The True History of Communism

Article: “100 Years. 100 Million Lives. Think Twice” by Laura M. Nicolae (original source here)

In 1988, my twenty-six-year-old father jumped off a train in the middle of Hungary with nothing but the clothes on his back. For the next two years, he fled an oppressive Romanian Communist regime that would kill him if they ever laid hands on him again.

My father ran from a government that beat, tortured, and brainwashed its citizens. His childhood friend disappeared after scrawling an insult about the dictator on the school bathroom wall. His neighbors starved to death from food rations designed to combat “obesity.” As the population dwindled, women were sent to the hospital every month to make sure they were getting pregnant.

My father’s escape journey eventually led him to the United States. He moved to the Midwest and married a Romanian woman who had left for America the minute the regime collapsed. Today, my parents are doctors in quiet, suburban Kansas. Both of their daughters go to Harvard. They are the lucky ones.

Roughly 100 million people died at the hands of the ideology my parents escaped. They cannot tell their story. We owe it to them to recognize that this ideology is not a fad, and their deaths are not a joke.

Last month marked 100 years since the Bolshevik Revolution, though college culture would give you precisely the opposite impression. Depictions of communism on campus paint the ideology as revolutionary or idealistic, overlooking its authoritarian violence. Instead of deepening our understanding of the world, the college experience teaches us to reduce one of the most destructive ideologies in human history to a one-dimensional, sanitized narrative.

Walk around campus, and you’re likely to spot Ché Guevara on a few shirts and button pins. A sophomore jokes that he’s declared a secondary in “communist ideology and implementation.” The new Leftist Club on campus seeks “a modern perspective” on Marx and Lenin to “alleviate the stigma around the concept of Leftism.” An author laments in these pages that it’s too difficult to meet communists here. For many students, casually endorsing communism is a cool, edgy way to gripe about the world.

After spending four years on a campus saturated with Marxist memes and jokes about communist revolutions, my classmates will graduate with the impression that communism represents a light-hearted critique of the status quo, rather than an empirically violent philosophy that destroyed millions of lives.

Statistics show that young Americans are indeed oblivious to communism’s harrowing past. According to a YouGov poll, only half of millennials believe that communism was a problem, and about a third believe that President George W. Bush killed more people than Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, who killed 20 million. If you ask millennials how many people communism killed, 75 percent will undershoot.

Perhaps before joking about communist revolutions, we should remember that Stalin’s secret police tortured “traitors” in secret prisons by sticking needles under their fingernails or beating them until their bones were broken. Lenin seized food from the poor, causing a famine in the Soviet Union that induced desperate mothers to eat their own children and peasants to dig up corpses for food. In every country that communism was tried, it resulted in massacres, starvation, and terror.

Communism cannot be separated from oppression; in fact, it depends upon it. In the communist society, the collective is supreme. Personal autonomy is nonexistent. Human beings are simply cogs in a machine tasked with producing utopia; they have no value of their own.

Many in my generation have blurred the reality of communism with the illusion of utopia. I never had that luxury. Growing up, my understanding of communism was personalized; I could see its lasting impact in the faces of my family members telling stories of their past. My perspective toward the ideology is radically different because I know the people who survived it; my relatives continue to wonder about their friends who did not.

The stories of survivors paint a more vivid picture of communism than the textbooks my classmates have read. While we may never fully understand all of the atrocities that occurred under communist regimes, we can desperately try to ensure the world never repeats their mistakes. To that end, we must tell the accounts of survivors and fight the trivialization of communism’s bloody past.

My father left behind his parents, friends, and neighbors in the hope of finding freedom. I know his story because it is my heritage; you now know his story because I have a voice. One hundred million other people were silenced.

One hundred years later, let us not forget the history of the victims who do not have a voice because they did not survive the writing of their tales. Most importantly, let us not be tempted to repeat it.

Laura M. Nicolae ’20 is an Applied Mathematics concentrator in Winthrop House.

The Word Became Flesh

In the first century – many believed in the “gods” – whether we speak of Rome or of Greece… polytheism was everywhere. In Greek thinking – the spiritual is good – matter is evil. Therefore it seemed unthinkable in their minds, that God would become a man.

A heretical group known as the Docetists denied the true humanity of Christ… not on biblical grounds, but based on the culture of Greek thinking. Jesus only appeared to be a flesh-and-blood man; his body was a phantasm.

Paul dealt with this heresy constantly: Col 2.9 “In Christ dwells all the fullness of the Godhead BODILY.” The Apostle John also: “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God” – 1 John 4:2. “For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh.” – 2 John:7. The mystery of the Gospel is that God indeed became a man in the Person of Jesus Christ – truly God; truly man.

What does this mean for us? The answer is mysterious, dazzling and amazing!

Simplicity, Scholasticism, and the Triunity of God

Article by by Mike Riccardi (original source here with helpful comment thread). Questions such as these are answered:

1. Why should I bother myself with learning about metaphysics?
2. Does the incarnation “interrupt” the simplicity of God? And relatedly, does the Son remain incarnate forever?
3. Does a denial of simplicity go hand in hand with holding to a doctrine of the eternal functional subordination of the Son to the Father, that topic that was vigorously debated last summer?
4. What about Scott Oliphint’s notion of “covenantal properties” in God?
5. How does the difference between a classical versus presuppositional view of epistemology bear on this discussion?

Looks Good, Until We Check Context

Dr. James White writes:

Earlier today I retweeted Ligon Duncan’s recommendation of Dr. Needham’s fine little book of daily readings from early church fathers. Well, (Roman Catholic Apologist) Patrick Madrid follows me on Twitter (as I follow him), and he replied that he surely hopes people will read the early Fathers! I replied with a quotation from Gregory of Nyssa on sola scriptura:

“..we make the Holy Scriptures the canon and the rule of every dogma; we of necessity look upon that, and receive alone that which may be made conformable to the intention of those writings.” (On the Soul and Resurrection).

He replied with the graphic I am posting in this article (above). Looks pretty good, doesn’t it? As soon as I saw it I was struck once again by the fact that our Roman Catholic apologist friends really seem content to simply repeat the same arguments, even when they’ve been dealt with…for decades. You see, I gave that very quotation in the book ‘Sola Scriptura: the Protestant Position on the Bible’, first published in 1995—22 years ago. Here is what I wrote:

Surely here we have the Roman position, do we not? Basil here posits an extrabiblical tradition that would fit quite nicely with Trent, would, it not? We see again the importance of looking at all the data, for both the context and the greater scope of Basils teaching contradict such a conclusion. First, we note the continuation of his words, which are often not included in the citation:

For instance, to take the first and most general example, who is there who has taught us in writing to sign with the sign of the cross those who have trusted in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ? What writing has taught us to turn to the East at the prayer? Which of the saints has left us in writing the words of the invocation at the displaying of the bread of the hucharist and the cup of blessing? For we are not, as is well known, content with what the apostle or the Gospel has recorded, but both in preface and conclusion we add other words as being of great importance to the validity of the ministry and these we derive from unwritten teaching. Moreover we bless the water of baptism and the oil of the chrism, and besides this the catechumen who is being baptized. On what written authority do we do this? Is not our authority silent and mystical tradition? Nay, by what written word is the anointing of oil itself taught? And whence comes the custom of baptizing thrice?

No matter how we might view Basil’s beliefs, one thing is certain: the matters that he lists as being addressed by tradition are not the matters that Rome would have us to believe comprise its oral tradition. Basil is talking about traditions with reference to practices and piety.

Ironically Rome does not believe Basil is correct in his claims in this passage. Does Rome say we must face to the East at prayer? Does Rome insist upon triune baptism after the Eastern mode? Yet these are the practices that Basil defines as being derived from tradition. What is more, other statements from this same father fly in the face of the Roman claims, for example, when addressing truly important doctrinal truths, such as the very nature of God, Basil did not appeal to some nebulous tradition. How could he, especially when he encountered others who claimed that their traditional beliefs should be held as sacred? Note his words to Eustathius the physician:

Their complaint is that their custom does not accept this, and that Scripture does not agree. What is my reply? I do not consider it fair that custom which obtains among them should be regarded as a law and rule of orthodoxy. If custom is to be taken in proof of what is right, then it is certainly competent for me to put forward on my side the custom which obtains here. If they reject this, we are clearly not bound to follow them. Therefore let God-inspired Scripture decide between us; and on whichever side be found doctrines in harmony with the word of God, in favor of that side will be cast the vote of truth.

This mis-use of Basil has been refuted by the mere reference to the immediate context in my own published works for 22 years….yet Patrick Madrid is still quoting the same text! Well, not much has changed, that’s for sure! So while the graphic and the a-contextual quote looks real good, just a little homework once again exposes the fact that Rome’s use of patristic sources is, well, quite predictable.

Calculating the Number of the Beast

Here’s a very interesting article by Gary DeMar that will certainly challenge much current thinking about the identity of the Beast in the book of Revelation. (original source here)

Dr. R. C. Sproul has come to similar conclusions – see his lecture on “The Beast” at this link)

This comment was made in a post about the number of the Beast (Revelation 13:18): “This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666.”

The question is: Why should we use Hebrew gematria in a book that is written in Greek for the Greek speaking churches of Asia Minor?

Gematria is an interpretive method that assigns numerical value to letters, words, and phrases. Most of us are unfamiliar with this method since we have a separate alphabet and numbering system.

Anybody familiar with the Bible understands that numbers are important. Some see gematria everywhere in Scripture. I have Theomatics: God’s Best Secret Revealed and The Original Code in the Bible: Using Science and Mathematics to Reveal God’s Fingerprints in mind. This is not to dismiss the idea that some, maybe many, Bible numbers have a deeper symbolic meaning, especially when the Bible tells us in the case of Revelation 13:18 to “calculate the number of the beast.”

When trying to match up “six hundred and sixty-six” with a known historical figure, we need more than a plausible candidate; we need a relevant candidate. The first readers of Revelation were told to “calculate the number of the beast, for the number is that of a man; and his number is six hundred and sixty-six” (13:18). Since Revelation was written to a first-century audience (“these things must shortly take place . . . for the time is near . . . the hour of testing is about to come on the land. . . . Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book for the time is near”: 1:1, 3; 3:10, 22:10), we should expect some first-century readers to have been able to calculate the number with relative ease and understand the result. They would have had few candidates from which to choose. It’s unlikely that this number of a man identifies someone outside their time of reference. The same is true of the rest of the book.

Notice that the number is “six hundred and sixty-six,” not three sixes. Tim LaHaye misidentifies the number when he writes, “The plain sense of Scripture tells us that it comprises the numbers: six, six, six.”1 The three Greek letters that make up the number represent 600 (ἑξακόσιοι), 60 (ἑξήκοντα), and 6 (ἕξ).

NEPΩN KAIΣAP

Ancient numbering systems used an alphanumeric method. This is true of the Latin (Roman) system that is still common today: I = 1, V = 5, X = 10, L = 50, C = 100, D = 500, M = 1,000.

Greek and Hebrew follow a similar method: each letter of each alphabet represents a number. The first nine letters represent 1–9. The tenth letter represents 10, with the nineteenth letter representing 100 and so on. Since the book of Revelation is written in a Hebrew context by a Jew with numerous allusions to the Old Testament, we should expect the solution to deciphering the meaning of six hundred and sixty-six to be Hebraic. “The reason clearly is that, while [John] writes in Greek, he thinks in Hebrew, and the thought has naturally affected the vehicle of expression.”2

Is there anything in John’s writings, especially in Revelation, that hints at this use of both Greek and Hebrew? The “angel of the abyss” is described in two ways: “His name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in the Greek he has the name Apollyon” (Rev. 9:11). Something similar was done with “Har-Magedon” (hill of Megiddo) or “Ar-Magedon” (city of Megiddo) (Rev. 16:16). Megiddo was an Old Testament city (1 Chron. 7:29), the place where King Josiah was killed (2 Chron. 35:20–27). There are references to Egypt and Sodom (Rev. 11:8), Jezebel (2:20), Balaam (2:14), Babylon (17-18), the attire of the high priest (17:4-5).

Of the 404 verses of the book of Revelation, 278 are based directly on Old Testament language and thought. . . . The author of Revelation does not intend to show that Old Testament predictions are fulfilled in events involving Christ and the church. Instead, he used Old Testament language to describe the situation facing his readers. He draws parallels between Old Testament events and ideas and the circum­stances in which he and his readers find themselves.3

For a comprehensive list, see “Old Testament References in the Book of Revelation” by Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum.

In John’s gospel, the place where Pilate sat down to judge Jesus was called “The Pavement,” but John called attention to its Hebrew (Jewish Aramaic) name “Gabbatha” (John 19:13). In the same chapter, John wrote how Pilate had an inscription placed on the cross above Jesus’ head written in “Hebrew, Latin, and in Greek” (John 19:20). Going from Greek to Hebrew was typical and expected since Jews spoke Hebrew or Jewish Aramaic which is very similar to Hebrew.

For a fully study of this topic, see William Henry Guillemard’s Hebraisms in the Greek Testament.

So what name is behind the cryptic 666? When Nero Caesar’s name is transliterated into Hebrew, which a first-century Jew would probably have done immediately, he would have gotten Neron Kesar or simply nrwn qsr, since Hebrew has no letters to represent vowels. (The w represents a long “o” sound and the q represents the “k” sound in Hebrew.) “It has been documented by archaeological finds that a first century Hebrew spelling of Nero’s name provides us with precisely the value of 666. Jastrow’s lexicon of the Talmud contains this very spelling.”4 When we take the letters of Nero’s name and spell them in Hebrew, we get the following numeric values: n = 50, r = 200, w = 6, n = 50, q = 100, s = 60, r = 200. Put together, the sum is 666.

Every Jewish reader, of course, saw that the Beast was a symbol of Nero. And both Jews and Christians regarded Nero as also having close affinities with the serpent or dragon . . . The Apostle writing as a Hebrew, was evidently thinking as a Hebrew . . . Accordingly, the Jewish Christian would have tried the name as he thought of the name—that is in Hebrew letters. And the moment that he did this the secret stood revealed. No Jew ever thought of Nero except as “Neron Kesar.”5

I have a coin (see right) that spells Nero’s name as NERŌN. Coins were struck with the spelling NEPΩN KAIΣAP ΣEBAΣTOΣ = “Neron Caesar Augustus.”

Richard Bauckham writes:

The solution to the riddle of 666 which has been most widely accepted since it was first suggested in 1831 is that 666 is the sum of the letters of Nero Caesar written in Hebrew characters as נרון קסר (נ = 50 + ר = 200 + ו = 6 + ן = 50 + ק = 100 + ס = 60 + ר = 200). Few of the many other solutions by gematria which have been proposed offer a name, which the phrase ‘the number of his name’ (Rev. 13:17; 15:2) requires, and of those few which do this seems eminently the most preferable.6

A textual variant in some New Testament manuscripts has the number of the Beast as 616 based on the reading of nrw qsr — Nero Caesar — instead of “the Greek form Nerwn, . . . so that the final ן is omitted from נרון , the numerical value becomes 616.”7

Solomon and 666

The Jews had seen the number six hundred and sixty-six before (not 6-6-6 but 600+60+6= 666). Prior to Solomon’s slide into apostasy, a description of his reign is given. One of the things said about him is that “the weight of gold which came in to Solomon in one year was 666 talents of gold” (1 Kings 10:14). From the number of shields (300) to the price of a horse imported from Egypt (150 shekels), we find round numbers, except when the number of gold talents is mentioned. Why not 650 or even 660? Why 666?

From the point where we are told that 666 talents of gold came into Solomon’s possession in one year, we read of Solomon’s apostasy. First, Solomon violates the law regarding the accumulation of horses, chariots, wives, and gold (1 Kings 10:26; see Deut. 17:16-17).

The law of Deuteronomy 17 forbad the king to multiply gold, women, and horses, but here we see Solomon do all three. In Revelation, the religious rulers of the “land” are called kings, the “kings of the land.” The apostasy of the High Priest, and of the religious leaders of Israel, is thus linked to Solomon’s sin. As Solomon lost his kingdom when the northern tribes rebelled after his death, so the Land Beast will lose his kingdom permanently when Jerusalem is destroyed.8

Second, Solomon sells himself to foreign interests by marrying foreign women to create political alliances (1 Kings 11:1–2). It is here that we see a parallel with Revelation 13. In their rejection of Jesus as the promised Messiah (“He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him”—John 1:11), the unbelieving Jews committed spiritual adultery with the nations (Roman Empire of nations) in the way that Solomon committed physical/spiritual adultery with the nations surrounding him:

Now Solomon loved many foreign women along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the LORD had said to the sons of Israel, ‘You shall not associate with them, neither shall they associate with you, for they will surely turn your heart away after their gods.’ Solomon held fast to these in love. And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines, and his wives turned his heart away (1 Kings 11:1–3).

James Jordan sums up the connection between Solomon and the apostate character of the Church’s enemy in Revelation 13:

The number of the name (character) of the Sea Beast, then, means “apostate Solomon; apostate Jew.” It is Solomon, not free under Yahweh’s rule, but enslaved to Gentiles through illicit trade, the idol worshipping wiles of his women, and his lust for gold.9

It’s possible, therefore, that 666 refers to both Nero and Solomon since the Sea Beast (Roman Empire under Nero) and the Land Beast (Israel as a “synagogue of Satan”: Rev. 2:9; 3:9) cooperate in their desire to see the new covenant people of God destroyed. Those Jews who rejected Jesus (the greater David: Acts 2:25–36) embraced the apostasy of Solomon who did not follow after his father David.

Marrying foreign wives was similar to what the Jews did when they cried out at Jesus’ trial before Pontius Pilate, the civil representative of Rome, “We have no king but Caesar” (John 19:15). They aligned themselves with Rome against Jesus. This made them true antichrists (2 John 2:7; 1 John 2:18-22; 4:2-3). They chose the bastard Barabbas (“son [bar] of a father [abba]”) rather than the true son, Jesus (Son of the Father).

Nero the Beastly Character

By all accounts, Nero had a reputation as an immoral beast. “According to the emperor Marcus Aurelius [121–180], ‘To be violently drawn and moved by the lusts of the soul is proper to wild beasts and monsters, such as Phalaris and Nero were.’”10 Other histories of the period offer a similar description. But for Christians, Nero was a beast because “he was the first emperor to persecute the church.”11

Nero was an animalistic pervert. He kicked one of his pregnant wives to death. He murdered his mother. He set Christians on fire to serve as lamps for a dinner party. He would dress up as a beast and rape both male and female prisoners. And he was the covenant head of Rome—that great Satan.12

There is a long history of Christian commentators who have taught that John, through the Revelation received through Jesus, had Nero in mind as the fulfillment of what is taking place in Revelation 13 as the Sea Beast. Nero fits the historical circumstances since he was the Emperor of Rome from A.D. 54 through June of 68 and was a tyrant of first order. According to first-century Roman historian Tacitus (A.D. 56–117), Nero blamed the burning of Rome on Christians:

Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace (Annals, 15:44).

Nero committed numerous atrocities against Christians. Some Christians were “wrapped in animal skins and torn apart by dogs; others were crucified and set aflame after being soaked in oil. Nero threw open his gardens for the spectacle and drove about in his chariot.”13

One of the reasons Nero was often identified as the Beast of Revelation 13 (the word “antichrist” is not used in Revelation) was because his name, when put into Hebrew letters, as a Jew would have done (Rev. 16:16), adds up to 666:

Every Jewish reader, of course, saw that the Beast was a symbol of Nero. And both Jews and Christians regarded Nero as also having close affinities with the serpent or dragon . . . The Apostle writing as a Hebrew, was evidently thinking as a Hebrew . . . Accordingly, the Jewish Christian would have tried the name as he thought of the name — that is in Hebrew letters. And the moment that he did this the secret stood revealed. No Jew ever thought of Nero except as “Neron Kesar.”14

Mark Wilson writes the following in his brief commentary on Revelation in the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary: “Nero is the only first-century emperor whose name can be calculated to equal 666. Nero’s Greek name NERON KAISER was inscribed on the obverse of coins from Ephesus, Sardis, and Laodicea during this period.”15 The IVP Bible Background Commentary states that identifying Nero as the Beast and the number 666 is “the most popular proposal among scholars today.”16

There’s something else to consider. If the Greek word for beast (θηρίον = תריון) is translated “into Hebrew consonants, the numerical value comes out to 666. This appears to be what John means when he mentions in 13:18 ‘the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666.’”17

Conclusion

So not only does Nero Caesar add up to 666 when transliterated into Hebrew letters, but the Hebrew transliteration of the Greek word for “beast” also comes to 666.

By paying attention to the specific time elements in Revelation and audience relevance, we can conclude that John’s Beast with a name that adds up to 666 is long dead and gone. Today’s end-time speculation is foolish and counter-productive and dilutes the Bible’s message of the finished work of Jesus Christ and the end of the old covenant system that passed away with the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70. We should focus on the name of Jesus “and the name of His Father” (Rev. 14:1). The Lamb has conquered the Beast of Revelation 13 and any beasts to follow.

Notes:

1. Tim LaHaye, Revelation Unveiled, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999), 22–27.
2. R.H. Charles, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Revelation of St. John, 2 vols. (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1920), 1:cxliii.
3. Frank Pack, “The Old Testament and the Book of Revelation.”
4. Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., The Beast of Revelation, rev. ed. (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 2002), chap. 3. Also see Charles, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Revelation of St. John, 1:367.
5. Frederic W. Farrar, The Early Days of Christianity (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1882), 471.
6. Richard Bauckham, The Climax of Prophecy: Studies on the Book of Revelation (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1993), 387.
7. Bauckham, The Climax of Prophecy, 387. Also see James Tabor, “Why 2K?: The Biblical Roots of Millennialism,” Bible Review (December 1999): http://bit.ly/WtlK30
8. James B. Jordan, A Brief Reader’s Guide to Revelation (Niceville, FL: Transfiguration Press, 1999), 36.
9. James B. Jordan, “The Beasts of Revelation (4),” Studies in Revelation (April 1996), 2.
10. Bauckham, The Climax of Prophecy, 409.
11. Bauckham, the Climax of Prophecy, 411.
12. Douglas Wilson, “666” (July 13, 2005): http://bit.ly/StHTRq
13. John Haralson Hayes, Introduction to the Bible (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1971), 453.
14. Frederic W. Farrar, The Early Days of Christianity (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1882), 471.
15. Mark W. Wilson, “Revelation,” Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary, gen. ed. Clinton E. Arnold (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), 4:330.
16. Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 799.
17. Bauckham, The Climax of Prophecy, 389.

The Real Prayer of Jabez

Article by Dr. Steve Lawson (original source here)

Riding a tidal wave of surging popularity, few Christian books have burst onto the publishing scene and been as widely received as The Prayer of Jabez (Multnomah, 2000). In only its sixth year of circulation, this brief, ninety-three-page book has sold a staggering ten million copies, pushing its way to the top of the New York Times best-seller list. In its wake, a virtual Prayer of Jabez sub-culture has emerged, complete with journals, backpacks, jewelry, vanilla-scented candles, and myriads of assorted marketing paraphernalia. Unfortunately, many well-meaning evangelicals have been swept up in this trendy phenomenon.

Prefacing this work, author Bruce Wilkinson writes, “I want to teach you how to pray a daring prayer that God always answers. It is brief — only one sentence with four parts…but I believe it contains the key to a life of extraordinary favor with God.… In fact, thousands of believers who are applying its truths are seeing miracles happen on a regular basis.” But is the prayer of Jabez really the single greatest key to a spiritual life that is pleasing to God? Is Wilkinson’s teaching true to the full counsel of God? Hardly.

Those with doctrinal moorings and spiritual discernment know that this simplistic approach to the Christian life is an inadequate means by which to view God, true spirituality, and prayer. True, certain features of the book can be cited positively, such as its much-needed emphasis upon prayer. But The Prayer of Jabez, quite frankly, suffers from a deficient theology. The book is seriously plagued by the following things:

First, an inadequate view of prayer, trivializing its truly profound nature; second, a misguided focus upon prosperity, overtly emphasizing miracles and financial blessings; third, a defective doctrine of providence that fails to see God sovereignly and actively involved in all of life. Polemics aside, however, it will do us well to revisit the prayer of Jabez — not the book, but the biblical text — and discover what this prayer actually teaches.

Tucked away in a long genealogical record (1 Chron. 4), Jabez emerges from relative obscurity as one who “was more honorable than his brothers” (v. 9). A spiritually strong man, he was highly esteemed in his day, more virtuous and upstanding than others. His extraordinary piety is well documented in that a city was named after him, a place where “the families of scribes” gathered (1 Chron. 2:55). Moreover, his name, Jabez, means, “He will cause pain,” a perpetual reminder of the agony he caused during delivery. Yet, despite such a difficult entrance into this world, there was a divinely scripted plan for his life, sovereignly orchestrated for God’s glory and his good.

With complete dependence upon God in prayer, Jabez “called upon…God (Elohim)” (1 Chron. 4:10a), the divine name meaning the Supreme One, Mighty Ruler, and Sovereign Lord (Gen. 1:1). By appealing to this name, he acknowledged that God providentially reigns over all the works of His hands (Ps. 103:19). Moreover, He is the God “of Israel,” closely related to His chosen ones (Amos 3:2). To Jabez, God is both infinite and intimate, both accessible and able to answer his prayers.

In petitioning God, Jabez prayed, “Oh that you would bless me” (v. 10b). That is, he asked God to extend His undeserved favor toward him. Specifically, Jabez asked, “Enlarge my border” (v. 10c), thereby requesting that God would expand his territory by defeating his enemies, the Canaanites, expelling them from the adjacent territory. In the days of Moses and Joshua, God had promised that He would give the Promised Land to Israel. Accordingly, Jabez prayed for this increase in land.

Is it right to ask God for material things? Of course it is. Jesus Himself taught His disciples to pray for their “daily bread” (Matt. 6:11; Luke 11:3). God desires us to petition Him for all good things needed to fulfill His will, even for physical provisions (James 4:2). But, ultimately, God is sovereign and will answer prayer as He wills, not as man wills. To be sure, the motive of every prayer must be for the glory of God, not the greed of man. As lowly servants before our exalted King, we should make certain that our prayers are always humble requests, never haughty demands.

Furthermore, Jabez prayed “that your hand might be with me” (v. 10d), a petition that the invisible hand of Providence would empower him in this heroic endeavor. The truth is, God’s work must always be done in God’s power, or it will surely fail (Zech. 4:6). Moreover, Jabez requested “that you would keep me from harm so that it might not bring me pain” (v. 10e). In this, he asked for God’s supernatural protection to be upon him throughout this conflict. To be sure, all God’s servants are exposed to constant danger and desperately need divine protection from Satan’s relentless assaults.

With unwavering faith, Jabez placed this entire matter in the hands of God — and there are no more reliable, or more capable, and no more powerful hands than those of our sovereign God. What was the result of such a humble prayer? Simply this, that God “granted what he asked” (v. 10f). Not because Jabez used the right formula in prayer. Nor because he somehow manipulated God. For God is not a genie to be conjured out of a bottle and used for one’s own personal ends. Rather, God sovereignly chose to be glorified through Jabez in answering his petition. The prayer of Jabez is not a mindless mantra that God always answers, chanted for self-advancement. Instead, it teaches us to seek God faithfully. When He alone is magnified, we will be truly blessed indeed

Augustine: Refuting the Pelagians

‘But these brethren of ours, about whom and on whose behalf we are now discoursing, say, perhaps, that the Pelagians are refuted by this apostolical testimony in which it is said that we are chosen in Christ and predestinated before the foundation of the world, in order that we should be holy and immaculate in His sight in love. For they think that “having received God’s commands we are of ourselves by the choice of our free will made holy and immaculate in His sight in love; and since God foresaw that this would be the case,” they say, “He therefore chose and predestinated us in Christ before the foundation of the world.” Although the apostle says that it was not because He foreknew that we should be such, but in order that we might be such by the same election of His grace, by which He showed us favour in His beloved Son. When, therefore, He predestinated us, He foreknew His own work by which He makes us holy and immaculate. Whence the Pelagian error is rightly refuted by this testimony. “But we say,” say they, “that God did not foreknow anything as ours except that faith by which we begin to believe, and that He chose and predestinated us before the foundation of the world, in order that we might be holy and immaculate by His grace and by His work.” But let them also hear in this testimony the words where he says, “We have obtained a lot, being predestinated according to His purpose who worketh all things.” He, therefore, worketh the beginning of our belief who worketh all things; because faith itself does not precede that calling of which it is said: “For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance;” and of which it is said: “Not of works, but of Him that calleth” (although He might have said, “of Him that believeth”); and the election which the Lord signified when He said: “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you.” For He chose us, not because we believed, but that we might believe, lest we should be said first to have chosen Him, and so His word be false (which be it far from us to think possible), “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you.” Neither are we called because we believed, but that we may believe; and by that calling which is without repentance it is effected and carried through that we should believe. But all the many things which we have said concerning this matter need not to be repeated.’

— St. Augustine

Ten Things You Should Know About The Gospel

Article by Dr. Sam Storms (original source here)

As much as we hear about the gospel of Jesus Christ one would think that everyone is on the same page when it comes to defining this word. Sadly, that is not the case. So just what is the gospel? How might we define it? Here are ten things to keep in mind.

(1) The “gospel” is the gloriously great good news of what our triune God has graciously done in the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ to satisfy his own wrath against us and to secure the forgiveness of sins and perfect righteousness for all who trust in him by faith alone. Christ fulfilled, on our behalf, the perfectly obedient life under God’s law that we should have lived, but never could. He died, in our place, the death that we deserved to suffer but now never will. And by his rising from the dead he secures for those who believe the promise of a resurrected and glorified life in a new heaven and a new earth in fellowship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit forever.

(2) The gospel is fundamentally about something that has happened. It is an accomplished event, an unalterable fact of history. Nothing can undo the gospel. No power in heaven or earth can overturn or reverse it. But as a settled achievement it also exerts a radical and far-reaching influence into both our present experience and our future hopes. Central to why it is the “best” news imaginable is that the glory of what God has already done in and through Jesus transforms everything now and yet to come.

(3) This gospel is not only the means by which people have been saved, but also the truth and power by which people are being sanctified (1 Cor. 15:1-2); it is the truth of the gospel that enables us to genuinely and joyfully do what is pleasing to God and to grow in progressive conformity to the image of Christ. Thus we must never think that the gospel is solely for unbelievers. It is for Christians, at every stage of their lives. There is nothing in the Christian life that is “post” gospel! Continue reading

Does Calvinism Make God the Author of Evil?

Article by Phil Johnson (original source here)

Arminians often insist that if “God from all eternity did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass” (Westminster Confession of Faith, III.1) then He must be morally responsible for evil. If His decree caused everything that happens, they claim, that makes Him the Cause of evil, and that in turn contradicts James 1:13 and 1 John 1:5.

How have Calvinists responded to that charge?

Classic Calvinism does teach, of course, that God’s
eternal decree is a binding verdict that set everything in motion toward a predetermined end, and God remains sovereign in the outworking of His providence. (Providence speaks of His purposeful care and management of everything He created). The decree is eternal, meaning it was issued before the foundation of the world. It is God’s own sovereign fiat (authoritative edict). The word fiat is Latin for “let it be done.”

But He ordained the means as well as the end. In other words, God is not the direct cause (“the efficient cause”) of all that He decreed. He is by no means a mere passive observer of unfolding events, nor is He subject to any higher or more determinate will than His own. But His “let it be done” is not necessarily the exact logical equivalent of “I Myself will do this.” (See, for example, Job 1:12; 2:6.)

But isn’t it still the case that God’s decree ultimately causes “whatsoever comes to pass”?

Well, yes, in one sense. But there is more than one sense of the word cause. We rightly distinguish between efficient and final causes (sometimes labeled proximate and ultimate causes). These are not concepts made up on the fly for the benefit of dodging Arminian objections. The distinctions between various kinds of causes are long-established differentiations—elementary concepts of truth and logic that go back at least as far as Aristotle.

Aristotle, for example, named four categories of cause:

1. The Final Cause—that for the sake of which something happens
2. The Efficient Cause—the agent whose action produces the effect
3. The Material Cause—the substance that gives being to the effect
4. The Formal Cause—the shape, pattern, definition, or species of the effect

From the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s “Aristotle” entry:

The development of potentiality to actuality is one of the most important aspects of Aristotle’s philosophy. It was intended to solve the difficulties which earlier thinkers had raised with reference to the beginnings of existence and the relations of the one and many. The actual vs. potential state of things is explained in terms of the causes which act on things. There are four causes:

1. Material cause, or the elements out of which an object is created;
2. Efficient cause, or the means by which it is created;
3. Formal cause, or the expression of what it is;
4. Final cause, or the end for which it is.

Take, for example, a bronze statue. Its material cause is the bronze itself. Its efficient cause is the sculptor, insofar has he forces the bronze into shape. The formal cause is the idea of the completed statue. The final cause is the idea of the statue as it prompts the sculptor to act on the bronze.

God is the final cause; not the efficient cause of evil.

To illustrate that someone or something can be the “final cause” of an evil act and yet not be held morally responsible for it, consider these examples: Continue reading