Health and Wealth is American Christianity

A recent LifeWay study found that 75% of Evangelicals believe that God wants them to materially prosper.

The Health and Wealth Gospel used to be a peripheral message in the church; it is now one of our new fundamentals of the faith.

The Bible is massively against materialism and material success. It, in fact, says that the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke out faith.

If you trace back the Health and Wealth Gospel you will find it originated around a guy named DL Moody.

Moody, in order to fund his revivals and his schools, hit up businessmen constantly for money. In order to get money from rich guys, you have to preach a message that doesn’t make rich guys feel guilty.

Mr. John Wanamaker was a successful businessman. He invited Moody to speak at a lecture for businessman that would be “tailored more than any that preceded it to the needs of business and professional people who wanted to be freed from the guilt of doing what they were doing.”

In other words, don’t make them feel guilty for making money.

Moody dipped into Health and Wealth teaching when he wrote, “It’s a wonderful fact that men and women saved by the blood of Jesus rarely remain subjects of charity, but rise at once to comfort and respectability.”

He later said, “I don’t see how a man can follow Christ and not be successful.”

Clearly, DL Moody was not as extreme as some of our modern televangelists. But he got awful close. There is a dark side to American revivalists, one that seems to follow the tents. DL Moody, Billy Sunday, right on up to the modern televangelists.

There’s something about coming up with a message that appeals to a large audience that seems to feed on materialism. Perhaps because people want wealth and desperately want to get rich quick. If we can make the Gospel sound like the trick, people will “get saved.”

I’m not trying to besmirch anyone’s character, I merely point out Church History facts. The Health and Wealth Gospel didn’t drop out of the sky! There’s a logical and recorded development that got us where we are today.

If you think Christianity is going to make you rich, successful, and respectable, I suggest not reading the Bible, for that will end your dream.

American Postmillennialism

Postmillennialism is the belief that humans, by revamping society by means of taking over the world with Christianity, will usher in the Kingdom of God.

After this Golden Age ushered in by God’s people, Christ will return (hence “Post” millennium–Christ returns after the Golden Age we establish).

This used to be a standard view of many people, and was particularly popular in America in the 18th and 19th Centuries.

Jonathan Edwards, one of America’s most famous theologians, was a postmillennialist. When he looked upon the results of the Great Awakening, he said:

‘Tis not unlikely that this work of God’s Spirit, that is so extraordinary and wonderful, is the dawning, or at least a prelude, of that glorious work of God, so often foretold in Scripture…. And there are many things that make it probable that this work will begin in America.

The Great Awakenings felt like the start of something big. It also fed into the notion that America was the shining city on a hill, leading the world to the coming of the Lord.

The Millennium, for postmillennialists, is not necessarily 1,000 years. When Revelation 20 mentions 1,000 years 7 times, 1,000 years merely represents an age.

In order to believe Postmillennialism you have to interpret the Scriptures symbolically, or spiritually, or at least not literally. This is true whether you are dealing with the 1,000 years of Revelation 20 or the prophecies about judgment in Revelation before then, or prophecies concerning the regathering of Israel, etc.

You also have to believe in the power of humanity to reform the world and that the church will win in the end. A little too ambitiously optimistic for this guy!

It was a heady time in America when Postmillennialism was popular. The Enlightenment filled humans with grandiose ideas of their potential. America was optimistic and two Great Awakenings swept the land. Christianity was large and in charge. The Battle Hymn of the Republic is pretty much a Postmillennial rally song.

A funny thing happened on the way to the humanly ushered in Millennium: the world wide scope of evil on display in the 20th Century. Pretty hard to come out of two world wars, depression, sexual revolutions, and whatnot and conclude we were making progress toward a Golden Age of Christian Victory.

Very few people are postmillennialists today. But I imagine it will come back if we have a sustained period of peace.

In fact, the modern Social Gospel movement borrows much postmillennial thought.

It is my contention, that when the Church concentrates of societal reform, they will lose their identity and purpose. The Church does not exist for the world. The Church exists for the edification of believers so they can be edified and built up to love their neighbor.

It’s easy to blur that line, or put the cart before the horse on that one, or replace “neighbor,” which is a person, with “society,” which is an unidentifiable mass of people. Regardless of how well the Church does in their mission, I guarantee you human endeavor will not bring Christ back.

Postmillennialism is basically Humanism with a Christian veneer. I suggest not falling for it, or its modern manifestation: the Social Gospel.

R C Sproul’s Calvinism is Mind-boggling

Here are two quotes from RC Sproul. These are not obscure quotes. These are oft repeated quotes from him.

If there is one single molecule in this universe running around loose, totally free of God’s sovereignty, then we have no guarantee that a single promise of God will ever be fulfilled.

This quote says that every single piece of creation is doing exactly what God tells it to do. “Sovereignty,” for Sproul, means God is in meticulous control of everything. Being in charge means dictating absolutely everything that everything does. If God is not dictating every element of creation, then God is not sovereign.

So now, the exact same man says this quote:

Every sin is an act of cosmic treason, a futile attempt to dethrone God in His sovereign authority.

Every sin is going against God’s sovereign authority. Sin is cosmic treason.

I don’t get it.

I know this is where the Calvinist chalks things up to “mystery.” But no, this isn’t a mystery, one of the two has to be false.

If every molecule is doing what God tells it to do, then how can molecules join together to commit cosmic treason?

The best solution to the contradiction is not chalking it up to mystery, and it certainly isn’t deciding that nothing is really sin, but admitting his understanding of sovereignty is wrong.

God is sovereign. Sovereign does not mean making every part of creation do what He wants it to do.

God establishes boundaries. Creation is free inside those boundaries. God is in control to restrict any violation of the boundaries. Nothing is out of His reach to intervene.

I do believe sin is cosmic treason. I’ll take that quote over his molecule quote, that one is just nuts.

Don’t get carried away in your theological ideas. Pretty soon you don’t make sense. Incoherence isn’t proof of mystery; it’s proof your theology has derailed.

John Wesley on Being a New Creation

Here’s a quote from Wesley’s Notes on 2 Corinthians 5:17, which says if you are in Christ you are a new creature:

He has new life, new senses, new faculties, new affections, new appetites, new ideas and conceptions. His whole tenor of action and conversation is new, and he lives, as it were, in a new world. God, men, the whole creation, heaven, earth, and all therein, appear in a new light, and stand related to him in a new manner, since he was created anew in Christ Jesus.

The Gospel isn’t something you believe so when you die you go to heaven. You believe the Gospel so that right now, in this present world, you have new spiritual life that will extend throughout eternity.

The Gospel is life-changing, not just after-death-changing.

What is Christ’s Active Obedience?

I came across the following quote:

“If not for Christ’s active obedience and righteousness, received through faith alone, no one would receive eternal life”

A professor at Reformed Theological Seminary said it. So, let’s analyze the theology by looking at some words.

Reformed:
Since the professor teaches at Reformed Theological Seminary, we can safely conclude we are hearing Reformed Theology from him. “Reformed” basically means “Calvinist.” I’m sure there are more ins and outs to it, but basically, that’s what it means. This will give us a foundation upon which to analyze what we’re hearing.

Tip #1 in analyzing theology: Figure out who said it. Who are they? What do they believe? Where did they say this?

Active Obedience:
This is a theological term; it is not a biblical term. Therefore, in order to define what it means, we must go to that theological camp to figure out what the term means.

Tip #2 in analyzing theology: Define your terms using people who use that term. Don’t use opposing theological camp definitions. This is a Reformed Theology term, so use Reformed Theologians to define it.

Here is a quote from Wayne Grudem in an article on Monergism.com, a place to find all things Reformed.

If Christ had only earned forgiveness of sins for us, then we would not merit heaven. Our guilt would have been removed, but we would simply be in the position of Adam and Eve before they had done anything good or bad . . .
For this reason, Christ had to live a life of perfect obedience to God in order to earn righteousness for us. He had to obey the law for his whole life on our behalf so that the positive merits of his perfect obedience would be counted for us. Sometimes this is called Christ’s “active obedience.”

The primary verse used to defend Active Obedience is Romans 5:19, “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.

Tip #3 in analyzing theology: Look up key verses listed in support of the doctrine. Does the Bible say what they say the Bible says?

OK, now we analyze the parts.

Tip #4 in analyzing theology: Think critically about what you are being told.

The initial quote from the professor says Christ’s active obedience and righteousness is what grants us eternal life through faith.

Active obedience refers to Christ’s sinless life on this earth. Christ’s actual righteous deeds are counted to us, so we pass as righteous.

Therefore, being justified (being made righteous) seems to rest solely on Christ’s active righteous deeds done during His life.

Here’s the strange thing about this: the resurrection is completely unnecessary. Click on the link above to the Monergism.com article written by Grudem. He wrote this article to define active obedience. He does mention “passive obedience” and says that refers to Christ’s “suffering and dying for our sins,” so at least the first half of the Gospel gets mentioned! But there is no mention of Christ’s resurrection in this article about being made righteous.

Here’s why this is problematic for me, and others. Romans 5:19 is the key verse for active obedience, it’s the verse that gets the closest to sounding like it.

The disobedience is talking about Adam’s sin in eating from The Tree. It’s not referring to his entire life of active disobedience, but rather a one-time act. The same is true for Christ’s obedience. The verse is not referring to every single obedient thing Christ did in His earthly life, but is rather referring to a one-time act: more than likely His death–“Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him” (Romans 5:9).

I do not think a person can legitimately take the Greek to mean that Romans 5:19 refers to Christ’s active obedience. It’s referring to one thing.

Furthermore, according to the same context, Paul speak of our justification (justification means being made righteous). He never says our righteousness was achieved by Christ keeping the law for us, but notice what he does chalk our righteousness up to:

who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.
–Romans 4:25

Justification was accomplished not by Christ’s life, nor even His death alone, but also by His resurrection.

One of my main problems with the teaching of Active Obedience is that it

1) Makes justification based on works. Paul is adamant on the point that works of the law don’t justify. If that’s the case, why do we think Christ’s works of the law justify us? If righteous come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain!

2) Makes the resurrection pointless. The entire Monergism definition of Active Obedience  never once mentions the resurrection. It gets skipped. The reason why is because they don’t really need resurrection, yet Paul says Christ’s resurrection is what justifies us!

The quote above by the professor does not even mention any aspect of the Gospel and yet is about how to receive eternal life! If we’re saved by Christ’s active obedience, then the Gospel is not needed.

I know Reformed Theology is not trying to undermine the Gospel, but frequently, in order to support their ideas, it does.

Be sober and watch and pray.

Theologians: Making the Bible Complicated for Thousands of Years

I am reading a biography of Meister Eckhart, an Augustinian monk from the 14th century. He was attempting to bring some reform to the corrupt, materialistic Catholic Church.

In so doing, he became one of the foremost mystics in Christian theology and is a little weird. He felt it was important for people to actually know Christ through mystical experience, rather than ritual motions, although he still kept ritual motions.

In a section talking about Eckhart’s education in the monastery, I read this paragraph:

Lectures on Lombard’s Sentences provided Eckhart with his first experience in the sophisticated practice of scriptural interpretation, or exegesis. Most crucially for his own religious thinking, he learned how to move from the sensus historicus, or literal sense, of Bible passages to various spiritual senses that reveal certain ‘deeper truths’ on the reading in question. The allegorical, or metaphorical, interpretation of a scriptural passage, for instance, viewed people and actions described in a symbolic manner, together conveying an essential spiritual truth.

Along with the literal and allegorical sense, there was also the moral or tropological sense, and the anagogical sense.

Each of the four interpretations, according to his teachers, pointed in a different direction . . .  each sense was true, Eckhart learned, but not readily apparent to the casual reader, hence the need for a trained preacher.

The reason we need a trained clergy is because regular people are too stupid to see these “deeper truths.” I like that the author says these senses are “not readily apparent to the casual reader.” Yeah, no kidding!

Seeing these deeper, hidden truths, and needing to be educated by people who are initiated in special ways of reading the Scripture, is the realm of theologians.

The main job of a theologian is to make the simple Scriptural meanings massively more complicated so they can feel smart and sell you things.

Yes, I’m a tad cynical of theologians. People who use big words like tropological and anagogical are not people who are going to help you understand the Bible! Use real words, people!

People who use big words are not trying to help. They are trying to make sure you realize they are smarter than you and you should bow before their awesomeness.

I don’t trust them and neither should you.

Read the Bible. Take the common sense interpretation and put it into practice. You will grow that way.

Theologians can help, but if you find that all they do is confuse you and make it harder, than don’t mess with them.

Pretty much the only reason I listen to theologians is because everyone else is basing what they believe off of what these guys said.

If you want to know where different Christians are coming from; read theology. If you want to know God and follow Christ; read the Bible.

You do not need to read big-worded theologians to know Christ. For many, theologians actually keep people from knowing Christ.

Keep it simple. Don’t let smart people discourage you. Know Christ.