Monthly Archives: April 2009

Making the race purposely difficult

Years ago, a friend suggested I read Arlen Chitwood’s Run to Win, which I did. I was not impressed. He begins appropriately with the idea that Christians are running “a race of the faith,” borrowing language from Paul and the unknown author of Hebrews. It is an apt image: Christianity is a race, hard, but ultimately rewarding. The effectiveness of the metaphor in evangelism became apparent the year I spoke at a Bible camp in Northern California many years ago. I told stories of my experiences in track, relating those stories to my faith. Several campers visited me afterwards in the cafeteria and told me about their own experiences in sports, connecting those experiences to faith with an enthusiasm that quite overwhelmed me. They believed they were running the race. They were excited. Only then did I realize how wonderful the metaphor is.

But Chitwood wants to make the race purposely difficult, almost burdensome. The following paragraph from the introduction of Run to Win serves as an example:

The race in which Christians presently find themselves is, in the light of Heb. 11:1ff and other related Scriptures, a race of the faith (cf. II Tim. 4:7). The “saving of the soul” is in view (Heb. 10:39), which is what Peter in his first epistle referred to as “the end [goal]” of the Christian’s faith as he runs the race — “Receiving the end [goal] of your faith, even the salvation of your souls” (I Peter 1:9). And the saving or losing of one’s soul has to do with occupying or being denied a position with Christ in His kingdom (cf. Matt. 16:24-17:5; 25:14-30; Luke 19:12-27).

First, Chitwood wants the scriptures to say that the soul is saved distinctly from the spirit. (He believes man consists of three parts — spirit, soul and body — and that each part is saved separately.) He wants the scriptures to say that the spirit is saved unconditionally, but that the soul is saved conditionally (if you find it hard to believe that a Christian theologian would say such a thing, read Salvation of the Soul, page 13). Only scripture does not say that. Salvation is by grace only.

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How appealing is kingdom exclusion?

Studied as a social phenomenon, how widespread is kingdom exclusion? Over a year ago, I began my research, but was confronted by a paucity of data on the teaching. Granted, Watchman Nee, Arlen L. Chitwood and J.D. Faust have written exhaustively on the subject, but few others have. It is not studied in universities or seminaries – several calls to professors reveal it is not even known. Few churches teach it. Few websites promote it (a search of key words at Google Trends reveals there is not enough data to establish a trend). Most Christians have never heard of it.

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Should we read Revelation literally or figuratively?

There’s been a lot of discussion about whether one should read the Revelation literally, or figuratively. The problem is the of “literal.” Many Christians tell me they take Revelation literally, but then make comments like: “The whore of Babylon is the Catholic Church.” Now, stop for a moment, that is a figurative understanding of the text. Nowhere is it said that the “whore of Babylon” is anything particular; the reader is left to interpret. And when the reader engages in interpretation, he has begun to read the text figuratively. This is not to say that figurative and literal elements do not exist in the same text, but one will find quickly that certain texts, such as the Revelation, are replete with figures and symbols, which can only be understood in the figurative sense.

One might accept that the Revelation is literally true, but that its elements are to be understood figuratively. That is not to propose a compromise, but rather to suggest a framework. Each text must be understood as it is given. Thus, a parable is given to teach a moral, not to relate historical facts (though the parables are no doubt drawn from life). A narrative, such as a gospel, is given to relate the things “the things that have been accomplished” (Lk. 1:1), historical facts. A prophecy, well, that is a matter for interpretation (cf. 2 Pet. 1:19-21).

None of this is to suggest I have the key to understanding the Revelation, but it is to propose, as I have said before, a framework for interpreting it. First, we must comprehend its purpose, then its meaning, then we will understand.

Originally published at Agabus.com

Plain talk about the Revelation

One of the great spiritual crises of my early faith concerned the book of the Revelation, the last book of the Bible. I puzzled over the various interpretations of the text: premillennialism (that Christ will return before the millennial kingdom [cf. Rev. 20]), postmillennialism (that Christ will return after the millennial kingdom), and amillennalism (that the millennial kingdom is meant to be understood figuratively). I could not tell which was the “biblical” position, and it was stressful to think about the End Times. If asked whether I was a premillennialist, postmillennialist or an amillennialist, I had no reply. I did not know.

However, reading the prophecy was not stressful. Despite my apprehensions, every time I poured over the text, I felt a peace, a sweetness. I marveled as I turned through the pages of John’s prophecy, through those magnificent things, through the depths. Intrinsically, it made sense.

The disparity between how I felt when the Revelation was being discussed and how I felt when I read it was instructive. I learned that the problem lay not in the text, but in the interpretations, and not so much in the interpretations as in the attitudes about the interpretations. I was persuaded that there one had to choose. I now believe that that is a false supposition, and that the real meaning of the Revelation gets lost in the debate over interpretations.

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Mechanics: How does it all work?

About a year or so ago, I spoke with J.D. Faust about kingdom exclusion as part of my research. Faust is the author of The Rod, Will God Spare It?, a text which purports to recount the history of exclusion theology (it’s decidedly not that, but rather a presentation of his own theology). Within five minutes of the conversation, we were debating the topic. I did not make secret my reservations about KE, and posed several challenging questions. Faust, liking a good argument, posed several challenging questions of his own. Essentially the argument rested on the question of what we are to make of sin committed after ones conversion. Sins committed before conversion are obviously forgiven — a person can do nothing to absolve ones sins except rely on the grace of God. But what are we to make of sins committed after conversion?

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Searching for the origins of Kingdom Exclusion

Despite J.D. Faust’s claim that exclusion is represented in the writings of the early church fathers, I have not been able to date KE[1. KE is an abbreviation for “Kingdom Exclusion.”] before the 20th century. (For the purposes of this discussion, it appears I must disregard the Catholic Church’s teaching on purgatory, which Faust and other Protestant exclusionists argue is a corruption of the scriptures. If we include purgatory, exclusion dates very many centuries earlier.) Several figures in the 19th century hint at it, perhaps, but I have not found explicit statements to that effect (particularly ones that can be confirmed by historians).

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What is Kingdom Exclusion?

Kingdom exclusion maintains that one class of Christians will be excluded from the millennial kingdom for faithlessness. Called “nonovercomers,” these believers will be excluded from the 1,000-year-rule of Christ (cf. Rev. 20) for chastisement. Some exclusionists believe that nonovercoming Christians will be temporarily cast into the lake of fire; others that they will be excluded to a place of deep regret.

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