Monday, August 31, 2015

Gleanings 8-31-15

If the United States wants to give China less leverage, she can shrink her deficit and balance her budget so as to regain the upper hand.--David Bahnsen

Just as up until the time of His first advent,everything had been prepared with a view to Christ, now everything is traced back to him.--Herman Bavinck

You know why it’s perfectly legal to maintain this insanely obvious traffic in baby body parts? Because abortion is legal. Abortion is murder, and it is legal. Once that’s conceded, nothing else matters, pretty much. --Joel McDurmon

What is abortion but humanity elevating our middle finger toward God by gleefully destroying the creatures that God loves most? Humanity is in a state of open warfare with God. We cannot get at God (except for that one time we could, and we crucified him). But we can, and will, get at anything that comes from God and anything that reflects God.--Tim Challies

Hypocrisy is always much bigger than the sin it pretends not to be committing.--Doug Wilson

Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Legacy of Charles Finney

The Legacy of Charles Finney --Michael S. Horton
Jerry Falwell called him "one of my heroes and a hero to many evangelicals, including Billy Graham." I recall wandering through the Billy Graham Center some years ago, observing the place of honor given to Finney in the evangelical tradition, reinforced by the first class in theology I had at a Christian college, where Finney's work was required reading. The New York revivalist was the oft-quoted and celebrated champion of the Christian singer Keith Green and the Youth With A Mission organization. Finney is particularly esteemed among the leaders of the Christian Right and the Christian Left, and his imprint can be seen in movements that appear to be diverse, but in reality are merely heirs to Finney's legacy. From the Vineyard movement and the church growth movement to the political and social crusades, televangelism, and the Promise-Keepers movement, as a former Wheaton College president rather glowingly cheered, "Finney lives on!"
That is because Finney's moralistic impulse envisioned a church that was in large measure an agency of personal and social reform rather than the institution in which the means of grace, Word and Sacrament, are made available to believers who then take the Gospel to the world. In the nineteenth century, the evangelical movement became increasingly identified with political causes--from abolition of slavery and child labor legislation to women's rights and the prohibition of alcohol. At the turn of the century, with an influx of Roman Catholic immigrants already making many American Protestants a bit uneasy, secularism began to pry the fingers of the Protestant establishment from the institutions (colleges, hospitals, charitable organizations) they had created and sustained. In a desperate effort at regaining this institutional power and the glory of "Christian America" (a vision that is always powerful in the imagination, but, after the disintegration of Puritan New England, elusive), the turn-of-the-century Protestant establishment launched moral campaigns to "Americanize" immigrants, enforce moral instruction and "character education." Evangelists pitched their American gospel in terms of its practical usefulness to the individual and the nation.
That is why Finney is so popular. He is the tallest marker in the shift from Reformation orthodoxy, evident in the Great Awakening (under Edwards and Whitefield) to Arminian (indeed, even Pelagian) revivalism, evident from the Second Great Awakening to the present. To demonstrate the debt of modern evangelicalism to Finney, we must first notice his theological departures. From these departures, Finney became the father of the antecedents to some of today's greatest challenges within the evangelical churches themselves; namely, the church growth movement, Pentecostalism and political revivalism.
Who Is Finney?
Reacting against the pervasive Calvinism of the Great Awakening, the successors of that great movement of God's Spirit turned from God to humans, from the preaching of objective content (namely, Christ and him crucified) to the emphasis on getting a person to "make a decision."
Charles Finney (1792-1875) ministered in the wake of the "Second Awakening," as it has been called. A Presbyterian lawyer, Finney one day experienced "a mighty baptism of the Holy Ghost" which "like a wave of electricity going through and through me...seemed to come in waves of liquid love." The next morning, he informed his first client of the day, "I have a retainer from the Lord Jesus Christ to plead his cause and I cannot plead yours." Refusing to attend Princeton Seminary (or any seminary, for that matter), Finney began conducting revivals in upstate New York. One of his most popular sermons was, "Sinners Bound to Change Their Own Hearts."
Finney's one question for any given teaching was, "Is it fit to convert sinners with?" One result of Finney's revivalism was the division of Presbyterians in Philadelphia and New York into Arminian and Calvinistic factions. His "New Measures" included the "anxious bench" (precursor to today's altar call), emotional tactics that led to fainting and weeping, and other "excitements," as Finney and his followers called them. Finney became increasingly hostile toward Presbyterianism, referring in his introduction to his Systematic Theology to the Westminster Confession and its drafters rather critically, as if they had created a "paper pope," and had "elevated their confession and catechism to the Papal throne and into the place of the Holy Ghost." Remarkably, Finney demonstrates how close Arminian revivalism, in its naturalistic sentiments, tends to be to a less refined theological liberalism, as both caved into the Enlightenment and its enshrining of human reason and morality:
That the instrument framed by that assembly should in the nineteenth century be recognized as the standard of the church, or of an intelligent branch of it, is not only amazing, but I must say that it is highly ridiculous. It is as absurd in theology as it would be in any other branch of science. It is better to have a living than a dead Pope.
What's So Wrong With Finney's Theology?
First, one need go no further than the table of contents of his Systematic Theology to learn that Finney's entire theology revolved around human morality. Chapters one through five are on moral government, obligation, and the unity of moral action; chapters six and seven are "Obedience Entire," as chapters eight through fourteen discuss attributes of love, selfishness, and virtues and vice in general. Not until the twenty-first chapter does one read anything that is especially Christian in its interest, on the atonement. This is followed by a discussion of regeneration, repentance, and faith. There is one chapter on justification followed by six on sanctification. In other words, Finney did not really write a Systematic Theology, but a collection of essays on ethics.
But that is not to say that Finney's Systematic Theology does not contain some significant theological statements. First, in answer to the question, "Does a Christian cease to be a Christian, whenever he commits a sin?", Finney answers:
Whenever he sins, he must, for the time being, cease to be holy. This is self-evident. Whenever he sins, he must be condemned; he must incur the penalty of the law of God...If it be said that the precept is still binding upon him, but that with respect to the Christian, the penalty is forever set aside, or abrogated, I reply, that to abrogate the penalty is to repeal the precept; for a precept without penalty is no law. It is only counsel or advice. The Christian, therefore, is justified no longer than he obeys, and must be condemned when he disobeys; or Antinomianism is true...In these respects, then, the sinning Christian and the unconverted sinner are upon precisely the same ground. (p. 46)
Finney believed that God demanded absolute perfection, but instead of that leading him to seek his perfect righteousness in Christ, he concluded that
...full present obedience is a condition of justification. But again, to the question, can man be justified while sin remains in him? Surely he cannot, either upon legal or gospel principles, unless the law be repealed...But can he be pardoned and accepted, and justified, in the gospel sense, while sin, any degree of sin, remains in him? Certainly not (p. 57).
With the Westminster Confession in his sights, Finney declares of the Reformation's formula "simultaneously justified and sinful", "This error has slain more souls, I fear, than all the universalism that ever cursed the world." For, "Whenever a Christian sins he comes under condemnation, and must repent and do his first works, or be lost" (p. 60).
We will return to Finney's doctrine of justification, but it must be noted that it rests upon a denial of the doctrine of original sin. Held by both Roman Catholics and Protestants, this biblical teaching insists that we are all born into this world inheriting Adam's guilt and corruption. We are, therefore, in bondage to a sinful nature. As someone has said, "We sin because we're sinners": the condition of sin determines the acts of sin, rather than vice versa. But Finney followed Pelagius, the 5th-century heretic, who was condemned by more church councils than any other person in church history, in denying this doctrine.
Instead, Finney believed that human beings were capable of choosing whether they would be corrupt by nature or redeemed, referring to original sin as an "anti-scriptural and nonsensical dogma" (p. 179). In clear terms, Finney denied the notion that human beings possess a sinful nature (ibid.). Therefore, if Adam leads us into sin, not by our inheriting his guilt and corruption, but by following his poor example, this leads logically to the view of Christ, the Second Adam, as saving by example. This is precisely where Finney takes it, in his explanation of the atonement.
The first thing we must note about the atonement, Finney says, is that Christ could not have died for anyone else's sins than his own. His obedience to the law and his perfect righteousness were sufficient to save him, but could not legally be accepted on behalf of others. That Finney's whole theology is driven by a passion for moral improvement is seen on this very point: "If he [Christ] had obeyed the Law as our substitute, then why should our own return to personal obedience be insisted upon as a sine qua non of our salvation?" (p. 206). In other words, why would God insist that we save ourselves by our own obedience if Christ's work was sufficient? The reader should recall the words of St. Paul in this regard, "I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing." It would seem that Finney's reply is one of agreement. The difference is, he has no difficulty believing both of those premises.
That is not entirely fair, of course, because Finney did believe that Christ died for something--not for someone--but for something. In other words, he died for a purpose, but not for people. The purpose of that death was to reassert God's moral government and to lead us to eternal life by example, as Adam's example excited us to sin. Why did Christ die? God knew that "The atonement would present to creatures the highest possible motives to virtue. Example is the highest moral influence that can be exerted...If the benevolence manifested in the atonement does not subdue the selfishness of sinners, their case is hopeless" (p. 209). Therefore, we are not helpless sinners who need to be redeemed, but wayward sinners who need a demonstration of selflessness so moving that we will be excited to leave off selfishness. Not only did Finney believe that the "moral influence" theory of the atonement was the chief way of understanding the cross; he explicitly denied the substitutionary atonement, which "...assumes that the atonement was a literal payment of a debt, which we have seen does not consist with the nature of the atonement...It is true, that the atonement, of itself, does not secure the salvation of anyone" (p. 217).
Then there is the matter of applying redemption. Throwing off the Calvinistic orthodoxy of the older Presbyterians and Congregationalists, Finney argued strenuously against the belief that the new birth is a divine gift, insisting that "regeneration consists in the sinner changing his ultimate choice, intention, preference; or in changing from selfishness to love or benevolence," as moved by the moral influence of Christ's moving example (p. 224). "Original or constitutional sinfulness, physical regeneration, and all their kindred and resulting dogmas, are alike subversive of the gospel, and repulsive to the human intelligence" (p. 236).
Having nothing to do with original sin, a substitutionary atonement, and the supernatural character of the new birth, Finney proceeds to attack "the article by which the church stands or falls"--justification by grace alone through faith alone.
The Protestant Reformers insisted, on the basis of clear biblical texts, that justification (in the Greek, "to declare righteous," rather than "to make righteous") was a forensic (i.e., "legal") verdict. In other words, whereas Rome maintained that justification was a process of making a bad person better, the Reformers argued that it was a declaration or pronouncement that had someone else's righteousness (i.e., Christ's) as its basis. Therefore, it was a perfect, once-and-for-all verdict of right-standing at the beginning of the Christian life, not in the middle or at the end.
The key words in the evangelical doctrine are "forensic" (meaning "legal") and "imputation" (crediting one's account, as opposed to the idea of "infusion" of a righteousness within a person's soul). Knowing all of this, Finney declares,
But for sinners to be forensically pronounced just, is impossible and absurd...As we shall see, there are many conditions, while there is but one ground, of the justification of sinners...As has already been said, there can be no justification in a legal or forensic sense, but upon the ground of universal, perfect, and uninterrupted obedience to law. 

This is of course denied by those who hold that gospel justification, or the justification of penitent sinners, is of the nature of a forensic or judicial justification. They hold to the legal maxim that what a man does by another he does by himself, and therefore the law regards Christ's obedience as ours, on the ground that he obeyed for us.
To this, Finney replies:
The doctrine of an imputed righteousness, or that Christ's obedience to the law was accounted as our obedience, is founded on a most false and nonsensical assumption." After all, Christ's righteousness "could do no more than justify himself. It can never be imputed to us...It was naturally impossible, then, for him to obey in our behalf." This "representing of the atonement as the ground of the sinner's justification has been a sad occasion of stumbling to many" (pp. 320-322).
The view that faith is the sole condition of justification is "the antinomian view," Finney asserts. "We shall see that perseverance in obedience to the end of life is also a condition of justification." Furthermore, "present sanctification, in the sense of present full consecration to God, is another condition...of justification. Some theologians have made justification a condition of sanctification, instead of making sanctification a condition of justification. But this we shall see is an erroneous view of the subject" (pp. 326-327). Each act of sin requires "a fresh justification" (p. 331). Referring to "the framers of the Westminster Confession of faith," and their view of an imputed righteousness, Finney wonders, "If this is not antinomianism, I know not what is" (p. 332). This legal business is unreasonable to Finney, so he concludes, "I regard these dogmas as fabulous, and better befitting a romance than a system of theology" (p. 333). He concludes in this section against the Westminster Assembly:
The relations of the old school view of justification to their view of depravity is obvious. They hold, as we have seen, that the constitution in every faculty and part is sinful. Of course, a return to personal, present holiness, in the sense of entire conformity to the law, cannot with them be a condition of justification. They must have a justification while yet at least in some degree of sin. This must be brought about by imputed righteousness. The intellect revolts at a justification in sin. So a scheme is devised to divert the eye of the law and of the lawgiver from the sinner to his substitute, who has perfectly obeyed the law (p. 339).
This he calls "another gospel." Insisting that Paul's rather realistic account of the Christian life in Romans 7 actually refers to the apostle's life before he had experienced "entire sanctification," Finney surpasses Wesley in arguing for the possibility of complete holiness in this life. John Wesley maintained that it is possible for a believer to attain full sanctification, but when he recognized that even the holiest Christians sin, he accommodated his theology to this simple empirical fact. He did this by saying that this experience of "Christian perfection" was a matter of the heart, not of actions. In other words, a Christian may be perfected in love, so that love is now the sole motivation for one's actions, while occasionally making mistakes. Finney rejects this view and insists that justification is conditioned on complete and total perfection--that is, "conformity to the law of God entire," and not only is the believer capable of this; when he or she transgresses at any point, a fresh justification is required.
As the Princeton theologian B. B. Warfield pointed out so eloquently, there are two religions throughout history: Heathenism--of which Pelagianism is a religious expression--and supernatural redemption. And with Warfield and those who so seriously warned their brothers and sisters of these errors among Finney and his successors, we too must come to terms with the wildly heterodox strain in American Protestantism. With roots in Finney's revivalism, perhaps evangelical and liberal Protestantism are not that far apart after all. His "New Measures," like today's church growth movement, made human choices and emotions the center of the church's ministry, ridiculed theology, and replaced the preaching of Christ with the preaching of conversion.
It is upon Finney's naturalistic moralism that the Christian political and social crusades build their faith in humanity and its resources in self-salvation. Sounding not a little like a deist, Finney declared, "There is nothing in religion beyond the ordinary powers of nature. It consists entirely in the right exercise of the powers of nature. It is just that, and nothing else. When mankind becomes truly religious, they are not enabled to put forth exertions which they were unable before to put forth. They only exert powers which they had before, in a different way, and use them for the glory of God." Thus, as the new birth is a natural phenomenon, so too a revival: "A revival is not a miracle, nor dependent on a miracle, in any sense. It is a purely philosophical result of the right use of the constituted means--as much so as any other effect produced by the application of means." The belief that the new birth and revival depend necessarily on divine activity is pernicious. "No doctrine," he says, "is more dangerous than this to the prosperity of the Church, and nothing more absurd" (Revivals of Religion [Revell], pp. 4-5). When the leaders of the church growth movement claim that theology gets in the way of growth and insist that it does not matter what a particular church believes: growth is a matter of following the proper principles, they are displaying their debt to Finney. When leaders of the Vineyard movement praise this sub-Christian enterprise and the barking, roaring, screaming, laughing, and other strange phenomena on the basis that "it works" and one must judge its truth by its fruit, they are following Finney, as well as the father of American pragmatism, William James, who declared that truth must be judged on the basis of "its cash-value in experiential terms."
Thus, in Finney's theology, God is not sovereign; man is not a sinner by nature; the atonement is not a true payment for sin; justification by imputation is insulting to reason and morality; the new birth is simply the effect of successful techniques, and revival is a natural result of clever campaigns. In his fresh introduction to the bicentennial edition of Finney's Systematic Theology, Harry Conn commends Finney's pragmatism: "Many servants of our Lord should be diligently searching for a gospel that 'works,' and I am happy to state they can find it in this volume." As Whitney R. Cross has carefully documented in The Burned-Over District: The Social and Intellectual History of Enthusiastic Religion in Western New York, 1800-1850 (Cornell University Press, 1950), the stretch of territory in which Finney's revivals were most frequent was also the cradle of the perfectionistic cults that plagued that century. A gospel that "works" for zealous perfectionists one moment merely creates tomorrow's disillusioned and spent super-saints.
Needless to say, Finney's message is radically different from the evangelical faith, as is the basic orientation of the movements we see around us today the bear his imprint: revivalism (or its modern label, "the church growth movement"), Pentecostal perfectionism and emotionalism, political triumphalism based on the ideal of "Christian America," and the anti-intellectual, anti-doctrinal tendencies of American evangelicalism and fundamentalism. It was through the "Higher Life Movement" of the late 19th and early 20th centuries that Finney's perfectionism came to dominate the fledgling Dispensationalist movement through the auspices of Lewis Sperry Chafer, founder of Dallas Seminary and author of He That Is Spiritual. Finney, of course, is not solely responsible; he is more a product than a producer. Nevertheless, the influence he exercised and continues to exercise to this day is pervasive.
Not only did the revivalist abandon the material principle of the Reformation (justification), making him a renegade against evangelical Christianity; he repudiated doctrines, such as original sin and the substitutionary atonement, that have been embraced by Roman Catholics and Protestants alike. Therefore, Finney is not merely an Arminian, but a Pelagian. He is not only an enemy of evangelical Protestantism, but of historic Christianity of the broadest sort.
I do not point these things out with relish, as if to cheerfully denounce the heroes of American evangelicals. Nevertheless, it is always best, when one has lost something valuable, to retrace one's steps in order to determine when and where one last had it in his or her possession. That is the purpose of this exercise, to face with some honesty the serious departure from biblical Christianity that occurred through American revivalism. For until we address this shift, we will perpetuate a distorted and dangerous course. Of one thing Finney was absolutely correct: The Gospel held by the Westminster divines whom he attacked directly, and indeed held by the whole company of evangelicals, is "another gospel" in distinction from the one proclaimed by Charles Finney. The question of our moment is, With which gospel will we side?
1 [ Back ] Unless otherwise specified, all quotes are from Charles G. Finney, Finney's Systematic Theology (Bethany, 1976).

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Shemitah myths exposed

Shemitah Years and Blood Moons as Market Timing Tools
Jerry Bowyer, President, Bowyer Research; Jay Ryan, Author-Signs & Seasons: Understanding the Elements of Classical Astronomy; Charles Bowyer, Research Analyst, Bowyer Research; Joel McDurmon, Ph.D.

Foreword -- By Dr. Joel McDurmon
There is currently an explosion of interest in the Old Testament religious law of “Shemitah” thanks to books like Jonathan Cahn’s The Harbinger. This wildly popular book makes startling claims about catastrophic judgments and financial chaos allegedly backed by convincing historical evidences. Coupled with the alleged coincidence of the Jewish Shemitah years as well as the “Blood Moon” phenomena which have also recently been hyped, this message has unnecessarily confused and alarmed even many level-headed Christians. In fact, with the inclusion of historical evidences, even non-religious forecasters are joining the prediction circuit, resulting in the shock and alarm of many in the secular world as well, especially the financial industry.

The excellent paper which follows—and which I am proud to bring to you from a friend of mine—addresses the “Shemitah” and “Blood Moon” issue specifically from a historical, astronomical, and financial perspective. While I will let the main paper do most of the discussion for itself, in this brief Foreword I want to make a few comments on the religious side of the equation, as well as how this phenomenon has also recently been secularized and leveraged primarily, it appears, for personal financial gain. It is my concern to prevent Christians and many in the young libertarian audience as well from being duped into sales pitches with fears built on religious chicanery.  It is my conclusion that The Harbinger, the Blood Moons materials, and the particular use they make of “Shemitah” are unfortunately very misleading, although The Harbinger in particular is presented in an engaging “mystery” format very similar to The Da Vinci Code. Now that I think of it, The Harbinger is written in the same genre—fiction pretending to be fact. As to accuracy in regard to Christianity, however, the two deserve the same assessment.

Making Void the Word of God
The interest arises due The Harbinger’s bold claim that this “mystery” literally “holds the secret of America’s future.” Since the next “Shemitah” year on the Jewish calendar occurs allegedly beginning this September, 2015, the alleged big event has millions of readers anticipating imminent collapse.1 But there are several theological problems with the presentation, not the least of which is labeling the “Shemitah” as an “ancient mystery.” While this may fool many of the unsuspecting or unknowing, anyone familiar with the Bible (especially the Hebrew law) will tell you this is an absolute joke. The “Shemitah” is a well-known principle that has been openly known and expounded by rabbis since it was first revealed as part of the Old Testament law thousands of years ago. In fact, when I told an Orthodox Jewish friend of mine that some Christian authors were making bold end-time predictions based on it, he simply laughed and said, “That’s funny. Are they unaware that we go through this every 7 years?”

Biblically speaking, a “mystery” is something that God has kept hidden for centuries and only recently revealed in its fullness. This is what Christians believe the gospel of the New Testament was in the time of Jesus Christ (see Eph. 1:9). It is now no longer a mystery. But the Shemitah was never hidden; it was openly revealed and read out loud to everyone from day one.  Far from being any new revelation, Jews have celebrated hundreds upon hundreds of these Shemitot (the plural form of the word) without historical incident and without anyone besides Jews, really, ever paying much attention.  There is nothing special or “prophetic” about them; they are commonplace, ritual occurrences. The only real problem here is that too many Christians are ignorant of the Old Testament, and thus get duped!  What is the Biblical Shemitah?

So what is this “Shemitah”? It is simply part of the Hebrew system of Sabbath-rests. Most people are familiar with the weekly Sabbath: Saturday for Jews and Sunday for most Christians. That’s one day out of seven. Less well known is the Sabbath-year. In the law of Moses, every seventh year was a Sabbath year, or “Shemitah” (“release”) year. In these years, all debts were cancelled and anyone who had fallen into slavery or indentured servitude was released.

Finally, after every seven Shemitah years (49 years), the law prescribed for Israel to set aside the 50th year as Yovel, or a “Jubilee” year. In addition to release of debts and freedom for indentured servants, in this year all land in Israel was returned to its original owners or living descendants. This way, whatever hardships may have fallen throughout life, the Jewish people living in the land were never permanently disinherited from their family’s inheritance.

For Christians, these laws ultimately had symbolic significance for the work of Jesus Christ. When He first announced His earthly ministry, He did so in terms of the fulfillment of the Jublilee. He did so by reading Isaiah 61 in His local synagogue:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:18–21).

This “year of the Lord’s favor” in which “liberty” is given to the captives was not only the fulfillment of Isaiah 61, but is widely recognized as a reference to the spiritual meaning of God’s Jubilee system.

No One Today Celebrates Shemitah
The concept of fulfillment is important because it is here that we recognize why the Shemitah principle can have no significance for anyone today, Jew or Christian—at least not from God’s perspective. The entire ritual system of the Mosaic law as a whole and in virtually every detail was fulfilled in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. This is why Jesus told the Pharisees (religious leaders of His day who claimed to be foremost experts and devotees of Moses): “If you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me” (John 5:46).

But since Jesus has come, died on the cross, resurrected, and created a new “living” Temple of His body (the body of all believers who follow Christ—see 1 Peter 2:4–5), we no longer need the old stone temple, sacrifices of lambs, or the old Hebrew calendar of Sabbaths and moons. This is what the whole biblical book of Hebrews is about: we now have a better covenant (the New Covenant) with a better priest, better sacrifice, better temple, better temple mount, better feast, better inheritance—better everything! And since that is true, to seek to return to the old, inferior and earthly system is to do injustice and disgrace to Christ!

The Apostle Paul makes these points prominently as well. To the Colossian church he wrote, “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath.  These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ” (Col. 2:16–17).
Paul was teaching that since Christ has come, all of the former Sabbaths and new moon festivals, etc.—which includes by definition Shemitah—are superseded and have no further significance for the Christian. They were merely “shadows” of the substance found in Christ. They have no place in judging the life of the Christian. As relics of the Old Testament symbols now replaced by the full truth in Christ, they have no prophetic significance either.  Indeed, Paul suggests that the Christian has fully “died” (Col. 2:20) to the old elements of the ceremonial law.

For these reasons, the book of Hebrews announces the replacement of the Old Covenant (Sinai, Moses) with the New Covenant, and it specifically states that the Old Covenant had become obsolete. This is how the letter puts it:

In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away (Heb. 8:13).

Think about that. The entire Old Covenant was “ready to vanish away” already in the first century when this letter was written. When you consider that the whole book contrasts the New Testament fulfillment in Christ against the old temple, sacrifice, and calendar system, you can understand the first-century prophetic significance of this pronouncement. The Old Covenant system was indeed “ready,” or “about to,” pass away at the time:

in AD 70, the Roman armies destroyed the city of Jerusalem and dismantled the old temple block-by-block just as Jesus had predicted (Matt. 24:1–2).  From Christ’s ascension in AD 30 (roughly), the Old Covenant systems were superseded. But Christ mercifully gave the Jewish people of the time an entire generation—40 years—to repent and receive the message before He had the nation and its old temple destroyed. From that moment on, nothing about the old sacrificial or calendar system has had any relevance for the Christian life or future.

But What about the Jews?
While it is true that those following the religion of Judaism have observed the Sabbaths, moons, and Shemitah for centuries (as mentioned earlier), they have done so in a way that essentially renders the spirit of the law null and void. Before I explain the rabbinical version of this for today, let me explain a bit of background.

First, we must consider a parallel case in which Jesus confronted the Pharisees (certain devout Jews) of His day for creating clever loopholes to get around the substance of the law. This episode is recorded in Mark 7. It reads:

And he [Jesus] said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God)—then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do” (Mark 7:9–13).  The short explanation here is that under the Old Covenant system, sons and daughters were expected to support their parents in their old age. But the Pharisees had devised a system in which young men could falsely “dedicate” their wealth to the temple, and yet still use that wealth for other purposes as agents of that public body. Yet since the wealth was not technically their own, they were absolved of spending it on their parents. Jesus rightfully rebuked this system for what it really was—a blatant violation of the fifth commandment masquerading as religious piety!

It is key to notice what Jesus says at the end: “And many such things you do.” You can find such legal wranglings throughout the Pharisees’ and rabbinical commentaries on God’s laws.

Secondly, and related to the first point, you must realize that modern day Judaism is nothing less than an extension of the Pharisees’ version of Judaism in Jesus’ days. This is openly admitted by modern orthodox Jews and Jewish scholars, and is not received as any kind of “antisemitic” slur. The Judaism that survived the first century was almost exclusively the Judaism of the Pharisees, and that is the version passed down to today.  In light of these things, therefore, we can understand why I argue that no one—not even modern Jews—actually observe the Shemitah according to the Bible. While they may observe the biblical day and the ritual in name, it is usually in a “loophole” version very much akin to the way the Pharisees of Jesus’ day created the temple-dedication rule that violated the fifth commandment.  The modern practice of Shemitah is one of those “many such things” as Christ said.

So what exactly is this loophole? Well, there are many, but the main one is very similar to the “Corban” rule Christ denounced. During Shemitah, all debts between Jews are supposed to be released and cancelled. So you would expect this to happen simply across the board: all debts get wiped out and debtors get to start over, right? No. Rabbis have long since created the practice of writing a “Prozbul.” This document hands over the debt to a public court and makes the lender an agent of the public court. In rabbinic rules, the Shemitah release does not apply to public agencies, only private debts. So, this arrangement allows the lender to continue collecting his debt even through the Shemitah year.

It’s pretty easy to see how this arrangement effectively does the opposite of what the Shemitah law intended. Instead of cancelling debts between people, it specifically makes sure they remain. Thus, what Jesus said about the Corban rule above applies directly here also: these modern-day Pharisees make void the word of God by their tradition.

As such, it’s also pretty easy to acknowledge that Jews don’t keep the Shemitah law any more than anyone else. Christians don’t keep it because it has been fulfilled and replaced by Christ. Modern Jews may not accept this, but they don’t keep the law either because they have created a tradition specifically designed to avoid the heart of it. No one keeps Shemitah.  Aside from the fact that we can theoretically continue to count sevens into eternity, the Shemitah is utterly devoid of any meaning or significance as a religious concept, principle, or law.

This means there are only a handful of misguided reasons anyone would place significance in it. Perhaps some Jews or Christians could attach to it some mystical meaning, pretending there is some kind of secret, mystical principle pervading the universe. Even if there are a few such people, they would be appealing to pure fancy or claiming some special privilege of prophetic powers for themselves. Such a view would certainly not be derived from the Bible either in regard to the doctrine of the Shemitah itself, any alleged secret power pervading the universe, or to their own private prophetic powers.  The only other option would be some sort of conspiracy theory. Perhaps certain people have determined certain patterns in history, and found it convenient to create a story based upon it. Perhaps some people have connected key historic events as nearly as possible with the seven-year principle, and presented this story after-the-fact as fulfilled “prophetic” events or as predictive of the near future?

Why would anyone invent such a conspiracy theory? Well, some people truly believe the conspiracies they purport. Others create conspiracy theories out of anger, jealousy, or even righteous indignation at the injustices of others (whether real or perceived). Still others perpetuate such theories for the pure reason of selling books, newsletters, subscriptions, etc. And often, the truth is a combination of these.
And that leads me to the last section of this brief Foreword.

The Shemitah Secularized
I had been asked several times about the predictions and claims made in The Harbinger. For the most part, I considered it one more passing fad. I was content to let it go the way of every other end-times prediction. I had already written enough about John Hagee’s Blood Moons predictions: explaining why he is certainly wrong in his biblical interpretation of it, and exposing why his claims are without question a prediction of the return of Jesus for which he ought to be held accountable. I honestly did not want to delve any further into these related matters.

But then I saw a famous secular forecaster latch on to the Shemitah principle, specifically citing The Harbinger, and tying it together with a variety of other events in a grand conspiracy theory that is allegedly going to climax this September 2015! His YouTube video is approaching a million views. The Shemitah and Blood Moons predictions have been secularized, turned into a full-blown conspiracy theory, and they have gained a very broad audience, primarily among young libertarians.

The whole thrust of this video is the threat of an imminent and inescapable “event.” In fact, it begins with a statement very reminiscent of the language of The Harbinger:

An event with profound implications takes place in September 2015.  A 3,000 year old mystery [ha!] called the Shemitah. Some are aware of it, most aren’t. Elites on Wall Street call it the “end of a seven-year cycle.” What they either don’t know or won’t say, however, is that these endings are historically disastrous and this one may be even worse. There are signs, both economic, financial and military that this September 2015 could change everything about the way we live and work … and even survive.

That’s pretty ominous. But worse, once I watched the video, I was immediately angered. I realized this purported exposé and interview is nothing more than a cleverly composed advertisement. I realized the “interview” was being read from a script carefully prepared to induce action and reduce inhibitions. I began to anticipate exactly where it was going. I knew it was going to end with a “click here to get my free report!”—the classic first step to get your name on an email list and then bombard you with sales offers for investment newsletters.

Now, offering free reports in exchange for an email address is not necessarily bad—it can be great free-market business. (In fact, it’s how you got this free report.) But when religiously-charged conspiracy theories are presented as genuine concern to get free information to the public, but the end-goal is really to sell investment newsletters not caring whether the great conspiracy actually takes place or not—I consider that to be more than a little disingenuous. And since my area of expertise includes the intersection of culture and religion—specifically Mosaic law (like Shemitah)—I take it a little personal when I see these things being twisted, and people confused and deceived, for someone’s calculated personal gain.

I knew things were fishy when this financial expert’s story began to include contradictory statements (pretty bad considering it was a prepared script!).

First he says he discovered the Shemitah principle in his private financial research:
“My discovery of it emerged as part of my financial analysis.” Then just few sentences later he says, “I first heard of the Shemitah after reading Jonathan Cahn’s book The Harbinger.” Well, which is it? This story sounds fishy already.

Meanwhile, the video’s purposefully-chosen music builds anticipation, and discussions of global-scale movements drives us to expect some coming crisis this September. It’s the main thing you hear over and over: September, September, September. But then the analyst smoothly adds a subtle disclaimer. He says the Shemitah event this September may actually not be a big crisis after all! “It could just be the beginning of a long process that unfolds, that takes many years to end in total collapse.”

Well, again, which is it? The irony here is that he is building anxiety with a very short time window and focus on September. This will drive “act now” sales. But he is also covering himself in case it does happen suddenly. It could happen slowly over years. So, you know, keep watching. Keep hanging on. Keep subscribing.

Yet we are assured, “Everything seems to be gravitating towards this September.  Something’s going on. What that is, is anyone’s guess.” Indeed, it must remain vague: “There’s too many variables to make a solid guess.” And yet, “This is far too many coincidences that all seem to point to something massive happening around September of this year.”

“The U.S. seems to be ground-zero for this coming crisis.”

But there is hope here, believe it or not. Since you have the predictive expert and his free report on your side, you can not only escape the calamity—you can benefit from it. And not only benefit—you could rich off of it!  That’s right, “During any crisis, there’s always an opportunity to become wealthy.”

“I’m telling subscribers of ways to—with limited risk—make a fortune if some sort of market calamity occurs this September or October.” “Very few market analysts see what’s going on, and so we have a great advantage over them when the collapse comes.”

Note that: “subscribers.” Now we’re looking past the area of free reports.  But don’t worry my fear-herded, panic-stricken audience! You’re not only in a small elite group with insider investment knowledge, you also enjoy “limited risk”! You stand to gain everything and lose very little! Wow! Just imagine how it was that thousands of other Wall Street elites have totally missed this Shemitah opportunity—even though the forecaster told you up front they already know about it.

So then, finally, the action step comes: “We created a special report on how to survive the coming collapse as well as how to profit from it.” All you have to do is go to And keep in mind that this guy really just has the public interest at heart: his report is free allegedly “because” the information is too important to withhold from anyone.

Well, actually, there’s a bit more to it. I signed up, clicked through, and read it. The lengthy report provides hardly any specifics on what to do to profit from this crisis or even survive it. It is really just another long advertisement—only this one ends with a sales pitch for a $39.95 three-month newsletter or a $150 annual subscription. And there’s more. I won’t deconstruct the ad entirely, but suffice it to say that it is expertly composed and contains classic techniques for lowering resistance and driving one to a sale.  Now back up to the first moment you clicked on that YouTube video entitled “SHEMITAH EXPOSED” and ask yourself whether this whole string of events is really designed primarily for truth or for marketing. If you think this is about informing the public, think again. It is about convincing the public with fear tactics and a clever presentation.

Can this guy be right at all? Could he actually help you? Perhaps. But this marketing campaign looks primarily designed for you to help him.

After scrutiny of the fundamental aspects of all these predictions—The Harbinger, the Blood Moon predictions, and the secularized predictions drawn out of them—I am convinced that they are not grounded in sound Biblical teaching, Biblical law, Biblical prophecy, any alleged “prophetic” realm, or religious truth. As I said, The Harbinger is in the same literary genre as The Da Vinci Code, and it’s applications of Biblical teaching and history are on the same level.

The secularized marketing scheme built upon this phenomenon I regard as even worse. While it is probably the case that Jonathan Cahn truly believes what he has written in The Harbinger and is perfectly sincere in calling America to repentance (and who would complain if this truly resulted!), the calculated marketing based on the fears associated with these issues in order to sell investment newsletters is, in my opinion, without conscience.  I have now given religious and ethical objections to the phenomena outlined above. I have concluded that the Shemitah is biblically and religiously annulled. It has no significance today except primarily for Jews who don’t really observe it anyway, and for conspiracy theorists who use it to advance their special interests, mainly profit. In the report that follows, you will see a very experienced Christian financial analyst collaborate with a Christian astronomer to confirm this case from historical, astronomical, and financial perspectives as well.

1. There are other persuasive aspects to The Harbinger as well, particularly its application of Isaiah 9:8–10 as an alleged parallel prophecy for America and the September 11, 2001 attacks. Space does not allow a full analysis of all these points, but suffice it to say that my conclusion is very similar as that which follows for the relevance of the Shemitah law.

Screwtape's Take on Current Events

by Michal Crum

My Dear Wormwood,
I see that you have been promoted to the department of espionage and sabotage. Now you are working in the heart of the Enemy’s camp, attempting to wreak havoc within the structure itself. Your patient, they tell me, is in fact a Christian. While you may not have power to change the thoughts and actions of the servant himself, do not underestimate your power to gently manipulate. This patient is susceptible to lies just as any other patient would be. And, believe it or not, the more bald-faced lies are often the most effective.

Take, for example, this raging battle over the practice of child-sacrifice within their land—or as they call it, abortion. This really is the key issue right now. Yes, our Lord has many other worthy enterprises at work within their nation, but this is where it all comes to a head. If this long-established practice is abolished, make no mistake--the foundations of our American stronghold will be rocked to the core. I don’t want to alarm you unnecessarily, and there are many who believe that their camp is so thoroughly compromised by our three primary campaigns of lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life that there is no threat of rejuvenation. And indeed, their society is so beautifully rotten to the core that perhaps I need not fear. But I see the ripples moving out from the enemy camp—skirmishes here and there, awakening the consciences of many citizens. Sin is a luscious, black cancer that creeps to contaminate. But never forget that our Enemy is a consuming fire.

But here is where our success hinges. Do not allow your patient to participate in skirmishes. Whisper every lie imaginable to keep him from engaging anyone on this issue. If you allow him to even click “like” on a Facebook post, you are on a slippery slope to all-out failure. For even one little "like" can gain momentum and allow the patient to find his voice, and speak truth into our domain of darkness.

The key is to make your patient believe that his religion is a private matter, meant to be discussed over coffee with a dear friend in the privacy of his own home when every conceivable circumstance is ideal, and only when that dear friend asks. In fact, ideally you should convince him that child-sacrifice is a fringe-issue, that it has nothing to do with the Gospel at all, but is only a question of politics. Many of your worthy coworkers have convinced their patients that this is simply democracy at work, and that the voice of the people is not the responsibility of the Church. Try this tack.

At all cost, steer him clear of any topic that may awaken his conscience to remember past notorious “heroes” of their camp like Amy Carmichael, William Wilberforce, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Martin Luther King Jr. When their camp succeeds at transforming culture itself, abolishing long-established customs of inequality, discrimination, oppression and genocide, then we have truly lost our foothold. Please, prevent your patient from ever publicly condemning abortion. Remember, the key is private religion.

One last thing: do everything within your power, in the midst of the larger lies, to convince your patient that he in fact has a very tender conscience. Again, this is a proven strategy. Whisper to your patient that he must not speak loudly about abortion because some of his friends—both in and outside the camp--may have actually had abortions. You and I know that this is true beyond a shadow of a doubt, and we have seen the tiny, exquisitely mangled corpses, but we must keep him vaguely wondering. Then you must convince him that his silence serves to protect those who are weak (ie those who have participated in the ritual sacrifice). Or even better, when he recoils from chance encounters with the naked truth on Facebook, whisper to him that he does not post these gory images and x-rated videos of evidence for the protection of his tender young nieces and nephews, who would certainly see it in their newsfeed. You see what I did there? We keep them silent about child-sacrifice for the protection of small children. As the patient would say, LOL.

Your Affectionate Uncle,

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The Myth That The World Is Getting Worse and Worse