Theological Study = Spiritual Death?

Theological Books

Embarking on biblical and theological studies is vital, but it can also be very dangerous – especially in an academic context. We’ve probably all heard the joke that equates seminary with cemetery, as if to say deep biblical and theological study will mean the death of one’s faith. This is certainly a danger.

J.I. Packer, in his famous Knowing God, gives the following warning:

[W]e need… to stop and ask ourselves a very fundamental question – a question, indeed, that we always ought to put to ourselves whenever we embark on any line of study in God’s holy book. The question concerns our own motives and intentions as students. We need to ask ourselves: What is my ultimate aim and object in occupying my mind with these things? What do I intend to do with my knowledge about God, once I have it? For the fact that we have to face is this: If we pursue theological knowledge for its own sake, it is bound to go bad on us. It will make us proud and conceited. The very greatness of the subject matter will intoxicate us, and we shall come to think of ourselves as a cut above other Christians because of our interests in it and grasp of it; and we shall look down on those whose theological ideas seem to us crude and inadequate and dismiss them as very poor specimens…. To be preoccupied with getting theological knowledge as an end in itself, to approach Bible study with no higher motive than a desire to know all the answers, is the direct route to a state of self-satisfied self-deception…. [T]here can be no spiritual heath without doctrinal knowledge; but it is equally true that there can be no spiritual heath with it, if it is sought for the wrong purpose and valued by the wrong standard… The psalmist [Ps. 119:1-2, 5, 12, 18, 97, 103, 125] was interested in truth and orthodoxy, in biblical teaching and theology, not as ends in themselves, but as means to further ends of life and godliness. His ultimate concern was with the knowledge and service of the great God whose truth he sought to understand…. And this must be out attitude too. Our aim in studying the Godhead must be to know God himself better…. As he is the subject of our study, and our helper in it, so he must himself be the end of it.” (21-23). [Brackets mine].

Much is said by Packer in this passage. First, he encourages us to take an under-the-hood glimpse into our motives and desires. Why do we want to learn more about God? Why are we spending hours pouring over Bavinck and Turretin? Why do we put ourselves through months of sleepless nights, kept awake by Greek and Hebrew homework? Is it in order to know God better? Is it to guide our worship of God? Is it that we might serve the church more faithfully? Or is it that we might make a name for ourselves, or be a boastful “know-it-all”? Are we learning more about God to glorify Him, or ourselves?

Second, Packer warns that studying God’s holy word with the wrong motive will go wrong for us. Do we want to know God, or just know about Him in order that we might cause the older lady in our Bible study to complement our erudition?

Scott Oliphint says that the “unending circle of our Christian experience goes from precepts to praise to practice, and back to precepts again — all to the glory of God.” The study of God’s word should elicit worship. But what about in an academic setting? When struggling through Van Til and Hodge, can we be brought to worship? B.B. Warfield, in his popular The Religious Life of Theological Students, stated very helpfully:

Why should you turn from God when you turn to your books, or feel that you must turn from your books in order to turn to God? …. [T]heology has as its unique end to make God known: the student of theology is brought by his daily task into the presence of God, and is kept there. Can a religious man stand in the presence of God, and not worship? It is possible, I have said, to study even theology in a purely secular spirit. But surely this is possible only for an irreligious man, or at least for an unreligious man…. Do you prosecute your daily tasks as students of theology as ‘religious exercises’? If you do not, look to yourselves: it is surely not all right with the spiritual condition of that man who can busy himself daily with divine things, with a cold and impassive heart…. Whatever you may have done in the past, for the future make all your theological studies ‘religious exercises.’… Put your heart into your studies; do not merely occupy your mind with them, but put your heart into them (2, 5, 6).

This is certainly a good, albeit difficult, exhortation. When you are a hundred pages behind in your Calvin and Vos reading, awake at 3 AM, the temptation to study theology for its own sake (or for the sake of the class only) is real. But what can be done to maintain right motives?

Here are a few practical tips:

  1. Reflect and pause when weighty matters are being discussed.
  2. Read with a thankful spirit. Pray and thank God for his majesty and His mighty plan of redemption.
  3. Remind yourself often to check your motives for learning about God.
  4. Remember that you are dealing with incomprehensible mysteries (though not with mysticism).
  5. Research well with a view to service.

As one “climbs the latter,” so to speak, in theological knowledge, it is tempting to see the church—to see fellow saints—as a mere side note or ornament to the “main thing”: our own knowledge, reputation, or study. Cornelius Van Til was once asked why he spent so many years of his life in deep philosophical and apologetic study. We can all learn from his answer: “To protect Christ’s little ones.”

The final thing to note from Packer’s statement—and something that will provide us with balance—is that doctrinal and theological study is absolutely vital. It must be done. These cautions about theological study are not calls for anti-doctrinal attitudes or a less vigorous study of systematic and biblical theology. God and His word must be studied with intensity.

“And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” – John 17:3

“Let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.” – Jeremiah 9:24

“For I desire… the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” – Hosea 6:6

“He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” – Titus 1:9

“For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.” – Hebrews 5:12-6:2

“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.” – 2 Peter 3:18

For the sake of “Christ’s little ones” and for the sake of your own soul, study God’s word diligently and with proper motives (1 Tim. 4:16). Publishing papers, writing books, memorizing catechisms, being well versed in Owen and Edwards, being able to answer tough questions are all fine things in and of themselves; but if we make them the main thing, we damage ourselves and our hearers. Will love for Christ and His sheep bring us to deep study, or will it be our own prideful and pompous arrogance? Will our hearers, by our example, breathe the air of love and humility, or of a professional haughtiness?

Indeed, every time we stop to study theology God asks us, “Pray, why do you study Me so diligently?” And every Lord’s Day we teach God’s word, God asks us, “Pray, why do you teach about Me this morning?” Let our answer be: “So that I might know You, worship You, live according to Your word, and encourage the same from others.”

© copyright J. Brandon Burks, 2016

Is Public School an Option for Christians?

Evolution Bus

Can a Christian parent send his or her child to a public school? Absolutely! To be sure, there are those who will sharply disagree, thinking there is only one path for the Christian, in terms of education. “It’s a sin for a Christian not to send their children to public school, for how else will the other children hear the gospel?” one might retort, dogmatically. I, on the other hand, hold no such assertions. Whether it’s public school, homeschool, or private school, all options are open to the discerning Christian parent.

While I will argue that homeschooling or Christian private schooling should be pursued and desired above public school, I in no way intend to bring guilt to, say, a single mom, struggling to raise her children in the godliest was as she knows how. To such a person, I want to encourage and confirm that she can indeed raise godly children, and that she is not necessarily in sin for her inability to provide alternative means of education. This post, rather, is for the Christian parent who has options—the Christian parent who could avoid the government school system.

As the somewhat gnomic expression among Reformed communities goes: raising a child is like a three-legged stool. Representing the legs are the home, the church, and the school. When all three work in unison, there is a firm foundation indeed. When one of the legs, however, is missing, the other two need to work harder to compensate. And when two are missing, the one stable leg will be stressed, perhaps, to breaking point. If able, one should strive to have all three components: The solid family life where family-worship is done daily and where the home is like a miniature church; a solid Reformed church life where the gospel is regularly taught, where people are catechized, and where good theology is expounded; and a solid school where every discipline—from math, to science, to art—is taught from a biblical and theological framework and foundation.

A seasoned parent might, nevertheless, rejoin that this is no guarantee that one’s child will continue walking in the faith when they are grown. As if to say the proverb might be proven wrong: “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6). But what happens if one’s child does in fact walk away from Christ? Two principles must be remembered at this point: First, the Proverbs contain general truths. That is, it is generally true that if you train a child up in the way he should go that he will not depart. Secondly, it should be observed that the parent’s job is faithfulness. This is to say that the parent is not the Holy Spirit; the parent cannot regenerate his or her own child (1 Cor. 12:3). Rather, the parent is to teach and discipline as faithfully as one is able, and the outcome (i.e., whether the child is born again) is left to God (John 6:44).

While there are political, constitutional, academic, and moral reasons for wanting to avoid the public school system, this post will focus on the most important reason, namely, the biblical and theological reason. It will be argued that in the public school, the Christian youth is taught to adopt three dangerous lines of thinking, and is not taught three vital aspects of life.

The first dangerous line of thinking comes from Immanuel Kant. Kant taught people to bifurcate their understanding of reality to the noumenal and phenomenal realms. The former contains things like God, and the latter contains things that can be seen and felt in the natural sphere. Taken into common practice, it is taught to children that there is a “normal realm” (i.e., life without God), and the “spiritual realm” (i.e., an optional category for those who want some sort of faith). By this bifurcation the Christian draws, functionally, distinct lines between Sunday and the rest of the week. That is, one can be a Christian on Sunday, but the rest of one’s life is “normal.” What is more, it is inappropriate to appeal to, talk about, reason from, or stand on those things that are not a part of the “natural sphere” when in public.

Flowing from the previous paragraph, the second dangerous line of thinking is with regard to a secular worldview. After having succeeded in “getting rid” of Christianity from everyday life, the youth is positioned to adopt whatever worldview is popular at the time. Most probable, the child will adopt a naturalistic worldview. Instead of seeing all of creation as personal—that is, revealing the personal God who created everything—he or she will view the world as impersonal and “natural.” There will just be brute facts out there functioning “naturally.”

The third dangerous line of thinking is that of autonomy. The child is not taught to depend on God and His word. Rather, autonomous, Eve-like thinking is encouraged. “You be the judge as to what you think is true or right,” they will be taught. Instead of resting firmly on Scripture—having a revelational epistemology—they will assume a god-like authority and place even God and His word under their scrutiny.

After being encouraged to put God in a category beyond daily life, to adopt a naturalistic and impersonal way of thinking, and to assume autonomy, the Christian youth will not be taught three vitally important aspect of life—aspects that must be taught and continually reinforced. Thinking about what is omitted in the public school curriculum can be somewhat difficult. We tend to focus on what is being committed. If students were forced to reject Christ, we would naturally be up in arms. But when there is a void, we often miss it. We see a similar thing with regard to television. If a show has sex, cursing, witchcraft, or clear demonic activity, those are easy to spot as antithetical to Christ. However, we often fail to recognize the impact of a moral but Christless television show. When you view a moral, Christless family who acts nice but is completely void of church, family worship, catechesis, and biblical thinking, you are viewing a pagan family structure that has more to do with Satan than with Christ. I’m not saying that all television must be abandoned—just as I’m saying the public school system is still an option—but know that you are not viewing a “normal” family on those television programs, nor are you getting a “normal” education by learning subjects divorced from a biblical and theological foundation.

The first missing element in a public school education is a biblical worldview. As Christians, we are called to view the world through the lens of Scripture—to think God’s thoughts after Him. Unless we know the contents of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation and sound doctrine, we simply will not have a biblical worldview. While it is true that many churches and parents train their children in systematic theology, apologetics, biblical theology, church history, and biblical counseling, these topics would do well to be taught in a Christian academic setting also. God wants constant biblical instruction for our children (Deut. 11:19).

William Dennison stresses that facts have meaning given their situatedness to the “story,” and in according to their telos. In following Calvin, Cornelius Van Til “sought to show that ‘logic’ and ‘fact’ have meaning only in terms of the ‘story,’” which is to say that “one must operate within the ‘story’ of Scripture (the Christian story) in order to have a true epistemology.” Thus, history becomes all too important. In keeping with his mentor Geerhardus Vos, Van Til understood that epistemology belongs “within the eschatological status of history: either one is a member of the kingdom of God, with a knowledge of the truth (grounded in the triune God of the Bible), or one is a member of the kingdom of Satan, with the knowledge of a lie (grounded in the deception of Satan). In redemptive history, there is no other ground for human knowledge. One either stands with Christ as the source of all knowledge or against him.” In this way, one cannot approach facts as isolated unto themselves, but must see that the fact and the interpretation of that fact are linked together—and it is the God-interpretation of any one given fact that gives it its meaning as God places it within the context of the story of redemptive history with a particular telos. Put simply, no fact can have meaning apart from the Christian story, and thus educating a student about the very world created by God apart from God is nonsensical.[1]

Secondly, the child is not taught to view his life as a pilgrimage (1 Chron. 29:15; Ps. 119:19; 1 Cor. 10:1-5, 11-12;  Phil. 3:17-4:1; Heb. 11:10-16; 13:14; 1 Pet. 2:11-12) walking the narrow path (Prov. 4:25-27; Matt. 7:13-14) on his way to the heavenly city (2 Tim. 4:18; Rev. 21-22). As Jonathan Edwards taught, everything is subservient to this pilgrimage, not the other way around:

This life ought to be spent by us as to be only a journey or pilgrimage toward heaven… [The traveler’s] journey’s end is in his mind. If he meets with comfortable accommodations at an inn, he entertains no thoughts of settling there. He considers these things are not his own, that he is but a stranger… We should… part with all those carnal appetites which, as weights, will tend to hinder us… We should follow Christ; the path he traveled, was the right way to heaven. We should take up our cross and follow him, in meekness and lowliness of heart, obedience and charity, diligence to do good, and patience under affliction… Long journeys are attended with toil and fatigue; especially if through a wilderness…All other concerns of life ought to be entirely subordinate to this. When a man is on a journey, all the steps he takes are subordinate to the aim of getting to his journey’s end… It was never designed by God that this world should be our home. Neither did God give us these temporal accommodations for that end. If God has given us ample estates, and children or other pleasant friends, it is with no such design, that we should be furnished here, as for a settled abode… [Rather] labor to have your heart taken up so much about heaven, and heavenly enjoyments, as that you may rejoice when God calls you to leave your best earthly friends and comforts for heaven… [And] let it be considered that if our lives be not a journey towards heaven, they will be a journey to hell.[2]

Finally, the Christian youth is not taught how to engage non-Christian thought. “Neutrality” and political correctness will teach him that the only way to engage in public conversation is to abandoned his scriptural foundation and to let the other person set the blueprint for thinking and reasoning. He must be taught how one is to engage and converse publicly, being fortiter in re, but suaviter in modo. Propounding this problem is the secular school’s penchant for the practical arts over the liberal arts. In government schools, the lights of theology, philosophy, history, and classic literature have either been dimmed or extinguished altogether. Scott Oliphint explains the problem:

There seems to be far less emphasis on the liberal arts and much more emphasis on practical arts—arts designed to enhance the possibility of employment. This practical emphasis is understandable, even commendable. But one of the negative consequences of a practical emphasis is that one can proceed apace through every program of education, including a doctorate, and never undertake the type of study that used to be touted as foundational for any true, meaningful, and lasting education.

The current bent, it seems, does not bode well for any discipline, theology included, in which a premium is placed on the value of the word and thinking. An education that is focused on practice may produce employment, but it may also produce a society wherein reading, thinking, studying, meditating, synthesizing, and persuading are virtually absent. Witness, for example, any television political debate. No matter which side of the political spectrum one is on, to call what happens on television within an hour or two a debate is, from the perspective of history, laughable… In the “old days” (and by that I mean a few thousand years ago), a student’s curriculum would initially consist of three subjects called the trivium [grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric].[3]

Before leaving our current discussion, I wish to anticipate three common objections to, specifically, homeschooling.

First, it is often touted that homeschool children will lack the social skills necessary to navigate the world. This is a bad argument for several reasons. First of all, the claim is doubtful. Dr. Brain Ray, for example, found that, “Research… reveals a significant advantage in social development for home schooled children”; and Dr. Thomas Smedley, who wrote his master’s thesis for Radford University of Virginia on “The Socialization of Homsechool Children,” reported: “The home educated children in this sample were significantly better socialized and more mature than those in public school.”[4] The reason being, public school students have a tendency to socialize well within their own age-group, but are not as comfortable interacting with, say, adults. The opposite is true for the homeschool student. Rabindranath Tagore, who won the 1913 Nobel Prize Laureate in literature stated, “The consequence is that the ‘social’ skills acquired are those which may be essential for survival in school but have little applicability in the outside world. There is virtually no opportunity to relate socially to adults in school in order to learn wider social skills. Ironically, such skills can only be learned outside school hours.”[5]

This social problem with public school children has other effects as well. Historically, to master the present—to be educated—one must master the past. You had to know the writings of Homer, the ideas of philosophy, the great books of the past, and so forth. The apprenticeship model set the stage for appropriate adult-to-youth interaction. Today, we separate the youths from the adults and teach that one must master the future. We have little tolerance for the elderly, for knowledge no longer resides in the past but in the future we make for ourselves through technological advancements: Our model is a ‘Wayward Pines’ model. It’s no wonder US History and Constitutional studies are waning: to be unfettered from the past allows you to forge a new future.[6]

The second reason this claim is wanting is that, even if it were true, it shows the priorities of the parent is off. From a biblical standpoint, it would be better to know God, know your Bible, and be mighty in your church than to know quantum theory, be a quarterback, or a popular person among your peers. Thankfully, however, it is not an either/or scenario, and, as shown, it is the government school students who need to worry about socialization.

The second objection is that in order to homeschool the parent would have to know every subject. This claim, however, demonstrates the ignorance with regard to the homeschool movement writ large. In many areas the homeschool movement is well connected with numerous families, talents, and gifts. Also, there are a number of other outside places a parent could choose to augment instruction. For example, there are private schools that will allow a homeschool student to take a class or two in a subject the parent is not gifted in, or there are private tutoring agencies, such as Kumon, that give instruction in math and reading. What is more, this claim also underestimates the parent, as if the parent has been stagnated in terms of their education level. Why could a parent not read 5 or 6 books on a topic and then teach it to their children? One homeschool student recounts:

One of the greatest follies of the school system is to believe that everyone is at the same level and they have to know something at a certain age…. Many teachers don’t realize that pressing the child too early will only result in him or her hating school and learning…. I have been homeschooled practically all my life and I am glad I was. Homeschooling has many benefits and although it isn’t for every family, I do believe overall that it is the best way to learn. It allows the parents to be more involved in their children’s lives and to help them reach their fullest potential. Each child is unique and homeschooling gives the perfect environment for the parents to meet their child’s needs. Children are able to pursue their interests without being held back or pressed to learn material they aren’t ready to learn. Homeschooling brings out the love of learning and shows that learning can be exciting. It gives real world application and practice for material and skills learned. Of all the school options out there, homeschooling is the best choice for the education of the next generation.[7]

The final objection, which comes from Christian parents, is that their child will not be able to be salt and light to unbelievers at school. The problem with this notion is that you must first train a missionary before sending him or her out. If a missionary were going to, say, a Muslim country, you would want the missionary to be solid in sound doctrine and the Christian worldview before studying Qur’anic material and engaging proponents of Islam. The same for public school. There is no neutral worldview, and so when the student is learning in a public school, he or she is learning a pagan worldview. The first eighteen years of life is crucial for worldview development, and thus wanting to send your child to be indoctrinated for six to seven hours a day, five days a week in a pagan system of thought and pagan morality is inadvisable.

In conclusion, let us take up our task, with great fervor, to bring our children “up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4); to teach the words of the Lord to our “children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deut. 11:19); teaching them to defend their faith (1 Pet. 3:15); and teaching them that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight (Prov. 9:10). A Christian private school or a Christian homeschool are simply the best options, if available. When the home, the church, and the school promote and teach a biblical worldview, we are giving our children the best possible foundation, in faithfulness toward the triune God of Scripture. Perhaps our churches could set aside funds for those in the church who are unable to afford Christian education?

After them another generation rose up who did not know the LORD or the works He had done for Israel.” – Judges 2:10

© copyright J. Brandon Burks, 2016

[1]William D. Dennison, “Van Til’s Epistemology and Analytic Philosophy,” in In Defense of the Eschaton: Essays in Reformed Apologetics, ed. by James Douglas Baird (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2015), 18, 30, 32-33.

[2]Jonathan Edwards, “The Christian Pilgrim,” in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol.2 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2011; reprint of 1834 edition), 243-246. [Brackets mine].

[3]K. Scott Oliphint, Covenantal Apologetics: Principles and Practice in Defense of Our Faith (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013), 124. [Brackets mine].

[4]As quoted in: Lily Swan, “Homsechooling is the Best Option,” in, accessed on December 6, 2008 (2008, Lily Swan),


[6]I once heard a news report while listening to the radio that the Center for American Progress advised the Department of Education to cease instruction in US history, Constitutional studies, and economics. I cannot find the news article any longer, so I just mention in here.

[7]Swan, “Homsechooling is the Best Option.”

Amillennialism vs. Historic Premillennialism


In two previous posts (see below), I attempted to make cases for both Amillennialism and Historic Premillennialism using champions of each of the perspective positions. The purpose was to aid in my own wrestling of the two positions. From my study, I find those two positions the most plausible, and so the intent was to see which argument I found more persuasive.

Here are the two previous posts:

An Amillennialist Challenge to Historic Premillennialism

A Historic Premillennialist Challenge to Amillennialism


A Historic Premillennialist Challenge to Amillennialism


“They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.” – Revelation 20:4

In a previous post, I attempted to deconstruct Historic Premillennialism using some of the critiques of Sam Storms, and then I attempted to build an alternative understanding of Revelation chapter 20 using the insights of G.K. Beale. In this post I would like to do the opposite, namely, ask what might a Historic Premillennialist say to an Amillennialist, such as Dean Davis, G.K. Beale, Lane Tipton, Geerhardus Vos, Vern Poythress, or Sam Storms? As Beale has noted, many Amillennialists and Historic Premillennialists agree at virtually every point, except Revelation chapter 20. For example, when George Eldon Ladd (a Historic Premillennialist) debated Anthony Hoekema (an Amillennnialist), Ladd stated, “I am in agreement with practically all that Hoekema has written with the exception of his exegesis of Revelation 20.”[1] Thus, it is Revelation 20 that will be our central focus.

Unlike last post that sought to first deconstruct and then to construct, this post will proceed like a lawyer’s brief, looking at all the pertinent pieces of evidence. This post will use the insights of Thomas Schreiner, Wayne Grudem, George Eldon Ladd, and others to bring some of the most persuasive pieces of evidence together.

First, in Revelation 20:2-3, Satan is bound for 1,000 years: “He threw him into the abyss, closed it, and put a seal on it so that he would no longer deceive the nations until the 1,000 years were completed” (HCSB). This is different from what we see in Revelation 12: “So the great dragon was thrown out—the ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the one who deceives the whole world. He was thrown to earth, and his angels with him” (v.9). Being cast to the earth and cast to the abyss are different. The former happened at the crucifixion of Christ, and the latter will happen in the future during the millennial reign of Christ. Note the language of the “binding”: the abyss is closed—nay, sealed—and Satan is no longer able to deceive the nations. But, currently, he does continue to deceive and pester believers.[2] This reason alone was enough for Puritan Cotton Mather to posit a future millennial reign: “That the blessed thousand years are not yet begun, is abundantly clear from this, We do not see the devil bound; no, the devil was never more let loose than in our days.”[3] The Bible says the devil is the “ruler of this world” (John 14:30), the “prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2), the “tempter” (1 Thess. 3:5), the “god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4), the “father of lies” (John 8:44), and a “roaring lion” (1 Pet. 5:8). Clearly, Mather was correct: do these descriptions depict someone who is “sealed” in the abyss, unable to deceive?

Second, in Revelation 6 we read of the martyrs saying, “Lord, the One who is holy and true, how long until You judge and avenge our blood from those who live on the earth?” (v.10). They were told: “rest a little while longer” (v.11). Now, in chapter 20, they are not told to wait; rather, “They came to life and reigned with the Messiah for 1,000 years” (v.4).[4] 20:4 declares their time of waiting is over because of what Christ had done in chapter 19.

Third, 20:10 reads, “The Devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet are, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” Interestingly, the beast and false prophet are thrown into the lake of fire in 19:20. Now, in Revelation 20:10, the devil goes where they “are also.” The most natural reading of this text is that Satan is going where the beast and false prophet already are (i.e., not concomitantly with them). Therefore, there is not a recapitulation between Revelation 19 and 20, but progression.[5]

Forth, many maintain that a future millennium is doubtful because it is only explicitly mentioned in one place in the Bible (Rev. 20). But something only needs to be said once in the Bible for it to be true.[6] Prophecy is often like a mountain: when you are far away you only see one big peak, but as you draw near you see that there are multiple peaks. Similarly, the Bible spoke in broad strokes until the very last book of the Bible where it reveals multiple peaks.

Fifth, the Old Testament reveals states of affairs that are not present realities, nor will they be realities in the New Heavens and New Earth (c.f., Ps. 72:8-14; Isa. 11:2-11; 65:20; Zech. 14:6-21; 1 Cor. 15:24; Rev. 2:27; 12:5; 19:15). These passages are best understood as depicting the millennium.[7]

Sixth, regarding the two resurrections in Revelation 20, it is claimed by some that there will only be one resurrection, which will contain both the just and the unjust. Revelation 20 separates the resurrection of the just and the resurrection of the unjust with the millennium. However, even in other parts of the Bible you begin to see hints of two different resurrections. John 5:28-29, for example, says, “Do not be amazed at this, because a time is coming when all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come out—those who have done good things, to the resurrection of life, but those who have done wicked things, to the resurrection of judgment.” Similarly, Daniel 12:2 teaches, “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake, some to eternal life, and some to shame and eternal contempt.” We see the distinction between the just and the unjust with regards to the resurrection(s), and it is not until Revelation 20 that this distinction is in fact explicitly said to be two separate resurrections. This doesn’t contradict other portions of Scripture; it just builds on them.[8]

Seventh, many wonder how glorified believers can live on the earth with ungloried unbelievers. Grudem retorts, “It is certainly not impossible for God to bring this about. We must realize that Jesus lived on the earth with a glorified body for forty days after his resurrection, and apparently there were many other Old Testament saints who lived with glorified bodies on the earth during that time as well (Matt. 27:53).”[9] Thus we have examples of many people living alongside unbelievers with glorified bodies.

Eighth, while the purpose of the millennium is not altogether known, there are perhaps three purposes we can see thus far. First, it would show the outworking of God’s purpose in society (e.g., family, civil structures, etc.) Second, God’s righteousness will be further vindicated because sin will be shown to be truly evil and something intrinsic to fallen man. With Satan bound and Jesus visibly reigning, the fact that sin still abounds in the hearts of men vindicates God’s justice upon the reprobate and magnifies His grace upon the elect. Third, if the long progression of the Bible has shown us anything, it has shown us that “God’s way is not to bring to realization all of his good purposes at once, but to unfold them gradually over time.”[10]

Ninth, there are actually other New Testament texts that suggest a future millennial reign. Revelation 2:26-27 states, “The one who is victorious and keeps My works to the end: I will give him authority over the nations—and he will shepherd them with an iron scepter; he will shatter them like pottery—just as I have received this from My Father.” This is a rule of force over rebellious people, which will not be a reality in the New Heavens and New Earth.[11] Also, in 1 Corinthians 15:23-26 we read, “But each in his own order: Christ, the firstfruits; afterward, at His coming, those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to God the Father, when He abolishes all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign until He puts all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy to be abolished is death.” Ladd explains the connection to the millennium:

In 1 Corinthians 15:23-26 Paul pictures the triumph of Christ’s kingdom as being accomplished in several stages. The resurrection of Christ is the first stage (tagma). The second stage will occur at the Parousia when those who are Christ’s will share his resurrection… The adverbs translated “then” are epeita, eita, which denote a sequence: “after that.” There are three distinct stages: Jesus’ resurrection; after that (epeita) the resurrection of believers at the resurrection; after that (eita) the end (telos). An unidentified interval falls between Christ’s resurrection and his Parousia, and a second undefined interval falls between his Parousia and the telos, when Christ completes the subjugation of his enemies.[12]

Tenth, the Bible teaches that the reigning with Christ is still future (c.f., Luke 19:17, 19; 1 Cor. 6:3; Rev. 2:26-27; 3:21). Unlike the amillennialist teaching, nowhere does the Bible say that believers rule in the intermediate state (between one’s death and one’s resurrection).[13]

Eleventh, the first resurrection (contra amillennialism) is physical. “Came to life” in 20:4 refers to bodily resurrection, for it is designated “first resurrection” in the next verse. Moreover, the verb ἔζησαν is the same as in Revelation 2:8, where Jesus is said to be the one “who died and came to life.”[14] While the verb has been used in a spiritual sense (i.e., entrance into spiritual life) in John 5:25, it is typically used to connote bodily resurrection (c.f., John 11:25; Rom. 14:9; Rev. 1:18; 2:8; 13:14)—and is never used of a spiritual resurrection at death.[15]  Also, there is an allusion to Daniel 7 where “they came to life again and reigned with Christ a thousand years” (Rev. 20:4) parallels “And the time came when the saints received the kingdom” (Dan. 7:22).[16] This evidences to the fact that both resurrections are physical. “If in such a passage,” writes Henry Alford, “the first resurrection many be understood to mean spiritual rising with Christ, while the second means literal rising from the grave;—then there is an end of all significance in language, and Scripture is wiped out as a definite testimony to anything.”[17] Ladd concludes:

The language of the passage is quite clear and unambiguous. There is no necessity to interpret either word spiritually in order to introduce meaning to the passage. At the beginning of the millennial period, part of the dead come to life; at its conclusion, the rest of the dead come to life. There is no evident play upon words. The passage makes perfectly good sense when interpreted literally. Natural, inductive exegesis suggests that both uses of ezesan are to be taken in the same way, referring to a literal resurrection.[18]

Twelfth, Sung Wook Chung argues that the Adamic covenant demands a millennial reign of Christ. “Since the Edenic covenants of blessing and the law were given in the context of this earth, they must be fulfilled on this earth before its entrance into the eternal and transformed state of the new heavens and new earth,” he writes.[19] Chung continues:

Adam’s kingly rule has both a spiritual/priestly dimension and a physical/institutional dimension. Through the first coming of Jesus Christ, the last Adam began to restore and fulfill both the spiritual and the physical dimensions of the first Adam’s kingly rule. The first Adam’s kingly rule has, however, not yet been completely restored and fulfilled. In particular, although Satan’s head was crushed by the cross, he is still making a great impact upon the physical/institutional dimension of the world system. Therefore, by establishing the millennial kingdom, Jesus Christ, as the last Adam, will restore and fulfill not only the spiritual/priestly dimension but also the physical/institutional dimension of the first Adam’s kingdom.[20]

Thirteenth, though not authoritative, the Historic Premillennial position is older than amillennialism, postmillennialism, and dispensational premillennialism. The posttribulation and premillennial positions were the dominant view in the early church. Early Church Fathers such as Papias (who was the disciple of John, the author of Revelation), Justin Martyr, Hippolytus, Tertullian, and Irenaeus all held to this position.[21]

Fourteenth, unlike some who want to see Revelation 20 as a glimpse “behind the scenes” in heaven of the “souls beheaded,” it seems more likely that the scene is on earth. Revelation 20:1 begins by saying, “Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven.” “And if the statement ‘they came to life’ (Rev. 20:4) means, as we believe, bodily resurrection, then the scene is the earth,” writes Ladd.[22]

Recommended resources:

© J. Brandon Burks, 2016

[1]George Eldon Ladd, “An Hisitoric Premillennial Response”, in The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views, ed. by Robert G. Clouse (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1977), 189.

[2]This point is made by Thomas Schreiner in a sermon he preached on June 14, 2009 at Clifton Baptist Church in Louisville, KY entitled “Millennium.”

[3]Cotton Mather, On Witchcraft (Mineola, NY: Dover, 2005; first published 1692), 58.

[4]Schreiner, “Millennium.”


[6]Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Bible Doctrine (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 1117.

[7]Ibid., 1117, 1127-1131.

[8]Ibid., 1119.

[9]Ibid., 1120.

[10]Ibid., 1121.

[11]Ibid., 1130.

[12]George Eldon Ladd, “Historic Premillennialism,” in The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views, ed. by Robert G. Clouse (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1977), 38-39.

[13]Grudem, Systematic Theology, 1131.


[15]George Eldon Ladd, A Commentary on the Revelation of John (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1972), 265.

[16]Ibid., 267.

[17]As quoted in: Ibid.


[19] Sung Wook Chung, “Toward the Reformed and Covenantal Theology of Premillennialism: A Proposal,” in A Case for Historic Premillennialism: An Alternative to “Left Behind” Eschatology, ed. by Craig L. Blomberg and Sung Wook Chung (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009), 143.

[20]Ibid., 142.

[21]Greg R. Allison, Historical Theology: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 685-686; Donald Fairbairn, “Contemporary Millennial/Tribulation Debates: Whose Side Was the Early Church On?,” in A Case for Historic Premillennialism: An Alternative to “Left Behind” Eschatology, ed. by Craig L. Blomberg and Sung Wook Chung (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009), 105-131.

[22]Ladd, “An Historic Premillennial Response,” 189.

An Amillennialist Challenge to Historic Premillennialism

St. Augustine

“They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.” – Revelation 20:4

In this post, I would like to consider what an Amillennialist might say to a Historic Premillennialist. That is, what might an Amillennialist say to someone like George Eldon Ladd, Wayne Grudem, Craig Blomberg, Douglas Moo, Jim Hamilton, Albert Mohler, John Piper, Randy Alcorn, or Thomas Schreiner (note: while Schreiner moved toward a historic premillennial position while preaching through the Book of Revelation, he has since returned to Amillenialism)? Perhaps in another post we can pose this question in reverse.

In good Van Tillian fashion, this post will use the insights of Sam Storms to deconstruct the Premillennialist position, and then G.K. Beale and Vern Poythress will offer an alternative understanding of Revelation 20:4.

Sam Storms gives six problematic beliefs that must necessarily accompany a Premillennialist view of end times. [For some back and forth on this, see Justin Taylor vs. Jim hamilton]. That is, a Historic Premillennialist must necessarily believe

  1. That physical death will continue to exist beyond the time of Christ’s second coming (Rev. 20:7-10).
  2. That the natural creation will continue, beyond the time of Christ’s second coming, to be subject to the curse imposed by the fall of man.
  3. That the New Heavens and New Earth will not be introduced until 1,000 years subsequent to the return of Christ [not at His return].
  4. That unbelieving men and women will still have the opportunity to come to saving faith in Christ for at least 1,000 years subsequent to his return.
  5. That unbelievers will not be finally resurrected until at least 1,000 years subsequent to the return of Christ [though Scripture speaks of only one resurrection]
  6. That unbelievers will not be finally judged and cast into eternal punishment until at least 1,000 years subsequent to the return of Christ.[1]

Storm concludes: “So what is wrong with believing these things, asks the premillennialist? What’s wrong is that these many things that premillennialists must believe (because of the way they interpret Scripture), the New Testament explicitly denies.”[2]

Having seen some of the potential problems with holding to a Historic Premillennialist position, G.K. Beale will offer an alternative position.

Revelation opens with these words: “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John.” The phrase “make known” is the aorist form of the Greek word σημαίνω, and it comes in a context that makes allusions to Daniel 2:28-30, 45.[3] This is significant because the only places in the Bible where the clause “’revelation… God showed… what must come to pass… and he made known (σημαίνω)’ occur together is in Daniel 2 [LXX] and Revelation 1:1.”[4] Significantly, the use of σημαίνω in the LXX connotes a “pictorial” or a “symbolic nature” of communication.[5] σημαίνω thus can have the sense of “show by a sign,” “give (or make) signs,” or “signify.”[6] Beale concludes: “The symbolic use of σημαίνω in Daniel 2 defines the use in Rev. 1:1 as referring to symbolic communication and not mere general conveyance of information.”

Furthermore, Beale sees Revelation 1:19 as paradigmatic for the structure and content of the book: “Therefore write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after these things.”[7] His approach to the Apocalypse of John is a kind of modified idealist view, which he calls a “redemptive-historical form of modified idealism.”[8] That is, Revelation is a symbolic portrayal of the conflict between good and evil, God and Satan throughout every generation, and climaxing with a consummative judgement and salvation in the end. As Beale puts it, “The apocalypse symbolically portrays events throughout history, which is understood to be under the sovereignty of the Lamb as a result of his death and resurrection.”[9] The classic idealists fail in that they deny a future, climactic, consummative judgement and salvation (e.g., the Great Tribulation, the Antichrist, the great white throne judgement, etc.). And the problem with both preterists and historicists is that they “may sometimes be right in their precise historical identifications, but wrong in limiting the identification only to one historical reality.”[10]

With some of his foundational views surveyed, Beale’s understanding of Revelation 20:4 can be explored. Noting that the 1,000 years is probably figurative for a long era,[11] Beale maintains that the millennium began at Christ’s resurrection and will be concluded at his final coming.[12] This means that the relationship between Revelation 19:11-21 and Revelation 20:1-6 is not sequential. Beale gives at least 5 lines of defense for this nonsequential view.

First, Chapter 20 begins with “And” (καὶ ), which often indicates visionary sequence and is thus used as a transitional device between literary segments.[13] As Beale states, “Only three of the thirty-five uses of the conjunction in those verses clearly indicate sequence in historical time…. The remaining uses of καὶ serve only as visionary linking devices.”[14] Elsewhere in Revelation (7:2, 10:1, 18:1), when “and” is followed by an angelic decent or ascent, says Beale, “without exception it introduces a vision either suspending the temporal progress of a preceding section to introduce a synchronic section (see on 10:1) or reverting to a time anterior to the preceding section (see on 7:2 and 18:1, where in each case, as in 10:1 and 20:1, the angel is described as ‘having’ something.)”[15] Therefore, “20:1-6 is probably prior and vv 7-15 temporally parallel to 19:11-21.”[16]

Second, there are allusions in Revelation 19-20 to Ezekiel 38-39. Ezekiel 39 recapitulates the battle narrative in Ezekiel 38. Therefore, “if John is following any model in 19:17-21 and 20:7-10, he is following the general acknowledged pattern of recapitulation in Ezekiel 38-39.”[17] This means that 20:1-6 is antecedent to the same battle being described in both 19:17-21 and 20:7-10.

Third, Beale notes the similarities between 16:12-16, 19:19 and 20:8. They have in common “not only the same language for the gathering together of forces for the war… but also the idea that the gathered forces have been deceived into participating.” He continues, “This enforces the impression that Satan’s deception of the nations in 20:8… is the same event as the deception of the nations in 16:12-16 and 19:19.”[18] Elsewhere, Beale notes, contra the historic premillennialist understanding, the binding of Satan is with regard to the deception of the gentiles (vv.2-3), not to a general and total binding. Concomitant with 19:17-21 is Satan’s release to deceive once more.

Forth, Beale illustrates the similarity of structure between 19:11-20:6 with Daniel 7. “Daniel 7 itself,” says Beale, “exhibits a clear structure of recapitulation, repeating narratives about the persecution and kingdom of the saints (vv 8 and 13-14, vv 19-22, vv 23-25, 27), as well as the judgement of the beast (vv 9-11, v 26).”[19] This is further evidence of recapitulation.

Finally, Beale notes a chiastic structure in chapters 17-22 that gives further evidence that 20:1-6 is not chronologically or sequentially after 19:11-21. The chiasm reveals that 19:17-21(C) is parallel to 20:7-10 (C).[20]

Beale offers these concluding remarks:

In light of the preceding, the descending angel in 20:1 introduced a vision in vv 1-6 going back before the time of the final judgment in history, which was just narrated in 19:11-12. The time span of the vision will be seen to extend from Christ’s resurrection until his final parousia…. Life and rule are primary themes in 20:4-6. This means that the primary point of the millennium is to demonstrate the victory of suffering Christians.[21]

But what of the two resurrections spoken about? Beale notes that the second death of the unrighteous (v.6) is spiritual, while the death of the righteous (v.4) is physical. Further evidence is given by the allusions to the valley of dry bones in Ezekiel 37, Beale notes, which is talking about a spiritual renewal of Israel, a spiritual “coming to life.” Given these two kinds of deaths being described, there could also be two kinds of resurrections as well. Beale writes, “Ironically, the first physical death of the saints translates them into the first spiritual resurrection in heaven, whereas the second physical resurrection translates the ungodly into the second spiritual death.”[22] While Beale believes Augustine’s view—that the first resurrection is regeneration—is possible, he believes it unlikely because it is most likely that “only deceased believers are in mind.”[23] Or, as Poythress maintains, “…the first resurrection refers to the spiritual life of martyrs who reign with Christ between the time of their martyrdom and the Second Coming.”[24]  Beale maintains that the premillennial schema is faulty because eschatological progression – as you have in new creation (especially with resurrection) – is irreversible. But eschatological progression in the millennium, according to the premillennial formulation, is reversible.

With Beale’s position synthesized, I close with some concluding remarks from Vern Poythress, who offers a few slight differences:

The millennial disputes partly has to do with the chronological relationship between 19:11-21 and 20:1-10. Premillennialists believe that the events of 20:1-10 simply follow the events depicted in 19:11-21, which places the Millennium after the Second Coming. However, in view of the structure of the whole book, it makes more sense to see 20:1-15 as the seventh and last cycle of judgements, each of which leads up to the Second Coming. Several pieces of evidence point in this direction:

  • The final battle in 20:7-10 seems to be the same as the final battle in 16:14, 16; 17:14; 19:11-21.
  • The various descriptions of the final battle use language that is similar to that in Ezekiel 38-39.
  • The judgement of Satan in 20:10 parallels the judgement of Babylon (chapter 17-18) and the Beast of the False prophet (19:11-21). These enemies of God all receive their doom, and the visions depicting their doom are thematically rather than chronologically arranged.
  • Certain features in 20:11-15 correspond to earlier descriptions of the Second Coming (6:14; 11:18).
  • Most importantly, all of Christ’s enemies are destroyed in 19:11-21. If 20:1-6 describes events later than 19:11-21, there would be no one left for Stan to deceive in 20:3.[25]

Recommended Resources:

© J. Brandon Burks, 2016

[1]Sam Storms, Kingdom Come: The Amillennial Alternative (Ross-shire, Scotland: Mentor, 2013), 136-137.

[2]Ibid., 137.

[3]G. K. Beale, “The Book of Revelation,” in The New International Greek Testament Commentary (NIGTC), ed. by I. Howard Marsha and Donald A. Hagner (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdsman, 1999), 50.

[4]Ibid. [Brackets mine].

[5]Ibid., 50-51.

[6]Ibid., 51.

[7]Ibid., 216

[8]Ibid., 48.


[10]Ibid., 49.

[11]Ibid., 995, 1017-1021.

[12]Ibid., 973.

[13]Ibid., 975.



[16]Ibid., 976.

[17]Ibid. 979.

[18]Ibid., 980.

[19]Ibid., 982.

[20]Ibid., 983.

[21]Ibid., 984, 991.

[22]Ibid., 1005.

[23]Ibid., 1012.

[24]Vern S. Poythress, The Returning King: A Guide to the Book of Revelation (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2000), 182.

[25]Ibid., 178-179.

Spanking Children: 36 Thoughts

Featured Image -- 775


Pilgrim & Shire

During my time in undergrad, I had a bit of a revolution with regard to the way in which I had planned on disciplining my children. For a while, I entertained the idea of never spanking—just taking toys away, time-outs, and grounding. After all, is this not what we’re taught to do by child “professionals”?

In the Holy Scriptures, however, we read, “a rod is for the back of him who lacks sense” (Prov. 10:13), that “whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him” (Prov. 13:24), that “folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him” (Prov. 22:15), that “If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from Sheol” (Prov. 23:14), that “the rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to…

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Evangelism: Which Method?


In this post, I would like to compare and contrast various methods of evangelism. In future posts I hope to deal with the task of evangelism, or, more specifically, how an introvert might evangelize. After all, isn’t it frustrating that the books written about evangelism are largely written by extroverts? But that’s for a different post.

My first experience with evangelism was in my first church, Salem Baptist Church in Virginia Beach. The curriculum used was Share Jesus Without Fear. Essentially, the method was to turn a conversation spiritual by asking a thought-provoking question: Who is Jesus to you? Or, If you died right now, would you go to heaven? The method demanded that you have an evangelism Bible with a few key pages tabbed. You would ask the unbeliever to read a few verses (maybe 4 or 5) that are highlighted on each of the tabbed pages. After, you would invite the unbeliever to place his trust in Jesus.

The benefit of this method, of course, is that it is content driven. The unbeliever is hearing the gospel through various Scripture passages (ex. John 3:16; Rom. 3:23; 6:23; 10:9-10; Col. 2:14; Rev. 21:1-4). Also, if you are prone to nervousness or are scared that you might forget something, with this method, the Bible is doing the talking for you, and as long as he reads all the verses, the important pieces will be there. From personal experience, those who read the various verses tend to be impacted more deeply. Instead of me telling them the gospel, they got to read it for themselves. As one unbeliever once commented to me after reading, “That was well-written. I like the prose.’’ But that leads to the potential downfall: People are not always willing to read from the Bible. Sometimes it’s because they see it as a “cultish holy book,” and other times it’s just not practical (poor lighting, no glasses, etc.).

In college I took an evangelism class where we learned three different methods, and had to read The Master Plan of Evangelism and The Complete Evangelism Guidebook. One method was to give your personal testimony, another was to memorize a “creation to cross” story to recount, and yet another was to use evangelism cards to get people thinking deeply. The former option was quite popular. Of course, the downfall is that you tend to merely talk about yourself and your feelings. For this reason, if the testimony approach is your favorite method, you must be intentional to give the gospel at some point. Maybe say something like, “And that was the first time I realized that [insert gospel message here].” The benefit, on the other hand, is that you are less likely to get pushback. After all, it’s your story.

The second method from the evangelism class—the creation to cross story—also has its benefits. One being that you give the unbeliever a larger picture. Instead of a simple: “You’re a sinner and need Jesus,” they are getting a fuller story about God creating a world without death, about the fall, and about the life and ministry of Jesus. The downfall, however, is that the unbeliever might not have ten to twenty minute for you to tell him this narrative. This method might be better suited for a close friend.

During college I also bought some of the Way of the Master curriculum. In this method, you ask people various sin questions. For instance, you might ask someone, “Have you ever told a lie?” Or, “Have you ever lusted?” Of course, all will admit to such sins. “What does that make you?” you ask. “A liar and an adulterer,” they come to realize. After establishing that they are sinners that will be condemned on judgement day, you tell them the Good News: Jesus died on a cross to pay for the penalty of sin, and rose from the dead three days later. This has the benefit of stating the situation plainly: You are dead in your sins, but Jesus saves. The downfall is that the conversation can be a bit tilted. That is, you might be tempted to spend all your time establishing sin and the punishment thereof that you don’t have time to unpack the riches of Jesus Christ.

I heard of still another way when I had the privilege of talking with a life-long missionary who had served in both India and Cambodia. He said that, particularly in India, evangelism through prayer worked really well. Because the culture is largely religious (maybe even pluralistic), people were usually happy to let you pray with them. The missionaries would then proceed to pray the gospel of Jesus Christ. After the prayer, they would invite the unbeliever to believe in this Jesus to whom they had just prayed.

Finally, I have also seen Evangelism Explosion used. One of the key features of this method is that you take “spiritual surveys.” You would ask people various questions, such as, “If you died right now, do you know that you would go to heaven?” “If you died and Jesus said, ‘Why should I let you into My heaven?’ what would you say?” “Who is Jesus to you?” “Do you see yourself as a spiritual person?” “On a scale from one to ten, how fulfilling is your life right now?” and so on. The answers to these various questions can lead to gospel opportunity. The benefit is that a survey is non-confrontational. People like surveys and usually enjoy giving their opinions. The downfall, however, is that the conversation can be dominated by their opinions, especially if the person is long-winded. For this reason, the evangelist will want to make sure that the content of the gospel is spoken clearly at some point.

All of these methods have their benefits and drawbacks, and I would not say one should be avoided or preferred. It seems to me that the best method is the method that best fits the person. Indeed, a cookie-cutter approach to evangelism is fraught with danger, namely, many people, who would otherwise evangelize, are too intimidated by a particular method.

My own approach is a blending of Share Jesus Without Fear and Evangelism Explosion. Regarding the latter, I like the survey approach. I recall trying to gain an audience with the son of one of my church members who was a professing atheist. He refused my request. But later, I took a class that required me to talk with an unbeliever and write a paper about the interaction. With this new format and “purpose,” he was more than happy to meet. To him, I wasn’t trying to “convert” him (though I was), but was just wanting an A on my paper. However, I like the content given through Share Jesus Without Fear. Having the gospel message central is important. People don’t always have that long to chat, and so giving the gospel early on in the conversation is critical.

I could see a conversation going like this:

Believer: Hello, I’m doing a spiritual survey for my church. We are wanting to gauge people’s spirituality in the community. Do you have a few moments to answer a few questions?

Unbeliever: Sure. I have a few minutes.

Believer: The Christian church for centuries has confessed that we are fallen sinners who have broken God’s standards; and that there will come a day of judgement in the future where we will stand before God. But God, in mercy, has given us a way to escape eternal punishment by believing and trusting in His Son, Jesus Christ, who died on a cross for sins and rose from the grave. Does this message resonate with you? Has this been your understanding as well?

From this point the evangelist can ask more diagnostic questions, answer objections, make clarifications, expound on various aspects of Christianity, or pray with the person. For me, this method is not very intense, is filled with balanced content, and is open enough to address the concerns of the unbeliever. But regardless of one’s preferred method, I’d rather applaud those actively doing evangelism rather than sit on the sidelines critiquing others.