It’s Real and Why It Matters (Chicago: Moody, 2014), 55, Kindle.
3. This becomes a bit complicated. John Cooper points out that Jewish thinking about the afterlife continued its development during the intertestamental period. While some Rabbis conceived of “Paradise” as a special place for the righteous dead within Sheol, others began to think of Paradise as outside Sheol altogether. Regardless of such differences, however, Cooper reminds us that “Paradise” was understood as the place “where the blessed dwell with the Lord” (see Cooper, Body, Soul & Life Everlasting, Kindle Loc. 1175-1200).
4. Cooper, Body, Soul & Life Everlasting, Kindle Loc. 1605; see also Loc. 1592-1607.
5. Again, see Cooper’s discussion in Body, Soul & Life Everlasting, Kindle Loc. 1592-1607.
6. Cooper makes this point emphatically in Body, Soul & Life Everlasting, Kindle Loc. 1880-86.
7. F. F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977), 313; cited in John Cooper, Body, Soul & Life Everlasting, Kindle Loc. 1840.
8. This possibility is also mentioned in Cooper, Body, Soul & Life Everlasting, Kindle Loc. 1871.
9. Again, see Cooper, Body, Soul & Life Everlasting, Kindle Loc. 1872.
10. See Cooper, Body, Soul & Life Everlasting, Kindle Loc. 1837.
11. See Cooper’s discussion in Body, Soul & Life Everlasting, Kindle Loc. 699-712.

©2023 Probe Ministries

The Best of All Possible Worlds?

T.S. Weaver makes a case for 18th-century philosopher Leibniz’s contention that this fallen world is still the best of all possible worlds.

This world is just as embedded with pain and suffering as it is with beauty and joy. Can this world possibly be the best of all possible worlds?

18th-century philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz contended that it is.

In his book Theodicy (published in 1710{1}), he makes the very distinctive defense for the existence of God in view of the problem of evil.{2} (“Theodicy,” combining the Greek words for God and justice, is the theological term for addressing the problem of how a good and just God can allow evil in His creation.)

One of the strengths of Leibniz’s theodicy is how straightforward and precise it is. It is also traditionally recognized as one of his highly essential contributions to philosophy of religion. The place to start is God’s omniscience (not evil). This allows God to understand all possibilities. {3} If God knows all possibilities, God knows all possible worlds. God is likewise completely good and so constantly aspires the best and continuously performs in the best way. Leibniz writes, “The first principle of existences is the following proposition: God wants to choose the most perfect.” {4} The power of the best-of-all possible-worlds theodicy is to show God’s decision to generate this world out of every world that he could have produced, for this creation is good.{5}

Leibniz ties in several principles to the theodicy. The first major principle is centered on the truth that God acts for worthy causes. Again, God’s omniscience presumes God understands the value of every world possible prior to deciding which one to produce. This also implies God always decides on the base of sensible, stable rationales. This is called the “principle of sufficient reason.”{6} Leibniz purports,

Now this supreme wisdom, united to a goodness that is no less infinite, cannot but have chosen the best. For a lesser evil is a kind of good, even so a lesser good is a kind of evil if it stands in the way of a great good; and there would be something to correct in the actions (so, the omnipotence) of God if it were possible to do better.{7}

To believe God can intercede in what He has formed with sufficient reason, even to avoid or restrict evil, would be akin to a soldier who abandons his post during a war to stop a colleague from perpetrating a slight violation.{8} In other words, when we sometimes think God should have restricted a certain evil, the argument is that He could actually be guarding against a greater evil we are unaware of instead.

Leibniz does not leave the principle of sufficient reason to fend for itself. Instead, he reinforces the best-of-all-possible-worlds theodicy with the principle of “pre-established harmony.” He describes it this way: “For, if we were capable of understanding the universal harmony, we should see that what we are tempted to find fault with is connected to the plan most worthy of being chosen; in a word we should see, and should not believe only, that what God has done is the best.” {9} In other words, God performs corresponding to divine perfection and liberty, decides to produce, commands creation corresponding to this nature, and then can choose a world that includes evil. Living in the best of all possible worlds entails the world comprising the best goods out of any, with the greatest harmony. Jill Graper Hernandez states, “The mere existence of humans in creation requires that humans may choose certain evil acts, and this is harmonious with God’s perfection of intellect and will.”{10}

This hints at the one last, ethical, principle of Leibniz’s best-of-all-possible-worlds theodicy: God’s creation includes human free will. For Leibniz, human freedom is vital to grasp how God’s permission of evil is coherent with divine flawlessness and to grasp how God avoids ethical condemnation for letting evil into the best possible world.

Free or intelligent substances possess something greater and more marvelous, in a kind of imitation of God. For they are not bound by any certain subordinate laws of the universe, but act by a private miracle as it were, on the sole initiative of their own power.{11}

A better world is created, if human beings are infused with free will, even if they decide to behave corruptly. While free will can ensue in evil (the risk), for humans to have the capability to be ethically good, or to build virtues, or to develop spiritually, free will is necessary. Human ethical integrity hangs on our capability to freely choose the good. His generosity makes freedom conceivable and makes it possible for His creation to pursue Him. By wanting the best, God gives the prospect some creatures will decide to behave corruptly.

Yet, since its publication over three hundred years ago, Leibniz’s theodicy has had enduring condemnation. Two of the most troubling are about the existence of “natural evil” (suffering from catastrophes in nature) and whether God could have formed a world with less powerful evils and less free will. The first is insidious because in most cases, seemingly only God could avoid natural catastrophes and the suffering that comes from them. Yet I think Leibniz would argue, given the understanding of his theodicy, we must trust that God has given us the best despite natural evils.

The second critique is obvious on its face to nearly everyone. One cannot help but wonder if this world is the best there could be, and if this is the best God could do. It appears there might be cases in which God should intercede to avoid suffering from atrocious evil, for example the Holocaust. As difficult as it is to accept, this critique interferes with the coherence of the principle of free will. This thinking does not declare we cannot imagine a world in which there is no Holocaust, or no evil at all. Even Leibniz concedes that point, but he argues, “It is true that one may imagine possible worlds without sin and without unhappiness, and one could make some like Utopian romances: but these same worlds again would be very inferior to ours in goodness.”{12}

In summary, our world is the consequence of the merging of God’s flawlessness and liberty, though the world includes flaws. Although this established world is not flawless, it is the best possible, and so it would be unfeasible for God to build a better world or to intercede in the world to avoid or restrict pain. A great God would produce only the best. Because this is the world God formed, this is the best. This theodicy has stayed philosophically persuasive for several reasons, starting with its genuine logical and practical influence. The theodicy protects theistic flawlessness despite evil in the world because the problem of evil does not prove the theist keeps conflicting ideas that God is omniscient, omnibenevolent and omnipotent and makes a world where his creatures morally fall. Additionally, Leibniz’s theodicy protects free will, which is crucial for theists who think love and worship are needed to have freedom. This too is important for Leibniz to show God cannot be ethically responsible when people choose what is evil. Also, we understand the best of all possible worlds involves the ultimate extermination of sin and suffering (achieved through Christ’s earthly work in the past and in His return and rule in the future).

Leibniz’s theodicy proves the steadiness of God forever selecting the best with this world really being the best of all possible worlds, whilst meeting the atheist’s challenge that a great God must be kept ethically accountable for the existence of evil. I argue the theodicy is helpful to inspire individuals to love God, to take solace from His divine providence and to urge them to use their free will to choose to pursue God. Leibniz magnifies this point:

Whether one succeeds or not in this task, one is content with what comes to pass, being resigned to the will of God and knowing what he wills is best. When we are in this benevolent state of mind, we are not disheartened by failure, we regret only our faults, and the ungrateful way of men causes no relaxation in the exercise of our kindly disposition.{13}

Taking all this into account, we can trust God is giving us His very best with this world, and in our individual existential lives, even when we can imagine better circumstances or outcomes. This ought to give us a sense of peace and gratitude knowing our Heavenly Father is not giving us the short end of the stick in any way. He loves us and cares for us. And that free will He gave us—if we are not using it to worship Him, we need to reconsider what we’re using it for.

1. This was the first book-length philosophical consideration of this problem.
2. Jill Graper Hernandez, God and Evil: The Case for God in a World Filled with Pain, ed. Chad Meister, James K. Dew Jr. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2013), 95.
3. Each possibility is a new sphere, or world, of possibility that varies from the world we presently occupy. A possible world comprises an extensive idea of God’s intelligence that completely explains what could have happened if that world was generated (Jeffrey K. McDonough, “Leibniz: Creation and Conservation and Concurrence,” Leibniz Review [2007], 33).
4. G.W. Leibniz, “On Freedom and Spontaneity,” Academy ed., VI 4-b, 1454 in The Shorter Leibniz Texts, ed. Lloyd Strickland (New York: Continuum, 2006)
5. God describes everything He created as “good.” See Genesis 1.
6. Hernandez, 100.
7. G.W. Leibniz, Theodicy, ed. Austin Farrer, trans. E.M. Huggard (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1952), II. 8.
8. Causa Dei, in Leibniz: Monadology and Other Philosophical Essays, ed. and trans. Paul Schrecker and Anne Martin Schrecker (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1965).
9. Leibniz, Theodiy, ed. Austin Farrer, trans. E.M. Huggard (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1952), I. 44.
10. Hernandez, 101.
11. On Necessity and Contingency, in Samtliche schriften und breife, ser. VI, vol. 4 (Halle, Germany: Deutsche Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1923), pp. 1449-50; “Philosophical Writings”), ed. G.H.R. Parkinson, trans. M. Morris (London: Rowman & Littlefield, 1991), 100.
12. Leibniz, preface.
13. Ibid.


Causa Dei, in Leibniz: Monadology and Other Philosophical Essays. Edited and translated by Paul Schrecker and Anne Martin Schrecker. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1965.

Hernandez, Jill Graper. God and Evil: The Case for God in a World Filled with Pain. Edited by Chad Meister and James K. Dew Jr. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2013.

Jolley, Nicholas. Leibniz. New York: Routledge, 2005.

Leibniz, G.W. Theodicy. Edited by Austin Farrer. Translated by E.M. Huggard. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1952.

Leibniz, G.W. “On Freedom and Spontaneity.” Academy Edition VI 4-b. 1454 in The Shorter Leibniz Texts. Edited by Lloyd Strickland. New York: Continuum, 2006.

McDonough, Jeffrey K. “Leibniz: Creation and Conservation and Concurrence.” Leibniz Review. 2007.

On Necessity and Contingency. In Samtliche schriften und breife. Series VI, Volume 4. Halle, Germany: Deutsche Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1923. Pages 1449-50. “Philosophical Writings.” Edited by G.H.R. Parkinson. Translated by M. Morris. London: Rowman & Littlefield, 1991.

The Bible: New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011.

©2022 Probe Ministries

Tradition and Scripture

While many evangelical Christians treat tradition with suspicion if not hostility, Dr. Michael Gleghorn makes a case for the value of tradition in understanding and supporting our faith.

Understanding Tradition

In this article we’ll be thinking about tradition and its relationship to Scripture. Now I realize that some of you may already be asking, “Tradition! Can anything good come from there?” The answer of course is “yes”—for if it were not, then I wouldn’t bother writing about it. Indeed, it’s actually an important topic to address, for in our day many evangelicals seem to harbor an attitude of suspicion—if not outright hostility—toward the very notion of tradition.{1} In support of this attitude, some might point to what Jesus said to the religious leaders of his day: “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions” (Mark 7:9 NIV). And if this is what Jesus said, then aren’t we better off to simply dismiss tradition and focus solely on the teaching of Scripture?

Download the PodcastBefore we jump to that conclusion, we must first determine what we mean when we use the word “tradition.” After all, in other passages Scripture speaks very favorably of tradition. Paul told the Corinthians, “Now I praise you because you . . . hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you” (1 Cor. 11:2 NASB). Traditions, it seems, can sometimes be good—and sometimes bad. And this is true even of the Christian tradition. But in order to talk intelligently about our subject, we must first understand precisely what we’re talking about. What, then, is the meaning of “tradition”?

When theologians speak about the Christian tradition, they are typically referring to the ways in which the faith has been understood by previous generations of Christians. For example, what understanding did our Christian forbears have of worship and theology, and how did they express their understanding through creeds, confessions, sermons, and books? Stanley Grenz and John Franke describe the Christian tradition “as the history of the interpretation and application of canonical scripture by the Christian community, the church, as it listens to the voice of the Spirit speaking through the text.”{2} And Richard Lints describes it as “the faith transmitted by the community of interpreters that has preceded us.”{3}

Defined in this way, we must candidly admit that the Christian faith has been understood somewhat differently from one time and place to another. How are we to think about such differences? Should they always be viewed negatively, as a corruption of the original faith deposit? Or might they sometimes be seen as a positive and healthy development of this deposit?

Tradition: A Metaphor

In a fascinating discussion of these issues, Colin Gunton asks us to think of tradition as an organism.{4} He notes that just as a child or plant may grow larger and stronger over time, so too the content of Christian doctrine can become more elaborate and enriched with the passage of time. He then observes, “If revelation is something given in the beginning—as undoubtedly one dimension of it is, the faith once for all delivered to the saints—then it may be argued that through tradition what began as a seed or a seedling is enabled to expand without falsifying its beginnings.”{5} This comment helps us see the interconnectedness of tradition and revelation—an issue which we will return to later.

For now, it’s important to notice what this metaphor does for us. It enables us to see tradition, like the growth of a child or a plant, as something natural and healthy—indeed, something to be hoped for, encouraged, and expected. This is an important reminder for those of us who might be tempted to view tradition solely in negative terms.

At the same time, however, Gunton is aware that things can always go wrong. He writes, “The organism might become diseased, and require surgery; or it might simply grow too many branches, or branches in the wrong places, and require pruning.”{6} In this case, instead of the tradition developing in a natural and healthy way from the original revelation, it develops in an unnatural and unhealthy way. We might identify this latter situation with the unpleasant possibility of heresy—something which needs to be corrected or even surgically removed so that the organism doesn’t die or mutate into a completely different, unrelated life-form. If that were to happen, then while we might still have tradition of a sort, it could no longer be properly thought of as Christian tradition.{7} It will be helpful for us to keep this metaphor in mind as we continue to reflect on the role of tradition and its relationship to Scripture, particularly because we must now deal with a problem that this discussion inevitably raises.

Scripture and Tradition: A Problem

Stanley Grenz and John Franke view tradition as a “source or resource” of the Christian church, which can aid in the church’s task of both theological construction and lived performance.{8} Some of the specific elements of the Christian tradition which they see as especially valuable in informing how we accomplish these tasks are the histories of worship, liturgy, and theology, as well as the “classic” theological formulations of the church, such as creeds and confessions. Of course, they are careful to point out that while these resources are extremely valuable, they “must always and continually be tested by the norm of canonical scripture.”{9}

In a similar way, Richard Lints describes the “goal of theology” as bringing “the biblical revelation into a position of judgment on all of life,” including tradition.{10} But this raises a bit of a problem, for in order to bring tradition under the authority of Scripture, Scripture must first be interpreted. And many scholars maintain that the Christian tradition primarily consists of the scriptural interpretation and application of faith communities from the past. Indeed, this is basically how Lints himself defines the term. “In the discussion that follows,” he says, “tradition will signify the faith transmitted by the community of interpreters that has preceded us.”{11}

Moreover, Lints rightly believes that we neglect this tradition at our peril. For in banishing past interpretations of Scripture from our present consideration in doing theology, we can easily become ensnared “in a web of subjectivism” regarding our own interpretation of the Bible.{12} And this would be an incalculable loss to the church in her ongoing task of preaching and teaching the Bible. The fact of the matter is that these past interpretations are a necessary aid, both in revealing our own biases and blind spots, and in helping us avoid “what C. S. Lewis aptly called ‘chronological snobbery’—the conceit that we are necessarily wiser than our forbears.”{13}

But this leads to the following problem: If Scripture is to be brought into a position of judgment over all of life (including the Christian tradition), it must first be properly interpreted. But it would be irresponsible to engage in this interpretative task without the aid of the very tradition of past interpretation over which Scripture is to sit in judgment. How can this difficulty be resolved? Does Scripture occupy a place of authority over tradition, or does tradition rather occupy a place of authority over Scripture?

Scripture and Tradition: A Solution

Before we attempt to respond to this question, we should first take time to remember just how it was that Scripture came into being in the first place. As Grenz and Franke remind us,

[T]he community precedes the production of the scriptural texts and is responsible for their content and for the identification of particular texts for inclusion in an authoritative canon to which it has chosen to make itself accountable. Apart from the Christian community, the texts would not have taken their particular and distinctive shape. Apart from the authority of the Christian community, there would be no canon of authorized texts. In short, apart from the Christian community the Christian Bible would not exist.{14}

It might now be interesting to ask what the Christian community and the Christian Bible have in common. According to Grenz and Franke, it is the work of the Holy Spirit—a work that grants to each one its respective authority. They write,

In this conception, the authority of both scripture and tradition is ultimately an authority derived from the work of the Spirit. Each is part of an organic unity, so that even though scripture and tradition are distinguishable, they are fundamentally inseparable. . . . The authority of each—tradition as well as scripture—is contingent on the work of the Spirit, and both scripture and tradition are fundamental components within an interrelated web of beliefs that constitutes the Christian faith. To misconstrue the shape of this relationship by setting scripture over against tradition or by elevating tradition above scripture is to fail to comprehend properly the work of the Spirit.{15}

Does this mean, then, that there is no sense in which all of life (including tradition) should be brought under the judgment of Scripture? This does not seem to be what Grenz and Franke are saying. Although they do contend that the triune God “is disclosed in polyphonic fashion through scripture, the church, and even the world,” they then qualify this by noting, “albeit always normatively through scripture.”{16} In their view, Scripture is still theology’s “norming norm,” but since Scripture must always be interpreted, it cannot be easily separated from tradition. Scripture still holds the place of prominence in doing theology, but in a carefully nuanced and qualified way that gives appropriate weight to God’s other mediums of revelation, such as tradition, creation, and the church.

Tradition in Scripture and Theology

In one of his 1993 Warfield Lectures, the late Colin Gunton observed that two of the narrative sections in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians contain possibly the most easily recognizable accounts of “the working of tradition in the New Testament.”{17} In both 1 Corinthians 11, where Paul discusses the Lord’s Supper, and 1 Corinthians 15, where he refers to Jesus’ death and resurrection as the heart of the gospel, Paul specifically declares that he is delivering to the Corinthians certain traditions about Jesus which he himself had previously received. In other words, the biblical writings themselves are seen to be “part of a tradition of interpretation of that which is in certain respects prior to them.”{18}

The unique revelation of God in the person of Jesus Christ is prior to the traditions about Him which Paul had received. And the traditions which Paul had received, including the meaning given them by the early church and Paul himself, are also prior to his deliverance of them to the Corinthians (as well as those of us who have subsequently read this letter). Tradition, it seems, cannot always be so easily separated from the Bible itself.

Of course, very few Christians would disagree that traditions like those passed on by the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians are “authoritative for the faith and life of the church.”{19} The problem rather arises with how the original revelation “is interpreted and handed on by those who follow the . . . apostles: the way in which revelation is mediated by tradition.”{20} How should we understand this relationship?

For one thing, we should probably grant a certain degree of freedom, in response to the Spirit’s guidance, to the way in which the tradition is articulated in different cultural and historical contexts. This allows the tradition to grow in a healthy way which, at the same time, is still amenable to correction when necessary. Granted, we are speaking of the development of tradition in something like an ideal setting, and the world in which we now live is certainly not ideal. But if tradition is one of the means which God has chosen for mediating revelation from one generation to another, then for better or worse, it will (and should) continue to play an important role in the life of the church. As Gunton wisely concludes, “although we may and must be critical of tradition, as the action of fallible and sinful human beings, we may not lay aside the means which God has himself chosen.”{21}


1. Stanley J. Grenz and John R. Franke, Beyond Foundationalism: Shaping Theology in a Postmodern Context (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), 109.
2. Ibid., 118.
3. Richard Lints, The Fabric of Theology: A Prolegomenon to Evangelical Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1993), 84.
4. Colin E. Gunton, A Brief Theology of Revelation (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1995), 85-87.
5. Ibid., 85.
6. Ibid., 86.
7. Ibid., 87.
8. Grenz and Franke, Beyond Foundationalism, 120-29.
9. Ibid., 124.
10. Lints, The Fabric of Theology, 82.
11. Ibid., 84.
12. Ibid., 93.
13. Ibid., 96.
14. Grenz and Franke, Beyond Foundationalism, 115.
15. Ibid., 117.
16. Ibid., 117-18.
17. Gunton, A Brief Theology of Revelation, 93.
18. Ibid., 95.
19. Ibid.
20. Ibid.
21. Ibid., 102-03.

© 2008 Probe Ministries

What Difference Does the Resurrection Make?

Sue Bohlin suggests four ways the resurrection of Jesus can make a difference in the lives of believers today.

What difference does the resurrection make—in our lives? It’s the most important event in all of human history. Where’s the “so what” for today?

I meditated on this question for weeks, eventually creating a list too long for this blog post. So let me share my favorites.

All pain and suffering will be redeemed and resolved.

I’ve lived in a body with a disability since I got polio at eight months old and was paralyzed from the waist down. I got some use of my left leg and hip back, but I had to wear a steel and leather brace for the first several years of my life. Every step I’ve taken, I have limped. I had several orthopedic surgeries and 14 years of physical therapy.

We used to sing a song in church that made me cry Every. Single. Time.

You Hold Me Now {1}
For eternity
All my heart will give
All the glory to Your Name

No weeping, no hurt or pain
No suffering
You hold me now
You hold me now

No darkness, no sick or lame
No hiding, You hold me now
You hold me now

The first time I walk without a limp will be in my resurrected body, in heaven where there will be no polio, no weakness, no limping. There will be no scooters in heaven. No wheelchairs. No walkers.

No insulin pumps.
No percussion vests for cystic fibrosis.
No cochlear implants for the deaf.
No braille books or signs for the blind.
No dentures or dental implants.
No prosthetics.

All the technology and tools we have developed to help people deal with life in a fallen, broken world will be obsolete and never needed again. The fallen, broken world will be resurrected too! Full of glory and beauty and strength and perfection.

What difference does the resurrection make? It affects how I live through times of pain and suffering. I know I can bear it if there is a purpose and God is going to make everything right.

The resurrection means all pain and suffering is temporary, and there is meaning to it.

The resurrection means God sustains me through the difficult times because He is doing a beautiful thing in me that I will only be able to see and appreciate in my resurrection body.

A second difference the resurrection makes is that heaven is real, so we don’t have to fear death.

The resurrection means that if we are believers, if we have trusted in Christ, when we cross over from life on earth to life in heaven, we will be with Jesus and with all the people, starting with Adam and Eve, who put their trust in Him.

It means we can look forward to being reunited with our loved ones who have died.

I’m looking forward to seeing my daughter Becky again. She’s been with Jesus 42 years. I’m looking forward to being there when our sons Curt and Kevin meet their sister, who was born and died before they came along. I’m looking forward to seeing my mom and dad, my grandparents and other family members, including my wonderful cousin George who just moved to heaven last week.

We can look forward to meeting super distant family members and even people we heard about but never met, like the apostles and Saint Augustine and Corrie Ten Boom and Billy Graham.

And since heaven is real, it means we don’t have to fear death.

When we put our trust in Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, death is merely a doorway into the next life. We leave our bodies and step across the threshold of heaven to be with Jesus.

There are so many stories of what a difference the resurrection makes in the life of a believer as they face death!

Recently I posted a question on Facebook asking friends to share dying stories of heaven-bound believers. I got so many delightful responses!

“My friend Charla was a hospice nurse for many years. She tells of one man, O.J., on his deathbed. His best friend, Floyd, had gone to heaven several years earlier. O.J. had been comatose for a day or so. Charla said he was peaceful and close to death as she sat with him, holding his hand and speaking soothing words to him. All of a sudden, with his eyes still closed, O.J. broke into a brilliant smile, lifted his other hand up into the air and said expectantly, ‘Floyd!’ and he went right to heaven! Charla said she’d held his hand on Earth as Floyd grasped his hand in heaven.”

“In the last moments of my father’s life, he was beaming with joy as he saw his friends on the other side waiting for him. He held up his hands, greeting them by name, ‘Brother Harold! Brother Bob!’”

3 weeks before my believing aunt passed, she saw her husband who had died several years before, in white robes reaching out his arms to her. Then while in the hospital, Aunt Rose walked by a statue of Jesus and paused as if talking to him. My cousin asked, “Mom, are you talking to Jesus?”

She said, “Yes, and He said, ‘Hang in there Rosie, you’ll be with Me shortly.’” A few days later, she told my cousins what she was seeing as the curtain between heaven and earth grew more and more transparent.

She exclaimed that heaven was so beautiful, so filled with warmth and kindness. Her daughter asked her if it was like Hawaii and she laughed and said, “No, it’s like a warm summer afternoon in Wisconsin.” The week she died, she started seeing Jesus in a white robe, and then the day before she died the robe turned gold. That night she told my cousin, “Go to bed. You’re keeping me from meeting Jesus.” She died several hours later.

What difference does the resurrection make? It means when loved ones die, it’s just a “see you later” rather than a forever goodbye.

It means that as you get rolled from pre-op to the operating room and get ready to undergo anesthesia, you can relax in peace knowing that if anything were to go wrong during surgery, you’d wake up in heaven.

It means being legitimately concerned about the dying process hurting, but not concerned about what happens one minute after death.

The resurrection means death has been robbed of its power and its sting.

Another difference the resurrection makes is that we become more aware of the unseen, eternal world.

Since Jesus said He had come from heaven, and that He would rise from the dead in 3 days—and then He did!—that validates everything He taught about the unseen and eternal dimension of life.

We can become more aware of the fact that we live in two worlds at the same time, the seen and physical world and the unseen spiritual world (2 Corinthians 4:18).

snorkeling in Grand CaymanI love to snorkel in the Caribbean. I love being able to look at the beautiful fish and corals of the underwater world while effortlessly breathing the air of the above-water world. I love functioning in two worlds at the same time.

What difference does the resurrection make? It means we can operate in two worlds simultaneously.

It means we can learn to focus on the unseen, eternal realm as more real than the temporal realm.

It means we can intentionally become so much more effective in our prayers because we start to see we truly do release God’s power into other people’s lives and situations when we pray.

Operating in two realms at the same time means we can sit in our living rooms and release the light of God’s truth and power into legal and political situations in our nation’s capital.

We can be walking or driving in our cars wherever we are and pour the grace of God’s power into the hearts of persecuted Christians on the other side of the world.

We can read or hear the news on the internet or the newspaper and lift up events and needs and problems to the throne of God no matter where they are.

The resurrection means we can wear “invisible snorkel gear” and operate in the earthly realm and the spirit realm at the same time.

A final difference the resurrection makes is that we will be married to Christ.

The church, the body of Christ, will be married to our heavenly bridegroom Jesus.

The greatest earthly marriages are still only a foretaste of the ultimate, perfect marriage between the Bride of Christ and the Lamb.

The best, healthiest earthly marriages are still between two broken, fallen sinners who hurt and irritate and annoy each other and are in constant need of forgiveness.

The very best marriages are not ultimately fulfilling and completing because only Jesus can fill and complete us. There are still times of loneliness and not being understood and wondering, “Is this as good as it gets?” Yes, because earthly marriages are not the ultimate purpose of your life.

If you are single, even if by God’s grace you are content in your singleness, there is still a longing for connection that eludes you on earth because you were made for a deep and perfect union and connection with Jesus.

What difference does the resurrection make? It means we will be bound up with the rest of the body of Christ to become His bride.

And these three differences that the resurrection make, I believe, are only the tip of the iceberg.

1. Hillsong Music, words and music by Joel Houston & Aodhan King


This blog post originally appeared at
on April 16, 2019.

Are You a Marcion (Martian) Christian?

James Detrich explores the wrong thinking many Christians hold concerning an incorrect split between the Old and New Testaments, as if there were different deities for each.

Marcion or Martian?

Are you a Marcion Christian? No, I don’t mean Martian as in the space aliens. No, no, this will not be an article about whether there are alien life forms on other planets. We cover that question on the Probe website. This is, instead, about Marcion, an early churchman who lived in the second century.

Download the PodcastAs the early church was trying to understand how the Old Testament and New Testament worked together, Marcion said that they are incompatible. He rejected the Old Testament as being too Jewish, too concerned with things like the Law, and sacrifices, and old timey prophets. He claimed the Christian church should have nothing to do with the Old Testament, that we are merely New Testament believers. Actually, now that I think about it, it is pretty neat that his name, Marcion, sounds like Martian as in the aliens. Because that is exactly what the early church thought of Marcion’s ideas; they thought they were alien to the faith that had been passed down from Jesus and his apostles. Because the ideas were alien—or might we say, heretical—the earliest Christians rejected them and kicked Marcion and his followers out of the church.

The earliest Christians set up boundaries for right thinking, for right praise, what we call “orthodoxy” today.{1} They declared that it was wrong to believe that the Old Testament was outdated and not essential to the faith, because they understood something very important: how one views Scripture very much depends upon how one views God. The two go hand-in-hand. If you reject Scripture, whether it is the Old or New Testament, then you will reject the God behind the book. Why? Because the Bible reveals God; it is the complete revelation of who He is and what He values.

The reason Marcion wanted to do away with the Old Testament was his wrong belief that the God of the Old Testament was an inferior god, who was full of wrath and justice. He was that nasty god who told the Israelites to execute anyone who worshipped another god. He was insecure, jealous, always wanting love and affection. But the God of the New Testament, taught Marcion, was completely the opposite: He, unlike that malicious Old Testament god, was loving, gracious, peaceful, and infinitely good. This was the true God revealed through Jesus Christ when he came to earth with the good news.{2}

So, Marcion didn’t just have two Bibles, he also had two gods. On the bad side were the Old Testament and the god the older book revealed; on the good side were the New Testament and the true God the new book revealed. Was Marcion right? Should we as Christians throw out the Old Testament? Is the Old Testament God worthy of our worship? Or is Marcion’s view as alien as a Martian living on planet Earth?

The Two-God Dualism

I settled in my overstuffed chair waiting for the contentious TV interview. The atheist Richard Dawkins was going to be on one of the conservative news shows. I thought to myself, this should be good. Dawkins, of course, is not your usual atheist. His rhetoric is a bit terse and brusque. He was the one who called God a “vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser . . . capriciously malevolent bully,” among other things.{3} Safe to say, he is not too thrilled with God. But he was going to be interviewed by a fairly conservative, Catholic talk-show host, and so I figured it should be a good debate on religion. But it wasn’t. It was—how to say this nicely—completely and utterly awful. When confronted by Dawkins’ usual claims that the Old Testament God is a bully because he ordered the stoning of anyone who did not worship him, the bombastic interviewer basically said that the Old Testament was a bunch of myths that no one really took seriously. He soothed Dawkins’ objections with the explanation that the stories in the Old Testament were allegories—they were not historically true. He went on to affirm that if Dawkins had a problem with God, he needed to read the New Testament. It is there where Jesus preaches the good news of faith, hope, and love. These are virtues that are good for society. I’m sure he thought, Dawkins can’t possibly argue against this. Every time Dawkins attempted to move the conversation back to the Old Testament, where he thought his argument was the strongest, the interviewer kept the discussion on the New Testament. “How can you have a problem with a God who teaches love?” the host would ask.{4}

But it was dualism all over again; the interviewer was claiming that the Old Testament God was bad and the stories were myths, and the New Testament God is the good, Christian God. Basically, the interviewer affirmed the same things that Marcion affirmed in the second century. It was the old Marcion line that said, “If you want to know what Christianity is all about, read the New Testament; don’t read the Old Testament.”

Well, it worked. The talk-show host got through the interview unscathed. But at what price? I submit that the price is losing Christianity itself. Because Christianity is not based upon merely the New Testament. We don’t have two gods; we have one God. We have one God that is revealed in both the Old and New Testament. It is one book about one God.

But if this is true, then what does the Old Testament contribute to our understanding of God? How do the Old Testament and the New work together? These are some of the questions that we as the body of Christ need to prayerfully think over, and in the next sections I will attempt to provide some answers.

One Book, One Story

We have been discussing the unfortunate practice of separating the Old Testament from the New. This was first done in the second century by Marcion who not only viewed the Old Testament as inferior to the New, but taught that the god of the Old Testament was inferior to the true God of the New Testament. But we need to understand that this was not only a problem in the second century, it is also a tendency in the church today. It is a rare church that preaches the Old Testament as often as the New. Bible studies are typically journeys through New Testament books. When discussing God with our friends, especially our lost friends, we often emphasize what the New Testament says about Jesus and, at times, can feel embarrassed about the demands in the Old Testament. We love to exclaim the grace of God; we don’t equally love the judgment, jealousy, and wrathfulness of God that the Old Testament also presents.

Please, don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that we should not preach a grace-filled God. I attend a seminary that has a strong tradition of preaching unapologetically the grace of God. But what I am saying is that our view of God must be imbibed from the totality of Scripture, including the Old Testament. This is the great benefit of preaching, teaching, and meditating upon the older book; it provides us with a more complete revelation of God. These two testaments are not contrary to one another; they do not set up two different gods or two different or competing views of God. They are, rather, complementary. They disclose one God who is eternal, infinitely good, and infinitely jealous of his creatures’ worship with a holy jealousy borne out of love, because He made us for Himself.

Not only do they reveal one God, but they are also one book, one story. Think for a moment about the nature of story. For a story to work, there must be a conflict. At times, there will be numerous sub-conflicts, but there is always at least one big, overriding conflict that gives the narrative meaning and purpose. The other thing about storytelling is that you are either building toward the resolution of the conflict or you are falling in action because the conflict has already been resolved. Therefore, stories are not straight lines of action; they follow a building | climax | falling structure. The Bible is no different. As a story itself it follows the same structure. From Genesis to Revelation, Holy Scripture tells one story about a conflict that has to be resolved. The action rises as the conflict increases, and after the conflict is resolved, the action then falls. This makes the Old Testament just as important as the New; they may be two testaments, but they are one unified story.

The Big Story of the Bible

Having completely rejected Marcion’s view of the Old Testament and seeing it as valuable to be read and taught, we moved forward to examine how the Old Testament and the New work together. We affirmed that both testaments tell one unified story. So, how is this done? At the center of the biblical story is conflict—the clash between God and sin. The question throughout the entire story is, How can a holy, righteous God still have fellowship and communion with His creation given the fact that sin has now been introduced into the creative order? Genesis 1-11 provides the background to the story. Those chapters are like the black screen that comes up at the beginning of a movie like Star Wars, providing the backstory so the audience can understand the setting and characters, and where the story is going. Those background chapters in Genesis tell us about God’s creation and the fall of that creation, and then provide details of the extent of the fall demonstrating through the stories of Noah and Babel that man really is sinful and we need redemption.

But the biblical story really gets going in Genesis chapter 12. It is there that God establishes a covenant with Abraham to provide redemption for humanity. This is not to say that God was not at work before Abraham. He was. But not in a programmatic, systematic manner. Now God comes to mankind; He comes to Abraham to begin a new people to establish His reputation in order to bring all humanity to redemption. He works with Abraham, and then Isaac, and then Jacob, and then all of Jacob’s sons. Carefully, God works His divine plan in spite of the willful disobedience and, at times, just sheer stupidity of these men and their respective families.

As Exodus opens, this new nation is enslaved and the plan of God appears to be in jeopardy. But through the miracles of the plagues, God brings His people out of slavery. He brings them to Mount Sinai and gives them the Law which is a revelation of who He is and what He expects. If this new nation is to establish the reputation of the one true God, then they must be holy and pure. That is the reason why the Old Testament demands and commands, even with the consequence of death, that the people only worship God and Him alone. He is jealous, like a husband who demands his wife only have one lover—himself. Since God is the only source of life and goodness, He knows that loving and worshiping any false gods leads to disaster and death. All of this, though, is the building of the plot—the increase of the conflict—because God’s workings with Israel never provided a full and complete answer to sin. That full and complete answer was yet to come.

The Point of It All: Jesus

In this article we have been discussing the value of the Old Testament. We have rejected Marcion’s view that the Old Testament god is different from and inferior to the New Testament God. And we have explored how the Old and New Testaments work together to tell one unified story. In providing the details of how God worked with the children of Israel, all the way from Genesis to the prophets, the Old Testament builds the action and the conflict that reaches a climax and a resolution in the Gospels. For centuries, the people of Israel cried out for a final and complete answer to sin; they desired a Messiah. Just like a movie that builds conflict scene after scene and then finally resolves the conflict, the biblical story spends multiple books and numerous chapters building conflict. And then Jesus appears. The Gospels tell the dramatic story of John the Baptizer, the last of the Old Testament prophets, stepping forth to proclaim, “Behold, the Kingdom of God is at hand.” And it is through Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension that resolution is finally brought to the story.

Then, the rest of the story is the creation of this new organism called the church that preaches and teaches Jesus to the entire known world. This part of the story is the falling action; now that the conflict has been resolved, these are the outworkings of the story.

Looking at the Bible this way allows for several things. First, it keeps the story unified with Jesus at the very center and the point of the story. The Old Testament anticipates this Messiah, and the New Testament reflects upon Him by preaching Him to the world. Second, it shows us why the Old Testament is valuable and essential to the Christian faith. It is not a byproduct, not something that can just be discarded or ignored. No, it is indeed essential! It reveals God’s character, and it is the “gateway” for the coming of Jesus, the Christ. Third, it unabashedly demonstrates that the entire biblical story discloses one God, not two gods as Marcion believed. This God is the one true God whose sovereign control of history is beautifully displayed in the pages of Scripture as He redeems humanity from sin and provides the way for Himself and us to be reconciled to relationship. It is one story—a story of love. We hope you will embrace this view of the Bible and not be a “Martian/Marcion” Christian!


1. Gerald L. Bray, “Authority in the Early Church,” Churchman 95 (1981).

2. For more on Marcion and the conflict in the early church, see Irenaeus, “Against Heresies,” in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, vol. 1. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1951).

3. Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (London: Bantam, 2006; reprint, 2008), 51.

4. This was a conversation between Richard Dawkins and Bill O’Reilly on the “O’Reilly Factor.” See for more.

© 2013 Probe Ministries

On Black Holes and Archangels

Dr.Terlizzese too often hears from Christian leaders and laymen that film, philosophy, literature, music, mythology, etc. (arts and humanities), are polluted wells that Christians do better to avoid rather than risk contamination. Yet no such warning is ever given about science and technology, always readily accepted under the rubric of natural revelation, except for some strange birds like Jacques Ellul or Neal Postman. “On Black Holes and Archangels” attempts to bridge this hypocritical divide in knowledge through raising art to the status of science as a legitimate source of knowledge concerning God and the human condition. As professor Lewis Sperry Chafer once wrote, theology uses “any and every source.”

Reversal of Theological Priorities

download-podcastWhen theology students talk about general revelation they mean science. God shows himself through the natural world; the movement of the stars, the rhythms of biology, the complexity of chemical synthesis, the beauty of the Grand Canyon and the like. Invariably, they almost always neglect human nature as a prominent theological source in acute reversal of theological priorities.

Comparatively, the bible says very little about the nature of the cosmos and the animal kingdom; instead it focuses on Adam’s Race (humanity), Adam’s prominence as divine vice-regent, his fall from innocence, the pain and suffering ensuing from a ruptured relationship with the Maker; the creation of the Hebrew people and the sacrificial offering of his Son (the Second Adam [Romans 5:12-19; 1 Corinthians 15:45]) in the plan of redemption.

The Bible is mostly about Israel’s reluctance to serve God. Their obstinate disobedience, their refusal to recognize absolute righteousness of the One God, the pleading of the prophets to return to the Truth; their judgment and horrifying dissolution, but final salvation thanks only to the divine mercy of their heavenly Father, “all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:26). Israel serves as paradigm for all people, as the new creation of humanity in the Second Adam that brings the renewal of God’s creation, the natural world; “A shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse . . . the lion shall lay down with the lamb  . . . they will not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the LORD” (Isaiah 11:1-9; 27:6).

The theological reversal of priorities places science and reason over religion and faith, which interprets human nature in light of the cosmos rather than the cosmos in light of human nature and salvific transformation; as Adam goes so goes nature; “Cursed is the ground because of you [Adam];” “the creation will be set free from the slavery of corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Genesis 3:17;
Romans 8:19-22).

This reversal is reminiscent of C. P. Snow’s critical paradigm called the Two Cultures.{1} Snow elucidated the theory that modern epistemology splits between science and the humanities, or said simply, between religion and science, between subjective and objective knowledge, creating an imbalance that favors one way of knowing over the other. Any juxtaposition in knowledge will result in the denigration of religion or science that fails to recognize their inherent compatibility.

Evangelicals are quick to latch onto the split in knowledge, recognizing science’s superiority as source of knowledge and engine for technological acceleration in a theological reversal of priorities that recognizes all things scientific and technological as gifts from God, even offering metaphysical justification for technological acceleration under the theological rubric of general revelation, yet disparaging the humanities as a polluted well. However, science is not general revelation, it is only the philosophical lens used to interpret it—which is not incorrect, just incomplete. A consistent application of general revelation must include the humanities as a valid source of knowledge on human nature as equal to science: philosophy, religion, literature, art, film, etc., all present a valid interpretation of human nature that serves as sources for theology. L. Sperry Chafer’s argued decades ago that theology uses “any and every source.”{2}

What is General Revelation?

Most evangelical theology divides revelation or God’s self-disclosure into two categories called general revelation and special revelation, a division of knowledge going back at least to Saint Thomas Aquinas, receiving its greatest expression in the early modern period with the theory of the Two Books by Francis Bacon. The first book of the knowledge of God comes from the natural world, discerned and interpreted by reason, open to all—hence general knowledge; modern science and philosophy grounded in rationalism develops from this theological base. The second book of knowledge of God was considered Holy Scripture, discerned and interpreted through faith supported by reason—hence it is not open to all, only the faithful.

General revelation refers to the knowledge of God outside of the Bible in nature, history, and personal experience; it is open to all people and anyone can understand it. Special revelation refers to the knowledge of God revealed in the Bible alone, such as the dual nature of Christ as the God/Man, the Trinity, the story of redemption and the knowledge of salvation. It is special because only those who accept the word of God by faith know these truths discerned by the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 2). The two forms of revelation always complement each other. However, special revelation has greater authority than general revelation as the exclusive source for knowledge of salvation. We are saved through special revelation and never through general revelation which largely teaches humanity’s need for God, but offers no solution because that will only be found in special revelation.

God’s presence is revealed in nature but in a very limited way. Humanity actually knows very little about God from general revelation. People talk about “the love of God” but that is not a concept drawn from the natural world. The poet Tennyson said “nature is red in tooth and claw,” meaning nature is cruel and unforgiving. The reality of nature as hostile and uncaring does not reflect the character of God. We know God is love, only because the Bible, not nature, tells us He is love (John 3:16; 1 John). Seeing a grizzly bear mother eating her young on a nature documentary convinced me of the truth of Tennyson’s statement.

General revelation means God reveals himself through the humanities as well as the sciences. The opening of the evangelical mind begins with a view of revelation that takes the arts and humanities as seriously as the sciences as a valid source of knowledge.

On Black Holes and Archangels

As the astronomer sees and reflects the divine glory of the cosmos, so the philosopher, musician, novelist and film artist reflects the inner light of soul—as complicated, profound and stunning as the swirl of galaxies, as explosive as a supernova and as deep and forbidding as a black hole! Artists explore remote and inhospitable depths of inner space. They transport the human spirit to destinies Magellan, Columbus and Verrazano never dreamt of; where Voyager will never encounter, where the telescope sees blindly . . . where angels fear to tread!

Art explores inner recesses of human nature and delivers subjective knowledge on topics such as anxiety, alienation, despair, boredom, hate, faith, love, fear, courage, lust, oppression and liberation, not quantifiable or objective, but just as real and valuable to Christian theology as the scientist’s observations. Theologian of Culture Paul Tillich insightfully argued that art was the spiritual barometer of culture: “Art is religion.”{3} In order to understand culture and the ultimate questions it asks in relating the Gospel message, the theologian must turn to philosophy, literature, paintings, music, etc.

Science and art are not in competition. Just as reason and faith complement each other as sources of knowledge, so subjective and objective knowledge act as two halves of the same coin—the union of the left and right sides of the brain. “Historian of Evil” Jeffrey Burton Russell writes,

This question of how we know seems unfamiliar because we have been brought up to imagine that something is either “real” or “not real,” as if there were only one valid world view, only one way to look at things, only one approach to truth. Given the overwhelming prestige of natural science during the past century, we usually go on to assume that the only approach to truth is through natural science . . . it seems to be “common sense” . . . there are multiple truth systems, multiple approaches to reality. Science is one such approach. But . . . science is . . . a construct of the human mind . . . based on undemonstrable assumptions of faith. There is no scientific proof of the bases of science. [There is] no real difference between the subject and objective approach to things . . . science has its limits, and beyond those limits there are, like other galaxies, other truth systems. These other systems are not without resemblances to science, but their modes of thought are quite different: among them are history, myth, poetry, theology, art, and analytical psychology. Other truth systems have existed in the past; still more may exist in future; we can only guess what thought structures exist among other intelligent beings.{4}

Only novelists, film makers, poets and theologians can communicate the possible thought structures of angels, demons or ETI’s. How does the thought process of an archangel differ from that of seraphim and cherubim? The Star Trek franchise may be our best introduction to alien civilizations in the absence of any hard evidence.

Elysium: The Acceleration of the Status Quo into Outer Space

The recent (2013) science fiction movie Elysium depicts the human condition as it has existed throughout human history and extends it to the space station Elysium. In the year 2154, the class difference between the haves and the have not’s appears in bold relief. Elysium is a haven for the wealthy and technologically powerful elite who rule the sub-proletariat peoples of earth living in squalor, misery and deprivation. Los Angeles is reminiscent of the shanty towns of Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo today. The few control the many through the accumulation and withholding of wealth and technological power, especially medical machines “Med-Bays” that reverse cell damage and heals all sickness and disease, granting virtual immortality.  A self-appointed champion of the people Max Da Costa (Matt Damon) with nothing left to lose—since his exposure to a fatal radiation dose has left him with five days to live—mounts an assault on Elysium and accomplishes the impossible, a revolution that gains control of the space station’s computer system and the robot guardians, turning them against the establishment and bringing relief to
the people of Earth.

Elysium serves as a great cinematic example of liberation theology and window into the human condition that never changes despite technological acceleration that empowers the few to control the many. In any late stage of civilization, from Egypt and Rome to modernity, the same conditions prevail: the elite rule the many and technology makes no difference in alleviating social inequalities. Technological advance, as the movie portrays, only accelerates the status quo so that the struggle for freedom and equality of all people simply takes place off the earth on a space station.

The Enlightenment idea of progress envisions a global advance of humanity across all social lines. Any concentration of power and wealth in an elite group to the neglect of the rest of the planet, regardless of how technologically advanced or socially integrated, is not progress but regress. Elysium reflects contemporary global conditions—the status quo, the way things actually are, projecting them one generation or forty years into the future.

When technological acceleration grants the world equal social conditions, such as the elimination of poverty, hunger and disease in Africa and Latin America as in the Western world, or the ready accessibility of health care in the United States as in the Netherlands or Canada, then we do justice to the noble word “Progress.” In the absence of social equality, technological growth renders the same absolute social imbalances and universal disillusionment in the modern world as existed in the late Roman Empire, the concentration of power in an elite, ruling ruthlessly over the masses without hope of change, except on a global scale that moves rapidly towards dissolution, where robot guardians replace the Praetorian Guard.{5}

“Nein! Nein! Nein!”

There is no saving knowledge of God in history, science, economics, philosophy, math or whatever. NO! NO! NO! I am in complete agreement with Karl Barth on this point: “Nein! Nein! Nein!” No! Absolutely not! Never! The saving knowledge of Christ comes only through the word of God and centers on the work of Jesus Christ for all mankind. The knowledge of God in general revelation is not saving knowledge of the Gospel. If one could know God through the means of general revelation then it would make special revelation and the coming of Christ superfluous and useless. General revelation only condemns and functions for Gentiles like the Law of Moses for Jews (Romans 1:18-32; Galatians 3).

General revelation prepares humanity for special revelation. Knowledge of God and the human condition in general revelation creates the need for special revelation. General revelation shows humanity its sinfulness and need for a savior; “How majestic is Your name in all the earth. Who have displayed Your splendor above the heavens . . . What is man that Thou art mindful of him?” (Psalm 8:1-4). Job gave the only possible answer as a finite being when reminded of wonders of God’s creation: “I know You can do all things . . . I declared that which I did not understand . . . I retract and I repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:1-6). “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18). General revelation demonstrates God’s absence from humanity; it reveals the “UNKNOWN GOD” (Acts 17:23).

Special revelation meets that need for reconciliation with God in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Salvation cannot come from any other avenue than special revelation, a major theological premise the great theologian Karl Barth staunchly defended. According to Barth, all revelation is special revelation and all revelation imparts the saving knowledge of Christ.

General revelation brings the knowledge of God’s absence, consciousness of alienation from the divine, much as the Mosaic Law brings the awareness of sin (Romans 1-3); but only to set us up for the knowledge of the Savior that comes from hearing the gospel of Christ preached (Romans 4-10). “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).{6}


1. C. P. Snow, The Two Cultures (London, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1959).

2. Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, Vol. One (Dallas, TX: Dallas Seminary Press, 1947), 5. Chafer defined systematic theology as “A science which follows a humanly devised scheme or order of doctrinal development and which purports to incorporate into its system all truth about God and His universe from any and every source.”

3. Paul Tillich, Theology of Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1964), 7.

4. Jeffrey Burton Russell, Mephistopheles: The Devil in the Modern World (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press), 18, 19.

5. Carroll Quigley, The Evolution of Civilizations: An Introduction to Historical Analysis (Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, 1979); Roderick Seidenberg, Posthistoric Man: An Inquiry (Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 1950); Albert Schweitzer, The Philosophy of Civilization (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus, 1987, 1949); Lawrence J. Terlizzese, Hope in the Thought of Jacques Ellul (Eugene, OR; Cascade, 2005).

6. Emil Brunner, Natural Theology: Comprising Nature and Grace by Professor Dr. Emil Brunner and the reply No! by Dr. Karl Barth (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2002, Reprint).

©2014 Probe Ministries