Sunday, December 1, 2013

Prepping for the Tribulation

John MacArthur has been embroiled in a controversy. No, I'm not talking about the Strange Fire Conference. MacArthur was outed by Brannon Howse for a response he gave to a question which centered on whether someone could repent and be saved after accepting the Mark of the Beast. MacArthur responded that it was possible. Howse referred to it because it supported Jimmy DeYoung's position.

And so there ensued a collective outcry from horrified pretrib skeptics. This confirmed their suspicions that teaching pretribulationism was downright dangerous. Pretribbers are in danger of taking the Mark of the Beast when the Antichrist shows up before Jesus. Another all-time favorite - pretribulationists have been spoon fed a diet of "easy believism" and are inadequately prepared for the Tribulation.

It's an irony, then, that I first learned of the MacArthur "scandal" from pretribulationists. They were all shocked and appalled that John MacArthur and Jimmy DeYoung could possibly hold to such a position. Personally, I'm shocked that otherwise gullible pretribulationists were actually shocked. Are we all shocked now? I hope so.

Anyway, my non-pretribber friends may want to scratch the deception thingy from their handy little Reasons to Harass Pretribulationists workbooks. Maybe also get a clue in the process.

Some non-pretribulational-non-Calvinists (have I lost you yet?) soon jumped on the heresy bandwagon. One "watchman on some wall" plopped John MacArthur among his personal list of heretics, which included Joel Osteen. John MacArthur in the same lineup as Osteen? Sigh. Words fail me.

The heresy outcry eventually brought Calvinism into the picture, and prompted the following response from Eschatos Ministries:

...many of these same blog posts are also calling MacArthur a heretic because he is a “Calvinist.” Trust me, the vast majority of these people have no earthly clue what Calvinism actually teaches—they only know a caricature. And prewrathers who are calling him a heretic because he is a Calvinist, I want to remind them that the pioneers of the prewrath position are Calvinists...including myself.

MacArthur's problem isn't his Calvinism, it's his pretribulationism. Sadly, that ministry habitually spins a familiar line:

One can begin to see how pretribulationism is a false teaching. It has dire ramifications. It is setting up believers to become vulnerable during the Antichrist’s great tribulation...Eschatology matters. 

And so this brings me to my next little rant - what does Calvinism teach? How can one be a consistent Calvinist and yet claim the "unprepared pretribulationist" risks eternal damnation as a consequence of taking the Mark?

Here are the issues as I understand them (and I'm open to correction). T.U.L.I.P. holds that God sovereignly chooses and predestines the elect; that they cannot respond to the gospel of their own power (Total Depravity); that they are compelled to positively respond to God's Irresistible Grace and once having being saved, cannot lose that salvation (Eternal Security). It affirms that:

All who were chosen by God, redeemed by Christ, and given faith by the Spirit are eternally saved. They are kept in faith by the power of Almighty God and thus persevere to the end.

As James White writes:

So it is clear that each of the Divine Persons is vitally involved in the work of salvation. The Father sovereignly and unilaterally chooses us for salvation. He gives us to the Son, who, in obedience to the Father’s will, saves those who are joined to Him by the Father, and raises us up to eternal life. The Spirit of God is placed in our lives to empower and seal us as God’s own possession. Salvation, then, is of God - God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Since salvation is of God, and is God’s work, its eternal character is simply the reflection of the nature of its author - God Himself. Each of the three Persons is intimately involved in bringing about the salvation of the elect, and that salvation is eternal and secure.

So what am I missing? Isn't MacArthur more consistent in his Calvinism (Phil Johnson too, for that matter)?

Mind you, I disagree with MacArthur's response. Revelation gives an emphatic warning. He should have stressed something like - if someone can be eternally damned for taking the Mark of the Beast, then an elect person wouldn't accept it to begin with. Or, if a person accepts the Mark, then they weren't Christ's from the beginning.

But why are professing Calvinists concerned about the elect possibly taking the Mark of the Beast as a result of their belief in a pretribulational rapture? Don't they take their own doctrines seriously? Or is the 70th week of Daniel a special period where those tenets cease to function? You know, like a different dispensation?

Of course, there are those pious non-Calvinist-non-pretribbers who take the position that one can lose one's salvation. They suppose that the expectation of being in The Tribulation and facing the Antichrist affords them some advantage over the pretribulationist (or the amil, postmil, preterist etc).

How does that work, exactly? I've never seen it clearly explained. Is there some profound spiritual (or even physical) protocol that's superior to living each day abiding in Christ? How are these people spiritually better prepared than someone who expects to face Christ at any given moment, and lives it? Please write me, I'd be keen to get started on that program.

Are you trusting in your own strength and resources, or placing your trust in Christ? If it's the former, you could be in deep do-do.

For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Rom 8:38-39

That pretty much covers everything for me. I find it very comforting.

Further reading:

The 'Comings' of Christ in Rev 2-3

P.S. The "pioneers of the prewrath position are Calvinists"? Pioneers? Think about it!

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