God, Heaven, and Har Magedon

Kline, Meredith. God, Heaven, and Har Magedon.

While containing brilliant insights into biblical symbology, Kline felt obligated to include every one of his unique (and often controversial) positions into this book.

He begins on a promising note. There is a “meta” reality to heaven, as it exists beyond our dimension. It is a holy location and contains sacred architecture. It is a palace/royal court (Deut. 26.15). Heaven is a temple that names God’s throne-site (Psalm 11 and 47). It is even identified with God in Revelation 21.22. “Heaven is the Spirit realm and to enter heaven is to be in the Spirit, Rev. 4.1” (9). Quite good.

He notes that in the biblical story we see a parallel warfare between two mountains, the mount of the Lord (usually, though not always Zion) and Mt Zaphon. Further Armageddon is Har Magedon and is not to be confused with the plain of Meggido, but that the Hebrew actually reads Har Mo’ed, the Mount of Assembly. And this is the part of Kline’s argument that is truly good and noteworthy. Assemblies are “gathered together” throughout the Old Testament, and Rev. 16.16 points out the act of gathering.

Whenever Har Moed appears in the Bible (Isa. 14.13) it is sometimes paired with its opposite, Hades or Sheol. Revelation pairs it with the pit of Abbadon (Rev. 9.11).

At the end of the book Kline identifies Har Magedon with Mt Zaphon in the North (251ff). This is a promising line of thought. Zaphon was the domain of Ba’al and can be seen as the center of wickedness. This makes sense if Gog is the Antichrist figure and comes “from the North.”

Zaphon was the Caananite version of Mt Olympus. This makes sense when we remember that Zaphon is paired with the Abyss. In Revelation 9 Apollyon (Apollo) is from the abyss. Apollo is the demon lord of the Abyss. (That’s my argument, not Kline’s). Kline also notes that when Har Mo’ed is mentioned, it is sometimes paired with the Abyss (Isa. 14:13-15Rev. 16:16).

Exegesis of Revelation 20

Background is Isa. 49: 2424. He is a Warrior who binds the Strongman (Matt. 12:29). Kline elsewhere identifies Jesus with Michael the Archangel, so Revelation 12:7-8 = Revelation 20: 1-3 (162).

Against premillennialism he argues that the chiastic structure of Revelation 12-20 favors Gog/Magog happening before the millennium.

a. Rev. 12.9. Dragon
B. Rev. 13:14. False Prophet
C. Rev. 16:13-16. Dragon, Beast, False Prophet
B’. Rev. 19.19-20. Beast and False prophet
A’. Rev. 20:7-10. Dragon.

And since they all refer to the same time period, and to the same event, this means premillennialism is false. Maybe. The chiasm is good but chiastic literature doesn’t always refer to the same event (many of the historical books form one whole chiasm, yet refer to various events).

Kline admits that the biblical evidence supports premillennialism as well as amillennialism (170). Nevertheless, he argues that the millennium is the church age (171ff). Kline identifies the first resurrection in Revelation 20 as….I’m not quite sure. It seems he says “opposite of the second death” (176), so is it conversion? I think he is saying it is “the intermediate state of believers.”

Sed contra:

1* There are numerous premil responses to the claim that the binding of Satan = Jesus’s ministry. If the events refer back to Rev. 12, and Satan is bound and can’t deceive the nations, then what exactly was Satan doing in Rev. 13?

Response to 1*

Satan is not bound with respect to deceiving the nations. No reading of the text can support that. Satan is bound, however, in that he cannot lead the nations in an assault against the final Mount of Assembly until the last day.

2* He says the two resurrections, if interpreted literally, would confront us with a bizarre scenario (175). Perhaps, but that doesn’t mean it is logically or textually false. And biblical supernaturalism is strange.

3* Interestingly enough, Kline doesn’t deal with the conclusion of Christ’s argument. If Christ has bound the strongman, then he is plundering his house. This is why the binding argument often fails.

Kline argues that postmillennialism is wrong because it cannot account for the final apostasy at the end (186). That is true. The only way postmillennialism can seriously get around that is to opt for some from of preterism, which has its own problems.

A Discussion on Common Grace

Kline tells us that we live in the common grace age, but he never gives us a detailed discussion of what is the content of common grace. Kline argued that some of God’s more extreme measures (Canaanite genocide) are actually intrusions of God’s final justice. Well, yes and no. True, that was a positive command and not to be repeated by the church today. However, we do not see biblical evidence of an ‘order’ or ‘sphere’ of common grace. Is this a time or sphere of common grace? But even if it is, God’s blessings fell upon elect and non-elect within theocratic Israel.

What does it mean to rule according to common grace? How could we even determine which application of “common grace” is more “gracey” or right than the other one? General Franco of Spain probably had more common grace than either Hitler or Stalin, yet one suspects that the modern advocate of intrusion ethics wouldn’t praise Franco’s regime.

As Klaas Schilder notes, it is true that sin is being restrained. But by similar logic the fullness of Christ’s eschaton is not fully experienced. Apparently, it is restrained. (and this is true. So far, so good) If the first restraining is “grace,” then we must–if one is consistent–call the restraining of the blessing “judgment.” Kline’s position falls apart at this point.

Berkouwer: The Return of Christ

Berkouwer, G. C. The Return of Christ. Trans. James Van Oosterom. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1972.

The book begins with a summary of then-current views on eschatology in general, along with needed rebuttals. There is nothing new or profound on that point, except that Berkouwer is rightly skeptical of any attempt to play off “apocalyptic” as a genre against whatever John was writing. Apocalyptic is kind of like “fulfill” or “already/not yet.” It usually doesn’t mean anything.

The book picks up the pace when Berkouwer surveys Dutch Reformed thought on the intermediate state. The problem is that all of the Reformed (and other Christian) confessions affirm that after death man is more or less conscious as a soul yet still awaiting the final resurrection. Most usually object to this doctrine because it seems to be a Greek dualism. Whether that is true or not, Revelation 6 presents souls under the altar–quite conscious–and praying to God.

What is even more interesting is that critiques of the intermediate state operate on the very time-eternity dialectic that they attack (40). Berkouwer footnotes Klaas Schilder as attacking the intermediate state (Schilder, “Is er een ‘tussentoestand?,’” De Reformatie, XXI (1947), 18-45). It is true that Schilder rejected the beatific vision. I would like to have seen actual footnotes, since Berkouwer hasn’t always interpreted Schilder correctly.

There is a neat discussion on Pope John XXII’s teaching on the intermediate state. John correctly noted that the departed saints could not have yet received the beatific vision, since they are praying to God–and somewhat upset–for God to judge and act. Unfortunately, both John and his medieval counterparts interpreted the white robe as the beatific vision, which led to the bizarre conclusion that the saints in heaven could fall. We will come back to this point in Berkouwer’s chapter on the beatific vision, since he notes several problems but doesn’t develop them.

With all of that said, Berkouwer is not always clear on whether he agrees with a personal, consciousness existence with Christ after death. He notes that the “nakedness” in 2 Cor. 5 does not refer to the separation of body and soul. Rather, given Paul’s Hebraic worldview, it refers to sin and guilt (58). We don’t want to be found wanting in that regard. That certainly makes sense.

With the plethora of solid materials today on the resurrection, we will only note a few highpoints from Berkouwer. When Paul speaks of a “spiritual body” (1 Cor. 15:44), he doesn’t have in mind a New Age escape from the flesh. Rather, it is a body energized by the Spirit (Berkouwer 191).

Kingdom signs: they occur precisely where the bodily existence of man is threatened (200).

In his discussion of the New Earth, he points out how Reformed and Lutherans were always hung up by the limitations (but not illegitimacy) of substance language. Is the earth renovated or thrown away? “In the distinctions of eschatology in Reformed theology the reverse is the case: the accidents vanish, but substance remains” (221). Nonetheless, Reformed theology with its idea of the covenant saw a judicial aspect: “it is not a matter of annihilation, but a judgment in which something will remain.”

Regarding the more popular elements of eschatology–signs, antichrist, the millennium–Berkouwer doesn’t add anything new.

He returns to a problem in the beatific vision. Granted God’s simplicity, how can we see the essence of God? Before we answer that question, Berkouwer points us in the way of more biblical categories: “It is clear that when the Bible talks about God, it does not suggest abstract, metaphysical properties imparted to us in isolation from his relationship to man and from the mode of his revelation” (363).

When the Bible does talk about “seeing God,” it avoids empty categories like “seeing him as he is in himself.” Rather, “the beatific vision is correlatively joined to purity of heart” (379). In fact, it’s hard to even fathom a relationless “as He is in himself,” especially for the Thomists who see persons as relations (or the other way around).

The Bible does talk about seeing God “as He is.” Let’s just leave it at that. God gave us those words for comfort.

As with all of Berkouwer’s material, we get an amazing survey of church doctrine combined with astute analysis.

Four Views on Heaven

Wittmer, Michael. ed. Four Views on Heaven. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2022.

Of the Zondervan Counterpoints volumes, this is one of their better ones.  It addresses one of the most practical of subjects, but it also shows the current outlooks on heaven among conservative scholars. The scope of the book is on the final destination of believers, not on the intermediate state. John Feinberg represents the traditional view, Richard Middleton the New Earth view, Michael Allen a heaven on earth view, and Peter Kreeft the Catholic view.

The four views are:

Traditional: John Feinberg. This chapter is the most disappointing in the book. Whatever the traditional view of heaven might be, Feinberg has written a chapter on timelines in dispensational eschatology.  When he actually discusses heaven, I agree.  He affirms an intermediate state, a body-soul duality, and a resurrected body that will exist in the New Heavens and New Earth.  All of that is good. 

Neo-Kuyperian: J. Richard Middleton.  His actual position is “New Heavens and New Earth,” but it is better seen as a Neo-Kuyperian view. 80% of his essay is quite good. He points out, no doubt in line with scholars like Beale, that God is constructing the earth as a cosmic temple and that is where we will be in the New Earth.  To be sure, for Middleton, we will only be on the New Earth. Whatever the New Heavens is, and he is not sure, we will not have access to it. This is where his problems begin, as will be evident in the responses. He also rejects the idea of the soul and intermediate state.

Feinberg’s response: Middleton says we have no access to the New Heavens because, as he notes, Scripture’s language about the New Heavens is metaphorical and we cannot draw any inferences from that. Feinberg points out that he misunderstands what metaphor means.  All metaphors have a referent, and we have cognitive access to this referent. Middleton’s desire is to avoid being too literalistic, yet he also admits that language about the New Earth is metaphorical, yet this does not prevent him from saying we will live there. He cannot have it both ways.

Allen’s response: Middleton should be careful not to dismiss a key teaching of the church without any interaction with the thinkers from that view and the actual texts themselves.  Jesus’s words to the thief clearly teach an intermediate state. Sure, I can grant that Paradise refers to a Garden-like existence, but Jesus actually tells the thief that “today” you will be “there.”

Like many Neo-Calvinists, Middleton downplays the church and corporate worship.What will we be doing in heaven? Cultural activity.  Any kind of worship then (and now) is merely to prepare us for that cultural activity. Middleton’s argument is that the prophets condemn any kind of worship that neglects justice.  However, as Allen points out, the admonitions to justice in the prophets do not actually tell us how to worship God, and in any case the prophets called Israel back to the covenant, not to justice in the abstract.

If I can make an aside.  We all know that there will not be sex or marriage in heaven.  That is a given. However, on the Neo-Calvinist gloss there will still be cultural activity, including “healing the nations” and the “wealth of nations,” if read literally.  So, there will not be sex but there will be business transactions. Or so they say.

Heaven on Earth.  Michael Allen. Allen’s position is close to Middleton’s, but with a few key differences. Both say we will be in resurrected bodies on the New Earth.  For Allen, however, we will also have access to the Beatific Vision and probably to the New Heavens.  I side with Allen in this volume.

Roman Catholic.  Peter Kreeft. Half of Kreeft’s essay is a riff on his lifetime of musing about C.S. Lewis, and for that half it is quite good.  The other half is Purgatory.  That is not good. Kreeft’s argument falls apart if the Reformed claim that “believers at their deaths are made perfect in holiness.”  If I am made perfect in holiness, then I do not need Purgatory.

I truly enjoyed this book and it made me want heaven even more.

Kingdom Prologue (Meredith Kline)

Kline, Meredith.  Kingdom Prologue: Genesis Foundations for a Covenantal Worldview. Two Age Press.

This is the cornerstone of Kline’s work, and any criticism of Kline must answer this work.  Like all of Kline’s work, it is brilliant, engaging, and controversial. Kline anticipated numerous developments in biblical theology, especially as they relate to man as vice-regent and covenant theology.

We can summarize this book around Creation, Common Grace, and Covenant.

Structure of the Covenant

The covenant began by acknowledging the covenant lord by name, followed by a historical survey of his previous dealings with the vassal (22).  Genesis 1-2 doesn’t have a preamble as such, but the covenant Lord does identify himself.


Genesis 1:1

It “denotes an event at a ‘beginning’ time that preceded the episodes delineated in verses 2ff” (24). A heaven already existed prior to God’s dividing the waters, which means “heaven,” albeit a created heaven, is not identical to “the sky.” This act of creating the heavens in verse 2 included the sun and stars, which would receive their thematic treatment on Day 4.

The creation account doesn’t have any sense of “war” or struggle (26).  Indeed, it was “royal construction” (27).  He doesn’t use tools.  “The word of his will is his all-effective instrument” (29). Creation week reveals God’s building his cosmic house.  The Sabbath is his enthronement (35). Cf. Isa. 66:1; 1 Chr. 28:2. Hebrews 4 notes a parallel between Israel’s dominion-rest and Yahweh’s Sabbath rest.

It is important to note that while Kline is setting the stage for his controversial “framework theory,” that is not the main point of this argument.

Common Grace

Unlike many popular accounts of common grace, Kline actually works through it.  Too often, especially in neo-Kuyperian circles, common grace is used as a mantra to justify what one already likes about the current order. To be fair, Kuyper himself did anchor it in the Noahic Covenant, and Kline will do so as well.

To understand Kline’s view of common grace, we need to see the difference between the Kingdom City (Metapolis) and the City of Man.  Megapolis is not exactly the city of man. It is the earthly sphere.  Metapolis is the kingdom city.  As Kline notes, it has “undergone eschatological metamorphosis at the hands of the Omega-Spirit” (100).  It is the temple of God’s presence.

Kline’s account of common grace is far more robust than neo-Kuyperian accounts.  He notes that “common grace and common curse are correlative to each other (154). Without a common curse, it is not clear why one would need common grace.  I think this is the point Klaas Schilder was trying to make against Abraham Kuyper.  Schilder was never clear about it, though. The goal of common grace is to provide an interim for the gospel to work (155).  

All of this is good and few Reformed would disagree. Kline takes this fact and expounds a new concept: the common.  Everything that is not sacred space is the common. The common opens the door for “holy redemptive history” (156).

Therefore, the non-common, the holy, is “the kingdom-intrusion.” It is the anticipation of the final redemptive judgment (158). This means in our modern civil government “we always have the responsibility, whether dealing with…laws of community life, to distinguish which features of Israelite law were peculiarly theocratic (or typologically symbolic) and which are still normative in our present nontheocratic situation (159).

Not surprisingly, Kline pushes back against Kuyperians and “neo-Dooyeweerdians,” particularly the desire to identify creation in a “monistic fashion with the kingdom of God” (171).   Although there are not many Dooyeweerdians today, there is a tendency to desire theocracy of some sort. Far from being a liberal, Kline’s vision of the state is quite conservative, almost libertarian at times.  The state “is not redemptive.  Accordingly, the state as an institutional embodiment of common grace is not designed to provide ultimate and complete solutions for malfunctioning society” (178).

This means the state has to be “non-confessional” (179). If the state is about justice, not justification, then the point of the state is not religion.

Covenant of Works

The covenant of works safeguards the principle of “do this and live.” This is in sharp contrast with the covenant of grace. Kline’s argument is that muting the works principle in the Adamic covenant creates a continuum between works and grace.  Pressed hard enough, the gospel is not seen as purely gracious (108).

Most Reformed would agree with him on this point.  Kline’s more controversial move, albeit not without precedent in the Reformed tradition, is applying the words principle on a typological basis to the Mosaic economy of Israel.  He is not saying Israel earned eternal life by works.  Rather, the works principle of Leviticus 18:5 must obtain.  Kline’s argument at the surface level is simple: if the Mosaic economy was purely one of grace, then why did Israel get rejected from the land?

Analysis and Conclusion

I do not think anyone fully agrees with Kline.  I do think he is a far more important thinker than many of his critics believe.  Some might not like his republication of the covenant of works, but it does have precedent in the Reformed world.  Even if one were to finally reject Kline on that point, his analysis forced Reformed people to think more rigorously on the covenant of works, especially in light of the Federal Vision heresy.

His take on common grace might be more difficult.  As it stands, this is not the traditional Reformed view on the civil magistrate.  That needs to be stated.  On the other hand, most NAPARC ministers are not lobbying Congress to reinstate the Solemn League and Covenant.  Moreover, I don’t think Reformed theocrats have fully worked out what it means to institute case laws in today’s world.  It is not as simple as banning abortion (the outlawing of which is justifiable on natural law grounds).  It is not as simple as promoting the sanctity of marriage (also natural law).

The references to natural law, which, surprisingly, Kline himself does not seem to employ, illustrate why this debate has always been difficult in Reformed circles. It is tempting to identify “neutral” with “common.”  Man cannot be neutral before God.  Man can live in common areas, though.  That is undeniable.  

For my own part, if Kline’s position is wedded to a robust natural law ethic, I think it is sustainable.  It avoids some of the disasters of antinomianism while avoiding any kind of legalism. Although this is an important book, I do not think it is Kline’s best book.  Moreover, this review did not touch on all the rich typological insights.  Those insights, if studied carefully, will richly repay one’s study.

Historicists on Matthew 24

The key to remember is that the abomination of desolation causes the Great Tribulation. The language doesn’t allow any separation in the events of v.15 and v.21. It stands to reason that Titus’s actions, at least on this reading, cause the Great Tribulation. Moreover, and Matthew Henry is very clear on this, the Great Tribulation is cut short only by the return of Christ. Therefore, any tribulation you experience today as a Christian is ultimately caused by Titus’s actions in AD 70. This is the practical conclusion historicists not only must draw, but in fact do draw.

Matthew Henry

verse 15: The Romans setting up the abomination of desolation in the holy place.
verse 21: links it with the Roman armies, which makes sense.

The tribulation of those days includes not only the destruction of Jerusalem, but all the other tribulations which the church must pass through; not only its share in the calamities of the nations, but the tribulations peculiar to itself; while the nations are torn with wars, and the church with schisms, delusions, and persecutions, we cannot say that the tribulation of those days is over; the whole state of the church on earth is militant, we must count upon that; but when the church’s tribulation is over, her warfare accomplished, and what is behind of the sufferings of Christ filled up, then look for the end.

John Gill

verse 15: From signs, Christ proceeds to the immediate cause of the destruction of Jerusalem; which was, “the abomination of desolation.”

verse 21: The burning of Sodom and Gomorrha, the bondage of the children of Israel in Egypt, their captivity in Babylon, and all their distresses and afflictions in the times of the Maccabees, are nothing to be compared with the calamities which befell the Jews in the siege and destruction of Jerusalem.

Unlike Henry, Gill seems to limit the entire discussion to AD 70 on this point. He doesn’t draw the conclusion Henry does.

Purgatorio (Dante; Sayers, trans)

The goal of the journey is to free our judgment.  In hell we flee to the “iron-bound prison of the self” (Sayers 16). Purgatory’s atmosphere might surprise the reader at first glance.  As Sayers notes, we are hit with “its freshness, sparkle, and gaiety” (19). Unlike Hell, Purgatory has community.  There is an ontological exchange of love and prayer. Indeed, here prayer is restored.  There is actually a liturgical discipline, as each cornice must sing and/or re-narrate a Psalm from Israel’s history.

Liturgical Discipline:
* “In exitu Israel de Aegyptu” (II.46). 

*  Wrathful: Agnus Dei (16.18).

* Gluttonous: labina mea Domine (Ps. 51; Purgatorio 23.11).

* Lustful: Summa Deus Clementiae (25.121).

Theological theme: love is the root of all vice as well as all virtue.


Imagine a conical mountain.  At the very bottom are two terraces, Ante-Purgatory.  These are the “death-bed” confession types.  From here they enter “Peter’s Gate, “which is approached by the Three Steps of Penitence: Confession, Contrition, and Satisfaction” (64).

There is something else unique about the mountain.  At first glance, it seems like the road spirals up the mountain.  Just keep walking and you get to a higher level.  In a sense, that is true. Yet, when one reaches the end of a cornice, he can’t simply walk up to the next one.  The path ends, but to the side there is a small stairway cut into the mountain.  Entering that stairway can be quite difficult.

On Purgatory Proper there are seven cornices, which purge the stains of sin.

Lower Purgatory: Love Perverted.  Love of injury to one’s neighbor.

  • Pride: Superbia. Love of self perverted to hatred of one’s neighbor.
  • Envy.  Invidia. Love of one’s own good perverted to wish harm to neighbor’s good.
  • Wrath.  Ira. Love of justice perverted to revenge.

Mid Purgatory: Love Defective. 

  • Sloth. Acedia.  Failure to love a thing in its proper proportion.  Namely, we fail to love God with all our heart.

Upper Purgatory.  Love Excessive. Only one object is to be loved with all our heart. This means there is a hierarchy of goods.

  • Cornice Five: Avarice.  Excessive love of money.
  • Cornice Six.  Gluttony.  Excessive love of pleasure.
  • Cornice Seven.  Lust.  Excessive love of persons.

Sayers has an interesting observation: Dante sleeps only in Purgatory, because unlike Infernus and Paradise, Purgatory is in time. It is not an eternal state.

Cornice of Envy: Like at other cornices, this one is introduced with a verse from Mary; here it is vinum non habent. The scourge of the sin of envy is fashioned with cords of love (13.39). They have their eyes sewn shut with wires of iron.  This makes them depend on their neighbor (and perhaps his good). It is also similar to putting a hood on a falcon.  It forces the beast to shed fear and calm down.

Sayers notes that envy, unlike other sins, contains an element of fear (170). Am I afraid that others might do well?  (This, of course, is the sin of Wokism.) It is best illustrated by Guido del Duca (it feels like half the people in the poem are named Guido, and that isn’t racist for me to point out since I am part Italian in heritage),

“And in my heart such envy used to burn,
If I’d caught someone looking pleased with life,
Thou wouldst have seen how livid I could turn” (14.82-84).

Canto 15: The Angel of Generosity, demonstrating the contrary of Envy, erases the second P from Dante’s head.  One counter to envy is true partnership, or as Augustine put it, “common objects of love.”  Virgil tells Dante that when they share such goods, they aren’t diminished but increased: “The more enamoured souls dwell there at once/Ever the better and the more they love/Each glassing each, all mirrors and all suns” (15.73-75).  Love is a “force multiplier,” so to speak.  It’s easiest to see this when we take “knowledge.”  If I share my knowledge, I don’t decrease my knowledge.  I multiply it. This is what Augustine, the Fransiscans, and Wyclif meant about sharing spiritual goods.

Cornice III: The Wrathful

The wrathful have to sing the Agnus Dei. They must go through thick smoke.  As they can no longer see, they have to listen.

Love of the Good is here restored.  Every creature has love.  It either has a proper object or not, but it still has love. There is a three-fold mis-love: faulty aim (at the wrong Good), too much zeal (excessive love) or lack thereof” (love defective, Sayers 201).

Cornice IV: The Slothful

Mary’s example: she ran in haste to Elizabeth.

As Sayers notes, sloth poisons the will (209). It is a deliberate refusal of joy.

When virtue springs from the heart, it must kindle a reciprocal love (22.10-12).

There is a strange section where Dante meets sodomites on the Cornice of the Lustful.  How is that possible, given the previous meeting in Hell?  He really doesn’t say, but I think we see a similar example today: take the advocates of “Side B Christianity.”  There you have it. Interestingly enough, this is the only Cornice where the penitents walk against the Sun, illustrating that their sin was against nature.

Sayers’ Notes on Purgatorio

Pin on Images of Dante

The goal of the journey is to free our judgment.  In hell we flee to the “iron-bound prison of the self” (Sayers 16).

Purgatory’s atmosphere might surprise the reader at first glance.  As Sayers notes, we are hit with “its freshness, sparkle, and gaiety” (19).

Unlike Hell, Purgatory has community.  There is an ontological exchange of love and prayer.


Imagine a conical mountain.  At the very bottom are two terraces, Ante-Purgatory.  These are the “death-bed” confession types.  From here they enter “Peter’s Gate, “which is approached by the Three Steps of Penitence: Confession, Contrition, and Satisfaction” (64).

On Purgatory Proper there are seven cornices, which purge the stains of sin.

Lower Purgatory: Love Perverted.  Love of injury to one’s neighbor.

  • Pride: Superbia. Love of self perverted to hatred of one’s neighbor.
  • Envy.  Invidia. Love of one’s own good perverted to wish harm to neighbor’s good.
  • Wrath.  Ira. Love of justice perverted to revenge.

Mid Purgatory: Love Defective. 

  • Sloth. Acedia.  Failure to love a thing in its proper proportion.  Namely, we fail to love God with all our heart.

Upper Purgatory.  Love Excessive. Only one object is to be loved with all our heart. This means there is a hierarchy of goods.

  • Cornice Five: Avarice.  Excessive love of money.
  • Cornice Six.  Gluttony.  Excessive love of pleasure.
  • Cornice Seven.  Lust.  Excessive love of persons.

Last Clash of the Titans

Gilbert, Derek P. The Last Clash of the Titans. Defender Publishing, 2018.

Derek Gilbert’s unique skill is in summarizing the very difficulty academic scholarship and placing it in a template that a) makes sense for the reader and b) puts the reader on an eschatological “high alert.”

Study notes here: https://www.derekpgilbert.com/2018/08/18/last-clash-of-the-titans/

Idols were lifeless.  That’s the point.  They functioned, rather, as an antenna. 

Chapter 1: Background

Gilbert quickly goes over the Nephilim thesis, including the faulty reading of Genesis 6.  If this merely refers to the line of Seth, and not to semi-divine beings, then why: a) did they produce giants and b) why were all the Sethite boys good and the Cainite girls bad? c) how did good boys and bad girls produce giants? (Gilbert  loc. 144).

Further, as Gilbert notes, the two surviving sons are mentioned “nowhere in Genesis 6, so reading Seth and Cain into an interpretation” is eisegesis. Appealing to Jesus’s passage in Matt. 22:30 only dodges the hard question.  Jesus was talking about procreation, and he said they only couldn’t do it in heaven. When angels, for lack of a better word, get to earth they can do human things.

Chapter 2: Gods of the Amorites

Mountain cosmology: “the mount of assembly of the divine rebel in Eden is the holy mountain of the Caananite storm god” (1206).  It is Mt. Zaphon, today’s mountain Jebel al-Aqra.

Rephaim: Lords of the Corpse

The etymology of the Rephaim is difficult to discern.  On one hand the lemma rp can simply denote healer and is sometimes used of Yahweh (cf Michael L. Brown, Israel’s Divine Healer). In terms of spiritual warfare (and the Canaanite invasion) it has a darker background.  Some Rephaim were kings, such as Og and Sihon.  Other times they are described as spirits of the dead (Job 26.5; Ps. 88.10).

Isaiah 14 links the Rephaim to Baal and Gog.  It describes the shades (rapha) as rising to greet Lucifer (or he who inhabited Mt. Zaphon, more on that later).

Mt. Zaphon (tsaphon) is in what biblical writers called “the far north,” modern day Syria.  Since that marked the northern end of an invasion route, it made sense to see it as the far north.  It is in the area of Bashan and Hermon, the location to which the fallen Watchers descended and the gate to the underworld.

Chapter 4: From Mesopotamia to Greece

In Greek mythology the Titan Kronos was sent to Tartarus.  Gilbert makes clear this isn’t simply another word for Hades.  Peter knew that term and used it elsewhere (Acts 2:27, 30).  This was a specific place for the “angels who sinned” (who 1 Enoch calls the Watchers and the Mesopotamians call the apkallu; the Greeks call them the Titans).  This means, quite obviously, that fallen angels aren’t demons, since demons are anywhere but the abyss/Tartarus when we see them in the gospels.

It is Gilbert’s argument that the Rephaim “are the demigod sons of the Watchers” (67).

Gilbert points out that in Ugaritic/Amorite cosmology, it took three days for the dead Rephaim to respond to the summoning ritual (KTU 1.21.ii: 1-7).  While we don’t know much about the ontology of the netherworld, we do know that Jesus proclaimed (not preached) to spirits in prison.  Further, Peter mentions these spirits in prison in connection with Noah, referring back to Genesis 6 (and forever demolishing the Sethite thesis). 


Gilbert skillfully dismantles the claim that Gog = Russia.  The Hebrew rosh refers to Gog as a prince, not to Rosh as a place, which some take to be Russia.  Even though the text mentions “the uttermost parts of the north,” to an Israelite this would have been obvious by its very name: tsaphon.  It would have been Mt. Zaphon. The names Ezekiel gives are all in present-day Turkey.  Even more, the war will “bring fire on Magog’s coastlands. Russia has never been a coastal power.

Therefore, we aren’t looking at a geographical north, but a cosmic north (Gilbert 120).  This war is between Mt Zaphon and Mt Zion–it is a “supernatural war for control of the mount of assembly, the har mo’ed (122).

So who is Gog?  The location puts him/it in Turkey, seeming to make him an Islamic leader.  That might not be right, though.  The language of the war is spiritual, located in the cosmic north on the slopes of Mt. Zaphon.  Gilbert doesn’t think he is Baal, though, even though we are at the location of Baal’s mountain.  Gog is Antichrist, which means he can’t be Lucifer or Baal.

Valley of the Travelers

This is the neatest part of the book.  I think there is sufficient evidence to see the Rephaim as the spirits of dead kings, probably Nephilim.  They are currently in the underworld.  Ezekiel 39:11, having documented Yahweh’s slaughter of Gog’s forces, talks about blocking the valley of the Travellers.  This valley is “east of the Sea,” which Gilbert posits as east of the Dead Sea.

The Hebrew word for traveller is oberim, based on ‘br.  It means to “pass from one side to the other.”  What Gilbert is arguing is that it means to pass from one plane of existence to another.  Numbers 21:10-11) mentions the Israelites camping at Oboth and Iye-abarim opposite Moab. Oboth derives from ‘ob, “which refers to summoning spirits of the dead” (Tropper, J. “Spirit of the Dead.” In K. van der Toorn, B. Becking, & P. W. van der Horst (Eds.), Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible (2nd extensively rev. ed.) (Leiden; Boston; Koln; Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge: Brill; Eerdmans), p. 806).

This is the same area where Moses was buried in, “a place where the Rephaim spirits reputedly crossed over to the land of the living. Is that why Satan, lord of the dead, thought he had a right to claim the body of Moses after his death” (Gilbert132)?  This is the same area where Israel was ensnared by Baal Peor.  Peor means “open wide” (Spronk, K. “Baal of Peor.”  In K. van der Toorn, B. Becking, & P. W. van der Horst (Eds.), Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible (2nd extensively rev. ed.) (Leiden; Boston; Koln; Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge: Brill; Eerdmans), p. 147).  He is the lord of the entrance to the underworld. 

But does this actually prove the Rephaim were the Travellers in view?  According to ancient texts, probably.  Ugaritic texts specifically referred to the Rephaim as “travellers” (KTU 1.22 ii, 20-27; I, 15).  In connection with Ezekiel, these spirits are going to be at Har Mo’ed.

One of the problems with Armageddon taking place at Megiddo is that Jesus is supposed to land at the Mount of Olives, which is more than fifty miles away.

Gilbert ends by identifying Antichrist as the Chaos figure (Tiamat, Leviathan, Typhon).  Interestingly enough, Irenaeus said Antichrist would be a Titan (Adv. Haer. V.30).

This is not an academic text, but Gilbert has marshaled the best scholarship and we, the readers, are given the opportunity of evaluating the evidence.  On several new points, while not intending to be a scholarly text, Gilbert has broken fresh ground.  

Theological Territories (Hart)

Hart, David Bentley. Theological Territories: A David Bentley Hart Digest. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2020.

This collection of essays reveals David Bentley Hart at his extreme best and extreme worst. In other words, it’s like everything else he has written.

Early Notes

Description of phenomenology: it always evokes a prior metaphysical deduction “because it always already assumes a metaphysical premise: that there is a real correlation between the givenness of the phenomena and the intentionality of the perceiver” (28).

Barthian theology sees God as a “Wholly Other,” thus reducing him to an aliud who is now posed “over against” creation. And if God is always “Wholly Other,” then he is always posed against the Other, which means creation is eternal. This is why Barthianism has always been caught in a dialectic of creation either being eternal or fallen.

Nicene metaphysics: abandoned the Middle Platonic hierarchy.  In this case Logos is no longer a lesser manifestation of a God who is beyond all manifestation. “It is in fact the eternal reality of God’s manifestation of his own essence to himself” (37).  The essence is a movement of infinite disclosure. He doesn’t relate to creation through a hierarchy of hypostases, but he is the “infinite act within and beyond every finite act.”

Bulgakov, Metaphysics, and Christology

This is where Hart’s reputation as a classical theist is on full display.  If Hart’s view of capital punishment is him at his worst. This is him at his best.  Of interest to Reformed readers is Hart’s interaction with Barthian scholar Bruce McCormack. While we have a proper distaste for Barth, McCormack is probably the sharpest Reformed thinker on Christology. The fact that McCormack is wrestling with Bulgakov and has appeared on Hart’s radar is something of note.

Sergius Bulgakov was a Russian theologian who was exiled by the Communists. He was easily the most profound thinker of the 20th century regarding God, creation, Christology, etc. Bulgakov realized that arbitrariness in “our understanding of the relation between divine transcendence and creation’s contingency” threatens both (58). This hinges on actuality and passivity.  God is an infinite God of pure act. He cannot be determined by unrealized potentiality.  

Hart summarizes the divine moments quite eloquently: “that infinite donation and surrender, that infinite receiving that is also the eternal constitution of the giver, that infinite outpouring in the other that is also the eternal being of God” (59).

Hart wants to avoid any conception of God as having a “gnomic” or deliberative will. If God has to deliberate, then creation constitutes for him a real relation, and therefore “a pathos that modifies his nature.”

God is pure actuality. He is “the source of every act of being” (61). “God does not require the indeterminacy of the possible in order to be free because he is not some particular determination of being, some finite reduction of potency to act.” 

Freedom and Universalism

You would expect me to argue against Hart that universalism is wrong.  That’s not my argument, though.  I’ll grant him the point for the time being.  I won’t even say, “Yeah, but what about Hitler?”  I’ll make it worse: will Hart and his disciples concede that Donald Trump will be in heaven?  I’ll take my leave then.

We should look at his comments on freedom, though.  He’s not entirely wrong and despite his sheer hatred of Calvinism, he sounds very Augustinian at times. Hart’s argument is that someone cannot freely and rationally choose the evil.  A purely libertarian act cannot be one of sheer chance or mechanical impulse (this is also Jonathan Edwards’ argument).  A truly free will, by contrast, is oriented towards the good.

Let’s not dismiss this argument too quickly.  While he hates Calvinism, Hart is not giving the same arguments that your typical free-willer does.  Quite the opposite, actually.

Science and Mind

This section is also quite good.  Even if I am a physical system, I am an intentional physical system, which is problematic for hard naturalists since intentionality is not a physical process.  Even worse, assuming evolution to be true, it cannot be reduced to pure physicality.  Evolution is unintentionally (pun, maybe) hierarchical, with more complex systems superimposing on less complex ones.  In short, I have reasons for being here and those reasons aren’t physical processes (131).

Science as science cannot tell us anything about science.  It engages in what Heidegger calls “ge-stell,” or framing: reducing the world to a collection of objects.  There is no ontological participation between the objects.

Intentionality: the mind knows by being actively disposed toward what lies outside of itself (169).

On Capital Punishment

This is Hart at his worst.  His essay is full of invective.  He comes across sneering.  This is doubly unfortunate since he actually scores some points on Greek vocabulary. His main argument is that the Christian is forbidden from retributive justice per the Sermon on the Mount.    That’s just the plain meaning of the passage, says Hart.  He does not allow similar hermeneutical charity to those who would go to the “plain meaning” of Romans 13.  I just want to focus on a few points:

1) I will grant to him that machairos doesn’t mean “sword of capital punishment,” but more like a police symbol.  Okay, that might be true.  The rest of the passage, though, does not admit Hart’s desire for “rehabilitative justice.”  This “state as police” is to be a “terror to evildoers.”  It cannot do that and rehabilitate them at the same time.

2) I can’t find the exact passage, but somewhere Hart says that Jesus never imagined the death penalty being used.  I can only plead Matthew 13.

3) Hart’s petty childishness comes out when Feser quotes Hart’s more Anabaptist view of state punishment: “Again and again, the New Testament demands of Christians that they exercise limitless forgiveness, no matter how grievous the wrong” (Hart, quoted by Feser).  Feser then gives the rhetorical counter: “We also have to refrain from punishing rapists, bank robbers, embezzlers, etc….The jails should be emptied” (quoted on p. 208).  Feser has correctly cited Hart’s beliefs.  How does Hart respond: “Twaddle…balderdash…I don’t need to explain a d*mned thing” (Hart 209).

Does this sound like an adult in control of his rational faculties?

Academic Freedom

Academic freedom should be more than just the negative freedom to say what I want.  It should be the freedom to orient the will towards the Good and True. There is an intrinsic good to which the mind strives.

Beauty and Being

Whatever else Thomas Aquinas meant by beauty, he was correct that Beauty is pleasing just simply by being seen.  A beautiful object must be complete and not lacking, its parts must be in proportion to each other, and it must be radiant (247).

Hart wants to go beyond this, and borrowing from Heidegger, he suggests a distinction between beauty and the event of beauty. Heidegger assimilates the event of beauty to the event of truth (249).  “This is one of those rare moments in Heidegger when the light momentarily breaks through the clouds and he not only asks the right question but comes close to giving the right answer.” We understand beauty in the same way that we understand how the distinction between being and beings is made manifest. Beauty is the excess of Being as being gives itself to us, like in a Bach concerto.  It is “a nimbus of utter gratuity” (250). This is also the language of “gift.” Beauty “shines out” as the sign and gift of that which transcends discrete beings.

This is similar to a Nicene ontology. As the other persons of the Trinity are coequal with the Father, there is no interval or gap that requires the Logos to be a lesser manifestation of the Father (252). “God’s eternal identity is convertible, without any reduction of degree, with his own manifestation of himself to himself.” As a result, creation becomes a free gift instead of a diminished manifestation.

On another note, while I generally don’t approve of Hart’s translation idiosyncrasies, I think he is quite close to the original context when it comes to the spirit realm.  In any case, he is far more accurate than those who think in the traditional manner of “angels vs. demons.”  There is a “realm of powers pervading this cosmos and mediating between it and the exalted, supercelestial realm of the truly divine, to theion.  The secondary, more proximate divine orders of daimones–genii, longaevi, aerial sprites, the ethereal and spiritual forces pervading nature, the rulers of the planetary spheres, the angelic or daemonic governors of nations….composed a whole unseen hierarchy” (365-366). We, on the other hand, are so numb to it we just call everything “angel” or “demon,” when usually they are neither.

I also like “vale of Abraham” (367). Hart runs into problems elsewhere on exactly where the “rich man” is, if not in torment.  Still, he marshals a number of classical sources that translate kolpos as vale or valley. His comparison with the Greek of 1 Enoch 22 is very interesting.  It is a series of four koiloi separated from each other.

Other notes:
Soul–life principle (374).

Spirit–able to exist outside the body.  Hart rejects a pure incorporeality, if only because soul and spirit are irreducibly local.  They aren’t physical, but we need to avoid later Cartesian readings.  It can be spatially extended without having physical magnitude.


This book gives you a “taste” of almost everything Hart has written, both good and bad, very good and very, very bad. Whenever Hart comes against a Christian tradition he doesn’t like, he dispenses with argument and just starts making fun of them. Ironically, this is a caricature of the very fundamentalists he so disdains.

There are some legitimately funny moments.  In critiquing an author for engaging in psychoanalysis, Hart writes, “Dilworth gratuitously [interjects] the observation that, in regard to this or that aspect of Jones’s life, ‘A Freudian might say…’ That is a sentence that need never be completed” (300).

Sergius Bulgakov: The Lamb of God


This is the hallmark of Bulgakov’s “Sophiology” project. Since it is prone to misunderstanding, and those councils which condemned it lacked the philosophical tools to evaluate it, it would be wise to state what Bulgakov means by “Sophia.” The short answer: Imagine what would happen if Platonism and Hegelianism had a child. Longer answer: Sophia is the divine prototype. To speak even more loosely, it is the receptacle and vehicle of God’s divine nature (Bulgakov, 98ff). It is the divine glory. Bulgakov even says it is “the divine world.” He then moves to identify Sophia as the “pre-eternal humanity in God” (113).

Whether we agree with him or not, Bulgakov’s comments gain new relevance after we explore what he calls “The Patristic Dialectic.” The heretic Apollinaris was the first to identify the problematic: What is divine humanity and how is the Incarnation possible (4ff)? He, in good Alexandrian fashion, denies a duality of personal principles. He argues, rather, that two perfect principles cannot become one. Thus, how can one understand the union without transforming it into a duality?

We reject Apollinaris’s heretical teaching, but we must admit he formulated it on very good grounds: the union cannot be of two whole integral persons, which is why Apollinaris dropped the human nous from the humanity. Aside from the comments on the nous, this isn’t that different from Chalcedon (11)!

Cyril responds to this by giving his famous answer: there is one nature of the enfleshed Logos. Cyril now has several difficulties: in order for this statement to be Orthodox, we have to reinterpret what we mean by “phusis.” It is also worth pointing out that Cyril is ideologically dependent on his opponents, which likely prevented him from developing a full, positive alternative to Nestorius.

Bulgakov’s genius (if he proves successful) is to solve the dialectic in this manner: man contains within himself the receptacle of divinity. This is so because he is created on the divine proto-image. In other words, there is a mediating principle between divinity and humanity. It will be Bulgakov’s argument that this is what preserves Chalcedon: the third-term mediation allows a true union and avoids duality.

An Analysis and Critique

Strictly judged on Platonic grounds, it’s hard to argue with him. Without agreeing with him on all specifics, I have to admit his project seems to ‘work.’ He gives a very beautiful and engaging discussion on creation, time, and eternity.

His heavy Platonizing could be forgiven if it weren’t for the occasional foray into Gnosticism. He identifies the Logos with the “Demiurgos” (111). This isn’t that different from the god of Freemasonry. It is an “architect” that merely re-shapes dead matter. He runs into other dangers with loose terminology: he speaks of a tri-hypostasis, a feminine hypostasis of Sophia, but at other times he denies that Sophia is en-hypostasized. He rightly argues that the Ascended Christ is bodily in heaven, notwithstanding any difficulties that entails. The problem for his Eucharistology is that how can the bodily Christ stay in heaven and be physically present in the elements? Bulgakov responds by saying…I kid you not…”He comes down without leaving heaven.” Understandably, some won’t be convinced.

I think Bulgakov successfully defended himself from charges of heresy. Further, if one is committed to substance-ontologies, then it’s hard to avoid Bulgakov’s proposal. If there remains some truth in Hegel, then Bulgakov’s ideas could prove quite valuable. At the end of the day, though, many are nervous about employing a heavily Platonic schemata in our theology.