B21 is grateful to post a guest blog from Pastor David Prince. Prince is the Pastor for Preaching and Vision at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church and is also an Assistant Professor for Christian Preaching at Southern Seminary. This piece was originally posted at his website Prince on Preaching and has been reposted with his permission.
“General William Tecumseh Sherman got it wrong. Peace is hell. In war people think about the country. In peace all they think about is themselves,” said war veteran and wartime president of the United States, Harry S. Truman. From 1979-2000 the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) fought a battle for the heart and soul of the world’s largest protestant denomination, which is commonly referred to as the conservative resurgence (or fundamentalist takeover from the liberal side of the conflict).
The battle for the Bible extended well beyond the borders of the SBC, but the fiercest battles raged within the denomination. I fear Truman’s observation is proving correct in the SBC. The denominational struggle in the SBC produced unity among a broad and diverse group of SBC theological conservatives. The conservative resurgence SBC leaders put biblical gospel fidelity and the future of the SBC ahead of personal preferences and differences. But over a decade after the symbolic final victory of the resurgence at the 2000 SBC annual meeting, the harmony among SBC conservatives seems to have lessened. At least from my vantage point, we conservatives seem far more willing to fight and nitpick each other.
There are some passages that if you’ve grown up in church you know and quote; they’re often put on Christian paraphernalia and utilized by pastors to bolster their ministries or fund building campaigns, but sadly little attention is given to what they actually mean in their contexts. In this series, I want to walk through a handful of these passages in order to help us understand them rightly and see how powerful they actually are. This series will cover passages like 2 Chronicles 7:14; Jeremiah 29:11; 2 Chronicles 24 (the chest of Joash); and Proverbs 22:6.
The Most Misinterpreted OT Passages: 2 Chronicles 7:14
“We need revival!”
I have grown up in the SBC, so one sermon that I have heard loud and clear for three decades is the need for revival in our nation. Pastors at conferences and in churches have analyzed the decay of our culture and then they have given the solution: “What we need is revival – another Great Awakening!” Many of these sermons have inspired me a great deal. I certainly do want a Great Awakening in our nation – and in all nations!
Does 2 Chronicles 7:14 map out a plan for revival in America?
One of the key passages pointed to for this revival call is 2 Chronicles 7:14 where the Lord says, “if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” There it is, a word from God that if America will repent then God will bring revival to our land, it is said.
2 Chronicles 7:14 is not about revival from the moral decline of America
This is an incorrect interpretation of this verse. Let’s walk through the passage in its proper context.
The context of 2 Chronicles 7:14 shows that this verse is about Israel
One big rule for interpretation is “context is king.” We must look at the context of the verse to see what it actually means. You’ll notice in my citation of 2 Chronicles 7:14 above that it starts with a lower case “i” rather than an upper case because it’s not an isolated verse but rather part of a larger sentence that starts in verse 13. And these two verses (2 Chron 7:13-14) are part of the even larger section of chapters 6 and 7. What is that larger context? Solomon has just completed the building of the Temple in Jerusalem and prays a grand prayer of dedication in chapter 6. Then in chapter 7 Yahweh appears to Solomon at night and begins to speak to him, referencing Solomon’s prayer that acknowledged the Temple is a place for repentance, forgiveness and restoration.
Solomon’s prayer indicates that when Israel sins against God and God judges Israel as a result with drought, or famine, or exile, then Israel will pray toward the temple in repentance and receive restoration. We know that Solomon’s prayer in 2 Chronicles 6 and Yahweh’s words to Solomon here in 2 Chronicles 7 are connected because Yahweh uses the same language of the heavens being shut up (2 Chron 6:26; 2 Chron 7:13). Here in 2 Chronicles 7, God reemphasizes Solomon’s prayer that foretold Israel will sin and be judged, but that forgiveness is available if they will repent (2 Chronicles 7:12-16) and all of this is linked to atonement (7:12).
Who is Israel? It’s not America
So, 2 Chronicles is not a promise to the United States of America; it’s a promise to God’s people – Israel. Now, that raises a question for New Testament believers who interpret this passage: “Who is Israel?” Theologically, there are about 3 key positions that people take in answering this question: 1) National Israel: the promises to Israel in the OT will be fulfilled in the future with national Israel. 2) The Church: the promises to Israel are fulfilled spiritually in the church. 3) Christ: the promises to Israel are fulfilled in Christ who is the True Israel and those who are united to Him by faith also receive the promises. I don’t want to get into all the particulars of these theological positions, but suffice to say that none of these options includes the United States of America.
Let’s rejoice in the promise of restoration through repentance
As a NT Christian interpreting this passage, 2 Chron. 7:14 seems more akin to 1 John 1:9 than as a promise for a new Great Awakening. Instead of being a promise about national revival in America, this is a promise to the church that when she is in sin and repents, through Christ’s atonement God will restore the church (see the letters to the Seven Churches in Revelation).
For some people this reality may be upsetting and troubling. For those who equate Christianity with American patriotism, this will no doubt create animosity. But, for redeemed Christians in the New Covenant community, this truth should bring comfort that despite our sin we have a merciful God who forgives and restores.
Do I want revival in America? Absolutely! Do I pray for revival in my city? Yes! But, I want revival in all nations through the Great Commission. I just don’t think 2 Chronicles 7 gets you there. And, more than that, my primary identity isn’t as an American – as much as I love my nation. My primary identity is in Christ and His Church. We would do well to ask ourselves the question, “If God chose to bring revival to Iran, India, and Pakistan rather than the United States of America, would we rejoice or get frustrated?” Wherever God chooses to restore and revive among our brothers and sisters globally let us rejoice!
Stay tuned for the next installment!
I recently attended the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention national conference on “The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage.” I am thoroughly encouraged by the work of this entity of our convention and the leadership of its president Dr. Russell Moore. The conference was designed to equip churches, pastors, and Christians to minister in our 21st century context on the issue of the future of marriage and sexuality. I would like to share 10 reflections on the conference:
Real love and compassion doesn’t stop with sentimentality but sees the holistic needs of a person. This will take a ministry, Moore reminded us, that does not relate to LGBT people as freaks to either be raged against or dismissed, but as people to be loved (that includes trying to understand why they believe the way they do) and ministered to.
Finally, all of this must be done in community. One of themes that rose to the top was the necessity of being a real Christian community in the church as we minister to the LGBT community. There are several reasons this is so important. First, the question of reparative therapy for LGBT came up often, and over and again the answer seemed clear. It is not compassionate if we merely teach Jesus will take away all of these temptations from you. He might, but the promise of the Gospel is not that you will be temptation free, but rather that in the midst of temptation you will be given the Spirit to fight and flee. However, in order to fight and flee by the power of the Spirit we are given another grace gift – the Christian community to spur us on to love and good deeds. Moore pointed out in a press breakfast that some of our Christian testimonies that only teach complete victory can be very discouraging to others because for some this will be a struggle for the rest of their lives until they see the King face-to-face. Jackie Hill Perry reminded us we do not fight sin in isolation. In addition, many from the LGBT community that consider Christ fear that if they turn to Him they will lose all sense of community that they have. We must share with them what Jesus shared with His disciples after the Rich Young Ruler turned away in Mark 10:29-30, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.” And it must be true. We must be those brothers and sisters. I am so thankful for the tone of this conference (modeled so well by Moore and seen powerfully in the testimony of Rosaria Butterfield) and the call for compassion, conviction, and community.
I just left the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention national conference on “The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage.” I am thoroughly encouraged by the work of this entity of our convention and the leadership of its president Dr. Russell Moore. The conference was designed to equip churches, pastors, and Christians to minister in our 21st century context on the issue of the future of marriage and sexuality. I would like to share 10 reflections on the conference:
Stay tuned in for part 3 (see part 1), and if you missed all of the conference, check out all of sessions from the ERLC National Conference here.
I just left the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention’s inaugural national conference. Entitled “The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage,” this conference was designed to equip churches, pastors, and Christians to minister in our 21st century context on the issue of the future of marriage and sexuality. It is safe to say that I am thoroughly encouraged, along with many others, by the work of this entity of our convention and the leadership of its president, Dr. Russell Moore. With the conclusion of such an informative and impactful conference, I would like to share 10 reflections:
Stay tuned in for parts 2 and 3, and if you missed all of the conference, check out all of sessions from the ERLC National Conference here.