Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Power of the Prophetic Blessing: An Astonishing Revelation For a New Generation by John Hagee

I received a free review copy of The Power of the Prophetic Blessing by John Hagee. I had heard of this author and watched him briefly on television but never read anything by him. The book is based on the idea that if you are a spiritual authority of some kind you can pronounce blessings upon people and God will make those blessings come to pass as long as you follow all the proper protocol.

Hagee goes down a number of rabbit trails throughout the book. In one case he talks about how blessing was done by the laying on of hands and uses this as springboard to talk about how important it is to hug people. He seems to have trouble staying focused or creating an intelligible argument for what he's trying to prove. It's not until chapter 10 that he really lays out six steps that are required to unleash the prophetic blessing. It would have made more sense to turn each of these six steps into a chapter and eliminate the rest of the book.

The book makes a number of rather silly errors. There are some formatting problems and on page 9 Hagee confuses the Mount of Transfiguration with the Mount of Ascension. There is a formatting error on pages 226-227. The text should be offset in some way to show that Hagee is telling someone else's story and not talking his husband. On page 248, Hagee makes it sound as if the Greek New Testament is a translation from the King James Version of the Bible and then confuses Thayer's lexicon with the KJV.

Throughout the book Hagee takes passages that are addressing particular individuals in Scripture and then speaks as if they apply to everyone. On page 37 Hagee takes something that God said specifically to Jeremiah and tries to apply to everyone.

On pages 52-53 Hagee speaks of the promise God gave to Abraham and tries to prove that this blessing is tied to Abraham's obedience and so if you obey God He will bless you too. But the text doesn't say anything like that. Abraham was basically a pagan and God told him that He would bless him before he did anything. God then tells him to go but the text doesn't say that God blessed Abraham because he went. Throughout the book, Hagee tries to argue that God's blessings are always dependent upon our obedience. As I was reading I started to wonder what Hagee would do with the passage in Genesis 12 where Abraham told his wife to lie and yet was still delivered. I (and I think most commentators) would understand this to be example of God's faithfulness despite our unfaithfulness. I expected Hagee to simply ignore this passage since it doesn't seem to fit his formula. But instead Hagee brings the passage up (p. 56) as an example of Abraham trusting in God. But if Abraham trusted God, wouldn't he tell his wife to tell the full truth?

Hagee spends a large portion of the book talking about how we must support the nation of Israel to receive God's blessing. He completely misses the point that the New Testament portrays Jesus as the New Israel and that through union with Christ we become heirs of the promises given to Abraham. Israel plays a much bigger role in this book than Jesus does. You even get the sense that Hagee believes that Jews are saved apart from Christ. Hagee takes Romans 15:27 (p. 83) and tries to use it as proof text for supporting the Jewish people. But Paul was not taking a collection for the Jewish people in general but for Jews who had become Christians and were living in Jerusalem. Paul is not taking a collection for Jews who deny Christ. Hagee spends a large portion of the book trying to prove that any nation that does not support Israel will be cursed and any nation that does will be blessed. He very selectively quotes from various news sources. Hagee claims (pp. 86-88) Hugo Chavez got cancer because he made a speech in which he claimed that Israel had killed a group of humanitarians that were bringing aid to the Palestinians. In many cases Hagee's book is self-refuting if you're paying attention. He claims that those who support national Israel will receive material blessings and make lots of friends and then (pp. 93-95) Hagee talks about people who were killed for protecting the Jews. When Hagee speaks of the crucifixion of Jesus (p. 158) he makes it sound like it was just the Roman government that put Jesus to death.

The book is not based upon any real command in the Scriptures but rather upon narrative examples. This guy made "prophetic blessings" and therefore you should too. Hagee uses Habakkuk 2:2-3 (pp. 216-217) where God tells Habakkuk to write down the vision God gives him to try to teach that we should write down all the things we would like to accomplish. But Habakkuk wasn't writing a wish list of things he would like to accomplish, he wrote what God very clearly instructed him to write. It wasn't just some feeling that Habakkuk had. Ezekiel ate dung, does that mean that we should eat dung? There's also a number of "prophetic blessings" in Scripture that are very negative and in some cases more of a curse than a blessing. I thought that Hagee might just ignore these. He does mention them. In some cases he tries to make them sound positive and in others he just states the negative results. But if we are to bless our children in this very same way are we also supposed to curse them? Hagee never addresses the issue.

Hagee's depiction of God is very weak and limited. On page 214 he says:

God can only get involved in your life and in your dreams for the future when you call out to Him in prayer. The initiative rests with you.

Basically, God is weak and can't do anything according to Hagee unless we initiate it. If Hagee were right then we would be the real gods and God would just be some sort of power source that we tap into. On page 259, Hagee says that because God calls the things that are not as though they were we should too. Hagee says that according to Romans 4 Abraham became the father of Isaac because he believed God's promise. But that's not what the text says at all. It says Abraham was declared righteous by God because He trusted God's promise and the promise was not ultimately just to give him a son or piece of land but to give him Jesus.

Starting on page 266, Hagee begins to lay out the Scriptural requirements for releasing the prophetic blessing. Earlier in the book he does say that you have to believe that Jesus died for you but this doesn't make it on the list. Jesus seems like little more than a tool to use to unleash your power in the book. Earlier in the book he also says you have to do nice things for national Israel but that isn't mentioned in the list either. The first requirement is that the person who gives the blessing must have spiritual authority. They should be a parent or pastor according to Hagee. However, elsewhere in the book, Hagee says that if you don't have a pastor or parent who is willing to do this for you, you can pray a rather strange prayer over yourself.

The second requirement is that you stand while giving the blessing. Strangely, none of the Scriptural passages that Hagee gives involve people standing to give a blessing. 2 Chronicles 6:3 says that the people were standing but doesn't say that the person giving the blessing was standing. He quotes some of the strangest passages to try to prove his point. He even quotes Acts 7:33 where God tells Moses to take off his sandals because he is standing on holy ground. Not only is there a lack of any command in the Scriptures he provides but there is also just a lack of any example of what he's talking about. Maybe since the bush was on fire we should light ourselves on fire when we bless someone.

The third requirement is that the person blessing should do so with uplifted hands. Hagee does provide some examples but the Scriptures also speak of people blessing by placing their hand on someone. Especially when blessing individuals the practice seems to be to place the hand upon the person and strangely enough elsewhere in the book Hagee does talk about people blessing by placing the hand on the head.

The fourth requirement is that it be done in the name of the Lord. For some reason Hagee decides to apply 2 Chronicles 7:14 to America in this section. You would think that if he were going to insist on reading the Jews into all kinds of strange places in the New Testament he wouldn't be trying to read America in the Old Testament. Then he makes a claim that aerial photographs have captured the name of God chiseled on the mountains of Jerusalem. I don't know what this has to do with this requirement and I haven't been able to substantiate this claim. I would expect a footnote pointing to some evidence but there is none.

The fifth requirement is that the blessing be bestowed face to face. Once again, the Scriptural passage he cites don't say anything about blessing someone face to face. One speaks of the LORD speaking to Moses face to face and another speaks of Jacob seeing God face to face.

The sixth requirement is that the prophetic blessing be given with a voice of authority that all can here. I'm not sure who the "all" are. The passage he references is Deuteronomy 27:14 where God says that the Levites are to speak with a loud voice to all the men of Israel. So I guess all the men in Israel must be able to hear you when you bless someone.

The Bible is not a book about how to release prophetic blessings. According to Jesus, the Bible is all about Jesus. According to Jesus, the Holy Spirit came to testify of Jesus. Paul said that he preached nothing but Christ-crucified.

Monday, August 20, 2012

A Guide To Interpreting the Book of Revelation

My BA is in Greek and the last Greek class I took was a self-designed course in which I translated the Book of Revelation from the Robinson/Pierpont text. I ended up editing and self-publishing my translation but it could use some revision. I worked my way through Beale's commentary on the Greek text of Revelation as well as a number of other commentaries and articles in theological/Biblical studies journals. The guidelines I'm going to suggest did not come from inside of my own head but rather a synthesis of what I consider the best advice that I've found in various books and articles. But I don't know of any books or articles that bring these all together.

1. Revelation begins with "The Revelation of Jesus Christ." It's not the revelation of the Antichrist or the revelation of the United Nations or the revelation of the nation state of Israel. This is the Revelation of Jesus Christ. If you're reading commentary on the book of Revelation and the author manages to go for quite some time without talking about Jesus there is something completely wrong with his approach. This is "The Revelation of Jesus Christ."

2. Revelation signifies things. In verse 1, in addition to telling us that this is a revelation of Jesus Christ, we are told that the angel that Revelation was "signified" (KJV) by the angel to John. The book begins by telling us that it's going to contain a bunch of signs and symbols. We would be denying what the book says about itself if we were to demand an absolute literalistic interpretation and nobody interprets the entire book literally. If you read the dispensationalists, they pick out certain things to take literally but they don't take the whole thing literally. They think the locusts are helicopters and so forth.

3. Revelation is written in a liturgical format. In 1:3 the book pronounces a blessing upon the reader and the hearers. Throughout the book The book assumes that it is being read within the context of a liturgical worship service where people are gathered to receive Christ's body and blood. The Lamb on the Altar is central to the book. The book itself is arranged in a liturgical format that follows the historic liturgy.

4. Revelation is very sacramental. Revelation 3:20 is a common verse quoted in evangelism but despite what the evangelists say there isn't anything about Jesus knocking on the door of your heart. Jesus is knocking on the door of the church and promises the church that if they open the door He will eat with them in the Lord's Supper. Revelation also contains lots of baptismal language where people are said to wash their robes in the blood of the Lamb.

5. Revelation is purposefully ambiguous. It is not intended to only be relevant to a single group of people at a single point in time. When David penned Psalm 51 he had his sin with Bathsheba in mind but wrote it in such a way that every Christian could take it upon his lips. 666 has something to do with Nero but 666 is not limited to Nero. The message of Revelation is that the Lamb is conquering through the blood of the martyrs even though from all earthly appearances Christ is absent and the church is being defeated. This message has relevance to the church in every age and especially the persecuted church in every age. The imagery associated with the persecutors applies to the persecutors of every age. The point is not to try to find a one to one correspondence between a single image and a single persecutor or to try to predict when a specific persecutor will come. The point is to provide comfort to the persecuted because the Lamb wins.

6. Revelation is classified among what Eusebius referred to as the disputed books of the New Testament (along with Hebrews, James, Jude, 2 Peter, and 2&3 John). It did not receive the immediate widespread acceptance that the Gospels or the letters of Paul did. Revelation and these other disputed books are listed as part of the New Testament Apocrypha by Martin Chemnitz. The term "Apocrypha" shouldn't scare us. Up until the late 1800's English Protestant Bibles contained the Old Testament Apocrypha. The KJV and Luther's Bible both contained the Apocrypha. However, the disputed books are not as clear in what they teach as the undisputed books. The canonical order provides a helpful guide. If you start with Matthew and use Matthew as the lens through which to read Mark and then use Matthew and Mark as the lens through which to read Luke and so on down the line you're far less likely to fall into error. Revelation alludes to a number of other books and assumes you are already familiar with them, the other books do not assume that you have read Revelation. So it doesn't make sense to read Revelation and then try to read Revelation into all other books of the Bible.

7. Because of this, Revelation should not be used as your first stop in determining the correct eschatological position. You should look to the Gospels first and work your way out to Revelation and never base a doctrine completely on some line from Revelation and/or some disputed dating of Revelation. Christ has called us to trust and believe what He says, not speculations. We can learn a lot about Jesus in the Book of Revelation (it is the Revelation of Jesus Christ, remember?), but it's not some kind of handbook on eschatology. The purpose is to comfort the persecuted, not to provide secret codes.

Monday, August 13, 2012

David Barton: When Jesus is Lord Means Caesar is Lord

Secularists tend to understand the separation of church and state in such a way that religious beliefs should have no bearing on politics. The reaction of many evangelicals has been to argue that America was founded as a Christian nation and that the separation was only intended to keep the state from messing with the church but that the church can mess with the state as much as it wants. Neither position really takes original intent seriously, both are engaging in revisionist history, and although the second position is more likely to be more popular with Christians it is far more dangerous to real Christianity.

David Barton is one of the more popular defenders of the idea that America was founded as a Christian nation. Barton has no formal credentials in law or history but is presented to us as an expert in historical and constitutional issues. When confronted with the fact that no reputable historians agree with him, Barton refuses to engage in debate and says that they disagree because they're either all liberals or jealous of him. Many of Barton's quotes of the founding fathers have been shown to be fraudulent.

Huckabee, Gingrich, and Glenn Beck have all sung the praises of Barton. But he has also run into some trouble with some evangelicals recently because of his statements that Glenn Beck (who is a Mormon) is a Christian. I would argue that Barton is just being consistent. Barton regards Beck as being a Christian for the same reason that he regards the founding fathers as all being Christians and for the same reason he regards the Constitution as being Christian. For Barton, a Christian is not someone who believes in the Christ of Scripture. For Barton, a Christian is someone who holds to a Judeo-Christian morality, believes in limited government, and is a Zionist. Barton dismisses the statements Jefferson made against Christianity. Jefferson even issued his own version of the Bible with all the miracles removed but Barton even tries to explain this away and even says that there is no DNA evidence to prove that Jefferson fathered any children outside of his marriage. In the mind of Barton, what makes a person a Christian seems to be that they support the Republican party platform and say nice things about Jesus. Doctrines like the Trinity or who Jesus was are really not important to Barton.

In the early church, Christians were put to death for refusing to say "Caesar is Lord." It wasn't really believed that Caesar was an actual god as much as it was acknowledging allegiance to a particular culture and worldview. Many Roman intellectuals did not regard the stories about the gods as true but they formed part of a cultural heritage. The Christian worldview was understood to be a threat to that unity and heritage. Christians didn't party with the Romans and placed greater value on those who were looked down on in Roman society. Christians did not try to convince the Romans that the Rome was a Christian nation and did not try to legislate Christianity.

When Barton engages in revisionist history he doesn't help the Christian cause at all. Instead he makes Christians look like idiots. But worse than that, he turns Caesar into Jesus. If Romney, Jefferson, and Deist founding fathers are true Christians, then what is a Christian? It can't have anything to do with the Biblical Jesus who is true God and true man and died for our sins, since these people that Barton claims are Christians deny some or all of these teachings. I'm sure that people who affirm the orthodox teachings regarding Christ would be regarded as Christians by Barton as well but it's not necessary. If the early Christians were concerned for the "Christianity" that Barton endorses they would never have bothered to write the Nicene Creed. They would have issued political and moral statements but not doctrinal statements. Jesus. As it stands, Barton's "Jesus" has very little to do with the Jesus of orthodox Christianity. Barton's "Jesus" is the embodiment of Judeo-Christian values enshrined in the Constitution as interpreted by the neo-conservatives. Barton's Jesus is really Caesar. Barton's is not the Caesar of Biblical times but he is still a Caesar.

When Caesar kills Christians it's very clear who Caesar is and what a Christian is and who Jesus is. But when Jesus becomes reinterpreted to fit the mold of the American Caesar, the true Jesus gets lost and there is no salvation because there is nothing we really need saving from unless of course you aren't American and/or don't subscribe to American ideals.

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Art of Faith: A Guide to Understanding Christian Art and Architecture by Judith Couchman

Paraclete Press sent me a review copy of The Art of Faith: A Guide to Christian Art and Architecture by Judith Couchman. The book is arranged topically. Within those divisions there are various entries that explain the symbolism found in Christian artwork. An index is provided so that you can quickly look up an entry such as "almond." Each entry contains a brief explanation and examples of painting where this symbol can be found. I am not aware of any book quite like this and it should be helpful for anyone who has an interest in Christian art. Symbols typically are there for a reason and not merely decorative. Like other books from Paraclete Press, the book attempts to be ecumenical in order to be useful to a wide variety of Christians but at times I thought this was take too far. For instance, the majority (if not all) of the artistic works mentioned that depict baptism were done by people who held to baptismal regeneration but the author of the book says that baptism is a symbol of salvation. So we end up with a painting that contains symbols of symbols. When it came to the Lord's Supper, the author spent a brief time explaining the different views that Christians have of the Lord's Supper but I don't think all these various views existed among the artists. The book is not tiny but I would have liked to see entries that were a bit longer in some cases. When we get to the baptism of Jesus all we really learn is that the Holy Spirit is depicted as a dove in Christian art. But the book is certainly still useful, especially when dealing with some of the less obvious symbolism in Christian art.