Thursday, June 28, 2012

“Reimagining” Conversion

From Evangelical Revivalism 
to Emerging Ecumenicalism

By Pastor Larry DeBruyn

Part 4: Outcome-Based Conversion:
By Man's Machinations or God's Ministration?

But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.
Paul, Galatians 1:8-9, KJV

In that an aggregate of scholars, leaders and authors of the emerging church movement have been and are continuing to redefine Protestant and evangelical teaching regarding salvation (i.e., the atonement, justification and reconciliation), it should come as no surprise that the very meaning of conversion is now being re-envisioned or re-imagined. As an article recently posted on the Christianity Today website says,

It is not an overstatement to say that evangelicals are experiencing a “sea change”—a paradigm shift—in their understanding of conversion and redemption, a shift that includes the way in which they think about the salvation of God, the nature and mission of the church, and the character of religious experience. Although there is no one word to capture where evangelicals are going in this regard, there is a word that captures what they are leaving behind: revivalism.[1]

At the outset let it be stated that, as it became institutionalized in the American evangelical subculture during the 20th century, evangelical revivalism—defined as the “accept-Jesus” invitational system which includes such methods as altar calls involving raising a hand and walking an aisle, or accepting spiritual laws and then praying a “receive-Jesus” prayer—is not without problems when subjected the biblical template of conversion.[2] Over the last few decades revivalism has been criticized, even by “in house” evangelicals.[3] As critics of the revivalistic system point out, in the aftermath of such point-in-time conversions, long term spiritual fruit has often not been evident, despite concerted efforts at follow-up and discipleship.

But now within evangelicalism a new paradigm of conversion is emerging, a paradigm that places emphasis on baptism, spiritual formation, community and kingdom building on earth. As opposed to the old revivalism with its emphasis on becoming a Christian, the new paradigm of conversion emphasizes being a Christian (To this distinction, the New Testament’s emphasis upon both becoming and being a Christian can be noted, the emphasis upon the one not to exclude the other; See John 3:3, 7; Galatians 5:22-24; James 2:17; 1 John 3:17.).

To understand this “sea change” regarding the old revivalistic paradigm of conversion, the emerging church’s emphasis appears to be upon togetherness, discipleship and kingdom. As advocates express it, “Belong, then believe.” Or as they assess the real membership of the church, “Most are in, and few (if any) are out.” Thus in their eyes, the church ought to be, as much as possible, one ecumenical community—“Kumbaya, my Lord, Kumbaya!”

But hindrances exist to the realization of community, hindrances involving essential biblical and Protestant teachings (Remember, the heart of the word Protestant is the word “protest.”). So in order to induce feelings of “togetherness,” there’s a movement adrift to deconstruct and then redefine those essential Reformation teachings that pose barriers to building community. In order to reach a consensus of faith which most, if not all Christians, can agree on, core beliefs concerning the Cross must be altered. Key teachings (i.e., doctrines which are to be believed) must be re-imagined or re-envisioned to fit a “community” template, especially as they regard the atonement, justification, reconciliation and finally, the very meaning of conversion itself. Amidst the “sea change” engulfing evangelicalism, we now give attention to the re-envisioning that is going on with these crucial doctrines in order to make them fit a togetherness template.

Togetherness and the Atonement 
One can’t experience “togetherness” if in the present spiritual reality, it is held that some persons are accepted by God while others remain estranged from Him; in other words, while some are “in,” others are “out.” Thus, as a penal substitutionary atonement for sin, Jesus’ death needs to be deconstructed in order to fit the community template. For togetherness to exist, it cannot be held that some persons’ sins have been forgiven while others’ have not. That by faith the spiritual benefits of Jesus’ substitutionary atonement might be appropriated by some, but in unbelief rejected by others, violates any spirit of community. So in a book endorsed by emergent Christian leader Brian McLaren, the Dean of San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral, Alan Jones, writes in his book Reimagining Christianity:

The Church’s fixation on the death of Jesus as the universal saving act must end, and the place of the cross must be reimagined in the Christian faith. Why? Because of the cult of suffering and the vindictive God behind it.[4]

Then later, in a context of mentioning Jesus’ “sacrifice,” Jones adds: “Penal substitution was the name of this vile doctrine.”[5]

In another book endorsed by N.T. Wright, Brian McLaren and Tony Campolo, emergent church leader Steve Chalke writes:

The fact is that the cross isn’t a form of cosmic child abuse—a vengeful Father, punishing his Son for an offense he has committed. Understandably, both people inside and outside the Church have found this twisted version of events morally dubious and a huge barrier to faith.[6]

As the last sentence of the above quote indicates, the penal substitutionary understanding of Jesus’ Cross is viewed as an obstacle to unity to those both inside and outside the church. But if He did not die “for” the sin(s) of persons, a begging question remains: Why did Jesus die? Out of necessity, any explanation of Jesus’ death on the cross must turn to either the moral influence (Jesus died to provide a selfless and influential example for others to follow) or Christus Victor (by His death Jesus conquered the world’s evil “principalities and powers”) theories of the atonement. Thus, when confronted with real life situations which present choices between the gratification of either self or others, Christians will follow Jesus’ example (WWJD—what would Jesus do?), and sacrifice themselves for the welfare of others, even at their own expense, discomfort, disadvantage, and possibly death.[7] Or when confronted by societal ills and abuses caused by evil “rulers and authorities” (Colossians 2:15, NASB), Christians, in their attempt to build God’s kingdom on earth, will therefore stand against and fight the forces of an abusive patriarchy, poverty, consumerism, militarism, racism, super-patriotism, world hunger and more.[8]

In contrast to those in denial of or discomforted by the doctrine of Jesus’ substitutionary atonement for sin, we can only note Paul’s statement in Galatians that, “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree” (Galatians 3:13). In quoting the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 21:23), Paul explains that Jesus’ death was both penal—Christ “redeemed us from the curse of the law”—and substitutionary—He was “made a curse for us.” If this statement by the apostle means anything, it means that Jesus death was a penal, a substitutionary, and an atonement for sin.

Yes, by His life and in His death Jesus provides a selfless example for others to follow. Yes, by His death Jesus triumphed over demonic “principalities and powers” (Colossians 2:15, KJV) who influence the world’s system. But born of divine love, the Father invested the Son’s death with greater cosmic significance than just that. God’s Son also died in the place of sinners, “for” our sins (Romans 4:25; 2 Corinthians 5:21). He bore the punishment we deserve. As the hymn writer put it:

Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
In my place He stood—
Sealed my pardon with His blood;
Hallelujah, what a Savior!

Yet in an emergent-ecumenical view of community, the idea of Jesus’ penal substitutionary atonement opposes feelings of unity. For if men are separated from God—and Scripture states that can be the case (Spoke the prophet: “But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear,” Isaiah 59:2, KJV.)—it stands to reason they will discover, either for reason of belief or unbelief, that they are separated from one another. And such division Jesus stated would occur (See Matthew 10:32-36; 25:31-43; etc.). So emergent Christians are rallying around the moral influence view of the atonement by which they can feel “at-one-ment” with others, or a Christus Victor view of the atonement around which they can unite in their fight against societal ills and evils in order to build God’s kingdom now.

Togetherness and Justification 
 J.I. Packer notes that, “The doctrine of justification” was “the storm center of the Reformation....”[10] “Justification is” as Packer defines, “a judicial act of God pardoning sinners (wicked and ungodly persons, Rom. 4:5; 3:9-24), accepting them as just, and so putting permanently right their previously estranged relationship with himself.”[11] Justification may be defined as that moment when by faith, God imparts to the believer a righteous standing before Him like unto that of Jesus, God’s eternal Son (Compare Matthew 3:17; 17:5.). In justification by faith, God exonerates believers of real moral guilt for sins committed (i.e., not just guilt feelings).

Critics of forensic justification label God’s “not-guilty-pardoning” of sinners as a “legal fiction.” Though such a charge might be relevant if justification were a heavenly occurrence only, it becomes irrelevant when it is understood that justification is relevant to living life on earth. The understanding that after being declared “Not guilty!” by the Judge of Heaven the justified do not pursue the same sinful lifestyle they did before conversion mutes such criticism (See 1 Corinthians 6:9-11.).  A genuine faith that justifies cannot be separated from good and godly works that evidence it (See James 2:14-26.).

Justification provides no license (i.e., licentiousness) for the pardoned to go back to the sinful pursuits they enjoyed before God justified them (in criminal parlance, this is called recidivism). If there is no appreciable change in life when a person gets supposedly “saved” according to the revivalistic paradigm, then such a point-in-time experience might be labeled “legal fiction.” But Paul tells believers to lay “aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit” and “put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Ephesians 4:22-24, NASB). A putting on of the new self by believers shows that the “Not Guilty!” verdict over their lives possesses more reality than being just “legal fiction.”

After justification, the Holy Spirit begins His work of sanctification in the believer’s life (i.e., believers become righteous). On a day-to-day basis, justification will evidence itself in the life of believers they persevere in righteous living until they are glorified in Heaven (Romans 8:29-30). As John describes those true believers who in their perseverance will refuse to receive the idolatrous mark of the beast: “Here is the perseverance of the saints who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus” (Revelation 14:12, NASB).

Note: On this point, it must be noted that justification and sanctification are not the same, that these two aspects of salvation are not to be confuted or mixed. There are no works Christians do, whether before or after conversion, or whether for reason of God imparting righteousness unto or infusing righteousness into them, which contribute to their justification by God (Such co-working is called synergism, or people doing good works to help God to save them.). In total, justification is God’s work and declaration.

As with Abraham, justification in Scripture is personal. In reference to Christianity’s forerunner, the Apostle Paul wrote: “For what saith the scripture? Abraham [not they] believed God, and it was counted unto him [not them] for righteousness [i.e., justification]” (Romans 4:3; See Genesis 15:6; Habakkuk 2:4; Romans 1:17; 4:9, 22; Galatians 3:6, 11; Hebrews 10:38; James 2:23.).

But such a biblical and Reformation understanding of justification is now being altered to fit a community or togetherness template. Without engaging the sophisticated arguments surrounding “the new justification,” arguments with which average Christians are not concerned, the contemporary understanding of justification now advocates that justification involves a declaration or recognition that a person “is in” or “belongs to” the covenant family. Accordingly, “righteousness” is simply a statement of that person’s being in community. He or she is not regarded as morally virtuous (whether through imputed, imparted or infused righteousness), but is simply declared to be in the community. Cornelius P. Venema, President of Mid-America Reformed Seminary, assesses the new version of justification, espoused by E.P. Sanders, James D.G. Dunn and N.T. Wright, and now believed by many within the emergent church movement, as follows: “Justification does not describe how someone gains entrance into the community of God’s people but who is a member of the community now and in the future.”[12]

So while according to Paul and the “old” reformers justification concerns our legal or forensic standing before God (i.e., declared, “Not guilty!”), the “new” reformers view justification to be a sacramentally conferred and an ecclesiastical “belonging” to the Christian community.

But as with Abraham, any communal experience of justification is predicated upon people first being justified on a personal basis; for after all, any group must be constituted of individuals to be a group. As Venema reminds:

The gospel of free justification and acceptance with God continues to speak with freshness and power to all human beings who need to know where they stand with God. Because of the saving work of Jesus Christ on their behalf, believers may be joyfully confident that there is ‘now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’ (Rom. 8:1).[13]

But again, that idea that some individuals are “not guilty” while others remain “guilty” poses a barrier to the development of togetherness. It must be remembered that Jesus announced there would be spiritual division, a division He compared to the final separation of the “sheep” from the “goats” (Matthew 25:31-46; Compare Matthew 7:22-23; 10:34-36.).

Togetherness and Reconciliation
Universal Reconciliation in “The Shack”
Reconciliation means a change in “relationship.”[14] The need for reconciliation presupposes estrangement between two parties (Matthew 5:23-24). Whereas they became enemies, two parties become friends again. Often, reconciliation needs to  occur between humans, between friends, spouses, races, tribes, and nations. But reconciliation also needs to take place between people and God. Though Paul stated that the Colossians were “reconciled,” he noted that in their pre-converted state they had been spiritually “alienated” from God for reason of their rebellion against Him (Colossians 1:21-22). As such, the doctrine of reconciliation lies at the center of the Christian faith. As White remarks, “Since a right relationship with God is the heart of all religion, reconciliation, which makes access welcome and fellowship possible, may be regarded as the central concept in Christianity.”[15] But again, like the atonement and justification, the biblical teaching on reconciliation presents a barrier to togetherness because while by faith some persons choose to become reconciled to God, others, in their unbelief and their pursuit of ungodly living, choose to remain estranged from Him.

To counteract feelings that arise from the reconciled/un-reconciled divide, liberal evangelicals propose a doctrine of universal reconciliation; that on the basis of unqualified divine love exhibited in Jesus’ death and resurrection, God has reconciled Himself to the whole of humanity. As God (Papa-Elousia) states to Mack in The Shack, “Honey, you asked me what Jesus did on the cross; so now listen to me carefully: through his death and resurrection, I am now fully reconciled to the world.”[16]

Again, in a comfortable, schmoozing, and relational atmosphere of The Shack, in a conversation Mack has with that allegory’s hermaphroditic deity about the Canadian rock musician Bruce Cockburn, Papa-Elousia says to Mack, “Mackenzie, I have no favorites; I am just especially fond of him.” Mack then responds, “You seem to be especially fond of a lot of people.... Are there any who you are not especially fond of?” After pensively contemplating the question, Papa responds, “Nope, I haven’t been able to find any. Guess that’s jes’ the way I is.”[17] Bingo! God is as “fond” of villains like Judas, Nero, Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot and Osama bin Laden as He is of Jesus. It’s all one big “circle of relationship” (Kumbaya!). As Papa later tells Mack, “In Jesus, I have forgiven all human beings for their sins against me, but only some choose relationship.”[18]

According to the theological scheme of universal reconciliation, it’s not that sinners need to be reconciled to God, but rather that, by His initiative (Jesus’ sacrifice) arising out of divine love (Jesus’ resurrection), God becomes reconciled to humanity, en masse. In such a reconciliation scenario, if offenses (i.e., sins) have been committed, one is forced to conclude that God, nor man, has been the offending party! He is the One who needs to be reconciled to sinners. This is the reverse of the New Testament teaching.

Universalism in “Love Wins”
In his book Love Wins: A Book about Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, and in a spirit of “togetherness,” Rob Bell, denies any reality of Hell in the afterlife.[19] Proposing his version of universalism, the book’s back jacket cover contains a picture of Bell speaking and a caption containing these words:

“God loves us. God offers us everlasting life by grace, freely, through no merit on our part. Unless you do not respond the right way. Then God will torture you forever. In hell.” Huh?

But any belief in universalism can’t be reconciled with the angel’s statement about the fate awaiting unbelievers who idolatrously worship the beast, their allegiance to him having been signified by receiving his mark. John records his vision:

And another angel, a third one, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or upon his hand, he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. “And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; and they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.” (Revelation 14:9-11, NASB)

Universalism is also impossible to reconcile with Jesus’ judgment upon Judas whom He called, “the son of perdition” (John 17:12; Compare 2 Thessalonians 2:3.), and about whom He stated, “it had been good for that man if he had not been born” (Matthew 26:24).[20] William S. Plumer (1759-1850, New Hampshire lawyer, politician and Bible scholar, commented that “The doctrine of universal salvation has no countenance in Scripture.” After stating there is much in Scripture contradicting universalism, Plumer goes on to say:

It is disproven by the case of Judas. If, after many thousand years of suffering, he shall rise to everlasting happiness in the skies, it will be good for him that he was born. Eternal happiness far outweighs all temporal suffering, however protracted. Any existence which terminates in eternal glory will prove a blessing beyond all computation. All temporal suffering can be gauged. But who can fathom the sea of love, the ocean of bliss, made sure to all believers? And eternal misery is as dreadful as eternal glory is desirable. Oh! how fearful must be the doom of the incorrigibly wicked, when in their case existence itself ceases to be desirable, or even tolerable! It is true of every one who dies without repentance toward God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, that—“It had been good for that man if he had not been born.”[21]

To this point, sometime ago I viewed a cable TV talk show (The O’Reilly Factor) in which the host—in the context of the controversy aroused with the publication of Bell’s book—interviewed a pastor and psychologist-counselor who believed in universal salvation; that in the afterlife, there will be no eternal reality in a place called Hell. The dialog took place as follows:

Pastor McKinney: “No, I don’t believe in a literal Hell. I think it’s a historical and theological mistake.”
Bill O’Reilly: “Do you believe in a literal Heaven?”
McKinney: “Ah (smiling contentedly and assuredly), I do!”
O’Reilly: “Okay, so that means you’re going to see Adolph [Hitler] up there. Say hello to him for me, ’cause I got to tell you, I don’t want to be anywhere near him.”[22]

As evident from that exchange, the idea of universal reconciliation flies in the face of any sense of fair play, something that people’s consciences bear corporate witness to, their “thoughts [either] accusing or else excusing one another” (Romans 2:15).

Often those who don’t, for reason of God’s love, believe in Hell, condescendingly censure those who do believe in Hell—with questions like, “What kind of loving God is that, a God who would punish people in Hell forever and ever? Is that your kind of God?” Well, in light of universalism’s belief that all the villains of history will wind up in Heaven right along side the innocent victims against whom they perpetrated their genocidal crimes against humanity and God, let’s reverse the question: “Do you believe in a God like that? Doesn’t your God possess any sense of fair play? Is there no ultimate justice in the universe?”

You see, by casting the idea of an everlasting Hell to be beneath the dignity of a loving God does not solve the problem of God’s character. If in His justice God must deal with the greater villains of history, then that dealing will necessitate that He deal with the lesser villains of history, and that, absent His grace, could include me and you, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). If God is just, and He is, and absent His grace (giving us what we do not deserve), then He can only assign all the villains of history to a place of eternal confinement, a place of “outer darkness” where “there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 25:30; See Matthew 8:12; 22:13; 25:30). On the point of justice, persons who in this life flout the rules of God to the injury of themselves and those around them, universalism appears to be grossly unfair. The reprobate and unrepentant villains don’t get what they deserve.

But the doctrines of atonement, justification and reconciliation/salvation are not the only ones drifting in “sea change.” Their change now necessitates that the understanding of conversion needs “change,” and according to the evangelical mouthpiece Christianity Today, it too is now being “reenvisioned.”

Togetherness and Conversion
According to Gordon T. Smith, the revivalistic paradigm of conversion (as noted at the beginning of this article), a paradigm rooted amongst the 17th century Puritans, then stemming out of the revivalists of 18th – 19th centuries (Edwards, Wesley, Whitfield, Finney, Moody), and finally institutionalized in the American evangelical subculture during the 20th century (Sunday, Graham, Bright), is being “left behind” (perhaps in reference to the best-selling series of prophetic novels that have become symptomatic of the same evangelical subculture).[23] Smith notes this shift appears to be affected by a number of emerging influences upon evangelicalism.[24]

From the biblical studies of scholars like James Dunn, N.T. Wright and others, emergent evangelicals “are being weaned from their propensity to make a one-to-one correlation between conversion and ‘getting saved’.”[25] From the studies of philosophers, behavioral scientists, developmental theorists and anthropologists, evangelicals’ understanding “of the nature of religious experience” is being informed.[26] From other Christian traditions (i.e., Orthodox, Roman Catholic and mainline Protestant) core evangelical convictions are undergoing “cross-pollination.”[27] From the impact of global Pentecostalism, evangelicals are awakening to the role of the Spirit which “must find expression in the tangible... pursuit of peace and justice, and identification with the poor.”[28] And from the recovery of “their full Christian heritage,” evangelicals are going back to Christianity’s pre-revivalistic roots, a heritage informed in part from “the breadth of medieval and 16th-century Spanish mysticism.”[29]

As one reads Smith’s assessment, the frequency of the occurrence of the word “experience” can be noted (I count twenty-three times.). As he explains,

Increasingly, there is appreciation that conversion is a complex experience by which a person is initiated into a common life with the people of God who together seek the in-breaking of the kingdom, both in this life and in the world to come. This experience is mediated by the church and thus necessarily includes baptism as a rite of initiation.[30]

Assuming Smith’s assessment to be accurate, what becomes noticeable is that within the emerging church ritualistic mechanisms—called means of grace—become the paradigm by which to measure conversion.[31] Whereas with the old revivalistic paradigm emphasized altar calls and the sinner’s prayer as indicators of conversion, the new ecclesiastical paradigm employs mechanisms of grace that include “baptism as a rite of initiation” into the community of faith by which rite the “power or energy” of an “immediate encounter with the risen Christ” becomes experienced.[32]

Without engaging the biblical and theological arguments regarding the meaning and ministration baptism, it may be noted that in the New Testament faith always precedes the rite of baptism (Acts 8:37, KJV). Baptism is not a mechanism by which the church administers a dynamic experiential entrance into the kingdom community. In the New Testament baptism followed but did not precede faith. Baptism is the evidence, not the substance, of conversion.

But the irony of the shift away from the revivalistic paradigm on the part of emergent evangelicals is that even as they are leaving behind the old indicators of conversion (i.e., altar calls, decision cards, giving your life to Jesus, etc.) they seem to be embracing new ones (i.e., baptism, spiritual formation—the disciplines of which they often equate with discipleship—church membership, kingdom work, etc.). For some reason, Christians, whatever their tradition—whether it be evangelical, emergent, Orthodox or Roman Catholic—seem fascinated by rites and works (sacraments and mechanisms) which are thought to provide indication that God is at work in their community. But then Jesus did warn, “An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign” (Matthew 12:39; Compare 1 Corinthians 1:22.).

As they are leaving behind the old revivalism of the 17th-20th centuries, evangelicals appear to be drifting in a “sea change” which can only be hazily defined. Though a word describes what emergent evangelicals are leaving behind (i.e., revivalism), no one word describes “where evangelicals are going.”[33] Their destiny remains uncertain. But perhaps, in light of trends this essay notes, there are a couple of words that can describe where emergent evangelicals are headed; ecumenical and ecclesiastical. As they re-imagine their faith, even as they embrace wide varieties of religious experience and cross-pollinate with Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Pentecostal, liberal Protestant and medieval-mystic traditions, evangelicals are becoming increasingly ecumenical. As they re-envision their faith and embrace baptism and other signs and seals of conversion (i.e., sacraments), evangelicals are becoming increasingly ecclesiastical. Conversion is no longer primarily seen as a person’s one-to-one experience with God, but rather is being re-envisioned to include an ecclesiastical and missional template in which life together, spiritual formation and kingdom building can be pursued. In this regard, evangelicals and Catholics have been and are continuing to seek common cause as they confront many of America’s social and political ills.[34]

Though Smith disavows that anything in his assessment (advocacy?) diminishes evangelicalism’s core belief—what he calls experiencing conversion through “faith and repentance” and “the transforming grace of God through an encounter with the risen and ascended Christ”—there should be concern that, as revivalistic evangelicalism is being left behind and conversion is being re-envisioned or re-imagined, the Gospel is being reinvented (See Galatians 1:6-9.). Given Paul’s disdain for the early Jewish-Christian advocacy of circumcision to be a sign and seal of conversion, the drift of evangelicals into ecumenicalism and ecclesiasticism (most noticeable in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox faith traditions) may evidence they have fallen and are falling “from grace” (Galatians 5:4; 4:21-5:12).

For all passengers and crew members aboard the emerging church, it will be tragic if, absent any mooring to the Gospel, they get lost in “sea change,” get “tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine,” and perhaps even suffer “shipwreck in regard to their faith” (Ephesians 4:14, KJV; 1 Timothy 1:18-19, NASB).

Recognizing the inadequacy of most definitions, I would like to close by offering my understanding of what Scripture teaches about conversion and community:

For reason of Jesus Christ’s substitutionary death on the cross for their sin, conversion commences when by faith individuals are justified by accepting God’s gracious gift of His righteousness to replace their sinfulness, which divine gift, sourced in the Lord Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead, imparts eternal life to them through regeneration and Holy Spirit baptism; which baptism, even as it places them into union with Christ and His church (later symbolized by the ordinance of believer’s baptism by immersion), also empowers believers to live in community with one another even as the Holy Spirit enables them to conform their lifestyles to the righteous standards of Scripture. (See 2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 3:13; Romans 10:9; John 10:28; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Romans 6:3-6; Galatians 5:22-25; Romans 8:29-30.)

[1] Gordon T. Smith, “The New Conversion: Why We ‘Become Christians’ Differently Today,” Christianity Today, April 18, 2012 (Web-only). ( With the permission of Oxford University Press, Inc., Christianity Today excerpted Smith’s article (pp. 209-213 & pp. 219-220) from his entry (Chapter 13), “Conversion and Redemption,” The Oxford Handbook of Evangelical Theology, Gerald R. McDermott, Editor (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2010): 209-221.
[2] See Larry DeBruyn, “The Altar Call,” Guarding His Flock Ministries, August 31, 2010. (
[3] See Ray Comfort, God Has a Wonderful Plan for Your Life: The Myth of the Modern Message (Bellflower, CA: Living Waters Publications, 2010). John F. MacArthur, Jr., The Gospel According to Jesus: What Does Jesus Mean When He Says, “Follow Me”? (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1988) and Faith Works: The Gospel According to the Apostles (Dallas, TX: Word Publishing, 1993).
[4] Alan Jones, Reimagining Christianity: Reconnect Your Spirit without Disconnecting Your Mind (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2005): 132. McLaren’s Advance Praise reads: “Alan Jones is a pioneer in reimagining a Christian faith that emerges from authentic spirituality. His work stimulates and encourages me deeply.” (Back Cover)
          Interestingly, if Christianity now needs “reimagining,” then it must be asked, “Are we to think that the Christian faith was imagined in the beginning?” As such, is involvement with the Christian faith no more significant than a Disney World visit? Is the essence of Christianity no more significant than a personal trip into recesses of one’s mind, whether conscious or subconscious?
[5] Ibid: 168.
[6] Emphasis added, Steve Chalke with Alan Mann, The Lost Message of Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003): 182. Endorsers include not only N.T. Wright, but also Brian McLaren and Tony Campolo. (Back Cover)
[7] For a more in depth discussion of “the moral influence view of the atonement,” see the chapter “The Shack and Universal Reconciliation.” Pastor Larry DeBruyn, Unshackled: Breaking Away from Seductive Spirituality (Indianapolis, IN: Moeller Printing Company, Inc., 2009): 88-92.
[8] Richard Mouw, “Why Christus Victor Is Not Enough,” Christianity Today (May 2012): 28. The Christus Victor understanding of the atonement views that Jesus accepted powerlessness in His confrontation with “the political, economic, military, and religious forces of the day,” and as such, “refused to employ the coercive-violent means by which... to ‘make things happen.’ The Resurrection, on this understanding, is God’s display of the victory of Jesus over the powers and what they represent.” (p. 30)
[9] Philip P. Bliss, “Hallelujah, What a Savior!” The Celebration Hymnal: Songs and Hymns for Worship, Tom Fettke, Senior Editor (Word/Integrity, 1997): 311.
[10] J.I. Packer, Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1993): 164
[11] Ibid.
[12] Cornelius P. Venema, Getting the Gospel Right: Assessing the Reformation and New Perspectives on Paul (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2006):48. See also Guy Prentiss Waters, Justification and the New Perspectives on Paul: A Review and Response (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2004): 148.
[13] Ibid: 90.
[14] R.E.O. White, “Reconciliation,” The Concise Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Edited by Walter A. Elwell, Abridged by Peter Toon (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1991): 420. Morris determined that, “The basic idea of reconciliation is that of making peace after a quarrel, or bridging over an enmity.” See Leon Morris, The Cross in the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1965): 250.
[15] White, “Reconciliation,” 421.
[16] Wm. Paul Young, The Shack (Los Angeles: Windblown Media, 2007): 192.
[17] Ibid: 118-119.
[18] Ibid: 225. Emphasis added.
[19] Rob Bell, Love Wins: A Book about Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived (New York, NY: Harper One, 2011) xi + 198 pages.
[20] For a biblical critique of Bell’s view of Hell set forth in his book Love Wins, see “Love Loses” by Pastor Larry DeBruyn, May 9, 2011, Guarding His Flock Ministries. (
[21] William S. Plumer, “Lessons from the Life and End of Judas Iscariot,” True Gospel Resources. (
[22] Personally transcribed from You Tube, Bill O’Reilly, “Is there a Hell?” O’Reilly Factor, April 26, 2011. Interview can be viewed on You Tube. (
[23] Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, Left Behind: A Novel of the Earth’s Last Days (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1995). In all, the series of novels dealing with end times’ themes numbers twelve, the last, Glorious Appearing, being published in 2004.
[24] Because we think that in his assessment Smith has his hand on the pulse of “sea change” sweeping over evangelicalism, his articulation of it must be biblically interacted with.
[25] Smith, “The New Conversion.”
[26] Ibid.
[27] Ibid.
[28] Ibid.
[29] Ibid.
[30] Ibid. Emphasis added.
[31] Personally, I do not object to “means of grace” as they designate ways to enhance growth in the Christian life (i.e., baptism, the Lord’s Supper, prayer, Bible reading, church commitment, sharing the Gospel with the non-Christian). However, as the “means of grace” denote, as they often do in both the Reformed, Orthodox and Roman Catholic faith traditions, sacraments by which persons gain entrance into and remain in the kingdom of God must be rejected for these means of grace do not reflect grace at all, but works (like that of Jewish circumcision, Galatians 5:2-12). Such “means of grace” parades as part of the Gospel but in reality belong to a gospel of a different kind than that preached by Paul and the other apostles (Galatians 1:6-9).
[32] Smith, “The New Conversion.”
[33] Ibid.
[34] For the original statement and list of signatory participants in and endorsers of the document, see “Evangelicals & Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium,” First Things, May 1994. (–catholics-together-the-christian-mission-in-the-third-millennium-2). The founding editor having been John Richard Neuhaus, the First Things blog is maintained by “The Institute on Religion and Public Life, an interreligious, nonpartisan research and education institute whose purpose is to advance a religiously informed public philosophy for the ordering of society.” See also Charles Colson and Richard John Neuhaus, Your Word Is Truth: A Project of Evangelicals and Catholics Together (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Inc., 2002).

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Spirit of Error

By J.C. Philpot*

Whether we set forth truth or whether we expose error, and we can scarcely do the one without at the same time performing the other, the Word of God must ever be the grand armoury whence we take the weapons of our spiritual warfare. This is both apostolic precept and apostolic practice. "Take the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God" (Eph. vi. 17). "If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God" (1 Pet. iv. 11). "The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds" (2 Cor. x. 4). 

...[W]e have little hope of convincing those who have drunk deeply into the spirit of error. The poison is already in their veins, vitiating in them all that once seemed like truth and simplicity. 

As infidelity, when once it has got full possession of the mind, rejects the clearest evidences from positive inability to credit them, so error, when once it has poisoned the heart, renders it for ever afterwards, in the great majority of instances, utterly incapable of receiving the truth. Against every text that may be brought forward in support of truth an objection is started, a false interpretation offered, a counter statement made, an opposing passage quoted— the object evidently being not to bow down to truth, but to make truth bow down to error; not to submit in faith to the Word of God, but to make the Word of God itself bend and yield to the determined obstinacy of a mind prejudiced to its lowest depths. 

O what a state of mind to be in! How careful, then, should we be, how watchful, how prayerful, lest we also, "being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from our own steadfastness" (2 Pet. iii. 17). 

A tender conscience, a believing heart, a prayerful spirit, a watchful eye, a wary ear, a guarded tongue, and a cautious foot, will, with God’s blessing, be great preservatives against error of every kind. 

...[T]o see light in God’s light, to feel life in His life, to have sweet fellowship and sacred communion with the Father and the Son, to walk before God in the beams of His favour, to find His Word our meat and drink, and to be ever approaching Him through the Son of His love, pleading with Him for His promised teaching—this is the true and only way to learn His truth, to believe it, to love it, and to live it. No heretic, no erroneous man, no unbeliever ever stood on this holy ground. 

That childlike spirit, without which there is no entering into the kingdom of heaven; that godly jealousy for the Lord’s honour which makes error abhorred and truth beloved; that tender fear of His great and glorious Name which leads the soul to desire His approbation and to dread His displeasure; that holy liberty which an experimental [experiential, ed.] knowledge of the truth communicates to a citizen of Zion; that enlargement of heart which draws up the affections to those things which are above, where Jesus sits at God’s right hand—these, and all such similar fruits of divine teaching as specially distinguish the living saint of God, are not to be found in that bosom where error has erected its throne of darkness and death. 

On the contrary, a vain-confident, self-righteous, contentious, quarrelsome spirit, breathing enmity and hatred against all who oppose their favourite dogmas, and thrust down their darling idols, are usually marks stamped upon all who are deeply imbued with heresy and error. They may be very confident in the soundness of their views, or in the firmness of their own standing, but God rejects their "confidences, and they shall not prosper in them" (Jer. ii. 37).

"Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling."
(Philippians 2:12)

*J.C Philpot, excerpted from the opening remarks of his exposition on "The True, Proper, and Eternal Sonship of the Lord Jesus Christ The Only Begotten Son of God," Chapter 3, published in 1861, posted at Adapted for blog posting. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Coda Scriptura

Neologisms for Evangelicals

CODA SCRIPTURA [(kō’ duh) (skriptər' uh)] 

 [Coda: Middle English & Anglo-French, Old French & Latin cōdex codex c.1300, from O.Fr. code "system of laws," from L. codex, earlier caudex "book, book of laws," lit. "tree trunk," hence, wooden tablet for writing. The sense in "secret code" is 1808. Codify first attested c.1800.] [Scriptura: 1250–1300; Middle English and Latin scrīptūra writing. See script, -ure] 

  1. A belief that hidden beneath the plain linguistic, grammatical and historical sense of Holy Scripture as written, there lies mysterious meanings that can only be deciphered by certain codes to be discovered by elites who possess the mathematical, scientific and/or prophetic genius to do so.
  2. Assuming the Bible to be an arcane system of communication, the textual content of it (either in whole or in part) is seen to be encrypted in symbols requiring the use of mystical formulas, calculations, keys, devices and/or signals to decode and ascertain its hidden meanings. 
  3. The Bible used as a divining device, in which future events or destinies can be foretold by employing various methods of crypto-analysis. 
  4. Interpreting the Bible by employing “sacred” writings from the collective pagan literature of mankind to assist in unlocking its secret mysteries. These collective writings include: apocryphal, pseudepigraphical and Gnostic writings; ancient mythologies, folklore and legends; astrological and zodiacal imagery; science fiction (UFOs, alien visitations, etc.); magical and alchemical writings; psychological (Jungian), anthropological, sociological and philosophical writings; scientific and pseudo-scientific theories; the writings of various mystics; oracles and ghost stories of spiritualism; the Mayan calendar; Masonic lore; inspirational literature; modern speculative writings including fairy tales, poetry and fiction, and other quasi-spiritual sources. (See Inclusive Scriptura) 
  5. To the exclusion of other persons, a belief that certain elite adepts possess the consciousness required to decipher those matters sequestered away in the myths and fables (of which the Bible is part) which evidence that the collective human consciousness is ever-evolving into a greater realization of its own divinity. 


 “It may come as a surprise to many that there are ciphers [coded messages indicated by a letter or group of letters] in the Bible. Some are hidden; some, when revealed, are a key part of the narrative itself.” –Chuck Missler[1] 

“Reaching this hidden pagan layer of the collective unconscious within not only redeems the individual, but can lead to the birth of a new world.”[2] 

 “[Carl] Jung’s most famous ideas—the collective unconscious, which he first described in print in 1916, and the archetypes (its ‘gods’), which were added shortly thereafter—would not have been possible without guidance from Philemon. It is from this Gnostic-Mithraic guru [i.e., Philemon], who lives in a timeless space that Jung called the Land of the Dead, that Jung received instruction in ‘the Law,’ the esoteric key to the secrets of the ages.”[3] 

The Truth:

"Allegorizing is searching for a hidden or a secret meaning underlying but remote from and unrelated in reality to the more obvious meaning of a text. In other words the literal reading is a sort of code, which needs to be deciphered to determine the more significant and hidden meaning. In this approach the literal is superficial; the allegorical is the true meaning."[4] 

 “And ye have not his word abiding in you: for whom he hath sent, him ye believe not. Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.”
(John 5:38-39) 

By the Lord’s authentication, the number one interpretive guideline is that Scripture’s central focus is Jesus Christ. We discover the meaning of God’s word not by knowing “codes” hidden--in which case, God's Word would be accessible only to the elite--but through knowing Christ.

These days, impressive computer science, mathematical research, and Quantum physics may be nothing more than a sophisticated and elitist paradigm forced upon Scripture. The truth presented by in the Bible is plain, not encrypted; truth which is as relevant today as it was yesterday to Israel and the early church.[5]

“And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.”
(1 Timothy 3:16) 

 "Sanctify them in the Truth; Thy Word is Truth"
(John 17:17) 

1. Chuck Missler, Cosmic Codes: Hidden Messages from the Edge of Eternity (Couer d’Alene, Idaho: Koinonia House, 1999): 53. 
2. Richard Noll, The Jung Cult: Origins of a Charismatic Movement (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994): 99. Noll describes the beliefs of Carl Jung in regards to the necessity of resurrecting pagan myths to create “a renewal in the spirit of the nations.” Emphasis added. 
 3. Richard Noll, The Aryan Christ: The Secret Life of Carl Jung (New York: Random House, 1997): 3-4. Note: Philemon was Jung’s “spirit guide” (p. 139). Emphasis added. 
4. Roy B. Zuck, Basic Bible Interpretation (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, a Division of Scripture Press Publications Inc., 1991): 29. 
5. Thoughts shared by Pastor Larry DeBruyn. 

Adapted from

NOTE: This post is authored by several members of the Discernment Research Group, including Pastor Larry DeBruyn and Sarah Leslie, along with Pastor Ken Silva of Apprising Ministries. This is part of a joint project to develop a descriptive vocabulary for the new doctrines, practices and heresies of the emerging evangelical church. See also: Sola Mystica, Mantra Scriptura, Rhema Scriptura, Impressia Scriptura, Mystica Scriptura, Metaphora Scriptura, Inclusiva Scriptura, Nebula Scriptura, Narcigesis, Sola Experientia, Plura Scriptura
. Additional definitions and satires are posted at

Today's definition refers to the previous series of articles posted on Herescope:

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Harbinger

A Review and Commentary

By Pastor Larry DeBruyn

Jonathan Cahn, The Harbinger: The Ancient Mystery that Holds the Secret of America’s Future (Lake Mary, FL: Front Line—Charisma Media/Charisma House Book Club, 2011). 254 pages + Notes. In the Front Matter, it is stated: “What you are about to read is presented in the form of a story, but what is contained within the story is real.” (Emphasis added)

By applying words of judgment spoken and written to ancient Judah (circa 732 BC) by the prophet Isaiah (i.e., Isaiah 9:10-11), Jonathan Cahn creates a prophetic picture in The Harbinger—one the author admits to be part fiction and part fact—of God’s looming judgment over the United States of America (i.e., harbingers being signals of what is to come). As Jehovah judged His chosen nation in the ancient world for their iniquitous ways (Israel and Judah), so God has begun to pour out His wrath upon His chosen nation in the modern world (the United States). As such, The Harbinger (TH) delivers a spiritual wake-up call to the church and citizens of our nation.*

The Story—Fact and Fiction
          The Journalist
In a dream (whether or not Cahn dreamt it is uncertain), a New York journalist by the name of Noriel KaplanThe Harbinger’s main character—sees the dedication of the Solomon’s Temple (circa 959 BC), in which dream George Washington (1789 AD) also appears.** (TH, 193)[1] As a sort of quantum “time traveler,” the appearance of America’s first President identifies the divine role of the United States in the modern world with Israel’s in the ancient.[2]

          The Prophet
In his dream, Noriel also sees “a sheet of paper descended from the sky and landed in his [Washington’s] left hand.”[3] (TH, 193) The sheet of paper, it turns out, is the message of the prophet—the mysterious and reappearing (time traveling?) second main character in Cahn’s book. Like Jeremiah did to his scribe Baruch, the prophet instructs Noriel to transcribe the story for others to read (Jeremiah 35:5-6). (TH, 246-247) Presumably, the heavenly paper’s contents lay behind the story of The Harbinger.

          The Listener
Then to Ana Goren—a successful and skeptical New York business executive, the book’s third character—and with the prophet’s help, Noriel divulges a stunning series of mysterious correspondences between modern events and ancient texts which reveal “The Secret of America’s Future” (TH, Front Cover); namely, nine harbingers which portend the doom of America unless our nation, unlike ancient Israel, repents and returns to the Lord (2 Chronicles 7:14).

          Israel Then and America Now
The Harbinger’s prophecy relates to and grows out of what the author calls “The Isaiah 9:10 Effect.” (TH, 131-144) In this biblical text describing the divine judgment that befell ancient Israel, Isaiah states: “The bricks have fallen down” (Isaiah 9:10a, NASB). With the prophet’s description of destruction, Cahn sees a mysterious connection to Ground Zero’s rubble after the terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. From “The Isaiah 9:10 Effect” stem nine prophetic warnings or harbingers for America. Also key to the narrative Cahn creates is ancient Israel’s response to God’s judgment. Arrogantly and defiantly, the nation asserts: “But we will rebuild with smooth stones; / The sycamores have been cut down, / But we will replace them with cedars” (Isaiah 9:10b, NASB). In other words, the response of Israel was not one of contrition before and repentance toward the Lord as it should have been, but rather that they would triumph over God’s judgment and rebuild their city better than it was before. Young comments on ancient Israel’s words: “Here is haughtiness indeed! ‘Let the judgment come, we can more than make good the losses that we may sustain.’”[4]

          The Wrong Response
In this defiance, Cahn sees resemblance to America’s attitude after “9/11” when three political leaders, in addition to others, both local and national, ignored the tragedy’s prophetic warning; that America had better set its collective moral, spiritual, economic and political house in order lest worse calamities befall her. Like Israel in the face of God’s judgment, these leaders confidently asserted before a national audience, “We will rebuild!” The “three witnesses” who uttered the words that uncannily identified America’s arrogance with that of the ancient Hebrew people were President George Bush, then Senate Majority leader Tom Daschle (who quoted Isaiah’s text) and President Barack Obama (Deuteronomy 19:15). On different occasions all of them said: “We will rebuild.” (TH, 62, 117, 182-189)

          Other Prophetic Omens
Upon correspondences between the United States’ calling and role in the modern world paralleling that of Israel in the ancient (See Exodus 19:5-6.), between the terrorist attack of “9/11” paralleling the Assyrian threat to ancient Israel’s national security, between America’s defiant attitude toward God paralleling that of ancient Israel’s arrogance toward Yahweh (“We will rebuild!”), and between many other symbolic correspondences, The Harbinger portrays nine prophetic omens that, if there is no humble repentance and national turning to God on America’s part, portend further judgment upon this nation, judgment that will reduce the American way of life to rubble and ruin. In other words, if there is no national repentance, more bricks will fall.

To summarize: flowing out of a first seal that comes unsolicited to Noriel in the mail (divine providence?), nine harbingers portend God’s judgment on America. They are: “The Breach” (America’s security is threatened); “The Terrorist” (the land is traumatized by outside forces); “The Fallen Bricks” (destruction caused by terrorists); “The Tower” (America defiantly responds by rebuilding on Ground Zero); “The Gazit Stone” (symbolically indicating her renewed sense of security, America rebuilds with a sturdier stone quarried from upper state New York); “The Sycamore” (the terrorist attack destroys a Sycamore tree at Ground Zero), “The Erez Tree” (the warning of the uprooted Sycamore tree is ignored as a more “permanent” Cedar tree is planted in its place), “The Utterance” (as a national rallying call, the nation confidently asserts, “We will rebuild!”), and “The Prophecy” (America is oblivious that “we-will-rebuild” assertion is, as it was to ancient Israel, a defiant and therefore self-incriminating harbinger of future judgment). Along with the harbingers, the contents of two further seals, “The Mystery of the Shemitah” (effectively describing the ominous collapse of the American and world’s economy) and “The Last Seal” (the prophet’s order to Noriel to transcribe and make public the revelations he received), form “the story.”

As with the publication of Hal Lindsey’s best-selling book The Late Great Planet Earth in 1970, Cahn’s best-selling book may arouse the curiosity of a sleeping church and general American public in the prophetic word.[5] But after Noriel asked him if the ancient Israelites listened to the prophets God sent to them, the prophet answered: “Some would; most would not. They preferred to hear pleasant messages. But the messages of the prophets weren’t meant to make them feel good.” (TH, 10) Like God’s ancient people, American Christians have grown numb to the prophetic word for reason of listening to false prophets/preachers who in their godless attempt to heal the “brokenness” of God’s people superficially preach to them, “Peace, peace; when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:16b, KJV).

If news reports give any indication, it is no secret that in midst of spiritual apostasy, America and the world are heading for economic bankruptcy, social anarchy and political tyranny at breakneck speed. To this point, I found Cahn’s description of the financial indicators of the coming economic collapse to be informative (Chapter 17—“The Mystery of the Shemitah”), but ironic in view that many Charismatics and evangelicals continue to buy into the personal prosperity and peace message. Seemingly, Christians are oblivious to the coming oblivion. So like a modern prophet, Cahn’s “real” story sounds an alarm to a church that over the last several decades has, for reason of “user-friendly” and “audience driven” preaching, grown anesthetized to the prophetic word.[6] We are living, I believe, in the last of the last days before Jesus comes again (See Jacob Prasch’s, The Daniel Project.).[7] The prophetic vectors in Scripture inform us the end is nearer (Note: I did not say, “near.”).

In many ways, Jonathan Cahn has written a courageous book, though objection to it may be muted by the claim that its contents though “real,” are “presented in the form of a story.”(TH, v) As a general rule stories, though entertaining and intriguing (and The Harbinger is that), do not offend. Yet critical to Cahn’s narrative is the linking of “9/11” to the divine judgment portrayed in Isaiah 9:10 (The bricks are fallen . . .). I remember when in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attack on America by Muslim extremists, televangelist Jerry Falwell stated (then agreed to by Pat Robertson) that the destruction of the World Trade Center represented God’s judgment on America. The blow-back on Falwell’s perceived insensitivity to the victims, fallen heroes and their surviving loved ones affected by the tragedy was so intense and immediate that both televangelists qualifiedly retracted their statements.[8] Yet a decade later, in a story format, The Harbinger makes the same association. In a turnabout, Pat Robertson calls the book, “Extraordinary.” (TH, Front Cover)

          Modern America = Ancient Israel?
Indicating sympathy with the premise of Dominion theology, Cahn believes that the United States occupies the place in the modern world like that which Israel occupied in the ancient world, of being God’s chosen or most favored nation. This identification is foundational to Cahn’s story. One passage is telling. After Noriel asks the prophet, “But what does America have to do with ancient Israel?” the prophet tells the reporter:

“Israel was unique among nations in that it was conceived and dedicated at its foundation for the purposes of God.” . . . “Those who laid America’s foundations saw it as a new Israel, an Israel of the New World. And as with ancient Israel, they saw it in covenant with God.” (TH, 19)

This mutual identification is confirmed by George Washington’s appearance in the dream of Solomon’s dedication of the Jewish Temple. (TH, 193) For applying “The Isaiah 9:10 Effect” to America, this identification is crucial. But for a number of reasons, biblical and theological, I believe such an identification to be mistaken.

First, God chose Israel. To that ancient people the Lord said: “For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; and the Lord has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth” (Deuteronomy 14:2; See Deuteronomy 7:6; 26:18). Though after His choice of them Israel later entered into covenant with Yahweh, the nation did not originally choose the Lord (Compare Exodus 19:1-6 and Exodus 24:3.) Metaphorically, that nation is His only wife (Isaiah 54:6). Opposed to all peoples claiming a national identity, ancient or modern, the Lord knows only Israel as, “My people” (2 Chronicles 7:14, NASB).[9] God never uttered such “choice” words (like those spoken by the Lord to Israel in Exodus and Deuteronomy) to America. America may have chosen a generic deity, but Yahweh (That’s His covenantal name.) chose Israel. Ancient Israel was a theocracy (God rules). At its founding, America was a representative democracy (the people rule).

Second, though for the most part since Jesus’ time  Jews have not accepted Him as their Messiah, and have therefore been temporarily cut off from the Olive Tree of divine blessing, they remain God’s chosen people until “the fulness of the Gentiles has come in” (Romans 11:1-2, *25). Then, when that time comes, they who are “the natural branches” will be re-grafted onto the Olive Tree to again become a conduit for the Lord’s spiritual, social, economic and political blessing upon the world (Romans 11:21, 24). Even though down through their history Israel has broken covenant with the Lord, the Lord has not irretrievably broken covenant with Israel (1 Samuel 12:22; Jeremiah 31:35-37).

Though in his story Cahn does not embrace replacement theology per se (that in the divine outworking of history, the church has wholly replaced Israel), he believes that as far as the modern world goes, America has replaced Israel. To this reviewer, and acknowledging that the Lord is sovereign over all nations (Psalm 2:1-12), such a replacement seems a bit odd in that Cahn himself is a Messianic Jewish believer. (TH, 262)

Peter told the earliest Christians: “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light” (1 Peter 2:9; Compare Exodus 19:5-6; Deuteronomy 7:6.). In the chronology of history, it’s obvious the apostle identified the early Christian church, not America, as the Lord’s “holy nation.” As “wild branches” now grafted onto the Olive Tree of God’s blessing upon the world (Romans 11:17, 24), the true and un-apostate church occupies the place in the modern world that national Israel once possessed in the ancient (Philippians 3:3). Cahn’s equation of America’s role in the modern world to equate to Israel’s in the ancient is misleading.

Thinking that identifies America as the new Israel resembles (Note: I do not say “is.”) the Anglo-Israelite cult which theorizes because the original American settlers were the Anglo-Saxon or British descendents of the “lost” tribes of Israel, they are the “inheritors of the covenants and blessings of God.”[10] The Harbinger, as Dominion theology in general, hitchhikes on a variation of this theory.

          Current Events as a Prophetic Template
A current events template should not be forced upon biblical prophecy. In The Late Great Planet Earth, Hal Lindsey went out on a limb and predicted Jesus would come within a generation (30-40 years) of the modern Israel’s national founding in 1948.[11] Now after more than sixty years have elapsed, that limb’s been cut off. Tim LaHaye has revised the time of His return to be sometime during the first half of the 21st Century (circa 2031-2050).[12] Of late, Harold Camping, to his and others’ embarrassment, tried it. He announced first that the rapture would happen on May 21, 2011, and then later, with the passing of that date, revised his prediction to October 21, 2011.[13] The “times” we live in do not determine the timing of the Lord’s coming (Matthew 24:22). As Jesus tells us, this whole age is pregnant with signs of His return (i.e., “But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs,” Matthew 24:8).

I am fearful that despite Cahn’s correct assessment of our national problems, America might, for the time being, survive the harbingers. This survival may result in more scorn and disrepute being heaped upon the study of biblical prophecy, and as such, provide ammunition for “the last days scoffers” who mockingly ask, “Where is the promise of his coming?” (2 Peter 3:3-4a).

          Cahn’s “Pesher” Interpretation [14]
Especially popular amongst the Essenes—that separatist Qumran sect which inhabited the desolate area near the Dead Sea at the time of Jesus—the pesher method of scriptural interpretation was one in which “everything from the past was transformed and given a contemporary value and meaning,” especially texts taken from the prophetic books.[15] Despite his frequent references to biblical commentaries, Cahn’s method of interpretation, like that of an ancient rabbi, is pesher. He takes a forth-telling prophetic text intended for ancient Israel and employs it as a fore-telling prophecy to unveil the mystery surrounding America’s demise.

A word about pesher interpretation as it relates to Cahn’s story: In the following quotation, one taken from a dictionary of interpretation, bold brackets with comments are inserted to connect the dots between this hermeneutical method and The Harbinger.

Formally, pesher consists of the explicit citation of an extract from scripture [Isaiah 9:10] which is then given an interpretation [the story of The Harbinger] . . . . The content of pesher [the three seals and nine harbingers] is first a scriptural passage that was thought to be prophetic or visionary [Isaiah 9:10] . . . Secondly, the interpretation describes, albeit in a veiled manner [as the book’s subtitle reads, “The Ancient Mystery that Holds the Secret of America’s Future”], something relevant to the present experience [modern America] of those for whom it was intended [ancient Israel]. Past experiences, whether real or imagined [Washington is dreamt to have appeared at the dedication of the Solomon’s Temple], are depicted to give the community an identity [the founding of our nation] . . . Future hopes [2 Chronicles 7:14 employed as a prayer to inspire national repentance and restored blessing] are expressed to give the community a purpose . . . This exegetical method . . . when used to convey understandings based on inspired insight [the words of the prophet as they reveal the harbingers contained on the paper that, in Noriel’s dream, descended into Washington’s hand]. . . allows an audience [the book’s readers] to perceive the aptness of an interpretation. [16]

What can be said of this method of interpretation? Though in their writings the apostles used hundreds of quotations and made hundreds of allusions to the Old Testament, there’s no evidence to suggest they employed a pesher method of exegesis to interpret the meaning of these texts (i.e., exegesis means to lead the meaning out of [ex equals “from”] the text rather than to read meaning into the text, which is eisegesis [eis means “into”]).[17]

In this regard, Kaiser notes that it’s “doubtful . . . that Jesus and the apostles used . . . a pesher . . . [value] for the Old Testament text in order to establish their claim that the Old Testament doctrine and Messiah had been fulfilled in Christ and the church.”[18] Later he added, “Jesus gives us no examples of . . . pesher exegesis.”[19]

I would agree that Isaiah 9:10 and its context may contain appropriate applications for modern life at both the personal and national levels. National or ecclesiastical pride and confidence can be especially hubristic, and as wisdom cautions: “Pride goes before destruction, / And a haughty spirit before stumbling” (Proverbs 16:18). But I do not see that in some mysterious way, nine harbingers of divine judgment upon America lay embedded in Isaiah 9:10 and its environs.

Perhaps this explains why Cahn’s story needs the prophet to unravel, perhaps even embellish, the matrix of correspondences between ancient Israel and modern America. The problem with pesher interpretation is that it leaves the impression that like a deep sea diver, it probes the mysterious depths of the prophetic word even while everybody else’s snorkeling in it. Thus, can arise a cadre of esoteric and gnostic “knowers.” Personally, to allude to Winston Churchill’s assessment of Russia, I do not see that the prophetic word “is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.”

National Trouble:
          Sovereign Judgment
Readers can note the Lord’s indictment of Israel in the context of Isaiah’s “9:10” prophecy. The Lord’s anger is aroused against the nation for its pride and arrogance (Isaiah 9:8-12), against the political and spiritual leaders for their deceptiveness (Isaiah 9:13-17), against the citizenry for their insatiable greed (Isaiah 9:18-21), and against the legislators for exploiting the less fortunate in society (Isaiah 10:1-4). Does this look familiar? Each section closes with a refrain stating God’s unabated wrath: “In spite of all this [the Lord’s] anger does not turn away, And His hand is still stretched out” (Isaiah 9:12; NASB; 5:25; 9:17, 19, 21; 10:4; Compare Daniel 9:16.).

At the Exodus, the Lord told Israel: “I will redeem you with a stretched out arm, and with great judgments [against Pharaoh and Egypt]” (Exodus 6:6). Now, for their apostasy hundreds of years later, in a total turnabout, Yahweh’s outstretched arm of deliverance becomes His arm of destruction. The sovereign hand which delivers can also destroy. As one commentator puts it, “The same determined energy that saved Israel at the outset of its life is now determined to punish.”[20]

          Self-inflicted Judgment
Though Isaiah states that God was directly judging Israel by raising up the dreaded Assyrians and Philistines to “devour Israel with open mouth” (Isaiah 9:12), many of that nation’s problems were of her own making. Israel’s national wounds were also self-inflicted.

This can be observed in the recurrence of the word “woe” in Isaiah. To Jerusalem and Judah, the prophet says, Woe unto their soul! for they have rewarded evil unto themselves” (Emphasis added, Isaiah 3:9b). Again, in warning Judah not to make an entangling alliance with Egypt, the prophet announces: Woe to the rebellious children, saith the Lord, that take counsel, but not of me; and that cover with a covering, but not of my spirit, that they may add sin to sin” (Emphasis added, Isaiah 30:1). And as Judah later lamented her demise, Woe to us, for we have sinned!” (Lamentations 5:16). Of these “woes,” one commentator observes that,

. . . the term “woe” (“ah”) introduces a warning that those who act foolishly will come to a sorry end. It is characteristic of woe sayings that the bad consequences come intrinsically with the foolishness, that is, without any intervening, punishing agent. [21]

God’s judgment upon sin is sin. The reaping resides in the sowing for as the Bible says, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap” (Galatians 6:7; Compare Hosea 10:12-15.). In the outworking of life, a culture or society gets worse because sinners make it worse. God has not mismanaged our economy. In our overspending and materialistic indulgence, we have. But sooner or later the point in time arrives, because of people’s iniquitous ways, that the divine verdict is spoken, “God also gave them up . . . God gave them up . . . God gave them over . . .” (Romans 1:24, 26, 28). To this point, and explaining much of the reason behind the trouble America is in, Proverbs explains that, “Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people (Emphasis added, Proverbs 14:34).

While I agree with most of Cahn’s assessments regarding the trouble America is in (the what), I do not see that every problem America faces results from the explicit judgment of God (the why).[22] Like sowing and reaping, most of America’s troubles result from God’s implicit judgment. Reaping is embedded in sowing. Yet, despite all the trouble the church and America is in, God still offers the promise that if the people repent and reform their way of life together according to His righteousness, He will, like Nineveh at the preaching of Jonah (Cahn points this out), bring about a spirit of moral, social, economical and political renewal in this nation (Jonah 3:10).[23]

          Missing Harbinger?
Though just a few verses away from “The Isaiah 9:10 Effect,” conspicuously absent from The Harbinger is any emphasis upon “the prophet who teaches falsehood” (Isaiah 9:15). Yet, this too was an ingredient which explains why divine judgment loomed over Israel. The influence of these prophets was pervasive, and at the time the bricks fell their message had saturated the nation, even to the extent of affecting the spiritual well-being of young men, widows and orphans (Isaiah 9:17). On this point, the parallel between ancient Israel and modern America can be noted. Equal to the financial bankruptcy our American economy faces (false profits), is the spiritual bankruptcy this nation faces for reason of the proliferation of false teachings (false prophets). Even though Jesus (Matthew 24:11, 24), Paul (Acts 20:29-31), Peter (2 Peter 2:1-22), John (1 John 2:18-19), and other New Testament writers (Jude 4) warned that false prophets would proliferate in the last days, Cahn gives scant, if any attention, to this “harbinger” of divine judgment.

Though the author constructs his story around the prophet, he has nothing to say about false prophets, even though his book may have been endorsed by one.(TH, Front Matters) Jeremiah and other prophets noted that a great reason for Israel’s destruction was that the nation, while it rejected the true messengers the Lord sent them, chose instead to listen to the messengers He did not send, prophets who saw “false” visions and dreams, prophesied “lies,” and peddled the “deceit” of their hearts to God’s people (Isaiah 9:15; Jeremiah 14:14; 23:16, 30-32; Ezekiel 12:21-13:23).

In closing, we should know that we can most easily be deceived in matters that relate to biblical prophecy. When the disciples asked Jesus when the Temple would be destroyed, thus ending Israel’s life as a nation, and when He would come again, thus bringing the present way of life to an end, the Lord told them, “Take heed that no man deceive you” (Matthew 24:3-4). Whenever we enter into the study of the prophetic word care needs to be exercised lest we don’t get it right. As this review and commentary indicates, while I do believe there is much in Jonathan Cahn’s assessment that harbingers, like a sword of Damocles, are hanging over America’s head, I do not believe, for biblical and theological reasons stated, that they (the harbingers) are in anyway imbedded in Isaiah’s forth-telling prophecy of Isaiah 9:10, or in its context.

Furthermore, there can be no separation of America from the other nations which the Psalmist states have “set themselves . . . against the Lord and against his anointed” saying, “Let us break their [Yahweh and the Messiah’s] bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us” (Psalm 2:2-3). This prophetic picture presents the nations to be perpetually plotting against any divine takeover of the world by the true Messiah. In a final act of desperation, the nations will choose their leader, and He will not be King Jesus (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4). And in this Psalm, America, like every other nation, ancient or modern, stands indicted. All the nations of the world are united about one political agenda: they will have neither the Lord nor His Anointed to rule them. And the United States stands implicated in this rebellion. This is what the Psalm pictures.

To this point, Keith L. Brooks (1897-1954), whose Bible study books still remain a blessing to thousands of believers, observed that,

The United States, let it be remembered, is a composite of all the nations of the Roman Empire, and all others beside. The evil blood, the wickedness, the false religion and philosophy, and all the principles contrary to truth and righteousness developed among other peoples have been brought into America to mingle with civilization. As the Old World is fast ripening for judgment, so is the New World. [24]

[1] All page references to The Harbinger are noted in parentheses (TH,     ) throughout this review.
[2] “Time travel is the concept of moving between different points in time in a manner analogous to moving between different points in space. Time travel could hypothetically involve moving backward in time to a moment earlier than the starting point, or forward to the future of that point . . .” See “Time Travel,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia ( [Ed. Note: See "Quantum Teleporting Through Time," Herescope, 5/22/12,]
[3] Of course, the descending paper raises the question of whether God is still giving prophetic revelations today, messages which carry the same weight and authority of Holy Scripture. Paul does state that, “But whether there are prophecies, they will fail” (1 Corinthians 13:8, NKJV). The question is not whether revelations will fail, but only when. Did revelations stop when the Scriptures were completed or the early church matured (that is, quit speaking like a baby), or will revelations continue to be given to Christians until Jesus comes? To be fair, it depends on how “the perfect” (a neuter noun, 1 Corinthians 13:10) is interpreted. Does “the perfect” refer to the Second Coming, or to the maturation of the church or believers? I would note that Paul, though he could have, does not employ the technical word to designate Christ’s coming, the word Parousia. However, the apostle does suggest that the Corinthians put away their “ba-ba” or “da-da” baby talk (1 Corinthians 13:11).
As for me, I choose to deal with the issue of additional revelations (i.e., call them descending sheets of paper) as follows: 

  • If the new revelations repeat the Scriptures, they are unnecessary. 
  • If new revelations contradict the Scriptures, they are heresy. 
  • If new revelations add to Scripture, then they accent the Scriptures’ inadequacy and insufficiency, and to this point Proverbs warns: “Add thou not unto his [God’s] words, lest he [God] reprove thee, and thou be found a liar” (Proverbs 30:6, KJV; Compare Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32; Revelation 22:18.).
[4] Edward J. Young, The Book of Isaiah, Volume I (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1965): 349.
[5] Hal Lindsey with C. C. Carlson, The Late Great Planet Earth (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1970).
[6] For example, when writing about a person’s meaning, significance, and mission in life, Rick Warren dismisses the importance of Bible prophecy. He states: “When the disciples wanted to talk about prophecy, Jesus quickly switched the conversation to evangelism. He wanted them to concentrate on their mission in the world.” See Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2002): 285. This he does despite the fact that two-thirds of the Bible is prophecy!
[7] I highly recommend that readers watch Jacob Prasch’s The Daniel Project (Studio Scotland Ltd., 2010). Available at: Taken from the biblical prophets, this DVD contains an excellent survey of the worldwide trends of the last days featuring Jacob answering questions posed by a skeptical interviewer.
[8] “Robertson-Falwell Terrorism,” (
[9] So often this conditional promise is employed by Christian leaders in an attempt to invoke national repentance in America so that blessing might be restored. But these words were spoken to Israel, not to America. Israel, not the United States, is “My people” (2 Chronicles 7:14). That is where the interpretation lies. The application in this text is the church, not America. The church needs to humble itself and pray. Then the Lord may be inclined to heal the church and perhaps through the church, our nation. But like other Dominionists, Cahn applies this verse to America. (TH, 222)
[10] Walter Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults, Ravi Zacharias, General Editor (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2003): 513. Dager notes the presence of the “Anglo-Israel-Identity Movement” among charismatic Christians. He notes that, “‘Israel-America’ (comprised of Anglo and related descendents in the United States) has a special anointing to lead the nations in establishing God’s rule throughout the world.” See Albert James Dager, Vengeance Is Ours: The Church In Dominion (Redmond, WA: Sword Publishers, 1990): 66.
[11] Lindsey, Late Great Planet, 53-54.
[12] Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, Are We Living in the End Times? (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1999): 60.
[13] Alexandra Ludka, “Harold Camping Admits Rapture Prediction ‘A Mistake’,” March 9, 2012, abc NEWS ( Camping is quoted: “We humbly acknowledge we were wrong about the timing. We tremble before God as we humbly ask Him for forgiveness for making that sinful statement.”
[14] A sub-genre of pre-rabbinic midrash (a commentary on Scripture), the rabbis would preface their interpretation of an Old Testament passage with a statement containing the word pesher. Perhaps it would be helpful to liken the occurrence of the word pesher to the Psalmist’s use of the word Selah.
[15] See chapter by Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., “A Short History of Interpretation,” in An Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics: The Search for Meaning, by Walter C. Kaiser and Moisés Silva (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1994): 215.
[16] George J. Brooke, “Pesher,” A Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation, Edited by R.J. Coggins and J.L. Houlden (Philadelphia, PA: Trinity Press International, 1990): 532.
[17] In this regard, I’m reminded of the following ditty that describes eisegesis: “Wonderful things in the Bible I see, things that are put there by you and by me.” All students of Scripture, from pastor-teachers to Bible study leaders, need to be careful of reading our thoughts into the meaning of Scripture. The question is not what we might think about what the text might say, but rather what does the language of it state?
[18] Kaiser, Biblical Hermeneutics, 210.
[19] Ibid: 217.
[20] Walter Brueggemann, Isaiah 1-39 (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998): 88. Though I agree with Brueggmann’s comments, I am not in agreement with his theology.
[21] Ibid: 90.
[22] One example of God’s explicit judgment will be the coming Day of the Lord (1 Thessalonians 5:2-3).
[23] One must remember that in any Israel-Assyria and America-Terrorist analogy—that God might spare America that if like Nineveh she repents and turns to Him (TH, 219-220)—that the Lord’s prophet went and preached to the ancient terrorists and they repented! Thus, God spared the terrorist Assyrians from destruction for reason of their repentance and for the time being, spared Israel. Do we believe the Gospel possesses the kind of power to convert Muslim extremists and thereby spare America from their terrorism? That is the analogy.
[24] Keith L. Brooks, Prophetic Questions Answered (Wheaton, IL: Van Kampen Press, Inc., 1951): 41.

*Ed. Note: In the previous post, "Quantum Mysticism Goes to Market," there is a subsection concerning Cahn and his book The Harbinger, titled "CAHN'S CODES AND CONNECTIONS." Cahn's book appears to fall within the recent genre of books and personnel describing secret hidden codes in the Bible that portend endtime events. See:  

**Ed. Note: It seems very odd to place George Washington in Solomon's Temple, since this association is a core tenet of American Freemasonry. See, for example,'s_apron.html

This article republished with permission of Pastor Larry DeBruyn. A few minor stylistic editing changes were made for blog posting, including links and the addition of several editor's comments at the end. The original is posted here: