Tag Archives: Augustine

How Does Amillennialist Hank Hanegraaff Interpret Revelation 20?

Hank Hanegraaff, in his book The Apocalypse Code, is convinced that the “thousand years” of Revelation 20 is symbolic and not to be taken literally.  “The figurative use of the whole number one thousand is virtually ubiquitous in Old Testament usage.  For example, God increased the number of the Israelites a thousand times (Deuteronomy 1:11); God owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10); the least of Zion will become a thousand and the smallest a mighty nation (Isaiah 60:22).”  Hanegraaff continues by emphasizing “a thousand more examples (figuratively speaking) could easily be added to the list.”  What, then, does the “thousand years” mean?  Hanegraaff rejects the view that the words of Revelation 20 are a “literal prophetic chronology according to which Satan will literally be bound for one thousand years while the resurrected martyrs reign with Christ . . . .”  Alternatively, Hanegraaff argues, “We must be willing to interpret this markedly symbolic passage in light of the rest of Scripture.”  The number one thousand is symbolic of “ultimate completion.”  The “thousand years” of the martyrs’ reign indicates the vindication of the martyrs who were subjected to the terror of the Beast for “ten days.”  The “thousand years” is a qualitative contrast, not a quantitative period of time.

Amillennialist J. Marcellus Kik, in his book An Eschatology of Victory, also does not believe that the “thousand years” conveys a future, messianic, millennial kingdom.  He adds another dimension to Hanegraaff’s view.  “The term thousand years in Revelation twenty is a figurative expression used to describe the period of the messianic Kingdom upon earth.  It is that period from the first Advent of Christ until his Second Coming.”  In other words, we are all in the “millennium” today, for it spans the time between the two appearances of Christ on earth.  Kim Riddlebarger, in A Case for Amillennialism: Understanding the End Times, concurs: “Amillenarians generally agree with this assessment, seeing the thousand years as a symbolic number, spanning the entire ‘church age.’”  He adds that there are good reasons for interpreting the number one thousand symbolically.  He notes, “Numbers are always used symbolically throughout the book [of Revelation].” Riddlebarger agrees with Hanegraaff’s conclusion that the “thousand years” of Revelation 20 “symbolizes an ideal period time, a time of completion.”  He also contends that other words in Revelation 20, such as chain, abyss, serpent, and beast are symbolic, so it is reasonable to conclude that the number one thousand is also symbolic.

In the early centuries of the church, the Bishop of Hippo, Saint Augustine (354-430), likewise interpreted the “thousand years” symbolically.  Augustine was a premillennialist earlier in his life, but came to regard the “thousand years” allegorically.  In The City of God he writes, “The thousand years may be understood in two ways, . . . either because these things happen in the sixth thousand of years or sixth millennium (the latter part of which is now passing), as if during the sixth day, which is to be followed by a Sabbath which has no evening, . . . or he used the thousand years as an equivalent for the whole duration of this world, employing the number of perfection to mark the fullness of time.”  It is interesting to note the reasoning Augustine employs to demonstrate that the number one thousand is the number of perfection.  “For a thousand is the cube of ten.  For ten times ten makes a hundred, that is, the square on a plane superficies.  But to give this superficies height, and make it a cube, the hundred is again multiplied by ten, which gives a thousand.” Augustine then gives an example in Scripture of the number one hundred indicating perfection or completeness, and thus concludes that if ever “one hundred” is interpreted as totality or completion, then how much more complete and perfect is one thousand.  Regardless of which of his two interpretations one may choose, Augustine came to see the millennium as the present age within which he lived.  The end of the “thousand years” will be the end of the world when Christ returns.  Christ will only return after the perfect amount of time has elapsed.

Hanegraaff, Riddlebarger, and Kik are all heirs of the amillennialism that Augustine propounded.  Augustine’s view of the “thousand years” in Revelation has been the dominant view of the church ever since the early fifth century and continues to be widely held even today.  However, many contemporary evangelicals are premillennialists and can claim their interpretational heritage to a time before Augustine, a claim that is explored in the next blog post.

What Is the Purpose of Life? Part 11

The only thing that our soul yearns for more than anything else is to know and experience the Perfect Good. According to Aquinas, the Perfect Good of man, the thing that will give him ultimate happiness, cannot be something which was created. “It is impossible for any created good to constitute man’s happiness. For happiness is the perfect good, which lulls the appetite altogether; else it would not be the last end, if something yet remained to be desired. Now the object . . . of man’s appetite is the universal good. . . . Hence it is evident that naught can lull man’s will, save the universal good. This is to be found, not in any creature, but in God alone.”

Jesus said, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Mt 6:33).

Speaking to God, St. Augustine said “Thou has made us for thyself and our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.”

“Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.” – C. S. Lewis

There is a void in every person’s life that only God can fill. Nothing on this earth can fill it. How do we know this? From experience. Nobody has ever found anything in this world which completely satisfies their desires. We always want more.

The only way we can be totally satisfied and at rest is when we find the Perfect Good. The perfect good is God. It can be found nowhere else.

So how do we experience ultimate happiness now, in this life?

I do not even pretend to have all the answers for how to come to know God in this life, but let me offer a couple of things from my life that might help you grow in your happiness.

First, spend as much time as you can around people who know who God is, who have godly wisdom, and who follow God’s moral commands. Learn from them how to think and how to act. Watch them and see how they live their lives. In my case, I have one of those people in my own house, and she happens to be married to me. If you’re not that fortunate, then find a mentor. Find someone who you can emulate.

A.W. Tozer said that “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” In order to know who God is, you need to read. You will learn about God much quicker if you read His Words to us. Read as much as you can of the Bible, first and foremost. I know it’s difficult, but there are truckloads of study Bibles and commentaries out there to help you. So you really have no excuse.

Also, read as many books as you can written by great Christians, preferably those that are dead. There is little being written today that can match the lofty insights of Augustine, Aquinas, Lewis, and Tozer. Give them a try and you won’t be disappointed.

Third, live out the commands of God by serving others. Serve your family members, your co-workers, your church family, the poor, the imprisoned, and the outcasts of society.

Even if you read about God, emulate a godly Christian, and serve others in every possible way, you cannot be perfectly happy in this life. Even the greatest saints of the church were not perfectly happy in this life.

Aquinas says,

For since happiness is a ‘perfect and sufficient good,’ it excludes every evil, and fulfills every desire. But in this life every evil cannot be excluded. For this present life is subject to many unavoidable evils; to ignorance on the part of the intellect; to inordinate affection on the part of the appetite, and to many penalties on the part of the body; . . . Likewise neither can the desire for good be satiated in this life. For man naturally desires the good, which he has, to abide. Now the goods of the present life pass away; since life itself passes away, . . . Wherefore it is impossible to have true Happiness in this life.

But this life is not all there is. Aquinas argues that it is only in the next life that we reach perfect happiness, because that is when we see God face to face. This is the Beatific Vision, which means the “blessed vision.” John describes the Beatific Vision this way: “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 Jn 3:2).

The Beatific Vision brings direct knowledge of God and perfect love of God, who is the ultimate good. This, my friends, is true happiness. The rest we seek, the fulfillment of all of our desires, the state of perfect good will finally be reached.

“Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Co 13:12).

Let me summarize all we’ve learned about happiness. If you focus on God, then you will very likely gain great wisdom and virtue, the goods of the soul. If you focus on God, you will receive pleasure along the way. If you focus on God, you will receive a perfect body at the resurrection. If you focus on God, the power you have will be used to achieve great things. If you focus on God, you will spend this life and the next honoring Him, because everything good in you was put there by Him. If you focus on God, you will pile up treasures in heaven.

On the contrary, if you don’t focus on God, you will squander your wealth, seek honor and fame for yourself, abuse your power, waste away your body, regret many of your pleasures, and ultimately lose your soul.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Heb 12:1-2).

Is There More to Life than Technology?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

I own an iPhone 5. My family owns an iPad, two iPhone 4s, and multiple iPods. Oh, and we bought a Google Nexus 7 tablet for Christmas. We also have DirecTV with whole home DVR capability. This list could go on for a while – believe me.

I love technology, and, in fact, I work in the semiconductor industry. Semiconductor technology, in particular, has revolutionized our modern lifestyle, enabling all that is electronic in the world.

But what is the purpose of it all? Sometimes we forget that all of these gadgets are means to an end. The gadgets are not ends in themselves. The technology that produces these gadgets is also not ultimately an end in itself. The science that produces the technology that produces the gadgets is also not an end in itself.

With all of the gadgets surrounding us today, we sometimes forget what the purpose of all of it is. Our ancient ancestors, however, saw things a lot more clearly than we do today. They weren’t nearly as distracted as we are.

Thomas Aquinas, who lived in the thirteenth century, considered the answers that people of his day gave to the question: “What brings ultimate happiness to a person’s life?” Here are the answers:

  1. wealth
  2. honor
  3. fame
  4. power
  5. bodily health
  6. pleasure
  7. wisdom and virtue (goods of the soul)
  8. God

Notice the order. After studying each of these 8 answers, Aquinas listed them in order of least important to most important. Where are you spending your time?

Are you obsessed with building wealth? Aquinas would say that you are way off the mark – not even close to what brings ultimate happiness.

What about bodily health? We are clearly a culture obsessed with health. We want to postpone death as long as possible. But bodily health is not the ultimate good.

Of the earthly goods, wisdom and virtue are the highest, and the world would certainly be a profoundly better place if everyone used their technology to pursue them, but Aquinas argued that even wisdom and virtue miss the mark.

The only thing that our soul yearns for more than anything else is to know and experience the Perfect Good. According to Aquinas, the Perfect Good of man, the thing that will give him ultimate happiness, cannot be something which was created:

It is impossible for any created good to constitute man’s happiness. For happiness is the perfect good, which lulls the appetite altogether; else it would not be the last end, if something yet remained to be desired. Now the object . . . of man’s appetite is the universal good. . . . Hence it is evident that naught can lull man’s will, save the universal good. This is to be found, not in any creature, but in God alone.

Consider what Jesus said, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matt 6:33)

Speaking to God, St. Augustine said “Thou has made us for thyself and our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.”

C. S. Lewis advised, “Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.”

Put your technology in its place. You can certainly use it to gain a modicum of wealth, honor and perhaps fame. Use it to gain power over your life. Use it to keep yourself healthy and provide recreation. Use it to gain wisdom and virtue.

But ultimately, all of that is less than nothing, a positive impediment, if you aren’t pursuing God.

Should Christians Borrow Ideas from Non-Christians?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

In the Book of Exodus, God commands Moses to tell the Israelites to take plunder from the Egyptians, and the Israelites did so as they were preparing to leave:

The Israelites did as Moses instructed and asked the Egyptians for articles of silver and gold and for clothing. The Lord had made the Egyptians favorably disposed toward the people, and they gave them what they asked for; so they plundered the Egyptians. (Ex. 12:35-36)

There is an interesting application of these verses to the thinking Christian. Saint Augustine noted, in his On Christian Teaching, the following:

The Egyptians not only had idols and crushing burdens which the people of Israel detested and from which they fled. They also had vessels and ornaments of gold and silver, and clothing, which the Israelites leaving Egypt secretly claimed for themselves as if for a better use. Not on their own authority did they make this appropriation, but by the command of God. Meanwhile, the Egyptians themselves, without realizing it, were supplying the things which they were not using properly. In the same way, all the teachings of the pagans have counterfeit and superstitious notions and oppressive burdens of useless labor. Any one of us, leaving the association of pagans with Christ as our leader, ought to abominate and shun them.

In other words, the Israelites took things (i.e., gold, silver, and clothing) from the Egyptians, things which the Egyptians were using to oppress, and put them to a better use. In the same way, says Augustine, just like gold, silver, and clothing, Christians may take ideas (or teachings) from non-Christians and put them to good use. However, we should shun the improper ways non-Christians use these same ideas.

Some have argued that Christians should shun all teachings by non-Christians. One example of this is the accusation sometimes heard from neotheists that the medieval church fathers borrowed illicitly from the Greek philosophers. Philosopher and theologian Norman Geisler responds to these critics:

Christian theologians of every age have been influenced to one degree or another by the prevailing philosophy of their day. But neotheists themselves are not immune from this: They reveal the influence of the prevailing process theology of our time. This in itself does not make their view of God wrong; neither does any influence by Greek philosophy make the classical view of God wrong. In the final analysis, the question is whether it was a good influence or a bad one—whether there are biblical and rational grounds for it or not. Rejecting a view because of its source is the genetic fallacy. It is not a matter of whether the reason is Greek, but whether it is good.

What is important about borrowing from non-Christians is that we take only what can be put to a proper Christian use. We leave what is intrinsically antithetical to Christian belief behind. In addition, we should avoid denigrating any idea just because of where or whom it came from. As Geisler points out, this is the genetic fallacy.

In my own education at Southern Evangelical Seminary, we frequently read books and articles written by non-Christians in order to familiarize ourselves with the most prominent thinkers of the past and present. Although much of what I read is antithetical to Christianity, some of it is not.

We are not reading these materials simply to learn how best to counter their arguments – though that is one reason to read them. We are also reading the material to gain insights on important philosophical and scientific issues.

Here is an example. One of the most famous agnostic philosophers of the 20th century was Bertrand Russell, a man who was strongly anti-Christian. Yet in reading some of his works I learned that he was a neutral monist.

What is interesting about neutral monism is that it rejects metaphysical materialism (which affirms that all that exists is matter and energy). Since materialism is the primary metaphysical opponent of Christian dualism in the 21st century, Russell’s arguments against materialism can be put to use by Christians who believe that materialism is an entirely inadequate metaphysical position.

On the other hand, an example of an idea intrinsically opposed to Christianity would be the Hindu teaching that God is all and all is God. If we tried to apply this idea directly to God, we would be in grave error. The Bible clearly teaches that God created the world, and that He exists independently from it. God can never be equated with the world, as if they are one and the same. In this case, we cannot borrow this Hindu idea and apply it to God.

Countless other examples could be given, but what is imperative is to always ground everything we learn in the biblical Christian worldview. If we stay in that framework, there are many ideas from non-Christians, and even anti-Christians, that we can rightfully borrow. Likewise, it follows that we cannot rightly discern what to borrow, or what to leave behind, unless we truly and thoroughly understand biblical Christianity.

Who Is God? Part 2

Post Author: Bill Pratt

In part 1 of this post, we looked at Edward Feser’s first 2 gradations of conceptions of God.  In this second part, we will finish looking at the last three gradations and than talk about why this is important.

Grade 3: God is not an object or substance alongside other objects or substances in the world; rather, He is pure being or existence itself, utterly distinct from the world of time, space, and things, underlying and maintaining them in being at every moment, and apart from whose ongoing conserving action they would be instantly annihilated.  The world is not an independent object in the sense of something that might carry on if God were to “go away”; it is more like the music produced by a musician, which exists only when he plays and vanishes the moment he stops.

None of the concepts we apply to things in the world, including to ourselves, apply to God in anything but an analogous sense.  Hence, for example, we may say that God is “personal” insofar as He  is not less than a person, the way an animal is less than a person.  But God is not literally “a person” in the sense of being one individual thing among others who reasons, chooses, has moral obligations, etc.  Such concepts make no sense when literally applied to God.

According to Feser, “Grade 3 is the conception of classical philosophical theology: of Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, and other such thinkers.”  Grade 3 captures Aquinas’s doctrine of analogous language to describe God.  “God is not personal, or good, or powerful, or intelligent in the same sense in which a human being is, but He can nevertheless correctly be described in these terms if they are understood analogously.”

Grade 4: God as understood by someone who has had a mystical experience of the sort Aquinas had.

Here, Feser is referring to an experience that Aquinas reported late in life where he experienced God in a deeply profound way that made him feel like all his previous conceptions of God were totally inadequate.

Grade 5: God as [those in heaven] know him now, i.e., as known in the beatific vision attained by the blessed after death.

Feser adds that grades 4 and 5 are only attainable if “granted supernaturally by God,” while grade 3 is “about the best we can do with unaided reason.”

So where does this leave us?  I think I want to address two audiences.  First, since Grade 3 is the highest Christian conception of God without being granted a supernatural vision from God, it follows that Grade 3 is the conception that skeptics should address when they are challenging the attributes of the Christian God.  A skeptic who is constantly challenging grade 1 or grade 2 is not dealing with the best of Christian philosophy and theology; he is ducking the fight to score easy points.

Second, since Grade 3 is the highest Christian conception of God without being granted a supernatural vision from God, it follows that Grade 3 is the conception that every Christian adult should attempt to understand.  Merely stopping at grade 1 or grade 2 is an intellectual cop-out.  Grade 3 stretches human reason about as far as it can go and so it represents the apex of Christian theology.  That’s where all Christians should want to be, at the apex.

Who Is God? Part 1

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Is God a bearded old man living in the sky somewhere or is he completely unknowable?  Both of these conceptions of God are held by various religious believers.  When presenting a Christian conception of God on this blog, we have striven to follow the traditional, mainstream views of the church as elucidated by Augustine, Aquinas, Anselm, and similar thinkers.  If I were a skeptic of Christianity and wanted to critique the Christian conception of God, this is the conception I would address.

Edward Feser, in his book The Last Superstition, laments that very often skeptics do not even attempt to engage the traditional conception of God, but a much simpler conception.  To help readers understand his point, he offers five gradations of conceptions of God, from simple to more complete.

Grade 1: God is literally an old man with a white beard, a kind if stern wizard-like being with very human thoughts and motivations who lives in a place called Heaven, which is like the places we know except for being very far away and impossible to get to except through magical means.

Feser notes that Grade 1 “represents a child’s conception of God, and perhaps that of some uneducated adults.”  This does not mean that Grade 1 is totally without merit.  “Some individuals, and certainly young children, find it difficult to understand God in anything but grade 1 terms, and such imagery can be more or less useful in giving them at least a rudimentary idea of Him.”

Grade 2: God doesn’t really have a bodily form, and his thoughts and motivations are in many respects very different from ours.  He is an immaterial object or substance which has existed forever, and (perhaps) pervades all space.  Still, he is, somehow, a person like we are, only vastly more intelligent, powerful, and virtuous, and in particular without our physical and moral limitations.  He made the world the way a carpenter builds a house, as an independent object that would carry on even if he were to “go away” from it, but he nevertheless may decide to intervene in its operations from time to time.

Feser explains that “Grade 2 represents the conception of some educated religious believers, of popular apologetics, and of arguments like Paley’s ‘Design argument.'”  Grade 2 is better than Grade 1 because it eliminates the “limitations inherent in physical imagery, which cannot apply to God.”

There are are three more grades to go and we will cover them in part 2 of the post.

Did the Early Church Believe in a Literal Thousand-Year Reign of Christ on Earth? – #10 Post of 2010

Post Author: Bill Pratt

The Book of Revelation, according to some Christians, teaches a literal thousand-year reign of Christ on earth after his second coming (see Rev. 20).  This will then be followed by the creation of a new heaven and new earth. This view is known today as premillenialism.

But there are other Christians, in fact, the majority, who interpret the thousand years in Rev. 20 as a spiritual reign of the church which started at Christ’s first coming and ends at his second coming.  This view is known today as amillenialism.

The proponents of both of these views have an array of arguments to support their positions, but what was the view of the early church?

It seems that up until the third century, the early church was primarily premillenialist.  Writers like Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, and Tertullian all thought the second advent of Christ was imminent and that he would inaugurate his thousand-year reign on earth.

The tide, however, started to turn with the writings of Origen in the early third century, who adopted an allegorical method of interpreting Revelation.  Origen believed that the thousand years represented a spiritual reign of the church.  His disciple, Dionysius of Alexandria, continued the attack against premillenialism and turned the eastern church away from it.

In the western church, Augustine, in the late fourth century, began to teach amillenialism, siding with the Alexandrians in the east.  His views of eschatology (the end times) were detailed in his most famous work, The City of God.

From the time of Augustine until the Reformation in the sixteenth century (~1,100 years), amillenialism was the dominant view in the church.

The story obviously doesn’t end there, but you now have a brief introduction of what happened in the first fifteen hundred years of Christianity with respect to the millennium scribed in Rev. 20.

What about you?  Which view do you think is more likely correct?  Do you think there will be a literal thousand-year reign of Christ on earth (i.e., premillenialism) or do you think the thousand years mentioned in Rev. 20 is a spiritual reign of the church which ends at Christ’s second coming (i.e., amillenialism)?

What Is the Cause of Our Salvation?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

This question first came to a dramatic head in the church in the fifth and sixth centuries.  There were four main protagonists.

Augustine of Hippo argued that salvation is totally and causatively of God’s grace.

A contemporary of Augustine, Pelagius, argued that salvation is totally and causatively of man’s free will.

Following these two was Cassian, who argued that salvation originates in man’s free will, but then proceeds as a cooperation between both man and God.

Finally, we have the Second Council of Orange (A.D. 529), a group of bishops who argued that salvation originates in God’s grace, but proceeds as a cooperation between both God and man.

The position of the Council of Orange (commonly called semi-Augustinianism) became the quasi-official position of the church until the Reformation in the 16th century.  The Reformers, especially John Calvin, felt that the church had drifted, since A.D. 529, to the position of Cassian (his position is commonly called semi-Pelagianism), and wanted to bring the church all the way back to the Augustinian position, rejecting the semi-Augustinianism of Orange.

This debate continues today in the Protestant world among Calvinists who are closer to Augustine, and Arminians who are closer to Cassian.  There are also those who reject these two views and land in the middle; these moderate Calvinists would be closer to the position that the Council of Orange took.

What do you think is the cause of our salvation?  Which of these four positions do you think is closest to being correct?