Below you will find short interactions with classic theological literature to help introduce you to some of the giants upon whose shoulders we stand. There will also be irregular posts formed out of sermons, Bible studies, or coffee after 5:00pm.
We return to our look at the millennium of Revelation 20 and the various interpretive methods. Last week, we looked at the most optimistic view of the millennium, which is postmillennialism. The church eventually conquers culture worldwide, bringing in a golden era of faithfulness from every tribe, tongue, nation, and people. This golden era is the millennium of which Revelation 20 speaks, and it does not need to be taken as a literal one-thousand years. At the end of that span of time, Christ returns to reign forever. The transition from this age to the next is a relatively smooth transition.
Today we turn to another view, that of amillennialism. This literally means "no millennium," which is a bit of a misnomer. Amillennialists definitely believe in a millennium, but it is not a literal 1,000 years. In short, amillennialists define the millennium as the time between Christ's ascension and his second coming.
Amillennialism reads the various Old Testament prophecies about the reinstitution of temple worship and all that accompanies it as fulfilled within the time frame of the old covenant, or before Christ. These concepts are the Israelites, the promised land, Jerusalem, the temple, the sacrificial system, and the Davidic lineage. Amillennialism relies heavily on biblical typology, or shadow and fulfillment (cf. Colossians 2:17). What in the world does that mean? The Old Testament foreshadowed the reality that Christ would inaugurate.
Amillennialism also reads that Christ is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, thus implying that when the fullness comes, the shadow passes away. Prophecies seeming to be about the Israelite people are more accurately speaking about Christ, the true Israelite. We'll divide this post into these concepts.
Keep in mind that books and books and books (and books) have been written arguing for and against each of these theologies of the last days. What follows is an introductory summary to get your feet on the ground so you can look into them further.
First, the true Israel.
The Servant Songs of Isaiah speak of a servant born out of Israel on whom God will put his Spirit. He will be a light to the Gentiles, and he himself will be a covenant for his people (Isa. 42). Israel the nation failed in her covenant keeping, so God sent his servant to fulfill that role.
New Testament authors interpret Old Testament prophecies about Israel as if they were about Christ. Matthew 2:15 quotes Hosea 11:1 ("Out of Egypt I called my son.") to speak directly about Christ, even though in the context of Hosea it spoke directly about Israel's freedom from slavery in Egypt. New Testament authors consistently reinterpret, under the inspiration of the Spirit, the nation of Israel as the person of Jesus Christ.
The author of Hebrews in chapter 8 re-emphasizes the shadow that was the old covenant and the reality of the new covenant now in effect. The old covenant is obsolete and is going to vanish away because of the new covenant instituted in Christ's blood.
Hebrews 8 also quotes Jeremiah 31:31-34, noting that the new covenant will be made with the house of Israel (v.10). But remember, amillennialists hold that Christ is the true Israel, as are those who are in Christ. So, the covenant is made with the house of Israel, as understood as those who are in Christ.
Second, the promised land.
Canaan was a type that was to be fulfilled in a richer way once Christ inaugurated his kingdom. The fulfillment would be that the whole world would be Christ's kingdom, of which the promised land was a type or a shadow (or a recapitulation for those who took The Christian's Story. Use those $1 words you worked hard for!).
Romans 4:13 says, "For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith." The word for world is kosmos, which has to do with all creation, not just people. If you read Paul's words as an apostolic interpretation of the promise made to Abraham in Genesis 17:8, which says, "And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God", then you necessarily will read the promises about the promised land as being fulfilled in Abraham's seed, singular, Jesus Christ.
In terms of prophecies made about the restoration of the whole earth, amillennialism reads these prophecies as being fulfilled in the new heaven and new earth. It's no small matter that the new creation will be heavenly and earthly, which accords nicely with the author of Hebrews saying that Abraham was searching for a city made by God (Heb. 11:10ff).
It's important to remember that Jerusalem was a temple that just so happened to have a city. Hebrews 12 is a critical passage for understanding the relationship of the land to the new covenant promises for amillennials. There the author speaks of Mt. Zion/Jerusalem being where the people of God worship. The Israelites, fresh out of slavery in Egypt, were not permitted to ascend the mountain for fear of death. But Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant, has drawn us near.
For those in the new covenant, our temple to which we draw near is not a piece of the earth. Our city is Christ himself. Type and fulfillment. Shadow and light. Copy and true.
Revelation 14 speaks of the lamb standing on Mt. Zion with the 144,000. In the background of this passage is Isaiah 2 and Micah 4, which speak of the nations flooding the great city in the last days. The New Testament authors consistently witness to the the last days being inaugurated by Christ's resurrection and ascension.
When Jesus speaks to the woman at the well in John 4, he tells her that there is coming a time, which he says has now arrived in v.23, when people will worship the Father in Spirit and in truth, not in any one specific place, nonetheless Jerusalem. That's because Jesus is our Jerusalem and our temple.
Fourth, Davidic lineage.
The gospel of Luke presents Jesus Christ as the one who will sit on the throne of David (Lk. 1:30-33). 2 Samuel 7 and Isaiah 9 speak of his kingdom as an eternal kingdom. When Peter preaches at Pentecost, he sees the fulfillment of 2 Samuel 7:16 ("And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.") speaking distinctly of the resurrection of Christ (Acts 2:31).
At the Jerusalem council recorded in Acts 15, Paul and Barnabas give the evidence they've seen as to the reality that God is saving Gentiles. Peter also pipes up and says that he's seen God save Gentiles by faith. Then James speaks and quotes Amos 9:11-12, a prophecy of the nations coming to the rebuilt tent of David. James' point is that that prophecy is being fulfilled in their midst, not only in their future. It's precisely because God is at work among the Gentiles that the apostles should not burden them with anything beyond the essentials.
Fifth, the temple.
Again, it's important to understand that the Jews saw Jerusalem as a temple that also had a city, not a temple within a city. Life revolved around the temple and the sacrificial system.
In John 2, Jesus speaks of the temple being destroyed and him raising up another in 3 days. John, acting as a narrator, tells us that he was speaking directly about himself. Even before the temple was destroyed in AD 70, Jesus was the new temple for God's people upon his resurrection on the third day after his death.
God's presence, our sacrifices, and our worship were all central to the old temple. In Jesus, all of those things are manifested perfectly. And it changed from the old to the new immediately upon his resurrection. There is no other temple in the future, because the future temple is here now in the person of Christ. Even in Revelation 21, John sees no building functioning as a temple because Christ is there and is the temple in the flesh.
We are already beyond the bounds of a simple blog. There are many, many passages that the amillennial uses to build their theology of the last days, especially the millennium. But the power of amillennialism is its rootedness in biblical theology, typology, and recapitulation. Again, this is intended to be an introduction to the major components.
But let's summarize the amillennial's points so far. The millennium is the time between Christ's ascension and his second coming. The five
In the last several blog posts, we talked about revival and important ways of defining it. Revival happens to the church. Evangelism comes from the church.
One of the most notable pieces of the Great Awakening revivals was the hope that they would give rise to the millennium. That was mentioned a couple of times, but it wasn't give much substance. Today, I want to speak to that a little bit and give some background information on why that was an expectation or a hope.
First, the millennium refers to Revelation 20:1-3, which says, "Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while."
The great hope of all believers in historic Christianity is the physical return of Jesus Christ at the end of this age to consummate his kingdom for all eternity. The debates among Christians is to the exact time period the thousand years is referring. Is it literal or metaphorical? Is it past, present, or future? What does this have to do with the Great Awakening?
Many of the Puritans, a group quite active during the Great Awakening, were postmillennial. Many of the early church fathers were a version of premillennial. Several denominations today hold to an amillennial position. What exactly do these words mean?
It's important to note a few things before discussing the millennium. First, it is mentioned only one time in the entirety of Scripture. This does not make it unimportant, but we should always see the weightier matters in a different light than those mentioned once in a highly apocalyptical book (cf. Matthew 23:23).
Second, the way we understand the authority of Scripture and the proper means of interpretation (i.e., Scripture interprets Scripture) will have a direct impact on how we understand Revelation 20.
Third, there was no creed or confession in the early church, even up until relatively recent times, that made any statement about the end of the age other than Christ will return in bodily form. This does not mean in any sense that any other components mentioned in Scripture about the end of the age are unimportant and can be neglected without any consequences, but neither it should not be a cause of extensive division among orthodox Christians.
The next several week's posts will deal with the three major positions on how to interpret the millennium. All three of them have merits, and all three have great explanatory power when it comes to a variety of other passages in Scripture that speak to the end of the age (or at least seem to at first blush).
Since we've mentioned the Puritans and that many of them held to postmillennialism, let's begin there.
The essence of postmillennialism is that because the church remains faithful to the great commission, there will come a time when Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth will have heard the gospel. The promise that Christ is with us to the end of the age is the assurance that all the world will hear the gospel. The nations will turn to worship God on his mountain in Jerusalem. That final period of time, it is believed, is what the millennium is referring to.
Kenneth Gentry is perhaps one of the most prolific writers on and adherents to postmillennialism, so much of the thought that follows comes from his writings.
Postmillennialism can be found as early as the 2nd through 4th centuries in the writings of Origen, Eusebius, Athanasius, and Augustine. Some of the Puritans who were convinced by postmillennial thought were John Owen, Jonathan Edwards, William Perkins, and Matthew Henry. It's worth noting that John Calvin, the giant from Geneva, was also a postmillennial. Some more recent names with which you may be familiar would be Charles Hodge, B. B. Warfield, J. Gresham Machen, and J. Ligon Duncan. This isn't to sway anyone by a litany of name drops, but it is to show that intelligent people throughout the history of the church have themselves been convinced of this interpretation of the millennium in Revelation 20.
One draw to postmillennialism is its positive view of Scripture and revelation. It affirms that the Christian must evaluate current circumstances through the Scriptures and its prophecies, not vice-versa. This sort of free association that is common today, where we read about the American diplomats being embarrassed by Chinese officers and somehow squeeze that into one of the bowls or trumpets of Revelation, is vehemently opposed in postmillennialism, as it should be in all interpretations of Scripture. If God makes a promise, it is certain no matter what current events appear to be on the surface. If God was sovereign when he made the promise, he is sovereign to keep it. The only sign we need is that God said it.
Postmillennialists see in the covenants of Scripture an unfolding promise of eventual salvation, which they understand to be fulfilled in the present age. The covenant made at creation, mentioned in Jeremiah 33 and Hosea 6, is about the continued development of human culture throughout history. The fall did not end the creation covenant.
When sin and death entered, God promised to send the seed of a woman to atone for the sins of mankind. Christ would crush the serpent's head. That happened at the first coming of Christ, it is being worked out in subsequent history, and will culminate at Christ's return. The effects of redemption will be played out in history in the same way the effects of the fall played out in history.
The covenant with Abraham promises that all people will be blessed through Abraham. Paul calls Abraham the "heir" of the world in Romans 4. Postmillennialists read this as a gradual blessing, not something that takes place in an instant at the end of this age. The New Covenant made in Christ's blood promises greater adherence to God's law, a greater revelation from God, and greater knowledge of God.
So far, we don't see many prooftexts from Scripture, but a biblical theology, trying to see the story of the Bible in a certain way. But postmillennialists do have many passages they point to in order to justify their position.
Many Psalms speak of a "golden age" when the whole world will worship God (examples include Psalms 2, 22, 67, 72, 87, 102, 110 among others). For example, Psalm 2 speaks of the nations raging against God and his Anointed One, God breaking their chains, God setting his throne in Zion, God breaking the nations like dry pottery, and kings being called to worship. Postmillennialists see this as progress of the kingdom of God, inaugurated by Christ, throughout history.
Isaiah 2 speaks of the nations rushing to the mountain of God, Jerusalem, in the last days. That time will also be marked by peace between nations that history has never known.
In Matthew 13, we read a collection of parables about the kingdom of God. First, the parable of the sower teaches about those who receive the Word of God, compared to a seed. That seed spreads and increases thirty, sixty, and a hundred-fold.
Second, the parable of the weeds teaches that the growth of the kingdom will always include wheat and weeds, righteous and unrighteous. Only the second coming will purify the ever-increasing kingdom.
Third, the hidden treasure/pearl of great price are about the kingdom blessings.
Fourth, the mustard seed implies a development of the kingdom that exceeds expectations. This parable plays off of Ezekiel 17, where God says he will take a small branch and plant it on his mountain, and as it grows birds (representing nations) will nest in it.
Fifth, the parable of the yeast teaches that the kingdom of God works its way through in ways often unseen.
John 12 notes that the crucifixion, when Jesus is "lifted up", (yes, the comma goes on the outside when the quote itself does not include a comma) is the moment when victory over sin and death were won. Satan is cast out and men are drawn to Christ. Satan does not deceive the nations in the same way he did before the resurrection, ascension, and birth of the church.
Matthew 28:18-20, the Great Commission, speaks of both Christ's authority over every realm and the command to disciple everyone. This passage clearly has in mind Daniel 7:14, where the Son of Man is given unending dominion over every nation at that moment.
1 Corinthians 15 is probably Paul's clearest text on the expectation of the resurrection at the end of the age. Paul writes that Christ was resurrected, and when he returns, those who belong to him will be resurrected, as well. That time is considered "the end". The millennium does not follow, because it is over. At that time, Christ hands the kingdom over to his Father. Note that "every rule and every authority and power" are also already destroyed. In postmillennial thought, Christ overturns every opposing power before his second coming.
That's enough for now. Here's where we'll be headed in future weeks, should the Lord tarry and the postmillennialists turn out to be right:
We'll present each position in its own light. Then we'll talk about the interpretive issues with each. Then, we'll spend some time specifically with Revelation 20. Hopefully I present each interpretation with charity and fairness and you won't know which position I hold until the very end!
Until then, comment below:
What is good about the postmillennial position? What problems might you see with adopting it wholesale?
A revival is one of those things that's best understood in hindsight. While it's long been recognized that colonial America did experience a slew of revivals, we can learn many great lessons to this day, and Thomas Kidd's The Great Awakening" helps us do just that. Now, let's look at some of the people who played significant roles in those revivals and what conclusions we might make.
George Whitefield played an integral role in the Great Awakening of the 1740’s. Part of his enormous influence stemmed from his willingness to partner with churches of other denominations. Whitefield began an itinerant ministry of preaching in Philadelphia. His preaching often condemned the worldly practices he perceived among his hearers and the unspiritual lives of their ministers. The “new birth” was the focus of his evangelistic message.
Samuel Blair, a Pennsylvanian minister, encouraged his church to refrain from emotional excesses during worship but never at the expense of true conversion. He understood the extremes: “cold passivity” and “overheated emotions” were both to be avoided. Blair believed that while rationality was a good guide for judging excesses, it was not irrational to have emotional outburst at the conviction of sin.
Other preachers focused on ordained clergy as the recipient of their ministries. One such preacher was Gilbert Tennant, author of The Danger of an Unconverted Ministry. Tennant sought to encourage laypeople, many of whom were younger, to make sure their ministers were truly converted, or their own salvation was questionable. Kidd notes again how revival of an area often began among young people.
George Whitefield preached many times at Josiah Smith’s church in South Carolina, and Smith would be a strong resource and ally. Smith tried to promote a moderate view of Whitefield to the public. However, Whitfield began to articulate positions at odds with the mainstream, mainly the corruption of the Anglican church and the mistreatment of slaves.
Whitefield had become a sort of celebrity by his use of new print media and outdoor field preaching. He worked with local pastors to advertise his upcoming travels in order to garner a crowd. Many of his sermons continued to deal with the issue of “unconverted ministers,” and Jonathon Edwards urged Whitefield to use more tact when dealing with these kind of issues. Other issues common to his preaching were matters of race. While evangelicals of the time were ready to preach to African American, few were willing to form an abolitionist message yet.
Daniel Rogers made a concerted effort to reach both African American and Native Americans. Tennent’s preaching also significantly impacted women and young people. Several young people were affected by a fast and Lord’s Supper organized by ministers Henry Messenger and Elias Haven in 1741. The revivals that followed were noted to have relatively few emotional outbursts. Conservative ministers continued to raise concerns about emotional excesses, but the likes of Daniel Rogers continued to preach and espouse a new radicalism. Others believed that “unrestrained emotionalism could easily lead to sexual anarchy if left unchecked."
Excessive emotionalism, “bodily agitations and vocal outbursts” continued to describe the revivals. Moderates like Edwards proposed that the apostles of the first century gave the church the means for proving a true work of God. He noted many similarities between the apostolic period and the current age of revivals. Edwards penned The Distinguishing Marks in order to help ministers think through these issues. In his defense of the revivals he warned critics that to “slander the late work of God could meet with divine retribution."
Ministers like James Davenport and Andrew Croswell continued radical revival preaching. Croswell openly critiqued ministers he thought were unconverted. Davenport was accused of antinomianism (the notion that the Mosaic law has been abolished and Christians have complete freedom to live as they see fit). Both were also thought to be suffering from physical or mental conditions. Davenport was finally arrested on the charge of slander (by local ministers). The Connecticut General Assembly requested that that Davenport never return. In response, he burned books on the Sabbath in public by authors who offended him. This resulted in ministers forming Separatist churches as a way of being able to stay true to their radical leanings.
Edwards continued to hold the moderate line and remained convinced that, amidst the chaos of radicals, the revivals still brought about good. This manifested itself mainly in the belief that this period was about to give way to the millennium. Many ministers believed like Edwards in that there was more good than ill, even from the radicals.
Possibly up to ninety ministers gathered together to finally form a statement on the excesses of revivalism. The result was The Testimony and Advice of an Assembly of Pastors. This document promoted revivals while warning the radicals “to contain their excesses.” With support from moderates, radicals like Davenport began to see themselves as moderates and retracted many previous statements.
“Liberty of conscience” was the cry of this period. Many understood liberty of conscience as the fundamental principle on American religion. Hundreds of Separate churches were formed, many due to a sense of corruption, opposition to revivals, and support for the ministry of laypeople.
Elisha Paine and Isaac Backus were at the forefront of the Separate movement. In the same way that rejecting the established church’s authority subverted good order, the Separatists were now arguing whether or not the baptism of infants was a good practice. Men like Backus went back-and-forth between support and rejection of infant baptism, but he finally landed on believer’s baptism. He was then baptized. Along with difference views on baptism came difference views on conversion-focused, or regenerate, church membership.
It takes all kinds. God used such a wide variety of dispositions to lead his people through revival. And we shouldn't ignore the parts of history that are uncomfortable, but neither should we impose contemporary philosophies on people who, 300 years ago, would not have thought like we do.
These people, ministers and lay people alike, teach us a couple of things:
1. We should always be ready for revival, and
2. We should always be ready to test revival.
Jonathan Edwards was a great mind who also knew great emotions. His other published personal writings give examples of his sitting on his horse, weeping at the beauty of the earth and worshiping the God who created and sustains it. But he also knew that not every sentiment is led by the Spirit, and they must be tested.
Every time God shakes the earth, what stands firm rises above all that blows away. We live in a time when God has shaken us. And the church will continue to stand firm. As we look around to see a shaken world, we see in even more glorious ways the splendor of the church. Amidst all of this, Christ's people stand firm in the gospel.
Can we expect revival today?
Love me some revival talk.
Last week we established that revival is always the work of the Holy Spirit, without apology. Today, let's look at another book, The Great Awakening by Thomas Kidd, to see what revivals teach us about being faithful and ready for revival in the contemporary church.
Professor Thomas Kidd wrote The Great Awakening to offer a perspective on the birth of evangelicalism in North America. We evangelicals pride ourselves on our focus on the work of the Holy Spirit and his effect on revival. The evangelical’s relationship to revival has been at times shaky because of disagreement concerning what a person does to bring revival (if anything at all).
Should we just wait on the Spirit of God, not knowing where the wind will blow? Or should we start taking action now and simply expect the Spirit of God to move?
Kidd begins by noting the Puritans desired a renewal of the Holy Spirit in their churches—a revival in the hearts and minds of Christians. While few thought that men could do much at all to coerce God to bringing revival, there were those who thought that certain circumstances might set the stage for the Spirt to act.
Puritan churches began a series of what they called "covenant renewals" to call members to greater faithfulness and to mourn for their sins. Not a bad thing! Puritan churches often had membership covenants that listed the rights and responsibilities of the membership and detailed the beliefs of the church.
However, the most prominent of these measures was the Halfway Covenant of 1662 which allowed those in the area of New England to baptize their children even if they (the parents) were not converted themselves. Place yourself in their shoes:
The first settlers would have been members of the Church of England and by necessity baptized as children. That in turn made you a member of the church. The settlers began to devise a different theology of church membership, one that required proof of conversion to be a member of a local church. But the children of the settlers seemed to not be having the same fervor and zeal as their parents. Keep in mind, though, their parents were being persecuted in England, which is the reason they set sail for the colonies anyway.
The Halfway Covenant was a way of trying to reconcile two disparate theologies: regenerate church membership (only those who are truly converted are in the body of Christ) and infant baptism. It's always dangerous to judge the Christians of the past for having to make the best of the circumstances they find themselves in, but we also don't have to repeat their mistakes.
Today we often call for re-dedications if an individual has backslidden or committed some serious sin. We might ask ourselves, rededicate to what? Even if we aren't going to start baptizing the children of unbelievers, maybe we can learn something from the Puritans here and gain greater clarity about what we're calling for in rededication. In asking for rededication, we should be calling for greater faithfulness and grief over sin.
Some pastors also made concessions on the Lord's Supper. Solomon Stoddard, a minister in Northampton, saw the Lord’s Supper as a means of preparing the unconverted. While he was in the minority, the nearly unanimous position was that the greatest means of bringing conversions was the fear of dying only to face damnation in the sight of God’s holiness. The hope of the era was that revival would bring about the millennial reign of Christ.
The early 1730’s saw several unsettling deaths around the area of Northampton. This short period of time caused many (mostly young people) to consider their own mortality. Jonathon Edwards noted that this sort of thing drew unbelievers into his church. Those who were true seekers often brought the same spiritual enthusiasm back to their own town, sparking a sort of awakening all over. So the Great Awakening was in one sense a series of smaller awakenings.
Pietism (a moralistic and austere form of Christianity) began to enter the American landscape in the 1720’s and 1730’s through the writings of Theodorus Frelinghuysen and Philipp Spener. They encouraged devotional meetings outside of the regular worship of the church and “renewal of individual hearts.” The millennium was still a major focus, and Spener believed that corruption was postponing the coming of Christ. Frelinghuysen also advocated that ministers should have complete assurance whether or not a member of his church was saved. An inability to do so called into question not only the salvation of the individual but also the effectiveness of the minister.
Other ministers such as William Tennent Jr. advocated for dreams and visions among laypeople so long as they did not contrast with orthodoxy. This new emphasis on spiritual (charismatic) matters began to change what congregations expected of their ministers. Instead of formal training at a respected institution being the primary requirement so the pastor could rightly divide the word of God and guard his doctrine well, these “spiritual qualifications” mattered significantly more.
Despite the various circumstances early colonial Christians found themselves in, here's the point: Puritans began to pray for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit so that their churches would be revived and be convicted of sin. While it may or may not bring revival, we are wise to follow this pattern. Our churches are full of people who need revival from God’s Spirit, drawing them to deeper faith and repentance.
Next week, we'll take a deeper look at some of the people who were active in the Great Awakening and how we can imitate their faithfulness.
Movements come and movements go, but humanity is inherently spiritual. Even those who verbally reject any belief in the transcendent are searching for meaning. And our age is ripe with spirituality that says a lot without saying anything. It promises fulfillment with no hope of achieving it. One such movement today is termed the New Spirituality.
The New Spirituality rejects the exclusive claims of any and all religions in order to satisfy the rebellious nature of the human heart. In terms of Christianity, two fundamental doctrines are rejected and condemned as, at best, outdated and, at worst, destructive to real spiritual health. These two doctrines are the authority of Scripture and the holiness of God.
The authority of Scripture is replaced with the authority of the human circumstance. The holiness of God is replaced with the god of my whim. Here's a quick reflection on what is lost when these doctrines are rejected and how believers can reach out to those in the church who have subscribed to the New Spirituality, albeit naively. I have also included some other resources for those interested in learning more about it.
THE AUTHORITY OF SCRIPTURE
For the Christian, the Bible is the highest court of authority. In it God has revealed himself and his will for man. It is free from errors and sufficient to bring men to a saving knowledge through the shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. 2 Timothy 3:16). To have a low view of Scripture or to disregard it entirely is to reject the only God-ordained revelation to know him in a saving way. By necessity, all other forms of spirituality are sub-Christian or anti-Christian.
This is an intensely dangerous state in which to be. Michael Horton notes that non- and anti-biblical forms of spirituality are by their very nature “enthusiastic,” meaning that God is found within, not without (en-theo, or "god within"). Essentially, this is the classic work-driven position that holds man can ascend to God instead of God descending to man. Horton writes, “Yet, apart from the incarnate Word, this dazzling god we encounter at the top of the ladder is really the devil, who ‘disguises himself as an angel of light’ (2 Cor. 11:14).”
The problem with this “ascension” spirituality is that any biblically-literate Christian can quickly see that the Bible does not allow for this sort of thinking. It is completely at odds and totally incompatible with biblical spirituality, because Scripture tells us that the Son took on human flesh in the incarnation and so descended to us. Therefore, any “spirit” that is encountered at the top of the ladder is necessarily evil or anti-God in nature. God does meet us at the top of a ladder, IE, a life of works or striving for experience, but descends to us in our despair.
The Scriptures are thereby stripped of all authority, and mankind is endowed with the incredible privilege of true power. Belief systems are formed from experience and desire. The practitioners of the New Spirituality also claim the right to change their beliefs based on new experiences and desires. No longer is there an objective basis from which man forms his system of thought. Divine revelation is re-defined to mean what God spoke to me in my heart and mind.
For the Christian, joy is found in being obedient to the revelation that God has given. For the believer of the New Spirituality, joy is found in fulfilling the current desires. The only means for knowing if what a person believes is true is if there are “psychological or therapeutic benefits which are derived.” The litmus test for truth is if it calms a busy nerve, not if it pleases a holy God.
David Wells writes that current spirituality is in essence in line with ancient Gnosticism. Gnostics believed that special knowledge, which would only be revealed in mysterious, inner ways, would raise a person out of his current fight with the physical world into a pleasant spiritual existence. Revelation was not from the outside; the only trustworthy revelation was direct and from within.
This kind of inner revelation only serves to make a person think he is more capable of taking charge of his own life than he truly is. Reality is redefined as something that we must discover. Reality is not something to be shown. The reality revealed in Scripture—creation, fall, redemption, and restoration—is considered to be less than. Real reality must be discovered. The authority, then, is placed in completely unsecure territory. What should happen if one never discovers this reality? What is his fate?
The inevitable conclusion to the problem of authority is that the New Spirituality actually has no authority. Once a person abandons the authority of divine revelation, he has abandoned the only trustworthy source of knowledge and righteousness. Man does not need any other form of revelation to know God more fully, and the revelation that comes from inside the self is illusory at best and satanic at worst. Once the authority of Scripture is thrown into the ash heap with the rest of mankind’s religious baggage, God’s essential attributes will soon be ejected, as well.
THE HOLINESS OF GOD
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Isaiah 6:3). Over and again the Scriptures constantly proclaim the holiness of God. The “holy, holy, holy” found in Isaiah 6 and throughout Scripture is qualifying God’s holiness as perfect and complete, without blemish or reservation. God commands Moses to say to the Israelites, “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2b).
God has the right to command his people to do certain things, obey certain laws, and behave certain ways because he is wholly other, completely outside of creation, and sovereign over all. This is the holiness of the Lord our God.
In speaking specifically of American religion, Horton notes that “there is almost no sense of God’s difference from us—in other words, his majesty, sovereignty, self-existence, and holiness. God is my buddy or my inmost experience, or the power-source for living my best life now.” If God is stripped of his most basic attributes, then in so many words, God is subservient to us.
Practitioners of the New Spirituality have formed a god that is not even merciful, for that would still imply an offense on our part. There is no need to define any essential attributes of God, because God is only here to serve us. It doesn't matter that God is different from us in some way as long as he affirms what we believe about ourselves.
If God is stripped of his holiness, he ceases to be a god that is worthy of any honor, worship, or obedience. R.C. Sproul notes that God’s holiness “is more than just separateness. His holiness is also transcendent. […] When we speak of the transcendence of God, we are talking about that sense in which God is above and beyond us.”
The way that Scripture addresses God’s holiness makes it impossible for the understanding of the New Spirituality to be compatible with biblical spirituality. They have disparate belief systems about the very nature of God.
Many in the New Spirituality want to see unity between orthodoxy and their statements about God, but while they use orthodox language, they redefine the terms. For those who are practicing a biblical spirituality, the good news is that the authority of Scripture and the holiness of God are still more than sufficient to sustain us. These truths motivate the Christian to hold fast and move forward.
THE WAY FORWARD
The Christian who holds to an authoritative view of Scripture needs to look no further for the way forward. God’s divine revelation of himself is the means by which he calls men to himself. Of all the things that Paul says Scripture is to be used for, “correction” is among them (2 Timothy 3:16).
There are many brothers and sisters who have fallen into the attractive snare of the New Spirituality. This happens for many reasons: it offers an un-offensive way to speak to non-believers about spiritual matters; the sufficiency of Scripture is not addressed in public worship and private counsel; and Western culture prioritizes inclusion at the expense of objective truth.
Faithfulness to the binding authority of Scripture on the heart and mind of the Christian and a radical commitment to the holiness of God is the only way forward. Scripture does not prescribe any other method for knowing the things of God. Wells notes that it is tempting to take the short view and see this problem as relatively new.
A biblical spirituality understands the world to be governed by a good God who created the world and sustains it by his sovereign grace. He reveals some of his attributes to man through natural revelation, but he reserves saving knowledge to special revelation. At no time does the one true God reveal anything about himself through some inner dialogue with man.
This is the worldview of the Christian. The New Spirituality, however, sees God as a distant divine being who affirms and serves, not convicts and saves. These are worldviews, entire systems of understanding the world, not simply disagreements about method.
The Christian needs not bother trying these methods of finding the God on the inside. The Christian must confront these denials of the gospel with the gospel. Christ promises that the man who builds his house on the rock—his words—will not be shaken (cf. Matthew 7:24-25). How firm a foundation, you saints of the Lord, is laid for your faith in his excellent Word.
The New Spirituality denies the authority of Scripture and the holiness of God. The inner revelation is self-centered. Biblical spirituality is God-centered—it attends to the word of God “for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). Biblical spirituality upholds the holiness of God as the central tenant of why man needs revelation. Depraved man will always look inside himself for truth. God, in his mercy, has revealed to sinful men so that we may be saved from ourselves.
The New Spirituality is not new all. The first man and woman decided to believe their own truth and thereby harmed their relationship with their Creator. In Christ, God has reconciled mankind to himself and has given us all we need for “training in righteousness.”
FOR FURTHER READING
Michael Horton, “Your Own Personal Jesus,” Modern Reformation, 17, no. 3 (May/June 2008): 16.
 Horton, “Your Own Personal Jesus” 16.
David F. Wells. Above All Earthly Pow’rs (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 2005), 132
 Wells, Above All Earthly Pow’rs, 140.
 Horton, “Your Own Personal Jesus,” 16.
 R.C. Sproul, The Holiness of God (Carol Stream: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1998), 36.
Wells, Christ in a Spiritual World, 155.
Wells, Christ in a Spiritual World, 156.
Wells, Christ in a Spiritual World, 156.