Hijackers or Hitchhikers: The Christian Worldview and the Movie Theater

A quick Google search on “Christian” and “Les Misérables” or “Frozen” will immediately reveal a myriad of articles offering Christian interpretations of these movies. The problem is the authors (directors) are not professing Christians. Why would they create Christian art? Is the believing community so desperate for representation that they must project their belief system on every work of art that they happen to enjoy? Many grow frustrated with this coat-tail riding tendency of the believing community and insist that there can be no connection between pagan art and Christianity. Are Christians hijackers at heart?

Much of the confusion and reaction against the alleged hijacking stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of what Christians are actually claiming about these films. For example, when believers claim that Elsa from Frozen is a Christ figure, they are not claiming that anyone who watches the film place faith in Jesus, the Son of God, and understand the gospel narrative from this short musical. Frozen is not a Christian allegory. The characters in it do not represent people and events from the gospel. However, Frozen does make a powerful ethical statement consistent with the Christian worldview.

While Frozen does not tell the gospel story, the central theme of the movie is the power of self-sacrificing love. The magical maxim throughout the movie, “only true love can melt a frozen heart,” could easily be replaced with “greater love has no man than this, than a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). I don’t think anyone would walk away from that film despising the foolishness of self-sacrificing love (except perhaps Ayn Rand). Does that make it a Christian movie? Does every Christian movie tell the gospel story, or can they express the results of the Christian worldview? I am tempted to believe that more sensitive individuals would walk away from this movie thinking, “I wish there was someone who loved me like that.” The Christian knows that there is a fulfillment to this longing. Self-sacrificial love is not a utopian ideal; it exists! We find the perfect expression of that kind of love in Christianity alone.

Consider another example: the drama of condemnation, mercy, and redemption found in Les Misérables. The story is much more complex and beautiful than this simple reduction, but allow it for illustration’s sake. Jean Valjean and Javert are both men shown incredible mercy. Valjean, caught stealing again, is almost certain to be sentenced to life in prison or death. Instead, a kind priest shows him mercy by forgiving and covering his theft, and this mercy propels Valjean to live a life of selfless love for others. This eventually leads him to spare the life of his old jail-master, Javert. However, Javert responds to this mercy in an entirely different way. Unable to stand the thought of being a debtor to anything, let alone mercy, he commits suicide. This powerful story of redemption might as well have been written by the apostle Paul as he explained 2 Corinthians 2:15–16,

“For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.”

Some, when they encounter God’s saving mercy in Christ, receive it to new life of joyful, self-sacrificial love. Others, unable to bear the thought of being in debt to anyone, choose rather to endure their just condemnation. This story powerfully illustrates many other Christian themes.

Neither of these stories were written by professing Christians, yet they extraordinarily portray the results of a Christian worldview. They are true to reality and the human condition. They portray the longings of every human heart as well as the painful scarring left by sin. How is it possible that non-believers could write such Christian stories? This is due to the reality that all men are created in God’s image. While sin has damaged this image, it is not destroyed. We shouldn’t be surprised when unbelievers write powerful stories that cause us to love good and hate what is evil because they are made in God’s image.[1]

We also shouldn’t be surprised when unbelievers write “Christian” stories because all truth is God’s truth. We shouldn’t reject an artful portrayal of beauty simply because it came from a pagan. As Christians called to fix our affections on the things above (Col 3:1), any beautiful reality accurately portrayed by art should receive our adoration. Likewise, the pain and suffering of humanity and common longings of the human heart powerfully resonate with us, because Christians know we live in a fallen world in need of redemption. We should be willing to appreciate what is good even more than the unbelieving audience, since we understand the source of all that is good and lovely comes from the fountain of good, the triune God.

Rather than hijackers, twisting and destroying innocent stories to fit their own belief system, Christians are more like hitchhikers, recognizing a vehicle traveling along a common road. While few movies could be considered evangelistic, many appropriately incite our affections love what is truly beautiful or hate what is evil. When Paul instructs believers in Philippians 4:8 to think on “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise,” he does not restrict them to Christian movies. We should be willing to recognize the image of God and God’s truth wherever we may find it.[2]

    1. Although perhaps we should wonder at the fact that non-believers continually craft stories that are at odds with their view of the world. In an atheistic, naturalistic universe, why show anyone mercy? It’s kill or be killed. The fact that these stories remain so popular is a testament to the fact that we are all made in God’s image.  ↩
    2. Alternate ending suggested by my wife: So the next time you get mad at a Christian “hijacking” a popular movie, just “let it go.” ↩

The Suicidal Exchange

How can one make a compelling argument against gay marriage? This question formed in my mind after watching the debate between Andrew Sullivan and Doug Wilson. The topic was “Is Gay Marriage Good for Society?” It seemed like Doug Wilson could not make a convincing democratic argument against gay marriage. Now, that’s not very surprising to me because Wilson (and other orthodox Christians) hold to Scripture as the final authority of human life, and as well as the noetic effects of sin, that is, men suppress the truth in unrighteousness. That debate got me thinking about how a compelling case against gay marriage could be made.

It seems that most arguments against gay marriage merely forbid it. They call upon gays to give up their desires, and leave them to pick up the pieces of their lost happiness. This denies men and women their natural pursuit of their desires. Nevertheless, contrary to what the majority of Americans will tell you, it is unloving to allow gays to pursue their happiness in a way that causes them to make a suicidal exchange of their greatest joy for a lesser pleasure. We were made for pleasure; we are called to joy.

All men seek their own happiness.

Any argument we make must not call for any individual to abandon their pursuit of happiness. This is madness. As Blaise Pascal accurately noted, “All men seek their own happiness, even those who hang themselves.” Mothers who skip meals for the sake of her children do so because it brings them joy to sacrificially care for them. Football players who work themselves to the point of exhaustion do so because of the exultation found in victory. Teenagers who cut themselves or use drugs do so to dull the pain of life and find happiness. There is not a person on the planet who does not seek their happiness in everything they do.

This an inescapable fact of humanity. We all want to be happy and not miserable. Even those who seem to be perpetually in misery are that way because they were made for joy and they do not have it. We were made for pleasure. Thus, we cannot expect anyone to abandon this basic human instinct in order to meet our desires. No one willingly does so.

No one should exchange a greater pleasure for a lesser one

No one intentionally exchanges a greater pleasure for a lesser one. Since we are all seekers of maximal happiness, we never make sacrifices except to obtain greater pleasures. To value something more highly than it ought to be, or to devalue something of great importance, is evil. Likewise, we should never call on anyone to make this suicidal exchange.

The problem is not that we have desires. The problem is that we habitually exchange living waters for broken cisterns (Jeremiah 2:13). We prefer the pit to the palace. We esteem what should not be valued as being supremely valuable. As C.S. Lewis noted, “It would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”[1]

When infinite joy is offered to you, it is suicide to trade this for a few nights (or decades) of fading pleasure. This exchange is evil, and any sane human being will resist it with all of his might. Many arguments against gay marriage fail in this area. Calling any one to merely abandon their pursuit of their own happiness is morally wrong. Instead, we must plead with them not to despise the greatest pleasure and happiness that is offered.

Man’s greatest pleasure and happiness is found in God.

Our supreme joy and pleasure will be found only in God. This is evidenced by the fact that all other joys can be lost. Our friends can betray us; our lovers desert us; our families die; our bodies fail us. Every object that we might hope to find happiness is, by nature, transient and fickle. We were made for more than sex. We were made for God. As C.S. Lewis remarked, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”[2] We were made for God.

The Bible constantly instructs us to seek our total joy and happiness in God. We are told to “rejoice in the Lord” (Philippians 3:1) and to “rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, rejoice” (Philippians 4:4). With God, “there is fullness of joy; at [His] right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). The pursuit of joy is what led Abraham to wander in the wilderness, seeking a heavenly city (Hebrews 11:7–9), and allowed the patriarchs to die without having received earthly prosperity, knowing that they had received a heavenly inheritance (Hebrews 11:16). Because Moses considered the riches of Christ worth more than all earthly pleasure he chose to suffer mistreated rather than enjoy the pleasures of sin (Hebrews 11:25–26). Jesus Christ Himself, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame” did not sacrifice greater pleasure for temporary comfort (Heb 12:2).

In the gospel of Jesus Christ, all the deepest desires of the human heart are met. Humans without exception desire love, joy, and peace. Through faith in the substitutionary death of Jesus, we receive the assurance of God’s everlasting love (John 3:16; Romans 5:8; Romans 8:31–38). This love allows Christians to have an indestructable joy that cannot be stolen or corroded. Finally, we have peace with the almighty God through Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1). This is true life.

Sin is the exchange of a greater pleasure for a lesser one

This is what makes sin evil and irrational. It is the abandoning of the central pursuit of every human being. It is the exchange of a greater pleasure for a lesser one. We trade God Himself for a mere human companion. Jesus promises that “everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life” (Matthew 19:29). Jesus is the pearl of greatest price that is worth giving up every earthly pleasure in order to obtain (Matthew 13:25–26). “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). Those who chose to pursue the pleasure of their sin are sacrificing infinite, real, present joy in God for a lesser, perishable pleasure Seek your own happiness by all means, but do not make the fatal exchange for some cheap joy.

Do not command the impossible

Campaigns against gay marriage that consist in telling someone to abandon their desires and give up on pleasure are insane and immoral. No one ever abandons the pursuit of their desires. Instead, our plea must be for all people everywhere to give up the lesser pleasures of sin and seek the everlasting joy and riches in Christ. We need the Christian gospel more than ever. Jesus Christ promises eternal joy to all those who repent and call upon His name. Call on all people to make the life-giving exchange of fleeting happiness for marrow-saturating joy. We were made for pleasure; we are called to joy.

  1. C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, 26.  ↩
  2. C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 136–137.  ↩

Two Foundations

After the recent punishment of Donald Sterling, one of my friends expressed his concern that this could lead to punishment of Christians speaking in favor of Biblical marriage. What if the same public outrage and moral judgment turns from racism to biblical teaching on homosexuality?

Should we be concerned that the public’s moral outrage, with its often faulty moral compass, seems to be determining what is right and wrong? We need a foundation strong enough to support the weight of our moral judgments. Transient community consensus simply cannot support even the most basic moral rules necessary for a functioning society. We need a bedrock of truth, not sandy impulses. I believe that there is such a foundation that can support a healthy society. The foundation is the Triune God of Scripture.

Jesus is Lord

We begin with the lordship of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the Lord of the universe, author of life, and the final authority of all morality. Unlike Tinkerbell, Jesus’ vitality is unaffected by unbelief. He remains the King, and He is very much alive. He is the final authority on all human morality, and all men everywhere have the obligation to submit to Him. No one may reject this authority and live (Gen 2:17). This reality provides the foundation for truth as well as morality.

The fact that Jesus is Lord over this world means that the universe is made a certain way. Because Jesus is King, truth exists. The world was created this way and not that way. It is no longer an empty void, instead God has set boundaries dividing heaven from earth, land from sea, good from evil. Fundamental to debates over human morality is cosmology. What is the world actually like? If the world has been set in motion with unassailable laws of nature woven into its fabric, then it cannot be the directionless, malleable lump of clay that evolutionary theory claims.

Christ’s authority and the world’s reality give support to human morality. Human nature and morality are not changeable substances, reimagined through every evolutionary stage. Christ’s authority remains fixed. This belief is the only foundation capable of supporting human existence as society.[1] We were created to live in a certain way. Living “with the grain” of the universe enables mankind to flourish. Throw a soccer player onto a basketball court, and for all his athletic prowess, you will quickly realize he is using the wrong rule book. Only a morality rooted in Christ’s authority creates the greatest conditions for mankind’s material well-being.

Human Depravity

However, a quick glance around the world and inside ourselves reveals that we resist the authority of Christ with all of our being. We claim that we invent the rules. We deny nature and distort our reason and feelings to justify our rebellion (Rom 1:18). Our inner dialogue sets us up as gods, creating the universe in our likeness.

We know instinctively that something is wrong with the world. Man’s depravity means that we hate to bow our knees to Jesus. Yet rather than giving us freedom, we actually destroy ourselves – individually and as a society. Restraint is necessary to reign in our sinful bent. We need someone to come in from the outside to punish evil and enforce morality on our stubbornly rebellious hearts (Rom 13:1–4), but how do we determine morality?

Because God is God, He defines morality. Further, since He created the world, this morality allows for the greatest degree of human flourishing because it treats the world as it really is. In contrast, cultural consensus evolves and changes. Everyone is outraged over racism now, but who can guarantee that we won’t evolve back into our evil ways once again? Only the belief that every human being has been made in the image of God can provide a firm judgment against racism in all its forms.

Restraint is necessary

Now, if you take a walk down the street talking like this, it won’t take long for someone to explode, “stop imposing your morality/religion on me!” Now, anyone who doesn’t want some morality enforced doesn’t understand human nature. We are desperately wicked and running towards Hell. Restraint is necessary, and restraint requires morality.

We should also recognize that human restraint of evil is restricted to external actions. This is where the inadequacy of government is clearly realized. It can restrain external expressions of evil, but it can’t actually change our hearts. We need a much better savior than Washington. The Christian gospel clearly proclaims that we need a bigger fix than some policies and fines. We need new hearts. Jesus Christ is our only hope for real change. Nevertheless, because we live in a fallen world, evil must be restrained. The government must legislate morality, but it is limited to external actions only.

Restraint is limited

Because of the limitation of government to external actions, the cries of intolerance and bigotry ring hollow. It is impossible for Christianity to be spread by the sword (government action). The government may punish murderers, but that act does nothing to make them more Christian. Christians don’t want the government to try to save homosexuals/adulterers/fornicators from their lust; only Jesus can do that. Christians understand that the government can’t eradicate racism; it can only punish the consequent actions. Government exists for one purpose: to dam the torrent of evil action spewing from our hearts.

Don’t cheapen the gospel of grace by complaining about separation of church and state when Christians seek the prohibition of murder and adultery. Enforcing morality is not Christian. The gospel goes much further and deeper than that. You can’t put a sword to someone’s throat (or a fine to their bank account) and make them a Christian. It is impossible for the government to convert someone by enforcing a judicial code, no matter where that code originated from.

Christians understand that internal beliefs cannot be enforced by an external agency, but that doesn’t mean government shouldn’t enforce anything. Because we desire to love our neighbor, we want to see the best conditions for human growth and flourishing. This is the role of government – to restrain human sinfulness and create these condition – but it is a limited role. Government must never overstep its bounds and try to police the internal motions of the heart.

Two Foundations

Public outrage cannot be the final authority on justice. It does make me nervous that this outrage seems to be grounded more in shifting demographics than the fundamental nature of humanity.

I can give a credible defense of why all forms of prejudice are wrong. Every human being has been created in the image of God and as a result must be treated with respect. Can defenders of evolutionary theory honestly say that it is always wrong to treat other nations/ethnic groups with contempt?

Taking it one step further, my Christianity provides a better foundation to love members of the LGBT community than their own partners can. Love cannot be reduced to sexual arousal. You will never hear someone say that they truly love a prostitute. They probably have some feelings, but that’s not the same thing as love.

True love is plainly exemplified in the gospel – Jesus dying in the place of sinners for their everlasting joy. Love is the overflow of joy in God that leads someone to sacrificially seek the greatest good of others. Only the Christian gospel allows an individual to truly say “I love you” to his homosexual neighbor and liberates him to be imprisoned for seeking his neighbor’s greatest good and ultimate happiness. Only a heart finding its final joy in God through Jesus Christ can overflow into sacrificial love for its neighbor. Neither feelings nor moral obligation can generate the foundation for true love – we need the grace of God in Christ to fill our hearts.

Do these events concern me? A little. I do worry that our society’s sense of morality will soon reflect nothing more than the shifting sand of popular opinion. We need much better foundation than community consensus; we need a King.

  1. Just try to create a credible defense of basic human morality from the premises of evolution. You can certainly arrive at some conclusions of what constitutes the good of a people group, but you can’t consistently argue against genocide, racism, theft, murder, lying, or any other crime against another human because evolution has not rules. Everything is up for grabs. People speak of evolutionary progress as if random, uncaring chance has an actual trajectory. We are just as likely to experience regress as we are to have progress.  ↩

First Principles

Abraham Kuyper

Abraham Kuyper

I just finished James Bratt’s excellent biography on Abraham Kuyper. The book was provocative on a number of issues, such as education, culture, and politics. One of Kuyper’s contributions to political thought was his emphasis on “first principles.” These are the supporting pillars that undergird all of the Christian’s political actions. In light of that, I though I would begin to think through some of my “first principles” as they relate to Christianity, culture, and politics.

  1. God’s Sovereignty. God is absolutely sovereign over every area of life. As Kuyper memorably stated in his famous maxim, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!” Christ is Lord. He rules over this world whether its inhabitants recognize Him or not. No matter how the world protests against or outright denies this fact, the world remains under His control. He created all things for a specific purpose, and we must submit to Him in all of life.
  2. Human Depravity. The other Calvinistic companion to the first principle, man resists God’s authority at every turn. He is loath to submit to Christ’s domain, and rebels at every turn. As he attempts to set up himself on the throne, man does violent damage to himself and those around him. Because of this, government restraint is necessary for the survival of society. Government is given authority to punish evil doers.
  3. Freedom of Conscience. Every man must be given the liberty to follow his conscience in respect to religion. Governments should never coerce individuals to violate their personal convictions of morality. This has immediate ramifications for education. Since neutrality is impossible, every segment of society must be free to educate their children through their convictional worldview.
  4. Worship Governs Politics. Our political systems are always expressions of our worship. We legislate about what is important. Our gods determine our laws. In order to change the direction political action is trending, their must be a changing of the gods. Until the Triune God of Scripture reclaims His rightful throne, government will continue to chase after the fashionable idols of personal freedom and autonomy. Closely related to this point is the nature of all legislation: it is moral. Every law made is a declaration of right and wrong. When it comes to the question of legislating morality, it is not a question of if, but whose? Whose morality will be legislated?

Some ramifications of these first four principles should be already be forming in your mind.

  1. Christian’s should establish Christian education. Education is never neutral. Thus, Christians (and other religious groups) should establish institutions that faithfully education their children according to their worldview.
  2. Legislation is always moral. Christians should seek to preserve society by submitting to Christ’s authority in all things. The world will inevitably resist by instituting their own morality against the church. Believers should not shy away from seeking Christian laws because they might by “imposing their morality on someone.” Because God is sovereign over all, the best thing for any nation to do is to submit to Him in all things. This is the only path that will allow human flourishing.
  3. If Jesus is Lord, and He is, and if He created the world this way and not that way, and He did, then Christians should seek for legislation that proclaims God’s purposes in the created order. Laws should preserve the dignity of human life and the honor of marriage. Government should protect the innocent and punish the guilty. Legislation should restrain man’s bent toward evil and promote the natural use of God’s creation.
  4. Above all, Christians must seek to cultivate the worship of the one true God. This priority rises above all earthly concerns. Worship comes first. The outworking of that faith will inevitably follow.

I have a few more principles that I would like to introduce in another post. I am still in development on many of these principles, and I would love your input. Do you have any to add?

(Doug Wilson provided 7 facts of the pomosexual revolution. These provide foundational support for the Christian’s work in the world.)

Around the Web

Around the Web 03.15.14

Reaching my Autistic Son Through Disney – Fantastic article about how a dad learned to speak to his son through the language of Disney.

He giggles under his breath, then does a little shoulder roll, something he does when a jolt of emotion runs through him. “You know, they’re not like the other sidekicks.”

He has jumped ahead of me again. I scramble. “No? How?”

“All the other sidekicks live within their movies as characters, walk around, do things. The gargoyles only live when Quasimodo is alone with them.”

“And why’s that?”

“Because he breathes life into them. They only live in his imagination.”

Everything goes still. “What’s that mean, buddy?”

He purses his lips and smiles, chin out, as if he got caught in a game of chess. But maybe he wanted to. “It means the answers are inside of him,” he says.

“Then why did he need the gargoyles?”

“He needed to breathe life into them so he could talk to himself. It’s the only way he could find out who he was.”

“You know anyone else like that?”

“Me.” He laughs a sweet, little laugh, soft and deep. And then there’s a long pause.

“But it can get so lonely, talking to yourself,” my son Owen finally says. “You have to live in the world.”

How to Read a Classic – Leland Ryken has his third post in the series on Crossway.

As an addendum to the foregoing, let me say that we should read the classics in an awareness of the doctrine of common grace. By God’s common grace, every person and culture has some capacity for the true, the good, and the beautiful. It is a rare classic with which we cannot find a large common ground, even if the worldview and moral vision are partly deficient.

20 Jokes only Intellectuals will Understand – Some of these are tough. Let’s see what you got.

Preparing for the Refugee Column

The greatest commandment is love, not niceness. And as C.S. Lewis pointed out somewhere, anger is what love bleeds when you cut it. You cannot love without hating, and if you do not hate, you know nothing of love. The fear of the Lord is to hate evil (Prov. 8:13). To love the wolves is to hate the sheep, and vice versa. Love the termites, hate the house. Hate the man, love the cancer. This is not a difficult principle.

“Love Her More and Love Her Less”

Here is the beginning of one of my favorite poems by John Piper:

The God whom we have loved, and in
Whom we have lived, and who has been
Our Rock these twenty-two good years
With you, now bids us, with sweet tears,
To let you go: “A man shall leave
His father and his mother, cleave
Henceforth unto his wife, and be
One unashaméd flesh and free.”
This is the word of God today,
And we are happy to obey.
For God has given you a bride
Who answers every prayer we’ve cried
For over twenty years, our claim
For you, before we knew her name.

And now you ask that I should write
A poem – a risky thing, in light
Of what you know: that I am more
The preacher than the poet or
The artist. I am honored by
Your bravery, and I comply.
I do not grudge these sweet confines
Of rhyming pairs and metered lines.
They are old friends. They like it when
I bid them help me once again
To gather feelings into form
And keep them durable and warm.

And so we met in recent days,
And made the flood of love and praise
And counsel from a father’s heart
To flow within the banks of art.
Here is a portion of the stream,
My son: a sermon poem. It’s theme:
A double rule of love that shocks;
A doctrine in a paradox:

If you now aim your wife to bless,
Then love her more and love her less.

Full poem can be found here.

When Typology goes Wrong

Let me start off by saying that typology is a legitimate biblical pursuit (see Hebrews). Typology is the discipline of seeing that people and events were designed by God to foreshadow the antitype, Jesus. Examples named in Scripture include Melchizedek, the priests, the sacrificial system, the temple, and so on. This post should be taken as referring to bad typology, not the biblical practice.

1. Bad typology treats every part as the whole. Yes, all the Scriptures testify of Christ, but not all in the same way. Bad typology takes every part of the biblical story line and makes it tell the whole story, instead of the part that God intended. Now, the whole story is tightly interwoven, and we ought to notice such connections. Does every figure have to represent the fulfillment and center of all Scripture? Or are they part of the path leading to Him.
2. Bad typology excludes the human author. A biblical view of inspiration understands that God spoke through men, while not obscuring their particular vocabulary or style. Further, while God understood the whole trajectory of the Bible as it was being composed, the human author (under inspiration) often had a narrower focus. Bad typology ignores the lens of the human author and original readers and jumps right to the finale of redemptive history.
3. Bad typology is a half-step away from allegory. “yes, yes, these were real historical events,” it affirms, “but they don’t actually mean anything beyond what they typify.” Bad typology only pays lip service to the historical meaning of the text. It spiritually typifies Christ, so why bother with its original meaning?

In sum, bad typology shuns rigid, vigorous exegesis and takes a shortcut to the cross. The destination is not the problem; but at times the path is. If the Scriptures testify of Christ (and they do), let them lead us there by texts, not an shortcut “well this reminds me of…”

As always, I write so that I might understand. I expect to be disputed and corrected. Let us learn together. Do you agree with these marks of bad typology?

Book Review: From Heaven He Came and Sought Her

From Heaven He Came and Sought Her

I just finished reading this book on definite atonement:

Edited by David Gibson and Jonathan Gibson. From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective. Wheaton: Crossway, 2013.

This book aims to be the most comprehensive defense of definite atonement in recent history. True to its title, the authors address the atonement from four perspectives:

  1. Historical
  2. Biblical (Exegetical)
  3. Theological
  4. Pastoral


The historical section, encompassing nearly 200 pages, thoroughly analyses major figures and councils throughout church history who have held to definite atonement. These chapters contain all of the major characters that one might expect.

  1. “We Trust in the Saving Blood: Definite Atonement in the Ancient Church” – Michael A. G. Haykin
  2. “Sufficient for All, Efficient for Some: Definite Atonement in the Medieval Church” – David S. Hogg
  3. “Calvin, Indefinite Language, and Definite Atonement” – Paul Helm
  4. “Blaming Beza: The Development of Definite Atonement in the Reformed Tradition” – Raymond A. Blacketer
  5. “The Synod of Dort and Definite Atonement” – Lee Gatiss
  6. “Controversy on Universal Grace: A Historical Survey of Moïse Amyraut’s Brief Traitte dé la Predestination” – Amar Djaballah
  7. “Atonement and the Covenant of Redemption: John Owen on the Nature of Christ’s Satisfaction” – Carl R. Trueman

These chapters were helpful for framing the context of the discussion, as well as introducing how the doctrine came to be articulated the way it is today. While aiming to provide a historical context for the debate, each of these chapters also introduced arguments for definite atonement.

My favorite chapter from this section was Carl Trueman’s interaction with John Owen and Richard Baxter’s discussion on the atonement’s extent. John Owen argued that the nature of atonement was tied to the unity of the Trinity in the covenant of redemption. The Father elects a people for the Son to save; The Son effectually dies for those the Father elects; The Spirit applies the atonement to the elect for whom Christ died. All persons are in agreement in intention and actuality.


In the Biblical portion of the book, the authors seek to defend definite atonement from specific texts in the Bible.

  1. “Because He Loved your Forefathers: Election, Atonement, and Intercession in the Pentateuch” – Paul R. Williamson
  2. “Stricken for the Transgression of My People: The Atoning Work of Isaiah’s Suffering Servant” – J. Alec Motyer
  3. “For the Glory of the Father and the Salvation of His People: Definite Atonement in the Synoptic and Johannine Literature” – Matthew S. Harmon
  4. “For Whom did Christ Die? Particularism and Universalism in the Pauline Epistles” – Jonathan Gibson
  5. “For the Glorious Indivisible, Trinitarian Work of God in Christ: Definite Atonement in Paul’s Theology of Salvation” – Jonathan Gibson
  6. “‘Problematic Texts’ for Definite Atonement in the Pastoral and General Epistles” – Thomas R. Schreiner

The best chapters in this section were Motyer’s chapter on Isaiah 53, explaining the Servant gives His life for “the many”, and Gibson’s chapters on the epistles. Gibson also interacted with Pauline texts that seem to teach a universal atonement as well as exegeting definite atonement texts. I didn’t find Williamson’s chapter on the Pentateuch to be particularly helpful as he seemed to be confusing the nature of the Old Covenant community with the New Covenant people.

These chapters began to have a great deal of overlap, especially the chapters on the Pauline epistles. I found myself starting to skim through the chapters as I read the same interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:4 for the fourth time. In aiming to be comprehensive, at times the authors came across as redundant. I suppose this is one of the unassailable faults with a multi-author work.


Here the authors marshal broad theological arguments in favor of definite atonement as well as prove the logical complications of holding to a general atonement:

  1. “Definite Atonement and the Divine Decree” – Donald Macleod
  2. “The Triune God, Incarnation, and Definite Atonement” – Robert Letham
  3. “The Definite Intent of Penal Substitutionary Atonement” – Garry J. Williams
  4. “Punishment God Cannot Twice Inflict: The Double Payment Argument Redivivus” – Garry J. Williams
  5. “The New Covenant Work of Christ: Priesthood, Atonement, and Intercession” – Stephen J. Wellum
  6. “Jesus Christ the Man: Toward a Systematic Theology of Definite Atonement” – Henri A. G. Blocher

The arguments I found most convincing were the arguments from the unity of the Trinity, the nature of penal substitution, and the priestly office of Christ. These arguments had all been introduced in earlier chapters of the book, but they received fuller treatment here. Having already mentioned the Trinitarian argument earlier in this review, I will briefly explain the other two arguments.

The argument from penal substitution contends that such a sacrifice requires that Christ is dying for specific people. He dies, substituting Himself in their place. It does not follow that he can provide Himself as penal substitute for people who are not actually saved by such a substitution. It is not possible to hypothetically die in someone’s stead; There must be intention. As Isaiah 53 says, quoted in Mark 10:45, “He gives His life a ransom for many

The priesthood argument connects Christ’s work of intercession with his work of atonement. Just as He prays and intercedes for “His own” and not those who are not His own, He dies for His own. Wellum convincingly argues from John 17 and Hebrews that these are two inseparable works of the priestly office. If Christ performs one with a degree of specificity, He must also perform the other with the same definite intention.


In the final chapters of the book, the authors draw some practical conclusions based on definite atonement. These include an argument against universal atonement on the basis of the unevangelized, the grounds for a universal gospel call and assurance, and God’s aim to glorify Himself in the salvation of His people.

  1. “Slain for the World: The ‘uncomfortability’ of the ‘unevangelized’ for a universal atonement” – Daniel Strange
  2. “‘Blessed Assurance, Jesus is Mine?’ Definite Atonement and the Cure of Souls” – Sinclair B. Ferguson
  3. “‘My Glory I will Not Give to Another!’ Preaching the Fullness of Definite Atonement to the Glory of God” – John Piper

These chapters draw somewhat from the chapters before them, but effectively demonstrate the impact that definite atonement makes on the gospel, the glory of God, and the Christian life. All of these chapters were excellent. The demonstrate that definite is not an abstract doctrine, but one with profound implications for the Christian.

Concluding Thoughts

The book accomplishes its aim to be the comprehensive book on the definite atonement. It thoroughly interacts with most, if not all, significant historical and current arguments for and against definite atonement. The one weakness of the book was that it was a little redundant at times; one author tended to repeat another. The other weakness, at least for me, was that the book was so thorough in its treatment of other theological systems that some chapters were irrelevant to me (for example, Blocher’s chapter engaging with Barthian theology). Overall, this book makes a convincing case for definite atonement.

As Carson notes, “Whatever side you hold in this debate, henceforth you dare not venture into the discussion without thoughtfully reading this book…”

Around the Web

Around the Web – 3.8.14

The Job After Steve Jobs: Tim Cook and Apple – A fascinating article on the differences in leadership style between Tim Cook and Steve Jobs. 

Russel Moore and Andrew Walker argue that Christian’s should be critical of any government that criminalizes homosexual behavior . Doug Wilson responds by imagining he were the devil. With the current trajectory of the world-wide push for homosexuality, both are worth engaging with.

Al Mohler submitted his list of best books of 2013 for preachers. The list includes biography, biblical theology, systematic theology, commentaries, apologetics, and even a book on music, well, on Bach anyway.

(HT: 22 Words)

Absalom a type of Jesus?

medium_3146401290I recently listened to this sermon on 2 Samuel from Doug Wilson. In the sermon, he points out that Absalom functions as an reverse type to our Lord Jesus. Here are his observations:

How unlike the Lord’s death! And yet there are striking similarities in that unlikeness. The Lord also was rejected by men, and forsaken by Heaven. He also was hanged on a tree, between sky and earth. But when that happened, Absalom’s followers all scattered for good. The Lord’s followers attempted to scatter, but God had a deeper purpose in mind (John 12:32). When Jesus was hanged on a tree, it was God’s purpose to gather all His followers.

Absalom was buried in a ravine, covered with multiple stones, there to remain. Jesus was buried in a cave, covered with one stone, that was to be rolled away. Absalom had entered Jerusalem in triumph just a few days before, presumably on a mule. Jesus entered Jerusalem just a few days before, seated on a donkey. The unnamed soldier here rejects silver to avoid betraying his king. Judas accepted silver to betray his king. Absalom was pierced by a soldier while he was hanging, and Jesus was pierced by a soldier while he was hanging.

Messengers ran from the death of Absalom with a message of shalom. We are messengers who run from the death and resurrection of Jesus with a message of everlasting shalom.

Now that sounds quite nice. All the dots connect and it seems to make sense. But my knee jerk reaction is that I can’t imagine anything more foreign to the original readers’ minds.

If types are meant to anticipate and foreshadow Christ, then shouldn’t the people reading the shadows see at least the silhouette of the Savior? How could anyone connect Absalom with then future Son of David in these specific ways without having the details of the gospel account? Is Jesus what the nation of Israel was supposed to see when they read this account hundreds of years before the incarnation? It seems impossible that they ever would have.

I am a little wary of these sorts of types because it seems they must be by nature retrospective and not anticipatory. Now, one could certainly compare the Davidic Covenant promises with the actions of Absalom and quickly realize that he is not the promised Son, but should one then conclude that the future Davidite would ride into Jerusalem on a mule, hang on a tree, be buried under a stone, gather his followers, and grant shalom?

At times it seems like typology is a discipline of finding parallels and similarities to the gospel account in order to circumvent the original meaning of the text and jump over to the meaning of the gospel narrative instead. The current position in the Biblical narrative is jettisoned in favor of our current position in redemptive history. The trajectory of the text gets ignored in an effort to arrive at the destination.

Now every Christian sermon must resolve in Jesus Christ, or it is not Christian. But why must the historical setting of the original text be abandoned to get there?

I have many more questions than answers concerning typology. What do you think? Can typology be retrospective as well as anticipatory? Do you have any resources that you’ve found helpful on the subject?

[here is another reverse type you may be interested in considering: Judas and Jesus.]

 photo credit: Wha’ppen via photopin cc