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Archiv für Religion Education

Are these the Last Days?- by Archbishop Dr. Uwe AE.Rosenkranz

No. 20

Cover of "The Late, Great Planet Earth"

Cover of The Late, Great Planet Earth





Reformation Trust

Are These the Last Days?

© 2014 by R.C. Sproul

Published by Reformation Trust Publishing
A division of Ligonier Ministries
421 Ligonier Court, Sanford, FL 32771
July 2014
First edition

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, or otherwise—without the prior written permission of the publisher, Reformation Trust Publishing. The only exception is brief quotations in published reviews.

Cover design: Gearbox Studios

All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Sproul, R. C. (Robert Charles), 1939–
Are these the last days? / by R.C. Sproul. — First edition.
pages cm. — (Crucial questions series; No. 20)
ISBN 978-1-56769-376-8 — ISBN 1-56769-376-8
1. Bible. Matthew XXIV–Criticism, interpretation, etc. 2. Jesus Christ–Prophecies. 3. Second Advent–Biblical teaching. I. Title.
BS2575.52.S68 2014








Chapter One


In the middle of the nineteenth century, a serious potato famine struck the nation of Ireland. Facing starvation, multitudes of people fled to other countries to seek sustenance. Some boarded ships and sailed for the New World, with many finally landing in New York City. Among those immigrants was my great-grandfather, who came to the United States from Donegal in the northern province of Ulster. Since he wanted his children and grandchildren to remember their heritage, he told tales of former days in Ireland and encouraged all of the family to learn the songs of the Irish people. My mother sang Irish lullabies to us and permitted my sister and me to stay home from school each year on Saint Patrick’s Day, when the Pittsburgh radio stations played Irish songs all day.
However, to this day, I think of myself more as an American than an Irishman. Although I’ve been to Europe many times, I’ve yet to go back to Ireland. On the other hand, my son has been more zealous about our ancestry, making sure that all eight of his children have Irish names. And as a tribute to his ancestry, he wore a kilt to his ordination service.
At my house, we left many of the markers of our ethnic identity behind, but for a Jew in antiquity, this would certainly not have been the case. The Jews are one of the most remarkable groups of people who have ever populated the face of the earth. In the first century AD alone, their nation was conquered, their temple destroyed, and their capital, Jerusalem, was burned to the ground, killing an estimated 1.1 million Jews. After this, most Jews were dispersed to the four corners of the world. They went to what are the modern-day nations of Russia, Poland, Hungary, Germany, and Holland, and to many other places. Even though Jews have been without a homeland for most of the past two millennia, they have never lost their ethnic and national identity.
This remarkable phenomenon is predicted in detail in the Olivet Discourse.
One of the most important and controversial chapters in all of the New Testament, the discourse, which is found in Matthew 24, is one of the most dramatic prophecies given by our Lord.

Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”
As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” …
“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” (Matt. 24:1–3, 32–35)

Before we consider this text, I’d like you to consider a “what if” scenario. Suppose I were to claim that last night I received a special revelation from God. I declare that I now have the gift of prophecy and will give you a prediction of things that are to come to pass. I predict that sometime within the next twelve months, the United States will fall, the Capitol building in Washington will be destroyed, the White House will be demolished, the fifty states of the union will be dissolved, and the United States as an independent nation will cease to exist. Finally, I don’t know the exact timing, but only that it will happen sometime within the next twelve months.
Without question, within the next twelve months, you would know for certain whether my claim was true or false. If it didn’t come to pass, you would be justified in labeling me a false prophet, unworthy of your attention.
I give this illustration to demonstrate what is at stake in the text. In all of the Bible, I cannot think of any prophecy more astonishing than the prophecy that our Lord Jesus gave on the Mount of Olives concerning the temple and Jerusalem. In Luke’s account, He told the disciples that not one stone of the Herodian temple would be left on top of one another and that the city of Jerusalem itself would be destroyed (Luke 21:6, 24). This was a truly shocking claim. Herod’s temple was magnificent, to say the least. The temple’s stones were as large as sixteen feet long and eight feet high. In the first century, if there was any building that seemed impregnable, it was the temple in Jerusalem. When Jesus made this prediction, the Jewish people would have considered Him either a lunatic or a prophet endowed with supernatural knowledge.
Of course, we know that Jesus had supreme authority to make these claims, and history has vindicated Him. These things came to pass in perfect detail; as foretold by Jesus, the temple was destroyed in AD 70 and the Jews were dispersed throughout the world. This prophecy about the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple provides firm proof of the identity of Jesus and the inspiration of Scripture by the Holy Spirit, and it should close the mouth of even the most hardened skeptic.
After Jesus made this astonishing prediction, the disciples immediately came to Him and wanted to know the exact timing of His predictions. Jesus then engaged in a long discussion of the signs of the times, and gave a description of the great tribulation and of His return.
In recent days, these topics have seen increased interest. Books such as Hal Lindsey’s The Late, Great Planet Earth and the Left Behind series have been wildly popular. Everyone is interested in the timing and exact details of Jesus’ return. However, Jesus’ answer to the question of timing creates some challenges for us. He says in verse 34, “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.”
Do you see the problem? To the Jews, the term generation referred to a time frame of roughly forty years. So, Jesus seemed to be saying that the destruction of temple, the destruction of Jerusalem, and His appearance at the end of the age were all going to take place within forty years. Many critics thus reject Jesus because they believe He was saying that His return, the end of the world, and the consummation of His kingdom would all take place within four decades.
How do we deal with this? The critics deal with it very simply. They say Jesus was partially right in His predictions and partially wrong. Therefore, He was a false prophet. Others say He was completely right in His prediction and that every New Testament prophecy (i.e., His return, the future resurrection, the rapture of the saints, etc.) was fulfilled in the first century, leaving nothing for future fulfillment. I don’t agree with either of these positions.
I am convinced that what Jesus is talking about in this passage had special reference to a judgment of Christ coming on the Jewish nation, thus ending the age of the Jews. This Jewish age ended with the destruction of Jerusalem and the dispersion of the Jews, which triggered the beginning of the New Testament time period, which is later called “the age of the Gentiles.” This is where we still find ourselves today.
In the next few chapters, I’m going to interpret the Olivet Discourse in a manner that I believe is consistent with the way that it would have been understood by the disciples at that time. When Jesus is asked when these things will happen, He says, “I can’t tell you the day and the hour, but I can tell you with absolute certainty that this generation will not pass away until all of these things take place.” I believe our Lord was speaking the unvarnished truth.

Chapter Two


In the previous chapter, I mentioned the difficulties that accompany Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. Jesus made the bold statement that the generation of His hearers would not pass away until “the end.” As we saw in the last chapter, this creates many interpretive challenges, especially in reference to Jesus’ final return. How are we to understand His words concerning His coming, the end times, and the gospel being preached to all the nations? Was Jesus mistaken in His time frame? How do we reconcile this account? Let’s begin by taking a closer look at verses 3–14 of Matthew 24.

As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.
“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” (Matt. 24:3–14)

As I suggest possible ways to understand this text, we have to tread very carefully and with a fair amount of humility. While I’ve wrestled with this passage for many years, I do not propose an infallible interpretation. Though I am convinced that there is merit to my conclusions, I am aware that many Christians throughout history have debated this subject and have come to different conclusions. I simply lend my voice to the discussion.
Historically, as I have already mentioned in the previous chapter, there have been numerous ways to interpret Jesus’ words in Matthew 24. Some critics say Jesus was simply wrong and thus deem Him a false prophet. Others have tried to interpret the term generation to mean something other than a time frame of about forty years. Still others have made the case that Jesus was only speaking about the immediate future and not His second coming and the end of history as we know it. Others have pointed to a twofold approach to fulfillment, a primary fulfillment in the first century and an ultimate fulfillment at the end of history. This is often the case with prophecies from the Old Testament.
Verse 3 reads, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (v. 3b). We should exercise caution when considering the disciples’ question. What did they mean by “age”? Customarily, many say that “the end of the age” refers to Jesus’ return to consummate His kingdom here on earth. But could there be any other possible interpretations? Typically, when we say “end of an age,” we are referring to a particular era defined by certain characteristics, such as the Iron Age, the Bronze Age, or the Ice Age. Many believe this passage is making a distinction between the age of the Jews and the age of the Gentiles.
To explore the meaning of “the end of the age,” let’s consider Luke’s account of the Olivet Discourse, which gives us further information:

But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it, for these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written. Alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! For there will be great distress upon the earth and wrath against this people. They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. (Luke 21:20–24)

Jesus is giving a warning to His followers, telling them what to do when they see the armies surrounding Jerusalem. The advice He gives is completely counterintuitive to any usual response to an invading army or military siege. In the ancient world, in the case of an invasion, people would leave their homes and possessions and flee for refuge in a walled city. This is the very reason there were walls around cities in the ancient world. They were built as a defense against invaders.
When Jesus spoke these words, the walls of Jerusalem were one hundred and fifty feet high. When the Romans attacked Jerusalem in AD 70, they had to besiege the city, and even with their military might, they found it a Herculean task to get through those walls. The siege lasted many months, so long that by the end of the struggle, the Mount of Olives was completely bare of olive trees; Roman soldiers encamped on the mount had cut all the trees down and burned them for warmth.
But Jesus said, “When you see the armies coming, don’t go to the city. Go to the mountains. Go to the desert. Go anywhere but Jerusalem, because in Jerusalem you will not find safety, but only destruction.”
When Jerusalem fell and the city was destroyed, more than a million Jews were killed. But the Christians followed Jesus’ advice and fled beyond the city. Luke’s account says, “these are days of vengeance,” meaning God’s wrath was poured out upon His people. When Jesus wept over Jerusalem, He was weeping for His people, who rejected Him and would suffer the punishment for this rejection.
We must not miss this portion of Luke 21: “They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (v. 24). All of this happened. Jesus makes a distinction between the times of the Gentiles and the times of the Jews. In the eleventh chapter of Romans, Paul deals with the question of ethnic Israel and whether God will work again with the Jewish people. He says that once the time of the Gentiles is fulfilled, there will be a new outreach to ethnic Israel.
I will never forget watching the news in 1967 as the Jews fought for the city of Jerusalem. When they got to the Wailing Wall, the Jewish soldiers threw their rifles down and ran to the last surviving temple wall and began to pray. I wept because what I was seeing was so amazing. Was this the fulfillment of Luke 21? Biblical scholars were reading the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other and asking, “Are we now near the end of the times of the Gentiles?”
In the Olivet Discourse, when Jesus spoke about “the end of the age,” I am convinced that He wasn’t talking about the end of the world, but about the end of the Jewish age. When Jerusalem fell, the age of the Jews, which spanned from Abraham to AD 70, ended. It marked the beginning of the times of the Gentiles.
However, Jesus gives a few caveats as He answers His disciples’ question of when these things will take place. He didn’t want them to be deceived that the end had already come when it hadn’t, so He gave them a list of what we call “signs of the times.” These were signs that had to happen before the end would come. Most people believe Jesus was describing the signs that will come right before the final consummation of His kingdom. We then have a tendency to pay careful attention to current events, wondering if they show any evidence that we are in the end times. But if we look carefully at this passage, we learn that Jesus is not talking about the signs that trigger the end of time, but the signs that had to take place before the destruction of Jerusalem. Consider the passage more carefully:

For many will come in my name, saying, “I am the Christ,” and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains. (Matt. 24:5–8)

Reflect upon these signs: people claiming to be the Christ, false prophets, wars and rumors of wars, famines, pestilences, and earthquakes. How can these things be signs? When are there not wars and rumors of wars? When are there not earthquakes? When are there not famines? There have also always been false prophets and false christs. If these things have always been with us, in what sense could they be signs?
In order for these things to be signs, they would have to happen in a significant way and in a significant time frame. This is the very meaning of the word significant: literally, “having sign-value.” The problem is further complicated if we assume that Jesus is not talking about signs that the disciples themselves would observe, but signs that were going to happen two thousand years in the future.
The Jewish historian Josephus wrote much concerning these signs that Jesus mentioned. He wrote about the numerous false prophets among the Jews, many claiming to be the Messiah. He also reported four severe famines between AD 41 and 50 in which many people starved to death. He reports two very serious earthquakes, one during the reign of Caligula and the second during the reign of Claudius. Next came Nero, who ushered in a great persecution against Christians. Jesus alludes to this: “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another” (Matt. 24:9–10).
Jesus speaks of His followers being persecuted, being killed, and betraying one another. This took place under Caligula and Nero as well. The great fire that destroyed Rome was allegedly set by Nero himself. But in order to deflect guilt, he accused the Christians of setting the fire, which ignited a time of great persecution. He even used Christians as human torches to illumine gardens, and in his madness unleashed horrible persecution against the Jews, particularly those who were in Rome. He killed many of the Christians’ leaders, including the Apostles Paul and Peter. Surely this fulfilled what Jesus told His disciples.
Jesus was proven right. Everything that He said would happen actually took place. And it happened in a significant way to the people to whom Jesus gave these warnings. He wasn’t giving His first-century disciples a warning about what was going to happen in the twenty-first century. He was saying, “Watch out for what’s happening between now and the time Jerusalem is destroyed.” But, He had a lot more to say, including the warning of the appearance of “the abomination of desolation.” We’ll consider this teaching in the next chapter.

Chapter Three


In the year 168 BC, the pagan ruler Antiochus IV Epiphanes had the audacity to build a pagan altar in the Jewish temple. Instead of sacrificing bulls, goats, or lambs, he desecrated the temple by sacrificing a pig. This was the height of blasphemy, because the Jews viewed pigs as unclean. This foul desecration provoked one of the most important Jewish revolutions against foreign invaders.
We have to understand how important the holiness of God was and is for the Jewish people. The Jews believed that the temple was sacred and holy because the Holy One of Israel made His dwelling there. To them, this was the most sacred place in the world. To defile it with pagan sacrifices was the greatest insult that you could inflict upon Israel.
Faithful Jews saw in this atrocity the fulfillment of a prophecy found in the book of Daniel that refers to the “abomination of desolation” or the “abomination that makes desolate” (Dan. 9:27; 11:31; 12:11). Jesus seizes upon this term as He continues in His Olivet Discourse:

So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. Then if anyone says to you, “Look, here is the Christ!” or “There he is!” do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. So, if they say to you, “Look, he is in the wilderness,” do not go out. If they say, “Look, he is in the inner rooms,” do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather. (Matt. 24:15–28)

The reference to “the abomination of desolation” is mysterious, but it is critical; it is the supreme sign to indicate the nearness of the fulfillment of these prophecies. Antiochus’ idolatry was certainly abominable, but this event took place in the past, and Jesus is referring to something that will take place in the future. But what did Jesus have in view?
In AD 40, Emperor Caligula of Rome commanded that a statue of himself be built and placed inside the temple. You can imagine how this provoked the people of Israel. By the goodness of God’s providence, Caligula died before that profanation took place.
In AD 69, one year before the destruction of Jerusalem and of the temple, something unprecedented took place. A sect of radical Jews called Zealots forcefully took over the temple and made it into a type of military base. The Zealots were a group of Jews who were passionate about the violent overthrow of their Roman occupiers. Once they took over the temple, they committed all kinds of atrocities within it, paying no respect to the holiness of God. The historian Josephus expressed his passionate denunciation of the horrible desecration that the Zealots committed against the temple. Was this what Jesus had in mind?
One other possible interpretation could be the presence of the Roman standards themselves. When the Roman armies marched, they carried their banners with the Roman standards emblazoned upon them. The Jews considered these images to be idolatrous. The presence of these standards in the temple would also have been considered an abomination.
While it’s difficult to be certain which particular incident Jesus had in view, what we do know is that during the siege of Jerusalem His people followed His instructions. Remember that Jesus said in verse 15, “Let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.” This charge from Jesus would have been completely counterintuitive for His audience. When an invading army came, the normal procedure in the ancient world have been to flee to the nearest impregnable walled city they could find. Of course, in Judea, that would have been Jerusalem. But Jesus told His disciples, “When all these events happen, don’t go to Jerusalem. Go to the mountains. Run for the hills.” This is exactly what happened in AD 70. We know that around one million Jews were killed, but the Christians had fled.
Jesus continues His instructions: “Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath” (vv. 17–20). This is obviously a message of urgency. We know that the Jewish people had flat roofs on their houses with outside stairs that went up to them. They would use the roof as a type of patio, a place to relax in the evening as the weather cooled. Jesus is saying to them, “Don’t waste any time. As soon as you’re aware of the presence of the abomination of desolation, leave quickly. Don’t pack any bags. If you are in the field, don’t return home to get any extra clothes. Whatever you’re wearing or whatever you have in your pack, take that and forget everything else.”
The note of urgency sounds again in the following verses. Time was of the essence, and quite simply, it is hard to be quick and mobile when you are pregnant or nursing. Winter seasons are the most difficult for outdoor survival, and having these signs come to pass on the Sabbath would have been challenging for the Jew because of the prohibitions against traveling long distances. Jesus is telling His followers to pray that these things don’t happen at the wrong time so that nothing will impede their escape.
He continues in verses 21 and 22, “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.”
Josephus records the fact that political upheaval in Rome indeed shortened the destructive siege, allowing for more survivors than normally would have been expected. Based on what we know of that time period, it seems clear that Jesus was talking about a near-future event for His original audience, not something centuries and centuries down the road.
Jesus then says in verses 23 and 24, “Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.” There is a widely held view in the church that Satan is as powerful as God and is engaged in a duel of miracles with Him, performing miracles to support his lies. It is believed that these miracles could even deceive God’s people. I don’t believe for one second that Satan ever did or ever will have the ability to perform a bona fide miracle. The signs and wonders of the false christs and prophets are not authentic signs and wonders in the service of a lie. Rather, they’re false signs and wonders. They’re tricks designed to deceive.
We should be concerned about the view that Satan can perform authentic miracles taking hold in the church. In the New Testament, the Apostolic writers appeal to the miracles of Jesus and the Apostles as proof that they were the true agents of revelation. They were the visible proof that God was with them. But if Satan can do a miracle, then the New Testament view of miracles as a means to authenticate the gospel message becomes invalid. When a miracle takes place, how could you ever know if it was from God or from Satan? This doesn’t mean that God’s people can’t be deceived by trickery. Clearly, we can, or else Jesus wouldn’t have warned against it.
Jesus continues in verses 26–28, “So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.” When Jesus appears, this moment of catastrophic judgment will be like lightning. Lightning flashes and instantly goes across the sky. You don’t even have time to measure its duration.
How should we understand His last statement concerning corpses and vultures? One of the reasons predictive prophecy is so difficult to interpret is that symbolic imagery is challenging to understand. The safest way to interpret images in apocalyptic literature is to understand how those images are used throughout the whole Bible. This principle can help us, but doesn’t always solve every difficulty. While we can’t say with certainty what Jesus means by this last statement, some of the finest New Testament scholars have suggested one creative interpretation. Most people have seen how scavenger birds circle over an animal that has recently died. Interestingly, the chief symbol of the Roman army was an eagle. Perhaps Jesus is saying that Rome is like a bird of prey. God will be the agent of punishment upon His people, and right before His wrath is poured out, “the eagles” will be circling.

Chapter Four


It’s been said that the whole history of philosophy is nothing more than a footnote to the theories of Plato and Aristotle. When Plato established his academy in the outskirts of Athens, he was driven by a single passion in his quest for truth. According to Plato, that passion was to “save the phenomena.” What did he mean by that? He was looking for the objective truth that makes the study of science possible. We can only understand observable data (or phenomena) if we have a sure foundation to stand upon. Plato was looking for an ultimate theory that would give clarity to all the mysteries and puzzles of this world. He wanted to discover the ideas that would explain the data that come to us through our five senses.
The renowned theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking has announced that we don’t need God to explain the creation. His way of saving the phenomena is to affirm what he calls “spontaneous generation.” For him, this means that the universe created itself. But it is sheer nonsense to assert that something can create itself or can come into being by its own power.
What does all this have to do with the Olivet Discourse? Quite simply, in regard to the Olivet Discourse, I have been trying to save the phenomena. I am trying to construct a framework that will allow us to make sense of Jesus’ words.
To that end, let’s consider what Jesus says after explaining the signs that would come just before the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple—“immediately after the tribulation of those days” (v. 29). Our section for this chapter could be most difficult section of the Olivet Discourse. Jesus says:

Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. (Matt. 24:29–35)

Imagine being with Jesus right after hearing all that He said. It seems obvious that you’d want to ask, “When will these things take place?” He makes it clear that these things won’t happen until other specific events take place. He then uses the word “immediately” to recount what will happen next. Not two thousand years later, but immediately.
Our interpretive task becomes even more difficult in the following verses. We know from the facts of history that all the things that Jesus predicted about the destruction of Jerusalem came to pass. But what about verse 29, which says, “The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven”? You can imagine how the skeptics of the Bible would love to use this text. They could easily say, “O yes! The temple is gone. Jerusalem was destroyed. The Jews were dispersed throughout the world. But the sun is still shining, and the moon is still there at night, and this calamitous portrait of all of these astronomical perturbations that were going to accompany the coming of the Son of Man did not take place. Therefore, Christ’s prediction failed to come to pass.” It gets worse as we read what Jesus says in verses 33 and 34: “So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.”
There are many scholars for whom I have the utmost respect who come to very strange conclusions when dealing with this text. They try every way imaginable to remove this portion of Jesus’ prediction from the context in which we find it. But it seems clear that Jesus meant to discuss these things all as one unit. So, how should we understand this text?
There are various options. One is to invoke the principle of primary and secondary fulfillments of prophecy. When prophecies are made, they can have an initial fulfillment within a time frame of one generation and then have an ultimate fulfillment many years later. This is a true possibility. But even if that’s the case, we’re still left with the problem of explaining the description of the sun being blotted out and all the rest of these astronomical perturbations. There is no record of these things taking place.
Another approach is to consider the time frame. Phrases such as “this generation will not pass away” or words like “immediately” may be taken not literally, but figuratively. Many commentators prefer this approach. They believe the reference to “this generation” is a figurative reference to a certain type of person. It doesn’t actually refer to a rough time frame of forty years. In addition, many would understand Jesus’ references to His return to be figurative as well.
It seems that a key question that should be asked is, How are time frame references usually described in the Bible? Are they usually described figuratively or literally? More practical still for this discussion, how are predictions of God’s cosmic judgment usually described? Literally or figuratively?
There is a helpful pattern in Old Testament prophecy demonstrated in chapters 13 and 34 of Isaiah. There, we read vivid descriptions of divine judgment upon Babylon and Eden that actually came to pass in history. When the prophets described God’s judgment, they said things like, “For the stars of the heavens and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be dark at its rising, and the moon will not shed its light” (Isa. 13:10) and “All the host of heaven shall rot away, and the skies roll up like a scroll. All their host shall fall, as leaves fall from the vine, like leaves falling from the fig tree” (Isa. 34:4). Sounds very much like the language of Jesus, doesn’t it?
The language of divine judgment is frequently communicated by way of metaphor and figures. Amos 5:20 reads, “Is not the day of the LORD darkness, and not light, and gloom with no brightness in it?”
Throughout the Old Testament, there are various prophetic warnings to Israel concerning God’s judgment. The book of Ezekiel stands out as a primary example. Ezekiel contains some of the most bizarre portions of Scripture, such as the description in chapter 1 of the whirling merkabah, the wheel within the wheel. Many believe that this is a reference to the chariot throne of God that carries Him to various portions of the world to bring judgment. This kind of language was used between Elijah and Elisha in 2 Kings 2:12: “And Elisha saw it and he cried, ‘My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!’ And he saw him no more.” When God removed His glory from Jerusalem in Ezekiel 10, the shekinah cloud was accompanied by the chariot of God’s judgment. In Matthew 24, the same kind of language is used by Jesus as He warns His people of what is to come.
Jesus says in verse 30, “Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man.” I don’t know of any commentator on the gospel of Matthew who speaks with dogmatic certainty about the true nature of this sign. But there are some strange observations in the writings of the Jewish historian, Josephus, regarding certain signs that were observed between AD 60 and 70, one of which was a blazing comet that crossed the sky. Consider one extraordinary passage from his writings. It seems so strange that Josephus gives the impression that he was reluctant to record this event.

Besides these [signs in the heavens], a few days after the feast, on the one and twentieth day of the month, a certain prodigious and incredible phenomenon occurred or appeared: I suppose the account of it would seem to be a fable, were it not related by those that saw it, and were not the events that followed it of so considerable a nature as to deserve such signals; for, before sun-setting, chariots and troops of soldiers in their armor were seen running about among the clouds, and surrounding of cities.
Moreover, at that feast which we call Pentecost, as the priests were going by night into the inner [court of the temple,] as their custom was, to perform their sacred ministrations, the priest said that, in the first place, they felt a quaking, and heard a great noise, and after that they heard a sound as of a great multitude, saying, “Let us remove hence.”

So, the priests and multitudes of other people testified to the same chariots that surrounded the city also appearing in the clouds with multitudes of heavenly soldiers. We’d probably be justified in calling them angels. Then an audible voice was heard from heaven saying, “Let us remove hence.” It’s almost exactly the same phenomenon that took place when God left Jerusalem in Ezekiel’s time (Ezek. 10).
It seems to me that the most natural reading of Matthew 24:29–35 would be that everything Jesus said would happen has already taken place in history. He was not referring to a yet-future fulfillment from our standpoint. He was referring to a judgment upon the nation of Israel that took place in AD 70.

Chapter Five


Imagine getting a call at four o’clock in the afternoon from a robber. He says to you, “In order to make things fair, I wanted to let you know that at eight o’clock tonight I’m going to break in to your house and rob you blind.” If you took him seriously, what would you do? You’d have the whole police department waiting for the robber, and you’d probably arm yourself to protect your family and possessions. Jesus makes a similar point as He continues in the Olivet Discourse.

But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. (Matt. 24:36–44)

The plot thickens as we arrive at this portion of the Olivet Discourse, and the difficulties in interpretation are not slowing down in the least. Jesus seems to be shifting His emphasis at this point in the text. Some commentators believe that until verse 35, Jesus had been simply speaking about the destruction of Jerusalem. But at this point in the text, He shifts His attention to matters concerning His ultimate coming at the time of the consummation of His kingdom. Others argue that even the previous passages that refer to His coming in glory did not refer to His coming in AD 70, but rather to His final, climactic coming at the end of history. Still others maintain that Jesus is following a prophetic pattern from the Old Testament.
Oftentimes with Old Testament prophecy there would be a near fulfillment, but also an ultimate fulfillment in the future. This particular passage has also been seen as a rebuttal to my position that these matters have already taken place in the past.
It is important to remember that this whole discourse was provoked by Jesus’ announcement that the temple would be destroyed in Jerusalem. In light of this announcement, the disciples asked Him two questions. First, “When will these things take place?” and second, “What will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”
It would be much easier if Jesus had answered the first question with the signs that He gives—famines, earthquakes, and wars—and then finished by saying, “This generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (v. 34), and only then went on to speak about His coming. Unfortunately for the task of interpretation, He says, “all these things.” Most would believe that “all these things” would refer to all three events—the destruction of the temple, the destruction of Jerusalem, and Christ’s coming. This is the issue that has provoked so much skepticism and criticism of both Jesus and the trustworthiness of the Bible.
I’m amazed by this skepticism. My understanding of Jesus’ words is that He is essentially saying, “I can tell you these things are all going to take place within the next forty years but I don’t know what year, month, day, or hour.” In chapter one, I used the illustration of predicting the demise of the United States within twelve months but not knowing the specific day or hour in no way negates the veracity of the prediction. Therefore, the first thing we see in this text is that Jesus does not retreat from His first prediction about the fulfillment of the things He prophesied.
In addition, many readers are bothered when Jesus says He doesn’t know the day or the hour. If that is the case, how could He know that it would be within forty years? It would require supernatural knowledge to be able to predict the destruction of the temple and of Jerusalem with such astonishing accuracy. Why would His supernatural abilities be limited to generalities? Why can’t Jesus give us more specific details?
This isn’t much of a problem if we have an orthodox understanding of the incarnation. The Council of Chalcedon in AD 451 clearly acknowledged the mysterious nature of the incarnation, confessing Christ as having two natures—divine and human—in one person. Human beings are incapable of an exhaustive understanding of how the two natures of Jesus are united in one person. But Chalcedon did clearly define the boundaries of our speculation concerning the mystery of the incarnation. The council stated that Jesus is vera homo, vera deus, meaning “truly man and truly God.” His true humanity is united with the true deity of the second person of the Godhead. The boundary that the council established is seen in the Chalcedonian Creed’s insistence that this union was without mixture, confusion, separation, or division. Each nature retained its own attributes. This means that the incarnation did not result in a single, mixed nature where the deity and the humanity are blended together such that the divine is not truly divine and the human is not truly human, resulting in a tertium quid—“a third thing” that is neither God nor man but something else. The council was very careful to insist that each nature of Jesus retains its own attributes. A deified human nature is no longer human and a humanized divine nature is no longer divine. But in the incarnation, the attributes of deity remain in the divine nature and the attributes of humanity remain in the human nature.
There are times in Jesus’ earthly ministry when He clearly manifests His human nature. For example, He was hungry, tired, and susceptible to physical pain. Since Jesus was a true human being, His human nature did not possess omniscience. On the other hand, the divine nature frequently communicated supernatural knowledge to the human nature of Jesus. There were times that Jesus spoke things that no human being could ever know. But this truth doesn’t mean the divine nature communicated everything to the human nature. So when Jesus says, “I don’t know the day and the hour,” he’s speaking of His humanity. The human nature is not omniscient. According to His humanity, Jesus knew that the time frame for His prophecies would be within forty years, but not the rest of the details. We create many problems for ourselves when we attempt to deify the human nature of Jesus. In this case, Jesus’ human nature knew the general time frame of the generation, but not the day and the hour.
He goes on to describe the circumstances of His coming. I’m not sure if He is simply speaking of the judgment of Jerusalem or also about what will happen at the time of His final appearance, but in either case, there is a sense of warning and urgency. He says in verse 37, “For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” What do Noah and Jesus have in common here?
God told Noah of the coming rain and commanded Noah to get to work building an ark. Can you imagine how his friends must have ridiculed him? But Noah just kept hammering away while the people kept laughing, giving no heed to the judgment that was coming. In the days of Noah, people would have been eating and drinking, marrying and being given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark and it started to rain. All the scoffers found out soon enough that Noah knew exactly what he was doing.
Today, the whole world is filled with people who scoff like Noah’s critics. Our Lord warns that each of us will be called to account, but no one knows when this will take place. But we’re at ease, eating and drinking, and we make fun of those who warn of the judgment of God. Isn’t God a God of love, after all? As it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be in the coming of the Son of Man. God’s judgment will fall when no one is looking for it or expecting it.
Jesus says in verses 43 and 44, “But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
Many have tried to predict the hour for Jesus’ return, but every last one has been wrong. Jesus does not give us a calendar, but says, “Be ready. Watch.” In another place, He ends by asking, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8). Jesus is referring to His final return. If He comes before I die, I want to make sure He finds faith in me. Whether He comes now or whether you go to Him at your death, there will be a reckoning and judgment that no human can escape. We need to be ready. We need to be prepared. We need to be vigilant.

Chapter Six


Imagine that you went out to dinner and ordered your meal, and the server said to you, “That’s a fine selection. Unfortunately, we are running a little bit behind in the kitchen right now, but if you’ll be patient, we’ll have your dinner prepared to your liking sometime within the next three hours.” I don’t think you would be too happy with that. No one likes to wait forever for their food when they go out to eat. We are accustomed to waiting ten to twenty minutes for a meal, but if our wait time approaches an hour or so, even at a nice restaurant, we might ask the manager if there is a problem. If we are left waiting for our food any longer than that, we’d know for certain that something was wrong. Someone is not doing his job.
The concept of doing one’s duty is an important theme as we continue to examine the Olivet Discourse. As He concludes the discourse, Jesus speaks of the faithful servant, who executes his duties well and in a timely fashion, and the wicked servant, who does not. Jesus has been warning His disciples to diligently to watch for His return. Let’s consider the rest of the chapter.

Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. But if that wicked servant says to himself, “My master is delayed,” and begins to beat his fellow servants and eats and drinks with drunkards, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know and will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matt. 24:45–51)

When I was in seminary, one of the professors was Dr. Markus Barth, son of the famous Swiss theologian Karl Barth. I remember being astonished when Markus Barth produced a two-hundred-page academic paper on the first few words of Paul’s letter to the Romans: “Paul, a slave of Jesus Christ.” Many weighty tomes have been written about the words Jesus Christ, but what amazed me was that the whole focus of Barth’s manuscript was on the single word slave.
The word that Jesus uses that is translated as “servant” is sometimes translated as “slave.” People have a negative reaction to that word, but the great irony of the New Testament teaching is that no one ever becomes truly free until they become a slave of Jesus Christ. All of us are slaves of one sort or another. We’re either slaves of Christ or slaves of sin. There’s no other option for humanity.
One of Paul’s favorite metaphors for the Christian’s status in Christ is, “You are not your own” (1 Cor. 6:19). What does he mean by that? Paul’s point is that Christians can never consider themselves autonomous. He goes on to explain that we are not our own because we’ve been bought with a price (v. 20). Jesus paid the asking price of our salvation. Paul’s metaphor is vital to the Christian life.
Jesus asks, “Who then is the faithful and wise servant?” This is a question of fidelity. Who is a faithful servant? It’s a strange term to use regarding a servant who is under the complete ownership of another. But the simplest meaning of a faithful servant is one who is full of faith, who can be trusted, and who is consistent in allegiance to his owner.
Jesus goes on to say in verse 45, “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time?” The master went on a journey and called one of his servants to be the steward of the house while he is away. This master put his servant in charge of all of the affairs of the house. We notice that Jesus emphasizes that timeliness is important. Jesus spoke of the faithful servant who was responsible not only to provide the food, but also to provide it on time. He said that this servant would be blessed if the master found him doing his job when he returned. The good servant, the faithful and wise servant, is the one who does what his master calls him to do. Jesus says in verse 47, “Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions.” The master will give the servant even more responsibility and esteem because he has been faithful in the things given to him. This echoes Jesus’ words in Luke 16:10 that he who wants to be given more responsibility in the kingdom must first be faithful in little things.
Jesus then describes the wicked servant in verses 48–51: “But if that wicked servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ and begins to beat his fellow servants and eats and drinks with drunkards, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know and will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Here the wicked servant is having an internal dialogue. He thinks, “My master’s gone. Who knows when he’s coming back? Who knows if he’s ever coming back? It’s time to party! My master is delayed and I can do what I want.”
You may not relate to the wicked servant entirely, but most of us have jobs and employers. How do you work when no one is looking? Are you on task? Are you committed to the responsibility that has been given to you? Or, when there is no supervisor to watch you, do you take advantage of the gap in oversight and do whatever you want?
Why is it that our behavior changes when no one is watching? Why do businesses have clocks where workers have to punch in every day? Why can’t we just expect people to come to work and leave when they’re supposed to? It’s because of sin. It’s because we have a tendency to behave in one way when we are being watched and act differently when we’re free of supervision. Consider the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11–32. Isn’t it interesting that the son took his father’s inheritance to a far-off country to squander it? He did this because nobody knew him in the foreign land. Nobody was watching. He could be free from all restraint.
The wicked servant is neither faithful nor wise. He is like the fool in Psalm 53:1 who says in his heart, “There is no God.” The most serious and fatal self-delusion of the wicked is their belief that God will not judge them. The Bible tells us that God is long-suffering and patient. The reason for this kindness and mercy is to give us time to repent and turn to Christ. But we should never assume that God’s gracious patience means that He won’t call us to account. Many are tempted to think this way. In this passage, Jesus is addressing those who assume that the Master will never return. They think this gives them license to do whatever they want. No supervision. No faithfulness. No trust. No wisdom.
The master of the servant will come on a day when the servant isn’t looking for him, and at an hour of which he is unaware. And the master will say to the faithful servant, “I left you with responsibility. I blessed you. I gave you an elevated status in my kingdom and increased responsibility.” But to the wicked slave there will be nothing but judgment and separation from the house of the master. The response of the wicked slave will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Have you ever seen a person weep and gnash their teeth? I once knew a man who was caught in a very serious sin. He began to cry, wail, and sob. Nothing could comfort him. As his weeping was drawing to an end he said, “How could I have done this? Why did I do this?” This is going to be the scene of those who have ignored their master.
So the obvious question is, What will you be doing when He comes? Will He find you faithful? Not casually or occasionally, but all the time? Christ has bought us for Himself, and He has given us a task to perform whether we can physically see Him or not. May He find us faithful when He comes.

Sproul, R. C. (2014). Are These the Last Days? (First edition, Bd. 20, S. iv–55). Orlando, FL; Sanford, FL: Reformation Trust; Ligonier Ministries.

How to know GOD´s will- by Uwe Rosenkranz

No. 4

Reformation Trust

Can I Know God’s Will?

© 1984, 1999, 2009 by R. C. Sproul

Previously published as God’s Will and the Christian (1984) and as part of Following Christ (1991) by Tyndale House Publishers, and as Can I Know God’s Will? by Ligonier Ministries (1999).

Published by Reformation Trust
a division of Ligonier Ministries
400 Technology Park, Lake Mary, FL 32746

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, or otherwise—without the prior written permission of the publisher, Reformation Trust. The only exception is brief quotations in published reviews.

Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked RSV are taken from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright 1952 (2nd edition, 1971) by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked KJV are from The Holy Bible, King James Version.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Sproul, R. C. (Robert Charles), 1939–
[God’s will and the Christian]
Can I know God’s will? / R. C. Sproul.
p. cm.–(The crucial questions series)
First published as: God’s will and the Christian. 1984. Following Christ. Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers, c1991. Can I know God’s Will? Ligonier Ministries, 1999.
ISBN 978-1-56769-179-5
1. Providence and government of God–Christianity. 2. God (Christianity)–Will. I. Sproul, R. C. (Robert Charles), 1939– Following Christ. II. Title.
BT135.S745 2009





Chapter One

Lost in Wonderland, Alice came to a fork in the road. Icy panic stung her as she stood frozen by indecision. She lifted her eyes toward heaven, looking for guidance. Her eyes did not find God, only the Cheshire cat leering at her from his perch in the tree above.

“Which way should I go?” Alice blurted.
“That depends,” said the cat, fixing a sardonic smile on the confused girl.
“On what?” Alice managed to reply.
“It depends on your destination. Where are you going?” the cat asked.
“I don’t know,” Alice stammered.
“Then,” said the cat, his grin spreading wider, “it doesn’t matter which way you go.”

The destination matters to the Christian. We are a pilgrim people. Though we do not wander in a wilderness in route to the Promised Land, we seek a better country, an eternal city whose builder and maker is God. Someday He will take us home to His kingdom.
So the ultimate destination is clear. We are certain that there is a glorious future for the people of God. However, what of tomorrow? We feel anxious about the immediate future, just as unbelievers do. The specifics of our personal futures are unknown to us. Like children we ask: “Will I be happy? Will I be rich? What will happen to me?” We must walk by faith rather than by sight.
As long as there have been people, there have been soothsayers and wizards exploiting our anxieties. If prostitution is the world’s oldest profession, surely fortune-telling is the second oldest. “Tell me of tomorrow” is the plea of the stock market speculator, the competitive businessman, the sports forecaster, and the young couple in love. The student asks, “Will I graduate?” The manager muses, “Will I be promoted?” The person in the doctor’s waiting room clenches his hands and asks, “Is it cancer or indigestion?” People have examined lizard entrails, snakeskins, the bones of owls, the Ouija board, the daily horoscope, and the predictions of sports handicappers—all to gain a small margin of insurance against an unknown future.
The Christian feels the same curiosity, but frames the question differently. He asks: “What is the will of God for my life?” To search for the will of God can be an exercise in piety or impiety, an act of humble submission or outrageous arrogance—depending on what will of God we seek. To try to look behind the veil at what God has not been pleased to reveal is to tamper with holy things that are out of bounds. John Calvin said that when God “closes his holy mouth,” we should desist from inquiry (Commentaries on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans, trans. and ed. John Owen [reprint, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House. 2003], 354).
On the other hand, God delights to hear the prayers of His people when they individually ask, “Lord, what do you want me to do?” The Christian pursues God, looking for His marching orders, seeking to know what course of action is pleasing to Him. This search for the will of God is a holy quest—a pursuit that is to be undertaken with vigor by the godly person.
The Biblical Meaning of the Will of God

We yearn for simple answers to difficult questions. We want clarity. We desire to cut through the entanglements to the heart of the question. Sometimes the answers are simple enough in themselves, but the process of finding them is laborious and confusing. Sometimes the answers are simplistic, giving us temporary relief from the pressures and the burdens of confusing questions.
However, there is a profound difference between the simple answer and the simplistic answer. The simple answer is correct; it accounts for all the data found in the complex problem. It is clear and can be easily grasped in its fullness. It abides, being able to stand the test of rigorous questioning. The simplistic answer is a counterfeit. On the surface it appears to be the genuine article, but under closer scrutiny it yields its bogus flaws. The simplistic answer may account for some of the data but not all of it. It remains fuzzy. Worst of all, it does not abide; it fails the test of deeper questioning. It does not satisfy in the long haul.
One of the most excruciating questions in theology is, “Why did Adam fall?” The simplistic answer, commonly heard, is that Adam fell by his own free will. Such an answer is satisfying until we probe the question more deeply. Suppose we ask: “How could a righteous creature made by a perfect Creator sin? How could Adam make an evil choice while possessing no prior inclination or disposition to evil? Was he simply deceived or coerced by Satan? If so, why would Adam then be blameworthy?” If he was merely deceived, then the fault is all Satan’s. If he was coerced, then it was not a free choice. If he sinned because he had a prior desire or inclination to sin, then we must ask: “What was the source of his evil desire? Did God put it there?” If so, then we cast a shadow on the integrity of the Creator.
Perhaps the simplest way to expose the weak character of the simplistic answer that Adam fell by his own free will is to ask our question another way: “Why did Adam exercise his own free will to sin?” It simply won’t do to answer, “Because he chose to.” This answer is a mere repetition of the question in a declarative form.
I would like to offer a simple answer to the difficult question of Adam’s fall, but I simply can’t. The only response I can give to the question is that I don’t know the answer.
Some readers will surely chasten me at this point by saying to themselves: “I know the answer! Adam fell because it was the will of God.”
I immediately ask: “In what sense was Adam’s fall the will of God? Did God force Adam to fall and then punish him for doing what he had no power to avoid?” To ask such an impious question is to answer it. Certainly the fall must have been the “will of God” in some sense, but the crucial question remains, “In what sense?”
So here we are, pressed squarely against a biting question that involves the matter of the will of God. We want to know how the will of God worked in Adam’s life; but more personally, we want to know how the will of God works in our own lives.
When questions are difficult and complex, it is a good rule to collect as much data about them as possible. The more clues the detective has to work with, the easier it usually is to solve the crime (note the word usually). Sometimes the detective suffers from too many clues, which only serve to compound the difficulty of the solution. The corporate executive faced with major decision-making responsibilities knows the importance of sufficient data- and record-keeping. His maxim may be: “If you have enough data, the decisions jump out at you.” Again we must add the qualifier usually. Sometimes the data are so complex that they jump out like screaming banshees, defying our ability to sort through them all.
I emphasize the point of data, complexity, and simplicity because the biblical meaning of the will of God is a very complicated matter. To approach it simplistically is to invite disaster. At times, wrestling with the complexities of the biblical concept of the will of God can give us an Excedrin headache. Yet ours is a holy quest, a pursuit that is worth a few headaches along the way. But we must guard against proceeding in a simplistic way, lest we change the holy quest into an unholy presumption.
We note at the outset that the Bible speaks of the “will of God” in more than one way. This is the key problem that complicates our quest and serves as a warning against simplistic solutions. In the New Testament, there are two Greek words that can be and have been translated by the English word will. It would seem that all we need is to identify precisely the meanings of the two words and check out the Greek text every time we see the word will, and our problems will be solved. Alas, it doesn’t work that way. The plot thickens when we discover that each of the two Greek words has several nuances of meaning. Simply checking the Greek text for word usage is not enough to solve our difficulty.
However, finding the meanings of the Greek words is a helpful starting place. Let’s examine the two words briefly to see whether they shed any light on our quest. The words are boule and thelema.
The term boule has its roots in an ancient verb that means a “rational and conscious desire,” as opposed to thelema, meaning “an impulsive or unconscious desire.” The ancient subtle distinction was between rational desire and impulsive desire. As the Greek language developed, however, this distinction was softened, and eventually the words became used at times as synonyms, with authors switching from one to the other for purposes of stylistic change.
In the New Testament, boule usually refers to a plan based on careful deliberation; it is used most often with respect to the counsel of God. Boule frequently indicates God’s providential plan, which is predetermined and inflexible. Luke is fond of using it this way, as we read in the book of Acts: “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan [boule] and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23).
Here the resolute decree of God is in view, which no human action can set aside. God’s plan is impregnable; His “will” is unalterable.
The word thelema is rich in its diversity of meanings. It refers to what is agreeable, what is desired, what is intended, what is chosen, or what is commanded. Here we have the notions of consent, desire, purpose, resolution, and command. The force of the various meanings is determined by the context in which thelema appears.
The Decretive Will of God

Theologians describe as the “decretive will of God” that will by which God decrees things to come to pass according to His supreme sovereignty. This is also sometimes called “God’s sovereign efficacious will”; by it, God brings to pass whatsoever He wills. When God sovereignly decrees something in this sense, nothing can prevent it from coming to pass.
When God commanded the light to shine, the darkness had no power to resist the command. The “lights” came on. God did not persuade the light to shine. He did not negotiate with elemental powers to form a universe. He did not achieve a plan of redemption by trial and error; the cross was not a cosmic accident exploited by the Deity. These things were decreed absolutely. Their effects were efficacious (producing the desired result) because their causes were sovereignly decreed.
A serious danger faces those who restrict the meaning of the will of God to the sovereign will. We hear the Muslim cry, “It is the will of Allah.” We slip at times into a deterministic view of life that says, “Que será, sera,” or “What will be, will be.” In so doing, we embrace a sub-Christian form of fatalism, as if God willed everything that happened in such a way as to eliminate human choices.
Classical theologians insist on the reality of man’s will in acting, choosing, and responding. God works His plan through means, via the real choices of willing and acting creatures. There are secondary as well as primary causes. To deny this is to embrace a kind of determinism that eliminates human freedom and dignity.
Yet there is a God who is sovereign, whose will is greater than ours. His will restricts my will. My will cannot restrict His will. When He decrees something sovereignly, it will come to pass—whether I like it or not, whether I choose it or not. He is sovereign. I am subordinate.
The Preceptive Will of God

When the Bible speaks of the will of God, it does not always mean the decretive will of God. The decretive will of God cannot be broken or disobeyed. It will come to pass. On the other hand, there is a will that can be broken: “the preceptive will of God.” It can be disobeyed. Indeed, it is broken and disobeyed every day by each one of us.
The preceptive will of God is found in His law. The precepts, statutes, and commandments that He delivers to His people make up the preceptive will. They express and reveal to us what is right and proper for us to do. The preceptive will is God’s rule of righteousness for our lives. By this rule we are governed.
It is the will of God that we not sin. It is the will of God that we have no other gods before Him; that we love our neighbor as we love ourselves; that we refrain from stealing, coveting, and committing adultery. Yet the world is filled with idolatry, hatred, thievery, covetousness, and adultery. The will of God is violated whenever His law is broken.
One of the great tragedies of contemporary Christendom is the preoccupation of so many Christians with the secret decretive will of God to the exclusion and neglect of the preceptive will. We want to peek behind the veil, to catch a glimpse of our personal future. We seem more concerned with our horoscope than with our obedience, more concerned with what the stars in their courses are doing than with what we are doing.
With respect to God’s sovereign will, we assume we are passive. With respect to His preceptive will, we know that we are active and therefore responsible and accountable. It is easier to engage in ungodly prying into the secret counsel of God than to apply ourselves to the practice of godliness. We can flee to the safety of the sovereign will and try to pass off our sin to God, laying the burden and responsibility of it on His unchanging will. Such characterizes the spirit of antichrist, the spirit of lawlessness or antinomianism, that despises God’s law and ignores His precepts.
Protestants are particularly vulnerable to this distortion. We seek refuge in our precious doctrine of justification by faith alone, forgetting that the very doctrine is to be a catalyst for the pursuit of righteousness and obedience to the preceptive will of God.
Biblical Righteousness

Habakkuk’s famous statement, “the just shall live by his faith” (Hab. 2:4, KJV), is found three times in the New Testament. It has become a slogan of evangelical Protestantism, whose emphasis has been on the doctrine of justification by faith alone. This slogan, containing a hint of the essence of the Christian life, has its focal point in the biblical concept of righteousness.
One of Jesus’ most disturbing comments was the statement, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20). It is easy for us to assume that Jesus meant that our righteousness must be of a higher sort than that characterized by men who were hypocrites. The image that we have of scribes and Pharisees from the New Testament period is that of unscrupulous, ruthless practitioners of religious deceit. We must bear in mind, however, that the Pharisees as a group were men historically committed to a very lofty level of righteous living. Yet Jesus tells us that our righteousness must exceed theirs. What did He mean?
When we consider the biblical notion of righteousness, we are dealing with a matter that touches virtually every plane of theology. In the first place, there is the righteousness of God, by which all standards of rightness and wrongness are to be measured. God’s character is the ultimate foundation and model of righteousness. In the Old Testament, righteousness becomes defined in terms of obedience to the commandments delivered by God, who Himself is altogether righteous. Those commands include not only precepts of human behavior with respect to our fellow human beings, but also matters of a liturgical and ceremonial nature.
In Old Testament Israel and among the New Testament Pharisees, liturgical righteousness was substituted for authentic righteousness. That is to say, men became satisfied with obeying the rituals of the religious community rather than fulfilling the broader implications of the law. For example, Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for tithing their mint and cumin while omitting the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy. Jesus indicated that the Pharisees were correct in giving their tithes, but were incorrect in assuming that the liturgical exercises had completed the requirements of the law. Here, liturgical righteousness had become a substitute for true and full obedience.
Within the evangelical world, righteousness is a rare word indeed. We speak of morality, spirituality, and piety. Seldom, however, do we speak of righteousness. Yet the goal of our redemption is not piety or spirituality but righteousness. Spirituality in the New Testament sense is a means to the end of righteousness. Being spiritual means that we are exercising the spiritual graces given by God to mold us after the image of His Son. The disciplines of prayer, Bible study, church fellowship, witnessing, and the like are not ends in themselves, but are designed to assist us in living righteously. We are stunted in our growth if we assume that the end of the Christian life is spirituality.
Spiritual concerns are but the beginning of our walk with God. We must beware of the subtle danger of thinking that spirituality completes the requirements of Christ. To fall into such a trap—the trap of the Pharisees—is to substitute liturgical or ritualistic practices for authentic righteousness. By all means we are to pray and to study the Bible, and to bear witness in evangelism. However, we must never, at any point in our lives, rest from our pursuit of righteousness.
In justification we become righteous in the sight of God by means of the cloak of Christ’s righteousness. However, as soon as we are justified, our lives must give evidence of the personal righteousness that flows out of our justification. It is interesting to me that the whole biblical concept of righteousness is contained in one Greek word, dikaios. That same Greek word is used to refer, in the first instance, to the righteousness of God; in the second instance, to what we call justification; and in the third instance, to the righteousness of life. Thus, from beginning to end—from the nature of God to the destiny of man—our human duty remains the same—a call to righteousness.
True righteousness must never be confused with self-righteousness. Since our righteousness proceeds from our justification, which is based on the righteousness of Christ alone, we must never be deluded into thinking that our works of righteousness have any merit of their own. Yet as Protestants, zealously maintaining our doctrine of justification by faith alone, we must be ever mindful that the justification that is by faith alone is never by a faith that is alone. True faith manifests itself in righteousness exceeding that of the Pharisees and the scribes, for it is concerned with the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy.
We are called to bear witness to the righteousness of God in every area of life—from our prayer closets to our courtrooms, from our pews to our marketplaces. The top priority of Jesus is that we seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. All other things will be added to that.
An Allergy to Restraint

“Everybody do your own thing.” This cliché from the sixties characterizes the spirit of our age. Increasingly freedom is being equated with the inalienable right to do whatever you please. It carries with it a built-in allergy to laws that restrain, whether they be the laws of God or the laws of men.
This pervasive anti-law, or antinomian, attitude is reminiscent of the biblical epoch that provoked God’s judgment because “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judg. 17:6). The secular world reflects this attitude in the statement, “Government can’t legislate morality.” Morality is seen as a private matter, outside the domain of the state and even of the church.
A shift has occurred in word meaning so subtle that many have missed it. The original intent of the concept, “You cannot legislate morality,” was to convey the idea that passing a law prohibiting a particular kind of activity would not necessarily eliminate such activity. The point of the phrase was that laws do not ipso facto produce obedience to those laws. In fact, on some occasions, the legal prohibition of certain practices has incited only greater violation of established law. The prohibition of alcoholic beverages is an example.
The contemporary interpretation of legislating morality differs from the original intent. Instead of saying that government cannot legislate morality, it says government may not legislate morality. That means government should stay out of moral issues such as the regulation of abortion, deviant sexual practices, marriage and divorce, and so on, since morality is a matter of conscience in the private sector. For government to legislate in these areas is often viewed as an invasion of privacy by the state, representing a denial of basic freedoms for the individual.
If we take this kind of thinking to its logical conclusion, we leave the government with little to do. If government may not legislate morality, its activity will be restricted to determining the colors of the state flag, the state flower, and perhaps the state bird. (However, even questions of flowers and birds may be deemed “moral,” as they touch on ecological issues, which are ultimately moral in character.) The vast majority of matters that concern legislation are, in fact, of a decidedly moral character. The regulation of murder, theft, and civil rights is a moral matter. How a person operates his automobile on the highway is a moral issue since it touches on the well-being of fellow travelers.
Questions relating to the legalization of marijuana often focus on the fact that a majority of certain age groups are violating the law. The argument goes like this: Since disobedience is so widespread, doesn’t this indicate that the law is bad? Such a conclusion is a blatant non sequitur. Whether or not marijuana should be decriminalized should not be determined by levels of civil disobedience.
The point is that a vast number of Americans reflect an antinomian spirit regarding marijuana. Such disobedience is hardly motivated by noble aspirations to a higher ethic suppressed by a tyrannical government. Here the law is broken as a matter of convenience and physical appetite.
Within the church, the same spirit of antinomianism has prevailed too often. Pope Benedict XVI faces the embarrassing legacy of his predecessors as he tries to explain to the world why a majority of his American adherents tell the pollsters they practice artificial means of birth control when a papal encyclical explicitly forbids such methods. One must ask how people can confess their belief in an “infallible” leader of their church and at the same time obstinately refuse to submit to that leader.
Within the Protestant churches, individuals frequently become irate when called to moral accountability. They often declare that the church has no right to intrude into their private lives. They say this in spite of the fact that in their membership vows, they publicly committed themselves to submit to the moral oversight of the church.
Antinomianism should be more rare in the evangelical Christian community than anywhere else. Sadly, the facts do not fit the theory. So blasé is the typical “evangelical” toward the law of God that the prophecies of doom that Rome thundered at Martin Luther are beginning to come true. Some “evangelicals” are indeed using justification by faith alone as a license to sin; these can be deemed properly only as pseudo-evangelicals. Anyone who has the most rudimentary understanding of justification by faith knows that authentic faith always manifests itself in a zeal for obedience. No earnest Christian can ever have a cavalier attitude toward the law of God. Though obedience to such laws does not bring justification, the justified person will surely endeavor to obey them.
To be sure, there are times when the commandments of men are on a collision course with the laws of God. In those instances, Christians not only may disobey men, but must disobey men. I am not talking here of isolated moral issues but of attitudes. Christians must be particularly careful in this era of antinomianism not to get caught up in the spirit of the age. We are not free to do what is right in our own eyes. We are called to do what is right in His eyes.
Freedom should not be confused with autonomy. As long as evil exists in the world, the moral restraint of law is necessary. It is an act of grace by which God institutes government, which exists to restrain the evildoer. It exists to protect the innocent and the righteous. The righteous are called to support it as much as they possibly can without compromising their obedience to God.
God’s Will of Disposition

While we understand that the decretive will and the preceptive will of God are part of His overall will, other aspects of the mystery of His sovereignty remain. One such aspect is “the will of disposition.” It is tied up with the ability of man to disobey God’s preceptive will.
This aspect of the will of God refers to what is pleasing and agreeable to God. It expresses something of the attitude of God to His creatures. Some things are “well pleasing in his sight,” while other things are said to grieve Him. He may allow (but not via moral permission) wicked things to transpire, but He is by no means pleased by them.
To illustrate how these differing aspects of the will of God come into play in biblical interpretation, let us examine the verse that says the Lord is “not willing that any should perish” (2 Peter 3:9, KJV). Which of the above-mentioned meanings of will fits this text? How is the meaning of the text changed by the application of the nuances?
Try first the decretive will. The verse would then mean, “God is not willing in a sovereign decretive sense that any should perish.” The implication would then be that nobody perishes. This verse would be a proof text for universalism, with its view that hell is utterly vacant of people.
The second option is that God is not willing in a preceptive way that any should perish. This would mean that God does not allow people to perish in the sense that He grants His moral permission. This obviously does not fit the context of the passage.
The third option makes sense. God is not willing in the sense that He is not inwardly disposed to, or delighted by, people’s perishing. Elsewhere, Scripture teaches that God takes no delight in the death of the wicked. He may decree what He does not enjoy; that is, He may distribute justice to wicked offenders. He is pleased when justice is maintained and righteousness is honored, even though He takes no personal pleasure in the application of such punishment.
A human analogy may be seen in our law courts. A judge, in the interest of justice, may sentence a criminal to prison and at the same time inwardly grieve for the guilty man. His disposition may be for the man but against the crime.
However, God is not merely a human judge, working under the constraints of the criminal justice system. God is sovereign—He can do what He pleases. If He is not pleased or willing that any should perish, why then does He not exercise His decretive will accordingly? How can there be a hiatus between God’s decretive will and His will of disposition?
All things being equal, God does desire that no one should perish. But all things are not equal. Sin is real. Sin violates God’s holiness and righteousness. God also is not willing that sin should go unpunished. He desires as well that His holiness should be vindicated. It is dangerous to speak of a conflict of interests or of a clash of desires within God. Yet, in a certain sense, we must. He wills the obedience of His creatures. He wills the well-being of His creatures. There is a symmetry of relationship ultimately between obedience and well-being. The obedient child will never perish. Those who obey God’s preceptive will enjoy the benefits of His will of disposition. When the preceptive will is violated, things are no longer equal. Now God requires punishment while not particularly enjoying the application of it.
Yet does this not beg the ultimate question? Where does the decretive will fit in? Could not God originally have decreed that no one ever would be able to sin, thus ensuring an eternal harmony among all elements of His will: decretive, preceptive, and dispositional?
Often the answer to this question is superficial. Appeals are made to the free will of man, as if by magic man’s free will could explain the dilemma. We are told that the only way God could have created a universe guaranteed to be free from sin would have been to make creatures without free will. It is then argued that these creatures would have been nothing more than puppets and would have lacked humanity, being devoid of the power or ability to sin. If that is the case, then what does it suggest about the state of our existence in heaven? We are promised that when our redemption is complete, sin will be no more. We will still have an ability to choose, but our disposition will be so inclined toward righteousness that we will, in fact, never choose evil. If this will be possible in heaven after redemption, why could it not have been possible before the fall?
The Bible gives no clear answer to this thorny question. We are told that God created people who, for better or for worse, have the ability to sin. We also know from Scripture that there is no shadow of turning in the character of God, and that all of His works are clothed in righteousness. That He chose to create man the way He did is mysterious, but we must assume, given the knowledge we have, that God’s plan was good. Any conflict that arises between His commandments to us, His desire that we should obey Him, and our failure to comply does not destroy His sovereignty.
God’s Secret and Revealed Will

We have already distinguished among the three types of the will of God: His decretive will, His preceptive will, and His will of disposition. Another distinction must be established between what is called God’s secret, or hidden, will and His revealed will. This secret will of God is subsumed under the decretive will because, for the most part, it remains undisclosed to us. There is a limit to the revelation God has made of Himself. We know certain things about God’s decretive will that He has been pleased to set forth for our information in Holy Scripture. But because we are finite creatures, we do not comprehend the total dimension of divine knowledge or the divine plan. As the Scriptures teach, the secret things belong to the Lord, but that which He has revealed belongs to us and to our children forever (Deut. 29:29).
Protestant theologians have made use of the distinction between the hidden God (Deus obsconditus) and the revealed God (Deus revelatus). This distinction is valuable and indeed necessary when we realize that not all that can be known of God has been revealed to us. There is a sense in which God remains hidden from us, insofar as He has not been pleased to reveal all there is to know about Him. However, this distinction is fraught with peril since some have found within it a conflict between two kinds of gods. A god who reveals his character to be one thing, but who is secretly contrary to that revealed character, would be a supreme hypocrite.
If we say that God has no secret will and proposes to do only what He commands and nothing more, then we would perceive God as one whose desires and plans are constantly thwarted by the harassment of human beings. Such a god would be impotent, and no god at all.
If we distinguish between the secret aspect of God and the revealed aspect of God, we must hold these as parts of the whole, not as contradictions. That is to say, what God has revealed about Himself is trustworthy. Our knowledge is partial, but it is true as far as it goes. What belongs to the secret counsel of God does not contradict the character of God that has been revealed to us.
The distinction of God’s revealed will and hidden will raises a practical problem: the question of whether or not it is possible for a Christian to act in harmony with God’s decretive (hidden) will and at the same time work against His preceptive will.
We must admit that such a possibility exists—in a sense. For example, it was in God’s decretive will and by His determinate counsel that Jesus Christ was condemned to die on the cross. The divine purpose, of course, was to secure the redemption of God’s people. However, that purpose was hidden from the view of men who sat in judgment over Jesus. When Pontius Pilate delivered Jesus to be crucified, Pilate acted against the preceptive will of God but in harmony with the decretive will of God. Does this make nonsense of God’s preceptive will? God forbid. What it does is bear witness to the transcendent power of God to work His purposes sovereignly in spite of, and by means of, the evil acts of men.
Consider the story of Joseph, whose brothers, out of jealousy and greed, sold their innocent brother into slavery in Egypt. At their reunion years later, and upon the brothers’ confession of sin, Joseph replied, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:20). Here is the inscrutable majesty of God’s providence. God made use of human evil in bringing to pass His purposes for Joseph and for the Jewish nation. Joseph’s brothers were guilty of willful and malicious sin. By directly violating the preceptive will of God, they sinned against their brother and against God. Yet in their sin, God’s secret counsel was brought to pass, and God brought redemption through it.
What if Joseph’s brothers had been obedient? Joseph would not have been sold into slavery; he would not have been taken to Egypt; he would not have been sent to prison, from which he was called to interpret a dream. What if Joseph had not become prime minister? What would have become the historical reason for the brothers’ settling in Egypt? There would have been no Jewish settlement in Egypt, no Moses, no exodus from Egypt, no law, no prophets, no Christ, no salvation.
Can we, therefore, conclude that the sins of Joseph’s brothers were, in fact, virtues in disguise? Not at all. Their sin was sin, a clear violation of the preceptive will of God, for which they were held responsible and judged to be guilty. But God brought good out of evil. This reflects neither a contradiction in God’s character nor a contradiction between His precepts and His decrees. Rather it calls attention to the transcendent power of His sovereignty.
Is it possible for us in this day and age to obey the preceptive will of God and yet be in conflict with the secret will of God? Of course this is possible. It may be the will of God, for example, that He use a foreign nation to chastise the United States for sinning against God. It may be in the plan of God to have the people of the United States brought under judgment through the aggressive invasion of Russia. In terms of God’s inscrutable will, He could be, for purposes of judgment, “on the side of the Russians.” Yet at the same time, it would remain the duty of the civil magistrate of the American nation to resist the transgression of our borders by a conquering nation.
We have a parallel in the history of Israel, where God used the Babylonians as a rod to chastise His people Israel. In that situation, it would have been perfectly proper for the civil magistrate of Israel to have resisted the wicked invasion of the Babylonians. In so doing, the Israelites would have been, in effect, resisting the decretive will of God. The book of Habakkuk wrestles with the severe problem of God’s use of the evil inclinations of men to bring judgment on His people. This is not to suggest that God favored the Babylonians. He made it clear that judgment would fall on them also, but He first made use of their evil inclinations in order to bring a corrective discipline to His own people.
Knowing the Will of God for Our Lives

Pursuing knowledge of the will of God is not an abstract science designed to titillate the intellect or to convey the kind of knowledge that “puffs up” but fails to edify. An understanding of the will of God is desperately important for every Christian seeking to live a life that is pleasing to his or her Creator. It is a very practical thing for us to know what God wants for our lives. A Christian asks: “What are my marching orders? What should my role be in contributing to the establishment of the kingdom of God? What does God want me to do with my life?” It is inconceivable that a Christian could live for very long without coming face-to-face with these gripping questions.
Having been a Christian for some fifty years, with the study of theology my main vocational pursuit, I find the practical question of the will of God pressing on my mind quite frequently. I doubt a fortnight passes that I am not seriously engaged by the question of whether I am doing what God wants me to do at this point in my life. The question haunts and beckons all of us. It demands resolution, and so we must ask ourselves, “How do we know the will of God for our lives?”
The practical question of how we know the will of God for our lives cannot be solved with any degree of accuracy unless we have some prior understanding of the will of God in general. Without the distinctions that we have made, our pursuit of the will of God can plunge us into hopeless confusion and consternation. When we seek the will of God, we must first ask ourselves which will we are seeking to discover.
If our quest is to penetrate the hidden aspects of His will, then we have embarked on a fool’s errand. We are trying the impossible and chasing the untouchable. Such a quest is not only an act of foolishness, but also an act of presumption. There is a very real sense in which the secret will of the secret counsel of God is none of our business and is off limits to our speculative investigations.
Untold evils have been perpetrated on God’s people by unscrupulous theologians who have sought to correct or to supplant the clear and plain teaching of sacred Scripture by doctrines and theories based on speculation alone. The business of searching out the mind of God where God has remained silent is dangerous business indeed. Luther put it this way: “We must keep in view his word and leave alone his inscrutable will; for it is by his word and not by his inscrutable will that we must be guided.”
Christians are permitted, in a sense, to attempt to discern the will of God by means of illumination by the Holy Spirit and by confirmation through circumstances that we are doing the right thing. However, as we will discover, the search for providential guidance must always be subordinate to our study of the revealed will of God. In our search, we must also come to terms with the dynamic tensions created by the concept of man’s will versus predestination. Before our inquiry can lead us into such practical avenues as occupation and marriage, we must face the thorny issues involved in the free will/predestination issue. We have seen what the will of God entails. What about the will of man? How do the two relate? How free is man, after all?

Chapter Two

The term free will as applied to man is often glibly declared with little or no understanding of its meaning. There is actually no unified theory of man’s free will, but a variety of competing and often conflicting views about it.
The question of man’s free will is made more complicated by the fact that we must examine it in terms of how the will functioned before and after the fall of Adam. Most important is how the fall affected man’s moral choices.
Augustine gave the church a close analysis of the state of freedom that Adam enjoyed before the fall. His classic concept of freedom distinguished four possibilities. In Latin, they are:

1. posse pecarre—able to sin
2. posse non pecarre—able not to sin (or to remain free from sin)
3. non posse pecarre—unable to sin
4. non posse, non pecarre—unable not to sin

Augustine argued that before the fall, Adam possessed both the ability to sin (posse pecarre) and the ability to not sin (posse non pecarre). However, Adam lacked the exalted state of the inability to sin that God enjoys (non posse pecarre). God’s inability to sin is based not on an inner powerlessness to do what He wants, but rather on the fact that God has no inner desire to sin. Since the desire for sin is utterly absent from God, there is no reason for God to choose sin.
Before the fall, Adam did not have the moral perfection of God, but neither did he have the inability to refrain from sin (non posse, non pecarre). During his time of “probation” in the garden, he had the ability to sin and the ability not to sin. He chose to exercise the ability to sin and thus plunged the human race into ruin.
As a result, Adam’s first sin was passed on to all his descendants. Original sin refers not to the first sin but to God’s punishment of that first transgression. Because of the first sin, human nature fell into a morally corrupt state, itself partly a judgment of God. When we speak of original sin, we refer to the fallen human condition that reflects the judgment of God on the race.
The Fallenness of Man

Christians differ in their views concerning the extent and seriousness of the fall. However, it is almost universally conceded that in dealing with mankind, we are dealing with a fallen race. Augustine located the depths of man’s fallenness in his loss of original powers of righteousness. No longer does man have the ability to not sin. In man’s fallen state, his plight is found in his inability to keep from sinning (non posse, non pecarre). In the fall, something profoundly vital to moral freedom was lost.
Augustine declared that in his prefallen state, man enjoyed both a free will (liberium arbitrium) and moral liberty (libertas). Since the fall, man has continued to have a free will, but has lost the moral liberty he once enjoyed.
Perhaps the most insightful study of the question of fallen man’s free will is the epic work of Jonathan Edwards, On the Freedom of the Will. Edwards and Augustine differ in terminology, but their meaning is essentially the same. Edwards distinguished between the natural ability of freedom and the moral ability of freedom. Natural ability deals with the powers of action and choice that we possess by nature. Man’s natural abilities include the power to think, to walk, to speak, to eat, and so on. Man lacks the natural ability to fly, to live beneath the sea as a fish, or to hibernate for months without food. We may desire to fly, but we lack the natural equipment necessary to live out our desire. Our freedom has a certain built-in restriction related to the limitations of our natural faculties.
With respect to the making of choices, fallen man still has the natural ability and the natural faculties necessary to make moral choices. Man can still think, feel, and desire. All of the equipment necessary for the making of choices remains. What fallen man lacks is the moral disposition, the desire, or the inclination for righteousness.
Stated simply, man still has the ability to choose what he wants, but lacks the desire for true righteousness. He is naturally free, but he is morally enslaved to his own corrupt and wicked desires. Both Edwards and Augustine said man is still free to choose, but if left to himself, man will never choose righteousness, precisely because he does not desire it.
Edwards took the question a step further. He said man still has not only the ability but the built-in necessity to choose according to his desires. Not only can we choose what we want, we must choose what we want. It is at this point that the protest is sounded: Is free choice an illusion? If we must choose what we choose, how can such a choice be called free? If we are free to choose what we want but want only what is evil, how can we still speak of free will? This is precisely why Augustine distinguished between free will and liberty, saying that fallen man still has free will but has lost his liberty. It is why Edwards said that we still have natural freedom but have lost moral freedom.
Why talk of freedom at all, if we can choose only sin? The crux of the matter lies in the relationship between choice and desire, or disposition. Edwards’s thesis is that we always choose according to the strongest inclination, or disposition, of the moment. Again, not only can we choose according to our strongest desires, we must choose according to our strongest desires of the moment. Such is the essence of freedom—that I am able to choose what I want when I want it.
If I must do something, then in a sense my actions are determined. But if my actions are determined, how can I be free? The classic answer to this difficult question is that the determination of my choices comes from within me. The essence of freedom is self-determination. It is when my choices are forced on me by external coercion that my freedom is lost. To be able to choose what I want by virtue of self-determination does not destroy free will but establishes it.
Choices Flow from Desires

To choose according to the strongest desire or inclination of the moment simply means that there is a reason for the choices I make. At one point, Edwards defined the will as “the mind choosing.” The actual choice is an effect or result that requires an antecedent cause. The cause is located in the disposition or desire. If all effects have causes, then all choices likewise have causes. If the cause is apart from me, then I am a victim of coercion. If the cause is from within me, then my choices are self-determined or free.
Think about Edwards’s thesis that we always choose according to the strongest inclination or desire of the moment. Think, if you will, of the most harmless choice that you might make in the course of a day. Perhaps you attend a meeting of a group and choose to sit on the left side in the third seat from the end of the fourth row at the front of the room. Why did you choose to sit there? In all probability, when you entered the room, you did not engage in a thorough analysis of your seating preferences. You probably did not make a chart to determine which seat was best. Your decision probably was made quickly, with little or no conscious evaluation and with a sense of apparent spontaneity. Does that mean, however, that there was no reason for your choice? Perhaps you sat where you did because you are comfortable sitting on the left side of the room in such meetings. Perhaps you were attracted to that seat because of its proximity to a friend or its access to the exit. In situations like this, the mind weighs a host of contributing factors so quickly that we tend to think our responses are spontaneous. The truth is that something in you triggered a desire to sit in a certain seat, or else your choice was an effect without a cause.
Perhaps your seat selection was governed by forces outside your control. Perhaps the seat you chose was the only seat left in the room, so that you had no choice in the matter at all. Is that completely true? The option to stand at the back of the room was still there. Or the option to leave the meeting altogether was still there. You chose to sit in the only seat available because your desire to sit was stronger than your desire to stand and your desire to stay was stronger than your desire to leave.
Consider a more bizarre illustration. Suppose on the way home from the meeting you encounter a robber who points a gun to your head and says, “Your money or your life.” What do you do? If you accede to his demand and turn over your wallet, you will become a victim of coercion, and yet in some measure you will have exercised free choice. Coercion enters by virtue of the fact that the gunman is severely restricting your options to two. The element of freedom that is preserved stems from the fact that you still have two options and that you choose the one for which you have the strongest desire at the moment.
All things being equal, you have no desire to donate your money to an unworthy thief. You have even less desire, however, to have your brain poured out on the sidewalk by the gunman’s bullet. Given the small number of options, you still choose according to the strongest inclination at the moment. We always do what we really want to do.
The Bible teaches, some will say, that we do not always do what we want to do. The apostle Paul lamented in Romans 7 that the good he wanted to do he did not do, and the thing he did not want to do was the very thing he did. Paul’s frustration over the wretchedness of his condition would seem totally to refute Edwards’s thesis of the relationship of choice to desire. Paul, however, was not giving expression to an analysis of the causal relationship between desire and choice. He was expressing a profound frustration that centers on the complex of desires that assault the human will.
We are creatures with a multitude of desires, many of which are in violent conflict with each other. Again, consider the “all things being equal” dimension of our moral choices. As a Christian I have a profound desire to please Christ with my life and to attain righteousness. That good desire for obedience to God is neither perfect nor pure, as it struggles daily with other desires in my sinful personality. If I had no conflicting desires, I would never be disobedient. If the only desire I had, or if the strongest desire I had, was to obey God continuously, I would never willfully sin against Him. However, there are times when my desire to sin is greater than my desire to obey; when that happens, I sin. When my desire to obey is greater than my desire to sin, at that moment I refrain from sinning. My choices reveal more clearly and more certainly than anything else the level of my desire.
Desire, like appetite, is not constant. Our levels of desire fluctuate from day to day, from hour to hour, and from minute to minute. Desire moves in an ebb-and-flow pattern like the waves of the sea. The person who goes on a diet experiences intensifying pangs of hunger at various times of the day. It is easy to make a resolution to diet when one is satiated. Likewise, it is easy to resolve to be righteous in the midst of a moving spiritual experience of prayer. Yet we are creatures of changing moods and fleeting desires who have not yet achieved a constancy of will based on a consistency of godly desires. As long as conflict of desire exists and an appetite for sin remains in the heart, man is not totally free in the moral sense of which Edwards spoke, and neither does he experience the fullness of liberty described by Augustine.
Choice as a Spontaneous Act

Over against the Augustinian view of free will is the classical notion that describes the action or activity of choice in purely spontaneous terms. In this concept, the will chooses and is free from not only external forces of coercion but from any internal rule of disposition or desire. The choice of the moment proceeds freely in the sense that no inclination or prior disposition controls, directs, or affects the choice that is made. It is safe to say that this is the dominant view of free will in Western culture and is the view Calvin had in mind when he stated, “Free will is far too grandiose a term to apply to man.” At bottom it implies that man can make choices that are effects without any causes. Here it is suggested that the power of man to produce an effect without a cause exceeds even the creative power of God Almighty. Moreover, the cardinal rule of causality—ex nihilo, nihil fit (“out of nothing, nothing comes”)—is broken. Such a view of freedom is repugnant not only to Scripture but to reason.
To understand freedom as purely spontaneous choice with no prior disposition controlling it is to rob freedom of any moral significance. That is, if I act with no prior motive or no previous inclination toward or away from righteousness, how can it be said that my act is moral at all? Such activity would be without reason or motive behind it; it would be a purely random action, with no moral virtue attached to it.
However, a deeper question remains: Is such a spontaneous action possible at all? If the will is inclined neither to the right nor to the left, how could it choose at all? If there is no disposition toward, or away from, the action, then the will suffers from complete paralysis. It is like the donkey that had set before him a bale of hay and a bucket of oats. The donkey’s inclination with respect to the hay and the oats was exactly equal, with not the slightest degree of preference toward one or the other. The story is told that the donkey in such circumstances starves to death with a banquet feast in front of him because he has no way to choose between the two.
The practical problem that remains with the classical view of freedom is one raised by behavioristic psychology. If man is indeed self-determined or free, does that not imply that if his desires were completely known, man’s action in every given circumstance would be completely predictable? There is a sense in which we must agree that such a predictability would be implied. However, there is no way that any genius short of God and His omniscience could possibly know all the complex factors present in the human mind weighing a choice.
We recognize with psychologists that preferences and inclinations are shaped in many respects by experience and environment, but we cannot predict with certainty what any human being will do. Hidden variables within the complex of human personality make for this unpredictability. It nevertheless remains a fact that there is always a reason for our actions, a cause for our choices. That cause stems partly from ourselves and partly from the forces operating around and over against us.
The Definition of Freedom

The safest course to steer is to define freedom as did the church fathers, such as Augustine: “the ability to choose what we want.” God’s sovereignty does not extinguish that dimension of human personality, but certainly rules over it.
Out of rigid forms of determinism comes the cry of despair: “If the complex factors that make up personality completely determine my choices, then what value is self-improvement or the search for righteousness? If my will is enslaved by my dispositions and desires, what hope do I have of ever breaking out of the patterns of sin that are so destructive to my present mode of behavior?”
In a real sense, the process of sanctification involves a radical reprogramming of the inner self. We are not the victims of blind mechanical forces that control our destiny. As intelligent beings, we can do something to change the dispositions of our hearts and the inclinations of our minds.
It is important to remember that desire is not a fixed and constant power that beats within our souls. Our desires change and fluctuate from moment to moment. When the Bible calls us to feed the new man and starve the old man, we can apply this injunction by taking advantage of the ebb and flow of moods to strengthen the new man when our desire for Christ is inflamed and to kill the old man’s desires by starving him in times of satiation. The simplest way to state the mechanism of sin is to understand that at the moment I sin, I desire the sin more than I desire to please God. Stated another way, my love for the sin is greater at the moment of its intense desire than is my love for obedience to God. Therefore, the simple conclusion is that to overcome the power of sin within us, we need either to decrease our desire for the sin or to increase our desire to obey God.
What can we do to effect such changes? We can submit ourselves to the discipline of a class or a teacher and devote ourselves to a rigorous study of the law of God. Such disciplined study can help renew our minds, equipping us with a new understanding of what pleases and displeases God. The development of a renewed mind is the biblical definition of spiritual transformation.
The mind and the will are linked, as Edwards noted. Understanding more deeply how abhorrent our sin is to God can change or reprogram our attitudes toward sin. We are to follow the biblical injunction to concentrate on whatever things are pure and good. It may be too much to expect that a man in the midst of an attack of profound lust will switch to pure thoughts. It would be difficult for him to push a button and change the inclination of his desire at that moment. However, in a more sober mood, he may have the opportunity to reprogram his mind by filling it with high and holy thoughts of the things of God. The end result is that he may well strengthen the disposition of his heart toward God and weaken the disposition of his fallen nature toward sin.
We need not surrender to a superficial form of rigid determinism or behaviorism that would cause us to despair of any hope of change. Scripture encourages us to work out our salvation “with fear and trembling,” knowing that not only are we applying the means of grace by our own effort, but that God Himself is working within us to bring about the necessary changes to conform us to the image of His Son (Phil. 2:12–13; 1:6).
Sovereignty of God and Freedom of Man

What about man’s will with respect to the sovereignty of God? Perhaps the oldest dilemma of the Christian faith is the apparent contradiction between the sovereignty of God and the freedom of man. If we define human freedom as autonomy (meaning that man is free to do whatever he pleases, without constraint, without accountability to the will of God), then of course we must say that free will is contradictory to divine sovereignty. We cannot soft-pedal this dilemma by calling it a mystery; we must face up to the full import of the concept. If free will means autonomy, then God cannot be sovereign. If man is utterly and completely free to do as he pleases, there can be no sovereign God. However, if God is utterly sovereign to do as He pleases, no creature can be autonomous.
It is possible to have a multitude of beings, all of whom are free to various degrees but none of whom are sovereign. The degree of freedom is determined by the level of power, authority, and responsibility held by each being. However, we do not live in this type of universe. There is a God who is sovereign—which is to say, He is absolutely free. My freedom is always within limits. My freedom is always constrained by the sovereignty of God. I have freedom to do things as I please, but if my freedom conflicts with the decretive will of God, there is no question as to the outcome—God’s decree will prevail over my choice.
It is stated so often that it has become almost an uncritically accepted axiom within Christian circles that the sovereignty of God may never violate human freedom in the sense that God’s sovereign will may never overrule human freedom. The thought verges on, if not trespasses, the border of blasphemy because it contains the idea that God’s sovereignty is constrained by human freedom. If that were true, man, not God, would be sovereign, and God would be restrained and constrained by the power of human freedom. As I say, the implication here is blasphemous because it raises the creature to the stature of the Creator. God’s glory, majesty, and honor are denigrated since He is reduced to the status of a secondary, impotent creature. Biblically speaking, man is free, but his freedom can never violate or overrule God’s sovereignty.
I and my son are free moral agents; he has a will and I have a will. However, when he was a teen living in my home, his will was more often constrained by my will than was my will constrained by His. I carried more authority and more power in the relationship and hence I had a wider expanse of freedom than he had. So it is with our relationship to God; God’s power and authority are infinite, and His freedom is never hindered by human volition.
There is no contradiction between God’s sovereignty and man’s free will. Those who see a contradiction, or even point to the problem as an unsolvable mystery, have misunderstood the mystery. The real mystery regarding free will is how it was exercised by Adam before the fall.
Options for Considering Adam’s Sin

If Augustine was correct that pre-fall Adam possessed an ability to sin and an ability not to sin, and that he was created with no prior disposition or inclination toward sin, then the question we face is, “How was it possible for such a creature with no prior disposition toward evil actually to take the step into evil?” As we grapple with this mystery, let me present several options that have served as explanations in the past.
First, we can hypothesize that Adam fell because he was duped by the craftiness of Satan and simply did not know what he was doing. The inspiration for this hypothesis is the biblical emphasis on the craftiness of the Devil. Satan, in his guile, was able to seduce Adam and Eve by confusing their thought patterns. Thus, the weakness of our primordial parents was not moral in nature, but intellectual, inasmuch as they failed to perceive the chicanery of the serpent. What complicates the picture is the fact that the Scriptures in this instance do not describe Adam and Eve as having been completely duped by their adversary; rather, they had full knowledge of what God allowed and did not allow them to do. They could not plead ignorance of the command of God as an excuse for their transgression.
There are times when ignorance is excusable, namely when such ignorance cannot possibly be helped or overcome. Such ignorance is properly described by the Roman Catholic Church as “invincible ignorance”—ignorance that we lack the power to conquer. Invincible ignorance excuses and gives one a reprieve from any accusation of moral wrongdoing. However, the biblical record gainsays this option in the case of Adam and Eve, for God pronounces judgment on them. Unless that judgment was arbitrary or immoral on the part of God Himself, we can only conclude that what Adam and Eve did was inexcusable. A just God does not punish excusable transgressions. Indeed, excusable transgressions are not transgressions.
A second option is that Adam and Eve were coerced by Satan to disobey God. Here we see the original instance of the statement “The Devil made me do it.” If, however, Satan, in fact, fully and forcibly coerced Adam and Eve to transgress the law of God, then once again we would find an excuse for their actions. We would have to conclude that they did not act with a reasonable measure of freedom, a measure that would at least have delivered them from moral culpability. Such a theory violates the clear teaching of the biblical text, which hints at no coercive manipulation on the part of Satan.
Consistently, the Scriptures place the responsibility, the blame, and the full culpability on Adam and Eve themselves. They committed evil. Their choice was an evil one.
By what means did Adam and Eve make an evil choice? If we apply the analysis of choice common to Augustine and Edwards to pre-fall Adam, we face an insoluble dilemma. If Adam had been created with a purely neutral disposition (with no inclination toward righteousness or evil), we would still face the same rational impasse that Edwards notes for those who would impose it for post-fall man. A will with no predisposition would have no motivation to choose. Without motivation, there could be no choice. Even if such a choice were possible, it would have no moral import to it.
We must examine the other two alternatives—that Adam was created with a predisposition toward evil or with a singular predisposition toward good. Both of these options end at the stone wall of intellectual difficulty. If we assume that Adam was created with a predisposition toward evil, we cast a horrible shadow over the character of God, for this would mean that God created man with a predisposition toward evil and then punished man for exercising the disposition that God Himself had planted within his soul. In a real sense, this would make God the author of, and the one ultimately responsible for, human wickedness. Every page of Holy Scripture recoils from such a thesis, as it would transfer the blame from man to God Himself, who is altogether good. Still, many take this option, following in the footsteps of the implied criticism of the first man, Adam, who excused himself before the Creator by saying, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate” (Gen. 3:12, emphasis added). Men from Adam onward have manifested their fallenness by trying to transfer the blame for that fallenness to the Creator.
A third option is that God created man with a disposition toward only righteousness. If this were the case, then we have an effect without a sufficient cause. How is it possible for a creature created with the disposition toward only righteousness to have chosen a wicked act?
Other Inquiries into the Mystery of Adam’s Sin

I have a built-in antipathy to dialectical theology—theology that proclaims the beauty of contradictions and nonsense statements. Thus, I must swallow hard to agree with one neoorthodox theologian about the origin of Adam’s sin. Karl Barth calls the sin of Adam the “impossible possibility.” Barth, of course, is calling attention to the utterly inexplicable mystery of Adam’s transgression—what was rationally impossible and inconceivable happened, and remains a bona fide and impenetrable mystery to us.
Other attempts have been made to seek a complex and sophisticated answer to the mystery of iniquity. One suggestion is that the sin of Adam was like all sin, namely, a privation, a corruption, or a negation of something that was inherently and intrinsically good. In other words, Adam was created with a good moral disposition. His appetites and desires were continuously good, and as a result, one would expect his activities to have been equally good. However, it is suggested that in the complexity of moral choices, sometimes a good will (which has a desire that in itself is good) can be misused and abused toward an evil end. The supreme example of such a twisting occurred at the temptation of Jesus, the second and new Adam.
In Jesus’ temptation experience in the wilderness, Satan came to Him in the midst of a prolonged fast. It is probably safe to assume that at that point Jesus had a consuming passion for food. That natural human desire to eat carried no immoral overtones in and of itself. One expects a hungry man to have a disposition to eat. However, Jesus wanted to obey God through this act of self-deprivation. When Satan came to Jesus and suggested that He turn stones into bread, Satan was appealing to a perfectly normal appetite and desire within Jesus. However, Jesus’ desire to obey the Father was deeper than His desire to partake of food. Thus, filled with an altogether righteous desire, He was able to overcome the temptation of Satan.
Now the theory goes like this: Perhaps it was something good that caused Adam to fall—something that in and of itself was good, but which could have been misused and abused by the seductive influences of Satan. Such an explanation certainly helps make the fall more understandable, but it goes only so far before it fails. At its most vital point, the explanation does not account for how this good desire could have become distorted, overruling the prior obligation to obey God. At some point before the act of transgression took place, Adam must have had to desire disobedience to God more than obedience to God; therein the fall already had taken place because the very desire to act against God in disobedience is itself sinful.
I leave the question of explaining the fall of Adam by virtue of the exercise of his free will to the hands of more competent and insightful theologians. To blame it on man’s finite limitations is really putting blame on the God who made man finite. Biblically, the issue has been, and always will be, a moral one. Man was commanded by the Creator not to sin, but man chose to sin, though not because God or anyone else forced him. Man chose out of his own heart.
Consequently, to probe the answer to the how of man’s sin is to enter the realm of deepest mystery. Perhaps all we can do in the final analysis is to recognize the reality of our sin and our responsibility for it. Though we cannot explain it, certainly we know enough to confess it. We must never attribute the cause of our sin to God or adopt any position that would excuse us from the moral responsibility that Scripture clearly assigns to us.
Some have criticized the Christian faith for its inability to give a satisfying answer to the question of sin. The fact is that other religions must come to terms with this same question. Some respond simply by denying the reality of evil—a convenient but absurd way out. Christianity alone deals head-on with the reality of sin by providing an escape from its consequences.
The Christian solution to the problem of sin is a radical departure from what other religions provide, for it is centered in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Through His perfect sacrifice, which has the efficacy of blotting out believers’ sins, we have become righteous in God’s eyes. However, that righteousness does not give us the license to do as we please. We must still seek to do God’s preceptive will, especially as we swim through the perilous waters of the moral, ethical, and social dilemmas of our age.
While we have discussed the more theological aspects of man’s will and God’s will, two other topics now beckon us: God’s will for our jobs and for our marital status. These two practical concerns take center stage in the drama of our personal lives. What can we learn about God’s will and man’s will in relation to these vital aspects of living? The next chapters offer guidelines to facilitate our decision making in these all-important areas.

Chapter Three

When we are introduced to people, the following three questions are generally asked: “What is your name?” “Where are you from?” and “What do you do?” The third question is the one that concerns us in this chapter.
“What do you do?” is obviously a question about one’s occupation, career, or vocation. People want to know what task or service constitutes our livelihood or helps fulfill our personal aspirations.
We are all familiar with the aphorism, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” We understand that life is more than work. We devote periods of time to recreation, sleep, play, and other activities not directly part of our principal employment or labor. However, the portion of our lives that is taken up by work is so encompassing and time-consuming that we tend to understand our personal identity in the light of our work.
Whatever else we are, we are creatures involved in labor. This was the design of creation—God Himself is a working God. From the very moment of creation, He conferred on our original parents the responsibilities of work. Adam and Eve were called to dress, till, and keep the earth, to name the animals, and to have dominion by way of managerial responsibility over the earth. All of these activities involved the expenditure of time, energy, and resources—in short, work.
Sometimes we fall into the trap of thinking that work is a punishment that God gave us as a result of Adam’s fall in the Garden of Eden. We must remember that work was given before the fall. To be sure, our labor has additional burdens attached to it because of the fall. A mixture of thorns and thistles is found among the good plants we seek to cultivate. Our labor is accomplished by the sweat of our brow. These were some of the penalties of sinfulness, but work itself was part of the glorious privilege granted to men and women in creation. It is impossible to understand our own humanity without understanding the central importance of work.
Most of us spend the early years of our lives preparing and training for a lifelong activity of work. The sensitive Christian understands that in the labor of his occupation, he is responsible to make a contribution to the kingdom of God, to fulfill a divine mandate, to embark on a holy calling as a servant of the living God. Such a Christian is keenly interested to discover how best to serve God through his labor.
Vocation and Calling

The idea of vocation is based on the theological premise of a divine call. The word vocation comes from the Latin word meaning “calling.” In our secular society, the religious meaning of the term has lost its significance, having become merely a synonym for career. I will be using the term vocation in its original sense: a divine call, a holy summons to fulfill a task or a responsibility that God has laid on us. The question we as Christians wrestle with is, “Am I in the center of God’s will with respect to my vocation?” In other words, “Am I doing with my life what God wants me to do?” Here the question of the will of God becomes eminently practical, for it touches on that dimension of my life that fills most of my waking hours and has the greatest impact on the shaping of my personality.
If the Bible teaches anything, it teaches that God is a calling God. The world was created through the call of the omnipotent Creator: “ ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light” (Gen. 1:1). God also calls His people to repentance, to conversion, and to membership in His family. In addition, He calls us to serve Him in His kingdom, making the best possible use of our gifts and talents. Still, the question faces us: “How do I know what is my particular vocational calling?”
One of the great tragedies of modern society is that, although the job market is vast and complex with an infinite number of possible careers, the educational systems that train us tend to guide and direct us to a very small number of occupational choices. When I was a high school graduate embarking on college, a great deal of discussion centered on one’s major and career aspirations. At that time, it seemed as if everyone was setting out to become an engineer. The mechanized culture of the 1950s was opening up thousands of lucrative positions in engineering. College campuses were flooded with young aspirants for degrees in the field of engineering.
I also remember the engineer glut on the market that occurred in the 1970s. Stories circulated about people with doctorates in engineering who were collecting unemployment or washing dishes in the local diner because there simply were not enough engineering jobs available. The same could be said for education majors. Positions in education became fewer and fewer while the number of applicants became greater and greater. The problem was heightened by misguided publicity and counseling that steered people into occupational roles that society already had filled.
In the early twentieth century, the choices were much less difficult since the vast majority of American children spent their time preparing for a life in agricultural labor. Today, roughly two percent of the population is employed in farming—a radical decrease in one occupation that has opened the door for a vast number of other occupations.
Finding Your Vocation

The question of vocation becomes a crisis at two major points in life. The first is in late adolescence, when a person is pressured into deciding what skills and knowledge he should acquire for future use. Some college freshmen feel pressured to declare a major in their first year, before knowing the available options and the limits of their ability.
The second period in life when vocation becomes critical is in midlife, when a person experiences a sense of frustration, failure, or lack of fulfillment in his current position. He may ask: “Have I wasted my life? Am I sentenced forever to a job that I’m finding meaningless, unfulfilling, and frustrating?” Such questions highlight the fact that vocational counseling is a major part of pastoral counseling in America, second only to marital counseling.
We must also consider the fact that vocational frustration is a major contributing cause of marital disharmony and family strife. Thus, it is important to approach the matter of vocation with great care, both in the early stages of adolescent development and in the latter stages, when the sense of frustration hits home.
The problem of discerning one’s calling focuses heavily on four important questions:

1. What can I do?
2. What do I like to do?
3. What would I like to be able to do?
4. What should I do?

The last question can plague the sensitive conscience. To begin to answer it, we need to take a look at the other three questions because they are closely linked to the ultimate question, “What should I do?”
What can I do? Reasonably assessing our abilities, skills, and aptitudes is a crucial and basic part of the decision-making process in choosing a vocation. We need to ask: “What are my abilities? What am I equipped to do?”
We may object that Moses and Jeremiah both protested against God’s call by saying that they were not equipped for the task. Moses protested that he had limited speaking ability, and Jeremiah reminded his Creator of his youthfulness. Both experienced God’s rebuke for seeking to evade a divine calling on the basis of the flimsy claim that they lacked the ability to do the job.
Neither Moses nor Jeremiah had a full understanding of what was needed to carry out the summons God gave him. Moses, for instance, protested that he lacked speaking skill, but God had prepared Aaron to help Moses with that part of the task. What God was looking for was obedient leadership from Moses; public speaking could be delegated to another. God certainly took into consideration Moses’ gifts, abilities, and aptitude before He called him.
We must remember that God is the perfect Manager. He is efficient in His selection, calling people according to the gifts and talents that He has given them. Satan’s strategy is to manipulate Christians into positions for which they have no ability or skill to perform well. Satan himself is very efficient in directing Christians to inefficiency and ineffectiveness.
What can I do? This question can be answered by proficiency examinations, analysis of our strengths and weaknesses, and a sober evaluation of our past performance. Abilities and performances can be, and are, measured in sophisticated ways in our society. We need to know the parameters of our abilities.
People often apply for positions for which they have no skill. This is particularly and sadly true within the church and in related Christian service. Some hunger and thirst to be in full-time Christian service but lack the ability and the gifts required for the particular job. For example, they may have the academic training and credentials for the pastorate, but lack the managerial skills or the people skills to be effective pastors.
Perhaps the most important principle in Scripture regarding abilities is found in Paul’s injunction that we ought to make a sober analysis of ourselves, not thinking too highly of ourselves (Rom. 12:3). Through sober analysis, we can make a serious, honest, and clear evaluation of what we can and cannot do, and we should act accordingly.
The young person has a different question: What would I like to be able to do? Such a person may have developed very few skills or have little educational background, but he realizes that he has enough time to acquire skills and talents through education or vocational training.
At this point, the concept of aptitude is relevant. Aptitude involves a person’s latent abilities as well as his acquired abilities. A person may have a certain aptitude for mechanical things and have no aptitude whatsoever for abstract things. This person may desire to be a philosopher but would make a far better investment of his time by learning to be an airplane mechanic. However, preferences are still important. Here we tread into that critical and frightening area of human experience called the realm of motivation.
Motivated Abilities

Research indicates that most people have more than one ability, and that their abilities can be divided into two basic types: motivated abilities and non-motivated abilities. A non-motivated ability is a skill or a strength that a person has but is not motivated to use. Some people are very good at doing certain things, but find no particular fulfillment or enjoyment in doing them. Performing them is sheer drudgery and pain. They may be proficient in what they do, but for one reason or another they find the task odious.
I know of one young woman who in her early teenage years attracted national attention because of her proficiency at the game of golf. While still a teenager, she won a national tournament. Yet when the time came for girls her age to turn professional, she chose a different vocation, not out of a higher calling to seek a more spiritual enterprise than professional athletics, but because she found golf to be very unpleasant. Her displeasure came as the result of fierce pressure her father had placed on her in pushing her to become a proficient golfer at a young age. When she became of age and was out from under parental authority, she decided to do something else. She had the ability to become a professional golfer, but she lacked the motivation.
We might ask, “How could she have become so proficient in the first place if she had not been motivated to perform well in golf?” We have to realize that she had been motivated to become proficient, but the motivation was largely based on fear of her father’s wrath. In order to please him, she disciplined herself to acquire a skill that she never would have pursued on her own. Once free from the driving force of his authority, she turned her vocational pursuits in another direction. The moral to the story is obvious. The person who gives his full measure of time and energy to a non-motivated ability is a walking pressure cooker of frustration.
It is true that, as Christians, we don’t always have the luxury of doing the things we want to do. God calls us to sacrifice and to be willing to participate in the humiliation of Christ. To be sure, we live in the midst of warfare, and as Christians we have signed up for the duration. We should never neglect our awesome responsibility to the kingdom of God. Called to be servants, we are also called to obedience. Sometimes we are called to do things that we don’t particularly enjoy doing. Nevertheless, the overriding consideration is to bring our motivation into conformity with our call and our call into conformity with our motivation.
All things being equal, Jesus did not want to go to the cross, as He expressed in His agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. Yet at the same time, He had an overarching desire and motivation to do the will of His Father. That was His “meat and drink,” the focus of His zeal. When it was confirmed to Him that it was the Father’s will that He lay down His life, Jesus was, in a very real and vital sense, motivated to do it.
Let us extend the concept of service and obedience to the analogy of human warfare. A crisis besets a nation, and people are summoned to the cause of national defense. Leaving the security and comfort of their homes and jobs, they make sacrifices by enlisting in the armed services. Are not Christians called to do the same? Certainly there is a sense in which we are. Yet within the context of the earthly military, there are a vast number of jobs, some for which we would be suited and others for which we would not. Some military tasks would be in line with our motivated skills and patterns of behavior, while others would be completely at odds with our motivated skills and behavior. Even within the context of sacrificial service, a consideration of motivation is a vital ingredient in determining our vocation.
Some rugged individualists in our society are self-employed and find it totally unnecessary to fit into an organizational working structure that involves supervisors, bosses, and lines of authority. Most of us, however, carry out our working lives within the context of an organization. Here we face the problem of fitting. Do our jobs fit our gifts, talents, and aspirations? Do our motivated abilities fit our jobs? The degree to which our job requirements and our motivated abilities fit often determines the usefulness of our contribution and the extent of our personal satisfaction.
When personal motivations do not fit job descriptions, many people suffer. The first to suffer is the individual, because he is laboring in a job that does not fit his motivated abilities. Because he is in a job for which he is unsuited, he tends to be less efficient and less productive. He also creates problems for others in the organization because his frustration spills over and has a negative effect on the group.
Some of us are “sanctified” enough to perform assigned tasks for which we lack motivation, doing them as proficiently as we do tasks that are more enjoyable. However, people who are that sanctified make up an infinitesimal minority within the workforce. Research shows again and again that there is a strong tendency for people to do what they are motivated to do, regardless of what is called for in their job description. That is, they spend the majority of their time and effort doing what they want to do rather than what the job, in fact, calls them to do. Such an investment of time and energy can be quite costly to a company or an organization.
The following simple diagrams show the relationships between motivated ability patterns and job descriptions. They have been borrowed from People Management, a Connecticut-based organization. People Management helps people to discern their motivated ability patterns and helps organizations to coordinate people’s gifts and motivations with the needs and aims of the organizations. This kind of guidance works not only in secular industry but also within the structures of the church and sacred vocations.

Job Description
Unused Abilities
Tasks Not Performed
Motivated Abilities
Job Fit

In this diagram, the top left block represents the job description of the employee, including the tasks required for optimal organizational functioning.
The lower right block represents the motivated abilities of the employee. The shaded area represents the area of job fit. It is not in balance. A large portion of the employee’s motivated abilities are not being used. This produces frustration for the employee.
Also, a large portion of the organizational job description is either left unperformed or performed at a low degree of proficiency. The result is organizational frustration. This pattern spells problems for both the individual employee and the organization. Changes must be made.
The diagram below represents an ideal matchup between job description and motivated abilities. The result is fulfillment for both the employee and the organization.


Through the influence of the world-denying spirit of Manichaeism, early Christians got the idea that the only way they could possibly serve God would be by living their lives on a bed of nails. It was assumed that to embark on a pathway of service involved self-denial. Real virtue could be found only in being as miserable as possible in one’s job. However, if God indeed called us to devote ourselves to the most unpleasant tasks possible, He would be the cosmic Chief of Bad Managers.
The Scriptures describe God’s management style differently. God manages by building us into a body according to our abilities and our desires. He gives gifts to each one of His people. Every Christian is gifted of the Lord to fulfill a divine vocation. Along with the gift, God gives a desire or a motivation to make use of that gift.
What Should We Do?

This brings us to the final and paramount question: “What should I do?” The most practical advice I can give is for you to do what your motivated ability pattern indicates you can do with a high degree of motivation. If what you would like to do can be of service to God, then by all means you should be doing it.
One vital constraint is at work: the preceptive will of God. If a woman’s great ability and motivation were to be a prostitute and a man’s motivated ability were to be the world’s greatest bank robber, then obviously vocational goals would have to be adjusted. To fulfill such motivated abilities would bring individuals into direct conflict with the preceptive will of God.
If we carefully analyzed the root causes for the motivated ability of the bank robber and the motivated ability of the prostitute, we probably would find root abilities and motivations that could profitably and productively be channeled into godly enterprises. We must not only bring our motivated abilities into conformity with the law of God, but also make sure that the vocation we choose has the blessing of God.
There is certainly nothing wrong, for example, with devoting one’s life to the practice of medicine, for we see the good that medicine can do in terms of alleviating suffering. We also understand that the world needs bread to eat and that the vocation of baker for someone who is motivated and able to bake is a godly enterprise. Jesus Himself spent many of His years not in preaching and teaching but in being a carpenter, a craftsman in a legitimate trade. During those years, Jesus was in “the center of God’s will.”
Any vocation that meets the need of God’s world can be considered a divine calling. I underscore this because of the tendency in Christian circles to think that only those who go into “full-time Christian service” are being sensitive to divine vocation—as if preaching and teaching were the only legitimate tasks to which God calls us. A cursory reading of the Bible would reveal the flaw in such thinking. The temple was built in the Old Testament through not only the wise oversight of Solomon but also the craftsmanship of those who were divinely gifted in carving, sculpting, and so on.
David’s vocation as a shepherd, Abraham’s vocation as a caravan trader, Paul’s vocation as a tentmaker—all were seen as part of God’s plan to bring about the redemption of the world. When God made Adam and Eve, neither was called to be a full-time professional worker in the ecclesiastical structure; they were basically called to be farmers.
A vocation is something that we receive from God; He is the one who calls us. He may not call us in the way that He called Moses, by appearing in a burning bush and giving a specific set of marching orders. Instead, He usually calls us inwardly and by giving us certain gifts, talents, and aspirations. His invisible sovereign will is certainly working in the background to prepare us for useful tasks in His vineyard.
The External Call from People

In addition to the inner call of God, we recognize that there is such a thing as an external call to labor, a call that comes from people who request our services for their particular mission or purpose. We may be called by the church to be preachers or by a company to be foremen or shippers. Every time an organization places a want ad in a newspaper, a human call is going out for able workers to come and match their gifts and talents to a presented need.
Some Christians have argued that the need always constitutes the call. They say that there is a need for evangelists in the world and therefore everyone should be an evangelist. I agree that we must consider the needs of the kingdom of God as we make vocational decisions. However, the very fact that the world needs evangelists does not necessarily imply that everyone in the world is called to be an evangelist. Again, the New Testament makes it clear that not all are called to be preachers or administrators. The church is composed of people with a diversity of gifts, talents, and vocations. We must not make a simplistic, passive assumption that the need constitutes the call.
Certainly the presence of a need requires that the people of God strive to meet that need. However, it does not necessarily mean that people who are not equipped to meet the need are thereby forced into the gap. For example, it is every Christian’s responsibility to help carry out the mandate for evangelism. It is not every Christian’s responsibility to be an evangelist. I am not an evangelist, though I contribute to evangelism by teaching evangelists theology and by contributing money for the church’s task of evangelism. I do those things so that those who do have the gift and the motivation can be called out, trained, equipped, and sent into the world as evangelists. I participate in the responsibility of the body of Christ to see that the task is met, but I myself am not the one who delivers the goods as the practicing evangelist. I could say the same regarding a host of other vocations.
How do others affect our vocational calling? We do need to listen to the community of believers and friends. Sometimes our gifts and abilities are more evident to those around us than they are to us. The counsel of many and the evaluation of the group are important considerations in our search for our vocations. However, we must put up a red flag of warning. The group’s judgment is not always correct. The fact that a particular individual or group thinks we should be doing a certain task is not a guarantee that it is the will of God.
I went through a period in my life of being unemployed for six months. During that time, I had five different job offers in five different cities in the United States. Five different friends came to me and said out of sincerity and urgent zeal that they were sure God wanted me to take each of the particular jobs. This meant that if all five of them had a direct pipeline to the will of God, God wanted me to hold five full-time positions and live in five different cities in the United States at the same time. I explained to my friends that I knew I was iniquitous (full of sin), but had not yet discovered the gift of being ubiquitous (being everywhere at the same time). I simply could not possibly do all five jobs. Somebody was wrong in their estimation of the will of God for my life.
I find it very difficult to resist the pressures that come from people who are sure they know what God wants me to do with my life. We all experience that kind of pressure, so we must be careful to pay attention to those whose judgment we trust. We must be able to discern between sound judgment and the vested personal interests of other people.
As it turned out, I accepted a sixth position for which no one came to me in the middle of the night with a telegram from God. I was convinced that the sixth position was the one that matched my abilities with the job that needed to be done.
Considering Foreseeable Consequences

One last consideration that is often neglected but is of crucial importance is the foreseeable consequences of the job. To take a job simply for money or for geographical location is a tragic mistake. All things being equal, I would like to have a salary of a $1 million a year, to be a teacher of theology, and to live where the climate is mild twelve months of the year. At the present time I am a teacher of theology living in Florida, but I make far less than $1 million a year. Somewhere along the way, I had to make a decision about my priorities. Did I want to make a million dollars or did I want to heed my vocational calling? My residence was determined by the locale of my vocation.
Job decisions have both short-range and long-range consequences. Consider the case of Abraham and his nephew Lot, who lived and worked together in the Promised Land. Conflict between their hired hands made it necessary for them to divide the territory they were occupying. Abraham gave Lot the first choice, offering any half that he chose. Lot gazed toward the barren area of Transjordan and then looked toward the fertile valley near the city. He thought for a moment: “If I take the fertile valley, my cows can graze there and become fat. It’s a short distance to the city market. My profit will be great.” In consideration of his business, Lot opted for the fertile areas around the city and left Abraham the barren land. Lot’s choice was brilliant—from the perspective of raising cattle. He didn’t ask himself, “Where will my family go to school? Where will my family go to church?” The city he chose was Sodom—a great place to raise cows. The short-term consequences were fine, but long-term living in Sodom turned out to be a disaster in many ways.
How will our job decisions be conducive to fulfilling our other responsibilities? The person who chooses a vocation purely on the basis of money, location, or status is virtually guaranteeing his later frustration.
Much of the confusion we often experience in the job arena would be dispelled by asking ourselves one simple question: “What would I most like to do if I didn’t have to please anyone in my family or my circle of friends?” Another good question is, “What would I like to be doing ten years from now?” These questions are good to keep in mind even after one has settled into a particular job. Another thing to remember is the promise of God’s Word that the Holy Spirit will guide us into all truth. As His children, that includes the area of our work.
While God’s decretive will may not always be clear to us even in our occupational pursuits, His preceptive will is more easily discerned. Wherever we are, in whatever work we find ourselves, His preceptive will must be done.
Finally, what does God expect of us in relation to our work? As Christians, we have been called to be spiritual salt in a decaying world, to be spiritual light in the midst of darkness. We are to be wise stewards of God’s gifts and talents. That means striving to be the most honest, patient, hardworking, and committed workers we can be. It means settling for nothing less than excellence. God help us to live up to His high call for each of us.

Chapter Four

Besides our work, the other topic of perennial concern is our marital status. Should we marry or remain single?
It is possible that Christians expend more decision-making energy over the subject of marriage than any other area of human existence. No wonder, since the decisions relevant to the marital relationship have such far-reaching effects on our lives. How a person feels about his marital status determines, in large part, his sense of fulfillment, his productivity, and his self-image. The reality and the seriousness of the marital relationship are brought home when we realize that the one who knows us most intimately, the one before whom we are the most fragile and vulnerable, and the one who powerfully shapes and influences our lives is our marriage partner. That is why entering the marital relationship is not something anyone should undertake lightly.
Before we tackle the general question, “Is it God’s will for me to marry?” several specific questions need to be considered.
Should I Get Married?

The answer to this question has often been assumed by our culture, at least until recent years. Even today, most of us absorb the idea while growing up that marriage is a natural and integral part of normal life. In many ways—from the fairy-tale characters Snow White and Prince Charming, the romantic plays of Shakespeare, and some mass media heroes and heroines—we receive signals that society expects us to be numbered among the married. Among individuals who fail to fulfill this cultural expectation, those of a more traditional mindset are left with the nagging feeling that perhaps something is wrong with them, that they are abnormal.
In earlier generations, if a young man reached the age of thirty without getting married, he was suspected of having homosexual tendencies. If a woman was still single by thirty, it was often tacitly assumed that she had some defect that made her unattractive as a marriage partner or had lesbian preferences. Such assumptions are by no means found in the Scriptures.
From a biblical perspective, the pursuit of celibacy (as Scripture expects for the unmarried) is a legitimate option in some instances. Under other considerations, it is viewed as a definite preference. Though we have our Lord’s blessing on the sanctity of marriage, we also have His example of personal choice to remain celibate, obviously in submission to the will of God. Christ was celibate not because of a lack of the masculine traits necessary to make Him desirable as a life partner. Rather, His divine purpose obviated the destiny of marriage, making it crucial that He devote Himself entirely to the preparation of His bride, the church, for His future wedding.
The most important biblical instruction that we have regarding celibacy is given by the apostle Paul in a lengthy passage from 1 Corinthians:

Now concerning the unmarried, I have no command of the Lord, but I give my opinion as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. I think that in view of the present distress it is well for a person to remain as he is. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek marriage. But if you marry, you do not sin, and if a girl marries she does not sin. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that. I mean, brethren, the appointed time has grown very short; from now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the form of this world is passing away.
I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; but the married man is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried woman or girl is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.
If anyone thinks that he is not behaving properly toward his betrothed, if his passions are strong, and it has to be, let him do as he wishes: let them marry—it is no sin. But whoever is firmly established in his heart, being under no necessity but having his desire under control, and has determined this in his heart, to keep her as his betrothed, he will do well. So that he who marries his betrothed does well; and he who refrains from marriage will do better.
A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. If the husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. But in my judgment she is happier if she remains as she is. And I think that I have the Spirit of God. (1 Cor. 7:25–40, RSV)

Paul’s teaching in this matter of marriage has been subjected to serious distortions. Some observe in this text that Paul is setting forth a contrasting view of marriage that says celibacy is good and marriage is bad, particularly for Christians called to service in the interim period between the first advent of Christ and His return. However, even a cursory glance at the text indicates that Paul is not contrasting the good and the bad, but rival goods. He points out that it is good to opt for celibacy under certain circumstances. Moreover, it is also good and quite permissible to opt for marriage under other circumstances. Paul sets forth the pitfalls that a Christian faces when contemplating marriage. Of prime consideration is the pressure of the kingdom of God on the marriage relationship.
Nowhere has the question of celibacy been more controversial than in the Roman Catholic Church. Historically, Protestants have objected that the Roman Catholic Church, by imposing on its clergy a mandate beyond the requirements of Scripture itself, has slipped into a form of legalism. Though we believe that Scripture permits the marriage of clergy, it indicates, at the same time, that one who is married and serving God in a special vocation does face the nagging problems created by a divided set of loyalties—his family on one hand, the church on the other. Unfortunately, the dispute between Protestants and Catholics over mandatory celibacy has become so heated at times that Protestants have often reacted to the other extreme, dismissing celibacy as a viable option. Let us return to the focus of Paul’s word, which sets forth a distinction between rival goods. His distinction, in the final analysis, allows the individual to decide what best suits him or her.
Paul in no way denigrates the honorable “estate” of marriage, but rather affirms what was given in creation: the benediction of God over the marriage relationship. One does not sin by getting married. Marriage is a legitimate, noble, and honorable option set forth for Christians.
Just a Piece of Paper?

Another aspect of the question, “Should I get married?” moves beyond the issue of celibacy to whether a couple should enter into a formal marriage contract or sidestep this option by simply living together. In the past few decades, the option of living together, rather than moving into a formal marriage contract, has proliferated in our culture. Christians must be careful not to establish their precepts of marriage (or any other ethical dimension of life) on the basis of contemporary community standards. The Christian’s conscience is to be governed not merely by what is socially acceptable or even by what is legal according to the law of the land, but rather by what God sanctions.
Unfortunately, some Christians have rejected the legal and formal aspects of marriage, arguing that marriage is a matter of private and individual commitment between two people and has no legal or formal requirements. These view marriage as a matter of individual private decision apart from external ceremony. The question most frequently asked of clergymen on this matter reflects the so-called freedom in Christ: “Why do we have to sign a piece of paper to make it legal?”
The signing of a piece of paper is not a matter of affixing one’s signature in ink to a meaningless document. The signing of a marriage certificate is an integral part of what the Bible calls a covenant. A covenant is made publicly before witnesses and with formal legal commitments that are taken seriously by the community. The protection of both partners is at stake; there is legal recourse should one of the partners act in a way that is destructive to the other.
Contracts are signed out of the necessity spawned by the presence of sin in our fallen nature. Because we have an enormous capacity to wound each other, sanctions have to be imposed by legal contracts. Contracts not only restrain sin, but also protect the innocent in the case of legal and moral violation. With every commitment I make to another human being, there is a sense in which a part of me becomes vulnerable, exposed to the response of the other person. No human enterprise renders a person more vulnerable to hurt than does the estate of marriage.
God ordained certain rules regulating marriage in order to protect people. His law was born of love, concern, and compassion for His fallen creatures. The sanctions God imposed on sexual activity outside marriage do not mean that God is a spoilsport or a prude. Sex is an enjoyment He Himself created and gave to the human race. God, in His infinite wisdom, understands that there is no time that human beings are more vulnerable than when they are engaged in this most intimate activity. Thus, He cloaks this special act of intimacy with certain safeguards. He is saying to both the man and the woman that it is safe to give oneself to the other only when there is a certain knowledge of a lifelong commitment behind it. There is a vast difference between a commitment sealed with a formal document and declared in the presence of witnesses, including family, friends, and authorities of church and state, and a whispered, hollow promise breathed in the back seat of a car.
Do I Want to Get Married?

Paul states in 1 Corinthians 7:8–9: “To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” The distinction is between the good and the better. Here Paul introduces the idea of burning, not of the punitive fires of hell, but of the passions of the biological nature, which God has given us. Paul is speaking very candidly when he points out that some people are not made for celibacy. Marriage is a perfectly honorable and legitimate option even for those who are most strongly motivated by sexual fulfillment and relief from sexual temptation and passion.
The question, “Do I want to get married?” is an obvious but very important one. The Bible does not prohibit marriage. Indeed, it encourages it except in certain cases where one may be brought into conflict with vocation, but even in that dimension, provisions are left for marriage. So to desire marriage is a very good thing. A person needs to be in touch with his own desires and conscience.
If I have a strong desire to marry, then the next step is to do something about fulfilling that desire. If a person wants a job, he must seriously pursue employment opportunities. When we decide to attend a college or a university, we have to follow the formal routine of making applications and evaluating various campuses. Marriage is no different; no magic recipe has come from heaven that will determine for us the perfect will of God for a life partner. Here, unfortunately, is where Christians have succumbed to the fairy-tale syndrome of our society. It is a particular problem for young, single women. Many a young woman feels that if God wants her to be married, He will drop a marriage partner out of heaven on a parachute or will bring some Prince Charming riding up to her doorstep on a great white horse.
One excruciating problem faced by single women—more so in past generations than today—is caused by the unwritten rule of our society that allows men the freedom actively to pursue a marriage partner while women are considered loose if they actively pursue a prospective husband. No biblical rule says that a woman eager to be married should be passive. There is nothing that prohibits her from actively seeking a suitable mate.
On numerous occasions, I’ve had the task of counseling single women who insisted at the beginning of the interview that they had no desire to be married but simply wanted to work out the dimensions of the celibacy they believed God had imposed on them. After a few questions and answers, the scenario usually repeats itself: the young woman begins to weep and blurts out, “But I really want to get married.” When I suggest that there are wise steps that she can take to find a husband, her eyes light up in astonishment as if I had just given her permission to do the forbidden. I have broken a taboo.
Wisdom requires that the search be done with discretion and determination. Those seeking a life partner need to do certain obvious things, such as going where other single people congregate. They need to be involved in activities that will bring them in close communication with other single Christians.
In the Old Testament, Jacob made an arduous journey to his homeland to find a suitable marriage partner. He did not wait for God to deliver him a life partner. He went where the opportunity presented itself to find a marriage partner. But the fact that he was a man does not imply that such a procedure is limited to males. Women in our society have exactly the same freedom to pursue a mate by diligent search.
What Do I Want in a Marriage Partner?

A myth has arisen within the Christian community that marriage is to be a union between two people committed to the principle of selfless love. Selfless love is viewed as being crucial for the success of a marriage. This myth is based on the valid concept that selfishness is often at the root of disharmony and disintegration in marriage relationships. The biblical concept of love says no to acts of selfishness within marital and other human relationships. However, the remedy for selfishness is nowhere to be found in selflessness.
The concept of selflessness emerged from Asian and Greek thinking, where the ideal goal of humanity is the loss of self-identity by becoming one with the universe. The goal of man in this schema is to lose any individual characteristic, becoming one drop in the great ocean. Another aspect of absorption is the notion of the individual becoming merged with the great Oversoul and becoming spiritually diffused throughout the universe. But from a biblical perspective, the goal of the individual is not the annihilation or the disintegration of the self, but the redemption of the self. To seek selflessness in marriage is an exercise in futility. The self is very active in building a good marriage, and marriage involves the commitment of the self with another self based on reciprocal sharing and sensitivity between two actively involved selves.
If I were committed to a selfless marriage, it would mean that in my search for a marriage partner I should survey the scene to find a person for whom I was willing to throw myself away. This is the opposite of what is involved in the quest for a marriage partner. When someone seeks a mate, he should be seeking someone who will enrich his life, who will add to his own self-fulfillment, and who at the same time will be enriched by that relationship.
What are the priority qualities to seek in a marriage partner? One little exercise that many couples have found helpful is based on freewheeling imagination. While finding a marriage partner is not like shopping for an automobile, one can use the new car metaphor. When one purchases a new car, he has many models from which to choose. With those models, there is an almost endless list of optional equipment that can be tacked onto the standard model.
By analogy, suppose one could request a made-to-order mate with all the options. The person engaged in such an exercise could list as many as a hundred qualities or characteristics that he would like to find in the perfect mate. Compatibility with work and with play, attitudes toward parenting, and certain skills and physical characteristics could be included. After completing the list, the person must acknowledge the futility of such a process. No human being will ever perfectly fit all the possible characteristics that one desires in a mate.
This exercise is particularly helpful for people who have delayed marrying into their late twenties or early thirties, or even later. Such a person sometimes settles into a pattern of focusing on tiny flaws that disqualify virtually every person he or she meets. After doing the made-to-order mate exercise, he can take the next step: reduce the list to the main priorities. The person involved in this exercise reduces the number of qualifications to twenty, then to ten, and finally to five. Such a reduction forces him to set in ordered priority the things he is most urgently seeking in a marriage partner.
It is extremely important that individuals clearly understand what they want out of the dating and eventually the marital relationship. They should also find out whether their desires in a marriage relationship are healthy or unhealthy. This leads us to the next question, regarding counseling.
From Whom Should I Seek Counsel?

Many people resent the suggestion that they seek counsel in their selection of a marriage partner. After all, isn’t such a selection an intensely personal and private matter? However personal and private the decision might be, it is one of grave importance to the future of the couple and their potential offspring, their families, and their friends. Marriage is never ultimately a private matter, because how the marriage works affects a multitude of people. Therefore, counsel can and should be sought from trusted friends, pastors, and particularly from parents.
In earlier periods of Western history, marriages were arranged either by families or by matchmakers. Today, the idea of arranged marriages seems primitive and crass. It is totally foreign in the American culture. We have come to the place where we think that it is our inalienable right to choose one whom we love.
Some things need to be said in defense of the past custom of arranged marriages. One is that happy marriages can be achieved even when one has not chosen his own partner. It may sound outrageous, but I am convinced that if biblical precepts are applied consistently, virtually any two people in the world can build a happy marriage and honor the will of God in the relationship. That may not be what we prefer, but it can be accomplished if we are willing to work in the marital relationship. The second thing that needs to be said in defense of arranged marriages is that in some circumstances, marriages have been arranged on the objective evaluation of matching people together and of avoiding destructive parasitic matchups. For example, when left to themselves, people with significant personal weaknesses, such as a man with a profound need to be mothered and a woman with a profound need to mother, can be attracted to each other in a mutually destructive way. Such negative mergings happen daily in our society.
It is not my intention to lobby for matched or arranged marriages. I am only hailing the wisdom of seeking parental counsel in the decision-making process. Parents often object to the choice of a marriage partner. Sometimes their objections are based on the firm conviction that “no one is good enough for my daughter [or son].” Objections of this sort are based on unrealistic expectations at best and on petty jealousy at worst. However, not all parents are afflicted with such destructive prejudices regarding the potential marriage partners of their children. Sometimes the parents have keen insight into the personalities of their children, seeing blind spots that the offspring themselves are unable to perceive. In the earlier example of a person with an inordinate need to be mothered attracting someone with an inordinate need to mother, a discerning parent might spot the mismatch and caution against it. If a parent is opposed to a marriage relationship, it is extremely important to know why.
When Am I Ready to Get Married?

After seeking counsel, having a clear understanding of what we are hoping for, and having examined our expectations of marriage, the final decision is left to us. At this point, some face paralysis as the day of decision draws near. How does one know when he or she is ready to get married? Wisdom dictates that we enter into serious premarital study, evaluation, and counseling with competent counselors so that we may be warned of the pitfalls that come in this new and vital human relationship. With the breakdown of so many marriages in our culture, increasing numbers of young people fear entering into a marriage contract lest they become “statistics.” Sometimes we need the gentle nudge of a trusted counselor to tell us when it is time to take the step.
What things need to be faced before taking the actual step toward marriage? Economic considerations are, of course, important. Financial pressures imposed on a relationship that is already besieged with emotional pressures of other kinds can be the straw that breaks the proverbial camel’s back. That is why parents often advise young people to wait until they finish their schooling or until they are gainfully employed so that they can assume the responsibility of a family.
It is not by accident that the creation ordinance of marriage mentions that a man shall leave his father and mother and “hold fast to” his wife, and the two shall become “one flesh.” The “leaving and cleaving” dimensions are rooted in the concept of being able to establish a new family unit. Here, economic realities often govern the preparedness for marriage.
Entering into marriage involves far more than embarking on new financial responsibilities. The marriage commitment is the most serious one that two human beings can make to each other. A person is ready to get married when he or she is prepared to commit to a particular person for the rest of his or her life, regardless of the human circumstances that befall them.
In order for us to understand the will of God for marriage, it is imperative that we pay attention to God’s preceptive will. The New Testament clearly shows that God not only ordained marriage and sanctified it, He regulates it. His commandments cover a multitude of situations regarding the nitty-gritty aspects of marriage. The greatest textbook on marriage is sacred Scripture, which reveals God’s wisdom and His rule governing the marriage relationship. If someone earnestly wants to do the will of God in marriage, his first task is to master what Scripture says that God requires in such a relationship.
What does God expect of His children who are married or thinking about getting married? God expects, among other things, faithfulness to the marriage partner, provision of mutual needs, and mutual respect under the lordship of Christ. Certainly the couple should enhance each other’s effectiveness as Christians. If not, something is wrong.
While celibacy is certainly no less blessed and honorable a state than marriage, we have to recognize Adam and Eve as our models. God’s plan involved the vital union of these two individuals who would make it possible for the earth to be filled with their “kind.”
Basically, I cannot dictate God’s will for anyone in this area any more than I can or would in the area of occupation. I will say that good marriages require hard work and individuals willing to make their marriages work.
What happens in our lives is cloaked ultimately in the mystery of God’s will. The joy for us as His children is that the mystery holds no terror—only waiting, appropriate acting on His principles and direction, and the promise that He is with us forever.
Sproul, R. C. (2009). Can I Know God’s Will? (Bd. 4, S. i–102). Lake Mary, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing.

Pentecoastal for the Perplexed- via Archbishop Dr. Uwe AE.Rosenkranz



Bloomsbury T&T Clark
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First published 2013

© Wolfgang Vondey, 2013

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British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

ISBN: 978-0-567-62731-5

To Noah Alexander


1 Local roots and global pluralism

Grassroots Pentecostalism
Global Pentecostalism
Pentecostalism and globalization

2 Holistic spirituality and charismatic extremism

Holistic spirituality
Charismatic extremism
The Pentecostal imagination

3 Ecumenical ethos and denominationalism

Pentecostals and Christian unity
Denominationalism and separatism
Unity and diversity in the Pentecostal movement

4 Orthodox doctrine and sectarianism

Pentecostalism and the formulation of the doctrine of God
Oneness Pentecostalism
Pentecostal theology and the development of doctrine

5 Social engagement and triumphalism

Social engagement in the Pentecostal movement
Pentecostal triumphalism
Pentecostal social ethics

6 Egalitarian practices and institutionalism

The egalitarian impulse of Pentecostalism
Institutionalism in the Pentecostal movement
Pentecostal egalitarianism-in-the-making

7 Scholarship and anti-intellectualism

Anti-intellectualism in classical Pentecostalism
The rise of Pentecostal scholarship
The future of Pentecostal studies


AE American Ethnologist
AF The Apostolic Faith
AJPS Asian Journal of Pentecostal Studies
ASR American Sociological Review
CPCR Cyberjournal for Pentecostal-Charismatic Research
CT Christianity Today
Digest The Digest: Transdisciplinary Approaches to Foundational Questions
EI Ecclesiological Investigations Series
ERT Evangelical Review of Theology
IBMR International Bulletin of Missionary Research
IRM International Review of Mission
JASA Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation
JEPTA Journal of the European Pentecostal Theological Association
JES Journal of Ecumenical Studies
JMER Exchange: Journal for Missiological and Ecumenical Research
JPST Journal of Psychology and Theology
JPT Journal of Pentecostal Theology
JPTSup Journal of Pentecostal Theology, Supplement Series
JRitS Journal of Ritual Studies
JRT Journal of Religious Thought
JSSR Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion
MF Ministerial Formation
MIR Missiology: An International Review
NIDPCM The New International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements
PM Pentecostal Manifestos Series
Pneuma Pneuma: The Journal of the Society for Pentecostal Studies
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Zygon Zygon: The Journal of Religion and Science

Pentecostalism is a perplexing phenomenon. Beginning as a fringe movement at a marginal position in the Christian world, the modern-day Pentecostal movement has become one of the fastest-growing religious movements of the twenty-first century. Today’s Pentecostalism is a global phenomenon, an ecumenical melting pot, a theological puzzle consisting of a multiplicity of voices and positions, and a major factor in the shaping of late modern Christianity. Among other things, Pentecostalism has been called a church, a religious faction, a sect, a doctrine, a spirituality, a revival, a fanatic stream, a schism, a renewal movement, an event, and an experience. While Pentecostals have traditionally understood themselves as a movement from God in the last days, outsiders have often denounced the movement as anti-Christian or at the very least located at a position far removed from the Christian mainstream. Advocates of Pentecostalism portray the movement as an ambassador for Christian unity and highlight its pathos of liberation, its vision of restoration, and its emphasis on personal relationships, human transformation, and ethnic reconciliation. In contrast, the anti-Pentecostal sentiment ranges from accusations of excessive emotionalism or eccentric but harmless ideology to harmful teaching and outright heresy. The unprecedented growth of Pentecostalism in all its diversity has led to characterizations ripe with platitudes, stereotypes, and misrepresentations. The opinions about Pentecostalism are at least as perplexing as the movement itself.
Global Pentecostalism is a movement in transition. Since the widely recognized revivals that mark the historical origins of classical Pentecostalism in different parts of the world at the beginning of the twentieth century, the movement has endured unprecedented changes in its global representation, doctrinal composition, ecumenical participation, organizational structures, liturgical make-up, religious ethos, socio-cultural significance, and political participation. These changes make it difficult for many to identify the complex composition of worldwide Pentecostalism. Observers struggle with the correct terminology: Some have suggested to speak of ‘Pentecostalisms’ in the plural rather than the singular; others use the word ‘Pentecostal’ as a blanket term that covers all movements that emphasize the work of the Holy Spirit, while again others prefer to distinguish the ‘Pentecostal Movement’ from the so-called ‘Charismatic Movement’ in the traditional churches. The result of these conflicting attempts to define the essence of Pentecostalism has been a myriad of arguments and studies on various elements of the Pentecostal movement albeit without an overarching theory of Pentecostal identity. The student of Pentecostalism is left with a choice to either produce a homogeneous image of the movement from the different accounts or to choose between one or the other element of Pentecostalism—either choice does not fit the global reality of the movement.
This Guide for the Perplexed is an invitation to engage the diversity of Pentecostalism without reducing the movement to one of its elements or distorting the image with a homogeneous account that does not reflect the movement’s perplexing reality of often conflicting beliefs and practices. While this intention implies to a certain extent a phenomenological approach to Pentecostalism, the underlying goal of this introduction is to gain a general understanding of the identity of Pentecostalism as a whole. Consequently, this volume is not a historical introduction to Pentecostalism or a survey of the global dimensions of the movement, although both elements are present, nor is the intention to offer an account of Pentecostal distinctives or a characterization of Pentecostalism that would fit the movement exactly into the Christian landscape. On the contrary, this introduction to Pentecostalism concentrates on the tensions existing within the movement between its orthodox and radical elements. Rather than eschewing certain unwanted features or attempting to provide a homogeneous image of the complex movement, these perhaps irreconcilable struggles are presented as the hallmark of the Pentecostal movement worldwide. Moreover, what may be identified more readily as contrasts and controversies within Pentecostalism are in fact only the more visible tremors of a Christian world in transition. Pentecostalism exists amidst such tensions representative of a global shift of the Christian faith in the twenty-first century.
More precisely, this Guide for the Perplexed is based on the rationale that the bewildering elements that make Pentecostalism difficult to grasp are precisely the elements that best describe the character of the movement. Seven key themes are explored to illustrate this thesis: the tension between the local roots and global pluralism of Pentecostals, the tension between the Pentecostal emphasis on holistic spirituality and the excessive display of charismatic manifestations, the tension between a divisive denominationalism and the ecumenical ethos of Pentecostalism, the tension between orthodox doctrine and the sectarian rejection of the Christian tradition by some Pentecostals, the tension between social engagement and triumphalism, the tension between democratic egalitarian ideals and the divisive effects of institutionalism, and the tension between Pentecostal scholarship and the prevalent anti-intellectualism of the movement. These tensions are representative not of the anomalies but of the struggles of Pentecostalism within the emergence of a global Christianity. Simply put, understanding Pentecostalism provides a means to understanding the changing face of the Christian world.
The objective of this introduction is to embrace the tensions inherent in Pentecostalism as part of the self-understanding of the movement. Rather than simply contrasting two sides of the movement, each chapter expands the horizon of what is meant by ‘Pentecostalism’ and takes the reader to a broader appreciation of its diverse range and transitions by bringing the different positions into dialogue. The goal is to dismantle existing stereotypes, to guide the reader away from internal debates, oversimplifications, a one-sided focus on Christianity in the West, or an idealist, romantic image of Pentecostalism. The conclusions reached by this text are that the restrictive, parochial, extremist, and fundamentalist tendencies of Pentecostalism are confronted by the alternative ecumenical, global, interdisciplinary, and progressive nature of a movement representative of a Christian world in transition.
The first chapter provides the context and background to the study of global Pentecostalism and charismatic Christianity in all its diversity. The student unfamiliar with Pentecostalism can begin here with historical, theological, and sociological material that helps situate the study of Pentecostalism in the broader context of the history of Christian thought. The chapter focuses on the shifting emphasis of global Christianity from the West to the East and the southern hemisphere and places worldwide Pentecostalism in contrast to so-called classical Pentecostalism in North America, thereby preparing the foundation for understanding the perplexing nature of the Pentecostal movement in its diverse contexts. This framework emphasizes the significance of understanding Pentecostalism both as a local and a global phenomenon, which explains in part the tensions inherent in existing accounts of Pentecostalism. This explanation is illustrated by the tension between grassroots communities and mega-churches that characterize the Pentecostal landscape both locally and globally. The distinction between local and global, in terms of both location and membership distribution, is a hallmark of the discussion on contemporary Pentecostalism. All subsequent explanations always depend on this necessary dynamic and must be seen in light of both local and global developments of the movement. This approach allows for a clarification of the diverse terminology applied to definitions of Pentecostal groups worldwide. The results of this interdisciplinary overview provide the basis for a conceptual understanding of the difficulties associated with Pentecostalism as they are presented in the subsequent chapters.
In light of the foundational tension outlined in the first chapter, the second chapter tackles one of the most bewildering elements of Pentecostalism in its local and global manifestations: the emphasis on the reality of the spiritual dimension of life and on holistic spirituality, on the one hand, and the public scandals surrounding the excessive display of charismatic gifts, the exploitation of the miraculous, and the apparent lack of attentiveness to spiritual matters by Pentecostal leaders, on the other hand. This tension is well portrayed in the historical anti-Pentecostal argument that describes Pentecostals as devilish, demonic, and insane, while Pentecostals understood themselves as a movement from God and their actions as divinely inspired. The chapter introduces the dimensions of the spirit-driven reality among Pentecostals and brings both extremes into dialogue for a better understanding of the bandwidth of the charismatic life that characterizes Pentecostal practices. The underlying argument of this chapter is that the spiritual dimension of life is the most fundamental aspect of Pentecostalism, experientially, socially, intellectually, and theologically. All other explanations of the perplexities within the Pentecostal movement both locally and globally depend on the understanding of the tensions inherent in the spirit-oriented life. The goal is to outline these tensions as necessary components of a spirit-driven imagination that is potentially open to all forms of manifestations of the charismatic life while intended to remain subject to the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.
The third chapter examines the ecclesiastical tensions of the Pentecostal movement. The chapter addresses the particular difficulties associated with situating Pentecostalism among the Christian churches. On the one hand, Pentecostalism is portrayed as a Free Church movement characterized by rampant denominationalism, non-denominational splinter-groups, as well as internal and external tendencies toward segregation. On the other hand, Pentecostals have become a driving force in the ecumenical movement since the late twentieth century. The chapter traces the development of ecumenical attitudes among Pentecostals worldwide and brings into dialogue the tensions between separatist tendencies and the pursuit of Christian unity. The intention of this chapter is to explain the various factors that have contributed to the confusing ecumenical identity of Pentecostals. Emphasis is placed on the effects of restorationist criticism, persecution and rejection, internal divisions, as well as organizational demands and institutionalization. At the same time, the chapter also portrays the current shift in attitude among Pentecostals toward the ecumenical movement and outlines the active participation and leadership of Pentecostal groups in bilateral dialogues and ecumenical conversations. The goal of this chapter is to characterize the nature of the ecumenical mindset among Pentecostals and to reflect critically on the possibility to reconcile the current state of affairs with the ecclesiology and ecumenical attitude of Pentecostalism at large.
Chapter Four introduces the longstanding theological division among Pentecostals between advocates of an orthodox trinitarian theology and the so-called Oneness Pentecostals. The latter group rejects the trinitarian theology that developed as a result of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed as a de-facto tritheism; the trinitarian camp views the Oneness camp as perpetuating a sectarian form of modalistic monarchianism. Accusations of heresy are found on both sides. The perplexities of this controversy are explained by bringing both sides into dialogue on the manner and method in which Pentecostals formulate and communicate the doctrine of God. The chief argument of the chapter is that the divisions are based on structural and methodological concerns rather than the content of orthodox doctrinal confessions. This argument is illustrated with the recent Oneness-Trinitarian Pentecostal dialogue. The impasse in the debate between both sides is explained as a confrontation of the two most challenging elements of trinitarian doctrine: divine personhood and the eternal processions. The intention of this chapter is to portray the difficulties inherent in these ideas as not unique to Pentecostalism but as representative of the development of Christian doctrine in general. The goal is to allow other ecumenical traditions to identify with the struggle for the doctrine of God as it is represented in the Pentecostal movement. The two sides thus emerge not as mutually exclusive positions but as representative of the efforts within a maturing global movement to come to terms with the classical formulations of Christian doctrine.
Chapter Five compares and contrasts two distinct ways of Pentecostal upward social mobility: social engagement, exemplified in programmatic and long-term expressions of Pentecostal social activism and political and socio-cultural involvement, and triumphalism, or social passivism, exemplified in the preaching of the health and wealth gospel. The former proposes active participation and leadership in the struggle against poverty, deprivation, and oppression; the latter withdraws into a sectarian mindset, individualism, and triumphalism. On a socio-cultural level, this discrepancy brings into dialogue the tension between poverty and prosperity as well as between the affluent Pentecostal groups of the West and the impoverished Pentecostals in the global South. On a theological level, this comparison joins the concerns of political theology and economic justice by focusing both on the liberating aspects as well as the problematic elements of Pentecostal theology in different cultural and socio-economic environments. The goal of this chapter is a comparison that offers both critical and therapeutic insights into the tensions resulting from the expansion of the Pentecostal movement to global proportions and the challenges inherent in its confrontation with diverse socio-economic, cultural, and political contexts. Pentecostalism is here portrayed as a mirror of unavoidable global and local dynamics that define its social ethics and character as a religious movement.
Chapter Six engages the tensions between Pentecostalism as an egalitarian movement and its growing institutionalism, exemplified in the debates about race and gender. Any attempt to come to terms with the perplexity of Pentecostalism cannot neglect the exorbitant tensions across all streams of the movement with regard to the authority of women in ministry or the divisions between black Pentecostalism and white congregations found in different configurations across the world. Existing stereotypes portray Pentecostalism, on the one hand, either as a movement of liberation and reconciliation or, on the other hand, as a bigoted, chauvinist, and racist movement that postpones the promises of full equality to the time of a new creation while holding on to established institutional patterns. Reasons for these tensions are complex, often depending on the heritage, social context, and history of particular Pentecostal groups. The chapter presents the divisions over the representation and authority of Pentecostals across the lines of gender and race in sharp contrast to the movement’s emphasis on the priesthood and prophethood of all believers. These tensions have permeated the movement worldwide and have brought many Pentecostal denominations and churches to the brink of separation. The goal of this chapter is to present the tensions between egalitarianism and institutionalism in the context of race and gender in order to explain the underlying motivation and persistence of both streams among Pentecostals today.
Chapter Seven addresses the divide between anti-intellectualism and the emergence of Pentecostal scholarship in modern-day Pentecostalism. This chapter addresses the intellectual dimension of the movement: Pentecostal attitudes toward education, pedagogy, and the academy, the development of Pentecostal scholarship, and the stereotypes and tensions inherent in the expanding field of Pentecostal studies. The social face and perception of the movement is shaped by both an alleged anti-intellectualism as well as a rising Pentecostal scholarship. On the one hand, Pentecostals are seen as outsiders to the intellectual history of the twentieth century with no apparent theological tradition, no underlying intellectual system, and no interest in developing and formulating an intellectual structure. On the other hand, Pentecostal scholarship seems poised to become a central player in the theological academy. The goal of this chapter is to confront the contrast of scholarship and anti-intellectualism by defining the anti-intellectual attitude and its motivations among classical Pentecostals and introducing the still largely uncharted territory of Pentecostal scholarship, its development and current state of affairs. The tensions of anti-intellectualism and scholarship are brought into dialogue in a conversation about the future of Pentecostal studies. This conversation suggests that Pentecostals are shaping the movement into an intellectual tradition that is likely to play a central role in the telling of the intellectual history of the twenty-first century.
A conclusion would be inappropriate for this study of Pentecostalism. It might give the impression that the Pentecostal movement stands at the end rather than the beginning of its development. Instead, a brief epilogue summarizes what has been clarified in the previous chapters as the struggle of a worldwide movement to identify its place and character in the global Christian landscape. The perplexing tensions presented throughout are seen as symptomatic for the changing face of Christianity in general. Pentecostalism is merely a major representative of the dynamics of the Christian social, cultural, and religious milieu that is in transition since at least the twentieth century. These developments are shown to far exceed the realm of religion and to expand ultimately into all dimensions of life. In turn, this characterization also explains much of the bewildering character of the movement and suggests that the immediate future of Pentecostalism may show an even greater variety of perplexities.


Local roots and global pluralism
A first glance at Pentecostalism worldwide immediately reveals the sheer size and complexity of the movement. Widely used statistics (particularly by Pentecostals) suggest that there are over 500 million Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians in the world today. A 10-country survey conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life in 2006 began using the term ‘Renewalist’ as a catch-all category to refer to Pentecostals and Charismatics as a group and estimated their number as at least a quarter of the world’s two billion Christians. The World Christian Database, adopting the same terminology, speaks of 560 million Renewalists in 2010 with an annual growth rate by some Pentecostal denominations of an unusually high 15 per cent. These surveys also emphasize that the number and composition of Pentecostal groups differ considerably from country to country, ranging from a minimal percentage to a large majority of the population. The Center for the Study of Global Christianity locates a large portion of the membership of Pentecostal groups in a new ecclesiastical ‘megabloc’ of 369 million ‘Independents’.4 Another recent statistic emphasizes ‘Pentecostals’ and ‘Charismatics’ as even more sizeable movements that transcend Christian megablocs, denominations, and ecclesiastical networks. The considerably large numbers in these statistics, coupled with the new interpretative terminology, often gives the impression that Pentecostalism is a mega-movement consisting of large groups with significant numerical representation among the global Christian population. Despite these often overwhelming numbers, Pentecostalism cannot simply be described from the outset as a global movement.
On the other side of the Christian landscape, at a micro-vision so to speak, Pentecostalism must be characterized as a thoroughly local phenomenon. Any exclusive emphasis on the global nature of Pentecostalism may downplay the extent to which ‘locality’ (particularly local history, local culture, and local interests) play a critical role in the emergence and development of Pentecostalism as well as in the engagement of any particular group of Pentecostals in matters of global concern. In the contexts of the local and the global, Pentecostalism certainly exhibits traits of both sides. However, the connection between the global character of Pentecostalism and its local representation is not easily defined in the simple terms of the globalization of a local phenomenon. At the very least, the idea of a homogenous globalization of Pentecostalism that is more or less identical with a ‘pentecostalization’ of Christianity is too simplistic to account for the global trends and local particularities of the Pentecostal landscape.7
This chapter introduces the relationship between Pentecostalism as a local and global phenomenon. The diversity of Pentecostals worldwide is best understood when we consider Pentecostalism as both a local and global culture while allowing any characterization of Pentecostalism to transcend the dialectic of local and global and the debate that tends to see the emergence of the movement as either a homogenous or heterogeneous phenomenon. The chapter begins with a description of Pentecostalism as a grassroots movement, followed by a section defining the global character of Pentecostalism. The final section examines the ‘glocalization’ of the movement, a term that combines the emphasis of local and global without bias to either side by explaining the phenomenon of its global pluralism on the very basis of the movement’s local embeddedness. In so doing, the chapter sets the tone for the rest of this guide by locating the diverse tensions within the movement in the diversity of its local phenomena set within the expanding character of the global Pentecostal movement.
Grassroots Pentecostalism

The Pentecostal movement today takes its name and identity from the events on the day of Pentecost recorded in the New Testament. The Acts of the Apostles portrays these events as originating in a local scenario, a room of gathered disciples upon whom the Holy Spirit rests and who, filled with the Spirit, begin to speak in other tongues (Acts 2:1–4). Limited initially to a small group assembled for prayer, the observer is quickly confronted with the fact that this event occurred not only in the midst of Jerusalem but on a crowded feast day. Large groups of people soon gather and are identified as residents of various nations (vv. 9–11). To these people, the apostle Peter interprets the event in even broader terms as promissory of a global outpouring of the Holy Spirit that involves not only the people present but also their children, families, servants, and ‘all who are far away’ (v. 39). At the end of the day, the small group of the upper room had grown to three thousand people who became part of the life of the first Christian communities. What began as an isolated local phenomenon took on international proportions overnight, reflecting the commission given by Jesus to his disciples at the beginning of the book to be ‘witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth’ (Acts 1:8).
Modern-day Pentecostalism in many ways reflects the biblical events. From the outset, Pentecostalism was born as a grassroots movement in particular locations across the world. The growth of Pentecostalism can be attributed to both the emergence of new local pockets and the expansion of local groups to international proportions. Nevertheless, conversations about Pentecostalism as a global culture are premature if the local particularities of the Pentecostal movement are neglected.
North American roots

Historically, modern-day Pentecostalism is widely portrayed as a movement originating in the twentieth century. Although the role of the Holy Spirit and the exercise of spiritual gifts can be traced throughout Christian history, affecting individuals and groups at random across Christian traditions, the phenomenon of spontaneous revivals that lead to semi-organized and eventually institutionalized movements, all of which claim a filling with the Holy Spirit and a shared charismatic experience, is unique to the early twentieth century. Contemporary literature has focused primarily on the development of Pentecostalism in North America, often associating the historical origins of the movement with a number of local revivals in Cherokee County, North Carolina (1886), Topeka, Kansas (1901), and at the Azusa Street Mission in Los Angeles (1906–9). While these revivals are responsible for the rapid spread of Pentecostalism in the United States and the expansion of the movement beyond North American borders, more recent histories of Pentecostalism point to the presence of similar revivals in Wales in 1904–5, India in 1905–6, Korea in 1907–8, and a host of other revival movements in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. The origins of many of these local manifestations of Pentecostalism cannot easily be traced back to Pentecostals of North America, but are instead the result of unexpected and unpredictable events in a variety of distinct locations. What characterizes the history of origins of these diverse pockets of revivals and awakenings is not the immediate rapid expansion of the event from individuals to large groups and eventually organized movements and denominations but the particular local character of the Pentecostal pioneers as they persevered throughout this entire development. In other words, portraying the local qualities of Pentecostalism requires historical and ethnographic as well as journalistic qualities.9 It is as much a character study as it is a collection of snapshots of moments in ongoing development.
The earliest snapshots of Pentecostalism in North America show little of the mass movement that it is today. As Walter J. Hollenweger, the father of the study of modern-day Pentecostalism, puts it: ‘For the earliest Pentecostals it was more important to pray than to organize.’ Pentecostal groups typically emerged from spontaneous revivals at the hands of individuals, often preachers and missionaries, who brought with them nothing but an experience of God and a desire to encounter God in a manner and fullness yet unattained. In many instances, these groups were ostracized from the established Christian churches, frequently isolated, and sometimes violently persecuted. The ‘Christian Union’, one of the earliest Pentecostal formations in the United States, began with a handful of individuals in search of a revived and united church.11 The origins of the revival in Topeka, Kansas, considered by many the beginning of the modern Pentecostal movement in America, can be traced back to a small group of students seeking the baptism of the Holy Spirit accompanied by the unexpected event of one student speaking in a foreign tongue. The Azusa Street revival in Los Angeles, seen by most as the occasion that put Pentecostalism on the international map, began not with the thousands of people that eventually attended the revival but with a small local congregation that emerged from a cottage prayer meeting.13 Small Pentecostal groups emerged in the North American context from a diverse background of plantation prayer grounds and the camp meetings of the American South and were eventually carried to the cities, where Pentecostalism was reshaped by the social, cultural, and religious conditions of the urban environment. From these local contexts, individuals and sometimes small groups set out as evangelists and missionaries to spread Pentecostalism worldwide.
Pentecostal roots worldwide

The rise of Pentecostalism in other countries reflects similar local origins as in North America, always tied closely to the grassroots of a particular culture. The influential Welsh revival originated in a series of small awakenings in a Welsh-speaking mining community that observed the particular cultural forms of the Welsh population. The earliest Pentecostal revivals in India occurred among tribal peoples in the Khasi-Jainia Hills and isolated mission stations.16 The beginning of the Pentecostal movement in Korea is found among a small group of Methodist missionaries restricted to the Wonsan area. The local foundations of these widely-cited revivals are an important indication for understanding Pentecostalism on a global scale.
In Africa, the contemporary centre of gravity of global Christianity, the story of Pentecostalism is equally tied to diverse local phenomena that exhibit considerable variety on a small scale. Pockets of Pentecostal groups erupted during the twentieth century in response to both Western missionary efforts and a number of indigenous prophetic figures across the African continent, leading to a complex mix of African-initiated churches, missionary Pentecostal communities, and new independent churches. The roots of Pentecostalism on the African continent are found in the rural regions and townships, many without their own church buildings. Charismatic forms of revitalization erupted first among numerous small groups that made little impact on the national scene until the charismatic revivals across Africa in the 1970s. Character studies of these groups reveal significant differences between missionary Pentecostal communities operating in Africa and African-initiated churches in theological perspectives, rites and practices, as well as the appreciation of African indigenous religions and cultures.20 Grassroots Pentecostalism in Africa exhibits a mixture and fusion of local characteristics symptomatic for Pentecostal origins worldwide.
Much like the African landscape, Pentecostalism in Latin America has been called ‘a mosaic within a mosaic’, a ‘spontaneous combustion’, an ‘immense laboratory’, or a ‘bricolage under construction’. According to Leonardo Boff, the continent is experiencing the building of a living church, an ‘ecclesiogenesis’, from a multiplicity of church base communities.22 These small communities exist in a cultural and ecclesiastical melting pot both within and in contrast to the established churches. A vibrant dimension of Roman Catholicism in Latin America, the base communities often differ from the identity of the mother church and result in ‘as many ecclesiologies as there are basic ecclesial structures’. For the Pentecostal communities on the ground, a similar diversity is typically reflected in small communities and fragmented groups that combine different elements autochthonous to particular regions. Small pockets of Pentecostal revivals erupted almost simultaneously in the early decades of the twentieth century in a number of Latin American countries, often in denominational groupings that already existed or as a result of immigrated churches or foreign missionary endeavours. It is this fragmentation that characterizes the image of grassroots Pentecostalism across the continent even beyond the rise of national Charismatic revivals.
The picture of Pentecostalism at the grassroots is similar in Asia, where Christianity is still a sizeable minority, and a national Pentecostal movement either does not yet exist or is suppressed by religious and political forces. The remarkable growth of Pentecostalism in China is attributed largely to the prominence of small independent house churches under often severe opposition and in isolation from one another and the rest of Christianity. The Pentecostal movement in Japan emerged almost entirely from small Western missionary efforts that still have hardly exceeded the grassroots level even with the rise of larger independent church movements after World War II. In South-East Asia, Pentecostalism in Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and the Philippines is largely the result of Pentecostal missionaries working together with local preachers and evangelists.27 Similar small origins and local communities characterized Pentecostals in Australia and the Pacific before the arrival of large-scale meetings in the 1920s.
Snapshots of the countries on the European continent show a widespread dispersion of Pentecostal groups that have remained active mainly in local areas and are less developed on a national level. Apart from the impact of the Welsh revival, Pentecostal groups have mobilized only ‘a minority of people at the varied margins of that world’. Most Pentecostals are still engaged in establishing social and cultural respect and stability in the local communities in which they were established—a development that is by some viewed as a ghetto while others see this ‘invisibility’ as a passing stage in the growth of the movement.29 Others began as small revival fellowships in the existing churches before forming independent organizations. Although most of these groups are now organized on the national level, they grow slowly and remain outside of the mainstream religious traditions. Central and Eastern Europe has also been a mission field for Pentecostals, but religious restrictions and persecutions from Communist governments and state churches have often forced Pentecostals underground.31 The roots of European Pentecostalism are in the independent grassroots revivals and movements from which Pentecostal groups emerged and in which they are still very much embedded.
These snapshots of Pentecostalism on the ground emphasize the importance of understanding the Pentecostal phenomenon always within the particularities of local discourses, contexts, and perspectives. The images of the Charismatic Movement in the mainline churches differ little in their emphasis on the importance of local, small group and individual efforts in the shaping of modern-day Pentecostalism. The same image also characterizes the independent Pentecostal churches, or Free Churches, which rarely form large-scale organizations or denominations, as well as the large number of individuals who do not belong to a Pentecostal organization but nonetheless exhibit Pentecostal or Charismatic elements in their experiences and practices. This diversity at the grassroots makes it difficult to affirm large-scale characterizations of Pentecostalism that are accurate for the movement as a whole. Put differently, the image of Pentecostalism requires always an additional identification so that we speak not simply of the Pentecostal movement in general but always also of Pentecostalism in particular cultures (e.g. Pentecostalism in Latin America), countries (e.g. Pentecostalism in Brazil or Argentina), and other more particular localizations of the movement (e.g. classical Pentecostalism). Pentecostalism has remained in all its global manifestations a movement at the grassroots.
Global Pentecostalism

The shift from a view at Pentecostalism on the ground to the world at large requires a change of lens from a micro- to a macro-vision. At the heart of this transition stands the question of what exactly identifies Pentecostalism as a ‘global’ phenomenon. The most immediate answer given is typically a reference to the increasing size and pluralism of the movement. Modern-day Pentecostalism readily facilitates a ‘big’ perspective in its staggering numbers and worldwide expansion. A key characteristic of Pentecostalism are the large camp meetings, national revivals, and mega-churches. The sizeable number of Pentecostals worldwide is often used to emphasize the significance of Pentecostalism, to point to a certain homogeneity among Pentecostal beliefs and practices, and to allow for interpretations of the movement that are not bound to isolated phenomena. In other words, by using the word ‘global’ to identify the Pentecostal movement, we are looking for a certain redundancy in observing Pentecostalism worldwide in order to arrive at a definition of the term ‘Pentecostal’ that applies as a common denominator to all variations of the movement.
The numerical growth and worldwide expansion of Pentecostalism has made it necessary to distinguish between different types of Pentecostalism on a large scale. The most common distinction is between the so-called classical Pentecostals connected with the revival at the Azusa Street Mission in Los Angeles (1906–9), the members of the so-called Charismatic Movements in the established Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox churches that surfaced in North America during the 1960s, and so-called neocharismatic groups, ‘a catch-all category that comprises 18,810 independent, indigenous, postdenominational denominations and groups that cannot be classified as either Pentecostal or charismatic but share a common emphasis on the Holy Spirit, spiritual gifts, Pentecostal-like experiences (not Pentecostal terminology), signs and wonders, and power encounters’. The distinctions made here on a global level reveal the dominance of North American Pentecostalism, particularly in the United States, in terms of its international influence, and the impact of Pentecostal and Pentecostal-like phenomena in the established churches as well as in the post-denominational and non-denominational terrains of Christianity worldwide.35 The different streams of Pentecostalism portray the movement as a cross-cultural, cross-denominational movement that seemingly transcends localities, religions, nations, ethnicities, and ideologies. The following characteristics help identify the global make-up of the three dominant streams of Pentecostalism worldwide.
Classical Pentecostalism

Classical Pentecostalism is one of the most influential streams of the global Pentecostal movement. The influence of the Azusa Street revival is readily apparent in the almost immediate attempts to engage in an evangelization of the North American continent and a worldwide missionary programme. The Azusa Street Mission appointed and supported large numbers of evangelists who travelled westward across the country and spread the movement. Former participants in the Los Angeles revival travelled extensively, testified fervently of the Pentecostal outpouring, organized meetings in churches, preached, made converts, and formed new congregations. Periodicals and newspapers established by the young Pentecostal movement advertised the revival, and the movement spread rapidly across the social, denominational, cultural, and racial spectrum of North America and beyond. The expansion of classical Pentecostalism is evidence of the global temperament of the movement that can be identified by a number of interrelated dimensions.
As a unique American phenomenon, the global identity of classical Pentecostalism must first be seen in its revivalistic origins that expanded the identity of American religion rapidly across local and regional boundaries and became representative of much of Western Christianity since the eighteenth century. Pentecostal revivalism (the use of techniques in order to perform and sustain the original manifestations of the revival) was an effective tool in expanding Pentecostal thought and practice particularly with regard to certain theological and religious issues.38 This dimension forms the broad base for the global temperament of classical Pentecostalism.
A second dimension, intimately connected with the first, is the association of Pentecostalism with the socially marginalized and disenfranchised as well as other social classes, a unique characteristic in American religion. The presence and appeal that characterizes Pentecostalism among all social strata today has become largely synonymous with the idea of the global appeal of any religion and forms a large element of Pentecostalism’s global attraction.
A third dimension of the global character of the movement is its expansive missionary programme, motivated by the revivalistic and eschatological ideals of the movement. Since the early revivals, Pentecostalism emerged as a mission movement that comprised both veteran missionaries and novices who often went without any training into all areas of the world and despite frequent failures left an unprecedented history of Pentecostalism around the globe. Classical Pentecostalism combines a focus on conversion and revival with a sense of urgency and pragmatism that ultimately has made it the most significant global missionary movement in the twentieth century.
A fourth dimension is the multicultural and multiracial character of North American Pentecostalism that pushed the movement to the crossroads of American, African, European, Hispanic, and other cultures. The rootedness in African American liturgy and the camp meeting culture of the South as well as engagement in the civil rights movement dramatically increased the global reach of Pentecostalism even if such efforts were not greeted with enthusiasm by all.43
Finally, the global temperament can be seen in the foundational position of classical Pentecostalism as a catalyst for changes in worship, liturgical practices, and particularly the kinesthetic and spiritual elements of the Christian life. The array of ‘typical’ Pentecostal practices, among them dancing, jumping, waving, clapping, shouting, and swaying, express not merely the particular spirituality of a group but have come to represent a broadly accepted and replicated understanding of Christian worship in interaction with God and with one another. Classical Pentecostalism is global in terms of its charismatic, cross-social, multicultural, trans-ethnic, evangelistic, and missionary character.
The Charismatic Movements

The Charismatic Movements add a number of different components to the global character of Pentecostalism. The major difference to classical Pentecostals is the ecclesial rootedness of the charismatic renewal in the established churches (theologically, liturgically, and institutionally). Beginning in the mainline Protestant traditions and in the Roman Catholic Church in the 1960s, the charismatic movement immediately grasped the attention of the Christian world. While most of the early classical Pentecostal leaders did not intend to leave their churches but to revitalize the experiences and practices surrounding the Holy Spirit, many found themselves isolated and ostracized and, under the pressures of organization, institutionalization, and doctrinal conformity formed new churches and denominations. The Charismatic Movements, on the other hand, remained intimately connected with their ecclesiastical origins and with them possessed an immediate network of global recognition.
As a worldwide phenomenon not restricted to North America, the Charismatic Movements add a number of important dimensions to the global temperament of Pentecostalism. The most significant among them is the ecclesial connectedness of the movement that integrates Pentecostal spirituality and practices in the liturgical and ecumenical contexts of the established traditions. The influences are reciprocal: Pentecostalism has been broadened in its ritual and sacramental practices while the Charismatic Movements have become a modifier of the mainline traditions rather than an isolated subculture.
A second dimension is the widespread social acceptance of Pentecostal and charismatic spirituality often connected with church leaders, councils, well-known personalities, and representatives of the intellectual elite. The Jesus People movement counted 300,000 young people among its adherents by the early 1970s. Popular writings, such as The Cross and the Switchblade, as well as newly established publications of the movement, such as the magazine New Covenant, captured the imagination of large audiences across the world. Well-known personalities in entertainment and TV evangelism quickly expanded the charismatic ministry to massive proportions. Influential church leaders connected the Charismatic Movements internationally and helped spread this new form of Pentecostalism throughout established churches, networks, and organizations.
A third element of the global character of the Charismatic Movements is their intellectual and academic dimension. Whereas many classical Pentecostals traditionally emphasized faith and spirituality over intellectualism and education, espousing at times a radical anti-intellectualism, the charismatic movements embrace the educational elite and academia. The intellectual climate among Pentecostals has opened up to academic theology and scholarship and contributed to a uniquely Pentecostal pedagogy that affirms the epistemological importance of the Holy Spirit while challenging conventional forms of theological education.
Fourth, Pentecostalism has taken on a global character also in its theological dimensions. The Charismatic Movements initiated a globally oriented theological awareness among Pentecostals, nurturing the formulation of Pentecostal theology in a more systematic and analytical manner and gradually exposing Pentecostal thought to the established theological traditions. Pentecostal and charismatic theology today is at the forefront of engaging the opportunities and challenges of global Christian thought. The result is a cross-fertilization in which Pentecostal theology is often formulated in the framework of traditional theological categories while the established theological traditions are beginning to reflect on their own formulations as a result of the global impact of the charismatic renewal.
Finally, the Charismatic Movements have significantly expanded the ecumenical sensitivities of Pentecostals. The ecumenical involvement of the Charismatic Movements contributes significantly to the recognition of Pentecostalism and its participation in international dialogues and conversations. Although many classical Pentecostals continue to resist official ecumenical relationships, the emergence of the ecumenical movement and the charismatic renewal in the established churches is responsible for an entirely new set of global connections. As a result, Pentecostal concerns, theology, and practices have entered ecumenical discussions and expanded Pentecostal language and perspectives. From the perspective of the Charismatic Movements, Pentecostalism is global in terms of its diverse ecclesial, liturgical, intellectual, theological, and ecumenical character.

The third stream of Pentecostals, the so-called neo-charismatic or neo-Pentecostal groups, have further advanced the global identity of Pentecostalism in distinct ways. The immense amount of independent, postdenominational, and nondenominational groups form a stark ecclesiastical contrast to the rootedness of the Charismatic Movements in the established churches. The most immediate dimension of the global character exhibited by these groups is their unprecedented cultural exposure. Far exceeding the evangelistic and missionary presence of classical Pentecostals in many parts of the world and the establishment of the Charismatic Movement across the established Christian traditions, the neo-Pentecostal groups have added a myriad of autochthonous churches and congregations indigenous to cultures with little or no historical contact to Christianity. The result has been a wedding of Pentecostalism with native spiritualities, religions, and cultures in a process of constant disconnecting and recombining that is widely responsible for the success of Pentecostalism worldwide and has come to closely define the idea of the globalization of Pentecostalism. This process of hybridization has not only expanded the religious base of the Pentecostal movement but interchanged patterns and vehicles of transmission of the religious, cultural, political, and economic heritage of various local, national, and international sources.
Another dimension neo-Pentecostalism has added to the global character of the Pentecostal movement is the deliberate engagement with the masses. The most tangible form of this aspect are the mega-churches that have begun to appear particularly in the urban centres of Asia, Latin America, and North America. The half-a-million members of Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul, Korea, for example, the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God in São Paulo, Brazil, or City Harvest in Singapore, have redefined both the face of modern-day Pentecostalism and the visible expression of contemporary Christianity. The enormous organizations, like most of their kind, are based on myriads of cell-based groups that facilitate the administration, communication, and fellowship of their communities. The chief character of these mega-churches is their diversified and stratified representation of ministries under a single organizational umbrella exhibiting an exceptionally wide range of physical space, facilities, organizational and regional outreach, and social ministries.54
Finally, the neo-Pentecostal movements have added a range of independent churches, assemblies, fellowships, and loosely defined ecclesiastical groups that have come to shape the face of charismatic Christianity in what many see as representative of the postmodern and pluralistic elements of the late modern world. While this group is equally as diversified as the mega-churches, the ministries are divided among autonomous organizations, often occupied with single forms of social ministries and particular audiences. Captured under the umbrella term ‘neo-Pentecostalism’, the range of different groups has added a unique element of mobility, independence, and innovation to the global temperament of the Pentecostal identity. From the perspective of neo-Pentecostalism, the Pentecostal movement is global in terms of its cross-cultural, diversified, independent, variable, and progressive character.
The various dimensions of the global temperament of Pentecostalism should not be seen in isolation. Elements of classical Pentecostalism, the Charismatic Movements, and neo-Pentecostalism often form a blend of practices and beliefs that make it easier to speak of Pentecostalism, in general, than to identify the particular shape of what defines Pentecostalism in each location and situation. Global Pentecostalism represents a microclimate of global Christianity. The various dimensions that define the global character of the main streams of Pentecostalism are also representative of the emergence of global Christianity in the late modern world, yet few of these characteristics are found together to the same extent in any other Christian tradition. Briefly put, Pentecostalism is a key representative of global Christianity in development. A definition of this movement requires attention not only to the global and the local but also to the relationship that connects both worlds.
Pentecostalism and globalization

The assessment of the global pluralism of the Pentecostal movement in all its diverse manifestations frequently overwhelms the focus of Pentecostal communities on the ground. Neither the micro-nor the macro-vision is a realistic perspective of the Pentecostal world if maintained exclusively in the long-run. What characterizes the identity of the Pentecostal movement is both its local roots and global temperament. Elemental to this existence in the big and the small is not only the recognizable reach beyond the local but the insistence that the global dimensions of Pentecostalism cannot be understood apart from the movement’s local existence. We might say that Pentecostalism is ‘a religion made to travel’ between the local and the global. The most dominant theory to explain these interdependencies is the idea of globalization.
The globalization of Pentecostalism

The most basic model of globalization explains Pentecostalism as a movement that transitions from the local to the global. Globalization is seen in the growth of numbers (members, churches, and converts), geographic expansion (regional, national, and global), and the development of a global consciousness (subjectively and objectively) coupled with the emergence and formation of an increasingly larger and diversified infrastructure that adapts to the conditions of the world as a whole. Two different interpretations of globalization have emerged from this broad perspective, one that emphasizes the homogeneity and the other pointing to the heterogeneous nature of the development. The emphasis on a homogeneous globalization frequently ties together Pentecostalism and modernity, pointing to the fact that numerical growth and geographical expansion has always been a feature of Pentecostalism (and of modernity) and that it is difficult to define at what level we begin to speak of the movement as global and no longer as a local phenomenon. Similarly, a global consciousness can be said to have accompanied Pentecostalism (and modernity) from the beginning, especially in its eschatological form and perception of the world, and thus is present in all streams of the movement. From this perspective, Pentecostals as representative of a general temperament of modernity were always globally oriented and continue to see the local as a starting point and significant representation of the global. If Pentecostalism has always grown, expanded, and developed, then we can apply the term ‘global’ to the movement without reservation. The homogenous perspective understands globalization as an inherent tendency of modern-day Pentecostalism.
On the other side, there are some who resist the application of the term ‘Pentecostalism’ as a generic identifier of the movement. At least during the twentieth century, in the widespread internal attempts by Pentecostals to define the distinctives of the movement, the term ‘global’ does not appear. The emphasis on heterogeneity speaks of the success of Pentecostalism in reverse terms and understands the movement from the outset as a global phenomenon that exists as always adapting localizations ‘that reach across national boundaries, take on local color, and move on again’.60 This perspective emphasizes significant differences in religiosity, spirituality, morality, social engagement, as well as political and economic participation among Pentecostals in East and West, the northern and southern hemispheres, Europe and the USA. Others highlight the racial, social, and linguistic diversities of Pentecostal groups even on the regional level.62 Globalization therefore refers to cultural discontinuities and contradictions, including irreconcilable differences in theology and worship that divide not only the global space but also the history of the Pentecostal traditions. This heterogeneity questions the ability to capture the empirical reality of Pentecostalism as a global community. In its place, the heterogeneous viewpoint advocates that ‘localization’ and ‘deglobalization’ are proper terms that identify the Pentecostal movement worldwide. This characterization is frequently associated with postmodern sensitivities.
The conflicting interpretations necessitate a theory that can explain the relationship between local and global Pentecostalism without reverting exclusively to one side or the other. Theories that depend fundamentally on one dimension are no longer able to offer explanations of the range of Pentecostal and Pentecostal-like communities and their development worldwide. The global character of the Pentecostal movement is a historically and sociologically late phenomenon that requires for its explanation reference to the origins in and continuing dependence on the local beyond the confines of the modern or postmodern. This interdependence can be described with the term ‘glocalization’—the elimination of ‘distance’ between the local and the global that ultimately finds the global in the local and vice versa. Instead of proposing the globalization of local Pentecostalism and thereby effectively juxtaposing the global against the local, the understanding of Pentecostalism as a glocal phenomenon embraces the relationship between the local and the global because Pentecostalism as a whole depends on both realities.
The glocalization of Pentecostalism

Roland Robertson introduced the concept of glocalization in the 1990s to overcome the problematic juxtaposition of local and global. Adopting his perspective advocates the essential proposal that the reality we label ‘Pentecostal’ is dependent upon both its local and global manifestations. Pentecostalism, when seen as a glocal phenomenon, is not defined in terms of either its local or global characteristics but in terms of its actual contribution to the structuration of the world in both dimensions.66 Glocalization applied to Pentecostalism rejects a simplistic theory that equates the dynamics of Pentecostalism with either those of a globalizing modernity or its postmodern counterpart. There is no global mass-culture that can be labelled ‘Pentecostalism’ without identifying simultaneously the local roots or localized representations of what we term ‘Pentecostal’. On the contrary, the globalization of Pentecostalism consists of the production and reproduction of the local in the global and the global in the local, the mediation, or more precisely, the encoding and decoding of local distinctiveness and global generality.68 This mediation finds its most tangible expression in the remarkable mobility and migration of what is after all popularly called the Pentecostal movement.
Pentecostalism as a movement has never been stationary. Physical and geographical, as well as in a metaphorical sense, social, cultural, and theological mobility are the hallmark of Pentecostalism. Simply put, we must speak not only of the existence or presence of Pentecostalism in the local and the global but of Pentecostalism as a movement in glocal transition. The evangelistic and missionary temperament of Pentecostalism forms only one component of the mobility of the movement. Apparent in Pentecostalism is also the migration and importation of ‘foreign’ cultural and religious identities and the consequent adoption of transnational identities, the penetration of and association with established churches and traditions, the building of formal and informal networks across and beyond local boundaries, the forming of transnational spaces, the deterritorialization of particular local or national identities and cultures, including the phenomenon of reverse mission, and a general trend toward upward social mobility. The dialectic process of localization and delocalization, globalization and deglobalization is accompanied by tensions and conflicts that do not lie either in the local or the global but in the fusion of both dimensions. Consequently, it is the combination of the tensions inherent in a dedication to both the local and the global that forms the heart of Pentecostalism.71 What is taking place among Pentecostals worldwide is an ongoing ‘reconfiguration of Pentecost’ that involves the simultaneity and interpenetration of the local and the global, sometimes in response to the other, sometimes in opposition, but never with the ability to escape either dimension. This perspective has significant implications for the actual reality we call ‘Pentecostalism’ and for the way we understand this reality in its various dimensions.
The notion of Pentecostalism as a glocal phenomenon marks a pattern for the further examination of the movement in this volume. Glocal Pentecostalism is defined both by a search for Pentecostal distinctives, a discussion that favours the local viewpoint and particular identity of Pentecostals, and a search for fundamentals, a conversation that privileges the global perspective. In other words, Pentecostalism is both fundamentalist and experientialist without confining either characteristic to the global or the local.74 Pentecostalism is both a contextual and intercultural religious movement. It can be identified on a global scale as Spirit-oriented without neglecting the very corporeal nature of Pentecostal life and worship on the ground. Pentecostalism is as much a recovery of primal piety as it is the progressive face of global Christianity. Only a limited number of these identifiers can be produced without losing the integrity of the whole attempt to come to terms with a general definition of Pentecostalism. Ultimately, Pentecostalism exists on the most visible level as both a local and global phenomenon in a dynamic transition of its various features. This description provides a foundational explanation for the multifarious nature of the Pentecostal movement.


Holistic spirituality and charismatic extremism
A holistic spirituality forms the heartbeat of Pentecostal thought and practice. From the beginning of the modern-day Pentecostal movement, the Holy Spirit, spiritual gifts, charismatic manifestations, and spiritual discernment have been the hallmark of Pentecostal preaching, teaching, revivals, ecumenical conversations, and eventually scholarly works. These elements generally form also the most immediate seedbed for confrontation, propaganda, polemics, misunderstandings, and stereotypes. The seemingly singular emphasis on a life centred around the Holy Spirit is host to some of the most bewildering tensions in Pentecostalism: the emphasis on the reality of the spiritual dimension of life and on the need for discernment of the intermingled realities of the human spirit, the divine Spirit, and demonic spirits, on the one hand, and the public scandals surrounding the excessive display of charismatic gifts, the exploitation of the miraculous, and the apparent lack of spiritual etiquette by Pentecostals, on the other hand. The present chapter introduces the dimensions of Pentecostal spirituality and worldview and brings the extremes into dialogue for a better understanding of the bandwidth of the charismatic manifestations that characterize the Pentecostal movement in its local and global dimensions.
The spiritual dimension of life forms the tangible reality where the diverse local and the global realities of Pentecostalism come to life. The emphasis on the Holy Spirit defines the different streams of Pentecostalism experientially, socially, intellectually, and theologically; other explanations of the perplexities within the Pentecostal movement depend on the understanding of the tensions inherent in the Spirit-filled life. It is the goal of this chapter to outline the tensions inherent in the Pentecostal spirituality and worldview and to present them as the unavoidable elements of an imagination that is potentially open to all forms of charismatic manifestations while submitting to the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit that draws all matters of faith and praxis to the gospel of Jesus Christ. A description of the Spirit-filled life comprises the first part of the chapter. The second part traces the extent of excessive charismatic practices in the various streams of the Pentecostal movement. This contrast is brought into dialogue in a concluding outline of the pneumatic, pneumatological, and charismatic elements that together form the Pentecostal imagination.
Holistic spirituality

Adherents and critics of the movement have often described Pentecostalism as a form of spirituality. For Pentecostals, this designation indicates that being Pentecostal is not synonymous with membership in a particular denomination or tradition; doctrines and beliefs are not the only elements that shape the Christian life. For their critics, the description often denotes the more pejorative idea of a movement that lacks the elements commonly attributed to the Christian mainstream. While for Pentecostals, spirituality elevates the movement beyond the denominational, doctrinal, and liturgical patterns of the churches to a movement of universal significance, others see in this designation a lack of behavioural consistency, institutional accountability, and ecclesiastical reputation. In the most basic sense, the tensions surrounding the different perceptions of Pentecostalism are concentrated in two distinct elements: the worldview and spirituality of the charismatic life.
Pentecostal worldview

The worldview of modern-day Pentecostals crystallizes most clearly from their reading of those biblical texts that emphasize the work of the Holy Spirit. Classical Pentecostals have typically interpreted the biblical records with particular focus on Luke-Acts, often to explain, justify, and affirm their doctrines and practices but also to come to a self-understanding of the particular features that identify them as Pentecostals in the first place. The Pentecostal reading of the New Testament emphasizes the Spirit-filled life of Jesus and its implications for the Christian life in the form of the so-called fivefold or full gospel that heralds Jesus as saviour, sanctifier, Spirit-baptizer, healer, and coming king.2 In the devotional life and piety as well as theological statements of Pentecostal groups, Jesus is clearly the predominant figure. Yet, while Christ is central to the proclamation of the fivefold gospel, its organizing motif is the work of the Holy Spirit. The events of Pentecost are interpreted through this lens as the instatement of Jesus as the one who baptizes with the Spirit. The entire Christian existence is seen as a consequence of this interpretation and described as a Spirit-baptized life. The worldview of Pentecostals depends overwhelmingly on a recognition of the Spirit’s activity in the world.
The worldview of the Spirit-baptized life embraced by Pentecostals works itself from the centrality of Christ outwards to the church and the world. At Pentecost, Jesus Christ, the messiah anointed with the Holy Spirit, poured out the gift of his Spirit upon all flesh. Luke’s theology of the Spirit in the messianic age is seen as heir to the charismatic theology of the Old Testament while transcending it clearly with the identification of the Spirit itself as the gift of God accompanied by charismatic manifestations.4 Classical Pentecostals typically identify three primary implications of this outpouring, though not always in the same breath: power, mission, and holiness. The detailed formulation of how these matters are connected is the subject of wide-ranging discussions, often cast in the language of a ‘Spirit baptism’ with the evidence of speaking in tongues. At the base of this language is the particular image of the Spirit’s universal outpouring in the form of charismatic manifestations that occupies the central position in the Pentecostal worldview.
Speaking of Spirit baptism as an image of the Pentecostal worldview has several advantages. First and foremost, the notion of a theological image emphasizes the absence of any propositional statement (in the established traditions as well as among Pentecostal pioneers) that would have identified theologically what was happening in modern-day Pentecostalism. Even the biblical records provide no exhaustive data, which allow for congruent formulations that are universally accepted among Pentecostals. Moreover, the idea of Spirit baptism as an image is consistent with the fact that the pneumatological perspective among Pentecostals is a worldview rather than an isolated theological idea. The image of the Spirit-filled life takes the Pentecostal worldview beyond any particular doctrine or theological focus. As an image, Spirit baptism serves as the precognitive motivation for verbal formulations and propositional statements of Pentecostal beliefs.7 Even in the face of disagreeing interpretations, the original image can maintain its motivational power. In this way, Spirit baptism can be seen as the inspiration for a Pentecostal worldview that is still very much in development.
Pentecostal accounts of the world often employ the contrasting language of the natural and supernatural or the ordinary and the miraculous. With this language, Pentecostals draw clear distinctions between the human and the spiritual, the spirit and the flesh, as well as between spirits, human and divine, holy and demonic. While the lines are clearly drawn between these identities, the realms in which they are to be found often overlap. The different streams of Pentecostalism frequently preserve native cosmologies that inspire a rather complex image of the world as a realm where spiritual forces, principalities, and powers are in constant confrontation. The human being is found between Satan and his evil spirits and demons, on the one hand, and the Holy Spirit and angelic forces, on the other hand.9 While good and evil are fundamentally opposed to one another, human beings are subject to the influence of both realms and can, at times, manipulate evil spirits for their purposes. Signs and wonders are immediate representations of the meeting of different realms and signal the spiritual dynamic of the world. For Pentecostals, the baptism in the Spirit stands midway as the meeting of the divine and the human, the immanent and the transcendent, the world and the kingdom of God as it confronts the dominion of Satan. The bursting forth in tongues of thanksgiving, praise, prophecy, or judgment symbolizes the human self-transcendence and bridge-crossing in a spirit-filled worldview.11 The reality of a life in the Spirit therefore necessitates the practice of spiritual discernment. The Pentecostal view of the cosmos is not only a worldview; it is a spirituality.
Pentecostal spirituality

Worldview and spirituality are intimately connected. Yet, the two realms can be related in different ways. In the case of Pentecostalism, to speak of the Pentecostal view of the Spirit-filled life as spirituality is to say that the image of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is distributed affectively. The affections inform, shape, and direct the Pentecostal worldview as not merely an objective understanding of the world but as active involvement in the world’s transformation. Pentecostal spirituality represents not merely a reflective worldview but an active participation in the Spirit who provides the gratitude, compassion, and courage necessary to engage the world in worship, witness, and prayer. From this perspective, a holistic spirituality is seen as a way of relating the Christian being-in-the-world to their knowledge of the world and their actions for the world. Pentecostal spirituality thus brings the Spirit to the centre of understanding human existence.
The Pentecostal view of human existence relates our entire being, knowing, and doing to the presence, power, and person of the Holy Spirit. This holistic spirituality unfolds on three interrelated levels. At its base, the Spirit-filled life is always pneumatic; it is an existence imbued with the person of the Holy Spirit. At this primary level, Pentecostal spirituality is above all experiential, often preceding theoretical and theological reflection. On a second level, the knowledge and interpretation of this experiential existence proceeds pneumatologically; it is always a reflection that pursues an understanding of the world in terms of the work of the Holy Spirit. Participation in the Spirit’s transformation of the world is the inevitable consequence of a pneumatic and pneumatological spirituality. On a third level, this participation is always charismatic; it is carried out by the Spirit’s distribution of spiritual gifts. The charismata are the corporeal manifestations of the experiential and theological affirmation that life always involves the all-encompassing reality of God’s Spirit. The gifts of the Spirit typically serve as ‘evidence’ of a theological reflection on pneumatic encounters and experiences with the Spirit of God. Ontologically, epistemologically, and existentially, Pentecostalism is defined by a Spirit-centred spirituality.
The charismatic and neo-Pentecostal movements in the global contexts create a particularly vivid picture of a Spirit-centred spirituality. In the charismatic movements of the established Christian traditions, the Pentecostal emphasis on the Spirit-filled life has found deep connections with the mystical and pietistic traditions. In the neo-charismatic and neo-Pentecostal communities, Pentecostal spirituality reflects a Spirit-oriented worldview already explicit in most societies. Particularly in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, where these streams of Pentecostalism are the most prevalent, the emphasis on a holistic spirituality is firmly established in every aspect of personal, communal, cultural, and religious life.16 Pentecostal spirituality in these contexts is perhaps best described as an emphasis on encounter. The predominance of the human encounter with God has revitalized the spiritual teachings and experiential emphasis of the established Christian traditions and shaped the image of the church as a charismatic fellowship. In the global contexts of the many independent and indigenous churches, this emphasis has left many of the already existing spiritual traditions and practices intact albeit now redirected through its emphasis on the Holy Spirit to the centrality of Jesus Christ. The meeting of different spiritual traditions is manifested in the variety of manifestations of the Spirit-filled life. While a holistic spirituality forms the necessary response to the Pentecostal worldview, it is the charismatic life where both realms meet.
The charismatic life

Pentecostal worldview and spirituality should not be seen as isolated from each other. The interpretation of the world as a spiritual realm bears immediate consequences for human participation in this reality. For Pentecostals, the Christian life in a world occupied by satanic and demonic principalities and powers exhibits in sharp contrast the character of a life redeemed by Christ and empowered by the Spirit of God. In this cosmological framework, Pentecostal spirituality directs a person from mere interpretation of the world to participation in the world. More precisely, the purpose of the Christian life is a participation in God’s transformation of the world through the outpouring of his Spirit. Above all, Pentecostals stress the significance in this process of the Spirit’s self-bestowal on the believer that is evident in the manifestation of spiritual gifts.
The elevation of spiritual gifts by Pentecostals in the twentieth century came at a time of widespread cessationism—the notion that spiritual gifts were limited to the age of the earliest Christians and thereafter ceased to exist. In contrast, Pentecostals lament that cessationism has led to an abandonment of a holistic spirituality and the suppression of the charismata. The consequences are evident in a dramatic decline of spirituality in its pneumatic, pneumatological, and charismatic dimensions of Christian spirituality. While Pentecostals may not see charismatic manifestations as a measurement directly reflecting a person’s spirituality, they would emphasize that it is precisely in the exercise of spiritual gifts that the transformation of the world occurs.19 The gifts of the Spirit serve the edification of the church, the proclamation of the gospel, and the exaltation of Jesus Christ. The bestowal of these gifts is not seen as unique to the biblical Pentecostal community or to modern-day Pentecostals but rather as a normal and normative element of the Christian life endowed with the Holy Spirit. Christian beliefs and practices are transformed by the presence and activity of the Spirit and thereby more deliberately and actively participate in the story of God in the last days.
Most Pentecostal accounts of spiritual gifts point to the nine charismata listed in 1 Cor. 12:4–11, wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, mighty deeds, prophecy, discernment of spirits, tongues, and the interpretation of tongues. Other treatments include Rom. 12:6–8 and its emphasis on prophecy, ministry, teaching, exhortation, generosity, diligence, mercy, and cheerfulness as well as the institutional gifts of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers noted in Eph. 4:11. Few Pentecostals would see these lists as exhaustive of the charismata active in the church today but rather as representative of any number of other potential manifestations of the interpenetration of the divine and the created realms.22 The exercise of spiritual gifts ultimately emerges from the fusion of the worldview and spirituality that form their root and motivation. As a result, the practice of spiritual gifts differs widely in the various streams of Pentecostalism. Nonetheless, the image of Spirit baptism at the juncture of understanding and participating in the world marks the core event of experiencing the Holy Spirit that moves the believer into charismatic manifestations. Although the exercise of spiritual gifts can be cultivated, the number and occasion of these gifts is attributed to the sovereign direction of the Spirit in the particular community or context for which they are intended. The charismata are the gifts of the kingdom of God—different gifts from the same Spirit, different forms of service under the same Lord, different works but from the same God for the benefit of all (1 Cor. 12:4–7). Heralding the coming of the kingdom of God, the charismatic manifestations in the realm of the already approaching but not yet fully realized kingdom are limited only by the extent to which the divine reign is not yet completely realized in the world. In the worldview of Pentecostalism, the potential for the manifestations of the charismatic life is thus practically limitless.
Charismatic extremism

The charismatic manifestations and display of spiritual gifts among modern-day Pentecostals has always been subject to severe criticism. From the beginning of the movement, Pentecostals were recognized primarily for their outward display of physical manifestations. The neglect of the charismatic life in the established churches quickly painted the Pentecostal movement in the colours of an extremist religious sect. In most quarters, the Pentecostal movement was virtually synonymous with the so-called ‘tongues movement’. Glossolalia, divine healing, prophecy, and exorcism are among the most prominent elements labelled as extremes. Contemporary observations and evaluations of the movement have focused almost exclusively on these outward manners and charismatic practices and therein quickly found examples of excessive behaviour often interpreted as the radical, spurious, and unorthodox examples of a misguided religious group.
The disapproval of dancing, jumping, shouting, and other emotional outbursts that accompanied the revivalism of previous centuries are today often in the same tone also applied to the activities and practices of modern-day Pentecostals. In many parts of the world, individuals, groups, and churches of the emergent Pentecostal movement were at times violently persecuted by other Christians and non-Christians, while the criticism in the Western world today tends to be carried out largely on verbal and intellectual terms.26 The immediate strong reactions to the birth of classical Pentecostalism subsided somewhat as Pentecostals began to move into more prominent roles in the West, yet criticism has exploded again with the rise of the Charismatic Movements and the neo-Pentecostal groups since the second half of the twentieth century. Many of the concerns come from outsiders of the movements, who observe Pentecostals with particular interest in the ritual, spiritual, and psychological dimensions of the charismatic life. At the same time, varied practices as well as new and unusual forms of charismatic manifestations have also caused divisions within Pentecostal groups. The results are twofold: most visibly, the Charismatic renewal in the Roman Catholic Church shed its original designation as ‘Catholic Pentecostals’ in favour of ‘Charismatic Movement’. This division was accompanied by similar criticism among many classical Pentecostals who often reject the beliefs, practices, rituals, and manifestations attributed to the new revivals in the established mainstream traditions as aberrations of the movement’s origins. Less visible is also the group of former adherents to the various streams of Pentecostalism who left the movement disappointed, hurt, or confused. The external critique and internal divisions shed clear light on the excessive charismatic manifestations that some attribute without exception to all parts of the Pentecostal movement.
External critique

Sustained observations and substantive criticism of the Pentecostal manifestation of charismata comes predominantly from other Christian groups. With the rise of modern-day Pentecostalism, the movement was quickly nicknamed ‘tongue talkers’ and ‘holy rollers’ or in sharper terms identified as heretical, regressive, divisive, escapist, deranged, and demonized. Pentecostal services were described as a ‘pandemonium’ and ‘madhouse’ of the psychologically unstable.28 Many labelled the movement as inhabited by a ‘spirit of confusion’ resulting from fundamentalist attitudes, rampant sectarianism, anti-intellectualism, cultural opposition, and its lower-working-class environment. Some identified Pentecostalism more sharply as ‘the handmaiden of apostasy and the servant of the Antichrist’30 blamed on a false interpretation of history, a weakness of human experience, and a departure from divine revelation. Others have attacked the character of the Pentecostal revivals in general and identified them as counterfeits, fabrications, lies, fantasies, hypnotism, and fraud. Few of these accusations engage directly with Pentecostal worldview or spirituality, but most if not all draw implications for both realms from the observations of the movement’s charismatic manifestations.
A popular study of excessive Pentecostal practices labelled the movement a ‘charismatic chaos’ characterized by the ostensibly undirected, disorganized, misinformed, and undisciplined practices of spiritual gifts. This unfriendly assessment derives from an accumulation of numerous case studies of often bizarre and scurrilous events attributed to the various streams of Pentecostalism, particularly the Charismatic Movement and the ‘third-wave’ neo-Pentecostal groups. These accounts portray Pentecostals as aggressively pursuing ‘ecstatic experiences, mystical phenomena, miraculous powers, and supernatural wonders—while tending to under-emphasize the traditional means of spiritual growth’.33 During the first half of the twentieth century, speaking in tongues almost always occupied the centre of attention, and the so-called ‘gibberish’ was widely heralded as a result of various degrees of mental instability ranging from mob psychology to hypnotism and demon-possession. Since then, interest in the manifestation of glossolalia has ebbed in many circles, and other more spectacular events have come to represent Pentecostalism in popular perception.
Popular illustrations of Pentecostal extremism include the so-called laughing revivals of Pensacola, Florida, or Toronto, Canada, which exhibited unusual physical manifestations such as falling to the ground, uncontrollable loud laughter, intense weeping, and even animal sounds, as well as spiritual ‘drunkenness’ often resulting in uncontrolled movements, intense shaking, jerking, and rolling on the floor. Critics view these displays less as a manifestation of spiritual gifts than of spiritual delusion and desperation manifested in a contradiction of biblical patterns and resistance to biblical scrutiny, bewilderment, lack of control, inebriation, irreverence, indecency, false teachings, women in leadership, and ecumenical zeal.36 Even the more conservative treatments of these revivals describe the more spectacular elements as a mixed blessing and a subtle shift away from sound doctrine, an emphasis on manifestations of the Spirit rather than the centrality of Christ.
External criticism has generally described Pentecostalism as a ‘charismatic calamity’ readily seen at the meetings of ‘wild-eyed fanatics screaming and shouting’, people falling to the ground ‘struck by the Spirit’, with faces in ‘frenzied agony’, and all in all ‘skipping the basics’ of proper Christian behaviour. ‘Confusion’ is the general trademark of Pentecostalism resulting almost exclusively from what is seen as erroneous and misplaced charismatic practices and beliefs.39 Although the charismatic life is considered a significant component of contemporary Christianity by all but the most stringent cessationists, Pentecostals provide numerous popular examples of an obsession with the spiritual, miraculous, and sensational that stand in sharp contrast to the expectations and established practices of the mainstream Christian traditions. In these highly visible areas of the Christian life, the reconciliation of Pentecostalism with orthodox Christianity seems virtually impossible.
Internal controversy

Pentecostals have also been plagued by internal divisions and controversy over charismatic manifestations. While many of the debates can be cast in the form of theological disputes, the controversies typically emerged primarily from different practices and interpretations of the charismatic life. After all, it was the common experience of speaking in tongues that bound the early Pentecostals together and allowed them to identify with each other as a larger religious movement. However, the emphasis on speaking in tongues differs among Pentecostal groups, and the addition of different streams of the movement has contributed to a diversity of practices that has led to an atmosphere of suspicion. Criticism arose early between members of the same stream, for example on the question of the relationship of tongues and Spirit baptism among classical Pentecostals, and between the adherents of different streams, particularly between classical Pentecostals and later Charismatic and neo-Pentecostal forms of the movement.
Among the pioneers of classical Pentecostalism, a practice soon developed that identified the speaking in tongues and its interpretation as ‘messages’ that could be utilized to receive personal and communal guidance. This practice was widely known as ‘inquiring of the Lord’ and served as means to affirm or discourage directions but in some groups was also used to legitimize particular teachings and actions. In these factions, the speaking in tongues and especially the much rarer gift of interpretation became professionalized, reproduced, and routinized at the hands of some individuals and groups seeking authority by appealing to divine revelation. In response, the practice of tongues and interpretation as the preferred means for teaching and discernment was rejected by other Pentecostal leaders.41 The abuse of these practices has caused division and strife between leaders and congregations and has divided the movement along the lines of factions that either endorse or reject the practice of speaking in tongues as primary means of decision-making.
The internal critique of excessive use of some spiritual gifts has surfaced among Pentecostals most prominently in the form of the debate about tongues as the so-called ‘initial evidence’ of Spirit baptism. While this teaching emerged as early as 1901 among the revivals that marked the beginning of classical Pentecostalism, the debate has continued throughout the movement and gained new impetus with the emergence of neo-Pentecostals, or ‘Third Wavers’, many of which refuse to even adopt the label ‘Pentecostal’. This stream of the movement rejects the classical Pentecostal position of tongues as the biblical evidence that initially accompanies the post-conversion experience of the baptism with the Holy Spirit. In turn, classical Pentecostals criticize the lack of emphasis on glossolalia as a reduction of the charismatic manifestations to a mere potential openness that robs the Christian life of the assurance of divine power.43 To each side, the other represents an excessive position, whether overemphasis or neglect, on the role of the charismatic manifestations.
For the one side, the emphasis on tongues as the initial evidence of Spirit baptism easily leads to abuse in granting glossolalia a privileged place among the charismata that cannot be generalized for all Christians. Examples of this position include the countless seekers who never find the ability to speak in tongues, despite earnestly desiring the gift, or the superficial practice of repetitively speaking in syllables of a made-up language and accepting it as divine speech. The routinization of spiritual gifts in the Charismatic Movement has been attributed to the influence of hierarchical leadership, liturgical patterns of the mother church, and the widely disseminated patterns of do-it-yourself charismatic practices. For the other side, the neglect of tongues leads to an equation of Spirit baptism with conversion and effectively obliterates the experiential dimension of the central Pentecostal conviction from the Christian life. Classical Pentecostals remain sceptical of associating Spirit baptism too closely with the sacramental life instead of a second and definitive crisis moment following conversion, and fault the Charismatic Movements for the neglect of glossolalia among many new Pentecostal streams.
Overall, what some Pentecostals understand as normative manifestations of charismata others have described as a ‘charismania’. The amount or intensity of the display of spiritual gifts is certainly a chief concern among Pentecostals. On the other hand, similar controversies have emerged where charismatic practices engage native spiritualities in forms that are perceived by some as syncretistic behaviours. These controversies are particularly loud in Asian, African, and Latin American Pentecostalism. The so-called Spirit churches in Africa, for example, represent to many adherents of the older Pentecostal churches the character of a religion unduly penetrated by expressions of the spirit world that are more reminiscent of African spirituality than of Christianity.47 Many practices of Pentecostal groups in Africa are seen as a mere reflection of traditional anti-witchcraft movements, spirit-possession cults, and demonic-deliverance mechanisms. Similar criticism appears throughout Asia particularly at the less nuanced forms of syncretism; for example, the slaughter of animals at religious ceremonies, prayer to ancestral spirits, or pagan dance rituals, are practised by some Pentecostal groups in the Philippines.49 The influence of shamanism on parts of Korean Pentecostalism has led for some to a confusion of shamanic ideas of spirit possession and the Pentecostal notion of Spirit baptism. Pentecostal groups in Japan have been accused of adapting Pentecostal charismatic practices to Japanese folk religion and ancestral cult.51 These examples illustrate the tensions inherent in Pentecostalism and its diverse representations as a global and historical movement. Internal controversies tend to connect charismatic practices more immediately with Pentecostal beliefs, worldview, and doctrine. Nonetheless, the extreme positions emphasize the importance of spirituality and worldview in the same breath with the experiential and corporeal nature of the Christian life. While these dimensions may not be easily reconciled, they form the unavoidable dimensions of a complex imagination unique to the Pentecostal movement.
The Pentecostal imagination

The characterization of certain manifestations of the charismatic life as ‘excessive’ should not give the impression that these manifestations are to be excluded from the image of modern-day Pentecostalism, that they are unwarranted surplus of a movement that otherwise could be classified as ‘moderate’. Excessive practice can be seen in both too much and too little emphasis on the charismatic life, depending on one’s point of view. Removing these realities as simply disproportionate from the characterization of Pentecostalism would paint a picture of the movement that is unrealistic, at best, and misleading, at worst. Unlike most other Christian traditions that exist on a narrower range of ‘orthodox’ beliefs and practices, the experiential orientation of Pentecostalism locates the movement on a much broader playing field. The breadth of charismatic experiences among Pentecostals is typically attributed to particular psychological characteristics. The psychology of religion has followed modern-day Pentecostalism and paints an insightful picture of contrasting interpretations of the movement that underscore the need for a comprehensive and unbiased picture of the charismatic life.
Psychology of religion

The approach to Pentecostalism from the psychology of religion demonstrates the difficulty of attempting to characterize the movement in any unilateral manner that too easily dismisses the excessive elements. Psychological research at the beginning of modern-day Pentecostalism can be readily identified as hostile to the movement. During this phase, charismatic manifestations among Pentecostals were viewed as abnormal behaviour and expressions of pathological phenomena and mental disorders such as schizophrenia, hysteria, neuroticism, regression, or emotional instability.54 The chief object of these assessments was clearly the phenomenon of speaking in tongues. Many studies of this phase were not substantiated by empirical data; nonetheless they created lasting stereotypes.56 Casting Pentecostalism under the dominance of abnormal psychology, the entire movement was generally dismissed as excessive.
However, in the 1960s, a friendlier period emerged that virtually overturned the results of the hostile phase. Pentecostals were now portrayed as psychologically stable, in many regards more so than the general population, with lower values in hostility, psychoticism, depression, submissiveness, and self-esteem. Explicit use of data now showed Pentecostals in a much more favourable light, and what was initially dismissed as excessive must now be considered essential to the dynamics and structures of Pentecostal religiosity. What is overshadowed by the initial reductive approach to Pentecostalism is the foundational question of what exactly constitutes the inherent motivation of the Pentecostal understanding of and participation in the world. The stimulus of Pentecostal spirituality and worldview was either dismissed or neglected.
The history of approaches to Pentecostalism from the psychology of religion shows that value judgments based on exogenous causes and consequences have influenced the interpretation of the movement in a far less objective and unbiased manner. In addition, the predominant occupation with exogenous psychological factors has largely suppressed the investigation of endogenous psychological structures and dynamics.60 A fruitful but hitherto largely unexplored venue exists in examining Pentecostalism precisely in the core dimensions of religiosity: Pentecostal ideology, intellect, experience, public and private practices. These dimensions seek to understand Pentecostalism from the content of the movement itself and open the field to other disciplines of study. In this young and promising approach to discover the heart of what motivates Pentecostals, the emphasis on the Holy Spirit remains the most central explanatory element.
Identifying the Holy Spirit as the central motivation of Pentecostals is perhaps the most basic feature of endogenous Pentecostal dynamics, but it is also the most contested feature and offers little explanatory power for the divergent range of charismatic manifestations and their interpretations. Nonetheless, the emphasis on the Spirit suggests that operative within Pentecostals is a fundamental engagement of the world that can best be described as an orientation toward the Spirit. This orientation derives fundamentally from Pentecostal worldview and spirituality. Rather than constituting a certain knowledge or understanding of the world, Pentecostalism purports a spirituality—an affective disposition, an aesthetic, and a way of experiencing the world—that is derived from and oriented toward the Spirit in often pre-cognitive, inarticulate, and unstructured ways. In short, the most basic endogenous feature of Pentecostalism is a Spirit-driven imagination.
The Pentecostal imagination

The notion of Spirit baptism is the typical formulation given by Pentecostals to describe their Spirit-driven imagination. This image points to the centrality of the Spirit in any attempt to comprehend the range of the Spirit-filled life and its outward manifestations. The Spirit-driven imagination among Pentecostals operates on the three interrelated dimensions of pneumatic activity, pneumatological reflection, and charismatic practice. These dimensions form the foundation for understanding the significant breadth of manifestations of the Spirit-filled life among Pentecostals. While the Pentecostal imagination operates always on all three dimensions, a closer look at each dynamic offers further explanation of the diverse range of expressions and charismatic manifestations among the movement worldwide.
The Pentecostal imagination is pneumatic in the sense that it originates from specific encounters with the Holy Spirit. Such encounters, traditionally captured by the Pentecostal notion of Spirit baptism, are responsible for directing a person toward greater sensitivity for the spiritual dimension of life. The result is an awareness of the various ‘spirits’ operating in the world—divine, human, natural, demonic, or other powers, forces, and energies—a recognition of the influence these spirits have on all things, and a sensitivity for the intricate relationship of spiritual powers and forces in which human beings find themselves in the world.65 The pneumatic dimension sets the Pentecostal imagination immediately in the framework of participation in the reality of the diverse spiritual powers that precedes deliberate reflection and can subject a person not only to the divine but also the demonic or other influences. Pentecostals have variously described participation in the pneumatic reality in terms of the militaristic language of ‘spiritual warfare’ and more recently as ‘power encounters.’67 The Spirit-driven imagination points to the necessity of confrontation with the spiritual world through engagement in spiritual discernment, deliverance, and exorcism. Originating as a pneumatic activity, Pentecostal spirituality highlights the demand for immediate pneumatological reflection. The potential distance between participation and reflection opens up the Christian life to the contrasting range of influence of spiritual forces and powers.
The Pentecostal imagination is pneumatological in the sense that it is an ‘action-reflection in the Spirit’. Derived from the challenges of immediate participation, the desire for a genuine experience of the divine elevates attention to the Holy Spirit to the inescapable condition for a sensitivity to all spiritual powers and forces. The pneumatological dimension combines participation with perception on the two fundamental levels of discernment and engagement of the world and transcends a mere ‘worldviewing’ reflection toward a ‘worldmaking’ activity. This action-reflection means that the perception of the spiritual world is always a rigorous and challenging engagement of the diverse manifestations of that reality.70 Pentecostals often attend in a common-sense oriented way to questions of character, communication, and content, relying on Scripture, hierarchical structures of authority, and social context for discerning spiritual phenomena. At the same time, the pneumatological imagination proceeds also in transrational ways that have not been charted clearly.72 It is perhaps more accurate to speak of the perception of spirits as also a penetration of spiritual powers and forces. This interpenetration exposes a person not only to the contrast of the radical otherness of the self and the demonic or divine but also to the radical engagement in these pneumatic dimensions. Even on this level, the Pentecostal imagination remains largely experiential and affective in its intention to grasp the divine reality and its counterparts. The ongoing demand of this dynamic but fragmentary procedure leads, naturally, to questions of the endowment or ability of a person to engage in such action-reflection. In other words, the Pentecostal imagination is also a charismatic activity.
The Pentecostal imagination is charismatic in the sense that it is a spiritual activity of human and divine co-operation mediated through the gifts of the Spirit. Participation in and perception of the spiritual dimensions of life are both a human ability and a divine gift that are manifested in concrete events. Put differently, as charismatic activity the Pentecostal imagination is always the practice of participating in and perceiving the Spirit-filled life. Originating from specific encounters with the Holy Spirit, the Pentecostal life is practised explicitly through the gifts of the Spirit. Speaking in tongues, prophecy, divine healing, exorcism, interpretation of tongues, words of wisdom and knowledge, and the less spectacular charismata of teaching, leadership, ministry, exhortation, and others are the concrete practices of the Spirit in and through individuals and communities that are intended to bring about discernment, correction, reconciliation, and healing. The charismatic dimension is not simply a performance of the imagination but the occasion where a person engaged in the spiritual life is transformed by the divine power of the Spirit to disengage from the demonic and to participate in the divine.
As participation in the divine, spiritual gifts are the immediate, often pre-cognitive, pneumatic manifestations of the power of the Spirit. At the same time, the manifestation of the charismata also serves the perception of the divine presence and activity in the world. In other words, the Pentecostal imagination is perceptive of the spiritual reality while it participates in the spiritual life. However, as a spiritual practice, the manifestation of the charismata is also cultivated and preserved in a variety of micro- and macro-rituals among Pentecostal groups. This cultivation of charismatic rites both confirms and invites the participation in the divine nature. Yet, the liturgical sensibilities among Pentecostals are less performative, institutional, and structural than in the established liturgical traditions and tend toward a more playful character marked by the freedom and enthusiasm of the moment.76 In this way, the charismatic practice can in turn influence the pneumatological perception of the spiritual dimensions of life and one’s participation in the spiritual powers and forces. The result is a further expansion of the range of endogenous structures and dynamics that explain exogenous causes and consequences even if they do not justify them.
This interpenetration of participation, perception, and practice characterizes the Pentecostal imagination as that inherent motivation that is largely responsible for the wide range of charismatic expressions among Pentecostal groups. For Pentecostals, the charismata are essential and not accidental to the Spirit-filled life. To limit the range of charismatic expressions would inherently alter the character of Pentecostalism. Put differently, the Pentecostal movement is the tension between holistic spirituality and the range of its charismatic manifestations.
The range of spiritual gifts and their expressions in the public and private life cannot be compromised when we talk about modern-day Pentecostalism. Excessive charismatic manifestations are the unavoidable characteristics of a movement that is limitless in its worldview and spirituality and that pursues the Spirit-driven life with all the powers of the imagination.


Ecumenical ethos and denominationalism
The Pentecostal movement is not easily placed among the Christian churches. On the one hand, Pentecostalism is often seen as a Free Church movement characterized by rampant denominationalism, non-denominational splinter-groups, as well as internal and external tendencies toward segregation. Concerns for the unity of the Christian household and the fellowship of the churches—an ambition summarized in the terms ‘ecumenism’ or ‘ecumenical’—are difficult topics among Pentecostals. On the other hand, Pentecostals have become a driving force in the ecumenical movement since, at least, the late twentieth century. Unlike many existing churches and denominations that originated in deliberate response to splits and separations resulting from doctrinal and practical differences, Pentecostal communities worldwide often did not organize or institutionalize in deliberate patterns. Instead, Pentecostal churches, assemblies, fellowships, and smaller groups have emerged in both continuity and discontinuity with various existing doctrines, practices, rituals, disciplines, spiritualities, and institutions. The resulting character of Pentecostalism does not readily form a homogeneous ecumenical picture. The Pentecostal movement is an ecumenical melting pot.
The present chapter traces the development of ecumenical attitudes among Pentecostals worldwide and brings into dialogue the tensions between the ecumenical ethos and denominationalism among Pentecostals. The task of this chapter is to explain the various factors that have contributed to the confusing ecumenical identity of Pentecostals and to portray the current shift in attitude among Pentecostals toward the pursuit of Christian unity. The goal of this chapter is to outline a way in which Pentecostalism can be understood amidst the landscape of churches and denominations today. The most promising path in this situation remains the characterization of Pentecostalism as a ‘movement’. In order to outline this path, the first section provides a brief history of Pentecostal endeavours to establish and maintain Christian unity. The second section paints in broad strokes the denominational picture of Pentecostal divisions and offers a characterization of the divisive elements of the movement. In the final section, the identification of Pentecostalism as a movement is upheld as a fruitful way to speak of the unity of Pentecostals worldwide amidst the tensions Pentecostals bring to the ecumenical life of the churches.
Pentecostals and Christian unity

The first major study and still the standard of research on the modern-day Pentecostal movement surprised with the assessment that ecumenical endeavours form a central ‘root’ of Pentecostalism. The shared experience of the Holy Spirit among Pentecostals pioneers motivated an ecumenical optimism, which saw the Pentecostal movement as participating in God’s activity in the last days that would bring unity to the churches. Popular labels for the movement, such as ‘Pentecostal’, ‘Apostolic Faith’, or ‘Latter Rain’, were seen as ecumenical titles commonly used by the groups to express their continuity with the history and mission of the church and their eschatological expectation of a forthcoming universal restoration of God’s people.4 The diverse Pentecostal groups are linked together by a central emphasis on the events of the day of Pentecost that ultimately point forward to the unity of all believers in the kingdom of God.
Pentecostal pioneers across the globe reflected this ecumenical hope from the beginning in often pragmatic ways. In North America, one of the earliest Pentecostal groups was named ‘Christian Union’ to reflect the true intention of the revival. In the influential paper of the Azusa Street Mission, The Apostolic Faith, pastor William J. Seymour declared that the Pentecostal movement stood clearly for ‘Christian Unity everywhere’. Frank Bartleman, a similarly important figure of early Pentecostal history in North America, declared unambiguously, ‘There can be no divisions in a true Pentecost. To formulate a separate body is but to advertise our failure as a people of God.’7 Thomas B. Barratt, who carried the Pentecostal revival to several Scandinavian countries, envisioned Pentecostalism as the ‘Very Revival Christ had in His mind when He prayed that all His disciples might be one.’ Gerrit R. Polman, a pioneer of the Dutch Pentecostal movement, admonished sternly: ‘The purpose of the Pentecostal revival is not to build up a church, but to build up all churches.’9 Ecumenical conversations were encouraged by well-known Pentecostal leaders in the Netherlands, Great Britain, France, Belgium, Germany, and other nations. While the body of opinion in the Pentecostal movement included also frequent ambivalence and opposition to ecumenical ties with existing churches,11 Pentecostals saw themselves overwhelmingly as an ecumenical movement.
The force of these ecumenical convictions is closely related to the revivals that occurred in broad ecumenical contexts during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century in Europe. The rise of the ecumenical movement since the World Missionary Conference in 1910 and the ecumenical embeddedness of the charismatic renewal in the established churches contributed significantly to Pentecostal participation in ecumenical affairs. Across the European continent, and later also in Latin America, Africa, and Asia, positive ecumenical attitudes frequently resulted from the encouragement of foreign missionaries and the international and interdenominational origins of the Pentecostal pioneers themselves. The Pentecostal movement emerged as an ecumenical melting pot of existing doctrinal traditions, organizational structures, liturgical practices, national and local ecclesiastical cultures, and spiritualities. Today’s ecumenical landscape shows with clarity that the ecumenical root of Pentecostalism produced significant fruit throughout the movement. A brief survey shows the extent of Pentecostal participation in ecumenical conversations.
Global ecumenical conversations

Pentecostals are participating in a variety of ecumenical conversations, often on the grassroots level but also in regional, national, and international contexts. In many places across the global South, Pentecostalism represents a particular challenge to the older historic churches. Ecumenical conversations in these countries often result from co-operation with existing national forums and organizations but also depend on the personal commitment of pastors and ministers.13 In the West, the dominant form of ecumenical relations is conciliar institutional dialogue, and Pentecostals have entered into several official discussions with the Roman Catholic Church, the World Council of Churches, the World Communion of Reformed Churches, the Lutheran World Fellowship, the Baptist World Alliance, and other Protestant organizations.
A particularly strong ecumenical commitment among Latin American Pentecostal churches since the 1960s has contributed to the formation of significant ecumenical institutions such as the Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI), the all-Latin American Pentecostal Encounters (EPLA), and the Latin American Evangelical Pentecostal Commission (CEPLA). Many Pentecostals are active participants in the Evangelical Service for Ecumenical Development (SEPADE), the Evangelical Union of Latin America (UNELAM), the Evangelical Christian Aid (ACE), and other ecumenical organizations. Several of these fellowships have organized or assisted Pentecostal meetings at the national level in countries across Central and South America. Pentecostal consultations have also been convened by the World Council of Churches in various Latin American countries.14 Nonetheless, these national organizations have not always been successful in bringing Pentecostals across the continent to the ecumenical table. Pentecostal participation still depends heavily on grassroots efforts. This scenario is symptomatic for other parts of the ecumenical world.
National conversations and ecumenical organizations have undergone a number of transitions especially in North America and Europe. In order to bridge the divisions between churches historically associated with the National Council of Churches and communities not so aligned, Pentecostals have led the formation of the joint fellowship of Christian Churches Together in the USA in 2001. The first Pentecostal church became a member of the European Council of Churches in 1984. Three years later the Pentecostal European Fellowship was established. The significant growth and expansion of the charismatic movement has further contributed to a number of national dialogues involving Pentecostal churches throughout Europe. The initially racially and doctrinally exclusive Pentecostal Fellowship of North America was replaced in 1994 by Pentecostal/Charismatic Churches of North America, which includes African American Pentecostals. Black Pentecostals and churches have gradually entered the ecumenical landscape, although many of them do not yet visibly participate in established conciliar dialogues.18 Similar efforts to engage in ecumenical endeavours are undertaken in Africa and Asia, particularly in countries that increasingly serve as the host of international ecumenical dialogues.
The extent of ecumenical co-operation among Pentecostals is still virtually unknown in many circles in and beyond the Pentecostal movement. The heart of these activities is often found among individuals and small groups dedicated to the ecumenical and Pentecostal ethos. Ecumenical conversations originate mostly on an informal level and often remain undeveloped, since official ecumenical dialogues demand institutional, administrative, financial, and logistic resources that the Pentecostal movement does not yet possess. Official ecumenical dialogues form the more visible side of Pentecostal participation in establishing and maintaining Christian unity. Nonetheless, the diverse character of the Pentecostal movement points increasingly in a direction of personal and informal conversations as a means to increase global participation in the ecumenical life.
International ecumenical dialogues

Pentecostals are participating in a small but significant number of official ecumenical dialogues. The most significant long-term commitment is doubtlessly the international Roman Catholic-Pentecostal dialogue. The renewal of the Roman Catholic Church since Vatican II, strong institutional support for ecumenical dialogue, the rise of the Charismatic Movement, and the increasing visibility of Pentecostalism worldwide have led to consistent meetings since 1972. The make-up of the Pentecostal community has changed dramatically over the course of the conversations that address a large number of topics of mutual concern such as Spirit baptism and spiritual gifts, Christian initiation, and worship, Scripture and tradition, faith and reason, speaking in tongues, divine healing, the role of Mary, the church, the sacraments, the communion of saints, evangelization, proselytism, common witness, and most recently conversations on faith and Christian initiation, Christian formation and discipleship, as well as experience and spirituality. Although these conversations have been met with criticism and scepticism on both sides, the meetings and reports have significantly strengthened the ties between Pentecostals and Catholics.22 Most significantly, the fellowship has helped Pentecostals understand their own identity, sharpening and reaffirming their ecumenical commitment, and leading to dialogue with other churches.
Similarly influential and controversial has been the increasing involvement of Pentecostal groups in the World Council of Churches. Since the 1970s Pentecostalism has moved into the field of vision of many member churches, and the Consultation on the Significance of the Charismatic Renewal for the Churches brought Pentecostal concerns to the centre floor of discussion. Concentrated efforts to involve Pentecostals in the work of the Council have significantly advanced mutual co-operation, although most Pentecostal churches are not holding official membership status. Today, Pentecostals have been fully integrated in the work of the Commission on Faith and Order and participate in national and international meetings and conferences. A Joint Consultative Group with Pentecostals has contributed further to establishing close ties. Pentecostals participate in more than 40 national councils of churches.24 These visible forms of ecumenical co-operation gradually overcome existing stereotypes and help build an ecumenical infrastructure for Pentecostal participation. Nonetheless, the interaction between the diverse constituencies continues to present various complicated challenges to both sides.
Mutual efforts to strengthen ecumenical ties with other traditions have also led to official dialogue between Pentecostals and the World Council of Reformed Churches since 1996. With the experience gained from the Pentecostal-Roman Catholic dialogue, these new conversations quickly focused on mature theological themes such as the relationship between the Word and the Holy Spirit, the church and the world, worship, discipleship, community, and justice. Similar conversations with the Lutheran World Federation since 2005 have led to official discussions on encountering Christ in the churches. In contrast to other dialogues, conversations are less concerned with discussions of doctrine than with allowing space for a genuine expression of faith, a form of conversation more genuine to Pentecostal experience. The interaction with concerns of Christian experience have allowed for genuine explorations of an encounter with Christ in worship, proclamation, sacraments, and spiritual gifts. Initial stages of informal conversations not yet fully developed also exist between Pentecostals and the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, the Mennonite World Conference, and the Salvation Army.
While formal conversations and institutional dialogues continue to develop, much of the ecumenical atmosphere increasingly draws attention to informal and personal meetings that are perceived as less invasive and more genuine to the practices and sensitivities of the participating traditions. The most recent among those initiatives is the Global Christian Forum, an ecumenical gathering originating in 1998 and striking a chord rapidly among all Christian traditions, including Pentecostals. Unlike established formally organized conciliar dialogues, these conversations consist of a sharing of testimonies and establishing personal relationships. Doctrinal agreement and organizational unity are not in the immediate purview of the forum. Rather more modest goals exist to contribute to mutual understanding, to encourage communication, to overcome existing stereotypes, and to build up ecumenical communion. Pentecostal participation in the forum and its leadership is forming a new kind of ecumenical environment that challenges the format of traditional bilateral conversations and the lack of informal opportunities for intimate ecumenical relationships. The international make-up of the forum parallels the dramatic shift of the centre of Christianity worldwide toward the East and the global South. The informal environment and testimonial conversations are more consistent with Pentecostal forms of self-expression and promise to engage a greater Pentecostal constituency in the future. While Pentecostalism has from the outset been an ecumenical movement, the contours, organizational and institutional shape of ecumenical fellowship with Pentecostals is still very much in development.
Denominationalism and separatism

Conflict and dissension belong to the ecumenical picture of the history of the church. Neither biblical texts nor historical records show evidence of a ‘clean’ ecumenism—a unity of the churches that exists without dispute and disagreement. Christian unity exists always amidst the struggle for fellowship and communion. The modern-day Pentecostal movement is no exception. Hence, the ecumenical efforts among Pentecostals are overshadowed by concerns for organization and structure, and it is difficult to speak in ecumenical perspective of a single, unified Pentecostal movement. Attempts to identify and categorize the churches, assemblies, fellowships, communities, societies, alliances, associations, missions, crusades, conferences, and other bodies generally identified as ‘Pentecostal’ face the uneasy task of dealing with the distinctions made among Pentecostals between classical Pentecostal groups, the Charismatic Movement, and neo-Pentecostalism, as well as the broader distinctions between Pentecostals that have formed denominational patterns similar to other Protestant traditions and the overwhelming number of independent congregations. The number of independent fellowships is particularly staggering in the developing countries of the global South.29 The World Christian Database lists almost 2,500 denominations as ‘Pentecostal’ and often associates these groups with different headings in different countries, categorizing some as Protestant in North America but as Independent in Africa or Latin America. Many Pentecostal groups carry the same name, featuring with particular prominence the title ‘Assemblies of God’, ‘Church of God’, or a variation of the term ‘Pentecostal’—despite often considerable differences in doctrine and practice. The still largely uncharted terrain of Pentecostal denominationalism has contributed to stereotyping the Pentecostal movement as inherently divisive and opposed to efforts that establish and maintain the unity of the churches.
Ecumenical exclusivism and anonymous ecumenism

The reasons for denominationalism and separatism among Pentecostals are complex. The worldwide expansion and growth of the Pentecostal movement quickly led to concerns for the coherence and preservation of the movement itself that overshadowed interests in ecumenical relations. Organizational patterns and institutional examples were readily found in other Christian traditions but were often viewed with scepticism or outright rejection by those who had been former members. The rise of the charismatic and neo-Pentecostal groups further adds to debates about the nature and purpose of the movement worldwide. The result is a focus on matters of self-interest and essential concerns for the organization and structural composition of Pentecostalism, or rather of particular Pentecostal groups, that suppress active participation in matters of Christian unity.
The popular perception of ecumenical practices held by many Pentecostals is characterized by frequent ambivalence. Responsible for this attitude is a widespread misunderstanding of the goals and intentions of ecumenism, a lack of awareness of the ecumenical heritage among Pentecostals, low participation of Pentecostal leadership in official ecumenical endeavours, organizational disadvantages of the diverse and pluralistic landscape of Pentecostal churches, the absence of institutional support and umbrella organizations to initiate and sustain ecumenical activities, and a consequential lack of resources for ecumenical formation.32 On the other hand, obstacles to further ecumenical growth are also brought to Pentecostals from the outside. Many non-Pentecostal traditions display unfamiliarity with and scepticism toward ecumenical relations. Accusations of a lack of theological depth, overzealous emotionalism, aggressive evangelism, proselytism, liturgical impoverishment, institutional ineffectiveness, and unorthodox doctrines are just a few of the stereotypes that prevent the development of a more positive ecumenical climate. As a result, much of ecumenical groundwork is spent in repairing damaged relations, dismantling stereotypes, and establishing personal relationships. Even so, the conversations, dialogues, and official reports that result from endeavours in Christian unity are virtually unacknowledged among most Pentecostals.
Underlying these visible issues that hinder a more comprehensive engagement in ecumenism are a number of theological presuppositions that affect the ecumenical attitude among classical Pentecostals. A dominant mindset confronting ecumenical participation is the primitivist or restorationist impulse among Pentecostals. This mindset is based on a critical evaluation of the contemporary church and is particularly visible in the frequent demand for a return to the practices of the apostolic community. Pentecostals argue that the established churches have altered the original forms of Christianity, de-emphasized the work of the Holy Spirit, and stifled spiritual growth.35 Consequently, a restoration of apostolic faith and practices is seen as a necessary, primary objective of restoring the church. This pervasive attitude in classical Pentecostalism and many of the independent Pentecostal groups often creates a rather sharp contrast to ecumenical fellowship with precisely those groups that Pentecostals hold responsible for the problems. In turn, hostility toward Pentecostals has dampened many ecumenical ambitions on both the grassroots level and among the denominational leadership. In response, the isolation of Pentecostals has invigorated the restorationist mindset, created new prejudices, and led much of the Pentecostal movement into a realm of ecumenical anonymity.
In addition, the ecumenical investment among Pentecostals suffers under internal debates and divisions particularly over disagreements on doctrine, church politics, personalities, and practices. Not least, Pentecostals are divided over the extent of their ecumenical engagement in general, a problem that concerns not only their relations with other churches but also internal associations among Pentecostal groups. The global Pentecostal movement has become a composition of different branches of Pentecostal bodies that sometimes look with suspicion at other parts of the movement. Closer alignment with denominations and institutions critical of the ecumenical movement has forced many Pentecostals to forsake the ecumenical conversations in which they had participated.38 Others grant higher priority to internal relations among Pentecostals, such as the Pentecostal World Fellowship, and ecumenical associations with non-Pentecostals have been either neglected or remained undeveloped. The repercussions of such decisions are only gradually repaired and demand more concentrated efforts in understanding the nature and identity of the Pentecostal movement and its position and function in (or apart from) the body of Christ.
Isolation from the Church

Ecumenical exclusivism and separatism show the symptoms but reveal little of the inherent problems responsible for the ambiguity and divisiveness among Pentecostals. On a more substantive level, the ecumenical mindset of Pentecostals is deeply restricted by the absence of a comprehensive Pentecostal ecclesiology. The movement has neither formulated a theology of the church nor situated itself consistently in any existing proposals. It is unclear whether communion with Pentecostals implies structural and institutional union or if such forms of reconciliation can even be entertained in the first place. The most persistent label for modern-day Pentecostalism is without doubt the description as a ‘movement’. However, this designation bears significant consequences for Pentecostal self-understanding and the possibility of ecumenical relations with Pentecostals.
Historically, classical Pentecostalism emerged from ecclesiastical roots that were already commonly designated as ‘movements’ within Christianity, such as the Holiness Movement and the Apostolic Faith Movement, and the application to Pentecostals seemed appropriate. However, the designation of Pentecostalism as a ‘movement’ by Pentecostals is often a critical, even counter-cultural choice that expresses the contrast to what Pentecostals frequently describe as the ‘stagnation’ and ‘institutionalism’ of the so-called ‘old churches’. Pentecostals understand their own identity in often radical opposition to the historical consciousness of the established churches; many see in the existing use of the term ‘church’ itself a sectarian designation. The distinction of Pentecostalism as a ‘movement’ from the broader, established notion of ‘church’ highlights the difficulty and resistance of fitting Pentecostals into established classifications.
Attempts to categorize and incorporate Pentecostalism among the churches have generally located the movement at the margins. Pentecostalism is identified less in terms of ‘church’ than of ‘sect’ or ‘faction’ or ‘stream’. In most cases understood as a temporary extreme element, Pentecostalism is seen as an afterthought to the landscape of church history, an addition at the end of tables and diagrams, an outgrowth of existing streams and developments, a mere example or the most recent expression of developments in already existing traditions. Thus added to the established Christian landscape, Pentecostalism is widely perceived as a temporary renewal or revival movement much like others that have appeared (and disappeared) throughout church history. Pentecostals have been hesitant to understand themselves as any more permanent and have readily used the designation as a movement to distinguish themselves from other particular groups as well as from the entire arena of mainstream Christian churches.
Pentecostal groups have understood themselves fundamentally as a missionary movement of the Holy Spirit. This perspective derives essentially from the idea of the Great Commission centrally placed within the evangelistic and eschatological life of the church. In simple terms, Pentecostals understand themselves as the realization of the biblical promise of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on all flesh, a movement in and beyond the churches—but not a church in itself. Put differently, many Pentecostals possess a sense for what the church is not rather than for what the church actually is. In its most basic form, the church remains essentially identical with the kingdom of God as an ideal yet to be reached but not a reality already attained. Pentecostalism in this sense is a movement becoming the church, a transformation of existing traditions into one movement toward the church. This rejection of the designation ‘church’ has made co-operation with Pentecostals difficult on many levels. A remedy for this dilemma is not simply found in a revision of Pentecostal doctrine or ecumenical practices.
As Pentecostalism expanded to worldwide proportions, the movement began to suffer most visibly from disorganization and divisions among the missionary workers. Initially, Pentecostals saw themselves as a movement of the Spirit that swept across the existing denominations and that would soon usher in the kingdom of God. As the eschatological expectations failed to materialize, organizational instabilities, administrative weaknesses, and the absence of any clearly formulated theological understanding of the church soon caught up with the growth, stability, coherence, and unity of the movement. The lack of planning, structure, formal institutions, and networks severely hampered the growth and effectiveness of Pentecostals abroad. As a result, Pentecostals turned to the existing visible structures of denominations surrounding them and adopted the title ‘church’ as a means of self-designation. The establishment of effective missionary structures initiated a widespread institutionalization and denominationalization among Pentecostals that promised growth, stability, and survival—yet still without formulating an accompanying theology. As a result, missionary and evangelistic activities among Pentecostals have become the formal endeavor of particular Pentecostal churches. The unity of the church is no longer the final realization of the contemporary Pentecostal movement; the church is already located within today’s Pentecostalism or, perhaps more pragmatically, among the Pentecostal denominations.45 This perspective has served as implicit justification for establishing and maintaining denominational structures without questioning if they are genuine to the Pentecostal ethos. Denominations formed quickly and spread rapidly throughout Pentecostalism and virtually eliminated the original mindset of a ‘movement’. Instead, Pentecostal denominations have entered a competitive mindset among themselves and with others.
A closer look reveals that Pentecostal groups have frequently adopted the title ‘church’ not only for the local assembly but also for the administrative group of churches that associate with one another on a regional or national level. Internal dissention and schisms hastened the process of institutionalization, including groups who continue to reject any denominational designation outright. This shift to the realm of formal organization has complicated the use of the designation ‘church’ and effectively shut the door to a more pronounced ecumenical theology and participation. The adoption of the traditional classification, ‘church’, inevitably led to confrontation internally as well as with other churches and denominations. The Pentecostal self-understanding today allows for the existence of multiple churches and denominations, yet there has been no parallel development to advance the communication and cooperation of churches in and beyond the Pentecostal movement. Umbrella organizations, such as the Pentecostal World Fellowship, do not represent a decision-making body and hold no authority beyond the assemblies of particular Pentecostal denominations. Pentecostals have become anonymous behind denominational structures that are not equipped for ecumenical conversations. Most visibly, this development has further consolidated an exclusivist attitude toward other non-Pentecostal communities. No substantive theological formulations of the church and Christian unity are underlying these structures. Ecumenical documents with Pentecostal participation are rarely consulted by Pentecostal leadership. The choice to enter the competitive mindset of existing Christian denominations has effectively made Pentecostalism a movement isolated from the church.
Unity and diversity in the Pentecostal movement

Pentecostals have always looked at the book of Acts for biblical patterns of the church. The biblical narrative presents the church since the day of Pentecost as a group in constant transition. Pentecostals found that even the day of Pentecost itself does not mark a definite transformation of the Christian group, but that the expansion and rapid changes of the church demanded other ‘Pentecosts’ that allowed the church to move forward. Much of this transitional character is reflected in modern-day Pentecostalism, at times deliberately, but more often in ways embedded in the historical character of the movement that have not yet found a consistent and deliberative crystallization among the churches. The reconciliation of rampant denominationalism with the ecumenical attitudes among Pentecostals demands a closer look at the way Pentecostalism can be understood as an ecumenical movement that exhibits patterns of both unity and diversity.
Unity and diversity among Pentecostals

The tensions between ecumenical exclusivism and ecumenical participation among Pentecostals reflect the enormous changes that characterize the short history of the Pentecostal movement. The significant developments impacting modern-day Pentecostalism worldwide have confronted the movement with the question of its own identity among the churches amidst concerns for the global status of the movement. Mixed attitudes toward Christian unity, both positive and negative, are not a unique feature of Pentecostals but reflect dominant global forces that have shaped the worldwide ecumenical agenda in general. The proper characterization of Pentecostalism among the churches acknowledges the coexistence of unity and diversity. Admittedly, the distance between the two may be greater among Pentecostals than among the established churches and seasoned ecumenical traditions. Nonetheless, Pentecostalism is recapitulating the history of the ecumenical movement at a much faster pace. The tensions of Pentecostal engagement in Christian unity reveal that not all attempts to understand a tradition’s identity necessarily invite ecumenical participation, and that concerns for one’s own tradition can unfold at the cost of visible Christian unity. In this sense, a more complete understanding of Pentecostalism demands a renewed understanding of both what it means to be ‘Pentecostal’ and how to pursue unity with the movement thus identified.
From a Pentecostal perspective, the intention to understand the movement itself and its ecumenical position among the churches faces at least two major challenges: First, there exists no consistent, historical definition of the term ‘church’ among Pentecostals worldwide. Whereas the established Christian traditions possess longstanding accounts of the nature and purpose of the church, Pentecostals do not share a common idea and theology of the body of Christ. Second, the diversity of Pentecostal perspectives on the church allows at best for multiple theologies of the church that reflect both the tensions within the Pentecostal movement and the challenges of ecumenical reconciliation. Pentecostals have entered a phase of ecumenical pragmatism—an intermediate stage on the way to more genuine Pentecostal forms of participation.51 Contemporary approaches to ecumenism slowly move beyond Anglo-European dominance to broader international participation and ecumenical organization that address the concerns of the broader Pentecostal community. Reasons that this development is filled with tensions should not be sought in the pluralistic image of Pentecostalism alone but rather in the absence of opportunities for Pentecostals to define themselves as Pentecostals among the churches.
The most celebrated attempt to identify an ecumenical Pentecostal self-description is found in the concept of koinonia—a New Testament idea of the fellowship of believers rooted in the trinitarian communion of God. Formulated not least in conversations between Pentecostal and Roman Catholics, ecumenical perspectives on koinonia have become a widely accepted and fruitful basis for approaching a shared understanding of the church. For Pentecostals, the church already exists in koinonia due to the divine action manifested in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. This pneumatological understanding of Christian unity implies for Pentecostals a shared life in the Spirit and a common manifestation of spiritual gifts that exists not merely in the abstract ideal but in the concrete historical reality of the Christian life. The neglect of this emphasis in the churches catholic remains for many Pentecostals the strongest obstacle to ecumenical participation. The large majority of this sentiment stems from convictions generally uninformed by detailed ecumenical discussions. Pentecostals worldwide exhibit a rather weak ecumenical pedagogy, although they certainly are not alone in its tangible expressions.
There exist a variety of ‘experiences’ of koinonia among Pentecostals that are often determined by the level of submission to ecclesial authority, institutional communication and co-operation, existing church structures and processes. On a more pragmatic level, ecumenical participation often depends on the negative or positive influences that have shaped a person’s self-understanding. Pentecostals allow for change and transition between different perspectives and ecumenical attitudes as part of arriving at their own self-understanding that is still emerging.56 For the larger ecumenical community, this fluctuation is sometimes perceived as an inherent instability that prevents concrete achievements and long-lasting relationships. This perspective runs the risk of divorcing Pentecostalism from the common endeavour for Christian unity. Isolated from the ecumenical movement, Pentecostals will not arrive at a consensus on the global Pentecostal identity.
Instead, Pentecostalism and ecumenism must be seen as two mutually interdependent movements. For many Pentecostals and non-Pentecostals alike, participation in both movements remains ‘an exercise on the frontiers’. The diversity of global Pentecostalism also reflects the diversity of the ecumenical movement worldwide. The tensions in the Pentecostal movement manifest in many ways the broader ecumenical temperament, which in turn has not reflected much on its own constituency as a movement. Identified as ‘movements’ in the contemporary Christian landscape, Pentecostalism and ecumenism share in common a unique identity that includes a shared understanding of existing at the margins of what is called the ‘church’.
The critical function of Pentecostalism

Pentecostalism understood as a movement that both confounds the ecumenical landscape while at the same time standing at the forefront of revitalizing Christian unity has dramatically changed the perception of denominationalism and ecumenism within the movement. The acceptance of denominational and ecumenical language among Pentecostals suggests that both concepts will continue to coexist despite the tensions. Classifying Pentecostalism as a ‘movement’ remains a significant label that does not flatten the image of Pentecostal diversity but instead upholds the tensions within Pentecostalism as representative of religious movements in general. At the same time, there exists no theology of the church as movement, no movement-ecclesiology, which could be applied to Pentecostalism. It is found rather in the Pentecostal beliefs and practices that define the movement’s historical reality and that consequently demand closer attention.
An understanding of Pentecostalism as a movement begins with its global representation and the diverse streams of Pentecostal groups. Simply said, Pentecostalism is itself inherently in transition. This movement internal to Pentecostalism affects the self-understanding of Pentecostals among the churches. Among classical Pentecostals, the church traditionally stands for a self-governing, self-supporting, and self-propagating body that proclaims an unchanging gospel to all cultures and contexts. The expansion of classical Pentecostalism and the rise of new Pentecostal streams have turned the focus to the further contextualization of the church on the grassroots level in order to remain relevant and meaningful. In contrast, the ecclesiology of the Charismatic Movement is largely shaped by the mother church in which it is able to unfold. The ethos of Pentecostalism as a movement is upheld in these contexts by relating the charismatic revival to the historical life of the church rather than its abstract essence. Put differently, Pentecostalism is understood as a new movement in the church or the church in movement but not as the church itself. The neo-Pentecostal movement has shifted Pentecostal ecclesiology again into quite opposite directions and much closer to a Free Church theology.60 The notion of movement is here synonymous with a diachronic plurality of the churches in a framework of ecclesial interdependence where churches operate under a universal outpouring of the Holy Spirit that changes and varies from congregation to congregation and is more closely aligned with a personal confession of faith. Global Pentecostalism does not propose one particular structure of movement but suggests that ‘church’ is experienced in a diversity of rhythms, beliefs, and practices.
If Pentecostalism is understood as a movement in these diverse ways, then it is equally important to emphasize the historical character of this identification. In the most tangible way, denominations are the history books of the churches, the stage where ecumenical relations are applied, tested, and verified. This perspective is based on the assumption that denominations are temporary replacements of an eschatological movement becoming the church. The pragmatic side of this temporary concept of denominations is perhaps the most challenging feature of Pentecostal ecclesiology. While theologically the Pentecostal denominations are considered transitory because they represent the churches in history but not yet the church in eternity, the application of this theology is typically overshadowed by administrative, organizational, and institutional concerns that depend on the long-term stability of the denomination. Moreover, the distinction between the historical reality of Pentecostalism and the eternal unity of the church should not lead us to deny denominations any significance and simply hold that they will eventually be subsumed under the eternal kingdom of God. Pentecostals have emphasized that denominations exhibit a valuable critical function toward the established cultures and structures of the churches. Pentecostals thus frequently identify with a particular denomination as it represents a sort of historical anti-structure to existing practices.63 At the same time as the local assembly emulates the denominational patterns, the denomination itself moves toward its full realization in the eternal church. Denominationalism in the Pentecostal movement therefore exists amidst the tension between the local assembly and the whole church as a critical catalyst of the renewal and transformation of the whole church.
The critical function of denominations in the Pentecostal movement is important because it is exercised only in explicitly ecumenical contexts, since no single denomination represents the fullness of either the diversity of local assemblies or the eternal fulfilment of Christian unity. Put differently, denominations cannot exist in the singular. The denominational landscape among Pentecostals is not the result of an expansion of one particular form of Pentecostalism but the birth of genuine new communities from within different environments and as a result of particular developments. This diversity of history, manifested for Pentecostals in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, is the soil in which denominations and the foundation for Pentecostal ecclesiology are planted. The challenge of this reality is that the character of the denominations as the promissory note for the full unity of the one church can only be fulfilled in relations between the churches. Individual denominations are a partial, visible manifestation of this development but remain incomplete for any attempt to arrive at a Pentecostal theology of the church. From a denominational perspective, the church is never fully realized but remains always in movement. This is Pentecostal praxis par excellence.
The identification of Pentecostalism as a critical movement is neither synonymous with denominations nor opposed to their reality but points to a constant transformation of the historical reality of what we consider Pentecostalism today. This element of transition is one of the most significant features of modern-day Pentecostalism and explains how different realities of the church can coexist in the same movement. It also represents the greatest challenge to ecumenical conversations—on the one hand, Pentecostals form a single entity that exists across a broad spectrum held together by a shared worldview and spirituality; on the other hand, the diverse, even contradicting practices and theologies among Pentecostals resist the identification as a single entity. The concept of ‘the one and the many’66 often used in traditional attempts to identify the church comes to a critical manifestation in the historical reality of Pentecostalism. As a result, the most immediate challenge remains the reconciliation of rampant denominationalism and uncritical adoption of a Free Church ethos with the worldview and spirituality of the Pentecostal movement. As the previous chapter has shown, the charismatic manifestations representative of this Pentecostal ethos show a wide spectrum of communion and fellowship in the Spirit that allows for contrasting experiences and convictions. This perspective does not justify the tensions between unity and diversity in the Pentecostal movement today, but it does suggest that to expect anything different leads to the portrayal of an unrealistic homogeneous image of Pentecostalism, which remains still in its most elementary forms a movement in transition.


Orthodox doctrine and sectarianism
Some of the most visible tensions in the Pentecostal movement are found in divisions over doctrine. From the beginning of modern-day Pentecostalism, the movement exhibited a broad variety of beliefs that are not always readily summed up in doctrinal statements. The statements of faith and doctrinal teachings issued by particular Pentecostal groups do not easily apply to others within the movement. In addition, some Pentecostal teachings stand in rather sharp contrast to classical formulations of the Christian tradition and are considered heretical by many non-Pentecostals. The most significant among these tensions is the longstanding and often heated debate among Pentecostals between advocates of trinitarian theology and the so-called Oneness Pentecostals. While the majority of Pentecostals have embraced the traditional Christian teaching of the doctrine of God, Oneness Pentecostalism has gained a large following throughout the world that rejects the creedal trinitarian tradition.
A general rejection of the creeds is a well-known trademark of Pentecostal history. Pentecostals frequently see in creedal formulations a limitation of spiritual freedom, a hastening of institutionalization and formalization of the Christian life. Most Pentecostals, especially groups not closely associated with a mainline tradition, are less familiar with the actual wording of the creeds and hold no fundamental doctrinal opposition. Nonetheless, creeds are widely stereotyped as destructive to the unity of the church, a testing of allegiance that has relegated Pentecostals often to the margins of fellowship. Oneness Pentecostals tend to sharply criticize the creedal statements over doctrinal disagreements that have ostracized them not only from other Pentecostal streams but from the mainline Christian traditions. This chapter presents these tensions between Oneness and trinitarian Pentecostals as representative of the struggle to conform to the teachings of Christian orthodoxy. The first part of the chapter outlines the traditional formulation of the doctrine of God among Pentecostals. The second part presents the contrasting position of Oneness Pentecostals. In the final part, these positions are brought into dialogue with particular focus on the factors responsible for the divisions. The goal of this chapter is to arrive at a closer understanding of the development of doctrine among the diverse adherents of the Pentecostal movement and their position in the landscape of Christian orthodoxy. A full reconciliation of the tensions and contrasting doctrines is unlikely. The considerable range of beliefs is an irrevocable feature of Pentecostal participation in the development of global Christianity.
Pentecostalism and the formulation of the doctrine of God

The narrative descriptions of the biblical texts have occupied a central place in directing the daily lives and doctrines of Pentecostals from the beginning. Most Pentecostals find in Luke-Acts, in particular, an experiential pattern for the formulation of Christian beliefs that possesses a theological integrity in its own right and which is indicative of the development of Pentecostal doctrine. These narratives emphasize the importance of salvation as the key to understanding God’s work in the world. Inside this narrative soteriology, Pentecostals have highlighted the centrality of Jesus Christ as the messiah anointed with the Holy Spirit. In turn, the outpouring of this Spirit on the world marks the proper frame for all subsequent formulations of Pentecostal doctrine. Together, these foundational elements offer insights into the general pattern of doctrinal articulation among Pentecostals today.
Narrative articulations of doctrine

Pentecostal theology is born out of the need to narrate the experiences of the salvific work of God in Christ and the Spirit and to do so in terms that do justice to their experiences rather than to official formulations of doctrine. Most Pentecostal groups are reluctant to formulate extensive systems of official doctrines. Classical Pentecostalism is representative of the larger Pentecostal constituency that has found it difficult to present doctrinal formulations without adopting them from other traditions and without thereby sacrificing the distinctive experiences that identify them in distinction to those traditions. The Charismatic Movement in the mainline churches has had its own challenges of remaining an integral part of their traditions without giving the impression of simply adding to it a doctrine of the Spirit. Neo-Pentecostal groups have added little significant texture to the actual formulation of Pentecostal doctrine, primarily because there is no magisterial theological guidance or official authoritative teaching for all groups. What ties the different streams of Pentecostalism together is a strong reliance on Scripture as a path to doctrinal formulations that support and direct the Pentecostal experiences.
In Scripture, Pentecostals find a common emphasis on dreams, visions, prophecies, prayer, and worship that provide the foundation for articulating their own story. This articulation generally proceeds orally among Pentecostals, usually expressed in sermons, testimonies, and songs, and rarely in classical formulations of doctrine. In trying to articulate their experiences, song, poetry, testimony, prophecy, and prayer seem the more appropriate media to Pentecostals than creedal formulations and doctrinal propositions. Theology is identified not primarily with creeds and doctrines but with a worshipful response to God’s saving activity. While the experience of God’s saving work forms the motivation for Pentecostal theology, it is the Pentecostal worldview and spirituality that inform the articulation and structure of that theology. Pentecostals have generally neglected to craft a formal doctrine of God. Instead, worship and prayer stand at the heart of a language evocative of the praise, petitions, lamentations, sighs, and groans Pentecostals find in the community of the New Testament.7
In their concept of doctrine, Pentecostals stand closer to the Roman Catholic idea of the development of doctrine than the Protestant understanding of doctrines as the unchangeable deposit of faith. Formative in this understanding is the link between the authority of spirituality and the authority of doctrine (lex orandi, lex credendi). Pentecostals can speak of spirituality as doctrine by locating the starting point for all doctrine in the human response to God. The response in immediate testimonies, visions, songs, tongues, or prayers is initially pre-cognitive, affective, and behavioural, or to put it differently, therapeutic and prophetic. From there, a more articulate, scrutinized, and deliberative formulation of doctrine, such as creeds, dogmas, and official teachings are generally not attempted by Pentecostals. Nonetheless, most Pentecostals readily embrace formal articulations of doctrine from other traditions if these reflect their own spirituality and experiences.
The immediate link between spirituality and doctrine (and vice versa) among Pentecostals is formed by soteriology, or perhaps more accurately, the experience of salvation. We might say that salvation represents an epistemic and experiential commonality that informs all Pentecostal practices. Formulations of Pentecostal doctrine are ultimately rooted in the multidimensional character of salvation as it is observed and formulated among the Christian traditions. This means that for Pentecostals all doctrine must remain verifiable in the concrete personal and communal experiences of God’s redemptive activity.
This emphasis is clearly visible in the articulation of the so-called ‘full’ gospel—a theological formulation among classical Pentecostals that mediates between narrative account and formulaic expression. Two different theological accounts are in circulation among Pentecostals, the four-fold gospel of Jesus as saviour, Spirit baptizer, healer, and coming king, and the five-fold gospel that adds to this account the image of Jesus as sanctifier. These articulations are guided by practical ambitions rather than structural concerns, biblical readings rather than doctrinal conventions. At the heart of the full gospel is the worshipping life of the community, both the affective disposition of individuals and the liturgy of the church, in which the gospel is not only proclaimed but exercised. Pentecostals continue to emphasize that any confession of faith remains primarily a form of spirituality. At the heart of articulating this spirituality among Pentecostals stands the central figure of Jesus Christ and the experience of the Holy Spirit.
The centrality of Jesus Christ

The Pentecostal full-gospel motif is centred on the person of Jesus. The core convictions of Pentecostals are not simply identified as salvation, Spirit baptism, healing, sanctification, and a strong eschatological orientation. Rather, it is the biblical picture of Jesus that dominates these theological formulations. Pentecostal piety has always been directed toward Jesus. In other words, Pentecostal doctrine always expresses at heart a Christology. The central confession of Christ dominates doctrinal narratives among Pentecostals. The goal of these confessions is not primarily a teaching about Christ but a worshipful expression of faith and witness toward Christ. Pentecostal songs, testimonies, and sermons declare the centrality of Jesus for all proclamations of faith to God and to one another:

We have heard a joyful sound, Jesus saves, Jesus saves;
Spread the gladness all around, Jesus saves, Jesus saves;
Bear the news to ev’ry land, climb the steeps and cross the waves,
Onward, ’tis our Lord’s command, Jesus saves, Jesus saves.

In the Pentecostal narrative, Jesus is the central figure who makes possible the appropriation of and participation in the redeemed life. Pentecostal doctrine, in this sense, is both a confession that Jesus saves, baptizes, heals, sanctifies, and returns and that Jesus is the saviour, baptizer, healer, sanctifier, and soon-coming king. Pentecostal narratives describe this idea of salvation typically as an existential encounter with the person of Jesus:

I have been to Jesus, he has cleansed my soul,
I’ve been washed in the blood of the Lamb;
By the precious fountain, I’ve been made whole,
I’ve been washed by the blood of the Lamb.

Salvation, sanctification, Spirit baptism, and other beliefs of Pentecostals are more than mere convictions of conversion, holiness, healing, or empowerment; they are seen as moments of the historical reality of Jesus in which Pentecostals continue to participate. Calvary is seen as the door where God opened his saving presence to the world once and for all. All moments in the life of Christ are thus reinterpreted as both historical events and testimony of the present-day where Jesus continues the saving work of God:

He sweetly saves and sanctifies,
The reign of sin is o’er;
With holy fire he doth baptize,
And seal forevermore.

In Pentecostal piety, Jesus is thus clearly elevated to the model of Pentecostal spirituality and worldview. In the person of Jesus Christ, spirituality and doctrine meet, expressed in the often straightforward proclamations that we are redeemed by the blood of Jesus, healed by his stripes, lifted by his love, sanctified by his fire, equipped by his power, and comforted by his promises. These and other narratives of faith are the Pentecostal equivalent to the classical formulations of the creeds.
The pursuit of the Holy Spirit

The centrality of a personal relationship with Jesus at the heart of Pentecostal doctrine is not necessarily a feature that distinguishes Pentecostalism from other Christian traditions. More significant is the fact that the starting point for Pentecostal narratives of doctrine is a distinctive spirituality that focuses on the presence, manifestations, and power of the Holy Spirit. Only by the Spirit is Christ present to the believer, and only the spiritually responsive person is able to enter into this presence of God. As Calvary represents the window for Christ to the salvation of the world, Pentecost is seen as the door for Christians to enter the anointed presence of Christ. For Pentecostals, the Spirit is ‘God with us’18 in palpable manifestations and personal experiences that always remain intimately related to the person of Jesus. In other words, Pentecostal doctrine and spirituality are never exclusively directed toward Christ or the Spirit; they always form a Spirit-Christology.
Pentecostals find an explicit Spirit-Christology in the biblical witness of Luke-Acts to Jesus as the revelation of God anointed with the Holy Spirit and to the passing on of this anointing to a world in need of salvation. The Spirit is the presence of the resurrected Jesus in history, and this presence is manifested in the experiences lifted up by the narrative of the full gospel. The Pentecostal longing for an experiential encounter with God’s presence joins together both the doctrine of God and Pentecostal spirituality. The result is primarily a soteriological reflection on Christ typically expressed with focus on the Holy Spirit.

Breathe upon us, Lord from heaven,
Fill us with the Holy Ghost;
Promise of the Father given,
Send us now a Pentecost.

On a theological level, one might argue that the Holy Spirit represents for most Pentecostals an experiential entrance point to the narrative of salvation. This theme is most explicit in the Pentecostal doctrine of Spirit baptism, where theology and spirituality meet deliberately. The presence of the Spirit and the presence of Christ are both identified and distinguished to the same extent as the presence of God unites with the Christian community but also remains beyond it.

Thou Christ of burning, cleansing flame,
Send the fire, send the fire,
send the fire! Look down and see this waiting host,
Give us the promised Holy Ghost,
We want another Pentecost,
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!

The doctrine of Spirit baptism remains historically and theologically the most explicit formulation of the doctrine of God among Pentecostals—the kerygma of the full gospel. Spirit baptism, whether conceived as doctrine or spirituality, features at heart God’s bestowal of the Holy Spirit. For the majority of Pentecostals, we might say that ‘Spirit baptism brings the reign of the Father, the reign of the crucified and risen Christ, and the reign of the divine life to all creation through the indwelling of the Spirit.’ Pentecostals readily find in the biblical texts the unrestrained bestowal of the Spirit by the Father on the Son, documented in the anointed life of Christ, and the outpouring of the Spirit on all flesh on the day of Pentecost, documented in the Spirit-filled life of believers. While formulations of this doctrine rarely depend on particular visions of the inner life of the triune God, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is tied closely to the person of Jesus as the one who baptizes and is baptized with the Spirit of God. These confessions speak less of the Father or creation and more of the Word and the Spirit or regeneration and charismatic empowerment, often distinguishing between the work of the Spirit as the one who baptizes us into Christ and the work of Christ as the one who baptizes us in the Spirit. This reciprocal emphasis contrasts with the frequent neglect of pneumatology in Western formulations of the doctrine of God. The Spirit-Christology eminent among Pentecostals favours a dynamic perspective of the person of Jesus that has only recently emerged among other Christian traditions. Nonetheless, few of these considerations make their way into formal articulations of doctrine. Above all, the close connection between the doctrine of God and the various moments of the Spirit-filled life in the Pentecostal worldview suggests that the Pentecostal doctrine of God remains at heart always a doxology.
Oneness Pentecostalism

The most far-reaching theological tension among contemporary Pentecostals is the division between trinitarian Pentecostals and the Oneness tradition. Recent estimates locate the number of Oneness Pentecostals in the world at 15–20 million, with more than 400 organizations, strong roots in the United States, Canada, India, Indonesia, Japan, and Russia, and a majority presence among Pentecostals in China, Mexico, Colombia, and Ethiopia. Information on many groups beyond North America and Europe is sparse, but expanded global demographics suggest considerable diversity among the groups in both practice and doctrine.27 The common denominator among these groups is the rejection of the doctrine of the Trinity and the consequential separation from the majority of trinitarian Pentecostals. In turn, Oneness Pentecostals often have been stereotyped as heretical by trinitarian Pentecostals and non-Pentecostals as well as former Oneness Pentecostals. While trinitarian Pentecostals affirm the creedal tradition of the three divine persons, Oneness Pentecostals reject classical trinitarian formulations of the doctrine of God. This section details the motivations for rejecting the trinitarian creeds and highlights the centrality of Jesus and the experience of the Holy Spirit for a closer understanding of Oneness Pentecostal teaching.
The rejection of the trinitarian creeds

Tensions between Oneness Pentecostal teachings and traditional formulations of the doctrine of God are concentrated in the acceptance and application of the creeds. While many Pentecostals display an animosity toward creedal formulations of doctrine, Oneness Pentecostals reject the trinitarian teachings of the ecumenical councils outright. The council of Nicaea, in particular, represents the threshold between the Oneness and trinitarian Pentecostal groups. David Bernard, senior theologian of the United Pentecostal Church International, the largest Oneness Pentecostal organization, emphasizes the lack of explicit trinitarian language until the fourth century and sees the primary reason for the dominance of trinitarian articulations in the necessary response to heresy. Bernard faults the creed for failing to provide a trinitarian vocabulary, depending too strongly on a division of the confession of faith instead of its unity, and neglecting the notion of divine personhood.31 For Oneness Pentecostals, the doctrine of God can be formulated apart from the traditional language of the creeds.
Advocating a non-traditional view of God, Oneness Pentecostals find in modalistic monarchianism of the fourth century a historical predecessor that affirmed the two central aspects of their own convictions: ‘(1) there is one indivisible God with no distinction of persons in God’s eternal essence, and (2) Jesus Christ is the manifestation, human personification, or incarnation of the one God.’ At the centre of these convictions stands the concern for the administration of water baptism, or more precisely, the correct biblical paradigm for baptism, its interpretation, and application. In its doctrinal dimensions, the debate questions the correctness of the baptismal formula based either on the single name of Jesus (see Acts 2:38) or the three titles ‘Father’, ‘Son’, and ‘Holy Spirit’ (see Mt. 28:19). In practice, Oneness Pentecostals emphasize baptism ‘in the name of Jesus Christ’ as the original apostolic formula to be seen as convocation of the grace of God that contains the grace of the Father and the sanctification of the Holy Spirit. Baptism ‘in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit’ (Mt. 28:19) is therefore synonymous with the practice of ‘one baptism’ (Eph. 4:5) without juxtaposing the oneness of God with the idea of three divine persons.
Oneness Pentecostals view the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed as the result of an inadmissible amalgamation of the radical monotheism of the Old Testament and the redemptive manifestations of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the New Testament. Held responsible for this confusion is a departure from the biblical revelation and subjection of Scripture to philosophical reasoning. While the biblical witness affirms the unity and diversity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the work of salvation, Oneness Pentecostals see neither a threefold division of works nor a threefold division of persons in the doctrine of God.
In contrast to the creedal texts, Oneness Pentecostals attribute the idea of personhood only to Jesus Christ. In this way, the group seeks to avoid the apparent problem of trinitarian doctrine to reconcile the singular being of God with the idea that this being is shared by three persons without thereby dividing the deity threefold and falling into the heresy of tritheism. While classical trinitarian formulations speak of the interpenetration of the three divine persons, Oneness Pentecostals consider the one God to be one indivisible being in the single person of Jesus Christ who encompasses in his person all three manifestations of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The emphasis on the single name of Jesus has earned Oneness Pentecostals the misleading characterization of being a ‘Jesus only’ movement. Although the singular emphasis on Jesus is typical for the group, it should be understood as an emphasis on the ‘name’ that replaces the traditional emphasis on the divine persons. Simply put, for Oneness Pentecostals, in God ‘the name and the person are synonymous’.37 This identification avoids the univocal use of the term ‘person’ for the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Oneness Pentecostal doctrine replaces the idea of three ‘persons’ with the concept of the single ‘name’ of God as it is revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. In other words, from the Oneness Pentecostal perspective, the person of Jesus is the name of God. It is therefore both possible and necessary to confess faith in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit among Oneness Pentecostals. However, this seemingly triadic confession is actualized through water baptism ‘in Jesus’ name’ so that practically and theologically Jesus Christ is proclaimed as the only personification of God.
The supremacy of the person of Jesus

The theological convictions and consequences of the Oneness Pentecostal view have only recently been formulated in an analytical manner that corresponds to the practices and experiences of the tradition. Oneness Pentecostals’ Christology derives from a reinterpretation of the biblical words ‘Father’, ‘Son’, and ‘Spirit’, which rather than identifying three distinct divine persons, ‘describe God’s redemptive roles or revelations, but they do not reflect an essential threeness in His nature’. For trinitarian Pentecostals, this identification means that when we speak of God as Father, Son, and Spirit, we highlight the necessary and coexistent redemptive roles of God in the work of salvation. In Oneness Pentecostal doctrine these functions of God are expressed in the terms of creator, saviour, and sanctifier and characterize the essential unity of God’s being. The confession of this unity in being and function in salvation history is concentrated in the experience of Jesus Christ in a manner that reveals some foundational differences in Christology, that is, in the manner in which Christ is seen as the eternal God.
Oneness Pentecostals reject the trinitarian designation of Jesus solely in terms of the ‘Son of God’ and as the ‘second’ divine person. In their place, Oneness Pentecostals state that ‘Jesus is not the incarnation of one person of a trinity but the incarnation of all the identity, character, and personality of God.’41 Contrary to traditional Christian teaching, Jesus is the eternal God—not the eternal second person—who became flesh. More precisely, Oneness Pentecostals speak of a ‘begotten Sonship’ marked initially by the Incarnation as the starting point for the work of the Son, whose redeeming role will end when the present world ceases to exist. The same understanding of redemptive manifestations is attributed to the Holy Spirit, who as the Spirit of Jesus ‘does not come as another person but comes in another form (in spirit instead of flesh) and another relationship (‘in you’ instead of ‘with you’)’. The statement of faith of the United Pentecostal Church International summarizes this understanding of God succinctly:

We believe in the one ever-living, eternal God: infinite in power, holy in nature, attributes and purpose; and possessing absolute, indivisible deity. This one true God has revealed Himself as Father; through His Son, in redemption; and as the Holy Spirit, by emanation.… Before the incarnation, this one true God manifested Himself in diverse ways. In the incarnation, He manifests Himself in the Son, who walked among men. As He works in the lives of believers, He manifests Himself as the Holy Spirit.…

The biblical terms ‘Father’, ‘Son’, and ‘Spirit’ are thus taken as redemptive titles indicative of the closeness of relationship between God and humanity. The title of Father indicates the transcendence of God, the title of Son the Incarnation, and the title of Spirit the indwelling of God in the believer. For Oneness Pentecostals, all of these roles are manifestations of the person of Jesus Christ.
The experience of the Holy Spirit

As for Pentecostal doctrine in general, the pneumatological perspective is highly significant for the articulation of the centrality of Christ in Oneness Pentecostal teaching. The experiential focus among Pentecostals guides much of the doctrinal formulations in this regard, and Oneness Pentecostals affirm strictly the experience of the one God as one Spirit: Pentecostals ‘do not experience three personalities when they worship, nor do they receive three spirits, but they are in relationship with one personal spirit being’. Therefore, the Spirit of God can be called ‘simply God’, ‘God himself’, or ‘the one God’.46 From this perspective, Oneness Pentecostals criticize the traditional distinction between understanding God in a self-contained manner and God’s activity in the world. This characteristic distinction in trinitarian theology between immanent and economic Godhead is seen as overtly dependent upon philosophical identifications of substance and person that are foreign to the biblical texts. In their place, Oneness Pentecostals give priority to the biblical concept of ‘spirit’ that allows them to maintain a distinction of the manifestations of God while rejecting the idea that these manifestations are to be identified as three distinct persons.

The Spirit of Jesus existed from all eternity because he is God Himself. However, the humanity of Jesus did not exist before the Incarnation, except as a plan in the mind of God. Therefore we can say that the Spirit of Jesus preexisted the Incarnation, but we cannot say the Son preexisted the Incarnation in any substantial sense.

This Spirit-oriented perspective on the redemptive manifestations of God illustrates the important feature of Oneness Pentecostal doctrine to speak of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as simultaneous rather than successive manifestations. Whereas Pentecostals in general prefer to speak of the present time as the age of the Spirit, Oneness Pentecostals do not see this emphasis as representing a substantial distinction in God’s being. The crucial trinitarian terminology of the ‘procession’ of the Son and the Spirit is interpreted as a ‘sending’ or ‘appointment’ in ‘the supernatural plan and action of God’. Any distinction of the divine substance or a pre-existence of the divine persons apart from the economy of salvation is consequently rejected. When applied to the Son, ‘the sending … emphasizes the humanity of the Son and the specific purpose for which the Son was born’.49 In contrast to classical trinitarian formulations, the Son is not identified as Son because of his eternal procession from the Father but because he is begotten by the Spirit as the human manifestation of God. When applied to the Holy Spirit, the sending refers to the ‘return … of Jesus manifested in a new way’ after the glorification of the Son. In this manner, Oneness Pentecostal pneumatology consistently returns to the doctrine of Christ at the heart of the doctrine of God.
At the centre of the Oneness Pentecostal doctrine of God, the sending of the Son is a necessary presupposition for the sending of the Holy Spirit, since both are redemptive manifestations of the one God. Nevertheless, this perspective precludes the idea of the pre-existence of Christ as person before the Incarnation and grants this pre-existence only in the terms of the eternal Spirit. Put differently, the Holy Spirit is the eternal being of God; the Word is the relation of this being to the world. In turn, the Spirit does not precede or follow the Word in any substantive or personal manner but remains identical in deity with them. In practice, the experience of the Spirit is the experience of the Son and the experience of the Father who are all simultaneous manifestations of the one being of God and ultimately reveal the one person of Jesus Christ. For Oneness Pentecostals, the person of Jesus remains the revelation of the single being of God who encompasses and supersedes the redemptive manifestations of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as the eternal Lord of glory.
Pentecostal theology and the development of doctrine

The Oneness-Trinitarian Pentecostal dialogue, although received with much optimism, reveals little alteration in either group’s theological position. While the vocabulary of ‘orthodox’ and ‘heretical’ has subsided and the conversation has become impartial and respectful, it is unlikely that the two opposing views on the doctrine of God will ever coalesce. A complete view of Pentecostalism can therefore not neglect the undeniable tensions that exist despite joint foundational commitments between both groups. The structure of the previous pages has indicated that at least three factors are responsible for the coexistence of these tensions: 1) the replacement of doctrine by an emphasis on experience; 2) foundational differences in Christology; 3) the focus on the Holy Spirit in all statements of faith. This concluding section highlights the significance of these factors for Pentecostal perspectives on the future development of Christian doctrine.
Replacing doctrine

Pentecostal theology is marked by an experience, not by a doctrine. This slogan may oversimplify the theological dynamics of the movement worldwide, but it serves as a helpful reminder that classical formulations of doctrine do not occupy a significant place in Pentecostal theology. The overwhelming emphasis on experience and spirituality outweighs contemplation on speculative elements of doctrine. We might say that experience replaces doctrine in Pentecostal faith and praxis. This perspective is particularly significant in the context of the doctrine of God that Pentecostals formulate primarily (if not exclusively) on the basis of a tangible encounter with God.
The emphasis on the encounter with God translates theologically to an equation of the experienced God with the fullness of God’s being (even if that cannot be experienced in its entirety). Where classical theism has drawn a distinction between God’s self-sufficient being and God’s involvement in the world, it can be argued that this distinction is not typically made by Pentecostals. The emphasis on encounter focuses on the presence of God in the here and now, a pragmatic rather than dogmatic pursuit of the divine.55 If there is a distinction between God-for-us and God-in-himself, this distinction is of little significance to the Pentecostal experience and formulation of doctrine. This insignificance allows room for both Oneness and trinitarian Pentecostals.
While doctrinal distinctions or historical precedence occupy less significant roles in Pentecostal theology, the importance of biblical support for the Pentecostal experiences cannot be underestimated. Theological explanations for a divine encounter that has been experienced but not understood are typically sought directly from the Scriptures. The call for a return to biblical Christianity and the reliance on Luke-Acts has been widely recognized among Pentecostals. The significance of an experience-based interpretation of the Bible exposes that for Pentecostals there is no alternative to such interpretation (even if it exposes the lack of such specific experiences). Nonetheless, granting experience and spirituality a central place in theological hermeneutics allows Pentecostals to exercise a broad scale of interpretations ranging from those who look for repeatable patterns of divine activity throughout Scripture to those who elevate isolated passages to authoritative doctrinal status. At least among Pentecostals, the transition from experience to Scripture is less difficult than from the interpretation of Scripture to the formulation of doctrine.
The distance between experience and doctrine is particularly visible in the Pentecostal tensions surrounding the view of God. Oneness and trinitarian Pentecostals both uphold the authority of Scripture for all matters of experience and practice. Yet, while each side upholds the biblical support for their respective position, theologically both sides significantly overlap. Oneness Pentecostals exhibit an unexpected triadic element in their understanding of God, while trinitarian Pentecostals tend to collapse the experiential reality of the three divine persons into a central experience of Christ or the Holy Spirit. For both sides, it is the authority of spirituality that dictates the theological position. The lack of concurrent experience of all three divine persons, or to put it positively, the particular elevation of one person in worship and encounter suggests significant theological agreements among Pentecostals that face confrontation only in specific doctrinal formulations or practical applications. The most significant of these agreements is the quest for the centrality of Jesus.
The quest for the centrality of Jesus

The overwhelming emphasis on the person of Jesus shapes the content of a theology based on experience among both Oneness and trinitarian Pentecostals. In principle, the doctrinal emphasis on Jesus attributes all divine qualities and functions to Christ. What might therefore be called a ‘Christological maximalism’ in the Pentecostal doctrine of God leads among Oneness Pentecostals to a factual substitution of the three divine persons with the single person of Jesus, while trinitarian Pentecostals typically elevate Christ from the ‘second’ person of the Trinity to the central figure of Christian faith and worship. This Christocentric formulation of doctrine is not unique to Pentecostals.59 The Pietistic and Evangelical heritage of classical Pentecostalism, in particular, represents a seedbed for an experiential faith that is fundamentally Jesus-centred. Pentecostal doctrine, however, fluctuates more broadly between classical formulations of theology and the demands of compatibility with their Pentecostal experiences.
No large-scale theological treatments of Christology among Pentecostals have yet been attempted. Scripting what might be called ‘ordinary theology’ among Pentecostals, the oral and testimonial nature of Pentecostalism yields primarily a narrative account of Christology. The so-called ‘full gospel’ offers a broad pattern for a general narrative among Pentecostals, but concrete mechanisms of affirmation and reinforcement of such a pattern in everyday life are found primarily in the personal stories of experiences and encounters with Christ and the consequences of such events rather than in propositional statements of doctrine. Ordinary Christology among Pentecostals, although essentially rooted in some form of confessing the full gospel, varies widely between personal stories of encounter with Christ, the particular congregational story of local groups, and the denominational story or larger public life of Pentecostal bodies in their respective socio-cultural, economic, political, and theological contexts. The glocalization of Pentecostalism, that is, the increasing interdependence of Pentecostalism on both local and global theology, is a significant phenomenon contributing to the reality that Christ is recognized in a particularly diverse variety of faces. Christology among Pentecostals is a quest for the glocal Jesus.
Christology from a Latino/a perspective illustrates this diversity with particular clarity by showing a dominating fluidity in the perception and proclamation of Jesus that is symptomatic for Pentecostalism. In the Latino/a Pentecostal experience, Jesus is the baptizer (or doctrinal Jesus), healer (or liberator Jesus), and coming King (or political Jesus). Any particular emphasis is dictated by the cultural context and social location and may favour the divinity of Jesus, emphasizing his supernatural activity, or his humanity, focusing on how Jesus relates to the human situation. The doctrinal Jesus can serve as the standard of piety and spirituality, the liberator Jesus as the centre of faith, and the political Jesus as the motivation and goal of Christian living.64 The ways these perspectives are represented in Latino/a Pentecostalism are not as strictly defined as these categories suggest. A relational Christology that manifests Jesus as companion in the concrete socio-economic situation of the believer is perhaps the most dominating element of what could be called a glocal Christology. This can be illustrated further in the context of Pentecostal Christology in Africa.
Pentecostal Christology in Africa affirms the influence of glocalization in a theological environment shaped as much by traditional creedal models imported by missionaries as by the genuine language and symbolism developing in post-missionary Africa. The prolonged impact of slavery and colonization and the current rediscovery of genuine African culture, language, and worldview have shaped the image of Christ as the healer of Africa.67 The healing encounter with Christ is as much a personal as it is a public event that concerns the family, the church, and the marketplace. Christ is transforming the soul, liberating from evil, and empowering a godly life in which health and salvation refer as much to the body as to the political, economic, and natural world. The strong emphasis on orality in African life is shaping a form of ‘oral consensus’ in the place of formal doctrinal agreement that is based primarily on the shared experience of Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit.69 Prayer, testimony, song, and dance create a diverse and living imagery of Jesus in terms of health, healing, and wholeness that extends as a life in the Spirit to the whole symbolic structure of the African universe while remaining grounded in the particular experiences of local Pentecostal faith.
The responsiveness of the image of Christ to the particularities of Pentecostal experiences at the local and global dimensions of the Christian life is a hallmark of Pentecostal theology and its formulation of doctrine. This responsiveness is primarily responsible for the differences between Oneness and trinitarian Pentecostals that find little or no reflection in classical formulations of doctrine. If Pentecostalism is representative of the development of glocal Christianity, then we can expect an increasing diversity in the doctrine of God and its formulations among Christians worldwide as it is already anticipated among Pentecostals. The pursuit of the Holy Spirit sketches out the more visible dimensions of this manifold and contrasting development of doctrine.
Cosmic pneumatology

The focus on the Holy Spirit penetrates all Pentecostal theology, even if this is not always explicit in the articulation of formal doctrines. Combined with the centrality of Christ, a foundational sensitivity to the Holy Spirit has led to a certain binitarianism, a neglect of the Father, that is not unique to Pentecostals. To overstate the point, Spirit-Christology among Pentecostals overemphasizes the presence of Christ and the presence of the Spirit as the chief characteristics of participation in the life of God while neglecting to distinguish clearly between each presence.71 Pneumatology necessarily extends the lines of Christology in order to explain the presence of the risen and exalted Christ among a creation not yet fully glorified. Pentecostals accentuate the historical self-manifestation of God in the world through the Son and the Holy Spirit. This perspective reflects Irenaeus’s classical image of the Son and the Spirit as the ‘two hands of God’. However, while this image allows trinitarian Pentecostals to distinguish between the related yet distinct work of each person, Oneness Pentecostals can maintain that the work of each hand is factually always only the work of the one God. In either perspective, the formulation of doctrine is extended by the testimony of the Spirit.
The testimony of the Spirit inspires among Pentecostals what has been called a ‘pneumatological imagination’ as part of a theological hermeneutic that proceeds by way of Spirit and Word within a community of faith. The goal of this hermeneutic is transformational rather than doctrinal interpretation. While classical articulations of doctrine certainly do not exclude transformation, theological interpretation for Pentecostals is more akin to ‘a communal enterprise to discern the Spirit, to understand the Word, and to be transformed by the Spirit and the Word’.73 In praxis, this means that the orientation toward the Spirit directs the Pentecostal interpretation of the world. The pneumatological imagination inspired by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit makes possible a receptivity towards the mission of the Spirit in the world in all its multifarious historical manifestations. While the discernment of these manifestations is a difficult task, discerning the Spirit in the world is the central motif of Pentecostal doctrine responsible for a limitless albeit critical openness of all Pentecostal theology.
The openness of Pentecostal theology resulting from its pneumatological imagination extends to all matters of life. Pentecostals view in a very distinctive manner the church, society, and the world through the lens of the Spirit. The diversity of experiences of the Spirit expands clearly beyond the confines of classical formulations of doctrine. This leads frequently to either resistance or incorporation of Pentecostal themes and traditional orientations.76 Pentecostals have noted that the focus on the Spirit creates particular tensions with the themes of Protestant scholasticism, feminist theology, theology of the religions, or the theology and science dialogue. While some may view these confrontations as irreconcilable differences, such evaluations offer little explanatory power for understanding the doctrinal diversity among Pentecostals. More helpful is the perspective that pneumatology as a foundational component of theological inquiry inevitably expands the purview of Christian doctrine.
This expansion of the purview of doctrine is particularly visible in the emphasis on discerning the Spirit in the world that has taken Pentecostals into dialogue with the sciences and the theology of creation. While Pentecostals were traditionally suspicious that an engagement of the sciences would undermine belief in the Holy Spirit, the pneumatological imagination has kindled interest in the human, social, and behavioural sciences.78 Hermeneutical sensibilities among Pentecostals derived from the biblical record of Pentecost have opened up space for a reading of nature that sustains interest in the natural sciences. The emphasis on the Spirit is taking Pentecostals beyond their own methodological presuppositions (or prejudices), institutional arrangements (or absences), and particular socio-cultural practices (or stereotypes).
For many outsiders of the debate, the designation of Pentecostalism as either orthodox or sectarian in doctrine will likely remain an important characterization. For those participating in the dialogue, the joint pursuit of the Spirit may be able to overcome the glaring divisions between Oneness Pentecostal doctrine, a subtle binitarianism, and more fully developed trinitarian accounts of the doctrine of God. At least, the pneumatological focus offers a plausible explanation for the existence of such diversity. If Pentecostal Christology is marked by a quest for Jesus in the local and the global experience of faith, then Pentecostal pneumatology is characterized by a quest for the Spirit of Christ in the human being, nature, and the cosmos. For Pentecostals, pneumatology is therefore the heartbeat of the development of doctrine.81 The tensions between Oneness and trinitarian Pentecostals illustrate that this development is not exclusive to an abstract idea of doctrine, but that the church develops in the Spirit as part of the Christian story in ways not always conforming to orthodox standards. Pentecostalism embraces this non-conformance as a manifestation of the creative work of the Spirit that knows no boundaries but nonetheless strives toward the harmony and reconciliation of all creation in all its differences, strangeness, and seemingly irreconcilable otherness.


Social engagement and triumphalism
Pentecostalism is a socially, economically, and politically diverse phenomenon. Sociological characterizations and theories of the movement have changed as Pentecostals expanded in size and scope worldwide. One of the most significant, and still dominant, theories described the emergence of classical Pentecostalism in North America during the twentieth century as the result of the distinct social roots of deprivation. While such theories of social deprivation have been revised to account for the upward mobility of Pentecostals, recent observations continue to support the idea that Pentecostalism essentially flourishes as a religion of the poor while moving its appeal toward the masses.2 Upward mobility in socio-economic terms has become a central element of modern-day Pentecostalism with regard to both the outward perception of the movement and the self-understanding of its followers. In the developed nations, Pentecostalism often elicits ideas of finding meaning and purpose in life including a more vibrant spirituality. In developing countries, Pentecostalism speaks to the desires of the new middle classes to enter the modern world and its anticipated advantages.4 In undeveloped countries, Pentecostalism is seen as a route of escape from poverty, corruption, and oppression toward affluence, consumption, prosperity, and freedom. Despite the first impression, these identifications are not tied to particular locations or cultures but exist around the world, often overlapping and not clearly distinguished. Common to all of these dynamics are explicit tensions in the scope of Pentecostal mobility and its implications for involvement of Pentecostals in the broad spectrum of society. Significant differences exist between the participation of Pentecostals in social struggles and concerns for social justice. The means of participation in social struggle have sharply divided global Pentecostalism.
The present chapter compares and contrasts two distinct ways of Pentecostal upward social mobility: social engagement, exemplified in programmatic and long-term expressions of social activism and Pentecostal political and socio-cultural involvement, and triumphalism, or social passivism, exemplified in the preaching of the health and wealth gospel. The former proposes active participation and leadership in the struggle against poverty, deprivation, and oppression; the latter withdraws into a sectarian mindset, individualism, and triumphalism. This chapter seeks a comparison of both sides that is critical and therapeutic, offering insights into the tensions resulting from the expansion of the Pentecostal movement to global proportions and the challenges inherent in its confrontation with diverse socio-economic, cultural, and political contexts. Pentecostalism is here portrayed as a mirror of unavoidable global and local dynamics that define its character. The first part of the chapter addresses the realm of social engagement among Pentecostals with focus on Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The second part presents the teaching of the health and wealth gospel as well as the influence and reception of prosperity preaching among Pentecostals in North America and elsewhere. In the final part, the two accounts are brought into dialogue through a conversation on the state of contemporary Pentecostal social ethics.
Social engagement in the Pentecostal movement

There exists among Pentecostals worldwide a large group that might be termed ‘progressive Pentecostals’ oriented toward social transformation. The progressive groups often understand social engagement as a direct mandate from God, exemplified in the Scriptures, and a normative element of the Christian life. A significant characteristic of these groups is the personal experience of poverty, deprivation, oppression, and persecution or the identification with such underprivileged and marginalized people. In some cases, both elements together shape a highly activist, even revolutionary attitude against the status quo. This aspect demands closer examination before the motivation for and character of social engagement among Pentecostals can be identified more clearly.
Pentecostalism as a movement of social change

A global perspective on the worldwide distribution of Pentecostals shows the movement most dominantly among the undeveloped and developing nations; the largest growth of Pentecostals is found among the poor and in countries where the patterns of deprivation are multidimensional. The multidimensional poverty index shows the centres of poverty reflecting acute deprivation in health, education, and standard of living concentrated in parts of Africa, South Asia, East Asia, and South American countries below the general threshold of Latin America and the Caribbean.7 The significant presence of Pentecostals in these regions is well known, even though there exists no comprehensive study to date on the relationship of multidimensional poverty distribution and the worldwide growth of Pentecostalism. At the very least, the similarities suggest that oppressive social, economic, and political patterns are able to encourage and solidify the presence of Pentecostalism.
Significant for understanding the closer relationship of social deprivation and social engagement is the growth of Pentecostalism in regions that experience multidimensional forms of poverty. The highest Christian growth rates expected by the year 2025 in developing regions of East and South-East Asia as well as across Africa suggest that religion, in general, and Christianity, in particular, serve as and are perceived as vehicles to escape deprivation. The percentage of church growth experienced by Pentecostal denominations in these regions during the first decade of the twenty-first century is unusually high. In contrast, the industrialized nations and regions with high human development often show stagnant or declining Christian growth and a comparatively low percentage of Pentecostals. While these developments cannot be generalized, and other factors influence the inception and growth of Pentecostalism worldwide, the prospect of escape from deprivation, oppression, and persecution, and the ideals of social welfare, human rights, and egalitarianism have shaped the new face of Christian social engagement in which Pentecostals occupy a significant position.
Social deprivation theory has been among the first to explain the growth of Pentecostalism as a result of identification of the poor and disenfranchised with the movement. The earliest efforts to situate classical Pentecostalism in the social and cultural setting of the early twentieth century resulted in one of the most dominant historiographies of American Pentecostalism. Robert Mapes Anderson exemplifies this movement in his classic characterization of Pentecostalism as the direct result of economic, social, cultural, and physical displacement and deprivation. However, Anderson’s theory aimed primarily at explaining why Pentecostalism emerged without showing that Pentecostals actually identified with a reaction to the socio-cultural conditions and with no comprehensive examination of how the movement responded to such conditions. In fact, the identification of Pentecostalism with enthusiastic and ecstatic religion prohibited the portrayal of Pentecostals as concerned with social justice. As a consequence, Anderson explains Pentecostalism as a substitute for participation in the social struggle. Instead of promoting social activism, deprivation theory suggests that Pentecostals turned ‘inward’ and ‘upward’—concerned primarily with themselves and God—and failed to direct their attention to the struggle for social justice surrounding them.
While deprivation theories consequently have been rejected as a sole explanation for association with Pentecostalism, the significance of deprivation cannot be discredited entirely. Deprivation theory fails to account fully for the appeal of Pentecostalism among all social classes. Nonetheless, Anderson correctly observed that the experience of, or identification with, social deprivation does not necessarily lead to social activism. This conclusion is supported by the fact that, for many years, classical Pentecostals have inadvertently nurtured the image of being oblivious to social justice.15 In contrast, recently developed social-movement theories examine Pentecostalism as a phenomenon more closely related to upward social mobility among a broader spectrum of factors contributing to the conversion process. While the general conditions of deprivation are not discredited, Pentecostalism is seen more broadly as a mechanism associated with social change across the entire range of socio-economic conditions.17 Observations of the explosion of Pentecostalism in North and South America suggest that the movement in these contexts of unprecedented growth is perceived as active and participatory, voluntary, and transformative, directed toward egalitarian ideals. Among the poor, Pentecostalism is seen as a form of religious participation in the socio-cultural reality that affords new and effective means to cope with and to overcome economic and political oppression. More stable and traditional environments may see Pentecostalism as a vehicle to address concerns of human development by those not immediately suffering from social, political, or economic oppression but identifying with a concern for the poor and the persecuted. At least in principle, a combination of these mechanisms forms the seedbed for social engagement among progressive Pentecostal groups worldwide.
Social engagement among progressive Pentecostals

The personal experience of devastating social, economic, and medical conditions in the developing nations have led to an emergent social form of Pentecostalism characterized by explicit social engagement in a variety of ministries, services, and programmes. Consistent models include emergency services (response to floods and earthquakes), medical assistance (including medical response to disasters, preventive care, drug rehabilitation programmes, psychological services, and establishing health and dental clinics), mercy ministries (such as homeless shelters, food banks, clothing services, and services to the elderly), educational programmes (especially day care and schools), counselling services (assisting cases of addiction, pregnancy, divorce, depression, or prison ministries), economic development (including job training, housing development, youth programmes, urban development programmes, housing programmes, and microenterprise loans), policy change (with focus on monitoring elections, opposing corruption, or advocating a living wage), and services in the arts (with training in music, drama, and dance). Many of these programmes are specific to certain regions and their particular contexts and types of Pentecostalism.
One of the earliest examples of active social engagement among classical Pentecostals is Pandita Ramabai’s Mukti mission in India in the early 1900s. Beginning as a revival among young Hindu women, Ramabai understood the events as the introduction of a uniquely Indian Christianity and interpreted them in the context of the unjust political, economic, and religious practices of the time. Herself an orphan and widow, Ramabai set out to alleviate the particular issues confronting Hindu women and widows. She became known initially for establishing a mission to disposed women and children at Mukti in Maharastra State in western India. Presenting her case to the Indian Education Commission, Queen Victoria supported Ramabai’s social efforts by establishing women’s hospitals and schools for women and widows. An erudite scholar, Ramabai also worked on translating the Bible into popular Marathi, recommended the adoption of Hindi as the national language of India, and established missions, orphanages, and schools to realize a new social reality for the women of India.21 Ramabai’s social vision included preschool and elementary education, vocational and industrial services, health services, feeding and clothing ministries, and communities for children, widows, prostitutes, and the blind. Her ministry expanded to England, the United States, and Chile. She represents a Pentecostal pioneer in the struggle for social justice. Pentecostal social activism in the tradition of Ramabai’s social vision has slowly begun to shape a form of spiritual capital that has the potential for broad socio-cultural changes.23
Among the poverty-stricken and politically oppressed nations of the African continent, Pentecostals have also emerged at the forefront of various programmes of social action. Particularly in places ridden by hunger, disease, unemployment, indebtedness, and corruption, Pentecostals have provided an alternative community, morality, lifestyle, and spirituality. South Africa, in particular, is representative of Pentecostal involvement in the social and economic affairs of the African continent. The famed conditions of Soweto, for example, including 80 per cent unemployment and a high rate of HIV/AIDS cases, also shows an astonishing growth rate of Pentecostal churches.25 Located in the midst of deprivation, Pentecostals have shaped a new mindset of discipline, hard work, and self-reliance at the core of concrete poverty alleviation projects. Many of these ministries, services, and activities are carried out ‘under the radar’ of public knowledge despite unprecedented energy and entrepreneurship in South Africa. Highlighting the intensity of spiritual engagement as a central feature of the movement in Africa, Pentecostals have helped inaugurate a new culture of self-confidence, self-esteem, personal agency, and determination. Pentecostal churches have helped establish and maintain autonomous organizations among the poor and provide opportunities for entrepreneurship and social mobility. In and beyond South Africa, Pentecostals participate in rural health clinics, agricultural services, educational institutions, microenterprise loans, legal aid, HIV/AIDS awareness programmes, and other social ministries.28 African Pentecostalism is emerging as a movement directed towards physical, psychological, spiritual, and material struggle of the individual and the community. Overall, the Pentecostal movement has begun to occupy a difficult and transitional position in the redefinition of national and transnational identities among many African nations.
Contemporary Pentecostalism in Latin America shows a similar picture of active participation in social and economic development. In Brazil, Pentecostals are seen as interested in social welfare on a pragmatic level ranging from installing public utilities to building schools, establishing medical facilities, and participation in labour struggles. Pentecostals in neighbourhood associations have instilled an image of trustworthiness and reliability that spans across towns. In most instances, Pentecostal congregations serve as mutual aid societies that function like crisis centres for health, family, and employment concerns.31 Social activism is typically a small-group endeavour affecting individuals through motivational and cultural strategies that aim at engendering a cultural and political organization and autonomy among the poor. In some cases, social activism has led to the emergence of a broader political culture among Pentecostal groups that has taken the movement from a sect mentality to the development of more effective institutional structures.33
In Chile, Pentecostals have more broadly participated in the country’s social, political, and economic history. Particularly influential has become the so-called Protestant Development Service (SEPADE), a non-governmental organization that has taken on a leading role in community programmes and development, neighbourhood programmes, political mobilization, and various social participation programmes.34 Emerging as one of the first non-governmental organizations of the country, SEPADE raised the socio-economic consciousness among Pentecostals, initially on a grassroots level, that eventually contributed significantly to the renewed democratization of the country. With the help of international political and ecumenical development efforts during the Pinochet dictatorship, the organization set as its chief agenda the socio-economic development of the working classes.36 Beginning with social services at the local, mostly rural neighbourhood level, SEPADE expanded to rural and urban community development, establishing soup kitchens, agricultural services, health organizations, community centres, educational and recreational programmes, child care, food aid, vocational training, trade unions, and a host of other activities.37 SEPADE not only mobilized but integrated Pentecostals in broader Christian commitments to social engagement and helped shape a new social ethic in Chile.
The limited examples of the preceding survey should not give the impression that Pentecostals worldwide are generally found at the frontline of social transformation. The political, economic, and socio-cultural stance of Pentecostal groups remains highly diverse. Similar forms of social engagement by Pentecostals can be found throughout South America, Central America, and North America.39 At the same time, social activism among Pentecostals is less concentrated in the West and the northern hemisphere. In many cases, church-based activism is more frequently encountered than direct political participation. Publicly recognized and more radical forms of political, social, and economic activism are located mostly in the hands of a progressive minority. Conservative and sectarian forms of Pentecostalism continue to coexist with Pentecostal groups that are deeply engaged in personal, communal, and humanitarian development.41 Nonetheless, where Pentecostals have taken on the cause of the powerless, they often represent a liberator for those who have found no other help. Increasingly, Pentecostals are becoming attuned to the concerns of social justice and their own participation in the struggle for life, equality, and dignity.
Pentecostal triumphalism

In contrast to the preceding picture of social engagement among Pentecostals, observers of the movement can also find a more restrained, passive attitude and triumphalist behaviour in parts of the movement. This resistance to active participation in the struggle for broader economic, political, or socio-cultural improvements is exemplified in a complex phenomenon known in various terms as the ‘health and wealth gospel’, ‘prosperity preaching’, or ‘word-faith theology’. These movements, though not dominant, represent a persistent phenomenon among Pentecostals. The triumphalism of these groups has been sharply criticized, even among Pentecostals. Yet, the health and wealth gospel has nonetheless become widely established through the efficient use of mass media and has found a dedicated audience among a wide socio-economic spectrum of Pentecostals. This section introduces diverse representations of the health and wealth gospel among different Pentecostal groups worldwide in order to provide a sample of the diversity of the phenomenon. The initial overview is followed by a presentation of the theological underpinnings of the health and wealth gospel in contrast to the sources that lead to social engagement.
Diverse forms of the health and wealth gospel

The preponderance of social media in North America has made the health and wealth gospel particularly visible among African American Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements. Made popular by leading televangelists, a group of African American Pentecostals have spread the healing and prosperity message among black churches and particularly the black Pentecostal community. While it would be incorrect to portray the health and wealth gospel in North America as exclusively an Afro-Pentecostal movement, African American history and socio-economic status present a significant influence on its emergence. Beginning with the introduction of African slaves and their descendants, economic and material need have always formed a central concern of the black churches. The health and wealth gospel, however, has moved the concerns from the basic need of survival to the ideal of prosperity.44 With a followership dominantly from the poor and working classes, the health and wealth gospel has redefined socio-economic participation among many Afro-Pentecostal groups. In contrast to the countercultural attitude of social activists, the prosperity gospel locates these Pentecostals squarely in the stream of Christian capitalism. The emergence of mega-churches and the display of affluence in mass media have further shaped a new triumphant image of black Pentecostalism as a religion of the rich rather than the poor, a medium for upward social mobility rather than an identification with the socially and economically deprived. This construction of a new identity has exerted a decisive influence on the spread of the health and wealth gospel.
Influenced by North American evangelistic campaigns, prosperity preaching has taken roots with particular fervour in many of the economically devastated environments of the African continent. The search for African national identity, economic stability, health, and social welfare has influenced African Pentecostal groups to adopt North American concerns for materialism and individualism. As a result, the health and wealth gospel has transformed Pentecostal churches in many countries from conservative origins and advocacy for the poor to followers of the prosperity message.48 In many African countries, this message is reshaping the image of the Christian into that of a culture-broker and affluent community leader who endorses the capacity of capitalism to produce autonomous, socially mobile citizens. Not unlike traditional African religious leaders, prosperity preachers receive material gifts from their congregations as encouragement to intercede on behalf of the giver for health and material prosperity from God.50 Reflecting the broader context of African cosmologies, the evils of poverty and sickness are attributed to the spiritual realm of devils and demons that are successfully confronted through exorcism and Christian faith. However, this triumphalism directs Pentecostals away from active participation in social struggles. The prosperity of the church and the individual has assumed priority over the building of hospitals, medical facilities, counselling centres, soup kitchens, clothing ministries, vocational schools and other hands-on participation by those directly involved in socio-economic development. The strong social pressure across Africa directed at the redistributive accumulation of wealth has found in the health and wealth gospel a system of religious practices that seeks to overcome existing forms of corruption and inequality without engaging the ideas of public and civic service.52
A similar picture in Asia can be found in the Philippines, where the El Shaddai movement has become a popular representative of the health and wealth gospel, and in South Korea, where affluent mega-churches have come to dominate the image of Pentecostalism. In the Philippines, the prosperity message has emerged specifically among the Charismatic Movement of the Roman Catholic Church and is in the process of reshaping popular Catholic beliefs and practices. Popular among the Filipino urban poor and aspiring middle classes, the movement’s message not only promises healing, prosperity, and employment but a reshaping of the social, economic, and political environment, albeit not through critical or countercultural involvement in the struggle against injustice.54 El Shaddai operates largely on the ‘seed-faith’ principle in the form of gifts to the church in expectation for personal prosperity in return. The broad mixing of religious sincerity, Catholic sacramental sensibilities, and materialism, and the failure to address the struggle for social justice, have raised widespread criticism.
Similar criticism has been directed at the health and wealth gospel in South Korea, where Pentecostalism and prosperity preaching have become synonymous for some with capitalism, commercialization, this-worldly religion, and middle-class ambitions. Korean mega-churches have been criticized for a market- and prosperity-driven form of ‘McDonaldization’ of Christianity that appears to go hand-in-hand with the spread of Pentecostalism.57 This process exhibits a rationalization of social participation that submits to the dominance of calculability, predictability, efficiency, and control. Marketability and success have taken the place of a traditional theology of suffering (minjung) in Korea and its customary participation in the relational dimensions of social and cultural improvement. In a nation where the churches helped to provide food, clothing, shelter, and spiritual direction after the devastations of the Korean War, the prospering mega-churches are accused of abandoning the poor, the suffering, the elderly, the widows and orphans, the socially disenfranchised and ostracized.60 The health and wealth gospel has contributed to the modernization and revitalization of Korean society, albeit without mobilizing explicit forms of social activism or awakening a moral social consciousness.
In Latin America, the health and wealth gospel has also spread widely among many poor and aspiring Pentecostals. The prosperity message in the different socio-economic contexts of Brazil, for example, has been successfully adapted to emphasize both economic survival among the poor and economic success among the mobile middle classes. The Brazilian form of the health and wealth gospel has gradually expanded to transnational organizations across Latin America. Central to this successful ecclesiastical business model is the principle of successful reciprocity: the giving of money and tithes to the church in order to receive a response in kind from God.63 This principle shapes not merely a triumphalist culture of giving and receiving but a global perspective on the integration of faith and economics in the Christian life. The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, the largest and most visible church of the prosperity movement in Brazil, has successfully expanded the reach of the health and wealth gospel and integrated the ideas of health and prosperity in the development of globalization.65 While some perceive this growth as a transformation of the church into ‘an enormous money machine’, others portray it as the unavoidable mechanisms of a Christian faith trying to reach the world for Jesus Christ.67 The former lament the disengagement of these churches from issues of social justice, the latter insist that their intentions are just the opposite. This discrepancy warrants a closer look at the theological underpinnings of the prosperity message.
The theological message of the health and wealth gospel

The examples for the health and wealth gospel given above illustrate the diverse forms of practices and attitudes that characterize the prosperity movements. The proclamation of the health and wealth gospel proceeds in principle on the broad basis of three theological precepts: a reinterpretation of the doctrine of God, a contemporary view of humanity, and a word-of-faith mechanism interlinking both realities.
Foundational to the health and wealth gospel is a particular doctrine of God, a theological perspective, that is, rather than a socio-economic theory or business practice. Prosperity preaching depends upon identification with God and God’s relationship to health and wealth. The roots of this interpretation can be found in the work of E. W. Kenyon (1867–1948), the grandfather of the health and wealth gospel. A representative of quasi-Pentecostals during the early twentieth century (that is, exhibiting spiritual gifts while voicing criticism of the movement), Kenyon’s basic theology shows the influence of the Holiness and healing Movements of the time on the perception of faith, health, sanctification, and the supernatural. Not unlike Oneness Pentecostal beliefs, these influences display a central emphasis on the person of Jesus Christ, in whom the whole nature of God is personified. The cross represents the central place of the salvific work of God in terms of the forgiveness of sins as well as the redemption from sickness and poverty (placed on Christ and conquered through his death). Christ is therefore seen as the principal manifestation of the character of God, the author of a redeemed, successful, and abundant life in this world. Material prosperity and physical health are the promises of God fulfilled in Christ and given in the atonement.70
Intimately connected with this image of God in Christ is a particular image of the human being. Central to the anthropology of the health and wealth gospel is the ‘law of identification’ between the human person and Christ. Extending from Christ’s identification with humanity (marked by the Incarnation and the cross), humankind is automatically identified with Christ and participates in the fullness of Christ’s victory. This fullness of identification includes the very real, material, and physical victory of the Spirit-filled believers who, in turn, have become ‘the fullness of Christ’, ‘supermen indwelt by God’, and ‘spiritual giants’.72 The image of Christ and the believer are bound together not in the image of poverty but prosperity, not emptiness but fullness, not defeat but triumph. This rhetoric is intended to support the practice that human beings not only possess the right and authority to the fullness of the Christian life but that they can claim all things in ‘the wonderful name of Jesus’. The law of identification is carried out by the believer’s word of faith and in the promises of God made accessible through Christ.
The connecting element between humankind and God, or more precisely, between the human condition and the promises of God, is the emphasis on the word of faith. While the doctrine of God and the image of humanity are often quietly subsumed under the theology of the health and wealth gospel, the word-of-faith element constitutes its most visible and controversial aspect. Essential to this theology is the conviction that faith is an active practice rather than a spiritual attitude. In other words, the Christian does not have faith—faith is what is done by the believer. The law of identification operates on the practice of faith by ‘which believers exercise and by which they acquire for themselves the abundant benefits of redemption’. At this point, Kenyon’s basic teachings emerge with different emphases in various contexts. Nonetheless, there are certain mechanics of the word of faith that are common to the health and wealth gospel and that are subsumed under the principle of so-called ‘positive confession’.
Positive confession is the idea that faith requires verbal declaration, and that the faithful receive what they claim by their vocal declaration of faith. This ‘naming and claiming’ of spiritual, physical, or material blessings generally proceeds in four stages: First, the believer locates the promises of what is sought in the biblical texts; second, the faithful assert that these promises are directed at them, and that they will receive them if they claim them. This step often includes the visualization of the desired objects and their anticipated reception. Third, the believer confesses this faith vocally and claims the results. Finally, the Christian proceeds immediately to live a life as if the promise had been received. This central step of moving from ‘naming’ the desired result to ‘claiming’ it as one’s own possession involves not merely hopeful expectation but the firm belief that the promises of God have been received through the act of the word of faith. Adversely, the absence of receiving the desired results is blamed on the absence of faith in the believer.77 The health and wealth gospel is a proclamation of the triumphant Christian life that rejects negative confession, discouraging thoughts and practices, misdirected focus on one’s condition, and acknowledgment of one’s present struggle, in favour of positive assertion and the persistent pursuit of the abundant life.
The anticipated (and claimed) result of positive confession is a life of health and wealth that reflects the abundance and prosperity of the eternal life of God. Divine healing provided in the atonement is a common teaching among Pentecostals. Sickness and death are regarded as attributes of the work of Satan and the life of sin from which the believer has been redeemed through Christ. Prayer for healing, recovery, and even resurrection is therefore not uncommon among most Pentecostal groups. However, some health and wealth groups consequently reject the use of physicians, prescriptions, and medical science altogether, although the movement has become more moderate in recent years.80 While prayer, anointing, and the laying on of hands are the general Pentecostal response to sickness, the health and wealth gospel encourages also unusual practices such as the purchase and use of handkerchiefs, aprons, and anointing oils to obtain health and prosperity. Special health and healing services are designed to demonstrate the power of faith and deliverance, often accompanied by numerous testimonies and—at least in the global South—often affirmed by physical evidence of healings widely labelled as miracles. God and the believer are said to join in a covenantal exchange in which God’s abundance is made available to the faithful. God’s Word is guardian and assurance of the divine promises of prosperity and health accessible by all who claim them in faith.
Many of these theological underpinnings of the health and wealth gospel stand in contrast to traditional Christian teachings, in general, and active social engagement, in particular. Critics of the movement have pointed to a one-sided doctrine of God, an overemphasized Christology, an anthropocentric theology, including the deification of humanity, an altered doctrine of revelation, and a biased hermeneutics of Scripture. A more nuanced overview of the movement than provided in this chapter would show a wide spectrum of beliefs and practices that at times can be identified closely with classical Pentecostalism while in other contexts lean more toward New Age thinking and mind science.83 Yet even if we neglect the extremes of the prosperity movement, the health and wealth gospel has discouraged active participation in the struggle for social and economic justice in favour of the assurance of the triumphant life. The focus is placed on the instant changes made possible by the acquisition of wealth rather than the slow and demanding forms of social ministries, services, and programmes. Energy is invested in the individual’s health and wealth rather than the healing and prosperity of the community. Solidarity with the poor and persecuted is executed largely on the basis of self-interest. Social and economic identification exists primarily on the basis of the prosperity of a particular group rather than society as a whole. As a result, the health and wealth gospel has divided Pentecostalism and the Evangelical and broader ecumenical traditions. Social engagement and the prosperity movement stand on opposite ends of contemporary forms of Pentecostal social ethics.
Pentecostal social ethics

The undeniable tensions between traditional forms of social engagement, on the one hand, and the triumphalism of the health and wealth gospel, on the other hand, paint a clear picture of the wide range of social consciousness in the Pentecostal movement. Any attempt to construct a homogeneous image of Pentecostal social ethics inevitably results in the misleading assumption that either one side is dominant or that the tensions between both sides are negligible. Moreover, while the contrasting sides presented in this chapter offer a certain perspective on the global state of affairs, the local and particular forms of the movement typically contain Pentecostals that are neither socially active nor drawn to the health and wealth gospel. On the other hand, there are groups associated with the health and wealth gospel that show active social engagement and participation in civic and volunteer movements. What we find among Pentecostals is not only a wide range of attitudes toward social engagement but also a social consciousness in transition that has become characteristic of the state of affairs of the young movement worldwide. A proper assessment of Pentecostalism therefore must take into account the dominant extremes as well as the position of ambivalence, ignorance, and shifting allegiances. This concluding section addresses these changing conditions with the aim of identifying proper labels for the social ethics existing among Pentecostals today.
Social consciousness in transition

The Pentecostal attitude toward engagement with social, economic, and political issues is not static. It is highly dependent on existing conditions, dominant cultural perspectives, economic developments, political leadership, religious examples and the corresponding desires for acceptance and effectiveness or reformation and change. Hence, Pentecostal groups exhibit sometimes a radical break and at other times a gradual shift in social consciousness. The confrontation of habits, values, and corresponding ethical responses is particularly evident in North America, where Pentecostalism has experienced some of the most dramatic socio-economic changes during the twentieth century. Although the beginnings of a similar development can be seen elsewhere, the highly visible complexity of the Pentecostal movement in the United States stands as representative for the broader patterns of emerging Pentecostal social ethics worldwide.
Classical Pentecostalism in the United States shows a shift regarding prosperity, consumerism, and capitalism soon after the first generation of the early twentieth century. Original anti-materialism dominated the eschatological mindset of Pentecostal pioneers, who had little time to engage in consumerism while expecting the imminent return of Christ. Pentecostal leaders spoke out clearly against capitalism and materialism.87 The missionary fervour of the early Pentecostals would have quickly made them averse to introducing imperialistic and capitalistic values alongside the gospel. Theological convictions rather than economic theories dominated the mindset of classical Pentecostals. Prosperity preaching was the exception.
The second half of the twentieth century shows a significant shift in classical Pentecostal social ethics including the expansion of the health and wealth gospel. Shifting eschatological convictions placed more emphasis on the present socio-economic conditions and the demands of a growing movement than on divine judgment and evangelization. Alignment with North American Evangelicalism led to identification with dominant middle-class ambitions rather than counter-cultural attitudes and changed the face of both Pentecostal and Evangelical Christianity. In addition, the use of mass media and technology significantly advanced the popularity of both Pentecostalism and the prosperity message. The growing acceptability and penetration of Pentecostalism among the more affluent social classes gradually eroded the original scepticism toward material possessions.90 At the same time, the attraction of the American dream to immigrants seeking social, economic, and political stability, on the one hand, and the failure of the American dream among certain people groups have helped shape two very distinct forms of North American Pentecostalism and have redefined their attitude toward the health and wealth gospel: African American and Hispanic American Pentecostals.
The African American Pentecostal community has experienced the shift in social consciousness in both directions. Beginning perhaps as early as World War I, some black Holiness preachers, individuals, and churches, became leading social activists ahead of the Civil Rights Movement. African American Pentecostalism became a movement within black civic society that challenged the established social values and norms and helped construct a new African American identity.92 This movement, however, also led many black Pentecostal churches to a life in exile rather than inside the mainstream of American religion and culture. In response, during the latter half of the twentieth century, many African American Pentecostals turned increasingly to the ideas of cultural integration, upward social mobility, and prosperity. The health and wealth gospel was perceived as a form of constructing society primarily directed at the betterment of the individual situation. At the same time, the historical approaches to moral agency among black churches, including testimony, protest, uplift, co-operation, achievement, and remoralization, moved into the background.95 At the turn to the twenty-first century, a reversal has been observed toward the resurgence of a ‘new’ black Pentecostal activism. Today’s engagement in social transformation includes traditional forms influenced by the civil rights and the black power movements as well as distribution of social services and more indirect ritual activities.97 While the influence of the health and wealth gospel persists, many black Pentecostal communities have returned to the social activism that characterized their past.
Hispanic American Pentecostals experienced a similar transition of socio-economic values, political behaviour, religious affiliation, and Latina/o Pentecostal public voice. Unlike African American Pentecostals, the Hispanic community is much more diverse, covering a vast array of a population tied together by common but broad heritage, language, and cultural traits. The twentieth century shows not only a dramatic increase of the Hispanic American population but also of Hispanic Pentecostalism, accompanied by significant upward social mobility and the far-reaching reorganization of Hispanic Pentecostal churches after World War II. The initial picture of Hispanic Pentecostalism at the beginning of the twentieth century presents itself not unlike the image of Latinos in general at the time, that is, as less proactive than whites and blacks in social engagement, and at times as passively enduring the conditions of depravity and oppression as a minority in the country. Hispanic social consciousness was aimed primarily at overcoming economic depression, educational disadvantages, immigration issues, and other circumstances related to the individual. Pentecostal churches represented a welcome communal support system, but the concentration of Hispanics in a few metropolitan areas and the lack of resources among most Pentecostals did not encourage broad socio-political engagement. However, the subsequent increase of the Hispanic community also impacted the growth and spread of Hispanic Pentecostalism and its image of faith-based political and social action. By the end of the twentieth century, a national survey of the Hispanic Churches in American Public Life revealed that Latina/o Pentecostals had become just as involved as other religious organisations and in fact reported the highest involvement in all measures of social and political activism. Latina/o clergy, churches, and religious organizations today have emerged as general and civic leaders involved in educational, social, and political issues frequently aimed at improving the conditions of the Hispanic community.103
This image of an apparently simple increase or change from sectarianism to social engagement demands a thicker description and expansion of the paradigm by which Latina/o Pentecostal faith is counted as a motivating factor. The growth of the Hispanic Pentecostal community after World War II also shows widespread tendencies toward fragmentation of Latino denominations often resulting from divisions between new immigrants and established generations. While the former continue to be on the average younger, poorer, and less educated, the latter have adapted to American culture and found new social identity and economic stability. As a result, involvement in social and political action has become closely tied to the experience of socio-economic deprivation, particularly factors of income, immigration, education, and religious participation.105 These and other factors continue to shape the Hispanic Pentecostal community and its social consciousness in North America.
These changes in social, economic, and political consciousness are symptomatic for broader shifts in classical Pentecostalism in other areas, for example, alcohol consumption, dress code, attending of theatre, and attitudes toward pacifism and war. Toward the end of the twentieth century, classical Pentecostals adopted the principal values of American society. This espousal of the dominant value system includes substantive changes in the Pentecostal social consciousness that have made Pentecostals less distinguishable from society and other religious groups. At the same time, Pentecostals have also maintained and rediscovered some of their own values that they believe American society should hold. These conclusions are applicable to Pentecostalism worldwide and mark it as a phenomenon with social values highly dependent on the contextual history and development of social, economic, and political circumstances.
Ambivalent social ethics

Pentecostal involvement in social, economic, and political issues can be stereotyped as active or passive, progressive or regressive, accommodative or counter-cultural. A one-sided perspective of the movement’s social engagement will likely capture a large portion of the Pentecostal social ethos. However, neglect of the tangible differences and shifts in the movement’s social consciousness fails to account for both the oppositional forces present among Pentecostals as well as the diverse range of socio-economic and political modalities among Pentecostals worldwide. A view inclusive of the tensions does not have the luxury to speak of a single Pentecostal social consciousness. Instead, three necessary and complementary labels present themselves in the characterization of social ethics among Pentecostals today: contradictory, ambiguous, and multifarious.
The characterization of Pentecostal social ethics as contradictory is a helpful starting point to identify the existing tensions. The young Pentecostal movement, still in its infant stages, does not possess a single, global or local, social consciousness. As a movement closely tied to the local state of affairs, Pentecostalism is highly volatile and dependent on cultural, social, economic, and political developments in their particular contexts. That the response to these circumstances can be identified as contradictory does not discredit the movement or its social ethics. Rather, the reality of contradiction in the same movement points to the transitional nature of the global Pentecostal movement as a whole. Pentecostals are, so to speak, on the way of finding and defining themselves in the midst of the socio-cultural, economic, and political circumstances that are still shaping the movement. It is often assumed that the established Christian traditions have long completed this initial stage of ethical development and possess a firmly established stance. Yet the emergence of dominant ethical controversies that have divided Christianity during the twentieth century, including the debates on abortion, apartheid, capital punishment, contraception, genetic engineering, homosexuality, or pacifism, to name but a few, indicates that Pentecostalism may only be more expressive and extraverted than the established traditions in the display of inherently contradictory ethical positions.
The characterization of Pentecostalism as an ambiguous social movement overlaps this perspective of inherent contradictions. Ambiguity identifies a certain lack of clarity, both for Pentecostalism itself and its observers, without immediately juxtaposing certain positions or excluding others. When we speak of Pentecostalism as ambiguous, we mean not a lack of decision by Pentecostals but the absence of direction for the movement as a whole. Neither social activism nor the health and wealth gospel are ambiguous; what is ambiguous is the indecision that one or the other characterizes Pentecostals as a whole. More precisely, in the contexts of global Christianity, ‘ambiguity is the coming together of the local and specific with the global and open-ended’.111 Pentecostalism is closely tied to local socio-economic contexts and the particular conditions experienced by its members but ‘is sufficiently adaptable to forge links with very different social formations’. Much of this ambiguity is the result of organizational dynamics among Pentecostals that are typically in the hands of small groups, congregations, and pastoral leadership rather than denominations, regional, national, or international organizations.113 Ambiguity is necessary for a global movement like Pentecostalism that exists not as a ready-made global system but is in the process of becoming a worldwide phenomenon ‘by constant adjustment on the ground’. These adjustments have shaped Pentecostalism as a utilitarian movement without forcing the pragmatic stance in any particular direction.
A third way to characterize the social consciousness among Pentecostals is to speak of Pentecostal social engagement as a multifarious phenomenon summarized with the motto, ‘many tongues, many practices’. This motto embraces the contradictions and ambiguity of the movement without attempting to force the phenomenology of Pentecostalism into a normative account of a single social practice. Instead, a multiplicity of socio-political forms and structures are already anticipated in the biblical account of Pentecost from which modern-day Pentecostalism derives its meaning and which forms the central motif of the Pentecostal worldview and spirituality. This multiplicity corresponds to a pluralism of responses from the Christian world to the struggle for social, economic, and political justice in general. An intentional multiplicity of responses and practices are therefore seen as constitutive of the distinct Pentecostal contributions to the global Christian landscape.117 This perspective does not interpret the idea of ‘many tongues and many practices’ as a temporary phenomenon but as a posture that may well represent the face(s) of global Christianity in the near future. Contradictions and ambiguity are part of Pentecostalism’s determination ‘to engage the public square in some senses on its own Christian terms rather than on the terms set by the ‘world’ ’. Social engagement and the health and wealth gospel are both expressions of a multifarious Christian existence echoing the many tongues of the Spirit given on the day of Pentecost and characterizing the Pentecostal world today.
If these characterizations are correct, then the contradictory, ambiguous, and multifarious social consciousness and behaviour of modern-day Pentecostalism is not temporary but here to stay. Even when there is evidence that Pentecostal social ethics are solidifying under pressure of socialization, institutionalization, and secularization, the resulting expressions cannot be seen as normative for the entire movement. This pluralistic identity should not be understood as relativism, that is, an intentional lack of direction and decision-making on behalf of social justice. It is perhaps more adequately identified as a form of ‘prophetic activism’ that has come to include progressive and conservative means of Christian social engagement.120 As prophetic, Pentecostal social activism takes place in the ‘borderlands’ of globalization, internationalization, urbanization, and industrialization. In these places, the forms of social engagement are as varied as the challenges. Pentecostalism is still in the process of finding an ethical methodology that enables it to respond to the reality and crisis of pluralism characteristic of the twenty-first century world. The worldwide economic down-turn and various dramatic socio-economic and political changes since the end of the twentieth century have contributed to a widening of these borderlands across the globe. The corresponding need to face the various social struggles in these transitional contexts anticipates the further spread of Pentecostalism in its diverse range from social activism to triumphalism.


Egalitarian practices and institutionalism
Hot debates, often to the boiling point, have erupted in many Pentecostal circles over issues of gender and race. The existence of such disagreements is particularly surprising in light of the fact that Pentecostalism is widely considered an egalitarian movement. Divisions over the representation and authority of Pentecostals across the lines of gender and race stand in sharp contrast to the emphasis on the prophethood of all believers. These tensions have permeated the movement and brought it to the brink of separation, often held together only by the joint affirmation that the Spirit of God has been poured out on all flesh and that the gifts of the Spirit are available to everyone without measure. On the one hand, the outpouring of the Spirit is seen as an act of liberation and reconciliation across the limits of age, gender, race, class, and ethnicity. On the other hand, some postpone these achievements as eschatological promises to the time of a new creation while holding on to established institutional patterns.
Reasons for the tensions between egalitarianism and institutionalism are complex, often depending on the heritage, social make-up and context, as well as history of particular Pentecostal groups. Divisions over gender and race stand out with particular force and contrast with the desires of Pentecostalism as a global charismatic and ecumenical movement. The present chapter presents this contrast and the underlying motivations with particular focus on the exorbitant tensions surrounding the authority of women in ministry and the divisions between black Pentecostalism and white congregations. The first part of this chapter introduces the egalitarian impulse of the Pentecostal movement, focusing on the ideals of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the priesthood of all believers, and the end of partiality in the body of Christ. The second part describes the contrasting divisions over race and gender dominant among Pentecostal groups worldwide. In the final part, the influence of institutionalism, the bias of Pentecostal scholarship, and a segregated doxology are highlighted as the key contributors to maintaining the tensions between egalitarianism and institutionalism among Pentecostals today.
The egalitarian impulse of Pentecostalism

Pentecostalism is a movement of the people. Stereotypes, sometimes based on dominant historiographies of the movement, tend to regard Pentecostalism as an isolated religious sect, the social religious movement of a disenfranchised and underprivileged minority occupied with peculiar religious concerns. In this portrait, the typical Pentecostal cannot be identified with the general image of society and is not concerned with the social struggle. A less biased approach, however, suggests rather the opposite, namely that Pentecostalism can indeed be identified as a movement of the masses. Various models, including theories relating Pentecostalism to the phenomenon of deprivation, restorationism, revivalism, accommodation, modernism, and postmodernism, are utilized in the attempt to understand the existence and composition of the global movement.2 The common denominator of these models is the attempt to explain what motivations exactly have made Pentecostalism one of the most vibrant contemporary religious movements. Among the most outstanding features emerging from this discussion is the universal appeal of Pentecostalism as an egalitarian model of the Christian life that disregards barriers of class, social status, race, ethnicity, gender, education, and age. In their place, Pentecostals emphasize the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on all flesh, the prophethood of all believers, and the equality of the body of Christ.
The universal outpouring of the Holy Spirit

Pentecostals unmistakably understand themselves as participants in the work of the Holy Spirit. More explicitly, Pentecostalism itself is typically regarded as a movement of the Spirit in the world. As such, Pentecostals seek to display in the movement the characteristics of the Spirit’s presence and activity. These features are derived initially from a reading of the New Testament, particularly Luke-Acts, in light of the Spirit-oriented perspective surrounding the day of Pentecost: The church is portrayed as a community anointed with the Spirit of Jesus, whose own ministry is interpreted in light of his anointing with the Spirit of God (see Acts 10:38) and in fulfilment of the prophets (Lk. 4:18–19; see Isa. 61:1–2). Characterized as a ministry to the poor, the captives, the blind, and the oppressed, Jesus is known for his fellowship (Lk. 5:30; 7:34; 15:1) with men, women, and children, the religious elite, sinners and tax collectors, the sick, demon-possessed, and disabled—social outcasts in various ways. The Spirit-filled ministry of Jesus oversteps the boundaries of social structures and establishments and represents for Pentecostals a paradigm for a new egalitarian movement.
The day of Pentecost marks the beginning of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Acts 2:17–18 became the central passage for the interpretation of the work of the Spirit by most Pentecostals: ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.’ In these words, Pentecostals find affirmation that the outpouring of the Spirit has initiated a new social order, a community of equals among the rich and the poor, masters and servants, men and women, old and young (see Gal. 3:28; Col. 3:11). All are seen as baptized, filled, and empowered by the Spirit, often reversing established cultural, socio-economic, political, or ecclesiastical structures.
In addition to this reading of the Scriptures, Pentecostals interpret themselves as the fulfilment of the biblical promises of the day of Pentecost. This recognition is nowhere more evident than in the widely publicized events of the Azusa Street Mission and revival of 1906–9 that embraced, in the midst of the segregationist environment prevalent in North America at the time, persons from different races, genders, cultures, ethnicities, and nationalities. Participation in the outpouring of the Spirit joined diverse people together in outbursts and celebrations of socially aberrant and typically unacceptable behaviours. The common association with Pentecostals ostracized them as a group quickly from the rest of society. The group itself, however, understands its existence as a result of the revelation that God shows no partiality; men and women, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters (see Acts 10:34), all are recipients of the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The outpouring of the Holy Spirit without partiality is interpreted as both gift and mandate. As a gift from God, Pentecostals are convinced that the modern-day Pentecost marks the beginning of the end time, an eschatological signpost for the imminent return of Christ, the judgment of the world, and the new creation. The universal gift of the Spirit is the final invitation to a dying world to receive salvation, sanctification, and empowerment in the last days. For Pentecostals, the outpouring of the Spirit penetrates the last dominion of Satan, demonic strongholds throughout the world including governments, political structures, destructive public and social organizations, false religions, oppression, poverty, and persecution. No places, publics, or persons are excluded from the fulfilment of the promises of God heralded by the coming of the Holy Spirit.
As mandate, Pentecostals see themselves as harbingers of the outpouring of the Spirit to the ends of the earth. The baptism of the Spirit is seen as the source of divine power available to everyone for the sanctification, conversion, and salvation of the whole world. In turn, the outpouring of the Spirit is the sign that this mandate has been received around the globe. This mandate to share the universal availability of the Holy Spirit with the world marks the seedbed of worldwide Pentecostalism. Since the Spirit has been poured out on all, the mandate is service to all—ministry to the children and youth, adults, and the elderly, men and women, the sick, the dying, the homeless, natives, immigrants, businesses, schools, hospitals, the unevangelized, and those who have heard the gospel but know nothing of the power of the Spirit.9 The conviction of the outpouring of the Spirit on all flesh inspires, at least in expectation and enthusiasm, an environment of democratic, egalitarian ideals.
In its most dramatic form, the ideal of the outpouring of the Spirit on ‘all flesh’ is seen as bursting open the chains of social, economic, political, and religious segregation. Put negatively, the promise of the Spirit is given not exclusively to one society or nation; it is not limited to the political, economic, cultural, or religious elite, the church or the believer, the priest or the clergy, the educated, the adult, man or woman. Put positively, the outpouring of the Spirit makes possible the engagement of all creation and therefore its ultimate reconciliation with God. Pentecostals understand themselves as a prophetic voice announcing the final transformation in the relationship of God and the world in which the whole of creation is subject to the presence and activity of God’s Spirit. ‘Pentecost’ in this sense becomes a watchword for the transformation of creation, its conversion and empowerment to participate in the Spirit’s redemption. At least theologically, the participation of creation in this redemptive process knows no boundaries.
The prophethood of all believers

The notion of the universal outpouring of the Holy Spirit has immediate connotations for the Pentecostal view of Christian vocation, ministry, and service. Since Pentecostals believe that the gifts of the Spirit are available to all, everyone who has received the Spirit is in principle equipped and empowered to participate in all aspects of the life of the church. The immediate consequence of this perspective has been formulated as the slogan, ‘the church belongs to the people’. Historically, this notion is akin to the Protestant emphasis on the priesthood of all believers, and Pentecostals have indeed consistently emphasized the mobilization of all people for the preaching of the gospel, mission, evangelization, the healing of the sick, prophecy, exorcism, and the exercise of other spiritual gifts. At the same time, priestly forms of ministry do not identify a central concern among Pentecostals as they did among the Protestant Reformers. The Pentecostal emphasis on the restoration of the apostolic age gives to the people all Christian vocations found in the New Testament: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers (Eph. 4:11), overseers, elders, and deacons (Phil. 1:1)—but the notion of the priesthood is reserved for Christ (Heb. 7:24) and serves primarily as a metaphor for the whole church (1 Pet. 2:5, 9). It is therefore more accurate to identify the egalitarian impulse in Pentecostalism as an emphasis on the prophethood of all believers.
The prophethood of all believers emphasizes the charismatic functions of anyone who is subject to the anointing of the Holy Spirit regardless of social, economic, religious, or cultural status. Gender, age, race, ethnicity, or education are not indicative of the anointing of the Spirit and therefore do not imply a measure of authority, vocation, or position. The ideal of this egalitarian image of Christian ministry derives immediately from the recovery of Joel’s ancient prophecy by the apostle Peter on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:17–18). Modern-day Pentecostals interpret this passage not only as an indication of the restoration of prophecy but as an expansion of the gift of the Spirit and the prophetic anointing to all. The result is a dynamic image of the Christian life with focus on worship and participation in a fellowship of mutuality by all who believe and have received the Spirit. This emphasis seeks to evade the polarity between priest and people, ordained and laity, church and world, office and spiritual gift, or any other similar distinction that locates the active exercise of the Christian vocation in the hands of a particular individual or group.
The emphasis on the participation of all believers in the life of the church has resulted in a lack of focus on developing an official doctrine of the church, and many Pentecostals reject traditional, hierarchical patterns in favour of congregational and independent forms of organization. The prophethood of all believers here functions in an original ‘protestant’ sense as a counter-cultural critique that exposes existing ecclesiastical structures as restricting the full participation of all believers in the body of Christ. From a Pentecostal perspective, it is the gift of the Holy Spirit and not the office of the church that establishes spiritual authority. The universal outpouring of the Spirit, captured in the image of Spirit baptism, inspires a reinterpretation and reconstruction of the world, frequently offering a critical, biblical, political, theological, and ethical alternative to the established institutional patterns of the orthodox establishment that favour more restrictive forms of participation and authority.
Particularly in the Charismatic Movements in the established churches, democratic and egalitarian tendencies among Pentecostals depend on the idea of the spiritual anointing of all believers without thereby questioning the authority of the priestly ministry. One could say that the focus of Pentecostalism is not the individual—whether priest or prophet—but the community of faith. In this ecclesiological mindset, the Spirit poured out on all flesh leads not only to the charismatic endowment of all believers but ultimately to a charismatic church. Nonetheless, the prophetic function of the underprivileged, particularly the ministry of women as well as those with no formal clerical training or those who previously held priestly functions in non-Christian religions, has posed severe challenges to the established institutions.16 The challenges pertain not only to the integration of charismatic manifestations in all churches but to the role and extent of participation in the church’s service and ministry by those who manifest such gifts regardless of the dictates of class, society, history, and culture. In other words, the realization of Pentecostal egalitarian ideals requires their tangible manifestation as practices of equality among all believers in the body of Christ.
Egalitarian practices in the body of Christ

The biblical foundations for the prophethood of all believers and the attributing of spiritual gifts to those ordinarily separated from the privilege of leadership in the church lead to egalitarian practices that have earned Pentecostals the reputation of being a counter-cultural and postcolonial movement. This perception stands out nowhere more forcefully than in the sensitive areas of race and gender, in which the Pentecostal image of the outpouring of the Spirit on men and women of all colour and age holds a unique position, sometimes interpreted as a resistance to domination that is itself a gift of the Holy Spirit. These egalitarian practices find illustrations in various contexts of the global movement.
In the ethnic context of South Africa, for example, both black and white Pentecostals have repeatedly engaged in the fight against apartheid. The Pentecostal outpouring of the Spirit, understood as a promise given to both the oppressed and their oppressors, has nurtured an attitude of resistance and hope concentrated in the idea of liberating the structures that hold both sides prisoners. In India, the Dalit Pentecostals have become synonymous with the liberation of a caste of untouchables by a religious movement that promises an egalitarian future for all Spirit-filled and baptized Christians. While the turn to Christianity for liberation is not unusual, the institutional structures of the established churches have often hindered the removal of social segregation. Pentecostals, in turn, have invited the social outcasts into a fellowship of equals where they are no longer untouchables but brothers and sisters. Others see the black Pentecostal experience in Britain as a model for the worldwide struggle against oppression and for the reconciliation of races.20
In the racially divided context of North America during the twentieth century, early Afro-Pentecostalism emerged as a major constituent of Black civil society. More than 30 years before the advent of the Civil Rights Movement, the impact of the Pentecostal revival in America was described as washing away the ‘color line’.22 The dialogue on racial reconciliation among classical Pentecostals spans the twentieth century in diverse forms that find a high point in the so-called ‘Memphis miracle’ of 1994. A candid discussion of the racial divisions among classical Pentecostals at a meeting in Memphis led the all-white Pentecostal Fellowship of North America to be re-established as the racially inclusive Pentecostal/Charismatic Churches of North America. This decision of a group of Pentecostals to share leadership with both African American Pentecostals and women emerged from an environment of repentance, the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, and joint participation in a spontaneous act of interracial foot-washing. The most tangible result from this meeting is the ‘Pentecostal Partners Racial Reconciliation Manifesto’, which reaffirms the egalitarian impulse of the Pentecostal pioneers and repudiates all forms of racism, culminating in a strategy for racial reconciliation for the twenty-first century. Seen as a step on the way toward a future of full reconciliation, the miracle of Memphis has opened the doors for a multicultural and trans-ethnic movement that transcends the borders of culture, colour, and gender.
Concerns for gender equality among Pentecostals have made similar headlines, often coupled with political movements. The African Instituted Churches with a strong leadership of women, especially among the Charismatic churches in West Africa, have left an indelible mark on African Christianity including a reshaping of traditional patriarchal institutions and concepts of ordained male authority. In the North American context, the influence of African egalitarian attitudes on black Pentecostal communities has contributed to shaping new opportunities for women in leadership.26 The migration of Pentecostal communities from Africa, Asia, and Latin America has initiated similar transformational processes in Europe. In Latin America, the Pentecostal revival has strengthened the public voice and authority of women.28 Similar observations across the developing world have shown advantages given to women and young people among many Pentecostal groups. In many countries, Pentecostalism has become a movement on behalf of women especially among the poor. Some describe the movement consequently as ‘a modern egalitarian impulse’.30 Others speak cautiously of Pentecostalism as exhibiting an ‘egalitarian patriarchialism’. Both characterizations imply significant revisions of established patterns of authority, yet without suggesting that Pentecostalism has fully succeeded as a mechanism of social transformation. Egalitarian ideals have significantly contributed to the image of the Pentecostal movement today. A neglect of this important dimension would fail to account for a central dynamic in the way Pentecostals engage the world. At the same time, the concrete realization of Pentecostal ideals has encountered significant challenges and resistance not only among Pentecostal groups worldwide.
Institutionalism in the Pentecostal movement

The egalitarian model of Pentecostalism stands in sharp contrast to the visible reality among many Pentecostal denominations and institutions. Pentecostal groups have found it difficult to put into practice the breadth of equality, impartiality, and democracy demanded by their ideals. Opportunities to become a pioneer for equal rights of race and gender during the twentieth century were squandered, and many of the accomplishments presented in the previous section were late achievements at the end of a slow gravitation toward equal opportunities. While the seed of egalitarian ideals remains at the heart of the Pentecostal ethos, and the fight against racism and patriarchalism is raging incessantly among Pentecostals worldwide, the movement is torn between its idealistic intentions and the reality of complicity in racial segregation and gender discrimination.
Complicity in racial segregation

The origins of Pentecostalism worldwide are interracial, or to put it more mildly, distributed among different races. This environment provided frequent opportunities for bias, opposition, separation, and unjust persecution on both sides. In the racially discriminating environment of North America during the first half of the twentieth century, the colour-line that allegedly had been washed away among Pentecostals was quickly re-drawn when the revivals were in need of lasting organization. Many Pentecostals, supported by the customs of American society, were strictly opposed to the egalitarian convictions supporting racial unity. Some rejected the joint forms of worship and interracial association that had come to characterize the Azusa Street revival and mission. Membership in the Ku Klux Klan and participation in the Pentecostal movement were not always seen as mutually exclusive.33 Others began to associate certain theological convictions with racial identification, which not only led to a racial separation of doctrines among Pentecostals but institutionalized the racial divide. This development has led to a predominantly African American membership in Wesleyan Pentecostalism and Oneness Pentecostalism and predominately white and Hispanic membership in Reformed Pentecostal groups.35 Particularly in the American South, Pentecostals did little to broach the subject of race or to expose the spread of racism in its less subtle forms. As a result, the heartland of classical Pentecostalism produced and sustained denominations split along racial lines. Even in the wake of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and 1970s, black Pentecostals were almost non-present in the predominantly white Pentecostal denominations. Communion is stronger between black and Hispanic Pentecostals, even across doctrinal convictions, than fellowship with or among white Pentecostals.38 The Memphis manifesto advocating racial reconciliation has yet to be followed by concrete and continual measures that confront racial separation and tangible forms of racism across religious, social, economic, and political lines. The collective memory among Pentecostals in North America is not yet strong enough to support the realization of a racially integrative Pentecostalism.
Latina/o and Hispanic Pentecostalism bears similar experiences of racial segregation. The biological and cultural intermixture representative of this branch of Pentecostalism has been commonly termed as mestizaje and helped give a voice to articulate the experiences of cultural, racial, and ethnic marginalization and oppression. While the term mestizaje has been widely used to paint a homogenous image of the inclusion of different cultural and racial groups among Pentecostals, the implementation of this ideal has turned out to be quite ambiguous under the reality of heterogeneity that characterizes the Latina/o people. Internal tensions and different types of racism, which often exclude indigenous and African peoples, have created a false image of homogeneity that favours particular national identities. The Latin American contexts that inspired the notion of mestizaje are ill-fit for the heterogeneous situation in the United States and elsewhere and have expanded among Pentecostals the dominant black/white rhetoric to include also the mestizo, indigenous, and African identities in addition to cross-over trends toward European and white features that promise affluence and power.
Similar concerns arise in the history of apartheid in South Africa that has posited many classical Pentecostal churches against the Charismatic Movement and neo-Pentecostal communities. Widely accepted studies paint the image of the charismatic churches as conservative, anxious, and neurotic communities that largely support the status quo of racial segregation. Widespread discussion over the extent of such discrimination has led to divisive reactions among many Pentecostal streams in South Africa, not least between classical Pentecostal groups and African Indigenous Pentecostals.42 In a similar manner as the Memphis manifesto, some charismatic associations publicized a joint confession in 1991 that acknowledged their neglect both to effectively oppose apartheid and to put into practice existing egalitarian ideals. Despite their penetrating presence among the poor and socially dislocated, which were found among all population groups in the country during the twentieth century, Pentecostals struggled to define their own role in the process of recovery. A false anthropology favouring racial discrimination, and a low ecclesiology suppressing the unity and equality of all races in the body of Christ, have failed to disallow for complicity with apartheid. Changes in Pentecostal practices are due to the rise of Afrikaner nationalism, the anti-apartheid movement, and the general political changes in South Africa rather than the realization of their egalitarian ideals.
These images can be expanded in many places where sensitive racial relations characterize the composition of Pentecostalism and its location in existing cultural and socio-political contexts. Pentecostals struggle with the racial divide in leadership, government, doctrine, rituals, and worship. Pentecostal denominations, churches, and smaller fellowships continue to demarcate racial affiliation instead of racial reconciliation. As a result, Pentecostals have squandered the opportunity to become a tangible force in a global racial reconciliation.
The Pentecostal gender paradox

The demands of putting into practice the deep-seated egalitarian ideals of the Pentecostal movement have also affected the relationship of men and women, particularly in positions of public leadership and authority. The contrast between democratic impulses in principle and sexual discrimination in practice has prompted several observers to speak of a ‘gender paradox’ in the Pentecostal movement.

An unresolved tension remains between the de jure system of patriarchal authority in church and home and the de facto establishment of a way of life which decisively shifts the domestic and religious priorities in a direction that benefits women and children while morally restraining the traditional autonomy of the male and the selfish or irresponsible exercise of masculine power. The implicit deal seems to be that a substantive shift towards greater gender equality will be tolerated so long as women are not seen to be publicly exercising formal authority over men.

Pentecostalism appears amidst the tensions characterizing it as a revolutionary egalitarian religion and at the same time a chauvinist conservative and fundamentalist movement. The gender paradox perpetuates the difficulties of reconciling the religious sense of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on sons and daughters with the social, economic, and political changes that outpouring brings to their relationship with one another.
The gender paradox is particularly visible in Pentecostal communities where patriarchy is a deeply ingrained system in society and culture. Some of the most significant voices of gender discrimination come from Latin America, where the paradox stands out sharply between the disproportionately large numbers of women converting to a Pentecostalism that does not give them an institutional place of authority. In Brazil, for example, the suppression of women in Pentecostal churches is closely connected with racial discrimination and identity. Women have been left out of positions of authority not only because they are women but also because they are black.51 On the other hand, the image of women also contrasts starkly with traditional Latino patriarchal ideology and the image of male authority. Pentecostalism in Colombia shows the clear effects of this ideology in the relegation of women’s roles to the private sphere of the household. The process of integrating women in public religious life is slow and difficult. Women’s leadership remains widely unofficial, and opportunities offered to women typically exclude prominent and highly visible positions. Pentecostals in Bolivia manifest the continuing difficulties in unmasking the implicit affirmation of traditional relations of domination between men and women and the perpetuation of gender inequality in their midst.53 Here and elsewhere in Latin America, an egalitarian Pentecostalism is still very much in development.
The religious scene in North America has become a similar point of contention for the equality of women in Pentecostal leadership. The roots of antifeminism can be located in the notable influence of fundamentalism on the North American religious system. While the typically negative connotation of fundamentalism has contributed to false stereotypes of Pentecostalism, classical Pentecostals did adopt many of the patriarchal and authoritarian dimensions and strict boundaries prevalent among fundamentalist Evangelicals in the United States.55 Although women shared significantly in the success of the early Pentecostal revivals, their names and contributions were often covered or reduced to the sidelines. Others have made traditional European forms of church hierarchy responsible for the institution and perpetuation of the marginalization and subordination of women. Obtaining and retaining a position of authority for female Pentecostal preachers and pastors often entails additional work and the relinquishing of other rights.58 Most Pentecostal denominations grant women a limited form of ordination; many continue to exclude women from the highest positions of ecclesiastical and episcopal authority.
Similar manifestations of the Pentecostal gender paradox can be found in Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean. In Sicily, for example, a stronghold of patriarchism in Western Europe, Pentecostal churches emulate the configuration of the Sicilian family, where men are the head of the family while women do most of the physical and emotional work. African Pentecostalism exhibits forms of a gendered charisma, where women are accepted as ‘founders, sisters, first ladies, and Jezebels’ but excluded from leadership on the basis of supposedly different charismatic abilities.60 In Korea, the adoption of Presbyterian forms of church government from the West confirmed the already existing patriarchal structures of society and has kept the Pentecostal leadership on an official level almost exclusively in the hands of men. In Jamaica, a highly embodied form of faith confronted with a strict moral order continues to affirm the gender divide and the position of the male pastor.62 These and other examples confirm that the gender paradox in Pentecostal churches is alive and well throughout the world. The conundrum of global Pentecostalism is that it has become a women’s religion that has barred women from entrance to the male-dominated hierarchy.
It is important to acknowledge these tensions between democratic egalitarianism and divide of race and gender in contemporary Pentecostalism. Exclusively identifying one side has led to false stereotypes of the movement on a global scale that does no justice to its diverse contexts. The heart of these tensions is formed by the difficulties existing in putting into practice the egalitarian impulse in the sensitive environments of race and gender worldwide. Failure to reconcile intentions and practices of reconciliation has further contributed to critical questions of the movement’s overall concern for issues of social justice. The perplexity of this situation is best explained by shifting attention to the factors that contribute to the coexistence of egalitarian ideals and their practical counterparts in Pentecostal communities.
Pentecostal egalitarianism-in-the-making

The previous overview of the tensions existing among Pentecostals with regard to the equality of race and gender suggests that we cannot speak in general terms of Pentecostalism as an egalitarian movement. The existence of the racial divide and the gender paradox are undeniable features of much of the visible Pentecostal landscape, at least on the organizational and denominational level. On the other hand, Pentecostals cannot be described simply as racists and chauvinists. The egalitarian impulse, even if estimated carefully, forms a foundational component of the worldview and spirituality that informs modern-day Pentecostalism. The global and historical development of Pentecostalism suggests that it is a movement toward a democratic, egalitarian identity. It is therefore more accurate to speak of Pentecostalism as an egalitarian movement-in-development. The tensions existing between the egalitarian heart and the divisive practices among Pentecostals cannot be forged easily into a homogeneous image. Chief among the factors contributing to the coexistence of egalitarianism and its contradictions is the high degree of institutionalism that accompanies the emergence of the Pentecostal movement. A neglect and bias in the scholarship and study of Pentecostalism and a segregated doxology further consolidate the institutional basis. How quickly Pentecostalism can become a fully egalitarian movement depends largely on the ability and willingness to meet the crucial demands posed by these challenges.
Institutionalism and Pentecostal hierarchy

A high demand for institutionalization and institution-building characterizes the modern-day Pentecostal movement since its inception. The unprecedented expansion of the movement across the world, the growth of membership, and the lack of organizational structures at the original revivals soon demanded a higher degree of organizational leadership. The initial institutionalization of classical Pentecostalism progressed in broad stages, including a selective focus on particular doctrines, a formulation of doctrinal structures to protect and formalize the selective perspective, and the ecclesial solidification of such structures. The later integration of the Charismatic Movement in the mainline churches represented its own challenges when confronted with the traditional hierarchical structures that many took as restrictive to the emergence of charismatic manifestations.66 Moreover, the organizational forms of recent neo-Pentecostal groups exhibit a high degree of transition and differentiation, often depending on the founding figures and frequently resembling traditional hierarchical structures and a strong focus on the demands of the local church. Max Weber’s dominant theory of the pressures of institutionalization and routinization has been successfully applied to Pentecostalism and suggests several dilemmas concentrated on the delimitation, power, and administrative order of the movement as a whole.68 The unresolved tensions between egalitarian ideals and the reality of racial and gender discrimination among Pentecostals are a result of the difficulties of coping with the growing institutionalization of the movement, the demands of unfamiliar organizational structures, and the adoption of the socio-political norms that accompanied the establishment of such configurations.
The demands and effects of institutionalization among Pentecostals point to a dominance of sacerdotal and episcopal forms of ecclesiastical organization and administration. Put differently, a high degree of institutionalism defined by the authority of the socio-cultural group dominant during the early phase of Pentecostal history has led to a priestly form of Pentecostalism that is foreign to the original self-understanding of most Pentecostals as a prophetic movement. This inherited ecclesial ideology affects Pentecostal practices in terms of both gender and race and has led to the preponderance of churches and denominations following sexually and racially exclusive patterns of fellowship, worship, doctrine, and government.
The original motivation of the prophetic as a counter-cultural and critical mechanism for a revolutionary Pentecostal movement has turned into a ghetto for the culturally suppressed groups of colour and gender. Under the auspices of a prophetic ministry, all are equal: No hierarchical system applies to the prophetic realm. At the same time, the hierarchical view of the priesthood adopted by most Pentecostals today contains features of vocational and ontological selectivity.71 All priests can be prophets, but not all prophets can be priests. This paradigm has been enforced with particular sharpness in the exclusion of women from influence on church polity and government. The result is a confrontation of spiritual egalitarianism with ecclesial pragmatism. While the two are not necessarily antithetical, the core values and beliefs of individuals conflict with the practices developed to establish and support Pentecostal institutions. The office of the priest, dominated by a division of race and gender, can coexist with the prophethood of all believers, since the latter does not possess official status in the decision-making of the churches. The perpetuation of this artificial division is largely responsible for the endurance of the gender divide and racial separation at least among the leadership of Pentecostal denominations into the foreseeable future.
Biased Pentecostal scholarship

Pentecostal scholarship has at least two central dimensions: it consists of Pentecostalism as the object of study, on the one hand, and of Pentecostal scholars, on the other hand, who may or may not focus their scholarship on the study of Pentecostalism. Both sides are relatively recent developments originating with the second half of the twentieth century. Pentecostalism as the subject and object of contemporary scholarship has been only marginally explored, often with highly visible bias. Stereotypes and prejudices abound in early assessments and dismissals of Pentecostalism across scientific and academic disciplines. Pentecostal scholars themselves spent much of the early decades of Pentecostal scholarship occupied with internal issues of doctrine and church government. On both sides, the concerns of gender and race were largely overlooked.
African and African American origins of classical Pentecostalism, for example, remain a neglected topic. Despite the influence of the black preacher William J. Seymour and other African American leaders on the origins and development of Pentecostalism in North America, few scholars have developed a comprehensive argument on the racial landscape of Pentecostals. The recovery of African American contributions was hindered for many decades by the dominance of two competing theories of Pentecostal beginnings that identified either white or black origins. Theories on the influence of African slaves or a Black oral liturgy on the predominantly white camp-meeting revivals and the urbanization and subsequent growth of a racially diverse Pentecostalism have not been widely examined. Interracial origins and the diversity of influences within different racial traditions are only recently becoming a topic of study, and the much larger questions of the relationship of particular racial theories of Pentecostal origins to the racial composition of global Pentecostalism are only in their infancy.76 These deficiencies are compounded by an almost exclusive look at the male leadership in both the white and black Pentecostal communities. The concerns of gender and race have not yet come to occupy a central place in the study of Pentecostalism. The absence of these concerns is a central factor in the persistence of the gender divide and racial segregation. Pentecostal scholarship is only beginning to break free from the influence of institutionalism toward a broader egalitarian profile.
Pentecostal scholarship in its beginnings has been overly dependent on institutional deficiencies in the broader academy. Social theories of Pentecostalism frequently treat the experience of white Pentecostals and men as representative of the entire movement, silencing the experiences of women and the different racial or ethnic voices. The underrepresentation of women and different races and ethnicities in the academic world has contributed to a significant shortage of research related to the issues of gender and race in general. This deficiency has penetrated Pentecostal scholarship in its composition as a still largely male-dominated academy and in the isolation of racially divided theological concentrations and motivations. The results of this situation are particularly visible in the long neglect to identify the Pentecostal gender paradox, even among the populations that experienced substantial Pentecostal growth and those scholars most occupied with gender and family.79 Pentecostalism also hardly fits in the global analysis of feminism and women’s movements. A healthy revision of these areas of scholarship and the recent shift in focus to both Pentecostalism and women is among the most important factors to help Pentecostals understand the tensions of gender in the movement. The growth of Black theology and the increasing significance of African American scholarship promise further egalitarian practices toward racial reconciliation. An increasing number of studies of the socio-theological dynamics in Pentecostal churches worldwide have begun to shed light on the role of gender and race in the everyday life of the movement. The political debates fought over women in positions of official authority and interracial leadership positions have begun to alert the wider public to the unresolved tensions in Pentecostalism. Above all, the rise of Pentecostal scholarship worldwide, both as the subject and object of study, has made visible the internal conflicts of the global movement and the importance of contextualizing our understanding of an egalitarian Pentecostalism in different geographical, cultural, political, and economic settings as a contemporary development not yet concluded.
Segregated doxology

Pentecostalism has always been characterized as a kinaesthetic movement allowing for the physical expressions of the whole body. Speaking in tongues, prophesying, shouting, singing, dancing, jumping, clapping, swaying, and other physical expressions of worship have penetrated also into the established mainline churches and particularly into modern Evangelicalism. Especially dominant is the penetration of African spirituality and worship across cultures.82 At the same time, white forms of worship have remained largely isolated and stagnant. The differences are the visible result of institutionalization. At the same time, the doxological divide further perpetuates the divisions of gender and race.
The confrontation of black and white forms of worship in classical Pentecostalism is visible since the pioneering years of the movement. As the rural liturgy of the early camp meetings confronted the Pentecostal revivals in urban North America, external observers and Pentecostals alike joined in criticism of interracial forms of worship. The rejection is apparent not only in the separation of black and white churches but in the isolation of black and white forms of worship that perpetuated a visible separation of a black and white Pentecostalism. As white American Pentecostals returned frequently to dominant Anglo-European forms of worship, African American Pentecostals utilized contemporary media, technology, and culture to establish themselves as a dominant religious phenomenon. In response, many white congregations have adopted black styles of preaching, praying, and singing, while the black gospel worship of the African American community is hardly influenced by white Pentecostal doxology. It is more unusual to see white Pentecostals in a predominantly black congregation than it is to find black Pentecostals in a predominantly white church. This segregated doxology represents the most visible and potent means of reinforcing the institutional practices of a racially divisive Pentecostalism into the foreseeable future.
The confrontation of worship practices found in North American Pentecostalism has been experienced in a similar manner by the countries that received classical Pentecostal missionaries, particularly those with a history of racial segregation. As a country or region becomes conscious of their indigenous doxology, dominant cultural forms of worship frequently conflict with the racially and ethnically informed practices of missionaries or those now associated with a particular existing minority. Conflicts also arise between culturally dominant forms of Christianity as well as indigenous religious practices that differ from Pentecostal rituals. In turn, the Pentecostal war against many indigenous religions has contributed to further segregation by identifying Pentecostal practices with the behaviour of a select socio-cultural group.85 Race and ethnicity frequently distinguish different degrees of expressive forms of Pentecostal worship. Those who eventually find together under the roof of a Pentecostal congregation are frequently associated in worship by similarities of gender, race, and class. On the one hand, Pentecostals are divided over the question of how worship as Pentecostals relates to how Pentecostals worship in public. On the other hand, a dominant problem is the mistaking of certain highly visible forms of Pentecostal worship as representative of the whole movement. Pentecostal forms of worship can be perceived as a potential of renewal and reconciliation.87 However, the accepted patterns of many Pentecostal groups have uncritically enforced many existing tensions in contexts already divided over issues of race.
The doxological separation in terms of gender is often more subtle than the racial divide. While few churches separate female members from all leadership functions, women are typically highly visible and audible in Pentecostal worship, supported by the fact that most congregations consist of a majority of women. In contrast to many of the established traditions, Pentecostals have opened the directing and practising of worship in a variety of ways to women, who lead and engage in worship, prayer, singing, preaching, witnessing, and many other activities that have little equivalent in the mainline traditions. At the same time, patriarchal forms of worship and liturgy also dominate many Pentecostal forms of worship; patriarchal heritage and male imagery often used in hymns and songs stand in contrast to the egalitarian ideals. Although women are allowed to speak, shout, testify, sing, preach, pray, and prophesy, their voices are not always heard; although they can be seen, they are not always acknowledged or remembered. Only recent scholarship has unearthed the significant presence of women in the history of Pentecostalism and emphasized the loss of their company from the overwhelming majority of records about men. In patriarchal cultures where women are rarely seen in the public square, Pentecostals have not yet resisted the patterns that allow women as participants but not as leaders in worship.89 The prophetic anointing evident among women is allowed to direct the worship as long as it does not stand in contrast to its priestly leadership. The divide that separates the two is not always clearly visible in the separation of pulpit and altar from platform and pew.
Pentecostal doxology encourages a high level of participation; it is the backbone of egalitarian practices. For most Pentecostals, the reconciliation of gender and race is ultimately realized in worship. Consequently, Pentecostals have created a church culture in which such practices are the foundation and goal of the Christian life. A realistic view of the Pentecostal movement shows that Pentecostal spirituality and worldview afford to the practices of worship the ideals of freedom and liberty to a degree that holds unsurpassed opportunities for the reconciliation of gender and race. At the same time, worship is the chief catalyst in the realization of egalitarian ideals primarily on the grassroots level. The tensions existing among Pentecostals have hindered this realization throughout much of the history of the movement. An intellectual basis for the realization of egalitarian practices has also not yet been established. These and other less visible elements support incompatible institutional practices that are primarily responsible for maintaining a conflicting global reality among many Pentecostals communities. Nonetheless, while these insights do not justify bigotry, injustice, and racism, a closer look at the Pentecostal movement indicates a tendency toward the reconciliation of gender and race. The perplexing situation that characterizes Pentecostalism today justifies its designation as an egalitarian movement in-the-making.


Scholarship and anti-intellectualism
This concluding chapter addresses the intellectual dimension of Pentecostalism: Pentecostal attitudes toward education, pedagogy, and academia, the development of Pentecostal scholarship, and the stereotypes and tensions inherent in the expanding field of Pentecostal studies. Since the late twentieth century, Pentecostalism has garnered increasing attention with the rise of Pentecostal scholarship, the Charismatic Movement among North American universities, the establishment of Pentecostal academic societies and institutions of higher education, and the penetration of different fields of intellectual inquiry by Pentecostal scholars. At the same time, the beginnings of modern-day Pentecostalism also signal a persistent stance of anti-intellectualism, a rejection of higher education and learning, and criticism of the academic world.
Both the alleged anti-intellectualism as well as the growing Pentecostal scholarship have shaped the social face and perception of the movement. On the one hand, Pentecostals are seen as outsiders with no apparent theological tradition, no underlying intellectual system, and no interest in developing and formulating an intellectual structure that compares or contrasts with existing traditions. On the other hand, Pentecostal scholarship seems poised to become a central player in the theological academy. Pentecostals have begun to rescript the movement in its intellectual dimensions beyond the theological disciplines and have entered the humanities and sciences explicitly as Pentecostals. While a persistent anti-intellectualism has neglected to create mechanisms that help in the traditioning of the Pentecostal ethos to subsequent generations, Pentecostal scholarship is forming an emerging tradition that includes the origins of the movement while moving far beyond them. This chapter confronts this contrast of scholarship and anti-intellectualism by outlining first the anti-intellectual ethos and its motivations among classical Pentecostals. The second part of the chapter introduces the still largely uncharted territory of Pentecostal scholarship, its development and current state of affairs. In the concluding part, the tensions of anti-intellectualism and Pentecostal scholarship are brought into dialogue in a conversation about the future of Pentecostal studies. This conversation suggests that Pentecostals are shaping the movement into a holistic tradition that is likely to play a central role in the telling of the intellectual history of the twenty-first century.
Anti-intellectualism in classical Pentecostalism

Pentecostal pioneers hardly appear on the lists of the intellectual elite of their time. We search in vain for an organized Pentecostal scholarship during the first half of the twentieth century. For most of the century, there is no visible attempt to formulate a Pentecostal pedagogy. Most of the first generation of Pentecostals in North America only received a basic education and did not or could not engage in the challenges of continued academic instruction. Apart from Bible schools, there were few attempts to build Pentecostal institutions of higher education, and the limited number of Pentecostal scholars typically received their training at non-Pentecostal schools and universities. Some Pentecostals who pursued scholarly careers felt forced to leave their denominations.2 Others were reluctant to engage in academic education and professional scholarship altogether or voiced suspicion of the scholastic tendencies in the history of Christianity. From the perspective of post-Enlightenment scientific and academic history, classical Pentecostals (along with the Holiness and Fundamentalist traditions) have been dismissed as a profoundly anti-intellectual movement.4 In turn, Pentecostals worldwide have not succeeded in correcting this interpretation. On the contrary, the rise of world Pentecostalism has confirmed the stereotype that Pentecostals in many places possess a ‘strong anti-theological, anti-academic prejudice’. This section presents the motivations behind this alleged anti-intellectualism in order to provide a more exact definition of this attitude and identification of the Pentecostal position.
Motivations for anti-intellectualism

The first generations of classical Pentecostals lacked the motivation to engage in intellectual activities and organizations. This is to say that historical sources of early Pentecostals show a passive attitude toward education and scholarship rather than active resistance. Simply put, Pentecostal pioneers were not professional scholars, even though they clearly engaged in the intellectual dimensions of faith. However, these intellectual activities were carried out on an informal level, dependent on the education of a person and the limited resources available. Pentecostal pioneers are therefore more aptly described as ‘amateurs’ compelled by faith and experience rather than trained writers who obeyed literary rules and scholarly conventions. Pentecostals did not possess a particular educational model. They did not reject the idea of traditioning their beliefs, values, and practices. However, the idea of developing a genuine Pentecostal ‘catechesis’ was not a concern among the early generations; it was deemed neither necessary nor helpful. Instead, the pursuit of scholarship was often considered a hindrance to the determination shared by Pentecostals that the gospel of salvation was to be proclaimed to a world facing the coming of the kingdom of God.
The determination and urgency felt by Pentecostals in the task of evangelization and mission formed the most immediate context for the amateur status of early Pentecostal scholarship. Many Pentecostals departed almost immediately to other parts of the country or to the mission field abroad in order to preach the gospel, typically without preparation and training. The missionary spirit of these Pentecostals relied heavily on their ‘faith’ and the experience of the baptism in the Spirit manifested in the speaking with tongues. The latter was frequently interpreted as the gift of foreign languages, which would help Pentecostals to preach the message of salvation to other nations without the need for biblical, theological, and academic training. Pentecostal publications proclaimed enthusiastically that God had ‘given languages to the unlearned’ and equipped the ‘simple, unlearned members of the body of Christ’.10 This missionary zeal was fuelled by divine revelation rather than ‘deep tiresome thinking’ that wasted precious time by ‘searching’ and ‘counting’ and ‘special study’ instead of obtaining the ‘deeper, spiritual experiences’ made available through the Holy Spirit. The critical voices did not dismiss learning and education entirely but voiced a lack of patience at the prospect of forsaking or postponing the spread of the gospel as the result of the formal educational process.12
This impatience was closely wedded to the eschatological mindset among classical Pentecostals and its influence on missionary practices. Despite the fact that many Pentecostals found themselves unable to speak the foreign languages they had anticipated, only a minority returned to their homeland. They simply did not possess the luxury of time to engage in the formal study of languages, or for that matter, in theological education. The prospect of lengthy formal study conflicted with the eschatological urgency of Pentecostals who had little time to enter into schools and universities at the prospect of Christ’s imminent return.14 Moreover, Pentecostals not only were convinced about Christ’s return but also believed that the kingdom of God would not arrive until the gospel had been proclaimed to all nations. The Pentecostal mission was therefore the evangelization of the world in the power of the Spirit, words, signs, and wonders that hastened the day of Christ’s coming.16 Consequently, the missionaries received only minimal training, often bypassing long-term college or seminary degree programmes. Even when Bible institutes became more prominent in the 1920s and 1930s, many Pentecostals went into the mission field without credentials and formal studies. They did not reject the intellect or those dedicated to the life of the mind but questioned the purpose of engaging in such study at this crucial point in salvation history. The eschatological urgency of the times demanded immediate engagement with those who had not yet heard the gospel.
Consequently, Pentecostals saw their anti-intellectual attitude as a rather pragmatic and appropriate form of the Christian life during the last days of the world. Emphasis was placed on worship, witness, and mission rather than preparation, training, and study. Insisting on the prophethood of all believers, Pentecostals found affirmation in the signs and wonders accompanying their efforts that formal education and long-term training were, at best, not necessary or, at worst, delaying the work of each Christian on behalf of God’s kingdom. Under the experience of the baptism with the Holy Spirit, Pentecostals felt sufficiently equipped to do the work of God. This work focused on oral worship and witness rather than written scholarship, research, and study. Schools, if necessary, were designed as ‘shortcuts’ into the work of evangelization and mission.21 Pentecostal vocabulary (in sermons, pamphlets, testimonies, hymns, spirituals and other venues) emphasized the immediacy of ‘service’ in which all believers could and should participate. Others simply lacked the finances, time, and dedication necessary to enrol in colleges and seminaries for an extended period. Continuing education and dedication to the life of the mind were simply not practical aspects of Pentecostal worldview and spirituality.
These indirect forms of resistance to long-term intellectual pursuits were often supplanted by the more direct and negative perception that an intellectualization of the Christian faith was resisting or suppressing the work of the Holy Spirit. The life of the Spirit and the demands of an intellectual career were seen as opposites that do not readily mix. Pentecostals perceive themselves in discontinuity with the history of the church whose institutionalization and intellectualization has displaced the power of the Spirit.23 For Pentecostals, the Spirit has been driven out of the church and is replaced with a reliance on the intellectual abilities of human beings evidenced in speculative thinking, creeds, doctrines, theories, and criticisms that challenge the gospel and paralyse the faithful. The resulting divisions and schisms continue to form the seedbed for Pentecostal resistance to formal theological education.25 The latter is typically seen as liberal (in contrast to a biblical conservatism), unbiblical (rejecting especially methods of higher criticism), formal (suppressing the liberty of the Holy Spirit), and out-of-touch with reality (particularly the demands on the mission field). When combined with pragmatic, eschatological, and evangelistic convictions, these criticisms present the most potent challenges to Christian and Pentecostal scholarship.
The nature of Pentecostal anti-intellectualism

Anti-intellectualism was not untypical for nineteenth-century America. However, the nature of Pentecostal anti-intellectualism does not readily fit the historical paradigms and cannot be judged as fundamentally opposed to the life of the mind.27 Motivated by an evangelistic and eschatological pragmatism that centres on the work of the Holy Spirit, the history of classical Pentecostals exhibits a reluctance to engage in existing forms and institutions of education without thereby rejecting the intellect entirely. Even with the waning of eschatological urgency among contemporary Pentecostals as well as the establishment of Pentecostal schools and the rise of Pentecostal scholarship since the twentieth century, a form of anti-intellectualism persists across the movement primarily as scepticism towards culturally and socially dominant models of Christian pedagogy.
This scepticism toward the intellectual world exists even among Pentecostal scholars, particularly when academic scholarship is associated with an overdependence on the intellect at the cost of involving the entire person in the life of faith. Some scholars have argued that the dominant pedagogical model that connects Christian faith and scholarship advocates a restrictive view of Christian learning and seems ill-fit for Pentecostal concerns. Others suggested, from the opposite perspective, that Pentecostals themselves possess a genuine pedagogy emerging from the Pentecostal worldview and spirituality, which are not easily integrated in the dominant liberal arts curriculum and the research university.29 Again others have painted this contrast on the bigger canvas of the shift from modernity to postmodernity and portray Pentecostal beliefs and practices as conflicting with the intellectualism and rationalism of the modern world and as more equipped to speak to the postmodern realm. The resulting image is either a rather uneasy relationship of scholarship and Pentecostalism or an opportunity for Pentecostals to enrich the contemporary philosophy of education. On the one hand, Pentecostals are struggling to emancipate themselves from the dominant but ill-fitting educational paradigms; on the other hand, the Pentecostal commitment to signs and wonders could help reform the current world of academic scholarship.31 The challenges exist for both Pentecostals and the scholarly world: the former must find ways to speak intelligibly to the established traditions, disciplines, and institutions; the latter must learn to take seriously Pentecostal education, scholarship, and praxis. The inherent distinctions between both worlds can be summarized with a few outstanding characteristics.
First, on a foundational level, Pentecostal scholarship arises from the affections rather than intellectual ability. The emphasis on love, passion, desire, feeling, or emotion rejects the sole rule of the intellect while attempting to integrate the right affections (orthopathy) with the right thinking (orthodoxy) and the right practices (orthopraxy). For Pentecostals, orthopathy consists of ‘abiding dispositions which dispose the person toward God and the neighbor in ways appropriate to their source and goal in God’.34 The principle of orthopathy is not intellectual knowledge but the identification, solidarity, and transformation of the human condition in light of the kingdom of God. Pentecostal ‘thinking’, if that term is appropriate, happens at the affective, unconscious, predeliberative level aimed at witness and worship before it enters the cognitive, deliberate world of understanding.36 The persistent form of anti-intellectualism does not deny the significance of the intellect, but it rejects its dominance for the full pursuit of knowledge.
Second, and arising from the pursuit of affective knowledge, Pentecostal scholarship is dominated by the imagination rather than reason. Put differently, Pentecostal pedagogy functions on an epistemological level that is aesthetic rather than noetic.38 This aesthetic is marked by a vision of the world that centres on the manifestation of the Holy Spirit in the world and the interpretation of that world in light of the biblical witness and the community of faith. This Pentecostal hermeneutic ‘engages the human being and the world factually, corporeally, relationally, communally, morally, and spiritually’.40 The imagination stands in contrast to the dominance of reason and order; it is more improvisational, more playful than the productivity, performance, and instrumentality demanded by the established institutions, disciplines, languages, and methodologies of the modern academy. Implicit in the Pentecostal imagination is a sacramentality that both sees reality and looks beyond reality as the necessary presuppositions for engaging this world.42 Although Pentecostal scholars are deeply committed to a realism that participates in human struggle and suffering, they rarely critique the intellectual world for withdrawal to an ivory-tower mentality. Instead, their critique is directed more explicitly at the pessimism and failure of modern scholarship to speak to the hope and transformation of the world. The Pentecostal ‘imagining of the world otherwise’44 places less trust in purely cognitive knowledge than in participatory ‘action-reflection in the Spirit’. Pentecostal anti-intellectualism does not reject the rational pursuit of meaning, but it questions the dominance of reason alone as a proper and sufficient instrument for the discernment of truth.
Third, Pentecostal scholarship operates on the level of oral rather than written discourse. Put differently, Pentecostal scholars operate at the limits of speech and are more comfortable with testimony, stories, songs, preaching, and praise than with the definitions, concepts, theses, systems, philosophies, and methodologies that dominate the world of writing, publishing, and scholarly conversation. The emphasis on orality denotes not a simple preference of oral over written discourse but signals an inherent inability for the Pentecostal imagination to function in the dominant mode of the intellectual world. Pentecostal tongues resist the function and categorization of language(s) and operate in a realm outside of the reality that provides and affirms their meaning.47 This resistance shapes a rather messy, noisy, and untidy pedagogy when compared to the clean and orderly models of liberal arts and scientific knowledge. Glossolalia are the flagship of the Pentecostal resistance to the dominance of human language and the discourse of meaning. Where the intellect fails to grasp their meaning and purpose, the Pentecostal relies on the affections and the imagination to allow the utterances to stand. Pentecostal anti-intellectualism does not reject human language, but it questions the ability of the human word to capture the world in its manifold dimensions.
The portrayal of Pentecostalism as anti-intellectual is appropriate if such a characterization captures the evangelistic, missionary, pragmatic, and pneumatological emphasis of Pentecostals and places them in contrast to the dominant models of scholarship and learning. Pentecostals cannot be stereotyped as rejecting education, academia, and the intellectual dimensions of life. However, the uneasiness, scepticism, and mostly passive resistance to purely cognitive, rational, and scientific modes of knowing can also not simply be diminished. Less important than placing Pentecostalism among current pedagogical models is the identification of the ethos that forms the heart of Pentecostal ‘knowing’ in terms of a dynamic, experiential, and relational knowledge. The emphasis on the affections, imagination, and the limits of speech explains not only the anti-intellectual attitude among Pentecostals but also shapes the unprecedented rise of Pentecostal scholarship.
The rise of Pentecostal scholarship

The intellectual history of modern-day Pentecostalism has not yet been written. The first part of this chapter described the beginnings of Pentecostal scholarship in terms of an amateur-status of most Pentecostals at the start of the twentieth century. Professional scholarly publications by Pentecostals did not appear until the 1960s, when the Charismatic Movement swept through many North American universities and began to stir up questions about the relationship of the Spirit-filled life and academic scholarship. Nonetheless, Pentecostals had been active in educational and pedagogical efforts from the early decades of the twentieth century. Largely ignored by mainstream scholarship, Pentecostalism was typically neglected as a subject matter and ridiculed as a dialogue partner. This situation changed dramatically when the 1970s saw an unprecedented increase of Pentecostal scholars, the emergence of Pentecostal studies in the theological academy, the formation of academic societies among Pentecostals, and the establishment of Pentecostal institutions of higher education. In light of the preceding characterization of Pentecostal anti-intellectualism, this section traces the history of the rise of the Pentecostal academy. This portrait is followed by an assessment of the character of Pentecostal scholarship.
The emergence of the Pentecostal academy

The history of Pentecostal scholarship can be divided into five periods of development, each focusing on the formation of a particular vocation: (1) Pentecostal missionaries, (2) Pentecostal historians, (3) Pentecostal biblical scholarship, (4) Pentecostal theologians, and (5) Pentecostal scientists. The first period spans beyond the first half of the twentieth century, the beginnings of historical and biblical scholarship among Pentecostals can be located in the 1970s, theological scholarship arose prominently with the end of the twentieth century, and the entrance of Pentecostals into the human and natural sciences marks the most recent phase of Pentecostal involvement in the academic world.
The origins of Pentecostal scholarship at the beginning of the twentieth century are synonymous with the training of Pentecostal missionaries. Missionary training schools and Bible institutes became dominant in North America during the 1920s and ’30s as many Pentecostals leaving the country to evangelize the world found themselves in need of instruction and training. A. B. Simpson’s model of the Missionary Training Institute led to the first Bible institute in North America and was enthusiastically embraced by Pentecostals.51 Pentecostal groups and denominations established so-called Bible Schools, Bible Institutes, Bible Training Schools, Bible Colleges, Bible and Missionary Institutes, and Missionary Training Schools, particularly in urban areas, across the country. Popular institutions, such as Aimee Semple McPherson’s Lighthouse of International Foursquare Evangelism (LIFE), trained thousands of missionaries and led the way in raising the standard of education among Pentecostal men and women.53 The first generations of classical Pentecostals are also the first generations to struggle with the integration of Pentecostal spirituality, pragmatism, and anti-intellectualism in the educational and academic landscape of the twentieth century.
The second phase of Pentecostal scholarship began in the late 1960s with the work of Walter J. Hollenweger. Emerging as probably the foremost authority on worldwide Pentecostalism, Hollenweger published his extensive research while many Pentecostal scholars completed graduate programmes in environments that neglected or obstructed the interaction of critical scholarship and Pentecostal faith and praxis.55 With his work emerged a wave of Pentecostal historians wishing to preserve the early history of the Pentecostal movement. The remarkable spread of the Charismatic Movement, in particular, encouraged Pentecostals to rediscover their own roots and to confront historiographical models that failed to account for the rise and persistence of modern-day Pentecostalism. These scholars laid the groundwork for Pentecostal archives across the world that today offer countless resources, newspaper articles, pamphlets, letters, sermons, and testimonies narrating the intellectual history among Pentecostals. As a result, Pentecostal historians helped not only to distribute the Pentecostal perspective of the movement’s history but also to reformulate dominant historical accounts and thus to reshape the historical disciplines.57 Descriptive historical studies and social scientific research shifted scholarly attention gradually to the Pentecostal movement worldwide and softened the hard anti-intellectual base of classical Pentecostalism.
A third wave of Pentecostal scholarship surfaced in the 1970s among biblical scholars. These scholars investigated both the biblical sources most relevant to the Pentecostal self-description, particularly Luke-Acts, and the dominant interpretations of such texts. Questions concerning cessationism, dispensationalism, Spirit baptism, and hermeneutics led Pentecostals to discussions genuine to Pentecostal concerns. On the one hand, conservative Evangelical exegesis with the establishment of the historical-critical method as its flagship severely challenged Pentecostal hermeneutics.59 On the other hand, Pentecostal biblical scholars began to engage in these and other discourses emerging in the circles of the Society for Biblical Literature and challenged the viability of such discourse for the reflection of their own pneumatological focus and charismatic experiences in the biblical texts. This conversation produced a substantial amount of literature on distinctive Pentecostal concerns, including Spirit baptism and speaking in tongues, that helped shape a distinctive Pentecostal hermeneutic in response to both liberalism and fundamentalism.61 Pentecostal biblical and historical scholarship engaged the wider academy and eventually laid the groundwork for the Society for Pentecostal Studies in North America, the first independent academic society among Pentecostals. Other academic societies followed in Europe (1979), Latin America (1992), Africa (1998), and Asia (1998). These societies contributed significantly to the next wave of an emerging theological scholarship among Pentecostals.
The fourth wave of Pentecostal scholarship began during the 1990s with the emergence of constructive theological research. Beginning with an emphasis on the distinctives of the Pentecostal faith, sometimes cast in the language of apologetics, this generation of scholars has entered the broad range of theological disciplines. Theological scholarship among Pentecostals has developed a theology of the Spirit-filled life that attempts to integrate the various distinctive emphases of Pentecostals, such as speaking in tongues or spiritual gifts, in the broader theological and ecumenical discussions. In a subsequent development, a new generation of Pentecostal theologians has begun to reconsider existing doctrines in a more systematic fashion that include soteriology, ecclesiology, pneumatology, the doctrine of God, the doctrine of creation, dialogue with religions, and a theology of culture.65 These scholars have begun to suggest explicit ways in which Pentecostal theology contributes to the theological agenda of the twenty-first century. The new discussions have led to deliberations on the nature of Pentecostal theology, in general, and have begun to shape a new generation of Pentecostal scholarship that goes beyond the traditional historical, biblical, and internal theological conversations.
The fifth and most current wave of Pentecostal scholarship consists of an expansion into the human and natural sciences. This generation of scholars coincides with the formulation of a new rationale for the vitality and future of Pentecostal scholarship able to overcome the juxtaposing of spirituality and science and to encourage Pentecostals to enter scientific careers explicitly as Pentecostals. Pentecostal scholarship has moved into questions of scientific knowledge and methodology, physics, biology, chemistry, psychology, medicine, anthropology, sociology, and technology.68 In turn, interdisciplinary perspectives, particularly in the social sciences, humanities, and theology, have engaged Pentecostals in the broader scholarly conversations. For some, the coming of age of Pentecostal scholarship necessitates that Pentecostals ultimately engage in all scientific disciplines; for others, the increasing exposure of the scientific world to the phenomenon of Pentecostalism has only just initiated that journey. Both perspectives anticipate significant changes in the nature of Pentecostal scholarship during the twenty-first century.
The nature of Pentecostal scholarship

Pentecostal scholarship refers to the coexistence as well as the interpenetration of Pentecostal and scholarly commitments. This distinction between scholarship and Pentecostalism, on the one hand, and scholarship as a Pentecostal, on the other hand, can be seen across the Pentecostal scholarly world. The number of scholars, academicians, and scientists who are Pentecostal is virtually unknown but promises to be much larger than the number of scholars who deliberately carry out their scholarship as Pentecostals. Many Pentecostal scholars and scientists are hesitant to voice their Pentecostal persuasions in environments that look sceptically at the involvement of religion and science. Others question how scientific instruments and empirical data can benefit from a Pentecostal faith and praxis. At the same time, the global emergence of Pentecostal seminaries, colleges, universities, and centres of higher education promises a shift in public perception, liberal-arts education, and professional and scientific programmes.71 General assessments of Pentecostal scholarship do not yet exist. Nonetheless, a few elements stand out as defining the character of Pentecostal scholarship during the first century of the Pentecostal movement.
First and foremost, Pentecostal scholarship is experiential. This foundational dimension refers to the central importance of an encounter with the Holy Spirit for the Christian life. Some scholars have therefore described the whole of Pentecostal theology as a theology of encounter. All Pentecostal scholarship can be understood as an attempt ‘to articulate this normative encounter with God’73 in the diverse forms, methods, and vocabulary of the scholarly and scientific communities. The Pentecostal experiences are at the core defined theologically. In disciplines not directly associated with theological inquiry, the experience of the Spirit-filled life often carries over in terms of the Pentecostal worldview and spirituality in general, which are more visible in the motivation for the Pentecostal scholar to pursue a particular vocation than in the measurable forms of pedagogy, research, and writing. On a more visible level, the experience of the Holy Spirit places Pentecostal scholarship at the crossroads of the scientific and theological worlds. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit, when understood in the whole context of creation, directs Pentecostal scholars to pursue a spirit-oriented scholarship in the experimental and empirical worlds of science.75 While this pneumatological pursuit may not always yield explicit references to the Holy Spirit, it is nonetheless radically informed by the anticipation that the Holy Spirit can be discovered in all of life and thereby directs all of life toward God.
Second, Pentecostal scholarship operates on the principle of play rather than performance. This playful orientation stands in contrast to the performance-oriented and utilitarian categories of traditional scholarship under the tyranny of rationalism, seriousness, and work. Thus, Pentecostal thinking sometimes stands critically over against established scholarly norms and operates on the level of ‘pure means’ or ‘pure self-presentation’.77 Pentecostal scholarship presents itself as a restlessness caused both by the encounter with God’s Spirit in the present and the anticipation of the kingdom of God in which the fullness of life in the Spirit is yet to be fully realized. The playfulness of Pentecostal scholarship in the midst of this restlessness can be seen as the pursuit of ‘a way of being that is radically open to divine surprises, always at work resisting obstacles to human flourishing, and committed to creating, broadening, and deepening new possibilities of life’. Put positively, the playfulness of Pentecostal scholarship is the radical consequence of a deliberate dependence on and openness to the divine freedom. Put negatively, playful scholarship does not reject critical reflection, logic, and order but refuses to submit to their exclusive claim of dominance. Instead, the playful dynamic of Pentecostal scholarship embraces the logic of intellectual rigour in the broadest sense as an ethical commitment to conscientization. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, Pentecostal scholarship is still in the process of raising its self-consciousness as a means to engage in the struggle against the structures that hinder human flourishing and direct the human being to God. At the same time, while avoiding becoming submerged in the dominant models of scholarship, Pentecostals are themselves establishing a new consciousness based on the pneumatological focus inherent in their worldview and spirituality.
Third, Pentecostal scholarship is in an important sense always embodied scholarship. For most Pentecostals, this emphasis reflects a going-beyond the mere intellectual pursuit of knowledge to include holistic modes of learning and being. On the one hand, embodied scholarship strives towards interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary inquiry; on the other hand, it reconsiders existing ways of understanding the world, human nature, and the human encounter with God. This interdependence refers both to the influence of embodiment on Pentecostal scholarship and the product of such scholarly efforts. In the simplest terms, embodiment refers to an expressiveness that connects the personal experience with the community, social structure, and human concerns. In the written discourse of modern scholarship, this expressiveness is seen in the evangelistic, inspirational, expository, sermonic, and thematic emphases of many Pentecostal publications that include testimony, exhortation, prayer, praise, and other elements not typical for scholarly conventions.82 In the more radical sense, embodiment seeks the (often dramatic) expressions of the charismatic life: the prophetic, spontaneous, and unadorned desire to let the Holy Spirit speak through the work of the scholar. While such work seldom receives scholarly recognition from the wider academy, it represents the important desire of Pentecostal scholarship to shed the role of the objective observer for the sake of passionate participation.
Finally, Pentecostal scholarship is based on a comprehensive hermeneutic that in the broadest sense can be characterized as analogical. Pentecostal scholars have more typically spoken of the analogical imagination as a ‘this-is-that’ hermeneutic. Foundational to this hermeneutic is the interpretation of the present in terms of the past, the Christian life in terms of the biblical texts, and the Pentecostal experience in terms of the story of Pentecost. The principle of analogy defines and correlates the Pentecostal interpretation of Scripture and of the contemporary world.85 Pentecostal scholarship engages reality, not unlike the apostle Peter, by rejecting dominant perceptions and offering alternative interpretations. The biblical records (Acts 2:15–16) show a two-fold dynamic in Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost: he rejects the dominant perception of the crowd (‘these are not drunk’) and offers an alternative interpretation (‘this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel’). Similarly, Pentecostal scholarship operates on the basis of a hermeneutic that acknowledges the tension between ‘this’ reality of the human life and ‘that’ reality of God by suggesting that this relationship can only be expressed as analogy. Such correlation is essential to the theologian as much as to the scientist; both interpret the world in their respective disciplines as a witness to God—even if such analogy fails when the experience of God cannot be correlated to any existing event. The principle of analogy has driven Pentecostals from a primary occupation with internal debates during the early years to an expansion of their scholarship. This expansion also includes the critical evaluation and correction of existing analogies and interpretative models. The integration of the experiential, playful, embodied, and analogical dimensions of understanding and participating in the world promises to take Pentecostal scholars not only to various disciplines but to the forefront of the renewal and revitalization of the academic world.
The future of Pentecostal studies

Pentecostalism shows itself as neither a complete intellectual or anti-intellectual movement. Although both elements are present among Pentecostals worldwide, the sole emphasis on either characterization would misrepresent the state of affairs. Moreover, the perplexing nature of Pentecostalism escapes us if we neglect to account for the existing tension between anti-intellectualism and Pentecostal scholarship. The coexistence of both attitudes is representative of the struggle to come to terms with the scope and depth of the Pentecostal ethos. While this coexistence cannot be easily reconciled, the dimensions of anti-intellectualism as described in this chapter shed important light on the future of Pentecostal scholarship. The final section of this chapter presents this prospect with regard to three intersecting dimensions of the contemporary world of Pentecostal studies: the groundwork of Pentecostal pedagogy, Pentecostal scholarship as counter-culture, and the emergence of Renewal scholarship as a distinct identity of Pentecostal studies.
The groundwork of Pentecostal pedagogy

The study of Pentecostalism shows a struggle among Pentecostals to find and express a pedagogical model concomitant with the Pentecostal worldview and spirituality and to integrate such a model in the dominant Western methodologies that pervade the academic world. Much of this struggle takes place not in the academy but in the churches, schools, and homes of Pentecostals. The battle for a Pentecostal pedagogy is fought not only among those involved in and seeking higher education but more significantly in the testimonies, conversations, debates, sermons, and arguments of congregations, which often span the whole breadth of educational upbringing.
The formation of Pentecostal pedagogy takes place to a large extent in the ‘ordinary’ world of ‘everyday’ life, the ‘contextual’, ‘non-academic’ and ‘lived’ world of the ‘ground level’. At this level of folk religion, assembled beliefs, values, experiences, and practices connecting individuals and communities, the primary task among Pentecostals remains first of all to accurately observe, interpret, and portray their intellectual history and position. The shaping of a common pedagogy among Pentecostals worldwide emerges largely at the junction of individual efforts relating to congregational life and denominational history and tradition.88 The groundwork consists above all in a more explicit advocacy among Pentecostal congregations for reason, logic, and education, for theology, the defence of the faith, philosophy, and science. Postgraduate Pentecostal scholarship remains the exception rather than the norm. On the ground, the development of a Pentecostal pedagogy depends on the basic formation of Pentecostal congregations, including the increase of literacy, the institution of continuing education, the diversification of the church curriculum, the building of educational structures and libraries, and the marrying of faith and understanding in the whole of the Christian life.90
All of these efforts are in principle a form of conscientization as part of the attempt to build a Pentecostal catechesis on the ground. The most visible struggle of this catechesis remains the integration and transformation of Pentecostal ‘amateurism’ vis-à-vis the accepted norms of the professional academic world. This transformation emphasizes ‘the oral nature of a Pentecostal hermeneutic and the dynamics of Pentecostal liturgy … a dynamic and active role of the Holy Spirit and … the full participation of all members of the community of faith’.92 The result of this unfolding catechesis on the ground is unlikely to be the full intellectualization of Pentecostal faith and praxis but rather the traditioning of a holistic spirituality. In light of the intellectual history of Pentecostalism, catechesis among Pentecostals will exceed mere cognitive transformation toward reflective action.94 The goal of this groundwork is no more (and no less) than the faithful and critical awareness of and response to God’s revelation in the world in all circumstances of life. A scholarly community among Pentecostals will continue to emerge only gradually on this catechetical basis.
Pentecostal scholarship as counter-culture

A conscious and critical Pentecostal catechesis is increasingly visible in both the gradual integration of Pentecostal scholarship in the academic world and the continuing resistance to such integration by Pentecostal scholars. It is inevitable that Pentecostals will eventually teach and research at the elite universities of the world, although much of that integration still depends on the cultural significance of Pentecostalism in particular contexts and the consequent interest of institutions in Pentecostal scholarship. While most academic institutions are no longer hostile to Pentecostals, many universities and colleges, not only those affiliated with a particular religious tradition, invite few Pentecostals to participate in the broader academic conversations. Similarly, Pentecostal scholars resist invitations to associate themselves fully with existing institutions that question or contradict the Pentecostal worldview and spirituality. Pentecostal scholarship retains its counter-cultural stance in its concerns not only for the content of study but also for the formation of the scholar, the methods and instruments of scholarship, and the relevance of the results. The anti-intellectual dimension of Pentecostal scholarship finds its most potent contemporary expression in this counter-culture.
In popular perception, the speaking with tongues based upon the broad image of Spirit baptism remains the most significant counter-cultural practice of Pentecostals. Pentecostal scholarship as tongue speech may solicit the image of interrupting ‘proper’ academic norms and behaviours. Such a perception is not entirely incorrect. However, Pentecostal scholarship has re-described the critical function of tongues as a call for an ‘affective and embodied epistemology’, ‘holistic spirituality’, and ‘non-reductionistic worldview’.96 Where popular Pentecostal language speaks of ‘letting go and letting God’, Pentecostal scholarship acknowledges ‘the pretentiousness of the critical scientific mind’. This via negativa, perhaps even deconstructive nature of Pentecostal studies, is the irrevocable element of Pentecostal spirituality despite its silencing to often no more than a hidden protest in academic conversations and publications. The tension between social activism and sectarianism evident among Pentecostals is also reflected in the discrepancy between those scholars who have become comfortable and those who remain homeless in the contemporary academic world.99
The counter-culture of Pentecostal scholarship speaks to the ‘homelessness’ of Pentecostal studies. The objectification of knowledge, depersonalization of education, individualization of critical thinking, separation of the subject and object of knowing, anonymity of the academic community, and separation of the academy from church and world are just a few of the reasons held responsible for this dilemma. Underlying the homelessness of Pentecostal scholarship is the fundamental theological commitment of Pentecostals, even in the humanities and social and natural sciences, that sees education itself as a transformative practice in light of the encounter with the Holy Spirit.101 Where Pentecostals have started to make themselves at home, this critical function of Pentecostal scholarship has become less visible. Explicitly critical Pentecostal scholarship, on the other hand, maintains the personal, pedagogical, and epistemological priority of dependence on the Holy Spirit in all realms of engaging and changing the world. This dependence has carried Pentecostal scholarship out of the realm of internal Pentecostal concerns to diverse multidisciplinary conversations.
From Pentecostal studies to Renewal scholarship

Pentecostal studies has transitioned during the twentieth century from preoccupation with internal concerns, including wide-ranging debates about Spirit baptism, glossolalia, sanctification, Pentecostal distinctives, or church government, to dialogue with constituencies and topics far beyond the original reach. While Pentecostals have not abandoned internal affairs, these discussions have been integrated in and expanded to multidisciplinary and ecumenical conversations. Pentecostal scholarship today can be described as a Spirit-oriented pursuit of the religious, social, political, economic, and scientific dimensions of life and engages with these dimensions on spiritual, experiential, and intellectual grounds. This pursuit has expanded the horizon of Pentecostal scholarship from a church-dominated audience to a dialogue partner with diverse publics in the church, academy, and society. The significant expansion and transition of Pentecostal scholarship has become known in some circles by the term ‘Renewal studies’.
Renewal Studies shows both an indebtedness to Pentecostalism and a drive beyond any narrowly constructed Pentecostal scholarship, in other words, a tendency towards the renewal of Pentecostalism itself. The underlying motif for Renewal studies is not Pentecostalism but Pentecost, or more precisely, the renewing work of the Holy Spirit. The pneumatological motif, exemplified at Pentecost and in the modern-day Pentecostal movement, refers to the experiential and theological start with the Spirit that proceeds to engagement and dialogue with other perspectives and disciplines and represents a procedure whereby that interaction is opened up to what the Spirit is saying and where the interpretation of the Spirit’s direction is leading. Thus Renewal studies functions as an important corrective to Pentecostal scholarship, as a tool for its assessment as well as an invitation to enter into theoretical, practical, and theological interaction with other fields.104 In this sense, renewal is that counter-critical and prophetic element within a pneumatological framework that allows the Pentecostal consciousness to expand in ongoing critical conversation. The renewal focus is perhaps adequately described as a ‘Pentecostal pneumatology of quest’.
The quest for renewal emerges for Pentecostals from ‘a distinctive modality of Spirit-filled lifelong teaching and learning that has been the legacy of Pentecostal and Charismatic institutions of higher education in the twentieth century’. This modality is based on the existence of many voices, many gifts, many tongues, and many practices among Pentecostals that seek to engage the world in ‘a polyphonic perspectivalism’.107 Comfortable with this pluralism of the late modern world, renewal is for Pentecostals ‘a methodology for inquiry rather than just a subject of teaching and research’. The focus is not limited to the study of Pentecostalism but open to a non-sectarian emphasis on the renewing work of the Holy Spirit in all phenomena of life. This focus is inherently motivated by an underlying ‘Renewal theology’.109 Yet the centrality of the person and work of the Holy Spirit that upholds and penetrates this kind of theology expands the theological emphasis immediately to other fields of inquiry and thereby challenges the established structures, tasks, and procedures of modern-day scholarship. Renewal, in this progressive sense, because of its critical and anti-intellectual undertones, is taking Pentecostal scholarship to the frontiers of religion, science, technology, politics, economics, and other fields. The result is not only the continuing transformation of Pentecostal studies but the prospect of renewal of contemporary Christian pedagogy and scholarship in the twenty-first century.

A conclusion to this brief portrait of the perplexing reality of Pentecostalism would be out of place; it might give the impression that the development of Pentecostalism has in some sense been determined when rather the opposite is true. Pentecostalism has just started. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, we can at best speak of the adolescent years of Pentecostalism, a movement characterized by a perplexing variety of tensions often only in their infancy. Not only historically but also in its worldwide varieties, languages, tongues, beliefs, practices, and experiences, Pentecostalism exhibits different, often contrasting, elements that compete to define the core persuasions of the movement. There are difficulties not only with understanding the depth of these tensions, but also significant disagreements on whether and how these disagreements can be reconciled in order to speak of a single form of Pentecostalism. In light of the various tensions presented in this volume, the labelling of Pentecostalism as a ‘movement’ remains the most suitable form of its identification.
Pentecostalism has been termed a movement from the early years of the twentieth century, often with reference to what was anticipated as a mere temporary existence. Outsiders to the movement gave Pentecostalism a relatively short lifespan, seeing it as an insignificant repetition of ecstatic religion that is not unusual for Christian history. Insiders typically highlighted the eschatological significance of the movement and viewed Pentecostalism as the final phase before the imminent consummation of the kingdom of God. Both perspectives have been disappointed by the longevity of the movement. Both sides are confounded by the changes and transitions that continue to shape modern-day Pentecostalism.
The reasons for the perplexity of the Pentecostal movement lie in its transitional character. While the designation of Pentecostalism as a ‘movement’ is often applied to Pentecostalism in its relation to others, the reference to the transitional character of that movement emphasizes that Pentecostalism is itself in movement and thereby continues to be transformed. The term ‘Renewal’ perhaps best identifies the nature and goal of that transition as a transformation by the Spirit of God. The heart of this identification of Pentecostalism as a Renewal movement is the insight that Pentecostalism by its very nature cannot be static but remains subject to its inherent renewal impetus. As a transitional phenomenon, Pentecostalism at this time can only be captured by embracing the tensions within the movement as identifiers of that transition. Any subjugation of one extreme under another only leads to a biased stereotyping that is perhaps more palatable but does not capture the movement in its fullness.
The designation of Pentecostalism as a Renewal movement avoids any romanticized or triumphalist notion of that definition. If Pentecostalism is a movement, then the direction of that movement is not always altogether clear. The movement travels, so to speak, in different directions, and yet, it is precisely this unbalanced transition that keeps Pentecostalism in movement. Rather than becoming a disjointed phenomenon, Pentecostalism has expanded to include many multifarious elements among its constituencies. The extremes of the Pentecostal movement belong at this point in their development to the nature of Pentecostalism worldwide. The movement as a whole, if such a designation is justified, shows little concern for the existence of such inconsistencies. On the contrary, the unqualified identification of such developments as ‘tensions’, ‘extremes’, and ‘inconsistencies’ betrays a critical perspective foreign to the character of a movement that is comfortable with the playful variations of its perplexing existence.
The extremes of pluralism, charismatic excessiveness, denominationalism, sectarianism, triumphalism, institutionalism, and anti-intellectualism are confronted by the local roots, holistic spirituality, ecumenical ethos, orthodoxy, social engagement, egalitarian practices, and scholarship of the movement. The resulting tensions are not absorbed or cancelled out but held in opposition. In other words, for a movement in transition, as Pentecostalism is best described today, the critical tensions that remain mark the energy of that transition. If measured in this way, Pentecostalism is a movement with a constant tendency to go beyond itself.
A dominant perception maintains that Pentecostalism is primarily, or exclusively, a religious movement. However, the extremes held in opposition by the contemporary movement suggest that the dynamics of Pentecostals worldwide far exceed the religious realm. The perplexities of Pentecostalism identified in the previous chapters represent the struggle of a worldwide movement to identify its place and position in the global Christian landscape. While the tensions identified in this study are among the most visible elements of global Pentecostalism today, some less visible aspects were mentioned only marginally or could not be addressed. Among the tensions that add to the perplexing nature of the Pentecostal movement, but that are only in their early phase of development, is the Pentecostal emphasis on salvation through Christ alone in contrast to the emerging Pentecostal dialogue with other religions or the prominence of supernaturalism in contrast to the developing dialogue with the natural sciences. More specifically theological aspects that also exhibit a perplexing range of contrasting positions include the apolitical or anti-political stance in contrast to an emerging Pentecostal political theology, debates about the theology of creation, and the discussion of the very nature of theology as it is or should be done by Pentecostals. Finally, there are a number of internal tensions that could be added to the picture, including debates about the initial (physical) evidence of Spirit baptism or the nature of sanctification. Adding these tensions to the portrait of modern-day Pentecostalism would only solidify the assessment that Pentecostalism is a movement in transition. Significant for the future of the Pentecostal movement is the extent to which these tensions within Pentecostalism are seen as exemplary of a religious movement and representative of the global state of the Christian world.
The perplexing tensions of Pentecostalism are symptomatic not only for the changing face of the Pentecostal movement but for the dramatic transitions of global Christianity. In this sense, Pentecostalism is merely a representative of the dynamics of the late modern Christian social, cultural, and religious milieu. However, these developments also far exceed the realm of religion and expand ultimately into all dimensions of life. Pentecostalism has become a movement beyond the concerns of religion. Modern-day Pentecostalism is occupied with all questions of human flourishing, understanding, and transformation and engages the religious, social, cultural, political, economic, scientific, and spiritual dimensions of human existence. This characterization may explain much of the bewildering character of the movement and suggests that the immediate future of Pentecostalism will show an even greater variety of perplexities. At the least, those curious to understand Pentecostalism are forced to look beyond the realm of religion. At the end of this brief guide, we arrive at yet one more perplexing insight: To understand Pentecostalism, one has to look beyond Pentecostalism.

Alexander, Paul. Signs and Wonders: Why Pentecostalism is the World’s Fastest Growing Faith (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2009).
Anderson, Allan H. An Introduction to Pentecostalism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).
Anderson, Allan H., Michael Bergunder, André Droogers, Cornelis van der Laan (eds). Studying Global Pentecostalism: Theories and Methods. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010.
Hollenweger, Walter J. Pentecostalism: Origins and Developments Worldwide (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic Press, 1997; 2005).
Kay, William K. Pentecostalism: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011).
Synan, Vinson. The Century of the Holy Spirit: 100 Years of Pentecostal and Charismatic Renewal, 1901–2001 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2001).
Yong, Amos and Cecil M. Robeck, Jr. (eds). The Cambridge Companion to Pentecostalism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012).

affections, 33, 43, 45, 72, 139–41, 150 see also spirituality
Africa, Pentecostalism in, 12, 13–4, 34, 41, 51, 53, 56, 76, 85–6, 90, 91, 94–5, 98, 117–8, 119, 121–2, 124, 143
African American Pentecostalism, 18, 53, 97, 105–6, 118, 120, 127–9 see also black Pentecostalism
anti-intellectualism, 3, 7–8, 20, 37, 133–41, 148, 156 see also scholarship
Apostolic Faith, 50, 59
Asia, Pentecostalism in, 12, 13, 14–5, 21–2, 34, 41, 51, 53, 76, 90, 91, 98–9, 119, 124, 143
Azusa Street Mission and revival, 12–3, 16–7, 50, 113, 120

baptism see Spirit baptism; water baptism
black Pentecostalism, 97–8, 105–6, 117, 121, 123, 127–9, 129–30 see also African American Pentecostalism

cessationism, 35, 143 see also spiritual gifts
charismata see spiritual gifts
charismatic life, 4, 5, 30, 34, 36–41, 42, 147
Charismatic Movement, 2, 15, 16, 19–21, 22, 34, 37, 38, 40–1, 53, 56, 65, 71, 97, 99, 116, 121, 126, 133, 141, 142,
Christology, 73, 79, 82, 84–6, 88, 103 see also Jesus Christ
church see ecclesiology
community, 13, 24, 35–6, 53–4, 58, 63–4, 71–2, 75, 87, 94–8, 103, 105–7, 113, 117, 130, 139, 146, 149, 151 see also koinonia; ecclesiology
conscientization, 146, 149 see also social consciousness
counter-culture, 148, 150–1
creeds, 69, 71–2, 74, 77, 137 see also trinitarian Pentecostalism
critical function, 65–8, 150–1
external critique, 5, 36–9, 41, 54, 99–100, 129, 133, 137
internal controversies, 5, 36, 37, 39–41, 54, 99–100, 129, 133, 137
culture, Pentecostalism and, 10, 11, 13, 18, 25, 86, 95, 98, 100, 106–7, 117–8, 123, 129, 131, 144, 150

denominationalism, 3, 5, 30, 49, 56–62, 65–7, 156 see also ecclesiology
diversity, 1–2, 3, 10, 14, 16, 39, 63–7, 76, 85–8, 97, 128 see also pluralism
divine healing, 35, 36, 46, 54, 73, 74, 86, 97, 99, 100, 102–3, 115 see also health and wealth gospel
doctrine, 1, 3, 6, 32, 38, 41, 55, 56, 58, 60, 69–88, 100–3, 116, 122, 126–7, 144 see also theology
doctrine of God, 6, 69, 70–6, 77, 78, 81–8, 100, 101, 103, 144
doxology, 76, 112, 125, 129–31 see also worship

ecclesiology, 5, 59, 65–7, 121, 144
ecumenism, 1, 3, 5, 6, 19–21, 29, 38, 49–68, 77, 96, 103, 111, 144, 151, 156 see also unity
education, 7, 20, 91, 94, 107, 112, 116, 133–40, 141, 142, 145, 148–9, 151–2 see also pedagogy
egalitarianism, 7, 92, 111, 112–9, 124, 125–31
encounter, 12, 17, 33–4, 44, 46, 55, 73, 75, 83–6, 145–6, 151
ethics, 104, 108–10 see also social consciousness; conscientization
Europe, Pentecostalism in, 12, 15, 24, 51, 52–3, 76, 94, 118, 119, 124, 143
Evangelicalism, 52, 84, 103, 105, 123, 129, 143
experience, 1, 12, 37–40, 43, 45, 50, 54, 55, 64, 71–3, 77, 79–80, 80–2, 82–6, 88, 90–3, 107, 118, 128, 135, 137, 145–7
extremism, 4, 29, 36–9, 103–4, 156–7 see also criticism

gender paradox, 7, 111–2, 117–20, 122–4, 125–31
globalization, 10, 21, 23–7, 100, 110
glocal, 25–7, 85–6
glocalization, 10, 25–7, 85
glossolalia see tongues, speaking in
gospel, full, 31, 35, 72–5, 84

healing see divine healing
health and wealth gospel, 6, 89, 90, 97–103, 104–6, 109, 110
hermeneutic, 87, 139, 143, 147, 149 see also Scripture
hierarchy, 123–4, 125–7 see also institutionalism
Hispanic Pentecostalism, 18, 105–7, 120–1 see also Latina/o Pentecostalism
holiness, 31, 32, 37, 74, 80 see also sanctification
Hollenweger, Walter J., 12, 142
Holy Spirit, 2, 5, 11–3, 17, 19, 20, 29–35, 40, 43–6, 50, 54, 58, 60, 64, 66, 67, 70, 73, 74–6, 77, 78, 79, 80–2, 84, 86, 87, 88, 113–5, 123, 136–9, 145, 147, 149, 151–2 see also pneumatology

imagination, 5, 20, 30, 41, 42–7, 87–8, 139–41, 147
India, Pentecostalism in, 12, 13, 76, 93–4, 117
institutionalism, 3, 7, 59, 111, 112, 119–24, 125–7, 128, 156 see also hierarchy
institutionalization, 5, 19, 61, 69, 110, 125, 126, 129, 137

Jesus Christ, 11, 20, 30, 31, 34, 35, 70, 72–82, 84–6, 88, 100, 101, 113 see also Christology

Kenyon, E. W. 100–2
koinonia, 63–4 see also community; ecclesiology

Latin America, Pentecostalism in, 12, 14, 16, 21, 22, 34, 41, 51–2, 56, 76, 90–1, 95–6, 99–100, 119, 121, 123, 124, 143 see also Latina/o Pentecostalism
Latina/o Pentecostalism, 76, 85, 94, 95–6, 107, 123 see also Hispanic Pentecostalism
liturgy, 18, 72, 127, 129, 131, 149
local roots, 9, 10, 11–6, 18, 21, 23–9, 51, 61, 66, 67, 85, 86, 88, 90, 96, 104, 108, 109, 126, 156

materialism, 98, 99, 105 see also health and wealth gospel
mission, 13–15, 17–9, 21, 26, 31, 50, 60–1, 85, 87, 93–4, 105, 113, 115, 120, 135–7, 140
movement, 50, 59–68 see also ecclesiology

narrative, Pentecostal, 62, 70, 71–3, 75, 84 see also doctrine; hermeneutic
neo-Pentecostalism, 21–3, 33–4, 37–40, 56, 57, 66, 71, 121, 126
North America, Pentecostalism in, 4, 11–3, 17–9, 21, 38, 50–3, 56, 76, 89, 90, 94, 96–8, 104–5, 107, 114, 118–21, 123, 127, 129–30, 133–4, 141–3 see also Pentecostalism, classical

Oneness Pentecostalism, 5, 6, 69, 70, 76–82, 83–4, 86, 87, 88, 101, 120
orthodoxy, 39, 42, 69–70, 82, 88, 116, 139, 156 see also doctrine

pedagogy, 7, 20, 64, 133, 134, 138–41, 145, 148–50, 153 see also education
Pentecost, 11, 26, 31, 50, 51, 62, 74, 75, 76, 88, 109, 110, 113–5, 116, 147, 152
Pentecostal Fellowship of North America, 53, 118
Pentecostal World Fellowship, 58, 61
classical, 17–9, 30–1, 39–41, 56, 58, 59, 65, 71–2, 84, 86, 92, 93, 103, 105, 107, 118, 120–3, 125, 129, 130, 134–7, 142, 143
countries see under individual countries
definition, 16–23, 27, 63, 135, 156
global, 16–23, 24–7, 29, 33–4, 41, 52–3, 55–6, 58, 63–5, 70, 76, 85–8, 90, 91, 100, 103, 104, 108–12, 117, 122, 124–5, 128–9, 131, 145, 157
grassroots, 4, 10, 11–16, 52, 58, 65, 96, 131
local, 3, 4, 6, 11–6, 18, 21, 23–9, 51, 61, 66–7, 85–6, 88, 90, 96, 104, 108–9, 126, 156
progressive, 3, 22, 26, 90, 93–6, 108, 110, 152
regions see under individual regions
performance, 46, 139, 146
play, 8, 10, 134, 146
pluralism, 3, 10, 16, 23, 110, 152, 156 see also diversity
pneumatology, 30, 32, 33, 35, 44–6, 64, 76, 80, 81, 86–8, 140, 143–6, 152 see also Holy Spirit
postmodernity, 22, 24, 25, 112, 138
prophecy, 32, 35, 36, 46, 71, 115–7
prophethood of all believers, 7, 111, 112, 115–7, 127, 137
prosperity preaching see health and wealth gospel
Protestantism, 17, 19, 52, 56, 72, 87, 95, 115
psychology of religion, 42–4

racial segregation, 120–2, 128, 130
reason, 54, 77, 138–40, 146, 149
Renewal, 1, 19, 20, 21, 37, 51, 53, 60, 66, 130, 148, 151–3, 156
revelation, 37, 40, 75, 78, 82, 103, 114, 136, 149 see also prophecy; Scripture
revivals, 1, 12, 13, 15–6, 17, 18, 50–1, 60, 65, 94, 113, 118, 119, 120
ritual, 19, 37, 46, 106 see also liturgy
Roman Catholic-Pentecostal international dialogue, 14, 17, 19, 37, 52, 53–4, 64, 72, 99

sanctification, 73, 78, 101, 114, 151, 157 see also holiness
scholarship, 3, 7, 8, 20, 112, 125, 127–9, 131, 133–58 see also pedagogy; education
Scripture, 11, 30, 31, 35, 38, 40, 56, 60, 62, 70, 72, 73, 75–84, 88, 94, 102, 109, 113, 116, 117, 134–7, 139, 141–4, 147 see also hermeneutic
sectarianism, 14, 22, 37, 58, 107, 128, 129, 150, 156
SEPADE (Servicio Evangélico para el Desarrollo), 52, 95, 96
separatism, 57, 59
Seymour, William J., 50, 127
social activism, 6, 90–6, 99, 106–7, 109, 110, 150
social consciousness, 99, 104–10 see also conscientization
social ethics, 6, 90, 103, 104–10
soteriology, 70, 72, 144
South Africa, Pentecostalism in, 94, 95, 117, 121–2
Spirit baptism, 31–2, 35, 39–41, 44, 54, 73, 75, 114, 116, 135, 143, 150, 151, 157 see also Holy Spirit; pneumatology
Spirit-Christology, 74–6, 86
spiritual discernment, 29, 32, 44
spiritual gifts, 11, 17, 29, 33–8, 40, 41, 46, 47, 54, 55, 64, 100, 115, 117, 144
spirituality, 19, 20, 24, 30–6, 38, 41, 43, 45, 47, 54, 67, 71–5, 83–5, 89, 94, 110, 125, 129, 131, 137–8, 144–50
holistic, 3, 4, 29, 30–6, 46, 149, 150, 156
story, Pentecostal, 13, 35, 71, 85, 88, 147 see also narrative, Pentecostal

tensions, 2–8, 10, 26, 29, 30, 41, 49, 50, 62–5, 68–70, 82–90, 104, 108, 111–2, 121–34, 155–7 see also criticism
theology, 5, 6, 20, 21, 24, 31, 59, 61, 63, 65–8, 69, 70–6, 76–82, 82–8, 97, 99–101, 103, 128, 144–5, 149, 152, 157 see also doctrine
third wave see neo-Pentecostalism
tongues, speaking in, 11, 31, 32, 34–6, 38, 39, 40–2, 46, 54, 72, 109, 110, 129, 135, 140, 143, 144, 150–2, 155 see also Spirit baptism; spiritual gifts
tradition, 3, 7, 8, 22, 30, 54, 63, 69, 76, 77, 79, 94, 133, 134, 149, 150
trinitarian Pentecostalism, 5, 6, 64, 69, 70–6, 77, 78, 79, 80, 81, 82–8
Trinity, 76, 84
triumphalism, 3, 6, 90, 96–103, 104, 110, 156

unity, 50–1, 62–5, 68, 78 see also ecumenism

water baptism, 77, 79
women see egalitarianism; gender paradox
word-of-faith movement see health and wealth gospel
worldview, 29, 30–3, 34–6, 38, 41, 43, 47, 67, 71, 74, 76, 86, 110, 125, 131, 137–8, 145–50
worship, 18, 19, 24, 26, 33, 54, 55, 71, 80, 84, 116, 120, 122, 126, 129–31, 136–9 see also doxology
Vondey, W. (2013). Pentecostalism (S. iii–199). London; New Delhi; New York; Sydney: Bloomsbury.

How shall we live in this world?- via Archbishop Dr. Uwe AE.Rosenkranz



Reformation Trust

How Should I Live in This World?

© 1983, 1999, 2009 by R. C. Sproul

Previously published as Ethics and the Christian (1983) and as part of Following Christ (1991) by Tyndale House Publishers, and as How Should I Live in This World? by Ligonier Ministries (1999).

Published by Reformation Trust
a division of Ligonier Ministries
400 Technology Park, Lake Mary, FL 32746

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, or otherwise—without the prior written permission of the publisher, Reformation Trust. The only exception is brief quotations in published reviews.

Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked NIV are from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked KJV are from The Holy Bible, King James Version.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Sproul, R. C. (Robert Charles), 1939–
[Ethics and the Christian]
How should I live in this world? / R. C. Sproul.
p. cm.–(The crucial questions series)
First published as: Ethics and the Christian, 1983. Following Christ. Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers, 1991. How should I live in this world? Ligonier Ministries, 1999.
ISBN 978-1-56769-180-1
1. Christian ethics. I. Sproul, R. C. (Robert Charles), 1939– Following Christ. II. Title.
BJ1251.S67 2009









Almost every major discussion of ethics these days begins with an analysis of the chaotic situation of modern culture. Even secular writers and thinkers are calling for some sort of basic agreement on ethical behavior. Humanity’s “margin of error,” they say, is shrinking with each new day. Our survival is at stake.
These “prophets of doom” point out that man’s destructive capability increased from 1945 to 1960 by the same ratio as it did from the primitive weapons of the Stone Age to the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. The thawing of the Cold War provided little comfort. Numerous nations have nuclear arms now or are close to having them. What, besides ethics, will keep them from using these weapons?
This stark reality is compounded by the profusion of social injustice in many areas, the rise of international terrorism, and the general decline of personal and social values. Who is to say what’s right and wrong? One technical volume, Thomas E. Hill’s Contemporary Ethical Theories, lists more than eighty theories of ethics competing for acceptance in our modern world. It is not just a matter of “doing the right thing” but of figuring out what the right thing is. This proliferation of options generates confusion in our world and, for many, a sense of despair. Will we ever reach a cultural consensus that will stabilize the shifting sands of pluralism?
All this talk of “theories of ethics” may leave you cold. However, ethical decisions enter into every aspect of our lives. No field or career is immune from ethical judgments. In politics, in psychology, and in medicine, ethical decisions are made regularly. Legislative action, economic policy, academic curricula, psychiatric advice—all involve ethical considerations. Every vote cast in the ballot box marks an ethical decision.
On what basis should we make these decisions? That’s where the “ethical theories” come in. The Christian may say, “I simply obey God’s Word.” However, what about those issues where the Bible has no specific “thou shalt”? Can we find ethical principles in Scripture, and in the very nature of God, that will guide us through this difficult terrain? How can we communicate these principles to others? How does God’s Word stand up against the eighty-some other standards?
Let us start by looking deeper into the field of ethics to consider how society deals with such questions. Then we will see how God’s Word fits in, and we will seek to apply biblical teaching to several modern dilemmas.

Chapter One

In present word usage, the term ethics is often used interchangeably with the word morality. That the two have become virtual synonyms is a sign of the confusion that permeates the modern ethical scene. Historically, the two words had quite distinctive meanings. Ethics comes from the Greek ethos, which is derived from a root word meaning “stall,” a place for horses. It conveyed the sense of a dwelling place, a place of stability and permanence. On the other hand, morality comes from the word mores, which describes the behavioral patterns of a given society.
Ethics is a normative science, searching for the principal foundations that prescribe obligations or “oughtness.” It is concerned primarily with the imperative and with the philosophical premises on which imperatives are based. Morality is a descriptive science, concerned with “isness” and the indicative. Ethics define what people ought to do; morals describe what people actually do. The difference between them is between the normal and the descriptive.


1. normative
1. descriptive
2. imperative
2. indicative
3. oughtness
3. isness
4. absolute
4. relative

When morality is identified with ethics, the descriptive becomes the normative and the imperative is swallowed by the status quo. This creates a kind of “statistical morality.” In this schema, the good is determined by the normal and the normal is determined by the statistical average. The “norm” is discovered by an analysis of the normal, or by counting noses. Conformity to that norm then becomes the ethical obligation. It works like this:

Step 1. We compile an analysis of statistical behavior patterns, such as those integral to the groundbreaking Kinsey Reports in the twentieth century. If we discover that most people are participating in premarital sexual intercourse, then we declare such activity “normal.”

Step 2. We move quickly from the normal to a description of what is authentically “human.” Humanness is defined by what human beings do. Hence, if the normal human being engages in premarital sexual intercourse, we conclude that such activity is normal and therefore “good.”

Step 3. The third step is to declare patterns that deviate from the normal to be abnormal, inhuman, and inauthentic. In this schema, chastity becomes a form of deviant sexual behavior and the stigma is placed on the virgin rather than the nonvirgin.

Statistical morality operates according to the following syllogism:

Premise A—the normal is determined by statistics;
Premise B—the normal is human and good;
Conclusion—the abnormal is inhuman and bad.

In this humanistic approach to ethics, the highest good is defined as that activity that is most authentically human. This method achieves great popularity when applied to some issues but breaks down when applied to others. For instance, if we do a statistical analysis of the experience of cheating among students or lying among the general public, we discover that a majority of students have at some time cheated and that everyone has at some time lied. If the canons of statistical morality apply, the only verdict we can render is that cheating is an authentically human good and that lying is a bona fide virtue.
Obviously there must be a relationship between our ethical theories and our moral behavior. In a real sense, our beliefs dictate our behavior. A theory underlies our every moral action. We may not be able to articulate that theory or even be immediately conscious of it, but nothing manifests our value systems more sharply than our actions.
The Christian ethic is based on an antithesis between what is and what ought to be. We view the world as fallen; an analysis of fallen human behavior describes what is normal to the abnormal situation of human corruption. God calls us out of the indicative by His imperative. Ours is a call to nonconformity—to a transforming ethic that shatters the status quo.
A Serious Inconsistency

Even within relativistic claims, a serious inconsistency emerges. The 1960s brought a moral revolution to our culture, spearheaded by the protests of the youth. Two slogans were repeated, broadcast side by side during this movement. The tension was captured by these twin slogans: “Tell it like it is” and “Do your own thing.”
The cry for personal freedom was encapsulated in the “inalienable right” to do one’s own thing. This was a demand for subjective freedom of self-expression. When the guns were turned on the older generation, however, a curious and glaring inconsistency was heard: “Tell it like it is.” This slogan implies an objective basis for truth and virtue. The adult generation was not “allowed” to do their own thing if doing their own thing deviated from objective norms of truth. The flower children demanded the right to have their ethical cake and eat it too.
I was once maneuvered into an unenviable counseling situation by a distraught Christian mother, a modern-day Monica (mother of Augustine) anguishing over the wayward behavior of her nonbelieving and rebellious son. The lad had retreated from his mother’s constant religious and moral directives by moving out of the family home and into his own apartment. He promptly decorated his apartment with black walls and strobe lights, then adorned the room with accoutrements designed for the liberal indulgence of hashish and other exotic drugs. His was a bacchanalian “pad” into which he promptly invited a willing coed to join him in luxurious cohabitation. All of this was to his mother’s unmitigated horror. I agreed to talk with the young man only after explaining to the mother that such an encounter would probably engender further hostility. I would be viewed as the mother’s “hired gun.” The youth also agreed to the meeting, obviously only to escape further verbal harassment from his mother.
When the young man appeared at my office, he was overtly hostile and obviously wanted to get the meeting over with as quickly as possible. I began the interview bluntly by asking directly, “Who are you mad at?”
Without hesitation he growled, “My mother.”
“Why?” I inquired.
“Because all she does is hassle me. She keeps trying to shove religion down my throat.”
I went on to inquire what alternative value system he had embraced in place of his mother’s ethical system. He replied, “I believe everyone ought to be free to do his own thing.”
I then asked, “Does that include your mother?” He was startled by the question and not immediately aware of what I was driving at. I explained to him that if he embraced a Christian ethic, he could readily enlist me as an ally in his cause. His mother had been harsh, provoking her son to wrath and being insensitive to questions and feelings, issues that are indeed circumscribed by the biblical ethic. I explained that at several crucial points his mother had violated Christian ethics. However, I pointed out that on the boy’s ethical terms he had no legitimate gripe. “Maybe your mother’s ‘thing’ is to harass children by shoving religion down their throats,” I said. “How can you possibly object to that?” It became clear that the boy wanted everybody (especially himself) to have the right to do his or her “own thing” except when the other person’s “thing” impinged on his “thing.”
It is commonplace to hear the lament that some Christians, notably conservatives, are so rigidly bound by moralistic guidelines that everything becomes for them a matter of “black and white” with no room for “gray” areas. Those who persist in fleeing from the gray, seeking refuge in the sharply defined areas of white and black, suffer from the epithets “brittle” or “dogmatic.” However, the Christian must seek for righteousness and never be satisfied with living in the smog of perpetual grayness. He wants to know where the right way is located, where the path of righteousness lies.
There is a right and there is a wrong. The difference between them is the concern of ethics. We seek a way to find the right, which is neither subjective nor arbitrary. We seek norms and principles that transcend prejudice or mere societal conventions. We seek an objective basis for our ethical standards. Ultimately we seek a knowledge of the character of God, whose holiness is to be reflected in our patterns of behavior. With God there is a definite and absolute black and white. The problem for us is to discover which things belong where. The following chart depicts our dilemma:

The black section represents sin or unrighteousness. The white section represents virtue or righteousness. What does the gray represent? The gray area may call attention to two different problems of Christian ethics. First, it may be used to refer to those activities the Bible describes as adiaphorous. Adiaphorous matters are those things that, in themselves, are ethically neutral. Such matters as eating food offered to idols are placed in this category. Adiaphorous matters are not sinful, but there are occasions when they might become sinful. Ping-Pong playing, for example, is not sinful. However, if a person becomes obsessed with Ping-Pong to the extent that it dominates his life, it becomes a sinful thing for that person.
The second problem represented by the gray area is more important for us to grasp. Here, the gray area represents confusion: it encompasses those matters where we are uncertain about what is right and wrong. The presence of gray calls attention to the fact that ethics is not a simple science but a complex one. Finding the black and the white areas is a noble concern. Jumping to them simplistically, however, is devastating to the Christian life. When we react to black/white approaches to ethics, we may be accurately assessing an annoying human tendency toward simplistic thinking. But we must guard against leaping to the conclusion that there are no areas where black/white thinking is valid. Only within the context of atheism can we speak of there being no black and white. We desire competent and consistent theism, which demands a rigorous scrutiny of ethical principles in order to find our way out of the confusion of the gray.
The Ethical Continuum

Our graph also may be used to illustrate the ethical continuum. In classical terms, sin is described as righteousness run amok. Evil is seen as the negation, privation, or distortion of the good. Man was created to labor in a garden. In modern jargon, the workplace is described as a jungle. What is the difference between a garden and a jungle? A jungle is merely a chaotic garden, a garden run wild.
Man was created with an aspiration for significance, which is a virtue. Man can pervert that drive into a lust for power, which is a vice. These represent the two poles on the continuum. At some point, we cross a line between virtue and vice. The closer we come to that line, the more difficult it is for us to perceive it clearly and the more our minds encounter the foggy gray area.
While teaching a course on ethics to clergymen working on doctor of ministry degrees, I posed the following ethical dilemma: A husband and wife are interned in a concentration camp. They are housed in separate quarters with no communication between them. A guard approaches the wife and demands that she have sexual intercourse with him. The wife refuses. The guard then declares that unless the woman submits to his overtures, he will have her husband shot. The woman submits. When the camp is liberated and the husband learns of his wife’s behavior, he sues her for divorce on the grounds of adultery.
I then posed this question to twenty conservative clergymen: “Would you grant the man a divorce on the grounds of adultery?” All twenty answered yes, pointing to the obvious fact that the wife did have sexual relations with the guard. They saw extenuating circumstances in the situation, but the situation did not change the fact of the wife’s immoral behavior.
I then asked, “If a woman is forcibly raped, may the husband sue for divorce on the grounds of adultery?” All twenty responded no. The clergymen all recognized a clear distinction between adultery and rape. The difference is found at the point of coercion versus voluntary participation. I pointed out that the prison guard used coercion (forcing the wife’s compliance lest the husband be killed) and asked whether the woman’s “adultery” was not actually rape.
By my mere raising of the question, half of the clergymen changed their verdict. After prolonged discussion, almost all of them did. The presence of the element of coercion threw the adultery issue into the gray area of confusion. Even those who did not completely change their minds strongly modified their decisions to account for the extenuating circumstances, which moved the woman’s “crime” from the clear area of sin into the gray area of complexity. They all agreed that if it was sin, it was a lesser sin than adultery committed with “malice aforethought.”
That a continuum exists between virtue and vice was the main thrust of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. He was teaching the principle of the complex of righteousness and the complex of sin. The Pharisees had embraced a simplistic understanding of the Ten Commandments. Their ethical judgments were superficial and therefore distorted. They failed to grasp the continuum motif.
I once read an article by a prominent psychiatrist who was critical of Jesus’ ethical teaching. He expressed astonishment that the Western world had been so laudatory about Jesus as a “great teacher.” He pointed to the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5–7) as exhibit A for the foolishness of Jesus’ ethical teaching. He asked why we extol the wisdom of a teacher who held that it is just as bad for a man to lust after a woman as it is to commit adultery with her. He questioned how a teacher could argue that it is just as bad to be angry at a man or to call him a fool as it is to murder him. He then belabored the difference between the destruction caused by lust as opposed to adultery and that caused by slander as opposed to murder.
The answer to the psychiatrist should be clear. Jesus did not teach that lust was as bad as adultery or that anger was as bad as murder. (Unfortunately, many Christians have jumped to the same erroneous conclusion as the psychiatrist, obscuring the point of Jesus’ ethical teaching.)
Jesus was correcting the simplistic view of the law held by the Pharisees. They had embraced an “everything but” philosophy of technical morality, assuming that if they avoided the most obvious dimension of the commandments, they fulfilled the law. Like the rich young ruler, they had a simplistic and external understanding of the Decalogue. Because they had never actually murdered anyone, they thought they had kept the law perfectly. Jesus spelled out the wider implications or the complex of the law. “You shall not kill” means more than refraining from homicide. It prohibits the entire complex that goes into murder. It also implies its opposite virtue: “You shall promote life.” In our continuum, we see the following range:

Saving Life
Destroying Life
Promoting Life

A similar continuum moves from the vice of adultery to the virtue of chastity. In between are lesser virtues and lesser sins, but virtues and sins nonetheless.
Jesus’ teaching revealed both the spirit and the letter of the law. For instance, slander doesn’t kill the body or leave the wife a widow and the children orphans. It does destroy a man’s good name, which robs him of a quality aspect of life. Slander murders the man “in spirit.” The Pharisees had become crass literalists, ignoring the spirit of the law and missing the wider concerns of the complex of the sin of murder.
Degrees of Sin?

To speak of an ethical continuum or a complex of righteousness and evil is to plunge us into the debate over degrees of sin and righteousness. The Bible teaches that if we sin against one point of the law, we sin against the whole law. Does this not imply that sin is sin and that ultimately there are no degrees? Has not Protestantism repudiated the Roman Catholic distinction between mortal and venial sins? These are the issues that come to the surface as soon as we begin to speak of degrees of sin.
Certainly the Bible teaches that if we sin against one point of the law we sin against the whole law (James 2:10), but we must not infer from this that there are no degrees of sin. Sinning against the law is sinning against the God of the law. When I violate one point of God’s law, I bring myself into opposition to God Himself. This is not to say that sinning against one point of the law is the equivalent of sinning against five points of the law. In both cases, I violate the law and do violence to God, but the frequency of my violence is five times as great in the latter as in the former.
It is true that God commands perfect obedience to the whole law, so that by a single transgression I stand exposed to His judgment. The lightest sin exposes me to the wrath of God, for in the smallest peccadillo I am guilty of cosmic treason. In the least transgression, I set myself above the authority of God, doing insult to His majesty, His holiness, and His sovereign right to govern me. Sin is a revolutionary act in which the sinner seeks to depose God from His throne. Sin is a presumption of supreme arrogance in that the creature vaunts his own wisdom above that of the Creator, challenges divine omnipotence with human impotence, and seeks to usurp the rightful authority of the cosmic Lord.
It is true that historical Protestantism has rejected the Roman Catholic schema of mortal and venial sins. The rejection, however, is not based on a rejection of degrees of sin. John Calvin, for example, argued that all sin is mortal in the sense that it rightly deserves death, but that no sin is mortal in the sense that it destroys justifying grace. Considerations other than the degrees of sin were in view in the Protestant rejection of the mortal and venial sin distinction. Historical Protestantism retained the distinction between ordinary sins and sins that are deemed gross and heinous.
The most obvious reason for the Protestant retention of degrees of sin is that the Bible abounds with such gradations. The Old Testament law had clear distinctions and penalties for different criminal acts. Some sins were punishable by death, others by corporal penalties, and still others by the levying of fines. In the Jewish criminal justice system, distinctions were made between types of murder that would correspond to modern-day distinctions such as first- and second-degree murder, and voluntary and involuntary manslaughter.
The New Testament lists certain sins that, if continued in impenitence, demand the forfeiture of Christian fellowship (1 Cor. 5). At the same time, the New Testament advocates a kind of love that covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8). Warnings abound concerning a future judgment that will take into account both the number (quantity) and the severity (quality) of our sins. Jesus speaks of those who will receive many stripes and those who will receive few (Luke 12:44–48, KJV); of the comparatively greater judgment that will befall Chorazin and Bethsaida as opposed to Sodom (Matt. 11:20–24); and the greater and lesser degree of rewards that will be distributed to the saints. The apostle Paul warns the Romans against heaping up wrath against the day of God’s wrath (Rom. 2:5). These and a host of other passages indicate that God’s judgment will be perfectly just, measuring the number, the severity, and the extenuating circumstances that attend all of our sins.

Chapter Two

At the heart of Christian ethics is the conviction that our firm basis for knowing the true, the good, and the right is divine revelation. Christianity is not a life system that operates on the basis of speculative reason or pragmatic expediency. We assert boldly that God has revealed to us who He is, who we are, and how we are expected to relate to Him. He has revealed for us that which is pleasing to Him and commanded by Him. Revelation provides a supernatural aid in understanding the good. This point is so basic and so obvious that it has often been overlooked and obscured as we search for answers to particular questions.
The departure from divine revelation has brought our culture to chaos in the area of ethics. We have lost our basis of knowledge, our epistemological foundation, for discovering the good. This is not to suggest that God has given us a codebook that is so detailed in its precepts that all ethical decisions are easy. That would be a vast oversimplification of the truth. God has not given us specific instructions for each and every possible ethical issue we face, but neither are we left to grope in the dark and to make our decisions on the basis of mere opinion. This is an important comfort to the Christian because it assures us that in dealing with ethical questions, we are never working in a vacuum. The ethical decisions that we make touch the lives of people, and mold and shape human personality and character. It is precisely at this point that we need the assistance of God’s superior wisdom.
To be guided by God’s revelation is both comforting and risky. It is comforting because we can rest in the assurance that our ethical decisions proceed from the mind of One whose wisdom is transcendent. God’s law not only reflects His righteous character but manifests His infinite wisdom. His knowledge of our humanity and His grasp of our needs for fullness of growth and development far exceed the collective wisdom of all of the world’s greatest thinkers. Psychiatrists will never understand the human psyche to the degree the Creator understands that which He made. God knows our frames; it is He who has made us so fearfully and wonderfully. All of the nuances and complexities that bombard our senses and coalesce to produce a human personality are known in their intimate details by the divine mind.
Taking comfort in divine revelation is risky business. It is risky precisely because the presence of hostility in the human heart to the rule of God makes for conflict between divine precepts and human desires. To take an ethical stand on the foundation of divine revelation is to bring oneself into serious and at times radical conflict with the opinions of men. Every day, clergymen around the world give counsel and advice that run contrary to the clear mandates of God. How can we explain such a separation between God’s Word and ministerial counsel?
One critical factor in this dilemma is the fact that ministers are profoundly pressed to conform to acceptable contemporary standards. The person who comes to the minister for counsel is not always looking for guidance from a transcendent God, but rather for permission to do what he or she wants—a license to sin. The Christian counselor is vulnerable to sophisticated forms of manipulation coming from the very people who seek his advice. The minister is placed in that difficult pressure point of acquiescing to the desires of the people or being considered unloving and fun-squelching. Add to this the cultural emphasis that there is something dehumanizing in the discipline and moral restraints God imposes on us. Thus, to stand with God is often to stand against men and to face the fiery trials that go with Christian convictions.
Ethics involves the question of authority. The Christian lives under the sovereignty of God, who alone may claim lordship over us. Christian ethics is theocentric as opposed to secular or philosophical ethics, which tend to be anthropocentric. For the humanist, man is the norm, the ultimate standard of behavior. Christians, however, assert that God is the center of all things and that His character is the absolute standard by which questions of right and wrong are determined.
Theonomy, Autonomy, Heteronomy

The sovereignty of God deals not only with abstract principles but with real lines of authority. God has the right to issue commands, to impose obligations, and to bind the consciences of men. Christians live in the context of theonomy. Debates about law and ethics tend to focus on two basic options—autonomy and heteronomy. Autonomy declares that man is a law unto himself. The autonomous man creates his own value system and establishes his own norms, and is answerable and accountable to man and to man alone. Heteronomy means “ruled by another.” In any system of heteronomy, the individual is considered to be morally responsible to obey limits and proscriptions imposed on him by someone else. This someone else might be another individual, a group such as the state, or even a transcendent God. When we speak of theonomy, or the rule of God, we are speaking of a specific kind of heteronomy. Theonomy is rule by another who is identified as God. This distinction between autonomy and theonomy is the most fundamental conflict of mankind. When theonomy is abandoned for autonomy, the biblical description of that action is sin. It is the creature’s declaration of independence from his Creator.
There is an important difference between freedom and autonomy. Though autonomy is a kind of freedom, it carries the dimensions of freedom to the level of the absolute. Christianity asserts that God gives man freedom, but that freedom has limits. Our freedom never moves us to the point of autonomy. Some have viewed the fall of man in Eden as a result of man’s primordial grasp for autonomy—man’s basal sin, the attempt to usurp the authority that belongs to God.
Friedrich Nietzsche, in trying to locate the most basic of human characteristics, located it in what he called man’s lust or will to power. For Nietzsche, the authentic man was the one who refused to submit to the herd morality of the masses—an existential hero who had the courage to create his own values. For man to create his own values absolutely, the first thing he must do is to declare the death of God. As long as God exists, He represents the ultimate threat to man’s pretended autonomy. Jean-Paul Sartre also addressed this theme when he declared that unless freedom reaches the full measure of autonomy, it is not true freedom. Thus, Sartre stands with those who would dismiss God from the ethical arena.
In the United States, our concept of liberty has changed drastically from the eighteenth century to the twenty-first century. The change has much to do with our understanding of autonomy. Modern man considers the quest for autonomy to be a noble and virtuous declaration of human creativity. From the Christian vantage point, however, the quest for autonomy represents the essence of evil, as it contains within its agenda the assassination of God.
The contemporary existentialist cries that “cowering in the shadow of the Almighty” is the worst thing man can do. Such human dependency on divine assistance, he says, encourages weakness and inevitable decadence. To be sure, many people flee to Christianity because of moral weakness, but the fundamental issue is not what we regard to be preferable states of mind or psychological attitudes. The ultimate issue centers on the existence of God. It matters not whether I enjoy submitting to God. What matters first is the question, “Is there a God?” Without God, the only possible end of ethical reflection is chaos. Fyodor Dostoevsky captured this idea in The Brothers Karamazov, where one of his characters says, “If there is no God, all things are permissible.”
The God of Christianity is sovereign, wise, righteous, and ultimately concerned with justice. Not only is God concerned with justice, He assumes the role of Judge over us. It is axiomatic to Christianity that our actions will be judged. This theme is conspicuously absent in much Christian teaching today, yet it fills the New Testament and touches virtually every sermon of Jesus of Nazareth. We will be called into account for every idle word we speak. On the final day, it will not be our consciences that will accuse or excuse us, but God Himself.
Christian ethics cannot be established in a vacuum. The Christian is not concerned with ethics for ethics’ sake. We understand that rules for conduct are established in the context of God’s will for human redemption. There is a real sense in which grace precedes law. The very giving of commandments by the Creator is in the context of a covenant that God makes on the basis of grace. The purpose of divine commandments is redemption. The law of the Old Testament and of the New Testament is fundamentally person-oriented. To isolate this law from its basic concern for people is to fall into the abyss of legalism. Christian ethics is built on the obedience of people to a personal God. When God first gave the law, He did so by means of a personal introduction: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not …” (Ex. 20:2–4a, emphasis added). We see that this is not law for law’s sake, but for people’s sake.

Chapter Three

The continuum of ethics is divided sharply by a fine line, the razor’s edge. This fine line of demarcation is similar to what Jesus described as the “narrow way.” The New Testament makes frequent reference to Christians living according to “the way.” Christians in the first century were called “people of the way.” Jesus called His disciples to walk by the narrow way and enter by the straight gate that leads to life, while warning against the broad way that leads to destruction (Matt. 7:13–14). However, there is a difference between a narrow way and narrow-mindedness. Narrow-mindedness reveals a judgmental attitude, a critical mindset, which is far from the biblical ideal of charity. Walking the narrow way involves not a distorted mental attitude but a clear understanding of what righteousness demands.
One can deviate from the path of righteousness by moving too far to the left or to the right. One can stumble from the narrow way by falling off the road in either direction. If we consider ethics again in terms of the model of the continuum, we know that the opposite poles, which represent distortions of authentic righteousness, may be labeled legalism and antinomianism. These twin distortions have plagued the church as long as it has been in existence. The New Testament documents reveal that struggles with both legalism and antinomianism were common in the New Testament church.
Legalism Found in Many Forms

Legalism is a distortion that takes many forms. The first form of legalism involves the abstracting of the law of God from its original context. This variety of legalism reduces Christianity to a list of do’s and don’ts, a codified system of rigid moralism that is divorced from the covenant context of love. To be sure, God gives rules. He pronounces do’s and don’ts, but the purpose of these rules is to describe for us what is pleasing and displeasing to God. God is concerned with the heart attitude that one brings with him to the application of the rules. When the rules are kept for their own sake, obedience is given to a cold abstraction known as the law rather than to a personal God who reveals the law.
A second dimension of legalism, closely related to the first, involves the divorce of the letter of the law from the spirit of the law. This is the distortion Jesus constantly dealt with when confronting the Pharisees, and He rebuked them for it in the Sermon on the Mount. As we have indicated with respect to Jesus’ expansion of the full import of the law in the Sermon on the Mount, it is not enough for the godly person to obey the mere externals of the law while ignoring the deeper implications of the spirit behind the law. The Pharisees became masters of external obedience coupled with internal disobedience.
The distinction between spirit and letter touches the question of motive. When the Bible describes goodness, it does so in a complex way. Some are offended by the universal indictment brought against fallen mankind, which Paul articulates in his epistle to the Romans. The apostle declares that “none is righteous, no, not one; … no one does good, not even one” (Rom. 3:10, 12). Here the apostle echoes the radical statement with which Jesus replied to the question of the rich young ruler: “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone” (Mark 10:18). At face value, the Bible seems to teach that no one ever does a good thing in this world. This is a grim evaluation of the conduct of fallen human beings.
How are we to understand this radical judgment of human ethical conduct? The key is to be found in an analysis of the biblical definition of the good. For an action to be judged good by God, it must fulfill two primary requirements. The first is that the action must correspond outwardly to the demands of the law. Second, the inward motivation for the act must proceed from a heart that is altogether disposed toward the glory of God. It is the second dimension, the spiritual dimension of motive, that prevents so many of our deeds from being evaluated as good. A pagan, a person of profound corruption, may do acts externally conforming to the demands of the law. The internal motivation, however, is that of selfish interest or what the theologians call “enlightened self-interest,” a motive that is not in harmony with the Great Commandment. Our external deeds may measure up to the external demands of the law, while at the same time our hearts are far removed from God.
Consider the example of a person driving his automobile within the context of legal speed limits. A person goes on a trip from one city to another, passing through a diversity of zones with differing speed limits. For cruising on the highway, the speed limit is established at 70 miles an hour; for moving through a suburban community’s school zone, the speed limit drops to 25 miles an hour. Suppose our driver has a preference for operating his vehicle at a speed of 70 miles an hour. He drives consistently at the speed he prefers. While driving on the highway, his activity is observed by police officers, who note that he is driving in exact conformity to the requirements of the law, giving the appearance of the model safe driver and the upstanding and obedient citizen. He is obeying the law, however, not because he has a concern for the safety and well-being of others or out of a motive to be civilly obedient, but because he simply happens to enjoy driving his car at 70 miles an hour. This preference is noted when his car moves into the school zone and he keeps the accelerator pressed down, maintaining a speed of 70 miles an hour. Now, as he exercises his preference, he becomes a clear and present danger, indeed a menace, to children walking in the school zone. He is driving 45 miles an hour over the speed limit. His external obedience to the law vanishes when the law conflicts with his own desires.
The difference between our perception and God’s is that our ability is limited to the observation of external modes of behavior. God can perceive the heart; God alone knows the deepest motives and intentions that undergird our practice and behavior. Legalism is concerned simply with external conformity and is blind to internal motivation.
Perhaps the most deadly and widespread form of legalism is the type that adds legislation to the law of God and treats the addition as if it were divine law. The Old Testament prophets expressed God’s fury at this form of behavior, which they regarded as an improper binding of men’s consciences where God had left them free. It is a manifestation of man’s fallenness to impose his own sense of propriety on other people, seeking mass conformity to his own preferences and adding insult to it by declaring these prejudices and preferences to be nothing less than the will of God. A frequent point of conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees centered on the Pharisees’ traditions, which imposed hardships on the people who were bound by these man-made obligations. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees because they had elevated their traditions to the level of the law of God, seeking not only to usurp God’s authority but to oppress mankind.
The elevation of human preference to the level of divine mandate is not limited to an isolated group of moralistic Pharisees in the first century. The problem has beset the church throughout its history. Not only have traditions developed that were added to the law of God, but in many cases they became the supreme tests of faith, the litmus tests by which people were judged to be Christians or non-Christians. It is unthinkable in the New Testament that a person’s Christian commitment would ever be determined by whether or not that person engaged in dancing, wore lipstick, or the like. Unfortunately, when these preferences become tests of faith, they often involve not only the elevation of nonbiblical mandates to the level of the will of God, but they represent the trivialization of righteousness. When these externals are made to be measuring rods of righteousness, they obscure the real tests of righteousness.
Majoring in Minors

Closely related to the elevation of human traditions to the norm of law is the problem of majoring in minors, which again was modeled by the Pharisees. The Pharisees distorted the emphasis of biblical righteousness to suit their own behavioral patterns of self-justification. Jesus frequently confronted the Pharisees on this point. Jesus said to them, “You tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness” (Matt. 23:23a). On numerous occasions, Jesus acknowledged that the Pharisees scrupulously obeyed some points of the law. They paid their tithes, they read their Scriptures, they did a host of things the law required—and Jesus commended them for their actions, saying, “These you ought to have done” (23:23b). However, it was the emphasis that was out of kilter. They scrupulously tithed, but in doing so they used their obedience to this lesser matter as a cloak to cover up their refusal to obey the weightier matters of justice and mercy. That distortion occurs today.
Why do we have a perpetual tendency to major in minors? As Christians, we want to be recognized for our growth in sanctification and for our righteousness. Which is easier to achieve, maturity in showing mercy or in the paying of tithes? To pay my tithes certainly involves a financial sacrifice of sorts, but there is a real sense in which it is cheaper for me to drop my money into the plate than it is for me to invest my life in the pursuit of justice and mercy. We tend to give God the cheapest gifts. Which is easier, to develop the fruit of the Spirit, conquering pride, covetousness, greed, and impatience, or to avoid going to movie theaters or dancing? We also yearn for clearly observable measuring rods of growth. How do we measure our growth in patience or in compassion? It is much more difficult to measure the disposition of our hearts than it is to measure the number of movies we attend.
It is also our inclination as fallen creatures to rate as most important those virtues in which we have achieved a relative degree of success. Naturally, I would like to think that my moral strong points are the important ones and my moral weaknesses are limited to minor matters. It is a short step from this natural inclination to a widespread distortion of God’s emphases.
One final type of legalism might be called “loopholeism.” Loopholeism involves getting around the law by legal and moral technicalities. Again we return to the Pharisees for the biblical model of loopholeism. The Pharisees had a clearly defined tradition about restrictions on travel on the Sabbath day. One was not permitted to travel on the Sabbath more than a “Sabbath-day’s journey,” which was a certain distance from one’s home. If a Pharisee wanted to travel a distance exceeding the limit, he would take advantage of a technical provision in the law allowing one to establish separate residences during the week. He would have a traveling merchant take some articles of clothing or personal possessions, such as toothbrushes, and put them at strategic points along the road. Perhaps at the two-mile mark, the Pharisee’s toothbrush would be placed under a rock, thereby legally establishing his “residence” at that rock. With his legal residences defined in two-mile increments along the way, the Pharisee was free to travel from rock to rock—from “residence to residence”—and make his full trip without ever covering more than the prescribed distance from his “home.” The Sabbath-day’s journey principle was violated shamelessly while technically being protected by the loophole.
Some years ago, Gail Green wrote a book describing the sexual behavior patterns of American college woman. Dr. Green maintained that the prevalent ethical principle at that time was the “everything but” philosophy. Many forms of sexual activity were considered legitimate as long as the woman stopped short of actual intercourse. It seems almost naive today to think of a generation of college students who embraced an “everything but” philosophy, as those lines have fallen away since then. The point is that the “everything but” philosophy was an example of technical loopholeism, where a person could be a virgin in the technical sense yet be involved in all sorts of premarital and extramarital sexual acts.
Antinomianism Rejects Law

As legalism distorts the biblical ethic in one direction, so antinomianism distorts it toward the opposite pole. Antinomianism simply means “antilawism.” As legalism comes in many shapes and sizes, numerous subtle forms of antinomianism may be delineated. We are living in a period of Christian history where antinomianism is rampant in the church.
The first type of antinomianism is libertinism, the idea that the Christian is no longer bound to obey the law of God in any way. This view of the law is often linked with the cardinal Protestant doctrine, justification by faith alone. In this view, one understands justification by faith to mean that after a Christian is converted, he is no longer liable in any sense to fulfill the commandments of the law. He sees his justification as a license to sin, excusing himself by arguing that he lives by grace and not by law and is under no obligation to follow the commandments of God.
Roman Catholic theologians in the sixteenth century expressed a fear of just such a distortion of the biblical concept of justification. They feared that Martin Luther’s insistence on justification by faith alone would open a floodgate of iniquity by those who would understand the doctrine in precisely these terms. The Lutheran movement was quick to point out that though justification is by faith alone, it is by a kind of faith that is not alone. Unless the believer’s sanctification is evidenced by true conformity to the commandments of Christ, it is certain that no authentic justification ever really took place in him. Jesus stated it this way: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Christ is a commandment-giving Lord. If one has true justifying faith, he moves diligently to pursue the obedience that Christ demands.
A second type of antinomianism may be called “Gnostic spiritualism.” The early Gnostics, believing they had a monopoly on spiritual knowledge, plagued the Christian community. Taking their name from the Greek word gnosis, which means “knowledge,” they claimed a superior sort of mystical knowledge that gave them the right to sidestep or supplant the mandates given to the Christian community by the apostolic Word. Though Gnosticism as a formal doctrine has passed from the scene, many subtle varieties of this ancient heresy persist to this day. Evangelical Christians frequently fall into the trap of claiming that the Spirit of God leads them to do things that are clearly contrary to the written Word of God. I have had Christians come to me and report behavioral patterns that violated the commandments of Christ, but then say, “I prayed about this and feel at peace in the matter.” Some have committed outrages against the Spirit of truth and holiness by not only seeking to excuse their transgressions by appealing to some mystical sense of peace supposedly delivered by the Holy Spirit, but by actually laying the blame for the impulse of their sin at the feet of the Spirit. This comes perilously close to blasphemy against the Spirit and certainly lies within the boundaries of grieving the Spirit. The Spirit of God agrees with the Word of God. The Spirit of God is not an antinomian.
A third example of antinomianism that made a profound impact on the Christian community in the twentieth century was the rise of situation ethics. Situation ethics is frequently known by another label, the “new morality.” To identify this theory with one individual would be a distortion. Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s work Ethics, Emil Brunner’s The Divine Imperative, and Paul Lehmann’s Ethics in a Christian Context all have contributed to situation ethics. Bishop John A. T. Robinson of Honest to God fame and Bishop James Pike have also entered this discussion. However, Joseph Fletcher, in Situation Ethics, has done more to popularize this theory than anyone else.
“There are times when a man has to push his principles aside and do the right thing.” This St. Louis cabbie’s remark is indicative of the style and mood of Fletcher’s book. Likewise, Fletcher quotes a Texas rancher whose story is told in The Rainmaker by M. Richard Nash: “You’re so full of what’s right, you can’t see what’s good.” This rancher is one of the heroes of Fletcher’s book.
The general basis for situation ethics is that there is one and only one absolute, normative ethical principle to which every human being is bound—the law of love, a law that is not always easy to discern. Fletcher realized that the word love is “a swampy one.”
Fletcher argues that there are three basic approaches to ethical decision making: legalism, antinomianism, and situationism. He defines legalism as a preoccupation with the letter of the law. The principles of law are not merely guidelines to illuminate a given situation; they are directives to be followed absolutely, preset solutions, and you can “look them up in a book.” He charges that Judaism, Roman Catholicism, and classical Protestantism have been legalistic in this sense. He points to such episodes of crass legalism in church history as the burning of homosexuals at the stake during the Middle Ages.
Antinomianism has no regard for law. Every decision is purely existential. Moral decisions are made in a random and spontaneous fashion. Fletcher sees that the legalist has too many maxims and the antinomian has none. Thus, he maintains that situationism is a middle ground for a more workable ethic. The situationist treats with respect the traditional principles of his heritage, but he is always prepared to set them aside if, in a given situation, love seems better served by doing so.
Fletcher distinguishes between principles and rules: principles guide while rules direct. In working out applications of the law of love, he sets up the following working principles to serve as guidelines:

1. Pragmatism—the good and the true are determined by that which works.
2. Relativism—the situationist avoids words such as never, always, perfect, and absolutely. (The basic drift of secular man is to deny the existence of any absolutes. Fletcher asserts that there is one absolute as a reference point for a “normative relativism.”)
3. Positivism—particularized, ad hoc, to-the-point principles. The situationist is not looking for universals; his affirmations are posited, not deduced. Faith propositions are affirmed voluntarily rather than rationally, being more acts of the will than of the mind. We cannot prove our concept of love. The end product of our ethic is a decision, not a conclusion.
4. Personalism—ethics deals with human relationships. The legalist is a “what-asker”: what does the law say? The situationist is a “who-asker”: who is to be helped? The emphasis is on people rather than on ideas or principles in the abstract.

We still have the question, “What do we ask ourselves in order to discover what love demands in a given situation?” How do we protect ourselves from a distorted view of love? Fletcher offers four questions to consider:

1. The end: For what result are we aiming?
2. The means: How may we secure this end?
3. The motive: Why is that our aim?
4. The consequences: What forseeably might happen?

All of these need to be considered before an ethical decision can be made.
Positives and Negatives of Situation Ethics

There are some positive aspects of this system of situation ethics; some of the principles involved are commendable. First, situation ethics is not absolute relativism. It is a normative ethic, a kind of absolutism. The limitation to one absolute facilitates decision making and eliminates a certain paralysis of the person who is considering many absolutes.
One of the most important insights that situation ethics offers us is that ethical decisions do not take place in a vacuum. They are made in very real and often painful contexts. Those contexts must be considered. The high value placed on love and on the worth of persons is also a commendable trait of this position.
However, there are some serious inadequacies in this approach. Underlying the debate between orthodox Christianity and the situation ethicist is the question of the normativity of God’s revelation in Scripture.
Fletcher oversimplifies the distinctions between and the definitions of legalism, antinomianism, and situationism. Legalism is a distortion of absolutism. Even Fletcher is an absolutist, though with just one absolute, and all of the legalistic dangers of absolutism are present in his system. One could easily obey the law of love legalistically. If this law is divorced from his context, legalism could easily emerge.
Why, when one holds more than one absolute, is the charge of legalism leveled? Haven’t the situationists been simplistic and reductionistic in arbitrarily choosing love as the only absolute? God has laid more than one absolute requirement on man. There is nothing in reason or revelation that should cause one to isolate love as the only absolute. When questioned, these men appeal to Scripture and the teachings of Jesus and Paul. However, they are quite selective about their appeal to Scripture, falling into the quandary of the ethically arbitrary.
The most serious deficiency of Fletcher’s system is the problem of how we determine what love demands. We agree with the principle that one should do what love demands. However, Fletcher has problems in determining these demands. Certainly the Bible teaches us to do what love commands, and the content of love is defined by God’s revelation. Doing what love demands is the same as saying, “Do what God commands.” If we obeyed the Scriptures like a sterile book of rules, we would be legalists. However, if we see the Bible as being the revelation of the One who is love, then we must take seriously what love has commanded.
We know that we are fallen, that we are given over to vices, that we can never perfectly read our own motives, that we are limited to foreseeable consequences, and that we can never comprehensively analyze the ends and the means. Thus, when we face an ethical decision, we find ourselves in a very precarious situation if we have rejected the Bible as normative revelation. God has not left us to make these decisions with unaided reason.
In Ephesians 5:1–3, we are given an imperative as followers of God:

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints.

Here the biblical ethic is on a collision course with situationism. To be a follower of God is an absolute. At no point, in no situation, are we permitted to leave off the following of God. We are to walk in love, the kind of love embodied in the sacrificial ministry of Christ. Love stands here as an absolute—a norm. Its absolute call on us, however, is not left entirely to the situation. The apostle immediately adds an absolute application to it involving sexual immorality, uncleanness, and covetousness. He says, “Let it not once be named among you” (KJV). Paul falls into Fletcher’s definition of legalism by making a universal prohibition. The apostle falls into the absolute realm of the “never.”
Situationism stops with the injunction to walk in love. It must then allow for certain situations where sexual immorality is not only permitted but preferred. If love “demands it” in a given situation, then sexual immorality must be practiced. How perilous is this “guideline,” particularly in light of man’s most ancient ploy of seduction, “If you love me, you will.…”
It is difficult to conceive of concrete situations in which idolatry would be virtuous or coveting would be an expression of love. For this reason, we need to hear Paul’s concluding admonition: “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 5:6).
Antinomianism by Another Name

Situationism makes the precepts of God relative, leaving us with the mandate to walk in love but to figure it out for ourselves by means of the guidelines of pragmatism, relativism, positivism, and personalism. At this point, situationism is exposed as a virulent form of antinomianism masquerading as a legitimate option between legalism and antinomianism. We cannot realistically expect legalists to call themselves legalists or antinomians to plead their guilt before the world. Though Fletcher protests to the contrary, the substantive elements of antinomianism are rife in his thought.
The Christian ethicist asserts that not only does the Bible require us to do what love demands, but it reveals quite precisely at times what love demands. We have direct instruction in the Scriptures. We are not left with illuminators, but with divine commands.
Consider certain of the Ten Commandments from the standpoint of situationism:

“You shall have no other gods before me,” unless it would be the loving thing to do.

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image,” unless, on the basis of foreseeable ends, means, motives, and consequences, love would be best served by making a carved image.

Consider Daniel’s dilemma (Dan. 6). He could have refrained from praying to God. Certainly the people needed his leadership. What good could he do God’s people in the lions’ den? Should he have sold out the people and left them without God’s agent of revelation for a simple principle of prayer? The end that he wanted was survival. His means were to obey the king. His motive was to serve the people of God. The foreseeable consequences were that some people might be disappointed, but he would be able to make up for that by being a leader and guide to them. So Daniel should have received the blessing of God for doing the loving thing and abstained from prayer to his God.
One of the distinguishing features of the true people of God is not legalism but fidelity, trust, and obedience to God. Obeying the law to love God is not legalism. When we consider Christ’s obedience to God and to the law, it seems impossible not to regard situationism as a serious heretical distortion of the biblical ethic.
There is a principle in the biblical ethic that is rarely seen in the writings of the situationists. They fail to emphasize, as does the Bible, that doing what love demands, what Christ commands, often brings unspeakable suffering. It means enduring radical humiliation and counting one’s life as nothing for the exaltation of Christ. It may mean spending a life rotting in a cell in a concentration camp rather than violating the commandment of Christ.
Christ’s statement about love is our norm: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” The proof of our love is obedience to Christ’s commandments. Situation ethics establishes a false dichotomy between love and obedience. Situation ethics fails because it does not take love seriously enough.
We turn our attention now to specific questions of ethics that have become particularly controversial in our times—questions of materialism, capital punishment, war, and abortion.

Chapter Four

Materialism is a controversial issue in the church today. Several groups have made this a central issue of debate, speaking of materialism not in a metaphysical sense but in an economic sense: the worldview that places the accumulation of material things at the zenith of private and corporate concern. The pursuit of wealth is seen as the highest good in materialism.
At the other end of the spectrum is a view called spiritualism, or better, idealism, which sees that only spiritual values are worthy of human pursuit.
The Scriptures repudiate both of these positions. Though material things are not the highest good, neither are they intrinsically evil. There is no room for radical asceticism or monasticism in the church, as these positions deny the world and creation. It is important to recognize that in the old covenant and in the new, many of God’s redemptive promises relate to creation; they are promises of the redemption of the physical world. The promise to Abraham and to his seed includes at its heart the promise of land and the promise of prosperity.
The principle of private property is pivotal to discussions of materialism. Many have argued that some kind of communal living or equal distribution of wealth is the only acceptable Christian norm, based on the presupposition that the concept of private property is illegitimate for the Christian. However, the concept of private property is inseparably related to the creation ordinance that sanctifies labor. Karl Marx did something of inestimable value by making it impossible to conceive of the history of man without considering the immense influence of man’s labor and the fruit of his labor on his development. This is not to endorse Marxism but to recognize the crucial relationship between man and his labor. When man involves himself in labor, he is behaving as one made in the image of God.
The sanctity of labor is established first by the labor of God Himself in creation, which shows that labor is a duty and a blessing, not a curse. The curse that has been attached to labor since the fall has to do with the quality of the work and the difficulty of the labor by which we bring forth fruit. The thorns and the sweat, not the work itself, are the curse. Pre-fall man labored as much as post-fall man, and that labor produced fruit, which he had the right to enjoy.
Even since the fall, we have no indication that private property (the fruit of one’s labor) is condemned or prohibited by God. The first liturgical acts observed in the Old Testament are Cain and Abel’s offerings (Gen. 4:1–5). The offerings were legitimate because each man gave from what actually belonged to him. The offertory system of the Old Testament makes no sense when divorced from the system of private property. The right of human ownership is something God has assigned as part of our covenant partnership with Him in creation. Though all human ownership is answerable to divine ownership in the long run, this does not invalidate the concept of private property.
Examining the Decalogue (Ex. 20:1–17), we see that private property is assumed in several situations. The prohibition against stealing presupposes private property, as does the prohibition against covetousness.
We can get a better understanding of the relationship between labor and property by examining the Sabbath commandment. One of the things that is often overlooked is that the commandment not only concerns itself with the seventh day but with the first six: “Six days you shall labor” (Ex. 20:9). The day of rest makes no sense apart from the six days of labor preceding it.
The sanctity of labor is the basis for private property. In both the old and new covenants, the call to labor is an emphatic one, bringing forth fruit as its just reward. The avoidance of labor is regarded as sin. Paul commands labor as an ethical norm. Idleness has no place in the New Testament ethic. In 2 Thessalonians 3:12, Paul says that all people should “earn their own living.” In 1 Timothy 5:8, Paul adds that lack of provision for one’s household makes one worse than an unbeliever.
Two important conclusions may be drawn from these statements. First, there is the right of private property as the fruit of one’s labor. Second, there is the responsibility of honest and diligent labor. Because we live to the glory of God, we have the responsibility to render an honest day’s labor. Our labor must not be simply for the acquisition of wealth, but for the glory of God.
Does Scripture Permit Wealth?

This raises the problem of wealth, that is, the accumulation of material goods beyond the level of necessity. Are we permitted to earn and keep more than we need? We are indeed. The possession of wealth is nowhere condemned in either the Old Testament or the New Testament. The means of acquiring wealth are clearly regulated: exploitation, fraud, dishonesty, oppression, and power politics are all condemned. Prosperity and wealth are seen as an aspect of God’s providence. This is one of the reasons why covetousness is such a weighty matter. When I covet, I am protesting against God’s distribution of wealth. Abraham was perhaps one of the richest men in antiquity. Noah and Job were both wealthy men. God never condemns this wealth, but legitimizes the passing of the wealth from generation to generation by means of inheritance. The patriarchal blessings, which pass on the material blessings, are part of the messianic redemptive promise, including the promise of land.
In the New Testament, we encounter wealthy men who are praiseworthy. Note the care of the body of Christ after the crucifixion by Joseph of Arimathea, obviously a man of means.
The New Testament does say that wealth imposes severe temptations. Jesus’ statement about the camel going through the eye of a needle indicates that a rich man who would enter heaven faces a huge task (Luke 18:25). Practically speaking, the maintenance and protection of wealth takes time and concentrated energy. The parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:13–21) illustrates the perils of preoccupation with riches. It is easy for the rich man to confuse his priorities. But it is also easy for the poor man. It is not merely the rich who are susceptible to the siren song of materialism; its seductive power crosses all socioeconomic borders.
What about the Christian’s responsibility to the poor? This, of course, touches the heart of the matter of materialism. Obviously, the provision for some of the needs of the poor is a Christian responsibility. In the Old Testament, some of the needs of the poor were met by laws that included provisions for gleaners (e.g. Lev. 19:9–10). The New Testament also addresses this matter. The collection of provisions by the Gentile Christians for famine-struck Jerusalem was one of the most notable and dramatic episodes in the first century (Rom. 15:25–27). Paul praised both the Corinthian and the Philippian churches for their generosity. When my brother is in need, I must attempt to meet that need.
Who Are the Poor?

“The poor you always have with you” (John 12:8). This statement by Jesus has been taken by some as license to neglect the poor, as if Jesus were saying, “Oh, well, we always have poverty in our midst, so don’t worry about it.” Jesus recognized the perpetual plight of the poor, not to ignore it, but to call the Christian community to constant diligence in dealing with the problem.
In identifying the poor described in the Bible, we can distinguish at least four major categories of poor people. What follows is a brief description of each group.
1. The Poor as a Result of Slothfulness. The Bible speaks of those who are poor because they are lazy, refusing to work. This indolent group receives sharp criticism from God and comes under His holy judgment. Karl Barth listed sloth as one of the primary and foundational sins of man, along with pride and dishonesty. It is to the slothful that God says, “Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways” (Prov. 6:6), shaming the lazy by telling them to look to insects for instruction. It is this group Paul undoubtedly has in mind when he says, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (2 Thess. 3:10).
Since the Bible criticizes the lazy poor, some have jumped to the conclusion that indolence and poverty are synonymous. Some assume that poverty is always and everywhere a sign of sloth. Thus, the poor can be righteously shunned as they are left to suffer their “just penalty for sloth.” Such an attitude reflects a woeful ignorance of or callous disregard for distinctions the Bible forces us to make. There are other reasons for poverty.
2. The Poor as a Result of Calamity. The Scriptures recognize that many are left in poverty because of the ravages of disease or disasters. The man born blind, the person left crippled by an accident, the farmer whose crops have been destroyed by flood or drought—all of these have just cause for their impoverished estate. These people are victims of circumstances not of their own making. For these poor, the Bible adopts an attitude of compassion and genuine charity. It is the responsibility of the people of God to see to it that the suffering of these people is ameliorated. They are to be a priority concern of the church. These are the hungry who are to be fed, the naked who are to be clothed.
3. The Poor as a Result of Exploitation. These poor are oppressed. These are the masses who are frustrated daily by their inability to “fight city hall,” the ones who live out the mournful slogan, “The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.” This group suffers indignities when they live in societies where the social and political institutions, and especially the judicial systems, favor the rich and the powerful and leave the poor without advocacy. Such was the condition of Israel in the eighth century BC, when God thundered against His people. The Word of God came via prophetic criticism that demanded justice and righteousness in a time when the poor were being sold “for a pair of shoes.” This was Israel’s status when in bondage to Egypt. This kind of poverty moves God Himself as He hears the cries and groans of His oppressed people and says, “Let my people go!” Such injustice and inequity should always move God’s church. This is the church’s basis for necessary and legitimate social action.
4. The Poor as a Result of Personal Sacrifice. These poor people are designated by the New Testament as being poor “for righteousness’ sake.” This group, whose chief representative is Jesus Himself, is made up of people who are voluntarily poor. Their poverty is a result of a conscious decision to choose lifestyles or vocations with little or no financial remuneration. This class of poor is promised special blessings from God. They are poor because the priorities of their lives may not mesh with the value standards of the culture in which they live. Those in this class have included Jonathan Edwards, writing in almost microscopic print in order to conserve paper because of his meager stipend (ultimately costing the church and universities hundreds of thousands of dollars to retrieve and reconstruct the priceless treasures of his words); Martin Luther, forgoing a lucrative career to wear the habit of the monk; or the modern businessman who passes up the windfall deal because he has scruples about hidden unethical elements.
What can we learn from these four designations? In the first instance, we should be warned not to lump all the poor together in one package. We must resist the tendency to generalize about poverty. An equally insistent warning must be voiced about the same kind of unjust grouping of the rich. It would be slanderous to maintain that all rich people are corrupt, as if all riches were achieved through evil means or through exploiting the poor. Not all rich people are avaricious or ruthless. To indict the rich indiscriminately would be to condemn the likes of Abraham, Job, David, and Joseph of Arimathea.
Second, we must avoid a theological glamorizing of poverty. Throughout church history, there have been repeated efforts to make poverty the precondition for entrance to the kingdom. It has been seen as a form of works righteousness whereby the poor have an automatic ticket into heaven. This substitutes justification by poverty for justification by faith.
Third, we must recognize that God cares deeply about human poverty and the consequent suffering. Our duty is to be no less concerned than God Himself. As long as the poor are with us, we are called to minister to them, not only via charity, but by seeking and working for the reformation of social and political structures that enslave, oppress, and exploit.
The Responsibility of Stewardship

The basic principle regarding wealth is the principle of stewardship, the truth that a man is responsible for what he does with what he receives. He is not called to liquidate his assets; he is called to give as the Lord prospers him. The characteristic of Christian living is not communism but charity.
The New Testament word for stewardship is the Greek oikonomia, from which we derive the English term economy. It comes from a combination of two Greek roots, oikos, which means “house,” and nomos, which means “law.” Literally, economy means “house rule.” In antiquity, the steward was not the owner of the house but its manager. He was responsible for the care and oversight of the house. Biblical economics recognizes God’s ultimate ownership of the earth and man’s duty to manage the earth responsibly.
Economics is not a neutral science divorced from ethical considerations. Economics involves questions of stewardship, the use of wealth, and private and public decisions of value, all of which impinge on ethics. Each time we make a value judgment or render a decision to make use of material goods, we have made an ethical decision. That God is concerned with the material well-being of the world is axiomatic. Man has been called to be a steward of the earth.
The science of economics has become so complex in our day that it has obscured some of the primary principles found in the Scriptures. Though the Bible is not a textbook on economics, it does set forth basic principles that touch upon economic endeavor. As already mentioned, the Bible clearly sets forth the right of private property. However, in addition to this right we also see a concern for equity, for industry, and for compassion. It is not by accident that virtually every major economic system in Western culture has appealed at one point or another to the Bible for its sanctions. Historical capitalism tends to emphasize the principles of private property, equity, and industry, while sometimes neglecting the responsibility for compassion. On the other hand, socialistic forms of economics have emphasized compassion, at times obscuring the rights of private property and undermining the importance of industry and equity. The socialist’s ultimate goal is not equity but equality. That is, the socialist seeks a transfer society with the ideal of an egalitarian or equalized distribution of wealth. The goal is noble and virtuous; we would expect that in an idealized society, every member would have equal participation in the wealth of the society. However, we live in a fallen world, where the only way we can have equality of economic welfare is to shut our eyes to the biblical principle of equity. To achieve equality, we would have to penalize the higher wage earners by taking their goods and distributing them to those who have been less-than-responsible stewards or whose skills and services are less valued, financially, by others. Such a principle does violence to the biblical notion of justice.
If we look at the most elementary principles of economics, we see a causal nexus, a formula that must not be violated if we are to grapple with the economic issues of our day. The formula may be seen in the following diagram:






We see that there is a causal relationship among these factors. The single most important ingredient for man’s material well-being is production. If we are going to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and give shelter to the homeless, we must be able to produce the goods necessary to meet these needs. Man’s physical life is dependent on production. Unless we produce food, we will starve. Unless we manufacture clothes, we will be naked. Unless we build homes, we will be shelterless. God cares about the human body as well as the human soul, and so production becomes a vital ethical concern for Christians.
If we follow our causal reasoning and ask what is the single most important ingredient for production, we would answer “tools.” Marx was astute in his understanding of the central significance of tools to man’s capacity for production. The reason a peasant in an underdeveloped country cannot produce as much food as a farmer in the industrialized West is not that the body of the Western farmer is stronger, but that the Western farmer has at his disposal labor-saving devices that increase production. More than any other single factor, the machine has been responsible for the explosion of man’s ability to produce.
The next question we raise is, “What is the most important single ingredient for the acquisition of tools?” It is not that tools are not available in the world to be used by underprivileged persons, but rather that those without money cannot purchase the tools they need for increased production. Tools cost money to build, to buy, and to maintain.
Where does one get the money to purchase tools? The needed capital is what we would call surplus capital. Surplus capital is a result of profits. Thus, profit is the single most important ingredient necessary for capital to be available to buy tools, to increase production, and to increase the material welfare of a nation.
However, the term profit has become virtually an obscenity in the vocabulary of modern man, particularly among Christians. What we often fail to take into account is that the profit motive is not restricted to large industrial corporations or the rich tycoons of industry. The profit motive is at the heart of all economic exchange. The goal or purpose of economic exchange is always and everywhere profit. This statement may appear outrageous on the surface, but let us take a moment to examine its implications.
When a business transaction takes place—when a customer buys a pair of shoes, for example—who realizes a profit? Often the answer is that the shoe salesman or the owner of the shoe store makes the profit. However, the shoemaker cannot make a profit unless first the customer considers it profitable to buy the shoes. The business transaction takes place when the customer values the shoes more than he values the money he must pay for them. Then trade takes place. The customer trades his money for the shoemaker’s shoes. The shoemaker, in turn, can exchange that money for other goods that he values more than the money. Thus, in any business transaction, the goal is mutual profit. Both sides must profit or the exchange will not take place, unless the exchange is made necessary by some form of external coercion. This principle is based on the fact that material values are subjective to the extent that not every person values everything to the same degree.
The man who has a surplus of shoes but a lack of food will be eager to make a trade with the man who has a surplus of food but needs shoes. In the transaction, one man values shoes more than meat, while the other values meat more than shoes. A trade opportunity exists because both people stand to “profit” from the exchange.
Profit is good in the sense that it is necessary for the whole community of mankind to survive in a relationship of mutual interdependence. No man is altogether self-sufficient. Each person is dependent to some degree on the gifts and talents of production of other people. The marketplace is where these gifts and talents are exchanged—a place of mutual profit, if the coercive dimension is absent. It is from the surplus of profit that tools can be purchased, production increased, and the general wealth of a nation strengthened. Christians must remember this lest they become participants in schemes by which surplus capital is siphoned off and redistributed in a way that quenches the ability of a nation or a community to be productive.
The protection of private property is so vital to the biblical ethic that we have repeated prohibitions and sanctions against stealing. However, stealing can happen in a multitude of ways, some of which are very subtle. The outright grabbing and carrying off of another person’s property is an obvious form of stealing, but stealing can also be accomplished through fraud, by failing to live up to contracts, by using false weights and measures, or even by intentional debasing of currency within a society. All of these means receive the severe indictment of God. One of the most subtle forms of theft is one that is perpetrated through the political system. When people use the power of the ballot box to vote for themselves subsidies from the general coffers, it is a sophisticated form of stealing. For example, if three people live together in a town and one is more wealthy than the other two, the two persons of lesser wealth can conspire to pass a law forcing the wealthier person to distribute his goods to them. Here the power of political force is used to strip the wealthy man of his wealth and distribute it to the other two, who have voted for themselves this particular distribution of wealth. Christians need to be sensitive about how they use the power of the ballot.

Chapter Five

The issue of capital punishment has been so volatile that it has set Christian against Christian, church against church, conservative against conservative, and liberal against liberal. The problem is complex, touching the deeper question of the value, dignity, and sanctity of human life.
Any study of capital punishment must begin with an understanding of the primary function of government as ordained by God. Romans 13:1–7 is the classic text concerning God’s ordination of government. This text is the most comprehensive and emphatic statement that the Scriptures give us regarding the notion that the power of government is rooted in the ordination of God. It is important to note that the apostle is not speaking here of a theocratic state but of secular government. The text reads as follows:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

The governing authorities are understood to be ordained by God. We are not permitted to obey only those authorities that we consider to be legitimate. It is a de facto matter, not a de juro matter. God certainly does not endorse everything civil magistrates do, but He does give them certain rights and requires our obedience to them. No government rules autonomously. All civil authorities must, and ultimately will, answer to God. We have the responsibility of obeying even corrupt governments except under certain conditions. Civil obedience is required repeatedly by the Word of God. The principle that governs our right and responsibility to disobey civil authority is this: we must obey those in authority over us unless they command us to do what God forbids or forbid us to do what God commands.
Biblically, God has given two basic rights to governments: the right to levy taxes and the right of coercion so as to maintain order and justice (the power of the sword).
Government was made necessary and legitimate because of the fall of man. The state was ordained to be God’s deputy minister for the primary purpose of the restraint of evil. The first appearance of government in the Bible is found in the opening chapters of Genesis, when Adam and Eve were expelled from the garden and consigned to live east of Eden. The entrance to the garden was barred by the presence of an angel with a flaming sword. Here we see the appointment of a ministering agent, namely, the angel who was equipped by God with an instrument of restraint and was granted the power of coercion, symbolized by the flaming sword.
The central duty of government is to enforce the laws that are designed to restrain evil. Augustine said, “Sin is the mother of servitude and is the first cause of man’s subjection to man.” Augustine argued that government is a necessary evil, in fact, an evil made necessary by the presence of evil in the human heart. It is because men are prone to violating each other that government is established to check the strong and ruthless who exploit and oppress the weak and the innocent. Government is necessary because men do not live to the glory of God, loving Him with all their hearts and their neighbors as themselves. The only ultimate alternative to government is anarchy, in which each man lives for himself. Thus, God instituted government as an act of His grace to protect the weak and the righteous from the wicked. The authority of the state is not an intrinsic authority but one that is derived from the authority of God.
The Power of the Sword

The issue of capital punishment emerges when we examine the right of the state to bear the sword. In the first instance, the sword is seen as an instrument of coercion. I once had a conversation with a United States senator who said to me, “No government ever has the right to coerce its subjects to do anything.” I was shocked by the senator’s statement and replied, “Senator, you have just stated that no government has the right to govern.” The power of coercion is the essence of government. Perhaps the simplest definition we can find for government is the word force. In a very real sense, government is force. If you take away the government’s right to coerce, you take away the government’s right to govern, leaving the government with the impotent authority of rule by suggestion. The power of the sword is the arm of the government we call law enforcement, without which the law represents merely a list of suggestions. God did not give the sword to the civil magistrate as a means of intimidation only by rattling. In biblical categories, “the power of the sword” is an idiomatic expression to indicate the power to kill.
At this point, the issue of capital punishment comes to the fore. In the Bible, we first read of the institution of capital punishment in the narrative of creation. In the garden, there was one restraint, one prohibition given to man. The clear-cut punishment for disobedience of this command was instant death. “In the day that you eat of [the tree] you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:17b). It is important to note that when man sinned, God did not invoke the full measure of the punishment for disobedience. Indeed, capital punishment came upon the race, but it was postponed in terms of its implementation. Originally all sin was regarded as a capital offense. Capital punishment was the divine judgment for any and all sin. However, God reserved the right to replace justice with mercy according to His own prerogatives. Because God has not executed that punishment consistently and immediately—except on rare occasions, such as the cases of Nadab and Abihu (Lev. 10:1–3), Uzzah (2 Sam. 6:1–8), and Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1–11)—the world tends to take God’s mercy for granted. In some circles, capital punishment is considered to be cruel and unusual punishment for any crime.
In the old covenant, God reduced the number of capital offenses and limited the penalty to approximately thirty-five specific crimes. The New Testament exhibits an even more gracious dispensation, with a further reduction of capital offenses.
Before the institution of the law at Sinai, we have an even more important statement, found in the covenant God made with Noah. Here we see a covenant that renews the ordinances of creation, a renewal of God’s rule for man as man. There is a certain sense in which the laws of this creation covenant are of far broader import than even that legislation found in Israel or in the New Testament. Here God proposes legislation for man as man, not for man as Jew or man as Christian. Man qua man is the one who receives the stipulations of the covenant of creation. It is therefore significant that capital punishment for murder is built into creation and presumably is binding as long as creation is intact. The renewal legislation is found in Genesis 9:6: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in his own image.” This text is a command, not a prediction. The sanction is clear. If a person murders another person, God requires that the murderer be put to death by human hands.
It is ironic that both sides of the dispute on capital punishment tend to base their arguments on the principle of the sanctity of life. The humanist argues that human life is so valuable that we are never justified in taking another person’s life. From a biblical perspective, the humanist view actually reflects a lower view of the sanctity of life than that found in Genesis 9:6. From the vantage point of the twenty-first century, we tend to view the Old Testament society as severe and savage, forgetting that it already manifested an enormous reduction in capital offenses. As noted above, the New Testament brought an even more gracious policy, not because God changed His mind and saw that His former policies were too cruel and severe, but partly because the responsibility for the execution of justice in the New Testament moved out of the hands of the theocratic state and into the hands of the secular state.
The question of how many crimes are considered “capital” in the New Testament is open to lengthy debate. The only crime that we can be certain is a capital offense is first-degree murder. In the Decalogue of the Old Testament, there is a clear prohibition against murder. The penalty for transgressing the prohibition in the Ten Commandments, “You shall not murder,” was capital punishment. However, the broader legislation of Mount Sinai included several distinctions with respect to degrees of murder. The establishment of the cities of refuge, for example, dealt with the problem of involuntary manslaughter.
It is ironic that many have appealed to the Ten Commandments as a basis for repudiating capital punishment, taking the prohibition “You shall not murder” as a universal mandate. This comes from a superficial reading of the Sinaitic legislation and a failure to observe that within the context of the Sinai covenant the penalty for violating that commandment was death. The holiness code of Israel clearly called for the death penalty in the case of the murder of another human being. The murderer must forfeit his own life. The reason given for the special sanctity of human life was that man is created in the image of God. God is concerned with preserving the work of His creation, and at the top of His priorities is the preservation of the life of man. There is a sense in which the commission of murder is regarded by God as an indirect assault on Him. Just as an attack on an ambassador of a king is seen as an affront to the king, so the act of murder is an assault against the very life of God, inasmuch as it desecrates one made in God’s image. It is important to understand that power over life is not rescinded in the new covenant but is mentioned again in Romans as a prerogative of the state. Thus, the Scriptures uniformly assert the propriety of capital punishment in the case of murder.
When we apply the principle of capital punishment to a given society or to a given culture, we must be careful lest we plunge into the matter without considering other ramifications of the biblical sanctions. Though capital punishment was imposed in the Old Testament, it was circumscribed by other principles that were very important to the justice process. In the Old Testament, justice was truly blind under the law. The rich were to be given no special privileges before the bar of justice. That ideal exists in our own society, but at a practical level there are too many circumstances in which Lady Justice peeks or removes her blindfold altogether to take note of the rich and the powerful who are her suitors. Under the old covenant, no one could be convicted of a capital offense on the basis of circumstantial evidence. Two or three eyewitnesses were required, and their testimony had to agree. If the witnesses who testified in a capital trial were found guilty of perjury, the penalty for bearing such false witness was itself death. There is no question that we need reforms to protect against inequities of the application of capital punishment in our modern culture, but when we object to capital punishment in principle, we are objecting to a sanction God Himself ordained.
The Ethics of War

The issue of a Christian’s involvement in war is an extension of the more primary question of capital punishment. In a certain sense, war is capital punishment on a grand scale. It involves the civil magistrate’s widespread use of the power of the sword. Basically, there have been three foundational positions taken regarding war in Christian history:

1. Activism
2. Pacifism
3. Selectivism

Activism is a simplistic approach that views all wars as permissible. It reflects the position that the subjects of the state are to give absolute obedience to the civil magistrate regardless of the situation. It reflects the cliché, “My country, right or wrong.” This is an uncritical approach that has little to do with the biblical ethic.
Pacifism, on the other hand, says that all wars are wrong and all people’s involvement in war is wrong. The pacifist view would restrict Christians from participating in any kind of war.
The third position, selectivism, maintains that involvement in some wars may be justifiable. It is within the context of selectivism that the just-war theory has emerged in Christian history.
A sophisticated argument by pacifists who are Christians is based on the ethical mandates Christ gave His people, whereby He prohibited the Christian from the use of retaliatory violence and uttered a clear prohibition against building His kingdom with the sword. The pacifist transfers these prohibitions from the sphere of the church to the sphere of government. Not only is the private citizen or the ecclesiastical authority forbidden the use of the sword, but the state as well. Some divide the question by admitting that the state has the power of the sword, but Christians are not to participate in the state’s function. The question that is raised immediately is, “On what grounds would a Christian refuse to obey a civil magistrate who calls him to do something for which there is no biblical prohibition?” If God commands the state to bear the sword and the state conscripts the Christian to help with that task, on what moral grounds could the Christian refuse to comply?
The Swiss theologian Emil Brunner has remarked: “To deny on ethical grounds the elementary right of the state to defend itself by war simply means to deny the existence of the state itself. Pacifism of the absolutist variety is practical anarchy.” Helmut Thielicke has added his judgment that pacifism is a moral cop-out. He draws a parallel between pacifism and a situation where the Christian witnesses a murder and allows it to happen without interference. Thielicke argues that it is our responsibility not only to minister to a man who has been mutilated by robbers, such as the man going down to Jericho, but to love our neighbor by preventing the crime as well.
Selectivism holds that involvement in a war may or may not be wrong. The particular circumstances and situations must be evaluated on each occasion to discern which side, if either, has a righteous cause to defend. The victim of a clear-cut act of aggression would have the right of self-defense, according to the selective view.

Chapter Six

Abortion is a monumental issue that ignites heated debates. Divisions in the state and in the church are many, with major denominational church bodies coming down on both sides of the issue. The fires of controversy show no signs of abating.
In dealing with this issue, three major questions must be answered:

1. What is abortion?
2. Is abortion right or is it wrong? Or is it possibly without moral bearing?
3. Does the church have the right to advocate civil legislation on this question? Some church bodies have advocated a “middle way” under the rubric of “pro-choice,” arguing that this should be a matter of conscience, not of civil legislation, and that it is wrong for the state to prohibit abortion.
The Biblical Basis for Discussion

No teaching in the Old Testament or New Testament explicitly condemns or condones abortion. Exegetically, the debate has been waged on implicit grounds. The Old Testament passage that has received the greatest attention concerning this matter is Exodus 21:22–24:

When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman’s husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine. But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.

There is a built-in ambiguity with this text, giving rise to differing interpretations of its precise meaning and application. The theological house is divided between “maximum” and “minimum” positions. The problem centers on the words “there is no harm.” To what “harm” does the verse refer? This problem is linked to another, namely the question of what is meant by “her children come out”? Is the text referring to an incident in which the woman, being jostled by fighting men, is induced to a premature childbirth that produces anguish and inconvenience that the law seeks to recompense even though the premature child lives and thrives? Or is the text speaking of a case in which the induced premature birth yields a stillborn fetus, and further considerations come into play only if the mother suffers additional complications, even death?
The Old Testament scholar C. F. Keil adopts the maximum view, arguing that the “there is no harm” clause refers to both mother and child. The idea is that if the premature baby survives, recompense is limited to damages paid for the inconvenience and mental anguish suffered by the mother, as claimed by the husband and awarded by the judge. But if the child is harmed or dies, the full measure of the lex talonis (eye for eye) is to apply. In this reading, the unborn fetus is so highly valued by Scripture that the life-for-life principle is applied, and the unintentional causing of abortion in the midst of an unrelated violent act warrants the death penalty. If this interpretation is correct, we would have decisive evidence that Scripture considers the unborn fetus as “life” in the fullest legal sense.
The minimal view of the text argues that the “there is no harm” clause refers exclusively to the mother. Under this schema, the abortion of the fetus would not invoke the lex talonis or legally be considered murder or loss of life. Only if further complications affect the mother does the “eye for eye, life for life” equation apply. The inference then would be that Scripture does not regard the fetus as “life.” The fetus would be protected by the law, however, and its value could be established via a lawsuit. Some push this position further by arguing that though legal indemnities may be imposed, they are initiated by the claims of the husband. The unspoken presumption is that the “value” of the fetus is determined to some degree by the subjective values attached by the parents. In this “case,” the Scriptures deal with an abortion or miscarriage imposed from without, apart from the design of the parents, who presumably desire the pregnancy to reach its full term. The passage is then made of no consequence to the question of an intentional abortion performed according to the will and design of the parents. The minimal view thus protects the parents and not the fetus.
The differences between these interpretations cover the gamut of the contemporary debate. Though I am convinced of the maximal interpretation, I must admit the problematic and ambiguous character of the text.
In the New Testament, the word abortion is used only in a figurative sense. One passage often cited to support an antiabortion stance is Luke 1:39–42, when Mary visited Elizabeth and the unborn John the Baptist “leaped in her womb.” Other biblical passages speak of people being conceived in sin and known by God in the womb. The question is whether these allusions are to be taken as religious hyperbole or poetry. However, these passages clearly indicate that God is involved with man’s history prior to his birth.
When Does Life Begin?

The question of when life begins has been pivotal to the discussion. Different points on the conception-birth continuum have been proferred, with the added problem of variant medical definitions of “life” itself.
Some maintain that the fetus becomes a person at the moment of birth. There are good reasons for this argument. This is a rather clear line of demarcation, indicating a new status, a new moment of independent existence with individuation beginning with the snipping of the umbilical cord.
Another view points to the moment of “quickening”; another to the time when the circulatory system is fully developed. Others say that the principle of life in the Old Testament is the “breath” of life in man. Therefore, life is present when the lungs develop and the fetus can breathe on its own.
The moment of conception has been seen by many groups to be the beginning of life, since all the potentiality of personhood is then present. David and others speak of their conceptions as part of their personal history.
What we conceive the fetus to be determines the value we assign to it. There are those who say that the embryo (the term usually used to refer to the product of conception during its first twelve weeks) is nothing more than a blob of protoplasm. Others argue that it is merely a highly specialized form of parasite. It has been compared to a cancer, a tissue growth foreign to the mother, which the body seeks to reject. If the mother fails to reject it, it will be fatal to her.
These are emotive terms that greatly cloud the issue and represent an irresponsible approach to the question. To refer to an embryo as a “blob of protoplasm” is to be guilty of a severe form of reductionism. The parasite term is equally inaccurate, as parasites have an independent life cycle that includes reproduction. As for the analogy to cancer, a cancer left to natural development destroys life. An embryo left to natural development produces life—a difference that cannot be ignored.
The crucial concern here is that we can say with certainty that at any stage of development the fetus is a potential life, a potential human being, with a high level of probability of becoming a human being if left to the normal course of its development. With this in mind, let us look at the essence of the debate: What is the relationship of abortion to the biblical prohibition against murder? Does the Bible have anything to say about the destruction of a potential life?
In the Old Testament, there are five distinctions in the broader application of the Decalogue’s prohibition of killing, including distinctions for manslaughter and involuntary murder. In the New Testament, however, we have an authoritative application and interpretation of this prohibition.
“You shall not murder” is not a universal prohibition against taking human life in any context, but it is wider in its scope than simple first-degree murder. Jesus’ understanding of this mandate included a prohibition against hatred. Hatred is understood as murder of the heart. In effect, Jesus said that the law implicitly prohibits potential murder. Left unchecked, hatred results in murder. He said that the law prohibits the potential destruction of life. This is not the same as prohibiting the actual destruction of potential life. However, these two are very close to being the same, similar enough to raise serious questions about abortion. In terms of the sanctity of life, potentiality was clearly an issue with Jesus.
If we are seriously considering the spirit of the law, we must pay attention to the implications (implicit understanding) of a particular commandment. This means that the converse of a prohibition must be affirmed. The prohibition against wanton destruction of life is an implicit command to promote the sanctity and safeguarding of life. The sanctity of life is the supreme basis for the prohibition of murder. The question is, “Does the sanctity of life include concern for potential life?” There is no way we can prove decisively that it does. However, in light of the overwhelming concern in the Scriptures for the safeguarding and preservation of life, the burden of proof must be on those who wish to destroy potential life.
Arguments in Support of Abortion

Perhaps the strongest case for the support of liberal abortion laws is the right of the mother. Some groups have countered this with the issue of the right of the unborn. But the root of the matter goes deeper. The issue biblically is between the concept of the woman’s right and the woman’s responsibility. Does the woman have the right to disrupt natural law? Is she responsible for the natural consequences of her voluntary acts? Relative to this debate is the fact that we do not have absolute rights over our own bodies within the sphere of creation. Self-mutilation is forbidden within the Old Testament. If mutilation before conception is wrong, what about mutilation after conception?
Another argument used to support legalized abortion is the utilitarian argument, which opts for the lesser of two evils. The argument is that under the present restrictions, the only abortions that are available (apart from therapeutic abortions) are those obtained illegally, which are often hazardous. To protect people from their own foolish acts, wisdom would dictate legalizing abortion. This argument is irrelevant to the question of whether or not abortion is right. Committing a felony is also a dangerous business, but the danger is no justification for the legalization of bank robbery.
The issue of therapeutic abortions must be dealt with separately. Generally they are used in two situations: where there is clear and present danger to the life and physical health of the mother, and where there is concern for the psychological well-being of the mother, especially in the case where the woman has been victimized by a rapist. In the first instance, there are two basic points. Some argue that in the case of danger to the life of the mother, it is better to destroy the fetus to save the mother. The actual life is more valuable than the potential life. Others say the fetus should be saved, basing this on the matter of certainty versus probability. Suppose that the death of the mother is 99 percent probable if the child is left to be born. If there is an abortion, that means 100 percent certainty of death for the fetus. If there is one chance in 100 for both to survive, this group holds that the chance should be taken.
The final question is that of church and state. Many Christians have taken the position that it is not the church’s business what the state legislates, since the church is not to legislate morality. However, the state does have the responsibility of legislating morality. Traffic laws deal with the moral issue of how one drives one’s car. Justice is a moral issue; laws are an attempt to promote justice. The essence of legislation is morality. The church has the responsibility to speak to the legislature. The state’s primary function is the preservation of society and the preservation of life. When the state is involved in legislation that does not respect and promote the sanctity of life, the church must speak out. While we recognize the separation of power between church and state, we cannot recognize the autonomy of the state before God. The state is also a servant of God. If there is any legislation on which the church has the responsibility to speak, it is on this one, since the heart of the issue is the sanctity of life.
Evaluating the Third Option

The debate within the church tends to focus on the tertium quid, the third option, known as the “pro-choice” position, one that has steadily grown in popularity.
Evidence is emerging that the strategy of pro-abortionists, led by Planned Parenthood, is the oldest strategy of all: “divide and conquer.” Mainline Protestant bodies have been solicited to aid the cause of abortion on the grounds that human rights are being violated by the oppressive tyranny of the monolithic Roman Catholic Church. Eager to stand against tyranny and for human rights, countless Protestant clergy and denominations have endorsed the middle ground between the pro-life and pro-abortion poles. The via media, or moderate middle, has been defined as the pro-choice position.
Two vital questions must be faced by those wrestling with the premier moral issue of our day. The first question is, “What is the practical difference between the pro-abortion and pro-choice positions?” In terms of legislation, a vote for the pro-choice stance is a vote in favor of abortion, which the pro-abortionists understand clearly. No one knows the exact figures, but it is obvious from polls that a large group of voters, if not a plurality of them, favor the middle ground. Certainly it is this middle position that has swung the balance of legislative power and the weight of public opinion to the side of the pro-abortionists. We hear it said repeatedly, “I would not choose to have an abortion, but I think every woman has a right to make that choice for herself.”
In this statement the focus is on the concept of a human “right.” The mother is said to have the right over her own body to bear a child or to dispose of the fetus. (The central issue is not about victims of rape or mothers endangered by childbirth; the issue before us is abortion on demand for convenience.) This presses the second question: “What constitutes a moral right and from whence come moral rights?”
As Christians, we recognize, I hope, that there is a profound difference between a moral right and a legal right. Ideally, legal rights reflect moral rights, but such is not always the case. How does one establish the moral right to choose abortion? From the law of nature? From the law of God? Hardly. Natural law abhors abortion and divine law implicitly condemns it.
The real basis of the right to choose abortion is want. The unspoken assumption of the pro-choice position is that I am free to choose whatever I want—an assumption repugnant to both God and nature. I never have the moral right to do evil. I may have the civil and legal right to sin but never the moral right. The only moral rights I have are to righteousness.
Is not the issue more complex? Does it not hang together with the broader issue of the extent of government intrusion in our private lives? Surely it does. I know few stronger advocates of limited government than myself. I abhor the proliferating tendrils of government pressing into our lives. However, the primary purpose of government, biblically, is to exercise restraint on mankind in order to promote, preserve, and protect the sanctity of life. This is the very raison d’être of human government.
If abortion on demand is evil, no one has the moral right to choose it. If it is an offense against life, the government must not permit it. The day is being captured by those in the moderate middle who have not faced the ethical implications of this position. This is the moral cop-out of our day—the shame of our churches and her leaders. It is time to get off the fence. To be pro-choice is to be pro-abortion. Be clear about that and abandon the muddled middle.

Chapter Seven

The function of the conscience in ethical decision making tends to complicate matters for us. The commandments of God are eternal, but in order to obey them we must first appropriate them internally. The “organ” of such internalization has been classically called the conscience. Some describe this nebulous inner voice as the voice of God within. The conscience is a mysterious part of man’s inner being. Within the conscience, in a secret hidden recess, lies the personality, so hidden that at times it functions without our being immediately aware of it. When Sigmund Freud brought hypnosis into the place of respectable scientific inquiry, men began to explore the subconscious and examine those intimate caverns of the personality. Encountering the conscience can be an awesome experience. The uncovering of the inner voice can be, as one psychiatrist notes, like “looking into hell itself.”
Yet we tend to think of the conscience as a heavenly thing, a point of contact with God, rather than a hellish organ. We think of the cartoon character faced with an ethical decision while an angel is perched on one shoulder and a devil on the other, playing tug-of-war with the poor man’s head. The conscience can be a voice from heaven or hell; it can lie as well as press us to truth. It can speak out of both sides of its mouth, having the capacity either to accuse or to excuse.
In the movie Pinocchio, Walt Disney gave us the song “Give a Little Whistle,” which urged us to “Always let your conscience be your guide.” This is, at best, “Jiminy Cricket theology.” For the Christian, the conscience is not the highest court of appeals for right conduct. The conscience is important, but not normative. It is capable of distortion and misguidance. It is mentioned some thirty-one times in the New Testament with abundant indication of its capacity for change. The conscience can be seared and eroded, being desensitized by repeated sin. Jeremiah described Israel as having the “brazen look of a prostitute” (Jer. 3:3, NIV). From repeated transgressions, Israel had, like the prostitute, lost her capacity to blush. With the stiffened neck and the hardened heart came the calloused conscience. The sociopath can murder without remorse, being immune to the normal pangs of conscience.
Though the conscience is not the highest tribunal of ethics, it is perilous to act against it. Martin Luther trembled in agony at the Diet of Worms because of the enormous moral pressure he was facing. When asked to recant from his writings, he included these words in his reply: “My conscience is held captive by the Word of God. To act against conscience is neither right nor safe.”
Luther’s graphic use of the word captive illustrates the visceral power the compulsion of conscience can exercise on a person. Once a person is gripped by the voice of conscience, a power is harnessed by which acts of heroic courage may issue forth. A conscience captured by the Word of God is both noble and powerful.
Was Luther correct in saying, “To act against conscience is neither right nor safe”? Here we must tread carefully lest we slice our toes on the ethical razor’s edge. If the conscience can be misinformed or distorted, why should we not act against it? Should we follow our consciences into sin? Here we have a dilemma of the double-jeopardy sort. If we follow our consciences into sin, we are guilty of sin inasmuch as we are required to have our consciences rightly informed by the Word of God. However, if we act against our consciences, we are also guilty of sin. The sin may not be located in what we do but rather in the fact that we commit an act we believe to be evil. Here the biblical principle of Romans 14:23 comes into play: “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” For example, if a person is taught and comes to believe that wearing lipstick is a sin and then wears lipstick, that person is sinning. The sin resides not in the lipstick but in the intent to act against what one believes to be the command of God.
The dilemma of double jeopardy demands that we diligently strive to bring our consciences into harmony with the mind of Christ lest a carnal conscience lead us into disobedience. We require a redeemed conscience, a conscience of the spirit rather than the flesh.
The manipulation of conscience can be a destructive force within the Christian community. Legalists are often masters of guilt manipulation, while antinomians master the art of quiet denial. The conscience is a delicate instrument that must be respected. One who seeks to influence the consciences of others carries a heavy responsibility to maintain the integrity of the other person’s own personality as crafted by God. When we impose false guilt on others, we paralyze our neighbors, binding them in chains where God has left them free. When we urge false innocence, we contribute to their delinquency, exposing them to the judgment of God.
Sproul, R. C. (2009). How Should I Live in this World? (Bd. 5, S. iii–99). Lake Mary, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing.

Be comforted, part 1-2, Archbishop Dr. Uwe AE.Rosenkranz

Be ComfortedLogos gif


While this book is intended for the reader’s personal enjoyment and profit, it is also intended for group study. A leader’s guide with Reproducible Response Sheets is available from your local bookstore or from the publisher.

1. The Lord Is Salvation! (Introduction to Isaiah)
2. Wanted: A Prophet (Isa. 1–6)
3. God Is with Us! (Isa. 7–12)
4. The Burdened Prophet (Isa. 13–23)
5. A Refuge from the Storm (Isa. 24–27)
6. Storm Clouds over Jerusalem (Isa. 28–31)
7. Future Shock and Future Glory (Isa. 32–35)
Interlude: King Hezekiah (Isa. 36–39)
8. God Save the King! (Isa. 36–39)
Interlude: “The Book of Consolation” (Isa. 40–66)
9. How Great Thou Art! (Isa. 40–48)
10. This Is God’s Servant (Isa. 49:1–52:12)
11. Climbing Mount Everest (Isa. 52:13–53:12)
12. Promises and Punishments (Isa. 54–59)
13. The Kingdom and the Glory (Isa. 60–66)

“Isaiah is great for two reasons,” wrote William Sanford LaSor in his fascinating book Great Personalities of the Old Testament (Revell, p. 136): “He lived in momentous days, in critical days of international upheaval, and he wrote what many consider to be the greatest book in the Old Testament.”
“We see Isaiah move with fearless dignity through the chaos of his day,” wrote E.M. Blaiklock, “firm in his quiet faith, sure in his God” (Handbook of Bible People, Scripture Union, p. 329).
At a time when empires were rising and falling and his nation was in peril, it was Isaiah who wrote, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and confidence shall be your strength” (30:15, NKJV). And when a new generation faced the arduous task of rebuilding a ruined nation, it was the words of Isaiah the prophet that gave them courage: “But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint” (40:31, NKJV).
Isaiah is the prophet we need to hear today as he cries out God’s message above the din of world upheaval, “Comfort, yes, comfort My people!” (40:1, NKJV) The English word “comfort” comes from two Latin words that together mean “with strength.” When Isaiah says to us, “Be comforted!” it is not a word of pity but of power. God’s comfort does not weaken us; it strengthens us. God is not indulging us but empowering us. “In quietness and confidence shall be your strength.”
As we study Isaiah’s book, we shall meet not only this outstanding prophet, but also some mighty kings and rulers; and we shall witness the rise and fall of magnificent kingdoms. We shall see God’s people chastened and then restored. But above all else, we shall see the Lord Jesus Christ, God’s “Suffering Servant,” as He does the will of God and suffers and dies for the sins of the world.
My own faith in God has been strengthened as I have walked with Isaiah during the months I was writing Be Comforted. I trust that your faith will also be strengthened as together we listen to the Word of God through Isaiah the prophet.

Warren W. Wiersbe



The Lord Is Salvation!
Sir Winston Churchill was once asked to give the qualifications a person needed in order to succeed in politics, and he replied: “It is the ability to foretell what is going to happen tomorrow, next week, next month, and next year. And to have the ability afterwards to explain why it didn’t happen.”
Because God’s prophets were correct all of the time, they didn’t have to explain away their mistakes. “If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true,” wrote Moses, “that is a message the Lord has not spoken” (Deut. 18:22, NIV). “To the law and to the testimony,” wrote Isaiah; “if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (8:20). Isaiah was a man who had God’s light, and he was not afraid to let it shine.
Before we examine the text of Isaiah’s prophecy, let’s get acquainted with the background of the book so that we can better understand the man and his times.
1. The man

The name “Isaiah” means “salvation of the Lord,” and salvation (deliverance) is the key theme of his book. He wrote concerning five different acts of deliverance that God would perform: (1) the deliverance of Judah from Assyrian invasion (chaps. chaps. 36–37). (2) the deliverance of the nation from Babylonian Captivity (chap. 40); (3) the future deliverance of the Jews from worldwide dispersion among the Gentiles (chaps. 11–12); (4) the deliverance of lost sinners from judgment (chap. 53); and (5) the final deliverance of creation from the bondage of sin when the kingdom is established (chaps. 60, 66:17ff).
There were other Jewish men named Isaiah, so the prophet identified himself seven times as “the son of Amoz,” not to be confused with “Amos” (see 1:1; 2:1; 13:1; 20:2; 37:2, 21; 38:1). Isaiah was married, and his wife was called “the prophetess” (8:3), either because she was married to a prophet or because she shared the prophetic gift. He fathered two sons whose names have prophetic significance: Shear-jashub (“a remnant shall return”; 7:3) and Maher-shalal-hash-baz (“quick to plunder, swift to the spoil”; 8:1–4, 18). The two names speak of the nation’s judgment and restoration, two important themes in Isaiah’s prophecy.
Isaiah was called to his ministry “in the year that King Uzziah died” (6:1), which was 739 B.C. Isaiah ministered through the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, who died in 686. Tradition says that Manasseh, King Hezekiah’s successor, killed Isaiah by having him sawn in half (Heb. 11:37); but there is no record of this in Scripture.
What kind of a man was Isaiah the prophet? As you read his prophecy, you will discover that he was a man in touch with God. He saw God’s Son and God’s glory (chap. 6; John 12:41), he heard God’s message, and he sought to bring the nation back to God before it was too late.
Isaiah was a man who loved his nation. The phrase “my people” is used at least twenty-six times in his book. He was a patriot with a true love for his country, pleading with Judah to return to God and warning kings when their foreign policy was contrary to God’s will. The American political leader Adlai Stevenson called patriotism “not a short and frenzied outburst of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.” He was not thinking of Isaiah when he said that, but Stevenson’s words perfectly describe the prophet and his work.
He was also a man who hated sin and sham religion. His favorite name for God is “the Holy One of Israel,” and he uses it twenty-five times in his book. (It is used only five times in the rest of the Old Testament.) He looked at the crowded courts of the temple and cried out, “They have forsaken the Lord, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward” (1:4). He examined the political policies of the leaders and said, “Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help … but they look not to the Holy One of Israel, neither seek the Lord” (31:1). Jehovah was holy, but the nation was sinful; and Isaiah called the people to repent.
Isaiah was certainly a courageous man. Unafraid to denounce kings and priests, and unwavering when public opinion went against him, he boldly declared the Word of God. For three years Isaiah wore only a loin cloth to dramatize the victory of Assyria over Egypt (chap. 20). In so doing, he hoped to get the attention of a people who were blind to their country’s danger.
He was a man skilled in communicating God’s truth. Not content with merely declaring facts, Isaiah clothed those facts in striking language that would catch the attention of a people blind and deaf to spiritual truth (6:9–10). He compared the nation to a diseased body (1:5–6), a harlot (v. 21), a useless vineyard (chap. 5), a bulging wall about to fall down (30:13), and a woman in travail (66:8). Assyria, the enemy, would come like a swollen stream (8:7–8), a swarm of bees (7:18), a lion (5:29), and an axe (10:15). Like our Lord Jesus Christ, Isaiah knew how to stir the imagination of his listeners so that he might arouse their interest and teach them God’s truth (Matt. 13:10–17).
2. The monarchs

Isaiah prophesied during the days of “Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah” (1:1). The nation had divided after the death of Solomon (1 Kings 12), but the priesthood and the Davidic throne belonged to Judah. The ten northern tribes formed the kingdom of Israel (Ephraim), with Samaria as its capital city; and Benjamin and Judah united to form the kingdom of Judah, with Jerusalem as its capital city. Though Isaiah predicted the fall of Israel to Assyria (chap. 28), which occurred in 722 B.C., his major focus was on Judah and Jerusalem (1:1).
Uzziah is also called Azariah. At the age of sixteen, he became co-regent with his father Amaziah and was on the throne for fifty-two years (792–740). When his father was assassinated in 767, Uzziah became the sole ruler and brought the nation to its greatest days since David and Solomon (2 Kings 14:17–22; 15:1–7; 2 Chron. 26:1–15). “But when he was strong, his heart was lifted up to his destruction” (v. 16). He tried to intrude into the priest’s ministry in the temple, and God judged him by smiting him with leprosy. It was in the year that King Uzziah died that Isaiah was called to minister (Isa. 6:1).
Jotham was co-regent after his father became a leper, and his record as king was a good one (2 Kings 15:32–38; (2 Chron. 27). He reigned for twenty years, and it was during his time that the Assyrian Empire began to emerge as a new and threatening power. During the last twelve years of Jotham’s reign, his son Ahaz served as co-regent; but Ahaz was not one of Judah’s good kings. Ahaz forged political alliances that eventually brought Judah into bondage to Assyria (2 Kings 16; 2 Chron. 28). Judah was repeatedly threatened by Egypt from the south and Syria and Israel from the north, and Ahaz depended on an alliance with Assyria to protect himself. Isaiah warned Ahaz that his alliances with godless Gentiles would not work, and he encouraged the king to put his trust in the Lord (Isa. 7).
Hezekiah reigned forty-two years and was one of Judah’s greatest kings (2 Kings 18–20; 2 Chron. 29–32). He not only strengthened the city of Jerusalem and the nation of Judah, but led the people back to the Lord. He built the famous water system that still stands in Jerusalem.
The ministry of Isaiah spans a period of over fifty years, from 739 B.C. (the death of Uzziah) to 686 B.C. (the death of Hezekiah); and it probably extended into the early years of King Manasseh. It was a difficult time of international upheaval, when first one power and then another threatened Judah. But the greatest dangers were not outside the nation; they were within. In spite of the godly leadership of King Hezekiah, Judah had no more godly kings. One by one, Hezekiah’s successors led the nation into political and spiritual decay, ending in captivity in Babylon.
The British expositor G. Campbell Morgan said: “The whole story of the prophet Isaiah, as it is revealed to us in this one book, is that of a man who spoke to an inattentive age or to an age which, if attentive, mocked him and refused to obey his message, until, as the prophetic period drew to a close, he inquired in anguish, ‘Who hath believed our report? And to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed?’ ” (Westminster Pulpit, vol. 10, p. 10)
3. The message

The following suggested outline will help you get an overview of this magnificent book.

Theme: the salvation (deliverance) of the Lord

I. Condemnation—(1–39)
1. Sermons against Judah and Israel—(1–12)
2. Burdens of Judgment against the Gentiles—(13–23)
3. Songs about Future Glory—(24–27)
4. Woes of Coming Judgment from Assyria—(28–35)
5. Historical Interlude—(36–39)
a. Hezekiah delivered from Assyria—(36–37)
b. Hezekiah deceived by Babylon—(37–38)

II. Consolation—(40–66)
1. God’s Greatness—(40–48) (The Father vs. idols)
2. God’s Grace—(49–57) (The Son, God’s Servant)
3. God’s Glory—(58–66) (The Spirit and the kingdom)

Isaiah opens his book with a series of sermons denouncing sin: the personal sins of the people (chaps. 1–6) and the national sins of the leaders (chaps. 7–12). In these messages, he warns of judgment and pleads for repentance. The Prophets Amos and Hosea were preaching similar messages to the people of the Northern Kingdom, warning them that time was running out.
But the Gentile nations around Judah and Israel were not innocent! In chapters (13–23), Isaiah denounced them for their sins and warned of God’s judgment. Israel and Judah had sinned against the Law of God and were even more guilty than their neighbors, but the Gentile nations would not escape God’s wrath. In the way they had behaved, these nations had sinned against conscience (Rom. 2:1–16) and against human decency. The Prophet Amos was preaching the same message in the Northern Kingdom, but he denounced the Gentiles first and then warned the Jews (Amos 1–2).
As you study the Book of Isaiah, you will discover that the prophet intersperses messages of hope with his words of judgment. God remembers His mercy even when declaring His wrath (Hab. 3:2), and He assures His people that they have a “hope and a future” (Jer. 29:11, NIV). Isaiah 24–27 is devoted to “songs of hope” that describe the glory of the future kingdom. Isaiah sees a day when the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah will return to the land, be reunited and redeemed, and enter into the blessings of the promised kingdom.
Chapters 28–35 focus on the impending Assyrian invasion of Israel and Judah. Israel will be destroyed and the ten tribes assimilated into the Assyrian Empire. (This is the origin of the Samaritans, who were part Jewish and part Gentile.) Judah would be invaded and devastated, but Jerusalem would be delivered by the Lord.
At this point in his book, Isaiah moved from prophecy to history and focused on two key events that occurred during the reign of King Hezekiah: God’s miraculous deliverance of Jerusalem from the Assyrians (chaps. 36–37), and Hezekiah’s foolish cooperation with the Babylonians (chaps. 38–39). This section forms a transition from an emphasis on Assyria to an emphasis on Babylon, for the last twenty-seven chapters look ahead to the return of the Jewish remnant from Babylonian Captivity.
The Jewish rabbis call Isaiah 40–66 “The Book of Consolation,” and their description is accurate. Addressed originally to the discouraged Jewish exiles returning to an impoverished land and a ruined temple, these chapters have brought comfort and hope to God’s people in every age and in every kind of difficult situation. The Hebrew word translated “comfort” also means “to repent.” God brings comfort, not to rebellious people but to repentant people.
The arrangement of chapters 40–66 is not accidental. “The Book of Consolation” is divided into three sections; each focuses on a different Person of the Godhead and a different attribute of God. Chapters 40–48 exalt the greatness of God the Father; chapters 49–57, the grace of God the Son, God’s Suffering Servant; and chapters 58–66, the glory of the future kingdom when the Spirit is poured out on God’s people. Note the references to the Spirit in 59:19 and 21; 61:1; and 63:10–11 and 14.
Servant is one of the key words in this second section of the Book of Isaiah. The word is used seventeen times and has three different referents: the nation of Israel (41:8–9; 43:10); Cyrus, king of Persia, whom God raised up to help Israel restore their nation and rebuild their temple (44:28; 45:1; see Ezra 1:1); and Jesus Christ, the Son of God (Isa. 42:1, 19; 52:13; 53:11), the Suffering Servant who died for the sins of the world. While Assyria and Egypt vie for center stage in chapters 1–39, it is Babylon and Persia that get the attention in chapters 40–66.
In summary, Isaiah had an immediate word of warning to both Israel and Judah that Assyria was on the march and would be used by God to punish them for their sins. Occasionally, Isaiah uses this invasion to picture “the day of the Lord,” that future time when the whole world will taste of the wrath of God. The prophets often used immediate circumstances to illustrate future events.
Isaiah had a word of promise to Judah that God would deliver Jerusalem from the enemy for the sake of David’s throne. There was also a word of hope for the future Jewish exiles in Babylon, that God would rescue them and help them restore their nation and their temple. But Isaiah’s greatest message is his word of salvation, announcing the coming of the Messiah, the Servant of the Lord, who would die for sinners and one day return to earth to establish His glorious kingdom.
4. The Messiah

Isaiah is much more than a prophet: He is an evangelist who presents Jesus Christ and the Good News of the Gospel. Isaiah’s “Servant Song” about Jesus (Isa. 52:13–53:12) is quoted or alluded to nearly forty times in the New Testament.
The prophet wrote about the birth of Christ (7:14; 9:6; Matt. 1:18–25); the ministry of John the Baptist (Isa. 40:1–6; Matt. 3:1ff); Christ’s anointing by the Spirit (Isa. 61:1–2; Luke 4:17–19); the nation’s rejection of their Messiah (Isa. 6:9–11; John 12:38ff); Christ, the “stone of stumbling” (Isa. 8:14; 28:16; Rom. 9:32–33; 10:11; 1 Peter 2:6); Christ’s ministry to the Gentiles (Isa. 49:6; Luke 2:32; Acts 13:47); the Savior’s suffering and death (Isa. 52:13–53:12; Acts 3:13; 8:32–33; 1 Peter 2:21–25); His resurrection (Isa. 55:3; Acts 13:34); and His return to reign as King (Isa. 9:6–7; 11:1ff; 59:20–21; 63:1–3; Rom. 11:26–27; Rev. 19:13–15). There are many other references in Isaiah to the Messiah, and we will notice them as we study this book.
It is this emphasis on redemption that gives Isaiah a message for the whole world. While it is true he ministered to the little nation of Judah, and wrote about nations and empires that for the most part are no longer on the world scene, his focus was on God’s plan of salvation for the whole world. Isaiah saw the greatness of God and the vastness of His plan of salvation for Jews and Gentiles alike. Isaiah was a patriot but not a bigot; he saw beyond his own nation to the gracious work God would do among the Gentile nations of the world.
I have a feeling that the Book of Isaiah was a favorite book of the Apostle Paul. He quotes from it or alludes to it at least eighty times in his epistles and in at least three of his recorded messages (Acts 13:22–23, 34, 47; 17:24–29; 28:26–28). This interest in Isaiah may stem from the fact that Jesus quoted Isaiah 42:7 and 16 when He spoke to Paul on the Damascus Road (Acts 26:16–18). When Jesus encouraged Paul during his ministry in Corinth (Acts 18:9–10), He referred to Isaiah 41:10 and 43:5. Paul’s call to evangelize the Gentiles was confirmed by Isaiah 49:6. Like the Prophet Isaiah, Paul saw the vastness of God’s plan for both Jews and Gentiles; and like Isaiah, Paul magnified Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world. Five times in his letters Paul refers to Isaiah 53
As you study Isaiah and discover God’s prophetic plan for the nations of the world, don’t miss his emphasis on the personal message of God’s forgiveness. “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (1:18). “I have blotted out, like a thick cloud, your transgressions, and, like a cloud, your sins” (44:22, NKJV). “I, even I, am He, who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; and I will not remember your sins” (43:25, NKJV).
How can “the Holy One of Israel,” a just and righteous God, forgive our sins and remember them no more?
“But [Jesus] was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed” (53:5, NKJV).
It was on the basis of this truth that Peter declared, “To [Jesus] all the prophets witness, that through His name, whoever believes in Him shall receive remission of sins” (Acts 10:43).
“Who hath believed our report?” Isaiah asks us (Isa. 53:1).
“If you will not believe, surely you shall not be established,” he warns us (7:9, NKJV).
If you have never believed on the Lord Jesus Christ and received Him into your life, then do so now. “Look to Me, and be saved, all you ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other” (45:22, NKJV).
“Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12, NKJV).



Wanted: A Prophet
The first thing you must know about prophets is that their ministry focuses on the present as well as on the future. They “tell forth” the Word of God as well as “foretell” the works of God. True prophets are like good doctors: They diagnose the case, prescribe a remedy, and warn the patient what will happen if the prescription is ignored. (See Jer. 6:14 and 8:11.) When prophets declare a vision of the future, they do it to encourage people to obey God today. Peter stated this principle when he wrote, “Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness?” (2 Peter 3:11, NKJV)
Unlike Jeremiah and Ezekiel, Isaiah did not begin his book with an account of his call to ministry. This he gives in chapter 6. Instead, he started with a probing examination of Judah’s present situation and gave a passionate plea for God’s people to return to the Lord. As you read his analysis, note how closely it parallels our situation in the Western world.
1. What Isaiah saw (Isa. 1:1–31)

This chapter describes a courtroom scene. God convenes the court and states the charges (vv. 2–4). He presents His case and pronounces the nation guilty (vv. 5–15), but He gives the accused opportunity to repent and be forgiven (vv. 16–31). How did God describe His sinful people?
They were rebellious children (vv. 2–4), who did not have as much devotion to God as animals do for their masters! The word “rebel” carries with it the idea of breaking a contract. At Sinai, Israel had entered into a solemn covenant with Jehovah (Ex. 19–20); but they had broken the contract by their unbelief and idolatry. They did not appreciate what God had done for them and were taking their blessings for granted. They had forsaken the Lord, gone backward, and grown corrupt; and therefore, they were guilty and deserved judgment.
From the human point of view, the nation was prospering; but from God’s point of view, the nation was like a wretched victim that had been beaten from head to foot and left to die (Isa. 1:5–6). The wounds had become infected, the whole body was diseased, and nobody was doing anything to help. The false prophets and hypocritical priests of that day would have challenged Isaiah’s autopsy of “the body politic,” but the prophet knew that his diagnosis was true. In spite of the optimism of Judah’s leaders, the nation was morally and spiritually sick; and judgment was inevitable.
In verses 7–9, God pictures Judah as a ravaged battlefield, a desert that had once been a garden. In using this image, Isaiah may have been looking ahead to the invasion of Sennacherib, when Judah was devastated by the Assyrian army and only Jerusalem was spared (chaps. 36–37). The people would not let God manage the land according to His law, so God turned Judah over to foreigners and permitted His people to suffer (Deut. 28:15ff).
What a humiliating shock the people must have had when they heard Isaiah compare the holy city of Jerusalem to the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah! (Isa. 3:9; Gen. 18–19) And what did the leaders think when Isaiah said only “a very small remnant” would survive? After all, God had promised Abraham that the nation would multiply like the dust of the earth and the stars of the heavens (13:16; 15:5). The doctrine of “the remnant” is important in the message of the prophets (Isa. 6:13; 10:20–22; 11:11–13, 16; Jer. 6:9; 23:3; 31:7; Micah 2:12; Zech. 8:12). Paul also referred to it (Rom. 9:27; 11:5). In spite of the apostasy of the nation, a remnant of true believers would be spared so that God’s work could be accomplished through the Jewish nation.
The disgusting thing about this rebellious people is that they were also a religious people (Isa. 1:10–15). They attended the temple services and brought a multitude of sacrifices to the Lord; but their hearts were far from God, and their worship was hypocritical. Sacrifices alone can never please God; for along with the outward observance, God wants inward obedience (1 Sam. 15:22), a broken heart (Ps. 51:17), and a godly walk (Micah 6:6–8). Judah’s worship of Jehovah was iniquity, not piety; and God was sick of it! Instead of lifting up “holy hands” in prayer (1 Tim. 2:8), their hands were stained with blood because of their many sins (Isa. 59:3; Ezek. 7:23; and see Acts 20:26).
But before passing judgment on worshipers in a bygone era, perhaps we should confess the sins of the “worshiping church” today. According to researcher George Barna, 93 percent of the households in the United States contain a Bible and more than 60 percent of the people surveyed claim to be religious; but we would never know this from the way people act. One Protestant church exists for every 550 adults in America, but does all this “religion” make much of a difference in our sinful society? Organized religion hasn’t affected the nation’s crime rate, the divorce rate, or the kind of “entertainment” seen in movies and on TV.
The average church allocates about 5 percent of its budget for reaching others with the Gospel, but 30 percent for buildings and maintenance. At a time when the poor and the aged are pleading for help, churches in America are spending approximately 3 billion dollars a year on new construction. Where churches have life and growth, such construction may be needed; but too often the building becomes “a millstone instead of a milestone,” to quote Vance Havner. At least 62 percent of the people Barna surveyed said that the church was not relevant to today’s world and is losing its influence on society. It may be that, like the worshipers in the ancient Jewish temple, we are only going through the motions. (See The Frog in the Kettle by George Barna, published by Regal Books.)
Isaiah didn’t stop with the diagnosis but also gave the prescription, because he wanted Judah to be a righteous people (Isa. 1:16–31). The word translated “reason” in verse 18 means “to decide a case in court”; but instead of pronouncing judgment, the Judge offered pardon! If they would cleanse themselves by repenting and turning from sin (vv. 16–17; see 2 Cor. 7:1), then God would wipe the record clean in response to their faith (Isa. 1:18). God had every reason to punish His people for their sins; but in His grace and mercy, He offered them His pardon.
What were some of the sins that the nation needed to confess and put away? Isaiah named murder (v. 21), robbery, bribery, and exploiting the helpless (v. 23), as well as the worship of heathen idols (v. 29). Because of their idolatry, the once-faithful wife was now a harlot; and because of their unjust practices, the pure silver had become dross. The tragedy is that many of the worshipers in the temple participated in these evil practices and thereby encouraged the decay of the nation. The rulers maintained a religious facade to cover up their crimes, and the people let them do it.
What would God do if the people did not repent? He would send a fiery judgment that would purge the dross and burn up those whose rebellion had made them His enemies (vv. 24–31). Isaiah closed this first message with a promise of hope that one day Jerusalem would be a “city of righteousness.”
2. What Isaiah promised (Isa. 2:1–4:6)

Three important phrases sum up Isaiah’s second message and its proclamation of God’s future work.
The temple of the Lord (Isa. 2:1–5). The prophet looked ahead to the time when God’s righteous kingdom would be established and the temple would become the center for the worldwide worship of the Lord. In Isaiah’s day, the Jews were adopting the false gods of the Gentiles; but the day would come when the Gentiles would abandon their idols and worship the true God of Israel. The nations would also lay down their weapons and stop warring. These promises must not be “spiritualized” and applied to the church, for they describe a literal kingdom of righteousness and peace. The Jewish temple will be rebuilt, and the Word of God will go forth from Jerusalem to govern the nations of the world.
In the light of the future glory of God’s temple, Isaiah appealed to the people to “walk in the light of the Lord” (v. 5). Christians today have a similar motivation as we await the return of Christ for His church (1 John 2:28–3:3).
The Day of the Lord (Isa. 2:6–3:26). This is that period of time when God will send judgment to the nations and purify Israel in preparation for the coming of His King to reign in Jerusalem. The Day of the Lord is described by John (Rev. 6–19), by the prophets (Isa. 13:6ff; Ezek. 30; Joel 1:15; 2:1ff; Zeph. 1:7ff; Zech. 14:1ff), and by the Lord Jesus (Matt. 24; Mark 13; Luke 21). It will be a time of terrible suffering; the environment will be devastated, and millions of people will die. (Note the repetition of the phrase “in that day”: Isa. 2:17, 20; 3:7, 18; 4:1–2.) To the prophets, “the Day of the Lord” was foreshadowed by events in their own day. In the Book of Isaiah, Assyria’s conquest of the Northern Kingdom and invasion of Judah, and the Babylonian Captivity of Judah both picture the coming “Day of the Lord.”
(1) Why will God judge His people? Because of their idolatry, covetousness, pride, and exploiting of the poor (2:6–22). Instead of holding to the truth of God’s Word, they were adopting “superstitions from the East” (v. 6, NIV), not unlike many “religious seekers” today. The growth of Eastern religions in the modern Western world is a phenomenon that is both frightening and challenging. Even nonreligious people are practicing Eastern forms of meditation and relaxation, following techniques that are being taught in university classes and business seminars.
The prosperity of the nation made the leaders proud and covetous. Instead of trusting the Lord, they trusted their wealth and war equipment, not realizing that neither would deliver them in the coming day of judgment. The leaders were exploiting the poor, crushing them like grain in a mill (3:13–15). God will not allow His people to be proud and self-confident but will humble them and cut them down like trees in the forest. “The Lord alone shall be exalted in that day” (2:11, 17) when men flee from His wrath and discover the worthlessness of their idols and the consequences of their sins (vv. 19–22).
(2) How will God judge His people? By taking away from them everything they were trusting, including food and water, leaders and soldiers, and judges and prophets (3:1–15) The entire support system of the nation would disintegrate, and there would be no remedy. Nobody would want to hold office except women and children. (In Judah’s male-dominated society, this would be a humiliating calamity.) The national leaders in Isaiah’s day were charting a course that was out of the will of God and would ultimately bring disaster, but the righteous remnant would be protected by God (vv. 10–12).
After denouncing the men in leadership, the prophet zeroed in on the proud women who profited from their husbands’ crimes (3:16–4:1). The Prophet Amos had a similar message for the women in the Northern Kingdom (Amos 4:1–3). Everything would be different for these women when the judgment of God came to the land! In that day, nobody would notice their expensive clothes, their jewelry and perfumes, and their elaborate coiffures. They would be prisoners of war, led by a rope, like cattle going to the slaughter. So many men will be killed there won’t be enough husbands to go around! (4:1)
God is long-suffering as He watches people viciously exploit one another and selfishly ravage His creation. But there is coming a day when unbelieving sinners will be punished and God’s people will share in the glories of His kingdom. Are you ready?
The Branch of the Lord (Isa. 4:2–6). The prophet looks beyond the “Day of the Lord” to that time when the kingdom will be established on earth. “Branch of the Lord” is a messianic title for Jesus Christ who came as a “shoot” from the seeming dead stump of David’s dynasty (11:1; 53:2; see Jer. 23:5; 33:15; Zech. 3:8; 6:12). God will cleanse His people (Isa. 4:4; see Zech. 12:10–13:1), restore the fruitfulness of the land, and dwell with them as He did when He led them through the wilderness (Isa. 4:5–6; Ex. 13:21–22). Not just the temple, but every dwelling will be blessed by the presence of the Lord! Unlike Isaiah’s day, “in that day” the people will be holy (set apart), and the land will be beautiful and glorious.
3. What Isaiah sang (Isa. 5:1–30)

The preacher became a troubadour and sang a folk song to the Lord (“my beloved”). Perhaps the people who had ignored his sermons would listen to his song. He sang about his own people (v. 7) and pointed out how good God had been to them. God gave them a holy law and a wonderful land, but they broke the law and defiled the land with their sins and failed to produce fruit for God’s glory. God had done for them all that He could do. Now all that remained for Him to do was bring judgment on the fruitless vineyard and make it a waste. (Note that Jesus referred to this passage in Matt. 21:33–44.)
What were the “wild grapes” that the nation produced instead of the “good grapes” that God sought for? In the six “woes” that follow, Isaiah named the sins that brought judgment on the land.
Covetousness (Isa. 5:8–10). In disobedience to the Law (Lev. 25:23–28; 1 Kings 21:1–3), the rich defrauded the poor and seized their land. These wealthy exploiters built large mansions and developed extensive farms, but God warned them that their houses would be empty and their harvests meager. Imagine ten acres of grapevines yielding only six gallons of wine and six bushels of seed producing half a bushel of grain!
Drunkenness (Isa. 5:11–17). The Old Testament Law did not require total abstinence, but it did warn against drunkenness (Prov. 20:1; 23:29–31; Hab. 2:15). This warning is repeated in the New Testament for believers today (Rom. 13:13; 1 Cor. 6:9–10; Eph. 5:18). Isaiah describes people so addicted to alcohol that they begin their revelries as soon as they wake up in the morning, and they continue their drinking till late at night. They enjoy banquets and music and get involved in drunken brawls (Isa. 5:14, NIV). But when judgment comes, these people will hunger and thirst and become “food” for the grave (v. 14). The “eaters” will themselves be eaten, and the proud drinkers will be brought low.
Carelessness (Isa. 5:18–19). Isaiah describes people who are bound by sin and yet speak flippantly of the Lord and His warnings. “They even mock the Holy One of Israel and dare the Lord to punish them” (v. 19, TLB). The name “Holy One of Israel” is used twenty-five times in Isaiah, but these sinners had no respect for that name. We have skeptical scoffers today who speak lightly of the Lord and think they will get away with it.
Deception (Isa. 5:20). Moral standards were destroyed by new definitions of sin (see Amos 5:7), people using God’s vocabulary but not His dictionary. Like today’s “doublespeak,” this kind of language made it easy to deceive people and avoid a guilty conscience. In today’s world, increased taxes are “revenue enhancements,” and poor people are “fiscal underachievers.” Medical malpractice is not the cause of a patient’s death; it’s “diagnostic misadventure of a high magnitude.” (See DoubleSpeak by William Lutz.) The Jerusalem Bible translation of Psalm 12:2 says it perfectly: “All they do is lie to one another, flattering lips, talk from a double heart.”
Pride (Isa. 5:21). Instead of listening to God, the leaders consulted with one another and made decisions based on their own wisdom. “Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools” (Rom. 1:22; see 1 Cor. 1:18–25). “Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and depart from evil” (Prov. 3:7, NKJV).
Injustice (Isa. 5:22–25). The judges who were supposed to enforce the law used their authority to free the guilty and punish the innocent. They were more interested in cocktail parties than fair trials, and making money (bribes) than promoting justice. Isaiah warned these corrupt politicians that the fire of God’s wrath was coming and would burn them up. They were like cut flowers that had no roots, beautiful for a time, but destined to die and turn to dust.
The phrase in verse 25 about God’s anger is repeated in 9:12, 17, and 21; and in 10:4. His hand was raised in judgment and would not come down until He had completed His work. He would summon the Assyrian army from afar and use it to chasten His people (5:26–30). The Northern Kingdom of Israel would be destroyed, and Judah, the Southern Kingdom, would be devastated but eventually delivered, only to go into Captivity in Babylon a century later. God was serious about the nation’s sins. If they would not repent and accept His offer of pardon (1:18), then all He could do was send judgment.
4. What Isaiah experienced (Isa. 6:1–13)

Anyone reading Isaiah’s first two messages might be inclined to ask, “What right does this man have to pronounce judgment on the leaders of our land and the many worshipers in the temple?” The answer is in this chapter: Isaiah’s account of his call to ministry. Before he announced any “woes” on others, he first confessed his own sin and said, “Woe is me!” He saw the Holy One of Israel, and he could not keep silent. Note four stages in Isaiah’s experience with God.
Sight: He saw the Lord (Isa. 6:1–4). We assume that Isaiah was in the temple when this marvelous event occurred, but we cannot be sure. The temple referred to in verse 1 is the heavenly temple, rather than Solomon’s temple. King Uzziah died in 740 B.C. and was one of Judah’s greatest leaders, even though in his latter years he was disciplined for disobeying God (2 Chron. 26:16–21). A great king may have left his throne on earth, but the greatest King was still seated on the throne of heaven. According to John 12:41, this was the Lord Jesus Christ.
Only here are the seraphim mentioned in Scripture. The Hebrew word means “to burn” and relates these creatures to the holiness of God. This is why they repeat, “Holy, holy, holy” before the throne of God. Some students think that the seraphim are the “living creatures” described in Revelation 4:6–9.
When I was the radio speaker on “Songs in the Night” from the Moody Church in Chicago, I often received clippings from listeners, items they thought might be useful on the weekly broadcast. Most of them I have forgotten, but a few of them still stick in my mind. One of the best was, “When the outlook is bleak, try the uplook!”
For young Isaiah, the outlook was bleak. His beloved king had died, his nation was in peril, and he could do very little about it. The outlook may have been bleak, but the uplook was glorious! God was still on the throne and reigning as the Sovereign of the universe! From heaven’s point of view, “the whole earth” was “full of His glory” (Isa. 6:3; see Num. 14:21–22; Ps. 72:18–19). When your world tumbles in, it is good to look at things from heaven’s point of view.
Insight: He saw himself (Isa. 6:5–7). The sight of a holy God, and the sound of the holy hymn of worship, brought great conviction to Isaiah’s heart; and he confessed that he was a sinner. Unclean lips are caused by an unclean heart (Matt. 12:34–35). Isaiah cried out to be cleansed inwardly (Ps. 51:10), and God met his need. If this scene had been on earth, the coals would have come from the brazen altar where sacrificial blood had been shed, or perhaps from the censer of the high priest on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:12). Isaiah’s cleansing came by blood and fire, and it was verified by the word of the Lord (Isa. 6:7).
Before we can minister to others, we must permit God to minister to us. Before we pronounce “woe” upon others, we must sincerely say, “Woe is me!” Isaiah’s conviction led to confession, and confession led to cleansing (1 John 1:9). Like Isaiah, many of the great heroes of faith saw themselves as sinners and humbled themselves before God: Abraham (Gen. 18:27), Jacob (32:10), Job (Job 40:1–5), David (2 Sam. 7:18), Paul (1 Tim. 1:15), and Peter (Luke 5:8–11).
Vision: He saw the need (Isa. 6:8). The nation needed the Lord, and the Lord wanted a servant to minister to the people. Isaiah volunteered to be that servant. He did not discuss his call with the Lord, as did Moses (Ex. 3:11–4:15) and Jeremiah (Jer. 1:4ff), but accepted the appointment and made himself available to his Master.
Never underestimate what God can do with one willing worker. There is an even greater need for laborers today, and we have tremendous opportunities for sharing the Gospel with a lost world. Are you one of God’s willing volunteers?
Blindness: The nation could not see (Isa. 6:9–13). The Lord did not give His servant much encouragement! Isaiah’s ministry would actually make some people’s eyes more blind, their ears more deaf, and their hearts more calloused. Verses 9–10 are so important that they are quoted six times in the New Testament (Matt. 13:13–15; Mark 4:12; Luke 8:10; John 12:40; Acts 28:25–28; Rom. 11:8). God does not deliberately make sinners blind, deaf, and hard-hearted; but the more that people resist God’s truth, the less able they are to receive God’s truth. But the servant is to proclaim the Word no matter how people respond, for the test of ministry is not outward success but faithfulness to the Lord.
God told Isaiah that his ministry would end in seeming failure, with the land ruined and the people taken off to exile (Isa. 6:11–12). But a remnant would survive! It would be like the stump of a fallen tree from which the shoots (“the holy seed”) would come, and they would continue the true faith in the land. Isaiah needed a long-range perspective on his ministry or else he would feel like he was accomplishing nothing.
“Go and tell” is still God’s command to His people (v. 9; see Matt. 28:7; Mark 5:19). He is waiting for us to reply, “Here am I; send me.”
Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). Be Comforted (S. 3–30). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

Be comforted, part 3, Archbishop Dr. Uwe AE.Rosenkranz

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God Is with Us!
Behold, I and the children whom the Lord hath given me are for signs and for wonders in Israel from the Lord of hosts” (8:18).
This statement by the Prophet Isaiah is a key to understanding the meaning of the events and prophecies in this section. In his previous messages, Isaiah focused on the spiritual needs of his people, but in this section he deals with the political situation and the failure of the leaders to trust the Lord. Four symbolic names are involved in Isaiah’s messages, each of them with a very special meaning: Immanuel, Maher-shalal-hash-baz, Shear-jashub, and Isaiah.
1. Immanuel: A message of hope (Isa. 7:1–25)

A promise to King Ahaz (Isa. 7:1–9). These were perilous days for the nation of Judah. Assyria was growing stronger and threatening the smaller nations whose security depended on a very delicate political balance. Syria and Ephraim (the Northern Kingdom) tried to pressure Judah into an alliance against Assyria, but Ahaz refused to join them. Why? Because he had secretly made a treaty with Assyria! (2 Kings 16:5–9) The king was playing “power politics” instead of trusting in the power of God. Syria and Ephraim planned to overthrow Ahaz and put “the son of Tabeel” on the throne, and Ahaz was a frightened man.
The Lord commanded Isaiah to take his son Shear-jashub (“A remnant shall return”) and meet Ahaz as the king was inspecting the city’s water system. Ahaz’s heart had been wavering, and the hearts of his people had been shaking for fear (Isa. 7:2); but Isaiah came with a message of assurance: “Take heed, and be quiet; fear not, neither be fainthearted” (v. 4). How would Ahaz find this inner peace? By believing God’s promise that Judah’s enemies would be defeated. “If you will not believe, surely you shall not be established” (v. 9, NKJV). Faith in God’s promises is the only way to find peace in the midst of trouble. “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You” (26:3, NKJV).
In God’s eyes, the two threatening kings were nothing but “two smoldering stubs of firewood” (7:4, NIV), who would be off the scene very soon; and they both died two years later. Furthermore, within sixty-five years, Ephraim (Israel, the Northern Kingdom) would be gone forever. Isaiah spoke this prophecy in the year 734 B.C. Assyria defeated Syria in 732 B.C. and invaded Israel in 722 B.C. They deported many of the Jews and assimilated the rest by introducing Gentiles into the land; and by 669 B.C. (sixty-five years later), the nation no longer existed.
A sign to the house of David (Isa. 7:10–16). If Ahaz had believed God’s promise, he would have broken his alliance and called the nation to prayer and praise; but the king continued in his unbelief. Realizing the weakness of the king’s faith, Isaiah offered to give a sign to encourage him; but Ahaz put on a “pious front” and refused his offer. Knowing that he was secretly allied with Assyria, how could Ahaz honestly ask the Lord for a special sign? So, instead of speaking only to the king, Isaiah addressed the whole “house of David” and gave the prophecy concerning “Immanuel.”
Of course, the ultimate fulfillment of this prophecy is in our Lord Jesus Christ, who is “God with us” (Matt. 1:18–25; Luke 1:31–35). The virgin birth of Christ is a key doctrine; for if Jesus Christ is not God come in sinless human flesh, then we have no Savior. Jesus had to be born of a virgin, apart from human generation, because He existed before His mother. He was not just born in this world; He came down from heaven into the world (John 3:13; 6:33, 38, 41–42, 50–51, 58). Jesus was sent by the Father and therefore came into the world having a human mother but not a human father (4:34; 5:23–24, 30; 9:4).
However, this “sign” had an immediate significance to Ahaz and the people of Judah. A woman who was then a virgin would get married, conceive, and bear a son whose name would be “Immanuel.” This son would be a reminder that God was with His people and would care for them. It is likely that this virgin was Isaiah’s second wife, his first wife having died after Shear-jashub was born; and that Isaiah’s second son was named both “Immanuel” and “Maher-shalal-hash-baz” (8:1–4; note vv. 8 and 10).
Orthodox Jewish boys become “sons of the Law” at the age of twelve. This special son was a reminder that Syria and Ephraim would be out of the picture within the next twelve years. Isaiah delivered this prophecy in 734 B.C. In 732 B.C., Assyria defeated Syria; and in 722 B.C., Assyria invaded the Northern Kingdom. The prophecy was fulfilled.
A warning to Judah (Isa. 7:17–25). Instead of trusting the Lord, Ahaz continued to trust Assyria for help; and Isaiah warned him that Assyria would become Judah’s enemy. The Assyrians would invade Judah and so ravage the land that agriculture would cease and the people would have only dairy products to eat (vv. 15, 21–23). The rich farmland would become wasteland, and the people would be forced to hunt wild beasts in order to get food. It would be a time of great humiliation (v. 20; 2 Sam. 10:4–5) and suffering that could have been avoided had the leaders trusted in the Lord.
2. Maher-shalal-hash-baz: A warning of judgment (Isa. 8:1–22)

Isaiah married the virgin, and the legal documents were duly witnessed and sealed. He even announced that their first child would be a son and his name would be Maher-shalal-hash-baz, which means “quick to plunder, swift to the spoil.” Since Isaiah’s sons were signs to the nation (8:18), this name was significant. It spoke of future judgment when Assyria would conquer Syria and invade both Israel and Judah, and when Babylon would take Judah into exile. A child would start speaking meaningful sentences about the age of two. In 732 B.C., about two years after Isaiah’s son was born, both Pekah and Rezin were dead (7:1); and Assyria had conquered Syria and begun to invade Israel (2 Kings 15:29). The army was “quick to plunder and swift to take the spoil.”
In the remainder of this chapter, Isaiah used three vivid contrasts to show the rulers of Judah the mistake they were making by trusting Assyria instead of trusting the Lord.
They chose a flood instead of a peaceful river (Isa. 8:5–10). The pro-Assyrian faction in Judah rejoiced when Assyria defeated Syria and when both Pekah and Rezin died. These victories seemed to prove that an alliance with Assyria was the safest course to follow. Instead of trusting the Lord (“the waters of Shiloah, that go softly” in v. 6), they trusted the great river of Assyria. What they did not realize was that this river would become a flood when Assyria would come and destroy Israel and devastate Judah. God offered His people peace, but in unbelief they opted for war. They were walking by sight and not by faith. But Isaiah saw no permanent victory for the invading army. After all, they were entering Immanuel’s land; and God was with His people and would deliver them for His name’s sake. Assyria might plan its strategy, but God would thwart its every move. Sennacherib’s army camped around Jerusalem, certain of victory; but God wiped them out with a single blow (chap. 37).
They chose a snare instead of a sanctuary (Isa. 8:11–15). God warned Isaiah not to follow the majority and support the popular pro-Assyrian party. Even though his stand was looked upon as treason, Isaiah opposed all foreign alliances and urged the people to put their faith in the Lord (7:9; 28:16; 30:15). The Jewish political leaders were asking, “Is it popular? Is it safe?” But the prophet was asking, “Is it right? Is it the will of God?”
When you fear the Lord, you don’t need to fear people or circumstances. Peter referred to this passage when he wrote, “But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. ‘Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.’ But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord” (1 Peter 3:14–15, NIV). Isaiah compared the Lord to a sanctuary, a rock that is a refuge for believers but a snare to those who rebel. The image of Messiah as a rock is found again in 28:16 (and see 1 Peter 2:4–7 and Rom. 9:33). “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Ps. 46:1).
They chose darkness instead of light (Isa. 8:16–22). The nation had rejected Isaiah’s message, but that didn’t mean that his ministry was a failure. The true disciples of the Lord received God’s Word and treasured it in their hearts. By faith, the prophet was willing to wait patiently for God’s Word to be fulfilled.
But even if his words fell on deaf ears, Isaiah and his family were themselves a “living prophecy” that the nation could not ignore. Isaiah’s name means “Jehovah is salvation,” and this would remind the people to trust the Lord to deliver them. His older son’s name means “A remnant shall return,” and this was a word of promise when it looked as though the nation was destroyed. A believing remnant did return to Jerusalem from Babylon and they were encouraged by what Isaiah wrote in chapters 40–66. The name of the younger son, Maher-shalal-hash-baz, means “quick to plunder, swift to the spoil,” and pointed to the fall of Syria and Ephraim. Verse 18 is quoted in Hebrews 2:13–14 and applied to the Lord Jesus Christ.
In their time of crisis, instead of turning to God for wisdom, the people consulted demons (Isa. 8:19; Deut. 18:10–12); and this only increased their moral and spiritual darkness. The increase of the occult in our own day is evidence that people are deliberately rejecting God’s Word and turning to Satan’s lies. “If they do not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn” (Isa. 8:20, NIV). Judah’s leaders anxiously looked for the dawning of a new day, but they saw only a deepening darkness. God’s Word is our only dependable light in this world’s darkness (Ps. 119:105; 2 Peter 1:19–21).
3. Shear-jashub: A promise of mercy (Isa. 9:1–11:16)

This name means “A remnant shall return,” and the return of the Jewish remnant to their land is a major theme in these chapters (10:20–22; 11:11–12, 16). When Assyria conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel (Ephraim), the nation was never restored but became what we know as Samaria. After the Babylonian Captivity (606–586 B.C.), the people of Judah were given another chance to establish themselves in the land; and through them, the Lord brought the Messiah into the world. Had a remnant not returned, God’s plans for redeeming a lost world might have been frustrated. How much depended on that small remnant! God’s mercy to His people is seen in four ministries the Lord performed for them.
The Lord promised them a Redeemer (Isa. 9:1–7). Isaiah continued the theme of light and darkness (8:20–22) by announcing, “There will be no more gloom” (9:1, NIV). The Redeemer will come and bring to the world the dawning of a new day (v. 2; Luke 1:78–79; John 8:12). We know that this prophecy refers to Christ because of the way it is quoted in Matthew 4:13–15. The geographical areas named in Isaiah 9:1 were especially devastated when the Assyrian army moved in, but these areas would be especially honored by the ministry of the Messiah. Jesus was identified with “Galilee of the Gentiles” (Matt. 4:15, NIV), and His loving ministry to the people brought light and joy.
But the prophet looked beyond the first coming of Christ to His second coming and the establishing of His righteous kingdom (Isa. 9:3–7). Instead of protecting a small remnant, God would enlarge the nation. Instead of experiencing sorrow, the people would rejoice like reapers after a great harvest, soldiers after a great victory (see Jud. 6–7), or prisoners of war after being released from their yoke of bondage. Of course, some of this occurred when God defeated Assyria and delivered Jerusalem (Isa. 37). But the ultimate fulfillment is still future; all military material will be destroyed (9:5) because the nations will not learn war any more (2:4).
Isaiah 9:6 declares both the humanity (“A Child is born”) and the deity (“A Son is given”) of the Lord Jesus Christ. The prophet then leaps ahead to the Kingdom Age when Messiah will reign in righteousness and justice from David’s throne. God had promised David that his dynasty and throne would be established forever (2 Sam. 7:16); and this is fulfilled literally in Jesus Christ (Luke 1:32–33; Zech. 9:9), who will one day reign from Jerusalem (Isa. 11:1–5; Jer. 23:5–8; 30:8–10). This kingdom is called “the Millennium,” which means “one thousand years.” The phrase is used six times in Revelation 20
If His name is “Wonderful,” then there will be nothing dull about His reign! As Counselor, He has the wisdom to rule justly; and as the Mighty God, He has the power to execute His wise plans. “Everlasting Father” does not suggest that the Son is also the Father, for each Person in the Godhead is distinct. “Father of Eternity” is a better translation. Among the Jews, the word “father” means “originator” or “source.” For example, Satan is the “father [originator] of lies” (John 8:44, NIV). If you want anything eternal, you must get it from Jesus Christ; He is the “Father of eternity.”
The Lord judged Israel for their sins (Isa. 9:8–10:4). This long section describes what will happen to the Northern Kingdom when the Assyrians invade. While Isaiah’s ministry was primarily to the people of Judah, he used Israel as an object lesson to warn the Southern Kingdom that God does not take sin lightly. Judah had sinned greatly, but God in His mercy spared them for David’s sake (37:35; 1 Kings 11:13; 15:4; 2 Chron. 21:7). However, God’s long-suffering would one day end.
The key statement is, “For all this His anger is not turned away, but His hand is stretched out still” (Isa. 9:12, 17, 21; 10:4; and see 5:25). This is the outstretched hand of God’s judgment, not His mercy (65:2; Rom. 10:21). God judged them for their pride in thinking that their present difficulties were temporary and the nation could rebuild itself better than before (Isa. 9:8–12). He also judged them for their hardness of heart in their refusal to repent and return to the Lord (vv. 13–17). God’s loving purpose in chastening is that we yield to Him; but if we harden our hearts, then chastening becomes judgment (Heb. 12:1–11). Israel was being led astray by false prophets and foolish leaders; the nation would not listen to God’s Word. Ephraim’s own wickedness was destroying the nation, the way a fire destroys a forest or a field (Isa. 9:18–19). But the sinners would become fuel for the fire God could kindle! In their greed, the people of the Northern Kingdom were devouring one another (v. 20) and battling one another (v. 21); but they would soon be devoured and defeated by Assyria.
In 10:1–4, Isaiah denounced Ephraim for its injustice, especially toward the poor, the widows, and the orphans. Unjust laws and oppressive decrees robbed these people both of their meager possessions and their God-given rights (Deut. 15:7–8; 24:17–18). The prophet’s three questions in Isaiah 10:3 ought to be pondered by every person who wants to be ready when the Lord comes.
If God cannot bring us to repentance through His Word, then He must lift His hand and chasten us. If we do not submit to His chastening, then He must stretch out His hand and judge us. God is long-suffering, but we dare not tempt Him by our careless or calloused attitude. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31).
The Lord will judge the enemy (Isa. 10:5–34). “Woe to the Assyrian!” is the way this section begins (see NIV). Though God used Assyria to chasten Judah, He would not permit His “tool” to exalt itself in pride. Assyria was His rod, club, axe, and saw (10:5, 15, 24); but they treated the Jews like mud in the streets (v. 6) and plundered the land like a farmer gathering eggs (v. 14). God’s purpose was to discipline, but the Assyrians were out to destroy (v. 7). They boasted of their conquests (vv. 8–14; see 37:10–13) but did not give glory to God.
Because of their arrogant attitude, God would judge Assyria, for the worker certainly has mastery over His tools! Like a wasting disease and a blazing forest fire, God’s wrath would come to this proud nation and its army. He would cut them down like trees in the forest (10:33–34). In the days of Hezekiah, God wiped out 185,000 of the Assyrian soldiers (37:36–37); and the great Assyrian Empire ultimately fell to Babylon in 609 B.C.
In spite of Assyria’s conquest of the Northern Kingdom and its intention to destroy Judah, God would save a remnant so that “the twelve tribes” would not be annihilated (Acts 26:7; James 1:1; Rev. 21:12). “The remnant shall return” (Isa. 10:21) is the translation of the name of Isaiah’s older son, Shear-jashub.
In verses 28–32, Isaiah traces the advance of the Assyrian army as it invaded Judah and marched toward Jerusalem. But God’s word to the people was, “O My people that dwell in Zion, be not afraid of the Assyrian!” (v. 24) Isaiah gave the same message to King Hezekiah when the Assyrian army surrounded Jerusalem in 701 B.C. (37:1–7). God used Assyria to discipline His people, but He would not permit this godless nation to go beyond His purposes. God may use unbelievers to accomplish His will in the lives of His people, but He is always in control. We need never fear the disciplining hand of God, for He always disciplines in love (Heb. 12:1–11).
The Lord will restore His people (Isa. 11:1–16). In contrast to the proud trees that God cuts down (10:33–34) is a tender shoot from a seemingly dead stump. Isaiah looks beyond his people’s trials to the glorious kingdom that will be established when Messiah comes to reign (11:1–9). David’s dynasty was ready to end, but out of his family the Messiah would come (Rom. 1:3; Rev. 5:5). A godly remnant of Jews kept the nation alive so that the Messiah could be born.
His kingdom will involve righteous rule (Isa. 11:1–5) because the Son of God and the Spirit of God will administer its affairs justly. When the Messiah-King speaks the word, it is with power (Ps. 2:9; Rev. 19:15). His kingdom will also mean a restored creation because nature will once again enjoy the harmony it enjoyed before sin entered in (Isa. 11:6–9; Rom. 8:18–25). “The earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (Isa. 11:9; see Hab. 2:14).
The nucleus of the kingdom will be a regathered and reunited Jewish nation (Isa. 11:10–16). The “Root” will become a “banner” for the rallying of the people as the Lord reaches out and gathers His people from the nations where they have been exiled (43:5–6). It will be like a “second exodus” as God opens the way for His people to return to their land. In a limited sense, this promise was fulfilled after the Assyrian conquest and when the Jews left Babylonian Captivity; but the ultimate fulfillment will be at the end of the age when Messiah regathers His people (27:12–13; 49:22–23; 56:7–8; Matt. 24:31; Rom. 11:25–29). The centuries-long division between Israel and Judah will come to an end, and even the Gentiles will walk on “the highway” that leads to Jerusalem.
The “highway” is one of Isaiah’s favorite images. Those who obey the Lord have a level and smooth road to walk (Isa. 26:7–8). When God calls His people back to their land, He will prepare the way for them (40:3–4) and lead them safely (42:16). He will remove obstacles so the people can travel easily (49:11; 57:14; 62:10). God’s highway will be called “the Way of Holiness” (35:8).
When Isaiah looked at his people, he saw a sinful nation that would one day walk the “highway of holiness” and enter into a righteous kingdom. He saw a suffering people who would one day enjoy a beautiful and peaceful kingdom. He saw a scattered people who would be regathered and reunited under the kingship of Jesus Christ. Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come” (Matt. 6:10); for only when His kingdom comes can there be peace on earth.
4. Isaiah: A song of salvation (Isa. 12:1–6)

Isaiah’s name means “Jehovah is salvation,” and “salvation” is a key theme in this song. “In that day” refers to the day of Israel’s regathering and reunion and the righteous reign of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Jewish remnant will have come through the time of tribulation on earth (“the time of Jacob’s trouble,” Jer. 30:7), seen their Messiah, repented, and received Him by faith (Zech. 12:10–13:1; 14:4–11). Cleansed and established in their promised kingdom, the nation will praise the Lord and extol Him among the Gentiles.
The refrain in Isaiah 12:2—“The Lord, even Jehovah, is my strength and my song; He also is become my salvation”—was sung at the Exodus (Ex. 15:2) and at the rededication of the temple in Ezra’s day (Ps. 118:14). It was sung by the Red Sea after the Jews had been delivered from Egypt by Moses, a prophet. It was sung in Jerusalem when the second temple was dedicated under the leadership of Ezra, a priest. It will be sung again when the Jewish nation accepts Jesus Christ as its King. They will recognize Him as “the Holy One of Israel” and willingly obey His holy law.
This joyful song closes this section of Isaiah in which the prophet has used four significant names to tell the people what God had planned for them. Because of Immanuel, there is a message of hope. Maher-shalal-hash-baz gives a warning of judgment, but his brother Shear-jashub speaks of a promise of mercy. The father’s name, Isaiah, brings a song of rejoicing as the people discover that Jehovah is indeed their salvation.
The Lord will never forsake His people. No matter how difficult the days may be, or how long the nights, for the people of God, the best is yet to come.
Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). Be Comforted (S. 30–42). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

Be comforted, part 4-5, Archbishop Dr. Uwe AE.Rosenkranz

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ISAIAH 13–23

The Burdened Prophet
Whether you like it or not, history is on our side. We will bury you!”
The Premier of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev, made that statement to a group of Western diplomats on November 18, 1956. But Khrushchev is dead; and as I write these words, the Marxist system that threatened to bury the West is burying itself. Khrushchev’s boastful prophecy was not fulfilled.
Is there a pattern to history? Is anyone in charge? The British historian Edward Gibbon called history “little more than the register of crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind.” But the American missionary leader Arthur T. Pierson said that “history is His story.” Which one is right?
The Prophet Isaiah would stand with Pierson, for these eleven chapters are certainly evidence that God is at work in the nations of the world. In these chapters, the prophet reveals God’s plan not only for Judah but also for ten Gentile nations. President James Garfield called history “the unrolled scroll of prophecy,” and Isaiah unrolls the scroll for us to read.
World leaders need to learn the lesson that Nebuchadnezzar learned the hard way, that “the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever He chooses” (Dan. 4:25, NKJV). Paul made the same declaration to the Greek philosophers in Athens: “[God] determined the times set for [the nations] and the exact places where they should live” (Acts 17:26, NIV). Indeed, “history is His story.”
Isaiah called these prophetic declarations “burdens” (Isa. 13:1; 14:28; 15:1; 17:1; 19:1; 21:1, 11, 13; 22:1; 23:1). The Hebrew word means “to lift up.” The prophet was carrying a heavy weight because of the solemn nature of his message (Jer. 23:33). He was announcing judgments that involved the destruction of cities and the slaughter of thousands of people. No wonder he felt burdened!
1. Babylon (Isa. 13:1–14:23; 21:1–10)

The word “Babel” means “gateway to a god” and sounds like the Hebrew word balal, which means “confusion” (Gen. 10:8–10; 11:1–9). In Scripture, Babylon symbolizes the world system man has built in defiance of God. Jerusalem and Babylon are contrasting cities: One is the chosen city of God, the other the wicked city of man. The city of God will last forever, but the rebellious city of man will ultimately be destroyed (Rev. 14:8; 16:19; 17–18).
God musters His army (Isa. 13:1–5, 17–18). God is sovereign. He is able to call any army He desires, to accomplish any task He assigns. He can summon them with a whistle (7:18), or by using leaders to raise a banner, shout, and beckon to the soldiers (13:2). In this case, God is mustering the army of the Medes (v. 17; 21:2); and He calls them “My sanctified ones.” Even though they did not believe in Jehovah God, the Medes were set apart by God to do His holy work.
God punishes His enemies (Isa. 13:6–22). The city of Babylon was completely destroyed in 689 B.C. by Sennacherib and the Assyrian army, but it was rebuilt by Sennacherib’s son. In 539 B.C., Darius the Mede captured the city (Dan. 5:31), but he did not destroy it. In the centuries that followed, Babylon had its “shining moments,” but after the death of its last great conqueror, Alexander the Great, the city declined and soon was no more. Isaiah’s prophecy was fulfilled, for the city was not rebuilt.
But it is clear that Isaiah’s prophecy describes something more significant than the ups and downs of an ancient city. The prophets often began a message by focusing on local events, but then enlarged their vision to reveal something greater. Isaiah saw in the fall of Babylon a picture of “the day of the Lord” (Isa. 13:6, 9, 13), that time when God will pour out His wrath on the whole world (v. 11). The image of the woman in travail is used in Scripture to describe a time of judgment (v. 8; 21:3; 26:17; Jer. 6:24; Micah 4:9–10; Matt. 24:8, where “sorrows” is “birthpains”; 1 Thes. 5:3). Isaiah looked beyond that day to the day when the Babylonian world system would be destroyed (Rev. 17–18). Compare Isaiah 13:10 with Matthew 24:29; Joel 2:10; and Revelation 6:12–14; and see Jeremiah 50–51.
God delivers His people (Isa. 14:1–23). Isaiah warned that the kingdom of Judah would be taken into captivity by Babylon (5:13; 6:11–12; 11:11, where “Shinar” is Babylon; 39:6), and this happened in 586 B.C. Jeremiah prophesied that the Captivity would last for seventy years. Then Babylon would be judged and the Jews permitted to go home (Jer. 25:1–14). So, the capture of Babylon by Darius would be good news to the Jews; for it would mean the end of their exile and bondage.
The picture in Isaiah 14:1–23 is that of a mighty monarch whose pride brought him to destruction. This is what happened to Belshazzar when Darius the Mede captured Babylon in 539 B.C. (Dan. 5). Isaiah described the king’s arrival in sheol, the world of the dead, where the king’s wealth, glory, and power vanished. The dead kings already in sheol stood in tribute to him (Isa. 14:9), but it was all a mockery. Death is the great leveler; there are no kings in the world of the dead. “Lucifer” (v. 12) is Latin for “morning star” and suggests that this king’s glory did not last very long. The morning star shines but is soon swallowed up by the light of the sun.
The prophet saw in this event something far deeper than the defeat of an empire. In the fall of the king of Babylon, he saw the defeat of Satan, the “prince of this world,” who seeks to energize and motivate the leaders of nations (John 12:31; Eph. 2:1–3). Daniel 10:20 indicates that Satan has assigned “princes” (fallen angels) to the various nations so that he can influence leaders to act contrary to the will of God.
This highest of God’s angels tried to usurp the throne of God and capture for himself the worship that belongs only to God (Matt. 4:8–10). The name “Lucifer” (“morning star”) indicates that Satan tries to imitate Jesus Christ, who is “the bright and morning star” (Rev. 22:16). “I will be like the Most High” reveals his basic strategy, for he is an imitator (Isa. 14:14; 2 Cor. 11:13–15). Like the king of Babylon, Satan will one day be humiliated and defeated. He will be cast out of heaven (Rev. 12) and finally cast into hell (20:10). Whether God is dealing with kings or angels, Proverbs 16:18 is still true: “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (NKJV).
God announces the victory (Isa. 21:1–10). “The desert of the sea” is probably the area around the Persian Gulf. Isaiah uses the image of a “desert storm” as he describes the attack of the Assyrians against Babylon, which took place in 689 B.C. At that time, Babylon and Assyria were rival powers, although Assyria was stronger; and the nations in the Fertile Crescent hoped that Babylon would stop the advance of Assyria. Alas, Babylon fell to Assyria; opening the way for Assyria to sweep across the region in conquest.
Realizing the consequences of Babylon’s fall, the prophet experienced pain like a woman in travail (vv. 3–4) and felt crushed like grain in a mill (v. 10). Had this announcement referred to the fall of Babylon in 539 B.C., the Jews would have rejoiced; for it would have meant release from captivity. But in 689 B.C., Babylon’s defeat meant the destruction of the Northern Kingdom and the devastation of the Southern Kingdom. Note that Jeremiah (Jer. 51:8) and John (Rev. 14:8; 18:2) both adopted Isaiah’s words, “Babylon is fallen, is fallen!”
2. Assyria (Isa. 14:24–27)

The key word here is purpose. God is in control of the rise and fall of the nations as He works out His divine purposes in the world. Assyria was His tool to accomplish His purposes (10:5), and the day would come when God would judge Assyria (see vv. 5ff).
This judgment would take place in the land of Judah, and God would be the judge. Assyria invaded Judah during Hezekiah’s reign (701 B.C.), but God destroyed the army as it threatened to capture Jerusalem (37:36). God permitted Assyria to discipline Judah, but He would not allow the enemy to destroy His people.
3. Philistia (Isa. 14:28–32)

An Assyrian leader (“rod”; 10:15, 24) died, and the Philistines rejoiced that their enemy had been weakened. (Some students think this leader was Shalmaneser V.) But Isaiah warned them that their rejoicing was presumptuous; for the new king would be worse. Isaiah compared the dead Assyrian ruler to a snake that gave birth to an even worse serpent! “Weep, Philistine cities—you are doomed” (14:31, TLB).
Note in this prophecy that God had a special word of assurance for His own people, Judah. Even the poorest of the poor would have food and safety (v. 30), and Zion would be delivered from the enemy (v. 32; 37:36); but the Philistines would be wiped out by war and famine (14:30). The Assyrian army would come from the north like a great cloud of smoke (v. 31), and the gates of the great Philistine cities would not stop them.
The envoys (“messengers” in v. 32, KJV) of the other nations would ask what was happening, but the diplomatic news would focus on Judah and not on Philistia! God’s deliverance of Judah was the real news, not Assyria’s conquest of Philistia. We wonder if diplomats and news reporters in today’s media world would give God credit for a miracle of deliverance.
4. Moab (Isa. 15:1–16:14)

The Moabites were the product of Lot’s incestuous union with his daughter (Gen. 19:30–38) and were the avowed enemies of the Jews (Num. 25; 31; Deut. 23:3).
The plight of Moab (Isa. 15:1–9). Within three years (16:14), this prophecy against Moab would be fulfilled with great national lamentation. At least fourteen different references to lamentation occur in this chapter: weeping, wailing, baldness, sackcloth, crying out, etc. The people fled to their temples and prayed to their gods, but to no avail (15:2, NIV). Even a day of national humiliation did not stop Assyria from invading Moab and ravaging the land. Advancing armies often stopped up the springs and watercourses, and left the land in desolation (vv. 6–7). Where there was water in Moab, it was stained with blood, so great was the carnage (v. 9). How could the weak Moabites ever hope to defeat the great Assyrian lion?
The plea of Moab (Isa. 16:1–5). The one place the Assyrians could not conquer was Jerusalem (10:24–34). Though the Assyrian army entered the kingdom of Judah and did a great deal of damage to the land, it could not capture Jerusalem (chaps. 36–37). However, instead of fleeing to Mt. Zion, the Moabite fugitives fled south to the fords of the Arnon River and the “rock city” of Sela in Edom.
From Sela, the fugitives sent an appeal to the king of Judah to give them asylum from the enemy. But Isaiah warned them that it would take more than a request: They would need to submit to the king of Judah, which meant acknowledging the God of Judah. In that day, sending animals to a ruler was a form of paying tribute (2 Kings 3:4). Moab begged the leaders of Judah to give them refuge from the enemy, like a protecting rock on a hot day (16:3–4; see 32:1–2).
Isaiah was not impressed with the appeals of the Moabites. He called the Moabites extortioners, spoilers, and oppressors, and announced that the nation was destined to be destroyed (16:4). Why? Because they wanted Judah’s help, but they did not want Judah’s God. Verse 5 is definitely a messianic promise, pointing to the day when Messiah will reign in righteousness and mercy on David’s throne. But Moab would not submit; they wanted deliverance on their own terms.
The pride of Moab (Isa. 16:6–14). We can understand the pride of a city like Babylon (14:12–14), but what did the tiny nation of Moab have to boast about? Their pride kept them from submitting to Judah, and this led to their defeat. Their boasting would turn into wailing and their songs into funeral dirges. Moab would become like a vineyard trampled down and a fruitful field left unharvested. Isaiah 16:9–11 describes the prophet’s grief—and the Lord’s grief—over the destruction of Moab. “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked” (Ezek. 33:11). Isaiah could have rejoiced at the destruction of an old enemy, but instead, he wept (Prov. 24:17–18).
5. Damascus [Syria] and Ephraim [Israel] (Isa. 17:1–14)

These two nations were allied in their opposition to both Assyria and Judah (7:1–2), so the prophet spoke to both in one message. In 17:1–2, he warned Damascus, the capital city of Aram (Syria), that the city would be taken by the enemy. This occurred when the Assyrians conquered Aram in 732 B.C. Following their usual custom, the Assyrians deported many of the citizens, which left the land and cities deserted.
The fall of Damascus was a warning to Israel, the Northern Kingdom that had broken away from Judah and Judah’s God (1 Kings 12). The prophet used several images to describe Ephraim’s downfall: the destruction of the fortified cities (Isa. 17:3); the setting of the sun (v. 4a; “The glory has departed” [1 Sam. 4:19–22, NKJV]; the wasting away of a sick person (Isa. 17:4b); the gleaning of a small harvest (vv. 5–6); the decaying of a garden into a wasteland (vv. 9–11); the overflowing of a flood (vv. 12–13a); and the blowing away of chaff and tumbleweeds in a storm (v. 13b).
When judgment came, the people of Israel realized that their idols could not save them; so they turned to the Lord for help, but it was too late (Prov. 1:20–33). The nation was sick with sin and beyond recovery. Once the wind began to blow and the floods began to rise, the nation was without hope. In 722 B.C., Assyria conquered, and the kingdom of Israel was no more.
The emphasis in this section is on the God of Israel. He is the Lord of hosts (the Lord Almighty), who controls the armies of heaven and earth (Isa. 17:3). He is the Lord God of Israel (v. 6), who called and blessed Israel and warned her of her sins. He is our Maker, the Holy One of Israel (v. 7); He is the God of our salvation and our Rock (v. 10). How foolish of the Israelites to trust their man-made idols instead of trusting the living God (v. 8; 1 Kings 12:25–33). But like Israel of old, people today trust the gods they have made, instead of the God who made them; these include the false gods of pleasure, wealth, military might, scientific achievement, and even “religious experience.”
6. Ethiopia (Isa. 18:1–7)

The original text has “Cush,” a land that included modern Ethiopia, the Sudan, and Somalia. Isaiah called it “a land of whirring wings” (v. 1, NIV), not only because of the insects that infested the land, but also because of the frantic diplomatic activity going on as the nation sought alliances to protect them from Assyria. He pictures the ambassadors in their light, swift boats, going to the African nations for help. But God tells them to go back home (v. 2) because He would deal with Assyria Himself, apart from the help of any army.
In contrast to the frantic activity of men on earth is the calm patience of God in heaven (v. 4) as He awaits the right time to reap the harvest of judgment. Assyria is pictured as a ripening vine that will never survive, for God will cut it down (v. 5). In verse 6, Isaiah describes the feast that God spreads for the birds and beasts, the corpses of 185,000 Assyrian soldiers (37:36). See Revelation 14:14–20 and 19:17–21, where these same two images are used for end-time judgments.
Instead of rushing here and there with diplomatic plans, the Cushites will go to Jerusalem with gifts for the Lord and for the king of Judah (Isa. 17; 2 Chron. 32:20–23). When the messianic kingdom is established, the Gentile nations will go to Mt. Zion to worship the Lord and bring Him gifts (Isa. 60:1–7).
7. Egypt (Isa. 19:1–20:6)

The late Dr. Wilbur M. Smith, a leading prophetic scholar, wrote that Isaiah 19 “contains the most important prophetic utterance concerning Egypt in all of the Old Testament” (Egypt in Biblical Prophecy, p. 77). It is a remarkable prophecy, for Isaiah declares that the three enemies—Egypt, Israel, and Assyria (modern Iraq)—will one day be united in worshiping the Lord and sharing His blessing!
God will judge Egypt (Isa. 19:1–15; 20:1–6). This prophecy was probably fulfilled in 670 B.C. when Egypt was conquered by Esar-haddon, king of Assyria. The Assyrian conquest proved that the many gods of Egypt were powerless to help (19:1), and that the mediums and wizards were unable to give counsel (v. 3). In the days of Moses, God had triumphed over the gods of Egypt (Ex. 12:12; Num. 33:4) and the wisdom of the Egyptian leaders; and He would do it again.
But that is not all. The forty-two provinces of Egypt, called “nomes,” would be thrown into disarray and start fighting each other (Isa. 19:2). The Nile River, the source of Egypt’s economy, and the streams and canals of the land, would all dry up; and this would put farmers, fishermen, and cloth manufacturers out of business (vv. 5–10). For centuries, the Egyptians were respected for their wisdom; but now the princes and counselors would not know what to do (vv. 11–13). Instead of walking a straight path, the nation was led astray by leaders who were as dizzy as a drunken man staggering around in his vomit (vv. 14–15). Not a very pretty picture!
In these days of almost instant communication and of rapid transportation, when in a matter of minutes nations can come to the brink of war, we forget that God is still sovereign and can do whatever He pleases in the affairs of men. God destroyed everything that the Egyptians trusted—their political unity, their economy, religion, and wisdom—and made them an easy target for the Assyrians. When the international news is frightening and you wonder where God is, read Psalm 2 and Acts 4:23–31; and take hope.
Isaiah 20 is a footnote to this prophecy and reveals that Isaiah did some unique things to get the attention of the people of Judah. One faction wanted to make an alliance with Egypt and Cush, but Isaiah warned them that such allies were destined to fall. For three years, the prophet dressed like a prisoner of war, wearing only a loincloth, to demonstrate his message. The pro-Egyptian party in Judah gave the prophet as much trouble as the pro-Egyptian people did who journeyed with Moses (30:1–7; 31:1–3; Num. 11; 14).
God will save Egypt (Isa. 19:16–25). The phrase “in that day” is used five times in this passage and refers to the last days when Jesus Christ shall establish His messianic kingdom on earth. Some remarkable changes will take place. Egypt will fear Israel (vv. 16–17) and become converted to the worship of the true God (vv. 18–22). They will trust Him, not their idols, and pray to Him in times of need. This is a promise that vast numbers of Muslims in Egypt will one day turn to the Lord and be saved!
These spiritual changes will bring about a great political change: Israel, Egypt, and Assyria (modern Iraq) will cooperate and enjoy the blessing of the Lord! They will not only receive God’s blessing, but they will all be a blessing to the other nations (vv. 23–25). Once again, Isaiah picks up his “highway” theme to emphasize the unity of these three nations (see 11:16). What a wonderful day it will be when there is peace in the Middle East because the nations have bowed before the King of kings! We must continue praying, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22:20).
8. Edom (Isa. 21:11–12)

Dumah and Seir are names for Edom (Num. 24:18). Isaiah moved one letter in the Hebrew word “Adom” and created “Duma,” which means “stillness, silence.” It was his way of saying, “Edom will be silent; it will be no more.” The Edomites were descendants of Esau, whose nickname was “red [Edom]” (Gen. 25:21–34). Edom was a rugged land of red sandstone; her people were bitterly hostile to the Jews (Ps. 137:7).
Isaiah was the watchman on the wall (Isa. 21:6; Ezek. 3:16–21; 33:1–11); and he was asked, “What of the night?” What time of night was it? The advance of the Assyrian army had brought fearful darkness to the nations; and Edom wanted to know if there was any hope, any light. The prophet’s reply was brief but adequate, with both information and invitation. Morning was coming, because Assyria would be defeated by God in the fields of Judah (Isa. 37:36). But the morning would not last, for Babylon would take Assyria’s place and bring further darkness to the nations.
Then Isaiah added an invitation consisting of three simple words: inquire, return, come. “Seek the Lord,” urged the prophet. “Turn from sin and return to Him. Come to Him, and He will receive you!” Only a brief “day of salvation” would dawn, and they had better use the opportunity.
Edom did not heed the invitation. The nation was taken by Babylon, then by the Persians (who changed the name to “Idumea”), and finally by the Romans. The battle between Esau and Jacob was carried on by the Herods, who were Idumeans. After the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, Edom vanished from the scene.
9. Arabia (Isa. 21:13–17)

The prophet saw the caravans of the Arabian merchants from Dedan leaving the trade route and hiding in the thickets because of the invasion of the Assyrian army. Food and water were brought to the fugitives by people from Tema, an oasis town. Eventually the caravan had to flee, for how could the merchants’ slow animals compete with the Assyrian cavalry or their bows with the invaders’ weapons? Like a laborer, God had a “contract” to fulfill (16:14). Within a year, the pomp and glory of the Arabian tribes would be gone.
10. Judah and Jerusalem (Isa. 22:1–25)

The people of Judah were behaving like their pagan neighbors, so it was only right that Isaiah should include them in the list of nations God would judge. Yes, in His mercy, the Lord would deliver Jerusalem from the Assyrian army; but He would not deliver them from Babylon. Isaiah pointed out two particular sins that would cause Judah to decline and ultimately go into Captivity in Babylon.
The unbelief of the people (Isa. 22:1–14). While some parts of this description may seem to apply to the Assyrian invasion in Hezekiah’s day (chaps. 36–37; 2 Kings 18–19; 2 Chron. 32), the primary reference is to the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. In Isaiah’s day, Jerusalem was a “joyous city” as people engaged in all kinds of celebrations (Isa. 5:11–13; 32:12–13). The popular philosophy was, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we shall die” (22:13; 56:12; 1 Cor. 15:32). But the prophet did not participate in the parties, for he saw a day coming when death and destruction would reign in the City of David. The people went up to the housetops, but the prophet went down into one of the three valleys around Jerusalem; and there God gave him a vision. Visions and valleys often go together.
He saw people dying, not from battle wounds, but from famine and disease (Isa. 22:2). He saw the nation’s rulers fleeing in fear as the enemy army approached (vv. 3–7; 2 Kings 25:1–10). The people would do everything possible to prepare for a long siege (Isa. 22:8–11): collecting armor (1 Kings 7:2; 10:17), fortifying the walls (Isa. 22:9–10), servicing the water supply (v. 9; 2 Chron. 32:1–4, 30; 2 Kings 20:20), and building a reservoir between the walls (Isa. 22:11). But all of this frantic preparation would not deliver them from the enemy. “The defenses of Judah are stripped away” (v. 8, NIV). In their false confidence, they said, “Just as the Lord delivered Jerusalem from Assyria, so He will deliver us from Babylon.”
The people did everything but trust the Lord (v. 11). Instead of feasting, they should have been fasting, weeping, putting on sackcloth, and pulling out their hair in grief (v. 12; Ezra 9:3; James 4:8–10). God had sent the nation many prophets to warn them, but the people would not listen. Now it was too late; their sins could not be forgiven because their hearts were hard. Judah would go into captivity, and God’s word to Isaiah would be fulfilled (Isa. 6:9–13).
The unfaithfulness of the leaders (Isa. 22:15–25). Had the leaders been faithful to the Lord and called the people to repentance, there might have been hope; but too many of the leaders were like Shebna, thinking only of themselves. As treasurer (steward), Shebna was second to King Hezekiah in authority (see chaps. 36–37); but he used his authority (and possibly the king’s money) to build himself a monumental tomb (22:16) and to acquire chariots (v. 18; see 2:7). Shebna was not a spiritual man, and he probably sided with the pro-Egypt party in Judah.
God judged Shebna by demoting him (he became “secretary” according to 36:3, NIV), disgracing him, and deporting him. Eventually he was thrown “like a ball” (22:18) into a far country (Assyria?), where he died. He could not have an expensive funeral and be buried in his elaborate tomb.
God chose a new man, Eliakim (“God will raise up”), and called him “My servant.” Instead of exploiting the people, he would be a father to them and use his “key” (authority) for the good of the nation. He would be like a dependable peg, hammered into the wall, on which you could hang many burdens. But even a godly leader like Eliakim could not prevent the ultimate fall of Judah, for one day the whole nation would fall (v. 25). Eliakim is a picture of Jesus Christ (Rev. 3:7), the greatest Servant of all.
11. Phoenicia (Isa. 23:1–18)

The Phoenicians were a merchant people whose land approximated what is today known as Lebanon. Their ships plied the Mediterranean coasts, where their many colonies assured them of an abundant supply of the world’s wealth. Tyre and Sidon were key cities. Both David and Solomon made use of workers and building materials from Phoenicia (2 Sam. 5:11; 1 Kings 5:8–9). King Ahab married the Phoenician princess Jezebel, who promoted Baal worship in Israel (1 Kings 16:29–33).
Declaration (Isa. 23:1–7). Isaiah addressed ships from Spain (Tarshish) that were docked at Cyprus (Kittim), telling their crews to weep and go home (v. 6) because Tyre was no more. Merchants from Spain, the coastlands, and even Egypt would wail because Tyre’s great shipping industry was gone and the Mediterranean economy had been devastated. (See Rev. 17–18 for a parallel, and note that both Babylon and Tyre are compared to prostitutes [Isa. 23:16–17].) The joyful citizens of Tyre would become mourning refugees (v. 7) when Nebuchadnezzar would conquer Phoenicia in 572 B.C. (He did not conquer the island part of Tyre, but Alexander the Great would do it in 332 B.C. See Ezek. 26.)
Explanation (Isa. 23:8–14). “Who planned this against Tyre?” (v. 8, NIV) The Lord Almighty! Just as He purposed to destroy Egypt (19:23) and Babylon (14:27), so He purposed to judge Tyre. Just as Assyria had destroyed the city of Babylon in 689 B.C., so Tyre and Sidon would be destroyed by a revived Babylon in 585–572 B.C. (23:13). The pride of Tyre (v. 9) was a sin that God could not ignore.
Anticipation (Isa. 23:15–18). Even before their eventual destruction, Tyre and Sidon would not be involved in business for seventy years. History tells us that the Assyrians restricted Phoenician trade from 700–630 B.C.; but when Assyria began to weaken in power, Tyre and Sidon revived their businesses. The prophet compared the revived city to an old prostitute who had to sing lovely songs in order to get attention. Apparently the shipping business would not be as easy or as lucrative as it once was. In verse 18, Isaiah looked ahead to the messianic kingdom, when the wealth of Tyre would not be hoarded (see Zech. 9:3) but given to the Lord as a holy offering.
Our trek through these eleven chapters has taught us some important lessons. First, God is in control of the nations of the world, and He can do with them what He pleases. “Though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small” (Friedrich von Logau, translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow). Second, God especially hates the sin of pride. (See Isa. 13:11; 16:6; 23:9; and Prov. 8:13.) When nations turn from the living God to trust their wealth and their armaments, God must show them that He is the only sure refuge. Third, God judges the nations for the way they treat each other. Judah was the only nation mentioned that had God’s Law, yet God held the other ten Gentile nations accountable for what they did. “For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without law” (Rom. 2:12, NKJV). Finally, God always gives a word of promise and hope to His people. Babylon will fall, but God will care for Judah (Isa. 14:1–3, 32). Moab will not accept sanctuary from Jerusalem, but God will one day establish Messiah’s throne there (16:5). Assyria and Egypt may be avowed enemies of the Jews, but one day the three nations will together glorify God (19:23–25).
Therefore, no matter how frightening the national or international situation may become, God’s children can have peace because they know Almighty God is on His throne. The nations may rage and plot against God, but “He who sits in the heavens shall laugh” (Ps. 2:4, NKJV).
When the Lord of heaven and earth is your Father, and you gladly wear Christ’s yoke, you have nothing to fear (Matt. 11:25–30). Therefore, be comforted!


ISAIAH 24–27

A Refuge from the Storm
After prophesying concerning eleven different nations, Isaiah enlarged his prophecy and described a judgment that would fall on the whole world. The Hebrew word erets, used sixteen times in chapter 24, is translated land, earth, and world in the King James Version. It is not always easy to tell when erets refers to one country or to the whole earth, but the context usually guides us. Isaiah 24–27 describes a global judgment that will end with the destruction of God’s enemies and the restoration of God’s people Israel in their land.
Isaiah warned the Northern Kingdom that the Assyrians would destroy them, and he told Judah that the Babylonians would take them captive; but these local calamities were only forerunners of a vast end-times catastrophe that would engulf the whole world. The prophets call this time of terrible judgment “the Day of the Lord,” and in the New Testament it is described in Matthew 24; Mark 13; and Revelation 6–19.
Isaiah makes three declarations that will comfort God’s chosen people in that awesome day of judgment. These declarations also encourage us today as we see our world plunging headlong into sin and rebellion against God. Will God ever deal with the wicked? What hope is there for the righteous?
1. The Lord will judge His enemies (Isa. 24:1–23)

The result of God’s judgment will be a world that is empty, laid waste, and distorted, and whose inhabitants are scattered. The prophet may have had Genesis 1:2 and 11:9 in mind when he wrote this. Nobody on earth will escape, for “God is no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34). Position, power, and wealth are no protection against the wrath of God. God merely speaks the word and, like a dying invalid, “the world languishes and fades away” (Isa. 24:3–4, NKJV). People who are proud of their wealth and position will find themselves poor and without power.
Why does God punish the inhabitants of the world? Because they have defiled the world by their sins. When Adam sinned, God cursed the ground as a part of the punishment (Gen. 3:17–19; Rom. 8:20–22); and God warned the people of Israel that their sins polluted the Promised Land (Num. 35:33). Today we see man’s greed polluting land, water, and atmosphere, as well as exploiting the earth of its God-given treasures. Sin has consequences in nature as well as in human character and conscience.
For centuries, mankind has polluted the world by disobeying God’s laws and violating His statutes. This was the reason for the Flood (Gen. 6:5, 11–13). Long before Moses gave the Law, people knew that it was wrong to lie, steal, and kill (Rom. 1:18–2:16); but they did these evil things anyway. The “everlasting covenant” of Isaiah 24:5 refers to what we generally call “The Noahic Covenant” (Gen. 8:20–9:17) and deals primarily with our care of God’s world and our treatment of fellow humans. Isaiah 24:16 suggests that God will also judge the world because people are treacherous and do not keep their word. The people of the world have abused both the earth and its inhabitants, and they will pay for it.
Verses 6–13 give a vivid picture of what it will be like on the earth during the Day of the Lord. In Israel, the harvest was generally a time for great joy; but there will be no joy because there will be no harvest. God’s judgments will destroy the crops as well as the workers who would till the soil. (See Rev. 6:8 and 9:15.) “The city” is mentioned at least eight times in these chapters (Isa. 24:10, 12; 26:5; 27:10) and should be taken generically rather than as a reference to any one particular city. Whether people live in rural areas or in the cities, they will not escape God’s wrath.
Like a farmer harvesting the last olive or the last grape, God will do a thorough job of judging sinners (24:13). The only singing during His harvest will be done by the believing remnant who trust God and are delivered (vv. 14–16a). The doctrine of “the remnant” is an important part of Isaiah’s message (1:9; 10:20–22; 11:11, 16; 14:22, 30); Isaiah’s eldest son was named “a remnant shall return” (7:3).
The prophet changed the image in 24:17–18a when he described the futile attempts of frightened animals to avoid the hunters’ traps. But apart from faith in the Lord, there will be no place of escape in that great day of judgment. No matter where sinners go, they will not be able to hide from the wrath of God (Rev. 6:15–17).
The opening of the windows of heaven (Isa. 24:18b) reminds us of the Flood (Gen. 7:11). Jesus said that, before the “Day of the Lord,” society would be as it was in the days before the Flood (Matt. 24:37–42). In that day, God will shake everything; and anything man has made will stagger like a drunk and collapse like a flimsy hut (Isa. 24:20; see 1:8). The weight of guilt will be too heavy for people to carry.
But the Day of the Lord will affect not only the earth and its people but also Satan and his hosts. God will judge “the powers in the heavens above” as well as “the kings on earth below” (24:21, NIV). These judgments will be part of the spiritual battle that has been waging for centuries between the Lord of hosts and the armies of the devil (Gen. 3:15; Luke 10:17–24; Eph. 6:10ff; Rev. 12). Isaiah 24:22 parallels Revelation 20:1–3, an event that will take place just before the thousand-year reign of Jesus Christ (Isa. 24:23; Rev. 20:4–10). The word “visited” in Isaiah 24:22 (KJV) means “released” (cf. NIV margin). The climax of the “Day of the Lord” will be “the Lord of hosts shall reign in Mt. Zion” (v. 23).
2. The Lord will preserve His people (Isa. 25:1–12)

This chapter is a song of praise to the Lord from the believing remnant that He preserved during “the Day of the Lord.” In this song, three striking images stand out.
The ruined city (Isa. 25:1–3). We have met this image before (24:10, 12) and noted that “the city” is a generic term for all cities. Isaiah lived in an agricultural world of towns and villages, and the large cities (or city-states) were places of power and wealth. In times of war, the people fled to the walled cities for protection. But the great cities of the world will offer no protection when God pours out His wrath on the nations (2:19; Rev. 16:19). The rebellious cities will be forced to acknowledge the greatness of God and give their homage to Him.
The refuge (Isa. 25:4–5). Isaiah paints two pictures: the buffeting of a storm and the beating down of a burning sun in the desert. Where can travelers go for refuge? They see a huge rock and find refuge in it. God is that Rock (Deut. 32:3–4, 30; 33:27; Pss. 46:1; 61:1–4), and He will be a refuge for His believing people during that terrible “Day of the Lord.” The victory shouts of the enemy will disappear the way heat vanishes when a cloud covers the sun.
God cares for His own in times of trial and judgment. He kept Noah and his family alive through the Flood (Gen 6–8) and guarded Israel when His judgments fell on Egypt (Ex. 8:22–23; 9:4, 6, 26; 10:23; 11:6–7; 12:13). He protected believing Rahab and her family when Jericho fell (Josh. 6:25) and preserved a faithful remnant when Judah was taken into Babylonian Captivity (Ezra 9:8–9). Throughout the centuries, He has kept His church in spite of the attacks of Satan (Matt. 16:18) and will deliver His church from the wrath to come (1 Thes. 1:10; 5:9). When “the Day of the Lord” comes to this godless world, God will see to it that the Jewish remnant will be preserved. “Hide yourselves for a little while until His wrath has passed by. See, the Lord is coming out of His dwelling to punish the people of the earth for their sins” (Isa. 26:20–21, NIV).
The feast (Isa. 25:6–12). For the Old Testament Jew, a feast was a picture of the Kingdom Age when Messiah would reign over Israel and all the nations of the world. Israel would enter into her glory, and the Gentiles would come to Zion to worship the Lord (2:1–5; 55:1–5; 60:1ff). When Jesus used the image of the feast in Matthew 8:11 and Luke 13:28–29, the people knew He was speaking about the promised kingdom.
The food that we eat only sustains life; but at this feast, death itself will be conquered. “On this mountain He will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; He will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces” (Isa. 25:7–8, NIV). The funeral will turn into a wedding! Verse 8 was quoted by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:54 and by the Apostle John in Revelation 7:17 and 21:4.
The “covering” and “veil” in Isaiah 25:7 may also suggest the blindness of Israel and the nations to the true God and Savior (2 Cor. 3:12–18; 4:3–4). When the Lord Jesus Christ returns in power and great glory, Israel “shall look upon Me whom they have pierced” (Zech. 12:10) and shall trust in Him for salvation. The veil shall be removed, and they will see their Messiah and their God. Then they will sing the song of Isaiah 25:9 as they enter into the great kingdom feast.
In contrast to the exaltation of Mt. Zion is the humiliation of Moab (vv. 10–12). Isaiah probably selected Moab as an example of how God will humble all of Israel’s enemies. The imagery here is quite graphic: The Moabites are compared to straw trampled so deeply into manure that the people have to swim through the manure to get out! (See the NIV.) While the Jews are enjoying a feast of good things, the Moabites are trying to escape from the excrement of the animals the Jews are devouring! Moab was always known for its pride (16:6ff); but God will bring them low along with all the other nations that exalt themselves, exploit others, and refuse to submit to the Lord.
3. The Lord will restore the nation (Isa. 26:1–27:13)

Israel is singing once more (24:14–16; 25:1ff), and this time the emphasis is on righteousness and peace. There can be no true peace apart from righteousness (32:17), and there can be no righteousness apart from God’s salvation in Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:21–31). It is at Calvary that “righteousness and peace have kissed each other” (Ps. 85:10); and when Jesus Christ reigns on earth, the promise of 72:7 will be fulfilled: “In His days the righteous shall flourish, and abundance of peace, until the moon is no more” (NKJV). Jesus Christ is our true Melchizedek—King of Righteousness and King of Peace (Heb. 7:1–3).
The phrase “in that day” (Isa. 26:1; 27:1–2, 12–13) refers to “the Day of the Lord” and the blessings that will follow when the Lord defeats His enemies. In these two chapters, the prophet encourages God’s suffering people by describing in seven pictures the kingdom blessings that await them in the future.
The strong city (Isa. 26:1–6). Samaria fell to the Assyrians and Jerusalem to the Babylonians, but the New Jerusalem would be impregnable. During “the Day of the Lord,” God will level the lofty cities of the earth; but Mt. Zion will be exalted to the glory of the Lord (2:1–5). Jerusalem will no longer be the sinful city described in chapter 1; it will be a righteous city for a holy nation whose sins have been washed away (Zech. 13:1). Compare Isaiah 26:2 with Psalms 15 and 24.
Only those who have trusted Jesus Christ will enter the city; and because they believe, they have peace (Rom. 5:1). The Hebrew word for “peace” (shalom) means much more than a cessation of war. It includes blessings such as wholeness, health, quietness of soul, preservation, and completeness. “What is your peace?” is the way Jews often greet one another; and Isaiah’s reply would be, “My peace is from the Lord, for I trust wholly in Him!” Paul’s counsel in Philippians 4:6–9 is based on Isaiah 26:3.
It is worth noting that Augustus Toplady’s song “Rock of Ages” is based on the marginal reading of verse 4: “for in the Lord God is the Rock of ages.” The New Jerusalem is a city built on a Rock!
The level path (Isa. 26:7–11). We have noted Isaiah’s emphasis on the image of the highway (see comments at 11:16). During much of their history, the Jews have traveled a rough road; but when the kingdom is established, God will give them level paths and a smooth way. Because they will be walking in the will of God, their way will be safe and enjoyable. They will wait on the Lord to discern His will. They will yearn for the Lord and worship Him even in the night (Ps. 119:55).
According to Isaiah 26:9–11, God wants the world to learn righteousness. He sends His judgments, but the people still will not repent (Rev. 9:20–21; 16:9). He shows them His grace in a thousand ways, but they continue to do evil. His hand is at work, but they will not see it. The prophet prays that God will reveal Himself through His people as He works on their behalf. The reviving and restoring of Israel should help to convince a lost world that God is not dead and that He keeps His promises.
The woman in travail (Isa. 26:12–18). The agony of “the Day of the Lord” is compared to the pain of a woman travailing in birth (13:6–8; 1 Thes. 5:1–3). Isaiah describes the remnant confessing their failures to the Lord. Because of their sins, they had been subjected to many Gentile tyrants; but now these tyrants were dead and could not return to enslave them. God disciplined His people and brought them to the place where all they could do was whisper their prayers (Isa. 26:16, NIV), but He heard them and delivered them. Israel was in pain like a woman giving birth, except that their travail produced nothing! Israel failed to give birth to the blessings God wanted them to bring to the world (v. 18). But during the Kingdom Age, Israel and Mt. Zion will be the source of blessing for the whole world.
What hindered Israel from being the blessing to the world that God wanted them to be? They turned from the sincere worship of the true God and gave their devotion to idols. The Hebrew verb in verse 13 translated “had dominion” (KJV) gives us the noun baal, the name of the Canaanite storm god whose cult created so many problems in Israel. But the word baal also means “husband,” so the suggestion is that Israel was not true to her husband Jehovah, but in her unfaithfulness turned to another god. The same image occurs in James 4:4.
The life-giving dew (Isa. 26:19–21). Just as the dew brings new life to the soil and vegetation, so God will raise the dead out of the earth. The prophet had already announced God’s great victory over death (25:7–8), and now he tells us how He will do it: He will raise their bodies from the dust. Resurrection is not reconstruction; God does not reassemble the body and give it life. Paul compared the miracle of resurrection to the harvesting of grain planted in the soil (1 Cor. 15:35–49). The seed is buried and dies, but out of this death comes forth life and fruitfulness. Isaiah had just written about travail (Isa. 26:17–18), so he compares the resurrection to human birth: “The earth will give birth to her dead” (v. 19, NIV).
When Christ returns for His church, believers who “sleep in Jesus” will be raised from the dead (1 Thes. 4:13–18). When He returns with His church to judge His enemies and establish His kingdom, there will also be a resurrection (Rev. 19:11–20:6). These two events are called “the first resurrection” and include only saved people. At the end of the thousand years, when Satan is finally imprisoned, the lost will be raised to face the Great White Throne Judgment (vv. 7–15). While the Old Testament does not give the complete revelation about death and resurrection, it does assure us that there is a future for the human body (Dan. 12:2; Ps. 16:9–10).
The remnant has been praying to God (Isa. 26:11–19), and now God speaks to them and gives them the assurance they need (vv. 20–21). He promises to shelter His people from the terrible attacks of the enemy (Rev. 12). God will punish His enemies who have slain His people, whose blood cries out from the earth for vengeance (Gen. 4:10–11; Ezek. 24:7–8; Rev. 6:9–11). The unjust shedding of blood pollutes the land (Num. 35:29–34; Ps. 106:34–39) and invites the judgment of God.
The conquered beast (Isa. 27:1). The nations around Israel had many myths about sea monsters, one of whom was compared to “leviathan,” probably the crocodile (Job 3:8; 41:1ff). To slay leviathan was a great achievement (Ps. 74:14), and the Lord promised to do it. Satan held these nations in bondage through their superstitious religions, and the remnant did not need to fear the false gods of the Gentiles. God’s people today are set free from bondage to Satan and the false gods he seduces people to worship (Col. 2:13–15), and we can rejoice in our Lord’s great victory (John 12:31). When the battle is over and the Lord has conquered evil, Israel can enter her glorious kingdom without fear.
The fruitful vineyard (Isa. 27:2–11). As in 5:1–7, the vineyard is Israel; but here the prophet sees both the Israel of his day and the Israel of the future day when the kingdom will be established. God was not angry with His people (27:4); He just yearned for them to return to Him and fervently trust Him. He used war (Assyria) to punish the Northern Kingdom and Captivity (Babylon) to discipline the Southern Kingdom (v. 8, NIV), but He did this in love and not in anger. Verses 10–11 are a description of Jerusalem after the Babylonian siege. God temporarily took away His mercy until His purposes were fulfilled.
In “the Day of the Lord,” God will use suffering to purge His people and prepare them for their kingdom. Verse 9 does not suggest that personal suffering can atone for sin, for only the sacrifice of Jesus Christ can do that. God uses suffering as a discipline to bring us to submission so that we will seek Him and His holiness (Heb. 12:1–11). The Babylonian Captivity cured the Jews of their idolatry once and for all (Isa. 27:9).
In Isaiah’s day, the vineyard was producing wild grapes; but in the future kingdom, Israel will be fruitful and flourishing. God will guard His people and give them all that they need to bring glory to His name. The nation will “blossom and bud, and fill the face of the world with fruit” (v. 6). Through Israel, all the nations of the earth will be blessed (Gen. 12:1–3).
The Bible speaks of three vines: the people of Israel (Isa. 5; 27), Christ and His church (John 15), and godless Gentile society, “the vine of the earth” (Rev. 14:18). The vineyard of Israel is not bearing fruit, the “vine of the earth” is filling the world with poisonous fruit, and God’s people must be faithful branches in the Vine and produce fruit that glorifies God’s name.
The holy and happy feast (Isa. 27:12–13). The camp of Israel was directed by the blowing of trumpets (Num. 10). The Feast of Trumpets took place on the first day of the seventh month and prepared Israel for the annual Day of Atonement (Lev. 23:23–32). But the Day of Atonement prepared them for the Feast of Tabernacles, which is a picture of the joy of the future kingdom (Lev. 23:33–44).
Isaiah envisioned a glorious day when God would repeat the miracle of the Exodus and deliver His people from their bondage to the Gentile nations. The trumpet would summon them to Jerusalem (Matt. 24:31) and announce God’s victory over their foes, and they would “worship the Lord in the holy mount at Jerusalem.” The kingdom will be like an endless feast and a holy day of worship as the people rejoice in the Lord.
Of course, God’s people today are also awaiting “the sound of the trumpet” (1 Cor. 15:50–58; 1 Thes. 4:13–18) announcing the coming of the Lord for His church. Then we will go with Him to heaven and prepare for the marriage supper of the Lamb. We shall return with Him to earth and reign with Him in the kingdom.
Are you praying daily, “Thy kingdom come”?
Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). Be Comforted (S. 42–69). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

Be comforted, part 6-7, Archbishop Dr. Uwe AE.Rosenkranz

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ISAIAH 28–31

Storm Clouds over Jerusalem
The name “Jerusalem” means “city of peace,” but throughout its history it has been associated more with conflict than with peace. Even today, Jerusalem is a focal point for concern in the Middle East. “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem,” admonished the psalmist (Ps. 122:6). Why pray for Jerusalem? Why not pray for London or Moscow or Rome? Because when there is true peace in Jerusalem, there will be peace in the whole world (Isa. 52:7; 66:12); so we had better take the psalmist’s words to heart.
Chapters 28–31 record a series of five “woes” (28:1; 29:1, 15; 30:1; 31:1) that focus primarily on Jerusalem. A sixth “woe” is found in 33:1, and interspersed with these “woes” of judgment are promises of restoration and glory. Isaiah is attempting to get the rulers of Judah to stop trusting “power politics” and international treaties and start trusting the Lord.
1. The Lord warns Jerusalem (Isa. 28:1–29)

Like all devout Jews, Isaiah loved Jerusalem, the holy city, the city of David, the place of God’s dwelling (Pss. 122 and 137). But Isaiah saw storm clouds gathering over the city and announced that trouble was coming. It was time for the nation to turn to God in repentance.
He began his message announcing God’s judgment on Ephraim (Isa. 28:1–6). Surely their neighbor’s fall would serve as a warning to the people of Judah and Jerusalem. If Assyria conquered Samaria, then Judah was next on the list. The Northern Kingdom was proud of its capital city, Samaria, that sat like a beautiful crown (or wreath) at the head of a fruitful valley. But their arrogance was detestable to God, for they thought their fortress city was impregnable. Samaria reigned in luxury and pleasure and had no fear of her enemies.
The Lord was also appalled by their drunkenness. To the Jews, wine was a gift from God and a source of joy (Jud. 9:13; Ps. 104:15). The Law did not demand total abstinence, but it did warn against drunkenness (Deut. 21:18–21; Prov. 20:1; 23:20–21, 29–35). The Prophet Amos denounced the luxurious indulgences of the people in both Judah and Samaria (Amos 6:1–7), and Isaiah also thundered against such godless living (Isa. 5:11–12, 22).
A government official in Washington, D.C. once quipped, “We have three parties in this city: the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, and the cocktail party.” Indeed, Washington, D.C. ranks high on the list of cities noted for alcohol consumption. Many people don’t realize that alcohol and nicotine, America’s favorite legal narcotics, do far more damage than all the illegal drugs combined. According to Dr. Arnold Washton, alcohol and nicotine kill 450,000 people annually, while illegal drugs kill about 6,000 (Willpower’s Not Enough, Harper & Row, 1989; p. 13). This does not make illegal drugs acceptable, but it does help us put things in perspective. What hope is there for our affluent, pleasure-loving society that gives lip service to religion and ignores the tragic consequences of sin and the judgment that is sure to come?
Samaria was proud of her beauty, but that beauty was fading like a cut flower (28:1, 4) that could never stand before the coming tempest. God was sending a storm across the land, and their proud city would be destroyed by wind, rain, hail, and flood—the Assyrian army! Conquering Samaria would be as easy as plucking a fig from a tree! On that day of judgment, Samaria would learn too late that Jehovah, not Samaria, is the “crown of glory” and “diadem of beauty” (v. 5); and that He is a God of justice (vv. 5–6). The reference here is to God’s deliverance of Jerusalem from Assyria, even when the enemy was at the very gates (chaps. 36–37).
Perhaps the people of Judah rejoiced to hear Isaiah announce the fall of their rival kingdom, but their celebration was shortlived; for the prophet then announced that Judah was guilty of the same sins as Samaria and therefore was in danger of judgment (28:5–8). The priests and the prophets, who should have been examples to the people, were staggering drunk around the city and carousing at tables covered with vomit. Their counsel to the people did not come from the Spirit of God but from their own drunken delusions (see Eph. 5:18). They not only swallowed wine but were “swallowed up of wine” (Isa. 28:7). This reminds us of the Japanese proverb: “First the man takes a drink, then the drink takes a drink, and then the drink takes the man.”
But pride and drunkenness were not Judah’s only sins; they also mocked God’s prophet and rejected God’s Word (vv. 9–13). Verses 9–10 are the words of the drunken prophets and priests as they ridiculed Isaiah. “He talks to us as though we were little children,” they said. “He keeps saying the same things over and over again and uses the vocabulary of a child. There is certainly no need to take anything he says seriously!”
Society today often takes a similar attitude toward God’s servants and God’s Word. People are so intoxicated by intellectual pride that they laugh at the simple message of the Gospel presented by humble witnesses (1 Cor. 1:18–31). The Prophet Amos was ejected from the king’s chapel because he was a simple farmer and not a member of the religious elite (Amos 7:10–17). Evangelist D.L. Moody was often laughed at because his speech was not polished, but God used him to bring many thousands to the Savior.
What was Isaiah’s answer to this supercritical crowd of religious drunks? “If you will not listen to my simple speech in your own language, God will speak to you with a language you do not understand. He will send the army of Assyria, whose language is foreign to you.” This happened to both Ephraim and Judah. The Assyrians completely destroyed the Southern Kingdom in 722 B.C.; and in 701 B.C., after devastating the land of Judah, they came to the very gates of Jerusalem.
This leads to Isaiah’s third announcement: God offers His people rest (Isa. 7:4; 8:6–8), but they will not obey (hear) His Word (28:12–20). The prophet had given them a plain message that everybody could understand, but they rejected it. Their faith was in their political alliances and not in God (vv. 15, 18). In the days of King Ahaz, they made a secret treaty with Assyria; and in the days of King Hezekiah, they turned to Egypt for help (30:1–5; 31:1). But these “covenants with death and the grave” were destined to fail because God was not in them. The enemy would come like a flood, a storm, and a whip (scourge); and there would be no escape. Ephraim would be destroyed, and Judah would be saved by the skin of her teeth. The bed they had made (their alliances) could not give them rest (see 28:12), and the covering they made (their treaties) would not cover them (see 31:1).
Their only hope was in the tried and true foundation stone (28:16), the “Rock of ages” (26:4; 8:14; 17:10). This is definitely a reference to the Messiah and is so interpreted in the New Testament (1 Peter 2:4–7; Rom. 9:33; Mark 12:10; see Ps. 118:22). If they had faith in Jehovah, they would not be rushing here and there, trying to forge alliances, a practice that only leads to shame and failure (Rom. 10:11). A solid rock is better protection than a flimsy covering of lies!
Isaiah’s final announcement was that their confidence that God would not judge them was a delusion (Isa. 28:21–29). “But God defended His people in the past!” they argued. “What about David’s victory over the Philistines at Mount Perazim [2 Sam. 5:17–21], or Joshua’s victory over the Amorites at Gibeon [Josh. 10]?” But Joshua and David were godly leaders who trusted Jehovah and obeyed His Word. What Isaiah’s scoffing opponents did not realize was that God would do a “strange work”: He would use the enemy to fight against His own people! Just as a farmer has different tasks to perform and must adapt himself to each task, whether plowing or threshing, so God must do the work that is necessary to bring about His eternal purposes. He knows just what tool to use and when to use it.
Jerusalem watched the Northern Kingdom fall to the Assyrians, but this judgment did not bring them to repentance. When we start saying to ourselves, “It can never happen to me!”—it is sure to happen!
2. The Lord humbles Jerusalem (Isa. 29:1–14)

“Ariel” is a code name for Jerusalem and means “lion of God.” The lion was a symbol of Assyria, so the prophet may have been saying, “Assyria is now God’s lion, and Jerusalem is God’s lion in name only.” But the Hebrew word also means “an altar hearth,” where the burnt offerings were sacrificed (Ezek. 43:13–18). “It [Jerusalem] shall be unto me as Ariel [an altar hearth]” (Isa. 29:2). In other words, it would become a place of slaughter.
God was going to humble the proud city. Instead of roaring and frightening the enemy, the lion would only whisper from the dust (v. 4). Instead of their sacrifices being accepted by God (v. 1), the entire city would become an altar; and God would make His people a sacrifice.
When did these things happen? God began to “turn on the heat” in 701 B.C. when Assyria marched triumphantly through Judah and almost took Jerusalem. God defeated Assyria in an instant (37:36), “suddenly” (29:5), like blowing away dust or chaff (v. 6). This discipline should have brought Judah back to the Lord; but after the death of Hezekiah, they returned to their sins. So, in 586 B.C., God sent the Babylonians, who conquered Jerusalem and destroyed it, taking thousands of Jews into captivity. God did His “strange work” and permitted His own people to be slain by the enemy. The city indeed was like an altar hearth, and thousands were sacrificed to the wrath of the enemy.
But Isaiah looked far down the highway of history to the end times when Jerusalem would be attacked by the armies of the world (vv. 7–8; Zech. 14:1–3). This is what prophetic students call “the battle of Armageddon,” though that title is not used in Scripture (Rev. 14:14–20; 16:13–21). When it looks as though the city is about to fall, and the enemy armies are sure of victory, Jesus Christ will return and deliver His people (19:11–21). The enemy victory will vanish.
Why were the people of Jerusalem so ignorant of what was going on? Their hearts were far from God (Isa. 29:13). They went through the outward forms of worship and faithfully kept the annual feasts (v. 1; 1:10ff), but it was not a true worship of God (Matt. 15:1–9). Going to the temple was the popular thing to do, but most of the people did not take their worship seriously. Therefore, God sent a “spiritual blindness” and stupor on His people so that they could not understand their own Law. Such blindness persists today (Rom. 11:8; 2 Cor. 3:13–18). If people will not accept the truth, then they must become more and more blind and accept lies. (See John 9:39–41 and 2 Thes. 2:1–12.)
3. The Lord appeals to Jerusalem (Isa. 29:15–24)

This “woe” exposed the devious political tactics of the rulers of Judah, who thought that God would not hold them accountable for what they were doing. They were trying to turn things upside down, the clay telling the potter what to do. (See 45:9; 64:8; Jer. 18; and Rom. 9:20.) If only people would seek the counsel of the Lord instead of depending on their own wisdom and the fragile promises of men!
In Isaiah 29:17–24, Isaiah asked the people to look ahead and consider what God had planned for them. In their political strategy, they had turned things upside down; but God would one day turn everything around by establishing His glorious kingdom on earth. The devastated land would become a paradise, the disabled would be healed, and the outcasts would be enriched and rejoice in the Lord. There would be no more scoffers or ruthless people practicing injustice in the courts. The founders of the nation, Abraham and Jacob, would see their many descendants all glorifying the Lord.
In light of this glorious future, why should Judah turn to feeble nations like Egypt for help? God is on their side, and they can trust Him! Abraham went to Egypt for help and got into trouble (Gen. 12:10–20), and Isaac started for Egypt but was stopped by God (26:1–6). God cared for Jacob during all of his years of trial, and surely He could care for Jacob’s children. It is tragic when a nation forgets its great spiritual heritage and turns from trusting the Lord to trusting the plans and promises of men.
At the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787, Benjamin Franklin said, “I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth—that God governs in the affairs of men. I therefore beg leave to move that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of heaven and its blessings on our deliberations be held in this Assembly every morning …” Isaiah sought that attitude in Jerusalem; but instead, he found only scoffing and unbelief.
4. The Lord rebukes Jerusalem (Isa. 30:1–33)

This fourth “woe” begins with God’s rebuke of the nation’s rebellion (vv. 1–17). Isaiah opened his prophecy with this accusation (1:2, 20, 23), and he ends it on that same note (63:10; 65:2). After all that God had done for His people, they turned away from Him and sought the help of feeble Egypt. Unlike the leaders of old, the rulers of Jerusalem did not seek the will of God: Moses (Num. 27:21), Joshua (Josh. 9:14), David (1 Sam. 30:7–8), and Jehoshaphat (1 Kings 22:7ff). Egypt was but a shadow, and what could a shadow do against the great Assyrian army?
Isaiah then uttered an oracle (burden) concerning the caravan that was then traveling from Jerusalem to Egypt with treasures to buy protection against Assyria (Isa. 30:6–7). He saw the burdened animals making their way through the difficult and dangerous terrain of the Negev (the south), and he cried, “It is all to no profit! It is useless! The Egyptians will help in vain!” In verse 7, which should be read in a recent translation, Isaiah gives a nickname to Egypt: “Rahab-hem-shebeth,” which means “Rahab the do-nothing.” (Rahab is one of the names for Egypt in the Old Testament.)
It was bad enough that Judah rebelled against God by trusting Egypt instead of trusting Jehovah, and depending on money instead of on God’s power, but they even went so far as to completely reject the Word of God (vv. 8–11). God told Isaiah to make a placard that said, “This is a rebellious people, lying children, children who will not hear the Law of the Lord” (v. 9). He carried this sign as he walked around Jerusalem, and no doubt most of the people laughed at him. The leaders did not want to hear God’s truth; they wanted “pleasant words” from the false prophets, sermons that would not disturb their comfortable way of life. Is the situation much different today? (See Jer. 6:14; 8:11; and 1 Kings 22:1–28.)
Decisions have consequences, and Isaiah told the people what would happen to Judah and Jerusalem because they were trusting in lies: Their wall of protection would suddenly collapse, shattered to pieces like a clay vessel (Isa. 30:12–14). When Assyria invaded the land, Egypt lived up to her nickname and did nothing. It was not till the last minute that God stepped in and rescued His people, and He did it only because of His covenant with David (37:35–36). During Assyria’s invasion of Judah, the Jews were not able to flee on their horses imported from Egypt (30:16–17; Deut. 17:16), and one enemy soldier was able to frighten off a thousand Jews! What humiliation! (See Deut. 32:30.)
Their only hope was to repent, return to the Lord, and by faith rest only in Him (Isa. 30:15; 8:6–7; 26:3; 28:12); but they would not listen and obey.
The prophet then turned from the subject of rebellion to the subject of restoration (30:18–26). “Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you,” he told the people; “He rises to show you compassion” (v. 18, NIV). God’s grace is His favor toward those who do not deserve it, and it is only because of His grace that we have any blessings at all. Isaiah described that future day when Israel would be restored to her land to enjoy the blessings of the kingdom. They would be like liberated prisoners of war (v. 19). Instead of scoffing, they would listen to God’s Word and put away their foolish idols. The land would be restored and become prosperous again, and God would bind up the bruises and heal the wounds of His people (v. 26; see 1:5–6). The “great slaughter” of verse 25 is the battle of Armageddon, which will occur just before the return of the Lord to deliver His people and establish His kingdom (Rev. 19:11–21).
His final theme in this “woe” is retribution (Isa. 30:27–33), the announcement that God will defeat the Assyrians. God used Assyria to discipline Judah, but He would not permit the Assyrians to take the city of David. Isaiah used several images to describe God’s judgment of Assyria: a storm of fire and hail, a flood, the sifting of grain (see Amos 9:9), and the harnessing of a horse so that the enemy is led off like a farm animal.
Just as Sheol was prepared for the king of Babylon (Isa. 14:9ff), so Topheth was prepared for the king of Assyria. Topheth was a site outside Jerusalem where the worshipers of Molech sacrificed their children (2 Kings 16:3; 21:6; Jer. 7:31–32; 19:6, 11–14). It was defiled by Josiah (2 Kings 23:10), turned into a garbage dump, and named “Gehenna,” which comes from ge-ben-hinnom, meaning “valley of the son of Hinnom.” That was the location of Topheth. “Gehenna” is the New Testament word for “hell.” The funeral pyre for the great king of Assyria would be a garbage dump! How humiliating!
The Jews would rejoice greatly at the defeat of Assyria, not unlike their rejoicing at Passover to commemorate the defeat of Egypt. When the Jews celebrate Passover, they still have “a song in the night” (Matt. 26:30); and the “timbrels and harps” (Isa. 30:32) remind us of the songs of Miriam and the Jewish women at the Red Sea (Ex. 15:20–21).
5. The Lord defends Jerusalem (Isa. 31:1–9)

This fifth “woe” is a brief summary of what Isaiah had already told the people. Indeed, he was teaching them “line upon line, here a little, and there a little” (28:10); and yet they were not getting the message.
Their faith was in men, not in God. They trusted in the legs of horses and the wheels of chariots, not in the hand of the Lord. God warned the Jewish kings not to go to Egypt for horses and chariots (Deut. 17:14–16), but Solomon ignored this warning (1 Kings 10:28–29). Going to Egypt for help had always been a temptation to the Jews (Ex. 13:17; 14:11–12; Num. 11:5, 18; 14:3ff).
Why should the Lord fear the Assyrians? Does a lion fear a flock of sheep and their shepherds? Do the eagles fear as they hover over their young in the nest? God will pounce on Assyria like a lion and swoop down like an eagle, and that will be the end! In one night, the Assyrian army was wiped out (Isa. 37:36).
Think of the money Judah would have saved and the distress they would have avoided had they only rested in the Lord their God and obeyed His will. All their political negotiations were futile and their treaties worthless. They could trust the words of the Egyptians but not the Word of God!
As God’s church today faces enemies and challenges, it is always a temptation to turn to the world or the flesh for help. But our first response must be to examine our hearts to see if there is something we need to confess and make right. Then we must turn to the Lord in faith and obedience and surrender to His will alone. We must trust Him to protect us and fight for us.
A friend of mine kept a card on his office desk that read: Faith Is Living Without Scheming. In one statement, that is what Isaiah was saying to Judah and Jerusalem; and that is what he is saying to us today.


ISAIAH 32–35

Future Shock and Future Glory
In 1919, American writer Lincoln Steffens visited the Soviet Union to see what the Communist revolution was accomplishing; and in a letter to a friend, he wrote, “I have seen the future, and it works.” If he were alive today, he would probably be less optimistic; but in those days, “the Russian experiment” seemed to be dramatically successful.
A university professor posted a sign on his study wall that read, “The future is not what it used to be.” Since the advent of atomic energy, many people wonder if there is any future at all. Albert Einstein said that he never thought about the future because it came soon enough!
In the four chapters that conclude the first section of his prophecy, Isaiah invites us to look at four future events to see what God has planned for His people and His world. These chapters are not human speculation; they are divinely inspired revelation, and they can be trusted.
1. A King will reign (Isa. 32:1–20)

At the beginning of its history, the nation of Israel was a theocracy, with God as King; it was not a monarchy led by human rulers. In the days of Samuel, the people asked for a king; and God gave them Saul (1 Sam. 8; see Deut. 17:14–20). God did not establish a dynasty through Saul because Saul did not come from the tribe of Judah (Gen. 49:10). It was David who established both the dynasty for Israel’s throne and the ancestry for Israel’s Messiah (2 Sam. 7). Every devout Jew knew that the future Messiah-King would be the Son of David (Matt. 22:41–46).
In Isaiah 32:1, Isaiah writes about “a king”; but in 33:17, he calls him “the king.” By the time you get to verse 22, He is “our king.” It is not enough to say that Jesus Christ is “a King” or even “the King.” We must confess our faith in Him and say with assurance that He is “our King.” Like Nathanael, we must say, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (John 1:49, NKJV)
In contrast to the evil rulers of Isaiah’s day (Isa. 1:21–23), Messiah will reign in righteousness and justice (32:1, 16; 33:5; see 9:7; 11:1–5). In addition, the King will be like a rock of refuge for the people (8:14; 17:10; 26:4; 28:16) and like a refreshing river in the desert (8:5–8; 33:21; 41:18; 48:18; 66:12). “He who rules over men must be just,” said David, “ruling in the fear of God” (2 Sam. 23:3–4, NKJV).
Isaiah 32:3–4 describes the wonderful transformations that will occur because of Messiah’s reign. Isaiah ministered to spiritually blind, deaf, and ignorant people (6:9–10; 29:10–12); but in the kingdom, all will see and hear God’s truth as well as understand and obey it. (See 29:18 and 42:7.) This will happen because the nation will have a new heart and enter into a New Covenant with the Lord (Jer. 31:31–34).
The “churl” (Isa. 32:5–8) is the knave or scoundrel who uses his or her position for personal profit and not for the good of the people. In Isaiah’s day, as in our own day, the common people admired “the rich and famous,” even though the character and conduct of these “celebrities” deserved no respect. They had money, fame, and influence; and in the eyes of the populace, that made them important. But in the kingdom, there will be no such deception. “Wealthy cheaters will not be spoken of as generous, outstanding men! Everyone will recognize an evil man when he sees him, and hypocrites will fool no one at all” (vv. 5–6, TLB).
Not only will their character and motives be exposed and judged, but so will their ungodly methods (v. 7). No longer will the poor and helpless be cheated by these liars! Instead of knaves, the leaders who rule with Messiah will be noble people who will plan noble things.
Behind the selfish rulers of Judah, and influencing them for evil, were the “aristocratic women” of Jerusalem, who were complacent and self-confident in a time of grave national crisis (vv. 9–14; see 3:16–26; Amos 4:1–3; 6:1–6). Isaiah warned them that “in little more than a year [NIV],” the land and the cities would be desolate. This took place in 701 B.C. when Sennacherib’s Assyrian army invaded Judah and devastated the land. The Jews confined in Jerusalem were greatly concerned about future harvests, and Isaiah had a word for them (Isa. 37:30–31). But before the siege ended and God delivered Jerusalem, these worldly women in Jerusalem had to sacrifice not only their luxuries, but also their necessities.
In 32:15–20, the prophet returns to his description of the messianic kingdom and emphasizes the restoration of peace and prosperity. None of these changes took place after the deliverance of Jerusalem in 701 B.C. or when the remnant returned to Jerusalem from Babylon, so we must assign these prophecies to the future kingdom. Because of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, there will be peace and plenty because there will be righteousness in the land (Joel 2:28–32; Zech. 12:10; Ezek. 36:26–27). The land will be so productive that the desert will be like a fruitful field and the fruitful field like a forest. The people will fear no enemies, and their work will be rewarded.
Judah could have enjoyed safety, quietness, and assurance had they trusted wholly in the Lord and not turned to Egypt for help (Isa. 30:15–18; 32:17–18). Righteousness is the key word in verse 17, for there can be no true peace without a right relationship with God (Rom. 5:1; James 3:13–17). When sinners trust Christ and receive the gift of righteousness, then they can have peace in their hearts and peace with one another.
2. Jerusalem will be delivered (Isa. 33:1–24)

This is the sixth and final “woe” in this section (28:1; 29:1, 15; 30:1; 31:1), and it is directed against Sennacherib because of his treachery against Judah. In unbelief, King Hezekiah had tried to “buy off” the Assyrians (2 Kings 18:13–15); but Sennacherib had broken the agreement and invaded Judah anyway. He was a thief, a traitor, and a tyrant; and God promised to judge him. He had destroyed others, so he would be destroyed. He had dealt treacherously with nations, so they would deal treacherously with him. God is not mocked; sinners reap what they have sown (Gal. 6:7).
Isaiah 33:2 is the prayer of the godly remnant when Jerusalem was surrounded by the Assyrian army. Isaiah had promised that God would be gracious to them if they would only trust Him (30:18–19), so a few devout people turned His promise into prayer. God spared Jerusalem for David’s sake (37:35) and because a believing remnant trusted God and prayed. Never underestimate the power of a praying minority.
Assyria was proud of her power and the spoils she had gathered in battle. The Assyrian army swept through the land like devouring locusts, but that would change. The day would come when Judah would strip the dead Assyrian army and Sennacherib would be assassinated in the temple of the god he claimed was stronger than Jehovah (vv. 36–38). The Lord was exalted in the defeat of Assyria (33:5), for no human wisdom or power could have done what He did. We must remember that nations and individuals can have stability in uncertain times only when they trust God and seek His wisdom and glory. King Hezekiah did a foolish thing when he took the temple treasures and tried to bribe Sennacherib (2 Kings 18:13–16), but God forgave him and reminded him that “the fear of the Lord is [your] treasure” (Isa. 33:6). Unbelief looks to human resources for help, but faith looks to God.
During the time of the Assyrian invasion, the situation in Judah was grim (vv. 7–9). Judah’s bravest soldiers wept when they saw one city after another fall to the enemy. The official Jewish envoys wept because their negotiations accomplished nothing. The roads were dangerous, the fields and orchards were ruined, and there was no way of escape.
Except for—God! “ ‘Now will I rise,’ saith the Lord, ‘now will I be exalted, now will I lift up Myself’ ” (v. 10). In verses 11–12, Isaiah uses several images to describe God’s judgment on the Assyrians. The Assyrians were “pregnant” with all sorts of plans to conquer Jerusalem; but they would give birth to chaff and straw, and their plans would amount to nothing. Their army was panting to attack, but their hot breath would only become a fire that would destroy them like dead bones or cut bushes. God is long-suffering with His enemies; but when He decides to judge, He does a thorough job.
The account of the amazing deliverance of Jerusalem was told far and wide, and the Gentile nations had to acknowledge the greatness of Jehovah, the God of the Jews. Some scholars believe that Psalm 126 grew out of this experience and may have been written by Hezekiah. “Then they said among the nations, ‘The Lord hath done great things for them’ ” (v. 2). We witness to a lost world when we trust Him and let Him have His way. The miracle deliverance of Jerusalem not only brought glory to God among the Gentiles, but it also brought fear and conviction to the Jews (Isa. 33:14–16). God does not deliver us so that we are free to return to our sins. “But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared” (Ps. 130:4). When Jews in Jerusalem saw 185,000 Assyrian soldiers slain by God in one night, they realized anew that the God of Israel was “a consuming fire” (Isa. 10:17; Heb. 12:29). Were they even safe in Jerusalem?
Isaiah 33:15 describes the kind of person God will accept and bless. (See also Pss. 15 and 24.) By ourselves, we cannot achieve these qualities of character; they come only as we trust Jesus Christ and grow in grace. Many religious people in Jerusalem had hearts far from God because their religion was only a matter of external ceremonies (Isa. 29:13). Isaiah hoped that the miracle deliverance of the city would bring these people to a place of true devotion to the Lord. It is only as we walk with the Lord that we have real security and satisfaction.
In 33:17–24, the prophet lifts his vision to the end times and sees Jerusalem ruled by King Messiah. God’s victory over Assyria was but a “dress rehearsal” for His victory over the whole Gentile world system that will one day assemble to destroy the holy city (Zech. 14:1–9). When our Lord was ministering on earth, the unbelieving Jews said, “There is no beauty that we should desire Him” (Isa. 53:2). But when they see Him and believe, then they will perceive His great beauty (Zech. 12:3–13:1; Ps. 45).
In contrast to the ordeal of the Assyrian siege, the Jews in the messianic kingdom will experience no terror, see no arrogant military officers, and hear no foreign speech (Isa. 33:18–19). Jerusalem will be like a tent that will not be moved (see 54:1–3), pitched by a broad river that will never carry the vessels of invading armies. Jerusalem is one of the few great cities of antiquity that was not built near a river, but that will change during the millennial kingdom (Ezek. 47). Of course, the river symbolizes the peace that the Lord gives to His people (Isa. 48:18; 66:12; Ps. 46:4).
Jerusalem was a ship that almost sank (Isa. 33:23), but the Lord brought it through the storm (Ps. 107:23–32); and the weakest of the Jews was able to take spoils from the dead army. “All the functions of government—judicial, legislative, and executive—will be centered in the Messianic King,” says the note on Isaiah 33:22 in The New Scofield Reference Bible. No wonder His people can say, “He will save us!”
Both sickness and sin will be absent from the city. Messiah will be their Redeemer and Savior, and the nation “shall be forgiven their iniquity” (v. 24). In Isaiah’s day, the Jews were a “sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity” (1:4), just as lost sinners are today; but when they see Him and trust Him, their sins will be washed away. If you have never heeded the gracious invitation of Isaiah 1:18, do so today!
3. The sinful world will be judged (Isa. 34:1–17)

Israel’s ancient enemy Edom is singled out in verses 5–6, but this divine judgment will come upon the whole world. Edom is only one example of God’s judgment on the Gentile nations because of what they have done to His people Israel. “For the Lord has a day of vengeance, a year of retribution, to uphold Zion’s cause” (v. 8, NIV). In the Day of the Lord, the Gentiles will be repaid for the way they have treated the Jews and exploited their land (Joel 3:1–17). “Zion’s cause” may not get much support among the nations today, but God will come to their defense and make their cause succeed.
Isaiah begins with a military picture of the armies on earth (Isa. 34:2–3) and in heaven (v. 4). The enemy armies on earth will be slaughtered, the land will be drenched with blood, and the bodies of the slain will be left unburied to rot and to smell. This is a vivid description of the battle of Armageddon (Rev. 19:11–21), the humiliating defeat and destruction of the armies of the world that dare to attack the Son of God. The hosts of heaven will also be affected by vast cosmic disturbances (Isa. 34:4; see Matt. 24:29; Joel 2:10, 30–31; 3:15; Rev. 6:13–14). What a day that will be!
In Isaiah 34:5–8, the prophet moves from the battlefield to the temple and sees this worldwide judgment as a great sacrifice that God offers. (See Jer. 46:10; 50:27; Ezek. 39:17–19.) The practice was for the people to kill the sacrifices and offer them to God, but now it is God who offers the wicked as sacrifices. Bozrah was an important city in Edom; the name means “grape-gathering” (see Isa. 63:1–8). God sees His enemies as animals: Rams, goats, lambs, oxen, and bulls are all sacrificed, along with the fat (Lev. 3:9–11). These nations sacrificed the Jews, so God used them for sacrifices.
The picture changes again, and Isaiah compares the Day of the Lord to the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah (Isa. 34:9–10; Gen. 18–19). This is a significant comparison because, just before the coming of the Lord, society will be “as it was in the days of Lot” (Luke 17:28). Tar running like streams and sulfur like dust will keep the fires of judgment burning (Gen. 14:10; 19:24). The description in Isaiah 34:10 reminds us of the fall of Babylon (Rev. 14:8–11; 19:3). We should also remember that the fires of eternal hell, the lake of fire, will never be quenched (Mark 9:43–48).
While Isaiah focused especially on Edom (Isa. 34:5–6), he was using that proud nation as an example of what God would do to all the Gentile nations during the Day of the Lord. When God finishes His work, the land will be a wilderness, occupied only by bramble and thorns, wild beasts, and singular birds (vv. 11–17). God will see to it that each bird will have a mate to reproduce, and no humans will be around to drive them from their nests.
“But the Day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night” (2 Peter 3:10). Why is God waiting? Because God “is long-suffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (v. 9, NKJV). How much longer God will wait, nobody knows; so it behooves lost sinners to repent today and trust the Savior.
4. The glorious kingdom will be established (Isa. 35:1–10)

But the wilderness will not remain a wilderness, for the Lord will transform the earth into a Garden of Eden. All of nature eagerly looks for the coming of the Lord (55:12–13; Rom. 8:19; Pss. 96:11–13; 98:7–9), for nature knows that it will be set free from the curse of sin (Gen. 3:17–19) and share the glory of the kingdom. Lebanon, Carmel, and Sharon were three of the most fruitful and beautiful places in the land, and yet the desert would become more fruitful and beautiful than the three places put together! There will be no more “parched ground” (Isa. 35:7), because the land will become a garden of glory.
Isaiah uses the promise of the coming kingdom to strengthen those in his day who were weak and afraid (vv. 3–4). In the kingdom, there will be no more blind or deaf, lame or dumb; for all will be made whole to enjoy a glorious new world. (In 32:3–4, the prophet wrote about spiritual deficiencies, but here he is describing physical handicaps.) Our Lord referred to these verses when he sent a word of encouragement to John the Baptist (Luke 7:18–23). The King was on earth and sharing with needy people the blessings of the coming kingdom.
Isaiah 35:8 expresses one of Isaiah’s favorite themes: the highway (11:16; 19:23; 40:3; 62:10). During the Assyrian invasion, the highways were not safe (33:8), but during the Kingdom Age it will be safe to travel. There will be one special highway: “The Way of Holiness.” In ancient cities, there were often special roads that only kings and priests could use; but when Messiah reigns, all of His people will be invited to use this highway. Isaiah pictures God’s redeemed, ransomed, and rejoicing Jewish families going up to the yearly feasts in Jerusalem, to praise their Lord.
When Isaiah spoke and wrote these words, it is likely that the Assyrians had ravaged the land, destroyed the crops, and made the highways unsafe for travel. The people were cooped up in Jerusalem, wondering what would happen next. The remnant was trusting God’s promises and praying for God’s help, and God answered their prayers. If God kept His promises to His people centuries ago and delivered them, will He not keep His promises in the future and establish His glorious kingdom for His chosen people? Of course He will!
The future is your friend when Jesus Christ is your Savior and Lord.


ISAIAH 36–39
Except for David and Solomon, no king of Judah is given more attention or commendation in Scripture than Hezekiah. Eleven chapters are devoted to him in 2 Kings 18–20; 2 Chronicles 29–32; and Isaiah 36–39, “He trusted in the Lord God of Israel; so that after him was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor any that were before him” (2 Kings 18:5).
He began his reign about 715 B.C., though he may have been coregent with his father as early as 729 B.C. He restored the temple facilities and services of worship, destroyed the idols and the high places (hill shrines where the people falsely worshiped Jehovah), and sought to bring the people back to vital faith in the Lord. He led the people in a nationwide two-week celebration of Passover and invited Jews from the Northern Kingdom to participate. “And in every work that he began in the service of the house of God, and in the law, and in the commandments, to see His God, he did it with all his heart, and prospered” (2 Chron. 31:21).
After the fall of the Northern Kingdom in 722 B.C., Judah had constant problems with Assyria. Hezekiah finally rebelled against Assyria (2 Kings 18:7); and when Sennacherib threatened to attack, Hezekiah tried to bribe him with tribute (vv. 13–16). It was a lapse of faith on Hezekiah’s part that God could not bless. Sennacherib accepted the treasures but broke the treaty (Isa. 33:1) and invaded Judah in 701 B.C. The account of God’s miraculous deliverance of His people is given in chapters 36–37.
Bible students generally agree that Hezekiah’s sickness (Isa. 38) and foolish reception of the envoys (Isa. 39) took place before the Assyrian invasion, possibly between the time Hezekiah sent the tribute and Sennacherib broke the treaty. Then why are these chapters not arranged chronologically?
The prophet arranged the account as a “bridge” between the two parts of his book. Chapters 36 and 37 end the first part of the book with its emphasis on Assyria, and chapters 38 and 39 introduce the second part of the book, with its emphasis on Babylon. Isaiah mentions Babylon earlier in his book (13:1ff; 21:1ff), but this is the first time he clearly predicts Judah’s Captivity in Babylon.
Chapters 36–39 teach us some valuable lessons about faith, prayer, and the dangers of pride. Though the setting today may be different, the problems and temptations are still the same; for Hezekiah’s history is our history, and Hezekiah’s God is our God.
Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). Be Comforted (S. 69–92). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

Be comforted, part 8-9, Archbishop Dr. Uwe AE.Rosenkranz

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ISAIAH 36–39

God Save the King!
The former U.S. Secretary of State, Dr. Henry Kissinger, once told the New York Times, “There cannot be a crisis next week. My schedule is already full.”
Crises come, whether schedules permit it or not; and sometimes crises seem to pile up. How do we handle them? What life does to us depends on what life finds in us. A crisis does not make a person; it shows what a person is made of.
Hezekiah faced three crises in a short time: an international crisis (the invasion of the Assyrian army), a personal crisis (sickness and near death), and a national crisis (the visit of the Babylonian envoys). He came through the first two victoriously, but the third one tripped him up. Hezekiah was a great and godly man, but he was still a man; and that meant he had all the frailties of human flesh. However, before we find fault with him, we had better examine our own lives to see how successfully we have handled our own tests.
1. The invasion crisis (Isa. 36:1–37:38; 2 Kings 18–19; 2 Chron. 32)

Crises often come when circumstances seem to be at their best. Hezekiah had led the nation in a great reformation, and the people were united in the fear of the Lord. They had put away their idols, restored the temple services, and sought the blessing of their God. But instead of receiving blessing, they found themselves facing battles! “After all that Hezekiah had so faithfully done, Sennacherib king of Assyria came and invaded Judah” (2 Chron. 32:1, NIV).
Had God turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to all that Hezekiah and his people had done? Of course not! The Assyrian invasion was a part of God’s discipline to teach His people to trust Him alone. Even Hezekiah had at first put his trust in treaties and treasures (2 Kings 18:13–16), only to learn that the enemy will keep the wealth but not keep his word. Judah had negotiated to get help from Egypt, an act of unbelief that Isaiah severely rebuked (Isa. 30:1–7; 31:1–3). God’s great purpose in the life of faith is to build godly character. Hezekiah and his people needed to learn that faith is living without scheming.
The Assyrians had ravaged Judah and were now at Lachish, about thirty miles southwest of Jerusalem. According to 2 Kings 18:17, Sennacherib sent three of his most important officers to arrange for Hezekiah’s surrender of the city: Tartan (“Supreme Commander”), Rabsaris (“Chief Officer”), and Rabshakeh (“Field Commander”). These are military titles, not personal names. The three men were met by three of Judah’s leading officials: Eliakim, Shebna (see Isa. 22:15–25), and Joah (36:3).
The place of their meeting is significant, for it is the very place where Isaiah confronted Ahaz, Hezekiah’s father, some thirty years before (7:3). Ahaz had refused to trust the Lord but had instead made a treaty with Assyria (2 Kings 16:5–9), and now the Assyrians were ready to take Jerusalem! Isaiah had warned Ahaz what Assyria would do (Isa. 7:17–25), and his words were now fulfilled.
Reproach (Isa. 36:4–21). The field commander’s speech is one of the most insolent and blasphemous found anywhere in Scripture, for he reproached the God of Israel (37:4, 17, 23–24). He emphasized the “greatness” of the king of Assyria (36:4, 13) because he knew the common people were listening and he wanted to frighten them (vv. 11–12). His speech is a masterful piece of psychological warfare in which he discredits everything that the Jews held dear. The key word is trust, used seven times (vv. 4–7, 9, 15). “In what is your confidence?” asked the field commander. “You can have no confidence, for everything you trust in has failed!”
He began with their strategy. They had turned to Egypt for help, but Egypt was only a broken reed. (Isaiah had said the same thing! See 30:1–7 and 31:1–3.) As for trusting the Lord, that was sure to fail. Hezekiah had incurred the Lord’s displeasure by removing the high places and altars and requiring everybody to worship at Jerusalem. (What did a heathen soldier know about the worship of the true God?) So, according to the field commander, Judah had no help on earth (Egypt) or in heaven (the Lord). They were already defeated!
What about their military resources? Hezekiah had fortified Jerusalem (2 Chron. 32:2–8), but the field commander laughed at Judah’s military might. Judah had neither the men, the horses, nor the chariots to attack the Assyrians. Even if Assyria provided the equipment, the Jewish soldiers were too weak to defeat the least of the enemy’s officers. All the chariots and horsemen of Egypt could never defeat Sennacherib’s great army. (Isaiah would agree with him again; see Isa. 30:15–17.)
The field commander’s coup de grace was that everything Assyria had done was according to the will of the Lord (36:10). How could Judah fight against its own God? In one sense, this statement was true; for God is in charge of the nations of the world (10:5–6; Dan. 4:17, 25, 32; 5:21). But no nation can do what it pleases and use God for the excuse, as Sennacherib and his army would soon find out.
According to the field commander, Judah could not trust in its strategy, its military resources, or in its God. Nor could its people trust in their king (Isa. 36:13–20). The king of Assyria was a “great king,” but Hezekiah was a nobody who was deceiving the people. Instead of trusting Hezekiah’s promise of help from the Lord, the people should trust Sennacherib’s promise of a comfortable home in Assyria. The people knew that their farms, orchards, and vineyards had been ruined by the Assyrian army, and that Judah was facing a bleak future. If they stayed in Jerusalem, they might starve to death. Perhaps they should surrender and keep themselves and their families alive.
Hezekiah and Isaiah had told the people to trust the Lord, but the field commander reminded the people that the gods of the other nations had not succeeded in protecting or delivering them. (Hezekiah knew why; see 37:18–19.) Even Samaria was defeated, and they worshiped the same God as Judah. To the field commander, Jehovah was just another god; and Sennacherib did not need to worry about Him.
God summons us to walk by faith and not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7). To those Jews in Jerusalem who were living in unbelief, the field commander’s arguments must have seemed reasonable, and his evidence compelling. But God had promised to deliver His people from the Assyrian army, and His Word would stand.
Repentance (Isa. 36:22–37:20). By the king’s orders, nobody replied to the field commander’s speech. Insolence is best answered with silence. Jerusalem’s deliverance did not depend on negotiating with the enemy but on trusting the Lord.
Hezekiah and his officers humbled themselves before the Lord and sought His face. As the king went into the temple, perhaps he recalled the promise God had given to Solomon after he had dedicated the temple: “If My people, who are called by My name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land” (2 Chron. 7:14).
Even though the Lord had brought Assyria to chasten Judah (Isa. 7:17–25), He had determined that Jerusalem would not be taken by the enemy (10:5–34). Previous to the invasion, when Hezekiah had been deathly ill, Isaiah had assured him of deliverance (38:4–6). God’s promises are sure, but God’s people must claim them by faith before God can work. So the king sent word to Isaiah, asking him to pray; and the king himself called out to the Lord for help.
In the building up of our faith, the Word of God and prayer go together (Rom. 10:17); and that is why Isaiah sent the king a message from the Lord. His word of encouragement had three points: (1) do not be afraid, (2) the Assyrians will depart, and (3) the “great king” will die in Assyria.
When the three Assyrian officers returned to headquarters, they learned that an Egyptian army was on its way to help defend Hezekiah. Sennacherib did not want to fight a war on two fronts, so he started to put more pressure on Jerusalem to surrender immediately. This threatening message came to Hezekiah in the form of a letter, and he took it to the temple and “spread it before the Lord.”
Hezekiah’s prayer (Isa. 37:15–20) is saturated with biblical theology and is not unlike the prayer of the church in Acts 4:24–31. He affirmed his faith in the one true and living God, and he worshiped Him. Jehovah is “Lord of hosts,” that is, “Lord of the armies” (Ps. 46:7, 11). He is the Creator of all things (96:5) and knows what is going on in His creation. His eyes can see our plight, and His ears can hear our plea (see Ps. 115). King Hezekiah did not want deliverance merely for his people’s sake, but that God alone might be glorified (Isa. 37:20; Ps. 46:10).
Reply (Isa. 37:21–35). God’s response to this prayer was to send King Hezekiah another threefold message of assurance: Jerusalem would not be taken (vv. 22, 31–35); the Assyrians would depart (vv. 23–29); and the Jews would not starve (v. 30).
(1) Jerusalem would be delivered (vv. 22, 31–35). The “daughter of Zion” was still a virgin; she had not been ravaged by the enemy. She could look at the Assyrians and shake her head in scorn, for they could not touch her. God would spare His remnant and plant them once more in the land.
Why did God deliver His people when so many of them were not faithful to Him? First, to glorify His own name (vv. 23, 35), the very thing about which Hezekiah had prayed (v. 20). God defended Jerusalem for His name’s sake, because Sennacherib had reproached the Holy One of Israel. The Assyrians had exalted themselves above men and gods, but they could not exalt themselves above Jehovah God, the Holy One of Israel!
God also saved Jerusalem because of His covenant with David (v. 35; 2 Sam. 7). Jerusalem was the city of David, and God had promised that one of David’s descendants would reign on the throne forever. This was fulfilled ultimately in Jesus Christ (Luke 1:32–33), but God did keep David’s lamp burning in Jerusalem as long as He could (1 Kings 11:13, 36).
The Jewish nation had an important mission to fulfill in bringing the Savior into the world; and no human army could thwart the purposes of Almighty God. Even though only a remnant of Jews might remain, God would use His people to accomplish His divine purposes and fulfill His promise to Abraham that all the world would be blessed through him (Gen. 12:1–3).
(2) The Assyrians would depart (vv. 23–29). God addressed the proud Assyrian king and reminded him of all the boastful words he and his servants had spoken. “I” and “my” occur seven times in this passage. It reminds us of Lucifer’s words in 14:12–17 and our Lord’s parable in Luke 12:13–21. “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov. 16:18, NKJV).
Sennacherib boasted of his military might and his great conquests, for no obstacle stood in his way. If he so desired, like a god, he could even dry up the rivers! But the king of Assyria forgot that he was only God’s tool for accomplishing His purposes on the earth, and the tool must not boast against the Maker (Isa. 10:5–19). God would humble Sennacherib and his army by treating them like cattle and leading them away from Jerusalem (37:7, 29).
(3) The people would not starve (v. 30). We do not know the month in which these events occurred, but it may have been past the time for sowing a new crop. Before the people could get the land back to its normal productivity, they would have to eat what grew of itself from previous crops; and that would take faith. They would also need to renovate their farms after all the damage the Assyrians had done. But the same God who delivered them would provide for them. It would be like the years before and after the Year of Jubilee (Lev. 25:1–24).
Some Bible scholars believe that Psalm 126 was written to commemorate Jerusalem’s deliverance from the Assyrian army. The psalm surely is not referring to the Jews’ deliverance from Babylonian Captivity, because that was not a sudden event that surprised both Jews and Gentiles, nor did the Gentiles praise Jehovah for delivering Israel from Babylon. Psalm 126 fits best with the events described in Isaiah 36 and 37.
The harvest promise in verse 30 parallels Psalm 126:5–6. The seed would certainly be precious in those days! That grain could be used for making bread for the family, but the father must use it for seed; so it is no wonder he weeps. Yet God promised a harvest, and He kept His promise. The people did not starve.
Retaliation (Isa. 37:36–38). The field commander had joked that one Assyrian junior officer was stronger than 2,000 Jewish charioteers (36:8–9), but it took only one of God’s angels to destroy 185,000 Assyrian soldiers! (See Ex. 12:12 and 2 Sam. 24:15–17.) Isaiah had prophesied the destruction of the Assyrian army. God would mow them down like a forest (Isa. 10:33–34), devastate them with a storm (30:27–30), and throw them into the fire like garbage on the city dump (vv. 31–33).
But that was not all. After Sennacherib left Judah, a defeated man, he returned to his capital city of Nineveh. Twenty years later, as a result of a power struggle among his sons, Sennacherib was assassinated by two of his sons in fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy (37:7); and it happened in the temple of his god! The field commander had ridiculed the gods of the nations, but Sennacherib’s own god could not protect him.
2. The illness crisis (Isa. 38:1–22; 2 Kings 20:1–11)

Peril (Isa. 38:1). As mentioned before, this event took place before the Assyrian invasion, though the invasion was impending (see v. 6). When the president or prime minister of a country is sick or injured, it affects everything from the stock market to the news coverage. Imagine how the people of Judah reacted when they heard that the king was going to die—and Assyria was on the march! If their godly leader died, who would govern them?
But there was even more involved. Apparently, Hezekiah did not have a son and therefore would have to appoint a near relative to take the throne of David. Would God’s promise to David fail? (2 Sam. 7:16) And why would it fail at a time of national calamity?
Prayer (Isa. 38:2–3). The king did not turn to the wall in a sulking manner, like Ahab (1 Kings 21:4), but in order to have privacy for his praying. It may be too that he was turning his face toward the temple (8:28–30). Some have criticized Hezekiah for weeping and praying, saying that his prayer was selfish; but most of us would have prayed the same way. It is a natural thing for us to want to live and continue serving God. Furthermore, Hezekiah was burdened for the future of the throne and the nation.
Hezekiah did not ask God to spare him because he had been such a faithful servant (Isa. 38:3). That would be a subtle form of bribery. Rather, he asked God to spare him so he could continue to serve and complete the spiritual restoration of the nation. Certainly he was concerned about his own life, as any of us would be; but he also had a burden for his people.
Promise (Isa. 38:4–8). The request was granted quickly, for Isaiah had not gone very far from the sick room when the Lord gave him the answer (2 Kings 20:4). The prophet became the king’s physician and told the attendants what medicine to apply (Isa. 38:21). God can heal by using any means He desires. Isaiah also told the king that his life would be prolonged for fifteen years. The king asked confirmation of the promise (v. 22), and God gave him a sign. The sundial was probably a pillar whose shadow marked the hours on a double set of stairs. In another promise, Isaiah assured the king that the Assyrians would not capture Jerusalem.
Pondering (Isa. 38:9–20). Hezekiah was an author of psalms (v. 20) and supervised a group of scholars who copied the Old Testament Scriptures (Prov. 25:1). In this beautiful meditation, the king tells us how he felt during his experience of illness and recovery. He had some new experiences that made him a better person.
For one thing, God gave him a new appreciation of life (Isa. 38:9–12). We take life for granted till it is about to be taken from us, and then we cling to it as long as we can. Hezekiah pictured death as the end of a journey (vv. 11–12), a tent taken down (v. 12a; and see 2 Cor. 5:1–8), and a weaving cut from the loom (Isa. 38:12b). Life was hanging by a thread!
He also had a new appreciation of prayer (vv. 13–14). Were it not for prayer, Hezekiah could not have made it. At night, the king felt like a frail animal being attacked by a fierce lion; and in the daytime, he felt like a helpless bird. During this time of suffering, Hezekiah examined his own heart and confessed his sins; and God forgave him (v. 17). “Undertake for me” means “Be my surety. Stand with me!”
The king ended with a new appreciation of opportunities for service (vv. 15–20). There was a new humility in his walk, a deeper love for the Lord in his heart, and a new song of praise on his lips. He had a new determination to praise God all the days of his life, for now those days were very important to him. “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom” (Ps. 90:12).
There are some students who feel that Hezekiah was wrong in asking God to spare his life. Three years later, his son Manasseh was born (2 Kings 21:1); and he reigned for fifty-five years, the most wicked king in the entire dynasty! Had Hezekiah died without an heir, this would not have happened. But we have no guarantee that any other successor would have been any better; and Manasseh’s grandson was godly King Josiah, who did much to bring the nation back to the Lord. Manasseh did repent after God chastened him, and he ended his years serving the Lord (2 Chron. 33:11–20). It is unwise for us to second guess God or history.
3. The investigation crisis (Isa. 39:1–8)

The news about Hezekiah’s sickness and recovery had spread widely so that even people in Babylon knew about it (2 Chron. 32:23). Hezekiah was a famous man, and other nations would be concerned about him and want to court his favor. The stability of Judah was important to the balance of power in that day. At this time, Babylon was not a great world power; and few people would have thought that Assyria would one day collapse and be replaced by Babylon. Of course, God knew, but Hezekiah did not seek His guidance.
The stated reason for the diplomatic mission was to honor Hezekiah and officially rejoice at his recovery. But the real reason was to obtain information about the financial resources of the nation of Judah. After all, Babylon might need some of that wealth in their future negotiations or battles. It is also likely that Hezekiah was seeking Babylon’s assistance against Assyria.
When Satan cannot defeat us as the “roaring lion” (1 Peter 5:8–9), he comes as the deceiving serpent (2 Cor. 11:3). What Assyria could not do with weapons, Babylon did with gifts. God permitted the enemy to test Hezekiah so that the proud king might learn what was really in his heart (2 Chron. 32:31).
It was certainly a mistake for Hezekiah to show his visitors all his wealth, but pride made him do it. After a time of severe suffering, sometimes it feels so good just to feel good that we get off guard and fail to watch and pray. The king was basking in fame and wealth and apparently neglecting his spiritual life. Hezekiah was safer as a sick man in bed than as a healthy man on the throne. Had he consulted first with Isaiah, the king would have avoided blundering as he did.
The prophet reminded Hezekiah that, as king, he was only the steward of Judah’s wealth and not the owner (Isa. 39:6). Some of that wealth had come from previous kings, and Hezekiah could claim no credit for it. All of us are mere stewards of what God has given to us, and we have no right to boast about anything. “For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you glory as if you had not received it?” (1 Cor. 4:7, NKJV) “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven” (John 3:27, NKJV).
Isaiah 39:7 is Isaiah’s first explicit announcement of the future Babylonian Captivity of Judah. In spite of Hezekiah’s reforms, the nation decayed spiritually during the next century; and in 586 B.C., Babylon destroyed Jerusalem and took the people captive. Hezekiah’s sin was not the cause of this judgment, for the sins of rulers, priests, and false prophets mounted up from year to year till God could take it no longer (2 Chron. 36:13–16).
Is Hezekiah’s response in Isaiah 39:8 an expression of relief that he has escaped trouble? If so, it would certainly be heartless on his part to rejoice that future generations would suffer what he should have suffered! His statement is more likely an expression of his humble acceptance of God’s will, and 2 Chronicles 32:26 bears this out. The king did humble himself before God, and God forgave him.
Even the greatest and most godly of the Lord’s servants can become proud and disobey God, so we must pray for Christian leaders that they will stay humble before their Master. But if any of His servants do sin, the Lord is willing to forgive when they sincerely repent and confess to Him (1 John 1:9). “A broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise” (Ps. 51:17).


ISAIAH 40–66
The Book of Isaiah can be called “a Bible in miniature.” There are sixty-six chapters in Isaiah and sixty-six books in the Bible. The thirty-nine chapters of the first part of Isaiah may be compared to the Old Testament with its thirty-nine books, and both focus primarily on God’s judgment of sin. The twenty-seven chapters of the second part may be seen to parallel the twenty-seven books of the New Testament, and both emphasize the grace of God.
The “New Testament” section of Isaiah opens with the ministry of John the Baptist (40:3–5; Mark 1:1–4) and closes with the new heavens and the new earth (Isa. 65:17; 66:22); and in between, there are many references to the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior and King. Of course, the chapter divisions in Isaiah are not a part of the original inspired text, but the comparison is still interesting.
In the “New Testament” section of Isaiah, the prophet is particularly addressing a future generation of Jews. In chapters 1–39, his audience was his own generation; and his primary message was that God would defend Jerusalem and defeat the Assyrian invaders. But in chapters 40–66, the prophet looks far ahead and sees Babylon destroying Jerusalem and the Jews going into Captivity. (This happened in 586 B.C.) But he also saw God forgiving His people, delivering them from Captivity, and taking them back to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple and restore the nation.
The primary world figure in Isaiah 1–39 is Sennacherib, king of Assyria; but in chapters 40–66, the world leader is Cyrus, king of Persia. It was Cyrus who defeated the Babylonians, and in 541 B.C. issued the decree that permitted the Jews to return to their land to rebuild the city and the temple (Ezra 1:1–4). When Isaiah wrote these messages, Babylon was not yet a great world power; but the prophet was inspired by God to see the course the international scene would take.
Chapters 40–66 may be divided into three parts, (40–48; 49–57; and 58–66), with the same statement separating the first two sections: “There is no peace, saith the Lord, unto the wicked” (48:22; 57:21). Chapters 40–48 emphasize the greatness of God the Father in contrast to the vanity of the heathen idols. Chapters 49–57 extol the graciousness of God the Son, the Suffering Servant; and chapters 58–66 describe the glory of God in the future kingdom, and the emphasis is on the work of the Holy Spirit (59:19, 21; 61:1ff; 63:10–11, 14). Thus, there seems to be a trinitarian structure to these chapters.
The heart of Isaiah 40–66 is chapters 49–57, in which Isaiah exalts the Messiah, God’s Suffering Servant; and the heart of chapters 49–57 is 52:13–53:12, the description of the Savior’s substitutionary death for the sins of the world. This is the fourth of the “Servant Songs” in Isaiah; the others are 42:1–7; 49:1–6; and 50:1–11. So at the heart of the “New Testament” section of Isaiah’s book is our Lord Jesus Christ and His sacrifice on the cross for our sins. No wonder Isaiah has been called “the evangelical prophet.”
The Jewish rabbis have called Isaiah 40–66 “The Book of Consolation,” and they are right. Isaiah sought to comfort the Jewish remnant in Babylon, after their difficult years of Captivity, and to assure them that God was with them and would take them safely home. Along with words of consolation, the prophet also revealed the Messiah, God’s Suffering Servant, and described the future regathering of Israel and the kingdom God had promised them. Isaiah saw in Israel’s restoration from Babylon a preview of what God would do for them at the end of the age, after the “Day of the Lord” and the destruction of the world’s last “Babylon” (Rev. 17–19). So as you study Isaiah 40–66, keep in mind that it was originally addressed to a group of discouraged Jewish refugees who faced a long journey home and a difficult task when they got there. Note how often God says to them, “Fear not!” and how frequently He assures them of His pardon and His presence. It is no surprise that God’s people for centuries have turned to these chapters to find assurance and encouragement in the difficult days of life; for in these messages, God says to all of His people, “Be comforted!”


ISAIAH 40–48

How Great Thou Art!
In your time we have the opportunity to move not only toward the rich society and the powerful society but upward to the Great Society.”
President Lyndon B. Johnson spoke those words at the University of Michigan on May 22, 1964. Reading them nearly three decades later, I asked myself, “I wonder how the Jewish captives in Babylon would have responded to what the President said?”
A rich society? They were refugees whose land and holy city were in ruins.
A powerful society? Without king or army, they were weak and helpless before the nations around them.
A great society? They had been guilty of great rebellion against God and had suffered great humiliation and chastening. They faced a great challenge but lacked great human resources.
That is why the prophet told them to get their eyes off themselves and look by faith to the great God who loved them and promised to do great things for them. “Be not afraid!” he admonished them. “Behold your God!” (40:9)
Years ago, one of my radio listeners sent me a motto that has often encouraged me: “Look at others, and be distressed. Look at yourself, and be depressed. Look to God, and you’ll be blessed!” This may not be a great piece of literature, but it certainly contains great practical theology. When the outlook is bleak, we need the uplook. “Lift up your eyes on high, and behold who hath created these things … for He is strong in power” (v. 26).
When, like Israel of old, you face a difficult task and an impossible tomorrow, do what they did and remind yourself of the greatness of God. In these eight chapters, the prophet describes the greatness of God in three different areas of life.
1. God is greater than our circumstances (Isa. 40:1–31)

The circumstances behind us (Isa. 40:1–11). As the remnant in Babylon looked back, they saw failure and sin; and they needed encouragement. Four voices are heard, each of them with a special message for these needy people.
(1) The voice of pardon (vv. 1–2). The nation had sinned greatly against the Lord, with their idolatry, injustice, immorality, and insensitivity to His messengers (Jer. 7). But they were still His people, and He loved them. Though He would chasten them, He would not forsake them. “Speak tenderly” means “speak to the heart,” and “warfare” means “severe trials.” “Double” does not suggest that God’s chastenings are unfair, for He is merciful even in His punishments (Ezra 9:13). God chastened them in an equivalent measure to what they had done (Jer. 16:18). We should not sin; but if we do, God is waiting to pardon (1 John 1:5–2:2).
(2) The voice of providence (vv. 3–5). The Jews had a rough road ahead of them as they returned to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple, but the Lord would go before them to open the way. The picture here is of an ambassador repairing the roads and removing obstacles, preparing the way for the coming of a king. The image of the highway is frequent in Isaiah’s prophecy (see 11:16). Of course, the ultimate fulfillment here is in the ministry of John the Baptist as he prepared the way for the ministry of Jesus (Matt. 3:1–6). Spiritually speaking, Israel was in the wilderness when Jesus came; but when He came, God’s glory came (John 1:14). The way back may not be easy; but if we are trusting God, it will be easier.
(3) The voice of promise (vv. 6–8). “All flesh is grass!” Assyria was gone, and now Babylon was gone. Like the grass, nations and their leaders fulfill their purposes and then fade away, but the Word of God abides forever (Pss. 37:1–2; 90:1–6; 103:15–18; 1 Peter 1:24–25.) As they began their long journey home, Israel could depend on God’s promises. Perhaps they were especially claiming 2 Chronicles 6:36–39.
(4) The voice of peace (vv. 9–11). Now the nation itself comes out of the valley and climbs the mountaintop to declare God’s victory over the enemy. To “bring good tidings” means “to preach the Good News.” The good news in that day was the defeat of Babylon and the release of the captive Jews (52:7–9). The Good News today is the defeat of sin and Satan by Jesus Christ and the salvation of all who will trust in Him (61:1–3; Luke 4:18–19). God’s arm is a mighty arm for winning the battle (Isa. 40:10), but it is also a loving arm for carrying His weary lambs (v. 11). “We are coming home!” would certainly be good news to the devastated cities of Judah (1:7; 36:1; 37:26).
The circumstances before us (Isa. 40:12–26). The Jews were few in number, only a remnant, and facing a long and difficult journey. The victories of Assyria, Babylon, and Persia made it look as though the false gods of the Gentiles were stronger than the God of Israel; but Isaiah reminded them of the greatness of Jehovah. When you behold the greatness of God, then you will see everything else in life in its proper perspective.
God is greater than anything on earth (vv. 12–20) or anything in heaven (vv. 21–26). Creation shows His wisdom, power, and immensity. He is greater than the nations and their gods. He founded the earth and sits on the throne of heaven, and nothing is equal to our God, let alone greater than our God. The next time you are tempted to think that the world is bigger than God, remember the “drop of a bucket” (v. 15) and the “grasshoppers” (v. 22; see Num. 13:33). And if you ever feel so small that you wonder if God really cares about you personally, remember that He knows the name of every star (Isa. 40:26) and your name as well! (See John 10:3, 27.) The same God who numbers and names the stars can heal your broken heart (Ps. 147:3–4).
Someone has defined “circumstances” as “those nasty things you see when you get your eyes off of God.” If you look at God through your circumstances, He will seem small and very far away; but if by faith you look at your circumstances through God, He will draw very near and reveal His greatness to you.
The circumstances within us (Isa. 40:27–31). Instead of praising the Lord, the nation was complaining to Him that He acted as though He did not know their situation or have any concern for their problems (v. 27; 49:14). Instead of seeing the open door, the Jews saw only the long road before them; and they complained that they did not have strength for the journey. God was asking them to do the impossible.
But God knows how we feel and what we fear, and He is adequate to meet our every need. We can never obey God in our own strength, but we can always trust Him to provide the strength we need (Phil. 4:13). If we trust ourselves, we will faint and fall; but if we wait on the Lord by faith, we will receive strength for the journey. The word “wait” does not suggest that we sit around and do nothing. It means “to hope,” to look to God for all that we need (Isa. 26:3; 30:15). This involves meditating on His character and His promises, praying, and seeking to glorify Him.
The word “renew” means “to exchange,” as taking off old clothes and putting on new. We exchange our weakness for His power (2 Cor. 12:1–10). As we wait before Him, God enables us to soar when there is a crisis, to run when the challenges are many, and to walk faithfully in the day-by-day demands of life. It is much harder to walk in the ordinary pressures of life than to fly like the eagle in a time of crisis.
“I can plod,” said William Carey, the father of modern missions. “That is my only genius. I can persevere in any definite pursuit. To this I owe everything.”
The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. The greatest heroes of faith are not always those who seem to be soaring; often it is they who are patiently plodding. As we wait on the Lord, He enables us not only to fly higher and run faster, but also to walk longer. Blessed are the plodders, for they eventually arrive at their destination!
2. God is greater than our fears (Isa. 41:1–44:28)

In this section of the book, the Lord seven times says “Fear not!” to His people (41:10, 13, 14; 43:1, 5; 44:2, 8); and He says “Fear not!” to us today. As the Jewish remnant faced the challenge of the long journey home and the difficult task of rebuilding, they could think of many causes for fear. But there was one big reason not to be afraid: The Lord was with them and would give them success.
God seeks to calm their fears by assuring them that He is going before them and working on their behalf. The Lord explains a wonderful truth: He has three servants in His employ who will accomplish His will: Cyrus, king of Persia (41:1–7); the nation of Israel (vv. 8–29; 43:1–44:27); and the Messiah (42:1–25).
God’s servant Cyrus (Isa. 41:1–7). God convenes the court and asks the nations to present their case against Him, if they can. At least seventeen times in his prophecy, Isaiah writes about “the islands” (KJV) or “the coastlands” (NIV), referring to the most distant places from the holy land (11:11; 24:15; 41:1, 5; 42:4, 10, 12). “Produce your cause,” He challenges these nations (41:21); “present your case” (NIV).
God is not afraid of the nations because He is greater than the nations (40:12–17); He controls their rise and fall. He announced that He would raise up a ruler named Cyrus, who would do His righteous work on earth by defeating other nations for the sake of His people Israel. Cyrus would be a shepherd (44:28), anointed by God (45:1), a ravenous bird that could not be stopped (46:11). “He treads on rulers as if they were mortar, as if he were a potter treading the clay” (41:25, NIV).
Isaiah called Cyrus by name over a century before he was born (590?–529); and while Isaiah nowhere calls Cyrus “God’s servant,” Cyrus did serve the Lord by fulfilling God’s purposes on earth. God handed the nations over to Cyrus and helped him conquer great kings (45:1–4). The enemy was blown away like chaff and dust because the eternal God was leading the army.
As Cyrus moved across the territory east and north of the holy land (41:25), the nations were afraid and turned to their idols for help. With keen satire, Isaiah describes various workmen helping each other manufacture a god who cannot help them! After all, when the God of heaven is in charge of the conquest, how can men or gods oppose Him?
Cyrus may have thought that he was accomplishing his own plans, but actually he was doing the pleasure of the Lord (44:28). By defeating Babylon, Cyrus made it possible for the Jewish captives to be released and allowed to return to their land to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple (Ezra 1:1–4). “I have raised him up in righteousness, and I will direct all his ways; he shall build My city, and he shall let go My captives” (Isa. 45:13).
Sometimes we forget that God can use even unconverted world leaders for the good of His people and the progress of His work. He raised up Pharaoh in Egypt that He might demonstrate His power (Rom. 9:17), and He even used wicked Herod and cowardly Pontius Pilate to accomplish His plan in the crucifixion of Christ (Acts 4:24–28). “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes” (Prov. 21:1, NKJV).
God’s servant Israel (Isa. 41:8–29; 43:1–44:28) The prophet presents four pictures to encourage the people. In contrast to the fear experienced by the Gentile nations is the confidence shown by Israel, God’s chosen servant (41:8–13), because God was working on their behalf. In spite of their past rebellion, Israel was not cast away by the Lord. The Jewish captives did not need to fear either Cyrus or Babylon, because Cyrus was working for God, and Babylon would be no more. As you read this paragraph, you sense God’s love for His people and His desire to encourage them to trust Him for the future.
The title “My servant” is an honorable one; it was given to great leaders like Moses (Num. 12:7), David (2 Sam. 3:18), the prophets (Jer. 7:25), and Messiah (Isa. 42:1). But is there any honor in being called a “worm”? (41:14–16) “Servant” defined what they were by God’s grace and calling, but “worm” described what they were in themselves. Imagine a worm getting teeth and threshing mountains into dust like chaff! As the nation marched ahead by faith, every mountain and hill would be made low (40:4); and the Lord would turn mountains into molehills!
From the pictures of a servant and a worm, Isaiah turned to the picture of a desert becoming a garden (41:17–20). The image reminds us of Israel’s wanderings in the wilderness and God’s provision for their every need. Water and trees are important possessions in the East, and God will supply both to His people. Certainly Isaiah was also looking beyond the return from Babylon to the future kingdom when “the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the rose” (35:1).
The final picture is that of the courtroom (41:21–29). “Produce your cause!” means “Present your case!” God challenged the idols of the nations to prove that they were really gods. Did any of their predictions come true? What have they predicted about the future? Did they announce that Cyrus would appear on the scene or that Jerusalem would be restored? “No one told of this, no one foretold it, no one heard any words from you,” taunted the Lord (v. 26, NIV). Not only were the idols unable to make any valid predictions, but they were not even able to speak! The judgment of the court was correct: “See, they are all false! Their deeds amount to nothing; their images are but wind and confusion” (v. 29, NIV).
The theme of “Israel God’s servant” is continued in Isaiah 43–44 with an emphasis on God the Redeemer of Israel (43:1–7). (Note also v. 14; 44:6, 22–24.) The word translated “redeem” or “Redeemer” is the Hebrew word for “a kinsman redeemer,” a near relative who could free family members and their property from bondage by paying their debts for them. (See Lev. 25:23–28 and the Book of Ruth.) God gave Egypt, Ethiopia (Cush), and Seba to Cyrus as a ransom payment to redeem Israel from Babylon, because Israel was so precious to Him. And He gave His own Son as a ransom for lost sinners (Matt. 20:28; 1 Tim. 2:6).
Israel is God’s servant in the world and also God’s witness to the world (Isa. 43:8–13). This is another courtroom scene where God challenges the idols. “Let them bring in their witnesses!” says the Judge; but, of course, the idols are helpless and speechless. Twice the Lord says to Israel, “You are My witnesses” (vv. 10, 12, NKJV), for it is in the history of Israel that God has revealed Himself to the world. Frederick the Great asked the Marquis D’Argens, “Can you give me one single irrefutable proof of God?” The Marquis replied, “Yes, your majesty, the Jews.”
Along with Israel’s new freedom and new witness, Isaiah writes about Israel’s new “exodus” (vv. 14–28). Just as God led His people out of Egypt and through the Red Sea (Ex. 12–15), so He will lead them out of Babylon and through the terrible wilderness to their home in the holy land. Just as He defeated Pharaoh’s army (14:28; 15:4), so He will defeat Israel’s enemies, and snuff them out “like a wick” (Isa. 43:17, NIV).
When God forgives and restores His people, He wants them to forget the failures of the past, witness for Him in the present, and claim His promises for the future (vv. 18–21). Why should we remember that which God has forgotten? (v. 25) He forgave them, not because they brought Him sacrifices—for they had no altar in Babylon—but purely because of His mercy and grace.
God chose Israel and redeemed them, but He also formed them for Himself (44:1–20). In this chapter, Isaiah contrasts God’s forming of Israel (vv. 1–8) and the Gentiles forming their own gods (vv. 9–20). “I have formed thee” is a special theme in chapters 43–44 (43:1, 7, 21; 44:2, 24). Because God formed them, chose them, and redeemed them, they had nothing to fear. He will pour water on the land and His Spirit on the people (59:21; Ezek. 34:26; Joel 2:28–29; John 7:37–39), and both will prosper to the glory of the Lord. The final fulfillment of this will be in the future Kingdom Age when Messiah reigns.
Isaiah 44:9–20 show the folly of idolatry and should be compared with Psalm 115. Those who defend idols and worship them are just like them: blind and ignorant and nothing. God made people in His own image, and now they are making gods in their own image! Part of the tree becomes a god, and the rest of the tree becomes fuel for the fire. The worshiper is “feeding on ashes” and deriving no benefit at all from the worship experience.
But God formed Israel (Isa. 44:21, 24), forgave His people their sins (v. 22; see 43:25), and is glorified in them (44:23). He speaks to His people and is faithful to keep His Word (v. 26). May we never take for granted the privilege we have of knowing and worshiping the true and living God!
God’s Servant Messiah (Isa. 42). Isaiah 42:1–7 is the first of four “Servant Songs” in Isaiah, referring to God’s Servant, the Messiah. The others are 49:1–6; 50:1–11; and 52:13–53:12. Contrast “Behold, they [the idols] are all vanity” (41:29) with “Behold My Servant” (42:1). Matthew 12:14–21 applies these words to the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ. He could have destroyed His enemies (the reed and flax), but He was patient and merciful. The Father delights in His Son, (Matt. 3:17; 17:5).
It is through the ministry of the Servant that God will accomplish His great plan of salvation for this world. God chose Him, God upheld Him, and God enabled Him to succeed in His mission. Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, one day there will be a glorious kingdom; and God will “bring justice to the nations” (Isa. 42:1, NIV). Jesus Christ is “the light of the world” (John 8:12), and that includes the Gentiles (Isa. 42:6; Acts 13:47–48; Luke 1:79). Isaiah 42:7 refers to the nation’s deliverance from Babylon (29:18; 32:3; 35:5) as well as to the sinner’s deliverance from condemnation (61:1–3; Luke 4:18–19).
The closing section (Isa. 42:10–25) describes a singing nation (vv. 10–12), giving praise to the Lord, and a silent God who breaks that silence to become a shouting conqueror (vv. 13–17). God is long-suffering toward sinners; but when He begins to work, He wastes no time! The “servant” in verses 18–25 is Israel, blind to their own sins and deaf to God’s voice (6:9–10); yet the Lord graciously forgave them and led them out of bondage. Now God says to the Babylonians, “Send them back!” (42:22, NIV)
How sad it is when God disciplines us and we do not understand what He is doing or take it to heart (v. 25). Israel’s Captivity in Babylon cured the nation of their idolatry, but it did not create within them a desire to please God and glorify Him.
3. God is greater than our enemies (Isa. 45:1–48:22)

These chapters deal with the overthrow of Babylon, and one of the major themes is, “I am the Lord, and there is none else” (45:5–6, 14, 18, 21–22; 46:9). Jehovah again reveals Himself as the true and living God in contrast to the dumb and dead idols.
The conqueror described (Isa. 45:1–25). Just as prophets, priests, and kings were anointed for service, so Cyrus was anointed by God to perform his special service for Israel’s sake. In this sense, Cyrus was a “messiah,” an “anointed one.” God called him by name over a century before he was born! Cyrus was the human instrument for the conquest, but it was Jehovah God who gave the victories. Anyone who opposed Cyrus was arguing with God, and that was like the clay commanding the potter or the child ordering the parents (vv. 9–10). God raised up Cyrus to do His specific will (v. 13), and nothing would prevent him from succeeding.
Note the emphasis on salvation. The idols cannot save Babylon (v. 20), but God is the Savior of Israel (vv. 15, 17). He is “a just God and a Savior” (v. 21), and He offers salvation to the whole world (v. 22). It was this verse that brought the light of salvation to Charles Haddon Spurgeon when he was a youth seeking the Lord.
The false gods disgraced (Isa. 46:1–13). Bel was the Babylonian sun god, and Nebo was his son, the god of writing and learning. But both of them together could not stop Cyrus! As the Babylonians fled from the enemy, they had to carry their gods; but their gods went into captivity with the prisoners of war! God assures His people that He will carry them from the womb to the tomb. Verse 4 is the basis for a stanza for the familiar song “How Firm a Foundation” that is usually omitted from our hymnals:

E’en down to old age, all My people shall prove,
My sovereign, eternal unchangeable love;
And then when grey hairs shall their temples adorn,
Like lambs they shall still in My bosom be borne.
(Richard Keen)

How comforting it is to know that our God cares for us before we are born (Ps. 139:13–16), when we get old, and each moment in between!
The city destroyed (Isa. 47:1–15). Babylon, the proud queen, is now a humbled slave. “I will continue forever—the eternal queen!” she boasted (v. 7, NIV). But in a moment, the judgment for her sins caught up with her; and she became a widow. Neither her idols nor her occult practices (vv. 12–14) were able to warn her or prepare her for her destruction. But God knew that Babylon would fall, because He planned it ages ago! He called Cyrus, who swooped down on Babylon like a bird of prey. Babylon showed no mercy to the Jews, and God judged them accordingly.
The Jewish remnant delivered (Isa. 48:1–22). The Jews had become comfortable and complacent in their Captivity and did not want to leave. They had followed the counsel of Jeremiah (Jer. 29:4–7) and had houses, gardens, and families; and it would not be easy for them to pack up and go to the holy land. But that was where they belonged and where God had a work for them to do. God told them that they were hypocritical in using His name and identifying with His city but not obeying His will (Isa. 48:1–2). They were stubborn (v. 4) and were not excited about the new things God was doing for them.
Had they obeyed the Lord in the first place, they would have experienced peace and not war (vv. 18–19), but it was not too late. He had put them into the furnace to refine them and prepare them for their future work (v. 10). “Go forth from Babylon; flee from the Chaldeans!” was God’s command (v. 20; see Jer. 50:8; 51:6, 45; Rev. 18:4). God would go before them and prepare the way, and they had nothing to fear.
One would think that the Jews would have been eager to leave their “prison” and return to their land to see God do new and great things for them. They had grown accustomed to the security of bondage and had forgotten the challenges of freedom. The church today can easily grow complacent with its comfort and affluence. God may have to put us into the furnace to remind us that we are here to be servants and not consumers or spectators.
Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). Be Comforted (S. 92–120). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

Be comforted, part 10, Archbishop Dr. Uwe AE.Rosenkranz

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ISAIAH 49:1–52:12

This Is God’s Servant
A plaque in a friend’s office reads: “The world is full of people who want to serve in an advisory capacity.”
But Jesus Christ did not come with good advice; He came with good news, the Good News that sinners can be forgiven and life can become excitingly new. The Gospel is good news to us, but it was “bad news” to the Son of God; for it meant that He would need to come to earth in human form and die on a cross as the sacrifice for the sins of the world.
These chapters present God’s Servant, Messiah, in three important relationships: to the Gentile nations (49:1–50:3), to His Father (50:4–11), and to His people Israel (51:1–52:12).
1. The Servant and the Gentiles (Isa. 49:1–50:3)

The Servant addresses the nations that did not know Israel’s God. The Gentiles were “far off,” and only God’s Servant could bring them near (Eph. 2:11–22). Christ confirmed God’s promises to the Jews and also extended God’s grace to the Gentiles (Rom. 15:8–12). In this message, God’s Servant explains His ministry as bringing light in the darkness (Isa. 49:1–7), liberty to the captives (vv. 8–13), and love and hope to the discouraged (49:14–50:3).
Light in the darkness (49:1–7). What right did God’s Servant have to address the Gentile nations with such authority? From before His birth, He was called by God to His ministry (Jer. 1:5; Gal. 1:15); and God prepared Him like a sharp sword and a polished arrow (Heb. 4:12; Rev. 1:16). Messiah came as both a Servant and a Warrior, serving those who trust Him and ultimately judging those who resist Him.
All of God’s servants should be like prepared weapons. “It is not great talents God blesses so much as great likeness to Jesus,” wrote Robert Murray McCheyne. “A holy minister [servant] is an awful weapon in the hand of God.”
The Jewish nation was called to glorify God and be a light to the Gentiles, but they failed in their mission. This is why Messiah is called “Israel” in Isaiah 49:3: He did the work that Israel was supposed to do. Today, the church is God’s light in this dark world (Acts 13:46–49; Matt. 5:14–16), and like Israel, we seem to be failing in our mission to take the Good News to the ends of the earth. We cannot do the job very effectively when only 5 percent of the average local church budget is devoted to evangelism!
As Jesus Christ ministered on earth, especially to His own people Israel, there were times when His work seemed in vain (Isa. 49:4). The religious leaders opposed Him, the disciples did not always understand Him, and those He helped did not always thank Him. He lived and labored by faith, and God gave Him success.
Our Lord could not minister to the Gentiles until first He ministered to the Jews (vv. 5–6). Read carefully Matthew 10:5–6; 15:24; Luke 24:44–49; Acts 3:25–26; 13:46–47; and Romans 1:16. When our Lord returned to heaven, He left behind a believing remnant of Jews that carried on His work. We must never forget that “salvation is of the Jews” (John 4:22). The Bible is a Jewish book, the first believers and missionaries were Jews, and the Gentiles would not have heard the Gospel had it not been brought to them by Jews. Messiah was despised by both Jews and Gentiles (Isa. 49:7), but He did God’s work and was glorified (Phil. 2:1–11).
Liberty to the captives (Isa. 49:8–13). Not only is God’s Servant the “new Israel,” but He is also the “new Moses” in setting His people free. Jesus Christ is God’s covenant (42:6), so we can be sure that God will keep His promises. Moses led the nation out of bondage in Egypt, and God will lead His people out of Captivity in Babylon. Joshua led the people into their land so they could claim their inheritance, and God will bring them back to their land “to reassign its desolate inheritances” (49:8, NIV).
How does this apply to the Gentiles? If God had not restored the people, the city, and the temple, He could not have fulfilled His promises concerning the Messiah. Had there been no Bethlehem, where would He have been born? Had there been no Nazareth, where would He have grown up? Had there been no Jerusalem and no temple, where would He have taught, suffered, and died? And He did this for the Gentiles as well as for the Jews.
Verses 10–12 look beyond the deliverance from Babylon in 536 B.C. toward the future glorious kingdom. The Lord will call the Jewish people from the ends of the earth and gather them again in their land (Isa. 14:1–3; 35:6; 40:11; 43:19).
Love and hope to the discouraged (Isa. 49:14–50:3). “The Lord comforts His people and will have compassion on His afflicted ones” (49:13, NIV). So sing the people of God as they contemplate their future deliverance, but the people of the Captivity and those left in “the desolate inheritances” are not so happy. Instead of singing, they are complaining: “The Lord has forsaken me. And my Lord has forgotten me” (v. 14, NKJV).
The Lord assures them of His love by comparing Himself to a compassionate mother (vv. 14–23), a courageous warrior (vv. 24–26), and a constant lover (50:1–3).
(1) A compassionate mother (vv. 14–23). The Bible emphasizes the fatherhood of God, but there is also a “motherhood” side to God’s nature that we must not forget. God is compassionate and comforts us as a mother comforts her children (66:13). Isaiah pictures Israel as a nursing child, totally dependent on the Lord who will never forget them or forsake them. The high priest bore the names of the tribes of Israel on his shoulders and over his heart (Ex. 28:6–9), engraved on jewels; but God has engraved His children’s names on His hands. The word “engraved” means “to cut into,” signifying its permanence. God can never forget Zion or Zion’s children.
Zion seems like a forsaken and barren mother, but she will be so blessed of God that there will be no room for her children! They will be like beautiful bridal ornaments, not decrepit refugees from Captivity. Once again, the prophet looked ahead to the end of the age when the Gentiles will honor Jehovah and Israel, and kings and queens will be baby-sitters for Israel’s children!
(2) A courageous warrior (vv. 24–26). The Babylonians were fierce warriors, but the Lord would snatch Israel from their grasp. In His compassion, He would set the captives free and see to it that Babylon would never afflict them again. The fact that God permitted Babylon to conquer His people did not mean that God was weak or unconcerned. When the right time comes, He will set His people free. “They shall not be ashamed who wait for Me” (v. 23).
(3) A constant lover (50:1–3). The image of Israel as the wife of Jehovah is found often in the prophets (54:4–5; 62:1–5; Jer. 2:1–3; 3:1–11; Hosea 2; Ezek. 16). Israel was “married” to Jehovah when they accepted the covenant at Sinai (Ex. 19–20), but they violated that covenant by “playing the harlot” and worshiping idols. But God did not forsake His people even though they had been unfaithful to Him.
The Mosaic permission for divorce is found in Deuteronomy 24:1–4 (see Matt. 19:1–12). The “certificate of divorce” declared that the former marriage was broken and that the woman was free to remarry. But it also prevented the woman from returning to her former husband. God had indeed “divorced” the Northern Kingdom and allowed it to be assimilated by the Assyrians (Jer. 3:8), so she could not return. But He had not “divorced” the Southern Kingdom; He had only permitted His unfaithful wife to suffer chastening at the hands of Babylon. He would forgive her and receive her back again.
The second picture in this paragraph is that of a poor family selling their children into servitude (2 Kings 4:1–7; Neh. 5:1–5). God had not sold His people; by their sins, they had sold themselves. God had called to them many times and tried to turn them back from their wicked ways, but they had refused to listen. Judah did not go into exile because of God’s weakness, but because of their own sinfulness.
How could the people say they were forgotten and forsaken, when the Lord is a compassionate mother, a courageous warrior, and a constant lover? He is faithful to His Word even when we are unfaithful (2 Tim. 2:11–13). He is faithful to chasten when we rebel (Heb. 12:1–11), but He is also faithful to forgive when we repent and confess (1 John 1:9).
The Servant’s message to the Gentiles was one of hope and blessing. He would deal with His people so that they, in turn, could bring God’s blessing to the Gentiles.
2. The Servant and the Lord God (Isa. 50:4–11)

In the first two “Servant Songs” (42:1–7; 49:1–7), you find hints of opposition to Messiah’s ministry; but in this third Song, His suffering is vividly described. When we get to the fourth Song (52:12–53:12), we will be told not only how He suffered, but why His suffering is necessary.
Note that four times in this passage the Servant uses the name “Lord God.” “Jehovah Adonai” can be translated “Sovereign Lord,” and you will find this title nowhere else in the “Servant Songs.” According to Robert B. Girdlestone, the name “Jehovah Adonai” means that “God is the owner of each member of the human family, and that He consequently claims the unrestricted obedience of all” (Synonyms of the Old Testament; Eerdmans, 1951; p. 34). So the emphasis here is on the Servant’s submission to the Lord God in every area of His life and service.
His mind was submitted to the Lord God so that He could learn His Word and His will (50:4). Everything Jesus said and did was taught to Him by His Father (John 5:19, 30; 6:38; 8:28). He prayed to the Father for guidance (John 11:42; Mark 1:35) and meditated on the Word. What God taught the Servant, the Servant shared with those who needed encouragement and help. The Servant sets a good example here for all who know the importance of a daily “quiet time” with the Lord.
The Servant’s will was also yielded to the Lord God. An “opened ear” is one that hears and obeys the voice of the master. The people to whom Isaiah ministered were neither “willing” nor “obedient” (Isa. 1:19), but the Servant did gladly the will of the Lord God. This was not easy, for it meant yielding His body to wicked men who mocked Him, whipped Him, spat on Him, and then nailed Him to a cross (Matt. 26:67; 27:26, 30).
The Servant did all of this by faith in the Lord God (Isa. 50:7–11). He was determined to do God’s will even if it meant going to a cross (Luke 9:51; John 18:1–11), for He knew that the Lord God would help Him. The Servant was falsely accused, but He knew that God would vindicate Him and eventually put His enemies to shame. Keep in mind that when Jesus Christ was ministering here on earth, He had to live by faith even as we must today. He did not use His divine powers selfishly for Himself but trusted God and depended on the power of the Spirit.
Verses 10–11 are addressed especially to the Jewish remnant, but they have an application to God’s people today. His faithful ones were perplexed at what God was doing, but He assured them that their faith would not go unrewarded. Dr. Bob Jones, Sr. often said, “Never doubt in the dark what God has told you in the light.” But the unbelieving ones who try to eliminate the darkness by lighting their own fires (i.e., following their own schemes) will end up in sorrow and suffering. In obedience to the Lord, you may find yourself in the darkness; but do not panic, for He will bring you the light you need just at the right time.
3. The Servant and Israel (Isa. 51:1–52:12)

This section contains several admonitions: “hearken to Me” (51:1, 4, 7); “awake, awake” (vv. 9, 17; 52:1–6); and “depart, depart” (vv. 7–12). Except for 51:9–16, which is a prayer addressed to the Lord, each of these admonitions is from God to His people in Babylon.
“Hearken to Me” (Isa. 51:1–8). These three admonitions are addressed to the faithful remnant in Israel, the people described in 50:10. In the first admonition (51:1–3), the Lord told them to look back and remember Abraham and Sarah, the progenitors of the Jewish nation (Gen. 12–25). God called them “alone,” but from these two elderly people came a nation as numerous as the dust of the earth and the stars of the heaven (13:16; 15:5). The remnant leaving Babylon was small and weak, but God was able to increase them into a mighty nation and also turn their ravaged land into a paradise. “Be comforted!” God said to His people. “The best is yet to come!”
In the second command (Isa. 51:4–6), God told them to look ahead and realize that justice would come to the world and they would be vindicated by the Lord. Note the emphasis on the word “My”: My people, My nation, My justice, My righteousness, My arms, and My salvation. This is the grace of God, doing for His people what they did not deserve and what they could not do for themselves. The “arm of the Lord” is a key concept in Isaiah’s prophecy (30:30; 40:10; 51:5, 9; 52:10; 53:1; 59:16; 62:8; 63:5, 12). Heaven and earth will pass away, but God’s righteousness and salvation will last forever. That righteousness will be displayed in a special way when Messiah returns and establishes His kingdom on earth.
The third admonition (51:7–8) focuses on looking within, where we find either fear or faith. Why should the nation fear men when God is on its side? “Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid” (12:2). “Sanctify the Lord of hosts Himself, and let Him be your fear, and let Him be your dread” (8:13). To have God’s law in your heart means to belong to Him and be saved (Jer. 31:31–34; Heb. 10:16). The moth and the worm shall destroy the enemy, but God’s salvation will endure. Moths and worms do not do their work conspicuously, but they work efficiently just the same. The seeds of destruction were already in the Babylonian Empire, and the leaders did not know it.
“Awake, awake” (Isa. 51:9–52:6). “Hearken to Me” was spoken to admonish the people, but “awake, awake” is for the arousing of the Lord (51:9–16) and of Jerusalem (vv. 17–23; 52:1–6).
The remnant in Babylon prayed as though God were asleep and needed to be awakened (Pss. 7:6; 44:23; 78:65–72). They wanted God to bare His arm as He did when He defeated Pharaoh and redeemed His people from Egyptian bondage. The return from Babylon was looked upon as another “exodus” (Isa. 43:16–17; 49:9–12), with God wholly in charge and the enemy completely defeated.
God replied to their prayer with words of comfort (51:12–16; see vv. 3 and 19). He reminded them again of the frailty of man (see 40:6–8) and the power of God the Creator (51:13). Why should they be afraid of grass when the God of the universe was on their side? Because they are His people, with whom He has deposited His Word, He will release them, protect them, and provide for them. They had an important task to perform and He would enable them to do it.
In the second “wake-up call,” the prophet speaks to the ruined city of Jerusalem (vv. 17–23) and pictures her as a mother in a drunken stupor with no children to help her. In the Bible, judgment is sometimes pictured as the drinking of a cup of wine (29:9; 63:6; Ps. 75:8; Jer. 25:15–16; Rev. 14:10). Jerusalem’s children had gone into Captivity, but now they would return and give their “mother” new hope and a new beginning. God will take the cup of judgment from the Jews and give it to their enemies. To put your foot on the neck of your enemies was a humiliating declaration of their defeat; but instead of Babylon “walking on” the Jews, the Jews would “walk on” the Babylonians!
The third “wake-up call” (Isa. 52:1–6) is also addressed to Jerusalem and is a command not only to wake up but to dress up! It is not enough for her to put off her stupor; (51:17–23) she must also put on her glorious garments. Babylon the “queen” would fall to the dust in shame (47:1), but Jerusalem would rise up from the dust and be enthroned as a queen! Egypt had enslaved God’s people, Assyria had oppressed them, and Babylon had taken them captive; but now that was ended. Of course, the ultimate fulfillment of this promise will occur when the Messiah returns, delivers Jerusalem from her enemies, and establishes Mt. Zion as the joy of all the earth (61:4–11).
The city of Jerusalem is called “the holy city” eight times in Scripture (Neh. 11:1, 18; Isa. 48:2; 52:1; Dan. 9:24; Matt. 4:5; 27:53; Rev. 11:2). It has been “set apart” by God for His exclusive purposes; but when His people refused to obey Him, He ordered it destroyed, first by the Babylonians and then by the Romans.
During the Captivity, God’s name was blasphemed because the enemy taunted the Jews and asked them why their great God did not deliver them (Pss. 115; 137). Paul quoted Isaiah 52:5 in Romans 2:24. But when the remnant is restored, they will know God’s name and seek to honor it.
“Depart, depart” (Isa. 52:7–12). The defeat of Babylon by Cyrus was certainly good news to the Jews because it meant freedom for the captives (40:9; 41:27). The Good News we share today is that Jesus Christ can set the prisoners free (Rom. 10:15). For decades, the remnant had suffered in a foreign country, without an altar or a priesthood; but now they would return to their land, rebuild their temple, and restore their God-given ministry.
It has well been said that “good news is for sharing,” and that is what happens in Jerusalem. The leaders (watchmen) take up the message and sing together to the glory of God (Isa. 44:23). But they not only hear what God has done; they also see it happening! The wilderness will join the song because the desolate cities and “waste places” will be transformed (51:3). The remnant prayed for God’s holy arm to work, and He answered their prayer (v. 9).
Isaiah likes to use repetition: “Comfort ye, comfort ye” (40:1); “awake, awake” (51:9, 17; 52:1); and now, “depart, depart” (52:11). It seems strange that God would have to urge His people to leave a place of captivity, but some of them had grown accustomed to Babylon and were reluctant to leave. The first group, about 50,000 people, left Babylon in 538 B.C. when Cyrus issued his decree. They were under the leadership of Sheshbazzar, Zerubbabel, and Jeshua the high priest (Ezra 1–2). They carried with them “the vessels of the Lord” (Isa. 52:11), the articles that were needed for the service in the temple. A second group of nearly 1,800 people led by Ezra, left in 458 B.C.
God commanded them to depart because Babylon was a condemned city (Jer. 50:8ff; 51:6, 45). He warned them not to linger but to get out quickly while they had the opportunity (Isa. 48:20). They did not have to flee like criminals, but there was no reason to tarry. He also cautioned them not to take any of Babylon’s uncleanness with them. “Touch no unclean thing” (52:11) would certainly include the whole Babylonian system of idolatry and occult practices that had helped to ruin the Jewish nation (47:11–15). Paul makes the application to believers today in 2 Corinthians 6:14–7:1.
God had a special word for the priests and Levites who were carrying the vessels of the temple: “Come out from it [Babylon] and be pure” (Isa. 52:11, NIV). This is a good command for all of God’s servants to obey. If we defile ourselves, we will also defile the work of the Lord. How tragic for a holy ministry to be a source of defilement to God’s people!
The prophet added a final word of encouragement: “The Lord will go before you, and the God of Israel will be your rear guard” (v. 12; see 58:8). This reminds us of Israel’s Exodus from Egypt when the Lord went before them (Ex. 13:21) and stood between them and the enemy (14:19–20). When God’s people obey God’s will, they can always count on God’s leading and protection.
Isaiah has prepared the way for the “heart” of God’s revelation of the Servant Messiah, the fourth Servant Song (52:13–53:12). We must prepare our hearts, for we are walking on holy ground.
Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). Be Comforted (S. 120–131). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.