Happy Reformation Day!

I laughed….and let me introduce you to the most interesting theologian in the world:

Blessings,

Bryan Daniels

Did Jesus Go To Hell Today?

Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, (19) in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, (20) because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. (1 Peter 3:18-20)

It’s a question that always nagged me a bit around this time of year.

Jesus went to the terrible cross on Friday and was laid to the tomb.

He arose bodily on Sunday defeating death itself.

But where was the Son of God in between those two universe-shaking events?

1 Peter 3:18-20 seems to indicate some answer for us. As we know, fools rush in where angels fear to tread. Martin Luther, after studying and meditating on this passage said: “This is a wonderful text and a more obscure passage than any other in the New Testament so that I do not know for certainty what Peter means.”

The three most common views are:

Christ preached the gospel to the dead saints and unbelievers

Many (maybe most) Christians believe after the cross, Christ literally descended into hell (or place of the dead, or purgatory) and preached the gospel to the pre-Christ Old Testament saints so that they may be set free for the fullest experience of heaven. A majority of Catholics hold to this interpretation. A more controversial branch of this view is that Christ actually went and preached the gospel to unbelievers (IE those who died in the flood) and gave them a second chance to repent and believe on Him. The Apostle’s Creed seems to intimate some variation of this doctrine:  “[He] was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell. The third day He arose again from the dead.”

Christ preached the gospel through Noah during the days of Noah

There is also a pre-existent Christ view of this passage that reflects the view of many modern Reformed theologians. This view states that Jesus was the one preaching in the actual days of Noah, possibly through Noah himself.  So through the mouth of Noah, through the words of Noah, the pre-existent Christ was preaching to spirits in prison, understood metaphorically as those who are in spiritual darkness.  Many believe this was St. Augustine’s view and it seems to confirm the meaning of 1 Peter 1:10-11.

Christ preached His triumphant reign to the spiritual world

A final view of this passage is that that Christ Jesus proclaimed His triumph to those who are in hell and to the demonic realm itself. This view holds that Christ was preached His triumphant proclamation over the spirit world not in between the cross and resurrection, but in between the resurrection and ascension.  This was a view widely held in the 17th century.  It states that Peter seems to be speaking here in a sequential, chronological way.  He speaks about the death of Jesus, he speaks about the resurrection of Jesus, and then the ascension of Jesus.  In between mentioning the resurrection and the ascension, he mentions this preaching to the spirits in prison. Christ wouldn’t be preaching the gospel to the unsaved, rather heralding his triumph over sin, death and over all spiritual principalities, even Satan. The “spirits” in prison hearing the message of Christ’s victory would be the demonic realm He defeated at the cross.

I lean to the latter view being most plausible, but it is only a slight lean. Some of my favorite theologians in the world hold the second view. And yet the first view has a strong historical argument that favors it. There is much more that can (and should) be said about all three views.  I really would have to defer to Luther’s previous statement above before dying on any three of these hills.

Regardless, I believe proponents of all three major views can rejoice over the cross of Christ where our due wrath was taken by the God man, and the resurrection of Christ where He decisively proved that death was truly put to death forevermore. Such gospel truths are beautifully and simply clear to us in Scripture (1 Corinthians 15:-1-3).

I’ll defer to the words of the 16th century Reformer once more, these penned to his classic hymn (A Mighty Fortress Is Our God):

And though this world with devils filled   Should threaten to undo us
We will not fear for God has willed   His truth to triumph through us
The Prince of Darkness grim  We tremble not for him
His rage we can endure For lo his doom is sure
One little word (He is risen!) will slay him

It’s Saturday, but Sunday is coming peeps.

Peace and grace,

Bryan Daniels

The Modern Gospel: Lawless Grace, Lordless Christianity

A strange creature has crept into the church under the moniker of “radical grace” and “spiritual freedom.” It has had a home in the human heart since the very beginning, where the mankind’s federal parents first questioned what God clearly required of them (Genesis 3). It’s message is plastered naturally at the end of most pop songs and cheesy chick flicks, along the lines of “Just follow your heart” or “Be true to yourself.”

Oprah is not the only adherent to this whimsical doctrinal system I assure you. Yes, in some way, every man desires to be a law unto himself.

The technical theological term for this deep-seated desire is “antinomianism.”

Antinomianism literally means “anti-lawism” or just “against the law.” “Antinomianism” is a Greek word coined by the great Protestant Reformer, Martin Luther. Luther saw excesses in the Reformation that sprung out of a desire to combat the Roman Catholic Church’s blatant legalism. In 1539 Luther wrote against such error in his book, Against the Antinomians. Later Lutheran theologians affirmed Luther’s stance in the Formula of Concord (1577) outlining the three biblical uses of the law: 1. To reveal sin 2. To establish moral guidelines for the society at large 3. To provide a rule of life for those regenerated through faith in Christ.

The third statement is where the primary rub comes in for the classic Antinomian theologian. The portion of the Law which this stance is set against is the moral law, or the Ten Commandments.

The whole crux of the issue is the denial of the moral law’s use as a rule of life for the believer. Since Jesus redeems one from the curse of the law (Galatians 3:13), Antinomians believe He also frees us from any obligation of keeping the moral law. The moral law has virtually no value to the Antinomian because he sees the law as void with the coming of Christ and the New Covenant. License to sin and disobedience is typically the natural effect of such theology in one’s life.

An equally heretical and polar opposite theology of antinomianism is legalism. Legalism, as expressed in the Roman Catholic ideology of Luther’s day, swings the pendulum the other way and makes keeping the Law the primary means by which a person must be saved. Both systems of thought have a deeply flawed understanding of the Law and Grace.

Antinomianism is serious error, and a damnable heresy according to Jesus Himself.

In Matthew 7:13-14 it is the condemning charge of Jesus towards a wildly popular group of prophets and preachers:

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles? And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’

“Depart from me you workers of lawlessness.” Yeah you have the private jet, an internationally renowned ministry, and even miracles proceed from your crusades, but you are lost if you live as if I gave you no law to obey. Or as Jesus said in even simpler words “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ yet you do not do as I say?” (Luke 6:46)

If you don’t know Him as Lord then you don’t know Him as Savior.

The New Covenant is not the end of the Law. Rather it is the fulfillment and clearer expression of God’s perfect law (Matt. 5:17-18). Christ is the reason the ceremonial and civil aspects of the Law are no longer necessary (the book of Hebrews bro!). Now thankfully, because of Him, we no longer have to sacrifice our pet goats or boycott Red Lobster. But Christ never indicated the complete abrogation of the moral Law with His coming. In reality, He clearly upheld it as the pre-eminent model of a truly Christian life (Matthew 5:21-48)

The OT prophecies pointing to the New Covenant show it to be “a law written on the hearts” of the covenant community, and not just the stone tablets of Mt. Sinai (Jer. 31 :31-34).

Paul expressed these same concerns is his book to the Romans. Remember this is the same apostle who tore into the legalistic Judaizers of the Galatian church (self castration, anyone?). Yet Paul was also explicit in his condemnation of the possibility of antinomianism: “Do we then make the law void through faith. Certainly not! On the contrary we establish the law.” (Romans 3:31)

The argument minded Antinomian may retort, “What about Romans 6, ‘we are no longer under law!'” When Paul says we “are not under the law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14), he is not nullifying the law. Rather he is saying: 1. We are not under law as a covenant of works like Adam was 2. Keeping the law cannot now justify us 3. We won’t be condemned for falling short of the law 4. We’re now under grace, the covenant of grace, for our hope and eternal life.

These beautiful divine truths do not make us “lawless” by any means! Instead they make it possible for us to love Christ and obey His law through the power of the Holy Spirit (1 John 2:4). As Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones used to say, “If the ‘grace’ you have received does not help you to keep the law, you have not received grace.”

What you see in the NT is a correction of a common OT misconception. The grievous error the Pharisees and teachers of law committed was by making the law an exhaustive rule book for earning God’s favor. God’s favor is free (Eph 2:8) yet the road it puts us on will cost us our life (Luke 9:23-24). With His death and resurrection Jesus, Christ reinstates a clear vision of Love driven obedience and Spirit-led law keeping. As always, we should let Him have the last word on this matter:

“If you love me, you will obey my commandments” (John 14:15).

Bryan Daniels

A Small Public Apology (Kind Of) To Joel Osteen

A slight commendation may be due for Joel Osteen. Seriously.

After being consistently pummeled by conservative evangelicals everywhere, Joel has recently assembled a few basic baby steps towards pastor cred.

Maybe a small, I did not say total, but small apology is due from us. In conservative Christendom, we (and when I say “we” I mean “I”) are quick to jump on anyone without the same exact precise theological and social convictions as us. Some of it is warranted: Joel does frequently proclaim the (un)gospel of self-esteem. He does usually replace sin and repentance with quaint stories and pop psychology. In the past, even on primetime television, he has been ambiguous about essential theological convictions (the Larry King interview comes to mind).

How can you not love that perfectly bleached smile?

But, with no fear of reprimand from heresy hunters, I attest here that Joel Osteen for once got it right…in an interview…on primetime television no less.

Here’s a brief transcript of Joel’s statement on a recent segment of CNN’s Piers Morgan Tonight. When asked bluntly by Morgan about whether homosexuality was a sin this is what America’s pastor said:

“Yes, I’ve always believed, Piers, the Scripture shows that homosexuality it’s a sin,” he said. He added: “But you know, I’m not one of those that are out there to bash homosexuals and tell them that they’re terrible people and all of that. I mean, there are other sins in the Bible, too. I think sometimes the church — and I don’t mean this critically — but we focus on one issue or two issues, and there’s plenty of other ones. So, I don’t believe homosexuality is God’s best for a person’s life. I mean, sin means to miss the mark.”

The reason for this brief kudos is not necessarily that Joel is talking somewhat frankly about the specific sinfulness of homosexuality, but rather that Osteen has added the word “sin” into his public vocab repertoire at all. Sin is not a word Osteen has been known to use liberally, or ever. 

As Albert Mohler points out in his article “The Osteen Moment”, just four years ago Joel was much more vague and timid in his response to the same exact “homosexual” question. Let’s hope this counts for theological progress in Osteen’s path towards biblical Orthodoxy. 

Now I know his response wasn’t exactly an epic Martin Luther-esque type stance before the Diet of Worms: “Here I stand! I can do no other! God help me…”

A passing mention of Romans 3:23 may have done some good here. And he waffled a bit when Morgan asked specifically about Elton John’s homosexuality. I admit, Joel didn’t exactly look comfortable doing it, and there wasn’t a clear presentation of the gospel by him (again, baby steps), but Osteen took a stand where we (I) would have expected him to drop to the fetal position with empty positive platitudes.

Instead of lambasting him, let’s point to the positive (in classic Osteen fashion): Joel Osteen just spoke the unforgivable in Hollywood values and committed blasphemy against the god of political correctness. Given his platform and following, he likely knew his position would accumulate a hailstorm of hatred from “tolerant” liberal ideologues everywhere. Joel Osteen said what the Bible says: Homosexuality is a “sin.” No more atrocious than the litany of heterosexual sins, but nonetheless a sin that Jesus Christ calls us out of (1 Cor 6 :9-11).

Let’s hope continued baby steps lead him in the right direction: towards a bold proclamation of the biblical gospel where Jesus is the only cure for the wrath of a holy God and the sins of wicked man.

We’re (I’m) rooting for you, Joel.

Bryan Daniels

Martin Luther: The Reformer, The Civil Rights Leader, and The Work Unfinished

First, let me be clear: I love government holidays.

But secondly, let me add…. 

During this time of year, with the parades and media homages in memory of Martin Luther King Jr., I always like to cut through the common dialogue to find some of the more unique biographical facts about the civil rights leader. He was a very compelling man with a nuanced view of the world, America, and the civil rights movement.

Here are some of the gems I have found you may not hear from the typical mainstream media narrative this weekend. In no order:

1. In 1955, he received a PH.D in systematic theology from Boston University. He was not an empty-headed mega church pastor with a diploma from a degree mill like *insert flaky prosperity propagator here*. His flowery rhetoric had intellectual weight to back it up.

2. He was a Trekkie (a fan of the original “Star Trek” (1966) TV series). I don’t know why, but that is just awesome to me. If he would have not been assassinated, I’d like to think he and William Shatner could have done a cop comedy together in the ’80s.

3. He stated that he would not live to be 40. He died at age 39. I’m not saying the church should coronate him “prophet”, but rather he knew his message would have deranged opponents with murderous motivations. The church should take notes here, because the message of Jesus is guaranteed to bring enemies with it (John 15:18). If you don’t have some enemies then you are not a friend of Christ.

4. He was a registered Republican and opponent of communism with its “political totalitarianism” and “ethical relativism” (ah, he believed in moral absolutes!). In fact, Martin Luther King Jr. Day was made a federal holiday by Republican president and noted anti-communist, Ronald Reagan. I know there may be some truth that the contemporary Republican party is not the exact same party it was of the ’50s, but there may also be some truth that MLK would be wary of the full blown socialism being pumped out of Washington today. Again, he was a man of complexity.

5. He was a Protestant Christian pastor and his father named him after the great Protestant German reformer, Martin Luther. The civil rights movement sprung out of the Christian doctrine that all men are created in the image of God. In reality, almost every major worldwide civil rights and humanitarian movement in existence was first steeped in the rich soil of Christian theology and heritage. What charitable aid has the atheistic principles of nihilism and materialism produced?

In 16th century Europe, God used Martin Luther as a spark to change the face of Christendom forever, and over 400 years later God raised up another reformer to change the face of civil rights for ever.

There is still much more work to be done on the civil rights front. 

Grave injustices are still being performed against the most voiceless and helpless in our society. And one of the greatest atrocities in the modern world still has racial undertones attached to it. In New York city 40 % of pregnancies end in abortion. An overwhelming majority of those are African-American babies. According to the CDC, black women are three times more likely to get an abortion than white women. This should shock us out of our stupor: the leading cause of death in the African American Community since 1973 is not heart disease, aids, or violent crimes: It’s abortion. Abortion providers like Planned Parenthood have created a lucrative business off the ignorance of the uneducated and impoverished minorities in the poorest urban neighborhoods. And this all has more to do with the negative eugenics pseudo science movement of the ’30s and 40’s than we are comfortable to admit. In the past 40 years, how many more Martin Luther’s have we snuffed out before they take their first breath? Thankfully, there are many in the black community taking a stand on this issue, such as MLK’s niece, Alveda King.

The current rate of abortions in America is over 100,000 per month. More than 90% of these abortions occur not because of medical issues, but issues of mere inconvenience.

Being for an unborn baby’s rights is not synonymous with being against women’s rights. No, tragically, half of the 50 million American babies murdered since Roe V. Wade have been female. Roughly 25 million potential congresswomen, civil rights leaders, first ladies, nurses, teachers , mothers, and women’s rights leaders cheated of the basic right to life. Where is the feminist outcry for those precious female babies?

Black or white, male or female. Fellow images of God sacrificed at the demonic altar of expedience (Psalm 139). It’s not a political issue, it’s a justice issue. As MLK Jr used to say “A threat to justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Yes, even in the womb.

May God raise up another reformer in the spirit of Martin Luther, to spark a revival among the inner cities and rural counties that reverses the unborn holocaust before it’s too late.  (Malachi 4:6)