Revival at Asbury: A Cold Take
It seems to me that news of an outbreak of revival is best met with a guarded optimism. We don’t need to be naive but also don’t need to be incredulous. And if that revival begins in a tradition very different from our own (though of course one that acknowledges the gospel) we should perhaps be especially glad and hopeful, for it is good to be reminded that God is at work in many different places and through many different people.
The revival at Asbury has already come to an end. What began as a brief and simple chapel service turned into a weeks-long worship event that drew tens of thousands of participants and elicited tens of millions of opinions. Only now have I gathered my thoughts and bundled them into this “cold take.” I trust you won’t mind that I’ve chosen to share it as a series of short thoughts rather than a single essay.
Some things may be wrong or misguided, but not particularly dangerous. A small revival (or purported revival if you prefer) at a small college far away does not necessarily demand a great deal of scrutiny by those who have no connection to it. While it is good to have “powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14) there is usually little need to put the effort into what does not intersect your life and what is unlikely to cause anyone any great harm. Those biblical calls to discernment ought to be considered alongside the exhortations about meddling in affairs that are not your own.
Revival is not a clear biblical category like, for example, deacon or baptize. It’s not a word we find in the New Testament, and it does not tell us to try to generate revivals or be on watch for them. It doesn’t even instruct us to pray for them, though that may be a very good thing to do. It’s clear that God sometimes chooses to work in ways that we choose to label revival, but God’s greatest and most consistent work is through the ordinary means of grace within the local church. Because the Bible does not define revival, it may be difficult to know exactly what one is and exactly when one is happening. It may describe a range of circumstances and experiences.
The New Dictionary of Theology offers a helpful definition of revival: “God’s quickening visitation of his people, touching their hearts and deepening his work of grace in their lives. It is essentially a corporate occurrence, an enlivening of individuals not in isolation but together.” If this is an appropriate definition, then examples abound in Scripture and church history. And if this is an appropriate definition it does not set the bar all that high—where we see God quickening a number of people all at once, touching their hearts and deepening his work of grace, there we may have a revival. A revival does not need to sweep over the globe or impact millions to be genuine.
When revival breaks out, we need to guard against treating it as something that has an almost mystical or mythical quality to it. God’s plan for the world is centered around the church, so we should be careful not to inadvertently disparage his “Plan A” which is—and always will be—the church. Of course we should also hesitate to treat revival as if it is nothing or to speak ill of what God may be using for his glory.
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A Great SalvationBy R.C. Sproul — 1 year ago
Written by R.C. Sproul |
Saturday, March 12, 2022
If you neglect what Jesus says, and you neglect what God proves, then we’re back to the theme. There is no escape. Beloved, if you come to church every Sunday, every single Sunday of your life, and go to Sunday school every week of your life, you may still be neglecting this great salvation. Is your heart in it? That’s what I’m asking you. I can’t answer that question for you. You know if you’re neglecting your salvation. I don’t have to tell it to you. I just have to tell you what the consequences are if you continue in that neglect. So I pray with all my heart that God will awaken each one of us today to the sweetness, the loveliness, the glory of the gospel declared by Christ.
Doctrine and Practice
Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will —Hebrews 2:1–4
Did you notice the “Therefore” that begins this text? What the author of Hebrews is getting at is the perfect marriage between doctrine and practice. If we believe the things that he has declared in the first chapter, that has radical implications for how we live our lives. He’s beginning to show that now when he says, “Therefore we must pay much closer attention.” There’s a little grammatical problem in the words of that particular translation. The tension of these words is because it’s not certain grammatically whether the author is using a comparative or a superlative. And so I would prefer that he would simply say that we therefore must pay the most possible attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.
Think of that image of drifting. Some people go fishing in boats, and they don’t set the anchor down. They allow the boat to move with the current, and they just drift. Where they end up can be somewhat problematic. The Scripture uses this kind of figurative language elsewhere when it talks about an anchor for our soul, which is the hope we have in Christ. Here he is saying, “Don’t allow yourselves to drift aimlessly away from what you’ve heard.” Again, he’s speaking about this marvelous comparison that he’s given in chapter 1 about the superiority of Jesus over the angels and over all created things. You’ve heard that. Don’t drift away from it; instead pay the closest possible attention to it. Verse 2 says, “For since the message declared by angels . . .” The author is referring back again to the Old Testament and the idea hinted at in Deuteronomy 33 of the law being mediated by the angels. When Moses received the law from God, there were myriads and myriads of angels present on that occasion.
So he says, “For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution . . .” Again, the comparison continues. If the law that came from the angels was ignored by the people in the Old Testament and received a just retribution, a punishment, how much more responsible are we to that which has come to us directly from Christ? Now, beloved, the central theme of this chapter, or at least this portion of the chapter, is the theme of escape. When you think of escape, you think of some kind of deliverance from a dire and threatening life situation, like escaping from a kidnapper. Or you think of soldiers who are surrounded in battle and finding a way to retreat safely. That’s an escape. But the most common idea with which we associate escape is imprisonment, not just from any jail, but from those prisons that are the most notoriously inescapable, such as the former condition of Alcatraz in this country, or Devil’s Island, or perhaps the most dreadful of all French prisons, the Château d’If.
A Great Escape
You remember the story; it’s my second-favorite novel. Edmond Dantes is falsely accused and unjustly convicted of a crime. He is sent forth to the most dreaded prison, Château d’If. There he suffered for years in solitary confinement, until one day he met a co-prisoner, an aged priest who had been there for decades and had spent much time trying to dig a tunnel to escape. But he didn’t do his math correctly and ended up burrowing into Dantes’s chamber. So the two met and had fellowship together. The old priest became Dantes’s mentor and counselor, teacher of science and philosophy and theology. The priest also told Dantes about a map that led to a vast treasure, hidden under the waters in the sea. The old priest died in prison. Through an extraordinary series of circumstances, the death of the priest led to the possible escape of Edmond Dantes from Château d’If. Dantes found the vast treasure that financed the rest of his life and his nom de plume became the Count of Monte Cristo.
What an escape story that one is. But as dire and as dreadful as the circumstances were in the Château d’If, there’s even a greater and more dreadful kind of captivity. The author of Hebrews speaks of an escape from this captivity when he asks the question, “How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?” Beloved, this is a rhetorical question. The answer to the question is simple. How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? The answer is, we can’t. Alcatraz could possibly be escaped from, or Devil’s Island, or even the Château d’If. But the one prison from which no one ever escapes is hell. There’s no escape route. You can’t dig under it. You can’t climb over it. No guard can be bribed. The sentence cannot be ameliorated. So the author of Hebrews is saying, “Do you realize what we have heard from the Word of God Himself about a great salvation?” We use that word salvation all the time in the church. What does it mean?
When somebody says to me, “Are you saved?” the first question I want to say is, “Saved from what?” The idea of salvation suggests the idea of some kind of escape or deliverance from a dire circumstance. The Greek verb sodzo in the New Testament is used in a variety of ways. If you are saved from a threatening illness, as people were in the New Testament by the touch of Jesus, Jesus might comment, “Your faith has saved you.” He’s not talking about eternal salvation. He’s speaking about their rescue from a dreadful disease.
God Scares Me to DeathBy Ed Welch — 2 years ago
Keep turning toward him, whether that process is clumsy, awkward, brief, or a bit chilly. Your soul is close to the breaking point already. The one who now strikes fear in your heart is the only one who can assuage your fears and mend a soul in pieces.
God is sovereign. He does as he pleases. This comforts some people—and terrifies others.
If you have lost a child or a spouse, especially in a sudden or unexpected way, “God scares me to death” might sound familiar. If you have had any close brush with death, this might sound familiar too. You are vulnerable. Images of God as protector are now meaningless. Instead, at any moment, the worst possible event could befall you, and there is nothing you can do to stop it. It might seem that you have already endured his worst and there is nothing of value left to take, but you know there could be other worsts that you cannot even conceive of. God terrifies you.
You are not only terrified of God. You also continue to believe he loves you and is with you by the Spirit. You still believe that nothing will separate you from him. But there is this new place in your heart: God terrifies you. And it has taken up residence. Meanwhile, the people around you do not seem to be particularly terrified of God. If they are, no one is saying so.
For friends. Let’s acknowledge that we are substandard comforters of those who grieve. We might be attentive for the first week after someone we know well has lost a child, but we assume that everyone then moves on. So, today, reach out and say, “my heart still breaks over the loss of your child.” Men, of which I am one, are especially unskilled at this care, both giving it and receiving it.
Does It Really Matter Whether Adam Was the First Man?By Michael Reeves — 1 year ago
It has been my contention that the identity of Adam, and his role as the physical progenitor of the human race, are not such free or detachable doctrines. The historical reality of Adam is an essential means of preserving a Christian account of sin and evil, a Christian understanding of God, and the rationale for the incarnation, cross, and resurrection. His physical fatherhood of all humankind preserves God’s justice in condemning us in Adam (and, by inference, God’s justice in redeeming us in Christ), and it safeguards the logic of the incarnation. Neither belief can be reinterpreted without the most severe consequences.
Evangelical Christians have generally resisted the demythologization of the Gospels whereby, for example, the resurrection of Jesus is interpreted as a mythical portrayal of the principle of new life. Indeed, they have argued strongly that it’s the very historicity of the resurrection that is so vital. However, when it regards the biblical figures of Adam and Eve, there has been a far greater willingness to interpret them as mythical or symbolic.
The simple aim of this article is to show that, far from being a peripheral matter for fussy literalists, it is biblically and theologically necessary for Christians to believe in Adam as a historical person who fathered the entire human race.
Adam Was a Historical Person
The early chapters of Genesis sometimes use the word ’ādām to mean “humankind” (e.g., Gen. 1:26–27), and since there is clearly a literary structure to those chapters, some have seen the figure of Adam as a literary device, rather than a historical individual. Already a question arises: must we choose? Throughout the Bible we see instances of literary devices used to present historical material: think of Nicodemus coming to Jesus at night, or the emphasis in the Gospels on Jesus’s death at the time of the Passover. Most commentators would happily acknowledge that here are literary devices being employed to draw our attention to the theological significance of the historical events being recounted. The “literary” need not exclude the “literal.”
The next question then must be: does the “literary” exclude the “literal” in the case of Adam? Not according to those other parts of the Bible that refer back to Adam. The genealogies of Genesis 5, 1 Chronicles 1, and Luke 3 all find their first parent in Adam—and while biblical genealogies sometimes omit names for various reasons, they are not known to add fictional or mythological figures. When Jesus taught on marriage in Matthew 19:4–6, and when Jude referred to Adam in Jude 14, they used no caveats or anything to suggest they doubted Adam’s historical reality or thought of him any differently than they did other Old Testament characters. And when Paul spoke of Adam being formed first, and the woman coming from him (1 Cor. 11:8–9; 1 Tim. 2:11–14), he had to be assuming a historical account in Genesis 2. His argument would collapse into nonsense if he meant Adam and Eve were mere mythological symbols of the timeless truth that men preexist women.
We can think of these passages as circumstantial evidence that the biblical authors thought of Adam as a real person in history. Circumstantial evidence is useful and important, but we have something more conclusive. The role Adam plays in Paul’s theology makes Adam’s historical reality integral to the basic storyline of the gospel. And if that is the case, then the historicity of Adam cannot be a side issue, but part and parcel of the foundations of Christian belief.
The first exhibit is Romans 5:12–21, where Paul contrasts the sin of “the one man,” Adam, with the righteousness of “the one man,” Christ. Paul is the apostle who felt it necessary to make the apparently minute distinction between a singular “seed” and plural “seeds” (Gal. 3:16), so it’s probably safe to assume he was not being thoughtless, meaning “men” when speaking of “the one man.” Indeed, “the one man” is repeatedly contrasted with the many human beings, and “oneness” underpins Paul’s very argument—which is about the overthrow of the one sin of the one man (Adam) by the one salvation of the one man (Christ).
Throughout the passage, Paul speaks of Adam in the same way he speaks of Christ. (His language of death coming “through” Adam is also similar to how he speaks of blessing coming “through” Abraham in Galatians 3.) He is able to speak of a time before this one man’s trespass, when there was no sin or death, and he is able to speak of a time after it—a period stretching from Adam to Moses. Paul could hardly have been clearer: he supposed Adam was as real and historical a figure as Christ and Moses (and Abraham). Yet it is not just Paul’s language that suggests he believed in a historical Adam; his whole argument depends on it. His logic would fall apart if he was comparing a historical man (Christ) to a mythical or symbolic one (Adam). If Adam and his sin were mere symbols, then there would be no need for a historical atonement; only a mythical atonement would be necessary to undo a mythical fall. With a mythical Adam, then, Christ might as well be—in fact, would do better to be—a mere symbol of divine forgiveness and new life. Instead, though, the story Paul tells is of a historical problem of sin, guilt, and death being introduced into the creation, a problem that required a historical solution.
To remove that historical problem of Adam’s sin wouldn’t just remove the rationale for the historical solution of the cross and resurrection; it would transform Paul’s gospel beyond all recognition. Where did sin and evil come from? If they were not the result of one man’s act of disobedience, there seem to be only two options: either sin was there beforehand and evil is an integral part of God’s creation, or sin is an individualistic thing, brought into the world almost ex nihilo by each person. The former is blatantly non-Christian in its monist or dualist denial of a good Creator and his good creation; the latter looks like Pelagianism, with good individuals becoming sinful by copying Adam (and, presumably, becoming righteous by copying Christ).
The second exhibit that testifies to the foundational significance of a historical Adam to Paul’s theology is 1 Corinthians 15:21–22 and 45–49. Again, Paul unpacks a tight parallel between the first man, Adam, through whom came death, and the second or last man, Christ, through whom comes new life. Again, Adam is spoken of in the same way as Christ. Again, Adam is seen as the origin of death, as Christ is the origin of life.
At this point in 1 Corinthians, Paul is at the apex of a long argument dealing with problems the Corinthian Christians had with the body. As the ultimate answer to their pastoral problems, Paul set out to give them confidence in the reality of their future bodily resurrection by demonstrating the historical fact of Jesus’s bodily resurrection. The historical reality of Jesus’s resurrection is the linchpin of his response. That being the case, it would be the height of rhetorical folly for Paul to draw a parallel between Adam and Christ if he thought Adam was mythical. For if the two could be parallel, then Christ’s resurrection could also be construed mythically—and Paul’s whole letter would lose its point, purpose, and punch.
If I have accurately represented Paul’s theology in these passages, then it is simply impossible to remove a historical Adam from Paul’s gospel and leave it intact. To do so would fatally dehistoricize it, forcing a different account of the origin of evil requiring an altogether different means of salvation.
Is There a Third Way?
Denis Alexander has proposed—substantially elaborating on a theory put forward by John Stott (Understanding the Bible, 49)—that there is a way of avoiding the sharp dichotomy between the traditional view of a historical Adam and the view that such a position is now scientifically untenable (Alexander, chs. 9–10). That is, while we should definitely see Adam as a historical figure, we need not believe he was the first human. According to Alexander’s preferred model, anatomically modern humans emerged 200,000 years ago, with language in place by 50,000 years ago. Then, around 6,000 to 8,000 years ago, God chose a couple of Neolithic farmers, and to them revealed himself for the first time. Thus he constituted Homo divinus, the first humans to know him and be spiritually alive.
It is an ingenious synthesis, to be sure, deftly sidestepping the theological chasm opened by denials of a historical Adam. But it has created for itself profound new problems. The first is raised by the question of what to make of Adam’s contemporaries, those anatomically modern humans who, Alexander says, had already been populating the world for tens of thousands of years. He wisely maneuvers away from understanding them as anything less than fully human, emphatically affirming that “the whole of humankind without any exception is made in God’s image, including certainly all the other millions of people alive in the world in Neolithic times” (238). To have stated otherwise would have landed him in a particularly unpleasant quagmire: the aboriginal population of Australia, who, according to Alexander, had already been living there for 40,000 years before Adam and Eve were born, would otherwise be relegated to the status of non-human animals. And presumably the parents of Adam and Eve, also being non-human animals, would then—along with the Australian aborigines—be a legitimate food source for a hungry Homo divinus.
In avoiding all that, Alexander’s proposal founders on, if anything, even more hazardous terrain. The crucial move is made when he explains what exactly set Adam and Eve apart from their contemporaries. When they were born, he suggests, there was already a vast Neolithic population to be found in God’s image. What then happened to set Adam and Eve apart as Homo divinus was simply that “through God’s revelation to Adam and Eve . . . the understanding of what that image actually meant, in practice, was made apparent to them” (238). It was not, then, that Adam and Eve were now freshly created in God’s image; they had already been born in God’s image, children of a long line of bearers of God’s image. The difference was that they now understood what this meant (a personal relationship with God).
The first problem with this is biblical. In Genesis 1 and 2, it is quite specifically Adam and Eve who are created in God’s image (the event of Gen. 1:27 being presented afresh in Gen. 2:18–25). It is not just that some beings were created in God’s image, and that this could later be realized by a couple of their descendants. Quite the opposite: Genesis 2:7 seems to be an example of the text going out of its way to emphasize a direct, special creative act to bring the man Adam into being. That problem might be considered surmountable, but it has created a second theological problem that seems insurmountable. It is that, if humans were already in the image of God before Adam and Eve, then we are left with one of two scenarios.