Eschatology Outlines: No. 2 Noah and Lot

Posted by R. Fowler White

Getting Our Bearings on the End from “the Days of Noah”:
Universal-World Judgment

I. Overview: The post-fall, pre-flood history of man became a “Tale of Two Cities,” a history of conflict between the worship and city founded by Cain and the worship and city founded by the Lord God through His curse on the serpent. That history is a history of civilizational decline (degradation) culminating in redemptive judgment, a history of the apostate malformation of the city of man. As man rebelled against the Cultural Mandate and sought Edenic security, beauty, and community according to his own standards, so his cities became increasingly idolatrous parodies of the city of God ripe for judgment. The work of fallen man, faithful or faithless, culminated in all the earth being filled with violence. Despite the eschatological hope of man’s pre-fall history, fallen man did not proceed to fill the earth to God’s glory through God’s Spirit according to God’s word. No, the “glory” of fallen man was an earth filled not with peace and righteousness, but with unrighteousness and violence, Gen 6:1-7, 11-13.

II. Decline (degradation) of culture: its features. See Gen 4:1-24; 6:1-7, 11-13.

A. Apostasy, Gen 4:1-15; 6:1-2: In the first generation of the household of faith, a culture war broke out with a murder over worship: an enraged Cain, in effect, slaughtered Abel as a bloody sacrifice (see 1 John 3:12 NET). After Cain’s excommunication, the faithless households descending from him built a city for refuge (Enoch, Gen 4:16-17), while the faithful households descending from Seth (Gen 4:25–5:32) built altars from where they called on the name of the Lord their God. Regardless of the precise interpretation of “the sons of God” (Gen 6:2) that we adopt, the last generation of descendants from Cain and Seth before God’s judgment appears to have yielded to apostasy through intermarriage. Once the households of faith apostatized, there was no remedy for that generation: they had degraded themselves into the terminal generation of the era between the fall and the flood.

B. Removal of the Spirit’s restraining presence, Gen 6:3: God set a timetable according to which His Spirit’s restraint would become obsolete. His patience had suffered long, but it would not suffer forever. Meanwhile, civilization exhibited the spirit of its father, Cain: it was carnal, diabolical, anti-Christ, and anti-Christian.

C. Lawlessness, Gen 4:16-24; 6:4-7, 11-12: As we noticed above (II.A.), civilization became progressively degraded at the hands of apostates. The culture of the faithless exhibited all the basic elements of civilization, but it was a culture that culminated in violence and death, instead of peace and righteousness. Through Lamech, the Nephilim, and the Men of Renown (“of the Name”), civilization became an idolatrous theocracy in which, like Lamech, man mocked God and assumed the position of deity. The culture of fallen man became the cult of fallen man. Out of the violence of Cain’s fratricide had come a city and culture distinguished by violence in the family and in the state. The absence of even civic good became complete. Evil, lawlessness, and contempt for all God’s ordinances were rampant. The corruption of the world that was reached its nadir.

III. Deliverance of a remnant, Gen 6:13-21; 7:23: In judgment, God remembered mercy. God the Deliverer entered into a covenant of deliverance with Noah and his household, Gen 6:18-21. It is noteworthy that God delivered a remnant, but only a remnant, of all kinds, human kind and non-human kind. Divine deliverance, in that it reaches a remnant, is always particular, never general (universal), Gen 6:13-15; 7:23. The remnant here anticipated the birth/beginning, the first generation, of the world that now is.

A. Noah, a type of the Last Adam (Christ): As a temporal reward for Noah’s exemplary obedience of faith (WCF 16.6), those in his household enjoyed the temporal blessing of deliverance from the flood, Gen 7:1, 5; 6:8-9, 22; cf. 5:29. By faith Noah was obedient in that he built the ark—a floating city, a boathouse with window and door, Gen 6:16—according to the word of God his Deliverer and to His glory, Gen 6:22.

B. We should note that, though Noah was a foreshadowing of Christ, he was not a federal (covenantal) head in the same way that Christ is. In Noah’s case, the obedience of the one (Noah) was not credited to those in his household. (Noah was exemplary in righteousness in his day, but not perfect.) In the case of Christ, the obedience of the One is credited to the many.

IV. Destruction of the world by flood, Gen 6:7, 11-17; 7:21-24: The flood marked the death/end of the first world. God the Judge had set the date for the judgment of the first world. He had threatened to judge the world by the flood, and then He did so.

Getting Our Bearings on the End from “The Days of Lot”:
Local-City Judgment

I. Decline (degradation) of culture, Gen 18:16–19:11; 2 Pet 2:6-8; Jude 7: Sodom was a city with fewer than ten righteous in it, just as the earth of Noah’s day had fewer than ten righteous in it. It was utterly corrupted by lawlessness, depravity, sensuality, ungodliness, and apostasy (even in the cases of Lot’s wife and others in his household). Contempt for God’s ordinances was pervasive: family and civil government were both corrupt. Civic good had vanished: the absence of safety in the city gate is noteworthy.

II. Deliverance of a remnant: Lot found grace, Gen 19:19, so that he and some in his household were delivered, as Noah had found grace, Gen 6:8, so that he and his house were delivered. The angels shut the door of Lot’s house for safety, Gen 19:10, just as God had shut the door of Noah’s ark, Gen 7:16. Lot and his household members found safety in the mountains, Gen 19:17, 30, just as Noah and his household members had found safety on Mt Ararat, Gen 8:4.

III. Destruction of the city by fire: God destroyed the wicked in Sodom and the surrounding region by the “rain” of fire (Gen 19:24; 2 Pet 2:6), just as He had destroyed the world with the rain of water (7:4).

Eschatology Outlines: No. 3A The Olivet Discourse

Eschatology Outlines: No. 1 The Beginning

Posted by R. Fowler White

Getting Our Bearings on the End from the Beginning:
Genesis 1–3

I. The eschatology of Gen 1:28—the earth ruled, filled, and at rest

The creation workweek of God had an eschatology, an end in view. The God of Creation is the Divine Artisan who rules and fills (brings form and fullness to) the originally unformed and unfilled earth. The eschatology of Gen 1:1–2:3, then, focuses on the rest of God after the work of God.

A. As God had ruled and filled the earth to His glory by His Spirit according to His Word, so man male and female was to rule and fill land, sky, and sea to God’s glory, by God’s Spirit, according to God’s Word.

B. Gen 1:28 expressed the hope that, through God’s Spirit and according to God’s word, man, being the image and likeness of God, would enter into God’s rest, having finished the work God had commissioned and blessed them to do.

II. The eschatology of Gen 2:15-17—the world city (cosmopolis), secure and pure, with God on His mountain

A. The holy setting: There was a habitation for God and man male and female, together in a garden on a mountain. There was community in beauty and security: the beauty of trees surrounded by precious metals and cosmic rivers and the security of its elevated summit location (cf. v 10). Eden was the site of the city of God and man in a garden on a mountain (see Ezekiel 28).

B. The holy task with an eschatology: Made in God’s image and likeness, man was to emulate God in His person and work. From the Edenic summit, man, like God, was to undertake the original commission under God’s benediction, to rule and to fill the earth to God’s glory, according to God’s Word, by God’s Spirit. Man was, in effect, to extend the city from the garden into the whole earth, making a holy habitation for holy inhabitants throughout the earth. The goal of human history, then, was the building of the house of man and his bride, which God would have them construct throughout the world, filling the earth with the glory of God.

III. The eschatology of Gen 3:14-19—first suffering, then glory: the Last Adam as Dragon-Slayer and Temple-Builder

A. The antithesis between creative word (blessing) and prophetic judgment (curse)—History, according to the Bible, is determined by the word of God both in curse (anti-creation; judgment) and in blessing (re-creation; salvation). God’s creative word created the world at the beginning; God’s prophetic word creates history thereafter.

B. The prophetic (i.e., eschatological) paradigm is found in Gen 3:14-19.—God’s curses here express the eschatologically significant moral principles by which He achieves victory over His enemies. In Gen 3:14-19, we find statements of those principles of re­tributive irony and redemptive irony.

1. Means and results—God sees to it that the means by which the serpent and his seed intended to defeat Him end up being the very means by which He defeats them. In addition, the actual results effected by God are the opposite or a greater degree of the results intended by the serpent and his seed.

2. Death of one, life for many—By the grace of redemptive judgment, God appoints the death-suffering of one as the way to new life-glory for many; He ordains the weak, even in death, to conquer the strong; He transforms curse into blessing. The Last (eschatological) Adam will be victorious over the serpent where the First (pro­tological) Adam had been defeated, and that victory will come by means of the curse of death.

IV. Summary: Moses gives us the basis for a true moral optimism.

A. It is the Last Adam and His seed who will fulfill God’s mandate for man. Ironically, in the curse on the serpent, the man and the woman could find God’s Gen 1:28 promise of victory and life restored. God’s curse on the serpent in Gen 3:15-21 is His gospel of deliverance from the vanity and futility of fallen man’s work. To one of the woman’s seed would belong the blessings of victory over the serpent: through the victory of that One seed, many of the woman’s otherwise cursed seed would be blessed with life (Gen 3:15). In the victory of that one righteous Son and the remnant He redeems, the earth will yet be ruled and filled by a righteous immortal seed of man to the glory of God.

B. Meanwhile, to reveal without delay His holy wrath against sin, God’s immediate judgment was to drive Adam, Eve, and the serpent from Eden’s earthly summit and to station the cherubim at its entrance to guard it against any further defilement by His now cursed creatures (Gen 3:24). Thereafter, amidst the suffering and death of the curses, the conflict between the woman, the serpent, and their seed began its course toward the consummation of God’s purpose, all the while bringing to pass an eschatology of hope for victory over the beast by persevering in faith despite suffering and death.

C. In Gen 3:15, then, we find a denial of the ultimacy of evil and, thus, the basis for the believer’s hope in the vindication of good. The eschatology of Genesis 1–3, expressed in its pronouncements of blessing and curse, is a true moral optimism, an eschatology of victory, wherein God makes curse the way to blessing, death the way to life, for His believing people. We Christians do not serve a frustrated deity.

Eschatology Outlines: No. 2 Noah and Lot

Clearing Out the Fog

TE Reed DePace

Some months ago, I realized I was going to have to come to some conclusions about the nature of same sex attraction (SSA) and its interaction with the question of ordination in the Presbyterian Church in America. Up to that point, I had sought to stay on top of the wide variety of conversation on relevant topics. From social media chat, to blog posts, to online magazine articles, to podcasts, to private digital conversations, I made time to delve deeply into this topic. My calling as a pastor and a presbyter demanded this of me.

And, some months ago I acknowledged to myself that I was hopelessly in a fog about all this. One brother from one side makes a credible challenge. Someone from the other side offers a credible response. The former gives a valid pushback I hadn’t considered. Chalk up another “who’s right/who’s wrong” moment. Tally up months and months of exchanges, pro and con, for and against, yea and nay, and I think many can appreciate my fog imagery in these events and subjects.

About a month ago, in preparation for our forty-eighth general assembly, I determined to try and boil things down into a set of vital issues to be addressed. While neither exhaustive nor exclusive, these are:

  • Is there credible information validating TE Johnson’s orthodoxy on the issues before us?
  • Is a man with an ongoing struggle with SSA ordainable to office within the PCA?

It seems to me that these are the crux of the matters before us. Thus, if I was going to be able to navigate the churning fog of these issues to safely land on the biblical runway, answering these was essential.

On the first question, with sadness, my conclusion is a no.

To be sure, TE Johnson expresses a noble missional focus: to bring the gospel to a community at best ignored by the (evangelical) church, and at worst (often) stigmatized by Christ’s Bride. To this, I affirm with a willingness to invest some of my ministry in the same missional focus.

Also to be sure, TE Johnson expresses an understandable commitment to the need for contextualizing his gospel witness to this community. Again, while there is no common ground between God and the sinner, there is common ground between we saint-sinners and the LGBTQ-sinners we’ve been sent to reach. Of course, some contextualizing is a necessary part of our apologetic introduction to them. Even if this means nothing more than entering into deeds of love that “earn” trust within this suffering community, this is entirely understandable, and indeed, biblically sound.

Yet it is here that I’ve (again, sadly!) concluded that there is not sufficient credible information validate TE Johnson’s orthodoxy on the issues before us. Without seeking to prove these observations (since I expect these are rather common amongst many of us): TE Johnson’s contextualization involves adopting critical parts of the metanarrative (the worldview) of the Side-B community. To be specific, TE Johnson clearly and succinctly agrees that the Side-A position (SSA men/women identifying as Christians may engage in homosexual acts in the context of homosexual marriage) is biblically condemned. Yet in seeking to minister to those affirming the Side-B position (SSA men/women identifying as Christians engaging in celibacy), TE Johnson all too frequently adopts the words, the language, and even the dialogical constructs used by those in this community. That is, he adopts the hermeneutic of Side-B.These words, language, and constructs are at times sub-biblical, and at other times contra-biblical.

To be sure, over the years since these issues arose (circa 2018) TE Johnson has offered clarifying language to us inside his doctrinal camp. And most often, sometimes after a bit more questioning for clarity, he has offered expressions that are biblically sound.

Yet then, in another venue, speaking to those outside his doctrinal camp, TE Johnson will yet again offer contextualized expressions that fit with Side-B sub/contra-biblical positions! This pattern has been repeated again, and again, and…

It is not unreasonable for me to ask, “Wait a minute, that contradicts your previously clarification of what you first said that contradicted our biblical convictions. What gives?” It is not reasonable for TE Johnson (or those who defend him) to respond with: “See my prior answer; asked-answered, nothing new here, move on now, drop it.” To be sure, I’ve grown increasingly grateful for what I see as growing gracefulness in TE Johnson’s response to his interlocutors. Yet, my hope for unity then gets smacked in the face when I hear of yet another interview/comment, etc. in which he once again offers contradictory comments. It is entirely reasonable for someone to ask, “Since he continues to offer confusing and contradictory information, what, then, are TE Johnson’s real beliefs on these issues?”

Yet, seeking to cut through the fog, I’ve concluded that I simply do not have the time, resources, and maybe even the ability, to adequately answer such questions. Thus, following the precepts of assuming the best of a brother (1Co 13:4-7), I’ve chosen to conclude the best in these circumstances: TE Johnson is most likely confused on how to apply our doctrinal standards to his apologetic to the Side-B community. Whether this is due to a defective understanding of biblical contextualization (my sense), or something else, does not matter. A TE is called to speak with clarity, not be a fog machine. (To be sure, I’m not suggesting I’d do any better; but then, I’ve not sought to engage at the level TE Johnson has.)

Let me be clear: my answer to this first question does not resolve to saying TE Johnson does not have a credible faith, or even that he is not orthodox on these issues. Rather my conclusion simply states that his lack of clarity, based on this repeated pattern, yields a fog making it impossible to validate his orthodoxy on these things.

That leaves me with the second question: is a man struggling with SSA ordainable? My answer is a qualified no.

My answer revolves around the issues of what does it mean to be above reproach, and the issue of what the Bible describes as sexual immorality contrary to nature (i.e., “unnatural” desire, Jude 1:7; Rom 1:26-27). Rather than repeat myself, I’ll let my words at this prior post offer more explanation. Suffice to say here, a man affirming that he has an ongoing struggle with same sex attraction (homoerotic desire as suggested by a fellow TE supporting TE Johnson), is NOT above reproach, and therefore not ordainable.

How this applies to the situation of TE Johnson is still in the fog for me. As implied above (necessarily inferred by me), I think TE Johnson might not be as he presents himself to those outside the PCA, as a man who is in effect a “gay” Christian as they are, i.e., someone firmly in the Side-B camp. It may very well be that TE Johnson is better described according to the past tense language of 1Co 6:11 (in the context of 1Co 6:9-10). Yet, as long as he continues to adopt the Side-B hermeneutic in his apologetics, it is unclear (i.e., the fog machine issue) whether he has experienced the degree of mortification that would make him above reproach.

To simplify here: a man with SSA in his life is ordainable depending on whether a present tense or a past tense applies to this issue in his life. If a man demonstrates that his struggle with SSA is past tense, then he has experienced the mortification that makes him above reproach on this issue. If however, this man demonstrates that SSA is a present struggle for him, then mortification has not yet qualified him as above reporach on this issue.

I get my expressions here may be frustrating to some, even on both sides of these issues. Yet my purpose has been to help any I might to the degree they too feel like they’re in a fog on these issues. With malice toward none, mercy and grace toward all, may God grant the PCA purity and peace on these issues.

reed depace

SSA Identification is Not Above Reproach

<rdp> As the Presbyterian Church in America draws closer to this year’s General Assembly, we’re beginning to focus a bit more on the core issues around the question of same-sex-attracted (SSA) men and ordination to sacred office. While there are lots of variables and permutations in front of us, the focus is rightly placed upon the one instantiation (the concrete example) of a teaching elder’s identification as a SSA (homosexual, gay) – (hyphenated) Christian (professing believer in Jesus Christ).

In a previous post I provided a simple summary of why I believe that men so identifying themselves are not above reproach. Accordingly, following the Bible’s rationale here, such men are NOT qualified for sacred office. More, in saying that they are not qualified, this is not a mere declaration that they don’t check off the boxes in a biblical qualifications checklist. No, reading these qualifications via the Bible’s idea of evidence of the Spirit’s work, what I am more fully concluding is that such a man’s lack of the biblical qualifications demonstrates that God has not called him to sacred office. Hence, in submission to the Head of the Body, the Church, we cannot place hands on him in ordination to sacred office.

Of course, these opinions generate some questions, most quite understandable and reasonable. I don’t propose I am the person to answer all these questions. I am not equipped to answer some of them, nor do I have the time to answer all of them. Suffice to say, I strongly recommend reliance on resources from others. Among those, let me highlight a few that presently are drawing my attention (in hopes that you may find them useful too):

Following my previous behavior, this past week I’ve sought to carefully listen to those interacting with my blog post, especially those who’ve disagreed with me. As of today, I am even more persuaded that an SSA-Christian man is not qualified for/not called to sacred office. He is not above reproach. Such a man has established as part of his identity a sin that is against nature (Jude 1:7; Rom 1:26). This identification may be nothing more than a confusion of a worldly-informed identity matrix (complex of principles). Yet at the very least such an identification marks him as one who has not (yet) secured the blessing of living in the language of 1Co 6:11:

“And such were some of you.” (e.g., formerly identifying with your SSA, rdp). “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1Co 6:11 ESV)

reed depace

No SSA Clergy in the PCA

<rdp> So for me, this has been a bit of a difficult decision to arrive at. Others I respect got here a lot sooner. Some I respect still decline to even travel in this direction. But, as the headline says above, I am convicted that same-sex-attracted men are not qualified to serve as ministers (teaching elders, pastors) in any denomination that seeks biblical fidelity in their ordination practices. As this is one of the biggie issues in our circles, allow me a few words to explain, support, and defend my conviction.

Background

Rev. Dr. Greg Johnson, a teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, is the Sr. pastor of Memorial Presbyterian Church in St. Louis. He has publicly identified as a man who is both a Christian and gay. That is, he affirms that both labels are essential in describing his core identity. He affirms all of the PCA’s doctrinal standards, including that same sex attraction (SSA) is sinful, both in desire and practice.

Sounds like, “what’s the problem?” at this point, I know. Indeed, when this first came to my attention (as best I recollect, sometime in 2018), after the first few months’ flurry of interaction and discussion I was inclined to think that, while there may be some minor problems, nothing rose to the level of reaching the conclusion I am affirming in this post. I made a connection with Greg (via Facebook). He graciously accepted my friendship request. He engaged in a number of private messages with me, even when he was being bombarded with people wanting a slice of his attention. (Out of care for him, I decided to not take advantage of our social media “friendship”. At best, we’re acquaintances, showing respect and kindness toward one another via social media’s limits.) Greg has treated me with nothing but the best of Christian kindness. I’m grateful to count him among my brothers in Christ, whom I will see around the throne of Christ in glory. Writing this blog post, then, grieves me.

The Nutshell

God requires men to be ordained as ministers in his church (1Ti 2:12). Further, he requires such men to be above reproach:

“This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you–if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination.” (Tit 1:5-6 ESV)

I recognize others will have different opinions as to what this means. For me, as God has grown me in the wonders of his perfect grace and mercy in Jesus, his comforting kindness and secure love has led me to a deepening desire to not lean on my own understanding, but align my beliefs and practices as closely as possible to what his Bible says, without variation (Pro 3:5-6). I’ve learned to take quite seriously God’s warnings to neither add to or subtract from his Bible (Dt 4:2; 12:32; Pro 30:6; Rv 22:18-19). I’ve become increasingly cautious that I neither get off-track to the right or to the left in any matter the BIble addresses (Dt 5:32; 28:14; Jos 1:7; Pro 4:27).

This has led me to conclude that identifying as a (SSA) gay-Christian makes a man not above reproach. He may indeed have a credible profession of faith. His life may in every other way be an exemplar of Christian virtue. Yet in the one vital area of sexual ethics, such a man has declared that he is not above reproach. At best, his life is marked by an ongoing struggle with a sexual perversion that both those inside and outside the church identify as debauchery:

“TNDT Dictionary: 112
ἀσώτως aÃsoÒtos [dissolute],
ἀσωτία asoÒtiÃa [debauchery]
The original sense is “incurable”; then we have the ideas of dissipation, gluttony, voluptuousness, and indiscipline. The only OT instances are Prov. 7:11 and 28:7. The reference in Lk. 15:7 is to the prodigal’s life of dissipation, and in Eph. 5:18; Tit. 1:6; 1 Pet. 4:4 to a disorderly life (rather than voluptuousness). [W. FOERSTER, I, 506-07]”

Such debauchery is not limited to the actions of those who indulge their SSA, but it certainly includes such things:

“For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you.” (1Pt 4:3-4 ESV)

Let me be clear at this point: Greg declares that he has never engaged his SSA. He declares that he continually fights this temptation of his fallen flesh with the resources of Christ. And I believe him! Let no one misread me and infer that I’m suggesting Greg is guilty of SSA practice. I am most certainly not!

Instead, Greg’s own resolute self-identifying as a gay-Christian marks him as one who is ever suspect. His conviction that his SSA is an integral part of his personal identity means that both those in the church and outside the church will always wonder if Greg is free of any and all charges of debauchery. This is even the case for those who believe SSA is not condemnable. Certainly they will never think Greg is chargeable with debauchery, but that is only because they do not believe SSA desire or practice is sinful!

Thus, a Christian man who ongoingly identifies as a gay-Christian is, by that self-identification, declaring himself to be disqualified for sacred office in the church of Christ. All the debates about concupiscence, mortification, etc. (as important as they are), do not remove the disqualifying effect of the self-identification as a gay-Christian. Such a man will, as fine as he and his life may be in all other ways, always be marked this side of eternity as one who may be guilty of a debauchery attached to his SSA. Disappointing and discouraging as this conclusion may be, it is the only one that respects the integrity of Scripture, that takes it exactly at it’s word, neither turning to the left or the right, but maintaining God’s sole authority.

Notwithstandings

I recognize that the discussion on these matters has left many with frustrations. Men on both sides may feel like those on the other have not listened to them, or are guilty (even inadvertently) of equivocation. Yet, in the providence of God, we’ve not seen much progress in collapsing the gaps between us.

I also recognize that the motivations of Greg (and those agreeing with him) are dominated by concerns for the advancement of Christ’s kingdom. Even where I’ve been deeply and personally offended by some things found among those supporting Greg’s position, I recognize that the motives have been consistent with the desire to lift up Christ that all the lost elect might be drawn to him and be saved. Nevertheless, the gay-Christian identification is a compromise with the world’s system of thought. It is a syncretism that in time will yield a destructive harvest in the churches that adopt it. Rather than be helpful to the cause of Christ, the insistence that identifying as a gay-Christian is consistent with biblical fidelity is a pernicious error which can only bring dissoluteness.

For such considerations, as much I wish no harm to Rev. Dr. Greg Johnson, I believe we cannot affirm his calling as a minister in the PCA. Rather, I think we have no choice but to take the actions necessary to make sure no man identifying as a gay-Christian is ordained to sacred office. He is not qualified because he is not above reproach.

Offered with prayers for God’s blessing in the hearts of my fellow elders in the PCA,

Rev. Dr. Reed DePace

[Postscript, 4/24/21: thank you to the brother/ministry that made a way for me to attend GA this year after all. See you in St. Louiee!]

Reviewing Jeffrey Johnson’s The Fatal Flaw, Part 1 (Chs. 1-2)

Posted by R. Fowler White

In this post and (God willing) a series of posts to follow, I plan to work through the chapters of Jeffrey D. Johnson’s book, The Fatal Flaw of the Theology Behind Infant Baptism (Free Grace Press, 2010). Yes, it’s been out a while, so perhaps you’ve seen it mentioned here and there. The initial reasons for my interest in the book are that I was once a convinced credobaptist myself (even publishing on the topic!) and that Johnson’s book has been applauded by some noteworthy (self-identified) “sovereign grace Baptist” leaders, such as Tom Nettles and Richard Belcher, Sr. The more significant reason that I picked up the book, however, is that it is part of a relatively recent flurry of activity among Baptists who have been reexamining covenant theology (e.g., Tom Wells, Fred Zaspel, Gary Long), and Johnson states that his own position on covenant theology is very similar to that of Meredith Kline, Michael Horton, and Kim Riddlebarger (p. 22 n. 70). All these factors provoke my interest in Johnson’s critique of paedobaptist covenant theology.

Johnson divides his book into two major parts, the first of 16 chapters on “The Fatal Flaw” behind paedobaptist theology and the second of 8 chapters on what he calls “Covenantal Dichotomism” and in which he discusses the relationships between Abraham, Moses, and Christ. For the purpose of interaction, I don’t expect to review each of these 24 chapters in detail, but to focus on what Johnson tells us is the primary thrust of his book, namely, “a direct and pointed attack on the covenantal framework in which paedobaptism is rooted” (p. 21). Even with that emphasis, “the purpose of this work is not so much to convert the die-hard paedobaptist as much as to help prevent credobaptists from changing their position” (p. 20). In addition, the book is not offered merely to deliver negative commentary (ibid.). For Johnson “there are many sturdy stones, which must be left alone” (ibid.) in paedobaptist covenant theology. Not least among those stones is the progressive unfolding of God’s eternal plan of redemption in each of His covenants throughout history. Given Johnson’s purpose and primary thrust, I’ll leave aside the helpful introduction in which he surveys the history of infant baptism and various paedobaptist interpretations of its rationale and settles on engaging presbyterians who’ve adopted the Westminster Confession. I’ll use this opening post to look at his first two chapters (pp. 25-48), where he takes on the absence of a NT command to baptize infants and the analogy between circumcision and baptism.

Zeroing in on the paedobaptist appeal to OT inferences to fill in where no NT command exists, Johnson argues that those inferences leave too many uncertainties to justify infant baptism. He insists that, if OT inferences are really to make up for a missing NT command, then some related issues should also be considered: 1) that, besides baptism, no duty of the local NT church comes from the OT; 2) that baptized children are excluded from the Lord’s Supper even though circumcised children were included in the Passover meal; 3) that the NT church experienced much confusion on almost everything related to the old covenant; 4) that the NT church experienced major controversy over circumcision in particular; and 5) that NT Gentile converts, largely ignorant of circumcision’s meaning, doubtless needed instruction on baptism and its participants. With these uncertainties as backdrop, Johnson moves on to take up the circumcision-baptism relationship itself, intent on showing that the two ordinances are only analogous and not identical. Contending that “the NT must set the limits of the analogy” (p. 45; see also p. 47), he concludes that they are similar, not in that both involve children, but only in that both signify circumcision of the heart (regeneration). Citing Jer 31.34, he goes on to urge that, “unlike the old covenant, the new covenant leaves no room for unbelieving participants” (ibid.). All told, then, Johnson maintains that neither OT inferences nor the circumcision-baptism relationship can be authoritative for determining the nature of baptism or its participants (p. 47).

The absence of a NT command to baptize infants – What shall we say about Johnson’s claim that OT inferences leave too many uncertainties to warrant infant baptism? In my view, the uncertainties that Johnson highlights do little to discourage the paedobaptist appeal to the OT to locate the warrant for infant baptism. For example, when he argues that, besides baptism, no requirement for the local NT church comes from the OT, Johnson asks us to presuppose that the administrative principles of the NT church originated without any connection whatsoever to OT Israel. Leaving aside the question of baptism, this is a bridge too far: we cannot simply concede that the administrative principles of the NT church generally or the basis of its membership specifically are disconnected from OT Israel. After all, we know that God is administering one household in redemptive history, not two (Heb 3.1-6). Going on, Johnson observes that, unlike circumcised children, baptized children are excluded from the covenant meal. We acknowledge, of course, that paedobaptists differ on this point, though we cannot pursue it here. Suffice it to say, then, that back of Johnson’s objection is the debatable assumption that the function and basis of the OT ordinances differ from those of the NT. Further, Johnson points out that almost everything related to the old covenant, including circumcision, created confusion or controversy in the NT church that was eventually dominated by largely uninformed Gentile converts. The difficulties of the transition from the old covenant to the new notwithstanding, Johnson offers no evidence that there was ever confusion or controversy in the NT church about the membership status or baptism of children. In sum, Johnson’s collection of uncertainties does not touch the fundamental concern of the paedobaptist argument from the OT. More pointedly, if the administrative principles of the NT church, including the basis of its membership, originated without any connection to OT Israel as Johnson argues, there would have been an obvious and profound need for and expectation of an exposition not unlike the one we find in the Epistle to the Hebrews to make this change emphatically clear. Instead we find that the principles and practices of the NT church are stated in language that imitates the language in which the principles and practices of OT Israel were stated.

The circumcision-baptism relationship – Moving on to Johnson’s take on the circumcision-baptism relationship, we can agree with him that the relationship is one of analogy and not identity. There are clear differences between the two (thus the denial of identity), but both rites testify to the same realities (thus the affirmation of analogy): death to sin and new life to God (otherwise known as circumcision of the heart). In fact, because both rites speak as one, we can understand better why circumcision became obsolete and baptism superseded it. The transition came to pass because Christ’s death-and-resurrection was both a circumcision (Col 2.11) and a baptism (Mark 10.38; Luke 12.50). Whether we say that Christ was circumcised or baptized in His death and resurrection, God’s witness to us is that the death He died He died to sin, and the life He lives He lives to God (Rom 6.10). In that light, it makes sense that the circumcision of Christ made circumcision obsolete as a covenant sign, while the baptism of Christ established baptism as the covenant sign that continued to testify of the realities formerly signified by circumcision.

Meanwhile, however, the differences between the two and the change from the one to the other do nothing to revoke the membership status of children in God’s covenant. How can we be so sure? Because the NT narrates the administration of baptism by the apostles in language that imitates the narration of the administration of circumcision and baptism in the OT. In particular, the apostolic company is said to have baptized households (Acts 11.14; 16.15, 31-34; 1 Cor 1.2), just as God is said to have baptized the household of Noah in the flood (1 Pet 3.20-22; Gen 7.1) and the households of “our (circumcised!) fathers” in the cloud and the sea (1 Cor 10.1). Strikingly, in the baptism into Moses, the baptized are even said to have been those who “feared the Lord and believed in Him and His servant Moses” (Exod 14.29-31). Paedobaptists might ask, then, shall we dispute that those OT baptisms included both parents and their children? Can we imagine Joshua saying anything other than, “as for me and my house, we were baptized into Moses”? If baptism into Moses was administered thus to our circumcised ancestors, it at least strains credulity to maintain that the apostles administered baptism into Christ differently to those who are the descendants of those baptized into Moses. To press the point still further, paedobaptists might ask, would not the Jews at Corinth (Acts 18.1-8), who were among those addressed in 1 Cor 10.1, have justifiably inferred that just as parents and children were baptized into Moses, so also parents and children were to be baptized into Christ? Consider here especially what Crispus, the ruler of Corinth’s synagogue, and his household (Acts 18.8) would have been thinking. Insofar, then, as we observe the parallel language in the narration of the baptisms of Noah’s household, Israel’s households, and the church’s households, there is warrant sufficient for paedobaptists to urge that the apostles’ practice of baptism into Christ took place on the same principle as did OT baptism and circumcision: “you and your household.” All this to say, then, that we can agree with Johnson that the relationship of circumcision and baptism is one of analogy, but we cannot agree that the analogy makes infant baptism less than clear. To the contrary, the administration of baptism in the NT imitates the administration of circumcision and baptism in the OT. To be sure, other questions and passages remain to be considered.

Having and Eating Your Cake

I started reading Godfrey’s historical, systematic, and pastoral treatment of the Canons of Dort today. It is a treasure, and I highly recommend it to all. I came across this reminder of how the Remonstrants responded to the calling of the Synod:


The Arminians objected sharply to the calling of the synod, insisting that it would be unfair, indeed a kangaroo court. They stated that a synod composed of their theological opponents could not fairly or objectively judge the theological issues in dispute. The Calvinist majority in the church responded that since they were simply upholding the standing doctrine of the church against the Arminian innovations, they were abundantly able to judge rightly (21-22).

This reminded me of the FV objections to the makeup of the PCA committee on the FV. But the objection is completely disingenuous. It is an attempt to have one’s cake and eat it, too. Both the Arminians and the FV advocates hold that they are simply teaching what Scripture and the confessions of the church teach. But if that is the case, then why did they label those of a different opinion “opponents”? They can’t be opponents if everyone is teaching the same Scripture and the same confessions.

The FV advocates, in particular, then tended to claim that it was a different paradigm, and that critics needed to get inside the paradigm in order to understand it. Well, if that is true, then it couldn’t be the paradigm of the Westminster Standards or 3FU, could it?

The point is simple: either the paradigm is the same, in which case no opposition exists (and therefore the innovators should have no objection to being judged by their peers), or the paradigm is different in which case the innovators have already proven the critics’ case that the new paradigm is non-confessional. The Remonstrants and the FV advocates both tried to have their cake and eat it as well. It was therefore a highly disingenuous move.

Introducing a New Baggins!

It is with great pleasure that I announce the addition of a new Baggins to our team, Dr. R. Fowler White. He has been a long-time reader and commenter, doing the latter with grace and careful thought. Dr. White has been involved with Ligonier Ministries for several years, contributing to Table Talk, and teaching at Ligonier’s Bible Academy. Welcome!

Changing One’s Mind

Bart Ehrman wrote a thoughtful piece recently on how and why some people change their minds and others do not. I would like to interact with this and hopefully show some alternatives that he appears not to have considered. Firstly, I will trace the flow of his argument, and then afterwards interact with it.

Ehrman starts out by relating his own story. He was a fresh-faced evangelical at age 20. Looking back on his then career path from a vastly more wise and mature vantage point, he now describes his previous mindset as “extremely weird.” Don’t miss the statement, “and to outsiders looks more than a little bizarre.” The desire for respect from the world plays a large part in his post. More on that later.

Ehrman describes two events in recent history that made him think of his earlier history. First, his conversation/debate with Peter Williams (an inerrantist), and a FB post from a former friend lambasting him for being an enemy of the truth. One presumes that Ehrman is trying to be funny with the crack about basketball. One would also presume that Ehrman does not seriously believe that his former friend is lambasting him because of basketball.

These two events prompted Ehrman to think about the question: why is it that some people change their minds about what they were taught when they were young, whereas other people hold on to their beliefs tenaciously? He puts himself firmly in the former category, and regrets the animosity he feels from his former friends. Again, the issue of respect from people comes into play.

The next few paragraphs are where the judgment starts to show. He finds it incredible that scholars should hold on to the views they held before (presumably meaning conservative views). If they do hold on to those views, the only reason they do is that they never did deepen their understanding of the issues and nuance their opinions.

On being accused of being an enemy of the truth, Ehrman believes his entire career has been one of seeking the truth, while those whose views remain what they were have not been seeking after the truth. The “nutshell” paragraph then follows:

I’ll try to put it in the most direct terms here: how is it at all plausible, or humanly possible, that someone can question, explore, look into, consider the beliefs they were taught as a young child (in the home, in church, in … whatever context) and after 40 years of thinking about it decide that everything they were taught is absolutely right? The views *they* were taught, out of the sixty trillion possible views out there, are absolutely right? The problem with these particular views (of evangelical Christianity) is that if they are indeed right, everyone else in the known universe is wrong and going to be tormented forever because of it.

Then follows a qualification: “I know most Christians don’t think this: I’m just talking about this particular type of Christian. And they don’t seem to see how strange it is that they are right because they agree with what they were taught as young children.”

He ends his reflections with what he believes is a sort of reductio ad absurdam: “I realize these are very old questions. When we were evangelicals we puzzled over the question of how God could punish people for eternity for not “accepting Christ” when they had never even heard of him. Unfortunately, we concluded that we weren’t sure how he would do that, but we were pretty sure he would. Most of the human race, of course, thinks the very idea is ludicrous.” Again the respect of people, for the third time.

Thus the flow of the post. Now for the interaction. The first thing I would say in response is that Ehrman seems to me to be committing one large fallacy of the poisoned well argument: “Your views are wrong because of where they came from (namely, parents).” If one’s main worldview issues arose out of what they were taught as youngsters, then they can’t possibly be correct, if Ehrman is right. But if Ehrman is right, then our parents were also wrong when they told us, “Don’t cross the street without looking both ways;” “Don’t go with strangers;” “Be polite and say ‘thank you’ and ‘please'”; and many other things we learned when we were young. Were many of those things simplistic in order to line up with our need for simple and sometimes simplistic understandings? Of course. However, the point I wish to make here is simple: just because our parents said it doesn’t make it wrong, any more than interaction with scholarship makes a particular viewpoint correct. After all, aren’t older, seasoned scholars our “intellectual” parents of sorts? Why should we reject or believe anything simply on the basis of what some scholar says? Ehrman doesn’t do this. He rejects lots of viewpoints that scholars propound.

Secondly, what if he teaches his views to his children in the future. What is to prevent them from saying the same thing about what they were taught by Ehrman later in life? Thus, Ehrman lops off the branch on which he himself is sitting. One suspects that the real problem here is that Ehrman found out that the people of the world do not approve of what he learned in childhood. Therefore he is seeking to distance himself as much as possible from it in order to be respectable. Yet, what about the reverse possibility? I know of many scholars who grew up in households completely antithetical to Christianity, atheistic households, in fact. Yet God’s grace changed them, and they became Christians and became devoted to furthering the gospel of Jesus Christ. Ehrman doesn’t address this possibility, probably because there isn’t any way he can account for it on his paradigm. The distinct impression given by Ehrman’s post is that the only way anyone could possibly believe those benighted conservative viewpoints is if they have their head in the sand, with regard to scholarship. Since he has admitted to not wanting to run in those conservative circles anymore, he can be forgiven for getting the wrong end of the stick entirely on this one. Since he doesn’t run in those circles, he doesn’t know or acknowledge the many conservative biblical scholars that go out of their way to read viewpoints that differ from their own (and not just for the purposes of debate!). The seminary professors I know and love, and have learned so much from, ALWAYS assign liberal scholars to read alongside the conservative ones. In actuality, it is the liberal scholars who move in confined circles. They almost never quote or read conservatives. No doubt they will respond that this is because there are so few conservative scholars. This would be a good example of the fallacy of ad populum. Truth is not achieved by counting noses, something Ehrman doesn’t seem to have learned yet. Let God be true, though every man be a liar.

Thirdly, he seems to leave out or discount the possibility that a conservative scholar could have grown up believing what his parents told him, grown up to achieve greater nuance and clarity regarding those views, deliberately test them by comparing them to as many worldviews out there as possible, and still believe that the basic points of worldview he grew up with are correct. In fact, I know many such scholars. If you read any of his commenters, they tend to be even less generous than Ehrman on this point. They commit the poisoned well argument with a vengeance!

Lastly, I will argue that the real reason conservative evangelical scholars hold on their viewpoints is that they believe it is what the Bible teaches. Ehrman disagrees, and thinks he has pre-empted this argument by stating that it was really just what we were taught when we were young. I answered this in the “secondly” paragraph above. Ehrman clearly buys into the postmodern viewpoint that the multiplicity of viewpoints negates the truth of any conservative viewpoint. He says, “The views *they* were taught, out of the sixty trillion possible views out there, are absolutely right?” In ascribing arrogance to conservatives for holding on to viewpoints they were taught, he is engaging in arrogance himself, since he clearly believes that his pluralistic viewpoint is THE correct approach to the multiplicity of views. What gives him the right to say that? And what gives him the right to say that the only viewpoint that is automatically wrong, out of the 60 trillion viewpoints out there, is the conservative one, simply because he doesn’t like where he learned it from, and thinks that people are naive for believing what their parents tell them? Does he not know that most Muslims learn their Islam from their parents? Would he dare to say the same about Muslim beliefs, simply because the vast majority of Muslims believe what they were told by their parents? Muslims (especially those in the Middle East!) are every bit as exclusivistic as conservative Christians when it comes to believing in only one worldview. Somehow, I don’t think he would say that Muslims are wrong simply because it is what they grew up with, probably because he fears what other people in the world think about him, and he wouldn’t want to offend Muslims. I think Muslims are wrong in what they think, but not because it is what they grew up with and were taught. It is because the life they attempt to build on top of their beliefs does not match their beliefs. But to prove that would go far afield from this post.

As to his last point, very few people I know believe that God will punish people for rejecting Christ if they have not heard of Jesus Christ. However, not having heard of Jesus Christ is hardly an excuse that gets one out of condemnation. No one has an excuse, according to Paul in Romans 1. The invisible attributes of God have been clearly seen in creation. If people do not give glory to God, then it is for that they will be judged. Ehrman might possibly object and say, “But you can’t believe in a God who would send anyone to Hell just because they were unlucky enough not to have heard about Jesus Christ.” This objection presumes that God owes everyone a chance at salvation. God owes nothing to anyone on earth. This fact should not, of course, make us complacent about sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, crucified and resurrected for the salvation of sinners. Our love of neighbors should impel us to tell them about Jesus precisely so that they won’t be condemned, but be saved. Nevertheless, God owes nothing to any created being.

Loving Our Country

Each Wednesday morning I send out to our congregation a revival prayer letter. A small group of our members use this every Thursday morning, and others privately, to pray for revival in our church, and in our community.

This morning’s Wednesday’s-4-Revival prayer letter addresses the topic of our nation and the church. While there is not any profound insights in this letter, it does (I hope) offer a biblically ordered and coordinated way of praying for our churches and communities, to the end that both the Kingdom of Christ is advanced, and our nation is blessed.

Given our focus today, I thought I might share it a bit more widely.
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Wednesdays for Revival #64
July 4, 2018
Reed DePace

Loving Our Country

A Weekly Prayer Devotional Seeking God to Pour Out His Spirit in Revival on Us.*


Historically Amazing

 

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photo: jeff hamilton, unsplash

As a fan of history (double undergrad degree in American History and geo-political science), I appreciate how blessed America has been in her short time on earth. She is rightly to be considered among the top ten world-spanning empires in history. This is not just in terms of her power. Yes, in comparison to other nations in her own time, America is the most powerful militarily, economically, and even to some extent, socially. Even today, in the midst of signs of her decline, and the rise of enemies (both old and new), America is the single largest exporter of cultural influence, the ‘currency’ which is a key component of an empire.

Yes, she has her problems. There is (once again) a terribly large and growing gap between her richest and her poorest. As well, real expressions of injustice continue to plague her. Yet, even in these areas of negative assessment, America stands head and shoulders above the rest of the world. America’s poor are at least equal to, and in most cases, more materially blessed than a majority of the poor in the rest of the world. There are even many countries where their middle classes enjoy less material comforts than America’s poor enjoy.

When it comes to justice, yes, any injustice is a stench in God’s nostrils. Yet there is far less injustice in America than in just about any other country in the world. And even where there is injustice, the American system provides a better chance of rectifying and restoring justice than do the vast majority of the rest of the nations that currently fill the earth. What’s more, the level of personal freedom in America, the degree to which the individual can go where they want, when they want, to do what they want, without being questioned, is still among the greatest ever seen.

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photo: frank mckenna, unsplash

Compared to the rest of the Top Ten Empires, America has seen greater prosperity, greater freedom, and greater justice, for a greater percentage of her citizens than all the other world-dominating empires, and by a large margin. If God could tell the Israelites going into captivity under the tyrannical Babylonian Empire that would rape, pillage, and destroy their beloved homeland to:

… work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.” Jer 29:7

How much more do we citizens of the Kingdom of God have greater reason to praise God and seek his blessing on the nation of our earthly citizenship?

Dangerously Ill

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photo: andrew ruiz, unsplash

In spite of her great blessings, it is true that America is in some ways dangerously ill. Given the state of our social discourse, it is almost impossible for me to give examples. For each example I give, some will think they’re hearing me agreeing with them on their list of “America’s Worst Problems.” Still others will take offense, thinking I’ve dissed their list of what they think is wrong with America. The truth of the matter is I just have an opinion, more or less  informed than yours, depending on the topic at hand. But that we can’t even begin to civilly discuss such things possibly demonstrates just how ill America is.

Jesus knew their thoughts and replied, “Any kingdom divided against itself is doomed. A town or family splintered by feuding will fall apart.” Mt 12:25

History shows that any nation in which democracy is the driving political principle is in danger of self-destruction when the majority will not allow for any social (i.e., public) disagreement with their opinions. That is, a democracy is always in danger of dissolving into a mobocracy, the rule of the mob (e.g., think: the French Revolution). While America was founded as a modified expression of democracy (i.e., the will of the majority filtered through and diluted by representative government), our government has more and more moved toward unfiltered, pure democracy. Worse, in our social discourse, our public discussion, and debate of our differences, the mob already rules. Just stand up and offer an opinion that the majority disagrees with. Overnight social hatred will form into an opposition in which its kindest and gentlest will utterly silence you. Worse, and increasingly more commonly than we care to admit, social opposition from the majority-mob threatens to remove your enjoyment of any dream for material comfort in this world, let alone the American Dream.

No nation in this world can achieve a state of perfection in which even a majority of her citizens experience the best of life all the time. In other words, Utopia is a fantasy that may sell books, but it is never going to be a blueprint for a viable nation. That America has come closer than most in achieving the utopian pipe dream is also a danger. It leads us into a dangerous pride in which we think we just need to try a little harder to get our point across to our opponent. We end up just arguing more angrily and then dividing further. And truly raw, no restraints mob rule creeps closer and closer to taking over our dreams for a better America.

Glorious Hope

So, is there any hope for America? Even though she will follow all the other secular empires and succumb to the King of Kings, is there any hope that America might find more grace and mercy from God? Yes. For within her midst is  a source of salt and light that God promises to use to bless her:

You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless. You are the light of the world– like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. Mt 5:13-15

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photo: james bloedel, unsplash

In every nation and in every generation the Church (those who through Spirit-born living faith are united to Christ) is the hope of real blessing to that nation. Today this hope in the Church in America is still real. No, I’m not ignoring that America is increasingly treating real Christlike Christianity as the one enemy to be completely eradicated from her land. God is still sovereign though. And Jesus is still the victorious King of Kings and Lord of Lords who sits on the throne over all nations. This means that the Church in America can still be the blessing our nation is so desperately looking for in all the wrong places.

So, what do we do? We follow Jeremiah’s advice to the Jews who went into captivity in Babylon. We pray for God to bless America with the only blessing that will make any real lasting difference. We pray, in other words, for God to send a revival across our land. We work for the peace and prosperity of America. This is not the earthly peace and the material prosperity that will disappear when Jesus destroys the nations that follow the great enemy empire described in Revelation 18. Instead we work for the advancement of the gospel. We give ourselves to our own worship and discipleship under the Spirit’s enabling. And then we go back to our communities and tell them that Jesus has something better, and more satisfying, than even the American Dream.

Let your conversation be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you will have the right response for everyone. Col 4:6

Prayer Advice

Dear Lord, forgive our nation for her many rebellions against you. Forgive your people in America where they have cared more for their lives in this world than your glories. Heal your church. Restore hope in America that Jesus is the only answer needed. Restore to us the years the locusts have eaten. Pour out Your Spirit in revival on us. To Your glory, together with Your Father and Your Spirit, we ask, Amen.

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* This weekly prayer devotional focuses our attention on some aspect of our need for the Holy Spirit to bring revival to our church. Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you (Ps 85:6)?  For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants. They shall spring up among the grass like willows by flowing streams (Isa 44:3-4).  Pick a 15 to 30-minute time-block in your schedule over the next week and use this devotional to focus your prayers. As you can, consider fasting from a meal and using that time to pray for revival in our church.

Reed DePace

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