Tag Archives: Hope

Storyframes Collective

Returning Home to Ex-Cannibals

The Sawi were headhunters and cannibals when Don and Carol Richardson arrived in their Indonesian village carrying their seven-month-old boy, Steve—and a message that would change the tribe forever. The year was 1962, and Steve and his siblings would spend their youth among the Sawi, learning the language and embracing the culture in ways that would shape the rest of their lives. The Richardsons’ story was immortalized in Don’s bestselling book, Peace Child: An Unforgettable Story of Primitive Jungle Treachery in the 20th Century and a feature film of the same name, inspiring a new generation to take the gospel to the remaining isolated tribes of the earth.

Fifty years later, Steve joins his father and brothers to visit the Sawi village where they grew up. Does a gospel church remain? Are their childhood friends alive? Will anyone remember their family? Thanks to this short film produced by Pioneers, we can journey with the Richardsons to the Sawi swamps and explore the gospel’s effect among a once-unreached people.


The Storyframes Collective is a collaborative effort between The Gospel Coalition and the Austin Stone Church for the purpose of celebrating the extraordinary work of God in the lives of ordinary people. Through excellence in the art of storytelling (film, photojournalism, spoken word, and writing), this project aims to recount God’s redemptive, transforming work in the lives of our brothers and sisters. In form, this website collects encouraging stories about God’s grace. In function, we want these stories to inspire you to praise God.

As a collective, we hope that people from around the world will join us in collecting and telling the amazing stories of God’s grace and the power of the gospel. We hope this project will increase your faith, encourage your spirit, and open your eyes to the extraordinary work of God every day in your life and in the lives of others around you.

While these stories differ in characters, formats, and locations, they share the same hero: God. Whether highlighting addiction recovery, healing, renewal, transformation, or any other form of good news, they testify to God’s power and grace, made available to us through the person and work of Jesus Christ.

We hope you not only enjoy reading, hearing, and seeing these stories, but also take time to observe the stories of those around you. Tell others the story of what God has done for the world in Jesus Christ, and tell us your story—what God has done in you.

In Defense of Katniss Everdeen

Catching Fire, the second film in The Hunger Games trilogy, has set theater records, and like its predecessor, it’s an impressive, gritty film. Suzanne Collins wrote a gripping series of young-adult novels, and the film adaptations have been well cast and well directed, especially the choice of Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen, the film’s star and protagonist. Lawrence manages to easily embody both Katniss’s tenacity and also her youthful ignorance at the high-stakes politics of her situation.

Katniss_EverdeenThere has been a lot of chatter about Katniss herself among Christian viewers (and readers). In the first film, she volunteers to take the place of her sister in the Hunger Games, a battle to the death between 24 “Tributes” from 12 post-American districts ruled by the Capital, a gaudy, totalitarian consumer state. Contestants are chosen by draft, and when Katniss’s young sister Prim is chosen, she volunteers to go herself and take Prim’s place. Once in the arena, she is directly responsible for killing three people, though in each case there’s some measure of self-defense involved. In the end, it comes down to her and Peeta, the love-struck male tribute from her home district. Rather than battle each other, they choose to commit suicide, but the games abruptly end, and they are both named victors.

All of this is broadcast on live TV, and the nation is riveted. Their refusal to kill one another somehow ignites a furor in the other districts, and the powers see her as a problem.

Ethical Crisis

Her story presents a serious ethical crisis for viewers and readers. Is she a hero? Is she, as some Christians have supposed, a sacrificial Christ-figure who risks all, substitutes herself for Prim, and arises from certain death victorious? Or is she, as author N. D . Wilson argues, worthy of contempt for her participation in the games?

Wilson makes an interesting case. He argues that to participate at all is to collude with the Capital. True defiance, he argues, would be to follow in the footsteps of Gladiator’s Maximus, who refused to kill a fellow slave at the key moment the emperor demanded it and won the mob’s allegiance as a result. But I’m not sure this counter example is “counter” at all. How many innocent slaves did Maximus eviscerate before that key moment? (In the “Are you not entertained?” scene alone, I count six—double Katniss’s body count in the entire first film.) Clearly, Maximus chose to kill in order to survive. It’s not until he gets to the Coliseum in Rome that he starts thinking about a cause greater than survival. Then, and only then, he refuses to kill. Actually, he kills a lot of people first, but at some point, he refuses to kill.

Wilson thinks Collins “should have had Katniss cutting her locator out of her arm on night one instead of participating in and perpetuating the evil.” He makes a case for a Katniss who deliberately defies the rules of the game, protects other tributes, and refuses to kill. It’s a compelling idea, and perhaps Wilson should write that book; I’d want to read it.

But I think Wilson misses the the big difference between a protagonist like Maximus and a protagonist like Katniss, and in so doing, misses what Collins’s series is actually about. Maximus is a general of the Roman army, an experienced soldier, and a tactician both on and off the battlefield. He understands power and knows how to wield it. Katniss is far from it. At best, she’s a scrappy, resourceful teenage girl who grew up in the poverty and oppression of a totalitarian state. The brilliance of Collins’s books (and while we’re at it, Lawrence’s performance) is in how well she represents what a teenage girl would experience in these horrendous circumstances.

The pinnacle of totalitarian control, as Hannah Arendt has argued, is in both the SS officer who operates a death camps and the prisoner who occupies it. Both are completely controlled by the state.

This degree of oppression is hard to imagine from outside its walls, and therein lies Collins’s strength. She presents us with an ordinary girl subjected to (and who participates in) state-sponsored terror because she can’t imagine doing otherwise. She doesn’t cut out her tracker because the state is watching, and they’ll just drop into the arena and give her another one. They might give her a beating while they’re at it. Or they might burn down her house and murder her family. The all-intrusive, all-encompassing grip of the state is the looming shadow in Katniss’s life, and to defy that authority is to visit horror upon herself and everyone she cares about. That kind of paranoia is fundamental to totalitarianism, and Collins gives us a protagonist in the throes of it.

Personal Desperation

I think if Isaac Asimov had written this trilogy, Katniss and Peeta would have completed their suicides. Denying anyone victory at the games would have been a more powerful political statement. Instead, Collins gives us a result that is less symbolically powerful, but more believable; given the opportunity to survive, the teenagers take it. It’s far less an act of political defiance than an act of personal desperation.

Catching Fire continues this theme. Katniss continues to choose to survive rather than run away. Her willful acts of rebellion are small: venturing into the woods to hunt for rabbits and stopping the flogging of a friend. And she’s quickly frightened into obedience whenever the state flexes its muscle.

The greater rebellious acts happen behind the scenes and without her knowledge. When she witnesses them on her “Victory Tour” for the Games, she’s horrified. Here, too, she is the pawn of others, subjected to their desire for her as a symbol of open rebellion against the Capital.

So we come back to the original question. Is she a hero?

Though she isn’t a substitutionary Christ figure, I think there’s another type to consider when looking at her story (especially in the first two installments): the suffering servant. Consider The Lord of the Rings trilogy as a parallel: The Hunger Games doesn’t give us an Aragorn, a warrior-king who rallies the forces of good. Instead, it gives us someone more complex and difficult, a girl who unwittingly becomes a symbol of national hope and rebellion, whose road is marked not by victory but suffering. She’s not Aragorn; she’s Frodo, a young, brave girl, carrying a burden in a political drama that is much bigger than her. Aragorn doesn’t have nightmares about the enemies he’s killed, but Frodo (and Katniss) never sleep well again.

Her journey toward rebellion against the state isn’t a triumphant march; it’s a halting, faltering, struggle. Catching Fire is really a perfect title for this second film. The embers of rebellion glowing in the other districts are starting to spread, and though Katniss doesn’t begin this story ready for war (she can’t imagine it, as almost no child raised under totalitarian oppression could) she begins to catch fire herself.

The Hunger Games trilogy reminds us that in some corners of the world, hope is improbable, unimaginable, but somehow, inevitable. Dehumanizing oppression is a power with an expiration date, and it has been throughout history. The human spirit (or the image of God in his creation) is too strong to stay crushed forever. It doesn’t take much—a child, or a mockingjay—but once it appears, it’s impossible to ignore.

Those Who Sleep in the Dust Will Awake

We buried our daughter, Hope, in the heat of June. Nothing in my life has ever felt so wrong as putting her body in the grave and simply walking away. Then came that October morning when there was frost on the ground and a nip in the air and the heat came on in our house for the first time, giving off the smell of burning dust. I lay in bed, feeling a wave of resistance and resentment toward the cold. I thought about the cold earth surrounding Hope’s body and I wept, feeling a sense of helplessness in surrendering her body to the coming winter. It’s a mom’s job to keep her child warm, isn’t it?

tombstone-on-the-grave-in-the-old-cemetery-fresh-mound-with-a-stone-crossAround that time, our neighborhood began the annual ritual of decorating for Halloween. When my neighbors hung their orange lights on October 1, it seemed a bit early, but I told myself it was no big deal. I didn’t want to be the Grinch of Halloween. I love a carved pumpkin, bales of hay, a few corncobs, and a silly costume. And I’m all for loading up on bite-size candy bars. But then came the afternoon in late October when I drove through the neighborhood and passed a house showcasing a hearse with a casket coming out the back. A few doors down, several skeletons were hanging from trees. It felt like a punch in the stomach.

In those days my thoughts were regularly drifting toward the decay of Hope’s body in the grave. I wondered how long it would take until there was little left of her except for bones. So I felt assaulted by my neighbors’ seemingly harmless hanging of skeletons in the trees. It seemed like they were celebrating the very thing that brought me intense pain. I couldn’t help but want to ask them, Have you ever had to bury someone you love? For the next few weeks, when I drove by, I did my best to look the other way.

People want to tell grieving people, “That’s not her, that’s just her body in the grave. She’s in heaven.” But they don’t understand. I loved and cared for that body. I knew her and loved her in context of that body. And so I’m grateful to know that her body matters to God too.

Made Like the Man of Dust

Genesis 2:7 tells us that “the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” God chose the most lowly and humble matter possible—dust from the ground—and infused it with the most significant and glorious of all substances—his own breath. As Adam and Eve ate freely from the tree of life, all was well in the Garden. But then the serpent slithered in tempting them to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And when they did, everything changed. Sadly Adam and Eve could not avoid the effects of the curse that infiltrated all creation. The work that was supposed to fill Adam’s life with meaning would become frustrating. “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground,” God said to Adam, “for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen. 3:19). Adam would now be buried in the ground, and his body would turn back into its dust.

Though the effects of this curse were devastating to Adam and to all who have descended from him, it was also laced with grace—the promise of an offspring of the woman who would one day walk in the dust of this earth, one who would come to put an end to death. Paul writes, “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman” (Gal. 4:4). He who existed in glory before the foundations of the world became a human, vulnerable to death—the kind of death that caused him to identify with the author of Psalm 22, who wrote, “My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.” On the cross, Christ took upon himself the curse that destines every baby born on the earth to one day return to its dust. Yet because God did not let his Holy One see corruption (Psalm 16:10 cf. Acts 2:27), we know that we are not destined to be dust forever.

Re-Made like the Man of Heaven

We aren’t told everything we’d like to know about the bodies we will be given when Christ returns. But we do know that God intends to use the matter long buried in the ground or ashes that have been spread on the sea or stored in a box as the source material for bodies fit for the new heaven and new earth. He will transform our lowly bodies to be like his glorious body (Phil. 3:21). Once again, God will breathe his own life into dust, but this time our bodies will not be vulnerable to disorder, disease, and death. We will be glorious!

It finally got cold enough this week for the heat to kick on at our house. And once again I smelled that familiar smell of dust being burned off the heating coils, and was reminded of the bitter reality of Hope’s body in the grave. It still moves me to tears. But it doesn’t have the power it once had to sink me into sadness. Tim Keller says that we have to “rub hope into the reality of death,” and I’m finding my confident hope in resurrection grows as the hope presented to us in the Scripture more thoroughly saturates my thoughts and emotions. Paul writes, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive . . . Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven” (1 Cor. 15:22, 49).

I believe that day is really coming. The sin of the man of dust will not get the last word in Hope’s life and death, nor mine. Instead, the man of heaven will come and call us to life. Everyone joined to him by faith can anticipate the day to come when once again, God will breathe his very own life into bodies that have become dust. We will experience all God promised when Isaiah prophesied, “Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a dew of light, and the earth will give birth to the dead” (Isa. 26:19). This hope enables us to endure life and death in the winter of this world.

Every Graveyard a Garden

I have a friend who lives next to a cemetery, and only a small pathway divides his yard from the land of the dead. When his family planted a garden on their side, at first I thought, Why would you want your garden growing right across from a graveyard? But then a second thought prevailed over the first: Life will come up from the garden, and one day the same will be true for the graves.

800px-St_Ann's_Graveyard,_GlenasmoleSuddenly their garden seemed to be in the perfect spot. This family will watch life rise from the ground, and that process pictures the promise of our bodily resurrection. What happens in that garden will be far surpassed by what happens in the cemetery when a trumpet blast sounds a note that even dead people will hear.

Exile and Death

Adam and Eve lived in a garden, and there was no graveyard across from it. God filled the land with abundance and prohibited eating from one tree. Death was no concern for Adam, so God put it there with a warning about the forbidden fruit: “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen 2:17).

The lying serpent contradicted God’s Word: “You will not surely die,” he told Eve (Gen 3:4). So she ate the fruit, gave some to her husband, and they were ashamed (3:7). They now feared Yahweh (3:8-9), they heard his words of judgment (3:14-19), and they received his gracious provision of garments (3:21). But earlier God had made a promise: if they ate from the forbidden tree, they would surely die. Eat they did, so die they must.

The time had come for eviction. Exile meant death. God drove Adam from the garden and “placed the cherubim and a flaming sword” to stand guard (Gen 3:24). Cut off from the abundance inside the garden, and thus barred from the tree of life, Adam and Eve eventually died. His toil upon the cursed ground could not foil the inevitable: “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (3:19). Over time the dust of the ground became a graveyard for God’s image-bearers. To this day a cemetery tells us, “The wages of sin is death.”

Sow and Reap

Thousands of years later, on a hill of execution, a Nazarene finally stopped breathing. The people removed him from the old rugged cross with a heightened sense of the time, for the Sabbath was imminent (cf. John 19:31). Joseph of Arimathea asked for the dead body (19:38), and then he and Nicodemus took it to—of all places—a garden near the site of his execution in “a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid” (19:41).

Days later, women arrived early at the tomb and found it open (John 20:1; Luke 24:1-2). The disciples came to investigate, and, sure enough, the body of their leader was gone. The disciples returned to their homes, and Mary Magdalene stood crying outside the tomb (John 20:10-11). When a man asked her why she was weeping, she thought he was the gardener—but then realized the voice belonged to Jesus, now alive and standing nearby.

But Mary wasn’t entirely wrong in thinking a gardener had been speaking. The Adam of Eden was supposed to work God’s garden (cf. Gen 2:15), and Jesus—the Last Adam—was the Gardener par excellence. He was faithful where Adam was not. He subdued, overcame, and exercised dominion. He paid sin’s wage. Right there in another garden, death was undone through bodily resurrection. This was new creation, the dawning of a whole new world. Jesus had defeated the serpent, and now all authority in heaven and on earth belonged to him. He would make the blessings to Abraham flow as far as the curse was found.

The resurrection of Jesus guarantees the same bodily hope for believers. His was “the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor 15:20). There will be a harvest of sleepers because resurrection broke into human history with the third-day miracle. The image of sleep captures the temporary captivity of death (cf. 15:51). We sleep to wake and die to rise.

Sowing and reaping, then, is true for death and resurrection: what goes down must come up. Every graveyard is a garden. A body is sown in weakness and dishonor but reaped in glory and power (1 Cor 15:42-43). The perishable is raised imperishable, and mortality puts on immortality (15:53). The first Adam was barred from the tree of life, but believers will enjoy the fullness of its fruit because the Last Adam atoned for sin and conquered death.

Rise and Shine

The righteous who sleep in death will rise to everlasting life and to a glorious existence (Dan 12:2-3). God’s people will shine like the brightness of the sky above, like the stars forever (12:3). Jesus says, “Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matt 13:43, alluding to Dan 12:3).

Who will bring this momentous event to pass? Who will harvest the sleepers of which Jesus was the first-fruits? None other than Jesus himself. An hour is coming when everyone in their garden-graves will hear the Son of Man’s voice (John 5:28). At his command, molecules and matter will stand at attention as resurrected bodies take shape and gleam with glory. “Rise and shine,” Jesus will say. And we will.

You Can Lead with Influence

Leaders with influence stand out. When a teacher has influence, students seek a relationship outside of class and ask advice on topics outside of the curriculum. When a manager has influence, employees pitch in on projects without being asked. When a pastor has influence, Christians find any excuse to join his Sunday morning coffee hour conversations. When an older sibling has influence, the closeness lasts well into adulthood. In each case, we follow influential leaders, not because we have to, but because we want to.

An aspiring leader might start off with this vision for influence, but over time the rookie’s eagerness can fade into a fog of authority and experience. Experience assures the leader that entrenched behaviors can’t be broken, touchy people need more leeway, and elder meetings must be boring. Thus, forfeiting influence, the former idealist starts to rely on his own authority to get results.

Consider the difference between authority and influence in this simple illustration. An authoritative parent might compel his teenager to keep her curfew. But only an influential parent can trust his daughter won’t sneak out when he’s asleep.


Deeper Influence

Because of God’s grace, influence lies within reach. Look at the fruit of Paul’s ministry in Thessalonica:

You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come. (1 Thess 1:6-10)

Paul’s message was the same as ours: Turn from idols to serve God, and trust in his resurrected and ascended Son for deliverance.

But Paul’s influence was extraordinary. The Thessalonians saw the Lord in Paul (and Silvanus and Timothy) and longed to imitate him (1 Thess 1:6). Like him, they persevered through affliction and became examples to others (1 Thess 1:6-7). They promoted Paul’s message in their neighborhoods, and reports of their vibrant belief spread faster than election results (1 Thess 1:8). They didn’t have to claim Paul as their hero; the fact was obvious to anyone who knew them (1 Thess 1:9).

This is deep impact. How did he do it?

How to Lead with Influence

Paul’s recipe was simple. It had two primary ingredients: hope and humility.

Paul divulges these not-so-secret keys to influential ministry in chapters 2 and 3 of his letter.

Humility means caring more about others than about yourself. It means being honest about your need for grace. It means refusing to trample others on the way to your own success or personal fulfillment. Here is Paul’s humility on display:

  • “Our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive” (1 Thess 2:3).
  • “We never came with words of flattery . . . nor with a pretext for greed” (1 Thess 2:5).
  • “Nor did we seek glory from people . . . though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ” (1 Thess 2:6).
  • “We were gentle among you” (1 Thess 2:7).
  • “We were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God, but also our own selves” (1 Thess 2:8).
  • “We worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you” (1 Thess 2:9).

Hope means believing God is at work through Christ, so anything can change for the better. It means approaching others’ sin with patience rather than anger and refusing to complain about everything that’s wrong with the world, instead thanking God for what’s still right. It means being honest about difficult things while remaining confident God will use them for good. Paul’s hope resounds:

  • “We also thank God constantly for this . . . you received the word of God . . . you accepted it” (1 Thess 2:13).
  • “The word of God is at work in you” (1 Thess 2:13).
  • “With great desire to see you face to face” (1 Thess 2:17).
  • “You are our glory and joy” (1 Thess 2:20).
  • “We have been comforted about you through your faith” (1 Thess 3:7).
  • “For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord” (1 Thess 3:8).
  • “May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all . . . so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness” (1 Thess 3:12-13).

Folding humility and hope into the recipe of leadership doesn’t require extraordinary intelligence. The trick, however, is to seek both character traits at the same time. Leaders who dole out both ingredients in liberal portions find their influence sweetening relationships wherever they go.

But remember that Paul is not the master chef. He merely guzzled grace from the fountain of life. The Lord’s life-giving wisdom gushed from him like ambrosia from Olympus, and desperate, mortal sinners kept coming back for more.

Paul spoke of Jesus, who embodied humility when he, who was God, brought himself low for our sake. And Jesus epitomized hope when he trusted his Father’s plan to make sinners righteous through death and resurrection. In the gospel, we see one who has all authority in heaven and on earth, but who uses it to serve others and so change the world.

Heart at Risk, Heart at Rest

Four years ago, Julie Manning drove to the hospital for a planned C-section. Doctors would discover an irregular heartbeat—not in her baby, but in her. Six weeks later, Julie’s cardiologist explained that her heart was malfunctioning, that she may need a transplant, and that she wouldn’t have another child. Julie lives at virtually constant risk for sudden cardiac death. “There are hundreds of times a day I’m reminded that my life is not my own, and that at any moment Jesus could take it,” the wife and mother of two says. “But I trust that he is in control, and that includes every breath and every heartbeat.”

Julie is convinced that suffering is a stewardship. “This story isn’t about some girl who has a heart problem,” she explains. “It’s about how God is sanctifying and winning my soul for his name, and how he’s turning one of his people to praise him despite circumstances of this life.”

Watch the 9-minute film, pray for Julie, and praise God for giving her a steadying vision of his sovereign love and her ultimate home.


The Storyframes Collective is a collaborative effort between The Gospel Coalition and the Austin Stone Church for the purpose of celebrating the extraordinary work of God in the lives of ordinary people. Through excellence in the art of storytelling (film, photojournalism, spoken word, and writing), this project aims to recount God’s redemptive, transforming work in the lives of our brothers and sisters. In form, this website collects encouraging stories about God’s grace. In function, we want these stories to inspire you to praise God.

As a collective, we hope that people from around the world will join us in collecting and telling the amazing stories of God’s grace and the power of the gospel. We hope this project will increase your faith, encourage your spirit, and open your eyes to the extraordinary work of God every day in your life and in the lives of others around you.

While these stories differ in characters, formats, and locations, they share the same hero: God. Whether highlighting addiction recovery, healing, renewal, transformation, or any other form of good news, they testify to God’s power and grace, made available to us through the person and work of Jesus Christ.

We hope you not only enjoy reading, hearing, and seeing these stories, but also take time to observe the stories of those around you. Tell others the story of what God has done for the world in Jesus Christ, and tell us your story—what God has done in you.

We Can’t All Be Panmillennial

One day, heaven’s risen and reigning King will return—suddenly, physically, triumphantly—to the earth he made. He will extend justice to his enemies and mercy to his ex-enemies. All things will be made new. So Christians have always hoped and believed.

But here the consensus screeches to a halt. Exact details become strikingly debatable (and publishable). Will Jesus secretly snatch away his church seven years prior to his climactic return? Will his return launch a 1,000-year earthly reign before the final judgment and eternal state? Or is the so-called millennium happening now via his heavenly reign? And if so, should we expect the world to become largely “Christianized” before he comes, or not?

In his new book, Kingdom Come: The Amillennial Alternative (Christian Focus, 2013), former premillennialist Sam Storms makes a substantial case for amillennialism—the belief that, among other things, the 1,000 years of Revelation 20 symbolize the reign of Christ and his people throughout the present church age. Regardless of your position, Storms has produced a careful and comprehensive volume that deserves serious consideration.

I corresponded with Storms, lead pastor for preaching and vision of Bridgeway Church in Oklahoma City, about panmillennialism, whether eschatology should be a test of fellowship, weaknesses in his own position, and more.


Why is our eschatology important? Can’t we just be “panmillennialists”—you know, those who believe everything will pan out in the end?

I’m tempted to say, yes, we can just be “panmillennialists” on the assumption we all affirm the reality of the personal and physical return of Jesus Christ to consummate his kingdom on earth. Far too much time and energy are spent hashing out minute and ultimately unimportant details regarding events surrounding the second coming of Christ, when our hearts should be united in the expectation of his return.

However, eschatology is about more than the end of history and the appearance of Jesus. It’s also about fundamental principles of interpreting Scripture, the nature and aim of our Lord’s first coming, the kingdom of God now and not yet, as well as the identity of God’s covenant people and how we should be living (and what we should be expecting) as we await our Lord’s return. Failing to grasp what Scripture says on this and other related topics has led many in church history into either fanaticism or fatalism. They become either aggressive activists who frighten Christians with end-time scenarios that have no basis in the biblical text or passive naysayers who miss out on the life-changing and sanctifying influence of genuine hope.

I should also mention that eschatology is so deeply and inextricably interwoven into all of Scripture that it’s virtually impossible to trace the storyline of God’s redemptive purposes without understanding something of its meaning and direction. Eschatology enables us to see the unified purpose of God in summing up all things in Christ. There’s something profoundly edifying and spiritually exhilarating in tracing God’s work from Genesis to Revelation and seeing how the various pieces, people, events, and books of the Bible tie together. And that’s a tall order in the absence of a basic understanding of eschatology.

How should local churches handle this issue? Should they require agreement for membership? For eldership?

I believe the only requirement for church membership related to eschatology is confessing the personal and physical return of Christ to consummate history. I emphasize the words “personal” and “physical” to indicate my conviction that hyper-preterists are outside the bounds of evangelical orthodoxy. They certainly wouldn’t be granted membership at Bridgeway Church, where I serve. As for elders, I’d again call for a consensus only on the issue of the parousia. On our board we have differing views on the nature and timing of the rapture, as well as on the millennium, and we function quite well. To make any particular eschatological view a requirement either for membership or leadership would elevate what I regard as a secondary issue to the status of primary and foundational.

How should a church teach if there are diverse millennial views among its leaders?

When I preached through Mark’s Gospel I made it clear my views on the Olivet Discourse (Mark 13) were my own and didn’t necessarily represent the other elders or pastoral staff. When I’ve taught our membership classes I communicate that you don’t have to agree with me to be a contributing member of this local church. My elders and pastors know they can disagree with me and not be in trouble. I might add that when I taught Mark 13 I made every effort to accurately represent the alternative views and not “demonize” those who might differ from me.

What are the most significant weaknesses of the premillennial view and why?

That question calls for an entire book! Briefly, once I began to look into this issue more closely I was increasingly unable to reconcile what the New Testament said about what happens when Jesus returns with the idea of a post-parousia, earthly millennial reign in which physical death continues to occur and where people are still come to saving faith in Christ and in which the natural creation remains subject to the curse, among other things. As I read about Christ’s return, it became ever more clear to me that this event marks the end of physical death as well as the bodily resurrection and final judgment of all humanity (both elect and non-elect), together with the inauguration of the new heavens and new earth.

Added to this was the clarity I gained on the structure of Revelation as a whole, together with what I now believe is a superior way of interpreting chapter 20, especially verses 1-6. Of course, much of my book is devoted to unpacking these very themes.

What do you think are the weakest points in the amillennial position, and how do you answer them in Kingdom Come?

Contrary to what many think, I don’t believe a purported “failure to consistently interpret the Bible literally” is a shortcoming of amillennialism. Some contend certain OT texts that appear to describe an intermediate kingdom on earth—greater than what we now know but short of the absolute perfection in the new heavens and new earth—undermine amillennialism. But I try to demonstrate in Kingdom Come that this isn’t the case. I suppose the “weakest points” of amillennialism, to use your term, would be the supposed “strongest points” of premillennialism. The latter would probably be the use of anastasis, translated “resurrection” in Revelation 20:5-6, as well as the meaning of Satan’s “binding” in 20:1-3. However, I’m not convinced by the premillennial view on these matters, and I try to provide a more cogent explanation consistent with amillennialism. The reader will have to be the final judge on whether I accomplish my goal!

Are there any inherent practical implications of amillennialism that differ from other millennial stances?

I’d hope anyone of any millennial persuasion who has his or her hope fixed on Christ’s coming might experience the sin-killing and sanctifying influence such an expectation is designed to produce. That being said, a couple areas deserve mention.

For example, there are probably some practical differences between postmillennialists on the one hand and all other millennial views on the other. If one believes Jesus will return to a largely “Christianized” world, and that in conjunction with this global soteriological triumph of the gospel there will be a parallel transformation of society and its many cultural expressions to reflect, in the main, biblical principles, then certain lifestyle decisions and political agendas might be pursued that Christians of other millennial persuasions would find unacceptable or at least unwise.

I think also of those within the postmillennial camp who believe the persecution of Christians and their consequent suffering will progressively diminish as we approach Christ’s coming. Believing suffering is here to stay—and likely to intensify as time passes—will have significant practical implications for how we live and pray and eventually respond to what our Christian witness entails.

Moreover, if one believes international political convictions and United States foreign policy decisions carry “practical implications” for how the church fulfills its mission today, the differences between dispensational premillennialists—with their views on the rights, status, and future of national Israel—might set them apart from amillennialists and even from many (if not most) historical premillennialists.

But I hope and pray all Christians, regardless of their millennial convictions, might unite in our common witness to the blessed hope of our Lord’s soon return.

Editor’s Note: See also Storms’s TGC article, ”Why I Changed My Mind About the Millennium.”

The God Who Finds Us

What shade of darkness is surrounding your life today? Maybe there are some severe realities from your past that have caused you to struggle to believe God’s goodness for your future. Maybe you don’t carry around any dark secrets or weighty tragedies from the past, but still feel like you’re walking under a black cloud of mild despair and nagging doubt.

What’s interesting about doubt and despair is that they cause our focus to center on the very thing that God wants us to stop focusing on: ourselves. He knows that ever since Adam and Eve shifted the desire they originally had for God over to themselves, we inherited something we’d struggle with our entire lives. Us. It’s this self-consuming focus on us that ultimately casts a dark shadow of doubt over our hearts and minds. And the world tells us this is a good thing. How many times a day do we hear these lines?

I need to do what’s right for me.

I deserve some more me time.

I need to focus on myself.

I need to learn to love myself.

When we as believers struggle to believe, it’s not that we’ve misplaced hope; it’s that we’ve misplaced God, who is our hope. We’ve traded the desire and affection we’re supposed to have for God with a desire and affection for self. It’s a repeat episode of Adam and Eve. We find ourselves unclothed, afraid, and ashamed, living in doubt of God’s promises and in denial of his goodness. But God finds us and restores our hope in himself alone. When we find ourselves under cover of darkness, God doesn’t just hand us flashlights so we can see our way around without tripping over everything. No, he consumes the darkness with his light! He illuminates those areas in our lives so that we aren’t hidden under darkness any longer but “hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3). He wouldn’t be our great God if he did anything less.

For you are my lamp, O Lord, and my God lightens my darkness. (2 Sam. 22:29)

Look around and see what lamps are lighting your life. We constantly have the dim lights of careers, relationships, hobbies, kids, and homes threatening to replace the all-consuming, all-illuminating light of Christ in our lives. These dim lights ultimately burn out because they were never meant to be our ultimate source of light. In these times, our prayer needs to be like David’s, when he was hiding for his life in a cave from King Saul:

Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by. I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me. He will send from heaven and save me; he will put to shame him who tramples on me. God will send out his steadfast love and his faithfulness! (Ps. 57:1-3)

Like he did for David, God will fulfill his own purpose in us. He will transfer our selfish gaze back to his selfless ways. He will provide us with joyful reassurance in our darkest times of doubt and wondering. He will show us mercy in the dark solitude of our storms and become the great refuge for our sorrowful souls when we repent of our self-sufficiency and return to the shadow of his wings. We will once again feel the strength and security of his steadfast love and be reminded of his never-ending faithfulness. He will lighten the depths of our darkness with the lamp of his transcendent love, and we will see ever more clearly the goodness of his grace and the greatness of his glory.

We will once again have hope in Christ, our only hope.

Editors’ Note: This excerpt is adapted from Ted Kluck and Ronnie Martin’s new book, Finding God in the Dark: Faith, Disappointment, and the Struggle to Believe (Bethany House, 2013).

Why the Resurrection Changes Everything

Does the resurrection of Christ matter? Does it truly make a difference? The apostle Paul sure thought so. In writing to the Corinthians, Paul was faced with the startling news that some in Corinth denied the future resurrection of the body. Such a view was adopted by many in the Greco-Roman world. Death was the end. Actually, not much has changed since the first century. Today, the same view is held by skeptics of the faith.

What was so shocking, however, is that in Paul’s day, some Christians, who affirmed the bodily resurrection of Jesus, nonetheless denied the future resurrection of the body. Paul responds with boldness, arguing that you cannot have one without the other. If there is no future resurrection for believers, then Christ himself has not been raised! And if Christ has not been raised, then everything changes. Let’s explore the consequences of the resurrection of Christ for the Christian life.

1. The resurrection of Christ is inseparable from the gospel of Christ.

In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul begins by reminding his brothers of the “gospel I preached to you . . . by which you are being saved” (15:2). This gospel, Paul says, revolves around the death of Christ, who “died for our sins in accordance with the Scripture” (15:3). But notice, Paul does not end there. Christ did not remain dead, but he was also “raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (15:4), before appearing to his disciples.

Have we, as gospel-centered, gospel-saturated believers, left the resurrection out of our gospel message? I know I am guilty. After reflecting on an opportunity I had to share the gospel with an unbeliever, I suddenly realized that not once had I mentioned, at least in any depth, the resurrection of Christ. I fear that my experience is not my own, but that of evangelicals everywhere. But Paul teaches us that we must come to grips with the biblical reality that the resurrection of Christ cannot be divorced from the death of Christ when we speak about the gospel. Should we separate the two, we will seriously miss the significance of the resurrection for our salvation. As Thomas Schreiner states, “Christ’s death and resurrection are inseparable in effecting salvation.”

2. The resurrection of Christ is the fuel that ignites our preaching to a lost world.

Ask yourself this: Would your preaching look any different if Christ had not risen from the dead? If your answer to that question is no, then there is a serious problem. For Paul, the resurrection of Christ made all the difference in the world when it came to preaching. If Christ has not been raised, Paul says, “then our preaching is in vain” (15:14).

The reason is simple: you are misrepresenting God, for you are preaching that he raised Christ when he did no such thing (15:15). In short, if Christ did not rise from the grave, we have no good news.

3. The resurrection of Christ saves.

Perhaps the most sobering statement Paul makes in 1 Corinthians 15 is that “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (15:17). So often we limit our understanding of salvation to the death of Christ. And certainly the death of Christ, as Paul says in Romans 3:25-26, is the very basis of our justification. It is through his “one act of righteousness” (Rom. 5:18), the “propitiation by his blood” (Rom. 3:25-26), that sinners are declared righteous in God’s sight. But there is more, much more, to be said. Not only does the substitutionary death of Christ save, but so also does his resurrection. For example, Paul states in Romans 4:24-25 that like Abraham we are counted righteous for we believe in him “who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”

By raising Jesus from the dead, God declared his satisfaction and approval of the payment Christ made on our behalf, for our sins, on the cross. And as those who are in Christ (Rom. 6:6-11; Eph. 2:6; Col. 2:12; 3:1), God’s approval of Christ’s substitutionary death, demonstrated in raising Jesus from the dead, is likewise directed towards us, so that when we believe we receive the favor of God. Therefore, our justification is a real consequence of Christ’s resurrection. No wonder Paul can say that “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:17). And if we are still in our sins, we have no confidence, no assurance of our salvation whatsoever. It is no overstatement to say, then, that the resurrection of Christ saves.

4. The resurrection of Christ is the basis for future hope.

How practical Christ’s resurrection is—precisely because Christ has been raised, we can tell those looking into the casket of their loved ones that this is not the end of the story.

If your loved ones believe in Christ then even though they have “fallen asleep” they have fallen asleep “in Christ” (1 Cor. 15:18). And since they are united to this resurrected Christ, they have not perished but their soul has gone to be with Christ (Phil. 1:23), and they await that day when they will receive their resurrected body. As Paul tells the Corinthians, Christ’s resurrection is the firstfruits of that great harvest to come. Though death came by the first Adam, in the second Adam “shall all be made alive” (15:22).

Apart from the resurrection of Christ, we have no future hope. As Paul says in no uncertain terms, if Christ has not been raised then we, out of all people, are to be “pitied,” for our hope in Christ fails to extend beyond this present life (1 Cor. 15:19). But since Christ has been raised, we are those who can look death in the face knowing that it has no final victory, no lasting sting (1 Cor. 15:54-55).

I love how Paul ends 1 Corinthians 15. “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (15:58). Because Christ is risen, we, as those who are in Christ, have every assurance that our labor in sharing this gospel of the risen Christ is not pointless or without purpose, but will matter for all eternity. Therefore, do not forget this Easter that the resurrection of Christ changes everything. Without it, we have no gospel, no salvation, no saving message, and certainly no future hope.

Remember the Future

I remember when Christian discussions used to revolve around heaven. There was an expectation of finally seeing our Lord, a longing for the fulfillment and consummation of all things, and a hope of assurance that would well up inside when thinking about our coming glorification. It was almost impossible to fathom that one day we’d receive an everlasting and inexhaustible joy. As a young believer, heaven didn’t create a barrage of speculation so much as greater affection for Jesus, whom I’d one day get to see face to face.

And then, like a thief in the night, it seemed to vanish.

Stricken with rapturemania in the 1970s and 1980s, the evangelical landscape seemed to be ruled by end-of-the-world worship songs, apocalyptic sermons, and shoddily produced movies warning believers of the coming judgment. Many churchgoers I knew seemed to be operating with low-level anxiety at best, while others were digging out bunkers in their basements and distributing hastily written underground conspiracy fanzines. Even the slightest mention of “heaven” was swiftly trampled by discussions about world leaders, war in the Middle East, numbers on foreheads, and guillotines that possibly had my name written on them—depending on whether I was “pre-,” “mid-,” or “post-,” of course.

Long Time Ago

Though it feels like a long time ago now, this time still shapes how many of us view eternity with Jesus. I’ve recently realized just how much my heart longs to remember the future we’ve been promised through him. A hope that doesn’t need to disintegrate under any number of idle end-time debates that put more emphasis on man’s speculation than Christ’s salvation.

Once again, the gospel brings perspective and balance by pointing us back to where our hope and our home truly lie:

But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. (Phil. 3:20-21)

Notice that Paul doesn’t focus so much on our future location as the One responsible for our present salvation and the future transformation of our mortal, earthly bodies. The power isn’t in heaven, but in him, who is in heaven.

Have No Fear

Christians, we need not live under the fear of an unwritten future. The One who established our origins is the One who will establish the end of all things. And through it all, he continues to equip his children to endure to the end.

When will the end be? I have no suggestions, but I do know the greatest hope is built on what’s unseen, not on what’s visible (Rom. 8:24-25; Heb. 11:1, 6). It’s a hope grounded in what Jesus has done in the past, what he is doing in the present, and what he will accomplish in the future.

We often forget, don’t we? We forget that at one time our hearts were filled with the bright hope of Christ returning in glory to his good and faithful servants. Indeed, the sheer wonder of this reunion will cause all fears to subside, all pain to vanish, and all tears to dry as our King’s face becomes visible to all who have longed for his appearing. In the meantime, may we encourage one another daily to remember that future—and to let it galvanize and propel us in the present.

Come, Lord Jesus.