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Bad Theology in Hymns: “The Earth Shall Soon Dissolve Like Snow”?

January 23, 2014 18 comments

S. Lewis Johnson often pointed out the bad theology in the hymns we sing in church, observing  that hymn writers would “get to heaven as by fire.”  Expanding on this point, he would mention specific hymns and the wrong theology, including one song he especially disliked, “One Day,” which includes in the chorus, after the words “Living He loved me, dying He saved me, buried He carried my sins far away,” the phrase “rising He justified.”  As Dr. Johnson pointed out (as in this message from the Romans series), we were not justified at His resurrection:  I don’t sing that, “Rising, He justified,” because it seems to me that what the apostle teaches here is that the resurrection of Christ is the evidence that the justification has been completed.  We’re not justified by the resurrection.  We’re justified by His death. 

I was reminded of the bad theology in hymns again this last week when the local church sang Chris Tomlin’s version of “Amazing Grace” (“My Chains are Gone.”)  The last verse is from John Newton’s poem (the origin of the bad theology here), but not in the traditional “Amazing Grace” hymn:

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow;
the sun forbear to shine.
But God who called me here below,
will be forever mine.

That lyric has bothered me for the same reason SLJ mentioned concerning other hymns: it’s not biblical. The earth will be renewed and continue forever: a renovation of the earth, but the earth itself will not be destroyed or dissolve into nothingness.  Reference also this post here from a few months ago, Robert D. Culver’s exposition of 2 Peter 3.

Thinking about this lyric in “Amazing Grace,” I found this blog article, from someone else who sees the doctrinal error here.  Here is his suggested re-wording of that verse, a true expression of biblical teaching:

The earth shall be redeemed by God;
the sun will forever shine.
And God who called me here below,
will be forever mine.

The Judgment by Fire in 2 Peter 3

September 16, 2013 2 comments

A recent topic has come up in my recent studies, both from S. Lewis Johnson’s 2 Peter series, and Robert D. Culver’s Daniel and the Latter Days.  Culver’s Appendix 1 “The Time and Extent of the Coming World Dissolution”  considers two issues in 2 Peter 3:1-10.  First, is Peter referring to what happens at Christ’s Return, or to what occurs at the end of the thousand year millennial era?  Second: the extent of the fire and destruction: complete annihilation of the Earth and a completely new Earth, or a renovation?

In the 2 Peter series Dr. Johnson shared reasons in support of the idea that the text is referring to Christ’s return, and in characteristic fashion also provided the reasons for it being after the 1000 years.  Culver treats this question (and the first answer) in more depth, referencing several of the same points.  For instance:

  1. The Old Testament prophets speak of a judgment by fire, that immediately precedes the beginning of the future Messianic kingdom.  (Joel 2:30-31; Malachi 3:1-3, 4:1)
  2. The Old Testament repeatedly states that disturbances in the material heavens, of a type identical with those described by Peter, shall transpire immediately before the establishment of the kingdom.  (Isaiah 34:4, 13:13, 51:6; Haggai 2:6-7; Joel 3:16)  Culver further notes the citation of Haggai 2:6-7 in Hebrews 12:26 – “yet once more” – not twice – “will I make to tremble not the earth only but also the heaven.”
  3. The New Testament writers likewise affirm a judgment of fire associated with the Second Advent.  (2 Thess. 1:7-8; Revelation 16:8-9)
  4. The coming kingdom shall occupy a regenerated earth from its beginning; therefore the purifying effects of this prophetic dissolution must be at the beginning, rather than at the close of the Millennium. (Isaiah 65:17-25, 66:22-24)
  5. The immediate context of 2 Peter 3:10 is the Second Coming itself, not something to take place 1000 years later.  Peter addresses the argument of the skeptics, “Where is the promise of His coming?” and speaks of Christ’s coming.
  6. A perpetual and continuous kingdom such as is repeatedly promised demands that no such destruction as is often urged be placed at the end of the Millennium to interrupt the continuity of that kingdom.  This is another good point from Culver’s book: the Kingdom of God is not limited to the first 1000 years. The first 1000 years is the period when Satan is bound before his final destruction, when fallen people in non-glorified bodies will be around, and the time between the two resurrections.  But the Kingdom itself continues into the Eternal State of Revelation 21.  Regarding the perpetuity of the kingdom, reference Luke 1:32-33; Daniel 7:18, 2:44, 7:14.
  7.  In 2 Peter 3, Christians are exhorted to godly living, based on this predicted dissolution, as though this is something they should expect to see if they live to the end of the present age – rather than it being something at least 1000 years away.  (Reference also the similar moral lesson in Mark 13:32-37; Matthew 24:42-51; and Luke 21:25-26 – the Olivet Discourse.)

The Nature and Extent of the Cosmic Changes

Culver is another of a few teachers who suggest a renovation of the Earth instead of annihilation and complete remaking of the earth.  Dr. Vlach has also addressed this issue at his blog, along with the related idea of the New Creation model.  S. Lewis Johnson in his Revelation series also referenced this idea:

He describes the makeup of the new creation in verse 1, “I saw a new heaven and a new earth:  for the first heaven and the first earth passed away; and there is no longer any sea.”  Not “another earth and another heaven,” but “a new earth and a new heaven.”  In fact, the adjective that he uses, the adjective “new” here, one of several adjectives for new, particularly one of the two primary ones is a word that means something like fresh, a fresh heavens and a fresh earth.  And the sense that one gets from it is that there is a correspondence between the new heavens and the new earth and the present heavens and the present earth.  But the new one is a fresh one, a correspondence that is suggested by other things in the word of God.

In my own regular Bible readings, when I come to 2 Peter 3 I have noticed also, that Peter makes comparison to the first judgment and change to the Earth, the flood:  “the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished.”  Yet the actual Earth is the same as then, the same actual planet — with plenty of the scars, the evidences, of that great deluge and what great destruction happened then. Then the comparison to “the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire” suggests a parallel event: not annihilation but a remodeling, a renewal, of the same actual planet.

The Charismatic Movement, A Potemkin Village: S. Lewis Johnson in 2 Peter

August 17, 2013 6 comments

I’m currently going through S. Lewis Johnson’s series in 2 Peter, an evening class (ten sessions) he taught in early 1976, with emphasis on the false teachings of the 1st century as well as modern errors.  Studying the Bible, so many ideas and problems really are timeless, just as true now as nearly 40 years ago: as for instance, Dr. Johnson’s comments regarding the charismatic movement.

The first lecture tells about the “Potemkin Village” expression (something I was unfamiliar with, either never learned or had forgotten) and its background in Catherine the Great’s Russia: the story that the great Russian man Potemkin had exaggerated his accomplishments, then the Queen decided to visit the city he had supposedly built; so Potemkin hurriedly went to the site and built up a scene of impressive buildings rather like a Hollywood movie set..

Upon later reflection I recalled the 1970s movie “Capricorn One”, which presented basically the same idea of a façade, a fake image as supposedly the truth to the people being fooled:  astronauts about to embark for the moon are taken away minutes before launch, to a fake set of a moon landing while the real space launch occurs without them on-board, and all transmissions of the astronauts to the public are really from this movie-set location.

In the 2 Peter series, here SLJ likens the modern-day charismatic movement to a Potemkin Village — something that appears to be the real thing, visually impressive to people who lack discernment, but is hollow and without substance: observations to an issue still with us today (nearly 40 years later).  A friend observed that if SLJ were still with us, she could easily picture him as one of the speakers at the upcoming “Strange Fire” conference.

No one ever gains the favor of God through false doctrine and no one ever gains a sense of peace through false doctrine. You may have a kind of false peace for awhile, but you never will have the true peace with God until you have the right doctrine. This is why I do not think that we can ever expect Christians to find any deep satisfaction in the charismatic movement, because there is no truth in their peculiar doctrines — and sooner or later it will be seen to be what it is, bogus knowledge. …

So he says, “May grace and peace be multiplied to you through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.”  This is why I do not think that we can ever expect Christians to find any deep satisfaction in the charismatic movement because there is no truth in their peculiar doctrines and sooner or later it will be seen to be what it is, bogus knowledge….   A Potemkin Village is a village in which is all façade, in which there is no reality.  Incidentally that story is also greatly exaggerated.  He was an eccentric man but there is no real historical proof that he ever did that.  But nevertheless the figure of speech of Potemkin Village has come into our language expressing that which is supposed to be something but it’s really nothing.  And in my opinion, if I may just pass an opinion, the charismatic movement is one giant Potemkin Village and we are going to see as time passes that it does not satisfy those who are most deeply involved in it.  True salvation comes through the knowledge of our God and of Jesus our Lord, as Peter says.