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New Year’s Resolution: Knockdown the Scarecrow

scarecrowOne of my favorite lines in cinematic history is in the "Wizard of Oz." Dorothy cannot make up her mind when the yellowbrick road comes to a fork. Should she go left or right? The Scarecrow tells her to go both ways. Dorothy: Can't you make up your mind? Scarecrow: That's the problem. I can't. I haven't got a brain. Dorothy: How can you talk if you haven't got a brain? Scarecrow: I don't know. But, some people without brains do an awful lot of talking. Dorothy: I guess you're right. I see scarecrow theology in that way. You can do an awful lot of talking without ever having to use your brain. The blogosphere can serve some real good if it leads to actual theological argumentation and precision. So let's all use our brains and knockdown the scarecrow once and for all in 2007.

This is good advice for all of us whether we are bloggers, theologians, students, professors, or preachers. Weak argumentation and cheap slogans are found on the net, in the classroom, and in the pulpit. Let's all make a New Year's resolution: No More Scarecrow Theology.

 What is "straw man" argumentation? A straw man argument is basically a logical fallacy where a person misrepresents his opponent's position. The person sets up a man made of straw (i.e. a position that is easy to refute), and then makes it appear that this is his opponent's position.  This can be done in several ways. A person can misrepresent an opponent's position, knock it down, and then assert that his opponent's real position has been defeated. A very common way to do this is to quote an opponent out of context. Another way is to refute someone who does not defend the position well and make it seem that everyone who holds that position has been refuted. That can also be done by picking the weakest argument of an opponent to refute, rather than dealing with his or her strongest argument.

 One common example of a straw man is in eschatological argumentation. Some pre-millennialists will paint the picture that "all Amillennialists are liberals." Certainly scholars like J. I. Packer, John Stott, and many others would take exception to such an statement. It might be true that a liberal presupposition lends itself to adopting an amillennial view, since liberals are opposed to a lot of things, but it does not follow that an amillenial viewpoint naturally leads to liberalism. This is just one example among many, and examples of straw man theology are too numerous to cite. If we are honest, all of us have done it at one time or another. Why? We wanted to feel like we "won" the argument without actually having to engage our opponent's actual position or strongest arguments. We wanted some slaps on the back, high fives, and cheap amens from those in our camp or our congregation. We wanted to persuade someone of our position by sloganeering. Usually we only persuade those who are scarecrow theologians anyways. We do not really convince those who think through issues clearly. But we did it. Let's just admit it and resolve to knock down the scarecrow once and for all.

 There are a LOT of words spent on theological argumentation, blogging, preaching, and teaching. This can be found on the internet, in the classroom, and in the pulpit. All of these words might convince other scarecrow theologians, and they might bring some amens from fellow supporters, but will all those words actually lead to a well-rounded and sound theology? Will all those words be for the glory of Christ and the good of the church? Only if we get rid of the scarecrow in 2007 can all this be for the glory of Christ.

Jon Akin

Reading the Bible Christocentrically Part 4: King Joash, The Terminator, and King Jesus

 ArnoldThe inter-connectedness of the Bible is breathtaking. In recent days I was able to preach through the story of Joash. Joash points quite vividly to the greater Son of David, Jesus Christ. The parallels and plays in this story to the story of Christ are amazing. In 2 Chronicles 22:10, wicked Queen Athaliah "destroyed ALL the royal heirs of the house of David," but Joash is hidden away in the Temple. This is a dark time in the history of Judah. Again, all of the promises to David about a Son who will sit on an eternal throne over an eternal kingdom lie dead in Jerusalem tombs!

The evil queen, the seed of the serpent, has played a part in the cosmic war raging throughout the centuries. Genesis 3:15, right after the fall, tells us that the "seed of the woman" will crush the head of the serpent, but the serpent will bruise the heel of the head crusher. This enmity and warfare rages on across the world stage. John pulls back the curtain on this war in Revelation 12:4 where he writes, "the dragon stood before the woman who was ready to give birth, to devour her Child as soon as it was born." This refers back to Gen. 3:15 and Matthew 2 where Herod tried to destroy Messiah as soon as he was born, but it also engulfs every attempt that the dragon/serpent made to destroy the Messiah before he came.

Holywood has shown a similar storyline in the first two "Terminator" movies. In Terminator 1, the machines send a cyborg terminator back in time to destroy the man who will be their undoing. On this attempt they try to kill his mother before she has him. In Terminator 2 they send another cyborg back through time to kill the man while he is a boy and weak.

 We see a similar play in the biblical storyline. As soon as the promise of a deliverer is made, Eve gives birth, and yet Satan moves Cain to kill Abel. The promise is dead, but God raises up Seth. Pharaoh is killing the male Hebrews when they are born, but God delivers Moses. Later in Israel's history, Hamaan will attempt genocide against the Jews, and then Herod will try to kill Jesus when he is a baby. All of these are attempts by the serpent to kill the line before the Messiah King comes! Athaliah participates in this by wiping out the sons of David. The promises lie dead in the tombs of Jerusalem! Yet, one is saved, King Joash.

 Joash is rescued and hid away for 6 years. Joash is not the first child and will not be the last child hidden away from an evil ruler. Moses was hid from Pharaoh, and Jesus will be hid from Herod. All three will have similar ministries, Exodus! In the seventh year, Jehoiada the priest orchestrates a coup to set Joash on the throne. They bring Joash out of the temple, which shows that he is the true Son of God/King. They crown him and proclaim him as king. Athaliah hears the shouts and songs of the people as they bring Joash to the throne. Then the Bible says that she looks and sees the king "standing" by his pillar (2 Chr. 23:13). This is similar to the heavenly vision of Revelation 5. John sees the lamb, as though slain, but standing! Yahweh has brought life out of death. Yahweh has brought victory out of defeat. And what is the crowning and victory of Joash accompanied by? Singing and praising (cf. Rev. 5:6 & 13)!

 Evil Athaliah and her followers are put to death (cf. Gen. 3:15, serpent's seed is being crushed). This may seem harsh to some, but these verses should be cross-referenced in your study Bibles with John 3:16. God loves the world so much that he will kill the enemies who try to keep the Son from coming. Joash defeats the enemies and he sets worship right again in Judah. The land is quiet.

 After this, Joash sets himself to rebuilding the temple. Why? Kings are temple-builders (cf. Solomon, Zech. 6:12-15, etc.). Solomon built the original temple. Joash re-builds the temple, and Jesus will build the final temple.

 King Joash is a Moses who leads his people out of bondage to an evil tyrant in order to build a dwelling place for God. His life points to the Greater Son of David, Jesus Christ. Not only does Herod try to kill him at birth, but Jesus is killed on a Cross. The hope for an eternal kingdom once again lies dead in a tomb in Jerusalem. Yet, on the third day, King Jesus does what the sinner King Joash cannot, he walks out of the grave. He crushed the head of the serphet forever. He ascended into heaven, and he sent gifts in order to build his temple (cf. Eph. 4:7-16). They thought they could tear this temple down, but Jesus raised it up in three days, and he is building it now through his Spirit on the foundation of apostles and prophets. This is a greater Exodus and a greater Temple, presided over by a faithful King-Priest!

 Jon Akin 

Bart Barber on Theological Triage

Among Dr. Mohler's many contributions to SBC life is his concept of "theological triage," which is a proposal for differentiating between first, second, and third tier theological commitments. This approach has been very helpful to many Baptists, myself included. But this approach is sometimes abused in the blogosphere, particularly when it is manipulated in such a way that almost anything short of a denial of the Trinity becomes a third tier issue (an issue not worth dividing over). In fact, in recent days I have wondered many times what Dr. Mohler thinks when he reads some of these misappropriations of his wise approach (if he reads them).

One blogger has weighed in on this issue with much wisdom and charity. Dr. Bart Barber, whose blog PraiseGod Barebones is the most cleverly named site in the Baptist blogosphere, has a new post called "Splinting Theological Triage." It is one of the very best things I have ever read on a Southern Baptist blog. I would encourage everyone to check out this fine post by one of the brightest young pastor-scholars in the SBC.

Reading the Bible Christocentrically: Part 3

2 CHRONICLES 17-20: JEHOSHAPHATarmageddon

JEHOSHAPHAT

 Jehoshaphat takes over for his father Asa in a time of turmoil. He strengthens his position in Judah, placing troops in the fortified cities (built by Asa). Yahweh is "with" Jehoshaphat because he walks in the former ways of His father David, who did not seek the Baals. This is a fulfillment of the promises to David (Obedient Son = Blessing, prosperity, etc.). He has riches and honor in great abundance. Jehoshaphat commits himself to God's Word by sending out princes and Levites city by city to teach the Word of God. As a result, the fear of the Lord falls on all the surrounding kingdoms, so they don't make war with Jehoshaphat. They fear the power of Yahweh and His Word. The Philistines and the Arabians bring tribute gifts to Jehoshaphat. We see here "Peace in the Middle East," as Arabs are bringing gifts to the King of Israel. Just imagine if Bin Laden were to bring camels as gifts to the Prime Minister of Israel.

      Jehoshaphat's great, great grandfather saw this happen during his reign. The nations heard of Solomon's wisdom, they knew that God was WITH him, so they were afraid (i.e. the God of the Exodus), and they came bringing treasures and gifts. They wanted to learn from Solomon's wisdom. The nations were recognizing that God had blessed Israel and her king. They wanted to be connected with that blessing. The Queen of Sheba wanted to learn the ways of the Lord. Not only that, the nations realized that Solomon and Israel were so powerful and exalted that they wanted to be on Solomon's good side, so they brought him gifts.
     
      The prophets prophesy that what happened in Solomon's reign (and partly in Jehoshaphat's reign) will happen again in an even greater way in the future. The Prophets tell us that a day is coming when all the nations will stream to Israel. All the nations will bring their gold and their wealth to Israel and ask to walk in the ways of the Lord (Isa. 2:3). The nations' kings will also recognize the power of Israel's King and will bring gifts to Him, indeed "all nations shall serve him" (Psa. 72:10-11)! Zechariah 8:23 "In those days ten men from every language of the nations shall grasp the sleeve of a Jewish man, saying 'Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is WITH you.'" Isaiah 60:1-6 tells of a great light that will rise over Israel, the glory of Yahweh will appear over them, and the nations will come to the light, and they will bring gifts of "gold and frankincense." Matthew 2 shows a fulfillment of this prophecy, where Magi bring these gifts to the king who has a star over him! But, this story even points forward still to the eschatological fulfillment. Revelation 21:22-26, "The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light. And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it. Its gates shall not be shut at all by day (there shall be no night there).And they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it." What is happening in the reign of Jehoshaphat is only a glimpse, a snapshot, of what will happen when David's greatest Son rules. The nations recognize the light of Yahweh and His Word that are with Judah, and they fear and bring gifts.

      We see this prophecy coming true even now. Jesus came teaching the Word of God city by city. He sent out His disciples two-by-two to teach God's Word. Then, he sent them (us) out through the Great Commission. They don't just go out, but they "draw in" the nations to the New Jerusalem, Christ. The nations are being gathered through the teaching of God's Word, and they are submitting to an Israelite King. They are saying, "Teach us your wisdom. Teach us to walk in your ways, for we have heard that God is WITH YOU."
 
 Foolishly, Jehoshaphat unequally yokes himself and forms a marriage alliance with Ahab. Ahab also entices Jehoshaphat into battle. Jehoshaphat knows enough to ask of the Lord before going into battle, even when 400 other prophets are saying Yahweh will give victory. Jehoshaphat rightly says "isn't there a prophet of Yahweh to ask?" Ahab says that there is still 1 man, but he doesn't like this prophet b/c he always prophesies against Ahab. Ultimately, Micaiah, the prophet of Yahweh, prophesies Ahab's death in the battle. What is striking is that Jehoshaphat requests a Word from Yahweh, and he ignores it. Though Ahab dies in the battle, Jehoshaphat narrowly escapes. On the way home from the battle against Syria, Jehu the prophet confronts and rebukes Jehoshaphat, "Should you help the wicked and love those who hate Yahweh?… Wrath is upon you." Jehoshaphat repents and sets up a justice system in Judah based on God's Word.
     
      In Chapter 20, Moab and Ammon come up against Judah, seeking to drive them out of the land. Jehoshaphat is afraid, but he seeks the Lord (unlike Asa his father) and proclaims a fast. All the cities come to "seek" the Lord for help. Azariah's prophecy to Asa from chapter 15 is coming true. When Judah seeks Yahweh, He will be found by them. All the people from young to old stand in the temple, and Jehoshaphat prays to Yahweh. He addresses him as God of all the nations who has power no one can stand against. He is also the God of Israel who drove out Canaanites and gave them land as promised to Abraham. His people live there and built a sanctuary for Yahweh. If disaster comes, the people are to stand before Yahweh at the temple and cry out to him, and he will "hear and save." Jehoshaphat turns the attention of his prayer to their enemies. He says that God told Israel not to touch these peoples when coming into the Land of Promise. Yet, these people want to throw Israel out of the land. Jehoshaphat's imprecatory prayer is that God will judge these peoples and not hesitate. This prayer points back to Solomon's dedicatory prayer of the temple. When God's people are besieged by enemies, they will pray towards the temple, and God will deliver them (cf. Jonah 2). Again, we see Jehoshaphat's relation to the Word of God. He is taking God at his Word.

 A Prophet tells the people that the battle is God's, and He will fight for Judah. They can just stand and see God's salvation. The people with Jehoshaphat bow their faces to the ground and worship Yahweh. The next morning when the people start singing praises to Yahweh, he destroys their enemies. Judah gets to the place and all they see is dead bodies, so they plunder them for 3 days.
     
      There is a mention in the Prophet Joel about the "Valley of Jehoshaphat." Lots of ink is spilt from commentators' pens discussing WHERE this valley is, as if it were a geographical issue. I believe that the Holy Spirit, through Joel, is pointing back to this event in the reign of Jehoshaphat, and He uses it to point to final judgment on those nations that oppose God! Joel writes in 3:12-13, "Let the nations be wakened, and come up to the Valley of Jehoshaphat; For there I will sit to judge (the name Jehoshaphat literally means, "Ya judges") all the surrounding nations. Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Come, go down; For the winepress is full, The vats overflow — For their wickedness is great." The cry of God's people, throughout history, is, "how long will you allow your enemies to prosper and your people to suffer?" God answers constantly that it will not be this way forever. The wicked shall not prosper forever. Jehoshaphat's victory here over the Moabites and the Ammonites foreshadows that Day of the Lord. The people of Jehoshaphat's day praise Yahweh for the victory, and He gives them rest. Again, the surrounding nations are afraid, b/c they see that Yahweh fights for His people.

      Though Jehoshaphat was a good king overall, committed to God's Word, he was not a perfect king. He unequally yoked himself with the Northern Kingdom. He did not fully obey the Word. His failures, with all of the other kings of Judah, foreshadow the need for a perfect Warrior-King. This King was the Word made flesh. This King sent out his disciples to teach God's word, city-by-city. This King is seeing the nations being gathered in. Gentile pagans are bowing to this King. This King appeared in human history, and the nations did stand against him. As Luke tells us in Acts 2 and Acts 4, the kings of the earth and the rulers took their stand and were gathered together against Yahweh and his Messiah. Indeed Herod, Pilate, the Gentiles, and even Israel gathered together against Jesus. Gentile armies came to destroy the anointed of God, and the cry came again, "How long Oh Lord? How long will the enemies of God prevail?" The answer came back, "Three days!" As the nations gathered against the Messiah, their own plans to destroy him ended up being their own downfall! As Joel prophesied about that day of the Lord there were signs in the heavens, the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, the defeat of the enemies of God, and the exaltation of Israel over her enemies. When the dust settled, one man sat at the right hand of God with all his enemies being put under his feet. The cross, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus is a fulfillment of Joel's prophecy concerning the Day of the Lord and the Valley of Jehoshaphat. King Jesus has destroyed his enemies and his followers are receiving the spoils. This King will one day appear in the Eastern sky at the sound of the trumpet, with all of His enemies assembled in the valley of Jehoshaphat. A sharp two-edged sword will come out of His mouth to "strike the nations." He will rule over the nations with a rod of iron, and the nations will stream to the New Jerusalem, bringing Him their honor and glory, saying, "teach us to walk in the ways of the Lord!"